First year seasonal camping 2017 Part 1

We were so excited to get started we showed up in early April a few days before they were technically open and they really weren’t quite ready for us. The ground was still soft and when I was jockeying the camper back and forth I got the truck stuck!


Fortunately the owner used his bobcat to get us positioned and pulled me out. That weekend Haley and I came out and camped for the first time, Julia was still finishing up tax season. Our site was completely covered about 6-8″ deep in fall leaves. We spent weeks raking and burning them until they were all gone.

Soon we began to do a little landscaping and improving the site.

Every time we camped we worked on improving the site – we cleaned up downed branches and Nathaniel and I chopped, sawed or broke them into small enough lengths that we could burn. The picnic table was kind-of falling apart, so one weekend I brought out some lumber and tools and fixed it up. The owner would have done that for us but I enjoyed it. There was also a small pile of trash the previous site owners had left that we cleaned up. They had discarded some perfectly good glass-and-iron tiki torches and some solar garden lights that I cleaned up and got working.

We finally got a chance to use the new campfire grill that I got Julia for Christmas, and we ate like kings every weekend.

One of the things we like so much about this campground is how much stuff there is to do. Every weekend there are movies on Friday night and crafts saturday afternoon. There is a slip-N-slide and bouncy house, there is a pool and a petting zoo. Fishing, canoeing and paddle boats, a private fireworks display every fourth of July.

One of my favorite things about seasonally camping is how you can just head up on a random weeknight. The camper is actually a shorter drive from our jobs than our house. All you had to do was grab a change of clothes and you could take a mini-vacation anytime. One of those times I went to leave and managed to get my van stuck in the ditch!


Our other favorite thing is getting to know people. We were very fortunate and had some good neighbors. Our next door neighbor is Dave and always managed to show up at dinner time! Seriously, he was a nice guy and we enjoyed having him over. Our neighbors across from us Doug and Mandy had a son Nathaniel’s age and a younger son and they all spent a lot of time together. When Mandy marched over and introduced herself and offered me a beer, we knew we had hit the neighbor lottery!

There were a few other couples on our loop we got to know, all nice folks, but strangley most of the campers on our loop were rarely used – the owners came out on major holiday weekends only, two or three weekends. The rest of the time our loop was very quiet.

One thing that surprised me about seasonal camping back in the woods – I loved the privacy and the trees, but I was surprised I missed the people-watching and the action closer to the office & pool.

By the time Memorial Day weekend rolled around, the trees were finally fully leaved out, all of the campsites were finally open, the pool was open and we had really settled in and made our site feel more like our own. We camped every weekend but one and several weekdays also. The kids got out of school and we looked forward to a summer full of camping!

Second half of camping 2016

OK, so nearly 2 years has flown by and I haven’t written another word, but 3 weeks ago I broke my ankle and am laid up for several weeks so I finally have the time to get this blog caught up!

After our Cleveland trip, we went back to our favorite campground, Autumn Lakes in Sunbury. This time we got site W, which oriented the camper right on the lake, sort-of off by itself and parallel to the water. We had been wanting to try this space, and we used it for a 5-day July 4th weekend. We went back to Autumn Lakes later that month.

In adding these photos, I forgot we had a scare at Autumn Lakes. We found our small dog Tessie had a hair band stuck in her neck. We had to find a local emergency vet on a holiday weekend. Fortunately it worked it out. Also, I caught a fish for the first time since I was a kid.

I also forgot we camped at Mount Gilead State Park in the blistering heat. Nathaniel and I took a long hike around the lake.

Near the end of July we tried a new Campground, Back 40, which is over by Bellefontaine. We liked it a lot, but the kids were disappointed it did not have a pool.It did have a swimming as well as a fishing pond. As it happened, the entire campground and the owner’s house that went with it was all for sale for $400k, and it was fun to dream for awhile!

You can see the dry creek bed behind our campsite at Back 40 above. Also, coming home for the first time ever I nervously pulled into a gas station and gassed the truck. That overhead roof looks so low, but as you can see there was plenty of room!

