Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Early Arrival

Tuesday, March 25, 2008 -- Vancouver, WA

The little guy just couldn't wait. According to his Mom, he's been kicking and impatiently rolling around in his frustratingly dark but warm space for some time... a space that was all he ever knew but must soon leave. Where was he going? What was this new world he must go to?.. this world he could hear but not see, this world he could sometimes feel, this world that was so close but with no obvious way to get there. He already felt he belonged but he wasn't really sure exactly what he was getting into. All that drive to arrive finally came to fruition on Monday, the 24th, when Evan Andrew decided he'd exercise his power over the professional medical establishment and dictate the terms and timing of his arrival in that new world. He was ready and made his entrance two days prior to the carefully planned C-section, blowing everyone's schedules apart at the same time. How cool is that?

That's right, our second grandson arrived in our world last night about 8:30pm PDT. We finally met him, face to wrinkled face (mine is the wrinkled one), about an hour and a half later. Being a C-section baby, he has a regular nose and face... not the smashed flat visage that results from normal childbirth and is so common in the nursery. A vote was taken and it's official -- he's the best looker on the fourth floor. He's strong too, having beat and kicked Andrea for the past couple months, he's already holding his head up for short periods of time. He's a keeper for sure.

But as wonderful as Evan is, his big-brother Ryan really shined last night. He stayed up long past his normal bedtime in order to entertain the growing crowd of adults in the family waiting room. He took us on elevator and escalator rides, sang songs, told jokes and stories... keeping his own worried thoughts to himself while selflessly keeping our spirits up and our eyes off the clock. He insisted on staying up for as long as it took to see his new little brother. When Ryan finally nodded off to sleep about 12:30am there was no doubt that this was a truly special day.

T

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Saturday Night Slumber Party

Saturday, March 22, 2008 -- Vancouver, WA.

It's 8pm Saturday Night. Thirty years ago I would have been getting primed for the TV show Saturday Night Live, which in the Midwest came on at 10:30pm. Not tonight. No sir, there are more important things to do. Besides, SNL is just terrible these days anyway.

Tonight, Dar and I have little Ryan over for the night. His Mom and Dad are out with friends and we're taking every opportunity we can to make up for lost time with Ryan -- taking every opportunity to bond a little more with this great kid. And he's caught a little cold so we're also trying to keep him away from his Mom as much as we can... to keep her healthy for the big day on Wednesday next. It's after 8pm as I write this and it's dark, there's New Age music wafting through the camper, Ryan's sleeping, Dar's almost sleeping, and it won't be too much longer for me. By 10:30pm, I'll be as "out" as I hope Hillary is. Isn't life great?

Not much to report otherwise. We've been knocking chores off our list, shopping for a few light-weight essentials, and enjoying the time with family.

The big news is that the skies parted today and we can now confirm that really is a blue sky on top of all those clouds. It was a cool but very nice day and we took advantage by being outside as much as we can. We walked about four miles today, finally getting a little needed exercise.

Yaawwwwnnnnn!

Good Night all.

T

Thursday, March 20, 2008

An Energy Defense of our Fulltiming Lifestyle

Thursday, March 20, 2008 -- Vancouver, WA

I've had a little time the past few days to work on an article about our energy consumption as fulltimers. With oil and fuel prices at record highs recently, it seems an appropriate topic to bore you with today. As I brush this up a little more, I'm going to use it in other ways. But here's a preliminary look at it.
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An Energy Defense of the Fulltiming Lifestyle

You may know that one of my areas of interest over the past few years is a subject called "peak oil". This is the idea that our ability to pull crude oil out of the earth will hit a peak in the near future, and will go into a long slow decline after that point. I've read a significant tonnage of books and articles on the topic, from various points-of-view, and have formed opinions on the matter over time. However, my purpose here isn't to write about peak oil, per se, but to address a closely related subject -- energy consumption and conservation.

