We had such big dreams for our 2020 road trip – but like so many things in 2020, they… didn’t quite turn out as expected.
Day 1: Starting out, New Jersey to Ohio
After starting out slightly later than we planned, we cruised on through all of Pennsylvania without any trouble. This was our first time pulling a camper trailer like this, and so we took it slow and careful while we got used to how the car felt while towing.
After a long but uneventful day of driving, we arrived at our stopping point, about halfway between Cleveland and Toledo in Ohio, just before dusk at a very nice RV park conveniently located just off the highway. Being our first stop at a campground/RV park, we weren’t really sure what to expect – but as it turned out, it was just a nice little lightly wooded area (alongside a chain hotel, as it turned out) with nice gravel pull-through spots separated by green grass, fire rings for campfires, and picnic tables. Being somewhat in the middle of nowhere, not many of the sites were occupied, so we weren’t crowded or close to other people.
We set up the camper and settled in for our first night. Amanda was intent on making some dinner from the food supplies we’d carefully packed (intending to minimize our need to go to stores along the way) – she knew how much I’d been looking forward to “camper life,” and how we intended to be more or less self-sufficient, so she wanted to make sure we had a proper cooked dinner – and we did! We had ourselves a quick but pleasant little dinner together – our first night of “camper life!”
We settled in to bed (which we’d made before setting out to save time) for a good night’s rest – since the next day was expected to be a long drive. Even though the bed was small (slightly smaller than a queen bed), we were adamant that we were going to have a good night’s sleep.
Spoiler alert: we didn’t have a good night’s sleep. What we hadn’t noticed was that there was a large industrial plant of some sort just across the street… and they apparently make some sort of asphalt/bitumen product there… and they work at night.
So we had to endure a night of the terrible, awful stench of fresh, hot asphalt throughout the night. The smell came in waves – you’d know when one batch had finished because the smell would dissipate, only to return perhaps an hour later. Suffice it to say, we did not sleep in the next morning and got an early start for the next day of the trip.
Day 2: Onward to the Great Plains
This was our longest planned driving day – expected to be around 10 hours of driving (not counting stops). So we tried to make the best progress we could. We were driving through 3 of the “I” states – Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa.
Along the way, we tried to stop for lunch at a rest area – but none of the staff were wearing masks, and so we discarded the food (referring to it afterwards as “the COVID sandwiches”). This was a valuable lesson to us to check each state’s stance on masks, health & safety, and to never do drive-through (because you can’t see what’s going on inside until after you’ve ordered).
We ended the very long day at a small RV park (again just off the highway). This one wasn’t as nice as the last one, but after 11 hours on the road we were just glad to have a place to sleep (and water & sewer hookups so we could have a shower and use our camper’s bathroom).
Day 3: The trip takes a turn
This was the day we drove across Nebraska… twice! The Midwest in general is nothing but fields of corn (and sometimes soybeans) as far as the eye can see, but Nebraska really drove home how large, wide, and flat this area of the country really is.
As we passed into the western part of the state, the sky started to get dark – almost like it looked like it might be ready to rain, or maybe there was a fog in the distance. However there were no clouds or rain or fog… what we were seeing was smoke. Eventually visibility dropped to less than 1 mile, and we pulled over to reassess the situation.
Looking ahead to our expected stopping point near Boulder, Colorado, we could see that the area was under a red flag warning, and the air quality was “poor” (and not forecast to improve anytime soon). Some nearby places were already advising those with respiratory problems to stay indoors. Looking ahead to some of our other expected stopping points showed more of the same – poor to bad air quality forecast for the next few days.
On top of all this, we’d also been having great difficulties in finding available campsites where we planned to go – we’d only been able to secure the next 2 nights, with some of our stops further on showing absolutely nothing available.
We considered switching the direction we had planned to go around the state – going clockwise instead of counter-clockwise – but even then we couldn’t find available sites for the dates we needed. On top of this, with the smoke from the wildfires, the views at some of the places we planned to go were not going to be very good.
So in the end, reluctantly, we decided that we would not be going to Colorado -it just was not worth being miserable (due to poor air quality which we both are sensitive to) or not being able to see anything or not having a place to camp (or maybe all 3). We pulled over at the next exit and turned around and started going back east through Nebraska. Needless to say, it was a long and quiet drive as we both grappled with the disappointment of not making it to where we wanted to go.
However, we did have our camper behind us and we’d always considered that we might have to change our plans (though we hadn’t expected them to change so close to our goal!).
