Category Archives: trip

A Trip to Presque Isle State Park, PA

So, on the 13th of July we set out for Presque Isle State Park in/by Erie, PA.  Our son had a day’s worth of homeschool classes on aquaculture, swamp & beach biomes, the geology of the park, and preservation and maintenance of the park.  While it was only two and a quarter hours away from Buffalo, as the classes started at 9 am, we decided to camp overnight.

Our trip was uneventful, except for the fact that I made the mistake of topping up the coolant level in the bus before we left.  Why was this a problem?  Because there was a small leak at the coolant reservoir that dripped down onto the alternator, frying the voltage regulator.  By the time we had hit the Angola Rest Area on the NYS Thruway/I-90, we were running on battery power.  But as on our Evangola trip, I knew that the engine would keep running fine, but unlike that previous trip I had the house batteries fully charged, and chargers for both the house and bus batteries that would work when we got to shore power.  But now I knew the reason WHY the alternator was failing.  Unfortunately, the fluctuations in voltage damaged the board in the fridge, though I got it to work for part of the time we were plugged in.

We stayed at Sara’s Campground, whose lands abut right up to both the Presque Isle State Park and the Tom Ridge Environmental Center.  Their grounds also have sites on both sides of Peninsula Drive/Route 832, the east side has sites for actual beach camping (in tents), and the west side is in the more forested area.

Sara's Campground Site Map
Sara’s Campground Site Map

So, we ended up getting Site 21 in the Forest Section.  It was our first stay in a private campground, and I was frankly surprised at the density of sites! The dashcam recorded our trip into our site, including the trepidation and worries I had of getting the bus in a place I’d have to back out of.

Sara’s Campground, Site 21, with the bus all settled.

But the site was fine.  The electric/water pole had a streetlight on it, so we had to put a blanket up over the windows on that side (thankfully magnets hold to bus steel wonderfully).  But there were no sites to our starboard side (where the firepit was), so it was a nice open site (next to a parking lot). And the concrete pad was very nicely level, so everything was comfortable.

Saras Campground, Site 21, with the bus settled and the fire burning down for Toastites.
Saras Campground, Site 21, with the bus settled and the fire burning down for Toastites.

But right across the street (via a crosswalk with speedbumps and a pushbutton controlled set of flashing lights to cross) was the start of Presque Isle’s beaches, and we walked all the way up past the first couple of breakwaters.  We did a little beachcombing, then returned and we made a fire and some lovely toastites for dinner.  We had some people stop by, interested in the bus, and we gave them the tour, and some skoolie info, as they had expressed interest in working up their own.

The sunset over lake Erie, shining right through the back window of the bus.
The sunset over lake Erie, shining right through the back window of the bus.

A little while later, as the sun was setting, we found that the sun was setting directly behind the bus, through the path to the beach.  It was, however, it was basically 9pm, so we were forced to get to bed before we felt we were ready.

Our next morning was fine, coffee and bowls of cereal for breakfast, and as the engine was running and I was doing our pre-trip, folks came over, interested in the bus. Alas, we didn’t have time for a tour, and weren’t returning, but they thought the concept was cool and were absolutely fine with us being there.

Unfortunately, given the short timing of us getting to the Tom Ridge Center for the aquaponics class, and then us getting from that class to our pontoon boat tour, I forgot to turn the dashcam on for those trips. But after the boat tour, I remembered to turn the cam on, so we have a video tour of Presque Isle, sped up 4x.  You miss out on a whole bunch of the cottonwood tree seeds floating about at that speed, but I recorded us getting from the tour to Barracks Beach, and then down the beach road to the Tom Ridge Center again, and then around the whole park once more.

 

Our trip back was uneventful, except for the one tractor-trailer driver who LOVED the train horn.  He paced us while we were still in PA, blew his horn and motioned for me to blow ours and gave a thumbs-up when I did, and hung out in front of us to break air for us until he got to the Angola, NY exit where he sounded his horn again and waved, and I sounded ours again.

