Bob and I relish cruises on the open seas as they provide a way to disconnect from our ordinarily busy lives. In the past, that meant leaving Gulliver and Tagalong behind, parked somewhere safe to give us peace of mind.
All that changed when we were looking for the easiest and best way to get around Lake Champlain to relocate from Burlington, Vermont, to Michigan.
As we learned in Virginia and Maine, it pays to have insiders who know the area well. That also proved true in Vermont. While discussing our route options with Jim and Kelly, friends who live in the Burlington area, they suggested we take a ferry across the lake.
A Fresh Idea
When you drive a big rig that spans 57 feet long, 8.5 feet wide, and 13.25 feet tall, the thought of driving it onto a ferry typically doesn’t cross your mind. We had never considered such a thing, thinking our rig way too big to put on a boat. But Jim and Kelly told us semi-trucks cross the lake that way all the time.
We looked further into the possibility, and Bob even called the ferry service. Sure enough, they could take us and would measure our combined vehicle length when we arrived to determine the cost. It looked like we’d be out $80 to $90 to take this route, but it would save us significant time, fuel, and wear and tear on our vehicles from the bumpy roads down and around the lake. We were sold.
Window of Opportunity
On our scheduled day of departure from the campground, rain threatened our journey. We avoid driving in rain whenever possible because doing so forces water into the trailer around the slideouts. Checking and rechecking the weather, we decided leaving by 8 a.m. would give us the best window for the least amount of rain. So, we busied ourselves with getting the trailer ready and hooking up to Gulliver.
After hitting the road at about 7:40, we drove a half hour to the ferry station, encountering a few drizzles on the way but no major downpour. Elation flashed across our faces as we pulled into the station and saw a FedEx truck in front of us. If the truck could cross on a ferry, we knew we could as well.
We checked in and got measured and were charged only $55.65 — a bargain as far as we were concerned. Told to pull into lane five, to the left of the FedEx truck, we obeyed, expecting to have to wait 15 minutes for the next ferry.
A dock worker waved at the FedEx truck to board, followed by a line of cars. We thought the outfit could only take one big, heavy vehicle per ferry load. But then the worker waved us on and ushered us to park directly behind the FedEx truck.
Just like that, Tagalong was on a cruise, experiencing beautiful views and refreshing breezes as the rain held off and the skies grew brighter. Although the journey was short-lived, taking only about 15 minutes, it was unique and rewarding. And now we know ferries are not out of the question for our travels.
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We had visited the state of Maine early in our marriage, going just over the border to the touristy but alluring towns of Kittery and York. There, we took obligatory pictures of the Nubble Lighthouse, dipped our toes in the frigid Atlantic Ocean, hit the outlet stores, and toured an old military fort.
Wanting a more authentic Maine experience 30 years later, we headed farther north, to Bar Harbor, lured by stories of its beauty. Although it’s also touristy, we spent a week in the area, and an insider’s tips helped us get the most out of our stay.
With a coastline that stretches more than 3,000 miles, Maine has been producing seafood since well before it became the country’s 23rd state in 1820. One of the most popular seafoods in the area is, of course, lobster.
Believe it or not, lobster used to be considered poor people’s food and was fed to prisoners. That all changed in the 1900s when the Rockefellers hosted a dinner party at their Maine summer home and fed lobster to their guests.
Our friend, Tom, whom we know from CAF Airbase Arizona, grew up in the Bar Harbor area and knows all the best places to get the freshest seafood. We met him at Union River Lobster Pot, located right on the river. While waiting for a table, we reclined on a wooden bench in a grassy expanse overlooking the river and caught up.
Once seated inside, we chose from various sizes of lobster and other seafood entrees. I ordered a 1.5-pound lobster. Bob got a 2.5-pounder, and Tom got fried haddock. All of our meals were delicious. Bob and I must have looked like we knew what we were doing to get to the meat of our lobsters because a lady at the next table kept turning around to see if she was doing it right.
Another evening, Tom referred us to the very freshest seafood in the area, at Beal’s Lobster Pier. It too offers a variety of lobster sizes, fresh off the boat, as well as lobster rolls, sandwiches, steamers, and fish. Bob got lobster and steamers. Not wanting to crack another lobster body open but wanting to partake in the delicacy, I ordered a lobster roll. Tom got the haddock taco special. We dined outdoors on the pier, reveling in the freshness of our meals.
