Walking Away

Walk. We walk. 250 steps, easily. 1,000 steps, comfortably. 5,000 steps, frequently. 10,000 steps, not as often as we would like. One of the best things about our RV trips is that it gets us out and walking every day. We pack walking shoes, we pack a pedometer (Does it count if you don’t count?), we pack our ‘get out and walk’ attitude. Parks frequently have trails, even multiple trails. We love ‘em all but we particularly like the ones that go along a lake or a bluff or some other interesting point of view.

If there aren’t any trails, we’ll walk the campground, checking out all of the campsites and all of the RVs and tents. And sometimes we decide that we would prefer to walk in a city rather than on a trail. After walking by 500 or so trees there isn’t much new to see on many trails. We drive to the nearest town or small city on our route, find a neighborhood, and begin to explore on foot. We like to see how people make a living there, is it prospering or declining, is there a good bakery or at least a bakery, and how about the local hardware store. The last time we did that, we were in the middle of a triathlon that had running, biking, and canoeing. Much more interesting than another tree!

When walking the campground we frequently stop to talk to the other campers. When we do that, we end up shortening our walk. One of the things we love about RVing is that most people in most campgrounds are mostly friendly. As we walk the campground, people wave and say ‘Hi.’ We check out the campsites so that we can advise other campers who check out RVParking.com. And if there is a campsite with an RV like ours, well, it’s absolutely necessary to stop and trade stories and talk about the pros and the very few cons. If it’s a new model that we haven’t seen before, we’ll ask for a tour and do some comparing.
Walking at Devil’s Tower in Utah we met a couple who had a brand new RV about 3 years newer than ours. After we toured theirs, they toured ours. They had bought theirs in Ohio and were driving it home to Washington, and we were able to show them a number of features they didn’t know about. Among other things, we told them about RVParking.com! And we shared with them the View/Navion discussion group on Yahoo.

We don’t mind parking at the back of the parking lot when we stop to shop; we get in more walking that way. And we don’t get blocked in! We don’t mind taking the long way around a museum; we get in more walking that way. We don’t mind climbing to the top of the nearest tower; we get in more climbing that way.

We don’t tow a vehicle. We ‘tow’ bikes. But being flatlanders, we don’t ride a lot in really hilly country. We walk.

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Ready, Set, Go

Getting ready for an RV trip is a weeklong exercise for us. Actually, it starts much earlier than that because about a month before we go I pull out our lists and start mulling over what we need. When we left the RV at the end of the last trip, I had taken my RV inventory list and circled all of the things we had taken out of it. So I need to get those in order first; some are just items that need to go back in (oils, vinegar, dish towels that got taken out to be washed at home etc.) and some we need to buy. That done I can relax for a few weeks.

But come a week ahead I start accumulating everything that is not standard RV equipment, the things on my RV packing list—travel books, extra glasses, medications etc. They go into laundry baskets that I commandeer to carry things to the RV. We keep our RV at a storage facility about 30 miles from home (we live in a very urban area), so we have to take things to it. I know there are some of you who have the luxury of parking your RV outside your home. Nope. Not us.

So everything gets accumulated into my baskets. Whenever I have a spare minute, I pick up my list and gather a few things. Some can’t go in until the last minute – phone chargers, phones, electric toothbrush, etc. We have an inside porch, so the baskets get lined up on the porch, more and more each day.

Then I make up my ‘grocery’ shopping list. I look at the freezer inventory (yes, we do have a list of what is in the freezer and it is remarkably accurate). I browse my cabinets. And because I always leave something behind if I don’t make a list – and sometimes even when I do – I write down what I want to take from the freezer and from the cabinets. I have three small bins for canned goods and pasta and such. I have a long bin that fits under the dinette for cereal and chocolate chips (who can travel without chocolate chips? Certainly not us!) and mixes. These get filled early but there are always items that can’t go in until the last minute.

And on this trip they included potatoes, onions, fresh tomatoes, and lemons. I wrote those on corner of my freezer shopping list and completely forgot them. We were long away from home when I remembered so I called our neighbor and invited her to go shopping in our kitchen.

We have a minivan and everything, including our bikes, goes in the back. Two coolers with food from the refrigerator and freezer, my many bins (5 of them
this time), our clothes (hanging clothes in a clothes bag and everything else in 2 pillowcases – one for him and one for me), our bedding (a Travasak and our pillows from home). It all just fits in. If we get rid of the minivan, we will have to make two trips. But we are ready to go.

