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Falls Lake Shake Down

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I took the camper out the Falls Lake for a night just to do a shake down for the start of the season. This primarily involved meeting a buddy of mine to BS away an evening and hang out for a bit. The campsite was only 30 min from home so it was an easy trip on familiar roads. The campsite was as expected since we had camped in a different loop of the same campground the previous summer. We did have a nice rain storm roll through during the night and temp dropped into the 40’s. This short trip went flawlessly which was good since our next trip was 4 hours away.


Norwood by Lake Tillery

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Norwood04It’s 10pm on the Sunday before Labor Day. I’m sitting at our site in Norwood Campground, just across the road from Lake Tillery in Stanly county NC. We, being the family and I, arrived yesterday. It’s been interesting so far…


The drive from Raleigh was uneventful but drawn out by a commitment that we made while we were at the NCRVDA RV Show the previous weekend. More on this to come in my next update though. We made a quick stop at a local produce stand after our previous commitment then headed to the campground. We arrived and I immediately thought that it appeared rundown and old but I figured we’d do it anyway. Chances of finding an alternative on Labor Day weekend are slim to none.


We were shown to our site by a very nice gentleman who was lacking a fair amount of the normally allotted teeth.  When we got to the point in setting up where we normally fire up the old air conditioner to dry thing out I noticed that the compressor was tripped the breaker in the camper. I reset it and tried again. The breaker didn’t trip but it never fully started up. I knew that our unit was working when we left home that morning and was suspicious of the power hookups since they were on a piece of 2×4 nailed to a tree. I messed with the AC for another few minutes. A few minutes later our dentally challenged friend returned with some firewood for us and I asked if there was an electrician on site. Jackpot! I got not one but two. They were eventually able to determine that the voltage was dripping on the outlet and never coming back up when the AC pulled a load on the line. They tried to fix it but ended up having to pull a new service line which was quite easy since all the lines are strung through the trees like Christmas lights.


The following day we decided to explore the area. Our first stop was Morrow Mountain State Park. I grew up go to this park but T and the kids had never been. We checked out the little museum then headed for the overlook. It’s quite an amazing view considering it is in the middle of the Piedmont zone of NC. We walked a short trail around the circumference of the peak and admired all the flint left by the Native American tribes that quarried it from the mountains. After spending a couple of enjoyable hours in the State Park we headed toward the Town Creek Indian Mound. The Indian Mound is a very interesting site that is worth the visit. I’ll leave it at that since I cannot begin to explain them adequately.


Monday we had a normal campground morning. The kids played and fishes while T and I packed the camper. When we had finished up, we policed the campsite and headed for home. Overall the weekend was filled with interesting experiences, all of them educational in some way. We have struck another campground off our list, permanently; seen some places that most of us had never seen and learned a bit about campground membership scams.

RV Shows and Scams

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Any informed borrower is simply less vulnerable to fraud and abuse.
— Alan Greenspan

We went the NC RV Dealers’ Association show at the NC State Fairgrounds on August 29th just to see what it was all about since we are fairly new to this camping in a camper thing. One thing that we already knew but was reinforced was that most campers can not really be considered camping in our book. For us, camping is about being in touch with the outdoors. Our popup just makes things a bit more comfortable; however, we can stay in touch with the outdoors because it is really just a fancy tent, sort of. Another thing that we already knew but was also reinforced at the show was that RVs and campers are generally built using the cheapest materials, finishes, and process available. This is okay as long as you are willing to accept it, never purchase new, and are willing to maintain it yourself. Just keep in mind that you get what you pay for. If you are willing to spend the money on an Airstream or Winne then you are getting much higher quality that will last.


