Better weather again this Monday morning; still not warm enough but very pleasant anyway. The same could not be said for the forecast, though, with thunderstorms predicted for Tuesday morning. With the threat of horrid weather we did a hasty re-jig of our plans and decided to set off for home on Monday evening rather than the expected Tuesday morning. Certainly we'd paid for the extra night, but the prospect of trying to pack up a tent on a wet and muddy site was just too much so we elected to use the sunshine to our advantage. Because we had that extra night, we were in no rush to leave by the usual 2pm check out deadline, opting to stay all afternoon and have supper before heading home. That gave us the opportunity to slow down a bit and watch all the other campers packing up, which is always good sport.
I did take the tadpoles into Goderich for the celebrated McDonald's Breakfast in the morning. It's not my idea of a good start to the day but they like it. The tyre had held up overnight but I called in at the gas station and put a heap more air into it, just to be on the safe side. Yes, I was going to drive home, hitched up, with a dodgy tyre but I reasoned that on the fairly slow roads between Goderich and home we'd be fine. I know it's not the safest thing to do but then we did drive from Florida's Gulf Coast to Knoxville in Tennessee by way of Birmingham, Alabama, with a big bolt in the tyre, albeit that I wasn't aware that it was there at the time.
Being clever sorts, we took the tent down and started a gradual process of getting the bottom of it dried off by folding it up in parts and allowing the sun to work on the groundsheet. We had a bag if firewood to burn, too, so spent the afternoon in the watery sunshine, sat around the fire tending our steadily baking potatoes in the embers and letting the wood smoke get in our eyes. It's really nice to have a fire, it's sort of what camping's about, but boy does that smell ever hang around? I knew that laundry was going to be top priority on our return home.
So supper was served and eaten and we packed at a leisurely pace before hitching up and setting off for the dump station. We weren't sure just how full the waste tanks were, or indeed how full the freshwater tank was, because the maestro here buggered up the tank sensor panel and now it needs re-calibrating. A big "D'oh!" for Homer Toad there.
We eventually hit the road at about 7pm and headed south for home. As ever, the run was good although having consumed a bottle of water as I was driving I ended stopping in Bothwell to, er, empty some of it out. Fortunately we were towing our toilet behind us so we were able to "refresh" in comfort.
Back home in the dark, we backed onto the driveway, unhitched and set about getting some of the more immediate laundry into the machine. The whole trailer smelled of wood smoke inside so I reckon that was the sign that the trip had been pretty good. The Toadmobile's tyre was still good and not registering on the dash lights so the puncture must have been very slow indeed; I probably drove up to Goderich with the nail in the tyre, too. Hmmmmm.
Anyway, that's it for another trip. We have nothing planned for future runs yet so I can see I'm going to have to scrabble around for ideas for new blog posts. If you've enjoyed the record of this latest trip, why not let me know? This Interweb thingy is two-way ya know!
As an addendum to this post, I thought I'd mention that in looking for details of the Polsteam ship at Goderich, I discovered a website that tracks marine movements all over the world. Not only did it have the current location of that ship shown on Google Earth but the vessel's full details and its known routes and ports of call. You can imagine I spent a little time on that nerdy little website! www.marinetraffic.com
The temperatures on Sunday morning were definitely better than on Saturday morning. The icy blast through the shower door was somewhat more tolerable and the sun had a definite warming quality as I strode purposefully across the campground. I do that, stride purposely, although I'm not sure that I really had any purpose in mind.
We'd promised ourselves a cooked brekkie, not on the open fire but on the little portable gas hob. We set the big tadpole to work and in no time he had bacon, sausage and egg whipped up, even with some al fresco toast. The toast was still done in an electric toaster but we had it outside and plugged into Towed Haul's handy dandy exterior power ports.
Funnily enough, I didn't partake of of the breakfast, settling for nutty toast and jam. The vegan Mrs Toad had Marmite on her nutty toast so we were all well catered for. We live the glamper's life, we do.
I decided to take the hound out for her constitutional and swing by Toronto Andy's Airstream behemoth 34 footer in the lower campground. He and his missus had visitors but we chatted for a while and I admired the trailer, especially as he tows it with a Honda Odyssey minivan. It was great to meet him as he's one of the founder members of the "You Can't Tow That With That" club.
From there I walked the hound down onto the beach for a while and then back up to the camp site in time for a quick lunch and preparations for going to Port Elgin, about an hour north of Point Farms. We planned a brief stop at the Park Office to avail ourselves of the free WiFi up there but as we drove I noticed that the tyre warning light on the Toadmobile's dash was lit and, on closer inspection whilst at the office, sure enough I found a nail in the rear driver's side tyre. It being Sunday on a long weekend, there was no way I was going to get it repaired straight away so we decided a run into Goderich would be better, where I could get some air into the tyre to see if it would hold for a day or so.
