Monthly Archives: October 2020

Spartan Service, Take 2

We’ve learned (the hard way) that it’s best to have our rig serviced by the folks who made it. As a result, we’ve been arranging our travels so as to pass by Spartan and Entegra at least every couple of years for maintenance.

From Kalamazoo, we made the short jaunt to the Spartan factory service facility in Charlotte. This was our second time here, the first was about 18 months ago. We were so pleased with the process, we made an appointment on the spot for this date! Their service is so popular, booking a year out or more isn’t unusual.

Spartan builds the chassis for motorhome makers such as Entegra and Newmar. As we pulled into their facility, we joined a row of high end coaches. They have quite a nice area for overnight parking, including 50 amp electrical, a dump station, covered pavilion with gas grill and picnic tables, and a grassy area for dog walking. My only minor quibble is that many of the parking spaces are quite unlevel. Since the lot wasn’t full, we were able to pick a decently level place to park.

Bright and early the next morning (7 am!), the service tech came out to pull our baby into the shop. In these COVID days, the offices and customer lounge were completely closed to us. All conversations with our service writer were done entirely over the phone. We were given the option of waiting in our coach (inside the service bay), but we opted to take off to tour nearby Lansing.

To kill time, we grabbed breakfast and drove around the city. We stumbled across a park that accessed a beautiful river trail. We saw a couple of deer! I had a noon work conference call, so we found a local mall to explore. Jeff “malled” while I took the call in the truck. We wandered back toward Charlotte, and hung out back in the bus while our service tech finished up. By around 3 pm, everything was done!

Servicing our giant chassis ain’t cheap. They did a complete inspection (everything looked good), lubed the chassis, and changed all fluids and filters for a price tag of around $1800. It’s worth it, though, to have it all done properly. We’ve had hit or miss service in the past, and typical truck service shops don’t cover the same scope of preventative maintenance. Our tech even said that he could tell by looking that a coach had been serviced elsewhere! I have no doubt.

We stayed in the lot one more night before heading on. Before we left, we had already booked our next service appointment here. It pays to come back to the service experts.

Campground Review: East Harbor State Park, Lakeside Marblehead, OH

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Campground Review Summary

Full Review

We don’t often stay at State Parks, but this is the rare exception that offers a few campsites with full hook ups AND that are big rig friendly. It’s quite a large campground with 340 electric sites, 160 non electric sites and only 51 full hook up sites. There are only a few sites that something our size can actually maneuver into, so we booked as far out as possible (6 months ahead). We carefully selected a site at the end of a row which gave us just barely enough room to pull in, although we couldn’t help but run over the grass. The main campground roads are wide enough for big rig access.

Our paved pull through site was narrow but long enough to park our vehicles. The full hook ups include 50 amp electric and are located conveniently in the middle of the site. The site also includes a fire ring and picnic table. The sewer hookup is the unthreaded type, though, so you need a donut or equivalent. There is no cable TV hookup and the over the air channels are few, so it was good that our site was satellite friendly! Our AT&T signal worked fine, and the free/open campground wifi was usable when the facility wasn’t busy.

We were in Section A, and the bath house there was clean and functional. My only quibble was the showers were a bit cramped and the flimsy shower curtains allowed water spray to wet down everything in the dressing area. But, the water was hot and plentiful and I didn’t have to keep pushing a button to keep the water on!

The State park is on Lake Erie and has a beach area, camp store, and disc golf course. During our Fall visit, the campground got quite busy on the weekend, but was fairly quiet mid-week. It provides a good location for visiting Cedar Point and Sandusky, and the Put-in-Bay ferry is close by.

Bottom Line: Great little state park with full hook ups, big rig capable if you’re careful with site selection.

Sandusky / Cedar Point

One of Sandusky’s great claims to fame is the Cedar Point Amusement Park. Widely touted at the best collection of roller coaster rides in the country, we put this place on our bucket list. Of course, all of this planning and research was done pre-COVID.

