Category Archives: trip

Our Eclipse Trip (Part 2)

(continued from Part 1)

We planned out our meals, assuming that there would be days when it would be too hot to want to cook over the fire, but leaving room for a hot meal too.  My wife had shopped just before we left, and had looked for some steaks to take with us.  The store, however, had some ribs that were on sale (50% off!) so those were what came, along with some hamburgers, luncheon meats, hummus, snacking vegetables, cheeses, frozen pizzas, bagels …  The list went on.

The regular canned & dry goods pantry.

Luckily, our fridge is pretty big, and everything we wanted to take that needed to be kept cold fit.  We also had a bunch of canned goods, soups, beans, tomatoes, spam (of course), herring, you name it.  I usually keep a stock of those on the bus, but we added in some more soups and things.

By 11:00 am, we were all packed up, the house was secure (after being locked and alarmed and then me realizing that ALL my directions were sitting on the kitchen table!) and we started off. It was a pretty nice day, and after a quick weekend trip to Sprague Brook Park the weekend before (as a sort of shakedown trip) I’d filled the tank, so we were all set.

Except that the inverter wasn’t working.

Rolling farmland and countryside as seen from a moving bus …

I didn’t think it was a big deal, and we just kept going.  Along through New York on I-90, the speed limit was 65 mph, which is the top end for the bus, so that was fine.  It was a hot day though, and the temperatures kept creeping up over 200, so I feathered things a little to watch that.

I was also watching the output from the backup camera that I had finally installed.  It does a nice job, the static lines on the screen indicating about 1′, 3′, 5′, and 12′ from the rear bumper.  It also has a large field of view as I mounted it just up above and to the side of the rear door. (It was a little odd at first though, as the 140 degree fish-eye picks up the break and signal lights!)  The screen is nice, because if I turn the power to the camera off with a handy dash switch, it goes to sleep until it gets a signal form the camera.

But I had plenty of time to get used to the camera and watching temperature gauge along in New York. The I-90 through Pennsylvania, though, had sections of the 90 that had a 70 mph limit, which meant that I was holding some of the trucks back (especially on some of the steeper hills where we lost speed).  I really felt badly about that, but we continued on into Ohio.

Which also had 70 mph speed limits.

And the hills got steeper, so our average speed dropped some more.

Many people don’t realize that there’s a major watershed divide in Ohio, and as we headed south from Cleveland, we were heading uphill toward that.  Using a really cool website called www.flattestroute.com, I’ve been to find out the grades of the possible routes that we’ve looked at to travel on.  The route from Buffalo to Cincinnati is interesting as we start out in Buffalo at about 600 feet above sea level, and end up at about 485 feet above sea level at Cincinnati, but hit altitudes of almost 1400 feet along the way.

North of the red line goes to the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence River, and south of it ends up in the Mississippi.
Altitude and slope of the route between Buffalo on left) and Cincinnati on right).

Just for interest, the first peak on that altitude graph is just east of Erie, PA (1259′), with the next lowest point being just east of the Pennsylvania/Ohio state line (677′), followed by the low point at the I-90 and I-271 interchange (648′).  The next high point was near Woodmere (1193′), but when we got to where 271 crosses the Cuyahoga Valley National Park it was lower (968′), only to rise again when we got to the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River/Mississippi River Watershed boundary, just south of Medina, OH at about 1216 feet.  Then it was down again near Burbank (920′), and finally up to the highest point of our trip near Lexington, at 1391 feet, before our next low point just south of Lou Berlinner Park in Columbus (707′).  Another climb after we were out of the city brought us to the next high point at Exit 58 for Bowersville (1078′), then the next low near Mason, OH (762′), the next high point near Landon (871′), then finally the low of the Ridge Road Exit where we got off for the night (588′).

So, just looking at our starting and finishing altitude for our first day, we went down 12 feet, but if you look at even just the major high and low points along that day’s route, our ups and downs total some 5210 feet of altitude change!

And by the time we hit Jeffersonville, we were near a quarter tank of fuel, and decided to stop at a Love’s for fuel.  As per all of the travel stops that I’ve been to, I expected that the diesel pumps to be set for easier access for large vehicles, and away from the gas pumps.  Accordingly, Love’s has a banks of diesel pumps, and all the trucks are lined up right there, so I pull the bus in.  We wait for 10-15 minutes for the trucks ahead to fill, clean their windshields, and finally move ahead, and try to run our cards in the automated pumps.  Not a single one of them is accepted, they’re all declined.

I go through a minor panic, and my wife runs in to find out if there’s something wrong with the card reader.  And she has to wait on line for several minutes to find out that ALL of the pumps in those banks only take corporate cards, not regular credit cards.  If we want to use a regular card, we have to go to the one pump mixed in with the gas pumps that dispenses diesel. Which I was able to do.  And finally we got filled up and were back on the road.

Anyhow, we have friends who live not far from the Ridge Road exit in Cincinnati, so we got to drive down some lovely quiet little streets to get to theirs. We had talked about parking in front of their house on their dead-end street, but there were too many cars, and the exhaust pipe of the bus scraped about half-way up the slope of the entrance to their driveway, so backing in there didn’t work either.  So it was a multi-point turn (made much easier by the back-up camera) to turn around head the bus back out on their small street where we parked in the lot of a small apartment building at the end of the street that was in renovations (and our friends knew the manager who said it was okay).

