Thursday, August 17, 2017

Hello, New Hampshire!

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We left Bowman Orchards early on a cool, crisp morning so we could extract ourselves before the family crowds began to arrive. We had an easy drive to our next destination in Swanzey, New Hampshire.

I'd like to say we picked our next stop because of something fabulous but the truth is we picked Ashuelot River Campground because they had sites available that were out in the open. I think you know how I feel about camping under a canopy of trees and, with the prevalence of ticks on the east coast, I doubled down on my refusal to compromise.

In any case, we were headed toward New Hampshire on I-90 when suddenly the engine alarm went off. Uh-oh! I knew I had 60 seconds to get off the highway before the engine shut down. There was no turnout that I could see ahead so I eased off onto the shoulder. We were off the road, at least, but quite sloped.

We've experienced this situation once before and, at that time, we needed to add coolant. So Steven did that, thinking it would solve the problem. When we started Scoopy up, the engine light went off and there was no audible warning. Perfect! Off we went down the road and just about the time we were congratulating ourselves for fixing the issue, the engine alarm went off again. DAMMIT!

Once again we found ourselves stopped on a very sloped shoulder of an Interstate highway. It's not a comfortable place to be but at least we weren't in the road causing a major traffic jam. This time, we noticed the oil pressure gauge was very low, at about 8 percent. We let the engine cool down and Steven checked the oil level, which appeared to him to be low. Okay, we thought, let's add oil. We have always carried extra oil with us, except this time, of course.

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Yes, we were really tilted this much at the side of the road!

And we couldn't remember what kind of oil to get, so we called our friend Bill Murray who knew exactly what to get. It's always nice to talk to Bill but, in times of trouble, it's great to have him on speed dial. Thanks, Bill!

Because we were on a toll road, exits were few and far between. It took Steven nearly an hour to get to the plaza nine miles ahead, get turned around and return to Scoopy. Once the oil was added, off we went with no more alarm squeals. We arrived at our destination over 100 miles away without further incident. YAY, us! Except, when we arrived, we couldn't help but notice poor Toadiehopper was COVERED in oil spatter. The front of her was nearly black. And then we noticed the back of Scoopy wasn't looking too good, either. Oh, dear. We decided to just forget about it for now, after all, we had a week to figure out our next move.

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Oily spatter on Toadie, ew!!

Soon after our arrival we received a message and dinner invitation from a couple on RVillage who lived in the area, Irv and Nancy. Irv had me at "throw something on the smoker", so we planned to meet near the end of our stay. In the meantime, Irv sent lots of helpful info on places in the area he thought were worth a visit. Steven was on his own when he went to visit Madame Sherri's Castle, the forested (that, right there, tells you why he was on his own) remains of a once exclusive mansion often visited by the upper crust of the New York fashion industry for private parties. It is exactly the kind of place he likes to photograph.

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Steven’s creepy rendition of Madame Sherri’s Castle.

Together we drove the Molly Stark scenic highway from Keene to Bennington, VT. Along the way we visited the store at the Hogback Mountain summit, and the Bennington Battle Monument, an impressive 306 foot tall stone obelisk seen from nearly any vantage point for miles. The monument commemorates the Battle of Bennington, fought during the American Revolutionary War. We rode the elevator to the top and enjoyed the view.

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What’s your flavor? Seen at Hogback Mountain Gift Shop on the way to Bennington.

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The Bennington Battle Monument. Thankfully, there was an elevator to the top with great views.

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A Painted Moose stands guard outside the Bennington Battle Monument.

Aside from a few sightseeing trips, we mostly stayed close to home and got caught up on life stuff. It's amazing what can pile up when you ignore it all while you're out having fun. One thing we decided to do while we were in New Hampshire, which like Oregon has no sales tax, was to replace the tires on Toadie. We just did this last year right before our trip to Alaska, but we chose the cheapest, loudest, most-god-awful set of tires known to man and we couldn't wait to get rid of them. Now we can have an actual conversation and listen to music while we're buzzing around and it is blissful.

We did a few minor repairs on various things while we were at Ashuelot River Campground and had a “few” purchases shipped to the campground. When we called to confirm our arrival date, the guy said "yes, and we've hired an extra person to handle your packages." LOL! We did some cooking during our week at the campground so that we'd have meals ready to go for our upcoming travels when we would be sans water and sewer hook-ups.