Arriving nearby, we planned our Cedar Point assault. Normally, we hit amusement parks early and hard, skipping quickly from ride to ride to get as much done as possible before the crowds trickle in around noon. THIS year, all of our normal tactics simply couldn’t work. First, the park is only open on weekends at this time of year, so going mid-week to avoid crowds isn’t possible. Second, the Fast Lane (line skipping) pass wasn’t available this year. We would have paid extra for that if we could. Thirdly, the park was only open from noon to 8 pm. No early bird getting the worm this time. We would just have to suck it up.

After reading bad reviews, we adjusted our expectations downward. Unfortunately, Cedar Point didn’t even meet our lowered expectations. We spent the entire day waiting in lines.

It wasn’t that the park was SO crowded, although it was weekend-busy. Part of the problem is that not all rides, attractions and food venues are open at all. Of the coasters that ARE open, the ride throughput is extremely slow, at maybe 30% of normal capacity, to facilitate social distancing. The ride cars are loaded half full (at most) and then shut down every 15 minutes or so for cleaning. That is all well and good to prevent contagion, but the darn lines just ….. don’t …… move ……

Here’s how our day went. We arrived a half hour early, skipped through the entrance easily and went to the far end of the park (at least a mile from the entrance!) to wait in the access pass line for the ride “Maverick”, Jeff’s #1 pick. For the top 4 rides, you had to wait in line to get an access pass, which would give you a 1 hour time window to enter the ride line — to wait again for the actual ride. After waiting for about 40 minutes, we acquired access passes for 1-2 pm. We scooted a half mile away to his #2 coaster, to pick up an access pass for THAT one, also 1-2 pm. Darn. That’s going to be tight.

Back to Maverick to wait for our 1 pm window. About 20 minutes before our time, the ride went down for a mechanical problem. No worries, I thought. Let’s run back to ride #2, use THAT pass, then hopefully get back here by 2 pm. Back to ride #2 and it’s down for a mechanical problem. OK, let’s ride another coaster while we’re waiting — the coaster across the way showed a 15 minute wait. Easy peasy. Except while in line, THAT ride went down for a mechanical problem and the 15 minute wait turned into 40+ minutes. After our 60 second ride, we checked on ride #2, still down. Half mile back to Maverick and it is working now, it is before 2 pm, so we got in line. Yay! Only to have Maverick go down with a mechanical problem again! 4.5 hours after arriving at the park, we finally rode Maverick. Ride #2 never even reopened that day. We gave up on coasters.

We had opted for a special bundle package which included entrance ticket, parking, and 3 “tastings” from their special Fall event menu. Essentially, the food part was free. So we turned our attention to getting our free tastings. Now, I’m used to Epcot Food and Wine festival which offers special tastings at food booths, separate from the normal food venues. Here, the “specials” were provided at the normal restaurants, which were already fewer than usual. So, you guessed it — long lines. Everywhere. For our 6 tastings, we went 5 different places which are flung out all over the park. Every time, we waited. And the food was hit or miss: the soups in a bread bowl was great and the special fries were decent, but the hot chocolate was watered down, the special burger was cold, and the funnel cake was overfried/crunchy. By the time we got the last food item, the park was closing.

In 8.5 hours, we rode exactly 2 coasters and got our 6 free tastings. We didn’t even have time to see any of the shows. Our entire day was spent walking and standing in line. I wouldn’t exactly call it a fail, but it was close. I’m sure in non-COVID times it’s a great time, but right now, it’s pretty much a disaster. The fall and Halloween decorations were nice, though.

Disney has spoiled me for anything less.

That was only one day of our stay here. We also took the ferry to Put-in-Bay on nearby South Bass Island. We rented a golf cart and drove it all over the cute little island. There are some neat little parks and trails, and a small but vibrant town section. On one of our nature hikes I saw my first giant puffball mushroom. They are unmistakable once you’ve seen then, and I understand they are edible. I thought about harvesting one, but that goes against my “leave no trace” principles! It was a fun day.

Next destination: Spartan factory service for our routine chassis maintenance.

