Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Worst & Best List (So Far)

One of the major questions people ask is our opinions on places we have stayed over the past year. This is especially true of other full-time Rvers who are always on the lookout for the best places at the lowest prices. There's nothing worse than overpaying for uncomfortable surroundings and inadequate facilities.

Overall, we've been lucky so far. Being new to the game when we hit the road, we booked stays in places we had never been and hoped for the best. Some exceeded our expectations, most were adequate and a few were outright hell holes. We realize that not everyones expectations are the same. Some people will only stay at four-star rated properties, while others are happy with only an electrical hookup and fire ring. That's fine. To each their own. The particular rankings on our list is solely based on our expectations and experiences, but the reasons why could probably be agreed upon by just about anyone.

The Worst Places We Have Stayed (So Far):

#5 - Beaver Springs Lake Campground
Location: Davenport, NY
Reasons: First, we have to give credit to the owners of Beaver Springs Lake Campground for being some of the nicest people we have met along our journey. They truly cared about our comfort and the grounds were very well maintained. Yet, the location is hard to access, is without cell phone reception or television signals, offers mainly grassy sites except for permanent residents and the wifi access advertised could only be accessed in the immediate vicinity of the office.

The major problem with our stay was the attitude of the permanent residents. They were unfriendly to the max and treated us as if we had just landed in their space with the intention of overthrowing their empire. It was weird. They never waved hello, they never spoke to us, they glared our way while speaking among themselves in whispered tones and, I'm sure, kept asking management when we were going to leave. A prime example of the overall atmosphere was when the owner rode his bike up to our spot and invited us to the weekly bingo game at the pavilion. Part of his comment was (and I'm not making this up), "At least you can get away from the Hound Of The Baskervilles for awhile." Huh??

#4 - Skidaway Island State Park
Location: Savanna, GA
Reasons: I love the low-country region of the Carolinas and Georgia. There is something very peaceful about the rivers, grassy islands and abundance of wildlife. However, Skidaway Island State Park is not the place to stay if you wish to be comfortable while enjoying the surroundings.

The park is easily accessible and hosts an extensive nature trail system replete with observation towers. But the mud-filled sites, high nightly fees, biting ants, numerous spiders, mosquitoes, bees, wasps, a wifi signal only accessible at the office area and a complete lack of customer service skills among the staff all combined for a miserable stay. We were able to take some great wildlife pictures, but left covered in huge and numerous insect bites that did not go away for weeks. This park is great for a day visit to enjoy the trails, but not recommended for an extended stay.

#3 - Fallen Rock Parke Campground
Location: Brazil, IN
Reasons: We would probably never have stayed at this park except it was the closest place we could find to Terre Haute, IN that wasn't outrageously expensive. (My youngest daughter, Jennifer, and her husband, Trent, live in Terre Haute.)

Our stay was not without drawbacks and resulted in damage to several roof vents on the RV. The park owners are nice and the grounds includes a small restaurant, but to get to the location your drive is over five miles through cornfields along very narrow roads. The grounds was filled with mature walnut trees and several strong winds caused the nuts and shells to drop on the roof like small bombs. As a result, a few cracks developed in the front roof seams and a major hits were taken by overhead vents. The shower facilities were poorly maintained and included those infernal water-flow regulators that you have to push every thirty seconds to maintain pressure. There was no cell phone reception, no television signals and weak wifi. Not a place we would recommend unless you absolutely need to be in the area.

#2 - Atlanta Marietta RV Resort Park
Location: Marietta, GA
Reasons: We stayed at this park for only one night, but would not return for two reasons; costly rates and location.

The major problem was location. The park is in the middle of a residential area that is not easily accessible from I-75. There were several times we became lost trying to locate the entrance due to poorly marked streets and busy intersections. Once we did find the place, the view from our site included a used car lot and a very busy highway. We're just glad we didn't book for an extended stay.

#1 - Frosty Acres
Location: Schenectady, NY
Reasons: As those who have read previous posts know, I now refer to this place as Frost-My-A$$ and will continue to denigrate them as often as possible. They earned it.

