Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life-and travel-leaves marks on you.
----Anthony Bourdain

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Gazelle T4 Hub Tent vs. Rhino-Rack Sunseeker Awning Tent

Comparing these 2 tents may be comparing apples to oranges because there are different factors that come into play when deciding to use each one. I'm going to do my best to provide a run-down of both of them and give you my opinion.

Answering Questions

  • What kind of camping will I be doing? The Gazelle is great for general camping. If we're camping and we want to do some sightseeing, this is the tent. I would use the Rhino-Rack if we were overlanding and were going to stay put for at least a couple of days. 

  • What time of year is it? My first experience in the Rhino-Rack was in the Southeastern USA. That means it was hot and humid. Even with the huge doors on all sides of the Rhino-Rack very little air went through the tent. We put a fan in the top of the tent and didn't get a lot of relief. I've gotta give this question to the Gazelle. I think we would have stayed cooler in it. We've camped in warm weather with the Gazelle and actually ended up getting a little too cool with the fan going. 
    • That being said...I think the Rhino-Rack would be awesome for winter camping. Robert has a little stove that can be brought in and vented out of a door to make it even warmer.

  • Which is faster to set up? Hands down...the Gazelle. While the Rhino-Rack was pretty quick (especially comparing it to your standard camping tent), nothing beats the quickness of a Gazelle. Before putting up the awning tent the awning has to be out, so that takes a few extra minutes. Unless you use the tent as a "stand-alone", which can be done.

  • What about tear-down? Again, the Gazelle. The Rhino-Rack is so airtight that air bubbles in the tent when taking it down. Of course, it helps to have the doors unzipped a bit to let the air escape. Considering the time it takes to put either tent in their respective bags, it really doesn't take that much more time to put the Rhino-Rack away than it does the Gazelle. I just think the Gazelle has a slight advantage. Again, take into account that the awning also has to be put up so add a few more minutes to the awning tent.

  • Which will keep you dry if it rains? This one is a toss-up. We've been in the Rhino-Rack in a good hard rain, and if we had zipped up all of the doors we would have stayed completely dry. The Gazelle has also kept us dry without any problems. The Gazelle will keep you more comfortable when you're in a summer rain because chances are you'll be able to have most of the windows open with the rain fly keeping the rain out. The Rhino-Rack attaches to the awning and has a door so we can easily get into the van without getting wet so this tent may have a slight upper hand. Of course, the campsite could be configured to have the Gazelle next to the awning (when not using the Rhino-Rack) to keep you drier. Like I said, it's a toss-up. Both do equally well in the wind. We've had the Gazelle in extreme wind in Canada on the St. Lawrence and it held up exceptionally well. 

View of the back door of the Rhino-Rack opening to the van

  • What about space? Which one has more room? Keep in mind that the Rhino-Rack is a straight up and down square. The Gazelle gives a little more room on the sides since they bow out a bit. The sides of the Gazelle aren't as tall as the Rhino-Rack. We use 2 cots when we camp. With the Rhino-Rack Robert barely had enough room length-wise. There was no room to walk around the cots at the bottom or top. With the Gazelle, there is a little bit of room. There seemed to be more room on the sides of the cots with the Gazelle as well. I'm not sure how much this little difference matters; all you're doing is sleeping anyway. 

Both cots inside of the Gazelle T4 Hub Tent with room around the sides and bottom to spare

  • What about the cost? The Rhino-Rack Sunseeker Base Tent is $539.10; the Gazelle T4 Hub Tent is $459.99 but they have sales what seems like all the time. At the time of this posting, the Rhino-Rack was out of stock and it looks like it would have to be bought internationally and then shipped to the USA.