Campground Review: Lake Milton / Berlin KOA, Lake Milton, OH

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Campground Review Summary

  • Name: Lake Milton / Berlin KOA
  • Dates of stay: 9/8 -15, 2021
  • Location: 15487 Creed Rd, Lake Milton, OH 44429
  • Type of campground: Private / KOA
  • Cost: $65.86 / night (with ValueKard discount)
  • Additional fees: none
  • Stay limit: none (seasonal)
  • Accepts mail / packages: did not ask
  • Cell reception: ATT good
  • Website: koa.com/campgrounds/lake-milton
  • Pros: Great kids play amenities, nice staff
  • Cons: pricey for the area

Full Review

We booked this at the very last minute due to our Lake Raystown Resort fail. On the campground booking website I selected a 30 amp back in site, because that’s all that showed as available. The next morning, the nice lady at the office called and offered up a 50 amp patio site that would be more suitable for our rig. It cost a bit more, but I was happy to accept. I was impressed at their pro-activity — such a change from the site we just abandoned! As is typical of KOA’s, we were escorted to our site and assisted with backing in.

Our site was extra wide, with plenty of room to park our vehicles beside the bus. The site included a wooden patio platform with patio set, and a fire ring. The gravel site was level, but soft. Our tires and jacks sunk in several inches. The utilities were oddly placed, with the sewer far behind us, and electric/water far to the right, behind the next-door site. Our 50 amp cord barely reached the plug and partially encroached on our neighbor site. The sewer opening was the non-threaded type. No cable TV, but our site was satellite friendly.

Garbage was picked up daily, in the mornings, which is a nice convenience. The bath house is basic, but clean and functional. The only annoyance is that it’s a “push button” type. The water temperature was nice and hot, you just had to push the doggone button every 10 seconds to keep it flowing!

It is apparent that there are a high percentage of seasonal sites here, but they are generally well kept up. It’s a kids mecca – there is an extensive playground and lake with floaties and jumpy things and all manner of kid playthings.  There is also a game room, and a larger lake to play on. The campground offers a number of rentals: carts, bicycles, paddle boats, golf carts, kayaks and canoes. It’s a perfect summer play place for families with children. We were there in September, when school was in session, so it only got relatively busy on the weekends. This campground is closed in the winter, shutting down around Oct 15.

For us, it was a good spot to set for a week. Considering we found it at the last possible moment, we counted ourselves lucky to have it.

Bottom Line: A bit pricey, but serves the purpose. Very nice people.

Akron / Cleveland Serendipity

After our campground FAIL at Lake Rayston Pennsylvania, we found ourselves, unexpectedly, near Akron Ohio. Why Akron? Mostly because it was about halfway to our next scheduled stop in Sandusky, and neither of us had been there. We found last minute campground availability at a KOA, so that decided it.

Serendipity is the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way. This area wasn’t on our radar — we had never planned to stay here — but it all worked out beautifully.

Did you know there is a National Park near Cleveland? Yeah, neither did I. It’s the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The Cuyahoga River was once one of the the most polluted in the US, it actually caught fire several times. The last time, in 1969, prompted the passage of environmental protection laws and the formation of the EPA in1970. Cleaned up now, the river is the centerpiece of the sprawling National Park. Many of the buildings in the park are COVID-closed, but we saw a pretty waterfall and hiked around mossy green sandstone ledges. There’s nothing super-spectacular here, but it offers a pleasant outing.

Akron was once known as the “rubber capital” of the US, and still hosts the global headquarters of the Goodyear company, founded by Frank Sieberling. The former home of the Sieberling family is the Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens (from the olde English for stone quarry). It was built in 1912-15 in the style of stately homes of the era, like the Biltmore. It isn’t as large as the Biltmore, but it has many of the same “modern” elements and features. It was built to be a family home and was used exclusively by the Goodyear family until the 1950’s. The heirs turned over the house, furnishings, decor and all, to the State to be a museum. As a result, it really does feel more like a home, like someone really lived there. The Biltmore is more impressive, but I would have liked to stay at the Stan Hywet. Another historical tidbit — the first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting was held in the estate’s Gate Lodge in 1935.

Cleveland hosts a number of museums, including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Expecting to be in and out there in a couple of hours, the extensive video clip displays held us transfixed for over four hours. It was an interesting counterpoint to the Country Music Hall of Fame that we toured in Nashville. It’s always fascinating to me to see how musical genres evolve from and influence each other — gospel, country, blues, jazz, and rock. When they get into grunge and rap though, they lose me. I like non-screamy music that has a melody and lyrics I understand. Call me old fashioned.

