10 Apr

Celebrating a Birthday at the Campground With Friends…and Bad Weather?

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We used to scoff at camping close to home and would never have celebrated a birthday or holiday at the campground.  But things have changed.  Last year we realized that we could camp close to home and still get the kids to their baseball games (read about it here).  This year we realized that we could camp close to home and have a slam dunk birthday party with family and friends. When the campground calls us, we must go! Even when other responsibilities are calling our names.

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07 Apr

5 More Outdoor Gear Recommendations from the RVFTA Forum!

Outside Gear Bar Harbor Acadia

We are wrapping up our Spring Gear Guide bonanza with 5 more recommendations for the outside of your RV. On Episode #80: 2016 Spring Gear Guide Part 2, we shared all our recommendations for outdoor RV products including propane level checks, sewer hoses, outdoor rugs, and shoes.

Now it’s time to share some great stuff from our forum experts. There are over 250 posts in our Gear and Gadgets forum, and you can scroll through them all here.

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15 Mar

5 Awesome Gear Recommendations from the RVFTA Forums

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This week’s podcast episode was Part 1 of our 2016 Spring Gear Guide, focusing on great products for the inside of the camper. We thought we would stick with the same theme in our blog post of the week, sharing some of our forum members’ favorite gadgets. Head over to the RVFTA forum to find more recommendations from our resident experts in the Gear and Gadgets and the Camp Food threads!

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29 Dec

The Wall Street Journal’s Take on the RV Industry. Right, or Wrong?

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The Wall Street Journal recently published a feature about the state of the RV industry that was interesting, and very much worth reading, but somewhat flawed in its perspective.

RV Sales Revive, but Without Frills (WSJ, Dec. 23, 2015)

The article’s first sentence declares that “Americans are buying recreational vehicles at the fastest rate in more than a decade.” Then the author, James R. Hagerty, quickly pivots and writes that “Unfortunately for RV makers, many are hitting the road in smaller, less expensive models.” I find his use of the word “unfortunately” to be unfortunate.

For which RV makers is this unfortunate? After all, not every RV maker is building large, expensive, class A diesel pushers.  Trust me on this, there are plenty of manufacturers who are mighty happy that Americans are buying “smaller, less expensive models.”  One of the hottest companies in the industry right now is called Little Guy Worldwide. Hagerty is also only totally right about the “less expensive” part. If you’ve been to a campground lately you’ve probably seen plenty of towables over 30 feet–and yes–most of them are inexpensive when compared to motorhomes–but not much smaller.

Hagerty’s feature consistantly implies that the RV Industry’s breathtaking comeback is deeply flawed because its customers want light and cheap.  I concede that the comeback has not been as great for those companies who focus on luxury and luxury only, but for the rest of the industry, life is good. They are not reluctantly making lighter and cheaper rigs, they are building them with complete intentionality.  This is the comeback that they planned, not the flawed comeback that the Wall Street Journal sees.

During the recession the major RV manufacturers intentionally sought to build smaller and lighter units that could be towed by the family SUV or minivan. And guess what? Those units are selling like hotcakes. When the general public thinks about RV’s they often think about blinged out motorhomes. But 90 percent of RV’s sold are towable units, many of which cost less than $20,000.

So why else are Americans gravitating towards smaller and cheaper rigs?  Because an increasing number of younger people are buying RV’s, and they are buying what they can afford–not what the Wall Street Journal wants them to be able to afford.  Many younger buyers (think millennials) also want to keep things simple and keep their footprints smaller. More power to them.

I am POSITIVE that the RV industry is thrilled about the decreasing age of RV ownership. In fact, they are doing the happy dance.  Have you seen a Go RVing commercial on television or social media? These ads are very deliberately courting younger buyers–and the RV industry knows that they are going to purchase smaller rigs.  However, the article implies that many older buyers are also making the decision to go smaller and lighter. If this is the case, then most of the industry is certainly making up those lost margins with increased volume. The RV manufacturers are playing the long game–and they are winning.

But it seems to me like everyone is winning right now.  Consumers have a wide variety of models to choose from and they are competitively priced. Manufacturers have more customers than they have had in a decade, and those customers are younger, and will probably make more total RV purchases in their lives than previous generations.

But who is the biggest winner in this new golden age of RVing? It might just be the campground industry.  All of those shiny new RV’s are going to be heading  to America’s campgrounds in record numbers next summer. Best make your reservations now.

What are your thoughts about this Wall Street Journal article on the RV Industry? I would love to hear from you in the comments section below.  

                                                                                                                    Best-Jeremy

 

 

 

03 Sep

RV Organization: Restocking through the Season

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About a year ago, I was working on a RV packing article and reached out to some well-traveled acquaintances for their best tips. One of the greatest pieces of advice came from a friend of mine who spends a ton of time on the road as a touring musician.

Allie told me that she always restocks her toiletries kit right away when she gets home from a trip. This way she knows exactly what she is low on and isn’t scrambling around and forgetting things before she leaves on her next trip.

Brilliant and simple, right? How many of us forget what we were running out of by the time we are ready to go camping again? I have found myself making countless trips out to the RV to see if I need paper plates, tin foil, or toothpaste. This is a huge waste of time, especially when the items are already there.

This summer I found myself thinking of how to apply this tip to restocking the RV. Last spring, we did a couple of blog posts and an entire podcast about how to STOCK the camper. I even made an infographic, for crying all night!

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But what about when you camp so much that certain supplies like paper towels start to run out? It is so easy to forget those small items before you head out on your next adventure, especially when you are used to them already being in the RV.

