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.

Lesson Learned: Not All Septic Safe Toilet Paper Is RV Compatible

Last year I went through some minor drama with regards to our camper’s black tank, which is the tank that the toilet empties into.  Don’t worry, there’s nothing too queasy here!

Essentially, we use our toilet mostly for number one only.  Since we camp at campgrounds, most other business is done at the campground bathrooms.  Unfortunately, it’s not 100%, but even so there’s toilet paper used anyway.

The Problem

Last summer, we were on a week long trip around the 4th of July, and we ran into trouble. After every time using the toilet, well, the only way to put it, is that the camper stank.  Definitely a sewer stink.  (I promised it wouldn’t be too queasy, and that’s the most detail there is *lol*)

I couldn’t figure out what was going on, but after some investigation I found out the problem.  The tank was full.

We were only halfway into the trip, so I knew that something was not right at all.

Luckily for us, our trip was divided into two parts and we were leaving the campground the next day.  I was able to stop at the ’empty out’ station, but even as I went through, I could tell that the amount that had emptied was not a full tanks worth.  Even so, the amount that cleared was sufficent to get us through the week.

mb-2014-05outhouse
So to speak….

After I got home, I did a more thorough cleanout of the tank. There’s a tool specifically for this and I already happened to own one.  Prior to this, I used it just once a year at the end of the season for a final cleanout, but used it now.  It’s a wand that goes on the end of a hose, and since the tank is located directly beneath the toilet, you just lower it into the tank area, turn it on, and it shoots out jets of water all over the place.  It definitely did the trick as the next ’empty out’ cleared it out.

I began to suspect that the toilet paper we were using was possibly the culprit.  From our last couple of trips, I monitored how things went.  It definitely seemed like the tank didn’t fully empty when we left, and after using the wand, it did.

This spring, I decided to do an RV toilet paper test.  Essentially, what you want is for the toilet paper that you put into the tank to break down by the time it’s emptied.  Toilet paper that is ‘Septic Safe’ is supposed to do this.  We were using ‘Septic Safe’ toilet paper, made by Thetford.  It’s sold all over the place, and I figured it had to work because, well, it’s sold all over the place and it’s labeled that it’s RV safe.

The RV Toilet Paper Test

I read a lot of forums about our camper type, and there’s quite a bit of information available as this is a fairly common problem.  What you want to do is test the toilet paper to make sure that it does in fact break down.  The test is pretty simple:

  • Fill a jar or glass halfway with water
  • Insert a couple squares of toilet paper
  • Cover the top and give it a couple of vigorous shakes.  This simulates the ‘drop’ from the toilet down into the tank.
  • Give it an hour or two of soaking, since this is what it does in the tank anyways.
  • Give it another couple of shakes.  This simulates the sloshing around that takes place when other toilet paper and water drops in, or when you’re driving around to empty out.

After all this, the desired result is that the toilet paper breaks down.  It should break down into small shreds.

I decided to give our paper a try and a few others a try as well.

Here were the results.

  • Thetford RV Safe Paper – This was no good.  The paper was ripped in a couple of spots but did not break down at all as expected.  I can definitely see why we had a problem as this would not generally drain well during the empty out process, and would then accumulate over time.  FAIL.
  • Scotts Single Ply Paper – I noticed that the rolls at work were labeled Septic Safe, so I decided to steal a couple squares.  The results were not much better.  FAIL.
  • Kirkland Brand Two-Ply – Generally, you’re not supposed to put two-ply down, but Costco stuff is often pretty magical, so I figured I’d give it a try.  No good.   FAIL.
  • Walgreen’s The Big Roll – I was driving by a Walgreens and for some reason I stopped in and they have ‘The Big Roll’ sold either individually for 79 cents or in a 4 pack for $2.99 (a whopping 3 cents saving for buying in bulk).  I figured for 79 cents, it was worth a try, and it came out as the clear winner.  As soon as I gave it the initial shake, I could see it start breaking down, and by the time an hour had passed, it was fully shredded.  This is the clear winner.  And, since we generally don’t use it for the most stressful of toilet paper situations, it’s just fine. PASS!!!

I immediately went out and switched out our roll with the remaining roll that had 998 squares left.  I expect better emptying results and will be monitoring throughout the summer to see if this improves our situation.

Why Did The Other Stuff Fail?

I’m really surprised that the other stuff didn’t work.  Many other people who reviewed the Thetford brand said it worked fine, but then I started to see a theme.  Many people who have campers go to more full service campgrounds.  These include areas where you can hook up to water and sewer right at your campsite.  This means that you can empty your tank as often as you please, which means that you can fill it as often as you please.  In our case, since we go for a week and we don’t have a means to empty the tank, we can’t be as liberal with how much water we put per flush.  You’re supposed to make sure to put a good amount down, and I’d say we probably put down a couple of cups per flush, which is fine for ‘dry’ camping, but if I had a full hookup, you could double or triple that, and then empty the tank.  Having full service hookup seemed to be a more common report amongst those who found success.