What makes Bar Harbor a tourist destination is its proximity to Acadia National Park, which spans 38,000 acres of forested mountains, panoramic coastline, and picturesque islands. Part of our desire in visiting the area was to explore the expansive park. Based on Tom’s recommendation and its less popular status, we prioritized a visit to Schoodic Peninsula, a breathtaking, off-the-beaten-path area of Acadia.
The winding road took us along the water’s edge, with stops to observe various rock formations and beaches, waves, and plant life. We even picked a handful of wild Maine blueberries on Blueberry Hill.
Getting to Schoodic Peninsula requires a drive through the small town of Winter Harbor, where we stopped for breakfast. After filling up on an omelet and pancakes, we crossed the street to investigate the Winter Harbor 5&10 store. What a gem! The small space houses practically anything you might need, from dishes and towels to decorations, hardware, camping supplies, greeting cards and, of course, souvenirs. It also features a variety of local offerings.
A few days later, we drove the main Acadia Park Loop Road, where most tourists to the area visit and hike from. Although we found the rock formations, sandy beach, Jordan Pond, and other sights attractive, they paled in comparison to the beauty we had experienced at Schoodic Peninsula.
Another Maine activity we relished would have never taken place had it not been for Tom’s recommendation. He suggested we make a trip to Northeast Harbor, investigate Pine Tree Market and its creaky wooden floors, buy a Maine specialty chicken salad sandwich with cranberry and something to drink, and meander to the harbor for a picnic.
We took him up on the idea and had a wonderfully relaxing time. As we sat on a park bench delighting in our sandwiches, wine, and views, the Sea Princess cruiser arrived to dock. Thirty or so passengers disembarked from the afternoon harbor cruise, and another 30 or so arrived to go on the sunset cruise. Had we known about it ahead of time, we might have joined them. We weren’t dressed warm enough to go out on the water at sunset.
Kayaks are also a common way to experience the water in the area. Another evening found us at Tom’s house overlooking a bay. If the tide hadn’t been out, we might have taken him up on his offer to kayak.
There’s much more we could have seen and done in Bar Harbor, including a lumberjack show. We packed as much as we could into a work week, leaving us with pleasant memories of time well spent.
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We had just settled into Mike Rowe’s The Way I Heard It podcast to get beyond a stupid (but all-important at the time) squabble. The diversion worked, lightening our moods and bringing smiles to our faces.
The cheer didn’t last long. Midway through one episode, our tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) started beeping, alerting us to a rapidly deflating tire on our trailer — the third such instance in 2022.
Thankfully, the off-ramp to a closed weigh station on the freeway offered the perfect place to pull over. As I emerged from the truck, a loud hissing assaulted my ears. Nearing the trailer, I could see a vapor escaping the front passenger tire.
A Team Effort
What Mike Rowe had begun, this situation completed. We both forgot about our squabble and quickly shifted into our roles to fix the situation. Having experienced two other flat tires within two months, we knew exactly what needed to be done and had gotten pretty good at it.
I opened the trailer’s passenger side cellar door and removed the lug wrench to lower the spare tire from its secure spot under the rig. I also grabbed our Safe Jack from the cellar, a purchase that has more than paid for itself. It’s the right tool for any job that requires jacking up the trailer. After lowering the spare, I had to crawl under the trailer to pull it out.
Bob busied himself in the back of the truck to find the torque wrench and the right size socket to loosen the bad tire’s lug nuts. That done, he crawled under the trailer to jack it up high enough to remove the bad tire and put on the spare.
Unlike with our other flat tires, the root cause of this one was not a stem leak. The tire had started to shred. If our TPMS hadn’t notified us of the fast leak, we wouldn’t have even known. Our rig could have sustained serious damage from the shredding tire like a camper neighbor experienced. A tire blowout without a TPMS bent the frame of their slideout, sealing it shut.
We carry a full-size tire under our trailer, the same make and model as the other tires on the coach. It’s a good thing, because this flat happened 1.5 hours from our destination in Bar Harbor, Maine. That’s a long way to go with a smaller, temporary tire. And, it being a Sunday, all of the tire shops in the area were closed.
