The Dream is Real

It’s happening! We were able to arrange for the rental of the small camper trailer that we wanted, and so our cross-country road-trip plans are go!

Of course, all this is subject to change as situations change – but we have backup plans. If heading out west as we originally planned isn’t possible (or safe), we may end up going somewhere closer – maybe just up north into the Adirondacks of NY, or maybe even up to Acadia National Park in Maine. Or, worst case, there’s plenty of parks right here in NJ. (Though our overall goal is to go somewhere new.)

Still, it’s exciting to think about. This sort of trip has been on my bucket list for ages – and although it’s not quite the full “around the entire country” trip I dreamed of, it’s pretty close.

We’ll be taking a teardrop style camper trailer – one of the bigger ones, a NuCamp T@B 320 CS-S with a wet bath (so, toilet & shower in one unit) and the hinged back with outdoor galley.

We’re planning on mainly staying at RV parks with full hookups for power, water, and sewer – no boondocking for us, I think. We’re not quite ready for that. Though I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of trying a night or two, if we find someplace.

Because of world circumstances, we are staying very flexible with our plans – we basically are going to “wing it” the whole way, with the exception of the one big National Park we’re planning on visiting. There are plenty of campsites and RV parks along the route we’ve chosen, so we’re reasonably confident that we can find someplace wherever we are.

For the first half (and more likely 2/3) of the trip, we’re basically just going to be trying to cover as much distance as possible – getting out of the Northeast and across the Midwest (I was born in the Midwest; I know what it’s like). Once we get to Colorado and the mountains, that’s where the real fun will begin!

I’ve only been among the Canadian Rockies before, and have spent almost no time in the Western states (aside from one trip I did down to the desert Southwest – to the Grand Canyon and surrounding areas). So the whole area is somewhat foreign to me – I’ve previously only seen it from the air as I flew over. But I’ve always been enamored of the landscapes of the West – perhaps because they are so different from the gentle rolling hills and forests of the East. But whatever the reason, I look forward to seeing them… and seeing them from my own car! Nothing quite brings home the vastness of the world as driving across it – and I am always eager for new perspectives.

Still, this trip is a ways off yet, so I will keep planning and preparing as I can, and hope for the best!

The Dream Trip

Thinking about my dream trip – a road trip across the USA

Recently my wife and I have started thinking about a trip to Yosemite Park in California for later in the year (along with a few other stops – assuming that Covid will be more under control by then). But with caution still needed, we’re not flying – that’s still completely out of the question – so we’re thinking of driving. And to keep our interactions with people to a minimum, we’re thinking of renting a camper trailer and staying at campgrounds along the way.

Doing a cross-country road trip in my own car has been a dream of mine since pretty much ever since I learned to drive.

But the realities of the trip are, as usual, not as simple as I would like.

Problem 1: Planning a route

First is the simple planning of the trip itself – some 2,700 miles one way. We have to decide where we’ll stop, how long we’ll have to drive each day, and so forth.

In better times we probably would’ve flown out west and rented a car, or failing that, we would’ve stayed in hotels each night as we went along. But in the current environment, that’s not exactly feasible (or wise). So we’ll be staying more or less to ourselves in our camper… which brings us to the next difficulty.

Problem 2: Finding the Right Camper

When it comes to picking a camper trailer, there are a number of constraints on us:

  1. Weight – although the Keithmobile is a diesel with plenty of pulling power, it is still a small-ish SUV with only a Class II hitch (max trailer weight 3,500 pounds) and a maximum tongue weight of 280 pounds.
  2. Amenities – given that we’re trying to limit our interactions with other people, we need to be fairly self-contained… which means we need a camper with a bathroom & shower.
  3. Availability – the type of trailer that meets these constraints isn’t very common around here (ironically, they are much more common out west where we’re headed).

