Saturday, August 3, 2013

Beaver Dam Campground

Have you ever had one of those weekends? The one where you get to Thursday night and say "where are we going to camp this weekend?" This is the story of us. Every weekend. Can I just say how annoying it is? "If its so annoying", I hear you ask "Why do you do it?" Because I'm a bit pathetic and brilliant at the same time. You see, we live in Maine, not Arizona. What does that matter? Ahhhh, it's called the weather. Which can change rapidly. And who wants to spend a weekend camping in the rain? Sitting out under the awning while that puddle of water slowly creeps up your ankles because the campsite slants toward the camper, is not my idea of fun. That's the brilliant. The pathetic is that it's the only excuse I could think of to make me sound brilliant. Just pathetic.

Anyhow, that happened to us recently. Well, you already know that. It always does. I called around to all our "standby" campgrounds. These are the ones who know us so well that they reserve a sight for us every weekend. Except for some strange reason they always confuse me for someone they don't know. Go figure. So in desperation, I begged my family to please remember all the places we had stayed the past 7 years and then tell me which one I liked best. A psychologically devastating place to be when your "standby" campgrounds cannot be relied upon.

So after a moment of pondering, my wife burst out "oh! I know! Remember that campground we went that one weekend years ago and we really liked it but we never have gone back for some reason although we had a really good time?" No, she really doesn't talk in run-on sentences, that was just my exuberance in realizing we could possibly go camping. After several minutes feeling like I was a contestant in the game "Pictionary", with campgrounds being thrown out in rapid succession, I finally and triumphantly shouted "Beaver Dam Campground!" It's one of those brief moments in life where you feel that you are possibly the most astute person within inches of yourself. Yeah, it's that special.

I grabbed my iPad, looked up their website, found their phone number and frantically began dialing. You'd think my life depended on it. However, only my sanity did. After she did the "welcome to....blah, blah..." I said "Ummm, go ahead and tell me you are completely booked for the weekend and that I should try some other time" I don't need to tell you how confused that made her. "Excuse me?" I think I mumbled something about a joke and it being funny. Silence. I thought she was going to hang up but graciously, she did not and finally said they had 1 full hookup site left. "We'll take it!" I quite nearly shouted. To this day, I still don't know how close she came to calling the straight jacket people to come take me away.

The next day, to the rousing chant of "We're going camping, we're going camping!" we were off. Ok, we might not have actually chanted that. As in I know we didn't. We've been camping far to often for everyone else but me to be that demented. So it was just me...chanting in my head.

Now let me say this about Beaver Dam. The owners are very humble. How so? Well, if you didn't use GPS to help you know where they are located, you just might well blow past the campground and not even know it was there. Unless you had the eyesight akin to a bird of prey. You know you have reached the campground by their relatively small sign. No, not one that screams "Hey, check us out! We are a nice campground that really wants your business!" A small sign. And to backup the low-key approach, they made the drive into the campground at a dip in the road, with plenty of trees to discourage a person from knowing the entrance actually exists. But once you locate the campground and turn up the drive, you start to think "oh yeah, this ain't so bad!" Or if you aren't me, you can probably say it out loud, and no one in the vehicle will give you strange looks.

The campground is smallish, 65 or so sites with some seasonals included in that number. And their full hookup sites are also limited to 24 sites. And most of the seasonals appear to be in those sites. Say what? And why do I go on and on about full hookups? Because camping just isn't camping without them, thats why. I mean, in a pinch, we could be persuaded stay in 2 way hookups, but only in dire emergencies. Like if it's the difference between camping and not camping.

So anyway, back to us pulling into the campground. After checking in at the office, which also is attached to the rec hall, which is attached to the movie screen area, which is attached to the tractor shed which it attached to something else, we drove toward our site

Now a point of interest, as you drive up the outside loop of the campground, you softly whistle under your breath. Again, maybe you don't. Maybe I just need to stop saying "you" and start saying "I" or "me". Might be less confusing to you, but the then again, maybe the change would further confuse me. I'll stick with what works. As if any of that needed to be said! Why the whistle? Because you notice that every campsite in this section is be a mere few feet from the lake. Really? Why hadn't we come back here? Oh yes, I remember! We are stupid! But I think you've already figured that out.

We pulled up to our site and did our high-fives that we do when we come upon a site we really like, and then set about to back in. Now another point of interest, or not, is that we were having a heat wave that particular weekend, with temps in the high 90's. 98 to be exact. And so when my wife got out to direct me in my backup efforts, I refused to roll the window down on grounds that I might lose some of the precious air conditioning that I was currently enjoying. She rather pointedly and correctly stated that I could not possibly hear her directions, but I thought it was a risk worth taking, as I was cool and wouldn't be if I rolled the window down. She was a great sport about it, throwing her hands up and moving under the shade of big pine tree while I backed up, pulled forward, backed up, pulled forward backed up...well you get the idea. Fortunately, she knows what a idiot I am, and by the time I finally got it right, we were laughing as hard as our neighbors us. We do our best to entertain.

The kids quickly found that right next to our site was a dock that they could fish off of, or catch turtles, or just hang out and realize how fortunate they are to have such awesome parents that take them to cool places like this.

My wife was also pleased as punch that for every site or two, they have a regular-sized trash can, which they emptied twice daily. No more hoofing it the mile or 2 to the dumpster other campgrounds put in the most remote spot they can diabolically come up with.

