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!

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!

A Lonely Social Media Vacation Report

Being off social media for a while was good, but it started to get lonely, so… I’m back!

Over a month ago I decided to take a break from social media for a while – a social media vacation, if you will. Ultimately, I’m glad I took a break – my social media was starting to consume me instead of the other way around – but at the same time, I’m also glad to be back again. This is because, and I know this might sound kind of silly, but being off social media was… lonely?

It’s strange how loneliness is still kind of a shunned topic these days. Although we’ve become much more open to talking about depression, and how it’s not your fault and so forth, when it comes to loneliness, the common perception is still that the root cause of it is something you’ve done to yourself. “Get out more,” “join a club,” or “make some friends” are things that people might say or think.

Easier said than done.

In my case, I work from home full-time, so all my interactions with co-workers are done online. Outside of work, I have no close friends nearby, and so all my social interactions have to be done either online or else very infrequently. Given this, taking a vacation from social media effectively meant taking a vacation from almost everyone I knew.

“But Keith,” I might hear some of you say, “aren’t you an introvert? Don’t you like being alone?” Ah yes, a classic misunderstanding. There is a big difference between “being alone” and “being lonely.” Also, being an introvert doesn’t mean wanting to be alone all the time – instead it means more needing to be alone, sometimes.

As for the “alone” vs “lonely” thing, these are obviously not the same thing. I can be alone (no one around) while not being lonely (because I just spoke to someone, or because I’m interacting with people remotely). Likewise, I can be among a huge group of people (not alone) but be very lonely (not feeling a connection to any of them).

And this circles back to my social media vacation experience: because I am often alone (sometimes weeks go by where the only other human being I see in person is my wife), cutting off my social media experience cut me off from my major way of interacting/connecting with people – which naturally left me feeling a bit lonely after a while. (Luckily I did allow myself other communication methods during my self-imposed social media vacation, such as private chats and email, which helped keep me from feeling totally isolated.)

So while I’m glad I took a break to sort of re-calibrate myself, I’m also glad to be back and using social media again (though I plan to be a bit more strict with it, lest I end up in the same place again). It was good to use this blog as an outlet rather than tweeting everything, and I plan to continue to use it – in case it’s not obvious, I do actually really enjoy writing!

So that’s my report on my experience with a little more than a month away from social media. If you find yourself feeling consumed by social media in a similar way, you might try taking a break from it as well. It’ll be hard at first – goodness knows it was for me as well – but I do think it’s worth doing every now and again.

2019 Summer Road Trip

Who plans a summer road trip just to see a bridge? We do!

So, this past Memorial Day weekend my wife and I embarked on one of the longest road trips we’ve ever done – driving down the east coast to Cape May, NJ, and then along the shore to the Chesapeake Bay, over the bay and back up north via Richmond VA, Washington DC, Baltimore MD, and of course a large portion of the NJ Turnpike.

The idea for this road trip stretches back years and years – when my wife first heard of the “Chesapeake Bay Bridge & Tunnel” and decided she’d like to see it someday. So back in January of this year we decided that it was time to finally make this trip, and we started planning and booking hotels.

Eventually we settled on the long weekend of Memorial Day, plus an extra day for traveling (Friday – Monday). We’d drive down to Cape May NJ and explore the town a bit before catching the ferry over to Delaware, where we’d spent the night in Ocean City in Maryland before heading down a bit further to Chincoteauge in Virginia, and then finally onwards to the bridge/tunnel – with a final overnight in Richmond, Virginia, before the long drive back home.

The trip started a little bit late on Friday morning, mainly due to the fact that my wife had been in Ottowa, Canada, during the week and due to severe thunderstorms had been delayed there overnight Thursday – meaning I was picking her up at the airport very early that Friday morning, instead of early the prior Thursday evening as originally planned.

However, we got on the road and made good time down the Garden State Parkway to Cape May, where we stopped at a brewery (Cape May Brewing) for lunch & some very nice beer (with a suitable wait before heading out again).