Easiest fix ever: a magnetic white board.

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Duh, right?

You do this in the house, so why not in the RV? Throughout your season, anytime you are running low on a supply, just note it on your Restock List. Then if you are super-duper organized, restock those items when you return from your trip.

Not so organized? That’s okay. As soon as you are ready to pack for your next camping trip–whether that is weeks or months later– just walk out to the RV and see what supplies you need.

One more simple tool to reduce the “honey, did we forget the _____” moments that we all experience so often on the road. After all, every little trick helps when you suffer from Mommy/Daddy Brain, you know?

18 May

Road Food Gone Wrong: An Almost Perfect Day in Awendaw, South Carolina

Our last day in the Myrtle Beach area was perfectly planned. In fact, it was shaping up to be the quintessential RV Family Travel Atlas kind of day, including our favorite types of activities paired with the promise of amazing, local food.

We have a bit of a formula for travel. We start with the great outdoors because our family is always a heck of a lot happier when we have a little room to roam. Then we look for an activity that is truly engaging and interesting to both kids and adults. Finally, we shamelessly beg the locals to recommend the most amazing food joint they know of with outdoor seating. See? There’s the whole outside thing again.

So I had followed these steps precisely and ended up with a pretty exciting day trip itinerary. We were headed south of Myrtle Beach to the Center for Birds of Prey in Awendaw, South Carolina. This Avian Conservation Center does amazing work both in rehabilitating injured birds and in educating the public about native bird populations. They also use a vintage Airstream as an office.  Pretty cool, right?

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I was scheduled to get a private tour of the medical clinic (normally closed to the public) and then we were going to tour the grounds with the director of the facility. The icing on the cake? Our plans for an early dinner at SeeWee Restaurant. The staff at the Center for Birds of Prey told us this was their top pick for local eats. Then, to our delight, we also found it recommended in our travel bible, Jane and Michael Stern’s culinary classic Roadfood. Yup, pretty awesome itinerary.

But then, right after we parked the truck, we encountered the fire ants. More specifically, Max and Wes encountered the fire ants. We told the boys not to go near them then made the mistake of turning our backs for five seconds.  It was our first introduction to this southern phenomenon and there was a lot of screaming and wailing and water bottle dumping. There was outfit changing and a couple of more rounds of general freaking out. Suffice it to say that by the time it was over we had missed out on our window for off-book tour opportunities.

We joined in with the next available tour and it was still nothing short of amazing. Our tour guide, Stephen, had the ability to convince this girl that the vulture is the noblest animal on Earth. He also did a whole lot of owl hooting and gave us more information about Bald Eagles than I have ever heard before. The tour was long, at least an hour, and our six year olds were engaged the entire time.

Then came the real spectacle. The flight demonstration featured falcons, hawks, and vultures and demonstrated the birds’ unique hunting and flying techniques. The six year olds were still enraptured. It was stunning, educational, and inspiring. Wes, our two year old, was the only one not wildly excited.

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We left the Center for Birds of Prey impressed by their facility and praising our boys for their behavior during the two hour program. We had overcome the fire ant hiccup and still had an amazing experience.

Onward to food.

The SeeWee Restaurant should have been the perfect spot for our family to enjoy an early dinner before heading back to Myrtle Beach. The hush puppies arrived immediately, and shortly afterwards a parade of southern standards filled our table with smells and tastes almost too perfect to believe.

Jeremy and I started with oysters and fried green tomatoes, which were among the best we have ever tasted. Then we just had to sample the chicken fried steak for our main course. The macaroni and cheese, butter beans, sweet potatoes, and collard greens were everything you would want from the perfect southern roadside joint.

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Our children, however, were not so perfect. It was one of those meals. The toddler had to be taken outside. There were mid-meal bathroom breaks and under-the-table wrestling events. Food got cold and beer got warm. At a certain point, we cried uncle. Pack everything up, we said. Check please.

The Center for Birds of Prey was perfect. The SeeWee Restaurant was perfect. Our kids? Not so perfect. But that’s okay. They are just little kids, and we take them to a lot of new places to see a lot of new things. Sometimes you can follow all the rules and still lose the match.

Lucky for us, the food tasted just as good later on that night by the campfire. The collard greens were hot, the beer was cold, and the kids were in bed.

Campground heaven.

 

 

13 May

Camping Close to Home at Turkey Swamp Park (Ode to an Adventurous Mom)

A few weeks back Stephanie wrote a post titled Five Reasons to Camp Close to Home.  It was a good one for a variety of reasons–five of them to be exact.  I really liked reason #4, “don’t miss out on important weekend commitments.” Max and Theo are currently obsessed with t-ball–which means they really don’t want to miss their Saturday morning games.  I admire their dedication and am pretty pumped about this new development in their lives.  You see, I love baseball too.

But I also love taking the RV out after a long week at work.  You see the conflict, right?  This past weekend we camped at Turkey Swamp Park in Freehold, NJ--about 20 minutes from home.  We played catch until dark on Friday night, and made the t-ball game Saturday morning.  We were back at the campground for lunch. Conflict resolved.  Camping weekend saved.  Harmony restored to the universe.
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After five seasons of RVing it’s hard to believe that we never camped at Turkey Swamp before.  We absolutely loved it.  Our site was huge, and it overlooked the playground.  We didn’t ask to be next to the playground like we normally do. A thoughtful Park Ranger picked the spot for us after I told him that we had three kids. The boys played on the playground for hours and hours. At the end of the day they were tired, sweaty, dirty, exhausted, and most importantly–ready for bed!

