Trip Report: Midwest in July (#1/3)

We’re home! Our epic 7-day road trip across the Midwest spanned some 1,700 miles and nearly 36 hours of driving. Add in sleeping, using the bathroom, cooking and eating, and we probably spent two thirds of the week in a space smaller than our living room at home.

It was our first week-long trip in Roxanne, and it was awesome. I’ve probably got enough photos and stories to fill a book, but will settle for three blog posts instead. The first is about the places we stayed. Later this week, I’ll write about what we brought, ate and did. The third post will be about the finances of a week-long RV trip.

Different types of lodging

When you’re driving a small motorhome like ours, you have plenty of options for overnight stays. In fact, I would argue that a Class B RV gives you the most options anywhere on the camping spectrum. You can pull over in a parking lot (with permission, of course) or choose one of those swank RV resorts with full hookups and a pool. We’re finding we like the spaces in between the best.

On this trip, we spent three nights in two separate Ohio state parks, one night on the street of a suburban residential neighborhood and two nights in a county campground. All worked really well for us, and all had their own advantages.

We really like state parks. The ones we’ve visited both before Roxanne and since have been well-kept and visited by friendly people from all over the place. (Recall our trip to Michigan and Lindy’s report from Ohio.) We’ve never paid more than $40 a night for a prepaid reservation at a state park. The state parks we’ve used have had only electric hookups — not water or sewer — but that’s never been an issue for us. The electric gives us the ability to run everything in the van, and we just use the centralized sanitation stations to fill and empty our tanks every few days.

Where we stayed this time

Stop 1: East Harbor State Park, Lakeside-Marblehead, Ohio (2 nights)

We picked East Harbor so we could have easy access to Put-In-Bay, an island in Lake Erie where Lindy spent some time when she was younger. The park was a great choice. It has its own beach on Lake Erie and a nice set of shady spots for RVs that you can pull into. Plenty of tent campers too. We like seeing a diversity of equipment because it makes our surroundings more interesting. Many of the large RV parks have more concrete than trees, and we don’t like spending the night in a canyon city of gigantic motor coaches with their equipment rumbling.

east harbor state park

At East Harbor, there were plenty of kids riding bikes around the loops. XY joined in on her scooter and went around, around, around to burn off all that energy from sitting in the van for hours on the road. I got in a nice 4-mile run on trails heading to and along the beach from the campground. And through the Travato Owners Facebook group, we met a nice couple from the Pittsburgh area who spotted Roxanne where we had parked. They drive the Mercedes-based Winnebago Era, which we had never seen in person before. Neat vehicle.

Our immediate neighbors were a fifth wheel towed by a pickup truck, a large Winnebago Class A and an RV trailer of some sort. We were in the spot on the end, and were easily dwarfed by the others around. The owner of the fifth wheel told me he admired our small size and the ease of setup and takedown, given his leveling jacks and all the other paraphernalia he uses. The Era was the only other Class B we saw in the park.

The park was indeed within easy driving distance for the ferry to Put-in-Bay. Bathroom facilities were clean and easy to get to. The sanitation station had all the right elements for dumping and filing up. And the weather was amazing…

Stop 2: The end of my mom’s driveway (1 night)

After Ohio, we drove over to Northern Indiana to spend some time with my mom. After some family time, shopping and a nice dinner out, it was time for our first boondocking experience on an actual road! It’s a quiet neighborhood without a lot of traffic. We were able to get to sleep even under a streetlight without putting up the shades. It was a cool enough night that the battery-powered fans and open windows with screens were enough ventilation, so no need for the generator. We got a decent night’s rest and headed out early the next morning without disturbing my mom. I’d read about how a “driveway stay” lets you sleep in your own bed every night and eat your own food from your own dishes. Now we got to experience one, even though we chose the street because the driveway is on a slope. Some of the neighbors driving by on the way to work seemed very curious about what might be going on in the big red van, but nobody bothered us.

