• Back to School

    My vest-making projects came to halt in late July, when I enrolled in an online course “Introduction to Photoshop.” My previous attempts to use Photoshop had been unsuccessful, despite doing the tutorials and watching YouTube videos, so my husband suggested I look for a class. The course was offered by www.ed2go.com through my local community college.

    Little did I know that the class would pretty much take over my summer—I spent many hours completing each of the twelve lessons; however, I can honestly say that I learned a lot and now love creating artwork in Photoshop.

    I knew from my past attempts to use Photoshop that some of the basic concepts were layers and masks. These features allow you to combine elements from different photos while leaving the original photo unchanged. I learned how to create a basic photo composite and then added complexity by applying various effects (filters) and adjustments. For example, when creating a composite you would need to add shadows to make the picture look realistic.

    My primary goal was to improve the pictures on my blog and create a portfolio of my hand-made items. I found that many of my pictures had distracting backgrounds. By the end of July, I could successfully replace the backgrounds and create simple composites for my post A Year of Vests.

    Other topics included photo editing and retouching, color theory, and the difference between raster and vector images (graphic files that are infinitely scalable, while raster files are composed of pixels so resolution is lost when scaled up in size). My favorite topic was digital painting, which I used to create virtual costumes for our dogs, which you can read about in my post Happy Halloween! I recently started using my new skills to design custom greeting cards for friends and family, as well as our annual Christmas card.

    One of my other goals was to develop a new logo. I purchased my crown logo from Fiverr earlier this year, but I wanted to create a new logo that would combine the various elements of my website/blog. My new logo design started with the traditional railroad crossing signal (to focus on my father’s ALCO books I have for sale in my On Track Publishers Book Store). I created a more abstract design by eliminating the R R and replacing the yellow and black with custom colors to represent my interests in cross-stitch and quilting. I chose a triadic color theme using the mauve color from my crown logo. I am gradually introducing my new design to my blog and social media accounts.

    About halfway through the class my new Apple MacBook Air finally arrived, so that made the class even more fun!

  • Happy Halloween!

    Virtual Halloween Costumes created using Adobe Photoshop

    During the past few years I have made very elaborate Halloween costumes for our three dogs. In 2019, our groomer wanted to turn Topper into a unicorn. She decorated Daisy as a rainbow, and I resurrected my rainbow costume I had made nearly 40 years ago.

    In 2020 we adopted our third dog, Bear, and I was inspired to turn the dogs (and willing family participants) into Care Bears. My groomer also helped by painting the dogs and making the headpieces.

    In 2021 I continued the Bear theme, this time recreating Winnie the Pooh (our nickname for Bear is actually Pooh Bear). I used a combination of store bought and hand made costumes. As you can see, no one (but me) looked too happy in costumes.

    Halloween 2019 was a rain-out and there were no trick-or-treaters in 2020 and 2021 due to the Pandemic. Furthermore, most of the neighborhood kids have moved out or left for college. So this year, I decided to skip the hassle of dressing the dogs and posing for pictures by creating virtual costumes to post on Instagram, Facebook, etc.

    Over the summer I had completed an online Photoshop class offered by ed2go.com through my local community college. I basically wanted to learn how to make composites for my blog, but the 12-lesson course was very comprehensive and I enjoyed learning a variety of techniques, such as digital painting and photo restoration. I particularly enjoyed digital painting, so I thought I would incorporate this technique into my Halloween costume design.

    Our final assignment was to create a portfolio with a sampling of the projects we completed during the class, as well as any of our own work. My portfolio is available at https://behance.net/kingontrack.

    During my online class, I learned about a website called Pixabay.com to search for free images (see note below). I searched “Halloween background” and downloaded the pumpkin image. I also searched on “haunted forest” for additional background ideas. Which background do you prefer?

    For instructions click here.

  • The Blog is Back!

    After taking a break from blogging about our adventures (and misadventures) with our 2015 Roadtrek E-trek, I decided to reinvent my blog with a focus on my other interests, which include sewing, quilting, and scrapbooking,  I have included the old blog posts, since RV travel remains very popular (although not for us)  and people may still be looking for information about the E-trek. According to RV Lifestyle, there will be a huge demand for used RVs in 2021.

    Although it has been four years since we sold our E-trek, we still keep up with the latest Class B Motorhome offerings. In 2020 we adopted a third dog, Bear, and we still have our “Etrek Dogs,” Topper and Daisy, who were featured in The Etrek Blog.

    Daisy, Topper, and Bear

    During the Pandemic I rediscovered my love of sewing and purchased a new Janome sewing machine. After making a supply of masks, I moved on to various custom items, such as a car seat organizer for my husband’s car.  I modified the seat covers we had purchased for our E-trek with pockets on the front to hold cell phones, masks, and sunglasses, as well as a hanging organizer for the dogs’ accessories. Eventually I hope to offer some of my custom-made items for sale and add them to my Etsy store.

  • Custom Cushion Covers Repurposed

    Before selling the E-trek I had removed the custom covers I made to protect the leather from the dogs. They had just been sitting in a drawer and I thought there was enough fabric to make something else.

    I had recently made a chair cover for my husband’s favorite leather chair, using the following instructions. I recommend downloading the PDF from post #14. This same post contains a link for instructions for binding a quilt, which will be used in a later step. I have referred to these instructions numerous times when making a quilt.

    Walking Dead Chair Cover
    Topper’s favorite chair too!

    We had recently purchased a set of leather chairs for our family room, so I thought I could turn the cushion covers into chair covers. First I disassembled the cushion covers (e.g., ripped seems and removed zippers) to see if it would be enough.

