Dec 31, 2011

Dec 31 - Reflections on 2011

Well, 2011 is now history and I, for one, am sad to see it go. The passage of another year, while inevitable, isn't something I look upon fondly. It simply reminds me that yet another year is gone, that I'll be one more numerical year older, that I'm one year closer to the end. Perhaps I'd feel better if, instead of celebrating the passage of another year, I try to celebrate a new day every morning.

In looking back, however, here are a few statistics from our 2011 fulltiming experience:

Dollars spent on camping/parking fees for the bus-house:  $3,996

Average per day cost of camping/parking (all days): $10.95

Average per day cost of camping/parking (paid days): $16.58

Number of free nights: 124

Number of camping/parking locations: 34
   (normal 50 - 60)

Number of days per stop: 10.4
   (normal 6 - 7)

Miles driven with bus-house: 6,631
   (normal 8,000 to 10,000)

Diesel fuel for bus-house: $3,612
   average price: $3.86/gal
   mileage: 7.95mpg

We spent more time parked this year than since starting the fulltiming thing in 2007. That's why our average days per stop shot up to 10.4... and why our miles driven dropped to only 6,631. But after more than four years it's still good to know that the total dollars spent on diesel fuel and camping ($7,608) is still less than our annual real estate tax bill on our previous house in the suburbs of Chicago.

Dec 30, 2011

Dec 30 - San Antonio River Walk

Yesterday, Thursday, we drove into downtown San Antonio with the intention of re-visiting the famous San Antonio River Walk and surrounding area. We had visited here before... back in January of 2008. Despite my knee-jerk distaste for crowds and all-things "big city", we considered it one of the more memorable and enjoyable stops in Texas during that first year on the road. And now that almost 4 years have passed since that visit, and since we were camped so close (only 45 minutes away), and since our exploration muscles had started atrophying during the holidays and badly needed some exercise, and since we had nothing else on the agenda for this quiet Thursday between Christmas and New Years... we hopped in the car and made the run into the big city.

The air was cool, the skies bright and blue, and the traffic tolerable. Parking was easy to find but expensive... $15 for the day... posted as a "special event" price, which we didn't understand at first, but chalked it up to there being a lot of people around during the holiday break. And there were a lot of people milling about.

You'd think that professional explorers, especially ones who don't particularly like crowds and congestion, and ones that had a range of days this week to choose from for this excursion... you'd think they'd perhaps get online, check the calendar of events for downtown San Antonio, and pick the least congested day. But you'd be wrong... at least in this case... at least with this pair of intrepid explorers. Turns out we had stumbled into town on the very day of the Alamo Bowl (this year pitting Baylor against University of Washington) which was going to be played at the Alamo Dome right here, downtown, just a couple blocks away. Moving waves of green (Baylor) and purple (UWash) as the afternoon pre-game crowds flowed and surged down the banks of the San Antonio River Walk should have been a clue, but it took this pair of sports non-fanatics a little while to catch on.

Adjacent to the River Walk are the grounds of HemisFair, San Antonio's Worlds Fair back in 1968. Now called HemisFair Park, it also contains the Tower of the Americas, a 750' observation/restaurant tower built for the fair. After forfeiting a thin $10 bill each we were soon on the 72 second elevator ride to the top. Dar fought the urge to velcro herself to an interior wall and eventually, cautiously, inched her way to the windows on the observation deck to take in the 360 degree view of San Antonio. Never passing up an opportunity to overpay for liquid nourishment in touristy locations, we stopped in the lounge attached to the Chart House restaurant "up top", where we were relieved of two more thin $10 bills for as many beers, including tip.

Once back at ground level, a leisurely walk through HemisFair Park led us to La Villita Historic District, the original downtown of San Antonio. Well preserved and still in use today, it's the home of an active art community and various shops and galleries. The buildings date back to the early to mid 1800s, but the whole collection of twenty-some buildings and houses were still fresh and in good repair.

From there it's only a few steps to the River Walk, where we spent the rest of our day. The prime motivation for our visit today was to see the millions of Christmas lights, many of which are somehow carefully wrapped around the trunks and limbs of the huge Cypress trees that line the banks. The effort must be immense... wrapping strings of lights around limbs... even smaller limbs near the highest tree tops. It's not obvious to me how it's done as in many locations the use of "cherry-picker" bucket truck isn't possible due the river and narrow walkways. Do they send guys up into the trees with strings of lights in their teeth? Maybe I'll find out how it's done someday.

And yes, we did part with even more of our kid's inheritance when we had dinner along the River Walk while waiting for night to descend and all the lights to brighten. After dinner we booked passage on a tour boat, a half hour loop tour of the entire River Walk, and enjoyed the lights from that perspective as well.

An enjoyable day.  More photos in our online photo album.

Dec 28 - We Found Utopia

Dar, sportin' a new "do", in Utopia.
For all you seekers of perfection, those looking for the ideal place in this world, heaven on earth, Xanadu, Utopia... we've found it. At least that's what the sign says...

That's right, Utopia actually exists and it was right under our noses here in Texas all along. Who'da thunk it? We can now add it to the list of one-of-a-kind places we've been... like Paradise, Tightwad, and Google.

On Tuesday we took a relaxed drive into the Hill Country of Texas. Our camp near Hondo, right along US-90, runs along the southern edge of the Hill Country, so today's exploring was all north of camp, mostly along roads we've not taken before. Bandera, the self-proclaimed "cowboy capital of the world" was one of our destinations and we stopped there for lunch. We stayed in Bandera back in 2009... enjoyed Thanksgiving Dinner at the Pioneer RV Park. For a Tuesday, the town seemed busy... traffic, a crowd at the restaurant... busy.

Portions of our drive took us along the Medina and Sabinal Rivers. Recent rains are probably responsible for there being any water at all in these streams... the big Texas drought of 2010-2011 had pretty much dried them up before this. These rivers are unique in that beautiful big cypress trees line the riverbanks and shade the stream... a symbioic relationship that benefits both trees and stream wildlife alike.

On Thursday, the plan is to spend the day in San Antonio.

Dec 28, 2011

5 Years - A Home Base

This is the fifth in a series of posts about our lifestyle as we near the 5 year mark, and some thoughts we're having about making changes as we move into the future.

On A Home Base
After almost 5 years of living in our 300 sq. ft. motorhome we're talking more and more about establishing a home base somewhere.

There's an old saying that we've commandeered that goes something like this: The warm peaceful feeling that accompanies going home is exceeded only by the great anticipation and freedom that accompanies leaving home. In other words, there's nothing like the feeling of coming home... unless it's the feeling of leaving again. For us, we enjoy "coming home", whether it's an extended stay in an RV park near our kids in Washington, parking on our RV pad while visiting the rest of our family in Wisconsin, or an extended Winter refuge down south. There's really something special about coming home that we look forward to... time to work on the bigger projects... a R&R break from traveling... more time to spend with the same people... perhaps put down some shallow roots... get into a mindless routine... a change. But, for true nomads, that "coming home" feeling starts to ebb after a while (hitch-itch?). For us, after a month or so, the feeling that it's time to hit the road again... to leave... overpowers the good feeling of coming home, being home.  But we've learned to savor them both.

Someone said to me recently that, and I'm paraphrasing here, there's an excitement and anticipation that accompanies planning and executing a shorter trip... say a few weeks or a month or two... that isn't present when living as fulltime nomads and all your trips flow together in one long series. I hadn't thought about it that way before, but there's something in there that rings true with me.

Having established that we're really living two lifestyles (being "home", sitting in one place for an extended time versus traveling, exploring), and that the bus-house is really too big for exploring in a nimble efficient linear manner, having a home-base would provide some of the benefits of a fixed home (more space for living, storage, workshop, etc) while making it possible to downsize the RV to one more efficient, nimble, and appropriate for our preferred linear exploration mode. In other words, if done right, we'd get some of the bests of both worlds.