These limitations unfortunately rule out a lot of rather nice trailers. For example, we had started to look at a nice Airstream Basecamp 16′ trailer – very stylish, with everything you’d need for just 2 people and nothing you don’t. However, the tongue weight for this trailer was some 410 pounds (as it turns out, many camper trailers are very forward-heavy and have high tongue weights relative to their overall weight).

However, in the end we did manage to find a nice little “teardrop” style camper trailer that has a combination bathroom/shower. It’s on the bigger end of teardrop style campers, but it’s light enough that my car can pull it without too much trouble (it is well within both the weight limit and the tongue weight limit) while still being comfortable for us both and more than just “a bed on wheels” (as many of the littlest camper trailers are).

So with all that, it looks like we may be heading out for a big road trip in the early fall (again, assuming the Covid situation doesn’t get worse). The Keithmobile will face its biggest challenge – doing something like 6,000 miles of driving in 2 1/2 weeks, all while pulling a trailer. (It’ll be interesting to see what kind of mileage I end up getting!)

Assuming we can go, it should be a very exciting trip!

Thoughts Amid 2020

Well, here we are, midway through 2020 – a year I did not expect to be writing about, but 2020 has turned out to be the year that keeps on giving – but in a bad way.

I used to think the Internet was the greatest invention of mankind – that it would erase barriers to communication, bring people together, and spread knowledge to all.

I was wrong.

What I’ve seen instead is that new barriers to communication have been erected, people have been driven apart (or brought together, but only in hate), and instead of knowledge, propaganda, messages of hate, and outright lies have been spread instead. Even the very idea of “truth” has become questioned, as we doubt (or are told to doubt) the sources of information.

Technology was supposed to be the triumph of mankind – something that would eliminate barriers and advance us all towards a better future, a tool we could use against the forces of death, disease, and disaster to protect ourselves, extend our lives, and make us all happier. But instead we have turned that tool against ourselves, selfishly withholding it from some under a misguided thought that sharing it would somehow diminish our own share.

Sometimes I wonder if we invented the Internet too soon – that we, both as individuals and as a society, were not ready, not advanced enough, grown enough, wise enough to handle the power that it gave us.

Pandora’s box is open though, and there’s no way to undo what has been released into the world. All we can do is either fight one another to hide under the lid, or use what remains – hope – and go fight the demons of our own doing.

What’s been done cannot be undone, but we can stop it from going further. And unless we want to spend the rest of our lives cowering in fear of the monsters we created and released, we must stop it.

Behind the Wheel: 2019 Mercedes-Benz GLC 300

Finally, a car I can relate to!

When I take my car into the dealer to be serviced and get a loaner, most of the time it’s just a boring, regular base model sedan – but not this time! This time I got an SUV that is basically the modern replacement for the SUV that I normally drive. So, this is more of a vehicle that I can relate to.

First though, some statistics: the 2019 GLC 300 is a simple 4 door SUV – I’d call it mid-size, but these days it’s classified as “small.” It’s powered by a turbocharged 2.0L 4-cyliner engine making a very respectable 241 HP and 273 pound-feet of torque. All that power gets to the ground via a 9-speed automatic transmission and of course all-wheel drive.

The particular GLC 300 that I was driving was more or less a base model – but with an upgraded appearance package.

Being an SUV the driving characteristics of the GLC 300 were much more familar to me. However, one thing I did notice is that the seating position in this is a bit lower and more car-like.

Visibility was good, all things considered, although the shape of the front hood made it hard to gauge the position of the front of the car. Sadly, this particular model has no front cameras or sensors to help with that.

Performance was very impressive – when you first get on the throttle from a standstill you are definitely reminded that there is a very small engine under the hood, but once the turbo kicks in all that goes out the window. At one point, while going up a hill, I put the car in “Sport+” mode and mashed the throttle – and was promptly thrown back in my seat, at which point I uttered out loud, “shit, this thing can really MOVE!”