So we pivoted and decided to take the long way home by heading south through Tennessee and then up north via the Blue Ridge Parkway. (This was actually part of another road trip we’d considered – but abandoned – some time ago.) We stopped at a lovely little campsite (still in Nebraska – in fact, on the same highway we’d taken that morning) and watched some distant thunderstorms roll by as we planned our newly revised trip.
Day 4: Rain and Storms in Missouri
The storms from the night before loomed ahead as we drove south-east through the last little bit of Nebraska and into Missouri. Eventually we caught up with the storms – and it was amazing seeing lightning so far off in the distance (with everything being so flat you can see lightning even when it’s very far away). A few heavy downpours slowed us down somewhat, but we managed to make it to Kansas City, where we stopped briefly to get some supplies and order some Kansas City BBQ (take out, of course). Then it was onward to our stopping point in Springfield, Missouri for the night – enduring a very rainy and windy night in the camper trailer.
Day 5: Through Arkansas
The next day our route took us down through Missouri and then into Arkansas along some of the old US Numbered Highway system instead of the newer Interstate Highway system. This meant we were weaving our way through the hills and byways of Arkansas – in fact, through what I later learned was part of the Ozarks (though really just the easternmost edge). Still, it was interesting to encounter such hilly terrain after being in the plains for so long!
After coming out of the “mountains,” we returned to the flat plains, which is more or less how it stayed all the way to Memphis, Tennessee – or, more accurately, West Memphis, Arkansas, which is where our campsite was located – right along the banks of the Mississippi river!
This really was a very nice campsite – it was lovely to watch the sun go down over the river, and watch the almost-full moon reflecting off the water.
This was also our first multi-day stay, so we finally unhooked the trailer from the car and set up a proper “campsite” for the next day. We had a bit of extra time as well, so we went into Memphis and visited the Civil Rights Museum.
Day 6: Memphis
It was such a nice change to not be driving all day! The main event here was our tour of Graceland – which I wasn’t super excited about, but which ended up being very interesting and well worth the 4 hours we spent there.
We also did a short walking tour in downtown Memphis, but there wasn’t much to see as many of the main attractions were closed.
In fact, most of Memphis seemed to be closed – even on a weekday there was hardly any cars on the road and even fewer people out and about walking around; it almost felt like a ghost town!
In the afternoon we returned to the camper to plan our next few stops and reserve campgrounds. Then, we went back out to a bike trail we’d spotted on the way in and rented some bikes and rode along the trail. As it turned out, it was a very nice paved bike way which took you up & over the Mississippi river, alongside a railroad bridge – and as we were crossing, a big freight train came along and crossed as well!
After that little adventure, we settled back into camp – the next day we’d be on the road again!
Day 7: Forgot something?
We started the day well – packing up the camper and re-attaching it to the car for the first time since we’d left New Jersey. We set out and hit the road… but after about 25 minutes I came to the sudden realization that I’d left the metal foot/stand for the trailer jack back at the campsite! So we had to turn around and drive all the way back and get it – thankfully it was still there, right where we left it!
After this we powered on to Nashville with little trouble. This time we were staying at a KOA campsite – not our first choice, but pickings were a little slim.
Since this was once again a shorter day of driving, we had some extra time after setting up camp, so we headed into Nashville proper and found ourselves at a little bar called “Pearl Diver” built in a beautiful mid-century style building (which used to be a garage/repair shop). So despite COVID we sat down out back for some drinks – the very first time we’d been out to any sort of establishment since the COVID pandemic began. Thankfully the bar took great care, taking your temperature at the door and keeping everyone seated well apart, even in the outdoor area (we were easily 15 feet from the nearest occupied table, and all staff were wearing masks and hand sanitizer was at every table).
We didn’t stay long, but we did get a few drinks to take back to the camper to enjoy while sitting in bed and watching some movies on my laptop.
Day 8: Nashville
We are not big into country music, so there was not much for us to do in Nashville – however, this is the home of the Lane Car Museum, so we stopped there in the morning to check out a whole bunch of weird and interesting cars.
After that, we walked across a big pedestrian bridge over the river and around some of the riverside – there really wasn’t much to see! Apparently Nashville is the bride-to-be capital of the US – because it’s like Vegas, but not as intense. The men go to Vegas, while the women go to Nashville… or so we were told. Who knew?
After that, we went back to our camper to rest before picking out dinner – and tonight it was TACOS! We’d had a hankering for good tacos, and had planned to get some in the Southwest when we passed through it on our original itinerary, but despite the change in plans we still had our hankering… so we found a wonderful little taco shack and got some very tasty tacos (and margaritas).
