June, 2015 – After a wonderful four weeks in the lush green mountain forests of North Carolina and Virginia, we looked at the map to find a route into the northeast and panicked. There’s a reason that many RVers stick to the big wide open western states, and looking at the map confirmed why: FEAR.
Both Mark and I grew up in the east and drove many thousands of miles there, but zipping around in a small car is a lot different than driving a tall, wide and excessively long RV on those narrow, congested and fast moving roads.
Many interstates in the northeast are poor condition, especially in the right lane, and are overloaded with truckers on tight schedules who whip past at 75 mph or more. So, I plotted a course through the spider’s web of secondary roads from Virginia through Pennsylvania and New York that would land us on the western edge of Massachusetts and see us up and over the Green and White Mountains in Vermont and New Hampshire to arrive, breathless, on the western side of Maine.
Off we went!
I forgot that in the eastern states the roads change names and change numbers without warning. And roads merge and intersect and become friends and part ways without ever letting the driver know. We were continually sent off on wild goose chases for route numbers that had vanished 20 or 50 miles back.
The road signs come up so fast and with such a myriad of numbers that we were repeatedly left staring out the windshield in a daze, trying to remember what it was we just saw.
“Did you see Route 21 in all those numbers?” I’d ask Mark.
“Hell if I know!” he’d say.
“Well, we want 21 North — or maybe East — umm….wait a minute…” And I’d be buried in Google Maps again, trying to figure out exactly where we were going, only to find out that 21 North was now 18 East — at least for a little while.
The roadsigns were just a blur of numbers, with all the routes going in different directions all over the place. Sometimes the numbers formed patterns, and one was even a palindrome. Almost. Sometimes the roads just went to the devil, literally.
Meanwhile the cars stacked up behind us, riding so close they were invisible in the rear view mirror. The semi tractor trailers passed us at every opportunity, pushing us out of the way as they zoomed by us on the descents, and then slowing down to a crawl in front of us as they crept up the climbs.
At least in New York they call a spade a spade, though, and we got a laugh when we saw a sign written for dazed RVers from the western states:
You’ve gotta love New York. Not only do they know the temperament of their drivers, they know their habits too. New Yorkers are so plugged in they aren’t given just a plain old Rest Area on the highway. They get a Text Stop!
Most of these secondary roads were in really rough shape, especially crossing the Catskill Mountains in New York. We’d forgotten about the dangers of potholes, since they are a rarity out west. A deluge of ungodly blizzards pummeled the northeast this past winter, keeping the plows busy chewing up the roads, and we found ourselves doing a zig-zag dance down the highways to avoid all the endless man-eating, car-eating and RV-eating potholes.
Luckily, the powers that be have set about fixing the roads. However, that made the driving even more scary. Orange signs popped up out of nowhere and cones and equipment crowded the roads for miles at a time.
Oh, and did I mention that these states are NOT flat? The mountains in the west climb straight into the heavens, going up for miles on end, but the hills in the east are like a roller coaster. They go up and down like waves on the ocean. We had installed our new brakes and engine tuner with this trip in mind, and we were now really glad we’d had the foresight to do those upgrades before coming here.
It seemed almost every hour Mark had to slam on the brakes for a red light at the bottom of a blind descent, or jump on the brakes when someone cut us off. Each time he’d mutter under his breath how great those new brakes were.
And did the buggy get stuck? Oh yes indeed. Several times.
In the hilly back streets of Boone, Virginia, there’s a long, deep scrape in the asphalt that is the signature left by our trailer’s bumper hitch. Confusion about road construction on the highway had sent us into this miniature town, and when we got there the only place to turn around had a massive dip in the road that was too much for our wheel base.
And in southwestern Massachusetts I played Twister with a maple tree sapling as I tried to keep its branches out of our bike wheels while Mark did a miraculous turn at the edge of someone’s farm on a steep hill. Once the maple tree released me, I watched in horror as Mark drove off over a lip down a hill that is meant for winter sledding. The fifth wheel overhang almost crushed the tailgate of our truck!
It was a truly wild ride taking our RV from Virginia into the northeast. But in the end, the scars and scrapes on our rig and ourselves were a small price to pay for the great times that lay ahead!
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This was a crazy trip, but the scenery was lovely — have a look:
Your post and pictures just tells me once again, I’m not ready to go East – explore the West here first! LOL Be careful and drive safe – thank goodness Mark has such a good navigator!
We are loving being in the east and are so glad we came. It is definitely challenging with a big ol’ RV, but we’ve had some outstanding experiences and are so glad we took the plunge and gave it a try. Now that we know that it’s manageable, even if it’s scary at times, we’ll be back for sure!!
