We moved into Betty Jo (the Airstream) in February, yet, it wasn’t until the 9th of April that we actually hit the road. Our Maiden Voyage, our first trip outside of our little comfort zone, our shake down cruise. The start of an adventure or at least the start of OMG what are we doing?
Reservations were made, our courses were plotted, and mentally we were as ready as we could get.
Our first destination was Grayland Beach State Park in the SW coastal area of Washington State. Our reservations were from a Saturday through Wednesday. Quesstimating it to be around a seven-hour drive from Anacortes, we made the decision to break up the drive and leave the day before — a Friday. Unfortunately, due to scheduling it was late in the day when we finally left town. This meant driving through Friday afternoon rush hour traffic. If you know the Seattle area you know that rush hour traffic is a continuous onslaught of stop-and-go from Everett to Olympia — adding extra time to our already long commute. Our goal was to make it to somewhere past Olympia and stop for the night. We had discussed the route of the Peninsula but didn’t feel comfortable, or ready enough, to brave a Washington State Ferry, so the I-5 corridor it was.
We were somewhat dreading this drive. Over the years, we had driven this route on I-5 many, many, many times, but never towing an over 6,500 lb trailer. But once we hit the Seattle traffic we sort of found our groove and our flow and just breezed down the highway like any other commuter. I had feared the “closeness” of other vehicles next to us, especially semi-trucks, but soon realized that was an unneeded fear. Betty Jo obediently followed behind and stayed snug in her lane.
I found an RV park just outside of Olympia for our night stay. The RV park was Elma RV Park in Elma, WA. We arrived at 6:30 p.m. tired and hungry. They were helpful and accommodating when I called and asked if they had a pull-through just for the night. I explained we were newbies on our Maiden Voyage. The office was closed but someone met us upon our arrival and made sure we made it in to our spot safely. Technically it was “not” a pull-through but two back-end spots they converted to a pull-through to accommodate us. The next morning, they greeted us with homemade cookies, friendly faces, wonderful advice on getting out of the site, and a good luck for our journey.
One RV Park down, now on to the next.
The sun shined on our drive from Elma to Grayland. The drive on Hwy 12 to Aberdeen is always so beautiful. We stopped in Westport for lunch and a peek at the ocean. It had been years since we had last visited the coast and I inhaled deeply the salty smell of the waves as they crashed ashore.
We arrived at Grayland close to 2:30 pm, checked in and found our spot… our first back end. Luckily, all of our neighboring RVers were out enjoying the sunny day instead of sitting in their camp chairs watching us figure out how to get Betty Jo into her home for the next few days. Finally, after several attempts, quite a bit of frustration, and back and forth, she was in, hooked up and ready to chill. And, so were we.
I made the reservation early in February. I read reviews, I studied the map, I went back and forth on sites looking for one that looked easy enough to get in and out. The choices were limited, many were already booked or closed for the season. Our spot, however, for this time of year, was too shady. I had wished I had known that. As for the park — it was a lovely location. Peaceful, quiet, refreshing. The ocean, the only reason for me being there, was quite the distance and there was marshland between the park and the beach, I found that a little disappointing, I wanted to hear its roar at night as I slept, instead it was a faded distance hum.
Our next major stop and reservation was Fort Stevens State Park outside of Astoria, Oregon. But we had five nights between the two state parks to figure out. I wrestled with this for weeks on where to stay. I tried Cape Disappointment State Park but they were full. Another state park highly recommended.
I had settled on the Raymond RV and Marine Park for a couple of nights after we left Grayland. It was right on the Willapa River, had decent reviews, and the pricing was reasonable. I called and asked if they had anything available and would the site be easy for a newbie to get into.
The photos for a lot of these places online, do not do some of the places justice, and do not always tell a complete story, especially for a newbie. Sometimes the reviews are helpful. For example Elma — the reviews said nice park, nice people, but tight spaces. Once we got there and looked around, it was a park with really tight places. As a newbie we would not have stayed there if we had to back into a spot, we aren’t talented (or experienced) enough to even try that.
For Raymond RV, the reviews were fairly good but the photos were kind of iffy on whether or not we could park there. We pulled into the park, there was only one spot left and it was extremely tight. The park actually sits next to a marine business and it was a decent enough park, but for a newbie that spot was frightful. I called the office and she assured me we could get in it and they would help, but she was tied up for thirty minutes so she told us to hang out and wait. We ate a quick lunch and just stared at the space. The more we stared, the more we came to the conclusion — NO WAY! We called her back and said sorry but the space was too tight for our comfort level.
I then found an RV Park on the south side of Astoria who had pull-throughs, full hook-up, and could accommodate us for five nights. It was the Lewis and Clark RV Park and Gulf Course. It is managed by a mother and daughter and they went out of their way to help and accommodate us. The park is clean and very well maintained, quiet and peaceful, clean laundry room which you have to yourself when you do laundry, and great customer service. There is propane on site. The spaces are spacious, most with full hook up. No picnic tables though. Relying on Google Map, we missed our turn and got a little lost and side-tracked so we had to call for directions and they talked us right to the front door. I would gladly go back and stay for a while.