In August we camped at Alum Creek again, and had a wonderful surprise where nearly two dozen family members and friends all independently suddenly decided to come visit us! Things were crowded there for a while, but it was nice having our family and friends there.

A few pics of the crowd!

Later in August we went back to Jellystone in Mount Gilead, which had been our other favorite place. When we were still 10-15 miles away, we began to hear a strange noise from the front right truck wheel. We made it into the campground and got set-up, and when I checked the truck I found there was grease leaking all over the right front tire from the wheel hub. I called my good friend Adam, who is a certified mechanic, and borrowed a jack. He ended up coming out with his wife Kristi and son Anthony and he and I had to work on the truck most of the day saturday and sunday morning. Turns out the outer wheel bearing shattered and tore up the hub. Adam replaced all the bad parts, re-ground the hub smooth with an angle grinder and re-packed the bearings and got us back on the road, one of many many times he has saved us that way! When we got back I took the truck to the shop and they verified the work was done right and did the other front wheel also.

Another thing that happened when we were there that weekend, our site lost power for several hours. It was an expensive, frustrating, and not very fun weekend.

In September we took our camper to the Delaware County fairgrounds for the fair week, which always coincides with my birthday. Julia and her mom and sister take this week off and have fun at the fair. My sister-in-law puts her camper next to ours and it is a blast.


In October we went back to Autumn Lakes one more time for Halloween. We were handing out trick-or-treat candy and talking to the campground owner. We had been on a waiting list to seasonally camp there since 2014. She said some sites were coming open over the weekend, and for us to look at a few potential sites to pick our preference as we were finally near enough to the top of the list that we might finally make it, and a few weeks later we found out we did! So starting in 2017 we would spend every weekend seasonally camping in the same site, something we had been wanting to do since we started camping in 2010.

Finally, we had one last fall fling camping trip at Cardinal Campground with my friends from work. We were done hauling and traveling for awhile, and looked forward to the spring of 2017 to find out what seasonally camping was like!



Camping in Cleveland


Streetsboro, actually.

So, Nathaniel and Haley’s biological mom’s family lives in Hinckley. We visit them a few times a year, but unfortunately since it is a 2+ hour drive up and 2+ hours back, we maybe get to spend 3 hours there. Their full-blood brother lives up there, and they want/need to spend more time with him. So, when their cousin Brittany graduated from high school and we were invited up for the party, we decided to camp up there so the kids could spend more time together.

The kids’ Uncle Ken recommended a KOA right down the road, and I checked it out and it looked good. We booked the weekend and even took off friday so we would have more time up there.

So with our old camper, it was 5800 pounds and we had no WD hitch so if we got the camper over 50 mph it would begin to sway. Our new camper is over 7700 lbs GVWR but out truck maxes out at 8600. I am sure we are several hundred pounds over weight, fully loaded. So far, it had not been a problem. With the new camper and the WD hitch we could cruise along at 70 mph no problem!

Well, then we went up to Cleveland. I never noticed before when I was driving in a car that about 75% of the drive to cleveland was UPHILL. We were crusing along at 70 mph when all of a sudden the engine started screaming and the RPMs jumped to over 4000! I had to kick off cruise, and from that point on, on any of those long uphill grades, I had to take it off cruise and keep the speed around 55 mph or so to keep the engine revs in the green.

We know that in a few years we will need to get a better, newer truck to haul this camper, but we still need to get a few years out of this one. We dont do much freeway driving so it normally wont be a problem, but lesson learned!

So, the KOA in Streetsboro was nice:

They gave us and end space, which looked awful on the map but turned out to be one of the sites we’ve had:


Tons of room to spread out, nicely landscaped, and they even bent the rules and let Nathaniel set up his tent. Super nice staff, which made up for the long wait to check in. The guy ahead of us was driving a huge class A and towing a sailboat! And they staff was panicked trying to find him a site where he would fit! It all worked out though.

This dock was even more rickety than it looks! One of the few downsides of the campground.
We had a visitor!
Nathaniel roughing it. Notice the extension cord to power his iPod and his earbuds so he could watch Netflix!