The RV show was a lot of fun overall. We saw a myriad of camper types from Class A to teardrops. There were a fair number of vendors that were selling everything from camper parts and accessories to permanent campground sites to Sugar Gliders (the tiny, furry, and adorably cute mammal). We checked everything out, entered all the drawings (fully expecting an increase in email spam), and spoke to a lot of the vendors as well. We stopped at a booth that was called “Sycamore Lodge” out of curiosity, asked what kind of campground it was and were told it was a membership campground. They told us that we could get some free camping days if we agreed to come by and take a tour. I immediately smelled a time-share type scheme brewing. We agreed to do it for two reasons: it was only 3 miles off the route to the campground we had booked for the following weekend, and they offered us lunch, $50, and 30 days of free camping. Besides, we were still curious.

The Saturday before Labor Day we packed up the camper and headed toward Sycamore Lodge. The campground is just outside Pinehurst, NC so it was about 2 hours away. When we arrived the campground looked a lot like any other campground. We found the office and were redirected to a building across the street. So back in the car. We asked a worker in a golf cart how to get to where we needed to be and he guided us over. The building that we were taken to was obviously a sales office. We were checked in, watched a video that really didn’t tell us anything more than we already knew, and waited for our appointment.

After a few minutes a young man in his mid 20s arrived to take us on a tour of the campground. We spent an hour or so touring the campground, cabins, and lodge. Before I go any further I have to give them credit; Sycamore Lodge is beautiful and extremely well maintained. We were then guided upstairs in the lodge past a sign that said “Authorized Personnel only.” We ended up in stage 1 of the sales pitch which was to take us through the campgrounds, programs, and extras included in a membership. Next we were ferried back over to the sales office. The kids were put up in a room to watch a movie while they tried to sucker us into a deal. We are a bit experienced with this type of sales pitch. They are highly scripted so that you don’t realize you are getting screwed over. Our lunch order was taken, then the pitch began. I’m not going to recap the pitch but it basically consisted of two phases. Phase one was “How much does membership at Sycamore Lodge cost?” The answer is $13k + an annual maintenance fee and it can be purchased at any time. Phase two was the “for today only I can offer you this special deal…” phase.

Phase two included membership in all the campgrounds owned by the parent company, Travel Resorts of America. That includes the 6 of them currently on the east coast plus the next one they purchase or build. They also offered membership to Coast-2-Coast and special deals on other campground rentals, condo rentals, cruises, etc. We then had to play the game of “How much do you think all this costs?” We both guessed high but when the price was revealed it was the same $13k as the single campground membership. This membership is for life and can be willed for three generations unlike the single membership. Now the catch. When you sign up you are on the hook for a $399 application fee and an annual “maintenance” fee of $499 + $150/year for the optional Coast-2-Coast membership.


Let’s think about this for a minute. If you are 50 years old when you make this purchase and you live to be 75 then you will pay upwards of $25k not including the additional membership. Then you will that to your grandchildren who will then have to pick up the maintenance fee. Don’t think you can sell it either. These memberships have a lower resell value than timeshares do and the company restricts the membership features that transfer. To top all this off, there are multiple federal court rulings against “pay for your lifetime” fees associated with this type of scheme. They don’t directly apply because they don’t address “maintenance fees” specifically but it is just a matter of time.

For the next stage of the pitch our rep brought in “his manager” who then spent the first 10 minutes explaining to us why the Better Business Bureau rating for the parent company and individual campgrounds were so poor. In some cases the BBB membership was even suspended. That should scream SCAM to you, it certainly did to us. Then, because it was obvious we didn’t buy the sales BS, he started to customize the available packages to offer us a cheaper option. We listened politely and then declined. Then came the heavy hitter boss who told us the penalties of trying to purchase a membership from someone else. At this point we had been there for three and a half hours, had a crappy chicken sandwich and chips, and been abused by a bunch of used car sales rejects. I was done. We informed them that we were leaving and that they had to be done because we were not interested in anything they had to offer and we would be happy to spread the word about the company’s tactics.

We went into this expecting just this kind of scam. We were completely prepared to tell them “no” from the start. That never wavered during the spiel. It was interesting to see the campground and we may have purchased an annual membership to it for a reasonable price but we were not about to get suckered long term. That said, I still don’t know why we do these things. I don’t buy used cars from dealers because I don’t have the patience for their BS. My advice is to use our experience to help avoid having to go through it yourself. Check out the NAM site for more information.