All of the spots at Turkey Swamp are large pull throughs that cut off the road and then back onto it.  They don’t cut across from one row to the next like most pull throughs do.  This made all of the sites large and private.  Good luck finding sites this size at a private campground. Not gonna happen. All of the sites had water and electric–but bring a hose extension if you come.  Water hook ups are far apart from electric hook ups.DSC_0012

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Our close to home camping weekend turned out to be a special one for three reasons. Firstly, Stephanie and I were able to take turns kayaking without the kids on Saturday, and on Sunday we rented a canoe and the whole family went for a relaxing paddle. We saw finches and blue jays and water snakes.  At the end of our family canoe ride, as we approached the shore,  Stephanie thought that one of the boys was about to jump out.  So she pounced on him. Unfortunately, mom’s heroism sent dad flying over the side of the canoe. Stephanie found this to be very funny. So did several families who were fishing on a nearby dock!

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The second reason why our weekend trip rocked?  The Sisters on the Fly were also camping at Turkey Swamp.  Who are the Sisters? They are a group of daring ladies who travel in lovingly restored vintage RV’s and handmade teardrops and the like. The Sisters bring all kinds of sass and style to every campground that they visit. Taking pictures of their vintage RV’s was more exciting for me than a Sports Illustrated swimsuit shoot–and Stephanie didn’t mind me taking pictures of these bathing beauties!

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Our friend and fellow blogger, Janine Pettit, even gave us a tour of her rig! It was comfy and cozy and stepping into it felt like stepping into a time machine.  After our tour Janine offered the boys fruit snacks.  They accepted. Janine=Fairy God Mother.

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But the most important reason why our weekend was so sweet and magical? …MOM.  For the fourth or fifth year in a row we took her camping on Mother’s Day. She wouldn’t have it any other way.  Stephanie loves RVing, she loves campground culture, and she loves experiencing nature with her children.  The boys wanted to go fishing on Mother’s day–and she was more than game.

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Stephanie is an adventurous mom, and she is raising adventurous boys.  They are not afraid to try new things and they greet each day with hyperkinetic energy and determination.  They get those things from her.

I am so thankful that we went camping close to home this weekend–and I’m so thankful that I married a camping mom.

Onward.

 

05 Apr

Shaking off Winter on Paul’s Cypress Swamp Tour (Myrtle Beach, SC)

It was another brutal winter in New Jersey.  So why not head to Myrtle Beach for another spring break?  Our trip last spring was beyond delicious. We swam in the pool at the Myrtle Beach KOA, we swam in the ocean, we visited gardens, and state parks, and we lapped up the sunshine and warm weather like we were eskimos on our first and last family vacation.

Saturday was all about the long drive.  The twins were good.  Wesley was okay.  Lots of crying and too many pit stops.  So today, Easter Sunday, was all about fun. I woke up in the mood for coffee and nothing else, but Stephanie had other plans for me.  I was scheduled for a morning “Cyprus Swamp” kayak tour of the Waccamaw River (a short drive from the KOA) with Maxwell onboard.  Stephanie will be taking her turn with Theo on Tuesday, weather permitting.  Wes doesn’t get a turn–but he’s barely two–so we read him a few extra Elmo books today and he didn’t seem to notice anything suspicious.

Stephanie had booked the tour with the Black River Outdoors Center, and as soon as we pulled into the launch area our guide, Paul Laurent, was friendly, funny, and sociable.  He was also patient and kind.  He immediately put all of his students at ease with a quick lesson and his own unique brand of kayak guide humor.

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But Paul wasn’t only about the jokes.  This guy was incredibly well informed about the history of the Waccamaw River and and the wildlife that inhabits its waters and forests.  During our adventure he pointed out dozens of Yellow Bellied Slider Turtles, Swamp Canaries, Ospreys, and Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies. His booming but pleasant voice made him easy to hear, even if you wanted to wander off to the sides a little bit and explore the banks of the river.

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P1110699Paul also spent a lot of time on the banks of the river looking for water snakes.  And when he found one, he dove into the water and grabbed it for an impromptu demonstration.  This was ridiculously cool to say the least.  It’s kind of hard for me to imagine a better kayak guide than this guy–he was nutty and adventurous, but he made all of us feel safe and relaxed.

P1110773He even offered to let us hold the snakes.  But only one of his students was brave enough to try it.  Max and I declined.

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It was fun watching Max watch the snakes.  He was clearly fascinated but didn’t want to get too close.  During the rest of our paddle he asked me to stay away from the banks of the river to avoid them.  But when we eventually made it back to meet Stephanie, Theo, and Wes, the snakes were all he could talk about. But he was also pretty pumped about getting to touch a lily pad.

He saw one in the water and asked me to paddle towards it.  Paul, of course, wanted him to get the full experience. So he dove under water for us and pulled it up so that Max could touch it and learn a little bit about it.  Have I mentioned yet that Paul was an awesome Kayak tour guide?

P1110795The Cypress Swamp Tour really inspired me this morning. It reminded me of why we love to travel as a family.  To spend time together, yes, of course. But it’s so much more than that.

As parents we want to spend time together doing things that we will always remember. Magical things that we will talk about around the campfire when the boys have their own children.  The snakes will be bigger in those future tellings–and the river will be warmer and deeper and wider.  But Paul will always be the same. The hero of our shared adventure.

Onward.