Cape May ferry
A beautiful day for a ferry ride

Then it was the roughly 90 minute journey across the Delaware Bay via the Cape May ferry to, uh, well, Delaware! But we didn’t dwell long in Delaware, setting our sights on Ocean City Maryland, where our hotel awaited us.

Ocean City was a bit of a shock for the both of us – we’d never been anywhere like this, and we’re not used to this sort of tourist-focused area. “It’s like another world,” we kept saying to each other as we drove down the main road, past hotels, mini-golf courses, and other curiosities.

Nevertheless, we had a good nights sleep there and set out again the next morning to explore the barrier islands via the parks on Assateauge Island: Assateauge State Park and the Chincoteauge National Wildlife Refuge.

These islands were beautiful to explore – though I wish there weren’t so many people there (and that I’d had the right equipment on hand to qualify for driving on the beach) and we had a few very nice walks (and one not-so-nice walk that took us through the woods that were filled with mosquitoes after we’d mistakenly decided to forego bug spray). We even saw the famous wild horses (or ponies) of the island – though I didn’t stop to take their photos, as there were too many other people around.

Sunset over the bay
Sunset over the bay

One stop we did make along the way was at Wallops Island – because I, as a huge space nerd, couldn’t help but stop at the NASA installations on Wallops Island.

We spent the night at Chincoteauge before pushing on to the main event: the Chesapeake Bay Bridge & Tunnel.

It was at this point along the road trip that my car, the Keithombile-E, really hit its stride as far as fuel efficiency was concerned, topping out at 41 MPG – a remarkable feat for an angular SUV that weighs nearly 4,500 pounds! That little 2.1 liter twin-turbo diesel can really sip fuel when on flat roads with almost no stopping. (In case you can’t tell, I was very proud of this achievement!)

We only got a photo while it was at 40.6; it hit 41 MPG shortly after.

Finally though, at long last, we approached our goal: the bridge. We’d known that it was going to be big, but we were not quite prepared for just how big it was. We had already decided we’d cross the bridge 3 times: once going up, then back, and then across one last time. The first crossing was done almost entirely in silence as we took in the experience: over the first span, then on to the artificial island in the middle of the enormous Chesapeake Bay, the into the tunnel, then back onto the bridge again, then another artificial island and tunnel combo, and then the final span.

Selfie just before the start of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge & Tunnel

What a marvel of engineering! It’s a shame that the islands are closed at the moment (they are adding a second tunnel in each direction) – because apparently there was a restaurant you could stop at on them, and I wish we could’ve done that – it would’ve been very cool!

After our first round-trip over the bridge we stopped off at Cape Charles to visit another brewery (and completing the “cape-to-cape” portion of our trip).

Cape Charles Brewing Co. Beer
This brewery had some very good beers!
Oversized cans of beer from Cape Charles brewing
The beer was so good that we bought a few cans to take home with us. And did I mention the cans are HUGE?

We filmed our final crossing (my wife did all the picture-taking and filming since I was driving), and then it was onwards to Richmond for our final stay of the trip.

Although the hotel we stayed at in Richmond had a fancy roof-top bar, we didn’t make much use of it – we were both very tired by the end of the day and so we went to bed rather early.

We got up early the next day and started out on the long push for home – roughly 5 hours straight from Richmond, VA up to Morristown, NJ. With the holiday weekend ending we didn’t want to delay for too long lest we encounter bad traffic – which we had thus far mercifully avoided.

Once again, my faithful Keithmobile performed admirably, making the trip home an easy one. We only had to stop once – and that was for me, not for the car! We arrived home safe & sound (and relatively early in the day – about 12:45pm), and that was the end of our epic roadtrip!

Final MPG: 38.1
Final MPG for the second half of the trip: 38.1 MPG. Not too shabby!

All in all it was a great trip – we hit very little in the way of traffic, we got to see a lot of neat places, and we were comfortable the entire way. We were glad to be home, but we were just as glad we did this trip. Now given the success of this trip, who knows… maybe another road trip will be in our future? We’ll see!