We came across Frosty Acres through our membership in Passport America. The place looked great on paper - free wifi, ample electric hookups, weekend activities and a great nightly rate. However, what we experienced was a lack of wifi, inadequate electrical currents, spaces too small to comfortably park any unit over thirty feet in length, a dump station at the top of a very steep hill, a smelly drainage lagoon within thirty feet of our site and questionable long-term residents. To top it all off, their total apathy towards short-term guests made the overall experience uncomfortable.

The other drawback was location. This park is in the middle of nowhere. To shop for supplies required a thirty minute drive into Amsterdam along narrow, winding and hilly roads.

The bottom line is we were deceived. After managing a resort for three years it was not hard for us to quickly understand the place is badly run. They could care less about delivering what they advertise and, I'm sure, repeat their "no refunds for early departure" policy if anyone complains or wishes to leave early. Our advise is to avoid this campground at all costs.

The Best Places We Have Stayed (So Far):

#5 - Indian Rock Campground
Location: York, PA
Reasons: First a disclaimer. If you are looking for a four-star campground, this one is not that kind of place. It is a small, private grounds with 30 RV sites and open areas for primitive camping. The sites are unpaved and access is along narrow country roads.

Aside from a great camp host, the major reason Indian Rock is on our list is all about location. The park sits about 3 miles South of York amid beautiful farms. Within short walking distance there were two places for local produce and meats. One is Miller Farms where we found fresh field corn, tomatoes and other produce. The other is Miller's Meat Market which offers not only the best meats anywhere (both fresh and smoked), but also a wide variety of homemade soups, salads, slaws, original sauces and gourmet spices. To this day we still talk about the quality of that meat. Another perk was close access to the York Heritage Rail Trail. This trail runs along sides of train tracks that were originally part of the North Central R.R. system. The entire trail is 21.3 miles in length, starting at the Pennsylvania/Maryland border and ending in downtown York. It's a beautiful area which is why we extended our stay by an additional week after arriving.

This park is basic, but recommended if you're low maintenance and enjoy superb food in a country setting.

#4 - Bonny Rigg Camping Club
Location: Becket, MA
Reasons: Again, this is a no-frills park with basic amenities. The reason it is on our list is entirely about location.

I can't say it more plainly - we are in love with the Berkshires! There is a gentle serenity to the area that captured our souls. Bonnie Rigg is actually a private "camping club" open year-round and one of the few RV parks available in the Berkshire Mountains of MA. We enjoyed a peaceful brook flowing within ten feet of our site while parked under sprawling pine tree. Beyond the park proper, the entire area is stunningly beautiful with breath-taking views at every turn. We shopped at a small market in Chester that was surprisingly well-stocked and in the middle of a very beautiful neighborhood; old Victorian homes, a gas station that looked unchanged since the fifties and a town center reminiscent of a Frank Capra movie. It is an area we will return to as soon as possible.

#3 - Promised Land State Park
Location: Greentown, PA
Reasons: We generally stay in private RV parks because they offer lower rates for extended stays. State parks and private campgrounds each have their niche and are equally comfortable in their own ways. But no matter how much research we do, we just never know if the places we choose will equal their promotional information; they all promise to the the Promised Land of RV campsites. At this park we found a place that exceeded all expectations in unexpected ways and lived up to its name.

Although it is very remote and deep into bear country, Promised Land State Park is well worth the visit. What set this stop apart from others was the near perfection of its campground and facilities. We drove along roads and parked in a site paved with new, smooth asphalt. The grounds were exceptionally clean and the bathroom facilities were like something out of Star Trek; ultra-modern lighting triggered by motion sensors, spacious showers with slanted drains, low-flow plumbing fixtures and ample hot water. The landscape is ruggedly wild and the staff, as opposed to many state parks, knows the meaning of customer service.

#2 - Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park
Location: White Springs, FL
Reasons: This was our very first stop on this journey and a place we fell in love with immediately. The park is centered around the historical influence of Stephen Foster and is defined by a plantation-era designed visitors center and lush woods filled with massive oaks draped in Spanish moss. The place just screams antebellum Old South. The centerpiece of the park is the world's largest carillon tower comprised of 97 tubular bells. From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., it chimes the hour including notes on every quarter hour. At 10, 12, 2 & 4 it also fills the park with renditions of Stephen Foster tunes. They are some of his lesser known works, but still beautifully melodic. The sounds of the bells became a very relaxing part of our days. It sits directly on the Suwanee River and hosts an open-mike coffee house the first Saturday of every month.