The day before we were scheduled to start our stay at Fort Stevens State Park, we took a drive over to the park and nosed around a bit. We found the spot where we would be staying, planned our route in, and then checked out a few of the touristy parts of the park. Normally, you don’t have this option to check out a park before you get there, but I am glad we did. As newbies, pulling into an unknown park for the first time can be quite suspenseful and not always in a good way. We had a pull-through site but it was one where you angled in because it had a curve. There was an Airstream in our site as we drove by, so this gave us a clue of how it would look and how we would fit. Again, like Grayland, there are a lot of trees so a lot of shade, which would be great in the summer on a hot day, but not in mid-April when it’s still chilly out. And the mosquitoes were out and quite large.
Fort Steven State Park is a beautiful park, filled with history and historical sites. It was a joy to meander around and feel the history. There were trails weaving in and out of the park, perfect for walking or biking. A small herd of elk would be seen munching around the park and an occasional eagle would fly overhead. Our second night there we drove out to see the Peter Iredale shipwreck on the beach and to just enjoy the song of the ocean waves. We also spotted whale mist from their spouts off the coast, whether it was humpbacks or gray whales, I am unsure, but to see that was a highlight for me.
One of the the many things you learn as a newbie RVer is accepting that plans change, sometimes constantly. You also need to learn “how” to plan, this is just something you learn over time and through experience. I had planned the end of our Maiden Voyage jaunt too tightly, only allowing one day to return back to the Bellingham, WA area, making for too long of a drive home. In a car, no problem, but like many said, driving an RV or towing fatigues you quicker and so keep your driving time short. Based on that advice and after experiencing fatigue from the drive down, we left our spot at Fort Stevens a day early, allowing us two days to return, instead of cramming it into one.
It was also good practice for us to travel without a plan since we won’t always have one. I opened my Harvest Host App on my iPhone and found an Harvest Host about mid-way. If you are not familiar with Harvest Host (click on the affiliate “link” for 15% off,) check out their website and with other fellow RVers who use them. They are hosts of farmers, wineries, breweries, museums, and more. I signed up, not just because it was a place to stop for the night on the way to somewhere, but for the experience. What fun it will be to meet people, experience small businesses across the country, and to create fond memories.
Our host for this night was Sandstone Distillery in Tenino, WA.
As part of being a guest, the hope is you will support the business. After we settled in, we went into the little shop they set up, peddling their many bottles of distilled alcohol and was pleasantly surprised. What an amazing treat. The hosts were gracious and had amazing stories about their business and how it got started. My husband tried a sampler of some of their whiskeys and enjoyed it, but for me it was the variety of vinegars with the most amazing offerings of flavors. The business is owned by a husband and wife and their son. When I asked about the vinegars the son turned to his mom to explain. You could tell immediately how passionate she was about them and when I asked about ways to use them my mouth watered listening to her talk about some of her favorite ways to cook or even how to just use them for health benefits. I immediately bought two bottles.
Our Maiden Voyage was a mixed bag of emotions, trial and error, tension, delight. There is, obviously, still much to learn. Many of us do this for the freedom and the memories. Our Maiden Voyage was also about decompressing, for finding the time to allow our stressful emotions from the last few months, the last few years, especially the last year — the time to explode or let go. It also allowed us the time to do what we love — photography and food.
It wasn’t just a “shake down cruise” for Betty Jo, but a shake down cruise for us.
Fond Food Memories
Dylan’s Cottage Bakery — Wonderful tasting breads and the best mouth-melting long john I had ever eaten.
Brady’s Oyster — We stopped here to pick up some halibut for the BBQ and also found a mouth-watering Cajun Tuna dip to accompany.
Frite and Scoop — I confess, I cannot pass up a good ice cream shop and it was good. I also had to stop here to find out what a ‘frite’ is.
The Naked Lemon — It was hard to connect with this bakery, the hours never seemed to match mine, but once we finally did, OMG YUM!!!!!
T. Paul’s Urban Cafe — Don’t let the outside fool you. This delightful hole-in-the-wall was a special find. Great food, fun decor, and the friendliest service.
The Coffee Girl — Just like I cannot pass up an ice cream shop, Tony cannot pass up a good coffee shop and they were good. Located in the old Cannery building for Bumble Bee Tuna, this place had the original counter where they served coffee to the workers. Nice to know that sometimes history in some form continues.
The International Mermaid Museum and Garden — Okay, I’ll admit it, it was the name that drew me in. Mermaids was a good start, but International? It was a delightful museum — filled with fun facts and stories of mermaid folklore from all of the world. After enjoying the museum take the time to walk and enjoy the expansive garden and then stop in the wine shop.
We found our next family addition here — meet Pink.
She is a delightful Flamingo who makes a nice addition.
The United States Coast Guard was doing a training exercise right off the path at the Lighthouse at Cape Disappointment. Loud and fun to watch. Luckily it was just an exercise and not a rescue.
Ecola State Park — For years we had driven right past this park in our hurry to get to Cannon Beach, this time we made an effort to stop, not only once, but twice. So grateful we did.
Ecola State Park - Photo by Tony Locke
Not every Airstream trip needs to be an epic adventure – especially your first. Set the foundation for a lifetime of successful trips with these tips for your first time towing an Airstream. Read more on Airstream's blog.
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As we roam the roads and highways, looking for that next fantastic stop, keep track of our travels in our Airstream - Betty Jo