Nearby Canton is the home to the Football Hall of Fame. I’m not an uber football fan, but I’m always open to learning new stuff. Why Canton, you ask? I learned that was where the National Football League was founded. So there you go. I also found displays on the early days of football to be interesting — so much has changed with regard to uniform, protective devices, even the rules. Everything evolves, even football! The Super Bowl rings now, I think they’ve gotten out of hand. The first ones were reasonable and nicely done, I thought, but over time they have gotten progressively larger and more gaudy. 9 plus carats of diamonds on each ring? Is that really necessary? C’mon people, you can’t even wear it as a ring! It seems excessive to me, but what do I know.

All in all though, for an unplanned stop, Canton worked out quite well!

One sad thing happened during our stay here, though. Our second evening at the KOA, an ambulance showed up at the campsite next to us, the EMTs running into the 5th wheel. Then a police car. Then another fire department car, all with lights flashing. Curiously eavesdropping, I heard the dreaded letters: DOA. Seeing us watching, one of the KOA staffers dropped over and shared that, sadly, the lady next door had passed away, presumably from sudden heart failure. The couple had been staying at the campground while her husband was employed in the area. She was younger than I.

Just another reminder that we should live life to the fullest while we can, as it is sometimes cut all too short.

First Campground FAIL

After departing Lancaster County, we were slated to head to Lake Raystown resort, a lovely lakeside resort in western Pennsylvania. It offered lake activities, a show boat, a water park, and there was mountain biking in the vicinity. The only drawback was the the sites offered only water and electric (no sewer), but we could deal with that for a week, provided there were bath houses and a dump station. Jeff had booked a 50 amp, Premium Extra Large, Red Carpet site. Sounded great – what could go wrong?

The resort itself is out of the way, forcing us to traverse narrow, winding and hilly roads to get there. Fortunately, Jeff is an expert driver now and we arrived uneventfully at the guard station. We were handed our car tags and a map. Now usually the person in the office will give us explicit instructions on how to navigate to our site, where best to unhook our toad, etc. I had to ask for that information – and that was probably my first clue that, just perhaps, things may not go smoothly. We were given directions and suggested that we unhook on the road just in front of our campsite. OK, off we go.

Let me explain that this campground is Very Hilly. Campsites are terraced in rows up the hillside and the single lane, one way roads around the campsites is correspondingly hilly, We needed a flat spot to unhook. We proceeded according to directions and came to the place we were to turn — a narrow, hairpin turn that our big rig couldn’t possibly make without backing up, which you cannot do while towing. We bypassed our turn, eventually found a reasonable place to unhook, parked the bus along the side of the road, and drove the truck to our campsite to reconnoiter. Our site was plenty big enough, so fine. We went back, picked up the bus, drove back down and around again to the narrow turn, made it after pulling up and backing up, and drove on to our site, backing into the space. Success!

Uh, not so fast. Our assigned site was ridiculously unlevel. Like, several percent grade unlevel. Not only back to front sloped, also side to side sloped! They made a huge campsite by throwing a bunch of gravel on the hillside, but didn’t bother to level anything. We were camping down a hill. To approach level, we would have had to jack up the front about 3 FEET which wasn’t possible. So we hopped into the truck and went to the office to assess our options.

We had arrived on Labor Day, so the park was fairly empty on the Monday, but was fully booked for the upcoming weekend. They offered us a site that is normally closed after Labor Day, but said they could keep it open for another week. It was a big rig concrete pad site. Sold! We raced back up there to review the site and ….. the prior occupant hadn’t vacated yet (it was after 3 pm and check out was 11 am). He was nice, we politely asked him to vacate (but not rush), and he promptly did so. So a bit later, we headed over to the new location.

Did I mention this park was Very Hilly? The concrete pad was level, but the single lane road in front of the pad is not level. Jeff pulled up the motorhome, positioned himself, and began backing into the site. I always spot him because he has a number of blind spots, especially while backing. As he approached the pad, the rear end of the motorhome dipped lower and lower on the slope, until I frantically waved him off! Our Blue Ox tow bar was about to scrape due to the slope. He pulled back up, and we removed the tow bar accessory from the back to give us a few inches. Backed up again – no good. The road was too sloped for the bus to make it.