The Verdict

As you can probably tell by the above answers, I have to go with the Gazelle. I've gone from having to have a trailer with heating and air to loving tent camping with the Gazelle. I definitely think the Rhino-Rack would be great for cold weather camping but we haven't done much of that in the past. Yes, they are more expensive than the tents you'll buy at a local department store but it's well worth the money...and aggravation of the traditional tent. 
Portsmouth Island, NC

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Camping on a Tuesday: Jake Best Campground (TN)

I had one more week before it was time for another school year to begin. We decided to take a mid-week break and take a chance on a campground that is first come, first serve. We were a bit concerned that it might be full, but...

We had the whole place to ourselves. Jake Best Campground is in the Cherokee National Forest in East Tennesse, between Vonore and Tellico Plains. More specifically, it is in the Citico area. As we made our way along the gravel road to the campground, several dispersed camping areas were on the creek. This one is on the other side. The ones on the creek are quite spacious.

There is no fee to camp at these sites. Jake Best is $6/night and includes no hook-ups. The campground is open from around the beginning of March through the end of November. There is only one bathroom with a vault toilet.

Yes, I said only one toilet, but there are only 7 sites at this campground. During the peak season, there is a campground host who takes 1 spot. 5 sites are up a hill from the creek; there are 2 on the other side. Those 2 back up to the road; however, the road is one lane. When we were there, there was very little traffic. Robert said that the area gets quite busy once trout are released in the creek as well as during hunting season.
The road leading to the campground

The road leading to the campground on the other side.
Right beside the toilet is a box with envelopes and a pole where your payment is inserted. I'm not sure about other times of the year, but we didn't see any rangers while we were there.
The sites are a good size and are fairly level. There is no electricity or water, so be prepared. There is also no cell service so you're able to completely get away from distractions.
Site 2 seems to be the best site for RVs

Site 3 seemed to be the shortest site.
We chose Site 7 because it had a view of the creek down the hill at the back. The site next to ours also had a view but it wasn't quite as good.
The back of Site 7; the creek is down the hill

Site #7

Since this is bear country, bear-proof trash cans are provided. There are 2 right next to Site 5 and 2 beside the toilet. We didn't see any evidence of bears, or even raccoons for that matter. The campground was very clean and the garbage bins were empty when we got there. 
Bear-proof bins next to Site 5

Bear-proof bins next to the toilet

I would definitely stay there again. It was a little unsettling to be the only ones in the campground the first night but the second night I wasn't bothered by it. We had a backup plan in case the campground was full so we would definitely do that again. There is another campground not too far away that has overflow camping so Indian Boundary may be another option.

We very much enjoyed the solitude of Jake Best. The walk to the creek was easy. The water was very cold and very clear. Robert took a couple of dips in the cold water (I got in once) and we skipped some rocks. It was an exceptionally relaxing couple of days.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Camping Vacation 2021: DeSoto Falls National Park, GA

We had big plans for our summer of 2021 vacation...and then life happened. We decided to stay closer to home instead of leaving the country, but we knew with it being summer in the South, we needed to head north or higher in elevation.

We found DeSoto Falls National Park near Dahlonega, GA. The location is more in-between Dahlonega and Helen; the Appalachian Trail crosses the highway just up the road from the park. This was a smaller campground than most of the National Park Campgrounds we've been to. We were there at the beginning of the week; there were a lot of empty sites. 

As you drive on US Hwy 129, you may almost miss the turn. Coming from Blairsville, it's a sharp right to turn into the park.

The campground is divided into 2 separate parts: one section has outdoor shower facilities available with flushable toilets and the other section only has "chemical flush" facilities. We had potable water just across the road from our site.
Potable Water Spigot

Shower Facility

Outdoor Shower

Chemical Flush Facility

The sites are large and the ones in the loop where we stayed were wooded, with Frogtown Creek to the back of them. Picnic tables, fire pits, and a lantern stand are provided. There is no electricity or water at the sites.
Our site

The site beside us

One of the sites in the middle of the loop

Road view of our site
We stayed 2 nights. The first night was the best night's sleep either of us had in a long time. Unfortunately, the second night a family with 3 young children stayed. I say "unfortunately" because I don't think the parents knew (or cared) about camp etiquette. The youngest daughter (who we estimate was around 3 or 4 years old) screamed and cried until around at least 11:00 pm with the parents sitting around the campfire. We aren't sure what they put in their fire, but whatever it was blew into our tent and caused Robert to start coughing. Let me just say that if we had planned to be there another night we would have said something to the ranger. The people who were there our first night also had small(ish) children who were well-behaved and calmed right down when it was time to go to sleep. 

