"We like camping better!" --Raymond Alexander Kukkee

view of the north shore Critter Pond, KOA Canandaigua NY [c] 2009 jcb

Camping with your dog -- a new experience for us

by Jim Bessey

Camping with Layla the dog, happy in her camp chair
Our husky/lab mix, Layla, likes camping and camp chairs
Until this year, we had never camped with a dog before. We didn't have a dog, so that was an easy choice. In February, we rescued our sweet girl, Layla, through the wonderful services of Lollypop Farm. She's young, about a year and a half, and full of energy. So far, she hasn't spent much quality time with other dogs.

On our first camping outing with our dog, we were worried. We stayed close to home at KOA Canandaigua, a place we've stayed at many times before. We weren't sure what to expect. Would she bark the whole time? Whine all night? Would she even be willing to sleep in the camper?

That first trip, we brought her food but forgot her dishes. We did remember to bring a short cable tie-out, one short enough to keep her safely on our site. I bought her a brand new rawhide bone to keep her happily occupied. We even brought an extra camp chair just for Layla.

Turns out, we needn't have worried so much. After a tour of the resort, with a chance for our dog to make a few friends, we took her to a run-free area provided by the campground and let her loose for a bit. She tired of that soon enough, and was perfectly happy to return to our campsite.

We have a cupboard full of old pans, so the no-dishes problem was easily solved. She did bark loudly and predictably whenever another camper strolled by with dog in-tow. But she also calmed down on command and eventually got used to having walk-by visitors. She loved the hiking/biking trails, too.

she didn't like the well water there

Nighttime brought the ultimate test. I had visions of tethering her outside, where she'd sleep in her new favorite "cave" -- under the camper. Our camper's pretty small, but it turned out she really liked sleeping inside with us. Luckily, there's another "cave" in there, right under our queen-size bed. Though she was up and ready to go out fairly early (7 am!), she passed the night calmly, sleeping.

We've had two more trips since that first time. Once for five days at Spruce Row Campground (she didn't like the well water there), and a return trip this past weekend to the KOA. She still barks at passing dogs, and she doesn't like it much when I leave on an errand. Otherwise, camping with our dog has worked out just fine.

I'm very glad that Layla likes camping. Now that we've done it, I can't imagine going away without her. The thought of boarding her while we're off camping doesn't appeal one bit. She's good company, and faithfully guards our campsite the whole time. Funny, though -- she's always happy to hop back in the truck and cruise on home when we're done camping.
 How about you? Do you camp with your dog(s)? Have you had any weird experiences doing that, or have any great advice to share?

Signs, Signs -- Why can't highway signs work better?

by Jim Bessey

highways signs from Writing for Designers, Geo Mason Univ
Image from a great sign article at Writing for Designers, Geo Mason U
Why are highway signs so often barely adequate? Anyone who drives a big Class A motorhome or pulls a trailer far from home knows exactly what I mean. When expressways divide or have complicated exits, why aren't the signs better? Why don't we get better warnings for major lane changes?

We don't all use GPS. Some of us just print out the MapQuest directions, or --heaven forbid!-- use ordinary paper road maps. Maybe we don't like that metallic voice yakking in our ears like a back seat mother-in-law. So we need good signs. We need advance notice.

Those are the drivers you see in panic mode

Add my truck and camper together and I've got a 10,000-pound train that's over 40 feet long. You don't want me to have to make a sudden lane change right in front of you. Ever seen a camping trailer on its side in the median? I have, and it's not pretty.

from Jacksonville.com article
If you give me "JCT 490W/490E 1/4 MI" (a real sign) in four lanes of heavy traffic, that's only about 400 yards to work with. City through-loops and by-passes are notorious for doing this to drivers. Sure, the locals know they have to cross over three lanes --quick!-- and be in the far right lane to hit the Exit Only ramp in time. But for out-of-towners? Those are the drivers you see in panic mode. Now add a trailer or 5th wheel into the equation and bad things can happen in a hurry.