10 Mar

Teardrop Campers, Jumping Jacks, A-frames and other RV Showstoppers

During our speaking engagement at the Colorado RV Sports, Boat & Travel Show, we spent a lot of time window shopping and taking the pulse of the crowd.  It quickly became clear that the smallest trailers were the biggest showstoppers–particularly the teardrop campers.  We heard many “oohs” and “ahhs” and had a hard time getting pictures of the trailers without dozens of people in the way. So without further ado, here are our eight favorite small campers–including four fabulous teardrops that made us want to ditch the kids and hitch up for a second honeymoon.

 For more info about all of these units, check out Episode #25 of the RV Family Travel Atlas podcast.

Teardrop Campers

T@G Max by Little Guy Worldwide (163 inches, 995 LBS)

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The T@G was basically a super-stylish and amenity-filled bed on wheels with rear kitchen.  If you’re looking to get off the ground and cook in a dedicated kitchen with hook ups–then this may be the right teardrop for you.

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T@B S by Little Guy Worldwide (182 inches, 1670 LBS)

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Looking for more than just a bed on wheels?  With a U-Shaped dinette, indoor kitchen and wet bath, the T@B S is one teardrop that won’t give you anything to cry about.  No worries about cooking in the rain either–this kitchen is totally enclosed.

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T@B CS-S by Little Guy Worldwide (180 inches, 1760 LBS)

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Prefer the cute as a button outdoor kitchen but still want the comfort of the U-Shaped dinette and wet bath?  Have no fear, the CS-S is here!  We ultimately liked this T@B best on account of that awesome kitchen and because it provides extra seating on the inside.

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Basecamp Teardrop by Colorado Teardrops (156 inches, 858 LBS)

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Looking for a lower-priced teardrop camper with all of the style but fewer amenities?  Prefer a DIY camp kitchen anyway?  Then check out the Basecamp model from Colorado Teardrops.  Add the bargain-priced solar package to head off the grid for your next great adventure.

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Other Small Trailers

Jumping Jack Jump-Up Tent Trailer (12 Feet, 1245 LBS)

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This multi-purpose trailer is not a pop-up.  It’s a jump up!  Store your ATV’s or kayaks on top and easily unload them at the campground.  Then set this bad boy up in seconds for a comfortable and spacious above ground tent for dry camping in the wild.  Back at home you can quickly turn the Jumping Jack into a utility trailer–perfect for yard work or trips to the recycling center.

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Aliner Classic A-frame (18 Feet, 1850 LBS)

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We have always admired these Aliner a-frames from a distance and now we know why.  They are light, sturdy, and comfortable. With available dormers on select models they are also surprisingly spacious.  Cassette potties and wet baths are available in select models.

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Camp Lite 11-FK Hybrid (11 Foot Box, 1,800 LBS)

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We were immediately attracted by the bold coloring and surprisingly spacious interior of this Camp Lite hybrid.  Because of its aluminum build the manufacturers promise “no rust” and “no rot.”  Because of its stylish looks we promise that it will turn heads at the campground–and man oh man is it lite!

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Arctic Fox 811 Truck Camper (16’8 Feet, 2873 LBS)

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Are truck campers just for hunters and fishermen who like to camp off the grid?  Not when they are as spacious and comfortable as the Arctic Fox 811!  Stephanie had never stepped inside a truck camper before–and she was completely impressed.  The kitchen was larger than kitchens in travel trailers twice its length–and the bedroom looked cozy and comfortable.

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We had such a great time browsing through these units at the Colorado RV Show.  The variety was dazzling–and possibly overwhelming to the first-time buyer.  We can’t wait to spot these sporty and lightweight trailers in a more natural environment…the campground!

 

 

 

 

07 Feb

RVFTA #21 Camp Coffee 101

On this episode of RV Family Travel Atlas, we are talking about the art of making great camp coffee.  A morning ritual for so many of us at the campground, there are plenty of opinions about brewing a perfect cup! But we decided to call in an expert for his advice on compact equipment (perfect for camping on or off the grid) and brewing techniques.

Mike Ayars from Turnstile Coffee Roasters in Belmar, NJ invited your co-hosts to his shop for an informative session about what makes specialty coffee so special.  He also walked us through the pros and cons of the French press, the pour over, and the Aeropress.  We wrap up the segment by testing out equipment and sampling fresh roasted coffee–and man oh man was it goooooood!  Turnstile has also generously offered to give away two gift boxes that each contain a trio of coffees from the three major coffee producing regions of the world–enter in the sidebar!

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Here are links to the equipment that we talk about on the show:

Grind

Hario Skerton Hand Mill

Brew

Bodum Chambord French Press 4 Cup

Hario Buono Kettle

Hario V60 Dripper

If you want to read some of our thoughts on camp coffee from over the years, you can visit this post on Jeremy’s great discovery in Cape Cod or this post on Stephanie’s history of coffee.

We also have a great interview with the owners of Inn Town Campground in Nevada City, California which is scheduled to open in the summer of 2016. The beautiful location and energetic young proprietors definitely caught our attention.  Their property is deeply wooded and filled with towering pine trees, but only a short walk to downtown.  We can’t wait to visit the finished product!

We also announce our new guest blogging gig for Camp Jellystone, and talk about the seminars that we will be giving at the Atlantic City RV Show next weekend.

All of this, and so much more, on Episode 21 of RV Family Travel Atlas: Camp Coffee 101!

 

 

 

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06 Feb

Thoughts On Coffee (and work, and marriage, and life)

I started drinking coffee when I was 13 years old. Young, right? But it made perfect sense at the time.

