Week 10: Hitting the Brakes in New York & New Jersey

The White and Green Mountains of New Hampshire and Vermont are quiet places, with lots of nature but not a lot of people.  For our next stop, we headed towards the complete opposite: New York City.  We made it in one piece, but the trip there was anything but easy.

All Hail the Storm King

Our first destination was the Storm King Art Center, a sculpture park about an hour north of New York City.  The drive was pretty rough, as the bucolic rolling hills of Vermont transitioned quickly into the construction zones and potholes of Troy and Albany, New York.  If you’ve never been to Troy, it’s basically the crackhead younger brother of Albany, which is not so nice to begin with.  The roads in Troy were in terrible condition, but if you need to pawn something or get a payday loan, we recommend checking it out.

Storm King was extremely cool, however.  It’s a huge park with numerous installations, including some truly gigantic pieces set in grassy fields.

It was a little less intimate than the Stone Quarry Hill Art Park, but the scope is vast, and it features works by famous artists including Roy Lichtenstein, Alexander Calder, Maya Lin, Isamu Noguchi, Richard Serra, and many more.  Unfortunately, it was punishingly hot when we were there, but the upside is that almost nobody was around.  We may have seen more animals than people.

We’ve got pictures of some of our favorites below.  If you’re in the New York area, Storm King is well worth a look – it’s really spectacular, and you can take a bus from the city or drive in.  If we did it again, we would probably rent bikes (which you can do on-site), as the park is so big that we barely got to scratch the surface.

Also, we could have watched this sculpture do its thing all day long.

An Unexpected Side Trip

We left Storm King, which incidentally is the name of the town and not the local deity, and headed to a nearby Wal-Mart to stay for the evening – the same one we stayed at on our first night in our RV, in fact.  But when we got there, we found that our tow car smelled overwhelmingly of burned brakes – and to our amateur eyes, it seemed like the front brakes had been completely destroyed.

We’re still not completely sure what happened, but most likely there was a malfunction with the supplemental brake system installed in our tow car.  This is a big plastic box that sits in front of the driver’s seat in the tow car, and clamps onto the brakes.  When we push the brakes in the RV, the brake system is signaled to physically and proportionately push the brakes down in the tow car.  Considering the relative sizes and weights of the vehicles, this is kind of unnecessary, but we are required to have it installed under New York law.

The weird part of the brake system is that it’s not attached to anything.  It just sits in the driver’s side in front of the seat.  So what we think happened is that it rode slightly forward somehow and ended up pushing down on the brakes continuously, just a little tiny unnoticeable bit, maybe even for just the 13 miles we drove from Storm King to Wal-Mart.  This created enough heat to totally destroy the brakes – as the mechanic who replaced them said, “It’s not that your brakes were ground down.  It’s that they were burned to death in a pit of fire.”

Basically what happened to our brakes. (via GIPHY)

But the story of how we got to that mechanic is pretty crazy.   While examining the brakes, we found out the battery in the tow car was also dead, from the daytime running lights being on while the car was towed (we later disabled those).  Lacking jumper cables, we called for roadside assistance and asked the friendly responder about the brakes.  He agreed they seemed to be destroyed.  Then, without asking, he called a mechanic he knew who does auto repair work and had him buy replacement brakes, then told us to follow him over to get them fixed.  Now, it was dusk and we had had a long day, plus we were already at a place that fixes brakes (Wal-Mart).  Also, according to Google Maps, the place was 45 minutes away – but the responder insisted it would be only 15 minutes, and peer-pressured us into following him there.

Of course, it actually was 45 minutes away, through deep darkness on actual mountain roads – the route went around the peak of Bear Mountain.  It was terrifying driving, especially since we were pretty new to driving with the tow car.  Driving the RV at night is always scary anyway – it just doesn’t have the ability to stop like a normal car, so the lack of visibility is stressful.  When you’re hauling a car with no brakes up and around steep, curvy, and completely unfamiliar roads, to an unknown mechanic who you are starting to worry may be planning to rob you, the stress level is… heightened.