When you're driving or towing a large RV, the need to make sudden short-notice lane changes can be deadly. You have to trust your mirrors and the drivers around you. Nobody wants to get stuck behind you, so they pass you any way they can. What if it's pouring rain? Pray, or play it safe and miss your exit.

better design for highway signs
from another cool sign article!
It's an easy problem to fix. I've seen those rare places where the DOT got it right. They pick a handy overpass about a mile ahead of a major split, and they draw you a giant picture. You don't have to read little signs with numbers; just follow the big arrows. "OK, so the two left lanes keep going, but the right one goes north and next one in goes south." How simple was that?

And it's the "mile in advance" that really matters.

When drivers have plenty of time to work their way into the correct lane there's room for courtesy to work its magic. You can change lanes at speed, instead of forcing drivers behind you to hit the brakes. With room to react, most drivers are happy to let big rigs get where they need to go. Nobody wants to get crunched!

I'll bet rescue workers and the automobile insurance companies are with me on this rant. Let's do some math, in this fictional (but realistic) accounting:

  • One badly-damaged full-size pick-up: $15,000
  • One destroyed travel trailer: $21,000
  • Value of possessions ruined in crash: $1,800
  • Two other vehicles damaged by collision: $12,000
  • Hospital stay for one injured motorist: $31,000
  • Deployment cost for three police cars, two fire trucks, ambulance, critical care response unit, and a dozen or more first-responders -- ?? Certainly $2,000 or more.
  •  TOTAL: at least $80,000
I don't know how the math works for those totally cool giant-picture road signs, but I'm willing to wager that $80,000 will buy more than one. (Pennsylvania's DOT spent about $60,000 for thirty big road signs in this story from 2009.)  And if better signage can save just ONE life, what's that worth? 

How about you? Do you have any pictures of almost-worthless highway signage? Send me you photo and I'll publish it here. You can reach me via Comments or by using the link at the top of this page.

Review of Spruce Row Campground in Ithaca, NY -- We'll likely return to stay again

by Jim Bessey

Jim and Nick enjoy a quiet game of Gin at Spruce Row Campground
Jim and Nick enjoy a quiet game of Gin at Spruce Row Campground
After 6 years of trailer camping all around our region, we decided to try a new camping resort, sight unseen. My wife wanted to see more of the Ithaca region, so I made last-minute reservations at Spruce Row Campground by phone and the pleasant voice on the other end of the line assured me we'd have a fine site, with plenty of room, grass and shade. She was right, and we're all glad we went.

By the third day at Spruce Row, we'd toured most of the roads and trails on foot. We'd also piled all four of us (Layla included) in the truck and had a whirlwind tour of Ithaca (very busy), the Cornell University Campus, and a fine hike along the Taughannock Falls Gorge. When we finally checked out on Friday under a blistering sun, we were sorry to say good-bye, especially to the awesome pool!

Here's our round-up, all on a scale of 1 to 10, with "10" for Awesome:

Spruce Row Campground
2271 Kraft Road
Ithaca, NY  14850
Phone (607) 387-9225

Location and Ease of Access:  9
Between State Routes 89 and 96, between Trumansburg and Ithaca above Cayuga Lake

Nearby Attractions: 9
THREE State Parks, swimming and hiking, wineries, the lake, museums, shopping, and the whole city of Ithaca

First Impressions:  8
Nice entry, homey store/office, pool and mini-golf up front. Pleasant staff.

Site Layout, Roads, Grass and Trees:  9
Lots of shade, grass, doggie trails. Roads designed to reduce through traffic.

Campsites: Size, variety, maintenance, hook-ups, tables and fire rings:  8
Plenty of site choices, spacious, easy to pull-thru. Tables and fire rings need upgrading.

Resort amenities: Store, pool, games and activities:  8
Pretty basic store, delightful pool, an OK mini-golf course, minimal activities and game room. Tons of green space for outdoor fun and games.

Spruce Row store (website photo)
Rules and Reg's: reasonable or intrusive?  7
Hate the speed-bumps, pool and dog rules are fine. Seasonal sites a bit unkempt.