We had a great time. Saturday night it poured buckets, and we learned another lesson with the new camper. Our awning was out and all of a sudden there was a huge lake of water on top, so for the first time I had to angle the awning so the water would run off! A little scary there for a bit.

Sunday morning the kids Uncle Ken and Aunt Deanne brought their brother to the campground and the kids fished and swam for a few hours before we had to head back. We spent a lot of time talking to Ken and Deanne, and we successfully transferred the camping bug to them! There are some nice cabins at that KOA and I would not be surprised if they are visitors there soon!

On the drive home we had one more first with the new camper. We hit lots of construction heading home and the 2.5 hour drive took us 3.5 hours. We were hungry about halfway home, and for the first time we pulled into a truck stop to eat. It was a TA up near Lodi. I was not sure what to do or where to go, so I parked with the semis while Julia and the kids walked in and picked up food to go from a Pop-Eye’s chicken. I was too nervous to leave the truck unattended, so I sat out on the tarmac. I was a little amazed to see the truck scales, truck wash, maintenance buildings, etc.

Hoping nobody tells me to move!

We were ok on gas so I didnt have to gas up while hooked up, which would have been another first, but I gained a little more confidence so that I will be a little more prepared for when I eventually have to.

Our favorite thing to do!

So now, for the first time in the year-and-a-half since I started this blog, I am caught up! This was our last trip 2 weeks ago, and our next trip is 2 weeks from now. It will be nice to not be overwhelmed with all of the blogging to catch up on. Next time, we are back at Autumn Lakes for Fourth of July!

Visiting the RV/MH Museum


So last year Julia found the RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum in Elkhart, Indiana; and ever since we have wanted to go. So this year for Mother’s day, we went. We did not take the camper, as we are not yet confident enough to take it so far (4.5 hours) away.

First let me say I underrated Indiana. The only part of Indiana I had ever seen before was on the way to and around Indianapolis, which is all flat and featureless. So I was surprised at how BEAUTIFUL northeast Indiana is – rolling hills, woods, hundreds of cleat lakes – wow! We even saw a few campgrounds we would like to try out.

Another thing – right before you get to the state line in Ohio, around Van Wert, are hundreds and hundreds of huge power-generating windmills. VERY cool to see.

Another cool thing about the area were the Amish. They are everywhere. They ride bikes in addition to buggies. I also saw not one but TWO 8-10 year old Amish girls mowing the grass on HUGE riding mowers. One morning we ate at an Amish restaurant – Das Essenhaus. What was cool was that unlike the Der Dutchman/Dutch Kitchen-type restaurants I am used to around here, not only do the Amish WORK at that restaurant, but they all EAT there too, in huge family groups.

So honestly I was amazed by the RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum. My first thought was “How do you get in the RV Hall of Fame?” Turns out, you just donate a bunch of money to the museum or work for one of the trailer manufacturers or something. We didn’t go through that part, which was just hundreds of 8×10 black and white headshots of old white guys. But the museum was great!

I expected maybe a handful of campers. They had dozens and dozens, from every era. And you could walk through most of them. They had the very first RV from 1926 all the way up to brand-new models. I wish I had descriptions of most of them, but it was all I could do to get the photos, it was a free for all with everyone running from camper to camper.

I thought it was cool how you could see the designs change over time. In the 1920s, they built them like wagons. In the 1930s they built them like train cars. In the 40s it was Art Decco and Flash Gordon! In the 50s and 60s they began to take the modern shape we know now. Here are just a select few photos:


By the way, the MH in “RV/MH Museum” stands for Mobile Home. There was a brand-new modular model outside you could walk through. This coming summer, they are having a huge RV show on the grounds there. Oh, and the goofy family photo at the top of this article was taken at an exhibit inside.

We were very surprised and pleased and we will definitely go back!

A couple more things about Elkhart. We happened to get there on the 200th anniversary of Indianas statehood, and went to a founders day celebration in a little town. There was music, arts and crafts, food, shops, etc. My favorite was the Amish buggy races, where two people sat in a buggy and two people pulled it down main street, then they switched halfway and the other two pulled it back. And even people from the crowd participated.