Most sites are on gravel, but level and close to modern, well-maintained bathrooms. The staff is exceptionally friendly, the grounds immaculate and the historical displays fascinating. As with most state parks, stays are limited to only fourteen days, but a stay at this place for even overnight is worth the trip. Between the people, the daily carillon bells and the setting it felt almost ethereal at times. Our stay at Stephen Foster is the primary reason we chose to return to the White Springs, FL area.

#1 - Kelly's RV Park
Location: White Springs, FL
Reasons: This place is not at the top of our list because we are currently staying here. It is at the top because it deserves to be in every way possible.

Aside from being well maintained and providing excellent amenities like an open library filled with hundreds of books, this place is special because of the people. From the day we arrived we were welcomed with open arms and made to feel as if we had come back home. Most of the permanent residents started the way we did. They arrived initially for a short visit and now have been here for years. It's that kind of place. Everyone is friendly, concerned about one another and works hard to make this area feel like a true neighborhood. The owners, Mary & Richard, define the meaning of gracious hosts and the rural setting is wonderfully peaceful.

I could go on for paragraphs about the joys of staying at Kelly's, but most of what I would say can be found in recent posts. Deb and I agree, it's without a doubt, the best place we have stayed so far.

Until next time, Happy Trails.

copyright 2009-2010 Lane A Geyer
photos by Deb

Enhanced by Zemanta

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Watching A Storm While Having Flashbacks

I spent most of yesterday watching the progress of Tropical Storm Bonnie as it moved across our old haunts in S. Florida. Thankfully, it broke apart before moving into the Gulf and caused no problems here at Kelly's RV Park in White Springs. At one point it was throwing off severe thunderstorms with 40 mph+ winds as far North as Orlando, so we took the precaution of rolling in the awning to avoid any further damage. That effort proved to be unnecessary as we didn't receive even a drop of rain, but after living through ten summers in Florida I've learned the hard way it's better to be safe than sorry.

Watching the progression of that storm triggered some very intense flashbacks. For the majority of the past decade I lived in the towns of Pompano Beach and Hollywood, FL on barrier islands in apartments located two blocks from the ocean and bordering the Intracoastal waterway. Prime locations for being the first under mandatory evacuation orders when hurricanes arise.

Over those years I experienced seven named Hurricanes ranging in categories from 1 to 4, and more tropical storms and depressions than I can remember. I only evacuated once and will never repeat that choice again. It was during my first hurricane, which was approaching from the East, so I thought it wiser to head West for a stay with friends in Venice. Big mistake. What should have been at most a three hour drive turned into an eight hour nightmare. The entire stretch of Alligator Alley and I-75 was bumper-to-bumper traffic comprised of mostly panicked, impatient drivers. The kicker was that upon return to Pompano the storm caused very little damage except for heavy flooding in a few neighborhoods. After that I stayed put and rode out the hurricanes no matter how dire the predictions.

The good thing about hurricanes is that you know they're headed your way days in advance. You have time to prepare and, if you're smart, have already stockpiled the basic necessities of water, canned goods, batteries, ice and charcoal. The ones who aren't smart are the idiots you see on television trying to buy whatever is left on the shelves the day before the event. By that time, believe me, you're lucky to find anything except perishables and damaged cans of kidney beans. So you prepare, attach the protective shutters, watch the Weather Channel, attend a hurricane party and pray for the best.

The weird thing about tropical storms of any intensity is they have a mind of their own. No matter how dire the predictions, I've experienced tropical storms with more sever impacts than many hurricanes and watched hurricanes take paths totally opposite of what the National Hurricane Center projected. Most of the hurricanes kept people inside for a day, but except for a few downed trees and flooded streets were of little consequence. They quickly blow through and, after enough of them, you adopt a locals attitude of thinking, "Oh well, I've been through this before and it's no big deal."