Having a home base also provides other benefits. It's a place, a retreat, a refuge, that you can always go to if necessary. If things go wacky or crazy, if illness strikes, if an accident puts your RV out of commission, you can retreat to your home base and regroup. Most fulltime RVers carry this burden with them as they go about their tenuous lives... bravely going forward, being out there, exploring and living... but always carrying the burden of a riskier lifestyle and the "what ifs" of unforeseen situations. A home base helps minimize that burden.

If we ultimately decide to establish this home base, it will NOT be a hunk of real estate in a traditional subdivision or a condominium. No, an important element of our ideal home base is that it be virtually maintenance free, worry free, and in an RV oriented community - don't want to worry about mowing the grass, trimming the shrubs, shoveling the snow, and what the neighbors are saying about the RV parked in the driveway. And being around like-minded people living similar lifestyles provide, in our experience, an enjoyable tight-knit community that watches out for one another.

At this point we're still talking and pondering the issue. We've taken no action beyond getting on the waiting list for membership in a number of SKP Coop Parks in the south and northwest. Being within an easy days drive of our kids and grandkids is one of the criteria we're considering, but also being a little further south and somewhat warmer is another. Being close to a good airport and good medical facilities are important too.

Timing? We're not rushing into anything. These thoughts are in the realm of short to medium term planning. Perhaps we'll make a move toward a home base in the next year or two.

<< Part 4 <<
>> Part 6>>

Dec 23, 2011

Dec 23 - Settled for the Holidays

Today, we've been here at SKP Lone Star Corral for a week and we're feeling quite settled in for the holidays. People in this park, like most of the SKP system, are very friendly and inclusive. It's a good place to be if you can't be with family for Christmas.

We're really not doing much... lazing around, reading, making dinner, doing a few chores. Today Dar made some Christmas candy which will be our contribution to the Christmas Eve party over at the clubhouse, and I'm making a big pot of chili. Each night we're watching another from our list of traditional Christmas movies. And next week we're planning a day (and evening) in downtown San Antonio checking out all the lights and holiday decorations around the Riverwalk.

The initial plan to move down to Rockport on the 3rd of January has now changed. Instead, we're moving on January 1st. The park members who "own" the lot we're on are coming back on the 1st. It's their lot... they have the privilege to do so with 48 hours notice. We'd be able to move to another lot for the two or three days, but figure that since we're stowing things for a move anyway we might just as well just keep rolling and get to Rockport early.

During our stay along the Coastal Bend of Texas during the first three months of 2012, Dar is going back to work at a hospital in the area. Being an RN, keeping her skills up to date and having recent work experience is important to having the ability (and flexibility) to make a little income should it become necessary. The future looks so murky, Social Security so questionable, interest rates and returns on investments so lousy, European financial problems so dire, even the value of the future dollar so "iffy"... having an employable nurse in the old survival toolkit could come in handy.

And since I'm writing about uncertainty and the murky future, let me address the subject of health insurance - you know, "for the record". Being in our late 50's or early 60's, we're not eligible for Medicare... won't be for a few years... if there's anything left of it by the time we get there. So this is how we're handling our health insurance.  I have an excellent health insurance plan as a retiree from my previous employer, Illinois Tool Works. My monthly contribution is very reasonable and hasn't increased in the past few years. Dar, on the other hand, is part of the mass of people in the open market for private health insurance. She has a high deductible HSA plan and has had no claims in recent history beyond the normal annual check-ups, lab tests, and such. But despite being healthy her premium has gone up more than 25% each of the past two years. (I'm fighting the urge to go on a rant here... about the wonderful medical care system we have in the USA... OK.. no rant. Maybe another time.)

Well, long story short, she found a new policy for something like 70% less. True, we're accepting a little more risk (higher deductible, etc.) but our real objective with this policy is to basically self-insure for all the small stuff while providing wealth protection in the event of more serious and costlier events. So we're keeping our fingers crossed that this will be a good solution for the next few years. Only time will tell.

On a more uplifting note... we'd like to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year. 

Dec 18, 2011

5 Years - Size... It Matters

This is the fourth in a series of posts about our lifestyle as we near the 5 year mark, and some thoughts we're having about making changes as we move into the future.

On Size... It Matters
The earlier posts in this series addressed the topics of our travel pattern, family friends roots, and our preferred exploring mode. In this post I'd like to address the topic of our RV... also called "the camper" or the "bus-house" in most of my posts to the RV Sabbatical Journal.

We live fulltime in a "big rig" motorhome. Early in the process of investigating this lifestyle, prior to taking the plunge, most fulltimers we asked said the same thing:  get the largest RV we could afford. They said we'd always covet more space and "big" would always be better in the resale market. And that's what we did... bought a 40 foot long 16 ton diesel motorhome.

For the most part, we've been happy with it. But over these 5 years we've developed a real love/hate thing about space. When we're sitting, for us about half the time, we like having it.... but when we're traveling and exploring, also about half the time, we've come to believe we may have too much. And it's not the space itself that's the problem. It's how space is expressed in a big-rig camper, through it's physical weight and size, that have caused us to ponder the issue.

So often, during days we're driving the bus-house from one spot to another, we see something "over there", or a sign referring to a lake and campground down a little gravel road, or some other natural attraction that we'd love to investigate along the way... but we don't do it. We don't do it because we can see the road isn't appropriate for a big rig, or we just don't know what other obstacles exist that we can't see... things like low branches, tight curves, dips and inflections in the road, no place to turn around. And when pulling a car, like we do, there's no backing unless we unhook first. So we just keep going and may make a note to check it out the next time we're through the area. The inability to go wherever, whenever, limits our spontaneity and the enjoyment of discovery.

During our first 5 years, we've observed all sorts of people in the RV community. Most, like us, live in a big-rig camper, sit in one place for extended periods, and explore with a smaller vehicle. These folks almost always use what we refer to as the "hub and spoke" exploring mode... driving out to see or do the activity of the day and returning to camp each night.

But we've also been intrigued by a few, including some folks we've run across from Europe and Australia, who do it differently... who live and explore in a much smaller rig. They're here to see the country. Their focus is exploration so they rarely sit in one place for more than a few days. They're packed light and efficiently. They don't tow anything. They can go almost anywhere, camp anywhere. And they're exploring as they travel... in a linear fashion. But what they don't have is space. Compromises and trade-offs.

Because we have only one camper and we don't have a home base of any kind, we're hauling around all our stuff all the time. Despite our best intentions, and best efforts, (and because we have a lot of space), we still have too much stuff that we almost never use, need, or even look at... or, at most, use just once in a blue moon. But it's our home, and that's the definition of a home: a place to store all your stuff.

But what if we could separate the two parts of our fulltime life? What if we had a big rig RV we use while sitting for extended periods of time, and another smaller rig for exploring?

One idea we've bounced around is getting a small pickup truck (Toyota Tacoma or equiv.) coupled with a light weight pop-up truck camper that we could pull behind the bus-house. We'd park the bus-house at a campground or RV park for an extended period of time (two weeks? a month?) and use the truck camper for extended multi-day explorations into the surrounding area. It's kind of a hybrid idea... a mixture of hub/spoke and linear exploring modes... some of the best of both worlds... with some of the negatives of both as well.

Another idea is to get an RV lot somewhere in the Northwest (close to our kids) and put a fifth wheel trailer on it. This would be our home base during those periods of time we're sitting... regrouping and resupplying for the next travel and exploring trip. In this case we'd also sell the bus-house and downsize to a much smaller exploration rig.

