Achievement Unlocked: Towing

A couple of weeks ago I introduced you to Ruby, our new-to-us Toyota Tundra. We took Ruby on her first camping expedition last weekend; I’ll post about that next week. Even though we have owned a travel trailer since 2014, I have never driven while towing. Even though I know this puts a heavy burden on my husband, just the idea of driving while towing has always freaked me out and sent my anxiety level through the roof.

When we purchased my husband’s Toyota Tacoma in 2015 I wasn’t sure I would ever get used to driving it; it felt so much bigger than my Highlander. So, of course, I expected driving the Tundra (which is huge) be be an even bigger adjustment. However, much to my surprise, I actually love driving Ruby. I was apparently born to drive a big honkin’ truck. Who knew? So, on our trip home I decided I’d give towing a try and… I did it! I know that may seem like nothing to many of you but since traffic/driving is one of the biggest triggers for my anxieties, for me it’s a Really Big Deal and I’m proud of myself. I didn’t drive for long, only about twenty miles on a two-lane road between two small towns but now that I have done it once, I know I can do it again and for a longer stretch.

There’s no stopping me now, y’all!

Vintage style camper trailer and camping scene

The End of an Era

In January 2006 my husband and I traded in our Dodge Caravan on a 2005 Toyota Highlander. The Caravan had served us well while were were chauffeuring around growing teenage boys (two of our own and oodles of their friends). However, by 2006, most of those boys had their driver’s licenses and most of our chauffeuring days were behind us. We needed a vehicle big enough to haul the four of us when our boys were with us but not too big for just the two of us. After much research and several test drives of various vehicles we settled on the Highlander. Our choice turned out to be a good one. Our Highlander, named Bonnie, safely carried my husband on several work trips from Georgia to San Antonio and back not to mention our daily commutes to work, vacations, and the Great Road Trip of 2019. However, as of January 30, 2021, Bonnie has gone on to a new home with our daughter-in-law. Even though Bonnie is now fifteen years old and has a little over than 207,000 miles on her I have no doubt that with good routine maintenance she still has several years of life left in her.

Bonnie, sporting her stickers from our various travels

Why has Bonnie gone to a new home? Well, as of January 26, 2021 we are what I swore we would never be – a two truck family. (I really need to stop using the word “never” – I think I’ve already done all of the things I swore I would never do.) We already had a Toyota Tacoma. My husband has owned many trucks over the years, most of which I hated. We bought his 2006 Tacoma used in 2015. It was such a relief to finally have a truck that I wasn’t afraid to ride in or drive. We were able to use the Tacoma to tow our RPOD 180 and its tow package is the only reason we were able to upgrade to our Flagstaff Micro Lite 21FBRS without purchasing a bigger tow vehicle.

So, if we could tow with our current truck why did we invest in a bigger truck now? My husband does the driving when we’re towing and I know that towing with his Tacoma makes him nervous, even knowing that we’re not even at the upper end of its tow capability. We have towed in mountainous areas and the Tacoma does fine, it just doesn’t have a lot of power to spare. Recently, I became aware that the Tacoma’s stopping capability while towing worried him. Our retirement plans included at least one road trip every year. The pandemic cancelled our planned trip for 2020 but we are planning to try again this Fall. (Hopefully we will be able to receive COVID vaccines by then.) So, we decided to go ahead and make the investment. Since our two Toyotas have been good to us, a Toyota Tundra was the next logical step for us. Researching trucks did nothing but reinforce this choice. So, we went for a test drive and came home with a new truck. Well, a new-to-us truck. Ruby the Big Red Truck is a 2018 model.

Meet Ruby, the big red truck

My husband has already taken the Tundra and the travel trailer out for a short drive so he could get the hitch configured properly. He came home very happy with the way the Ruby handled both while towing and stopping during the outing. Now I have two goals:

  1. Get used to driving a much larger vehicle.
  2. Start doing some of the driving when we’re towing the camper

Traffic/driving are two of the biggest triggers for my anxieties but I refuse to let my anxieties rule me so, I can do this. Right? Wish me luck!

Review: Twin Lakes Campground

Twin Lakes Campground is located in Pendleton, South Carolina. We have family in the Pendleton area and Twin Lakes gives us a nice place to stay when we visit. We wrapped up our second visit over New Year’s. The website states that there are 102 public campsites; however, during both of our trips we have stayed in the section containing sites 25-58. Sites 25-58 are located on a finger of land extending into Lake Hartwell; all of the sites are on the exterior of the loop so they are all a short walk from the water’s edge.

The presence of Lake Hartwell means a lot of early morning fog. This is my favorite picture from our last trip.