I was a teenager with no allowance and parents who were not inclined to buy frivolous items. I needed a job. Bad. Without a car or reliable ride, I had to look for something within walking distance. There happened to be a gas station up on the corner, so I paid the owner a visit, lied about my age, and started pumping gas the next week.

On Saturdays and Sundays I opened up the station. I would walk up to the corner at 4:45 am in the dark, take out my key, and start turning on lights. I stocked the chip racks, stacked packages of cigarettes, and made coffee.

By 5:30 am the fishermen and contractors started trickling in. I placed little meal worms in Tupperware, filled up gas tanks, and brewed pots and pots of coffee. Somewhere along the line I started drinking it side by side with my early bird customers. A morning ritual, still in place a quarter century later, was introduced.

My later jobs as a waitress and teacher ensured that coffee remained a central part of my work life. The unusual thing is that it never played a prominent role in my home. My parents did not make or drink coffee and Jeremy, my husband, didn’t touch the stuff. It was always just me, brewing it for myself, pouring it into a travel mug, and going on my way.

That is until my husband suddenly started drinking coffee at the age of 37. The man who had never drank a cup of coffee in his whole life found himself desperate to stay awake grading piles and piles of high school essays. At first the cups had lots of milk and sugar, later just a bit of milk, and now straight black just like I take mine.

The same man who had no idea how to use a drip coffee machine two years ago gets up every morning and grinds the beans, fills the machine with cold filtered water, and pours me my first cup, often telling me the region and roast. I can’t remember the last time I bought coffee. Jeremy stops at his favorite roasters on the way home and selects our beans for the week.

When we travel he stocks up the camper with all our coffee supplies and one of his favorite things to do is find a local roaster wherever we are staying.

They say that people don’t change, but that is not true. Eleven years into our marriage, Jeremy started drinking coffee.

So this week’s episode is all about coffee and how to get the best cup while you are traveling this beautiful country in your RV.  I hope you get to listen.

We had a blast interviewing our local coffee roaster and had an amazing tasting, comparing different methods of brewing. The whole time I was thinking how wonderful it is that we really do grow and change as travelers and spouses and people.

I was also thinking back to that first cup of coffee at the gas station. Almost every single thing about my life has changed.

Except coffee.

 

27 Jan

RVing and Fatherhood

I never went on a camping trip with my father. At least not one that I can remember. Dad, if your reading, no hard feelings. It never really bothered me because I didn’t know what I was missing. By the time I started RVing with my own children, about five years ago, I was having too much fun with them to get all sad and mopey about the past.

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So why do I bring it up? Because I think my personal lack of father/son camping time has subconsciously inspired me to try and be a better father. Too many fathers that I know struggle to find quality time to spend with their children. Not me. My family spends over 40 nights a year in our RV (weekends in the spring and fall, and long trips in the summer) and when it comes to spending quality time with my children–my cup runneth over.  I know who they are–and they know me.

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Sometimes, in the summer, I even wonder if we are spending too much time in the RV and not enough time at home. There have been two occasions, where after 16 days on the road I have wanted to extend our trips, but wondered if it was best for the boys. So we asked them if they wanted to keep traveling or go home. They said that they missed grandma and their friends. So we packed up and went home. That simple.

But over the last year the boys have become more and more comfortable on our longer and more adventurous trips to places like Cape Cod, New Hampshire, and Acadia National Park. Now when we get ready for a camping trip Max always asks if this will be a long trip or a short trip. Why? Because Max loves long trips. Good thing–because mommy and daddy do too.  Travel guides to Montana, Wyoming, and Utah have already been purchased–and they will be used.

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So why do these trips matter so much to me as a father? And why do my boys share that love? Because RVing allows us to leave behind all of life’s distractions and unecessary material possessions and just focus on each other in beautiful and adventurous landscapes. Think mountains, rivers, streams, oceans, sunsets, and night skies filled with stars. And did I mention camp store ice cream?

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Why else do I love RVing with my children? Because, on a very personal level, it has transformed fatherhood into my greatest and most satisfying adventure. Too many dads think that the fun ends when the kids are born, and that their days of being young and easy are over. But I feel reborn each time I hitch up and head out. For me the adventure is always just beginning…

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 Onward.

06 Dec

RV Family Travel Atlas: Acadia National Park Adventure Guide

On this week’s episode of RV Family Travel Atlas, we are heading to Acadia National Park, one of our favorite summer destinations. We will give you recommendations for where to stay and what to eat. We will also tell you about the best family-friendly hikes and activities on Mount Desert Island.

Join us as we explore popular tourist attractions and also take you to the quieter side of Acadia, where we have escaped the summer crowds and found lots of local treasures.

Click on the links above to read our articles on the Jayco Journal about all of these Acadia National Park recommendations.

We have another great giveaway this week: Discover Acadia National Park, by the Appalachian Mountain Club. We used this book a ton when planning our trips, and all of the hikes that we talk about are detailed in this book. Enter to win here.

And make sure you listen to this week’s episode to find out about our ‘podcast only’ giveaway this week…

Play
03 Dec

RV Family Travel Atlas Holiday Gift Guide: What Was on that List???

In Episode 10 of RV Family Travel Atlas, we gave our recommendations for 12 great holiday gifts. Here is a list, with links, to all of the products that we reviewed. Listen to the podcast for the complete lowdown on each item!

For the Kids…

1. Globe For Kids Illuminated Earth Globe: Our boys’ favorite camper nightlight…

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2. SpinaroosOne bin of these blocks will keep kids of all ages happy!

