10 Thoughts On Our First Week Long Camping Trip of 2017

We generally do a week long camping trip twice per summer.  One is always over the 4th of July week.  We wrapped up our trip and it was a success.  I thought I’d share some of our (mostly) ups and downs, as well as a few laugh out loud moments.

The Popularity of Outdoor Activities Is Increasing

Driving on the freeway to get back and forth to the campground showed just how popular outdoor activities have become.  Michigan is always home to great summer activities and always has been.  However, even versus a few years ago, you can see a tremendous uptick.  The number of campers and boats shows that more and more have climbed out of the hole of the Great Recession.

Fireworks Don’t Work At 11:30

We’ve stayed at this campground before, but this was our first time staying for the 4th.  We were pretty excited when we found out that there was a fireworks display scheduled.  Everybody headed down to the lake shortly before dusk, which was around 10pm.  We waited, and waited and waited some more.  We’re quite a bit north and it was clear sky, so it didn’t get pitch black until past 10:30pm.  We figured they’d start then.  Nope.

It was a full hour after that before they started.  By that time, our kids had enough and were already in bed.  Our son was half asleep and enjoyed listening to them, anyway.  But, really, who in their right mind starts a fireworks display at 11:30pm?

A Bigger Gas Tank And Engine Saved A Stop

Most of our longer trips seem to be around 250 miles away from home.  With the old Buick towing, we would always have to stop for gas.  It was around a 20 gallon tank, and generally got around 10 MPG when towing.  I got a truck with a 26 gallon tank, and we averaged 12 miles per gallon, so we ended up saving a stop.  When towing, finding a gas station that’s RV friendly always adds another layer of complexity, so I was happy to avoid that part!

The Unlucky Made The Best Of It

Remember above how I said camping is more popular than ever?  This is especially true on the 4th, when just about every site in the state is booked.  We were able to snag two adjacent sites for our entire time, and they had a lake view to boot!  Others weren’t so lucky, but made the best of it.  Many people were able to get a stay at the park, but had to move sites at least once.  I saw one camper in at least three different spots.  Yikes!

Saving $80 Was Cool

We got a note a few weeks before our trip that the campground had been having sewer troubles.  They had a line break on three separate occasions.  During these, people that were camping couldn’t use the bathrooms or showers.  They had to use port-a-potties or pit toilets.  They allowed people to either cancel their reservation or offered a $10 reduction in fees to take the chance on staying.  Since we knew everything anywhere else was booked, we took the chance.  Thankfully, the bathrooms worked perfectly, so we saved $80 by taking a chance!

It Finally Got Easier With The Kids

When we started camping with our trailer, the kids were 3 and 1.  That was tough. Someone was always napping or eating or melting down and both needed pretty constant supervision.  The kids have grown, but even last year, neither was riding a bike without training wheels.  We always knew it’d get easier where they could be more independent, and this year it hit us that we were finally there.  Nobody needed a nap, they were flexibile with the meal times, and were able to do a lot on their own.

4th of July Trips Are Bad For My Awning

During the first year we had our trailer, the awning broke during a freak thunderstorm.  It almost happened again.  This time there was no thunder or rain, just wind.  We were sitting at the beach when it got really cloudy and dark and the wind started picking up.  In the five minute walk back, it was so bad that when we turned around, all we saw was a cloud of sand.  We ran back to the site and my in-laws and wife (who had walked back a few minutes earlier) were holding down the awning as it was bouncing around furiously.  Through the wind, we were able to get it rolled up, but it really seems that thing is cursed on these 4th of July trips!

Staying Healthy Worked….Sort Of

I wrote a couple of months ago that I knew these trips would put my fitness success at risk.  Between exercising less, eating more extravagent meals, and indulding in more alcohol, these trips had potential of derailing a lot of the success I’ve worked for.

Well, while I didn’t do great, I don’t think I did half bad.  I definitely found I was more strict at the beginning and

Image from morguefile courtesy of kzinn

less so at the end.  Still, I did pretty good on portion control and cutting back on my liquor intake throughout.  Snacking was the only area that I lost a little willpower on, but it was still better.  Plus, I ran three times during the trip.  Overall, this wasn’t perfect but it could have been a lot worse!