Warranty to the Rescue
Having bought a set of trailer tires from Discount Tire in Tennessee in 2021, we knew they were still under warranty. Unfortunately, Discount Tire stores don’t exist in Maine. So, Bob had to call Discount Tire to see if the nearest store, in Boston, could ship the tire we needed to our location. The store associate said they could, so we had to confirm our campground could accept packages. Some campgrounds don’t allow package delivery for temporary residents.
Our campground in Bar Harbor said it could receive a package. Bob ordered the tire and arranged with Tire Warehouse in the area to remove the bad tire from our rim and put the new tire on. We only had to pay about $35 for shipping — a bargain when you consider the cost of that new tire out the door neared $250.
Once again, God watched over and took care of us, ensuring we had a safe place to pull over when the leak happened, providing cloud cover while we changed the tire, preparing the way for us to make it to our destination, and arranging for us to replace the bad tire with a new one. And our day only got better from there.
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Every summer, Bob and I volunteer to go on tour with the B-25 WWII bomber, “Maid in the Shade,” from CAF Airbase Arizona. The volunteering starts long before summer tour, requiring a time commitment, annual membership dues, and attendance at the annual ground school.
Tour is a working vacation where we keep long days to fulfill our mission to educate, honor, and inspire. Fulfilling that mission involves opening the plane for static tours on the ground. Unlike some organizations, we let people climb into and touch our warbirds.
It also involves selling Living History Flights to give people a feel for life as an Army Air Force crewman of yesteryear — minus the gunfire and bomb explosions. Passengers get to hear the engines roar to life, smell the smoke they emit on startup, and move about the cabin to different crew positions.
As you can imagine, it’s pretty cool to tour with a plane like this. Despite the busy schedule day in and day out, it offers a number of perks. Here are four of them:
We get to go to some spectacular places. The airbase covers commercial airfare to the plane’s location at the start of a member’s tour if they agree to stay on tour for a minimum of 10 days (and meet all of the other requirements). I typically go for two weeks, and Bob commits to three.
Bob’s first tour in 2016 took him to Missoula, Montana, and Everett, Washington. My first tour with Bob in 2017 took us to Penticton and Kamloops, British Columbia, and Lethbridge, Alberta. Together, we’ve visited Nashua, New Hampshire; Leesburg, Virginia; Bristol, Tennessee; Bozeman, Montana; Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; Cape Girardeau, Missouri; Springfield, Missouri; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and Kalispell, Montana.
Because we keep a busy schedule on tour, we don’t get to do a lot of sightseeing. While in Bozeman, Montana, for example, we didn’t get to go to Yellowstone National Park, a 1.5-hour drive away. But that’s OK.
When time allows, we do get to drive around and explore an area. We typically have Monday afternoons off after arriving at a new location for the week. That’s how we were able to check out the Bass Pro “Granddaddy of All Outdoor Stores” in 2021. A day off in Lethbridge, Alberta, enabled us to visit the Bomber Command Museum of Canada, which houses one of only 17 remaining Lancaster bombers.
We also get to enjoy a different type of sightseeing by flying over each tour stop and from location to location. The landscape varies in each area. We got to cruise over the stunning beauty that is Glacier National Park. The scenic flight from Kamloops to Penticton, British Columbia, meandered through canyons formed by a river. Flying over the Mississippi River gave us a bird’s-eye view of the towboats that push barges of heavy, bulky cargo to cities on the river’s banks.
In addition, we often get a chance to check out other airplanes. In 2022, those other airplanes included an airworthy F-86 Sabre, a fire bomber plane, and a C-45 Beechcraft on floats.
3. Amazing People
Each week we’re on tour requires a crew of eight to handle ground and flight operations for the bomber. In addition to commingling with amazing volunteers, we meet fascinating people. In 2020, for example, I met Tom Oberweiser over the phone. He requested we fly over his dad’s nursing home to honor the WWII veteran B-25 navigator on our way from Bozeman to Missoula, Montana. We gladly accepted.
Although Tom’s dad has since passed away, honoring the vet continued in 2022. Tom and his wife showed up in Bozeman, two hours from their home, eager to meet me and anyone else on the crew who had been involved in the 2020 flyover. The couple booked a flight on “Maid in the Shade” to further honor Lt. Jack Oberweiser and get a taste of what his war days might have been like.
That contact with amazing people is truly inspirational. Although part of our mission is to inspire others, we often find ourselves inspired. When Civil Air Patrol cadets come to our tour stops and pitch in to help us in any way they can, it’s inspiring.
