Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Big Fun in Littleton

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When last we left you we were planning one night at the Littleton Elks Lodge and a meet up with our Magnum inverter guy. One night is all we hoped to be here because once our inverter was repaired we would be on our way to Burlington, Vermont. We have really been looking forward to Burlington but as we changed our route over and over, it seemed to fall further down our itinerary.

We got ourselves parked at the Littleton Elks Lodge where we had 50 amps. We had no access to water or sewer, but we came prepared with empty holding tanks and plenty of water. Once we were plugged in, we didn't have to worry about our inverter or generator and this gave us a bit of breathing room to work on fixes

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The YUGE lot behind the elks in Littleton, NH.

First things first, our generator. When we started it up while in the Cummins parking lot in Concord, we realized we had no power coming into the rig. We had no idea why but Steven set off on an adventure of a process of elimination to try and figure it out.

When we arrived at the "Koach Kare " place in Concord, the high-energy guy checking us in asked Steven to go out and get information off the generator, which I guess they needed in order to service it and he was too lazy to get the info himself. So, when Steven went out there, he couldn't see any info and so dusted off the top of the genny. In doing so, he flipped the On/Off switch to "Off". Who knew that switch even existed? We certainly didn't, but we do now! Once he flipped it back to "On", we had full power from our genny. YAY! One problem solved, one to go!

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That pesky on/off switch was inadvertently turned off in mid dust-swipe.

Not long after we arrived at the Littleton Elks Lodge, the Magnum guy, John, arrived and went right to work. We had already talked with the folks at Magnum who suspected that the fans in our inverter had stopped working. John thought it might be a circuit board, but after he and Steven removed the inverter and conducted a couple of tests, it was indeed the fans that had failed. Our inverter has two fans, and John only had one, but it was enough to get us up and running again. John mailed us the second fan which Steven can change out himself at a later date. That was good news for both our inverter and our wallet. $75 later, we were good to go!

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Steven stands watch while John, our Magnum guy, does all the work.

But even with our problems solved and Burlington just a couple of hours away, we just couldn't muster the enthusiasm to pack up and go. Turns out, we were quite comfortable at the Littleton Elks Lodge and both agreed it would be nice to stay another day and explore. We were as close as we were going to get to Mt. Washington so, on the second day, we drove the famous Auto Road to the top.

It was a gorgeous, sunny day with just a few puffy clouds thrown in for interest. We paid our steep (pun intended!) entrance fee of $38 for Toadie, driver and passenger and off we went up, up, up. The average incline of the road is a steep 12 percent and over 7.5 miles we climbed 4,600 feet. The views in all directions were stunning, but the main focus was on the road and other vehicles which seemed to graze by in the opposite direction. No one was going fast, but the road was quite narrow in places. As we approached the top of the mountain we were suddenly engulfed in clouds so thick we had trouble seeing the observation deck. We did see that there was a line to get to the official summit, where folks were taking selfies. We didn't bother.

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A foggy mountaintop with a big line for the premium selfie spot.

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It looks like there was no one around judging by this shot but there were hundreds of tourists milling around.

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The sun poked out for a little while to reveal the beautiful layered surrounding mountains.

The trip down was hell on Toadie's brakes, so we pulled over several times to let them cool off. We already burned up her brakes in the Sierra Nevada a couple of years ago and had to replace them, so we were careful not to repeat that episode.

Back at the Elks that evening we still weren't feeling ready to travel so we signed on for another day. This turned out to be fortuitous, as we get to tour around the cute little downtown area of Littleton.

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Littleton was such a fun town! We saw the world’s longest candy counter and pianos on the streets!

We also got to meet up with the writer of "The Lady is a Tramp", a blog I absolutely love. Tammy is a fellow fulltimer and Seattlite, and she just happened to be parked a few miles away. We connected and plans were hatched for a night on the town.

What fun we had! Cocktails, dinner, lots of laughs! And y'all, at The Beal House I had some of the best poutine I've ever eaten. Seriously, you know how I love poutine. I'm still thinking about it, so you know it had to be delicious! Anyway, we're circling around places Tammy will be staying in the coming weeks, so we hope to see her again soon in the Boston area!

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We had a blast with Tammy!

We finally packed up and headed for Burlington but instead of a full week in the area we now only had four days. We planned to make the most of it and I warned Steven, get ready to be a tourist!

And then, on our way, another warning light!! Another call to Cummins reassured us it was safe to travel, and they gave us the name of a shop we should contact just south of Burlington. We did, and then drove straight to New England Kenworth.

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The light came on and the manuals came out to try to identify that upside down bulb with the exclamation point!

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We were lucky to find this huge parking lot to pull into while we stared at our manuals.

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OMG, back in the shop again! Not how we imagined our Friday evening.

One of the engineers hooked up a computer to Scoopy's engine and found that she had indeed generated a code., something called an “engine speed sensor.” This was Friday afternoon and it was too late to start work on Scoopy so we made plans to return Tuesday morning for the fix. They had the part in stock so hopefully by the afternoon, we'd be on our merry way.

LOL. Y'all know that didn't happen, right?