Still another idea, really a variation of the one above, is to have two RV lots... one in the Northwest near our kids and grandkids, and another in a more southern locale... perhaps Arizona or Texas. In this case we might keep the bus-house and just shuttle it twice each year between the southern and northwest locations. We'd still have a smaller rig for those linear exploring trips we'd do during the rest of the year.

In the past year or two we've gone out of our way to talk to folks exploring with small RVs, many who had a big rig in the past and decided to downsize... to a small Class C, even a Class B or a truck camper. And the common thing we're hearing from them is that they're happy they made the change... wished they had done it earlier... are thrilled with their ability to go anywhere... the ease of driving a smaller rig... and wouldn't think of going big again. In general, they're having a blast with the new phase of their nomadic lives. Of course, they're not living fulltime in the small rig... they universally have a home base of some kind... but they're out there enjoying the wandering life more than ever.

But wouldn't we go crazy living in a much smaller rig? First, we wouldn't be living in it in the same sense we're now living in the bus-house -- 24x7, 365 days each year. The travel and exploring excursions in the smaller rig would be for shorter periods of time... a few weeks, a month or two? And we believe we can live almost anywhere for a relatively short time. And whatever need for more space would, in theory, be satiated during times sitting at our home base.

The overall objective of making any change like this is to maximize the enjoyment we get from exploring North America, which, remember, is our primary reason for our mobile lifestyle. Even RV fulltimers can get in a rut. And there's certainly more than one way to skin this cat. Depending on individual preferences and interests, and our willingness to change, to try new things, we believe we can inject new energy and excitement into this old Sabbatical project of ours and keep it going for another 5 years.

Size does matter... and in this case, smaller can be better.


Where are the wheels??

<< Part 3 <<

Dec 18 - A Black Hole

Hondo Texas is a mere 45 miles from downtown San Antonio which, to me, means it's not exactly a remote wilderness or frontier out-back. But when it comes to cell phone and internet coverage, a wilderness back-water it is. Verizon has a significant hole in their signal, centered about 5 miles west of Hondo along US-90... almost at the precise location of Lone Star Corral. We had better service in far more remote campsites... near Yosemite, Joshua Tree, even out in the desert north of Quartzsite.

I've been told that if I'd go outside, climb on top the bus-house, hold a metal coat-hanger up in the air with one hand and hold the phone in the other... I may be able to get a short call to go through. I might have to try that later.

The SKP Lone Star Corral park has it's own park-wide wifi service... which costs nothing. And, at least this year so far, we're getting exactly what we're paying... nothing. It worked fine during our stay last year. But so far this year, it's been very spotty... and mostly un-usable. They say they're having a problem with it, and are working on it, but up to this point... well, they're still working on it. I may be able to walk up to the clubhouse and use the wifi in the library... I've heard that's still working.

But the most interesting thing about this whole deal is its effect on me. I've got a bad case of disconnectedness. Don't want to eat, sleep, find myself staring off into space a lot. Oh boy... and we're supposed to be here until after the first of the year.

Will he survive?  Stay tuned for our next episode and find out.

Dec 17, 2011

Dec 17 - Trail Ends in Hondo

Our travels for 2011 ended, like last year, in Hondo Texas. We're at the Escapees Park -- Lone Star Corral -- for the Holidays and will be here, hopefully, until the 2nd or 3rd of January when we press on down to Rockport Texas. These Escapee Parks are membership parks, which means the lots all belong to members. When the members are not here they can opt to have their lot put in a rental pool for "guest" renters (like us), which helps offset their annual membership fees. There's also a "first in first out" rule for guests which only kicks in when all available lots are rented. This rule gives the longest visiting guests two days notice to vacate their rented lot if new guests are waiting for a site. Because there's a fairly long list of guests ahead of us, it's unlikely that we'll be affected. But there's always a chance... that we'll be evicted... on Christmas Eve. "Sorry... no room at the inn."

During the past two days we put a lot of miles behind us. On leaving Tucson, where we were delayed two days by heavy rain, our objective was to find warmer weather. So the big wheels were turning three days in a row... 216 miles on Wednesday (to Deming, NM), 350 miles on Thursday (to Marathon, TX), and 280 miles on Friday (to Hondo)... one of our more intense strings of travel days. That kind of extreme travel is not our preferred style, but after two months of exploring I think we were both looking for a "home" for the Holidays.

Long time readers of this journal may remember my feelings about El Paso. Unfortunately, it's a "big town" and for that reason alone it starts way down my list, near the bottom, of places where I'd like to be. And it just rubs me wrong that there's really no other option for transiting this corner of the world... squeezed into a 500 foot gap between lovely Mexico to the south and the Franklin Mountains to the north a traveler is shoulder to shoulder with cars, trucks, RVs, and trains... everyone wide eyed with terror at the thought that if anything went wrong... a blown tire... anything... the whole gap would plug up faster than a fat man's artery at a fried chicken eating contest, and traffic would back up in both directions until February. I can report that I saw absolutely nothing during this trip to improve El Paso's ranking on my list. Well, ok, to be fair... maybe the gray-brown haze that incessantly blankets the town was a little less brown than usual.

from foreground: road, railroad, border fence, river, and Juarez, El Paso's sister city in Mexico

We stopped Thursday night at the Marathon Motel and RV Park in Marathon Texas. We'd stayed here a few years ago, in late January of 2008, and experienced the lowest overnight temp ever during our Sabbatical: 6 degrees above zero. It didn't get nearly that cold this visit, but the words "possible freezing rain" in the forecast reduced our enthusiasm for staying longer and we headed east for a warmer Hondo on Friday.

I'm working hard on the next installment in my "5 year" series, so it should be up in another day or two. And if you haven't already seen it, please check out our Christmas Card by clicking on the tab above the journal.

Dec 14, 2011

Dec 14 - Across the Continental Divide

Tonight, we're doing a quick overnight at the SKP Dream Catchers RV Park in Deming, NM. Today's drive from Tucson was enjoyable, even though it was all Interstate Highway... amazing what a little sun and blue sky can do for the traveling spirits. Transiting southern New Mexico, there are few alternatives to I-10... at least that we're willing to encounter with the big old bus-house.

The storms that held us back the last two days also dumped an inch or two of rain on southwestern New Mexico. And while you might think the desert would soak up the rain like a dry sponge... it doesn't. Between mountain ranges, we drove through broad flat areas that were plastered with warning signs about blowing dust and sand, zero visibility, and such. These dust storms must be a common occurrence around here based on the number and quality of the signs involved. But blowing sand wasn't a problem today as everything was soaked from the recent rains. Ditches and desert floor on either side of the road were full of standing water.. and the RV park tonight is very wet as well. Nearby mountains received up to two feet of snow from the storm too. New Mexico has been in drought though, like much of Texas, and most people welcome the rain... are still hoping for more.

The most notable event of the day was crossing the Continental Divide again... out there between Lordsburg and Deming. Unlike most of the mountainous West, where the Continental Divide follows distinct ridge lines and high mountain ranges, out here in southern New Mexico it's just a simple rise in an otherwise flat plain... if the sign wasn't there you'd never suspect it.

Oh, and one more thing: fuel prices. Gas is now under the $3.00 mark in both Arizona and New Mexico. I filled up the toad the other day in Tucson for $2.95. Unfortunately, diesel prices are almost a full dollar higher... that's right... almost a full dollar... the largest differential I can remember. We filled the bus-house today and felt lucky to find a station selling it for 3.87. I wonder how the differential is being justified. Based on the grimaces and frowns on the faces of so many drivers of big diesel pickup trucks these days... I guess I'm not the only one wondering what's going on.

Dec 13, 2011

Dec 13 - Desert Rain

For an area that averages about 10" of rain per year, we're being treated to a significant portion of that total in the past two days -- might be almost 2" in some parts by the time it's over. Today, it's rained all day so far... with only a couple short periods where it's eased up some. The weather guys are being stressed to the limit with this system, as they actually have to write new reports and forecasts... and not just re-read what they said the day before... and the day before that... which is what they do most of the time in Southern Arizona.

