We have a “polar package” on our camper. If we compare it to our Swedish camper, it’s kind of a joke, but it does give us a little bit of protection in colder temperatures. It basically means the underbelly is enclosed and receives some heat from the heat system and water heater. But this is by no means a winter camper.
The time we spent in Pennsylvania over the holidays was challenging in terms of weather. We had problems with condensation, not only on windows but on walls, inside closets and basically everywhere. Moisture is a camper’s worst enemy. It was a constant battle. Then there was the morning we woke up with frozen water lines and had to back flush the system with boiling water over and over until it melted. Let’s just say we were looking forward to heading south.
Sometimes when I got the cold weather camper blues, I looked at the forecast in all the places we planned to go and we headed south. Each stop was a few degrees warmer than the last and we were ready to see the temperatures begin to shift. And then came Helena.
Suddenly, as we looked at our planned route, working our way slowly down the coast with short driving days and sight-seeing along the way, the predicted temperatures looked very cold. There was snow and ice in the forecast. Heading south wasn’t helping anymore – the coldest temperatures were in North Carolina where they were predicting lows of 5°F (-15°C) when we planned to be there. It was named Winter Storm Helena, because apparently naming winter storms is a thing, and we were just ill-equipped to weather her well. So we canceled all our plans and campground reservations and moved in to our new address: I-95 South.
When we left Greenbelt, MD, we stopped for a night at my cousin’s in Fredricksburg, Virginia. It would have been nice to be able to stay longer, but Helena was hard on our heels. We planned to get on the road as early as we could in the morning. They live at the end of a cul-de-sac and graciously moved their cars to the street so we could park the camper in their driveway and have electricity. In the morning, a school bus backed into one of their cars as it was turning around in the cul-de-sac. Thankfully, no one was hurt. But a bus load of kids was late to school that day, a car that had just gotten out of the shop was headed straight back, and we weren’t going anywhere with a school bus blocking the road.
So we got a later start than we had hoped but we were soon on the road again. Our goal was to make it all the way to Fayetteville, NC for a couple of reasons. There’s a campground in our Thousand Trails network in southern South Carolina where we can stay for free (because of our membership) and we had booked that for the following day so we wanted to stop within a reasonable driving distance of Yemassee. Fayetteville also appeared to be just outside of Helena’s reach as we looked at her predicted path, and we were still hoping to avoid the worst of the winter weather. We called a couple of campgrounds in the Fayetteville area that are open year-round. One of them didn’t allow new arrivals after 6pm because it was deemed too dark to park safely. We were unlikely to make it in time. So we had one other option and we tried our best to get there. Our kids are great in the car, but everyone has their limits. We were all getting a little short tempered, but when Micah started screaming it was more than we could take. We pulled in at a rest stop and checked his diaper and tried to feed him. But he was just done with the car seat for the day. Thanks to having Mr. Google in our pockets, we found out there was a campground just a mile down the road so we pulled in and set camp in the rain. Our home for the night: RVacations in Selma, NC with a beautiful view of I-95.
As we slept, Helena caught up to us. The rain switched over to a “wintery mix” of snow, sleet, and freezing rain. We woke up to a mess, including a significant layer of ice covering our camper, and facing a new dilemma. Should we stay an extra night and avoid driving on ice and snow covered roads? This would mean facing the single-digit temperatures we tried so hard to avoid. We’re experienced winter drivers, but we don’t have snow tires on either vehicle and towing 7,000 pounds is a total game changer. In the end, we decided it was a bigger risk to stay than to try to move slowly south and try to get out of Helena’s grip. The less-than-scenic view of I-95 that we lamented as we pulled in turned out to be a huge help, since we could see that the interstate was in much better condition than the small campground roads. So we packed up, said a few prayers, and inched our way slowly back to the highway.
An additional challenge, when the camper is coated in ice, is our slide-out room. Obviously it has to come in when we drive. Staffan was able to chip away enough ice to get it moving, but most of the roof stayed covered in ice that wouldn’t budge. Not a problem until you move it in to the living space that was been heated all night. We couldn’t let all that ice melt into our living room all day as we drove. So we made it safely onto the highway, but we couldn’t stay there because after about 30 minutes or so, we needed to pull off and try to remove the ice that had begun to thaw before it actually melted and created big problems. It was a delicate balance, but thankfully we timed it just right. We were able to find a gas station, put the slide back out, and clean off the ice before much moisture found its way inside. Back on the highway, we found there was less snow and ice for every mile we went south, and it wasn’t long before we were cruising at normal speeds on mostly dry roads. We were free of Helena’s grasp!
It was another very long day of driving, and to break it up we stopped at the only place we could: South of the Border on the border between North and South Carolina. If you’ve driven in this part of the country before, you know what I’m talking about, and if you haven’t, it’s all but impossible to explain. To help our kids weather another day of driving, we paid an unreasonable amount of money to go to the “Reptile Lagoon” and look at half-dead alligators and snakes, in the world’s most racist and dilapidated tourist trap. It is what it is. And eventually we made it to The Oaks at Point South campground in Yemassee, South Carolina. As campgrounds go, it was a bit of a disappointment. The sites were tiny and packed together like sardines. Many of their sites were annual rentals, meaning a lot of our neighbors were residents not travelers, which isn’t our preferred atmosphere. But it was safe from snow and freezing temperatures, so we stayed two nights to take a day off from driving. We went to a small but very friendly local church, Faith Ridgeland, and had tea with interesting neighbors. There was a walking path around a small pond, where we saw our first alligator in the wild. Definitely not a total bust.
We love a good adventure, but our escape from winter storm Helena was a bit too much of the wrong kind. We are thankful to be in a part of the country where a “cold winter day” is when you need to put on a sweatshirt and the only ice is in my sweet tea. Lindstroms: 1, Helena: 0
Posted in Campground Reviews, Explore and tagged Faith Ridgeland, reptile lagoon, RVacation, south of the border, the oaks at point south, thousand trails, winter storm helena by Christine with 4 comments.