Enough of that; camping etiquette with children will have to be another post. There is a very nice, well-kept trail on the other side of Frogtown Creek that leads to the waterfalls. It was an easy hike. We had nowhere to be so we just took our time and enjoyed the flora along the way. The rhododendron wasn't blooming yet but I would say when it does it's absolutely beautiful. 
An easy hike with a well-kept trail

It had been a little dry, but after a rain I'm sure the fall are spectacular!

The rhododendron were just about to bloom

Our campsite from the trail
We met Laurene and Shirley. They've been visiting the campground for well over 20 years. Their sons bring their campers up and set them up for them and they spend the summer there. 

If you're looking for something to do during the day, Dahlonega is close by. We drove in to reminisce about a couple of July 4ths we spent there. We didn't stay long, though. We found Frogtown Winery in between Dahlonega and the campground. It's well worth a stop!

Now the big question: Would we camp there again? Absolutely, without a doubt. The only downside we saw was the unruly neighbors we had that one night. We would definitely try to get our same campsite. There's just something about having the sound of the creek lull you to sleep at night!

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Ireland Adventure Re-Cap

This is exactly how we felt about Ireland
This was one of the best, if not THE best, vacations we've ever had. It was, quite honestly, planned at what some might say was the last moment. As in, 3 or 4 weeks before we left we began seriously planning. We tossed the idea back and forth for a few months but then we decided to just go ahead and do it, and I'm glad we did.

Renting the campervan from Bunk Campers was a brilliant idea, so thanks, John! I've said this before: the van we rented was just the right size. Having a toilet at our disposal was exactly what we needed. The bed was so very comfortable that I had no trouble going to sleep from the beginning and I didn't wake up with my back hurting. 

Robert did a great job driving with the gear shift on his left side and driving on the left side of the road. He was already used to driving on the right side of the van, but it had been some years since he had driven a manual for any length of time. He only ground the gears twice and never stalled the engine. The round-abouts were no problem at all; I think we only had to stop at a couple during the whole trip. In fact, he found that driving on the left side of the road and all of the round-abouts were easier than driving in the US, partly due to the courteousness of the Irish drivers.

The prices of everything seemed to be comparable to or less than what we would pay in the US, especially once we left Dublin. Diesel was, as you might imagine, expensive, but we only had to fill up 3 times and spent less than $400. The campervan seemed to be relatively fuel-efficient. 

Favorites of the Trip

My favorite part of the trip was steering away from most of the tourist traps, going "off the beaten path", meeting the Irish people, and taking our cues from them. I never thought I would enjoy not planning a trip! Yes, I know by doing this we missed some things but that just means I need to go back and do it again. I think my favorite place was the Beara Peninsula. It's hard to say for sure, but just the beauty of that area of the country stole my heart.

One of Robert's favorite parts of the trip was being able to see our British friends in Dublin before we picked up the van. Another favorite was visiting Ross Castle in Killarney and walking back through the park back into town. Seeing the Irish Red Deer and getting a view of St. Mary's as we walked into town was very special. Ladies View (in the Killarney National Forest) was his favorite scenery. The real surprising part to him was how genuinely friendly the Irish people are. He had heard about the friendliness but to experience in person was something!

The Big Question

Now for the big question: Would we do it again? Most definitely! We're already talking about renting from Bunk Campers again and traveling through Northern Ireland and the northern part of the Republic of Ireland, Scotland, or Southern England.

