Friday, September 15, 2017

Normandy Farms


We had arrived in Lebanon, New Hampshire for a quick overnight stay at the Elks before moving on closer to Boston. But before we took off we had two things on our list to see. First, we drove through Hanover, home to Dartmouth College. I just love a cute college town, and this one did not disappoint!

This cool looking barn is the Elks Lodge in Lebanon.

Second, we headed for the King Arthur Flour flagship campus in nearby Norwich, VT. This beautiful campus houses a café, bakery, store and baking school. Honestly, if I had been at all forward-thinking, I would have registered us for a class or two, but I wasn't. Next time for sure! We spent most of our time moseying through the store but, shockingly, we walked out without a single purchase!


King Arthur Flour store and on-site bakery.

We said goodbye to New Hampshire and made our way to the Elks Lodge in Lynnfield, Massachusetts, northwest of Boston. Again, we were only there for an overnight. We had reservations at Normandy Farms in Foxborough but they only do weekly stays from Sunday through Saturday. That left us with one night before our arrival, so Elks Lodge it was!

The Lynnfield Elks has a HUGE parking lot. We enjoyed our overnight there.

I did not realize that by staying at Normandy Farms we were smack dab in enemy territory. The New England Patriots Gillette Stadium was just four miles away. Yuck. I hate the Patriots. We put Toadie's Seattle Seahawks flags on her window and drove right by the stadium, just because we could. :)

Toadie showing off her flags like a boss!

Normandy Farms is the second most expensive campground we've ever stayed at (the most expensive being Liberty Harbor in Jersey City) and I can't say we'd ever return. There is nothing wrong with it, per se, it's just everything we don't like about a campground. It's gigantic, maybe the largest we've stayed in, with hundreds of sites. The roads are dirt, so it gets pretty dusty and at any given time there are at least 1,000 kids riding their bikes in the middle of said dusty roads. There is a big activity center and multiple pools, lots and lots of never-ending family activities. We don't partake in any of those activities, but we pay for them anyway.

Our site at Normandy Farms. It was great to have full hookups but we didn’t avail of anything else on offer.

Even just trying to get out of Normandy Farms each day was a process. We felt imprisoned!!

In spite of being activity central, believe it or not, on the day of the eclipse? Nada. Even though we could only see a partial eclipse, it was impressive enough that you'd think there would have been some kind of gathering. But you'd be wrong. We ended up having a great view right from our site, and not another person around us was looking up. We offered to let our neighbor take a look through our glasses and he was eager to do so. When we had seen enough we gave our glasses to a father with two young girls camping on the other side of us and he was so happy! He had rushed back from the pool to try and make something so his girls could see it, and we saved him some time. We asked that they pass them around so others could see as well, and the girls delighted in sharing with their neighbors. That was fun!.

Not one mention of the eclipse in all their activity literature!

This is the full extent of the eclipse we observed from our campsite.

One thing we've noticed about New England campers is that when it comes to camping, they go big or go home. Even if they are only staying for a weekend, they bring so much extra stuff it just boggles the mind. They have grills, smokers, bundles of wood for the fire pit, bikes for their 16 kids, extra tents to set up next to their travel trailer, swimming gear, awning lights, tablecloths, tons of chairs, outdoor televisions, musical instruments and the list goes on and on. It looked like a shanty town with multiple families in each site. In fact, campers are allowed up to 10 people in their sites and it looked like a lot of them pushed that limit. All this at just under $75 per night, and that's the weekly rate!

Shanty town or summer resort? You decide.

All that said, we weren't unhappy at Normandy Farms. In retrospect, I would describe our week there as "forgettable". About the only touristy thing we did there was take a day trip to Hyannis Port on Cape Cod. We did enjoy the small but interesting JFK museum, but the rest of the place is the worst kind of tourist trap.

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The John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum was chock full of interesting photos and tourists :)


We weren’t all that impressed with the JFK monument down by the seafront. Seemed more of an afterthought to us.