A Trip to Ohiopyle and Fallingwater (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1

Our first night actually was fine, even if short.  The back of the bus faced the east, which meant that the sun streamed in through the trees in all the windows.  The new bench-platform bed fit a queen-sized foam pad with room to spare, and the pre-made bedroll made putting the bed together easy.  After a pot of espresso was brewed up on the stove, we started to unpack and find what we needed.

The new awning in place and rolled up.
The new awning in place and rolled up.

As a light rain started and slowly got heavier, I opted to put out our new (to the bus) awning, both to insure that we would have some dry area alongside the bus and because the awning had not been unrolled and exposed to a nice cleaning rain in over a decade.  It came out easily and I was able to use a cloth and the rain-water to clean the supports of the dirt and grime it had accumulated in the under-building storage it had been in.

One thing to note here was that we were in our first extended-stay non-electric sites.  Given that we’d be moving and wouldn’t be able to use the solar panels, I didn’t even bring them, and we opted to use the fridge (which had chilled on before we left and had been running off the inverter on the way down) as a cooler, opening it as little as possible to conserve cold.  But it was nice.  We still had lights with the DC when we needed them, and there was no buzz from the inverter.

A nice soft, safe spot for a dog.
A nice soft, safe spot for a dog.

The Ohiopyle Campgrounds were really nice.  There were lots of little streams and big rocks.  (Our dog liked nestling among them.)  There were tons of trees and plenty of birds, though not many animals that we saw, though we were in one of the two dog-friendly loops.  The other loops are not pet friendly, and you aren’t even allowed to walk your dog through them.  If there’s a trailhead in one of those loops, you have to drive your dog there to take them on the trail.

And there was no excess light pollution after dark.  It was really nice to be able to see the moon and stars amongst the clouds from our bed.

The bench platforms in place. Basically all the space under those middle panels is storage!
The bench platforms in place. Basically all the space under those middle panels is storage!

After a hearty breakfast, we set about some organizing.  We drove down to Ohiopyle with the bench-platform in place, and the height of the platforms means that all of the plastic totes that we have used so far slide right underneath it.  This is great because the open space is about 60 inches by 42 inches, which is a ton of space where the totes can’t bounce around in the far back of the bus.

One of the issues we had in arranging was that I haven’t yet built the under-counter storage, so everything was tucked away in the bathroom area, and we needed to be able to tuck it all back there the next morning, as we needed to take the bus to Fallingwater the next day (Two miles away as the crow flies, but eight by road) as we couldn’t leave our dog at the campsite and we didn’t bring a toad or chase vehicle.

As the day progressed, and the rain worsened periodically, it also became obvious that we needed better pre-planing.  I had checked the weather and noted that it was going to be cold and grabbed winter gear (coats, gloves, hats, scarves), but not rain gear, and the weather was still relatively warm.  Luckily the spotty rain cut out often enough that it wasn’t a big problem, but when our friends on a different loop stopped by and our son wanted to go and play with them, he didn’t have rain gear to take ‘just in case’.

(So, we’ve determined that we need a better pre-trip list, and currently everything that was packed away in the bus is now out for cataloging and sorting.)

But we were fine.  We hosted the kids from our friends’ site (they had a total of five kids) as their son remarked that we always had good games with us.  Boss Monster was the game of choice, and much fun was had by all (except the heros, of course).  But we also had brought our LEGO Fallingwater set and our Pop-up Frank Lloyd Wright book, so they were seen as well.