We Need New Meals

We’ve developed some pretty cool meals.  We have a good mix of campfire, grill, and comfort food meals.  But, many agreed that we’re starting to get a bit repetitious.  We never had a bad meal that I can remember, but very little of the dinners were exciting.  It’s time to shake things up, I think!

Tomato Plants Can Double In Size In A Week

We bought two little tomato seedlings at the farmers market back in May.  They grew quite a bit in the weeks before our trip.  Still, we were shocked when the doubled again in size in just the week or so that we were gone.  And it didn’t even rain!  The watering all came from our neighbors who helped us out.  Now, we have lots and lots of tomatoes on the way!

Readers, have you done anything fun so far this summer? What fun have you had or do you have planned?  Let me know in the comments below.  Thanks for reading.

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Camping 2016 Season By The Numbers

This past weekend, we took our final camping trip of the year, and capped it off by getting the RV trailer shut down and stored for the winter.  We had a great season and I thought it’d be fun to recap by sharing some numbers:

137
# of Days in the Active Season – Our first night of camping was May 26th and our final day of using it was October 9th.

9mb-2015-06-fire
# of Camping Trips Taken

34
# of Nights Camping

6
# of Michigan State Parks we camped at

2
# of parks that were ‘new’ to us this season

2
# of Tow Vehicles we used to tow our trailer

1,888
# of Miles Towed to get to and from our trip

478
# of round trip miles to the campground furthest away

1
# of times we camped there

60
# of round trip miles to the campground closest

4
# of times we camped there

3
# of total sleeping configurations (seven trips had our family of four, one trip had my wife & I as well as my sister-in-law and her boyfriend, and one trip was a boys weekend with just my son and I)

3
# of times our outside rug got flooded during thunderstorms

21
# of days we got to spend at a beach while camping

5
# of birthdays we got to celebrate while camping

1
# of 30-amp extension cords that partially melted from overheating

2
# of bottle of anti-freeze I thought I had when getting ready to winterize for the season

0
# of bottles of anti-freeze I actually had

Infinite
# of memories created this season

198
# of days until the first day of camping in 2017

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

A Week Long Camping Trip At A New State Park

=Since we started camping in 2012, we’ve camped exclusively at Michigan state park campgrounds.  For the most part, we’ve found a good rotation of campgrounds that meet our needs.  These include electrical hookup, within 4-5 hours of home, and a nice beach, especially for our week long trips.  We typically do two week long trips per summer.  For the past few years, we’ve stayed at the same two campgrounds for those trips.  This year we thought it might be time for a camping trip to mix it up a bit.

Our Old Favorites

One of our campgrounds was Ludington State Park, on the shores of Lake Michigan.  It’s one of the most popular campgrounds, as it has access to Lake Michigan as well as an inland beach, lots of biking and hiking trails, and a pretty nice town nearby if you don’t mind the 15 minute trip each way.  I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with it as it’s pretty far away, it’s where our awning blew apart in a windstorm on one of our first trips, and we’ve always had bad luck getting sites, even though we’re online trying to book at 8:00:01 in the morning six months in advance of our reservation.

Still, everybody loved it until last year when we went and happened to stay during the one week of the year where the high temp rarely crossed 65.  Of course the campground had nothing to do with the weather, but we agreed that it might be a good opportunity for a reset.

So this year, we decided to stay at a new (to us) campground, Burt Lake State Park.  It’s about a four hour straight shot north of us, and it was definitely a great experience, though there were as always highs and lows.  Here are a few thoughts:

First Impressions Aren’t Everything

We actually stayed at a different campground about 45 minutes away earlier in the year, so we decided to go check it out.  We even went to our sites.  At the time, they didn’t look so big and we thought that we’d be squeezed in, but actually they turned out to be very nice sites and we had plenty of room.

Rules are sometimes suggestions

One thing we’ve learned is that while the rules are pretty much the same across all state campgrounds (how many cars you can have on your site, quiet hours, etc.) , at some parks they seem to be suggestions.  We saw sites that had more than the normal two cars allowed per site.  We saw quite a number of sites with RVs that were larger than the stated limit.  There were cars parked where they probably shouldn’t have been parked.  Most were little infractions, but when we started noticing how many there were, it became alarming.