A few years ago, as we were planning our new lifestyle and about the same time I was researching peak oil, I wondered what our anticipated change in lifestyle would mean to the Hoch's true energy consumption. Big motorhomes are seen by some people as the worst conceivable example of wasteful, fuel-guzzling personal transportation. They're twice as high, three times as long, and 6 times as heavy as the largest SUV's out there... they've got to be burning fuel at unbelievable rates. If you're on of those people trying to save the planet by driving a Prius Hybrid, the mere presence of a 40 foot long motorhome on the highway is an insult.

But what's the impact of our total lifestyle change on our true energy consumption? That's what I wanted to find out. It was a great opportunity to compare where we've been with where we're going. To help make the analysis simple and easy to understand, I found that all energy can be converted into BTU's -- British Thermal Units, a unit of heat -- which gives us that common unit for a good comparison. This is a simple analysis. It doesn't consider the energy impact of the things we buy, the plastic buckets, cheap tools, clothes and all the other crap that filled all the closets, the basement, for some people, the garage and the extra storage spaces either in the backyard or rented down the street. The analysis only addresses the easily identified and measureable consumption of fossil fuels. So, here goes:

Our previous suburban lifestyle:

We lived in a modest 2500 sq. ft. two story house in the Chicago suburbs. It was a new home when we bought it in the mid-90's, so I have to assume it was reasonably energy efficient, at least as far as homes in Chicago go. We each had a job and we each had a car. We owned no gas operated adult play-things like boats, sports cars, ATV's, motorcycles, or snowmobiles. Here's a rundown of activity, fuel consumption, and BTU usage:

Transportation: we had two cars. Car 1 averaged about 15mpg and I drove it 10,000 miles per year. The other vehicle, Car 2, averaged about 20mpg and it was driven 20,000 miles per year. Car 1 used 667 gallons of gas. Car 2 used 1,000 gallons of gas. Together, they used 1,667 gallons. At 125,000 BTU per gallon, our transportation consumed about 208,375,000 BTU's.

Natural Gas: our house used about 1400 therms of gas per year according to our gas bills -- all of it for hot water, cooking, and space heat. This is 144,200,000 BTU's at 103,000BTU per Therm.

Electricity: based on actual usage over three years, our consumption of electric power averaged about 12,000 KWH per year -- a lot of it for air conditioning during the summers. At 3400 BTU's per KWH, this is another 40,800,000 BTU's of consumption.

So, for this simple analysis, our total BTU consumption for the three categories above was 393,375,000 BTU's. Since this is a simple analysis, let's agree to round it off to 400 million BTU's, OK? Remember, we didn't use energy on adult motorized toys and didn't consider the energy impact of the stuff we purchased. In addition, there are plenty of people with far larger homes than our little 2500 sq. footer who are enjoying far larger energy bills for heating and cooling. I think 400 million BTU's is a good conservative number to put on a typical Chicago suburban lifestyle.

So, how about our new lifestyle? How are we doing after almost a year in the energy department?

Our current fulltiming lifestyle:

Transportation: The motorhome is averaging 8 mpg. In the first full 6 months on the road, we put on 5100 miles. For a full year, let's double that and say it'll be 10,000 miles. This happens to be on the high side of real-life experience reported by other fulltimers we've run into. So 10,000 miles at 8 mpg is 1,250 gallons of fuel. Diesel fuel, at 135,000 BTU per gallon, has a higher energy content than gasoline. So the diesel portion of our transportation consumes 168,750,000 BTU's.

We still have a car that we're towing and using. In the first 6 months of our travels, we drove it 6,500 miles. Doubling that, we can agree on an average of 13,000 miles per year. It's been averaging about 17 mpg, so it will use 765 gallons in a full year. At 125,000 BTU per gallon, it will consume 95,625,000 BTU's.

Total transportation usage is 264,375,000 BTU's.

Electricity: we don't use much electric power. We generate some of the power we need from the diesel fuel I've already considered in transportation above. We will soon generate some of the power we need with solar panels on our roof. But based on experience in the first six months, we use between 10 KWH and 12 KWH on an average day, or about 4,000 KWH per year. At 3400 BTU's per KWH, it's another 13,600,000 BTU's.