    Just the right amount of fabric!
    I love it when I can reuse or repurpose something from another project!

    I had to combine parts of the large cushion covers and the skinny cushion covers, but it worked!

    Following the is original article from 2015:

    How to make custom zippered covers for leather cushions as seen in my post THE LONG COLD WINTER PART I

    I downloaded instructions from the Internet and found this link very helpful. http://homeguides.sfgate.com/make-zippered-cushion-covers-sides-75006.html

    I recommend drawing the cushions on graph paper to calculate fabric needs. Remember, measure twice, cut once! I think I measured three or four times. If you are making more than one cushion, which you probably are, I recommend cutting fabric for only one cushion, make it to completion; then make sure it fits and see if you need to make any adjustments. I learned this the hard way…

    I did have to make a modification. Since the leather cushions in the Etrek were so firm, I could not squeeze it in the zippered opening, and I ended up tearing the fabric trying to force it in. The zipper needed to extend beyond the width of the cushion. I realized this after making the first cushion, and although I had already cut the fabric for all four cushions, I fortunately had just enough fabric leftover to make the adjustment. So for side which the zippered edge, I needed to cut the fabric about 10 inches longer. Fortunately I had purchased zipper on a roll, which I had not cut yet, so I could make the zippers longer too. I simply folded the side pieces down and overlapped over the zipper which gives it a nice finished look. (see picture).

    www.Fabric.com has a great selection and they ship promptly. I also ordered some of my dog-theme fabric from a website called www.HotDiggityDog.com. The total cost for the fabric and zippers was about $80.
    Visit Marjorie’s profile on Pinterest.//assets.pinterest.com/js/pinit.js

  • Sellers’ Remorse

    Although we were relieved to have sold our E-trek in February when there was still snow on the ground, we have definitely missed our E-trek over the past few months, especially now, since many of our most successful trips were in the fall: visiting our son at college in Boston, Hershey RV show, and Halloween (Antietam).

    After our son left for Boston at the end of August, we found ourselves watching various walkthrough videos on YouTube and we focused on the new Hymer Aktiv, which had several items on our RV feature wish-list, most notably, the cassette toilet. Although the toilet got mixed reviews from various users, we were intrigued enough to drive out to a Pennsylvania RV dealer and take a look.

    The Pros

    The Hymer Aktiv had some of the features we liked about the E-trek (e.g., largely electric (propane was only needed for the stove-top and furnace), sleek design. What we liked better about the Hymer was the sleeping accommodations: murphy-style bed (flip down) that allowed for a center aisle which offered an alternate storage area and was accessible from the rear doors. Furthermore, the center aisle would allow us to exit through the rear doors, so we could park our vehicle “legally” between the side of the house and retaining wall (about 8 feet, so no room to exit from the side of the vehicle).

    We also liked the dining configuration–no requirement to store a heavy pedestal table and leg. The drop-leaf table had three positions: stored down, open halfway, and fully open to allow more surface space. It could be used by both the driver and those seated in the second-row bench seat. Daisy and I rode in the second row for the test drive and I liked the visibility since the bench seat was on a platform so I could see out the front and side windows. We also liked the number of USB ports found throughout the chassis and coach.

    The Cons

    The Hymer Aktiv comes with a spare tire mounted on the rear; however, the heavy tire mount must be lowered to open the left-hand door. We noticed on other models the spare tire could easily be swung out of the way. Also, the spare tire would interfere with our bicycle rack so we would need to use a hitch extender to provide clearance. We prefer the shorter (20-foot) chassis, but with the extension and bicycle rack, we would be right back at the 24-foot length of the E-trek.

    The Dodge Promaster chassis does not have many driver safety features, such as blind spot detection and parking assist. Considering that these vehicles are meant to be driven many miles on highways; we are amazed that they are equipped with few of the safety features available on most automobiles on the market today. We have already researched the price for aftermarket blind spot detection from a local retailer who added Bluetooth to our 10-year old Honda Ridgeline earlier this year.

    We were also disappointed to learn the Aktiv does not come with Apple CarPlay–it comes with a Sony XAV-602BT system that apparently some Hymer owners have actually replaced it with the OEM system that usually comes on the Dodge Promaster chassis. It is possible to upgrade to Apple CarPlay according to CamperVanGuy on YouTube; however, it’s very disappointing that Hymer went through the trouble of replacing the audio system and chose one that was perhaps worse than the OEM and definitely not Apple CarPlay. RV manufacturers often seem to focus on cosmetic features (such as upgraded Alcoa wheels) rather than functionality and convenience.

    The bathroom was very small, although we liked the sliding door better than the heavy wooden doors on the E-trek bathroom which were always in the way and difficult to close (i.e., lean on the door in order to lower pin). The gasoline engine did not seem to have as much pickup as the diesel on the E-trek, but it did provide a comfortable ride. Karl also missed the overhead storage in the chassis where he used to stow his phone, etc.

    We have also learned that some newer Winnebago models allow for winter camping, with heated drainage systems and indoor fresh water tanks. However, these models rely on propane generators and we still lean towards the electric, despite all of the problems we had with the E-trek, we still believe in the technology. There is always a trade-off.

    On the Fence

    We agreed on a price and were close to a deal; however, after sleeping on it (or rather, not sleeping on it), we decided against the purchase at this time. We don’t want to repeat our mistake with the E-trek (i.e., something about the definition of insanity); however, we still can make a case that we would enjoy having an RV again, especially one that has some additional features we wanted. We may drive out to the Hershey RV show this weekend just to see all of the new offerings in person.

