Camping at James River State Park, July 11-13, 2019

After doing many, many day trips to James River State Park, we were finally able to camp there! We left for the park a little before noon on Thursday, July 11th.

In addition to numerous “primitive” sites for tent campers throughout James River State Park, there are 31 water/electric sites in Red Oak campground. The camp host was in site #13, and we had reservations for a “non-specific” site in Red Oak, rather than a specific site.

When we arrived, we were given a map that showed the open campsites, and we were told we could pick out whichever one we liked best. I asked if we’d have to drive back to the front gate to let me know which site we’d chosen, but the ranger said the camp host would let them know. Cool!

ALL of the sites were nice–and HUGE–and we opted for site # 16 which was near the bathhouse. It had a long driveway, and it was very level.

Once we were set up, it felt nice to sit in the shade of the awning; it was SUCH a hot and humid day!

Wayne had just a bit of signal for his phone (Sprint) and I had none (AT&T) so we went to the visitor’s center to pick up a few things and to take advantage of their Wi-Fi. We always enjoy looking at their exhibits, too.

I’ve taken a picture of this sign each time we’ve visited James River State Park, and it has become one of my favorite quotes:

Strong storms were in the forecast–no surprise, given the heat and oppressive humidity–and clouds were building ominously in the distance.

All along the river at Dixon Landing, the leaves on the trees were turning upwards (which is often a sign of a coming storm), so we decided to head back to our campsite. Soon we could hear thunder, and the wind started to pick up.

We’d originally planned to cook dinner outside, but it was so very nice to have the option to cook and eat inside of our trailer!

After the worst of the storm was over and we’d cleaned up the kitchen, we sat outside under the awning.

When the rain finally stopped, a funny thing happened: we were both befriended by a beautiful butterfly. It flew to Wayne first, landing on his head and then riding around on his shoulder before flying over to me. It stayed with us for close to an hour, until it was almost fully dark.

We talked about the possible significance of this unusual encounter, as there’s a lot of symbolism pertaining to butterflies. You can read more about that here:

As night fell, the moon started to peak through the clouds and trees.

Finally it was clear enough for me to get a good picture of the three-quarter moon:

We spent the rest of the evening relaxing beside a campfire. So peaceful….

The next morning it was clear and sunny, but very hot and humid again. For breakfast, we ate a simple (but delicious) breakfast of bagels with cream cheese, fresh peaches, and coffee, and I took a picture of our campsite from the road, just to show how much room we had!

What a beautiful summer morning!

It was so nice to be out in the woods, AND have electric and water hook-ups! This allowed us to use the air conditioner in the trailer, and have fresh, filtered running water. “Roughing it?” No, not really. 😉

As many times as we’ve been to this state park, we’d never been on the trail that leads to the confluence of the Tye and James rivers. Due to the problems Wayne has had recently with his back, walking the full distance (over a mile, mostly uphill) to the confluence seemed unlikely. I’d read something about how the park could help with accessibility to this scenic spot, and when I asked a woman at the visitor’s center, she said that a ranger would be happy to open a gate along the trail so we could drive most of the way! Excellent!

Everyone we encountered at the park went out of their way to be helpful and accommodating, and once the gate was open, we drove up Cabell trail so we could take a much shorter trail to the confluence overlook. Well, it was SUPPOSED to be a short trail, but somehow we missed it. Instead, we found ourselves on one of the equestrian trails!

We just took it slowly, and soon we could see the overlook. We’ve been to several different confluences along the James River, and it’s always fascinating to see where one distinct river joins another. The Tye River (lighter brown) flows into the James (darker brown) at almost a 90-degree angle.

At one point as we were talking with another couple at the overlook, Wayne asked for the camera. He said he didn’t say anything at the time, but when he saw it coming over the branch on a nearby tree, he thought he was photographing a snake–and not a lizard! 😉

This was one of the signs at the overlook:

On the way back to the car, we managed to get on the correct trail, and it was a bit shorter and easier than the equestrian trail we’d come in on.

Our next stop was the river again, this time at the canoe livery and camp store.

There were a lot of people out on the water; perfect day for it!

We hadn’t planned to get out on the river, but seeing everyone else out there made it very, very tempting! Wayne checked at the livery to see if we could rent tubes to do a short float. Unfortunately, they couldn’t rent tubes that day for liability issues since the river was running quite fast. (The people who were tubing had brought their own.) Next, he checked to see if we could rent a canoe, but they’d stopped renting a half hour before. Oh well!

We continued to sit by the water for a while, watching the kayakers, tubers, clouds, and butterflies.

There are no swimming areas at the park, and caution is advised regarding getting in the river due to rocks and sudden drop-offs. But it was SO hot, and the water was SO inviting…. Decision made, we went back to the trailer to change into our bathing suits, stopping along the way to let some horses and riders cross in front of us.