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I Hate to Clean

As we travel in the RV, we do cursory cleaning. The rig is so small that I can get down on my hands and knees and wash the entire floor in less than 5 minutes. I have a mini-vac in the closet that I pull out when the rug under the table and between the seats gets to the point where I can actually see the debris.

The stove gets cleaned every night we use it; if we didn’t, it would get crusted on and that is just too gross, even for me. I have never won – or even desired – awards for my housekeeping. I’m from the ‘I’m too busy having fun (playing with my kids or – better yet – my husband) (reading) (you fill in the blanks) to get too carried away with dusting and wiping.

Usually we will devote one day out of a 60-day trip to doing some deep cleaning. Now I have to clarify that. I wash down all surfaces inside the RV. Keep in mind this is a 24 footer. I vacuum, including using the thingy you attach to get into the crevices and those tight places where the cabinets meet the floor. You know, the ones where all the crumbs end up.

We wash the outside, if we are in one of the campgrounds that will even let you do that. Otherwise, we spot clean. Last fall we were at a campground outside Montreal that had a truck wash bay with roll around high ladders. Well, we spent a whole day cleaning the outside of the RV. If it rains and then clears up, we’ll grab a rag and hit the high spots.

Usually the real cleaning comes when we get home from a trip. If we did it before we left, we’d probably never leave cause we’d be too exhausted! We get out the hoses and all the various scrubbers, rags, soaps, etc. Getting out the supplies alone usually takes a good half hour. Then we get out two ladders, one for each of us. Our street slants one way and the ground between the sidewalk and the street slants the other way, so it’s a real challenge to find good footing for the ladders on the house side.

We live on a residential street, but it’s a favorite shortcut so it’s even more challenging working on the street side, particularly if there is someone parked on the other side of the street. We try to do it when the traffic is lighter, but it doesn’t always work out for us.

First we have to completely wash the RV and get all the spots off. You know what that’s like. Hours of work. Then comes the easy part, waxing. You put it on, let it dry, rub it off. The joy of it is that you can usually see where you have been. Immediate positive feedback. That’s how you build good habits.

I do the deep cleaning inside, including a final spray of Fabreeze. Did you know that that stuff not only smells good but also it actually gobbles up odors, doesn’t just mask them?

The last step is taking everything out of the basement, reorganizing it into the right bins, replacing the grungy stuff, and taking out all the things that we thought we would need but didn’t. I take inventory at that point of everything in the RV, adding notes where we need to add things (like batteries) and crossing off things we’ve taken out (like the third rate toilet paper that we bought because that was all they had). Satisfaction? Well, yes. Aches? Of course. Want to do it tomorrow? No way!

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Water, Water Everywhere

Water is the enemy of wood. Water is the enemy of RVs. Water on the loose in the RV is MY enemy. We have had two experiences with water that have insured this enmity.

The first occurred when we were virgin owners. On our first trip, we lit out in the middle of February and waited until we were in southern Illinois to add water. It wasn’t until about a week later in Texas that I noticed water on the floor where water wasn’t supposed to be. We tracked it down to a general area but couldn’t see the specific cause.

We called Winnebago; no dealers in our immediate vicinity, but they gave us the name of a company we could feel comfortable using. Called up. They sent out a young man. Dismantled a few parts of the RV. Discovered that one of the tubes carrying water to our hot water tank had decided to part ways with its fellow tubes. Reattached. Fixed. Good.

On our last trip, some six years later, our enemy wasn’t exactly water, but it might as well have been. It was liquid. That was enough.

Since we were returning to Chicago in below freezing weather, we had to winterize again. We stopped in southern Illinois and purchased the pink stuff. We found a reasonably level parking lot. We drained all the systems to that last drop (we had dumped the gray and black water the previous night). We took off the water filter under the sink and replaced it with the plug. We opened the antifreeze, put in the tube, switched on the pump, and I turned on the kitchen faucet. It was gurgling, but not coming out.

One gallon later and still no antifreeze coming out of the faucet. Husband says, “Something’s wrong.” Another half gallon later I went into the bathroom to see if something had been left open and found pink stuff pooled by the shower, on the floor. After turning off the pump and some accelerated and amplified discussion, we discovered that the plug under the sink had popped off.

While water and similar allies are aligned against us, we, too, have allies. Every rag and towel came into play as we mopped up the liquid. Worst part was that some of it had run into places that were impossible to mop up, under parts of the wall, even out the back. It was dripping in the parking lot!

We got everything as dry as we could, called in our big guns, turned the generator on, put a fan into use to dry those impossible to reach spaces. We drove to another RV supply store to purchase more pink stuff. Just like a real war, there are the innocent victims, the displaced. The interior was pretty trashed; we had pulled things out of every corner where there could possibly be liquid. We decided to eat lunch, drive for a bit, get a little distance from the problem, and finish the job at a rest stop.

