Oversize Parking at the Baltimore Airport Amtrak Station (BWI)

OK. I know a few things about search engine optimization, but this isn’t that kind of site. Whether these posts rank for anything in search engines is really beside the point. Except this post.

I did all kinds of searches to try and figure out where an RV might park at the Baltimore airport Amtrak station and got no answers. And then I went there, and continued to get no answers. Then I figured it out myself.

So if you’re looking for information on where to park your RV at BWI, read on for my story. Learn from my very frustrating experience. Feel the joy I felt when I finally discovered the answer.

If you’re just reading this blog because you’re incredulous that I’m still randomly wandering the country, well, you can read on too.

I was staying at a KOA in Maryland while doing some work in Washington DC (more on all of that in a later post) and I needed to head up to Manhattan for a few days. There are certainly no campgrounds or RV parks anywhere near Manhattan and I had no desire to drive the Roadtrek through New York City, even if I could get valet parking at the hotel. I decided to take the Amtrak Acela from Baltimore (BWI is super close to the KOA) and leave the RV parked there while I was gone.

I used to work at Google. In search. I have given training classes on advanced searching techniques. And yet even after pulling out all the tricks, I found nothing on where I might park a 9 foot tall vehicle at the Baltimore airport Amtrak station. I figured there must be some place to park, so I decided to just get there really early. Worst case, I should be able to park in an open airport lot, right?

First, I noticed that while the airport is close-ish, it’s not super close to the Amtrak station. You probably wouldn’t want to park there and walk. It’s probably 2 miles away, and the non-garage lots are even further.

I pulled up to the station to discover two garages: one with an 8′ 2″ height, the other with a 6′ 8″ height. I never in my life paid attention to garage heights before I got the Roadtrek, but 6′ 8″ seems short, right? I pulled into a 15 minute parking space out front and went into the information desk.

“Where do oversize vehicles park?” I inquired. Sweetly. The guy looked at me. “No idea.” And went back to his paperwork. Really? That’s it?

I wandered around in the garage until I found an attendant. Surely he could direct me. “No idea.” Really? Again? No one has ever needed to park here with a tall vehicle of any kind? He thought about it. I could try the rental car lot? But he really didn’t know if they’d let me park there. The only place he thought might work was long term airport parking. It was not close by. Once I parked, I could catch a shuttle to the airport. And from there find a shuttle back to the train station. (With my luggage.)

That seemed really convoluted. Maybe I could get an Uber from the long term lot to the station? I set off looking for this promised long term lot. I couldn’t find it. I went around the airport loop and saw lots of garages and even one sign for long term parking, but it possibly was a mythical dream.

But then. I saw the Park ‘N Fly lot. The Park ‘N Fly lot is wonderfully non-garage like. Your vehicle can be as tall as you want it to be. And they have a shuttle that will take you right to the train station. I didn’t know about that last part. I got on the shuttle that was already going to the airport. He said he’d drop me after but then was worried I was running late. He barreled around corners and gunned it on the straightaways. I made it with plenty of time to spare.

Next time, he said, just tell the parking attendant you’re going to Amtrak, and they’ll have a shuttle take you right there. He handed me a card. Just call us when you get back and we’ll come right over and pick you up. And that’s exactly what happened.

(Dear Park ‘N Fly web site manager: you should really add the whole Amtrak thing to your web site.)

So there you have it. Go right to the BWI Park ‘N Fly, tell them you’re taking Amtrak, and enjoy a seamless experience. For only $7 a day. Just don’t ask for information at the information desk.

We All Want To Move to Hudson, Ohio

If you’re ever been on a Hollywood studio lot, like maybe you’ve done one of those Universal Studios tours, or you’re a famous actor, or like me, you once went to a party at the Paramount lot, for fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer who met online, then you’ve seen the quintessential small American town from every movie and TV show ever. And maybe you think, why did someone go through all the expense to build this fake town when a million real towns just like this exist everywhere? Wouldn’t a real town be more convincing, and also cheaper?

I have now learned the answer to this question. The quintessential small American town does not exist. Oh sure, when you exit the Interstates and drive down the narrow roads to real America, you’ll come upon plenty of small towns. With strip malls, Walmarts, and the occasional Hardee’s. I rely extensively on Walmart to provide my RV toilet paper needs and frequent overnight accommodations, so I’m not complaining exactly. But that’s a different kind of movie.

Remember that scene from Say Anything where John Cusack goes down to the Gas ‘N Sip and seeks out the wisdom of the guys who hang out there on a Saturday night? it’s kind of that like.