Propane: Propane seems to go a long way. So far, we've only used about 55 gallons in 8 months, and most of those months were winter months. We use propane for heating, and occasionally, powering the refrigerator and heating water. If we used 80 gallons in a year I'd be surprised. But 80 gallons of propane, at 95,000 BTU per gallon, is another 7,600,000 BTU's.

All together, our new lifestyle has us consuming 285,575,000 BTU's in a year's time. Even if we rounded this up, for the sake of a conservative analysis, we're using only 300 million BTU's.

In other words, we're using at least 25% less energy than our previous fixed-base home and suburban lifestyle.

Even though we didn't count the energy impact of all the stuff we bought when we had a big house to store it all, I can say with extreme confidence that we're buying a LOT less stuff than we used to, and thus, using a lot less energy in that way. But we'll leave that out of the analysis. It's nearly impossible to calculate the energy impact, however significant.

We've also found the RV fulltime lifestyle to be inherently energy conservative in a number of other ways. When we're "boondocking", living without any hookups to utilities, we're motivated to stretch the electricity and water resources we have. We've learned to take short showers and turn the water off while lathering up. We've found ways to wash dishes with very little water. I mentioned above that we're installing solar panels on the roof in order to have the sun provide about half our electric needs. These little energy saving tricks become a habit and we continue to use them even when we're not boondocking and have the luxury of full hookups.

And we're always looking for additional ways to save more. When the time comes to replace the car we tow, the new one will be much more energy efficient. We have already changed some of our most used light bulbs to LED's, which consume about 90% less energy than the originals. We only heat water when we need it. We only have a little over 300 sq. ft. to heat and cool -- and when we're gone exploring, the heater/air-conditioner is turned off.

The next time you see a big old motorhome driving down the highway, you may think twice before labeling the owner an inconsiderate boob for using more than their fair share of energy.

Thom

Saturday, March 15, 2008

A Short Move

Saturday, March 15, 2008 -- Vancouver, WA

One year ago today, the Ides of March 2007, we signed the offer that lead to the sale of our home in Geneva, IL. A year has passed -- and once again it doesn't seem like it. Considering what's happened to the market for real estate in the past year, we're happy as clams that we got out when we did.

The smoked pork shoulder that Gage spent a night and most of a day cooking turned out incredible. I really should have had one of these smokers back when we had a fixed house. As all guys know, outdoor cooking (BBQ'ing, grilling, smoking, etc) is definitely a "guy thing". And all guys know that the deep responsibility for a good result involves close monitoring of the process... with the adult-beverage of your choice helping to keep you focused on the job. The process of smoking meat often takes 12 hours or more. Wow.

We're changing parking spots at the Van Mall RV Park today. This is a very well managed and clean park but some of the sites are better suited to smaller campers than ours. They've just finished an expansion project and the newer sites are wider, roomier, and have a little grass here and there. So we're moving about 200 feet to a new site which I think we'll like better. I'll get some pictures up for you to check it out.

Rain is predicted for today... and tomorrow... and Monday... and Tuesday...

Keep smiling.

T

Friday, March 14, 2008

Ozbotkins

Friday, March 14, 2008 -- Vancouver, WA

It's hard to believe, but our first week here is almost history. We've been busy doing "nothing we should" but "everything we want"... if you catch my drift. In other words there are a lot of little maintenance/cleaning/upkeep chores that "should" be getting done around the camper, but aren't. Instead, we're spending our time with the kids and our Grandson, which is what we "want" to do. They're probably getting a little tired of the new in-town relatives, but I think we'll settle down into a more normal routine soon, and give them a break.

After my defense of the weather here in the Northwest it's been rainy the last few days. But as I've said, it's not a steady all day type rain. It's more a rain interspersed with intermittent clearing. At times, the sun even pokes through the clouds. With any luck we should now be done with freezing temps for the rest of the season. Spring is very much in full swing here.

Our Son-In-Law, Gage, is smoking a big pork shoulder roast today, and we're going to join them and Gage's Mom and Dad for dinner tonight. Gage has been experimenting with his new Weber smoker the past few weeks and, by all reports, most, if not all, of the attempts have been wildly successful. Now I'm beginning to wonder if they make a small compact version that would fit in the basement of the camper... hhmmm.

