My Adirondack Adventure

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, this one sums it up:

Getting ready for a ride! Wheeeee!!

Yep, the truck overheated going up a 12% grade on State Highway 9N heading east into Elizabethtown, New York.  So it turns out that my anxiety and my hand-wringing were well founded, and I should have heeded those instincts more closely!

On the way up the hill, I knew the engine wasn’t happy, but the gauge wasn’t showing it was hot.  I was chugging along, trying to maintain 25 mph, and got to the top where I thought things would calm down a little.  Then the engine just stopped.  You know how the power steering and brakes go out when the engine stops?  Scary.  I felt lucky to be able to get over to the side of the road and park on the teeny tiny shoulder, before the highway made a big downhill run which might have been disastrous.   I have to admit that my heart was pounding.  Some of you have called me brave to do this?  HA!

And once I’d pulled over, I looked at my phone to make a call – and there was no cell service.  Murphy’s Law at work.

The good news is 1) I was able to unhook my car, which might have been impossible because I was on a downhill slope which can create too much forward pressure on the hitch, 2) I have a roadside assistance policy for the RV with Good Sam, which includes towing, and 3) I’m in a gorgeous part of the country – there are worse places to break down.  Always trying to look at the positive!!

As planned, I had taken the scenic route, which starts on Route 3 out of Carthage, NY, and winds through the Adirondacks to Saranac Lake.  From there, I took Route 86 and then 73 to Keene, and then got on 9N to Elizabethtown, headed for Vermont.   I was doing really well and feeling rather cocky that I’d made it across the Adirondacks, when I hit that steep grade.   I thought I would at least be able to make it to the town to stop and get checked, but it was not to be.

Actually, I made it to Elizabethtown with my car, and fortunately, Verizon cell service worked great there.   It was probably about 10:30 am when I broke down, and about 3 pm by the time the tow truck got to my rig and hooked me up, ready to head about 40 miles to Saranac Lake – back the way I came.

The RV arriving at the shop.

I felt fortunate to find a room at a cheap hotel right near the garage.  There was no mechanic on duty yesterday, but I walked over to the shop this morning (Monday).  The long-awaited call came at 6 pm this evening, reporting that they had to replace a clamp.  The engine had severely overheated, and the old clamp failed, which released the hose and all the anti-freeze.  They test-drove it, and the engine is just fine now.  Whew!!  It certainly could have been far worse.

So now the question is:  which route do I take to Vermont?  Well, I did my research, and found a terrific resource – an e-book  for $25 called Mountain Directory which outlines all the above-average grades on roads across the country.  And yes, that little stretch of road where I got stuck is in the book.  So I was able to plan my 100 mile trip tomorrow to avoid steep grades, and I’ll know better for next time.  Wish me luck!!

Breaking New Ground

When I left Pittsburgh, I realized that from then on, I’d be traveling on roads and staying in campgrounds which are new to me.  Most of my routes this year  – Georgia to Bucks County to Pittsburgh – have been routes I’ve traveled before, and I’ve even stayed in the same campgrounds.  But now, I’m breaking new ground, going into upstate New York and Vermont.  And this makes me just a little anxious on travel days.

The thing is, I never want to get into a situation where I might take a wrong turn, and get stuck.  I have to study my route closely to avoid it.  And Eric taught me that I always have to know my escape route – I can’t pull into a place without knowing how I’m getting out – so I work very hard in advance to minimize the possibility of a mistake.  Thank goodness for Google Earth!

For every trip, I plan where I’m going to stop.  If you’re in a car, you just go until it’s time to stop for gas, and you find a gas station, right?  Not so for me and my rig – I have to know EXACTLY where I’m going to stop.  You can’t always tell from the road whether or not there’s an exit route once you pull in to the pumps, so I need to do major reconnaissance.