I failed to mention that sometime during the sale pitch the power to the site went down and did not come up again before we left. We did get our 30 days of free camping at Sycamore Lodge but it comes with all sorts of restrictions. We may or may not use them.

Down by the Toe

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Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.
Albert Einstein

On the edge of Yancey County, NC and not far from Mount Mitchell lies Toe River Campground. Nestled in a bend in the Toe River this campground was exactly what I want to avoid in campgrounds.


My brother and I had planned to get away for a guys weekend of just hanging out and such. I picked the campground because it was on the Toe River and the river is supposed to have some decent trout fishing. When I arrived I thought, it looks good so far. The river flows by the office, game room and event hall. I stopped to check-in at the office as one usually does. The folks working were nice and I was checked-in in no time. Well, after I had to leave a credit card number with them to cover loss of the gate badge that I needed to get into the campground itself. I proceeded to the gate, badged in (just like I do at work) and started down the gravel road. I passed by a very nice swimming pool before arriving in the campground proper. Then things proceeded to go down hill and I’m not talking about the road.

The first sight that I was presented with was a pickup truck with a bed full of teenagers. This might not have been so bad but they were driving around the campground waving a huge Confederate Flag. If the rest of my family had been with me I would have turned around, gone back to the office and demanded a refund. Thank goodness they weren’t drinking too. Of course, that is VERY not allowed in this campground as indicated by the large signs threatening arrest if caught in possession of alcohol.


I found my site, eventually. Backed in and did the normal set up of the camper. This all went as expected since I have done it multiple time before. My site was right on the water and the one that I had reserved for my brother was right next to mine. Unfortunately, on the other side of me was a permanent or seasonal site. That would not have been so bad if it weren’t for the three large guys missing shirts and flashing lots of butt crack while working on a jeep behind their camper.  Now that I was set up I settled in to wait for my brother to arrive with his teardrop. Once he pulled up we were able to place his camper in such a way that both of the campers obstructed the worst of the scenery.

We settled in and visited for the afternoon and evening, made a wonderful dinner of salmon and wild rice, then had a few under the radar adult beverages. The following morning I made eggs, sausage and bagels while we decided what the plans of he day were. Soon, we had settled on just exploring the area, departed the campground headed for the Blue Ridge Parkway. First stop was Mount Mitchell which I had not been to since the new visitors center had been built and the radio tower was removed. I was probably 10-12 years old and remember the hike up as being rather rough which it is no longer.


There was not a concrete plan for the day, so after looking at the map, we decided to take the first gravel road on the right after we got back on the parkway. This ended up being 15 or so minutes down the road but was well worth it. Once we had turned off, and navigated past the local bear hunters gathered at the top of the road, we proceeded down one of the most fantastic gravel roads that I have ever been on. Obviously it was built as a logging road a century or so back but it has been maintained quite well. The road 20 or 25 mile long road ran through some of the best country in the Pisgah National Forest. We stopped several times and thoroughly enjoyed it. Eventually we emerged in a small valley community that had a lot of local color to it. At this point we decided lunch was in order so we headed toward Burnsville. This took us more than another hour and two more gravel highways to get there. Burnsville turned out to be less than what I expected but if you have an hour you should check it out sometime. It’s quaint-ish. We rounded off the afternoon by simply heading back to the campers and hanging out for the evening. I did manage to squeeze an hour of unsuccessful trout fishing in.

The next morning we had a quick breakfast. I don’t even recall what it was. Then packed up and rolled out. My brother headed to the Boone area to take is daughter to lunch since she had returned to ASU for her sophomore year just a few weeks earlier. I meandered down the mountains by an alternative route and for headed home.