T

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Northwest Story

Wednesday, March 12, 2008 -- Vancouver, WA

About 21 years ago, a young business manager along with his wife and growing family moved from the Midwest to the Portland, OR area. It wasn't an easy move as they'd spent almost all their years in the Midwest with friends and family nearby and roots growing deeper in the soil as time went on. But they were brave, unafraid of new adventure, and willing to try making a home in a new, far-off, part of the country.

I was that young manager.

It doesn't seem like 21 years have passed since that January weekend when we flew to Portland with the kids and ultimately made the decision to accept the job transfer. We bought a home, got involved in the community, the kids went to school, and we made our life here in the Portland suburb of Vancouver, WA, for the next 8 years. We grew to love this part of the country -- the mountains, rivers, the recreational opportunities, the spectacular Oregon coast, the clean evergreen scented air.

But the demands of business and a career tore us away from the Northwest after just 8 short years -- back to the Midwest. Our daughter, Andrea, graduated from high school that same year and stayed in Washington to attend college. It was a difficult adjustment for her, alone and without a familiar and close family safety-net. It was a tough period of separation for us too. In pensive moments I question my decision to leave the Northwest. If I had to do it again, with the perspective I now have, I'd probably decline the promotion and transfer, and stay. But time only moves in one direction and the past can't be changed.

Andrea graduated from college, met a great guy named Gage, got married, and settled back in Vancouver. Almost three years ago the next generation began with the arrival of our first Grandson, Ryan. The distance and separation from these guys is hard on us. When we got out to see them in the past, it was for a long weekend, or maybe a week, but a short and intense visit which can be disruptive to established family-life patterns. The hardest thing is being separated from little ones like Ryan -- they develop and change so fast. You want to be a part of their lives and photos and phones calls just don't cut it.

This visit, which will be the better part of two months, is different. We brought our own "house" this time to which we can retreat at the end of the day. Little Ryan thinks the camper, which he calls our "bus-house", is cool and is getting used to enjoying his afternoon naps there. After just a few days, it's beginning to feel like we "live" here again. We want so much to be a part of our Vancouver family's lives but do so without smothering them.

While we're here, our family will grow again. Andrea and Gage are having their second child in about two weeks. I've got my smelling salts ready and am going to savor being close (but not too close) for this wonderful event. Dar's really looking forward to helping out as much as she can in those busy weeks after the birth.

I know the time here will go fast. Before we know it, we'll be on a crooked path back to the Midwest again. You see, we're still separated from our Son, Justin, who's planning to be married in August to a wonderful young woman named Kaytlyn. And we're still separated from our Moms and Dads, brothers and sisters, and many others.

You may think we embarked on this fulltiming adventure just to see the country. That's part of it. The rest of the reason is to be with our family, and friends, wherever they may be.

T

Saturday, March 8, 2008

We're in Vancouver!

Saturday, March 8, 2008 -- Vancouver, WA

We're here! The day was ideal for driving and the short trip -- only 160 miles -- could have been done with one hand tied behind my back. The weather was mixed clouds and sun and traffic moved right along.

After almost 10,000 miles, the bus is starting to "break-in" somewhat and the mileage is improving. As we drove north across the flat Willamette Valley yesterday, with no wind, we were getting almost 9 mpg. That may not sound like anything to brag about but it's darn good for a 32,000 lb. vehicle pulling another 4,000 lb. car. Some big SUV's being driven to the grocery store by soccer-moms don't do better. With fuel prices as high as they are we're happy to see the improvement in this department. I've also noticed more truckers slowing down to closer to the speed limit, probably to stretch as many miles out of every gallon of fuel that they can.

I just love this part of the country even though it gets a bad-rap about rain and dreariness. I'm convinced most of that propaganda is generated by people who live here and don't want the growth and congestion from even more people moving in. So they continue to make it sound worse than it actually is. There are probably a few more days of rain here, but the annual rainfall totals are less here than in many other cities all over the USA. Besides, water is what this part of the country is all about -- rivers, waterfalls, snow in the mountains, forests, recreation -- if it didn't rain a significant amount all these things would dry up and die.