I quite like Twin Lakes. The campsites are nicely spaced so you aren’t on top of your neighbors. That said, there are a few key things to key things to keep in mind:

  1. There are two bath houses available to sites 25-58. However, during the December 1st to March 30th time frame the bathhouse between sites 30 and 41 is closed. (The bathhouse near site 58 is open year round.)
  2. Also during the December 1st to March 30th time frame, if the temperature is predicted to be near 32 degrees (F) or lower, water to the campsites will be turned off. The bathhouse near site 58 will remain open.
  3. The gate to the park is closed from 10pm to 7am. Unlike the gates at most other campgrounds that we have visited, guests are not given a code by which the gate can be opened. So, if you get caught on the wrong side of the gate, you seem to be out of luck.
  4. During our first stay in February 2020 (just prior to the pandemic) I found it disturbing that there was no soap provided for the washing of hands in the bathhouse near site 58. (My husband confirmed that the absence of soap also applied to the men’s room.) I understand that keeping soap dispensers filled is just one more thing for the campground hosts to manage, but no hand soap in the restrooms? Gross. Since our latest stay over New Year’s 2021 was smack dab in the middle of a surge in COVID cases, I did not visit the bathhouse so I cannot confirm whether or not the lack of soap is still an issue.

When we pulled out to begin our journey home after our most recent stay, the dump station was closed and a crew was busily at work digging up pipes leaving us scrambling for a way to empty our grey and black water tanks before arriving at home. (There may be another dump station for the sites in the other section of the campground but that section has been closed during both of our visits.) Some of the Georgia rest areas/welcome centers have been retrofitted with dump stations; sadly, neither of the ones on our route home fall into that category. However, there is a new Love’s truck stop in Madison, Georgia which is quickly becoming one of our routine stops. A quick internet search showed that that Love’s had a dump station available. Using the dump station cost us $10 but it was money well spent to not have to worry about it any more. Allen, the Love’s manager who unlocked the cap for us, implored my husband to make sure that everything went down the pipe as it should; he said the last person had left a mess that he had to clean up. Once we began the process of emptying our tanks we realized that the dump station is poorly designed; there is no way someone emptying their tanks without assistance can avoid leaving a mess as the current set up requires there to be someone holding each end of the sewage hose. Once we finished, my husband went back inside and spoke to Allen again and explained to him how the dump station needs to be modified in order to avoid more nasty messes. (Not expecting the drainage to flow uphill would be a good start.) Allen appreciated the feedback since he is not an RV’er; it will be interesting to see if Love’s acts on the information.

Now I’m going to get on my soap box for a minute. While using dump stations is not anyone’s idea of fun, it is a necessary part of the RV/travel trailer lifestyle. When using a dump station, I believe it is our responsibility to clean up any messes we leave behind, even if the dump station is poorly designed. While we may not want to clean up literal crap, expecting someone else to do it for us is just wrong. Truck stops and rest areas do not have to offer dump stations; they do it as a service to their customers/visitors; abuses will result in the loss of these voluntary services. Don’t be part of the reason the rest of us can’t have nice things. End rant.

On another more humorous note, as someone who was in her late teens/early twenties in the 1980s, my brain seems to default to Back to the Future mode when discussing Twin Lakes. I had to double and triple check to make sure I didn’t refer to it as Twin Pines campground in this post like I usually do. (Twin Pines is the name of the mall at the beginning of Back to the Future.) 🙂

Review: Hunting Island State Park

Hunting Island State Park is located on a barrier island fifteen miles east of Beaufort, South Carolina. My husband and I made a day trip to Hunting Island several years ago where we got to see two Clydesdales cavorting in the surf – definitely not something you see every day. 😉 When we were looking for somewhere different for a short getaway, we decided to give the Hunting Island campground a try.

Entering the campground is simple. Campers pull into the right-hand lane where a park employee comes to your car to complete the check-in process. Once the check-in process is complete things get a little more complicated. Hunting Island is an older park and the road that runs through it is very narrow in comparison to today’s vehicles and travel trailers so taking it slow and easy is a must. Even doing so, things got a little exciting when we reached an area where someone had parked on the left shoulder of the road and their bumper was sticking out a bit; a tree on the right side of the road meant we had zero wiggle room. Fortunately, we managed to squeak by without hitting either. We were in site 157 which is shown on the map as a pull-through. However, the only way to actually use it as a pull-through would have meant driving the wrong way down a one-way road. True, it would have only been a short distance but, still. We chose to back in. I liked the fact that the campsites weren’t crammed on top of each other. (I don’t like campgrounds where the sites are jammed one on top of the other.)

The beach is an easy walk from the campground and there is also a playground for the kiddos. My criteria for judging a beach are vastly different from those of most people. I’m a fair-skinned redhead who can sunburn in fifteen minutes without sunscreen, probably an hour with. I’m also a non-swimmer so I couldn’t care less about the surf, etc. The main things that interest me when at a beach are the size of the crowds and the fossils. Hunting Island beach wasn’t crowded at all but, it was October. As far as fossils went, we did find a few shark’s teeth over the course of our stay but not as many as we have found at other beaches. Oddly enough, most of the teeth were tiny as well. (According to the park website, Hunting Island is South Carolina’s most popular state park so it’s probably safe to assume that the beach will be much more crowded during the summer months.)

Shark’s teeth found on Hunting Island beach. Hershey’s kiss for scale.

