Pre-Trip preparations for the Eurovan included getting the summer tires mounted – by someone else, thank goodness. DIY projects that I thought I could tackle included fixing the door locks (cross your fingers – ya know vw’s and their electronic issues!), fixing the brake light switch and taking a look into what may be causing intermittent misfiring issues in wet weather. My thoughts on that were to start by changing the ignition wires which had been on the vehicle since we purchased it. How hard could it be? There’s tons of info on the interwebs so let’s order up a set of wires and get them on before we hit the road, right? I ordered a set of ignition wires and a brake light switch many months in advance at Pep Boys. A trip back to the store weeks later turned up some bad news; they never ordered the parts but would be happy to do so now. I thanked them, but no. I’d get them elsewhere. I ordered both parts online and they came in quickly.
The wires sat for a few weeks and, in the interim I ordered a tool that everyone suggests is mandatory to remove ignition wires on the 2.8L VR6 engine in the 2000 Eurovan. This site is an incredible resource if you find yourself doing this job. Anyway, to make this part of the story short, the wire puller came in the DAY BEFORE we left! So, knowing my wife as I do, I knew the rain would make her worry about the intermittent thang AND, having me mess around with the engine on the DAY BEFORE a much awaited trip involving many miles on the road may make her worry MORE! So….what to do?!
I figured I could handle the door job after reading this on GOWESTY.COM. Thanks guys! So I started the door lock job on the Monday before our Tuesday departure. I called the local VW dealer but hey had no actuators in stock so I decided to pull the plug on the driver’s actuator and see if that would at least let me lock the doors. It did so I put the door panel back on, figuring I would be able to manually lock the driver’s door. When I got the panel back on, I tested the passenger door lock and it worked great activating the slider and the rear door locks with no issues. I tried the driver’s door and, no dice, the button was hard as a rock and wouldn’t budge. Oh well, we’re still better off with 75% of the doors locked, right?!
At this point, noon on Monday, everything was cool and ready to go. I checked the mailbox and, wouldn’t you know it, the wire puller tool had arrived! So now the conundrum was; do the job or not!? Leave things working as they are and do the job when we get back or tackle it now? I read through the instructions again while mulling it over and decided, WHAT THE HELL!? Let’s do it! With any luck, I’ll get it done before Pam comes home and won’t say a word about it. What could POSSIBLY go wrong?
The deeper I got, the more I thought, “SHIT! I’m an idiot! I should never have done this today!” But, even with all the self doubt AND the arrival on PAM at approximately 3:30PM to see the van on jacks in the driveway with a good portion of the nose bodywork pulled off (they don’t make those wires very easy to get to!) and wires hanging out, I managed to finish the job AFTER she left to run some errands with a VERY concerned look on her face. The thing ran when I got it all back together too! No extra parts left either!! I LOVE that feeling of freedom you get when you complete a DIY job and it actually WORKS!
Eliot, Maine to Stokes State Park, NJ
Pam had a great trip in store for us and we were both very excited for her to get home from work on Tuesday so we could split. We left around 1:30PM in a SNOW STORM! Sure enough, the weather had called for rain in the AM turning to freezing rain around noon and then changing over to snow which could accumulate up to two inches! It was a mixture of snow and freezing rain when I went over to get some propane and when we finally left home it was pretty much the same and starting to accumulate.
Our first destination; Stokes State Park in Branchville, NJ, approximately 300 miles away. No Problem. We gassed up at Cumby’s in Eliot, set the trip odometer to zero, and hit the road. Another recent fix was a new brake light switch in front of the brake pedal. I was eager to use the cruise control which had been out of commission since the old switch went bad. Once out of Eliot and out on the highway she cruised like a dream. The Eurovan really does love to cruise and she’ll go all day and all night as long as you take care of her!