We made our way down to Goderich harbour to find a big bulk carrier coming in from Lake Huron, ready to take on a load of grain (or so we assumed as the ship was high in the water and docking at the grain silos). The Miedwie was a Nassau registered ship owned by the Polish Polsteam company. It was great to see this ocean-going vessel being nudged around by the little tugs in the Maitland River and quite interesting to think that it could and would sail down through the Great Lakes and the St Lawrence Seaway and out onto the Atlantic, all from this little town in southern Ontario. Actually, salt is the big export from Goderich but grain was the cargo this day.
We walked out along the newly re-furbished harbour wall, met some Duck Dynasty types on the quay side who were both quaintly without much in the way of teeth, and then had an ice cream by the beach in the ever increasing warmth of the afternoon. There's a bit of work going on down on the lake's shore, not least the re-location of the old station. It's long been disused but is a handsome red-brick affair that was looking a little lost about 300 yards from the boardwalk. But guess what? The good people of Goderich have had the station moved! It's been picked up whole, moved about 250 yards closer to the beach and turned about 90 degrees from an east-west orientation to north-south. The building looked to have survived its trip quite well and now we shall see what they eventually do with it. Here's some video from CTV.
Back at camp, having put some air in the tyre, we had a mooch around and bumped into Jim from Burlington again. His 30' International Airstream was very new and looked lovely nestling in the trees. He's a nice fella that Jim and we're so glad that we had a chance to chat. He's an avid reader of this blog so I hope you like the mentions, Jim.
Supper was prepared on the open fire again and we settled into a nice DVD/snoozy evening again, which was really very nice, even as night became cold again.
Victoria's Monday would see most campers packing up to go home but not us, as we had an extra day booked. Tune in to the next edition of the blog to see what we got up to out there in the wilderness. OK, maybe not wilderness, but there were lots of trees!
Cold night? According to the Tadpoles, yes, but as we had the heating on in the Airstream we were nice and toasty. It's character forming, sleeping in a tent when the temperature is just a degree or two from freezing!
The big tadpole hadn't slept well but, upon some interrogation it seemed that he hadn't quite grasped the concept of the sleeping bag and slept on the bare, cold mattress with the two sleeping bags open and lying on top of him. We explained that a bag was just that and how much warmer he'd be inside it rather than under it. Tsk, kids.
Anyway, it was a bright morning (if a little chilly) and we went about our camp routine. I made my way to the shower block and enjoyed the copious hot water on offer. As usual the cubicles were clean and a credit to the Park and its staff. The one issue I had was that the door, that opens straight to the outside, has a big grille in the bottom and, with a fresh breeze off the lake, the cold air was being chanelled into the shower and making me perform my ablutions quite quickly. Still, hot showers are a real luxury, regardless of the free air conditioning.
The inside of Towed Haul was getting muddier, what with the dog and the tadpoles in and out all the time. It was feeling quite chaotic at one point and I contented myself with the thought that the first trip of the year is always a bit fraught.
The campground was pretty full and quite noisy for a Saturday morning. These places take on the look of a leafy refugee camp when they're busy, except that the pervading smell is that of cooking bacon. I hasten to add that the similarity is fleeting and in no way would I wish to make light of real refugee camps, which must be dreadful places for those having to live there.
Once up, we set off into the little town of Goderich to visit the Farmer's Market on the town square. It's a lovely little market, full of local produce and smiling (if cold looking) stall-holders. Mrs T bought some frozen vegan Mulligatawny soup and we all enjoyed some really good pretzels, courtesy of Red Cat Farm and their little truck. The owners are of German origin and were chattering away in German to their customers, this part of Ontario being quite a little German speaking enclave. We witnessed it a couple of years back with all the Bayern Munich fans in Boston Pizza watching the EUFA Champions League. That, my North American friends is real football, the stuff played with a foot and a ball, not the other stuff that should really be called Handegg.
But I digress. After the market we went to the local superstore to stock up on groceries before heading back to the campground for lunch and a session on the excellent beach with the lunatic hound. The weather was definitely improving now; still cold but much nicer with the sun high in a clear blue sky.
We were just about to set the camp fire for the evening meal when a rather handsome Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV (4x4 for my UK readers) pulled up and a man said "You can't tow that with that!". It was the code-phrase and I knew I was talking to a fellow AirForums member; not Andy from Toronto but Jim from Burlington. He was visiting with his 30' International Signature Airstream, saw the Toadmobile alongside Towed Haul and knew that it was Mr UK Toad and family. A most pleasant surprise and it was lovely to meet him and his wife.
