Trailer Stuff

We traveled from South Carolina to Faver-Dykes State Park in St. Augustine, Florida, arriving today. Saturday night we stayed at another Harvest Host. This one is at Debellation Brewing Company in Richmond Hill, Georgia. The beer was good, but the food selection was limited and we’d eaten out the last two nights, so we ate in the camper. The only downside was that Debellation was backed up to I-95, so it was pretty noisy. We had a little mishap when hitching up to leave Huntington Beach yesterday, so I thought I’d talk about that and some other travel and trailer-related topics.

Hitching Up

The classic problem that people have with trailers is backing up. And indeed, I’ve has issues with that, mostly when I haven’t done it in a while. Evidently I get out of practice quickly. But lately, my biggest issue has been getting everything lined up to attach the trailer to the car. Theoretically, you line up the ball under the trailer hitch, lower the hitch onto the ball, lock it on and you’re ready to go. It the “line up the ball” part that’s been tripping me up. Even though the car has a rear view camera, I can’t seem to get it lined up properly. I get the ball under the hitch, lower it on to the ball but it won’t drop down all the way. If the ball is either too far back or too far forward, it won’t engage all the way, and it seems like it’s always one or the other these days.

This morning I had been inching the car back and forth for a while, and along the way I had removed the wheel chocks to make it easier to shift the tongue back and forth and raised the jack to put some weight on it. Then I got back in the car to give it a little nudge to try to get the ball to engage. Instead the hitch fell off the ball, sending the tongue to the ground! To compound the issue, the door on the front storage compartment was open, so when the trailer pitched forward, the nylon pins in the compartment door sheared, breaking the door off.

So now I had the tongue on the ground and a broken compartment door. As I started to mess with the jack to raise the tongue off the ground, our neighbor in the site across the road came over and offered help. “I’ve found that if you put some weight on the back bumper, one person can lift the tongue,” he said. And indeed, when he and his son stood on the bumper, the tongue came off the ground with no help from me. When one hopped off I was able to lift and get the jack back in place. For some reason, I was able to hitch up first try after that–go figure.

The next problem was the compartment door. We emptied the compartment and drove to Walmart sans door. My idea was to replace the nylon hinge pins with some steel wire, but Walmart didn’t have any. Home Depot down the road did, and I completed the repair in the parking lot.

Repaired hinge

A few observations:

  • I need to figure out how to tell when ball and hitch are properly lined up. Right now, it’s all trial and error, but I (or Anne) should be able to look at it and say, “Back half an inch will be perfect.”
  • In general, removing wheel chocks without being securely hitched is a bad idea.
  • Leaving the compartment door open while messing with things wasn’t a great idea either.
  • The door hinge design was very good. The nylon hinge pins being the weakest point saved the hinges. If I’d broken those, I would have had to duct tape the door shut until I got a new one!
  • Bringing my complete toolbox with me paid off. Needle-nose and lineman’s pliers made the repair easy.

Finding Campsites

Since we’re about to enter Florida in late February, I thought I’d talk about how I managed to book the campsites I did. First of all, it din’t happen because of my great foresight, booking sites many month in advance. We didn’t really get serious about planning this trip until after New Years. I knew from our trip in 2020 that camp sites might be hard to find, and everything I’ve heard said that things are even tighter now. So I was concerned whether I’d be able to make it work. We really wanted to have a good visit with relatives in St. Petersburg, so that became the first objective. Fort DeSoto is a Pinellas County park that we really liked when we stayed there in 2020, but I couldn’t find any availability for the dates we were interested in. I decided to try one of the websites that notifies you when sites become available, usually because of cancellations. I had seen Campnab recommended, but then I came across Wandering Labs. I tried their free version, which seemed pretty nice, although I didn’t immediately find anything. I decided to upgrade to the paid version ($30 for a year). The paid version checks for vacancies more often and texts (instead of emailing) you when it finds one. With that I was able to get a four night reservation at Fort DeSoto and I followed that up with a different site for another five nights. I also used it to find at least one other reservation for our trip. On the other hand, I wasn’t successful getting a reservation at one of the Florida Keys parks, so it’s not a magic bullet. But overall, i found it useful and well worth the price.

I’ve heard that some people object to these services. I haven’t heard the argument against them, but I assume it’s that they are unfair to people who don’t want to pay to use them. I guess I found the price reasonable enough that I don’t see that as a big concern.

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