Our route took us down 495, which was smooth sailing at this time of day, then to 290, then 84 for pretty much the rest of the way to Stokes. Things were very chill on the road with a little traffic here and there and a few slowdowns there and here. 84 in Hartford was stop and go and we almost rear ended someone when the left lane went from a 55+ mile an hour trot to a complete stop on a rather sharp right hand, downhill turn. The Eurovan was NOT going to make that stop and there was a Ford Flex just to our right rear coming in hot! Fortunately, that dude was on the ball and cut right to the other lane JUST as I did the same to avoid taking out the car in front of me. That was VERY close indeed. I remember the Flex because I thought I was going to hit him for sure. I don’t remember the car I almost rear ended oddly enough.
That was the only problem we had on this leg of the journey and it really wasn’t a problem but it sure could have been! We pulled off 84 just before Stokes and got some gas. I’m always startled at first when they pump the gas for you in New Jersey. I like it but never expect it. Just past the gas station we took a right on a secondary highway that immediately felt like we had finally made it to an unfamiliar, scenic spot and the drive instantly took on a new, exciting, can’t-wait-to-get-there vibe.
We pulled into Stokes at dusk and the office was closed so we drove around looking for a site. This is a nice campground with some secluded spots. We drove to the back of the campground, went around a loop by a large stream where there were many open site and settled on one close to a smaller stream on the backside of the loop. I maneuvered the white ghost into a spot in the site that offered a view of the fire, the stream and was level. We opened her up and commenced to cracking the first beer in uncharted territory for us. It had been raining a lot so the wood that had been left at the campsite was very wet but I had the hatchet and there was plenty of fallen wood around so I started collecting firewood while Pam started to cook up a dinner of pan-grilled garlic chicken with along with a romaine and avocado salad.
Stokes State Park to Assateague Island, MD
The first full day in the Eurovan started by waking to the sounds of the birds and the brook next to our campsite. I took a stroll to the bathrooms as Pam got up and descended from the loft. When I got back to the campsite I collected a bunch of leftover firewood and got the fire going again. Pam fired up some coffee and I peeled an apple. That was just enough to get us up and running. We packed up the Eurovan and got on the road. As we pulled onto the access road for this part of the campground, I realized there was a pickup truck coming right at us so I sped up and got in the other lane quickly, just missing a clipping by the pickup. There was a fisherman on the bridge who witnessed the whole thing and said as we passed, “son of a bitch never even slowed down! I never saw the brake lights come on.” as he shook his head and went back to fishing! Welcome to New Jersey and good morning.
I picked a spot on the access road to clean up a little in the stream and then we were on the road again! Our first stop was Sunrise Mountain. We were late for the sunrise but we still wanted to check out the view. After missing the turn a couple of times – the road signs could be a little bigger IMHO – we got onto the Sunrise Mountain road. This time of year is great for traveling because traffic is light and the attractions aren’t totally jammed! On the way to the outlook we stopped at a turnout and took a couple pics.
The sky was trying to clear and, off in the distance, there were some sunny vistas. We took the side road to the outlook and shortly wound up in the parking lot. The view was almost entirely socked in with fog but I took a picture just to prove we were actually there!
As we drove down from the outlook and out to the main road we got a few glimpses of the sun. The weather was cool and everything was very wet but the few rays of sunshine made it all come to life that much more. The leaves were just starting to come out in this area so one could see deep into the woods.
The drive to Assateague. We crossed a toll bridge near the water gap where a dude took the toll (was that on this day?)
We stopped for lunch by a small lake just off the highway. We had leftovers from the night before fixed up in a salad with some salsa and some tortilla chips on the side. I needed to get some work done on the computer so I did that while we ate. The beer for lunch was a Naughty Nurse Ale that we had picked up when shopping the day before. Pam was not a big fan of the “nurse” so she had one of the beers we brought from home. I believe it was a Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin if I’m not mistaken.