There are other nice little touches they have to make the campground enjoyable during your stay. They have themed weekends, where they provide some activities for the kids, but the campground also has some permanent things to help the whole family pass the time away, such as a pool with water that sometimes feels a few degrees above freezing

and playground

and kayaks, canoes and paddle boats for rent

And swimming beach area, complete with swimming platform anchored just far enough out that it might provide hours of amusement to see who can, or can't make it out to it, and quietly laugh at those who can't

Now I'm sure those of you who don't have kids are thinking "Great! Thank you! I was thinking of coming to this campground, but you can count me out! Too many kids!" But don't be so hasty, may I just remind you, if the kids are being entertained at one end of the campground, that leaves the whole other part of the campground kid free and quiet...oh yeah!!...we were the lucky recipients of that little gift, as our nice kids found 2 other nice kids to play with all weekend. Ahhh...the bliss! Indeed, there's something for everyone. Plus the diminutive size of the campground lends itself to peace and quiet to begin with.

A note of interest, however. When we were there several years ago, it was their wet and wild weekend, where people were apt to carry water canons around and randomly soak the unsuspecting, and guess who the worst "offenders" were? Nope. You're wrong. Not the bratty kids or teenagers...not even the adults. It was the grandpas in the Class A diesel pushers. Thats right them. Geriatrics. And they seemed to be having as much fun as the kids. I rest my case. What case? There was no argument.

In addition to the already mentioned amenities, they have the Dam Diner, a utility trailer turned into a fast food takeout restaurant which is not a restaurant because there is nowhere to sit down, just to take out. Well, except the picnic tables in front of the Dam Diner. You could sit down there. While we did not need the services it offered, for those who tent camp, or just don't want to make pancakes or hot dogs, it just might fit the bill. Plus, the name is plain funny, so why not have it?

All in all, being in an environment that is quiet, picturesque and family friendly is a nice change from the bigger, busier, noisier campgrounds which are within 30 minutes of this campground. Yes, when you can sit here and relax at the end of the day

or see this mere steps from your site in the late evening

it kind of makes it hard to understand why we didn't make this one of our "standby" campgrounds. Except then, they'd forget who I was too...

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Living Large at Danforth Bay Resort

So here it was finally, our first outing of 2013 to Danforth Bay Camping Resort in Freedom, NH. Why campgrounds use the word "Resort" in their name I will never know. Any place where you have to be your own septic tank technician, plumber or sanitation engineer does not strike me as a "Resort". And "Resorts" usually have a Spa or 5 Star Restaurant, with the finest vegetarian ribeye steak you ever saw. Seriously, what is a vegetarian ribeye steak? Where do I come up with these things?! But anyhow, that's what they named it, so that's what I call it.

In addition to being our first camping of the season, it was also only 4 days before our...wait for the over-used cliché..."epic" journey to the Arkansas. Cliches can be so annoying. In addition to it being just 4 days before our "epic" journey, we also brought along our friends who just bought their first trailer.

But not to worry, we were the veterans, having logged thousands of miles and hundreds of days in Casita. They were in good hands. Like Allstate.

Unlike us, who just plain refused to camp until we could do it on our terms; electricity, plumbing, A/C a shower, they were the type who would throw out a sleeping bag on the snow when it was 40 below zero and exclaim "ah, life is good!" Pathetic I'd say, but I don't judge...

We have been to this campground a number of times in the past 6 years, but chose it for our trial run. It's that special of a campground you ask? No, it was simply one of the few campgrounds that was already open for the season. May can be such a cruel month to northeastern campers. Clarification; northern campers. Sometimes it can be warm, and inviting and the weather just taunts you. Kinda like "Ha! Ha! You COULD be camping but no campgrounds are open. Loser!" I don't need to tell you how that makes a kind, sensitive person feel when that is said. Especially by the weather.

I know, you're thinking "oh great! Another 'this is what's wrong with the campground' review and then at the very end 'but we love it!' So predictable. Get a new schtick!". You might think that, but you'd be wrong. We really like the campground.

Back to my story and review. So we loaded our bikes on the bike rack...Oh wait a side explanation is needed. A couple of years ago, I had a 2" receiver welded through our Casita bumper so we could take our 4 bikes along on our trips. After all, what is camping without the guilt of taking along a piece of exercise equipment that you know you will never use the entire weekend? Well, the kids do, so they have no guilt.

Now we have had our fair of calamities relating to the bike rack, but since I would rather forget those memories and make up new ones which I enjoy more, I won't recount the bad ones now. Plus, we have gotten used to the strange looks people give us as they pass us and the wild gestures they make. We always just politely smile and give our best New England "hello"; an almost imperceptible nodd of the head. We don't want to be mistaken for being friendly.

So anyhow, we met our friends at their home, and I did a quick professional inspection of their trailer hookup, tugging here and grunting there. I could tell they were very impressed, so I withheld from them that grunting wasn't some primordial method of showing my satisfaction. It was from being a smidgen overweight, (obese is such an unkind word!) and bending over forces the air out of my lungs with great force and speed. I see a few of you nodding in understanding. Yes, you know exactly what I'm talking about!