I’ve waited as long as I could stand it; you have been on the East Coast for a while now and I can’t help but ask: Are you boondocking? We don’t have much luck finding spots on the east coast and are heading to Lowell, Mass somewhere around the 11th of July. Still enjoying all the post and eagerly awaiting the last of the 4 part series on RV and Marine Battery Charging Basics. As always – Happy Trails
Yes, we are boondocking, as always, but almost entirely in commercial parking lots or in pullouts or rest areas on the side of the highway — sometimes scenic, rarely private, but it works. As you know, there isn’t a lot of public land out here!! In Florida we were in a friend’s driveway. I’m so glad you’re eagerly awaiting the last post on battery charging — thank you so much for saying so! It’s coming!! Have fun in Lowell in July.
You may be interested in Boondockers Welcome. A site set up by Marianne Edwards of frugal-rv-travel in 2012. For $25 per year you have access to her site of fellow RVers throughout the world that will let you stay overnight on their property. Some hosts go beyond that and will invite you to dinner and/or act as tour advisors/guides. We may be joining Boondockers Welcome for our next trip as we will be in some states where public land is not as available as in the west.
Thanks for the tip, Leanne. I actually mention Boondockers Welcome on my page about how to find boondocking sites (https://roadslesstraveled.us/boondocking/). Luckily, we haven’t had any trouble finding places to stay so far, it’s just that scenic and remote sites are more rare in the east than out west.
Doesn’t anyone belong to boondockers welcome? I offer space in my yard to boondock. Check them out. I’m near cape cod. Come visit.
Hi Linda – We don’t belong but lots of folks do. Thanks for offering your yard to fellow RVers. Another similar program is offered through Escapees in their SKP Parking program and Day’s End. I’m sure you are in a lovely area. Cape Cod is truly gorgeous!!
We’re in Watertown now, heading east to Portland, Maine (abit north actually). Looking for info on NY ROUTE 12 for our motorhome. We are 43′ and 13.6 high. Any info would be greatly appreciated.
I would recommend calling the NY Department of Transportation.
Wow! I’m not encouraged to go east!
You’re braver than me . . .
Very humorous and terrifying post! I lived in Boston for 10 years, but NOT with an RV. We’ve lived in southern Oregon for 20 years and have been full timing now for two years, but only in the West and the South. We’re planning to head up the East Coast next spring/summer/fall, going all the way to Nova Scotia. I’ve been a bit apprehensive about what it will be like with our RV (we travel with a Tundra and a 27′ Arctic Fox). Sounds like you think the trip is worth the anxiety??
We’re in Nova Scotia now and we really feel the trip is worthwhile. Even though your trailer is shorter, your rig is probably the same end-to-end (our Tundra/Fleetwood 27 was 52′ long hitched up and so is our Ram 3500/36′ fiver, although with the bikes it’s more like 55′). It was hairy at times, but we so enjoyed Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia, and Maine was incredible (posts coming!). We didn’t stop much in between Virginia and Maine, because we wanted to get to Nova Scotia sooner rather than later. We hit the Maine coast at Acadia National Park. I’ve driven the Boston to Bangor route dozens of times and there was nothing there we wanted to see badly enough to deal with the traffic. North of Acadia things really quieted down… Do it, just steel your nerves!!
Oh good, thanks for the info and encouragement! I just found your blog and am really enjoying it. 🙂
Thanks for letting me know! And enjoy your trip east.
We live in upstate NY at the junction of Rt 17 and I 81. We travel with a 40 DP towing a Jeep. I always use the major roads unless I know the secondary roads first hand, Too many low clearance RailRoad crossings too deal with. We travel up and down the corridor to NJ and Maryland, and occasionally to Maine. Just pick a lane, keep your speed around 55 to 60, and watch the GPS. Once you get used to it, piece of cake.
“future full timer – 5th wheel toy hauler” here. .. A question – not just for east coast, but also west. …. With a 13.5 foot tall fifth wheel, what about low hanging trees n back roads? how do you prepare? it seems like there would be a lot of cases where you’d be driving along and come to low hanging trees and have to back up?
My wife and i will be retiring in a couple years, and we plan on a 30-35 foot fifth wheel, and we want to camp in as remote of places as possible – starting with all over the west (coast, deserts, sierras, cascades, BC, Alberta, etc)
Out west there are very few low bridges, so we are in the habit of simply barreling down the road and not thinking about it until we start looking for gas. In our trip to the northeast introduced with this blog post, we proceeded the same way, and it was only afterwards that I realized how many low bridges there are in the eastern states. We just got lucky. In hindsight, I think paying attention to “truck routes” is key. Anywhere a big commercial rig can go a fifth wheel can go. So when the signs say “truck route” that is usually the better route to take.
Have fun in your travels!
We live in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania and have just read this trip for the first time… you describe are Eastern roads very well… it was a great laugh for us… enjoy your travels stay safe
I’m glad this put a smile on your face. We both spent much of our lives driving in the eastern states, but returning after being out west for a while was quite a shock. If you haven’t seen it, you’ll get a big kick out of this post about driving in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia Canada. The first 1/4 of the page is tips for traveling in Canada, but starting at the heading, “Deciphering the road signs in Nova Scotia” and on to the bottom of the page you’ll get some good chuckles! Enjoy!!