Browsing "New York"
Nov 15, 2012 -

Uneventful Drive Down I-87 To Saratoga Springs

It was a perfect day for a drive, clear with few cars on the road. Except when she was stuck behind some impossibly slow rigs or was climbing a grade, Miranda effortlessly matched the speed limit. I could only feel the truck behind me when I slowed down or was climbing a hill. I need to measure my new rig, but, truly, it doesn’t feel any longer or more unwieldy than my old one! My gas consumpition was normal for a day going up and down grades!

Just ahead of the last area before Saratoga Springs, a long column of white cars appeared in my view screen. They roared past me and I saw that they were US Border Patrol vehicles. They merged in between myself and another rig plated in Quebec that was closely followed another Quebec-plated rig. The two Quebec vehicles pulled into the rest area and the border patrol vehicles followed suit. There were no lights or anything, but it was the darnedest thing to see as they appeared to be on a mission.

One exit before the raceway, I was running on a quarter tank of fuel when I noticed a sign saying ‘truck stop.’ I figured that I’d be able to find a gas station where I could get in easily with my toad, and I did.

At the raceway, I tucked myself into the far end of the parking lot, much like I did last time. There are a lot more cars here this time, however.

I called Verizon to reactivate my phone to get internet and then realised that I’d need wifi to get online, like I did in the spring. My GPS told me where was a McDonald’s fairly close by, but was useless at providing a neighbourhood map that would set me off in the right direction on foot. I set off in a couple of directions, easily covering the distance to the restaurant, and each time my GPS told me I was going the wrong way.

Even though I’d truly had enough toad excitement for one day, I unhooked the truck and drove around a bit until I found the McDonald’s, which was ludicrously close by. It almost wasn’t worth it to have unhooked except that I would have come home in the dark.

There, I downloaded the Lion version of the VZAccess Manager and then tried to connect. No dice. I called Verizon back and when I finally got to a live person, he informed me that the first guy I spoke to forgot to authorize use of my cell phone as a modem. I hung up with him, restarted my phone, and tried the internet again. It worked!

I drove home in the growing darkness and then spent a very frustrating 15 minutes or so trying to hook my truck up. It’ll go much more smoothly as I gain experience with the tow bar… and hook up while not completely exhausted.

The disappointing news of the day is that my battery bank is not working properly. I haven’t even tried my new inverter setup yet because my batteries are so low.

I unhooked from shore power on Monday and had a full charge on Tuesday morning, but haven’t had one since then. I really should have plugged back in. What happened is that I thought the propane was on, but it wasn’t, and the furnace kicked on for hours, completely draining the battery before I caught the mistake. It’s been pretty overcast since, I spent all of yesterday in a garage, and I didn’t drive enough today to get a full charge. At this point, I can’t tell if my problem is just that I need a charge or if I screwed up somewhere in my wiring and actually have a problem.

My battery monitor says that I’m at about 80% charge with a voltage in the high elevens, (which goes to show that voltage tells you nothing about the state of your batteries), and that I could run at my current amp draw for about 24 hours. Unfortunately, my current amp draw is just the fridge. As soon as I turn on the furnace, my fridge goes haywire. Forget running the water pump or even an LED light. It’s getting chilly, so I predict I’ll be going to bed early with the electric blanket. I’m not even going to bother to have my batteries load tested. As soon as I can get a deal on a good pair of Trojans with more amp hours, I’ll be switching. I should not be shivering my first night back on the road.

Tomorrow will be the hardest day of the drive south as I’ll be heading onto the New York Thruway. After that, it should be fairly smooth sailing. I do need to find a place to overnight between St Clair PA and Hampton Roads as I want to arrive at my destination in daylight. ETA at this point is Sunday afternoon.

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Batteries, Boondocking/Dry camping, Cell Phone, Communications & Electronics, Driving, Electricity, Fridge, Furnace, Internet, New York, Solar Panels, Technical, Travel, USA, Weather    No Comments
May 17, 2012 -

Saratoga Springs, NY, to Chambly, QC

I had a slow morning at Saratoga Springs. The cats certainly were in no rush to go anywhere:

I enjoyed my quiet little corner of the raceway parking lot:

I backed right into a corner, just because I could:

The raceway was a long ways away:

I got the rig as squared away as I could and took off around 10. I was really impressed with the signage right at the Jefferson Street exit. It was certainly more helpful than my GPS, who told me to navigate to such and such a street:

I meandered my way to I-87 north and got off two exits later to take highway 50 north to Saratoga RV Park. Their dump fee is $20 and it’s just that, a dump fee. There is no potable water for filling an RV holding tank. They also sell propane and it cost $50 to fill the on board tank. Propane is the only thing I’ve found to be much cheaper in Canada than the US; this price would be exorbitant in Whitehorse, but was cheaper than in Washington State. That sure was an easy $70 for these very nice people!