Even our cool hat didn’t make us feel better. (via GIPHY)

But we did eventually make it!  At 9 p.m.  And the mechanic was good, cheap, and fast, and he didn’t try to rob us even once – although he only accepted cash, and was located in a locked, gated business park in an extremely sketchy area.  He actually offered to let us sleep in the RV outside his shop overnight, but we saw a few too many “ladies of the night” around for that to be an attractive offer.  Although, according to the mechanic, it was safe because “the cops drive down here constantly…”

Alone at Last

After staying at a different Wal-Mart than the one we intended, we finally made it to our campground for the week – Voorhees State Park in New Jersey.  Because these were apparently our unluckiest 24 hours, this park – right near the interstate – turned out to be basically on top of a mountain.  After twisting and turning our way up there, Google Maps attempted to send us under a very low bridge that would have ripped off our roof.  Luckily we noticed and turned off in time, and the path we then took happened to be the only reasonable way there.

Narrowly avoided this fate.

The campground itself was nothing special, but there was something special about it:  it was totally deserted.  The bathrooms were closed for construction and there were no other hookups, and apparently, everyone else just stayed away.   At times, we were the only people in the entire park, which has at least 80 camp sites.  Of course, staying by ourselves in a place which shares a name with the killer from Friday the 13th – and which has active bear warnings – was a little unsettling, but frankly, we weren’t really staying there either.  We just needed a quiet place to park our RV while we headed in to “The City” for Labor Day weekend, and Voorhees was great for that.  No hockey mask required.

You can see our motorhome in the back if you look closely, and… nothing else.

Eating Our Way Through The Big Apple

As former New York City residents, we didn’t do much touristy stuff while we were there, instead taking the chance to see friends and eat some great food.  Our friend Brian and his girlfriend Kim put us up, and put up with us, for the weekend, and we got to revel in the decadence of 24 hour grocery stores and Seamless.com.  We even made the trek all the way to Brooklyn for Smorgasburg, a giant weekly food fair, which is always horribly crowded but incredibly delicious.  We ate way too much, way too fast, and paid way too much for it (lousy NYC…), but it was awesome.

We also had lunch with Jake’s Dad, and met up with a lot of old friends and some old co-workers.  We also got to have some wholesome family fun with the Browns again (of Maine fame).  We rode the carousel with Kaia (and our friend, Alex), and smashed some blocks with Captain Rhea.  All in all, it felt a little bit more like home than we expected – although we’re still unsure whether it will be our next home.

Penultimate Bits

Speaking of old friends, on our last night in New Jersey we stopped by to visit Jake’s college roommate, Mike, and his wife and two young kids.  They were cute!  But we forgot to take pictures.

We also got lost in a strip mall parking lot where almost none of the roads actually lead out – the New Jersey version of a hedge maze.  The legends say that on a moonless night, you can still see the ghosts of dead shoppers trying to make their way out at Christmas.

This is probably what happened to Jimmy Hoffa.


What’s next:  Currently, we are staying at Jake’s mom’s house in El Paso, Texas, where the wifi flows like water, which incidentally also flows freely.  There are some benefits to houses that never move!  We are doing some heavy renovations to the interior of our RV, so stay tuned.

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Shamefully missed a prior post?  We made a list of them just for you.


Week 3.5: A Casino, An Art Park & A Lake

Howdy folks!  We slipped on our posting schedule a bit and now have a backlog of travels to get through, so here’s a heads up that this is going to be a longer post.  Lucky you!

A Casino

When we last wrote, we were in the magical hobbit land of Watkins Glen State Park, which we left to spend a night at the (theoretically) magical gambling land of Turning Stone Casino, in upstate New York.  Turning Stone actually has a fantastic RV Park, which just so happens to offer free shuttles to the casino. For some reason, they seem to want to attract well-to-do elderly folks with plenty of stuff in their car to pawn as necessary.

Now, we may not be elderly or particularly well-to-do, but we’re always willing to take a free shuttle bus ride.  So, showing the same business acumen that lead to quitting our career track jobs in NYC to buy an RV, we got dressed to the nines on a Wednesday night and headed in.  It turned out the core demographic was more “sweatpants-wearing chain-smoker and problem gambler” than “swanky cocktail party,” but hey, we didn’t go on this trip just to play by everyone else’s rules.