After my fourth hurricane experience I developed the same attitude. I knew the routine, always stockpiled supplies and actually looked forward to the intense energies the storms produce. I became complacent.
And then, on October 24, 2005 Hurricane Wilma arrived.

I've been through tornadoes, spent seven days snowed-in after the Blizzard of 1978 moved through Northern Indiana and almost became trapped by a flash-flood while camping in the Hoosier National Forest. But I have never gone through a more powerful experience than Hurricane Wilma.

Wilma was the most intense hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic basin and caught South Florida basically unprepared. It was the fifth hurricane to hit the region in 2005 and was originally projected to move into the Yucatan area of Mexico. Instead, it moved East and after sitting over the Gulf for two days came barreling in with sustained winds of 125 mph+, an eyewall over 40 miles in diameter and a record number of associated tornadoes.

For eight hours I sat in a one bedroom apartment listening to intense winds howl like the screams of a trapped animal, watched whole palm trees, lawn furniture, roof tiles and pieces of metal fly through the sky at immense speeds and felt the building shake like it was being hit by a locomotive. Copious amounts of rain pelleted buildings with the impact of bullets and within a short period of time the electricity disappeared. The first few hours were interesting in the thrill of experiencing something new, but after about the forth hour a deep fear emerged that it would never end and I began praying for the madness to stop. And then, suddenly, four more long hours later it did stop. Within a two minute span the conditions went from driving winds and rain to bright sunshine without a cloud in the sky.

Stepping outside after that storm came with a feeling of being a true survivor. It was a moment of giving thanks for still being alive. People emerged to look at a street covered with downed utility poles, overturned cars, uprooted trees and the remains of shattered roofs. Everyone quietly evaluated the scene for a few minutes and then, equally as quietly, returned home to recovery from the stress and prepare for the aftermath.

The aftermath proved to be an endurance test in patience, ingenuity and learning to do more with less. No one could drive out of the neighborhood for four days. Most grocery stores did not open for three days after the storm and, even then, were very short on supplies. There were no meats, dairy products, ice and only limited amounts of bread; which led to several days of meals consisting only of canned three-bean salad and crackers. Phone service, including cell, was non-existent. Eventually, people were able to get out for a few supplies (but rarely ice) and the days became a patient wait for the return of some semblance of normalcy.

Thankfully, we never lost water pressure which made for one small blessing in an otherwise difficult situation.
The most trying part was being without electricity for 15 straight days. Until you've experienced it, I don't think it's possible to explain how drastically it alters your life. It gave me a whole new respect for previous generations who lived entire lives without the conveniences of modern appliances and the comfort of air-conditioning. It's not easy, or comfortable, to live without electricity today when almost everything in life is designed around it. Want a hot meal? Learn to use an alternative form of heat like charcoal (sparingly because it's in short supply) to cook everything from steak to a can of Spaghetti-O's included in the free hurricane supplies you received after being in line for two hours. Want coffee? Heat water on the charcoal and pour it slowly through the filter basket of your coffee maker that you can't turn on. Want news? Listen to a battery-powered radio until the batteries run low and then learn how to combine C cells with D cells (if you can find them) to stretch your dwindling energy supply. Want some activity after dark? Either read by candle light and strain your eyes or learn to go to bed earlier. Want a hot shower? Ain't gonna happen. Want Ice? Good luck!

The day power was restored to the neighborhood was one of true celebration. At about 10 A.M a crew from a utility company out of Rhode Island rolled in with four trucks and a new transformer. They quickly went to work while old men approached them for information and everyone else watched in anxious anticipation. When the old men came back with any news, it was usually, "He said they'll know more after they evaluate the situation." So for five hours we watched, waited and talked about how nice it would be to have television again. Then at 3 P.M. a truck with a lift-basket parked under a transformer, raised a worker into the sky where he took a pole and flipped a connection into place and, like magic, ceiling fans rotated and lights burned brightly. As the crew departed people lined the street shouting words of thanks and cheered them like conquering heroes. After a few days, the pace and rhythms of life in the neighborhood went back to as if nothing unusual had ever occurred.