Then it was back to the camper again for a restful night before moving on again in the morning.
Day 9: Nashville to Asheville
The next day was a long drive across the eastern end of Tennessee, and then we wound our way up towards Asheville, North Carolina – but along the way we realized we could pick up the very southern terminus of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and with the extra time we had that day we could arrive at our Asheville campsite and still have daylight left. So we wound our way south and picked up the very start (or very end, depending on how you look at it) of the Blue Ridge Parkway and headed up through the mountains up to Asheville.
The drive was lovely – although you tire of all the tight curves, especially when you’re pulling a trailer – and we arrived just in time to set up camp. This was also our first back-in camp (rather than a pull-through), so I got to put my trailer reversing skills to the test. It took more than a few tries to get it right, but I managed – I’m not used to a trailer I can’t see over!
We settled into our campsite (a KOA once again, due to not being able to find much else available on short notice in the area) and got a good night’s sleep.
Day 10: Mountains, sort of?
Free of the camper for the day we drove up the Blue Ridge Parkway to Mt. Mitchell – the highest point east of the Mississippi, at 6,684 feet above sea level.
We tried a short hike, but there were so many people around, and enough of them weren’t wearing masks (though in fairness many were) that we didn’t enjoy it as much as we would have otherwise.
We ended the day early back in Asheville, trying to find a brewery (apparently there are tons of them around here) – but most of them were full to overflowing. However, we did eventually find one that wasn’t very busy and had nice, widely spaced outdoor seating and with good mask discipline. So we treated ourselves to 2 beers and a burger before heading back to camp for the night.
At camp we ran into one of our neighbor campers and had a lengthy conversation about camping, RVs, and boondocking or living off-grid. A very nice person to have met in an unlikely place, but then again, our little camper has always been a real conversation starter – people at almost every site have been drawn to it.
These RV parks are full of people who are REALLY into RVing – it’s a whole other culture, which we aren’t really part of. But it is interesting to see!
Day 11: The Blue Ridge Parkway
The next day we packed up camp early and hit the road – taking the highway up to rejoin the parkway roughly where we left it the day before.
The drive up to the parkway was incredibly twisty and steep, but once we were up on the parkway, the curves became more gentle. We drove along at our own pace, enjoying the scenery – our next planned stop wasn’t too far along, so we had time to take in the views.
We stopped at a nice State Park and popped open the back of the camper (which is where the kitchen/galley is) and made ourselves a nice but quick lunch (cup ramen). It was a beautiful sunny day and we really just enjoyed being able to take it easy for a bit.
Our next site wasn’t much further along, so we dropped off the trailer and headed into the nearby town of Boone to explore a bit. It was a bigger town than we expected, but there wasn’t really much for us there, so we headed back to camp early in the afternoon. Both of us had a little work to take care of, and we didn’t want to eat dinner late, so we just chilled and took care of things back at camp.
This site was beside a little river (more of a brook, really) and surrounded by big Rhododendrons, so we sat at the picnic table and did our work while listening to the brook babbling on in the background – it was really quite peaceful.
Day 12: Hello, Virginia
A cold morning saw us leaving camp and rejoining the Blue Ridge Parkway once again. It was another laid-back day of driving, with no special destination in mind – just enjoying the ever-changing scenery.
We once again had a picnic lunch at a nice little rest area before entering Virginia at last. We made it up to our campsite, which this time was on a farm and so the site was out in the middle of a field – the exact opposite of our sheltered little campsite the night before.
After setting up camp at around 2pm, we drove into the nearby-ish city of Roanoke and… there wasn’t much to it. And at almost an hour from camp, we didn’t feel like we wanted to spend a lot of time there and then get back to camp after dark. So after fueling up (we had gotten almost 23 MPG on this leg of the Parkway) we returned to camp to enjoy the last rays of sun – it was warm and almost felt like a last little bit of Summer. But then, as soon as the sun went down, the temperature plummeted and we retreated into the camper.
Or, rather, Amanda retreated – I, on the other hand, took advantage of the wide-open field and the distance from any cities to pull out my telescope. I wasn’t able to get it properly set up, but I was able to line it up and see Jupiter with all 4 of the Galilean moons arranged neatly in a line. I could even make out some of the cloud bands!
Next I pointed it at Saturn (one of my favorite targets) and marveled at its rings – faint though they were in my little scope.