Lastly, all over Elkhart are dozens of huge concrete Elks. Each one is painted differently. I think it is like a big scavenger hunt kind-of thing, trying to find all of them and get a selfie with them. Here is the one outside the museum:


Back to Autumn Lakes!


In early May we went back to one of our favorite places, Autumn lakes. We have camped there twice a year every year. We just love everything about it. This time we went with our friends Mike and Betty again, and their friends Jeff and Pam whom we have camped with many times before.

Just a few days before our trip, the weather was gorgeous. Unfortunately, that weekend it turned wet, rainy, COLD and WINDY! The temperature was in the 40s and 30s and the wind cut right through you. Saturday it basically rained all day and all three families gave up trying to sit around the fire and mostly huddled inside our campers. We did all join together for a run into town for pizza!

The weather dried up, the wind died down and the temperature returned to normal Sunday morning, of course, just in time to pack up and head home. Definitely not the greatest camping trip we have ever been on, but we were all still glad we went!

We did have one bit of excitement. During a very rare few minutes when no one was tending the fire, a wind gust blew my chair into the fire ring and it caught on fire! I was in our camper and the next thing I know I look out and my friend Mike is walking, carrying my flaming camp chair!


The scorched remains!


That sucked, I loved that chair! Oh well, lesson learned. On to the next trip!

Camping with visitors


So our second camping trip of the year we went back to Cross Creek. It is a nice full-service campground across the street from Alum Creek state park. Because it is just up the road from Westerville and just outside Columbus, it is close enough for family and friends to visit, and they did!


My parents drove up and visited us and saw our new camper for the first time. It was nice having guests. The only other time we ever had visitors was when we were at Cross Creek two years ago and Julia’s dad and mother-in-law visited.

Cross Creek is a nice campground, and it was nicer being in a full hook-up site closer to the front this time, but it is just lacking something for us. The sites are close together and there are not enough trees for our taste. Although there are some gorgeously landscaped seasonal lots, the seasonal campers have been very standoffish there.

In any event, we stayed three days – we had to, they only rent their full-hookup pull-through sites for three days on the weekends!- and it is always a nice feeling on Sunday morning sitting and relaxing watching everyone ELSE pack up and hurry home!

So, we got our first camping trip under our belt in the new camper by ourselves. Nothing great, but the weather was gorgeous and it was wonderful just to be outside together!

These fire rings looked cool, but were very flimsy and bent. Also, the ring was so close to the camper it set off the smoke detectors!


First camping trip in the new camper.


So in late April we camped at Cardinal with our friends Mike and Betty. We wanted to camp somewhere close the first time out, and Mike taught me most of what I know about campers so I wanted friendly support as I learned the ropes of the new rig.

Just sitting and watching the fire is maybe my favorite thing to do camping.

The nights were a little chilly, as you would expect for April in Ohio, but we lucked into great weather. Saturday it was actually hot! We also found a huge pile of split seasoned hardwood that someone left behind, so we burned that all weekend and saved our own. Bonus!


Friday night Mike and I were tired and turned in early, but Saturday we had a long, lazy day of gorgeous weather. Mike and Betty brought their new puppy Raven. Sunday we four walked up to Farmstead for a great if expensive breakfast, then the girls all went to a craft show that was being held at the campground. We got home early and all in all had a very smooth experience.

Except for one thing. We couldn’t find the hot water tank bypass valve, so for friday night and saturday morning we had no hot water. Finally Mike found it:

You see the hot water tank bypass valve, don’t you? No?
How about now? Still no?


Oh yeah. You need to remove two screws and a false panel to see it. Obvious, right? And there is NOTHING about it in the owner’s manual!

So now I have modified that panel so it is easier to get to. Good news is we finally got hot water. But, geesh!

So our first trip went well, next we were ready to try it on our own!

New Camper!


So, like I said, we planned to buy a new camper NEXT year, in 2017. But in January, we went to the Boat and RV show at the fairgrounds. After camping for 2 years we know better now what we really want, and what we DON’T. Although we did not go in with high expectations, we found a few models that we just kept thinking about.