Would I want to go through another experience like that again? No, but it did teach me valuable lessons about what is really important in life. Now when I watch tropical storms develop I will always have flashbacks to Wilma, but also remember that materials things can be replaced and that life moves on even after life-altering events. We have no plans to live in South Florida again, but still have to remain vigilant even here in White Springs. The one thing I know for sure is that I don't want to go through a major tropical storm in an RV.

Until later, Happy Trails and Peaceful Skies.

copyright Lane A Geyer
photos from the Internet

Enhanced by Zemanta

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Neighborhood

It's been a hot, humid and generally quiet few weeks here at Kelly's RV Park in White Springs, FL. Except for the hassles of a ripped awning I wrote about in the previous post, most of our time has been spent inside with the A/C. The park is not seeing much business right now and everyone is moving slower as the summer doldrums set in. The Suwannee River is flowing at a high level due to almost daily thunderstorms, now looking like strongly brewed coffee due to an increase of tannins in the water. It's Summertime in the Old South. Crank up the Stephen Foster tunes.

There was a nice pot-luck gathering on the 4th where the owners, Mary and Richard, provided hamburgers and sausages and everyone else brought side dishes. We enjoyed a selection of salads, baked beans, chips, dips and an excellent mango coleslaw made by Deb that proved to be very popular. Numerous people asked her for the recipe; which you can find on her blog. About two dozen people attended, mostly permanent residents, and it was a very nice time. We were able to meet a few new people and catch up on the latest news on the area. The men mainly talked fishing or NASCAR while the ladies asked about the latest updates on who wasn't there. It was a pleasant way to spend the holiday.

We have stayed at over 15 RV parks (both public & private) over the past year and found a real gem here at Kelly's. Aside from being well maintained and providing excellent amenities like an open library filled with hundreds of books, this place is special because of the people. From the day we arrived we were welcomed with open arms and made to feel as if we had come back home. Most of the permanent residents started the way we did. They arrived initially for a short visit and now have been here for years. It's that kind of place. Everyone is friendly, concerned about one another and works hard to make this area feel like a true neighborhood. That has been the exception to the rule in many places we have stayed.

There are very distinct differences between public and private RV parks. In most State parks your stay is limited to two weeks because of vagrancy concerns. Some will allow you to leave for a few days and return for another two week stay, but the overall atmosphere is filled with people coming and going on a daily basis. They are nice, natural settings, but people tend to stay to themselves.

The private parks are much different in that in almost all of them there are distinct layers to the residents. There are the permanent residents who stay year-round (or as long as they can in Northern areas where parks close for the Winter season), the permanent part-timers who have a site for weekend stays or vacations, those who stay for several months or weeks at a time and the overnighters. In many private parks we have stayed, some permanent sites have been occupied by the same families for generations. We have come to prefer staying in private parks because they allow longer visits with more amenities (usually at better rates), but have also found glaring differences in how the permanent population treat newcomers to the territory.

Last August we were travelling our way towards Boston and stayed at two private parks in Upstate New York. One was the Beaver Springs Lake Park and the other was Frosty Acres Park; which I have since referred to as Frost-My-A$$. Both were for two week periods and both proved to be like something out of a Stephen King story. They had the same levels of residents as mentioned above, but the permanent residents treated us as if we had just landed in their space with the intention of overthrowing their empire. It was weird. They didn't wave a friendly hello, they never spoke to us, they glared our way while speaking among themselves in whispered tones and, I'm sure, kept asking management when we were going to leave.

I'll have to give credit to the owners of Beaver Springs Lake Park for being some of the nicest people we have met along our journey. They truly cared about our feeling comfortable, but seemed to be caught in the middle of dealing with the permanent residents they inherited when they bought the property. A prime example is when the husband rode his bike up to our spot and invited us to the weekly bingo game at the pavilion. Part of his comment was (and I'm not making this up), "At least you can get away from the Hound Of The Baskervilles for awhile." Huh??

As far as the experience at Frosty Acres, they can still kiss my a$$. I wrote enough about that in previous posts. Let's just say the people there were equally not as welcoming.