I'm happy to report, however, that "they're" still saying this is will all abate by tomorrow morning, and, with any luck at all, I should be getting the launch authorization codes (the keys to the camper) from the Safety Director by mid-morning tomorrow.

Apart from the somewhat steep fare for staying here, we've really enjoyed our longer than expected stay here at Lazydays in Tucson. Because we're not big city people, it's good to have a place that's easy to get to, that's safe and secure, that you can call home when our travels bring us to this corner of the world. I'm sure we'll be back.

Dec 12, 2011

5 Years - Exploring Modes

This is the third in a series of posts about our lifestyle as we near the 5 year mark, and some thoughts we're having about making changes as we move into the future.

On Exploring Modes
Those who live in RVs for extended periods of time fall into certain patterns or modes of existence. For some, the RV seems to become a purpose unto itself, and life becomes a series of rituals about the machinery, the systems, maximizing the comfort of living in a small space, and socializing with like-minded neighbors for extended periods of time. For others, the RV is just a tool that allows them to travel and explore... to go to and experience places on their own schedule... for any period of time they choose.

To set the tone of this post, allow me to state a few things first. Our definition of exploring is: to travel for the purpose of discovery. This could include experiencing new places, historic sites, museums, or unique geographies such as those offered by National or State Parks, National Monuments, etc;  and recreational activities like hiking, biking, climbing, kayaking, sailing, etc; or even experiencing big cities and what they can offer. As long as you're outside your RV and seeking new things to discover, to learn about, to experience... you're exploring.

Second, about a year ago we identified two styles, or modes, of exploration that are used by RVers we've observed. One we've come to call "linear exploration mode", which is where you and your rig... together, are moving from place to place and exploring as you travel. The alternative is "hub and spoke exploration mode", which is where you park your RV at a point (the hub), and use another smaller vehicle to explore in large loops or "spokes"... out and back to the RV each day. I'm sure there are permutations of these two broad modes, but for the most part it's an either/or thing.

The exploring mode used is determined by personal preference, camping or parking location, as well as the capabilities of your RV. We've found it hard to really explore in linear mode with the bus-house as it's often just too big, too cumbersome, for where we'd like to go. We're usually towing our car when we travel and unless we know, in advance, or have a strong suspicion, that we'll be able to successfully get in, get parked, and get out again... we don't make the attempt. The common hazards, for us, include low hanging branches or low clearance objects, small narrow tight roads and parking areas, and dips or inflections in the road that can cause long low-hanging vehicles like the bus-house to drag it's rear overhang or high-center the whole vehicle. And, often the road is just not appropriate for a 40 foot long 16 ton vehicle with a car in tow.

And so, over the past 5 years, we've generally used the hub and spoke system of exploring. But the more we do it the more critical we are of it. Why?

The way we explore it's hard to really plan a day. The tendency is to pack more in than can be reasonably be accomplished. Because you're exploring you really don't know everything there is to see and do... and unexpected things pop up all the time. This isn't such a big issue if you're exploring a few short miles from camp... it's easy to come back the next day and continue. But if you're exploring 40 or 50 miles or more from camp, you'll have to commute back to camp and then back out again another day to accomplish your objective.

For example, let's say we plan to stop and see or do three different things during the course of a day, with the furthest being 50 miles away. Along the way we discover some new and unexpected things that cry out to be explored... and three stops turn into four or five. We alter our plans, do one of the unexpected things, and, as time passes during the day we find ourselves pushed by the clock, running out of time... bumping up against closing times, maybe even darkness. And then, to top off the day, we're faced with that 50+ mile drive back to camp... while tired and when what we really crave is a little relaxation and solitude to absorb and let the discoveries of the day flow over us.

On the other hand, in linear exploring mode you can be more spontaneous and flexible in your explorations. Having your "home" with you while exploring has other benefits. If you find the perfect spot to stop and have lunch... on a beach... a cliff-side park... a wayside along a swiftly flowing river... you can, since your home and your food supply is right there with you. In linear exploring mode the clock is secondary... doesn't have to matter at all. If you want to stop someplace for an hour or two... or all afternoon... or even overnight... you can. If you don't get as far as you expected that day, just find a place to overnight (much easier with a small rig) and continue on the next day. You can be much more relaxed and spontaneous... exploring while wandering with your home.

The most enjoyment we get from living fulltime in our RV is being able to travel, explore, and experience North America. In the future, we'd like to optimize those aspects of our life on wheels.

<< Part Two <<

Dec 12 - Rain Delay

This morning we're still parked at the Lazydays RV Park on the south side of Tucson, and it looks like we'll be here yet another two days. During the past week I've been keeping an eye on the forecast and it consistently looked like we'd have no problems getting out of here today, as we had planned. But, of course, that all changed yesterday afternoon when the weather folks started predicting the worst rain storm for Tucson since the end of the monsoon last fall... and the two day dousing was going to start today, covering most of Arizona and New Mexico.

This morning we made the decision to just hunker down and wait it out. Even if we made a run for it this morning and got ahead of the worst of today's rain, we'd probably have to sit for an extra day in Deming, which is predicted to be in the middle of it tomorrow. We don't have to be anywhere yet, so what's the rush? We're here, comfortable... and we'll just wait it out.

For anyone wondering why we allow a little rain to affect our plans... here's the short version: It makes a bloomin' mess of the the whole string of vehicles in our RV Sabbatical train... the bus-house, the car, and the two bikes behind the car... they're all caked with a slury of road grime, fine dust, and water after a day on wet highways. We usually don't have schedules or deadlines or commitments... so we'll often just let it rain, and travel when it's clear. Besides, there's so much more to see on a clear day.

My cold or flu bug, whatever it was, is nearly gone. Lasting only two or three days, at times it felt like a regular cold, and at other times it felt more like a severe allergy... fits of sneezing, watery eyes, nose, etc. By yesterday I was much improved and this morning I feel almost normal.

Dec 9, 2011

5 Years - Family Friends and Roots

This is the second in a series of posts about our lifestyle as we near the 5 year mark, and some thoughts we're having about making changes as we move into the future.

On Family, Friends, and Roots
One of the things that fulltime RVers forfeit is roots. A few days ago a post by another blogger (Glen at To Simplify) got me pondering this. He wrote:

The lack of the kind of deep social intimacy that often typifies the mobile lifestyle is, after all, difficult to ignore, and while I have made great strides towards dealing with it, I still can't deny that it is one of the few (possibly the only) lingering rubs to living the way I do.
... the telephone, video chat, email, and this blog help to maintain some sense of community and connectedness, but I wonder if all of these methods combined even come close to duplicating the kind of friendships that only develop when one is "around" day after day after day. And as this quality of friendship may very well be an essential requirement for long term happiness, I find myself wondering exactly how much longer my desire to wander will sufficiently outweigh the need for this sort of regular connection.

Dar and I, during the early and middle part of our lives together  (while working, raising kids, etc.) moved around a lot as a result of my job and my ambition to do new things, to live in different parts of the country (a closet nomad even then?), and to be a corporate team player. As a result, we didn't put down deep roots anywhere. Sure, we have friends from those days we still stay in touch with, but there are no deep roots that can only come from being around and involved, day after day, for years and years.

I often ponder how having deep roots would have changed me. When observing and hanging out with those who have roots, I feel I've missed out on something. I feel a sense of loss for something I never had, at least since I left home and went to college. But, like many things in life, there are compromises. By being more nomadic I've grown in other ways... it's easy for me to introduce myself to new people, to make acquaintances, to inject myself into new situations, more flexible and adaptable to change. And perhaps my world-view is a bit more rounded?... my perspective a little more sharp? But then again... maybe not.