And then we were off. Throughout the 20 miles of highway driving, I happened to notice our friends stayed quite a distance back. I laughed, telling my wife that the strength Toyota FJ, combined with mere featherweight of the Casita proved a spritely little combo. I slowed down to wait for them, but oddly, they slowed down too. Now I was becoming a bit offended. Or curious. Maybe both? After we went through one of our infernal toll booths and I pulled over to make sure everything was ok with them. He jumped out of his car and said "did you know your bikes are really bouncing around on your rack? And your rack is pretty loose too?" Just asking here, do any of you realize how quickly your pompous bubble can burst and how plain dumb you feel when someone points out the most obvious? I managed a grin, said "yeah, I'd better figure out a way to stop that!" and practically ran to the safety of my FJ. They never did follow too close...

Several hours and sweaty palms later, we pulled into Danforth Bay Camping Resort. Now comes the time to dissect the campground, the favorite-est part for me. On a previous post about Moose Hillock, I stated that it takes up the top third of the state of New Hampshire. If that's the case, then Danforth Bay takes up the middle third. You might be tempted to draw a conclusion that I distain small campgrounds. That would be factually incorrect. Merely a happenstance. A convergence of similar but unrelated events.

But the two campgrounds share several undeniable characteristics. Go ahead, put on your protective tinfoil headgear, this has a syfy edge to it...when you pull up to either check-in area, you see the buildings and multiple lanes for the checking in RVs to park in. Similarity 1. And from where you park to check-in, you can't see much else of anything. Similarity 2. It's not until you drive past the buildings that you see the heavenly pools. Similarity 3. But that's where the similarities end. While Moose Hillock may have some seasonals, you really don't notice them, because the blend in exceedingly well. Danforth Bay, on the other hand, adds three distinct words-Park Model Homes. Yes, enough to strike fear into any transient campers. And not just Park Model Homes, golf carts, motor boats and other landscape enhancing items can be seen at the campsite of these semi-permanent residences. And decks and pink flamingos.

I gotta say, the first time we drove through, I had an inescapable urge to lock the doors and avoid eye contact. It was a bit surprising why there were so many high praise reviews on different web sites. I wondered if the park model home owners were the ones doing the reviews. Don't get me wrong, most of the seasonals are adequately maintained, but it does have the feel of a trailer park in the woods. And there are endless streams of the golf cart buggies flying here and there. Which brings me to another one of life's mysteries. Why is it that the 5 MPH speed limits are strictly enforced when it comes to cars, but golf carts can barrel along at near the sound of speed and the security folks are completely oblivious? I know you are confused. Did I, or did I not say we liked this campground? Yes. Then are you to question my sanity and ability to rationally discuss campgrounds? Yes. Onward then, shall we?

It's after you drive through a section of seasonals that you slowly become aware that this campground does indeed hold promise and potential. For you see, the Resort, I think wisely, clumped them all together. This allows the transient campers to also be clumped together and feel like they are camping, and not spending a weekend in a trailer park. And by the time you get to the overnight sites, you are almost in a separate campground. The seasonals, for the most part can't be seen, and some of the overnight sites are so far away, you'd have to get a road map out to find the seasonal sites. And golly! What sites they have!! When we pulled into our designated site, a slow grin tickled the edges of our mouths. The sites where humongous! Granted, our perception of huge can be often affected when we park our teeny-tiny Casita on a site, but really, when I say ginormous, make an effort to believe me. It will be worth it. They also have 2 way hookup sites right at the lake's edge. On a peninsula. Tell me that isn't cool!

But that's not the only nice thing about the campground-no sir! They are on Danforth Lake, or is it Danforth Pond? Probably not either of those names. But anyhow, they are on a lake. There are 2 sandy beaches within the campground, which you can use should neither of the 2 pools tickle your fancy. I am technically incorrect. Their are 3 pools but one is a kiddy pool which does not allow adults. Ask me how I know that, go on...more on the pools in a minute. You can rent kayaks, canoes, paddle boards, motor boats and paddle board. And you only need to sell a kidney to afford the rentals.

Back to the pools. They are really quite nice, big and refreshing. Well, that is if you could fit in them. No, I'm not making disparaging remarks about your weight. I have no idea if you were blessed with an appetite or not. What I mean is that there are so many people in them, you just might not have room to get in. Well, you might, but you won't be able to move much. But that's ok, most adults merely take a quick dunk to get cool after a long session of actively trying to procure skin cancer...ummm, I mean sunbathing. They leave the actual fun to their kids. As you can see from the picture below, swim space is at a premium. They have 1 saltwater pool and one chlorinated pool, I guess to confuse people into wondering why.

They also have a recreation field, where kids young and old can play baseball, throw frisbee's, exercise pets if you are unfortunate enough to have them, or....over on one side of the field they have a bike park, complete with big dirt moguls to ride over. Correction, that's all that they have in bike park, but it is a lot of fun. To watch someone else.

In recapping, Danforth Bay Resort has something for everyone. And even if you have to drive through the seasonal trailer park to get to the overnight camp sites, you will be glad you did. And the 2 beaches, 3 pools and recreation fields gives everyone something to do. Oh, and by the way, in case you read this and get a hankering to go there next weekend, forget it. Throughout the summer, they are almost always completely booked. As in every weekend. As in reserve way, way in advance.

And how did our bikes survive the 100 mile trip back home? Kind of you to ask! Sunday when we were getting ready to leave Danforth Bay, I took the 1 ratchet rope strap that I had with me, circled it around the vertical "T" arm of the bike rack and commenced to tighten it for all I was worth. No one told me that Thule put an end-cap on the outside of the "T". So when I ratcheted it up so tight, it popped that end cap off, which took the shortest route to and object which would stop it, which just so happened to be my forehead. Immediately, I felt an egg growing inside my skin. I did which could only be mistaken for an indian rain dance while shouting ow, ow, ow!