When veterans come to see our planes, we find ourselves humbled and inspired. When sons and daughters of veterans visit us in honor of their parents, we can’t help but be encouraged. That was certainly the case when a gentleman named Bob flew into Kalispell on his Stearman biplane, unaware his family had purchased a ride for him on our B-25.
Tears blurred Bob’s eyes as he shared about his father, who had flown more than 30 missions on a B-25, and his uncle, who had flown numerous missions on a B-17. Bob regretted the way he had treated his late father but was thankful to be able to honor him by visiting and flying on the B-25.
We’re thankful to have been part of that exciting surprise. As I shared with a newspaper reporter, it’s truly an honor to be near and experience these warbirds and to do what we do.
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As crazy as it sounds, one of my greatest delights is doing manual labor, especially outdoors. Maybe it’s because of my upbringing, helping my dad work on a tomato farm and later operating a bandsaw for his wooden toy business. Or maybe it’s because I spend most of my days in front of a computer.
When we owned our house, I delighted in taking care of the yardwork — potentially to the detriment of my children. It gave me a welcome break from staring at a screen and got me outdoors to enjoy sunshine and fresh air. I looked forward to going home from my office job to mow and edge the grass. It provided a way for me to shift my mind from work obligations to home life. The same can be said for other projects around the house.
Once we sold our home of 24 years and moved into our fifth wheel, I thought my days of yardwork, painting walls and trim, and other projects were over. But in each of the three years we’ve lived on the road, I’ve been surprised and blessed to be able to help with painting projects.
That got me thinking. We stay at campgrounds. We boondock. We moochdock. But maybe there’s another kind of camping we’ve been missing, something called tradedocking.
What is tradedocking?
Simply put, tradedocking is trading work for a free place to stay. At the three places I painted, we were moochdocking at the time — in essence, tradedocking.
Tradedocking should not be confused with Boondockers Welcome, a membership for RVers who offer free stays on their property in exchange for free stays on others’ property when they travel. (Thankfully, it’s not limited to RVer hosts. We’re able to take advantage of it too.) Technically, that could be considered a form of tradedocking.
But true tradedocking is more akin to work camping. A handful of websites offer ways for full-time or even half-time RVers to camp in a single location for free for a set number of months — typically at least three — in exchange for labor.
Some RVers even make an hourly wage on top of the free stay. They do tasks such as landscaping, cleaning restrooms and campsites, and handling camp registrations.
Tradedocking is work camping on a much smaller scale. We commit a week or two (sometimes longer) to stay with a host and help with projects. In addition to my painting contributions, Bob has helped some of our moochdocking hosts with various tasks, including computer work, cooking, and fixing machinery.
Most of our tradedocking hosts have been family members, but that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t or couldn’t help friends with projects too. At the risk of overbooking and overcommitting ourselves, we absolutely would.
We feel blessed anytime we’re able to help others. Tradedocking offers those opportunities in spades.
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A day off work while in Massachusetts gave us an opportunity to travel into Boston for a day of exploring. We gathered with friends at a commuter train station in Fitchburg and boarded for a 1.5-hour journey into the city.
After deboarding, we went underground to catch a subway that would take us close to the start of Boston’s Freedom Trail at Boston Common. The 2.5-mile, red-brick trail meanders through the city, with stops and plaques at important places in history along the way. Here are some of our highlights.
Erected in 1897, a bronze, sculpted memorial pays tribute to Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Regiment, the first all-Black volunteer unit in the Civil War. (Think “Glory,” the movie that tells the story.) Although most of the regiment lost their lives in the attack of Fort Wagner in South Carolina in 1863, they changed the tide of American sentiment regarding Black soldiers.
Across the street from the memorial stands the Massachusetts State House. The gold-domed building is open for free guided tours. We didn’t plan ahead, unaware we needed to schedule a tour.
From there, we navigated past the Park Street Church (think “National Treasure”), King’s Chapel, the Boston Latin School, the Old South Meeting House, and two cemeteries in which key historical figures are buried: Benjamin Franklin, Paul Revere, and John Hancock, just to name a few.
Opting to save our funds for melting pot food, we bypassed going inside King’s Chapel and the Old South Meeting House, both of which required payment for entry. Ready for a rest and a bite to eat, we stopped at Faneuil Hall, the home of America’s first town meeting. Directly behind it is Quincy Market, which hosts stalls peddling all kinds of food.