  • We Sold Our E-trek!

    In my last post, more than six months ago, we had just returned from our Halloween weekend trip to Shepherdstown, WV. At the end of that post, I mentioned our grandiose plans to drive 1200 miles to Florida for a December wedding; however, we never made that trip. In all honesty, the idea of driving the E-trek 2-3 days straight, attending a wedding, and driving 2-3 days back home with two dogs just seemed crazy. Although our initial goal was to make these trips, the reality of traveling such a distance was not in the cards for us. We just don’t like to be away from our home. We hate flying even more since we would have to board the dogs, and the Amtrak auto train was sold out, so we skipped the wedding…

    In the meantime, we had also learned that we were violating the township ordinance by parking our E-trek (i.e., motorhome) in front of our house, even though our house is not visible from the road and our E-trek hardly looks like a motorhome. I discovered this innocently when inquiring about permits for a storage structure for our E-trek (the huge snow storm of January 2016 had resulted in a broken antenna, so we wanted to protect our unit from the elements.) Our home is nestled on a hill, so we have little to no side yard, nor access to the backyard, so there is no way to park it “legally” on the side or back. We could apply for a variance, but that would take months and was subject to the approval of our neighbors. That was the last straw.

    We contacted one of the dealers we had visited when purchasing our E-trek. Although they wouldn’t buy it outright, they offered to sell the E-trek on consignment. After removing Topper’s dog crate (which had been installed behind the driver’s seat) and replacing it with the captain’s chair, we were off on the 90-minute drive to Pennsylvania. I followed Karl down in our Volvo, and after about 30 minutes of paperwork, we were on our way home, minus our E-trek.

    In late February, the weather was unseasonably warm, and we were just about starting to wish we could take a trip in our E-trek, when the dealer called with an offer. Several phone calls later, we had agreed on a number and that was that. Two weeks later our loan was paid off and we had a small check from the dealer.

    We have no regrets—although we enjoyed many of our trips, we didn’t like traveling enough to justify the huge loan payment. In January, we drove our Volvo up to Boston for our son’s birthday. We were fine with it—the dogs road comfortably on the back seat and we found a hotel we like just outside of Boston. All for much less than the amount of the monthly loan payment.

    We are also relieved that we no longer have to worry about “what could possibly go wrong.” Just this past week, we had our front lawn graded and reseeded. For nearly two years it was the parking area for our E-trek, and that is where we had planned to install a carport to protect the E-trek, had we obtained a permit. One day after the landscaping work was completed, a tree fell from the woods into the area–had our E-trek still been there it would have certainly sustained damage, so we once again feel we made the right choice!

    Someday, if we live in a more RV-friendly neighborhood, we may try an RV again. We did like the comfort and convenience of having a home on wheels. We would probably like something a little larger, such as a Class B+. We would definitely need a larger fresh water tank and removable black/grey tanks such as the EarthRoamer provides. We would also like a smoother ride, so we would insist on upgraded shocks such as the VB Air Suspension. We may even give propane a try, since the all-electric model had limitations. These items are detailed in our RV Feature Wish List.

    So for now, the adventures of the new RVers have come to an end. Probably the hardest part for me was the blog, which I temporarily shut down after the sale was final. However, I have decided to reactivate it, and eventually, I will incorporate relevant posts into a new blog. Ideally, I can somehow incorporate my various interests, which include fitness, scrapbooking, cross stitch, and dogs. I’m not sure what it will be called, so for now, it will remain TheEtrekBlog.

  • Ghosts of Shepherdstown

    Long before we owned our E-trek, one of our favorite destinations through the years has been Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg, MD. Located across the Potomac River is the town of Shepherdstown, WV, the location for the series “Ghosts of Shepherdstown,” which premiered earlier this year. Karl is a fan of the show, so when we were looking for something spooky to do for the unseasonably warm Halloween weekend, we thought Shepherdstown, described by some as the most haunted place in America, would be the perfect destination.

    We departed Friday night and drove to our usual Walmart in Camp Hill, PA. Instead of using our MyJo Presto manual K-cup device to make our morning coffee, we brought along our beloved percolator, with pre-measured coffee packed in Ziploc bags. Before we had our battery balancer installed, we were unable to make coffee with our Keurig electric coffeemaker, which is why we bought the manual version, but really, we love using our percolator for the first cup of the morning. We had no trouble brewing a pot, and enjoyed our first cup of the day while the dogs had breakfast.


    After coffee and feeding the dogs, we were on our way to the Cozy Canine, just south of Gettysburg in Fairfield, PA. Antietam is about another hour from Fairfield, so by 9:30 a.m., we were parked in the battlefield visitor center parking lot. The parking lot was considerably full, but fortunately, the three Bus/RV slots were available. There were a few tour groups already making their way around the monuments. Although it was a little brisk, the forecast for the 70s, and by the time we finished our 10-mile ride, it was quite warm.


    As usual, I relaxed for a while in the E-trek while Karl continued his ride. When he got back, we had lunch in the E-trek and then walked around the cannons and monuments for a while. Our E-trek was still in view, and we noticed a man taking pictures; however, he was not photographing the E-trek, but Karl’s Elliptigo, which is always a topic of conversation. Many people noticed it as we road through the battlefield and asked about it.


