To say this day was a long time coming certainly would not be an overstatement. The time we’ve invested in planning, making purchases both large and small, packing, and other preparations is significant. The mental toll the idea of leaving our everyday lives behind with the comforts of family, friends and home; the security of steady income; the safety of routine; and, certainly the fear of heading out not only into the unknown but with a roughly 10,000-pound fifth wheel behind us on the open road all contributed to a certain sense of somber anxiety. Our initial uncertainty of “should we do this?” fast was replaced with the more jarring question of “can we do this?”
After having had to push back our launch date several times due to issues with getting our trailer and truck registered and insured, getting our Honda Civic into the hands of family, figuring out storage for our belongings we weren’t taking with us but didn’t want to toss out, and, oh yeah, the whole ordeal with me busting our trucks rear glass while practicing back up (read more HERE), we were finally saying our “See you soon”s. We were finally ready to depart the family cottage in Hampton Beach, NH, and see the country.
We downloaded an app called AllStays on our phone as well as paid for an annual members ship of around $35 for access to their pro level services to help us find campgrounds around the country and also map out low clearances and fuel stops on the way. Immediately we wished that AllStays allowed us to either map directly in app or import filters to something like Google Maps, but apart from that criticism the program is great and helped us avoid a potentially impossible route south through Connecticut that had several areas with clearances as low as 10 feet; roads that obviously wouldn’t work with our 13 foot fifth wheel! As we applied our filters for ‘pet friendly’ and ‘accepts RVs’ we realized very quickly that campgrounds around New England are closing around October 15…and it’s October 24…yikes! Fortunately, we were able to find a beautiful campground in CT called the Brialee Family Campground in Ashford. We are super glad we got AllStays!
It was now time to rig up and hit the highway. Oh boy…something I might mention at this point as I was never a big driver over the course of my life. I’d probably driven less than 800 miles in my entire life to this point with my longest single trip ever being less than 100 miles and that was in a sedan; I’m about to drive roughly 150 miles in a truck hauling a rig. Fun! Yeah, Paul, just keep telling yourself that, this is all ‘fun’! Here we go…
What I was shocked about is how little I actually feel the rig behind us. Our so-called practice days with it have me on high alert as we come around corners, even pretty gradual ones, but it doesn’t take long to realize our fifth wheel tracks really well with our truck. I was terrified of the idea of going around the huge looping on ramps then accelerating up to highway speeds, but it was actually quite a breeze. I had Ashley keep a wary eye on our trailer as we came onto I-95, but she assured me we weren’t even close to hitting the cab. I give her the gas and up to 45 mph felt a bit of a struggle but as soon as she hits 45 she comes up to the road’s 65 mph smoothly and as quickly as I could have hoped for.
My plan is to stay in the right lane and run at around the speed limit if not slightly less, but I find myself often at least at the speed limit if not a couple miles per hour higher without even trying. I’m even merging into the middle lane and passing slow moving 18-wheelers, wow! It’s happening! I cannot emphasize enough how much I appreciate the large side mirrors with little parabolic mirrors underneath that the Ford F-250 has as I can see for what seems like miles next to me. I also need to say that the Furrion Observation Camera we picked up for about $350 through Amazon.com is a game changer. During our practice runs, feeling completely blind behind me was unnerving to say the least, but now I honestly feel like I have a much better field of vision of everything behind me than I did in just the truck or our Civic. I have a complete view of everything from right under our truck’s doors to at least 35’ right behind us; total 180 degree observation! Not only are we now aware of tailgaters but we can change lanes with total confidence!
The highways are fortunately uneventful. When we neared the campsite though we got onto some dicey roads. Our GPS is telling us to go one way while I’m following blue RV tagged road signs that tell us to go a different way. Well, the signs were sort of right, they got us to Brialee, but unfortunately it was to the back entrance, which is more like an exit. I stopped and asked a friendly caretaker, whom I’d later learn was Clem, where the office is. He gives me a slightly quizzical look and says, “Well, you follow that road a long ways”.
Queue me driving through tight, bumpy, narrow tree lined roads at a glacial rate hoping upon hope I’ll see a sign that says “Office”. After what seems like ages and miles that, in reality, were probably mere minutes and feet, we finally come to the office at exactly 2:57 pm. The woman on the phone said check-in is 3:00 pm but the office closes at 5:00 pm due to off season so I’m thinking I got us here in perfect time. Sadly, the road right outside the office is on a fairly steep hill, so I have Ash run out and try and talk to someone. Locked, with nary a soul in sight. I tell Ash to look in the red box, as I was instructed to if arriving after 5, for a map with out name on it. “There’s no names just brochures” she yells back. Panic begins to set in. She brings me one of the brochures, which turns out to be a map with another family’s name and lot assignment on it. Whoops! Let’s find ours now. Panic…subsiding.
Now, with site assignment and map in hand, we look around for where we’re supposed to go. Oh, I see, it’s right on the other side of the office area…with a steep uphill 90 degree angle turn…followed by what appears to be a 60 degree cut back to turn around. Panic…returning…growing…laughing. I start trying to figure out how we can drive into the treed area next to the road to be able to swing around for the turn around and feeling queasy. Suddenly, Clem and another caretaker appear in a tractor performing maintenance. Ash flags them down and asks how we’re supposed to turn around and he says to go through the trees and try and make the cut; “I think you’ll make it” he says with a non-convincing tone, “or…I could just open the gate for you?” Yes. That option. Definitely. Panic…subsiding once more.
We get to our campsite and it’s a back-in plot as expected. Okay guys, you’ve prepped for this with only minor property damage as a result, you can do this. We go through what we’d learned from our favorite teacher, YouTube (sorry, mom, and every actual teacher we’ve ever had!), and…manage to get her in on the first try!!! WOO-HOO! Panic GONE! Triumph and pride riding tall in the saddle! We did it!
Clem finds us shortly later and looks at our park job and says it was pretty good for newbies; as level as we need to be and a good distance from the power post and water tie in. He shows us how to use the well for the city connection and chats with us a bit about our plans and gives little nuggets of advice. Mostly, he re-assures us that everything will get easier as we go and it will all become nearly second nature to us. He says his good nights and we prepare to settle in for the single sleep to get back on the road in the morning headed to New Jersey and Ashley’s family.
The campground is really pretty, with classic New England foliage just starting to really set in; vibrant reds and mellow yellows surround us. Just down the walk is a scenic little pond with a little bridge and beach for the warmer months. The camp appears full, but according to Clem, they’re just seasonal campers who leave their rigs there year-round and part of his job now is winterizing them for the owners.
We are one of only 3 occupied camps on the sprawling grounds. Admittedly, it’s a little eerie as Ash cooks our first dinner on the road in our little kitchen (refried beans with chicken tacos).
The campgrounds were set up for Halloween special weekends which happened over the last two weeks so the paths are littered with the remnants of the festivities: rubber bats, candy wrappers, the occasional set of fake vampire fangs (as opposed to the authentic variety). Abutting us is a Haunted House setup with jack-o-lanterns and hanging, willowy specters. The moon over the pond looks a lot like a horror movie; there’s honestly even a creaking door someplace in the woods…or I suppose a moaning zombie, I can’t really tell. Walking Jackson with my headlamp it’s actually a little creepy, and just the thing I need for my annual fall fix of the scary. I am officially having fun!
We settle into bed for our first actual night in the rig, and feel out the gentle jostling, rocking, and bouncing that is to be expected from living in a trailer and we look forward to what tomorrow, and the rest of the trip, will bring us!