Sometimes, you do come upon a town square with maybe a statue of the founder and quaint buildings all facing in. But when you look a bit closer, you mostly see boarded up windows and closed signs.

Downtown

So you understand that when I came upon Sandusky, it was proof that the world wasn’t built on lies after all.

And then I got to Hudson.

I came to Hudson accidentally. I was in Ohio for Sandusky. After leaving there, I was driving along the turnpike towards Washington DC, the next scheduled stop on my calendar. I started getting a little hungry.

I noticed a KOA wasn’t too far away, so I figured I’d stop there for the night and find something nearby to eat. (It was a nice KOA, although as you can see, my site wasn’t quite level. And while the photo shows clear blue skies, it rained later, which made the unhooking process in the grass a little muddy.)

Hudson OH KOA

Yelp told me a town with highly starred restaurants was nearby, so off to Hudson I went.

Hudson OH

Hudson is quite possibly the platonic ideal of a small American town. Hollywood should shoot every movie here. It’s beautiful. And tranquil. The people are suspiciously friendly.

I had dinner at the bar of a great restaurant called Downtown 140. Everyone agreed their town was wonderful, although no one could really pinpoint how that came to be. Hudson only has 20,000 people in it and isn’t super close to any large cities (it’s about 20 minutes north of Akron, but at a population of around 200,000, it’s not huge either). The bartender told me to stop back on my way back through to update them on my trip.

And then there was the library.

Yes, they were having a lecture on bitcoins. And yes, they had an amazing garden patio. Free wifi. An entrepreneurship center. Comfy chairs. Outlets. A cafe right in the middle of the library with couches and coffee. I just… might have to move here.

As I was sitting in a coffee shop later, I family came in. They were house hunting. They drove through the town one day and liked it so much, they decided to move.

That’s what happens when you come to Hudson.

Tenkiller Lake: A Study in Mud Dauber Avoidance

I don’t remember it being this hot, but I remember being this sticky. I’m drenched the minute I walk outside. I watch the water skiers and the speed boats and the jet skis. I can almost taste the cheap 3.2 beer.

I was last here, at Cherokee Landing at Tenkiller Lake, just outside of Tahlequah, Oklahoma (capitol of the Cherokee Nation), the summer after my junior year of high school. The summer after my sophomore year, my friends and I worked at a fireworks stand just outside the convenience store here:

fireworks

(That’s me in the shadows, far right. My grandma is in front.)

Four of us worked there, so we’d trade off working the stand and drinking beer at the lake.

Illinois RiverI could have also picked a campground at the Illinois River. It’s funny how you forget things and then something reminds you and it all comes rushing back. The Tulsa hairdresser intent on making me blonde mentioned she’d been to Tahlequah the previous weekend to “float the river”. Ah yes. Floating the river. It all came back. Ice coolers of beer floating with you. Just floating. All day long.

She also mentioned how if you float the river, you have to expect that everyone around you is going to be loud and rowdy. Ah yes. I remembered that too.  Maybe the river wouldn’t be the best peaceful spot for me to camp out.

This other photo, by the way, is my sister and me floating the river in a canoe (you can also make the trip via inner tube). This was a tamer trip, with my parents and grandparents. Yes I have a perm. Everyone had a perm. Everyone.

So I’m here. At Cherokee Landing. It wasn’t even on purpose. I was driving towards an RV park and drove right by the stop where the fireworks stand used to be. I backed up and drove down towards the lake. It was peaceful and pretty and quiet, so I decided to stay.

Tenkiller Lake

I pulled up to the ranger station. He told me to just pick a spot and they’d come by eventually to collect payment. (Which they did, two nights later with a loud knock on my door in the dark. A ranger in his 60s was standing there. I was not happy. “You don’t do this at night. You come by during the day. I’m a woman alone and I don’t open my door to strangers in the dark!” He was startled. “And you shouldn’t! I wouldn’t either!”.)

It’s beautiful, sure. But here’s the problem. Mud daubers. For those not familiar, mud daubers are big black wasps that build nests out of mud. And they’re part of nature in this part of Oklahoma. They’re not aggressive and generally won’t sting you, although Wikipedia, after calmly explaining how non-dangerous they are, casually drops in that they’ve caused several plane crashes that have killed everyone on board (one with 189 people). Wait, what? Now I have to be afraid of that too?

Anyway, my immediate concern is not flying. It’s showering.

The bathroom is where the nests are. And I really can’t step foot in the building with the swooping, buzzing wasps, much less shower in there.

Which is awesome because finally I have a chance to check out my RV shower!

