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!

The American’s Guide to Australia

Everything you ever wanted to know about Australia (but were afraid to ask). It’s a fantastic reference guide!

Or, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Australia but were Afraid to Ask.

Just a handy little reference guide for anyone who wants to know more about that crazy land down on the bottom of the Earth.

(Note that some of these terms may not be specific to Australia – for example, some are common to the UK as well as other Commonwealth Realms.)

Prepare to be confused!

Flat White: An espresso based drink, like a latte but with little or no foam.

Tea: The evening meal, what Americans would probably just call “dinner.” Not to be confused with “tea” the drink. Also not to be confused with “teatime,” which is the time you drink the tea, not the time you eat tea (which would be “tea time”, or “time for tea”). Confused yet?

Ute: Short for “utility,” as in “utility vehicle,” what Americans would call a truck or pickup truck. More often than not, this refers to a uniquely Australian type of vehicle that bears more than a passing resemblance to the old Chevy El Camino car/truck thing.

Wrong side of the road: Unlike most of the civilized world, Australians drive on the left side of the road, with the steering wheel on the right side of the car. This, combined with their relative isolation, means that most Australian cars are either locally produced or come from Japan (which also drives on the left – a.k.a. “wrong” – side of the road), with a smattering of European models (the right-hand drive versions, of course) thrown in for good measure. Even more oddly, one of the biggest Australian car companies (Holden) is actually a subsidiary of GM (General Motors), and there are also a lot of Fords running around. Go figure.

Petrol: Like their UK cousins, this is what Australians call gasoline. Also don’t forget that it’s sold by the liter, not the gallon, and that liters are smaller than gallons… and don’t forget to factor in the exchange rate too. (Basically, what I’m trying to say here is that gasoline is more expensive in Australia, much like it is in Europe.)

$2 coins: Unlike here in the US, where the largest denomination coin you’re likely to run into in normal usage is a quarter ($0.25), in Australia you’re very likely to run into their $1 and $2 coins – the latter of which are ridiculously heavy, given their small size. So don’t just toss your change into your pocket or cup or whatever – it’s probably worth more than you realize!

Alfoil: Aluminum foil, or what Americans might colloquially call “tin foil” (even though it’s not made of tin). A rare case of when the Australian term for something actually makes more sense than the American term, and also an example of the Australian habit of shortening the names of things.

Biscuits: The sweet kind, not the savory kind. What we in America would probably just call “cookies.”

Cool change: This is exactly what it sounds like – a change in temperature (getting cooler). Often – but not always – accompanied by some rain showers (which often come with the cold front that causes the “cool change”).

Weber: A generic term for an outdoor grill. Usually means the big round “kettle” style kind made by the Weber company, but not always. Sometimes even used to refer to any grill – including gas grills!

Barbie: No, not the doll, the stereotypical term for “barbecue,” which I have never actually heard used. If you use this term, you are basically identifying yourself as an ignorant tourist.

Yank or Yankie: Slang term for us – that is, Americans. Generally not used in a negative sense.

Top End: The top (northern) end of Australia, which it is important to remember is closer to the equator, and therefore tropical. Oddly enough, it does not refer to the northernmost part of Australia (which would be Cape York), but instead to the 2nd northernmost part (around Darwin).

Outback: Generally speaking, the large, remote, and very sparsely populated interior of Australia.

The Bush: What we in America would probably just call “the woods” or a “forest,” but drier and of course filled with native Australia trees (usually Eucalyptus trees – see “Gum tree” below).

Gum tree: Colloquial term for a Eucalyptus tree. May refer to any of the several actual species of trees (much the same way we here in the US use the term “pine tree” to refer to any of several different species of trees). Variations on this term include “Red Gum,” “River Gum,” “Snow Gum,” “Ghost Gum,” etc. Have a nasty tendency to drop dead branches without warning, so watch out when walking around them. Has absolutely nothing to do with the stuff you chew.

Ayer’s Rock / Uluru: More commonly referred to these days with its original native name of “Uluru,” this is that big (as in, friggin’ huge) rock out in the near-center of Australia.

Aborigines / Indigenous Australians: The original native people of Australia. Basically, these are Australia’s equivalent to our Native Americans – the people who lived there before Europeans came along and stole their land and destroyed their culture. Be careful what term you use when talking about them – it’s a bit of a sensitive topic, not unlike using the term “Indian” (when used to refer to Native Americans) would be here in the US.

