Sugar Bottom Campground, Solon, Iowa

Looking at the map and the number of cities we have to pass through or near, we broke our back roads rule for the last two days. We have put a few miles on the last two days. Last night we spent the night at Indiana Dunes State Park at the bottom edge of Lake Michigan. Tonight we are at Sugar Bottom, a Corps of Engineers campground. In the process we passed through Elkhart, IN, the capital of RV manufacturing. Two hundred sixty-eight miles for Thursday, 5/24 and 399 miles for Wednesday, 5/23.

Interstate 90 took us from Buffalo past Erie, PA, Cleveland & Toledo, Ohio, much of it a manufacturing mecca. While the conventional wisdom is, we don’t make anything in the US any more, the facilities along this corridor belie that rumor. One city in particular caught our eye as we passed by, Elkhart, IN, the RV manufacturing capital of this country and probably the world. From the interstate we could see plants for Forest River and Heartland and lots filled with RV’s either ready for sale or partially manufactured. We didn’t take a lot of photographs because the weather was lousy, with heavy rain and bumper to bumper traffic.

We ended the day at Indiana Dunes State Park at the base of Lake Michigan after crossing into CDST. I’m not sure where it went, but we lost an hour. We can highly recommend this state park to anyone traveling in this part of the country. The park is immaculate with lovely wooded sites, lots of hiking trails, nature center, etc. Lake Michigan reminded us of the ocean, especially on this day. It was a cool 50 degrees and the wind was howling. You can appreciate how the sand dunes were built up when being pelted by the sand blasting wind off the lake. There are reminders at the park of just how ferocious the storms on the lake can be. The pictures tell the story:

A propeller from the wreck

While at Indiana Dunes we got the notion we might be able to make it to Waterloo, IA to visit Northstar Campers, where our Igloo was made. A call to the factory confirmed that we could visit on Friday as long as we arrived early so we made the decision to do another long day on the highway to get close enough to make the visit. We hopped on I80 Thursday morning and drove out of the weather and into the sun. By the time we reached the Cedar Rapids area the temperature had climbed to 75 and the sun was in full bloom, a welcome change from the downpours of Chicago. We now have a fuller appreciation of where our food comes from. I80 is surrounded on both sides by farmland, miles and miles of corn country. Interestingly, one claim to fame is the largest truck stop in the world.

Farmland as far as the eye can see.

We ended the day at Sugar Bottom Recreational Area. This is another highly recommended spot for travelers. Large, manicured sites, lots of trails, nice showers, full hookups if you need them and a large lake for boaters. We were fortunate to be able to grab a site right on the water and had a very quiet, restful night.

The view from our site.

The next few days are likely to be dry camping since we are now into Memorial Day weekend and all the parks will be full. Walmart parking lots here we come. Off to Northstar Campers today. Until later – Shawn.

Syracuse to Niagara Falls and then Erie, PA

We were pretty faithful to our plan to take the back roads today. The sun came out and we were blessed with a beautiful day to poke along the edge of Lake Ontario.

New York is the apple state, Big Apple and lots of little apple trees. Apple trees as far as the eye can see.

We meandered along the lake shore and stopped at a small state park to take break and enjoy the view. 

 Lake Ontario is impressively large and the vistas today were wonderful because of the nice weather. We didn’t bother to photograph the gorgeous and expensive homes along the lake shore but I’m sure you can imagine the money it takes to buy a view like this.

Niagara Falls is also impressive. Photos don’t really do it justice but the perfect weather made for a great visit. We didn’t do all the attractions because we have Ginger with us but we did walk the entire park.

After a few hours of water watching we headed SW and will spend the night in Erie, PA. 299 miles for the day. -Shawn

Berlin,Vermont to Cicero, NY

We have parked for the night at a Cracker Barrel in Cicero, NY. 290 miles for the day on back roads in pouring rain so we can’t entertain you with gorgeous picture of sweeping landscapes. Most of New York we passed through is heavily forested and the clouds were low and dark and the rain was steady so most of what we could see was trees, hills and the winding road ahead.

We meandered across New York on a variety of back roads. If you looked at a map of our path across the state you would think we had been nipping a bit too much at the bottle. 9N, 29, 30, 5, 80, 20 – a potpourri of routes all going in different directions but generally leading us west. How much easier it would have been to hop on 90 (the Thruway) and arrive earlier or go farther. But even with the poor weather there were small towns and villages, each uniquely different, a reminder that before we created the interstate system you actually had to slow down and see the places you traveled through. We have lost much of that sense of place as we zip through the countryside at 70 miles per hour, seeing nothing but the taillights of the cars ahead and exit signs begging us to take a moment and get off the fast lane. -Shawn

Day before departure

The camper is pretty well packed. Clothing, tools, bicycles, electronics, food pretty much on board. We still need to fill the water tank and fill the freezer from our freezer with whatever we want to take.

We are active members of Christ Episcopal Church in Montpelier, Vermont. Helen is on the vestry and I have worked on the property and housing committees. Today was our last service here for a while and we will miss our church family as we hit the road.

It was Paul Habersang’s idea to bless both us and our rig before we began our journey so we drove the camper to church this morning.  His blessing in church made us both tear up because it was heartfelt with the entire congregation joining us in the prayer. I am sure you recognize it.

We then journeyed outside where we gave tours of the camper and Paul blessed the beast. And with that farewell to our church family, we will be off in the morning tomorrow.

The camper

The truck and camper just about ready to leave Truck Camper Warehouse

The truck camper we decided on is a Northstar Igloo 9.5. We looked at campers for over a year. We went to the big camping show in Hershey, PA. We did on-line research. We narrowed things down to units that would fit on our single rear wheel Ford F350 diesel. That isn’t as simple as it sounds. The truck has a GVWR of 11,500 pounds and weighs around 8,600 pounds without the camper. That means you only have about 3,000 pounds of carrying capacity for the camper and your passengers. You would be amazed how many campers weigh 4,000-5,000 pounds loaded up and ready to travel. Our Igloo weighs 2,600 pounds empty and we weighed it and the truck loaded up and on the road and with a full tank of gas, food, water, two dogs and the two of us the truck weighed 12,410 pounds. Subtract the truck weight of 8,600 pounds and you discover that the camper ready to travel actually weighs 3,810 pounds.

This seems to be pretty consistent with what others say their campers weigh after they have loaded them for travel. That is, add a thousand pounds for water, propane, food, clothing and all the other “stuff” we tend to bring along.

So we are about a thousand pounds over our GVWR. What does that mean? It means we have had to beef up our suspension to carry the extra weight. It is common knowledge that most truck campers exceed the GVWR of the trucks that carry them. The critical issue is what you do to safely carry the extra weight. However we are under our gross axle weights both front and rear, though not by much.

We bought our camper at Truck Camper Warehouse in New Hampshire. Bill and Ryan helped with our selection and then helped prepare the truck for the camper.

After our maiden voyage with the camper to Alabama and Florida we are confident in both the truck and the camper.