I’m not going to go through it all again, but suffice it to say that that darn plug failed the second time. We didn’t have any dry rags by that point, so we had to use our dirty laundry to sop up the liquid. This time the RV was slanted forward instead of backward, so I noticed it sooner and it didn’t manage to infiltrate those impossible to reach spots.

Happy ending: Third time was a charm. We know who are our allies are, who are the innocents, and who are the ringleaders of the wet world. And we are going to be extra careful with that plug from now on.

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RV Parking Parking

We have a small motorhome, 24 feet long. So parking isn’t as much a challenge for us as for the longer guys. When we put into a supermarket parking lot, we tend to park near the back of the lot. Not only is this part of our physical fitness program, but it allows us to be a bit more casual in the way we park. In other words, we usually take up two parking spots each way—front to back and side to side.parking 1

On city streets we look for two parking spots; in Mobile we fit into the white lines side to side and feed two parking meters to allow us ample room to exit the parking spot. So it’s not only getting into the parking spot that we need to consider, but also getting out.

The parking challenge sometimes occurs when we stop along the way to visit friends. Friend 1 in a Sarasota complex. The driveway is too short; going in sideways blocks the driveway next door. There is visitor parking; that works but we have to be out of it by 11 PM. Solution: We spend the night in an area RV park.

Friend 2 in a Fort Myers development. Can’t park in the driveway because it has a canopy over it, too low to allow us in. We park in the visitor parking, which isn’t quite long enough so that our tail is off the road. Solution: We are told to pull onto the grass. We do and no one complains during the four days we are there.

Friend 3 in a Boynton Beach complex. Parking 2We can’t even drive the RV into the complex. Members can bring RVs in to load and unload. Nobody else. Solution: When we were here three years ago we found a storage yard about a block outside the complex that would allow us to park for a few days. Our friends came and got our luggage; we took the bikes off the back and biked to their house. No more. Now if we want to park there, we have to rent by the month. We find a storage yard about 12 miles north that has daily rates. We leave the bikes with the RV.

Friend 4 in a private home in Acworth, GA. Park it on the grass. Done.

It is the highly managed complexes that give us a complex. I know there are some communities that don’t allow RVs to be parked where they can be seen, even by neighbors. This does make it a bit hard to keep your RV at home. As for us, we could theoretically park it in our back yard but we have large, healthy trees and it’s a lot cheaper to pay for parking at a lot than it would be to take down the two 100+ year old trees because we killed the roots with the weight of the RV.

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Notes from the Road — Episode 7

I love seeing the books and magazines that get left in the ‘Take One Leave One” areas in campgrounds. I picked up a book that I had been wanting to read but hadn’t gotten around to in exchange for one I had just finished.

On this trip I have been able to read three different copies of ‘O, the Oprah Magazine’, a magazine I have never  purchased. There seem to be a plethora of romance novels, although I am afraid that I don’t have anything sufficiently light to trade for them. Perhaps a ‘fair trade’ isn’t required. Better Homes and Gardens magazines seem to be common, too. After reading the magazines and tearing out the occasional recipe or appealing ad, I return them to where I found them. My husband reports that the selection in the men’s bathroom is quite different; pretty light on Better Home and Gardens, for example. Whoever came up with this idea deserves a pat on the back.

We welcome occasional rainy days. They make us slow down and relax. When it is bright and beautiful outside, we feel like we must be out and about. When it rains, we can lay abed, listen to the rain on the roof, revel in our dryness, play a game or two, and/or read. Sometimes we use the time to do inside ‘housework’ – wiping down surfaces, washing the walls, cleaning the furniture. The prospect of rain also serves to get us up and out earlier so that we get the outdoor things ‘done’ before it rains. So, rain away.

We always have flowers in the RV. orchidAt the beginning of this trip, we had a beautiful orchid at home, so we have been enjoying that. It is now more than 30 days on the road and it is still beautiful. Small orchids are frequently dirt cheap in grocery stores ($12 to me is dirt cheap for an orchid). If we can’t find a small orchid to carry, we buy small bouquets for $5 or $6. I have a small, plastic collapsible vase that a friend gave me. It goes flat as a pancake for storage. When you put water into it, the bottom spreads out and it is very stable.

We have a round sink with a wooden cover; the wooden cover has a half-moon piece cut out of one side. When we are traveling, we can put the vase or orchid in the sink and slide the half-moon piece next to it to keep it upright all the way down the road. Works beautifully! Once arrived, the flowers come out of the sink and onto the dinette table.