I learned a few things on this trip. Avoid NC highway 80 with a trailer no matter how small, its a beast of a road. If you wish to camp in this area you would be better off staying at the state run campground 10 minutes away. Lastly, do extensive research on the campground to determine how it is run, I had assumed that since Toe River Campground is run by the county that it would operate by similar rules as the State ones we have visited. Specifically, the sites are used short term; not so here. There are campers that have obviously been there for years. Heck, some even had roofs and carports. I’ll talk about my thoughts on this in a later post…  Safe travels.

Refrigerator Performance Mod

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It is commonly known that the 3-way refrigerators found in most pop-ups are less than perfect. When we first got our pop-up I excitedly plugged it in in the driveway to check out everything. Not having any prior experience with these refrigerators I didn’t know what to expect. What surprised me was that the temp never dropped below 53 degrees, admittedly it was 95 degrees at the time.

I spent some time reading about solutions or improvements that could be made to unit. I even contemplated replacing it with a dorm fridge in the end I decide to try the external fan addition that seems so common. I had a 120mm computer fan in the attic that I had purchased several years ago but never used. Using a piece of thin aluminum flat stock I mounted it to the body of the trailer behind the refrigerator vent.


In order to better direct the airflow from the lower vent across the fins of the heatsink on the rear of the refrigerator I used a piece of aluminum roof flashing to make a baffle. The baffle reduces the size of the opening between the two vents thus forcing greater airflow along the rear of the fridge where it does the most good. The fan increases the airflow by ejecting the hot air out of the upper vent and enhancing the chimney effect. I wired the fan into the 12v power side of the fridge controls using bayonet connectors for easy removal. I also installed a simple on/off switch in the lower vent section, which is also an access panel, so the fan can be easily controlled.


During the preparation for a trip we will plug in the camper to charge the battery and cool down the fridge. We also turn on the new exhaust fan. Within 4-6 hours the temp is down to a point we are comfortable enough with to load it up with our supplies. Once loaded the temp continues to drop. It gets so low that I worry about freezing stuff. The pic below shows the temp inside the camper and the temp in the fridge on our trip to New Bern. I’d say we are good as long as we follow the process.



Our First KOA – July 2015

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“Adventure is worthwhile in itself.” – Amelia Earhart

The middle of July brought about our first trip of any distance. We drove the 2-1/4 hours from Raleigh to New Bern to follow the river that is dear to us. This trip came about when we were chatting with one of our neighbors. Every summer they spend a long weekend at the KOA in New Bern. We decided to go at the same time.


We arrived on a Thursday afternoon. The power and water sites were on the edge of the woods across from the full hookup sites. We were guided to site 25 by the KOA host. The site is the last in a row of five and only about 150 feet from a bathhouse. We spent the next hour or so getting settled in. Since we lost our bag awning on our first trip out we brought along the canopy that I used to use when I did the Wake Forest Farmer’s Market many years ago. Once settled in, we explored the campground, checked out the dock and took the kids swimming. The campground also has two stocked fishing ponds but we had failed to bring any gear. We decided to go out to dinner and to Walmart to pick up the basics so the kids could fish. once we returned to the camper the kids, of course, immediately wanted to go fishing. So that is what we did until it was time to get ready for bed.


Friday morning we slept in. My dad and stepmom were coming to the campground to see the camper since they had not seen it yet. They arrived a few minutes after 11 am and checked things out. We then followed them into New Bern for lunch. We ate at The Chelsea Restaurant in downtown. If you get the opportunity to try we highly recommend it. Following lunch we spent a couple of hours checking out the old hardware store, the birthplace of Pepsi and other shops. I’ve been driving through New Bern regularly for 20+ years and never stopped to visit. We will be going back.


We arrived back at the camp to find that our friends still had not arrived for the weekend. It was back to the pool. That evening our friends arrived and the kids all harassed the campground together. T and I relaxed. We cooked burgers over the open fire and then did the s’mores thing with our friends.