We did get the fire going, or rather the big tadpole did and he made a fine job of it. We tossed a couple of foil- wrapped potatoes into the fire pit, sat back and enjoyed the wood smoke in our now watery eyes. The big tadpole turned out a hat full of burgers roasted on the open fire and we feasted initially on them, followed a little while later by the exquisitely cooked potatoes (Two and half hours on a wicked and uncontrolled heat) and baked beans.
Eventually we cleaned up and sat down to a Harry Potter DVD, whilst I dozed and everybody else had a good laugh at me.
Bedtime revealed some slightly improved temperatures and a tadpole now better understanding his sleeping equipment. I had pictured them staying up half the night on their phones or little DVD players but no, they both went off to sleep quite quickly, as did we in the toasty Airstream. Sunday was looking even better for weather so we were looking forward to a nice day.
Don't forget to read tomorrow's "Victoria's Sunday" for another exciting episode in the tale of the Toads.
It's the Victoria Day weekend (celebrating Queen Victoria's birthday apparently), our first run out of the season and I'm feeling, well, unprepared.
Towed Haul has been on the driveway for a couple of weeks and yet I've only just cleaned her inside and out, forgetting even then to wash the floor mats ready for the summer. The weekend was going to throw up lots of examples of our lack of preparedness, but I'll come to those later.
We were heading north to Point Farms Provincial Park, which has now become our annual Victoria Day destination, and I was thinking that after two years of fabulous weather, this year couldn't be so good. Oh, how right I was. In the week we'd had some awful rain; lots of it in a short time, and now the temperatures were dropping. But this is May so how far could they drop? Read on, my friends, read on.
For reasons various, we are going to have the tadpoles with us on most of our trips this year so, as we don't really like them cluttering up our beloved Towed Haul, we packed the big "Cabin Tent" so that they could sleep and generally hang-out in a place other than the Airstream - this will be our normal practice from here on in. Kids love camping out, don't they? (He says, optimistically). I'd made them erect the tent on the front yard last week, in true Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme style, so that they knew how it went together and to make sure that all the component parts were there. We knew that the weather might not be the best so we packed them two sleeping bags each, sorted some power cables for phones and DVD players and brought along a little electric heater, selected for safety because you can't be too careful in a tent (remembers open-flamed Gaz propane cookers in tiny two-man tents on camping expeditions and blanches at the thought).
Hitched up, we were heavily loaded, partly because of the tent and partially as this was going to be a four night stint rather than the usual two. Despite the load, the Toadmobile looked level enough and we set off along the Thames River to Bothwell, then struck north to Lambton Shores at Lake Huron's southern end. I love the run up to Point Farms; the land becomes a little less like a billiard table as you move away from the Thames and the whole route is always remarkably traffic-free. The gas mileage was settling at about 18 litres/100 Kms (13 miles per US gallon, 15.7 miles per Imperial gallon), which was OK given the slight north wind we were driving into and our heavily laden status.
Once at Lambton Shores, we joined the Bluewater Highway and drove for an hour up the eastern flank of the lake, keeping to 80 Km/hour (50 miles/hour) and enjoying the scenery. Towed Haul tracked straight and true behind us, it's hitch creaking a little on some of the tight turns, just reminding us of the load.
I always seem to under-estimate the time that trip takes and it was 6.30 by the time we turned into the park, half an hour later than I'd anticipated. You'd think that the number of times that we've made that trip I'd be a bit better on my timings but no, and this was perhaps one of those reminders about our preparedness, or lack of it. Gulp.
At the gate we met up with an AirForums member and fellow small tow vehicle enthusiast, Andy from Toronto. I knew he was going to be there with his family, his 34' triple axle Airstream and his Honda Odyssey minivan; it was really nice to see him so early on, and to meet a Forum member in the flesh for once.
Checking in, I was listening to some of the conversation going on around me and started to fret a little as it was clear that a number of camp sites had been flooded in the week and were unusable for the weekend. The Park Ranger said that our site was likely to be OK, so off we went to set up, via the dump station and water fill area of course. Filling the tank is essential before setting up and we dutifully joined the back of the line. People were taking a while to fill up and when it was our turn, a couple of the Park's staff turned up in response to an earlier complaint about the speed of the water flow from the tap. It wasn't fast but then it didn't seem any different than normal to me so they trudged off again. I don't understand why people complain about such things when they're camping, it's supposed to be a slow and relaxing process, not a place for getting riled because the tap's not pushing out water fast enough.