The first step is to get hot water. The way this works is I press the “on” toggle for the hot water heater. The pilot light ignites itself, the propane kicks in, and in about 15 minutes — like magic — hot water!

Next, I turn my hallway into a shower. I do this by removing a panel from the floor to expose the drain, opening the bathroom door, then pulling the shower curtain around the track.

I had read some reports of water getting everywhere, but that’s not my experience. The water stays in the shower area, the pressure is great, and it’s as fine a shower as I’ve taken so far!

Another achievement unlocked!

I take a walk while I enjoy my morning coffee, before opening my laptop for another day of work.

cherokee landing campground

Dark Obstacles Of the Blackest Midnight. And By Midnight I Mean Maybe 8:30 PM.

When we last left our heroine, she was newly accidentally as blonde as she had been at 16 and had bravely pointed her RV in the direction of Tahlequah, home of her high school-era youthful discretions.

That blonde heroine would be me, in case you’re new to the RV journey.

I left Tulsa a lot later than I had planned and started looking for a place to stay the night as bright sunshiney day turned to dusk. After the accidental four-wheeling adventures in Colorado, I try to avoid strange dirt roads at night. And since I learned how to drive in this part of Oklahoma, I had first-hand knowledge of its many dirt roads. I don’t remember any of them with street lights.

A campground wasn’t too far down the road at Fort Gibson Lake, so (with great hesitation) I let Google Maps lead the way. And here’s what I’ve (belatedly) realized about Google Maps and campgrounds: the campgrounds don’t always really have an address. And particularly if I find a campground using the AllStays app and then click the directions link, Google Maps opens using GPS coordinates. And those coordinates might be, say, the middle of the lake. Not the entrance gate.

Want to hear how I came to that realization? It’s a cautionary tale for us all. Spoiler alert: Google did not send me to the entrance gate for the Fort Gibson Lake campground. I’m not exactly sure where it sent me, but I ended up (once again), on a tiny dirt road in the pitch blackness. Had I turned off the RV, it would have been like one of those trendy restaurants where a waiter leads you into a room with no lights and laughs at you. Only you don’t know about the laughing because it’s so dark. You just think he’s in the back getting your fancy food.

I finally came upon what seemed to be a fenced in trailer park, which didn’t seem exactly right, since supposedly I was headed to a state campground, and in any case, I couldn’t figure out how one would get to the other side of the fence. I turned down what I hoped was a road and found myself in a completely empty loop of RV sites, right on the water. I could barely make out what was probably the site locations. Should I just pull into one of these for the night?

Every RV park and campground has entirely different rules. With some, a central board has details on which spots are open for the night. At others, reserved spots are marked right at the location. I didn’t want to just pull blindly into a random spot.

I realize this makes no sense. Clearly, the campground was completely abandoned. Completely. It was unlikely that a group of RVers had reserved the whole place and would accost me in my sleep. But I tend to have an irrational fear of being in the wrong place or doing the wrong thing. Even in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere, apparently.

I inched my way along in the blackness. I turned right. More blackness.  Through a miracle, I eventually found what may have been the entrance (on entirely the other side of where I had come in). Shining like a beacon was a kiosk, the likes of which I’d never seen before or since. Just punch in the number of your chosen site, swipe your credit card, and be on your way.

Which meant I had to go back out in the dark and find a site, then somehow find this kiosk again, then find that same site a second time. Just what kind of herculean obstacle course is the world turning into?!

I ventured out again and headed towards the water. Surely that would be the direction of camp sites at a lakeside campground? The road inexplicably turned from asphalt to gravel. Maybe this isn’t the right direction. I turned around and eventually could make out another RV! One RV in the barren darkness. I pulled up beside it and noted the site number.

I somehow found my back to the kiosk. Where I found yet another obstacle. A huge spider had made its home just beside the numbers. I took a deep breath and did my best to not disturb him as I put in my site number.

My brilliant plan of using the sole RV as a route marker worked and I made my way back.

It’s seriously bad form to choose a site directly next to another RV when several hundred empty spaces exist. And it’s doubtful that a homicidal maniac axe murderer was waiting for me in an empty campground. Also it was only about 9pm. But apparently I’m way more afraid of the dark than I realized.

The next morning, I got up early and looked outside at what had scared me so much.

Maybe not my finest moment.

The people I’d totally crowded the night before hadn’t stirred yet, so I snuck away before they saw me and drove my RV down to a waterfront spot (all I had to do was drive about 50 feet down that gravel road I’d turned around at the night before) to make some coffee and enjoy the scariest campground in America.