We settled in at an outdoor Irish eatery that could seat our group. Our niece, Sarah, who lives in Boston and just graduated from nursing school, joined us for lunch. We munched on chicken and fish sandwiches, French onion soup, southwestern salads, and other delectable delights.
Water Views and Italian Desserts
Refreshed and refueled, we took a brief detour to explore beautiful Boston Harbor and its wharfs before rejoining the trail. It took us to Paul Revere’s house (another fee-for-entry point) and the Old North Church, the start of Paul Revere’s midnight ride to announce that the British were coming.
Wanting to sample some sweet treats while in the area, we veered off the trail and into the North End, known for its authentic Italian dishes, pastries, and coffees. Mike’s Pastry is where most visitors go. Sarah gave us the inside scoop and directed us to where the locals go: Bova’s Bakery.
Pastries of all kinds and colors filled the glass showcase: cheesecakes, cannolis, lobster tails, cakes, cookies, chocolate-covered strawberries, and more. I chose tiramisu, and Bob selected Boston cream cake. Our friends got their goods, and we headed back to the tree-shrouded courtyard between Paul Revere’s midnight ride statue and the Old North Church to enjoy our delicacies.
Relaxation on the Wharf
Electing to save a mile of walking by skipping visits to the USS Constitution and the Bunker Hill Monument, both of which we’ve seen before, we headed back toward Quincy Market. Bob and Sarah made a stop at the Union Oyster House for some fresh raw seafood. The rest of us moseyed on to Faneuil Hall, where we decided we had had enough walking for one day.
After Bob and Sarah caught up, we ambled back to the wharf to a place called Joe’s for rest and refreshment. Seated with an expansive view of the water, we shared appetizers of buffalo chicken tenders, spinach and artichoke dip, nachos, and candied brussels sprouts.
Satisfied with a good day in Boston, we navigated to a T subway station, stopping to pick up coffee at Dunkin’ on the way. Dunkin’ got its start south of Boston in Quincy in 1950. We said goodbye to Sarah and descended to catch a subway that would take us to Union Station, where we boarded a train back to Fitchburg.
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Living in a fifth wheel has its pluses and minuses. If we could change anything about it, we’d make it shorter. Our 13-foot, 3-inch height makes it tricky to navigate a lot of areas, including state campgrounds. We always have to be on alert for low-hanging branches and low-clearance bridges.
The Northeast U.S. is notorious for low-clearance bridges. When its towns and cities were established in the 1600s, most people got around on foot. If they had to travel great distances, they would take a stagecoach. Although New York’s first bridge emerged in 1693 to connect Manhattan and the Bronx, most bridges didn’t appear until the 1800s. At that time, tall vehicles didn’t exist.
The first semi-truck came on the scene in 1898. Alexander Winton designed it specifically to deliver a car on a trailer to its buyer somewhere in the country. This eliminated wear and tear on the vehicle from driving it to its purchaser.
In 1914, August Charles Fruehauf invented a more substantial semi-trailer to transport his boat. It was later adapted to move lumber.
As automobiles became more popular, car dealers needed more efficient ways to deliver the vehicles to purchasers. So, in the 1930s, George Cassens crafted a trailer that could carry four cars at a time.
Between 1929 and 1944, Mack Trucks entered the market, creating 2,601 semi trailers. Peterbilt trucks followed in 1939 to transport logs.
These early semis paled in comparison to today’s mammoth 18-wheelers that stand 13 feet, 5 inches tall. It wasn’t until 1983 that trailers stretched as long as 48 feet, only 7 feet shy of today’s standard 53 feet.
Increasing RV Heights
Early campers weren’t much taller than the trucks pulling them. Even initial fifth-wheel campers averaged 8 to 8.5 feet tall. Many original models required people to crawl up to the bed over the top of the truck bed.
Gradually, fifth wheels increased in height to about 10 feet, making them easier to live in for a weekend or vacation getaway.
RV manufacturers started installing slideouts in fifth wheels in the 1990s to create more living space. Providing adequate ceiling height in these slideouts meant the supporting rig around the slideouts had to be taller. The average height of a modern fifth wheel RV is 13 feet, with many as tall as 13 feet, 5 or 6 inches.
