An early start, and a taste of the South

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Editor’s note: Herald reporter Jen Cowart is traveling across the country with her family over the next several weeks. This is the second installment in a series documenting the journey.

After a whirlwind, busy three months of decorating, stocking, prepping and organizing during our last weeks of the school year, we’d taken two trial trips – one for a night, and one for three days – and we were as ready to go as we could be.

We’d figured out how things worked, and fixed the things that didn’t. We’d figured out our routes and made several of our campsite reservations. Ready or not, we were leaving, and we’d attack any issues we encountered along the way as best we could.

We had the Cranston Police Department on alert with their Vacation Check program, and they’d be regularly patrolling our area, providing an extra set of eyes in addition to the people we’d lined up to watch the house while we were gone. As soon as school ended for us, we started to really focus on packing. Piles of stuff grew and grew, filling our foyer and living room and stairway. Each trip out to the camper, we’d grab a bag of stuff and load it in, making sure everything had a specific place to be put away when we did.

By the morning of Saturday, June 27, we were loading the last of our laundry into our camper closets and drawers. We were checking things off our lists, and our piles of post-it note memos were starting to slowly disappear. We taped notes to our front door listing the last minute, not-to-be-forgotten items, so we’d walk out the door with everything on Sunday morning. We were feeling pretty confident.

That’s when the text alert arrived.

A big storm was coming through Rhode Island. Estimated time of arrival: between 4 a.m. and 10 a.m. on June 28. Rain, winds, thunder, lightning and hail were all in the forecast of possible precipitation. This presented a problem. For us to arrive at the first stop on our trip, Pohick Campgrounds in Lorton, Va., we’d need to be on the road by about 6 a.m. that next morning. This storm was predicted to hit our area just as we’d be hooking up the camper to the car and pulling out of town. Hooking everything up takes some time, and we couldn’t do it ahead of time because the car and camper extend into the street when hooked together.

At about 7 p.m., we made a decision: we’d leave that night. We’d drive as far as we could to make some initial headway, pull off the road and try out the “boondocking” that we’d read so much about: dry camping overnight in a parking lot or rest stop, most likely a Walmart, since about 80 percent of their stores are allowed to have overnight parking in their lots. We threw dinner on the table and began the mad rush to pack the last of the piles into the camper, shower, and get everyone into pajamas, since we’d essentially be leaving at bedtime essentially.

It began to sprinkle and then rain steadily as we were finishing up and we knew we’d made a good decision, as we were hearing of the effects of the weather further south that was heading our way. If all went well, we’d be stopped during the worst of the storm and then continue on our way from there.

The kids were ecstatic with this newest, unexpected turn of events – very, very excited – and the dog could definitely sense something was up. She jumped right into one of the laundry baskets that we were loading up to carry out. She didn’t realize she was already on the list of things to pack, too. We put the frog tank in the sink of the camper for the ride, and by 10:30 pm we were pulling out. It was dark and it was rainy, but we had everything – at least we hoped we did – we had everyone, and we were ready for whatever came our way. We were as prepared as we could be for our impending adventure.

First up in our adventure was figuring out where to stay this first unplanned night. We got into the car having no idea where we were going, other than south. As Don drove, I looked online at the various Walmarts that were on our way, and tried to find one that was about halfway through Connecticut and about two hours away. I spoke on the phone to security at the Milford Walmart and asked if RVs could spend the night in their parking lot.

“Yes, we don’t bother them and they don’t bother us,” the security guard said.

Excellent.

By midnight, we were pulling into the parking lot. Two out of three of the kids were out cold in the back seat. We parked in the back of the parking lot, climbed out of the car and into the camper. The top of the frog’s tank had popped right off during our traveling, but thankfully he was still inside of it. We immediately duct taped the top cover to the bottom half for the rest of the trip. By about 1 o’clock in the morning, we were settled. Other than the sounds of the torrential rains and an overnight street sweeper, the night was uneventful. We were on our way again by 7:30 the next morning, checking a boondocking experience off our list. That option would be a viable one for us in the future, as long as we weren’t in any place that was too hot at night, since you boondock without plugging in to electric or sewer, using battery power for the essentials only.

Our first leg of the trip would put us initially in Lorton, Va., at Pohick Campgrounds, which was located in a state park. It was centrally located near all of our family members that we’d be visiting while we were there. Knowing our Virginia trip was normally nine to 12 hours or more by car from Rhode Island each time, we estimated no less than 12 hours pulling a camper. The day was sunny as we drove out of Connecticut and headed toward New York. The George Washington Bridge was our first experience pulling a camper over a big bridge, and it was quite scary, to be honest. We were white knuckled and on the edge of our seats the entire time. I wouldn’t even let the kids talk until we’d cleared it and were on the other side.

That bridge, however, could not come even close to the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Maryland, off Route 695 south. We were unable to tow the camper through the Maryland tunnels, and this alternate route included a bridge we’d never been on before. It was uphill the entire way and very, very high up. It was a terrifying experience and we could not wait to be on the downward side of it, Don’s hands dripping with sweat by the end.