Some RV fulltimers will say that they make more friends and deeper friendships than they ever did while in their previous lifestyle. To some extent that may be true... you do meet and connect up with a bunch of people who happen to share some of the same interests. But in our experience those "friends" are what I'd often call passing acquaintances. We have a handful of, what I'd classify as, really good friends that we've made during our travels... and we cherish them and have a great time when we're together. But I wouldn't call what we have as deep roots, which to me, must involve a community in addition to great friendships.

If I had deep roots someplace, getting into this lifestyle would be tough. But since we don't, it was probably easier for us to fulltime, and to continue this nomadic wandering existence.

In a lot of ways, Dar and I, both of us, are a weird combination of introvert and extrovert... we like group activities, on our own terms, but many times... perhaps most of the time, we prefer solitude and doing our own thing. We don't belong to groups that regularly socialize, we don't travel in caravans with a string of other RVers, and we don't plan travels around rallies and social meet-ups. We, she and I, share a lot of interests (exploring, history, travel) and truly enjoy spending time and sharing discoveries we make with each other. It works for us.

How about family? For longer than we've been fulltiming, we have lived a long way from family. Trips to visit them tended to be short and sporadic. One of the real benefits of our current lifestyle is the ability to spend extended time with them... a month? two? even three? And we probably see them more now than we did before.

We will always make extended stays with family a part of our lifestyle, regardless of where or how we're living. Being close to family is important.

So, how do I summarize this point? For us, deep roots in a community is something we haven't had in a long time -- and probably won't for some time more, if ever. And we're OK with that -- for now. While I may long for it at times, it's really a trade-off for being nomadic, which we both crave even more at this point. That said, we do enjoy the friends and acquaintances we make along the way. And the key point here is that family is still our primary consideration and will be foremost in our minds when making plans for changes in the future.

<< Part 1 << 

Dec 9 - Down for a Day

Yesterday afternoon, I was writing something on the PC, and... BAM... just like that, I knew I was coming down with some kind of bug. Remarkably, it was just that fast... felt fine one moment and feeling low the next. By bed time it was clear, even to Doctor Dar, that whatever I had it hit me bulls-eye dead center thereabouts the nasal passages.

After medicating up I was able to sleep OK... and I'm really thankful for that. I was up and about today... just not moving too fast or going too far. Was able to get my 2 mile power walk in... but there wasn't as much "power" in it as there usually is. I wrote and published a number of posts to the journal... one going back a few days about our visit to the Arizona State Capitol. Hope you'll catch it.

That's it for tonight. Think I'll retire early with my Kindle, an aspirin bottle, and about two fingers of Dr. Daniels Amber Restorative.  Ta-ta...

Disappearing RV Dreams?

I had a conversation recently with someone involved with the financing side of things in the RV world. When he heard that we were fulltimers he put his hands over his ears and said "No... don't say that word... don't tell me you're fulltiming!" What?

Apparently a number of large banks that still do loans on RVs made a decision about a year ago that they will no longer, under any circumstance, write loans to anyone who does not have a permanent physical address including a dwelling unit in which they reside (they apparently have even gone so far as to exclude the addresses of mail forwarding services, etc... they've also been known to visit the address and check it out). This person I talked with, who's acting as a representative of the banking institution, is bound by agreement to stop any loan transaction to anyone who, even inadvertently, mentions to him that they plan to fulltime in their new RV. They're that serious about it.

This is my understanding of the issue. RVs are regularly and easily repossessed when their owners fall behind or stop making payments altogether. In the past, by far most of the people who get into this kind of situation don't live in the RV in question... they have a house or apartment which is their primary residence  With the sour economy there are increasing numbers of people who live in RVs... not because they want to, but because that's their only option after they loose their house, their job, or all of the above. In that case, the act of repossession is much more complicated and expensive for the lending institution... because they're repossessing the owners only and primary residence. Banks don't want to get involved in that can of worms, and have decided to just stop writing loans to fulltimers, or anyone who intends to fulltime.

I'm not sure of the extent of this policy... and perhaps it's different elsewhere in the country. Of course, being debt-free and owning your rig outright is a way to still keep the "dream" alive. But for some, it looks like yet another obstacle to enjoying a nomadic life on the road.

Dec 8, 2011

Dec 8 - Repair Vibrations

We're back at Lazydays RV Park after having the slide repaired yesterday and the vibrations have pretty much stopped... I'm talking here about my vibrations.

Since the bracket on the slide broke I've been concerned (maybe consumed is a better word) by one thing... somebody's going to want to weld it back together. That doesn't sound so ominous... something to be consumed by. But it can be. You see, the electrical systems of a motorhome is a complicated thing. There are actually three completely independent systems: the 12 volt chassis system (like any car or truck, it's the alternator, battery, wiring that takes care of lights, electronics, etc.); the 12 volt "house" or coach system (everything 12 volt in the living area or coach part of the motorhome... lighting, inverter, furnace, electronic controls for refrigerator, etc.); and finally the 120 volt system that, when we're "plugged in" or running the generator, powers all the normal goodies (microwave oven, fridge, outlets, water heater, tv, etc) that most people are used to in a regular fixed-in-one-place house. It's all very complicated... wires and boxes and do-dads everywhere... and probably almost impossible to fix once something goes very wrong. Faced with troubleshooting a transient electrical problem in one of these units and the very real possibility of the repair bill exceeding the value of the camper, it's easy to understand why so many folks decide on the "Thelma and Louise" solution and just drive it off a cliff.

Welding on a motorhome chassis can be problematic. Welding, most welding, is done with electricity... lots of electricity. And when all that electricity is applied to the metal frame of the slide, it can find it's way to the frame of the bus-house... just like "the ankle bone's connected to the shin bone, the shin bone's connected to the knee bone... and to every electrical doo-jiggy because they're all, every last one of 'em, connected to the frame of the bus-house. Am I making my concern clear here? Are you seeing why I was vibrating with concern, just in anticipation of the repair.

I called one of my main contacts at Spartan Motors... the builder of our chassis. What he told me only increased my vibrations. For an absolutely safe welding event, it's necessary to disconnect all batteries as well as no less than 4 electronic control boxes (EECM, TECM, ABS brakes, and another controlling the gauges and dash controls). All of these things are located in hard to find, hard to see, and hard to get to places... of course. "Thanks Mike, I think I'll just go back to bed, pull the covers over my head, think happy thoughts, and wait for it all to be over." Maybe I'll wake up and find this was all a bad dream.

So, yesterday, Wednesday, we drove the bus-house over to Freedom RV, the highly recommended Newmar dealer and service shop here in Tucson. It's only a few blocks from Lazydays, but I felt like a condemned man being dragged 10 miles to execution. I had created a scenario in my head as to how this was going to go... RV repair shop attitude, request, demand, sneer, condescension, anger... it was all in there. 

After parking, the "service advisor" comes out and we discuss the problem. No less than twice I state and reinforce that I want to talk with the tech who'll be actually working on the problem and that I don't want any welding being done without talking with me first. I was prepared to do all the "disconnects" myself if I had to... or to drive away un-repaired if they didn't want to do it my way. Vibrations.

They said it'd "be a little while before we'll get to it so have a seat in their lounge and we'll come and get you". OK. pace floor, get coffee... Dar ran to a nearby restaurant for some food... I wasn't leaving for anything. I found a newspaper and started reading... get my mind redirected for a while. We were expecting to be there most of the day, so Dar took off with the car to do some shopping. And there I sat.

