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Road-tripping in the Midst of a Van Build

Right smack dab in the middle of a Van Conversion we headed out to attend a VIP Law School Graduation. Yep, my mom traveled to California to have us convert her new Ford Transit and a week later we left. She, of course, was aware that we would be visiting New York to see Willow graduate from St John's.

Mom had plenty of company, her dog Rusty, our dog Shadow, our cat Boxer and of course Fridge the tortoise. We have great neighbors that kept an eye on her and my BFF checked in on her. Smooth sailing, sorta.

Our dash across the country was tentatively mapped out to spend 6 nights on the road to New York. However, there was NO WAY we were going to stop in 104 degree weather so we drove much farther than we had planned the first night. We found a great spot in Fishlake National Forest right off I-70. We backed up to a creek, opened the back doors and fell asleep to the glorious sound of the water flowing past our heads. The sun was setting when we arrived and we woke to a beautiful sunrise the next morning.

We had planned to stop on Hwy 128 north of Moab but we cruised right on by and decided on the Denver area for dinner and overnight parking.

As far as interstate driving goes, this is by far the most scenic stretch, I-70 from Fishlake National Forest to Denver provides some amazing views. The prettiest of which was cruising into Vail and catching sight of the snow that was still on the ground. The United States of America never ceases to amaze me.

FYI, do yourselves a favor and do not go to the Outback off I-70 on the west side of Denver. It was without a doubt the worst steaks we have ever eaten. I believe the locals are aware of this because there was no line and no wait to be seated on a holiday weekend.

After dinner we scoped out a couple of lakes and state parks to no avail and ended up at a dreaded Rest Area right off I-76. It just so happened to be right next to a busy set of railroad tracks. YIKES!! We did manage a few hours of sleep and hopped right back on I-76 headed Northeast.

We continued up I-76 to I-80 into Nebraska and set our sights on Acorn Valley Park in Johnston, Iowa. That location is part of the Army Corps of Engineers and only costs $14 for the site that was available, remember, this is a holiday weekend. We consider a place to sleep and to get a hot shower for $14 to be an exceptional value. We've camped in Nebraska before and made the decision to blow right through to Iowa for a new experience. The next reservation we made was for a Thousand Trails location in Wisconsin. Our decision to join Thousand Trails is still unrated due to our more recent travels. We are still hoping for it to turn out positively for us, but that is yet to be determined.

Saylorville Lake near DesMoines, Iowa was very impressive.

Funny story... we arrived at about 6pm and proceeded to our reserved site. We booked whatever they had left, which turned out to be a tent site. No problem, we drive our 'tent' and don't really need electric hook-ups. BUT WAIT! The tent site was a 'walk-to' site. The campground was absolutely beautiful but Darin wanted something else so we left and let the ranger know to cancel our reservation. She grimaced and said good luck. We drove around to the other parts of the USACOE development and stopped at the boat launch to eat our dinner. After a little reconsideration, Darin decided to return to the Acorn Valley campground and grab our site instead of moving on. Whew! I was relieved because I'm certain we would have not found another spot very easily on a holiday weekend.

Our reservation for Monday night was near Milton, Wisconsin. When we arrived at this campground, we scoped out our site and headed over to the local Piggly Wiggly for dinner supplies. We decided on an old standby, bratwurst and roasted vegetables.

While we were finishing dinner, a neighboring camper approached. He was carrying what looked to be an automatic rifle of some sort, think AR-15 style for a visual. Yep, there we sat, minding our own business and 'Nathan' approaches us carrying a firearm. How does one respond to that? How does one prepare for that? As he approached he smiled and began explaining that he just wanted us to be aware that he has his AirSoft arsenal and for us not to panic. Panic? No need to panic! We would have 'met our maker' if he turned out to be a psychopath with an assault rifle. Luckily he was just a nice, albeit quirky, fellow camper.