We finally made the trip home, and although overall it had been a success, I can truthfully say, I think we either amused or scarred our friends for life. They definitely weren't in good hands!

But that was nothing compared to what was about to happen on our "epic" journey!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Bring on the 2013 Camping Season!

Last spring, I had to be bribed to get excited about camping. Which is totally uncharacteristic. Kinda like a kid dreading Christmas. Yeah, so you know how weird it is. I'm usually the geeky cheerleader dad, you know the one who wears a fishing vest, and Bermuda shorts with a lantern tied to their belt, while chanting "who wants to go camping with me?". I still don't know why everyone scatters like cockroaches when a light is turned on. Not that I'm saying my family are cockroaches, by any means! Am I digging myself a bigger hole? Oh dear!

Or, maybe last year, my sub-conscience knew what calamities would befall us on our first outing. Ummmm, like my all-to-simple brain could figure that out...please!! Or maybe I just had a 2011 post-camping season depression hangover. Or, maybe it is one of those universal mysteries that just can't be explained. Which happens all too often with me.

Whatever the reason, when this spring rolled around I was ready. Even possibly excited. And this year, I know exactly why. Many hours of deep introspection and meditation revealed it to me. Ok, so I embellished the severity of my concentration. It really only took me a few moments to determine why. There were 3 quite specific reasons.

First, is that we purchased the fantastic tow vehicle (ok, confession time...fantastic to me) last year after our disaster with the Astro Van, so I did not need to worry about it falling apart. My beloved Toyota FJ Cruiser. That in and of itself is a big relief. No more holding the old van together with duck tape, rubber bands, bubble gum and a prayer. Try to convince me not to smile about that! Granted, we are back to "Dad! He's on my side of the seat!" "Am not! Mom, tell her to stop annoying me!" But still, it beats the uncertainty of not knowing if we will be blowed apart when the engine decides it has had enough of us.

Then, we had an acquaintance of ours buy their first trailer, and asked for tips to get them going. Now, them asking that was akin to asking a dog if it would like a bone to chew on. I lept at the chance and I think in the process, it got me raring to go. It inspired me to clean the Casita out before they came over to get pointers, wash and wax it, vacuum the ceiling and remove 6 years of dust collection from the fantastic fan. I also begged my wife to quiz me on all aspects of camping if for no other reason than to not look stupid. Because I might be a few ingredients short of the entire cake, but I do NOT like it being too obvious, that's for sure. "Before leaving, do you make sure you have your wife or your children, or both, or do you even care?", "Should you open both the black and the gray valves at the same time?", "Is it necessary to block the wheels if the trailer is on a downhill slant?" and many more thought-provoking questions.

The third and final reason I think I was a bit more jazzed this year than last was that we were going on a long cross country trip. Nothing makes me happier than a trip, aka "National Lampoon's Vacation", or "RV". Oh, except they had misery, while we would have no such thing. We would have sunshine and soft breezes wafting past our smiling faces for 4000 miles. Plus, we were taking our 2 Boston Terriers. Nothing spells a positive mental attitude like mangy mutts!

No, 2013 is going to be different...better...stay tuned.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Everything is a Circle

I remember back when I was a kid (some would argue that speaking in the historical tense is an oxymoron), camping. I'd like to say they were what shaped my love of camping that I now have. Why are you smiling? You think you know where this is going?

You see, when I was growing up, we used to camp once a summer for a week or so. And when I say camp it wasn't sissy camping. We'd sign a will, and head into the wilderness, leaving a trail of bread crumbs. Let me be the first to tell you it's extremely hard to follow the trail back when it has been left on a lake. doesn't work...when you are canoeing. No one would hear from us the entire time. That's because we were hours and hours from the nearest town. Then there was the little fact that cell phones were non-existent. At least to us.

But weeks before we could even get to the point where we feared for our lives, my dad would hand out chores to my 3 siblings and I, to make sure all our gear and supplies were accounted for. Wait a minute, let me think...I actually don't know if he handed out those chores to us, but in either case, it makes for a good story, so I run with it. Anyhow, I do know that getting 2 or 3 tents out, sleeping bags, tarps, canoes, paddles, hatchets, lanterns, toilet paper, potatoes and just about anything else a person would need for disappearing from the face of the planet, took a long time to get ready.

My dad would then carefully pack the mountains of gear into his old Ford pickup, strap it down along with the canoes and off we'd go. And go. And go. Can I just tell you how long the last 3 hours are bouncing over dirt logging roads? Add to that the dust kicked up by the loggers barreling by, and now you are painting a perfect picture of misery.

Then, once out on the lakes, we would paddle until we were spent, (sometimes 127 miles a day!) before Dad would mercifully and cheerfully exclaim "oh, look, here's our camp site!". Mind you, this after we had already passed by 38 other perfectly acceptable sites. We would have to summon up the last bit of energy left in us, empty the canoes, lug all the gear up to the campsite, and set camp up (sometimes slaving away until the early hours of the morning) before we could eat, sleep or go swimming.

In the evening, we'd build a fire, making sure it was smokey as possible, not so much as to suffocate us, but rather to futilely ward off the black flies, or as I affectionately call them, vultures. Not that the fire would help much when it rained, which it seemed to frequently enough. On those occasions, we would huddle 15 feet away from the fire under the tarp and pretend we were having a wonderful time, all the while shivering.