Next time, I will plan out our dinners and breakfasts to make sure we didn't waste so much time in the grocery store. I don't think I will even plan where to go next time; we should just go where the road takes us and where locals suggest we go.

Our biggest piece of advice is to just do it. Go while you can, before you get too old. Even if you have to put everything on a credit card and pay it off later, do it. The memories we have from this trip will last for the rest of our lives.


Saturday, May 7, 2022

Our Last Planned Campsite

After we left Hungry Hill, we headed toward our last planned campsite: Roches Campervan and Campsite in County Wexford. We took a bit of a detour because when you're in that part of Ireland going to the Rock of Cashel is a must. We skipped Blarney Castle (too touristy & I've heard some nasty things about what happens on that rock at night!) knowing that the Rock was also touristy. As luck would have it, there was maintenance going on that day and we were able to park and get into the castle for free. As luck would have it, there were very few people there and no tour busses. (For more on our detour visit Life in a Small Town and click on County Tipperary.)
Rock of Cashel
We stayed long enough to eat lunch at O'Neill's and walk through the castle, then we were back on the road. Along the way we passed the place where the cider we enjoyed is made. We didn't stop to see if they gave tours. It didn't look like they had a place open to the public, but I wonder if we would have been able to get a tour if we had stopped.
Bulmer's Cider
Roches Campground is right on Bannow Bay and is a working dairy farm. We paid half of our night's stay as a deposit online and were told we could pay the rest before we left the next morning. (Make sure you have cash!) As we arrived we were greeted with views of Bannow Bay over the field.
Bannow Bay
We almost had the place to ourselves; there was one other person sharing the concrete. Just across the bay, you can see where the Normans landed in 1169.
Site of the Norman Invasion in the background
Since there were only 2 campers, the site was extremely quiet. The views were spectacular.
Roches Campvan and Campsite

View from the top of the hill of Roches Campervan and Campsite
The campground is very clean and well-kept. Electricity is available at the site, but there is no wi-fi. There is a common area with a camp kitchen (of's Ireland!) and really nice bathrooms.
View from the campsite up the hill to the common areas
Camping kitchen
Common area
Unisex bathrooms
In the picture below you can see the coffee trailer that is used during the high season. They also have live music during that time, but the owner had traditional Irish music playing over the speakers for us since we were there during the off-season.
There are grassy pitches for tents. They offer pony rides on the beach and I'm sure the fishing is fantastic here. There is a shoreline path around the water but we didn't walk around too much the next morning because we had things to see that were recommended to us. Wellingtonbridge is a short drive away if you have the need for groceries or want to get a bite to eat. 

The next day we headed to the Hook Peninsula. A lady I met in Clifden was from the area and told me to promise that we would see Tintern Abbey and the Hook Lighthouse. I told her the lighthouse was the reason we stopped here but I didn't know about the abbey. It turned out to be Robert's favorite castle/abbey of the trip.
Tintern Abbey was established in 1131.
It was used as a residence until 1959.
We had some time before it opened so we strolled around a battlemented bridge and a church. 
18th-century Battlemented Bridge

The Battlemented Bridge
The church was rebuilt in the late 16th/17th centuries and was probably used by the local laypeople.

The Hook Lighthouse was constructed in the 1100s
View from the top of the lighthouse
Both are things you won't want to miss. Seal and whale-watching are popular activities during certain times of the year. 

*Sidenote: A man in the lighthouse gift shop told me that Carnavan Beach was a good place to park the van and spend the night. We didn't drive by and check it out so I can't confirm this.

We only stayed one night at Roches, although we talked about staying another one. I would love to go back during the high-season. Our plan was to hopefully find someplace to stop for the night in Wexford similar to what we saw in Castletownbere. After Tintern Abbey & the lighthouse, we decided to go ahead and start heading to Wexford. As I said in the post Camping in Ireland Without Reservations, we were disappointed at first. Every time something didn't seem to go as we hoped, something better happened.

For more information about what we did and saw in Ireland, visit Life in a Small Town.

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