Part of that cooking was preparing a couple of things to take to Irv and Nancy's for dinner. We decided bacon-wrapped, cheese-stuffed jalapenos would fit the bill along with some grilled asparagus. We made our way to their place and were warmly welcomed. Irv and Nancy are snowbirds as well as Elks members and a part of Boondockers Welcome. If you're a part of that group, there is a 50 amp plug waiting for you at their place if they are home. :)

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Irv and Nancy with a big slab of meat off the smoker!

We sat outside enjoying the conversation when Nancy appeared with appetizers and, as it turns out, they had also made bacon-wrapped, cheese-stuffed jalapenos! You can never have too many of those, right? We enjoyed a wonderful dinner and afterward took a tour of their property and rig.

Then it was time for the throwdown. Girls against the boys in a game of Kubb, described best by Wikipedia as "a lawn game where the objective is to knock over wooden blocks (kubbs) by throwing wooden batons (kastpinnar) at them. Kubb can be described as a combination of bowling and horseshoes."  The boys will tell you they won but what they will leave out is that I threw the game on purpose. That's because it's not a fast game and I was being eaten by mosquitos. I have no doubt, had we played to the bitter end, the girls would have prevailed. At least, that's how I remember it.

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A competitive game of Kubb ended in smiles all ‘round (even if the boys really did win)

As we prepared to leave Swanzey and move on to our next destination, there were still a couple of things that needed attention. First, the engine. Sigh. Second, while we were boondocking at the Harvest Hosts, our inverter had overheated. We called Cummins about the engine issue who referred us to a shop in Concord, while Magnum diagnosed our inverter issue as a probable fan failure. We called the Cummins shop and were assured of "Coach Care" service, so we made an appointment for Scoopy's annual service as well as a look at her oil issue. We planned to meet up with the inverter guy a week later as we'd be passing right by his place on our way to the Boston area. That plan soon fell to hell-in-a-handbasket the moment we arrived at Cummins and were told, "Coach Care? Not here."

NEXT UP:  A Change of Plans

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Harvest Hosts-a-palooza!

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I mentioned in my last post that we changed up our travel plans in order to avoid the crush of humanity that would be flowing into Cooperstown, NY for the annual induction ceremony of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Instead, we decided to stay in the Finger Lakes region and try out our Harvest Hosts membership.

Harvest Hosts is a program that allows self-contained RVs to overnight at unique properties, including wineries, breweries, distilleries, farms, museums, and so on. The membership costs $44 per year and there are hundreds of hosts across the country and Canada. For adventurous RVers, it's another great resource in our planning toolkit.

We joined Harvest Hosts the minute we hit the road in 2014 and never once took advantage of our membership. There are a lot of great places in the west that are hosts, but at the time, we had not honed our boondocking chops and mostly opted for the security of full hook-ups. After we got our solar and became experienced boondockers, we found places that we preferred or that were more convenient for us. In our second year, we didn't renew our membership.

Once we decided to travel on the east coast, however, where boondocking opportunities are few and far between, Harvest Hosts became more attractive. So we re-upped and started planning.

Our first stop was Chateau Lafayette Reneau, a beautiful winery on the hillside of Seneca Lake just a few miles from Watkins Glen. We arrived around noon and settled in to a gorgeous view. In return for the opportunity to stay at a Harvest Host location, members are encouraged to visit the gift store, tasting room, café, etc. and support the business with a purchase. So, in a way, we were required to purchase wine. Tough life, right? And, it isn't unusual to be allowed to stay for a second night so we happily extended our stay in such a beautiful setting.

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We had a wonderful view, albeit tilted, at the Chateau Lafayette Reneau winery.

Parking a big rig on a hillside, though, can be a challenge. When we arrived, we had driven up on blocks and put Scoopy's rear end into into a bit of a depression in order to try and level somewhat but we were still pitched forward quite a bit. In order to protect our front windshield from the torque of extreme leveling, we just lived with it. Even now I can't tell you with any certainty if all these factors contributed to what happened next, but it's possible.

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You can see that we compensated for the downward slope by backing up to an equal down slope.