Today, towering RVs and semi-trucks roam the highways. Although the width of these vehicles is limited to 102 inches (8 feet, 6 inches) in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, there’s no nationwide vehicle height limit. That varies per state, typically between 13 feet, 6 inches and 14 feet.
In New York City, arched bridges force high-clearance vehicles to drive in the middle lane to ensure they can clear. They’re prevented from certain roadways, where clearance is too low for safe passage.
New York also lists clearances as 6 to 12 inches lower than the height of vehicles that can clear safely — unless the bridge says ACTUAL CLEARANCE. We found this out when we approached a bridge labeled 12’-11” and watched a standard semi pass through unharmed. We followed suit.
Rumor has it this height discrepancy is to allow for safe passage even when roads are packed with snow.
Low-clearance challenges aren’t limited to New York. They span all of New England too. Athol, Massachusetts, for example, has an overpass that’s only safe for vehicles 12-foot, 7 inches or less to maneuver.
For some reason, a semi-truck driver tried to take the route. Maybe he thought the actual clearance was 13 feet, 7 inches, like in New York. His trailer hit hard, denting the top, and creating a loud boom.
Ensuring Safe Passage
Most road atlases don’t display bridge and tunnel clearances. Similarly, although Google Maps does a good job showing us the quickest, most direct route between two points, it doesn’t take into consideration the height and length of our vehicle. Because of that, we can’t always trust that Google will navigate us safely, as the trucker in Athol discovered.
For better results, we use an app called CoPilot. Its $30 annual fee is well worth the peace of mind it provides. We’re able to enter our vehicle dimensions and select if we want to use toll roads, ferries, propane-restricted routes, and more. Based on our choices, the app directs us safely to any destination we enter.
Only one time we questioned the route CoPilot directed us to after a white-knuckled drive through winding roads in northeastern Tennessee. Other than that, we’ve fared well.
We also make a point to look at the satellite view on Google Maps of any destination we choose and the path to get there to ensure it’s navigable for a rig our size.
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After an eventful time in Virginia Beach, Virginia, we wanted to venture to Ocean City, Maryland, to visit some friends we had made on our 2022 transatlantic cruise. Crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel offered the quickest, most direct route, saving 95 miles and about three hours of travel time through the congested Washington, D.C., area.
Considered one of the seven engineering wonders of the modern world, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel is a 17.6-mile crossing of the Chesapeake Bay. Since opening in 1964, it’s taken more than 140 million vehicles from Virginia Beach to the state’s Delmarva Peninsula, or vice versa, traversing both over and under the water.
The bridge-tunnel includes not one, but two tunnels, each about a mile long. Crossing the bridge-tunnel takes only about a half hour but can be nerve-racking in an RV if you’re unprepared for it.
To Cross or Not to Cross
As the time approached for us to travel to Ocean City, Bob put his excellent research skills to use to explore our options to get there. The bridge-tunnel’s direct route and time savings made us give it serious consideration. Had other RVs made it through? Did semi trucks use the route? How tight were the travel lanes?
We had read that the max vehicle height for the tunnels is 13 feet, 6 inches, the size of semis. Our rig is 3 inches shorter, so we took some comfort in that, knowing we had a little more clearance than trucks did.
Because of the potential stress of driving the bridge-tunnel, Bob had decided we’d forgo it and take the long, inland route instead. But advice from a friend made him reconsider. Jim had traveled the bridge-tunnel numerous times and had seen semis and RVs make it through with no issues. The only potential risk was weather. If conditions are too windy, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel Commission closes the bridge-tunnel until conditions improve.
We decided to keep our trip short and take the direct route across the bridge-tunnel.
The weather looked good on our day of departure. We waited to leave our campsite at First Landing State Park until about 9 a.m. to let traffic die down. Navigating to the bridge-tunnel proved easy enough. We made it to the toll plaza with no problems.
Because we have E-ZPass, a transponder in Gulliver that electronically pays tolls we encounter, we didn’t have to exchange any funds. The toll worker asked if our propane was off. We assured her it was, and we were on our way, starting across the bridge.
A semi-truck passed us, relaxing any remaining frayed nerves. Prior to this experience, we had thought the dimensions listed before tunnels and overpasses — 13’ 6” max height, in this case — were the measured distance from road to overpass/tunnel bottom. We learned those signs actually mean the listed dimensions are the maximum height for a vehicle to safely pass without hitting the bridge/tunnel.