After dinner, we decided to play cards. While we were sitting there minding our own business a guy (Mike) walks up and compliments our van. He and his 100 pound dog were very nice and we learned all about the dog and Mike’s grandchildren. He gave us some pointers for full-timing it on the road and we gave him some pointers on the US Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds. We meet all sorts of folks on the road. Each and every one has enriched our lives in one form or another. It really is all about how you want to feel once the interaction is over.

Tuesday took us to Jefferson, Ohio and another Thousand Trails Campground. On the way in we stopped at a local joint that served pizza and beer. When we got inside the setting was a bit awkward, smoky and smelly. Awesome! Let's order some pizza! Easier said than done. We looked around and saw what looked to be an employee take menus outside to the patio so we followed. Darin turned to two guys and said, "How the heck do you get a pizza around here?" The guy that answered first was extremely intoxicated. The other guy took that as an opportunity to escape from the drunk guy and said he would get someone for us. The drunk guy proceeded to get completely involved with our pizza ordering while telling us his life story. One of his first questions to us: "Do you have a lot of Gays where you live?" (His words, not mine!) Darin and I both just stared in disbelief for a moment before we composed ourselves and started talking and laughing with him. We learned more about this 28 year old man named Eddie in the next hour than I could have ever imagined. We were intrigued by his primary goal in life to become a bartender in Key West, Florida by the age of 35. Eddie did inform me that he thought women were gross and he whispered in my ear that my husband is hot!

Mind you, I am fairly antisocial and Darin likes to keep people talking. Sometimes that is a difficult combination. After an hour of this we finally got our pizza and headed to the campground. We had reservations at the local Thousand Trails. I'm also realizing that I should lower my expectations of the folks at the registration desk of a campground. We accepted our site location, set up camp and had dinner. The pizza had cooled too much for my tastes but Darin seemed to enjoy it. I prefer my pizza hot enough to burn my mouth.

The campground was very nice and extremely quiet, which made for a good night of sleep. After coffee we hit the road headed to the Poconos and another Thousand Trails. Driving the interstate through Pennsylvania was scenic enough for us to want to return and explore one day. Williamsport was close enough to our route that we decided to take a quick detour. Darin faithfully watches the Little League Championship games every year, so why not visit?

The campground we visited in the Poconos, I do like saying we visited the Poconos, was acceptable and quiet. The 'ranger' was a bit nasty but otherwise a good spot.

The Promised Land? Yes, on the way to the campground we drove through more lush green countryside right through the Promised Land State Park in Pennsylvania on Route 390. If I'd known I could get into the Promised Land so easily I would have booked us a night there instead of the Thousand Trails. Maybe next trip, right?

Before reaching New York we decided to visit the birthplace of the US Forestry Service, Grey Towers National Historic Site in Milford, Pennsylvania. When we arrived there were several cars in the parking lot so as we approached the entrance we walked through the front door. There was no one in sight so we continued into the Mansion. After seeing the downstairs rooms we finally ran into a Ranger. The look of surprise on his face let us know right away that we were not supposed to be there. We apologized, he apologized and Darin asked if we could see the last room before we leave... The Ranger was very nice and said due to federal covid-19 guidelines they had not yet reopened. We toured the grounds then got back on the road to New York.

The sole reason for this trip was to witness Darin's beautiful daughter go from being a Law School student to a Law School graduate. I met Willow when she was a spunky 10 year old little girl and have had the pleasure of watching her grow into an amazing adult. She and her mom, Fran, welcomed me as part of the family with open arms, for which I am forever grateful.

Brooklyn was just a quick 2 hour trip from the Poconos and way less hectic than the last time we drove into New York City. Height clearance is an issue in and around NYC so be very mindful and stay way from the Parkways. Finding a parking spot has it's own unique set of challenges in a 23 foot long 10 foot high van. Add to the mix an overcrowded city and narrow streets and you've got yourself a situation not to be taken lightly. One really has to study the signage or you end up with a $65 parking ticket.

Join us again as we escape from New York and head home to finish Mom's van conversion.


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