When we were leaving, I pulled out of our spot before Scoopy's airbags had completely filled. In doing so, I took off bits and pieces of the top layer of rubber on her two front tires. The fact that I am pretty sure both gauges registered more than 100 psi is beside the point, Scoopy was on such a forward incline, she just didn't raise up enough to clear the tires. I didn't even go far, literally a few feet, but it was enough to ruin the tires.

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Looking like little pieces of carbon, our tire treads were shredded!

This was a costly mistake. If we accept that RV tires age out at around 7 years, we're about 2.5 years early on replacing the front tires. Also, since we couldn't drive anywhere, the tire guys had to come to us with two big ass tires and replace them onsite. On the other hand, we were at a winery, which helped mitigate the suck factor somewhat. So while Scoopy was being worked on, Steven and I sat on the terrace with a glass of wine, occasionally waving at the guy and giving him a thumbs up. I'm sure he thought we were nuts. A couple of hours and $1,325 later, we went on our merry way to our next Harvest Host location about 40 miles away.

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Man at work.

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Chouters at play.

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Almost there…

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Mickey was super friendly and super efficient. Thank you for making this as painless as possible!

Next up was Climbing Bines, a hops farm and brewery on the other side of Seneca Lake where we were tucked in between the silos and had a lovely, quiet evening. Again, we visited the brewery and enjoyed walking the grounds and hops fields. Since many of the host locations in the Finger Lakes region are just a few miles apart, we were able to scout out our next location before moving the rig. We had selected an Amish farm and visited with the wonderful hosts, but a heavy rain overnight caused us to rethink that decision. We didn't want to get stuck or cause damage to their lawn. (Speaking of getting stuck at a Harvest Host location, here is a cautionary tale from our friend Tammy at The Lady Is A Tramp.)

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My quilting friends would have loved this Amish store, it had a ton of beautiful ones on display.

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We really were hidden away between these siloes at Climbing Bine brewery.

With the Amish Farm out of the picture, for our third Harvest Host stop, we chose White Springs Winery near Geneva. The parking lot was paved and mostly level and the view was beautiful. We were invited to sit outside on the terrace even after the winery had closed for the day. Again, we stayed two nights and after hours, we were the only ones there. This is what I love about Harvest Hosts.

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Our little slice of heavenly parking space and Steven samples the offerings at White Springs winery.

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It’s hard to believe we had this place all to our selves in the evenings. What a view!

We certainly didn't exhaust all the possibilities in the area, but we figured it was time to move further down the road and get closer to our next stop in Swanzey, New Hampshire were we had made reservations for a week. We chose our fourth Harvest Host, Bowman Orchards just north of Schenectady, NY. Here we visited the farm store, the bakery, the orchards and watched the antics of an especially entertaining goat, just one of the many farm animals on the property. It was a busy place with lots of family activities, but again, once the business was closed, we had the place all to ourselves. Amazing!

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Evening light on the little store at Bowman Orchards.

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Plenty of animals to see. That goat was giving Steven the hairy eyeball.

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A beautiful evening at Bowman Orchards.

We both thoroughly enjoyed our Harvest Host stays and anytime we're in an area that offers a cluster of hosts such as the Finger Lakes Region, we'll make sure our membership is up-to-date! Other than the whole tire debacle, which had nothing to do with the host, we had a fantastic experience.

UP NEXT: Broke down on the side of the road. :(

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Exploring the Finger Lakes Region

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Even though we made more than our usual number of advanced reservations for our trip east, we ended up with four or five weeks with no plans at all. We had an idea of places to go, but no set route or campgrounds. It turns out just that bit of flexibility worked really well for us.

Months ago I tried and failed to secure reservations in Watkins Glen, NY, in the Finger Lakes area. My go-to campground was the city park, Clute Memorial, but it was already booked up. It wasn't until we got to Niagara Falls that we tried one more time. Lo and behold, a spot had just opened for a week! Perfect! Without this site, I doubt we would have made it to this area so we are very glad it worked out!

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All tucked in at our site in Clute Memorial City Park.

Watkins Glen is a popular destination. It sits at the south end of the beautiful Seneca Lake, which is ringed with gorgeous wineries, breweries and appealing shops selling local goods. It's also home to Watkins Glen State Park, one of the most popular state parks in the country, according to a 2015 USA TODAY Readers Choice Poll.