Over-all Rating:  8.5
We'd stay there again, and recommend Spruce Row to our camping friends.
 How about you? Do you have a campground review you'd like to share? If you'd like to submit your review for posting, you can reach me via Comments or by using the link at the top of this page.

Our rotted camper floor: New tile to the rescue!

by Jim Bessey

Porcelain tile fixes rotten floor in our 1980 Shasta camp trailer
Porcelain tile fixes rotten floor in our 1980 Shasta camp trailer 
This isn't my usual place for writing about tile, but my recent experience with some serious rot in our camper's floor makes the exception. I wanted a durable, rock-solid new floor and porcelain floor tile seemed like a fine fit for that. Doesn't hurt that tile is almost always pretty, too.

When we bought our 1980 Shasta camper about 6 years ago, the floor just inside our door and into the bathroom had a "soft spot." I fixed that by doing some plywood patching, by adding floating laminate flooring in the main area, and by overlaying linoleum in the bathroom. Until last month, that was good enough.

When Lin and I went camping earlier in June, we discovered that the "soft spot" had returned with a vengeance. Afterward, I parked the camper in our driveway turn-around and set up shop. We had another camping trip coming right up, so I had to hustle. First I had to fix the steel fold-out step, which was very springy (that was a clue for me for what was to follow).

The extent of the rot made me sick

The floor problems began right inside the door, the single highest-traffic part of our camper. I knew some serious fixing was in order, so I put a new blade in my cordless sawz-all and started what I'd hoped would be a strategic surgery. No such luck.

The damage was horrendous: wet-rotted frame members, plywood so soft I could crush it in my hands. The extent of the rot made me sick. It went under the entry closet, over to the oven cabinet, and all the way to the bathtub. In all, I had to remove everything down to the protective metal under-skin for a total of over 15 square feet.

Even the wooden 2 by 2 framing was ruined, and that's what held everything together.

Talk about needing a Plan B! I had to search my shop for suitable materials and start improvising right away. Had to cut out the bottoms of the closet and the vanity, just to get access. I laid in strips of 5/8" floor decking to span the dead space over the black water tank. Had to locate the metal cross-members and screw that down to firm it up.

The right trim and finish fixes everything

Next came a layer of 1 by 6 pine at right angles to the floor plywood, to tie things together and gain some strength (since I couldn't plywood the whole floor in one shot). Trouble was, the 1 by 6 material was too thick to go under the existing floor plywood--the old and new floors had to "interlock." So I had to switch to 7/16" plywood, slip it under the old floor where it was still good, then infill with 1/4" lauan plywood.

Doesn't that sound like fun? Took me an entire Saturday to do all that.

I used up all my 'scrap' material, two tubes of Liquid Nails, and had to make another run to Lowe's for more plywood. Ran out of screws; ran out of underlayment staples. Ran out of daylight, too.

It all worked out in the end, though. The floor was oddly-built and ugly, but felt really solid underfoot. With another full day available to me, I set-up for tile cutting, grabbed two boxes of left-overs from the garage, and spent a few hours cutting and laying new 12 by 12 porcelain tiles. Trust me, there were some tricky cuts!

The right trim and finish fixes everything. I scrounged through all of my left-over shoe moldings, some newly-acquired scribe moldings that matched perfectly, and caulked all the grout joints with tile-industry caulk that would stay permanently flexible. I figured grout would just crumble and fall out once I got back on the road.

You be the judge. Take a close look at the picture above. It's nothing fancy, really; but I'm hoping this floor will last until we're ready to give up on our 30-year-old camping trailer. It survived our week-long camping trip very nicely.
 How about you? Have you ever had to do some emergency surgery on your camper? It's not fun, is it?