Back at the river, we carefully and cautiously found a sandy area where we could at least sit in the water and cool off. So refreshing!

Before leaving, we symbolically blessed a tiny quartz crystal with our prayers and best wishes for the safety and health of the waters of the James River before tossing it into the river.

When we got back to the campground, we both took a shower at the bathhouse, which was very clean and nicely maintained. In addition to the shower rooms and bathrooms, there’s a laundry room and an outside sink for washing dishes.

Dinner that night was quesadillas and corn on the cob. It was nice to be able to cook and eat outside, but it was still SO HOT! Having a little fan on the end of the picnic table definitely helped!

After dinner, we took a slow walk around the campground, stopping to chat with some of our fellow campers…

…and watching the moon rise in a crystal clear sky….

Curiously, the same butterfly–or at least the same type of butterfly–accompanied us during half of our walk. <3

Back at our site, Wayne got a fire started and it was time for s’mores. 🙂

Later, I walked out to the road to get a shot of the moon and Jupiter (at about the 8 o’clock) position).

I could clearly see the moons around Jupiter with the zoom on my camera, but without a tripod, I couldn’t get a clear picture. Pretty amazing, anyhow!

The campfire that night was magical, and I loved watching the changing colors and patterns. We sat outside until midnight, truly enjoying our last night at James River State Park.

The next morning we went back to the river, taking our breakfast coffee with us.

Despite the lack of easy communication with the “outside world,” it actually felt good to be somewhat disconnected for a couple of days. Just being out in nature–surrounded by trees and near water–was something that I think we both needed. If we could have stayed longer, we would have. 🙂

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” ~ John Muir

We’re so thankful that we had the opportunity to camp at beautiful James River State Park. And while there are other state parks we’d like to explore, we’d love to come to this one again!

On the way home when we crossed the James River on Rt. 60, we could see a whole flotilla of canoeists, kayakers, and tubers starting the three-hour float down the river towards the park. Yep, maybe we’ll try that some day!

Until next time,

Sharon & Wayne

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Camping at Sherando Lake – June 26-28, 2019

We love camping at Sherando, but it’s not always easy to get a site. There are two “loops” with electricity: C-loop is a reserve-in-advance section, and the other, B-loop (our favorite), is a first-come-first-served loop. We didn’t reserve ahead of time, but we knew there were possibly 3 sites opening in B on Wednesday. Gambling that he’d be able to get one, Wayne drove over that morning and was able to reserve a site. He then drove back home (a 50-mile round trip!) so we could finish packing the car and trailer.

Our tow vehicle (a 2016 Kia Sorento, rated to tow 5000 pounds) did okay pulling the trailer up and over Afton Mountain on I-64, and this was good news, indeed. We were concerned about how it would do after its miserable performance towing on Rt. 250 West, which is much, much steeper. Once we were over the mountain, the car handled the trailer beautifully, and it didn’t take us too long to get set up at Sherando in site # B-4.

Like most of the sites in B loop, our site was perfectly level and wonderfully woodsy!

In retrospect, we should have headed straight for the lake, but after the rush to get a site and get set up, it felt good to simply kick back and relax. Wayne dozed in a chair under the awning, and I stretched out on the bed and took a nap.

That evening we fixed a simple summer dinner of corn on the cob and watermelon, and when we cleaned up, I used a special dish towel that one of my cousins gave me. 🙂

We started a fire as the long June day slowly turned to night….

(Editing to add that as we were sitting by the fire, I heard something walking towards us through the woods. Yikes! With all the warnings about bears, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I turned the flashlight on and pointed it towards the sound! Thankfully, no bear, but one of the biggest raccoons I’ve ever seen in my life!! It boldly ran between our site and the one next to us. Later, we heard first one and then a full chorus of coyotes howling. It sounded like they were somewhere around the upper lake.)

We slept late Thursday morning and then spent a leisurely morning at the campground before trekking into town to get some supplies. We planned to go to the lake when we got back, but the weather had different ideas. Since the storm looked pretty severe on radar–and the wind was picking up–we folded up the awning and went inside. I stretched out on the bed and listened to the rain pattering on the roof of the trailer, very thankful that we weren’t in a tent!

It stormed on and off for a couple of hours, and when the sun finally came out, it was time to start dinner. Again keeping it simple, we had eggs scrambled with onions, potatoes, and cheddar cheese.


After dinner, my cousin, Mary, and her husband joined us for do-it-yourself dessert. 🙂

I’m so glad that Mary and David could visit for a bit! We always enjoy seeing them (and it was a good excuse to make S’mores!) 🙂

Yeah. We’re happy campers. 🙂

After they left–the gates to the park close at 10 pm–Wayne got out his guitar and picked for a while until the fire burned down and the night turned surprisingly cool. It actually felt good to crawl into bed under a sheet and a blanket!