I know about how many miles I can comfortably go on one tank of fuel, so I plan my gas stops accordingly.  And, my general rule of thumb is to drive about 120 miles (2 hours) before I need to stop for a stretch and a bathroom break.  So when I start out a day of driving, I have to know how much gas is in the tank, and how many miles I can go before needing fuel. Then I can decide whether that first stop should be a rest area or a gas station, or if I’ll need gas sooner than my normal two hour stretch.  Once I know that, I search my route on Google maps to see where I’ll be in about that many miles.  And then I look in that area for a place to stop.

This process is more difficult and time consuming than it sounds.  My objective is to find a gas station near the highway with an approach to the pumps which is parallel to the station’s building rather than perpendicular.  Or, if it’s perpendicular, it has to have a pump at the end of the row which would allow me some sort of exit strategy – either going around the back of the building, or another driveway to the street.  Here are some examples:

Gas station with poor RV access

Above is a gas station layout which I would never want to stumble into by accident!  I would have to enter the pumps nose first, perpendicular to the building, and then pull up pretty far to get the RV’s gas tank to line up with the pump.  Then when finished,  I would have to try to turn sharply enough so I miss the building and any cars parked in front of it, while at the same time hoping that the RV’s rear end and towed vehicle don’t crash through the pump.  Not a good option for me!

Below is one that would be OK.  The pumps are perpendicular to the building, which isn’t ideal, but the gas station is roomy and on a corner.  I could probably pull into the far pump and then exit out the other driveway.

Perpendicular approach with an exit

The configuration below is the one I prefer.  See how the entrance and exit is so easy when the approach to the pumps is parallel to the building?  But it’s amazing how long I have to search sometimes to find one like this on my route.

Parallel approach

Rest areas are easy – as long as they’re available along the way, they’re perfect for me.  They always have an area for trucks, and I pull in right there next to them!

That’s me feeling very safe at a rest area between two trucks!

In addition to scoping out rest stops and rest areas, I carefully examine the map to make sure I know exactly what exits to take, and where to turn.  No wrong turns allowed, cause I can’t easily un-do it!   I download campground maps from the website so I’m very familiar with exactly where I need to go to register, where I can unhook my car (need a straight and flat spot), and where to find my campsite.

Sometimes a campground is remote enough that neither Google Maps nor the GPS can find it.  For example, the address for  my campground in Lowville, Lewis County, NY was a highway name and a town, and, alternatively, latitude and longitude.  Google Maps recognized the campground name, but when looking at the satellite image, there was no campground to be found.  When I plugged in the latitude and longitude, there was still no campground.  After playing around with it for a while, I found it up a side street, two turns off the main highway.   So I don’t just rely on the GPS – I spend the time to do my research.

This system has worked very well for me so far.  Since leaving Pittsburgh, I traveled about 300 miles to Hamlin Beach State Park near Rochester, New York, for four nights, and then another 200 miles to Lowville, Lewis County, New York where I’ve spent the past week, all without incident.

Today, I’m planning my 200 mile trip to Salisbury, Vermont.  I have a GPS which is specifically programmed for RV’s.  Supposedly, it will put me on the best route to avoid low bridges and other big-rig hazards, and it has a preference for interstates.   The GPS tells me that the best route from here to Vermont is along Route 3, which is a scenic route through the Adirondacks, past Lake Placid.  I’ve gone through much hand-wringing, trying to decide whether or not to take the chance that my rig will struggle with the hills on that route.  The other alternative is to go way south and then north to stay on interstates, which is longer but seems much safer.

Well, I’ve decided to be brave and take Route 3.  I’m leaving at the crack of dawn tomorrow morning (Sunday, July 16th).  I’ll report back and let you know how it goes!


Busy Month in Pittsburgh

My stay in the Pittsburgh area was crazy busy, filled with great stuff; the month I spent there literally flew by.

For the first week and a half, I hung out most days with my second cousin Melody.  We went to courthouses and libraries, and also scanned a bunch of photos at her house, which took several days.  She’s spent most of her life in the area, and knows exactly where the old farm is, so we drove up there and she shared her memories about it.  I had been there years ago with my Mom, but wasn’t exactly sure I could find it again, so the tour of the farm and the old stomping grounds in Finleyville was fascinating to me.  Melody and I also had dinner with two sisters who are third cousins to us.