And friends, once we made it in, we hit it big.  As in, we made enough money from playing our favorite slot machine (Kitty Glitter) with our $10 voucher that we nearly covered the cost of tipping the driver for the free shuttle bus ride!  Of course, we also paid for a nice dinner there, but whatever – gotta spend money to make money.  It’s an investment.

An Art Park

After collecting and then immediately disgorging our winnings, we headed to Albany to visit Jake’s Grandmother and Aunt.  Along the way, we decided to make what turned out to be a not-so-quick stop in Cazenovia, New York to check out Stone Quarry Hill Art Park.  We didn’t know about it before it popped up in one of our “things to do” apps, but it turned out it was recognized as #2 in National Geographic’s “Top Ten Sculpture Parks and Trails.”  The park was only about 30 terrifying minutes away by motorhome over small mountain roads, and it was definitely worth the trip.

The park was created over decades by Dorothy and Bob Riester at their summer home, and currently is home to several artists in residence. The park is huge, beautifully maintained, and completely open to the public ($5 suggested donation).  Cool, funky sculptures are sprinkled throughout the park, accessible by carefully cultivated paths through forests and tall grasses.  We were there for several hours and only got a taste of the park, but what we saw was pretty extraordinary.  We would highly recommend anyone in the area take a look, or just follow along with our captioned tour below.

A Lake

After the art park, we made it to Albany and took a boat ride on Lake George in upstate New York.   We went with Jake’s father, aunt, and grandmother, and spent the entire time hanging out at one end of the boat because they had a DJ (why??) and that DJ was incredibly, almost aggressively terrible (again, why??).

Luckily, they served beer, so everything worked out in the end.  Below are some photos.

While we were in Albany we also got to play with these guys and test out our skills at photographing animals. We don’t think it is necessary to say just how many other photos we took trying to get a good picture of these energetic pups. So we’ll just say hooray for digital film!

What’s next:  Currently, we are in Connecticut near Hopeville Pond State Park, honing our profound hatred of mosquitoes.  Tomorrow, we’re going to spend the night at Mohegan Sun Casino – we’re coming for you, Kitty Glitter!  We’re then spending a week in Rhode Island at a private RV park to try to get this website in better shape.

Obligatory social media self-promotion:  If you want to follow along and you haven’t yet, please Like us on Facebook and/or follow us on Twitter (@NothingMundane) and/or Instagram (NothingMundane) to make sure you get all the updates.

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Week 3: Watkins Glen is Magic

To start off Week 3 of our roadtrip, we spent 3 nights camping at Watkins Glen State Park.  Watkins Glen is a jewel of a park located about 30 miles west of Ithaca, NY, where we stayed in Week 2.  It is rated #3 on USA Today’s list of Best State Parks in the United States, and it totally rocks.

Watkins Glen seems like the sort of park that hobbits would build, with a hiking trail that wanders through a beautiful, steep-sided gorge, handcut stone walls and bridges, sparkling waterfalls, and even a lily pond.  The trail is cut into the walls of the gorge itself, and it goes much closer to the water than you normally can at these kinds of parks.  Possibly this is because the park was first built in the 1860s, before we had the word “safety.”  (As you will see in our photos, the park also features what can only be described as a “pre-ADA number of stairs.”)

Whatever the reason, the park is frankly breathtaking.  Rather than try to describe it further, just look below at some of the many, many pictures “we” (OK, Heather) took at the park.  There are captions on some of them if you click through the gallery.  Keep reading after the gallery for a few bonus pictures and some shameless self promotion.

Bonus stuff:  The campground at Watkins Glen State Park was fantastic, with generous camping sites nestled beneath gigantic trees.  Our neighbors were slightly insane, but aside from that, it was as good as it gets.

After hiking, Jake successfully made a “fire,” cementing his place as one of history’s greatest heroes and outdoorsman.  We made s’mores and high-fived ourselves for going on this trip.