We were up early Thursday morning, wishing we could stay another day! It was so, so pretty, but we needed to start for home.

The Kia got us back across the mountain with pretty good power and speed (it’s less steep crossing Afton Mt. from west to east than east to west), and we came home to temperatures in the mid-90s–ugh–and then another storm.

I’m so glad we were able to do a 2-night camping trip to Sherando–even if we never got a chance to go to the lake!–and we’re already looking at maps and talking about where we want to go next! 🙂

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First Outing with the Coachmen Clipper 17fq

Our first camping trip of 2019 was with our Coachmen Clipper 14R…

….and in early June we took our new-to-us Coachmen Clipper 17fq to the same local campground:

Since it’s the same brand of trailer, we didn’t have any trouble figuring out how to get things set up. (It actually took longer to get the TV programmed than to get the electric, water, and cable connected.)

Even the awning went up without a problem. 😉

Since this was a one-night outing, we packed lightly and didn’t even bring our propane stove. We weren’t sure what we’d do for dinner, but then we learned that the campground was hosting a dinner for all camping guests in their community building that evening! Really?! SO impressed!

After this delicious and unexpected treat, we played a few games of pool while listening to live music.

It’s been such a hot, humid, and stormy spring, but we were blessed with beautiful weather. It was cool enough that evening to enjoy the warmth of a campfire.

Having the opportunity to get out in the trailer pretty well convinced us that it’s a good size for us, and the layout (with side dinette) gives us enough room to actually get out of each other’s way when we’re both in it. It definitely has everything that we’d need for an extended road trip, but I had one major concern: could my Kia Sorento really handle towing it?

The dry weight of the trailer is just over 2700 pounds–still well under the 5000-pound towing capacity of my SUV–so we decided to put it to the test the next morning by towing up Afton Mountain. To add to the challenge, we were going to take Rt. 250 West….

On I-64, the approximately 1200-foot climb happens over a distance of about 5 miles. By contrast, the distance from the foot of the mountain (starting at the Rockfish Gap Country Store) to the top on Rt. 250 is just a little over 3 miles but it’s much, much steeper.

Despite having the car in “sport mode” (which is recommended for towing) AND using the manual shift option to lock it into gear, I ultimately had to downshift to 3rd to creep up the mountain at 35 mph. Not good. Seriously, not good; the car felt significantly under-powered for this. (On the positive side, the Kia’s temperature gauge didn’t change at all; there were no signs of it overheating.)

Just when I could have possibly gained some speed and shifted to 4th gear, a large RV pulled out from Rt. 6, heading up the mountain. Since it was also going 35 mph, I just fell in behind it and chugged along the rest of the way to the top. All in all, though, the Kia’s performance was very disappointing. 🙁

As soon as I get the anti-sway bar hardware mounted on the tongue of the trailer to feel safer about towing the trailer on the interstate, I want to try this climb again on I-64. If I can maintain a speed of at least 45 mph, then maybe having the Kia as a tow vehicle for a trailer this size will be do-able. Dunno.

While Wayne pointed out that there are a lot of places we could go (Westmoreland State Park, Smith Mountain Lake, etc.) that don’t involve steep grades like what we encountered towing up Afton Mountain on Rt. 250, when you dream of touring the country with a travel trailer, the thought of being limited by geography or elevation isn’t really a part of that dream, you know?

While I’m not quite ready to start car/truck shopping, tentative vacation plans that involved towing our trailer out of state in a couple of weeks were cancelled. Bummer.

For its size, the Kia offers good gas mileage and comfort for long road trips as well as for daily commutes. And unless/until we have the ability to do frequent extended road trips with the trailer, I’m not sure that it would make a lot of sense to upgrade to a larger, more powerful (and less economical) SUV–or a truck.

Anyhow, I guess we’ll do a few more outings with the Kia and Clipper this summer and see how it goes….

Until next time,

Sharon & Wayne

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Red-Shouldered Hawk & Baby – May 23, 2019

I’ve been watching and photographing a pair of Red-Shouldered Hawks for months. Watched them building a nest, and now try to get glimpses of the hawk & babies through the trees.

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New-to-Us 2015 Coachmen Clipper

When I was a kid, family vacations typically involved trekking up and down the East Coast and into Canada with a small travel trailer tagging along behind us.

Some of the best memories of my childhood are from these trips, and I’ve had this crazy dream of doing another vacation–some day–with a small camper.

