May 1, 2007

The First Time

I don’t know when we made the final decision to pursue this lifestyle, but as I’ve written here before, it was sparked by a realization more than three years ago that this was something that somehow appealed to us, and that might be possible to do from a financial standpoint. The probability that this was going to happen gradually increased in the ensuing months and years. But during that time there was always an “out” — we still had income, we still had a house, we still hadn’t made any irreversible moves. We could still give up the idea and carry on with our lives as before. There was a certain amount of comfort in that “out”, because the idea of this lifestyle, really, is crazy. It’s not what most “normal” people aspire to do. But what’s “normal” anyway… and the idea continued to incubate; the probability continued to grow. It slowly, steadily, grew until we just assumed, at some point, that it was going to happen.
For three years, we surveyed the field of motorhomes out there. We attended RV shows, participated in two Life on Wheels multi-day conferences, talked with motorhome owners and motorhome manufacturers, visited motorhome plants, read the blogs and websites of fulltimers, checked RV Consumer Group ratings, and talked and dreamed and talked some more.
Besides the motorhome itself, there were lifestyle issues we needed to be comfortable with. How will we handle a self-imposed downsizing from almost 2500 square feet to just a bit over 300 square feet? How can we really handle this financially since there’ll be no regular income from jobs? There’ll have to be a ton of compromises and dramatically different ways of doing simple daily tasks. While we both have some tent camping experience and have stayed with family and friends in their travel trailers, neither of us had any experience with a motorhome. It was easy to come up with reasons why we shouldn’t do this. But we talked and dreamed, sipped some wine, and talked some more.
And that brings us to February of this year, 2007. Our house was on the market and close to being sold. We made our second trip to Newmar, the manufacturer of the motorhomes we felt were best suited for our needs. Within a week, we had a firm order on the books and the motorhome was scheduled for production. Now an irreversible move had been made. We were committed. Probability had become certainty. In a few more weeks, the motorhome was manufactured and shipped to the delivering dealer.
This past Friday, April 27th, we drove down to R&S Sales, the Newmar dealer in Mahomet, IL and met our new home for the first time. The people from R&S, including General Manager Jeff Robinson, greeted us warmly and made us feel comfortable. The motorhome had been checked over and washed, and was ready for inspection. The culmination of three years of effort was right there before us… it had come to life! As we stood and took in that first sight, looking it over carefully, it was almost as if it was checking us out too.



We proceeded to do the “walk-around” initial inspection with Service Manager Tom Szymanski. This initial inspection lasted a little over 2 hours, and because there’s so much information, so many tips and “how-to’s”, Tom made an audio recording of the entire session in order to give us a copy on CD we could always refer to later. We started with the interior first, going over every switch, faucet, system, appliance, and furnishing. Then on to the exterior, all the storage and system bays, engine and chassis, and roof. We had the intention of making our own notes as we went along, but, in retrospect, I think we were too overwhelmed to think, much less write. I went into “absorb” mode, just letting everything flow over me and hoping some of it would stick.
From our research, we knew Newmar was one of the higher quality manufacturers in our price range. But we also knew that “RV”, in reference to quality, can often stand for “Really Variable”. However, our initial inspection turned up just three or four minor items that needed to be addressed, and we felt an overall sense of good quality in the unit.
I was anxious to take it for a spin around the block at that point, so Tom arranged for a gentleman by the name off Gary Flanigan, a Sales Consultant at R&S, to go along in case we need help or get into trouble. It’s been a few years since my truck driving days back when I was in college, but it didn’t take too long to get used to how it handled, the feel of the throttle and air brakes. We went up the Interstate a few miles and brought a two-lane road back. My approach was to take no risks, go slow and easy, scan the mirrors often, and take turns a little (maybe, a lot) wider than I do in my Blazer. At 8-1/2 feet wide, 12-1/2 feet high, and almost 40 feet long, its a lot like a bus — and that may be what we call it… “The Bus”.
R&S has an RV Park/Campground nearby, and we arranged to stay there that Friday night. So after we got back from the test drive, and did a little paperwork, Dar and I were off to our first night in The Bus. Steve Robinson, the RV Park host, was just the best, and hung around while we got situated on our site. Gary Flanigan from R&S also came over to make sure we were doing ok, and brought along a case of “adult beverage” so we could unwind at the end of a truly amazing day. Everyone was helpful and it just added to our sense that maybe, just maybe, we’re making the right decision. Even the weather cooperated by being sunny and relatively warm for April. It was already feeling like home.



After running into Champaign for dinner, we went “home” and continued with our personal inspection, going over things in a more detailed way, with a more critical eye. Staying overnight provides the opportunity to use the water heater, the shower and other bathroom facilities, and they all performed similarly to what we were used to at our “old” home. Sleeping was a little more challenging, since we ordered The Bus without a mattress intending to use one we’re used to… so it was the sofa and recliner for the night.
In the morning we went through every cabinet, drawer, and storage space taking interior dimensions and logging them for later use as we’re doing our storage plan. Remember, we’re going to be living in this thing and space is very limited. Our initial impression is that bedroom storage is less than we may need, and kitchen/living storage will be adequate. There are large spaces in the “basement”, those bins under the floor that are accessible through doors on either side, so most of the overflow will end up in plastic storage bins down there. Of course, those “large spaces” will surely shrink quickly. It’s going to work — we’ll make it work. Besides, how much room do I need for a few T-shirts and some shorts?
About noon we broke camp, and headed back to R&S, where we’ve arranged to keep The Bus for a few more weeks. I assumed there’d be a few items they’d have to work on, so leaving it there will be convenient for them (they can work on it as they have time) and for us (we don’t have a place to park it near home yet).
So that’s our story of the first day with The Bus. Overall impressions: 1) build quality of the motorhome exceeded our expectations, 2) Dar’s happy with the colors and materials we selected (I have no ability in this area), 3) everyone we ran into was friendly and helpful — reinforcing our impressions from the Life On Wheels conferences that there are a lot of cool people out there fulltiming, 4) we’re now confident that both the lifestyle and The Bus are right for us for the next few years, and 5) this is going to be a real hoot!
Let’s get this house deal closed and get going

Beyond Branson; Pondering Future Travel

This past Tuesday, we moved from Branson to a very nice Corps of Engineer’s Park on Wappapello Lake.  We’re in the Redman Creek CG. This fac...