There goes the neighborhood (Part I)

When we first arrived, the neighbors right next to us were this older couple, probably in their 80’s, in a small pop-up that they actually towed with their car.  They were so cute as they sat in a screen tent passing time by reading or playing cards.  When they left on the third day of our trip, we said goodbye.  Later in the day, this massive 45-foot motor home drives by and my mother-in-law joked that it was probably our new neighbor.  Except it was no joke.  They squeezed onto a site that we later looked up that was supposed to hold no more than a 30-foot long motor home or RV.  Our fire pit was on the corner of our site, so we had this wall right next to us.

To make matters worse, when I was sitting with my back to their motor home, I suddenly noticed a rather offensive odor.  Turns out they had no sewer cap and hadn’t done a very good job rinsing out the drain line.  Disgusting.

There goes the neighborhood (Part II)

They finally left on our last full day, so we waited to see who would arrive.  We joked that it couldn’t possibly get any worse.  Well, turns out that it’s time stop making jokes.  This time a 40-foot trailer showed up.  Behind the trailer was a small trailer holding two jet-skis.  Behind that was a pickup truck towing a 25-foot boat.  Somehow, they squeezed all this in.  When a ranger happened to drive by and we pointed it out, they basically told us that they couldn’t do anything about it.  Weird, because at other parks rules are…..enforced.

My big mouth and bad eyes

One day after the kids went to bed, my wife and I went for a stroll.  We always enjoy looking at other sites and seeing how people setup camp to enjoy their time.  We walked by one site that had a nice big food tent, with five bulb lights hanging that were incredibly bright.  I started cracking jokes about how they could see the site from space, and even went on about how they were getting ready to host a ‘Hootenanny’ later that night.  My wife was cracking up so much that she couldn’t tell me that a lady was sitting at the corner of their nearby camper, and she didn’t look very amused.  Oops.  Well they do say it’s harder to see around dusk!

The importance of a checklist

Around the middle of the week, a family across the way was packing up to go, and we noted how they did a great job with everybody helping.  All seemed well as they were pulling away until the unmistakable crack of something going terribly wrong could be heard.

They only went a few feet and came to a quick stop, but the damage had been done.  They had put up their TV antenna, and forgotten to put it down.  The antenna went straight into a tree branch.  It was all bent up and pulled sideways.  We have a checklist that I use every time when setting up, and a different one every time we’re tearing down.  We’ve been doing it long enough that we don’t follow it step by step, but I do make sure to verify every single item on the list before going into motion.  I’m really glad I do!

Lighters, kindling, and darkness don’t mix

On our last night, we didn’t get a fire going until after it was mb-2015-06-firedark.  My father-in-law was getting it started and was looking for the lighter, which we keep in the kindling bag.  He couldn’t find it and went and got another one.  We had switched fire pits (because of the huge load of equipment as noted above) so we figured it had probably fallen out around the other pit, and that we’d find it in the morning.

About 15 minutes after the fire stared, a sudden whoosh told us otherwise.  The lighter had mixed in with the kindling, and…became kindling.  Luckily, they don’t put very much fluid in those things.

A Great Camping Trip At A New Park

All in all, we had a great time.  The weather was about near perfect.  It only rained one day.  This, of course, happened to be the day that we had a previously booked boat rental.  Still, we still ended up having a great time.  The rest of the week was hot and sunny, so we gobbled up lots of beach time.  It’s always fun finding a new place and having a great family trip.

Readers, how have your summer trips gone this year?  

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

9 Random Things On My Mind Or Going On – What’s New With You?

It’s a good thing that the days get longer in summer because you need every minute of light and then some.  It’s funny because I have found my ‘falling asleep before bedtime’ spot, which happens to be on one of the couches in the living room.  If you see me heading to that couch anytime in the evening, it’s a sure thing that I’m going to fall asleep.  Here are some random things on my mind that I wanted to share.  Let me know what you think and what’s going on with you.

  1. The mad rush of special events is coming to a close.

    -Starting with Mother’s Day, it’s one opportunity to celebrate after another, which doesn’t end until Father’s Day (which is often delayed from a celebration standpoint).  In between those two we have my wife’s birthday and both kid’s birthday, plus we also have a lot going on with the end of the school years, dance recitals, and everything else.  Don’t get me wrong, we love celebrating every single milestone, but when they come so fast and furious all at once, we have to remind
    ourselves to stop and take a breath so that we can really enjoy and make the most out of each special event.