Finally I turned it towards Mars, but it was lower in the sky and distortion made it hard to see clearly – and at this point it was really getting cold, so I packed up the scope and headed back into a warm camper.
Day 13: Parkway Complete!
The last 150-ish miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway were very pretty, but by now we were tiring somewhat of the similar views – especially now that we were out of the “mountainous” portion and into the gently rolling hills.
However, we made it all the way to the end (or start) – Mile Marker 0 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, a feat we set out to do only after our original plans fell through. It felt good to have accomplished something like this on this trip!
The fall colors were deepening as we headed north, but they hadn’t peaked yet – far from it in fact – and what colors we did see were muted somewhat; perhaps due to the lack of rain recently.
We arrived at our next-to-last campsite – by a small pond this time – and settled in for the night.
Day 14: Over and Under the Chesapeake (again)
Onward again with the trailer behind us, we drove southeast out of central Virginia and towards Norfolk, and then north – where we crossed over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel (again – we’d crossed it 3 times before on a previous road trip). Once over the bridge it was a short drive north to our last stop – Kiptopeke State Park!
This was our first stay at a State Park instead of a private campground/RV park and surprisingly it was very nice! The sites were nice and wide with full hookups, most well-shaded and all near the ocean.
We ventured into the town of Cape Charles and had a beer outside at Cape Charles Brewery (a place we’d been to before and liked quite a bit). On the way back to camp we both watched as the sun set over the bay – overall, a super-nice end to the trip.
Day 15: Cape Charles
We headed out in the morning to explore Cape Charles, but we didn’t really get out and about in town – too many people around. And after the last 2 weeks of driving, we were both getting a bit run down. So instead we had a quick takeout lunch and headed back to camp to start cleaning up and packing for the drive home.
After finishing up, we made ourselves a drink (or three) and lay together in the camper (away from mosquitoes) and watched videos for the rest of the afternoon and evening – a bit of a lazy end to the day, but hey, we were tired!
Day 16: Homeward Bound at Last
We got up early (relatively speaking – it was before sunrise; for most of this trip we’d simply woken up when it started getting light out) and hooked up the camper and packed away the remainder of our stuff.
However, there was one last hiccup – the sewer connection. We typically dump the waste tanks from the camper before we leave each site – the tanks in the little camper were very small, and so could not hold more than 1-2 days worth of waste. Since we would not have any place to empty them when we got home, this was an important step as well before returning the trailer.
However, at this site for some reason the sewer connection was either clogged or slightly blocked – because it wasn’t draining! Or, rather, it was draining… but very slowly. And of course we didn’t discover this until I’d started to empty the tanks – leaving us stuck with the contents of the waste tank sitting in the waste tube, unable to empty. NOT the way we wanted to start our very last day!!
Thankfully, our waste tank being so small also means there isn’t really much in there – so we just waited while the sewer connection slowly drained, and then closed off the connections and put the hose away. Luckily, this State Park had dumping stations at the entrance (complete with hoses for rinsing stuff out), so we were able to dump the rest of the tanks there and wash everything off.
With the nasty stuff taken care of, we locked everything down and headed north, towards home – arriving almost 6 hours later, in the early afternoon, at last!
This road trip was quite an adventure – we’d never have done it, except for the circumstances of 2020. I’d always wanted to try camping in a trailer like this, and I always like the idea of road trips… however, if we had to do this again, we probably wouldn’t.
The camper was fine… for a week, perhaps, but it really was not comfortable to use the bathroom/shower. If it wasn’t for COVID, though, it would’ve been much easier to make use of shower facilities at many of the campsites we stayed at. But then again, if it wasn’t for COVID we probably would’ve just stayed at hotels with full private bathrooms. And the long days of driving were never really much fun – even with the two of us swapping driving duties so the other could rest. And again, if it wasn’t for COVID we probably would’ve just flown to where we wanted to go and avoided wasting days of our time off with just trying to get where we were going.
Sure, there’s an argument to be made that “it’s the journey, not the destination,” but the truth is, with limited time off from work, and limited capacity in the trailer to hold water (and waste), we were kind of forced to pay more attention to the destination.
So, in the end, although we’re glad we did this trip, we’re also glad to be home. We didn’t have any major technical malfunctions, nor did we have any accidents or serious injuries. We learned a lot about ourselves – including how to not get so worked up when things don’t go quite right, or when you don’t have everything you need or want – but we also learned that we prefer a different style of travel, and that camper life just isn’t for us.
Next time the urge to travel hits us, we’ll know what not to do. Until then… happy trails!