There is one big thing we scratched off our To-Do list. You may recall that Steven's parents, Paddy and Elizabeth, are arriving in Boston on September 20th to travel with us north up the coast of Maine. The last time they camped with us we took them to Yellowstone in our pop-up camper, Alfred Hitchpop. At the time I had a pair of orange Crocs that Elizabeth adopted because, of course, Crocs make for great campsite shoes. Easy on, easy off, right? So we had been wracking our brains about where we might find a pair of orange crocs for her. We did a Google search and guess what? There was a Crocs OUTLET STORE about 10 minutes from us!! I didn't know Crocs Outlet store was even a thing!!!! So off we went. I didn't find orange, but a cute red pair was on sale, so the purchase was made. I wanted to get Paddy Camo Crocs, but Steven said no. He can be such a killjoy :) So anyway, scratch Crocs off our list!

Red Crocs waiting patiently for Steven’s mom!

One good thing about Normandy Farms was we adopted a new friend! Left behind by careless campers.

It is kind of funny that some places that we think are going to be great end up being a big nothing burger while others we're not necessarily excited about turn out to be fantastic. That's exactly what happened with Normandy Farms and our next stop, Rhode Island.

NEXT UP: Beautiful, surprising Rhode Island

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Burlington, Vermont


With an appointment set for the following week to get work done on Scoopy, we left Kenworth and headed to the Burlington Elks Lodge. We figured what's the point of hooking Toadie up since we were only going a few miles. We soon found out there is only one way to get from south Burlington to the Elks Lodge north of Burlington and that is right through downtown. I'm talking about what we like to call "Ye Olde Cobblestone Main Street" kind of downtown, the place you really shouldn't be taking a big rig. But, I did it anyway because I had no choice.

I passed plenty of folks sitting out on their front porches who went from dropped-jaw to a smile and a wave as I rolled by. By the time we got set up at the lodge, we were knackered. Our travel day should have taken a couple of hours but instead took us six. It was good to be settled and to have a plan in place for Scoopy’s repair.

The Elks Lodge in Burlington. Electricity only but perfect for our needs.

Saturday morning dawned a beautiful day, so after a leisurely morning we headed out to the Burlington Farmer's Market. What a great and lively place! This is just the kind of market we really enjoy. Lots of the usual suspects, fruits and veggies, plants, soaps, jewelry, and so on, but also an entire street dedicated to food trucks and stands with every kind of food imaginable. Further, there were distilleries offering tastings and coffee roasters with their best blends infused with nitrogen. I know nitro cold brews have been around for a while, but we had never tried one until now. I've never been much interested in iced coffee but for some reason I seemed to have changed my mind. Recently we've been making our own cold brew at home, albeit without the nitro.

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The Burlington Farmers Market is a feast for the senses!

We spent some time walking around downtown and found a few shops we thought were worth a visit, mostly kitchen shops, because that's kind of our thing. Even though for the most part they all have the same thing we still enjoy poking around. This time we bought a new cutting board.

We spent quite a bit of time visiting food markets, which we love about as much as kitchen shops. There were some really nice ones, one of which was literally across the street from Trader Joe's. This is the first time I ever wondered how TJs stayed in business at this location because the local food market was fantastic. Also, this was the first time I ever left TJs empty-handed, a historical moment.

Burlington was beautiful and the vibe of the place reminded us both of Portland, OR. Kind of a Portland Lite. The downtown waterfront was gorgeous and although we arrived with lots of enthusiasm for sightseeing, Scoopy's issues were weighing heavy on our minds. It was difficult to really engage in much else.

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We only skimmed the surface in Burlington but at least we got to see the world’s tallest filing cabinet!

That said, we had a fun day in Waterbury and Stowe. This was our most touristy day, as we managed to swing by all the fun stops along the road: Ben & Jerry's, Cabot Cheese, a chocolate store and Cold Hollow Cider Mill. We ended up in downtown Waterbury at Prohibition Pig, a fabulous BBQ and brewery joint.

Actual reenactment. Unfortunately the ice cream is not real.

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Steven partakes in a free ice cream sample and afterwards we visited the flavor graveyard.

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We visited, we looked, we left without cheese or chocolate. What’s wrong with us??

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Lots of goodies at Cold Hollow Cider Mill.