The RV dealer kept the Show pricing going for a few weeks, and we made a few trips over. We kept coming back to two models in particular, and the more we looked at them (on the coldest, windiest day of the year) the more we just fell in love with one in particular.

It was by a maker we had never heard of – Grand Design.Our model is an Imagine 2800BH. Apparently Grand Design used to only make toy haulers, but expanded to travel trailers. We just loved everything about it, nowhere did we have to settle. It gave us more than we expected everywhere, and with the Show discount we saved about $10,000.

So after we brought it home, we got our old camper to sell and posted it. To refresh your memory:

We posted it on Craigslist for what we had in it, and immediately had multiple offers. The very first couple who looked at it drove off with it. From the time I posted it until it was off our property was 2 hours! So, out with the old, in with the new! We camped 19 times in three years and travelled 1,685 miles with our old camper. It was a perfect starter camper for us.

We leapt forward 36 years in RV technology in one bound! We had to learn how to operate everything. Also, our new camper required a weight distribution hitch with sway bars, which we never had before, so that had a learning curve.

An unexpected problem reared its head early on. Our old camper was 25 feet long.Our new one is 30′ bow to stern, 32′ with the tongue, so it didn’t fit in the same spot in the driveway. We decided to add more gravel and expand our driveway beside our pole barn. That way it is out of the way, and we can keep it plugged in to shore power. Here is our driveway before:

And after:

40 tons of gravel. Looks great, right? Small problem. Instead of delivering crushed limestone gravel, which is sharp, oddly shaped, and locks together like puzzle pieces; they delivered 80,000 pounds of round river rock. So now, instead of a flat hard surface to drive on, my entire 200 foot driveway was like loose marbles. When you WALKED on it you sank in up to your ankles! Forget trying to back a camper up it, uphill! At first I got the camper stuck sideways in the driveway blocking the garage and the truck stuck in the yard, buried in the mud up to the axles.

Eventually we got the camper straight and the truck unstuck, but the best we could do is put the camper halfway up the driveway straight and drive around it:


Eventually, little by little the driveway has compacted down and firmed up. This past weekend I managed to get it halfway beside the pole barn before the truck bogged down in the loose stone. Eventually I hope to rent a plate compactor and spread some lime dust and pack it all down really well. In the mean-time, it is workable.

So, now we started personalizing the camper and making little improvements. From simple decoration:

To more practical concerns:

Nowhere to hang a coat? There is now!


What doofus builds a bathroom without TOWELL BARS? Where are you supposed to put your towells?

We usually camp with our small dog, Tessie. We don’t want her claws to snag the screen door so we added this panel. I am going to replace it soon with clear plexiglas cut to the proper size:mods


And mundane mods: A place to hang a broom, something to keep stuff in place while traveling:

I have also began some more functional modifications, but more on those later. Now we are ready to camp for the first time in 2016, and in April, we did!

NEXT: First time camping in the new camper.

Last camping trips of 2015


So in September we boondocked at the Delaware County Fair again. That was fun and it wasn’t as cold as the previous year. Unfortunately once again I didn’t get any pictures. Julia’s sister brought her camper and with ours made a little compound. Julia’s mom and her sister and the kids spent a lot of time there that whole week, and I finally got to stay the night once. I volunteered for my company in our booth in the vendor building, just talking to the public, handing out OhioHealth goodies, etc. Always fun.

I had to stop by after work one day and pick up the kids and it happened to be on Jug day. The Little Brown Jug is the name of the largest sulky horse race in the U.S. A sulky is a little two-wheel carriage that is hitched to the horse, also called “harness racing”. The whole town of Delaware is flooded on the days before and after the race with all kinds of fesitvals and activities. When I picked up the kids that day the traffic was insane! I think it took me 90 minutes to get in from town and another 90 or so to get out. Lesson learned: AVOID JUG DAY!