Upon waking in the morning, Dad would announce that it was a fine day to set off down the lake. After breakfast we would disassemble camp, you know the one we just set up the night before? That one. We would then pack all the gear back into the canoes and with aching muscles, start out on the next 142 mile leg. Why we couldn't stay at the same site for another day or two was never explained. It remains a mystery.

Finally, we'd come about and make the grueling 3 hours back over those horrendous roads, and then on back home, where we would have to unpack all the gear and stow it away for the next year.

Where's the circle? Ahhhh...glad you asked! The kid grew up, (poetic!) and quit camping. No circle yet. Well, "quit" is so definite. Maybe more like postponed until such time as it could be done to my liking. Which I finally discovered with the Casita.

And along with the Casita came the preparation of all the camping equipment. I thought about assigning chores to my kids, but then, I figured it was best handled by me. And then, once I got all the gear together; lanterns, toilet paper, potatoes and just about anything else a person would need for disappearing from the face of the planet, I'd pack up all the equipment into the vehicle. I would take great pains to make sure each item was loaded with the most efficient use of space. The family would then climb into the vehicle and we'd head out on the 3 hour drive to the campground.

Upon arrival at the campground, I'd cheerfully announce "we're here!" to the cheers of our kids. Then they'd ask "can we go swimming now?" To which I would reply "when we get the Casita set up". To a chorus of groans.

In the evening, we'd sit around the campfire, roasting marshmallows unless it rained and then we'd sit in the Casita, away from the elements. Maybe play a game of cards. And pretend we enjoyed being a bit cooped up.

The next morning, I'd get up and pronounce that we would need to leave the campground in 2 hours, so we'd have to get packed up and ready to leave.

We'd drive the 3 hours back home, where we would have to unpack and disassemble all our gear and stow it away for the next adventure.

Full circle.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Drum Roll...Ladies and Gentlemen...Moose Hillock!!

I really do want write about more than where we stayed and what was wrong with it, yet how we loved it; but now is not that time. You see, this past weekend we went to one of the places we absolutely love. Well, "love" meaning if the weather is fine, the temperature is warm, the kids are happy, we didn't forget things, and the bears don't take a fancy to having us for afternoon tea. That kind of love. Conditional.

Now I must stop here and become less depressed. I was very buoyant when I set about to tell the tale of one of our favorite campgrounds. Then I had to go list all the criteria that needed to be present to have a good time here, and it sucked the fun right out it did. A moment, please...There, I feel better, thanks for your gentle encouragement. I can now continue.

While I could be predictable and say what was wrong, I think I'll change it up a bit. Get out of a rut, try something new.

So lets start by getting there. There are a couple of ways to get there from here, wherever here is. I find that two ways are good and one is boring. Three guesses which way we went. Wrong. Wrong. Ok, maybe not totally wrong. We have always gone the boring way due to the fact that it was the flattest way. I wonder if that's why I hear so much "are we there yet?" And my kids even chime in too!

Suffice it to say that the most scenic way is over the Kangumangus Highway. I say "over" because that is exactly what you have to do. You know the Himalayans and the paths the sherpas take? It's not like that. If it was, you'd never make it to Moose Hillock. Mainly because the Himalayan Mountains are across the ocean and it would be a tough swim for the sherpas. But if you have lived all your life in Kansas, it might seem as mountainous as, ok still not even the Himalayans.

But what you will be rewarded with if you take that route is beautiful, quintessential New England scenery. The road winds by rivers and up several thousand foot mountains. Rugged granite mountains which in the fall are covered in brilliant color. No, the granite doesn't change color. If it did it would be the 1st wonder of the world. It's also kinda neat too, because you go through some quaint little towns.

Just about the time you travel up and down enough mountains to make you question your sanity for taking that route, you see the sign for Moose Hillock. You can exhale and mutter ”this the last time I'll ever take advice from a stranger about traveling!".

When you make it up to the main entrance of the campground (yes up. They add one more insult to your overheated vehicle-the road up to the campground is relatively steep) your will be generously rewarded for your efforts with...not much. Yes you read that correctly. The building is rather...ummm...non-descript. By now you are thinking "way to go! Not only did you blow out my engine, you brought me to the middle of nowhere to see nothing!". You see how good I am about reading your mind now? Uncanny!

After checking in, and driving around the building you will start to see my life wasn't destined to be lived in a padded cell. I may be on to something after all:

Ahhh, now you are starting to see my enthusiasm! 65,000 gallons of sheer glory. And don't worry if you are of the age where the pool and it's waterslide don't appeal to you. You too will be grateful for my recommendation when you start to drive to your site.

Let me just say, this campground covers the entire top third of the state of New Hampshire. You can drive for hours and not get to your site. What's that? I can't be serious? Yeah, you're right. We just get lost with all the loops, and end up driving aimlessly about. And since their is no cell signal, we can't call the office to have them send out a search party. But it is indeed, a big, spacious campground.

You also will notice that the sites are very large and private, relatively speaking. They took the notion of years gone by when being a neighbor meant you were at least within 5 miles of the nearest house, and incorporated that. While there are some semi-open sites, most are nestled amongst trees, providing shade, which can be a bonus on hot days. These huge sites also have huge fire pits which just beg for cool evenings, or at a minimum, a place to set up all your chairs around and pretend there is some reason for doing that.