So it is now a great joy to be among people who see and treat us as one of there own. We didn't arrive here expecting that, but it's happened and we are the better for it. Deb makes regular morning visits to the office where people gather like it's Floyd's Barber Shop. We enjoy monthly pot-luck meals with the neighbors, catch a ride to town once in a while and know everyone by name. It's a good neighborhood with good people. Who could ask for more.

Until next time, Happy Trails.

copyright 2009-2010 Lane A Geyer
photos by Deb

Enhanced by Zemanta

Monday, July 12, 2010

Last Thing I Needed (First Thing This Morning)

I'm borrowing the title of a great Willie Nelson song as the theme for this posting because it fits: The last thing I needed (first thing this morning) was spending time in torpid humidity repairing a ripped awning as sweat dripped into my eyes and red ants chewed at my ankles like kids going after candy. It's not the best way to start a day.

The awning on our old RV Howie (House On Wheels Is Excellent) is the original from when Howie was built 25 years ago. I'm amazed it has lasted this long. There were a few minor holes, but overall it has served us well over the past year. It's been battered around by winds in Upstate New York and Southern Indiana, survived the snows in Taylors, SC last winter and has been exposed to the blistering sun here in Florida. It's been a lot of places in its life and times, but its days, woefully, are now numbered.

I went to bed early last night with no worries about heavy rains because I had (as usual) checked the radar constantly throughout the day. We had a few scattered showers around the area, but nothing of serious concern and every prediction was for clear skies overnight. The awning was not slanted as much as it is during heavy rains, but there was no reason to think it should be. Wrong! Once again, those professional prognosticators of weather patterns got it wrong, wrong, wrong. I really can't blame them down here. After all, it is the sub-tropics and heavy downpours develop as swiftly as flies descend on molasses. But an undisturbed sleep would have been nice.

At about 10 P.M. I half-awakened to hear heavy rain pelting the roof. I slightly remember thinking about how much the awning was slanted, but quickly fell back into a deep sleep. Then, sure enough, I was fully jolted out of sleep by a loud, crashing sound outside and knew something big was amiss. Just then Deb came running into the bedroom, shook my leg and said, "Lane, get up. The awning just came down."

When the awning has taken on heavy rains before, one of the sliding support arms has simply collapsed and expelled the runoff. Not this time. I got to the door to find it blocked by the awning and the roller-bar tilted completely to the ground. After pushing our way outside, Deb and I stepped into driving rain and heavy winds. (Cue theme song from Indiana Jones and the Temple Of Doom.) Both support arms were slated about twenty degrees off-center and there was a rip across the front of the vinyl canvass causing it to flap in the wind. We quickly grabbed each side and rolled the awning up until I could get one side secured enough for the night. It took us about ten minutes to complete the task and by the time we were done we were both soaked to the bone.

Needless to say, first thing this morning, we stepped outside into 95 percent humidity to assess the damage. Surprisingly it was not as bad as it could have been. The roller-bar still works and all of the other hardware is still intact. The rip in the canvass was the worst of the damage. It was a clean tear along one of the stitch-lines at the roller-bar area that extended half-way across. Bad, but fixable until another canvass can be found.

The one thing I'm good at is executing a McGuyver; which by definition is any person who handily uses everyday objects to find a way out of an unusual situation. (Reference TV show.) So, having large safety-pins on hand, I slowly reattached the tear to the remaining pleat while Deb supported the roll-bar as she also got chewed on by those cursed ants. A fun times was not had by all, yet it worked well enough. We can no longer extended the awning to its full length, but at least we'll have shade for now.

Ah, well. Another reality of the full-time RV lifestyle.

Other than that, it's been quiet around here at Kelly's RV Park in White Springs, FL since my last posting. The weather has been hot and everyone seems to be already into the summer doldrums. There's just not much going on, so we basically concentrate on staying cool. We had a nice gathering on the 4th when the owners provided hamburgers and sausages, while everyone else brought a side dish. It was good food and good conversations. What more can you ask for on a day of celebration.

copyright 2009-2010 Lane A Geyer
photos by Deb

Enhanced by Zemanta