While camping at Spruce Row Campground -- We hike the Taughannock Gorge Trail

by Jim Bessey

Trail length:  .75 miles
Trail rating:  Easy
Scenery rating:  10 out of 10
view fm Overlook Taughannock Falls with Jim Nick Layla
Jim, Nick and Layla pose on the Overlook, Falls behind them.
They say "Ithaca is Gorges!" Since we were camping just a few miles away, we had to visit one of the coolest gorges in the region: Taughannock Falls Gorge (pronounced "tuh GAN uck"). This soft gravel trail follows the water's path from the falls to Taughannock Falls State Park on Cayuga Lake. It's wide and shady with very little grade change along the way.
creekbed downstream from the Falls. Nick Jim and Layla
Nick, Jim and Layla along the creek bed. Trail behind Nick.
The trail crosses a fairly new bridge and terminates just a few dozen yards from the spectacular falls. It's fun to start at the Overlook, see the people down below, then go there yourself afterward. That's exactly what we did. We'll let the pictures tell the story.
Taughannock Falls creek bed
View from the Gorge Trail, down the creek bed.
Jim and Layla under the bridge to Taughannock Falls.
Jim and Layla under the bridge to Taughannock Falls.
Jim, Lin and Layla near the trail's end at the Falls.
Jim, Lin and Layla near the trail's end at the Falls.
Taughannock Falls from trail's end
Taughannock Falls from trail's end. Gorgeous, huh?
How about you? Do you have a trail hike review you'd like to share? If you'd like to submit your review for posting, you can reach me via Comments or by using the link at the top of this page.

Day Three at Spruce Row Campground -- We hit a few roadbumps and make a big splash

by Jim Bessey

The Cement Pond Spruce Row Campsite Ithaca NY
The Cement Pond at Spruce Row (website photograph)

We've spent two nights at Spruce Row Campground and RV Park, just north of Ithaca, NY. Both nights have been gorgeous. The first morning didn't go so well, though.

Make no mistake: this is a lovely campground. It's big and green, has a dandy pool (more on that in a minute), and enough shade to dodge the harshest sun. Oh, but the showers--not so good.

The showers are old, and weren't high budget to begin with. But, for me, as long as there's some hot water I'm okay. A little water pressure never hurts, either. Unfortunately, these facilities have neither force nor heat. Have to admit, that's a risk you take when you go camping. We found a fix for that...

The pool! I read one disparaging review of that pool online, before we arrived. Let me just offer my opinion to the contrary, loud and clear. It's a great pool.

They call it The Cement Pond, like in the Beverly Hillbillies. Turns out, it really is a cement pond. The owners dug a hole the right size and shape and poured concrete to fit. It takes you a minute or two to get used to the idea, but it works very well.

All four sides of the "pond" are step-tapered into the water. The shallow end goes from zero inches to about two feet, and the deep end bottoms out at seven feet. You can perch a lawn chair at the edge and let your feet trail into the water, all the way around.

The water itself was just plain perfect, maybe 80 degrees. It was heavenly. We'd swim a bit, then lounge on one of the sloped sides, then plunge back in again. Loved every minute of it, and I'm headed back soon to cool off again. (We still have temps in the low 90s today.)

As for the bumps...well. I understand about Slow Down and Speed Limit 5 mph. Every campground has trouble with drivers in a hurry. But this place has some serious speed bumps. Even carefully easing the truck and camper over these rattles things loose inside both vehicles. Some are about 8 inches tall; I measured. Ouch!

So that's where we're at. A couple small complaints, and one great big Oh Yeah! for the pool. Anyone for water polo?

How about you? Do you have a campground review you'd like to share? If you'd like to submit your review for posting, you can reach me via Comments or by using the link at the top of this page.

Day One at Spruce Row Campground, Ithaca, NY -- our first time here, so far so good!

by Jim Bessey

Jim and Nick at Spruce Row campsite
Nick and I have a game of Gin at our Spruce Row campsite
My wife decided it was time to try a new campground, and she wanted to tour the Ithaca region a bit this year. I did a Google search for "campgrounds near Ithaca NY" and here we are. First impressions: it's big and shady and not too shabby at all.