LEGO Architecture Fallingwater (21005) (Discontinued by manufacturer) (Toy)


List Price: $99.99 USD
New From: $299.99 USD In Stock
Used from: Out of Stock

Frank Lloyd Wright in Pop-up (Hardcover)


List Price: $19.98
New From: $57.99 USD In Stock
Used from: $5.13 USD In Stock

Boss Monster Card Game Bundle (Toy)


List Price: Price Not Listed
New From: 0 Out of Stock
Used from: Out of Stock

Toas-Tite Aluminum Sandwich Grill, Regular (Kitchen)


List Price: $31.99 USD
New From: $25.95 USD In Stock
Used from: Out of Stock

And for dinner, we got to christen two new toastite makers on the fire! My wife got me one years ago, and last year my wife and son decided that if I was making toastites for everyone, I wasn’t getting to eat with everyone else.  So they got toastite makers for themselves and I got to make three toastites all at once.

The night got down to 37F or so, but we were all pretty warm.  Mixed in with our blankets and bedding were blankets of reflective mylar and faux-sheepskin that we tend to call ‘magic blankets’ for just how warm they are.

The next day was classes at Fallingwater, so we had to contend with packing up in the morning.  And getting the bus there.

 

Continued in Part 3

A Trip to Ohiopyle and Fallingwater (Part 1)

So, over the last weekend we traveled to Ohiopyle, PA, as a culmination of a class our son took in understanding architecture run by the education folks at Frank Lloyd Wright‘s Fallingwater.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater

The symposium ran on Sunday for the students who took the class (a bunch in our homeschool group here in Buffalo, and some public school students from around Pittsburg) to show off the houses that they designed and built, either in model form or electronically, got a tour of Fallingwater, and then our homeschool students got a series of four additional classes on Monday.

So this trip was going to be the longest trip we’d taken in the bus, as Ohiopyle (the nearest state park with camping to Fallingwater) is about 215 miles from Buffalo as the crow flies.  I thought that it would probably be best to travel via the shortest distance rather than taking expressways that went farther out of the way, and Google maps put together a route that made the shortest distance 272 miles.  This looked even more appealing as the route passed through the territory of the Seneca Nation of Indians near Salamanca, where diesel was just over $2/gallon.

The short trip route.
The short trip route.

The route was calculated to take 5 hours and 50 minutes, but, as so often happens, it took longer.  We got out late, and as direct as that route looks on the map, it’s full of twists and turns and lots and lots of hills.

And of course, the bus has a manual transmission.

It ended up taking us 7 hours to get to the campground, more than half of that in the dark, and without high beams on, the headlights only show a short amount of the road ahead. We did drive through Pauxsutawney, and saw one of the Phil Statues (like the Herd About Buffalo) in a parking lot we paused in.

We passed over two (probably scenic) summits along the way, and we were limited to being in 3rd gear going up and fourth going down (with heavy stab braking), along with a myriad of smaller hills along the way.  The lowered speed limits, reduced visibility, and gearing/power limitations of keeping the bus at a safe speed and still making forward progress all added up to our getting in late. My shoulders ached from all the shifting with my right arm and managing turns with my left.

But checking in at the Ohiopyle State Park Campground was painless, even though we were late.  They had out a clipboard with a listing of all the sites, those reserved/occupied and the ones that were available, so that people could check in or ‘take’ an unoccupied site and settle accounts in the morning.  I circled our reservation, and we made our way to the site.

As nice a site as it was, I needed to turn the bus around before we could back in, and the campground map indicated that there was a loop at the end of the campground road we were on, so after checking out the site visually, we proceeded down the road – only to find that the loop at the end was not designed for a bus!  After some jockeying to make the first corner and lots of getting out to plan the next steps of getting past trees to continue forward we gave up, and I backed back around (again with several back and forths to make the corners and avoid other campers’ cars) and then up into the tail end of the dead-end road, and we were able to go back up the road in the direction we wanted to.  It is one of the times when I really thought I should have installed a switch to turn off the back-up beeper, and I apologized to the one camper who did stumble out to find out what we were doing …

After that, backing into the site was an easy task, and without leveling the bus, we made the bed (the boy had climbed into the bunk an hour or so before) and conked out for some much-needed sleep.

(Continued in Part 2)