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3. Spot It! A Card Game that is great for a rainy day or a little down time after dinner.

Spot It!

4. Kids’ Sprout 12 Day Pack from LL Bean: Perfect for drinks and snacks!

Sprout Backpacks

5. Micro Kickboard Scooter: The best quality scooter money can buy!

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6. Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man and The Three Ninja Pigs: Our favorite campfire read alouds…

three ninja pigs

Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man

For the Adults…

7. Darn Tough Socks: The only socks we hike in…

Darn Tough Socks

8. Fireside Friend: Jeremy’s favorite I Wanna Be a Lumberjack toy!

Fireside Friend

9. eBags Brand Packing Cubes: Perfect for keeping the RV neat and tidy (ahem)…

Ebags packing cubes

10. Camp Comfort Recliner: Worth the extra money for high quality zero-gravity chairs!

camp chairs

11. Panasonic Lumix Waterproof Camera: If you want to take pictures around water, there is no better option!

Lumix camera

12. Frenzy and Malibu 2 Ocean Kayaks: Worth every penny for paddling time with the kids!

kayak

There you have it…our list of affordable items that adds tons of value to the time we spend traveling with our kids. Remember to listen to the podcast for more information on all of these products.

Anything you would add? We would love to hear what you would put on your list!

Happy Holidays!

Stephanie + Jeremy

RV Family Travel Atlas

23 Nov

Win a Scooter from Micro Kickboard!!!! (It’s only the best scooter ever…)

[contesthopper contest=”4017″]

02 Oct

Guest Post: A Friend Returns to Banff and Jasper

An RV trip to The Canadian Rockies is high up on the family bucket list.  So when a good friend and colleague, Frank Mezzina, told me last June that he was returning to Banff and Jasper for the third time I immediately asked him to send me a dispatch and some pictures.  True to his word, Frank sent along some stunning photos and a description of the trip and the motivation behind his return:

This was to be the summer of our long awaited trip to Italy.  Sharon had saved the money over some five years as a surprise, and now we were ready to go.  Rome, Florence, Venice, but when we began planning, we both realized that we would rather go to the Canadian Rockies, Banff and Jasper.  We have not been to Italy; we have been to Banff three times before, but the majesty of the mountains, the emerald green of the lakes and the peace of hiking on a mountain path just overcame us.
We stayed at The Fairmount Lodge In Jasper, which was high end for us, but our cottage on the lake provided the perfect place for breakfast and the ideal retreat at the end of each day.  Mostly we just hiked and enjoyed dinners outdoors and rooftop dining in Jasper at nine in the evening. Sunset comes late in August and the views of the mountain glaciers brings a peace to us.  The beauty and the glory of the lakes and mountains of the Icefields Highway between Banff and Jasper are a transcendent experience.
@@@
We may still get to Italy one day. I hope so.  But the Rockies called to us.
$$$
-Frank Mezzina
@@@
Bow Lake

 

 

Louise

 

Malign again

 

Banff

 

Bo Lake

 

Bow

 

M. Lake

Thanks Frank!

 

07 Sep

Campground Review: Bar Harbor/Oceanside KOA

We were having such a great time in Belfast that we didn’t want to leave.  But when you are heading to Acadia National Park for six days of hiking, swimming, kayaking, and lobster roll eating–you dig deep and find a way to carry on.  Lucky for us, we had reservations at the Bar Harbor/Oceanside KOA, one of our favorite campgrounds that we had visited three years back in the pop up camper days, before the birth of Wesley.

The fun started right away.  As we were setting up shop, the KOA Express stopped by and picked the boys up right in front of our site.  At the end of the ride the friendly work campers dropped them off at the same spot.  Door to door Express Train service? We were impressed!

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The husband and wife team that manned the train were delightful, and the next night they helped the boys make s’mores. Then they made all the kids balloon animals and balloon swords.

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This led to an epic, but relatively safe sword duel.  I won’t tell you who won.

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Did I mention that there was also live music that night around the community campfire? And free s’mores for everyone?  And that the music was really good?  And that the singer took requests? He played Cat Stevens, Credence Clearwater Revival, Van Morrison, the Beatles, and much more.  We could hear the music from our site, but we decided to cozy up around the campfire, toast some marshmallows, and meet some new friends.  This is what KOA camping is all about, right?

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There are several good campgrounds in the Bar Harbor area.  But we will always choose the KOA because of nights like this.  We also love that the campground is directly on the water, with stunning sunsets that are different every night.  It is an absolutely magical place if you love kayaking.  There is an easy launch spot right in the middle of the campground, and if you have a waterfront site you can launch right in front of your own camper.  P1110003

As I mentioned, the sunsets vary so much from night to night.  It almost feels like you are in a different magical location each time you paddle out.  I emphasize the word magical.  Each night my mental soundtrack was playing Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic.”  Or was that just the live music back at the campfire?

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During one of my kayaking sessions I saw two seals swimming in the distance.  I was so excited that I fumbled around with the camera and missed the shot.  No worries.  It was time to head back to our site for story time anyway.

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Over the next few days we discovered that the Bar Harbor/Oceanside KOA has more going for it than just the great activities, free entertainment, water views, and dramatic sunsets.  We also loved being able to buy a lobster dinner right on the campground.