There is a stocked fish pond where young and old can fish, although a sign states that only kids under 12 can keep one fish per day. Ummm...even if I weren't a vegetarian, with the looks of the water, you can have our kid's fish. I will say though, it is a great pond for catching crawfish and salamanders. And breeding mosquitoes.

The nice camp sites aside, let's face it, people come here for the pool. I don't know the dimensions, I'd guesstimate it to be roughly the size of Lake Huron. It creates it's own weather system, along with el Nina. They keep the water at 82 degrees which is warm enough to stay in hours at a time. How do I know this? I have an 8 and a 12 year old, who after 3 or more hours have to beg me to get out of the pool. The pool is three and a half feet deep, except for one small area that dips down to five feet.

The obvious attraction is the water slide that winds it's way around the broken down ship. I can personally attest to the fact that even as a 40-something-year-old geezer, I'm racing up the stairs to beat that 9 year old kid (not mine) (right behind me) to the slide. We even may throw an elbow here or there, or stick out a leg for the other one to trip over just to get the advantage. It's that addicting. They even throw impromptu evening swims.

They play a mix of island-style music over loud speakers that adds to the whole "yeah, it could happen that Black Beard's pirate ship sailed up into the White Mountains and got shipwrecked in the middle of woods" theme.

Then there is a snack bar next to the pool, with "straw" covered cabanas where you can sit and enjoy an overpriced meal while watching your kids or grandkids bake like lobsters in the pool. Since the only WIFI available at the campground is accessible around the pool area, these cabanas serve as a shaded place to keep you connected. Except why would you want to be sitting there when the pool is only feet away? Or maybe it's just me.

All in all, if you find yourself stuck in the middle of nowhere on purpose, this is the place to to be stuck!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Silver Springs Campground

Have you ever had one of those deja-vu moments, when you instinctively know you have been in the exact situation before? I haven't...I was just wondering. Well, anyhow, if I were to have that experience, this campground would be what triggered it. No, I did not forget to take my meds today (well, I actually don't have to take any, maybe that's my problem?)

You see, as I was sharpening my quill and adjusting my spectacles in preparation of this post, it struck me-this campground is as perplexing as Saco River Family Campground in North Conway, NH. For most all the same reasons. I can hear you saying " well then, don't waste my time telling me about it." But I ask, how sporting of me would that be? I dare say I would have no fun at all. So I continue.

Oh, but here's a Twilight Zone moment. The campgrounds are similar (and yes you are dying to know how), one is named Saco River, and one is in Saco. Ok, that's all the comparisons, but for a moment, I was like "whoa!".

So back to the campground. When driving in you are struck with the fact that that while not run down, it's not meticulously maintained.

The playground equipment looks vaguely reminiscent of the one in the old atomic bomb film I saw as a kid. Then there is the hodge-podge of park model homes, inter-dispersed with seasonal travel trailers up on blocks. The interesting thing is, there are some very well maintained seasonals, and the right next to them, some that look like they were placed there shortly after Noah's ark touched down. While this sounds dumpy, it's really not just a striking juxtaposition.

Then there is the road in the campground. The thought that came to mind was "this must be what the astronauts encountered when they landed on the fake moon in the film studio!" While not as large of craters as they constructed for the moon landing, you do feel compelled to jerk the steering wheel wildly about in a vain attempt to being permanently lost in one of them. You will be happy to know we were not lost.

When we arrived at our site, it was apparent the aesthetics was not considered in the placement of the sites. At the back of the site directly to our left, and about 6 feet away was the back end of a seasonal trailer. Then, to our right, there was a site big enough to fit a small town in. It rained one evening, and the next morning when we awoke, literally half of our campsite was a pond, while the town's site was high and dry. But at least we had 3 trees on our site to provide us with ample shade and tree droppings.

I hear you saying "Now that's what I call a lesson learned! Now just learn how not to blog." But wait, you'd be wrong on both accounts. This is where it becomes interesting. You see, the Casita camping/campground experience is not always measured by the condition of the road or playground. Nor is SOMETIMES the condition of your fellow camper's domicile. Ah-ha! Your interest is piqued, no?

Ok, so why did I then waste precious moments of your life complaining about things that do not matter? Gee, I wish I knew. Anyhow, on with the enthralling review, don't you agree?

While yes, there are some things that might cause a knee jerk reaction, if a person were accustomed to life at the Vanderbilt Estate, I highly doubt you are that person. The things that keep drawing us back year after year for a weekend or so are more than manicured grass.

For instance, the campground is literally right next to the Eastern Trailways Bike Path which you can access from the campground and ride for miles in either direction. A lot of it through the woods, and some through towns. While not teaming with people, it is used by bikers, walkers and joggers so you don't feel too isolated.

Then, there is there is the proximity to the coast and some pretty neat beaches. Old Orchard Beach is only a couple miles away, as is Scarborough Beach State Park and Higgins Beach. The water at these here is warmer than other beaches just up the coast 30 miles. Don't know why, but I'm not complaining, especially when I am cajoled into the water by my two kids with promises of extreme entertainment and fun. You'd think by now, I'd have figured it out, but I fall for it every time.

