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.

Delicious!

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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First Camping Trip of the Year – April 20-21, 2019

After strong storms and heavy rain on Friday, Saturday morning, April 20th, dawned clear and spectacularly beautiful!

We didn’t have any specific plans for the day, but after visiting a local campground and finding that there was one site open, we decided to do a one-night camping trip. By staying close, we could take care of things on the homefront, but also enjoy a mini-vacation.

We had few opportunities to use our new-to-us Clipper trailer after we bought it late last summer, so we were excited to get it out. Knowing we’d be coming back to the house a couple of times, we packed lightly, and soon we were in our site getting everything set up and connected.

The Scamp trailer we’d owned previously didn’t have water, propane, or too much of anything else in it, so there’s been a bit of a learning curve with the Clipper, which is well appointed. As we were putting up the awning, I turned one of the knobs too far, and–oops! Try as we might, we couldn’t get the knob to connect back through the small square metal piece inside the frame in order to raise the awning. Not good.

Wayne and I tried everything we could think of to fix it, but then a man from the next campsite walked over with a tool bag and asked if he could help. Yes, thank you, yes! Soon his wife came over, too, and before too long they had the awning working properly! Yay, for helpful neighbors!

As we officially introduced ourselves, we discovered some very cool common ground and connections! I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: you meet the nicest people in campgrounds! I’m so thankful that we had the opportunity to meet our new friends from New England, Carol and George, and I have a feeling we’ll be seeing them again in the future. 🙂

So with all of the set-up done, it was time to get down to some serious camping. For us, that means some serious relaxing. Ah, bliss……

Around 5 pm, we made a quick trip home and also picked up some food for dinner. We talked about going to the campground’s karaoke event in the community building that evening–or playing some pool–but we opted to stay put. Wayne got a fire going, and we sat outside until late that night….

Despite inching closer to the campfire, we kept adding layers–sweatshirts over shirts; jackets over sweatshirts–as the night became cooler and cooler. We knew the temperature was supposed to drop to the low 40s, and so we turned on the furnace in the trailer to see how it would work. (Quite well, we discovered!) We’d also brought a small ceramic heater with us, and when we went to bed we turned the propane and furnace off and used the electric heater instead.

Early the next (chilly!) morning, we left the campground to feed the feral kitties at my school and to feed my old kitty, Kian. When we got back to our campsite, the temperature had climbed to the 50s and it was a phenomenally beautiful Easter morning.

We visited again with our neighbors, and after they left for a family gathering, we started packing up and getting ready to come home.

As we pulled into the driveway, we could hear a shrill alarm going off inside the trailer! What on earth?!! I knew I’d turned off the propane at the tank the previous night when I’d turned off the furnace, and I’d doubled-checked it (and everything else) before we left the campground.

Cautiously entering the trailer, I saw an orange light on the refrigerator control panel next to the word CHECK. Well, check I did, and I saw that instead of pushing the button to turn the refrigerator OFF, I’d accidentally pushed the button that toggles between “automatic” and “gas.” Perhaps by having some propane gas in the lines from running the furnace, it was actually trying to pull propane in to run the fridge. And perhaps that was enough to set off the detector. Yikes!

Wayne was able to silence the alarm while I quickly opened windows and turned on the bathroom exhaust fan. We left the door, windows, and vent open for over an hour just to be on the safe side.

Finally convinced that all was well, we drove over the mountain for a late lunch/early dinner and to pick up a few more things to use on our next camping trip. Coming back over the mountain on the way home, we were both struck by the amazing clouds over the Rockfish Valley. The beautiful day was turning into a beautiful evening.

We talk (often) about the feasibility of an extended road trip with the trailer–some day. Maybe for a month? For a year? Would our Clipper trailer (with modifications) suit our needs for something like that, or would we need to go a little larger? So much to consider…

While cross-country travel is certainly a dream, we are so thankful–and so richly blessed–to be able to enjoy the simple wonders that are all around us, right here, right now.

Until next time,

Sharon & Wayne

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