Big Meadows Campground July 2023

Posted on 07/04/2023 in misc

Trip: 35
Nights: 111-113

We are no strangers to Shenandoah National Park. I found a list of the top 20-day hikes in the park, and I have done every one of them. That said, I never get tired of it. I don't think I would get tired of any National Park.

We spent a long weekend at Big Meadows Campground in the central region of the park. It wasn’t our most stress free camping experience, but it still beats working or being at home! On arrival Friday evening, I turned on the fridge in propane mode, as all campgrounds in Shenandoah are dry campgrounds (no electricity at the sites). When we turned on the water pump to build up some water pressure in the lines, everything went haywire. Every light in the camper, and all the lights on the control panel, starting blinking in unison. The obvious cause of that is the battery can’t supply the amperage needed to power whatever is on. So I turned off the fridge temporarily. Nothing changed about the lights, so I let it go for a minute or two, as that’s all I need to build up water pressure. When we turned the pump off and the fridge back on, the fridge was dead. Working fine to dead in a minute = blown fuse as the most likely cause. All the blade fuses in the power control center were fine. A call for help on the owner's forum resulted in me learning that there are two old style glass fuses on the control circuit board for the fridge. Getting to that board was an adventure, but I did eventually find a blown 3A fuse on that board the next day. We were 30 miles from the nearest town, deep in a National Park, so there wasn’t much I could do about it at that point anyway.

Because we can’t park our camper at home, we don’t have the opportunity to plug it in a day in advance of trips to cool the fridge down. So we pack everything in a Coleman Marine Extreme cooler (80% of the performance of a Yeti for 20% of the price!), put blue ice packs in the fridge for the drive, and by the time we set up camp the fridge is usually around 40F, and we can load it with food and drinks and the fridge will be fine from there. So losing the fridge is not a catastrophe for us, it just means we live out of the cooler, which we did for 30+ years of tent camping prior to buying a camper.

But I still had the weird flashing behavior to deal with. We were going to be near one of the park exits on Saturday, so I took the battery with us, and we detoured into town to visit AutoZone. They tested the battery at 12.52 V - which is 100% (barely). I had tested it at 12.48 with everything turned off except the propane detector, so that confirmed my test. So I don’t know about the battery. After I reinstalled it, we tested the lights with the water pump again, and I got a bit of a disco light effect, but not the full on and off flashing that I observed the day before. It’s the low budget marine/RV battery that came with the camper, so I suspect it is probably is the source of the issue. We had no issues at all with the lights the rest of the weekend. I’ll probably replace the battery in the near future. I’m thinking of using two 6V golf cart batteries in series instead. They are designed for the kind of draw an RV house battery provides, they tend to last much longer, and I’ll get 3X the available amp hours that I have now.

Also, smoke from Canadian fires had invaded Virginia. You can see the haze in some of the photos below. Sunday was much clearer than Saturday.

Photo collage from Shenandoah National Park

All the problems aside, it was still a fabulous weekend. Saturday we did some hiking, went to AutoZone for the battery, then got chased into the camper by a thunderstorm, but once it passed I was able to grill steaks, with hash browns and fresh corn on the cob for dinner. The night was passed with a campfire. On Sunday, we did some more hiking, had an IPA at the Skylands Resort in the park, did a short hike on the Appalachian Trail near the campground, cooked breakfast for dinner, and went to the Ranger program that evening. The Ranger presentation that evening was on the waterfalls in the park. I’ve hiked to all of them.

Photo collage from Shenandoah National Park

Michelle got to see a couple of interesting interactions. Apparently a near fight was breaking out in the women’s restroom over one woman monopolizing the sink as she tried to wash and dry her hair at the single sink. And at the Skyland Lodge, which is basically on the Appalachian Trail, she overheard a woman remarking that the Park Service needed to eject the “dirty hikers” hanging around the gift shop. The “dirty hikers” were AT through hikers taking a break in the shade and taking advantage of the store and restaurant. It warmed my heart that two nearby people verbally jumped on Karen* to tell her the hikers were more welcome than she was.

*I have no doubt that her name is Karen, and she serves on a school board even though she has no kids in her local school system.

We’ll be back in Shenandoah in September.

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