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And eat it right on our picnic table…

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But here is the most important piece of advice that I can give you about this campground: if you see this man buy a fresh-baked blueberry pie from him.  No– buy two. One for yourself, and one for everyone else…

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You can always burn off the calories later at the playground…

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Or by taking a family bike ride on the paved roads…

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There are lots of options for family fun right at the Bar Harbor/Oceanside KOA, and the stunning beauty of Acadia National Park is just a short drive away.  What’s not to love? We met several families that return to this campground year after year–and that could easily happen to us.  But there’s a whole lot of big, beautiful country out there to explore.  And we plan on doing just that.

Onward.

 

 

13 Aug

A Perfect Day in Crawford Notch, New Hampshire

If you have only one day to spend in Crawford Notch State Park, then it can be a pretty tricky feat figuring out what you will do with it. In the course of a five minute conversation with any of the locals, we were told at least seven things that we just could not miss. There are beautiful waterfalls and stunning views galore and, quite frankly, you don’t have to work very hard to enjoy many of them.

So here is our guide to the perfect day in Crawford Notch. Bring a couple of changes of clothes for everyone, because you are going to get wet.

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The Silver Cascade and the Flume Cascade

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These waterfalls are directly off of Route 302, the highway that runs a north/south trajectory through the length of the state park. Start your day off early—before the tour buses arrive—and you might have these falls all to yourself. This was the perfect way to get our boys into the spirit of adventure for the day. There was lots of splashing and rock throwing, but no one was around to mind. Cue first outfit change.

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Hiking Option #1: Elephant Head Trail

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If you are looking for a short, fun hike with rewarding views, this is your best bet. The trail was very rugged, with lots of logs laid over marshy ground. This made it all the more fun for our boys. Nothing like a bunch of balancing beams to garner interest among the youth. Once you emerge out onto the bluff, you will be amazed that this brief climb could have such an amazing payoff. We hung out on Elephant Head for quite awhile, enjoying our snacks and drinks and peering over the ledges.

Hiking Option #2: Arethusa Falls

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This is the harder hike and will require more snacks and at least two hours. We took the Bemis Brook Trail that loops around and connects with the Arethusa Falls Trail.

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This meant lots of wonderful opportunities for wading and getting wet. It also meant a rather steep climb to meet up with the main trail.

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This short detour was very fun and well worth the effort, but be prepared to work a little.

Arethusa Falls is the highest waterfall in New Hampshire, and even though it was a tough hike with young children, we were so thrilled that we made the effort. Be prepared to take off your shoes and watch as your kids get soaking wet. Cue second outfit change.

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Lunch and Play: Appalachian Mountain Highland Center

If any single moment of our travel has reinforced the importance of talking to locals, it was when I asked the young ladies at the AMC Trail Center where we should eat lunch. They enthusiastically pointed us to the cafeteria at the Highland Lodge, an amazing gem you would never find on Yelp. The girls were excited to emphasize two points: there was a playground and one could enjoy a beer. You had me at…well, both of those.

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It is difficult to describe how remarkably beautiful and simultaneously entertaining the Highland Center is. After a delicious lunch of soups, salads, and sandwiches (and yes, a beer), the boys spent hours on what was simply the most creative and enjoyable playground we have ever seen.

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The play space was built to be a sort of adventure training ground, encouraging the children to scramble up rocks and wobble over rope bridges and move lots of logs and rocks from one place to another.

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We have never seen a playground so seamlessly connected to the landscape. And our boys could have played there all day. When we travel, we try to see and experience as many different places as possible. It is a testament to the design of this lodge that we returned on another day for lunch and play. And it was just as hard to leave the second time around.

After all of this adventure, it was time for us to head back to the campground, swim in the pool, and eat dinner. But if you have a bit more spunk left, the locals kept mentioning the free scenic lift rides at Bretton Woods just north of Crawford State Park. I would have loved to do this, but with a 15 month old, it was not in the cards on this trip.

There is always a next time…

 

07 Aug

Campground Review: Twin Mountain KOA, New Hampshire

After spending six nights at the Woodstock/Lincoln KOA in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and thoroughly exploring Franconia Notch, we were just not ready to leave the Granite State.  For every family friendly activity or outdoor adventure that we completed, we heard of three more that we wanted to try.

So we did what we have done so often before.  We pulled out the KOA Catalog and looked for a suitable place to spontaneously extend our family vacation.  The Twin Mountain KOA seemed to fit the bill perfectly.  It was less than an hour north but it opened up a whole new world of possibility for family friendly adventure.  Where the action-packed Woodstock/Lincoln KOA served as a perfect base camp for exploring Franconia Notch, the quieter, and more secluded, Twin Mountain KOA would do the same for Crawford Notch.

Lucky for us, they had a full hook up site available in the last row, up the hill a bit, where the sites are wooded, quiet, and private.  The campground has several distinct areas, and this turned out to be our favorite.

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We loved sitting around the campfire at night and watching the stars and listening to the full symphony of the forest around us.  The boys loved playing on, and jumping off, the large rock that separated our site from the one next to us.

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The campground also has about 16 cabins that are positioned in cozy and private nooks around their property.  We met a friendly family from the Lakes Region of Maine that was staying in one of them for the fourth year in a row. They were clearly happy campers.

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In the row below ours (the campground gently slopes up the side of Cherry Mountain) there is a charming and deeply shaded area for tent camping that is perfect for large groups.  It was also nice for an early morning or late evening stroll or bike ride.

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And don’t forget the brand spanking new teepee from the Pacific Northwest.

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The Twin Mountain KOA has a wide variety of options for all kinds of camping families.  But we would advise that you book a spot in the back of the campground near our site. The pull throughs at the front of the campground where a bit too close to the road for our taste.