Before heading back on the road, I parked the rig to the side so I could change into a nicer skirt (I’d worn grubbies to dump!). In a moment of perfect timing, the phone rang. It was the adjuster from Aviva wanting to let me know that the cheque was in the mail. She also asked me when I’m getting the other repairs done and I asked her to please give me a few days to breathe and think about this when I get to Montreal, a place I wasn’t at yet. I told her I’ll be filing my reimbursement claims shortly.

From the RV park, I was able to continue on highway 50 north to I-87, so the RV park wasn’t really a detour. It didn’t take long to reach the scenic and isolated Adirondacks. It is a rather long stretch after Saratoga Springs before you reach civilization again in Plattsburgh and you have to go through the scenic Lake George region.

I was amused when we started to hit the bilingual signs. Quebec does have some bilingual signage near the border, but the English is in tiny print, as per the law, while the French on the US signs is the same size as the English.

I’m always amazed by how quickly the landscape changes before Plattsburgh. One minute, you are surrounded by towering trees and the next you are in open cultivated land full of neat orchards.

It was going on 2:00 when I hit Plattsburgh for lunch. It was a bit of an emotional stop in that the last time I ate at the Applebee’s there was with my dad in late 2006. He was having a rare good day in his final stages of terminal colon cancer and we were on what turned out to be our last road trip together, just a quick border run, because he got tired so easily. I remember so clearly our discussion that day, with him making me promise that I would from then on make changes that would make me happy rather than satisfy other people in my life. Little did we know that less than two years later, I would be setting off on a great adventure. But I digress.

The border was nearly upon me, but I had one more stop to make after lunch. I pulled off in Champlain to get half a tank of gas, at a whopping $4.03 a gallon, the worst I’ve seen on this trip! A fill would have been $200, which is still cheaper than anywhere in Canada right now.

The knots in my stomach tightened when I reached the point of no return:

Left: Canada. Right: last US exit

It’s amazing how returning to my own country is more stressful than entering another one.

Croft asked in a comment if I was planning to cross in French or English. This was something that I debated and I finally decided to let the guard’s accent answer the question for me. I got a woman with a very thick accent when she spoke English. So I decided to cross over in French.

I was asked how long I was in the US, the purpose for my trip, how I met my friend in Virginia, and if I owned the motorhome. Then I got asked a question I could not answer and I froze: what was my license plate number? The car and the rig are one number apart and I can never remember which is which. I was just about to offer to jump out and check when the officer asked if I had my registration on hand. Oh, yeah. Duh. I got the right papers out and told her. She ran the plate number then asked the value of the goods I’d bought, if I had booze, drugs, or personal weapons on board. And that was it. The last time I had an easy clearing like that was back in 2005! I’ve been grilled harder coming back from a Walmart run! WOOHOO!!!!

From the border, it was just 45  minutes to my mother’s. I arrived, got level, and accepted a cold beer! That and getting the bike out of the living room were the only things I planned to do tonight. Tomorrow, we’ll deal with getting some water on board, plugging me in, and getting me hard wired to the internet.

The drive today was really difficult and I am exhausted! It was windy, but I also think my suspension needs to be looked at. I started to notice that the roads felt really rough well before my accident, so I’m sure the issue is not related to it, but it seems worse now that I don’t have the toad. I just find that I’m bouncing a lot more and hearing things shift around in the rig. Tioga George just got some Bilstein shocks installed and I’m hoping that a simple cure like that is all that’s needed. It just seems that if I don’t have a perfectly smooth road I’m more bouncing than rolling down the highway and having a lot of side to side movement. I just did some quick research and it doesn’t sound like I have a major or unusual problem, but I’m astounded by how differently the rig handles solo!

Finally, I want to, again, raise both my middle fingers to the guy who honked at me for going 5 miles below the speed limit on a narrow, twisty road and to the guy at the shopping plaza in Plattsburgh who honked at me because I wasn’t turning fast enough for him. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?!

And I would like to end by quoting T.S. Eliot:

We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

I have complained bitterly about how rude and rash are Quebec drivers. But having just traveled the breadth of the United States, I have to say that Quebec drivers were a breath of fresh air. After weeks of having the cars behind me whip around me at a highway on ramp, making it impossible for me to merge, it was a breath of fresh air to have the column of cars behind me wait patiently while I got over safely. And then I got caught on autoroute 10 in construction and traffic (its usual state) and everyone gave me my space and made sure I had enough room to change lanes. Merci beaucoup!