    After lunch, we decided to drive into Shepherdstown, WV, just a few miles from the battlefield. We wanted to see what the parking situation would be for the Boofest events we hoped to attend in the evening. We were planning dinner at the Bavarian Inn (also in Shepherdstown), so we did not know if we should just park there and walk to the Boofest, about a quarter mile. As it turned out, there was little parking in the town, especially a slot big enough to accommodate the E-trek, so we decided to park at the Bavarian Inn. I had brought along my old tavern dress costume, which I thought would be appropriate to dine at the Ratzkeller.


    After an early dinner, we walked back over to the downtown area of Shepherdstown, where we met the cast of the “Ghosts of Shepherdstown.” Karl was even able to score a group picture before their official “meet the cast” event started at 5:30 p.m. There were a few haunted walks scheduled for later in the evening; however, the walk was a little more treacherous than we had hoped, since we had to cross a busy road, and the road leading back to the hotel was very steep and narrow. We decided to go back to the Bavarian Inn for coffee, dessert and a nightcap.


    Sunday morning was very warm, and we arrived at the battlefield just at sunrise. We enjoyed a beautiful 10-mile ride and were on the road by 8:30 a.m. to pick-up the dogs. Karl was hoping to listen to the early game from London (Redskins v. Bengals) on the ride home: however, we were unable to use any of our various apps to stream the game, probably due to it’s popularity. When we arrived home at 1:00 p.m., the game was still in progress–in overtime, and eventually ending in a tie, so it was just as well that we did not have to listen to such a stressful game.


  • To Be Or Nox To Be

    In my previous post I mentioned that we had a recurrence of the “Check Diesel Exhaust Fluid” message we had experienced during our May 2016 trip to Boston. Last week our E-trek was serviced by Mercedes-Benz, and both NOX sensors (upper/lower) were replaced; however, replacing the sensors required Mercedes-Benz to remove and reinstall the black and gray tanks to replace the sensors.

    I had coincidentally just posted a link to my previous post to the Roadtrek Owner’s Facebook Group, and within minutes, I received a message from one of the group’s very helpful members that the NOX sensor replacement, including removal and replacement of the tanks, is fully covered by warranty. Good thing, because the first thing Mercedes-Benz said was that the removal of the tanks to replace the NOX sensors was not covered by warranty. We contacted Roadtrek, and within 30 minutes, we had an authorization number for Mercedes-Benz to bill Roadtrek for that portion of the work.

    The work was completed on Friday, October 21st. We also learned that the sensor which was replaced in May was a temperature sensor, although it produced the same “Check Diesel Exhaust Fluid” plus check engine, followed by the 10-start countdown. We are planning several trips over the next month to see if everything is finally working. We hope to drive to Florida for a wedding in December; however, we won’t take a chance that we will have yet another occurrence of vehicle defects, and end up stranded somewhere in the Carolinas, hundreds of miles from the nearest Mercedes Sprinter dealer. We also need to test VoltStart before we embark on a major trip, since we will be relying on our batteries more than ever before.

    In the meantime, we have few other issues to deal with. Earlier this year, we purchased a special bicycle rack to accommodate Karl’s Elliptigo. The first time we used it, we noticed it did not clear our steep (16 degree) driveway and part of the rack got damaged on the ride home. Karl tried attaching a wheel to the bottom of the rack, but it was not strong enough to support the rack and it snapped off on our trial run. On our recent trip to Saratoga, we stopped at the bottom of the driveway and Karl unloaded the Elliptigo, my electric bicycle, as well as the rack before driving up and parking the E-trek.

    Over the weekend we purchased a dual hitch extender that we hope will solve the problem. We attached the rack to the upper hitch, and the bottom piece does not extend out as far as the bicycle rack. Although the bottom extender still scrapes the road a bit when as we ascend, the additional height of the second hitch allows bicycle rack to clear the driveway.


    In addition to the bike rack challenge, we were growing weary of the iPad mount between our seats–it was always in the way of my feet and it was difficult for me to operate from my seat. I usually end up using my own iPhone anyway, so we decided to get a vent mount for my iPhone, which is easier for me to reach and is not in the way. We like to download shows from our DVR to our IOS devices (iPad, iPhone) to listen to while driving, so now it will be easier for me to fast forward through the commercials.


  • E is for Electric Bicycle

    Happy Anniversary!

    On September 28th we celebrated our 25th Wedding Anniversary. Rather than traditional jewelry–of which I have enough to open my own store after two dozen previous anniversaries, not to mention birthdays, Christmas, and Mother’s Day–Karl decided I needed an electric bicycle, so I can keep up with him on our battlefield rides (which sometimes become an actual battlefield when we are riding together).

    I had been researching electric bicycles for a month or so, and although the pricing was definitely cheaper to buy direct, we both knew I needed to test ride a few before making a purchase decision. Similar to when we purchased our E-trek, we had to drive a considerable distance to find a bicycle store which actually stocked electric bicycles. We ended up going to a specialty bicycle store which had a good selection of electric bicycles and accessories. After discussing which models would be appropriate for our battlefield rides, we took three to test ride. I decided on the A2B Ferber. The first bicycle I tried felt too jerky when the pedal assist engaged, but the A2B was very smooth. I didn’t even try the third bicycle, since the ladies’ model was on backorder and I wanted something sooner rather than later.


    We had planned to take an anniversary trip to Gettysburg for my inaugural ride; however, our dogs were sick, so we had to postpone our trip.  Still, we enjoyed a nice ten-mile ride on our anniversary. For his gift, Karl wanted a massage chair insert–he had the idea when we were looking at the Chinook RVs at the Hershey RV Show which had built-in massage chairs. With an insert, he could turn any chair into a massage chair. We also got a foot massager, but ended up returning the massage chair insert since it wasn’t very comfortable to sit in (unless you were using it), and it was cumbersome to store. He ended up exchanging it for a smaller neck massager and small pillow massage.