Also, when camping, you’re supposed to put in chemicals that will help break things down.  I do put these in the tank with the proper allocation, but I didn’t use them for testing.  Still, I’m hard pressed to believe that the chemicals can make that substantial of a difference, and I’d rather know that the toilet paper I use will break down regardless of their presence.

So, the clear winner for our RV, at least for the time being, is Walgreen’s The Big Roll.

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Now That Was A Great Camping Trip

We go camping a few times each summer, and take two week long trips per summer.  This has been the third season of our camping adventures since we purchased our travel trailer.

One of our trips each summer has been to Ludington State Park on Lake Michigan on the west side of our great state of Michigan.  The park is one of the most popular parks in the state, as it is big, has two great beaches, is in a great tourist area, and has some great sites.  You can book six months in advance, and making reservations is like getting tickets to a Taylor Swift concert, if you’re a few minutes past when the sites become available, you’re not getting one.

Until this year, the park has been somewhat of a bittersweet travel.  In 2012, it was our first big camping trip.  I was still very raw in dealing with the camper, so when a big thunderstorm blew in off the lake and damaged my awning, I was almost ready to sell the camper and find something else to do (it was made worse by the fact that for the two days that the awning was unusable, it was over 100 degrees and we had no shade).  Last year, the weather was cold for a good portion of the trip, and we were on what had to be the two sandiest sites in the park (last year, my in-laws joined us as they also purchased a camping trailer).

Even with all that, we’ve had fun, but this year when we booked we wondered what would come our way this year.  Turns out, it was nothing but awesomeness!

We arrived on Saturday, 8/22 and left on Sunday, 8/31.  Initially, the weather forecast had us thinking we might get a day or two at the beach as well as hopefully a trip down the river (more on that).  As it turns out, we did much better!

Saturday – It was hot and humid when we were setting up.  We were in a part of the park that had no trees, so it was definitely not fun setting up, but I prefer hot over cold so I just drank water and took breaks while getting things setup.  The biggest obstacle, and it was more of a laugh than anything else, is that the path that leads to the bathrooms was no longer where it was listed on the map…it’d been right between our site and my in-laws site.  Still, we got to say hi to lots of people throughout the trip, so it worked out just fine.  As soon as we were finished, the sun went over the trees and it cooled off, making things perfect for a great evening.

Sunday – It was forecast to be warm and sunny, and it did not disappoint.  We took the kids down to Lake Michigan and were there all day.  The kids had a blast in the water and sand, and you couldn’t ask for a better day at Lake Michigan.

Monday – Early last summer, we all bought tubes to go down the river that sort of connects the two lakes (there’s an inland lake with the river that runs for a mile or so into Lake Michigan).  Last year was too cold for us to all go, but this year was just fine, and the kids had a blast riding along with us.

Tuesday – The morning started off nice and sunny, so we figured we’d hit the beach on Lake Michigan again.  By the time we got down there, it got a little chilly.  While we all had fun, the time was cut short when it started getting breezy.

Wednesday – It was a little cooler (low 70’s) but bright and sunny, so we went over to the inland lake, which has a great beach with very little walking to get there.  On cooler days, this beach is better since there’s not as much breeze, little waves, and the water is a bit warmer.  The kids played until they dropped.

Thursday – It was a repeat of Wednesday so we tried it again and it worked.  We’d now doubled our number of expected beach days!

Friday – The day was cool and cloudy, so we drove into a nearby town.  We all found some fun t-shirts and had a great meal at a restaurant I’d previously been down on, but that we decided to give a second chance to.  Well worth the try as they redeemed themselves….for now!

Saturday – It was my 40th birthday and it was a great day.  My parents drove up to surprise me, which was truly awesome and completely made my day.  The weather was not cooperative, as the big winds blowing off the lake that day meant that while we tried the beach, it did not last for more than 10 minutes before we reversed course.  My parents had booked a room at a nearby hotel, and offered that we could take the kids to use the pool.  They loved the idea and I spent about two hours in the water with them, and they had a great time.  Later we had Mexican food for dinner, and my favorite cake for dessert.  It could not have been a better birthday.

Sunday – It was time to leave.  Packing up saw no problems and we got home in just over five hours, which is a good drive time for the 260 miles or so.  The kids both crashed within five minutes of being put down at bedtime…and so did we!

In between all that, we got in some campfires, some great bike rides, walks, a sunset or two, and just about everything else you could wish for.  If anybody ever questioned why I liked camping, I would point to this trip as it contained just about every reason of what makes a camping trip special.

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.