Monday, June 25, 2012

Tolland State Forest, East Otis, MA

Our most recent camping trip brought us up to Tolland State Forest in East Otis, MA.  This is hands down my favorite place to camp!  I like it so much that I had actually considered coming here and writing a terrible review, just to throw everyone else off the scent and free up more camp sites for us in the future.  Ha!  Fortunately for you guys though, I play fair.  :)

Otis Reservoir, Massachusetts largest recreational lake, is truly awesome.  It's huge!  And the campground is located on a small little peninsula that juts out into the lake, meaning they have plenty of waterfront sites.  Some are better than others, some are tent only sites and ALL of them are popular.  Watch the 6 month booking window closely and have a plan in place and you should be able to get a pretty decent site on the water.  Photos of all the sites at Tolland State Forest can be found at

We arrived on Thursday on the tail end of this year's first heat wave.  Setting up in 90 degree heat is NOT fun.  Having a waterfront site during a heat wave is though!  We were on site 23, the same site we stayed on last year, and it was great.  The site slopes a bit toward the water though so it took some handy work to get the camper level, but once we had everything set up we were pretty happy with the results!

The view from Site 23

Knowing ahead of time that we would have good access to the water, we decided to bring along the canoe. The kids had a great time paddling around the lake with Dad.  The bigger boats going by can make it challenging, but it was well worth it.  We will definitely be bringing it again next time!

Ed & Alex, canoeing!
We dodged a HUGE weather bullet Friday afternoon when severe storms passed to our South.  This meant cooler weather for Friday night and Saturday, which was wonderful!  On both Friday and Saturday we spent time at the beach.  Dogs aren't allowed, so one of us always had to stay behind with Shelby, but we took turns.  The beach was very nice - sandy and the swimming area was pretty shallow which was perfect for the kids.  The many boats going by during the day made for some fun waves too!  

But when we weren't at the beach, we spent time swimming off of our campsite.  Shelby was in heaven!!!  She spent so much time in the water on Friday bringing back sticks that I had to carry her into the camper later that night.  She was so tired she couldn't make the leap up the stairs!

Ed, Shelby and Alex swimming off of our site

Shelby and Alex

Another thing we did on both Friday and Saturday was visit Katie's Country Store in East Otis - not only because I needed eggs for breakfast the next morning, but also for their fantastic ice cream!  They have a cute little fast food take-out stand around the side of the building that serves breakfast items, sandwiches, burgers, wings, ice cream and all kinds of fried goodness.  Here's a picture of Alex enjoying one of their ginormous hot fudge sundae's:

We were hopeful and pleased when we were finally visited by the ducks on Friday!  They came around several times last year and we made sure to bring an extra loaf of bread for them this time.  Mom came by with 7 "barely" babies and we had fun feeding them for the 1/2 hour or so while they stuck around!

And we finally got in some geocaching!  There were 3 caches close by - 2 were on an island out in the reservoir and we didn't get out there. But that's ok, because it just means we have something to look forward to on our next trip!  The other was a micro cache down by the boat launch that we decided to check out.  There were no goodies inside because it was so small, only a very wet cache log, but we still had lots of fun tracking it down! (I'll be honest, we never would have found it without using the "hint" feature!)

When it came time for us to leave on Sunday morning, we were all dreading it.  We packed up reluctantly, but knowing that we will be back for Columbus Day weekend helps!  This is one of those campgrounds that I see us going back to over and over again.  We have several favorites, but for me this one takes the cake.  I'll be honest - the interior sites don't do it for me.  The waterfront sites are where it's at.  Watching the boats go by all day and swimming at your leisure in this spectacular lake for $14 a night is such a treat.  I promise you if you visit you won't be disappointed!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Venting - in a good way!

Raise your hand if you get abnormally excited about camper modifications!  *waves hand wildly* ME! ME!! I DO!!!

As of Friday all of the parts needed to install our new roof vent fan had arrived, so we (and by "we" I of course mean Ed - I just got in the way a lot and took pictures) decided to finally take on the task of removing the old air conditioning unit from the top of the camper.  The a/c has never worked and to be honest, we would rarely use it even if it did work - 9 times out of 10 we don't have the electric hook-ups to run it at our camp site.  Essentially we've just been towing about 80-100 pounds of dead weight for the past couple years.  So the decision to go ahead and add the roof vent in place of the a/c unit was a no-brainer for us. 

The problem with making a modification to the roof is that you run the risk of leaks - and leaks are bad.  I'll admit, we were hesitant.  Therefore we did lots of research ahead of time and tried to take the steps necessary to make sure the vent would be sealed well and be free from leaks.  And aside from having to raise and lower the camper several times on a hot day, this project was very easy and we didn't run into any surprises.  We purchased our roof vent on Ebay for around $40, which makes this a relatively inexpensive project as well.

A/c Unit - Before
To start, we (again - this is all Ed) opened the camper and removed the interior ceiling assembly (which was held in place by a few screws) and disconnected the wiring.  The unit only works on shore power, not off of the 12 volt battery, so we removed the electric cord completely from the track it ran through along the ceiling and caulked the hole where it went outside.  

Once the wiring was removed, we unscrewed the four bolts holding the air conditioner in place on the roof.  The camper then had to be lowered to remove the (quite heavy) air conditioner.  This part I actually DID help with - it took two of us to slide it off and lower it to the ground.  Aside from finding lots of dirt and leaves underneath it, we were pleased to discover that there was no caulk or silicone that needed to be scraped away.  The unit itself sat on just a gasket and once gone revealed a nice, neat, roughly 14 x 14 opening.  Exactly what we had hoped to see.

We placed the new vent in the opening and pencil marked its intended location in order to help with the putty tape application.  We used butyl tape instead of caulk to seal the vent (if you're not familiar with butyl tape you can read more about it here, I promise not to bore you with the details!) and it seemed to do a very decent job.  While it's more expensive and can be difficult to work with, the last thing we want are leaks.  The screw heads and vent flange were also covered with butyl tape.

Once the vent was in place on top of the camper, we then had to pop it back up again so we could get inside and install the new ceiling assembly for the fan.  This part was easy - 4 screws in place and the vent was, quite literally, open for business!  I love how it also doubles as a skylight and lets in more light.

New Vent - Installed!

New Vent - Venting!

We have yet to wire the 12 volt fan.  It will be wired directly into the campers 12 volt system so it will work when we only have battery power.  Ed ordered all the necessary wiring this week to complete the job and it should be arriving in the next few days.  I plan to come back and update this post once we've wired the fan. In the meantime, we've left the camper open in the driveway this week, hoping that it will rain so we can test out the butyl tape seal.  I'm happy to report it's been raining here for about 2 hours and all is dry so far!

Yay for camper mods!!!  And mad props to my husband for an awesome job!!!