    Our joint gift was something I had been working on for a few months. I enlisted the help of my mother-in-law, who is a very talented quilter,  to make a memory quilt out of a variety of t-shirts we had collected during our 25-year marriage. I included t-shirts from Gettysburg, Hersheypark, Disney MGM, Outerbanks (NC), Las Vegas, and Washington DC. Some of the shirts were quite worn, but were given new and enduring life in the quilt. I ordered all of the fabric and shipped everything down to her (she lives in Florida). For the border fabric, I chose a license plate design that included  all of the colors of the various t-shirts. For the backing, I found beautiful National Park 100th Anniversary fabric which makes it perfect to commemorate the year (2016). The finished quilt is the perfect size for our E-trek!


    Finally, last weekend, we were able to take a trip. Ryan needed his winter clothes, as Boston was suddenly very cold; we decided to make the trip through Saratoga as we did right before Labor Day weekend. After two years of trips to Boston, we discovered the best way to Boston was to take the NY Thruway to the Mass Pike and avoid Connecticut all together. Even though it adds 60+ miles each way, it can be even shorter time-wise since the traffic actually moves. Saratoga takes us even further out of the way, but when we can combine our trip to Boston with two 12-mile bicycle rides, it makes for a fun trip.

    Friday evening we drove almost all the way to Saratoga (about three hours) and parked for the night at a Cracker Barrel near Albany. We slept very well–nearly an hour later than our usual 6:00 a.m. wake-up time. I purchased coffee to go from Cracker Barrel, we were on the road by 8:00, and we arrived at Saratoga by 8:30 a.m. On our previous trip to Saratoga, we had GPS issues; however, in the meantime I had obtained the GPS coordinates which we input into our Becker navigation system, plus we had Google Maps running, so no trouble. We did have the dogs with us, so we had to leave them in their crates while we went on our hour-long ride. I used the Manything app to check in on them periodically from my iPhone.

    img_2402 img_2390

    After our ride we had a quick lunch in the E-trek and were off to Boston about 11:30 a.m. and arrived at Ryan’s place about 3:15, having stopped along the way to gas up. We were only in Boston for about a half-hour to unload the clothes and see the furniture he had bought since he moved in last month. Ryan’s “animal house” was loaded with friends tailgating before a rugby game that evening, so he was anxious for us to be on our way. We called ahead for take-out at the Cracker Barrel in Sturbridge, MA (about an hour from Boston), where we fed the dogs and enjoyed dinner in our E-trek. After two more hours of driving, we parked at the same Cracker Barrel near Albany, where we had stayed Friday night. Somehow, after setting up the beds, taking the dogs out, and showering, it was close to 10:00 p.m., so it was time for bed.

    img_2443  img_2361

    We did have a few new modifications to test out. We had purchased an inexpensive spring tension curtain rod to prop the bathroom doors open to provide a private dressing area after showering. At the same time, we purchased a squeegee to help push the water down the shower drain, since we are rarely parked level when showering so the water tends to pool up–no fun to step in an inch of cold water when you get up in the middle of the night to use the facilities. Both purchases worked well, except for that fact that we had also placed a tub mat in the bathroom, and I forgot to open the drain before showering, so there was even more water pooled than usual. The tub mat did not help anyway–so it’s since been removed. We had also purchased a few new rugs and placed one outside the bathroom and the other one behind our chairs for the dogs.

    img_1625 img_2415

    Same drill on Sunday–coffee to go from Cracker Barrel, then back to Saratoga by 8:30 a.m. We had a more relaxing day, since we didn’t have the drive to Boston ahead of us, so we spent more time stopping at the points of interest along the tour route through the battlefield. It was coincidentally the anniversary of the Battle of Saratoga, so there was a lot of activity including a bicycle event, encampment, as well as the peak fall foliage to enjoy!

    img_2353  img_1604

    We were just about to declare this our most successful trip ever, when on the drive home we noticed a familiar message on the dash display: CHECK DIESEL EXHAUST FLUID, accompanied by the service engine light. Fifty miles later, we received the warning tone and another message stating we had ten starts remaining. We had recently experienced this message in May on our way to Boston and had learned it was caused by faulty sensors, not by a problem with the Diesel Exhaust Fluid (as the Mercedes-Benz Owner’s Manual suggests).  At the time of the first occurrence in May, our mileage was approximately 7,800 and about 2,000 miles later we had the same problem. It is definitely not the Diesel Exhaust Fluid–we had it topped off at Mercedes-Benz on August 30th. At that time, Karl purchased a case of the Mercedes-Benz Ad Blue Diesel Exhaust Fluid and he topped it off again before we desparted on October 7th. We have contacted Mercedes-Benz regarding this recurring problem and are anxiously waiting for a reply. To be continued…


    On Wednesday, September 14th we attended the Hershey RV Show. Last year we were unable to take our E-trek, since it was being serviced at the Roadtrek factory, so we were very excited to take it this time. We packed our lunch, filled up the fresh water tank, and dropped off the dogs at a nearby kennel for the day. There is on-site dog care at the show, but we were afraid to risk that the “barking lot” would be full, since you couldn’t make a reservation–it was on a first come, first service basis.