So Jeff thought he would flip the motorhome around and come at it from the other side. That involved much maneuvering and a long stretch of backing up, but finally he came at it from the other direction. Back, back, back, scraaaaaape — STOP STOP! The hitch scraped. He pulled up and tried yet a different angle. Back, back, back, scraaaaaape STOP STOP! This time the engine pipe scraped the pavement. There was just No Possible Way for us to physically get into this site.

Defeated, we drove the motorhome back to the original site, hopped into the truck and drove back to the office. By now it was after 5 pm and we had spent nearly 3 hours mucking around, trying to find a suitable site. The office stated they had no other options for us, but would give us a full refund. Since it was late and we had nowhere else to go, we asked to park in the original area for the night, and they agreed.

The electrical outlet was way, way at the back of the site, but by pulling out all 50 feet of our electrical cord we were able to at least plug in for the night and save running the generator. Fortunately, we had plenty of water on board and empty holding tanks, so no worries. We scrambled to find alternate last minute camping accommodations and was able to book a KOA near Cleveland.

The next morning, I had to hold the tea kettle while it was heating, because it kept sliding toward the front edge of the stove. Ridiculous slope.

So, this was our first complete campground fail. Their website sure sounded like it was big rig friendly, but it is NOT. The roads are narrow, with turns that are too sharp, and the campsite slope was unworkable for a rig of our length. Maybe they have other sites that are better, but I didn’t see any. It’s just as well — they didn’t have ANY full hook up sites (no sewer connections) and the shower houses were few, far apart, and not that nice. I don’t see how they could adequately service that many campsites with so few bath houses AND no sewer hookups.

On the plus side, it was a beautiful wooded setting. In the one night we were there, we saw a groundhog puttering around and several deer. If we had a boat and a small rig, it probably would have been great.

But, not for us.

Campground Review: Country Acres Campground, Gordonville, PA

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Campground Review Summary

  • Name: Country Acres Campground
  • Dates of stay: Aug 22 – Sep 7, 2020
  • Location: 9850 Minyoung Rd, Ravenna, OH 44266
  • Type of campground: Private / Independent
  • Cost: $59.46 /night
  • Additional fees: none
  • Stay limit: 2 weeks limit 
  • Accepts mail / packages: yes
  • Cell reception: ATT good
  • Website: www.countryacrescamping.com
  • Pros: Clean, big rig friendly sites
  • Cons: a little pricey, limited amenities

Full Review

Country Acres offers a lovely campground right in the heart of Pennsylvania Amish Country. A sizeable campground with over 180 sites, only about a dozen are truly big rig friendly with 50 amp full hookups. These are located at the front end of the property with a layout sufficiently roomy for the largest rigs.

Our back in gravel site was level and spacious. We didn’t even need to use leveling blocks at all, for the first time in weeks. Our full hookups (including 50 amp electrical) appeared new and worked perfectly. The sewer drain actually flowed downhill of our rig, which was awesome. The cable TV connection was strong and provided around 75 choice channels.  Being in civilization (for a change), our ATT signal worked well, and the free/open campground wifi also was quite usable. Our site was satellite-friendly as well for our Direct TV.

The campground amenities included a coin laundry, swimming pool, dog run, meeting pavilion and three bath houses. I absolutely loved the bath house nearest us — new, clean, beautifully tiled, and spacious. It was absolutely the nicest bathroom I’d seen since Disney.

The company that owns this campground also owns other motels and businesses in the area. One of their perks is a free bus tour of Amish country, which I highly recommend. (No cost for the tour, but the drivers do work for tips). Due to the length of our stay, we also received coupons for the nearby Bird-in-Hand restaurant for either a free breakfast or $9 off any meal per person. We used it for the lunch buffet, which covered more than half of our check.

The cost wasn’t nominal at nearly $60/night, but it was a flawless stay. The site was great, the bath room was beautiful, the office staff was friendly, and it put us right where we wanted to be. Worth it.

Bottom Line: Great park in a great location.