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Canada, Cats, Driving, Insurance, Law and Government, New York, Passport, Personal, Quebec, Technical, Travel, USA    9 Comments
May 16, 2012 -

St Clair PA to Saratoga Springs NY

I am parked at the Saratoga Springs Raceway in Saratoga Springs, New York, just north of Albany off of I-87.

I was awake ludicrously early this morning (5:45!) because I went to sleep by 10:15 and actually slept straight through. I wasn’t ready to be up, though, so I spent about 40 minutes cuddling with Tabitha. I took the time to make a nice breakfast, then headed into the Walmart to withdraw some cash.

It was misty in St. Clair this morning:

But the mist started to clear up as I got ready to pull out:

The drive back up to I-81 was much easier than the drive down. I knew I was going to hit construction immediately and that I was in for a long, hard haul to just past Albany. I actually have blisters forming on my hands from all that white knuckling!

At Hazleton, I took everyone’s advice about the state of the hill between Scranton and Wilkes-Barre and veered east onto I-80. My GPS was much smarter today and quickly adapted to my new route, especially since I remembered to change the settings to allow routing on toll roads.

I had a very frustrating experience getting gas. There was only one pump I could access and there was someone ahead of me in line for it. The old codger got out, saw me, and went back into his vehicle. His wife tottered into the store and came out about five minutes later. The man got back out of his truck, pumped his fuel, then tottered over to the store. He came out, looked my way, and got back into the truck while his wife adjusted some things in the truck bed. She got back into the truck and they sat there another five minutes before moving on.

I got the fuel, which took almost 20 minutes since I had to authorize the pump twice, and did a check around the rig before moving on. I found a sporty red car in my blind spot. It sat there for a full five minutes before the owner came out of the store. She spent several minutes cleaning trash out of her car, then started pumping her fuel. When that was done, she sat in her car and dialed her phone. By this point, I was so angry I decided to not even attempt to get out and ask her politely to move. Sum total, I lost almost a full half hour waiting for her to clear out! I should have cut my losses at the old codger and gone to the next station down the road. I couldn’t believe that I wasted a whole hour to get fuel!

I’d spent some time last night trying to figure out how the NY Thruway works and what my toll would be, but gave up. I did cobble together, correctly, that I would encounter a toll booth upon entering the Thruway and would be given a ticket that would determine what I would have to pay at the toll booth on the exit.

This is what the ticket looked like:

Each line indicates the exit number and applicable toll. So it was easy to compare the ticket to my GPS instructions and determine that I would be exiting at 24, for a nice even toll of $11.

It was getting on lunchtime by this point, so I decided to stop at the first service area on the Thruway. I bought a nice loaf of French bread last night and planned on peanut butter sandwiches and coffee for lunch. This plan was cemented by the fact that there was a Starbucks at this first service area. Paying the Thruway surcharge on an espresso was more appealing than cleaning the French press and making my own, plus an espresso has less caffeine. Needless to say, I was surprised that a tall Americano was $2.22, just seven cents more than in Smithfield, VA, and still cheaper than a short Americano in Canada! The fast food options also seemed reasonably priced, but gas was almost $4 a gallon!

My exit was just past Albany, and let me tell you that I never thought I would be so grateful to see New York’s capital city! I knew that, from then on, it would be smooth sailing in increasingly rural landscapes all the way to my mother’s.

The exit toll booth felt very chaotic:

From Albany, I entered one of my favourite parts of the US, remembering fondly summers spent at Lakes Champlain and George and random excursions into Plattburgh with my dad just to eat dinner in another country. My detour to the raceway notwithstanding, I didn’t need a GPS anymore and felt the weight of my travels fall from my shoulders. All the signs pointed to Montreal; I was on the home stretch!

I was really tempted to continue to Montreal, but the rig was in no way ready for the border. Instead, I got to Saratoga fairly early, will have a relaxing evening, and will set out at a leisurely pace tomorrow. I was going to arrive for lunch, but failed at finding propane and a dump station today, so I need to do that tomorrow. I know there’s a state campground a couple of exits up and it should have a dump station for me to use. As for propane, wish me luck. That stuff is elusive! I had thought I’d pass a campground today and would be able to dump there and ask for directions to propane, but campgrounds would have required huge detours. Crazy!

When I got in, sat down at the computer and noticed a weird smell. What was that? Rubbing alcohol? No… Oh, acetone! I opened the medicine cabinet and discovered that a bottle of nail polish had overturned. There was very little to mop up compared to the stench that is still lingering.

Now, it’s time to figure out what I’m doing for dinner. I’m sure beer will be involved. It’s hot here!

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New York, Travel, USA    3 Comments