Then there is what I consider the biggest intangible, the campers at the campground. Since most of the campers are seasonals, it is a given that they will be rude and condescending right? Have you not read anything I have typed? If you had, you'd know the answer. Oh, you do? Here then, here is your golden star. Well done. Everywhere you go around the campground people will wave and say hello. Just plain friendly. Remember our neighbors, the ones 6 feet from us? Not the ones in their own town...well, they brought some clothes over to our site, thinking we had hung the up on their clothes line. Turned out, they belonged to family members staying with them, but your missing the point. They didn't complain, set fire to them or glare at us. Just put them on our picnic table. It's those type of things that make it fun to camp there.

And the pool. Clean, refreshing and deep. This can provide you a brief moment of sanity while your kids enjoy frolicking about. And the beauty of it is, while they have rules posted, they really don't need them. Every time we have been there, both kids and adults have been very well behaved. To the point where you start wondering if you are in an episode of the Twilight Zone. Don't get me wrong, everyone's having fun, but not in that obnoxious way, you get used to at campground pools.

So now you can start to see why it is somewhat difficult to label this campground as good, bad or mediocre. It all depends on what you are expecting. Plus, who needs labels anyway? I usually just end up ripping them off whatever they are attached to. More comfortable that way. And yes, we will be back.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

You Know It's a Bad Day

So fast forward to 2012. (See how smoothly I start this entry, like I've been blogging all along? Brilliant!) What? My post rate for my blog is nothing but atrocious? I confess, I know it and I admit it. I think that is part of the reason we had a bad day-in May. It's really not so much Karma as Murphy. Things were going along too well and Murphy could not sit by idly let that happen. He knew I needed to blog. See how mythical persons watch out for your well being?

Now that we fast forwarded lets rewind. Kinda reminds me of the scene scene in the movie Willy Wonka, when Mr. Wonka gets confused. Somehow, on that level, I feel a kinship. I won't blame you for your befuddlement. But it won't help me with my story, so read on.

This year, unlike last year, I did not have the camping season planned out in March. I just wasn't motivated to. Maybe my sub-conscience knew what the future held. If it did, why the hay didn't it tell me?! Could have saved me countless nights waking in abject terror begging for my mommy. Continuing...

The season started out the week before Memorial Day with me calling campground after campground trying to find an available site. I finally called the Twin Mountain, NH KOA. Fortunately, they knew I had procrastinated and had saved me a site. Are you kidding me? I'm dreaming here. But how cool would that be?

Anyway, that Friday we loaded the venerable Astro Van with all our supplies, thrown in at the last minute, along with firewood and 2 dogs and a kid or two to make the trip more enjoyable.

Oh yeah, a bit of background, so rewind again. I promise you won't lose your place. I had at least had the presence of mind to make sure the van was serviced, spending enough money to fund a small nation for weeks on end. Stuff like the A/C pump, rods of some sort or another that they "said" would keep the wheels attached steering wheel (yeah, like I'm going to believe that! I didn't fall off the turnip truck yesterday. It was the day before!) And then there were other things like 2 new tires, an oil change. Man, we were stylin'! I did not, however take the same attitude toward the Casita. Just drained the pink stuff, hooked up to the van and called it good.

Back to the weekend. We had an uneventful trip to the campground (where does the bad begin? Wait a second, you're patience will be rewarded). I got everything hooked up and was just about to imaginarily doze off in my imaginary recliner chair when my wife calls out "there's no hot water, did you turn it on?" I went around to the heater, checked the switch, "yes dear, it is on. It takes a little bit for the water to heat up the first time out". Ten minutes later, "it's still not hot! Can you look at it?" After the next hour or so drenching my shoes and pants from the water gushing out of the release valve, "Forget it! I'm just going to switch on the propane! Dumb thing! I hate it!" At least the propane heater worked.

Then it struck me like a feather dropping on my head-I blew out the heating element. I didn't make sure to fill the 6 gallon holding take before I turned the power switch on. Lovely! Like I'm going to be able to explain that at the next monthly meeting of Manly Men Who Know What They Are Doing. I'll be the joker who has to wear the T-shirt reserved for the least deserving Man sporting "But I can iron a shirt really well!"

The next day was glorious, so we went for a hike to the top of a lovely little hill. Little is a term which is interchangeable with "For the love of pete! If I have to take one more step, I'm going to hurl myself down this mountain and be a snack for the bears!"

Sunday again was a most pleasant day, so we drove the 38 or so miles down the White Mountains to a little amusement park called Storyland. What a day! We laughed. We cried. We were moved.

Here is where the tale takes a dark and sinister turn. Where everything that is good and decent in the world really isn't. When we got back to the van, and fired it up, I saw the battery light come on. I kinda ignored it, because, well, I have no reason. We started back up the road toward the campground (yeah, that would be 38 miles) with the battery light on. We got about 5 miles, when the battery needle thingy on the dash dipped down to its "orange-is-bad" area. Then, the Bermuda Triangle suddenly extended up to NH, and forced all the gauges to quit. Even the speedometer.

Now I was scared, but not wanting to have to wear the T-shirt at the next meeting, I pulled over and popped open the hood and started muttering. Unbeknownst to my family, I was saying "if I had a pair of socks, my feet would be more comfortable". But to them I'm sure it sounded like "nope, the battery wire is tight, and I can see no melted parts or arching sparks". Since I truly am clueless, I got back in, started it back up, noticed the needle was still low, but drove on.

Another brief diversion to paint you a picture. Imagine some of the prettiest scenery around, big tall mountains dropping sharply to a valley, where the road meanders along beside a stream. And it is so pretty because a lot of it is untouched by civilization, for a good 26 miles...yeah, you know where this is going.