The first trailer that Wayne and I bought was an empty (like seriously empty!) 1995 Scamp trailer, and we spent more time renovating it than actually camping! Still, it was a wonderful experience, and we always had fun when we did take it out somewhere. 🙂

We sold the Scamp in July 2018 when we bought a used Coachmen Clipper 14R. The Clipper was basically the same size as our Scamp (just a little boxier and a little heavier), and we were delighted to have a sink, stove, furnace, and bathroom in our new-to-us trailer. The only thing we missed was having a small, separate dinette (like we’d built in the Scamp), and so we measured and did some drawings in case we wanted to make that modification in the future.

After our first camping trip of 2019 with the Clipper, Wayne and I continued to talk about the feasibility of making a dinette in the trailer. We also talked about the possibility of getting a slightly larger trailer with a dinette already in it. Decisions, decisions….

I started looking online to see what was available, but immediately ruled out a lot of campers due to their price–or their weight. Even though my Kia has a towing capacity of 5000 lbs–which is pretty good for a mid-size SUV–I wanted to keep the weight of any new trailer to 3000 lbs or less. (Even our basically-empty Scamp that weighed 1650 pounds made itself known when going over Afton Mountain, so keeping the weight down was really important.)

We already knew we liked the Coachmen brand, and while researching I discovered that the Coachmen Clipper 17FQ weighs in at just over 2700 pounds. Do-able. We both really liked the layout, too:

When I searched online for this specific model, I was somewhat surprised to see that there were only 4 used 17FQs within 250 miles! The closest one was at an RV center 20 miles north of Richmond, and on April 28th we decided to go take a look at it. While I didn’t rule out the possibility of actually purchasing it if we liked if (if I could arrange to trade in our 14R), we mainly wanted to see if we liked the layout, in person, as much as we thought we would.

The trailer was a 2018 and the price was pretty good (especially for one that new), but there was some odd damage to both the inside and the outside. Clearly, it hadn’t been treated well by its previous owners. We found that we really did like the layout and other features, but we knew that this particular trailer was not for us. (As of this post, it’s still available at the RV center, at an even lower price.)

The next Saturday, we decided to go to Harrisonburg. Trailer shopping wasn’t the primary reason for the trip, but I knew of a couple small RV places in the valley that I wanted to check out, just in case. 😉

As usual, I-81 north had lots of truck traffic. Since we were in no particular hurry, I got off the interstate at the Verona exit to do the rest of the drive on scenic Rt. 11. Just seven miles up the road, however, we ran into a ton of slow/stopped cars due to the conclusion of commencement exercises at the local community college. The going was so slow (seriously, simply sitting still a lot) that we thought about turning around and getting back on the interstate. The Waze app on my phone showed it clearing up in a couple of miles, so we stuck with it and crept our way northward….

Once we were moving again, we passed through the tiny, historic town of Mt. Crawford about five miles up the road. On the north end of town, I saw something that made me do a double-take.

“Did you see that?” I asked Wayne. Yes, he’d seen it, too. We didn’t know which model it was, but we’d just driven past a used Coachmen Clipper with a 4-Sale sign on it in a driveway. Hmmm….. We turned around, pulled into the driveway, and called the number listed on the sign. Almost immediately a man answered and said he’d be right out.

Well, of course you know where this story is going: It was, indeed, a Clipper 17FQ–a 2015, and in excellent condition! The owner had done some really nice upgrades, which included putting in a thermostat-controlled air conditioner and installing an electric tongue jack. He’d recently had it de-winterized and thoroughly inspected by an RV shop, and the next thing I knew, I was buying a(nother) trailer!

Due to our crazy work schedules, we thought we’d have to wait until the following weekend to bring it home, but the man we bought it from and one of his buddies delivered it to us that Tuesday!

It was funny seeing the two trailers sitting side by side in the yard. They’re the same height and width, but the 17FQ is 400 pounds heavier and 5 feet longer.

After placing ads on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace–and after one deal that fell through–our Clipper 14R sold on May 15th. It was picked up and towed to its new home the next afternoon. 🙂

When I’ve told some friends the story of how we happened to acquire our new-to-us trailer, they’ve said that it was “meant to be.” I have to admit that it does make you wonder….

To recap, I was looking for a very specific Coachmen Clipper model, and this one was not advertised on the internet or anywhere else; it was just in the seller’s driveway with a sign on it.

If I hadn’t gotten off the interstate when I did, we wouldn’t have known about it.

If I’d gotten back on the interstate when we ran into the traffic on Rt. 11, we wouldn’t have known about it.

If we hadn’t decided to go to Harrisonburg the day we did, we wouldn’t have known about it, as it probably would have sold. (The seller got a call from a prospective buyer while we were there, and someone else was supposed to see it the next day.)

So does this mean we’re on track to move into the next phase of “crazy dreams” and do a road trip with it this summer? Dunno for sure, but for now we can’t wait to get out with it, somewhere!

Until next time,

Sharon & Wayne

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