A little over an hour later I walked back to find my "service advisor"... who was no where to be found. I didn't see the bus-house and no one else seemed to know anything either. A few minutes later I found Mr. "service advisor"... who informed me that it's all done! "What? All done?... I thought you were going to have me talk with the tech before doing anything?" Seething... we walked over to the bus-house. I looked at the repair... sure enough, there was a big new blob of weld that was now securing the rod bracket. "You welded on my motorhome after I asked you to NOT do so until I'd been involved?" He didn't say anything. The tech chimed in... we've never had a problem... not in 14 years.

My thoughts and emotions were flying... on the one hand, I was pissed off that someone could be so inconsiderate of a customer's request and the risks they were putting on us by just doing what they wanted... the way they wanted to do it. On the other hand, I was partially relieved it was mostly over (a lot like the way I felt after having a wisdom tooth pulled)... the bracket was reattached... the slide was working. The only thing yet to verify is that all the other components and electrical gear and ECM things were still OK. And once I checked those things out I was even more relieved and happy it was over. We lucked out on this repair, the way it looks.

Don't get me wrong. I still give Freedom RV a solid "F" for customer care, listening to my requests and then just doing what they wanted anyway.  One of the downsides of RVing is having to deal with RV dealers and RV repair shops. Taken as a group their reputation is probably lower than the US Congress right now. When you do run across one that's solid, reputable, passionate about doing a good job, and treats customers like adults, you want to run through the RV park and shout out "they do exist... I found one..." Unfortunately, that won't be the case here.

As for me, I've stopped vibrating.

Below are photos of the "before"... the broken rod bracket, and the "after"... the re-welded bracket.

broken bracket... belongs attached to the beam above... where that elongated hole is.

repaired bracket... re-welded and re-painted black

Dec 6, 2011

Dec 6 - In Tucson for Repairs

I'm hoping this isn't habit forming or becomes some weird new way-of-life... but we're sitting around this afternoon waiting, once again, for a service appointment. I talked with Newmar first thing this morning and they helped with information and the name of a good (or so they say) service shop in Tucson... who I called next and set up an appointment for Wednesday (tomorrow) morning. They claim to be slide-out experts and are specifically trained in Newmar slides. It sounds good but we'll wait to see how this all goes before there's a ringing endorsement from me.

Newmar said we could retract the problematic slide and it'd be OK to travel with it... but that it needs to be fixed pronto! So we folded everything up and made the 130 mile drive through Phoenix and through most of Tucson before landing at the LazyDays RV Park (the old Beaudry joint) out near Davis Monthan Air Force Base. We got in about 1pm and we're running a few errands this afternoon, and getting ready for an early departure tomorrow for repairs.

Here's a shot of the busted bracket. It's a might hard to make out, but that piece at the end of the threaded rod is supposed to be welded to the beam above it... where you see the oblong hole.

Dec 5, 2011

Dec 5 - Arizona State Capitol

After dropping off the bus-house at Cummins Rocky Mountain in Avondale, we took the toad and made the 20 minute drive over to the Arizona State Capitol. The time had finally come to add Arizona to our list of visited Capitol buildings... I think this one will be our 20th.

If you've house-shopped recently I may be able to elicit some sympathy from you... how after you've seen 5 or 10 (or 15! or 20!!) they all start to look alike. OK, maybe not exactly alike, but they do seem to fall into groups... and it's very hard to distinguish between members of a group. The great ones may stand out, but the average, the ho-hum, the pedestrian, they all start to look alike. Anyone still with me??

Arizona is the last State admitted to the union among the lower 48 States... in 1912. This fact, among other things, led to the factual and oft heard statement during the Reagan presidency that the President (born in 1911) was "older than Arizona". OK, chuckle if you will, but it's occurred to me that, similarly, I'm older than both Alaska and Hawaii... as are many of the readers of this blog. Harrumph!

Prior to Arizona becoming a State, the Territorial Capital, alternated between Prescott and Tucson a few times before a compromise was reached and Phoenix, at that time just a small agricultural community, was officially made the Capital. Hmmm. Compromise? What a quaint old concept. If the polarized politicians of today had been involved, Arizona still wouldn't be a State and the Territorial Capital would still be floating back and forth between dried up towns in the desert. <end of political statement>

At any rate, the good folks of the Arizona Territory -- once Phoenix was selected -- went ahead and built a very nice but modest building as their Territorial Capitol and, with Statehood surely to follow, the State Capitol as well. That's the building that survived more than a century and still stands... looking much like it did shortly after it was built.

Today, it's the Arizona Capitol Museum. All of the functions of State Government have long ago been moved out of the building to newer, larger quarters in the immediate area. They generally did a good job of this... the House and Senate Chambers and offices are in two separate buildings that immediately flank the old State Capitol. Just out the back door of the old place, through a long attached hallway, is a 9 story Executive Branch Office Building.

But, alas, all is not well with even the newer buildings. According to Wikipedia:

"The Senate and House buildings, opened in 1960, have been deteriorating. The Senate in particular is prone to constant plumbing problems, and occasionally a broken pipe floods the entire building." 

Thom's comment on the plumbing problem:  Hmmm. A plumbing problem in the Senate Building? Imagine that? Somewhere in there is a really good joke... or two. Do you suppose this plumbing problem could be the result of the volume, the sheer mass, of er, ahh... excrement... being generated by these elected folks in their passionate battle to be re-elected as long as they all shall live?

Thom's comment on the flooding problem:  Do you suppose we could somehow lock the doors when this happens and not let anybody out? Could go a long way to solving some of the State's money problems, including the plumbing problem noted in the paragraph above.

We joined a guided tour which pointed out the key functional and symbolic elements of the old building. By any State Capitol standard, it's a small place but nicely preserved, refurbished, and maintained as it was in about 1910. Arizona, being a state with perennial money problems, didn't build it overly ornate or with exotic materials (marble from Italy or any such thing as that). It's utilitarian, but comfortable and does in fact feel somewhat "Southwestern".

There's a humorous story about the figure of "Winged Victory" atop the dome, which actually functions as a weather vane... swinging around into the wind... whichever way it blows. A number of years ago some legislators felt it wasn't appropriate that "ol' Victory" would look away from them when the wind blew from the west. They felt she should always be looking at them, figuratively guiding them, always eye to eye. So they passed a resolution that the she be chained down... prevented from swiveling with the wind... always looking at them while they went about there business.

Well, as you'd expect and I'm happy to report, Winged Victory came out on top, victorious, with that whole sordid affair. She was subsequently set free and now happily spins with the wind again... just as most legislators spin in the political winds these days. The symbolism is so rich... ain't it wonderful?

The current Senate Building

Winged Victory... now free to rotate with the wind.

House Chamber in the Old Capitol

Dec 5 - Genny OK... Now Slide Woes

Just a short note to update the journal tonight. We had an agreeable drive down US-60 from Wickenburg and arrived at Cummins Rocky Mountain in Avondale just a little after noon. They got us right in and checked out the genny this afternoon. The reason I wanted it looked at was the two unexplained genny shut-downs we've experienced in the past few weeks... apparently for fuel (or lack thereof??) reasons. I thought we'd try to catch any problems early, before things got worse. They gave it the once-over, ran it under load, put in a new fuel filter, and deemed it "up to specs and operating just fine". While they had the bus-house in the shop I also had them lube the chassis. Recent information informs us that it's especially important to make sure the drive-shaft on this model is fully lubed a couple times per year. Apart from severing a couple of C notes from our slush fund, it was a good stop... they were good people to work with... and we get a free night of camping out of the deal besides.

But as we were setting up for the night I was rolling out the big living room slide-out and just at the end of the cycle there was a big "bang", a "clunk", and a rattle. Hmmm. That's definitely NOT normal. I went outside to investigate and found a threaded rod (part of the slide-out mechanism) hanging from where a weld had broken. Ok then... another challenge. The slide was out and all appears OK with it... and I think we'll be able to retract the slide in the morning once I secure the rod. And you know a call to Newmar is in order in the AM too. I'm sure this means another stop somewhere tomorrow to fix that.