The lighthouse on Hunting Island is the only one in the state that is accessible to the public. During our trip, coronavirus changes meant that visitors had to sign up for a specific time to climb the lighthouse. Not being a fan of heights or close quarters I was perfectly happy to take pictures with my feet firmly on the ground.

Hunting Island lighthouse

Our campground neighbor recommended we visit the St. Helena Chapel of Ease. If you are interested in ruins and history, the chapel is a short drive from the campground and is a good way to spend a little time. I find things like this fascinating; it amazes me that these tabby walls are almost 300 years old but are still standing.

St. Helena Chapel of Ease

All in all, Hunting Island State Park is not our favorite beach getaway; that honor belongs to Fort Clinch State Park on Amelia Island in Florida. However, if we have the urge to go to beach and can’t get into Fort Clinch (which is pretty much a given considering the difficulty of getting reservations there), Hunting Island isn’t a bad second choice.

Review: Moccasin Creek State Park

This is the first of the reviews I will post regarding the various campgrounds/parks we visit. I’m not going be rewarding a star rating or anything like that. I’m just going to post my thoughts on the park, pros/cons, etc.

Moccasin Creek State Park is located in the mountains of Rabun county in north Georgia. The park is bordered on three sides by Hwy 197 and on the fourth by Lake Burton. First impressions are important and, when we entered the park, my first thought was “Wow. This place is small. I don’t like it.” The website lists the size of the park as 32 acres; I’m not sure what is included in that acreage but the actual area for campsites is nowhere near that large. Even so, the park features 53 campsites.

Small “falls” on the stream in the park

One of the most important things to me when camping is the layout of the campsites. Are they shaded? (Shade is an important consideration here in the South – especially in the summer.) Are they on top of each other or is there a little space in between sites? Our campsite was on the outer loop for which I was thankful. I don’t like feeling crowded, especially when camping. If we had been in the inner section, I would have probably been ready to leave the next day. Being on the outer loop meant that our campsite backed up to the road but that wasn’t a problem; Hwy 197 is a two lane “country” road and is hardly a beehive of activity.

In spite of my initial dislike of the park, it grew on me a little over our visit. Moccasin Creek is a really pretty park. A small stream flows down one side of the park and there are swings and benches scattered around where you can sit and commune with nature. Normally, it would have been possible to rent a kayak, canoe, or paddleboard; however, this is 2020 and rentals were not available due to COVID restrictions. Fortunately, no special equipment is needed to view Hemlock Falls and it’s an easy hike from the park.

Hemlock Falls

If you get twitchy without easy access to cell service at all times, brace yourselves. Verizon is our service provider and our signal strength was virtually non-existent at the park. However, there are a few towns within easy driving distance where signal strength is better.

Overall, while pretty enough, Moccasin Creek is not a park we plan to revisit.

Have you been to Moccasin Creek? If so, what did you think?

The Great Road Trip of 2019

Last year my husband and I began what we hope to make a yearly tradition – a road trip to visit parts of the country we have yet to see. It was also supposed to be our first long-term trip with our camper but that changed due to concerns over rising gas prices. (My husband’s truck only gets 8-9 mpg when towing so that’s always something to take into consideration.) Our ultimate destination was Glacier National Park. It was when we began researching and mapping out our route that we realized we were thinking like Southerners.

What do I mean by “thinking like a Southerner”? We initially planned our trip to coincide with Memorial Day weekend to reduce the number of vacation days my husband would need to take. (I had retired at the end of April.) However, when I began doing some research on Glacier I discovered that the Going To The Sun road through the park may not open until late June/early July depending on the amount of snow to be cleared. Snow? In July? As a life-long native of the South the thought of snow on the ground in July is unfathomable. Heck, we barely get snow in January and February. But, with that useful tidbit in mind, we rescheduled our trip for July.

Honestly, I’m glad we decided against taking the camper. We travel slower when towing so we wouldn’t have been able to see as much as we did if we had. Not to mention the fact that towing a camper through some of the mountain ranges we traveled would have probably made me hyperventilate. So, instead of taking my husband’s Toyota Tacoma, we made the trip in my then 14-year-old Toyota Highlander in order to take advantage of the better mileage.

Bonnie, my Highlander, got stickers to commemorate our trip

Was it a good trip? Absolutely. Did we learn a few things to implement in future trips? Definitely. In 17 days we covered 6048.5 miles, 13 states, and 6 national parks/monuments.

States visited:

Alabama
Mississippi
Tennessee
Arkansas
Kansas
Oklahoma
Iowa
Missouri
South Dakota
Wyoming
Montana
Idaho
Colorado

National Parks/Monuments visited:

Badlands
Mount Rushmore
Devil’s Tower
Glacier
Yellowstone
Grand Tetons

I’ll go into more detail regarding lessons learned in a later post but the biggest lesson we learned was to build more downtime into our schedule. We kept to a pretty grueling pace and only had a couple of days where we didn’t have anything planned. As enjoyable as the trip was, we were exhausted by the time we got home.

Do you have any road trip tips?