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  • J.F. Rowan

Wagons East!

We departed our Silverthorne house-sit on Monday, the 20th of August. We were ready. The truck was packed and secure and we had what we thought was a good solid plan with a relatively comprehensive route all laid out. Our trip started by heading through the city of Denver with a lower than average amount of nail-biting and minimal expletive execution. After Denver, we diverged to Rt 36 and proceeded across the northern portion of Kansas. A great route with long stretches of corn and soybeans interspersed with stretches of gently rolling hills. The truck’s cruise control managed our speed smoothly and I was yet again thankful for our choice of vehicle platform.

The final route change slightly.

Our first overnight stop was a Walmart Super Center somewhere in northeast Kansas. When we pulled into the large parking lot around 8 pm, there were about twenty to thirty cars in the whole parking lot with only about 4 of them being RV types. I pulled up behind another rig set-up orienting myself crossways through a parking section located on one side of the parking lot. We went into the store, bought a few items and when we returned, an eighteen wheeler had parked skillfully behind us, parallel parking his rig with the rear of his trailer against one end of the parking lot and his truck (the horse) directly behind ours. This was fine, except after twenty minutes or so when he returned from a little shopping, he started his truck and let it idle. I watched him microwave his dinner and watch TV in the back of his rig. We figured maybe by 10 pm, he would turn his truck off so the rest of us could get some sleep. Admittedly, I don’t know the proper etiquette in this type of situation but would hope that sooner or later, common sense would prevail. Silly me. 10 PM came and went and with his truck still idling, I decided to relocate our truck to the other side of the parking lot. As it would turn out, it was a good decision. When I checked around 3 AM his truck was still running and continued to do so even as the sun slowly began to peak over the morning horizon.

Early morning departure from Silverthorne

Fortunately, we were able to salvage some of the night, get a decent nights sleep and proceed on our way through the rest of Kansas and on to Missouri early in the morning. I planned to stop in a little town called Meta, about 40 miles from Jefferson City to do some research for the family tree. Since Jefferson City was on the way and could possibly be of some use, we stopped there as well so that I could ask the local historical society for help, specifically for information about my great, great grandfather. Having hit somewhat of a dead end there, we proceed on to Meta and after finding out the Meta-City Hall building was closed, we called it a day and headed for The Lake of the Ozarks State Park.

Hanging Bridge. A moving experience.

The "My Link" navigation system pulled a fast one on us and steered us through what it thought was a shortcut. In fact, it took us through a few dirt roads one of which included and very narrow hanging suspension bridge. Always thinking of my peeps, I thought it would be interesting for Yvette to get out, and video the vehicle's crossing of the bridge since it seemed like a great video opportunity. Once she gave me the go-ahead, I proceeded across the bridge with Yvette filming the whole ordeal. It became very clear the bridge was pretty “flexible” and that maybe it wouldn’t be good for either one of us to hesitate. So while steering with one hand, I motioned with the other for Yvette to walk a little faster. Which, as it turned out was very difficult because the steel sheets were pretty uneven and the motion of the truck was creating waves which made it even harder for her to walk back-words. At some point, she gave up filming, turned and high tailed it to the other side of the bridge. Once safely on the other side, we turned off the nav system in favor of our "old-school" maps. We then were able to proceed directly to our end of the day destination without further issue. Parking for the night, we then celebrated our survival of the days' event with a few well-earned cocktails. The next day we headed back to Meta then to the town of Vienna for more family research. Admittedly, not a very productive detour in terms of collecting data for my family tree, but it was nice to see some beautiful rolling areas of Missouri's backroads. Having plenty of daylight left, we made our way east yet again.

Plenty of wildlife at Lake of the Ozarks State Park in Missouri

A great option for overnighting, Harvest Host. Quiet, clean and sometimes a great place to get produce, eggs or wine. This is Honey Haven.

Back on the road, we proceeded to our next stop, Cuivre State Park, still within the confines of Missouri. Though it was a nice enough park, we found that sometimes it’s more important to pick that right spot in the park, not just the park itself. We picked a spot which was fairly close to the comfort station (bath-house/bathroom). We didn’t do this for any particular reason, it was just a random selection and has usually worked well in the past. However, this night we discovered an interesting phenomenon. All through the night whenever someone needed to use the bathroom, it seemed a high number of folks actually drove to the bathroom even though they might have only been four hundred feet away from it. Several times during the night headlight beams swept across our truck and opening and closing of doors kept us from getting a decent nights sleep. I’m not sure why, but from what I could see using the street light near the bathhouse, all of these late night bathroom visitors were female. It would seem that most, if not all of our late night visitors, didn't care for the closer bathroom facilities that could have been easily reached on foot.