    We were on the road by about 8:30 a.m.–Hershey is about two hours from our home. We stopped to fuel up and were making our way to the gates by 11:00 a.m. It was quite hot, so the first thing we did was try to locate the Roadtrek/Erwin Hymer display. Finding your way around the show is not easy–the tall Class A’s block your view and it is hard to find your perspective when you are surrounded by them. A number of people were looking just as perplexed, staring at their maps, but finally we found the Roadtrek fleet.

    img_1566 img_2060

    Once again, we confirmed that we chose the right floor plan (e.g., RS Adventurous), and there seemed to be little difference with the newer model, other than the Ecotrek (lithium) battery system. We are happy with our AGM batteries–they are performing great since we had the battery balancer installed and we have no trouble keeping them charged up, even when running the AC at full blast, as we confirmed over the summer.

    We were just about to leave the area when we spotted a familiar couple: Mike and Jennifer Wendland were just arriving in preparation for Mike’s live Roadtreking podcast. Karl snapped a picture of Jennifer and me, and Jennifer was kind enough to corral Mike so someone could take a picture of the four of us. A crowd was forming, so we were glad we had a chance to introduce ourselves and tell them we are fans of the Roadtreking Podcast and Blog.

    img_1579 img_2062

    We were making our way towards the Giant Center to get out of the heat when we spotted some other Class Bs. The manufacturer was Chinook and they were introducing their stunning Countryside model. Also built on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis, the Countryside has an impressive array of features, including massage chairs, built-in iPad Mini to control various electronics, two televisions, and a high-end camera security system. As you can imagine, it has a high-end price tag. Chinook does not produce an all-electric model; however, they did offer the upgraded suspension and they were suitable for year-round use. Although rich in features, we still feel we have the best of all worlds with our E-trek, so we won’t be upgrading any time soon.

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    We had spent about an hour at the Chinook display and at 1:00 p.m. it was the hottest part of the day, so we decided to make our way back to our E-trek. We couldn’t stay for the live Roadtreking Podcast, because we had to pick up the dogs by 4:00 p.m. We turned on the AC, ate lunch comfortably, and by 1:30 p.m. we were on the road. After a full day of play time, followed by bath-time, the dogs were exhausted–and so were we!


    In my previous post I mentioned that I have been using a new app called Trello to organize my trip planning. Trello is actually one of two methods I have been experimenting with to stay organized and feel like I am accomplishing something.  Over the summer, my son noticed I am always making to-do lists, and he introduced me to a system called Bullet Journal (aka BuJo), which uses indexing and migration methods to keep track of daily, monthly, and ongoing tasks.

    At the beginning of the month, you create a Monthly Log, which contains an overview of all the tasks you hope to accomplish that month. Tasks assigned to a future date go in a Future Log, and you keep track of your progress using Daily Logs and something called rapid logging. Anything that doesn’t get accomplished from a Monthly Log gets migrated (denoted by drawing an arrow through the bullet) to the next month or a Future Log. You number the pages and everything is kept track of in an Index in the front of the journal. You can read about it or watch a video by the creator, Ryder Carroll,  on www.bulletjournal.com.

    I started my BuJo in July, joined a Bullet Journal Facebook group and started following several BuJo enthusiasts on Instagram and Twitter. What I found was that many BuJo bloggers, such as www.tinyrayofsunshine.com and www.bohoberry.com, embellish their lists and charts with elaborate artwork. While I consider myself a creative person, in my limited leisure time, I love to cross-stitch and scrapbook, so I don’t need yet another creative outlet, so the beautiful artwork was out. Plus I was already using other methods (e.g., my FitBit app) to keep track of things that many of these beautiful BuJo notebooks included. Finally,  I found that I wasn’t very good at migrating, one of the major components of BuJo. Nearly my entire August Log list was unfinished at the end of the month, so it just didn’t make sense to copy everything over. Plus I had a new list for my September Log!

    Enter Trello, an app I read about on www.quickanddirtytips.com, a website I follow on Twitter. With Trello, you create boards, on those boards you create lists and to the lists you add cards. It is based on a system called kanban, as you can read about in the article, The Case Against to-Do Lists. The recommended lists are Backlog, To Do, Doing, and Completed. Backlog is used for items which may or may not ever get done. For my blog, I use lists titled Wish List, To Do, In Progress, and Completed. (In my opinion, Wish List sounds more optimistic than Backlog!) You can move or copy the cards to other lists or boards. For example, on my board named “Blog,” I moved the card for Blog Post-Boston/Saratoga trip earlier this month from the In Progress list to Completed list, after I posted the article on September 11th.


    To the cards, you can add attachments, such as photographs, PDFs,  or website links. You can also create checklists. Below is a screenshot of the Blog Post–Saratoga/Boston card which shows the checklist of all of the topics I wished to cover. As I edited my post, I checked off the topics.


    For our RV trips, I have created boards for all upcoming trips. Each trip board will have a Master List, which includes the packing list (checklist) and manuals (attachments). I add lists for Places (at each destination) as well as Route Notes. The picture at the top of this article is from our recent trip to Boston and Saratoga. Below is the board I am using to plan our upcoming trip to Gettysburg.


    Below is an example of a card I added to my Gettysburg board, which includes a link to the Hershey RV Show Website as well as information about the on-site dog care. (Originally we were planning to coordinate the trip to Gettysburg with a the Hershey RV Show, but ended up attending the show that as a separate day trip.) I attached last year’s photo, which appears as my “cover photo.” However, my blog post about the show is still on the In Progress list on my board titled “Blog.”



    I get a great deal of satisfaction from moving the cards to the Completed list. Trello provides a great visual for seeing what is accomplished. I still use my BuJo for to-do lists, but not to organize projects that have a lot of parts. I use it to write down small tasks such as phone calls to make, food prep, and errands. I also use my BuJo for note-taking when I listen to various Podcasts, such as Roadtreking and Grammar Girl, all of which are added to the Index so I can refer to them later.