Saturday, our last day due to teacher work week starting on Monday. T got up early and went to pick blueberries across the road from the campground. I started cleaning up the campsite and the kids stormed the campground again. They played giant chess, swung on the swings and fished more. A good time was had by all. When T returned we packed up, said farewell to our friends and headed home.

Pop-Up: Shake-Down or Our First Trip

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Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean. — John Muir


For our first trip we decided to stay close to home just in case we needed to run back and pick something up. We chose Jordan Lake State Park since it is only 35 minutes from home. The site we selected was the Crosswinds Campground in Loop B. As with all sites in the NC State Parks system it was clean, well kept and had plenty of separation from the adjacent sites; though the bath house was a bit distant.

We had been tinkering on the PUP for 2-3 weeks and I had tried to foresee all that we would need. So we loaded up and left out on Friday afternoon for the campground. I was surprised how well the camper towed behind the Xterra. I’ve pulled may trailers over the years, ones that towed well and ones that bounced around like they were kites. Let me backup a bit…

I left work at 12:15pm to finish packing and head to the campground. I was on the interstate when my little commuter car cut off due to a mysterious electrical issue. I was still 40 minutes from home when this happened. This is why I have AAA though. I called T to let her know then called AAA. They dispatched a wrecker at 12:40. An hour later the wrecker arrived and I had them tow the car the 5 miles to my in-laws. T and the kids met me there so that I could resume my trip home to finish packing. The kids stayed with the in-laws since they were coming to meet us at the campground for dinner anyway. T and I went home, finished packing, hooked up the camper and were on the road by 5:15pm.



We arrived at the campsite 10 minutes after my in-laws and the kids. I backed in and we started setting up. When we went to pop the top we realized that the awning was missing. Hmm… The gimp strip that holds the awning bag to the aluminum channel on the roof was still attached to the camper. The stitching had completely failed. T and her father decided to go look for the awning on the toll portion of the interstate. My son and I started setting up the camper and getting settled in. When the search team returned they had the awning stuffed in the car. It had torn off and slid down the interstate at 70mph. The bag and awning both suffered irreparable road rash.



Even with the rough start to the trip we ended up having a fantastic time. We ate well, swam in the lake, hung out on the beach and generally relaxed. I was relieved to find that I slept well too. Sunday arrived and we lingered through the morning but had to be home just after lunch. The drive home was uneventful. We declared the weekend a success and were sold on the PUP.


A little bit about the camper

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“Life is a blank canvas, and you need to throw all the paint on it you can.”
― Danny Kaye

This past June we purchased a 2009 Coleman Destiny Sedona pop-up camper as a replacement for two tents. Though the tents are nice Eureka family tents the camper is light years more comfortable. So lets talk about it a bit…

The Sedona is the smallest camper in the Coleman Destiny lineup. When closed it is an 8′ long box, 13′ with tongue and rear bumper. Once opened and setup it is a mere 16’9″. This is tiny in the grand scheme of pop-up campers. The average appears to be 18′ – 21′.


The image above is the layout of the camper. It is sufficient for our family of four when we use the single bed for one kid and convert the dinette for the other. Our goal has not been to spend time in the camper but to experience our surroundings and adventure out so a small camper is fine for now. I cannot fathom why folks drive 37′ RVs to a campground and only get out to connect the power, water, sewer and CABLE. Seriously, what is wrong with this picture.

Our camper is equipped with the standard sink, inside stove, propane furnace, 3-way refrigerator and air conditioning. A full length single bed, a short single bed (convertible dinette) and a double bed. It’s a basic model with a few upgrades but they are the right ones. It even came with a bag awning. We simply couldn’t pass it up at the price.

We consider it a great start but there are many changes, modifications and improvements that we want to make so that we can get the most out of it. I’ve decided to keep a running list of them in the right hand sidebar of the blog and as I, eventually, write about them I will link the post from the checklist. I’ll kick it off right now.