On our last night in Watkins Glen, a huge thunderstorm was forecast to hit us dead-on, but luckily just missed to the south.  This was good, since the lightning we could see from our window was enough to scare anyone.

Following the storm, the sky – which, at 6 o’clock on a bright summer day, had gone almost as dark as night – lightened into an amazing sunset.  Heather endured many, many mosquito bites to photograph it for you, so be sure to feel appropriately appreciative.

What’s next:  We’ve had a few adventures since Watkins Glen which we’re going to write about separately, including trips to a ridiculously cool sculpture park and Lake George.  Currently, we are in Connecticut near Black Rock State Park, where it is rocky and extremely hot.  Later this week, we’re traveling to Hammonasset State Park to get our beach on.

Obligatory social media self-promotion:  If you want to follow along and you haven’t yet, please Like us on Facebook and/or follow us on Twitter (@NothingMundane) and/or Instagram (NothingMundane) to make sure you get all the updates.  If you like what you see, we would be very grateful if you could tell your friends and online advertising buyers about us.

If we get ten more followers, we’ll buy one of you a puppy!  So, please check for packages regularly.


Week 2: Ithaca is Gorges

After the numerous short stays we wrote about in our week 1 (ish) travelogue, we decided to try to spend a full week in one location in order to reduce the number of times we had to drive our RV.  We headed to Ithaca, New York, a place where we lived from 2005-2008 while Heather got her Masters in Architecture from Cornell (ever heard of it?).  We loved living in Ithaca, especially during the summers, and our wedding was at the Ithaca Farmers’ Market in Fall 2011.

A lot has changed in Ithaca – R.I.P., Chapter House and Ithaca Commons – but the Farmer’s Market is still there.  The last time we were there we were dressed a tad more formally, but aside from our clothing, it looked pretty much the same.

We spent the week staying at Taughannock Falls State Park, bookended by visits to a nearby commercial camping site.  State parks are cool and very cheap, but they usually have minimal hookups – Taughannock actually had an electric hookup, so we didn’t have to run off the batteries, but there was no permanent water or sewage access.  There are different ways to deal with this, but our approach so far has just been to stay at a commercial RV park from time to time to replenish some tanks and, umm, dump the others.  Traveling in an RV is glamorous!

Taughannock Falls

Taughannock Falls was very pretty, and we did both the gorge trail and rim trail.  According to Wikipedia (always a good start to a sentence), the Falls are “the tallest single-drop waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains.”  The last time we were here we thought it was a little puny – too much length, not enough girth (nudge nudge) – but there has been a ton of rain in Ithaca lately so it was looking quite swollen.

We hiked for two days in this area and took a ton of pictures.  We also have a new gallery add-on on our website to show them off – let us know what you think!

Ithaca Falls

We also stopped by Ithaca Falls, a criminally underrated waterfall very near the Cornell campus.  As we said, there has been a lot of rain lately, so the Falls looked spectacular.  We took some wedding photos here four years ago, so we’ve got a comparison shot that illustrates it pretty well:

Some bonus photos below.  We included a short video so you can see the huge amount of water that goes over Ithaca Falls.  Despite being older than thirty, we managed to upload it to Vine!  But not before making a typo which now appears to be impossible to fix.

Cascadilla Gorge

Since we were on a tour of our previous wedding photos locations, we also stopped at the bottom of Cascadilla Gorge, which has a cool trail that runs from Cornell into town. Let’s compare with four years ago!

There were at least THREE differences between those two photos.  Did you spot them all??

A few more pics:

Buttermilk Falls

The final stop on our Ithaca picture tour (a.k.a. our “use up our mobile data from uploading tour”) was at Buttermilk Falls, a smaller state park just outside Ithaca proper.  The rain was a little less evident here, but the pools and rock formations were as cool as ever.

Being in Ithaca for the week was a lot of fun, and we loved seeing some old haunts and familiar faces.  Right now we’re in Watkins Glen State Park, which is a truly beautiful and unique place where we took SO MANY more pictures.  We hope you like waterfalls!