As we came off the highway and took the turn just outside Berlin, MD to Assateague we started to see firewood for sale almost immediately. I said there would firewood for sale at the campground. Pam disagreed. We passed more firewood sellers. “Hmmm, firewood!” “Nope, we’ll get it at the campground.” “Oh look, firewood!”…so it went.
We arrived at Assateague Island in the late afternoon. Skies were quite gray but the view crossing over the access bridge was still incredible. What a cool place! As you drive over the bridge you get a glimpse of the island and the open ocean beyond. On the island side of the bridge there is a turn to the right for the National Park area and, shortly after that, there is a turn for the campground access just before the parking lot for the beach and then there’s a small rotary that sends you back in the other direction. I drove to the rotary, turned around and took the road to the campground. We pulled into the office to check in and there was firewood available! Yeah! Did we buy it there? NO! Check in was swift and easy. The campground looked vacant for the most part and today was opening day so everyone was chipper as the crowds hadn’t descended yet. The “welcome to, etc., etc….” speech was short, to the point and informative. The park staff was just getting up to speed.
Our reservation was for site 11 in area B. We inquired about moving and they said it was no problem so we headed over to check out the site. The campground is one long road with areas arranged in a big U to the beach side of the long road. Site B11 was right next to the large dune that protects the campground from the open ocean and there were a few other smaller dunes around the campsite with some scrub brush on them to keep the wind at bay, somewhat. The site looked good but we decided to drive around a bit to take a look at other sites and to check out the large bath house only a few hundred feet away. This was the first day the campground was open so the men’s side of the bath house hadn’t even been unlocked yet. As we drove further into the campground we finally saw some wild horses grazing in the grass in between loop H and loop I. Pam got out to take some pictures. We were warned at check in that the horses are wild and will kick and bite and to keep a safe distance and not to harass the poor buggers. Pammie was very excited but very respectful of the Horses’ space. At this time of year there were very few campers and traffic was very light on the island so far. From signage on the way in about lines of traffic to just seeing the size of the campground, I imagine this place gets mobbed in the summer. I bet the horses get plenty of chances to kick and bite some inquisitive humans. Maybe even hissing and spitting a bit? They sure do poop a lot!
We decided to go off the island, and back a ways up the access road to get some of that less expensive, more expansive, firewood even though it looked like it was going to rain, maybe even pour! We drove past the first two offerings and wound up at a real estate office that looked closed for the season or out of business altogether but they had nicely stacked, small and medium piles of wood in front of the building. I grabbed a $10 pile that probably had 15 sticks in it (great deal!) AND a bag of “fire starter” sticks and chaff for three bucks.
Back at the campsite the first task was positioning the camper for best leveling and window views of the dunes. We wound up at the very back of the pad with the slider facing the dunes and the tent front facing the other way down the beach. POIFECT! Now, after unloading the wood and placing it under the camper to keep it out of the imminent showers, time to find the optimum picnic table and firepit position! The campsite dance. Love it!
Now, just open her up and commence to relaxing for the evening. We took a stroll up to over the walkway to the wide open and deserted beach on the other side. On this gray and windy evening it stretched emptily into the fog, as far as the eye could see. I ran down to the water, pretending to jump in and go for a swim, and it quickly chased me back up to the softer sand, taunting me with a little sea spray and foam. Ha! Swim?! Don’t know if I’d have the guts to do it in the summertime! Back at the campsite we prepared for dinner. Pam was cooking tonight. While Pam cooked I split some of the firewood into kindling. Even with the bag of firestarter – turned out to be mostly pine bark – the wind was howling and I;d need plenty of small kindling to make sure something catches quickly. I grabbed a paper bag from the van and got the fire going. I LOVE LOVE LOVE campfires! This was going to be a good one even though we’d probably get rained on. As it caught, I added more kindling and the wind did the rest of the work. Fortunately it was blowing away from the camper, down the campground to the south. With the fire cranking and dinner ready we pulled out a table, ate in the camper and watched the fire through the slider window. As I’m fond of saying, THAT SUCKED!