At the time of this post we had already taken two weekend long trips so I am playing catch up. I’ll post about each trip shortly. Since purchasing the camper I have been exploring the forums, pinterest and web to see what others have done to their campers. After our first trip is became obvious that we needed more storage about the sink so I explained to T what other had done to address this issue. We decided that we should head down the same path. I picked up all the necessary parts at the hardware and big box stores and got to work. This is what we have started with though I have already modified it a bit.

This is just the first change. There are more to come so stay tuned…


And now for something completely different…

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Life is an adventure, it’s not a package tour. –Eckhart Tolle

Since before my wife, lets call her “T”, and I were married we have always desired to have adventures. Little adventures and big adventures. I met here just a couple of months before I took the “grand, winter castle adventure tour of central Scotland” with my father as an extension of a business trip. T and I have been married since 2002 and now have a 10 year old girl and a 9 year old boy. I’ll call them “D” and “C” respectively. We desire to give them ” adventures” that they will remember and wish to share with their children in the years to come.

When the kids were younger we tried to take them to as many of the local parks and age appropriate activities as we could. In fact I think they have been to almost every city, county and state park in the area by now. We have extended our adventures many ways over the years; staying with distant family and friends, the occasional stays in hotels or B&Bs. T even took D to Germany to visit her best childhood friend when D was just 4 months old. We have decided that it is now time for the adventures to grow.

T and I have been casually looking at campers almost since we met. We’ve often talked about getting one but have always come up with some excuse or another. The usual one always seemed to be that we didn’t have a car that could tow one. I’ve always had a small SUV and she is extra crunchy so shes had a gas sipper. These just wouldn’t handle it. About 3 years ago I took a new job that is 40 miles from home. I drove my little SUV for the first 4-6 months and paid for it in gas. We decided that I needed a commuter car. At about the same time some long time friends decided to sell their old Civic so I jumped on the deal. Two things came out of this. I now had a car that got 35mph and I could get a replacement for my SUV that could handle a trailer. The tow vehicle hunt had begun.

It took me a couple of months to figure out what I wanted and to find it. We eventually ended up purchasing a 2004 Nissan Xterra. This would allow for a 5000lb towing capacity which was more than enough for our needs. I began casually looking at campers on Craiglist. I thought that I needed a small camper with bunk beds for the kids and a double or queen for us. I even found several but didn’t want to spend the kind of money they were going for. So I kind of shelved the idea for a while.

Early on in our relationship, T and I had stopped at an RV dealer while visiting my parents. We looked at an overpriced pop-up camper but they just weren’t on my radar at this time. I was stuck on a teardrop style camper which would not work with the kids or a small box. About this time my brother was going through a career change. He’s a creative guy and decided to start a new business. That new business is building a high-end custom teardrop camper. He and I had multiple conversations about the best camper solution for a small family and we kept coming back to the pop-up. So it was decided, we needed a pop-up. Back to Craigslist I went.

I looked and I looked. I found one or two but there was always something that kept me from taking the leap. It was too far away or too expensive or too this or too that. I was making excuses. We decided to take the kids camping the old fashioned way… in tents. It was a great trip and we all had a wonderful time BUT I decided that I was done sleeping on the ground for fun. Two or three weeks later T was driving to work and saw a Coleman pop-up for sale at the end of someone’s driveway. She apparently stopped and took a look at it too. Later she called me an told me about it. I was working from home that day so I took a break and drove over to look at it. It was closed up and the owner was not home. That afternoon she called the owner and we arranged to look at it. It was in great shape and only 6 years old. I threw out a low-ball offer and it surprised me when they bit. T and the owner ran to the bank and closed the deal. We had a our new camper.


2009 Coleman Destiny Sedona with AC. The smallest standard box for a pop-up the is made. It’s a great place to learn and to start.

Just a note: For many years my DadofallTrades blog has been about woodlore / bushcraft, outdoor skills and gear. It’s been mostly idol for the last 2-3 years though. Going forward it will be about our adventures in our new camper and otherwise. I have archived my old blog posts to the Old Blog page if you are interested in talking a look at those.