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We settled in at an RV park in Vancouver. It's only a couple miles from our daughter, son-in-law, and grandson. It's close enough that I can ride my bike if I need to. We're also walking distance to restaurants and the Vancouver Mall. I think we'll be here through most of April, so this'll be the longest we've parked in one spot since starting this trek last summer.

I can't think of another place I'd rather be right now.
T

Friday, March 7, 2008

The Target

Friday, March 7, 2008 -- Sutherlin, OR

It's been a quiet couple days here at Timber Valley Escapee's Park. We didn't do much so this'll be a short entry.

Dar swore she saw a Target store in Roseburg as we drove through with the bus on Thursday. But by the time we got there Friday, the very next day, the store had vanished. It was gone. Even the local's memory of the store was gone. At least two people we asked said there is no Target store in Roseburg and there never has been. But Dar saw it... strange.

Rain fell most of the day Friday, a typical Northwest light rain and drizzle. It was a good day to hunker down and do indoor projects.

I've been working with a company in the Eugene area to have a couple solar panels installed on the camper. Ideally, if they could have done the work on Monday or Tuesday of next week, Dar was going to drive the toad up to Vancouver Saturday (so she could attend a baby shower) and I would have driven up with the bus when the work was done. But that plan didn't work out because the shop was too busy. We're still going to have the panels installed but now it'll be in April.

With that arranged, we're leaving here tomorrow, Saturday, and making the short drive to Vancouver. We're like magnets... the closer we get to Vancouver the stronger the pull. Nothing can keep us away any longer.

Thom

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Northern California Mountains

Wednesday, March 5, 2008 -- Yreka, CA

Despite a strong headwind we decided to get as far north in California today as we could today. The weather is predicted to turn wetter and colder during the weekend and longer-range predictions aren't reliable at all. So getting over the Siskiyou Pass before Friday became the objective. Today, Wednesday, we made it as far as Yreka, CA., just 25 miles south of the Oregon border and about 30 miles south of the pass. Once again we used WalMart as the perfect "park and sleep" place.

The mountains of Northern California as simply spectacular. Not all are quite as picturesque as Mt. Shasta in the photo below, but the dramatic steepness of the terrain and the deep valleys, combined with dozens of snow-capped peaks make for some of the best driving scenery I've seen in years. Of course, the clear blue skies certainly didn't hurt.
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I'll just let this picture say the rest.

T

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Napa Valley

Tuesday, March 4, 2008 -- Dunnigan, CA

Today, our objective was to see Napa Valley. Our camp in Dunnigan is about 60 miles from the town of Napa. We had two choices in how to get there. The first was the easier and most logical as it's almost all 4-lane freeway, but a few more miles than the alternative. Choice two was a tad shorter but on the map the road looked like a serpent coiled up and ready to strike.

We chose the latter, of course.

The mountains of the coastal range form a series of valleys here, one of them being Napa Valley. The valley runs in a generally northwest to southeast direction. The Napa River drains the valley toward the southeast where it empties into San Pablo Bay, then San Francisco Bay, and finally the Pacific Ocean.

To get to the valley from Dunnigan, we first had to cross mountains that separate the Central Valley of California, where Dunnigan is, and Napa Valley. The road that goes through those mountains is the snakey road I referred to above.

It may be wavy and snaky, it may have many tight 20 and 30 mph curves around rock walls with warnings about falling rock, but it is fun to drive. It also seemed to me that everyone else driving it, particularly the locals, drove like they're battling for first place in the last lap at Le Mans. I was pushing the little old Blazer faster than I normally would, but was usually under control and actually having a pretty good time judging the curves and trying to achieve a measure of smoothness in my driving. My real challenge was to ride that fine line between keeping myself happy and keeping Dar happy. Being over that line involved pain caused by a finger jabbing me in the ribs. That's where my quest for smoothness came in... as long as the car seemed under control and the driving inputs smooth and the jerkiness kept to a minimum, my ribs remained pain-free.