As far as driving dynamics go, given the slightly lower center of gravity, it handles quite well – not nearly as top-heavy as my own GLK, and in fact actually quite stable in the corners (though not flat or sports-car-like by any means). It’s also about 300 pounds lighter than my GLK (despite being a couple inches longer and wider), which helps with the handling. Overall, it’s a fun car to drive which is also quite practical – the back seats are roomy enough, and the cargo area is fairly deep (though again, not as tall).

Mercedes Dial & Touchpad

When it comes to technology, however, this GLC kind of falls flat – at least, this particular model does. The infotainment system still relies on the same knob + touch pad combo that Mercedes has been using for the past few years – no touch screen here. The gauge cluster is also the standard 2 analog gauges for speed & tachometer, with a screen between them. Maybe there’s option packages that give you this, but the base GLC doesn’t have them.

The controls for media & climate are the same “row of silver switches” that have been in just about every Mercedes recently – it’s not a bad arrangement, per se, but it’s not the greatest. Sure, those silver switches look nice, but some things would work better as dials. (And I still think it’s weird and bad design to have the volume be a roller type control located not in the center stack, but on the center console, to the side of that control wheel thing.)

Fuel economy for the GLC 300 isn’t great given the engine size, but then again it’s also not bad considering that the small engine has to move roughly 4,000 pounds of SUV around. At just 24 MPG combined, my GLK is laughing all the way to the fuel pump. And to make matters worse, the GLC requires premium fuel.

Overall though, the GLC 300 is a competent small/mid-size luxury SUV, and if that’s what you’re after, you could do far worse than to pick it. (And if you need more “oomph,” there’s also the GLC 350 and the GLC 43 AMG and GLC 63 AMG, all with progressively bigger and more powerful engines.) Honestly, despite the shortcomings, if I was forced to give up my beloved GLK tomorrow, I would seriously consider the GLC (all the while lamenting the lack of a diesel option – curse you, Volkswagen for ruining diesel here in the US!). But at the same time, I have absolutely no plans to give up my GLK, and if you gave me a choice between the two, I’d keep my GLK any day.

Glamping, Take Two

Trying this whole “glamping” thing again – in the summer this time!

Last year, for my 40th birthday, my wife organized a camping trip for the two of us down in Tennessee, just outside the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. Specifically, this was a “glamping” trip, where we’d have a big canvas safari-style tent with a king-size bed, a toilet, running water, a shower, and a fireplace. Camping, but with style!

Unfortunately, my birthday is on November 17th, which means we made this trip in the later-half of November – just about 2 weeks before the camp site closed for the winter. And we also had the bad luck to arrive just as a cold snap moved through the area, so even though we were a bit further south, it wasn’t far enough south and the temperatures dropped down to just about freezing. (It actually started sleeting as we arrived!)

So we found ourselves in a canvas tent in 33°F (0.5°C) temperatures, with a dinky little wood stove that burned through the 2 or 3 pieces of wood you could fit into it very quickly. Suffice it to say, we did not have the best time at night – having to get up every few hours to stoke the fire and add more wood. (My wife did most of this fire-tending, bless her, which meant she didn’t get much sleep.) Mornings weren’t any better – although there was hot water for the shower, the air inside the tent was still quite cold, as it took a long time to get the fireplace going enough to really warm things up.

Fast-forward to a couple weeks ago, when my wife stumbled across another “glamping” site, this time up in the Hudson Valley of New York. We both agreed it looked like a very nice site, and somewhat on a whim, we decided to make another attempt at this “glamping” thing and booked ourselves in for a weekend. We figured that we’d have a much nicer time camping in the summer than in the late fall!

So we’re heading up to the Hudson Valley soon, to try our luck with this “glamping” thing again and see if we can have a nicer experience – and also to try again at unplugging from the outside world for a few days to relax. During our last glamping trip, my wife was unable to really relax, as circumstances at her job required her to attend to things and even do some work while we were there. Hopefully this time we can both turn off our phones (or at least stop checking our work email) and really enjoy the experience for a while. (Fingers crossed!)

Regardless, I will post an update here once we’re back and let you know how it all went!