    Two warnings about  using Trello: as with any website, avoid uploading any information you consider private, since there are frequent data beaches on widely-used websites.  Also, using Trello requires Internet/WiFi so using it will impact your data charges. With BuJo, as long as you don’t misplace your notebook, you are safe and secure!


    Tunnels and Traffic and Bins, oh my!

    We were in no particular hurry to leave on Thursday, September 1st. Ryan’s off-campus housing was being professionally cleaned, so he didn’t want to start moving his stuff in until late in the afternoon. We took our time packing up Thursday morning, and were on the road at 2:30 p.m. Our first mistake was taking the Saw Mill Parkway to Route 684. There are several low-clearance (8’8″) arched tunnels—fortunately, Karl reacted quickly and moved to the left hand lane where the arch was at maximum height—but we were holding our breath as we went through. I guess the “No Trucks” sign should have been a clue!

    Then, when we got to Route 84 we were in stop and go traffic for several hours throughout Connecticut. We should have been in Boston by 7:00 p.m., but we were still an hour away, so we stopped at our favorite Cracker Barrel in Sturbridge, MA. We called ahead for takeout, which we ate comfortably in the E-trek while the dogs had their dinner. Karl had recently constructed a new tabletop, so we were able to try that out. As anyone with an E-trek knows, the tables that come with the unit are very cumbersome. We had hoped to make the egg-shaped table, but we could not find anyone with a jigsaw, so we improvised with a laminated wooden shelf we found at our local hardware store. It works.

    We finally made it to Ryan’s new place at 9:15 p.m. Sending him up early on the train turned out to be a great plan—usually there is a lot of yelling (Karl), crying (me), and attitude (Ryan) as he procrastinates packing until the last minute. He overloads the bins so the unsecured lids open and contents spill when carried, and he throws in random clothing and other belongings at the last minute that slide around the back of the E-trek.

    Before he left on Tuesday, August 30th, he laid out his clothes on the bed, so I could pack them neatly. We had time to bubble-wrap the other electronics. He brought his duffel with clothes and necessities plus his backpack, so he could survive for a few days. Plus the unload was painless, since his new housemates were more than happy to lug in the bins. Last year, Ryan’s dorm room was on the fourth floor with no elevator and he had twice as much stuff!


    After a brief tour of his off-campus house and neighborhood, complete with loud music and college students everywhere, we were back on the road a little before 10:00 p.m. and back in Sturbridge by 11:00, where we settled in for the night. Daisy and I slept on the new mattress, which was quite comfortable, while Karl and Topper enjoyed the sofa bed. We didn’t need the air conditioner–in fact, we even put the heat on when we woke up to a chilly Friday morning.

    Our drive to Saratoga Friday morning was much more pleasant. We had considered a scenic route through Vermont; however, decided to take Route 90 all the way to the NY Thruway. We wanted to maximize our time at Saratoga and still avoid the Friday afternoon Labor Day Weekend traffic on the trip home. The scenic route would have added close to an hour and after sitting in traffic the previous day we decided to save that route for another time. There are several Vermont State Parks along that route that I noted that would be nice to visit if we had more time–perhaps on the way up to Boston for Parents’ Weekend next month!

    I am using a new app called Trello to organize my ever growing collection of trip notes. By setting up various boards, I can attach PDF files, links to websites (such as National and State Parks), as well as create checklists. I can easily view the Trello boards on my iPhone, iPad, or MacBook Air, so I don’t have to worry about printing out a lot of paperwork or trying to write things down while riding. I also use the Trello boards to make route notes such as rest stops, RV dump stations, places to visit, as well as places to avoid (such as Route 84 and the Saw Mill Parkway)!

    Follow the Google Maps Route!

    Since we were without our Becker Navigation System (see previous post), we were running Apple Maps on the iPad we have mounted between our seats , Google Maps on my iPhone, plus I had printed out instructions from Google Maps before we left the house.  I noticed that both the time to destination and miles to destination on my iPhone (Google Maps) instructions were longer than those on the Karl’s iPad (Apple Maps). The destination address was the same, so I concluded that the shorter route on the iPad (Apple Maps) was the better route. However, even though the address appeared to be the same, this route did not take us to Saratoga National Park–just some random old building in the middle of Stillwater. Fortunately, I had my alternative Google Maps route on my iPhone,  which showed we still had four miles to go, and sure enough, about ten minutes later we were turning into the park.

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    At the very nice Visitor Center, I reported the problem with the address and she told me they were well aware and had been working on it for years. Searching for Saratoga National Battlefield Park on Google Maps works, and she also provided the GPS coordinates if we are using a navigation system that allows input of latitude and longitude. I believe our Becker System does, but we will have to wait until it is working to test it out!

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    I was not able to join Karl for a bicycle ride this time, because we had to deliver Ryan’s bicycle to Boston, there was not room for my bicycle on the rack. So I just enjoyed a nice walk with Topper and Daisy while Karl went on the eleven mile ride around the park. The weather was perfect! After he got back, we drove around the tour route a bit before heading home Friday afternoon. The ride home was smooth, and we were happy to be done with our pre-Labor Day weekend travels!


    Updated 9/17/16

    Other than a few local errands, our E-trek was parked for nearly the entire month of August; however, we did have a few issues to resolve with our unit before the end of August, since we were planning several trips for September, including driving to Boston on September 1st. We also hope to attend the Hershey RV Show in mid-September, and possibly combine that with a trip to Gettysburg.