We were treated to a great meal and a tour of their house (all the cabinets were hand-made by our friend Jeff, and they’ve stripped and refinished all the original woodwork, so it was great).  The rain which had been forecast for our trip had been spotty as we got close to Cincinnati, but really let loose once we stopped.  But at that point, it didn’t really matter, we were tired and ready to sleep.

But …

Without the inverter running (and since I don’t have the LP plumbed for the fridge yet), our fridge was a big cooler.  We had some worries, but there wasn’t much we could do right then, so we just left the doors closed.

The first day of the trip was done, and tomorrow would be a Kentucky day …

(continued in Part 3)

 

 

 

Our Eclipse Trip (Part 1)

The total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017 was the first one that we would be able to get to and view.  Buffalo had an annular  eclipse (the moon is farther from the Earth, producing a ‘Ring of Fire’) in 1994, but it was too overcast to see, and the previous visible total eclipse was in 1925!   So we had planned for this for a couple of years to get the right place to be to see it well.

LOOK BACK: Walter Cronkite covers the 1979 eclipse

I had scoped out the Dixon Springs State Park in Illinois as a nearly perfect place to stay.  It was about midway between the point of maximum coverage and maximum duration.  I emailed back and forth with one of the park officials who identified the best sites to fit our bus, and let me know that the site reservation window would open on January 1, 2017 for the August reservations.

However, when I logged into ReserveAmerica to grab one of the sites, I found them ALL booked.  It turns out that the state of Illinois had decided to capitalize on the eclipse for tourism, and had rolled their reservation window back to November and promoted their state sites!  Scrambling a bit, I found the Fort Massac State Park, adjacent to Metropolis, Illinois.

French Fort De L’Ascension/Massac on the left and reconstructed American Fort Massac on the right.

Fort Massac was originally founded by the French in 1757 as Fort De L’Ascension, and was rebuilt and renamed Massac during the end of the French and Indian War.  While the British nominally owned the territory afterward, the fort itself was burned by the local Cherokee by the time the British got there.

Reconstructed American Fort Massac (minus the log palisades).

The Americans got into the act when General George Washington ordered the fort reconstructed in 1794, and for the next 20 years it served as a military post, sometimes called the ‘Gibraltar of the Ohio’ due to it’s elevation and view of the river. Notable figures of Merriweather Lewis and William Clark camped at Fort Massac in 1803 as they made preparations for their Corps of Discovery expedition to the newly purchased Louisiana Territory.

The sign says it all …

Metropolis was laid out as a formal town in 1839, and it was hoped that it would be a transportation and commerce hub. It is now a city of about 6000 people, and is best known as the home of Superman (this is official, both from DC Comics and the Illinois State Legislature!).

 

A tiny fraction of the stone tool collection at Fort Massac.

As we were to find out, the Fort Massac Visitor Center there is mostly museum! They have a great collection of native american stone artifacts (from all over Illinois), and French and American artifacts recovered from the forts.

But most important for me was the fact that Fort Massac was still within the band of totality for the eclipse, and was only about 16 miles from Dixon Springs, so we wouldn’t lose much (about 10 seconds of totality) from being dead-center along the eclipse line. Within a few minutes, I had a site chosen and booked.  We had a place to camp for the eclipse!

Then we had to get there.  The longest trip that we’d taken the bus on was from Buffalo to Ohiopyle, PA (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3) and back which was a measly 600 miles or so.  This was going to be some 1600 miles, so it would be our biggest foray to date.

Our (rather grainy) route map for the Eclipse Trip

We had limited time to make the trip, and decided on a few key places to stop on our trip.  We had some friends in Cincinnati, OH who we could stop and see, the Embroiderer’s Guild of America Headquarters were in Louisville, KY, as was the Bulleit Bourbon Distillery tour (at the historic Stitzel-Weller Distillery), all on the way to Fort Massac.  On the way back, we could stop at Mammoth Caves and Big Bone Lick (where we could camp for the night).

With all this planned out, the next thing was packing and provisioning the bus. And then, of course, setting out on the journey …

(Continued in Part 2)

 

A Rochester Trip

So, we had to go to Rochester, NY for the Science Exploration Day that St. John Fisher College hosted.  As we needed to be at the college campus at 9:00 for registration, as our son was going as part of a group of Rochester homeschool kids, and thus we could beat the crush of buses bringing in regular school kids.

We briefly looked at hotels to stay in overnight, as it’s an hour and a half drive from Buffalo, but even with the College discounts at local places, it was still pretty expensive.  Given that, I of course took a look for campgrounds.  And, only 20 minutes away from St. John Fisher College, I found Webster Park, which has some areas of shoreline on Lake Ontario.