Oh, we did sneak down to the Arizona State Capitol while the bus-house was being worked on this afternoon. And that will be the subject of another post... in a day or two.

Dec 4, 2011

Dec 4 - Brrrr Arizona

For all you folks who think it's easy to escape Winter by just heading south a few miles, consider this. We're about an hour northwest of Phoenix (yes, Arizona!) at an elevation of 2800 feet. The normal temps this time of year are 60's for a high and 40's for a low. Of course, "normal" or average temps are statistical deceptions, often, and it's prudent to use them with caution. Our high temp yesterday was 45f and the low this morning was 31f. Monday morning we should be in the 20s.

Yesterday, we had it all... sun, heavy clouds, rain, thunder, sleet, snow, and then more sun. So we huddled inside and I only got out for my two mile walk... between showers. Not what most people would expect... unless you're in, maybe, the Midwest??

This morning we ran into Wickenburg for breakfast and then explored around the town called Congress (as rough as it looks it's more popular with the public than the other one in Washington DC). From Congress, AZ-89 goes up the side of a mountain ridge to another small town named Yarnell. Although only 10 or 12 miles from our camp at North Ranch, Yarnell is 2000 feet higher. And, yes, there was some small remnants of yesterdays snowstorm still laying around in Yarnell.

Tomorrow, Monday, we're breaking camp and heading into the maw of the Phoenix megaplex. We're going to take advantage of a Cummins/Onan/Spartan Coachcare location down that way to primarily have our generator inspected and serviced. I may be over-sensitive about these things, but I'm just sensing that it (the generator) is not running as smoothly as it did in the past. Since we're so close, we might as well take advantage of the opportunity. The shop allows overnights and they have a few plug-ins to facilitate doing so... and we'll probably spend tomorrow night there before heading further south to Tucson and then Benson.

This afternoon we're listening to the loss-less Packers on the radio and I'm making a pasta dish of some kind tonight, both of which can only be called winners.

stay tuned for the next installment of my "5 years" series... in the next day or two.

Dec 3, 2011

5 Years - Our Travel Pattern

We're coming up on 5 years living this way. By the strict definition of the American Full-Time Rv'ers Lifestyle and Information Federation (AFTeRLIFe)  (no fixed home; live in a functioning RV 365 days per year), we are certified fulltime RVers. We've thoroughly enjoyed the lifestyle but have reached a point where we're pondering the future, questioning and critiquing how our current lifestyle has evolved -- what it's evolved into, and are considering changes we might make to enhance things a little in the future.

With all that setting the stage, I'll be writing a series of posts on topics relating to our lifestyle and future changes we're thinking about... in order to get them into the record.

On Our Travel Pattern:
Our fulltime RV lifestyle is NOT one of fulltime travel and I think our experience is typical of many who claim to be fulltimers. It's one thing to live in a little box on a fulltime basis; it's quite another to be on the move, traveling, all the time. As I look back over the last almost 5 years, there's a pattern that's developed in our case. In short, that pattern is a series of alternating periods... one traveling (or wandering, exploring), and the other sitting in one spot for an extended time, either visiting family or hiding out from winter. 

Our periods of "sitting" are in Wisconsin (family) during the summer, in the Northwest (family) during either spring or fall, and Texas (or someplace warm, someplace south) during the core of winter. The time spent in this sitting mode has ranged from a month to three months, with the average being about two months.

Our periods of "travel" fill in the gaps between the periods of sitting and have ranged from two weeks to three months... but the average is about two months, maybe a little less.

So that's our pattern. Each year there are three sitting periods and three travel periods, with each period averaging two months. And that means, in summary, we're traveling about half the time and sitting about half the time.

OK, but what does this all mean? Why are you bringing this up?

I'm not sure... let's see where this goes in the next post.

Dec 1, 2011

Dec 1 -- Our "Friends" to the North?

You call this friendship?  We've always heard that Canadians are our best friends, internationally speaking. But are they really?

First, as reported here on this blog back in April of 2009, they're the ones responsible for the hoards of Canada Geese that terrorize and "fowl" much of the land-mass of the USA. It's clear my expose' of the time accomplished nothing as they've continued since, unabated, in this unfriendly behavior. Why just the other day I stepped in a pile...

And then, claiming they're not hardy enough for the cold and snow of Canadian winters... which I might add, they grew up with and, presumably, are acclimated to.... they swarm into the southern USA every November to "escape"... to find some warmth. What ever happened to the spirit of Sergeant Preston of the Yukon... the rough and tumble frontier toughness that we "softies" to the South always thought was in the blood of every true Canadian?  Poor babies. Let's all get together and buy them some shawls for their little cold legs and some propane for their heaters. They invade the USA, plug up the highways, pack the WalMart parking lots... BLM land in the desert...any place they can camp for free... (you see, not only are they cold... they're cheap too... wouldn't friends spend some money and help out our feeble economy?)... and grumble until April when they can happily return to the mother country.

And the latest... Just this week they've sent a huge bubble of frigid arctic air crashing into the southwestern USA. Now I don't know if our Canadian snowbird friends had any advance warning of this attack, but in looking around our camp, as we near our "high" temperature of the day of just 54f, I strangely see no Canadian license plates... not one. Hmmm. Could this just be another coincidence?

Shivering under my shawl in the middle of Arizona...

(Note to our Canadian friends and anyone who doesn't get it... This is an attempt, albeit a feeble one, at humor and to poke fun at some stereotypes we hear about during our travels, while trying to say it's suddenly turned cold here in the southwest. Please remain calm. We really do love you, eh?)

Nov 30, 2011

Nov 30 - On Coincidence

We've had a couple of weird coincidences occur around here recently. Going back a couple weeks...  Let me set the scene. We had just gotten settled at Camp Solitude in the desert near Quartzsite. Coincidentally, I had just finished reading Brian Gore's first novel "A Matter of Honor" on my Kindle. On the afternoon of the day in question I was on the internet... on Amazon, and was writing a short review of his book. While on the "write your review here" page, in the middle of composing the review, Dar spotted a truck and fifth wheel rolling into our corner of the desert and announced "incoming" (a habit we've gotten into, as watching people park big rigs is better entertainment than almost anything on commercial TV). So I glance out and see the rig slowly moving in... and said "Hey, I know that guy! That's Brian Gore... the guy who wrote the book I just finished... the review I'm writing right now!". Literally, as I'm writing about his book, he, the author, shows up and parks just a couple hundred yards away. How's that for a coincidence.

And then it happened again yesterday. Let me set the scene on this one. If you've read my recent posts you'll probably be aware that I suspected a couple of sensors on my PressurePro tire pressure monitoring system were causing a slow leak in the tires they were mated with. Because the problem seemed to be getting worse in recent weeks, I resolved to reach out to my PP dealer and see if they could remedy the situation once I got here to North Ranch... where we'd be for a week and I could actually get mail if they needed to send new sensors or parts or whatever.

So yesterday, our first full day here, I got on the computer and went to the website of my PP dealer... Pat and Mike McFall to get their phone number. (OK, pay attention, here's where the coincidence appears...) After punching the phone number into my phone, I happened to glance at their blog... and see that they live right here in North Ranch. During the winter this RV community is their home. They have a lot and house and a shop and their PP business, the whole shebang, right here just a few short blocks from where we're parked.

Call it Karma, or clean living, or luck, or whatever... it's wonderfully weird when things like this happen. The world, for a least a little while, seems smaller and more friendly.

So, the short version of the rest of the story is that Pat and Mike invited me over, solved my problem (those two sensors had slightly damaged rubber gaskets and the fix was to simply replace the gasket), and we visited for an hour or more. Two of the nicest people you'd want to have for your PP dealers... or even just as friends.