The reason for that is the Gorge Trail. It's very accessible two-mile hike follows the glen's stream that descends 400 feet past 200-foot cliffs. In the early morning it is cool and shaded, winding its way past 19 waterfalls, some of which you walk behind and through. We didn't get too wet and the mist was refreshing. Once we reached the end, we had the option to turn around and retrace our steps or take a shuttle bus back to the parking lot. We chose the latter.

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The Gorge Trail is like walking through a scene from Lord of the Rings. Pure magic.

While the trail was certainly a highlight of our visit, the one thing I was looking most forward to was the Corning Museum of Glass, which is about a half hour away in, well, Corning. It was absolutely amazing. I was mesmerized from the moment I walked in and saw the giant Chihuly installation. We started in the contemporary gallery and made our way through the historical exhibitions. We ended up in the Hot Shop, where the artists demonstrate how decorative pieces are made.

There are thousands of exhibits in the museum but my favorite was the installation featuring row after row of Corning glasses. When I was a kid we would get these glasses from boxes of detergent, or a gas station. You know, the cheap kind often used as promotional giveaways. Our kitchen cabinet was full of them, although we never seemed to get a full set in the same color. They always seemed to be whatever color was popular at the time, which would match your countertops or fridge, like harvest gold. I thought it was a very contemporary display of childhood memories and it really appealed to me.

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The Corning Museum of Glass is just amazing, from the vast collections to the hands-on demonstrations.

Years ago in Seattle, our local PBS station KCTS would hold annual fund drives featuring Dale Chihuly, arguably the best-known glass artist ever. At a certain level of giving, one of the items patrons would receive in return was a private tour of Chihuly's Hot Shop. We managed to snag those tickets on a couple of occasions, so having already been, Steven took our then 10 year old daughter, Zoe. At the time, it just so happened that PBS was shooting promos for future fundraisers and for the next few years during fundraising season, there was Steven and Zoe on television in the Chihuly Hot Shop looking like they were learning a lot about glass blowing. :)

While in Watson Lake, we made a few day trips, traveling around the lakes and visiting nearby towns. The Finger Lakes area is New York's largest wine producing region, with over 100 wineries and vineyards located around Seneca, Cayuga, Canandaigua, Keuka, Conesus, and Hemlock Lakes. The area reminded me of the farms around Flathead Lake in Montana. There are hundreds of cherry orchards there. I guess the whole lake effect is good for growing stuff and that is certainly the case around Finger Lakes.

We had planned to spend a couple of days in Ithaca, home of Cornell University and other notable sites. We did make it to the Saturday Farmers Market, which was great, but the whole town was so busy it was hard to get around.

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The Ithaca Farmers Market.

We also ate some fabulous BBQ and visited a Wegmans grocery store. I had heard about Wegmans for years but never visited one until we were in Niagara Falls. I have to say I was disappointed, the isles were narrow and the place was just generally overcrowded. Nonetheless, I did find a prized item that I have not seen anywhere else: Parmesan rinds. When a store grates their own cheese, they have leftover rinds which probably got tossed in the trash until an enterprising chef decided to put them to good use and now they are suddenly in demand. I use them in soups and sauces and I love the flavor the rinds add. I now have a freezer full and that is my only love for Wegmans. :)

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Brisket, burnt ends and pork belly. OMG. Being the carnivores we are, meat doesn’t last too long on our plates :)

As our week in Watkins Glen came to an end, we had planned to head north to Burlington, Vermont, visiting Cooperstown along the way. But then someone asked if we’d be attending the induction ceremony. I thought she was talking about a ceremony at the Elks Lodge and frankly, I wasn’t planning on it. But then she clarified that she was talking about the induction ceremony in Cooperstown for baseball players, where tens of thousands of people would be gathering. Oh. I didn’t even know that was a thing. But, hell no.

Since we had no obligations or reservations in Burlington, we changed up our schedule to stick around Finger Lakes. With all those orchards, wineries breweries and farms, we decided it was time to finally try out Harvest Hosts. We'd been members for a couple of years, but until now, we've never used it. Finger Lakes seemed perfect and offered lots of options! This is why we don’t like making reservations, flexibility is true freedom!

NEXT UP: Harvest Hosts-apalooza!