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This time Steven couldn’t resist the world famous (is there any other kind?) cider donuts!

A little healthier choice of food at the Prohibition Pig.

On Tuesday morning we were up early to try and beat the traffic through Ye Olde Downtown Burlington and get to the repair shop with Scoopy. As I've said before, being displaced from our home is the worst part of fulltiming. Sometimes we load up our electronics and valuables (to us, probably not anyone else) and sometimes we just leave them in Scoopy. Either way, we take off and try to keep ourselves entertained for a few hours and wait for the phone call. If it doesn't come and we run out of patience, we head back to the shop, which is what we did this time.

Poor Scoopy back in hospital again.

The initial repair was complete and the cost was just under $1k. We were happy with that, because we're always expecting the worst case scenario. Then, our technician got curious and wanted to know why there was so much oil everywhere. Remember, we'd already been stranded on the side of the road with an oil issue. I had asked the guys at the Koach Kare in Concord if having all that oil on the engine was safe, and they replied (I am not kidding) "we love oil on our engines, it keeps the salt off". I guess the road salt is a corrosive issue around here. I was worried about an engine fire.

We have been having an issue with blowback from the engine for at least a couple of years. Poor Toadie can really get covered. In 2015 we took Scoopy to Cummins in Southern California and ask them to try and solve this issue. They found nothing and the blowback continued, some days worse than others. It was a mystery. So if these guys were interested in looking into it further, we were on board with that and it soon became clear we weren't going anywhere.

We made the decision to check in to the nearby Days Inn while diagnostics on Scoopy got underway in earnest. This can be the most expensive part of a repair, when there is uncertainty about what is going on. If the engine doesn't generate a code, the techs need to do some investigative work and at $144 per hour, that can be a spendy proposition and indeed it turned out to be.

Living it up at the Days Inn.

What the techs discovered was that fuel was getting into the oil and at first they thought a new fuel pump was needed. That was a cool $4k just for the part. Upon further investigation, it turned out we only needed one of the three parts that make up the fuel pump, a mere $1,200. Oh, whew.

We spent two nights at the Days Inn and a third in Scoopy just outside the bay where she was being worked on. This was longer than expected because Cummins sent a defective part and we had to wait another day for a new one to arrive. We could have spent our days sightseeing, but we had exactly zero interest in that.

On the last day, we ditched the motel and opted to stay in Scoopy at Kenworth.

We did, however, take the opportunity to meet up with Steve and Debbie McCormack and their friends Curt and Glenda Lowry, with whom they have been traveling. These guys have been zipping around the east coast climbing the highest peak in each state. I admire their hiking goals but, I am in the same camp as our friend Tammy, who does not like to hike because the ice falls out of her cocktail. Anyhoo, we met up for lunch back at the Prohibition Pig, which we thought delicious enough for a return trip! It was great to meet up with the gang and we hope to cross paths again next year somewhere in the Arizona desert.

A blurry masterpiece taken at the Prohibition Pig with Curt, Glenda, Debbie and Steve.

After we returned from lunch, we were told Scoopy was almost ready to go! Late Friday afternoon, nearly $5k poorer, we were finally on our way. There is no better feeling than being back on the road after an unexpected stop. We were downright giddy as we made our way to the Elks Lodge in Lebanon, NH.

As I write this a few weeks later, Scoopy's engine is no longer making or losing oil and we have had zero blowback on Toadie. Our coolant level is steady and her engine purrs like a kitten. To say that we are relieved to finally have our ongoing issues addressed would be an understatement. If all continues to go as we expect it to, this repair will be worth every penny.

Finally, we have to throw in a good word about the crew at New England Kenworth. Those guys were great to work with. We handed over Scoopy with a list of instructions on all her quirks and how to care for her like she was our first born. They listened and treated her very well and we are so grateful to them. This is the kind of experience we all hope for when issues stop us from traveling.

Chris was the mechanic tasked to fix Scoopy’s engine. We loved him!!

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Steve, Linda, Ken and Chris made a great team and treated us right. Thank you, good people!

NEXT UP: Normandy Farms