Despite my self-restriction on doing commercial endorsements for RV related products... let's just call this a little "plug". Comparing the almost 4 years we traveled without a tire pressure monitoring system, to the year or so we've traveled since... well, there's no comparison. There's a huge increase in peace of mind that comes from knowing what your tire pressures are while driving down the road. And that we'll be alerted to a low tire or a blow-out... especially on the car we're towing "four wheels down". I've personally talked with two people who have had a blow out with a tire on their towed car... didn't realize it... and kept driving. The result is generally thousands of dollars in damage to the car and a possible fire from continuing to drive at highways speeds with a flat tire. I consider a tire pressure monitoring system "peace of mind" insurance.

Nov 29, 2011

Nov 29 - Escapees North Ranch

Yesterday we made the 110 mile drive from our Plomosa Road camp near Quartzsite to the Escapees North Ranch park between Wickenburg and Congress AZ. The drive was a good one... no incidents and light traffic. When traveling east we generally prefer a late start (about 11am yesterday) to minimize the glare and squinting that accompanies driving into the sun. At the very least, it's a good excuse for sleeping in.

I topped off the two tires I wrote about in the last post and confirmed that the problem with the slow leak in the toad's tire was due to the Pressure Pro sensor. When I swapped the suspect sensor with one on another wheel, the new tire developed the slow leak. Hmmm. You know I'll be talking with my Pressure Pro supplier about this today. I now highly suspect the same issue with the front tire on the bus-house. I'm running without the sensor on that tire for a while to see if the leak stops.

North Ranch is an interesting community. There are about 100 rental RV sites and hundreds more deeded lots. The deeded lots range in size up to a quarter acre, on many of which the owners have built large permanent homes. Even the smaller lots are similar in size to the largest RV park lots we've seen, and can comfortably accommodate a large RV or park model home, a storage building, patio area, landscaped yard, and a parking area. Could North Ranch figure into our plans for a southern home base? Hmmm.

Nov 27, 2011

Nov 27 - Last Day at Camp Solitude

It's Sunday already, which means we've got to start packing up, stowing things, in preparation for moving tomorrow. Even if we wanted to stay longer (no argument from either of these two nomads), we're running a little low on some resources that require movement of the bus-house... things like fresh water and propane which are the two we'll run out of first. So since we've got to move anyway, and since we're still planning to be in Rockport by just after the first of the year, we're getting back on the road.

I've got two tires with slow leaks. The right rear tire on the toad has leaked since the day I had new tires put on last summer. It's very slow and it's been my denial of reality that's prevented me from having it fixed before this. But I added air just a couple weeks ago... even put in a little extra. But when I checked it yesterday, it was down to 26psi... a full 10 pounds from where it was. The other tire is the front right bus-house tire. Damage or a puncture isn't obvious, and I've examined it pretty closely. I'll get both pumped back to where I want them before we leave tomorrow. In the back of my mind I'm wondering if the pressure pro sensors have anything to do with this problem. They work by by-passing the dill valve that normally holds air in a tire, and have their own seal. If that seal isn't perfect I think it could account for what I'm experiencing. After getting the bus-house tire back to full pressure, I'm going to run without the sensor on that tire for a while and see if that makes a difference.

We ran into Q yesterday to restock on firewood. Our source (and new BFG - best firewood guy) is Alex, who runs a rock and mineral shop down close to the Post Office. We bought three big boxes for Thanksgiving Day, all of which was turned to ashes that day.  Another three boxes was procured for our last two nights fires.

Toward the end of last nights campfire, well after sunset, we were entertained with the awesome desert night sky show. A fingernail moon, in close proximity to Venus, was chasing the sun and setting in the west. Clouds of stars in the Milky Way appear to combine into a single band of glowing gas stretching overhead from both horizons. High in the eastern sky was Jupiter. With our little spotting scope we could easily see bands of color on it, the largest planet in our solar system, as well as all 4 of it's largest moons.

All is still quiet here at Camp Solitude.

Nov 25, 2011

Nov 25 - The Nellie E Saloon

Well here's hoping we didn't lose any readers during all the Black Friday consumerist shopping riots earlier today. I'm hearing about folks being pepper sprayed, shot, stabbed, and worse... by other "shoppers" who feel they need something bad enough to set aside normal civil behavior and bring out the heavy artillery to gain some kind of advantage. I mean, what are they thinking? Do they sit up the night before and plan this? Never having been to a shopping riot I guess I should give folks the benefit of the doubt... that perhaps the store is really at fault for whipping people into a frenzy and all. I don't remember Christmas shopping being at all like this when I was a kid.

For our excitement we headed out to the Nellie E Saloon for lunch. This isn't as easy as it sounds though. First you've got to drive north of Parker some 5 miles on the main highway, AZ-95, and try to find the intersection with the old rocky dirt road that leads to the bar, another 5 miles out in the desert. This being a holiday Friday and all, a lot of folks are off for a long weekend and were out in force with their 4-wheelers, ATV's, pickup trucks, and jeeps tearing up the desert and creating both a dust storm and a lot of traffic. It certainly wasn't a quiet lonely drive out into the desert.

The road is primitive and we were one of only a few out there with a car. There were a few places the road was probably more than the little Ford Focus was ever designed to be navigating, but after 20 or so minutes, we topped a hill and there, before our eyes, was what locals call The Desert Bar... the Nellie E Saloon.

You probably won't believe it when I claim there had to be six or eight hundred people gathered there, maybe more, enjoying the bright sunny afternoon, the eats and drinks, and a very good band -- The Happy Ending Band -- playing some of my favorite Rock and Roll music from the 60's and 70's. Finding a seat was tough, as you might imagine, but we scored two at one of the bars right after we ordered lunch.

There are no power lines running out to the bar. Instead, banks of solar panels on various roofs here and there provide the power to run the place, although I suspect that despite a strong Arizona sun there's not an abundance of power. Ice box refrigeration is dedicated to keeping beer cold, but there's no cheese for your burger... ever (a sign says). The menu is brief... hamburgers, hot dogs, chili, chili-burgers, or chili-dogs. Since they have so many people from California stopping in, they have added a veggie-burger... but my guess is it doesn't sell very well. Prices were reasonable: $3 for a burger, $3 for a diet beer, slightly more than $3 for some of the other concoctions.

There is a well on the property now. The owner, a fellow named Ken, used to have to haul water out from town in an old fire truck. But the truck is parked now and water isn't quite the precious resource it once was. I'm not sure what they do with waste water, but I'm hoping it gets hauled back to town and not dumped in the old mine.

Did I mention how good we thought the band was?

The saloon is built on various hills, piles of mining debris, and a deep scar (an old mining cut? a wash?) in the desert that combined give the place a multi-tiered, sculpted appearance. That lowest level, the scar (don't know what else to call it) is where the band was staged, as well as a good percentage of the customers. A long bridge soars overhead, connecting one parking area to the main upper bar area. All the structures, including two tall cooling towers, appear to be unplanned and built on a "seemed like a good idea at the time" basis. Perhaps best called "desert primitive"... it works... actually adds to the ambiance.

Given the choice between battling shoppers on Black Friday or scrambling over rocky roads, around swarms of ATVs, through clouds of dust, and a plugged air filter in the car, to find a happening place like the Nellie E Saloon... I'll opt for the saloon every time.

More photos from our afternoon can be seen at our online photo album.

Nov 24, 2011

Nov 24 - Thanksgiving Day Lunner

A small sliced ham, potato rolls, green bean casserole, cranberries, hobo veggies, and pun'kin pie... a small feast in the desert. We invited neighbor Brian Gore over for the mid-afternoon Thanksgiving Day "lunner" and then sat around the campfire telling stories and solving world problems.

Had a great time.

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...