The rustic camp store and game room are also positioned near the front of the campground.  The friendly work campers brew good coffee there all day long and guests can often be found conversing or reading the newspaper on the comfortable couches and chairs. The open field in front of the camp store served as a great place for fun and relaxation.  If a new playground were installed here this area would be just about perfect.

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On our first night at the campground the twins ended up kicking a soccer ball around with a French-Canadian boy who could very well be the next Pele.  At one point Theo was guarding the makeshift goal and this young dynamo blasted a shot that richochet off his chest and left him slightly stunned.  Max found this quite funny. Theo was impressed but not amused.

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Later that night, after we had put all three boys to bed, we were relaxing around the campfire when the owner, Tyson Taylor, pulled up in his cart and asked us how we were doing.  Tyson was kind and conversational and charming in every way.  He chatted with us for about 15 minutes and shared recommendations for hikes and bike rides in the area. We eventually noticed that Tyson liked to make the rounds and chat with his guests every night–and we looked forward to his visits–as did everyone else judging by the laughter and lively conversation.

During our stay at the Twin Mountain KOA we visited Santa’s Village, drove to the top of Mount Washington, hiked, swam, and played under waterfalls in Crawford Notch, and enjoyed starry and moonlit nights back at the campground. I left feeling so happy that we extended our White Mountains vacation by four days.  And so thankful that my family is flexible and adventurous.

Happy and thankful.  The way that I feel at the end of every camping trip.

Onward.

 

 

24 Jul

Blaster Boats and Old Goats: Clark’s Trading Post, Lincoln NH

During our ten days of hiking, swimming, and kayaking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire we found it surprisingly easy to avoid crowds.  In fact, our family often found itself alone while exploring lakes, rivers, and trails.  These places were not off the beaten path. Sometimes they were just off the interstate.  So if your family wants to experience outdoor adventure without suffocating summer crowds, then this might be the place for you.

But the White Mountains are also filled with family-friendly attractions and amusement parks.  Places that some outdoorsy types might arch an eyebrow at and call tourist traps.  The holy trinity of these attractions are Clark’s Trading Post in Lincoln, Santa’s Village in Jefferson, and Storyland in Glen.  But sometimes a heavily touristed location is crowded for good reason.  When we travel we like to combine outdoor adventure with kid-friendly attractions.  It keeps our boys happy.  It keeps us happy.  And it gives us a complete picture of what makes a place tick.

We spent a half day at Clark’s Trading Post and two half days at Santa’s Village–and we are so glad that we did.  The boys loved Clark’s Trading Post and they loved Santa’s Village even more.  Stephanie and I also had fun at both places.  They were clean, well managed, affordably priced, and filled with dozens of options for family fun. Clark’s has a quirky sense of humor that keeps the adults and kids entertained.  While Santa’s Village offers up a sweet magical scoop of Disneyesque charm for a fraction of the price.  By not staying for a full day at either location we also avoided amusement park burnout.  You know–when the kids start begging for ice cream after they’ve just had ice cream.  That sort of thing.

Here is what we loved about Clark’s Trading Post and why you should go:

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We started our day with a train ride on the White Mountain Central Railroad and it was quite relaxing, until we encountered the infamous Wolfman! Theo was nervous when the conductor told us we were approaching his so-called “Unobtanium mine.”

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When we crossed paths with the Wolfman most of the kids on the train were frightened by his almost incoherent screaming and his wacky arsenal of cartoon explosives. But Theo was really scared.

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At least at first.  On our way back to the station, when we passed the Wolfman’s ramshackle lair once again, the conductor told the kids to scare him away by yelling “SCRAM YOU OLD GOAT” when he approached the train.  It worked like a charm.  The Wolfman became irritable and less threatening.  This was incredibly empowering for the children who were trembling just five minutes before.  It felt like we were living through a powerful allegory from a children’s book about conquering your fears.  It was brilliant.  After the train ride ended we raced over to the famous Trained Bear show.  But we didn’t get good seats and ended up stuck in the hot sunlight.  The boys became fidgety and sweaty after a few minutes so we decided to cut out and head towards the blaster boats.  Good decision dad.  The blaster boats rocked.

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We all had an awesome time riding the boats, cooling off, and getting each other soaked.  It was also fun to shoot the water rockets from the observation deck.  The best part was that the attendants gave each person a long time on the boats and the lines were short for second and third rides. I feel bad saying it, but no one missed the bears.

But the fun didn’t end at the blaster boats.  When we walked down to the far end of the park Stephanie took a turn on a tall rock climbing wall.  She said that it was “really fun” and once again–no lines.  Nice.

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After that we both mastered the brief Segway training session and zipped around the course.  I loved the Segways.  They were amazing and I’m not afraid to say it.  Clark’s offers a short ride around a small course as part of your general admission price, or a 45 minute guided Segway Safari tour for an extra 25 dollars per person.  We were happy to take the free ride.  Just like the blaster boats, the lines were short and you could have gone again and again if you wanted to.  Interestingly enough, the Segways are built right in New Hampshire. Which, according to Clark’s website, makes for a “most appropriate in-state connection.”

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We sampled several other rides and amusements that afternoon and we were impressed by all of them. We also headed back to the blaster boats for another round.

The Clark’s have been entertaining other families in the White Mountains since 1928.  Tourist traps don’t stay in business for that long.  Clark’s Trading Post is filled with options for family friendly adventure.  Much like the mountains and rivers that surround it.