As we approached the first of the two tunnels, Thimble Shoal Channel Tunnel, and two-way traffic, Bob concentrated on keeping Gulliver and Tagalong in the middle of our lane. Clearance under the tunnel was fine. We had no problems, although we still got excited when we could see the light at the end of the tunnel.
We emerged onto another bridge that led us to the second tunnel, the Chesapeake Channel Tunnel. As we approached that one, a semi-truck came out and toward us, clearly demonstrating plenty of clearance. After that tunnel, we crossed another bridge before finally returning to land.
Thankful for an uneventful experience, we pulled into the Eastern Shore of Virginia Welcome Center. There, we turned our propane back on to keep the food in our fridge and freezer cold as we journeyed to our destination in Ocean City.
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The state of Virginia has a lot to offer visitors. From history to beaches to natural attractions (think caverns and a bridge) and more, you’ll find something for everyone. What we enjoyed most was exploring the state’s vast history, thanks to our friends, Jim and Jenny, treating us to an amazing tour. Here are seven highlights, in no particular order:
1. George Washington’s Mount Vernon
Spanning 500 acres today, Mount Vernon pales in comparison to its expansive 8,000 acres when the first U.S. president lived on the 18th-century plantation. The estate maintains a colonial feel, with workers dressed in period costumes to tell visitors about life in the 18th century.
A walking tour will take you through stables, a blacksmith shop, gardens, the mansion, the distillery and gristmill, and even down to the wharf on the Potomac River. You can sit on a rocking chair on the mansion’s back porch and enjoy the view. Two museums on the property provide more details about the colonial days and estate.
Ever heard of Virginia ham? What designates a ham with the Virginia label is the curing process: cured with salt, then smoked and hung to age in a smokehouse. The town of Smithfield, established in 1752, started its own Virginia ham business early on, thanks to the vision of Mallory Todd.
Today, Smithfield houses the headquarters of Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest producer of pork, with locations in 29 states, as well as Europe and Mexico. Pork may be the staple of the town of Smithfield, but that’s not what draws visitors there today.
Fifteen 18th-century houses and boutique shops line its main streets, offering a walking tour through history. You can even eat at a soda fountain and go inside a replica of the 1752 courthouse. And, for the small fee of $2 per person, you can see the world’s oldest ham and oldest peanut at the Isle of Wight County Museum.
3. First Landing State Park
The first English settlers arrived on the shores of Virginia in 1607 at Cape Henry, right around the corner from First Landing State Park in Virginia Beach. The park spans 2,888 acres, offering 20 miles of trails, more than 200 campsites, 20 rustic cabins, four yurts, and 1.5 miles of Chesapeake Bay beach.
The campground pays homage to the first landing with a historical exhibit in the office. Camping here served as a jumping-off point for us to investigate other historical attractions in the area. It also provided ample opportunities to walk to the beach on a whim and take in sunsets.
4. Jamestown Island
After exploring the coastal areas of Virginia, the 104 English men and boys who landed at Cape Henry decided to make Jamestown their permanent home. The Jamestown Settlement, a living-history museum, lures visitors to relive life in the first English colony.
If you want a more authentic experience, don’t stop at the Jamestown Settlement. Keep driving to Jamestown Island and visit Jamestown Rediscovery, where archaeologists are at work unearthing the historical Jamestown Fort. You can see the foundations for yourself and a replica of the Memorial Church, built to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the settlement.
A tour through the Archaearium Museum gets you up close to artifacts the settlers used and provides insights into what life was like during the “Starving Time,” when two of every three Jamestown colonists died.
5. Colonial Parkway/Yorktown Battlefield
After exploring Jamestown Island, you can enjoy a scenic, relaxing drive on the Colonial Parkway, which will take you from Jamestown to Yorktown. The 23-mile drive navigates through tree-covered roads, with historical stops along the way, including colonial Williamsburg. We didn’t stop there, opting to keep going to Yorktown.
There, a driving tour meanders through the Yorktown Battlefield and the allied encampment, with placards detailing historical facts along the way.
6. USS Wisconsin Battleship
With its location on the water, Norfolk has a long military history, dating back to 1917, when the U.S. entered WWI. The Naval Operating Base of yesteryear is now Naval Station Norfolk, the world’s largest naval station, supporting 75 ships and 134 aircraft.