Vegemite: It’s spreadable yeast. It’s gross. Don’t eat it. Trust me.

Chemist: Strangely, this refers to what we in America would call a pharmacy or drugstore. May also refer to the person in the store, which we would call a pharmacist.

Thongs: Amusingly enough, in Australia this refers to footwear, not underwear. What we would call flip-flops or sandals (the kind that have that little strap that goes between your big toe and the next one down).

Toilet: This means both the toilet itself and the room in which it is housed, but NOT necessarily the bathroom, which is often in a separate room.

Track pants: Basically, sweatpants. (You may also hear them referred to as just “trackies.”)

Prawn: This means shrimp, for some godforsaken reason. (Actually, “prawn” are technically a different suborder of animal entirely, but which still looks – and tastes – like a shrimp, so this one isn’t as odd as it seems.) Also note that the stereotypical “Australian” catch-phrase “throw another shrimp on the barbie” is technically incorrect – an Australian would almost certainly not say “shrimp,” they’d say “prawn.” And as I mentioned before, they’d probably not use the word “barbie” either. So really, the phrase should be “throw some more prawns on the webber.”

Mince: Ground beef (as in, “minced beef”). Another case of Australia’s love of shortening the names of things.

Pies: Might refer to the things you eat for dessert (fruit pies, etc.), but more likely it means meat (or savory) pies. These are just what they sound like: pies with savory fillings like meat & gravy, or sometimes vegetables (often potatoes) and curry-like sauces in them, instead of sweet stuff.

Chips: French fries; as in “fish & chips.” Outside of fast-food restaurants, they are likely to be much thicker than typical American french fries (often more like what we would call “steak fries”). Which brings us to…

Chips & Gravy: French fries doused with brown gravy. Surprisingly good!

Wedges: Fried potato wedges. Like french fries, but thicker and more… wedge shaped.

Hungry Jack’s: Australian Burger King – so named because someone else owned the trademark to “Burger King” in Adelaide, South Australia.

Crayfish: Just to make things really extra-super-confusing, this is what Australians call the lobsters they get from the ocean… but this is actually a spiny lobster, which doesn’t have claws like our lobsters, and in fact is not a true lobster at all! Compare with true crayfish, which are a fresh water species, and which DO have claws! Speaking of which…

Yabby: As if things weren’t confusing enough, this is what Australians call their freshwater crayfish (and these are true crayfish), which look more like the true lobsters Americans are familiar with (although they are somewhat smaller).

That’s about all I’ve got for now – I hope you found this little guide to be useful, or at least entertaining. Although Australia can be somewhat confusing, it really is a lovely country, and if you find yourself there, just relax and have a great time!

Traveling around the Southeast

Not as photogenic as the southwest, but still pretty fun!

I recently did a little bit of traveling around the southeast US – namely, Florida and Louisiana – and of course I took a whole bunch of photos while I was there.

You can view the whole collection here, but here’s the short version:

mother alligator

baby alligator closeup

I went to Florida and saw some alligators, both big and small.

the everglades

I saw the Everglades.

view of the 7-mile bridge

I drove across a LOT of long (and short) bridges.

keith and the southernmost point marker in key west

I stood at the (almost) southernmost point in the continental United States.

bourbon street lit up at night

Then I jumped over to New Orleans and experienced Bourbon Street in the French Quarter at night.

steamer natchez (side)

Then I took a steamboat ride on the only remaining truly steam-powered passenger paddle steamer left on the Mississippi River.

sunset aboard the natchez - port side, looking aft

sunset and the city of new orleans

Did I mention the steamboat ride was a leisurely 2-hour cruise at sunset?

wall of graves

Then I saw a neat cemetery.

st charles tram

And rode on an old tram train.

houmas house from the front

Before finally visiting some beautiful old plantations…

bocage plantation at dusk

…VERY beautiful plantations…

having some light snacks at bocage plantation

…one of which we stayed in overnight!

amanda in the red room in the morning

As you can imagine, it was a very fun trip and we saw a lot of neat things and places. If you’d like to see more pictures (along with comments about what I was doing at the time), feel free to check out the full collection over on Flickr.