We also had problems when we went to leave. To get into the fairgrounds you have to set-up a few days before the fair starts and pick up your camper a few days after the fair is over. We had to keep going back to get ours, because every other truck and trailer in the campgrounds left one by one, except the guy who set up his camper right in front of mine blocking access to my hitch! We even had to call the fairgrounds office a few times, but maybe a week later we finally got it done.

Then in October, we camped back at Deer Creek with my coworker Dave and his wife Angela. Dave doesnt own a camper, just a tent. Nathaniel also set up his tent on our site and we got adjoining sites with a nice large area between for a common area.

That friday night, Dave and Angela introduced us to Cards Against Humanity. Lee and Tracy Perkins, our full-timing friends, had blogged about that game a few years ago but we had never played. That was a blast! It was mid-October, though, so the nights were chilly!

All food tastes better outside!


Tessie was also cold, but loves to snuggle!

So we didn’t camp as many times in 2015, but we tried to make the trips longer and better. We also held a hard line at paying for all trips cash! In 2014 we were so excited to get out camping that unfortunately a lot of the expenses went on plastic. That added up fast!

One of my favorite things to do camping is just looking at the trees. Like John Candy said in The Great Outdoors: “I just see trees”.

So we ended 2015 feeling like camping pros. We had a great set-up and hitch-up routine, had experiences ups and downs and felt confident in our ability to navigate the camping lifestyle. Our plan was to get through one more year of camping with our old Shasta camper, then in late 2016 or early 2017 buy a new camper. That was the PLAN! ­čÖé

Five days of fun in the sun


Our other favorite campground is Dogwood Valley Jellystone. Jellystone is a National chain, like KOA. We camped there in 2014 and were amazed at how clean and well kept the park is. It is more like a resort. Next year we hope to seasonally camp, and it will either be at Autumn Lakes or here.

We camped for five days, which was a first for us and amazing. However, the trip started off bumpy. When we got there and hooked up, we lost power after a few minutes. The breakers in the camper and at the pillar were good. Our electrical plug had been falling apart for some time. Our camper was 35 years old, and instead of a molded plug like modern campers, this one was screwed together of┬áseveral pieces of brittle plastic. I took it apart and it needed rewired. I wasn’t planning on having to do this in the field, but I pressed on. I got it done, and STILL no power. So I decided to replace the plug.

Here is where the adventure started. The camp store was large but mostly full of overpriced souvenirs and didn’t have it. So we drove into town (Mount Gilead) and checked at the mom and pop hardware store. No dice. No camping stuff at all, which I found a little surprising that close to a major campground.

So we asked around and were referred to a mom and pop RV dealership way out in the sticks. So glad we found this place, they had everything we could need. Got the plug and met the husband and wife owners who were great. Got back to the campground and fixed the plug.

STILL no power. At this point I was sure it was NOT our camper so I called down to the office. They sent out a guy on a Gator, and it turns out our bad plug tripped a breaker on a pole (a tree, really) down the road about 150′ from our campsite and about 10 feet in the air. I never would have found that.

This was August so all of this happened on our first set-up day in 90+ degree heat so when we were done 3 hours later I was pretty pooped! We also had a nice feature we had never had before at our campsite – cable TV!

Our dinette during the day converts to my bed at night, with TV!

I knew they had cable so I brought a length of coax but it was not long enough. I bought more coax in the camp store, but it wasn’t long enough either, and they didn’t sell connectors so you could join two lengths together (what we AV professionals call RF or Coax “barrels” or female-female couplers, which sounds dirty but isn’t!) So this caused another run into town.

Mount Gilead is a quaint little town. I like it a lot. The local Radio Shack is housed inside a combination drug store/ice cream shop. I had to dig DEEP in the drawers of connectors and finally found ONE coax barrel. Voila! Cable TV!

The rest of the trip went great. The kids played on the water slides, beach or pool all day. Nathaniel went canoeing and used the gym. On Sunday, Julia’s sister and her family came out and we all spent the day at the beach in the water.

It was on this trip that we started using our recycle containers. I always felt bad enjoying the outdoors and then throwing all the cans and bottles in the trash. No more!
I always seem to take lots of pictures of trees and leaves when I camp!