Friday, August 25, 2017

Fake Coach Care!

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Having twice been stranded on the side of the highway, we were very pleased when we called 1-800-CUMMINS for assistance and they referred us to a Coach Care facility just an hour away in Concord. Steven called and spoke with a guy who said they do everything Coach Care does. They weren't officially CC, but were only a couple of months away from that designation. They even offer the ten percent discount for Coach Care Power Club, of which we are members.

For those who aren't familiar, Cummins is the make of our engine and throughout the country they have facilities that are certified not only in Cummins engines but are also, in theory, completely versed in the care and keeping of all aspects of a motorcoach. For instance, they also do chassis work, check for roof issues, service generators, and so on. Our actual experience has been stellar although for annual maintenance we've only been to one, Cummins Northwest in Coburg, OR. These guys are the Gold Standard when it comes to Cummins Coach Care and they have been taking care of Scoopy even before we adopted her. They have an awesome "Annual Care" checklist that covers Scoopy from nose-to-tail. What we have learned on our trip east is that not all "Coach Care" facilities are created equal.

In Michigan we contacted the Coach Care facility in Clinton but the guy we spoke with had never heard of it. When we asked about annual services, he said, "Like what?" Hmmm, okay. He said he'd talk to his boss and call us back and of course we're still waiting for his call. Next, we called the Coach Care in Buffalo, NY and again, not a warm and fuzzy vibe that made us feel like they had a clue about Coach Care. At that point we decided to defer our annual service until we returned to Texas in the winter and have it done there. That was a great plan until we ended up on the side of the road, which brings us full circle to the "Coach Care" in Concord.

Imagine our surprise when we arrived for our appointment and were told in no uncertain terms that they only worked on engines and nothing else. (He later pointed out that most of those engines were in the front of the truck, not the rear. Coach Care my butt.) Oh, but apparently they do service generators. The guy’s whole demeanor when we met him made us feel like we were idiots, quite frankly. His energy level was through the roof. At this point, Steven said to him was there anything wrong because he appeared to be really stressed (his customer service skills, so apparent over the phone, were now nowhere to be found). He made some lame excuses about problems they were having in the shop in general which had nothing to do with us, so we just carried on. Since Scoopy's engine was our priority, we asked that they investigate the alarms we experienced, do an oil change and service the generator. We would just have the chassis work done elsewhere.

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What we expected…

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What we got (actual reenactment)

The worst part of fulltime RVing is when Scoopy is in the shop and we have to find somewhere to go. Usually we'll go sightseeing, shopping or hang out at a restaurant or Starbucks. The latter is our go-to place because of the Wifi but we obviously can't sit there all day. It's definitely easier to keep ourselves entertained when Scoopy is just in for maintenance but when there are "diagnostics" going on, we find it difficult to focus on anything else. Add to that a shop that instilled little confidence and we were both on edge.

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We didn’t waste time while waiting for Scoopy to be done. We stocked up on essentials.

The long story short is they called to tell us they didn't find anything wrong with Scoopy's engine and apparently she did not generate a code when the engine warning light came on - twice. They put some dye in the oil to see if the engine was creating its own oil (causing all the blow back we were experiencing) and told us to drive it around for a few hundred miles and then come back to them or have someone else check it out if we were not in the area. We also found out that, despite us asking that morning, they had failed to service the generator. They apologized and offered to hop right on it but we declined, we had enough for one day. Further, they closed out our invoice without giving us the Power Club discount and were too lazy to fix it. At that point we were done. Except to say it was too late to drive anywhere so we spent the night in their parking lot.

I could go into a lot more detail about all that just didn't go right with this shop, but what's the point, right?

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Poor Scoopy doesn’t like being in hospital.

Okay, just one more story about these guys and then I'm going to quit griping about them. First off, anytime we are allowed to stay overnight at a place where Scoopy is being serviced, we are grateful. Hook-ups for us are optional, because we are self-sustained but, if they are available we certainly appreciate having them. So, we were told that a 50 amp hookup would be no problem, after all, he said, "We kept Dale Earnhardt, Jr's rig powered for two days, I think we can power yours." We parked and out the guy comes with an itty bitty household plug. LOL. Honestly, I'm still laughing about that one. Aaaaanyway . . . .

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Here’s your Dale Earnhardt Jr. Special…

We awoke very early to a low battery light on our inverter and when we turned on our generator, there was no power to the rig. We were both half asleep as we tried to figure it out, but ultimately we had to admit we couldn’t wait any longer to get the inverter fixed. We can't function without a genny and an inverter but we sure weren't going to have the genny looked at by the boys in Concord! Time to move on and enact Plan B.

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75% capacity and a low battery warning?? Time to get the inverter fixed.

Originally, we had hoped to wait a week to meet up with the Magnum guy but, given our current circumstances, we decided the more prudent thing would be re-route and meet up with him immediately. We called and he agreed to meet us at the Elks Lodge in Littleton, NH. We figured we'd spend one night there and then move on to Burlington, Vermont, the place that just keeps getting pushed off our route.

We did not just spend one night in Littleton.

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. :(