Stop 3: Camp Reinberg, Palatine, Ill. (2 nights)

You don’t expect to find campgrounds right in the middle of the suburbs, but I was delighted when we did. Our next overnight stop was something I never knew existed when I lived in Cook County, Illinois. The Forest Preserve District of Cook County owns and maintains many acres of open space, but also several small campgrounds. Reinberg is one of these. It’s tiny — only 5 sites for small RVs and about a dozen for tents. Its location in Palatine was perfect for our reunion activities in Schaumburg and nearby. It’s also brand new, having reopened just this summer after a long renovation. The sites were comfortably shaded, and the bathrooms modern and very clean. The park is connected to the District’s nearby network of trails, which made for a glorious 6-mile Sunday run through woods, fields and parks. I understand that the camp offers activities for school groups too. All of the RV sites were full while we were there, though the RVs in them rotated a bit over the two nights. The tent sites were starting to fill up for the weekend too.

camp reinberg

Seems like there are a few minor kinks to work out still. The staff at the camp store had never even entertained the idea of selling toilet paper, for example. The map advertises a play area that doesn’t actually exist. And the sanitation arrangements struck me as unusual.

Each of the 5 RV sites has its own “dump station” (really, just a PVC connection to a sewer pipe). But there’s no nearby rinse hose because there are no water hookups. We store our sewer accessories in a waterproof box that hangs on Roxanne’s inside back wall. I didn’t want to use these without a way to rinse them out, so I made do with the factory-supplied sewer hose that’s stored outside the van. There was some trial and error with keeping the hose in place, as most dump stations provide a clamp or a brick to do this. But I managed the task without making a mess of myself or the campsite.

No water hookups and no centralized sanitation station also means no place to fill up fresh water. The park remedies this situation by offering to fill up your tank with a hose, an offer we accepted. It takes a few minutes to fill up when there’s a connected hose waiting on demand at a campground, but we easily spent a half hour waiting for the hose to get connected, unkinked and turned on, and then for our little 21-gallon fresh tank to fill up. The water that came out of the hose at the end of this long process was slow, and piping hot. Not an experience I’d repeat again if I had a choice.

The water and sanitation issues were a minor irritation, though. I’d definitely stay at Camp Reinberg again if I needed to be in the area for a few nights. The price was right, and the location was fantastic.

Stop 4: Maumee Bay State Park, Oregon, Ohio (1 night)

Maumee Bay is the largest of the parks we visited on this trip, and I wish we’d been able to see more of it. We arrived just after sundown and left pretty early the next morning. So we didn’t get to the beach, the lighthouse or the spa/conference center that a few other campers told us we needed to visit sometime.

The most fascinating part of Maumee Bay for me was the drive to the park itself. After driving all day from Illinois, we had dinner with a massive contingent of aunts, uncles, cousins and grandmothers in a suburb south of Toledo. In the half hour’s trip from the restaurant, we drove through:

  1. Suburbs.
  2. Several decaying, but actively populated, urban neighborhoods in the city itself.
  3. A heavy industrial area, including numerous oil refineries.
  4. Agricultural land, with a few houses scattered on it.
  5. A state park.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen such diverse land use over such a short distance in my life! Lindy and I were wondering aloud about the beaches and swimming in the bay or the lake, given the refineries nearby. But there seemed to be a fair amount of buffer space, and we never went for a swim anyway.

We did the dreaded honor-system nighttime check in, found our site and backed in. It was a nice, cool night. I plugged in the shore power cord and quickly abandoned any hope of sitting outside in a chair when I realized how incredibly buggy the campsite was. Not terribly surprising for mid-summer on a lake and in the woods, but disappointing anyway. We sat inside and read for a bit before bed instead. Thank goodness for screen doors and windows. We were able to keep the air flowing and most of the bugs out, though a few mosquitoes did find their way in, and we had to clean the rooftop fan out the next morning.

maumee bay

Bathroom facilities were decent, and XY found some neighbor kids to play with while we packed up the next morning. Then it was time to head home. We had renters coming through for Roxanne two days later, so we had to get everything refilled, cleaned and unpacked much more quickly than we usually would. Having a little helper helps.

cleaning roxanne

Six nights, three campgrounds and a public roadway. Biggest lesson learned? We need a standardized packing list and departure checklist. Making these up as we went along worked okay, but we can do better without relying on memory.

Next installment

Activities, accessories and food for three vegans on a road trip. Plus, what did we learn about how to be better campers?


Also published on Medium.

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