Anyway, over to the site and we had to approach it from "the wrong direction" as there was a Park's vehicle blocking the road. Not that it made that much difference to the backing in procedure, us being terribly efficient Toads when it comes to parking the trailer. The real problem, though, was the bulk of the site didn't look wet but it was covered in a layer of sticky mud. Towed Haul's wheels went into it, as did our feet, and in no time our shoes were caked with it. We sent the kids off with the dog so that we could get set up quickly and the Airstream was operational quite soon, but the mud was everywhere. When it came time to set the tent up, that was a real struggle trying to keep messy shoes off it and in it. Still, up the tent went, in went the power and the inflatable beds (hardly Duke of Edinburgh equipment) were inflated. An old airline blanket went into the tent's vestibule (fortunate to have one, I think) and a towel at the door of the Airstream, but still the mud was getting traipsed in to both sets of accommodation. Oh, and did I mention the cold?
As we were travelling up, the temperature went from 10C to 7C and it was now 6C as we set up camp. I seriously doubted that the tadpoles would manage even a single night in the big tent as it's never pleasant having to try to stay warm - the bigger the tent the colder it is and this tent is pretty big. It was down to 3C when we turned in. May? I don't think so.
Throughout the evening we were discovering things forgotten; nothing major you understand, just stuff that would have been nice to have remembered. I think I was right to feel under-prepared. We'll get better as the season progresses, I'm sure.
So, we settled in for the (cold) night. The dog, as is her wont, joined us on the bed and proceeded to do her best to keep us awake. Just another night's camping then!
Tomorrow is another day, of course, and things looked like they would get a little better as the weather was due to improve. Read on to see just what actually happened in part two, Victoria's Saturday.
Just loading up Towed Haul the other day and I noticed that the propane detector was flashing orange at me, rather than the regular green. Ooh... er... I thought.
As is usual in these cases, I ferreted out the manuals and had a look at what said orange light might mean and, in surprisingly plain language, the printed word informed me that I had low voltage. OK, I thought (I do a lot of thinking), we're plugged into the 120V 30amp supply, so that shouldn't be the issue but the little circuit diagram in the manual showed the detector to be wired directly to the battery. Aaah I thought. In a moment of rare lucidity, I hit the battery re-connect button in the trailer to see if the battery was sufficiently charged to power the lights and well, it did, but only just.
Using my great knowledge of these things (ha!) I surmised that if I was plugged into the shore power then the batteries would be charging, and yet here were quickly flattening batteries crying out for help. Two possible causes of the problem came to mind, the first being that the batteries were fried and the second that the power converter that constantly charges the batteries when on shore power somehow wasn't working.
The batteries being only three years old shouldn't really have failed at this stage but, as is our habit, we do tend to leave the thing plugged in to shore power when it's on the drive, constantly charging the batteries, and I know from my chums on AirForums that the basic and unsophisticated power converter fitted by Airstream can cook those batteries when left on charge all the time. Rummaging for more manuals, I read through the converter's bumph and also downloaded a nice fault-finding flowchart from the manufacturer's web site. I dusted off my old Multimeter and set to measuring the voltage coming out of the converter. I was thinking at that point that a new converter might be in order and, as we could probably get it replaced under warranty, I thought that might be the most cost-effective option at this point, despite the inconvenience of dragging Towed Haul to the dealer's shop. That thought was short-lived, though, as the voltage was actually both present and OK. Must be the batteries I thought (see, there I go again with the thinking).
I went to our local battery specialist, Battery Boy, and they quoted $200 for a pair of new deep cycle batteries and would give me $10 a piece for the old ones. I wasn't happy to have to be forking out yet more money but hey, as the electric jack on the Airstream needs a good battery, it'd probably be be worth it.
So, there was I extracting the old units and dropping in two new ones, feeling a tad worried just in case I'd diagnosed wrongly but no, once connected, all systems really were go. Phew!
Battery Boy himself gave me a free hydrometer (C'mon science geeks, it's for measuring the specific gravity of the battery acid) and assured me that it was the only way to get a true reading of a battery's state of charge. Funnily enough I'd read just that snippet of information on a blog about RV battery care, so I snapped the fellow's hand off. Battery Boy also said that the secret of keeping a deep cycle battery good was to keep it charged up. Sounds like a plan (I thought), although that might not be so easy in the storage months. I think I'd better not leave the thing plugged in all the time in future but, even if I did, new batteries are not the most expensive things I will ever buy and at least I know I have reliable power for the foreseeable future.
The good news, of course, is that the propane detector is now winking green again. Result!
Mr Toad - Airstreamer
The Old Blog