Of course I checked a few user reviews first, but they ranged from "love this place" to "never again." We just had to see for ourselves. We waited to make reservations until late last week. It's the 4th of July holiday week, so we could've been shut out. Instead, we have a pretty nice site. Grassy, shady, and big enough for truck and camper and us.

The layout is typical. All the services and amenities greet you on arrival, with campsites laid out in a series of roads farther back. Decent roads, too, mostly good gravel. Registration was fast, friendly and easy. Good little store inside. The whole place is just filled with trees of all sorts. I love trees!

So far we're settled in nicely. Our new camp doggie, Layla, has had a fine walk on a maze of grassy trails marked for her use. The campers around us are courteous, though one did have his music cranked a little too loud for a while.

We'll check out the showers and pool today, our first morning here. Take a longer walk around the whole place--it's quite a spread, with over 200 sites both seasonal and transient. Then we'll become Ithaca tourists and have a look around this beautiful Finger Lakes destination. I see a whole batch of wineries, restaurants, and state parks scattered all around us. Should be fun! 
How about you? Do you have a campground review you'd like to share? If you'd like to submit your review for posting, you can reach me via Comments or by using the link at the top of this page. ~Jim

Music and Camping: What can we do about Radio Spam?

When I go camping, I've just gotta have some music!
photo by Andrew Taylor
by Jim Bessey

When we go camping we leave the TV behind. It's one of our little rules. I still, however, need some background noise. Assuming, that is, the campers next to us don't have their stereo cranked up. (Yup, it happens.) So we have a sweet little battery-powered radio that plays softly near the picnic table. 

I like to listen to Bob Kingsley's Country Top 40 on Sunday mornings. Sometimes I can catch a Saturday night NASCAR race on Big Dog Country 1035. My wife likes hot-pop and dance music, stuff she can dance to in the dark by the campfire. We prefer radio because it also gives us weather updates, just in case. I think it's smart to stay in touch with the news and weather, even when we're taking it easy outdoors.

Bags of coins (worth millions?), hair tonics (Guaranteed!!)

There's one big fat drawback to our music plan: RADIO SPAM. Can you hear the growl in my voice when I say that? Radio ads repeat on a near-hourly basis, so it's bad enough listening to the same come-ons from our local car dealers. Those, I can handle. But the SPAM -- mostly national-level crap -- makes my blood boil.

My dad used to get the Legion Magazine, because he was a Korean War Vet. There was a whole page of jokes and political cartoons near the back, which I liked. Right behind them, though, were the advertisements. Remember those? Bags of coins (worth millions?), hair tonics (Guaranteed!!), and carburetors that would get you 100 mpg -- it was all there every month. NOW that same garbage is all on the radio, for heaven's sake.

A few years back, a big media company that rhymes with "mEntercom" bought a half-dozen of our local, previously independent, radio stations. Now this batch of call-letters forms a fine conglomerate that apparently offers the national advertisers JUST what they wanted. If you hear one of these Spam ads on one station, you know you'll hear it on all of them. Swell. What kind of advertisements am I complaining about, you ask?

How about the amazing secret stash of gold coins recently discovered in a Swiss vault? These RARE and extremely valuable treasures can be yours when you order the free DVD that explains this incredible opportunity in detail. Oh boy!

That one's not so bad. But do we have to listen to Fantastic Offers for Male Enhancement?? Do we really? These are carefully worded so as not to offend. Well, not much anyway. Yuk

One of the regulars, limited to JUST ONE trail offer per household, promises wonderful weight loss for fat women over the age of 23, all in a simple pill. No diets, no exercise, just one pill. The bubbly girl who testifies about this pill's power went from a size 14 to a size 4 in just six weeks!! Sure she did.

These ads are SPAM, nothing less. They're come-ons, they're baloney, and they never stop playing -- despite exclamations of severe time limits on these Amazing Offers. Frankly, I'm sick of them all. I can't believe having this junk played every day is the price we have to pay for music, weather, and news. Should we simply give up and switch to an MP3 player? (It would plug right into the back of our camp radio.) Should we play CD albums instead? What do you think?
Your comments and feedback are always welcome!