Webster Park Location

The campground itself has 45 sites and is nestled back about half a mile from the shore, surrounded by light to heavy woods for all but the big motorhome sites.  All the sites have electric, and while only five have dedicated water, there are enough taps throughout that about the farthest you’d have to walk for water is two or three sites.  While the price per night was higher than we’d payed for any of the Erie County or State sites we’d been to, it was certainly worth it compared to the hotel costs (and proximity to Rochester and Lake Ontario probably causes a lot of demand for sites).

So, even with the bus still having the hot start fail, we decided that it would be a short enough trip that we wouldn’t need to stop the bus unless we were in a place where it could sit and cool before we needed to go again.  We would start in Buffalo and get to Webster Park, then stay overnight. Then we would go from Webster Park to St. John Fisher and shut the bus down for the classes.  Then, when we were ready, head out from the College and back home.

The trip to the park was fairly uneventful, though I did a horrible job of trying to stay out of the way of fast-paced cars on the Rochester expressways.  It seemed like as soon as I moved over into the right hand lane to travel at the speed limit, the lane was ending, becoming an exit-only, or the exit we needed was a left-lane exit.  And, for that I apologize to those inconvenienced drivers.

Irondaquoit Bay Bridge

But some of the drive was wonderfully scenic, like on the Route 104 bridge, some 45 feet up over Irondequoit Bay.  We found the campgrounds with no problem, though the stretch of Lake Road from Bay Road to the park is a lovely twisty, hilly section that motorcyclists must adore.

Checking in at the park was simple – since I had printed out my email confirmation of our reservation, all they had to do was see that and we were set.  Monroe County’s reservation site was nice, as it give pictures of the sites as well as the electrical, vehicle/trailer length capabilities, and such.  From that, while site 19 and 21 looked big and easy to back the bus into, I ended up choosing site 15, as just down behind it was East Creek, and I thought there would be a nice view downhill behind the site.

Settling in to Site 15

Site 15 ended up being even nicer when we got there.  It was easy to get the bus backed in, due to the curve of the loop at that point, and contained the end of a little geographical ‘finger’ so that at the north end of our site we could look down toward a swampy area, much like we could look down into a low valley to our east.

A better look at how Site 15 goes back along the finger

 

Lake Ontario from Webster Park

Down at the bottom of the ‘finger’ was a path that we could follow back along to the west and north, which brought us to the Kanatota Lodge which overlooks Lake Ontario.  It was a great sunny day to be there, with splashing waves and a nice breeze.  And the hike only took us about 10-15 minutes.

Part of the reason for a longer hike than it might seem for the distance was that there had been a windstorm that brought down a number of good-sized pine trees, so we had to pick our way around or over those.  But, since we could use fallen wood as firewood, we didn’t have to use any of our own wood for the fire.

And the galley stayed clean!

We had a nice meal of beans (pre-cooked from dry at home), peppers, and tomatoes all cooked up in cast iron over the fire and some home-baked sourdough bread, and were joined by a dear friend who came up from Rochester to spend the evening with us.  Marshmallows were toasted (or burned) over the fire on the telescoping prongs’ first use,

and scary stories were told in the red glow of the embers of the fire, accompanied by bourbon for those (adults) so inclined.

The morning’s view, east from Site 15
And the nature was ALL around the back of the bus.

We cleaned everything up just as a thunderstorm rolled in, and we all slept well.  The temperature had dropped, so it was a bit chilly, and the sky was a little overcast after the storm, but the bathroom facilities were a warm, and we were able to set out on-time to brave the morning commuters along our route to the College.

And we had to say goodbye to our friends the Window Trees.

I gave us an extra 20 minutes on top of what Google had suggested as travel time for us, and that all worked out – though again, I ended up facing the need to merge into a left-hand exit with rushing commuters doing the same.  My thanks to that pick-up who took pity on us and gave us space to merge!

The Science Exploration Day was a whirlwind of presentations.  The 40 minute presentations were followed by 10 minutes of trying to find the next one’s room.  Construction in one of the buildings, and different numbering directions in differing buildings made this a challenge, but our son got into some cool ones, and as I hung around outside the oft-packed classrooms, I overheard some good presentations.

We had parked in the back of one of the parking lots, and returned after the last presentation to our bus being surrounded by a myriad of national school bus chrome buses!  We stayed and ate some lunch while buses pulled out to pick up school kids, or loaded in the parking lots.  We got some looks, and had some homeschoolers come and take a look at our set-up.

One of the things we found was that the batteries for the linear actuator keychain remotes were dying or dead, meaning we only had one working.  But the batteries were easy to find, and replacing them was the job of a screwdriver and taking the keyring off, taking only a minute to do.  

4 Channel Remote Control Systems


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Used from: Out of Stock

A23 12V Alkaline 23-A replacement battery 23AE GP – 5 Pack (Electronics)


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After all the buses were gone, we packed up our lunch and headed out.  Our trip was a bit slower than our trip out to Rochester, as we got stuck behind … school buses dropping off students!  But we all had a great trip, and would be happy to go back to the Webster Park Campground.

 

 

Post Script: As far as the bus engine, it ran flawlessly, even for long periods.  And on our trip out, the ambient temperature was in the high seventies, and the running engine temperatures on the highway were approaching 200, and it didn’t falter.  I did try starting it hot at the campground after we parked, and it still hot failed. More on this later.