  2. Orlando.

    What to say about the tragedy in Orlando that hasn’t already been said?  I think one thing that many people need to realize is that there’s not one thing to blame that we can grasp and use as a fix.  It’s not just an ISIS thing.  It’s not just a guns thing.  It isn’t just a mental health thing.  Shutting down the borders or taking away the guns or re-opening the institutions are not individual solutions.  In our complex world, there are so many variables with seemingly new ones popping up all the time.  And, what’s scary is that the ever growing polarization is not going to get us closer to figuring out how to stop these events from happening.  I’m dreading the day when we have to try to explain this to our kids.  So far we’ve been able to keep them insulated, but at 7 and 5, we’re running on borrowed time.  This thought gives me sadness on so many levels.

  3. The Costco credit card switch is almost upon us.

    I have never seen so much publicity over a credit card, but the days are nearly here.  We’re pretty much prepared.  I think there are just a couple of small automated payments that my wife needs to redirect, and I’m also thinking of creating a laminated cheat sheet that we can carry in our wallets to direct us on what card we should use to maximize our rewards.  We have a few different cash back cards, now it’s just a matter of maximizing our value!

  4. A possible culprit in my battle against eczema.

    -The other day I went to take a load of clothes out of the washer.  All would have been well except it never got ran.  When I reached in for the clothes my hands came in contact with Oxi Clean, which we use as a supplement for our clothes.  It wasn’t even five seconds in and I felt the familiar burn.  I’m thinking that maybe this is some pretty harsh stuff, and maybe even coming into contacts with clothes, sheets, and towels that have been washed in it have been aggravating my skin.  Perhaps it’s time for a ban?

  5. Amazon price matching policy

    Here’s a tip, if you want Amazon to adjust a price, don’t use their online chat capability.  Technically, Amazon does not have to match a deal if you find a better price after you make a purchase, but they often will as a courtesy.  No such luck when I found an item, on their own site, $20 cheaper less than a week after I made the purchase.  I had two online agents refuse to help and one even ‘hung up on me’ or whatever the equivalent would be for an online chat.  Not to be deterred, I initiated a phone conversation, and this went much better.  They didn’t give a refund, but we have a $20 credit on our next purchase.  That’s good enough for me!

  6. Basketball dreams

    Our son wanted a basketball hoop for his birthday.  These things are something else to put together.  I started, and am about 1.5 hours in.  I figure I have at least another 2-3 hours of work.  Then once we get it in place (it’s one of the portable models), we have to determine how to anchor it.  They want you to fill it either with sand or liquid (it’d be antifreeze in our case) but many people weigh it down by piling sand bags or something similar on top.  Filling it looks better, but piling stuff on it is easier, plus I’d think that emptying it would be a royal pain.  So, we’re not sure on the approach yet.  Any ideas?

  7. Homeowners association

    I served on our board for the last two years but declined to run again.  There’s a very cliquey group of people (think high school) that love to ‘run the show’ from a social standpoint, yet they refuse to run for the board.  It bugs me that they make many requests of the board, yet never include the board members in the social events, so I decided to take a break for at least a term.  I am still working on updating content on the website, which nobody else really knows well.  Since it’s WordPress based (like my blog) this is pretty easy.

  8. Anyone else nervous about the stock market?

    The market had a pretty nice run after the beginning of the year crash.  It seems like the market really loves the low interest rates that are seemingly now just standard policy.  But I’m a bit nervous, as I can’t imagine that will last forever.  Plus, the debt that all of the Central Banks are creating are injecting money that is being used to push the markets higher,mb-2015-06-fire but it’s still debt and what happens when that needs to be paid back?  Or does it? Who knows?  But in any case, it’s a bit scary to me.  It seems like we’re in a situation where everything is hunky dory….until one day it’s not.  I’m not going ‘bearish’ but I’m definitely keeping a watchful eye.

  9. Camping season is upon us.

    One thing that we’ve settled into is our routine for camping.  This is our fifth year with our trailer, and we now have a pretty good routine going.  We did one trip for Memorial Day, and we have another trip coming up this weekend.  After that we have two weeklong trips and a few more weekend trips.  Summer is short in Michigan so we try to pack it in!

Readers, did you  hit the ground running for summer?  How are things looking for you?

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.