To Dar's relief we got to Napa without incident and the first order of business was to find a tourist info center where we could pick up materials about all the wineries and where they're located. Conveniently, a hoity-toity California-style cafe was right next door and Dar thought it'd be perfect to replenish our energy prior to hitting the wineries. Sounded good to me... I was a tad hungry myself, until I found that an omelet was almost $12!. Welcome to Napa Valley.

During the rest of the day we drove a loop around the entire valley. There are literally hundreds of wineries and vineyards here -- all the names you've heard and many more. We chose three smaller ones -- Clos du Val, Sequoia, and Ehlers -- as the places to stop and sample their offerings. The tasting room hosts were all personable and knowledgeable about their wines, and since it was a mid-week day, they had time to spend with us. Not only did we learn a lot about making and tasting wine, we had a great time too.

I was not blessed with the ability to make fine distinctions in the subtle tastes inherent in sophisticated wines. Dar was. She and the tasting room host get into these long discussions about the "nose" and "long finish" of this or that wine. They can detect scents of tobacco, currant, or blackberry. Trying to be a part of this conversation, I add "this one's good" or "that one's very good". I try, but that's the extent of my abilities. I know what I like and I like almost anything I taste.

We re-traced our path on the same curvy road back home again. This time, after a day of wine-tasting, Dar was a little more mellow and, despite a little scream here and there, was more agreeable to seeing us win Le Mans. "Whatever you do don't let that low-life in the BMW get by us."

She was ready for bed early.

T

Monday, March 3, 2008

Sunset, Sunrise

Monday, March 03, 2008 -- Dunnigan, CA

Saturday I wrote about the RV park we were going to stay in that night, and that we weren't real happy with it. We later found one that was more suited to us so Sunday we moved about 5 miles to the new place. I think this was the shortest move we've ever done. The ease of moving from place to place is one of the real advantages of this lifestyle... if you don't like the neighborhood, just move.

Sunday we met up with a buddy of mine, and his wife, from my previous working life. Like me, he had decided that he was going to take his life in a different direction while he still could and he's now physically and mentally stronger -- mostly by eliminating the stress in his life. He's expanded on his life-long interest in expressing himself creatively by making works of art from metal and glass. He's broken through entry-barriers and is now a sought-after artist at some large art shows and some notable galleries are calling him. It's a real success story that reinforces the notion that you can break the mold and find new and more interesting things to do that may well be more rewarding and valuable. And that it's never too late to do it.

Today, Monday, was a true day of solitude. There were a number of chores we both had to get done, but there was also a lot of time for quiet reflection. Dar researched information for our next week or so and I wrote some and organized the clutter around me. The day was sunny and calm, temps in the mid-60's. This is a small park with only about 50 sites and only a handful of them are occupied. The birds are chattering, there's that distant drone of I-5 in the distance, it's enough to make me take a nap -- if I was the napping sort. Yes, days like this are valuable once in a while.

An early alarm tomorrow will get us going on our tour of Napa Valley. Dar's got more wineries mapped out than we'll have time, and we want to spend some time experiencing the town of Napa. The weather, in true California tradition, will favor our plans. With some luck we'll find a new addition to our long list of favorite wines.

T

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Into Northern California

Saturday, March 1, 2008 -- Dunnigan, CA

Today's drive, a little less than 200 miles, was shorter than yesterday's 300 miler. We're in no rush so why not slow down a little and enjoy where we happen to be. One of the big reasons we're doing this at all is to see and experience the USA. And now we've got another reason to slow down... fuel prices.

There's not an overabundance of RV parks in the Sacramento/Davis part of California. I'm not sure why. Perhaps it has to do with land-use regulations, costs, demand?.. whatever the reason it's not easy to find the type of place we like. Since we've been dry-camping the last couple weeks we were looking for full hookups for a few days -- you really need them to do laundry. The last time we had full hookups was Feb. 9th. We've gotten pretty good at living "off the grid". After looking at what the Yolo County Fairgrounds had to offer (they have a year-round RV Park), we decided to go a little further north and try a place called Happy Time RV Park. This park is marginal at best but it was level and we could rest our weary bones for the night. Tomorrow, we'll move a little further up the road to another park a little more in sync with our taste.

T