As a government employee, our host, Jim, was able to get us onto the naval base for a closer view of the amazing watercraft and aircraft our military uses. We saw carriers, supply ships, helicopters, airplanes, and much more.
If you’re not able to get onto the base — and even if you are — visit the static display of USS Wisconsin, one of the Navy’s largest and last battleships built. You can take a self-guided tour to explore its decks. For a guided tour, $20 per person will get you either the engine room tour or the command and control tour.
7. Military Aviation Museum
Because of our affiliation with the Commemorative Air Force, we’re drawn to aviation museums. The Military Aviation Museum in Virginia Beach did not disappoint. It offers a hangar dedicated to WWI planes and another two to showcase WWII planes, separated by Army and Navy.
The extensive collection of airplanes that still fly, landing on a grass strip, includes a B-25, “Wild Cargo,” named for her civil duty of transporting snakes and alligators after the war. Another notable warbird is the PBY Catalina, a mammoth flying boat. The collection spans fighters, bombers, trainers, liaisons, and more.
And, you can take a guided tour of the Goxhill Tower, the authentic British “Watch Office” transferred from Europe to Virginia brick by brick and put back together.
You might also enjoy A Historical Stop.
A loud, incessant beeping from our tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) alerted us to a “fast leakage” from one of our trailer tires. The narrow, back-country roads of the South didn’t offer anywhere to easily get our 50-plus feet of truck and trailer off the road.
After turning on our emergency flashers and driving slowly, we finally found a place we could pull over to assess our situation and let the vehicles behind us pass. The faulty tire was on the driver’s side. We couldn’t change it in this spot as we were blocking a road.
We had only 3 miles to our destination for the day. Could we make it if we nursed the tire along? Although the TPMS said we had a fast leak, the air pressure wasn’t decreasing rapidly. We decided to try to make it to our stop, watching the tire pressure slowly go down along the way.
Oasis in the Forest
As we pulled onto the gravel drive leading to our stop, the tire pressure steadied at 40-something. Mind you, these are 80 psi tires. Smiles flashed across our faces as we approached the property of our Boondockers Welcome host and saw a concrete pad for us to park on.
It’s much easier to jack up our 17,000-pound fifth wheel on a flat, stable surface than it is on a grassy area off the side of the road. We know from experience.
The host greeted us and helped Bob get Tagalong into parking position, leaving enough room for us to get the flat tire off and put the spare on.
Work Must Go On
We don’t usually relocate during the work week, but we had made an exception this time. Bob got busy loosening lug nuts, and I lowered the spare tire from its stowage spot under the trailer. Leaving him to make the tire change, I set up my camping chair against a nice green background of trees to attend a Zoom meeting for work.
Fortunately, temperature and dirt don’t show through video calls. Someone in my meeting said they wanted to be where I was, based on the inviting background. Little did they know I had sweat dripping down my back from the 80-plus degree humid weather.
With the tire changed and my call ended, I helped Bob detach the trailer from the truck and try to level Tagalong. The auto-level function errored out before the job was complete. I left him to troubleshoot while I joined another call.
When that meeting concluded, I found Bob sitting on the steps inside the trailer with the air conditioning on but no slides open. The button to open the living room slide, which allows us to get to the kitchen and office, didn’t respond to being pushed. Bob suddenly remembered an app on his phone allows him to control trailer functions. He succeeded in opening the slide from the app. Whew!
The other slides opened with the buttons on the trailer control panel, and we set up our home for a five-night stay.
Leaks and God’s Providence
Google Maps showed a Goodyear tire shop about 20 minutes away. Bob called and found out they could replace a tire stem. That’s where the leak happened. That’s also where it was when we had a flat tire last year: in the stem. Both incidents must have been a result of the tire pressure monitors attached to the stem.
We headed to the Goodyear store, dropped off our tire, and went to get groceries. We returned to the shop to find our tire fixed and ready to be picked up. And the price? Only $3.47!
On the surface, this event looked like a terrible inconvenience and frustration, but it served as a reminder that God consistently watches over and provides for us. From the flat tire happening 3 miles from our destination and being able to make it to our stop, to the concrete pad, trailer slide, Goodyear shop, and amazing price, we were — and are — extremely blessed.
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This is the travel blog of Bob and Lana Gates and our truck, Gulliver, and fifth wheel, Tagalong. We live on the road full time, enjoying all the adventures that come our way.