We made another 5 miles before the van completely died. As what little luck we had, would have it, it died in a small engine repair shop driveway. The last repair shop for 26 miles. Of course, that's where the luck stopped as it was Sunday about 6PM. It was closed and would be until Tuesday.

My daughter and I walked a half a mile to a local restaurant, and asked for a phonebook and a phone since my cell phone had died (and you thought you were never going to hear of our pain and anguish. Aren't you glad you stuck with it?!). I made a call to AAA who said they could tow the van to a garage, and someone could look at it...Tuesday. I see a reoccurring theme here! I ask you, what good is that, when we are 26 miles from our Casita, and there are no motels with vacancies for miles?

Not knowing exactly what to do, we walked back to the van. As we approached I saw a relatively old man bent over the hood of the van and the beaming face of my wife. She said that he was the owner of the shop, who lived nearby who saw we were having trouble. He had a battery/alternator tester machine, a within an hour announce that our alternator was toast. I asked if his shop could fix it, he assured me they could...Tuesday. Gall dern it!

Upon hearing that we had separation anxiety from our Casita, he said "I have new Interstate battery in the shop that I can put in your van that should get you up to your campground. The battery in the van is not the proper size anyway. And I'll loan you the charger to recharge it back up to get back here...Tuesday"

We were overjoyed and filled with gratitude. Our luck was re-ermerging once again, and the birds were chirping a bit more melodically. We drove the 26 miles without using fans, the radio or anything which would draw the precious life out of the new battery.

When we got back to the campground, we noticed dark storm clouds approaching. Since we had a freak windstorm rip off our awning the 2nd year we owned our Casita, dark storm clouds always leave me standing in a puddle. I strapped the awning and posts down tight and moved our kids tent under the awning. About 9:30PM, the wind really picked up and I could hear the vinyl part of the awning flapping wildly about. I went out, and tried to wind the awning back in, but the inner spindle just merrily turned, without pulling the awning in. I was devastated. How were we to drive the 152 miles home...Tuesday...with the awning out?

Again it brings to mind the scene from the movie RV. In it, they are in such a hurry to leave a campground and some overly friendly neighbors, they forget to reel the awning in and drive off with everything dangling. Hilarious for them. Us? Not so much.

When I awoke the next morning, I rushed out, fully expecting to see the awning in tatters, and the poles bent into some fantastic modern art piece. I was shocked. Everything was fine. I then got the awning winder thingy out, again fully expecting to repeat the same nauseating results of the night before. Once again, I was shocked. It rolled right in, as it normally would.

Tuesday. Has that day been mentioned before? I drove the van back to the shop, making a point to be there at 9AM, when the guy said it would open. I figured that with a crew of mechanics, the alternator should be swapped out and we'd be on the road home in no time. Instead, I was greeted by the older gentleman who said he was going to do the job. Old and frail and a chain smoker with a knee that was to be replaced in a few weeks. I will spare you the miute-by-minute agony, and will just say that by 2PM, the alternator was still on, the poor guy was literally spent, and said he had to take a break to rest. All the while, I had been his assistant. Now that is terrifying!

Again, as luck would have it, his secretary had a son who was an ASE certified mechanic
and she called him to help bail the guy out. He arrived shortly with his jack-of-all-trades buddy and by 3:30PM had the new alternator back on. The battery light was off and everything was good, except for the price. $870 for the new battery, the alternator and the labor.

But I can still hear you saying "well, I'm glad everything worked out, and you finally had your happy ending" Are you kidding me? The bad day isn't over!! On the way back up to the campground, guess what? The battery light came on. By this time I had become an ASE certified mechanic, and it was easy for me to diagnose what the problem was-the battery was low, due to the drive down to the shop, and would take a little while to recharge. I got back to the campground, hooked up the Casita, and off we drove, back down the same road I knew by heart now. When we got a mile or two past his shop, the gauges went dead. My wife said "turn around and take it back to that guy!" Somehow the joy we felt for him on Sunday evaporated like dew on a hot day. I refused on 2 grounds. One, he had closed his shop and said he was going to take some major pain meds, and I didn't think he could work on it. Two, it obviously was not the alternator like he said it was, so why would he now know what was wrong?

Our van died the second time at 4:50PM, in a Penske truck rental shop. I went in and asked the lady in the office if there was a shop nearby that was still open, and if the mechanic could tow the van there. Two customers overheard me "oh, our mechanic is right around the corner, about a quarter of a mile. You want a ride there?" Like I'd refuse that!

The mechanic said he'd look at the van, and put an auxiliary battery on the car to get it to his garage. 2 hours later, he had it figured out. It was not the alternator to begin with. A wire that runs to the alternator has to travel by the exhaust manifold, it got hot, melted, and shorted out. However, he did take the time to show me that the starter, which I guess is made from some ceramic-type substance was literally on it's very last leg, and that I should not turn the motor off until I got home. He charged $152.

Thats all, right? Nope! We got it home, and the next day went out to start it and...and...dead. We called a tow truck, who towed it to the Chevy dealer who put a new starter on and found $5000.00 more in work that needed to be done. We agonized for days and days about whether we should get the things fixed or not, but came to the conclusion that it would not be worth it, as it had 110,000 miles, and was our tow vehicle. After that bad day in May, no thanks. So we ended the day on a bright, cheery note: