Massachusetts Part I: Western Mass

Our travel from New Hampton to Westhampton through Northampton was easy. Smith College is in Northampton, and I always love the atmosphere of a university town. The KOA where we had our reservations was about 9 miles west of town off Hwy. 66. When we drove the rig through the middle of downtown on our way to the new camp, I was glad to know we would be coming back to this area for our errands and such. The downtown was dense with historic buildings and packed with people on the sidewalks, on the park benches, or in the restaurants and stores. There was something to see everywhere I glanced. While we were waiting for a traffic light to turn green I noticed City Hall with a marker from the 1600’s, an opera house, and a beautiful Catholic Church. That was just one street corner.

The KOA campground was fairly large, and our spot was located at the far end of the park in the back of the property. The spots were a mixture of seasonals, travelers like us, and tent campers. They had a swimming pool, volleyball, a fishing pond, and lots of planned activities for kids like Ice Cream Socials, Fire Truck Rides, Hayrides, Arts and Crafts in the Pavilion, etc. For the adults they had Bingo, and for the whole family they had a dance on Saturday night. The man that led us to our site was named Jerry. He had been at the KOA for 30 years, and he had 17 foster children. I think most of his foster kids lived in other campers around the park, and worked on site too.

When we left New Hampshire our water pressure was extremely low and we weren’t sure if the problem was with the park or with the Monaco… so that was front and center on Mike’s worry list. Back in January, at the beginning of our trip, we acknowledged that things are going to go wrong with the bus on a regular occasion. We even have a line in our current household budget every month for unexpected breakage/repair costs. We only had 30 amps of power at the place we left, so I was excited we were going to have 50 amps of power this week. Laundry is more fun without having to run the generator (provided the water pressure issue was resolved). Mike plugged us in and we started setting everything up, until we realized we had no power at all. Hmmm. We were so busy concentrating on the water pressure issue; the no- power issue caught us a little off guard. Same question, different topic. Is it them, or is it us? Mike jiggled with switches and breaker boxes for a while and I tried to stay out of the way. Finally, we decided to go check with the office and see if previous campers at that site had any electrical issues. I drove to the front to talk to the staff in the office, and Mike waited for a maintenance person to show up. While he waited he removed the surge protector that buffers our electrical line and the camp’s electrical box.  Presto, we had power. In the mean time, Jerry came back by and said an electrician had just worked on the box. Since the exposed wiring ran down the trunk of a tree and directly into the dirt ground… we still thought the problem was with the campground.  However, our power was on and Mike wasn’t interested in rocking the boat. Without the surge protector, the electrical system on the Monaco was at risk of being blown out – but we decided we would worry about that if the time came. After we were sure we weren’t going to have to move, we continued setting up. Mike’s next step was to remove the charcoal filter off of our water system. Presto, water pressure! After a couple of extra hours with the set up at our new camp, we had unfiltered water and an “iffy” electrical box. Time for martinis!

It was getting late, and I decided I wasn’t interested in cooking that evening. My solution for dinner was to go back up to the office and find the take-out menus for restaurants in the area that delivered to the KOA. I figured I could find a local business that would bring us a pizza or some Chinese food. Sure enough, Antonio’s in Easthampton was happy to bring us a pizza and some salad. When I placed the order over the telephone, the girl said to give them 40 minutes and then meet the driver at the front gate of the campground. We set our alarm and Mike drove up to the front with the money when the time came. Just as Mike drove off, the pizza delivery guy drove up to our site (no one told him he was supposed to meet us at the gate). The only problem was that I had no cash. While I was texting Mike to come back, the young driver was commenting about the Monaco. He said he liked it. His name was Ricky, and he was also a little overwhelmed because this was the first delivery he had made to a campground. I kept apologizing that he had to wait for Mike to get back, but he said no problem… he was taking it all in. I’m so glad about the mix-up because as we chatted I told him about our 4-year trip and visiting each state. He asked what we were planning to see from our current stop. I told him I wasn’t sure yet, I hadn’t had time to start studying any of the tourist brochures. His advice was to go see music, any music, at Tanglewood. We talked about outdoor music venues and I told him about the Pavilion in The Woodlands. He explained that the Tanglewood venue was on the same level as Red Rocks Outdoor Amphitheater near Denver.  I was intrigued.

The next morning I googled Tanglewood and learned that the Boston Symphony Orchestra spends it summers at this Music campus near Lennox, MA. The stage is located in “a shed” which opens up in the back to a beautiful green lawn. Patrons can sit in designated seats inside the shed, or they can sit on the lawn with picnics and coolers, lawn chairs and umbrellas. Tanglewood was about an hour’s drive west of us through the Berkshires. We studied the upcoming concert schedule and compared it to the local weather forecast in order to determine that a Sunday afternoon performance by the Symphony was going to be our best bet for beautiful weather. When the time came I loaded up a cooler with lunch, wine and beer. We packed our fold-up chairs with a blanket for the grass and made the drive through the mountains on a picture-perfect afternoon.

We arrived early to enjoy the atmosphere before the music started. We found a place to park in a field near the main gate and hurried to the box office to make sure tickets were still available. It looked like thousands of other people had the same idea for the afternoon, and I was worried we weren’t going to be able to get in. Plenty of lawn seats were still available (they said only one concert had ever sold-out at Tanglewood – that was James Taylor in 2009). Once we got inside, I understood why. The place was enormous. It was much more of a campus than a concert venue, and the shed was at the center of everything. Large families and couples on dates clustered in sections where trees provided shade from the bright sun. It looked like everyone had been there for hours already. There were some real picnic pros too – the majority of portable tables situated on the carpet grass were set with tablecloths and even complete with fresh flour arrangements and burning candles. It was obvious we were at a symphony event as opposed to rock concert. It was a very dignified party. I had been proud of the great picnic I packed until I saw everyone else’s spread. We had no flowers, no candles, no table, no table cloth, and no umbrella. We were very basic.