We arrived at Pohick Campgrounds at 5 p.m. and checked in, pulling into a beautiful, spacious, well-kept spot. Our spot backed up to a wide-open field and community playground and fire pit. We had a private fire pit, a grill and a large picnic table right at our site. We were shocked at how gorgeous the grounds were. The trees were tall and the sun shone down through them in such a beautiful way on the sunny days. There were bathroom, shower and laundry facilities, and they weren’t far from us. Even though we have a full bath in our camper, it’s small and it’s much easier to shower at the larger facility. We weren’t hooked up to a sewer line at this particular campground, so we could use our bathroom in the camper until our tank indicator read “full” (which it never did while we were there), but we used the campground bathrooms as often as possible. There was no Wi-Fi for working, other than up at the main office area. There was a water park and pool on the property as well as mini-golf, but we did not utilize them in the short time we were there because our focus was really on our family and all the things we wanted to do with them in the time we would be in Virginia. In just a few days’ time we’d be celebrating one birthday, and Christmas in July.

We encountered an awful thunder, lightning and rain storm the night before we pulled out of Virginia and it kept four out of five of us up all night long as it pounded right on top of us through the night. Even the dog lost sleep. Only Alex slept right through it. We woke in the morning pretty exhausted and assessed our situation. Nothing was damaged despite the branches that had come down around the campground. Our camper didn’t seem to have sustained any leaks that we could see. We let the kids sleep a little later since the night had been rough, and pulled out of Pohick around 10 in the morning on July 1.

Our next stop was Fayetteville, N.C., just five hours in normal driving time from where we were in Virginia. We estimated that towing the camper and stopping for a lunch break would get us there in about seven hours. My cousin and his family awaited our arrival. We’d be spending one night in North Carolina before moving on to our next stop in Hardeeville, S.C., just outside of Savannah, Ga. Our plan was to spend July 2-4 in Savannah, and pull out on July 5. We’d celebrate Elizabeth’s 13th birthday there on July 3 and ring in the Fourth of July as well. In addition to those big events, we would be connecting with several friends there who would be driving from a different part of Georgia and spending the weekend nearby.

We spent our 24 hours in Fayetteville eating, sleeping, showering, and doing any laundry we’d accumulated since Virginia. In the time we were there, we ate all our R.I. favorites together, and we even got to try out a Southern favorite, chicken and waffles, for breakfast in the morning. We rolled out of town several pounds heavier than we’d rolled in, for sure. We didn’t need to stop and eat until dinnertime that night.

We pulled into Hardeeville RV Park right before the next thunder and lightning storm hit, and we hunkered down inside our camper until it passed and we could head out to the store for stocking our fridge for the few days we’d be here. We quickly realized the differences between an RV park and a state park. Although clean and well kept, with a friendly staff, the RV park was sparse, and although there was Wi-Fi for working, it was very spotty and didn’t work 100 percent of the time. There were no densely wooded forests, no wide-open playgrounds, no grill, no fire pit, no outdoor cooking facilities at all. There were no showers and no public bathrooms, so we’d be utilizing our camper’s facilities the whole three days, so thankfully we had full hookups with electric, water and sewer. We were given a spot very close to the main road, right on the outer fringe of the park itself. We made a mental note to remember some of the things that we would be wishing we had at this park, as we booked ahead in our future.

We took off on the first day, Elizabeth’s 13th birthday, exploring Georgia and meeting up with all of our friends. We had a true Southern barbeque luncheon, eating at Wiley’s Championship BBQ restaurant. It was delicious, and we were stuffed when we left. That evening we explored Tybee Island, along with about a million other tourists, and watched the fireworks from the beach after dark that night.

On July 4, we headed into historic Savannah, which I truly enjoyed visiting. It was incredibly hot, with the thermometer reaching upwards of 95 degrees throughout the afternoon and a feel-like temperature of 103, and we were thankful for any shady spots as we explored the city. It was beautiful, and the Spanish moss on the trees was picturesque. The city reminded the kids of Boston or Newport with the restaurants and shops, but there was a definite historic Southern feel to the city that differed from the atmosphere in Boston and Newport. We visited the birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts, but we could not go inside because it was a holiday. Slightly disappointed, we headed over to River Street, where the excitement of the Fourth of July holiday was in full swing. We walked along the water, visited the shops and ate ice cream. I purposely ordered peaches and cream ice cream, since we were in Georgia, varying from my usual R.I. coffee Oreo choice.

The evening of July 4 brought in the fourth big storm in the seven days we had been traveling, and we were thankful we’d seen fireworks the previous night, since we were not venturing out in the torrential downpour, thunder and lightning that seemed to happen almost every evening. This time around, we lost electricity at the campground, lost our AC and worked off our camper’s battery for the essentials while we waited for the power to come back on. We cooked and ate inside, entertaining friends for dinner.

Later that night, we began packing up in preparation for leaving the next morning. July 5 would bring on the start of week two, the second leg of our journey across the United States, with week one now under our belts.

For more updates and information about our #crosscountryadventure2015, visit my blog at www.thewholebagofchips.com.

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joericher

Hello Jen and Family, I cannot begin to tell you how much I am enjoying your travelog! Jen's writing really brings your adventures to life. I find myself looking forward to the next installment with bated breath!

I do hope you have better luck with other commercial campgrounds. Some of them are really quite nice with terrific facilities.

Thanks for the entertainment!

Friday, July 10, 2015