Farm in Coal Bluff, looking up the hill, circa 1930’s
Farm in Coal Bluff, looking down the hill, circa 1930’s
Coal Bluff farm today.

Then my friends Sandra and Bob joined me for a week.  They’re the folks I met when we were all living in the same neighborhood in Woodland, California about 27 years ago, and they’re also living full time in an RV – amazing coincidence!  We spent our days hiking, swimming, sightseeing in Pittsburgh, and getting various errands done.

Bob and Sandra at Point State Park, Pittsburgh.

We played cards every night, except for the night we went to see a Frankie Valli Tribute band play in a concert along the Monongahela River.  Probably the most fun thing we did was to take a tour of a coal mine!  I just loved feeling that connection to my many coal mining ancestors.

Generations of my maternal grandfather’s ancestors worked in the mines.

Next, I spent a week studying genealogical citations with Dr. Thomas Jones at GRIP, the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh, held at LaRoche College.  The majority of attendees stay in the dorms on campus, which I’ve done in the past.  But I decided to commute this time, and I’m not sure I would do that again!  I drove an hour in rush hour traffic each morning and evening; sometimes it took an hour and a half.  Classes went from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm, and there were also evening activities which I chose not to attend because of the long drive.  The commuting part was a bit stressful – it definitely reminded me of going to work!  Otherwise, the week was fabulous, and zipped right by.

That Friday, my friend Agnes came for a weekend visit.  We hung out by the pool, went out to eat, hiked, made a campfire, and generally chatted non-stop the whole time.  It was the first time I had a guest in the RV, and it worked out really well!  I gave her my bed, and I slept in the over-the-cab bunk.  It was so great to have a buddy for a couple of days!

On Monday, July 3rd, I spent the day at the Allegheny County Courthouse in Pittsburgh.  Actually, technically it was the City-County Building.  I had ordered my grandparents’ 1944 divorce file from offsite storage when I was there earlier in the month.   Both of my grandparents re-married and then divorced again, so there are tons of juicy marital issues to be discovered – this is where you find out what was really going on, if it can be believed!

On the Fourth, I took a long walk through the gorgeous Mingo Creek County Park,

Path in Mingo Creek County Park has its own covered bridge!

and then I did a tour of all the houses where my mother lived when she was a child.

One of the houses in Mt. Lebanon where my mother grew up.

After that, I visited the cemetery where they are all buried, including my parents and brothers.

James Chapel and the cemetery, a long time ago!

During the whole day, I thought about the family gatherings held on the 4th of July at my mother’s grandparents’ farm in Finleyville.   Patriotism runs in my family, and it comes directly from my great-grandparents, James William Furlong and Mary Payne.   James was the son of an immigrant, and Mary came to this country with her parents at the age of 11.  They were proud Americans, and celebrated the 4th of July each year in grand style!

James William Furlong and Mary Payne; my grandfather Norman Furlong is in the back holding the dog.  Unknown woman on the right. Estimated to be late 1920’s.

Their six children all brought their spouses and kids to the farm for the big celebration every 4th of July. My mother said they gathered for the Fourth as long as she could remember, and the picture above shows that they did it before she was born as well.

James Furlong often wore all white to celebrate the day, and there was a huge American flag.  All of the aunts were busy in the kitchen making the picnic fixins, which included  ham, potato salad, homemade bread and ice cream, while the cousins all played games.  Grandma and Grandpap gave each of their grandchildren a silver dollar every year, and many photographs were taken which we all SO enjoy and appreciate today.  And I still have the silver dollars my mother received – she saved every one of them.

My grandparents, Norm and Viola, in the center; grandfather is holding one of his nieces.  Note the big flag in the background!

It seemed very appropriate for me to spend the Fourth near the farm in Finleyville, feeling patriotic and envisioning those many, many happy times my mother told me about, and which I can clearly see in the old photos.

When it was time to go the next day, I wasn’t ready to leave.  It felt good to be there, and I have lots more research to do.  So I know I’ll be back, and hopefully next time it’ll be a longer stay!