Before long the music started and it was glorious. Two hours of Beethoven with one intermission. We had selected a spot on the grass just at the back edge of the shed. We were in the exact middle. The acoustics made the music sound crystal clear and very intimate. The only strange part was that since the sun was so bright, we really couldn’t see into the dark shade of the covered area. It sounded like we were on the front row, but the only time we could see the musicians was if we walked around the side of the seating area, where the sun hit differently.  After the performance was over, we stayed in place and watched the first wave of people pack up and cart off all their stuff. There were a couple of clusters of seasoned pros that were just getting their party started. They were the smart ones – waiting to dip into their dessert course until after the concert concluded. We thought we waited long enough, and the parking lot was about halfway empty when we got to the Honda… but the road leading to Tanglewood was a two-lane avenue, and traffic was backed up for miles. We finally made it out of the congestion and took the Mass Pike back to the KOA. By the time the day was over, the dogs had been locked up in the bathroom of the Monaco for 9 hours – and I was anxious to let them out for a potty break.

Much of our time in Western Mass was spent on the basics. We didn’t take too many daytrips from this location. We had campfires on most evenings. The Perseid meteor shower was happening this week, so we did some star-gazing on a couple of nights before hitting the sack. We saw several shooting stars, and the International Space Station.  Most evenings I cooked inside or grilled outside (depending on the rain). We worked on a lot of crossword puzzles. We took walks within the campground and to a cemetery down the road from us. There was a fenced dark park at this KOA, so we walked the dogs over to it a few times a day. They can wear each other out real fast when they have a chance to play. Since Piper and Cessna don’t like other dogs, we would have to leave anytime other pooches arrived. Luckily, that only happened a couple of times during our stay. It is so much fun to have dogs at the dog park that don’t like other dogs. Not really.

Getting back to the theory that something is always going to break on the bus, the rain we had during this stop helped us learn there was a leak somewhere in the ceiling of the Monaco. After a rainstorm Mike discovered the wall around the window next to the co-pilot’s chair was all wet. So were the electronic window coverings. While I did house chores and travel research, he was busy reading RV blogs on his iPad. Whatever problem we encounter on this rig has already been dealt with by someone else in another rig somewhere. Luckily, RVer’s like to write about these things. Mike can usually find information on whatever problem he is troubleshooting at the moment, and come up with a solution to fix it. That is what he did with the leak.  He read about it online, went to Wal-Mart and bought some sort of special sealer, sprayed it on the roof, and Presto! No more leak (at least for the moment).

On our last day in Westhampton we drove through Easthampton and Northampton to get to Amherst. The main campus of UMass is located in Amherst, and I’m a sucker for college towns. We left around nine that morning with the dogs. We parked our car in a downtown parking lot, and walked around for about an hour. We explored the boundaries of the downtown area, and also covered some ground in an adjoining historic neighborhood. We were lucky enough to find a restaurant called High Horse that would let us sit with the dogs on their patio. Mike had a hamburger and I had delicious carrot ginger soup and soba salad. When we finished eating we walked around the campus of UMass. I was surprised at our tour. I expected to see lots of quaint New England architecture on the campus. I thought the halls of classrooms would be in quaint red brick buildings, and the dorms would be colonial style from the exterior. Not the case. Most of the buildings on the campus were ultra modern cement square institutional blobs. There was one building with a steeple in the middle of campus, but most all of the other buildings were plain and harsh. Before making our way back to the car, we found Emily Dickinson’s Home and took a peek at the grounds. I made a mental note to download some of her poetry, as well as that of Robert Frost (who was a professor at Amherst), to my Kindle when we got back home. The tour of the home was 90 minutes, and we didn’t want to leave the dogs in the car, so we skipped the inside. Ms. Dickinson’s life story is very interesting, as she became somewhat of a recluse in her mid-thirties.  I made another mental note to read more about her life story in addition to reading her poetry.

We made our way back home that afternoon and spent the rest of the evening getting ready for travel in the morning. It was time to leave the farming and agricultural Mecca of the Bay State and head back toward the Atlantic Ocean. Our next stop in Massachusetts was near Plymouth and our reservation at Sandy Pond Campground started the next day.

 

It seems like this was the only "traditional" building on U Mass Amherst Campus. Everything else was square and ultra modern. Looked sort of like a very large prison campus.

It seems like this was the only “traditional” building on U Mass Amherst Campus. Everything else was square and ultra modern. Looked sort of like a very large prison campus.

Emily Dickinson Home.

Emily Dickinson Home.

Our camp at the KOA.

Our camp at the KOA.

The cemetery we walked to and through each day to wear out the dogs.

The cemetery we walked to and through each day to wear out the dogs.

Getting ready for Beethoven.

Getting ready for Beethoven.

A front view of spot #46.

A front view of spot #46.

The shady lawn at Tanglewood.

The shady lawn at Tanglewood.

The opposite side of our picnic view from Tanglewood.

The opposite side of our picnic view from Tanglewood.

The view on our walk to the cemetery.

The view on our walk to the cemetery.

 

 

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