    Mattress Mayhem

    Originally we had planned to take a trip earlier this summer with our son, so in anticipation, we decided to set-up one of our front mattresses to make sure everything worked as expected. One of the primary reasons we selected the E-trek with RS Adventurous floor plan was the ability to sleep more than two people, which you can read about in our very first post. However, we had never actually set-up the front beds, so imagine our surprise when we found that we could not rotate the captain seats as pictured in our E-trek Owner’s Manual. According to our manual, both the front and second row captain seats were supposed to face the side doors; however, it was not possible to rotate the front captain seat, as it was blocked by the B pillar. We tried various other configurations, but nothing worked, so we promptly e-mailed our friends at Roadtrek.

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    The Roadtrek/Erwin Hymer folks responded quickly that we could possibly have the wrong instructions or the wrong mattresses or both. In keeping with our “what could possibly go wrong?” theme, it was both. Apparently the pedestals on the captain seats had been updated on the 2015 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis, which made the instructions in our manual obsolete (i.e., some 2015 E-treks were still built on the 2014 Sprinter chassis). Although there were a few miscommunications along the way, we finally received the correct mattress and set-up instructions.  The very nice customer service manager even refunded us for the mattresses we originally purchased to compensate us for our troubles. As it turned out, we were unable to schedule the trip with our son for different reasons, but we were looking forward to trying the new mattress on our upcoming trip to Boston.

    One lesson I learned from this experience is that is definitely worth checking the manufacturer website periodically to see if there are updated manuals. I discovered not only was there an updated E-trek Owner’s Manual from the website that had the correct instructions for setting up the front mattresses (although we still would have been out of luck with our original mattresses), there is an E-trek Supplement as well, with additional details about the electrical system. There are also new instructions for VoltStart–apparently  you need to reset the counter by running it for one cycle. This provides insurance that the doors are closed and nothing will prevent the VoltStart from engaging if necessary. Roadtrek responded quickly to our inquiries; however, I could have saved myself (and them) some trouble if I had just checked their website http://www.roadtrek.com/support-contact/.

    Antenna Antics

    The second issue was that sometime after our trip to Boston in May we discovered that our GPS had stopped working. Typically we have all of our navigation systems activated when traveling–Google Maps, Apple Maps, as well as the Becker Navigation system that came installed in the E-trek Even though we were back in New Jersey, the Becker system seemed to think we were still in Boston. We were hoping to avoid yet another trip to Mercedes-Benz, so we tried troubleshooting the removable module by hooking it up to our PC and updating the firmware, but still no signal. So finally we decided to schedule service with Mercedes-Benz the day before we were due to leave for our September 1st trip to Boston.

    Karl waited five hours at Mercedes-Benz (hence the photo of the original Benz Wagon), but the technicians had difficulty diagnosing the GPS problem. Then the display lights started going haywire and Karl had to drive home in a loaner car. We were in the process of figuring out a Plan B for our trip to Boston (Ryan had taken the train up a day earlier, but he was waiting for us to bring his belongings), when Mercedes-Benz called and said they did a master reset and the unit was okay to drive. It did however, need a new antenna for the GPS, which they would have to order. After driving back to Mercedes-Benz in the loaner, we were back home with the E-trek–eight hours later, but still no operable GPS, plus we had to pack up for our departure the next day.  Fortunately, we had already sanitized the fresh water tank, so later that evening, we drained and refilled the fresh water tank. Since the battery was fully charged due to the hour-long round trip to Mercedes-Benz, we turned on the battery disconnect to start cooling the refrigerator in preparation for our September 1st trip.

    The Plot Thickens

    Tuesday after Labor Day, Karl drove the E-trek back to Mercedes-Benz to replace the antenna, and the courtesy car driver took him to work. When Karl finally heard from the service tech late that afternoon, the technician said the antenna had been sheared off at the base. This seemed very strange, since we didn’t see how we could damage the antenna without also hitting the top of the E-trek (i.e., the air conditioning unit), even considering our tendency to drive through low clearance tunnels. Furthermore, we were convinced that the GPS had stopped working during our trip to Boston in May, and when I looked back at some photos of the E-trek from April (our trip to Antietam), the antenna looked exactly the same as it did in May. To make matters worse, the new antenna was not covered by warranty and would total more than $600 for parts and labor. So now we really wanted to get to the bottom of this.

    I went back through my pictures and I saw that in a picture from December 2015, we definitely had an antenna.


    The next pictures of the E-trek were from February, and the antenna was gone.


    We did not take any trips, but we did have a huge snow storm at the end of January, so we can only assume that something must have happened.


    It still seemed strange that the antenna was sheared off at the thicker base (not just the thin antenna mast). Even stranger, the service tech said another Sprinter he had serviced recently had the same problem. Why he couldn’t determine the problem last week is also a mystery to us, since all he had to do was look up. Since so much of our time had been wasted waiting and making two trips, Mercedes-Benz agreed to reduce the bill and charge us cost for the new antenna (no labor) and for topping off the DEF, which for some reason cost $143.  So the money refunded to us from Roadtrek, was promptly spent at Mercedes-Benz!

    Our lesson from this experience is now that we know what damage one snow storm can do, we need to focus on purchasing some sort of storage unit for our E-trek. Although the January storm was certainly one of the biggest in recent memory, we don’t want to risk more costly damage. At a minimum, we will find out if the antenna can be removed for the winter, because even if you have a cover, I imagine the snow could still pile up and put enough pressure to bend/break the apparently fragile antenna mast.