Honey Haven harvest host for the night. A bit of supper under the big top!

Giving up on any further attempts at a good nights sleep, we rose with the dawn and pushed east again to our next destination, Honey Haven Farm. This was our first “Harvest Host” selection on this easterly trip and we found it to be a very quiet and clean place to stay overnight. And, it was free! This was an Alpaca farm which also had a variety of other farm animals. A popular wedding venue, the grounds were very well manicured and included a large outdoor event-tent next to timber frame barn with plenty of charm. After a nice meal under the big top and fending off a barn cat that seemingly risked its life trying to get some of my supper, we settled in early for another nights rest.

A Harvest Host spot can be a life saver expecially after a long day of driving. A nice queit spot at Honey Haven.

Apple Hill Orchards, our second harvest host. Awnings out to keep the internal temp down.

Almost ready...

Off again the next morning, we head east to our new daily destination, another harvest host. Apple Hill Orchards located in Mansfield Ohio gave us another free spot to stop for the night. As with the previous overnight spot at Honey Haven Farm and most other Harvest Host facilities, there are limited or sometimes no hook-ups or facilities so having the ability to be self-sufficient, really gave us an advantage. At this particular spot, we took advantage of the small farm store purchasing eggs and a variety of produce. A long walk at the end of the day after driving for 4 or 5 hours is a relaxing way to end the day and we did so through the vast network of apple and other fruit trees that made up the orchard. Though there was some road noise during the night, we did manage to get a great nights sleep by utilizing the small 12V fans inside the coach creating some subtle white noise.

Fresh road-side corn! 13 for $3! You would think we would have seen a lot of these. Nope. You should see the skid marks on the road I made made we spotted it.

Not being able to find another Harvest Host during our next days' push, we relied on the great state of Pennsylvania to provide us with a state park option for the night. We traveled a fair amount this day and found ourselves at Chapman Lake State Park. A bit of disclosure here. I can’t speak for Yvette, but I am slightly biased against Penn state. Having previously paid a $20 dollar toll, been subject to some of the highest fuel prices, the seemingly endless supply of poorly maintained roads, I guess you could say I have a chip on my shoulder when it comes to the Keystone State. And as it turned out, this park stayed true to our experience. Even though Chapman Lake(We searched everywhere for Don to ask him why?...) didn’t have a drop of water in it due to a dam rebuild, they still charged $40.50 to stay the night. This is the highest we have ever paid for a campground in any of the states we’ve visited. Though, I must say that watching my wife try and negotiate a lower price with park ranger was almost worth the price of admission.

Chapman Lake State Park, $40 a night parking.

We may not have planned it, the next day would be our last leg to our final destination. After starting out from Chapman Lake SP around eight thirty in the morning, We made the decision later that afternoon to make this our final big push. Keeping to the back roads consumes time without making a lot of forward progress. So, when we had the chance, we inched our way to I-84 where we could make better time. Crossing the Hudson River is always a good sign that one is getting closer to home, but by the time we reached it, it was at night, a driving situation my wife would rather not experience. But she was a real trooper and let me navigate through some of the worst drivers of the trip. A huge roadblock in the vicinity of Sandy Hook brought us to a complete stop near an exit that we took advantage of as we needed fuel. While at the pumps just off the exit, knowing that I would only be reentering I-84 that was now a parking lot, I manually reprogrammed the trucks nav system to take us south-east on route 32 into North Haven where I believed I could grab a not-so-busy I-95 north to Old Lyme. My assumption was that since it was Saturday night (around 10:30 pm) chances should be pretty good that there would be little traffic heading away from the city. I was right. We made better time and successfully navigated our way around the I-84 east mess. We arrived just after 11 PM at our destination in Old Lyme making for a long day of driving.

All told, we traveled about 2500 miles in 6 days. We limited our lodging costs by staying at two Harvest Host locations and one Walmart. We did dine out 3 times, but 2 of which were breakfast stops so meal costs were somewhat acceptable. And, our vehicle averaged 14.5 mpg. Not bad for a vehicle that’s about as aerodynamic as a giant shoebox. We both agreed that in the future, inching our way back over a longer period of time would not only be easier but would allow us to take in more of what we set out to do in the first place.

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