We are frequently on the road on my birthday. I am a bathtub person and for my birthday, I want a bathtub. That’s the only time we stay in a hotel. This year, a beautiful bouquet of flowers was delivered to the hotel for my birthday. It has been more of a challenge to keep upright while traveling. I solved it by putting the vase into the small trash can that we use and wedging it back next to the slideout when we are on the move. It’s been a bit hard on the lilies in the bouquet, but it is almost a week later and it is still beautiful. But now the orchid has to share the limelight. They are managing to coexist.

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Food on the Road

We eat very well on the road. Most of the time we eat in the RV. We start our trip with a fully stocked freezer and refrigerator. When I am cooking at home, I will frequently freeze part of it to ‘feed’ our RV freezer. I don’t worry about cleaning out the refrigerator before we leave; whatever is in there goes into the cooler and into the RV.

I cook bacon about three-fourths of the way in my oven, laying the slices across a cooling rack above a rimmed cookie sheet. It gets rolled up in paper toweling and put into a heavy plastic bag and put in the freezer. When we want some on the road, we unroll however much we need and pop it into the microwave. No grease in the RV, quick crispy bacon. If we find some special food along the way and if we have space in the freezer, we’ll buy extra for later on in the trip or for home. At this point, I have 9 long boudin sausages in the freezer. When we were in Louisiana, we stocked up on shrimp, too.

As for coffee, we use a French press. Coffee PressWe are small, so we don’t carry a coffee grinder. We buy good, ground coffee.  I like coffee with dessert in the evening, but for just one cup I use an excellent instant Colombian coffee from Trader Joe’s. Almost as good as the real thing.

We do eat out occasionally, usually because there is a local restaurant that has a reputation for being interesting or because see something that grabs us. We found just such a place in Fanning Springs, FL. We had stopped at the Huckleberry Barbecue seven years ago when we were in Fanning Springs, and when we saw it was still open, we remembered the delicious meal we’d had there and stopped.

We seek out local restaurants and, for the most part, steer clear of franchises. Two exceptions: I love the hash browns at Waffle House. If you come in slightly after the morning rush hour and ask for them extra crispy, they will usually spread them all across the griddle and what you get is pure crunch. The other exception is Burger King. My husband loves Burger King and if we are looking for a quick, inexpensive lunch, I’ll humor him and we’ll stop at a BK. I rely on Yelp reviews to find good local places and they are usually dependable.

We try to buy local . On this trip, we bought the most amazing strawberries from a small stand along the road in Louisiana. They were red clear through, tasted fabulous, and lasted for almost a week. We ate them before they were ready to be thrown out. We have a stash of 6 Florida grapefruit, picked fresh from the tree at another stop. There are cabbages in all the fields around us where we are currently camping. If we see a stand on our way out of the park, we will be sure to stop and buy some. The boudin and the shrimp were local, but we didn’t buy crawfish. I still can’t figure out how to eat the whole ones or cook with the shelled ones. When we were in Morgan City, LA, a man we talked do delivered three meals’ worth of fish to our door. We blessed him every meal.

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Notes from the Road — Episode 6

We are plagued with no-see-um bites. These nasty little things – midges, they are – are so tiny that when they bite you, you really can’t see um. But boy do you know they have bitten you after a little while. And the next day, And the next day, And the next day. The bites swell and itch and itch and itch. Normal screens aren’t sufficient to keep them out, so our only alternative is to shut the RV up tight in the morning and at dusk, their favorite times for noshing. It also means that sitting outside or swimming or anything outside, in fact, during those hours isn’t a good idea.

They recommend that if you want to keep from getting bitten, you wear long sleeves, long pants, gloves, shoes and socks. And a hat with netting around your head, I suppose. Other than the fact that you would look like a total idiot dressed like this in 80 degree weather walking on the beach, you would probably expire from heat exhaustion. We are told that the best thing at a campsite is a fan; they are so tiny and light that a fan keeps them away from you. I guess that means two fans if there are two of you! Hydrocortisone cream seems to work on the bites, and I am told that DEET is somewhat effective in keeping them at bay. Now they tell me!

A few days ago we met Hilda and Siegfried in the pool at the private RV park where we were staying. It looked like we were going to get a storm and I mentioned that we could swim in the rain as long as there wasn’t lightning. But, I noted, we were as likely to get hit by lightning as we were to win the lottery. Hilda opined that they were trying to win the lottery with no success. Siegfried had retired early more than 10 years ago, helped along by a concern that if he didn’t take his pension it would be less in the future. But things hadn’t turned out as they had hoped and dreamed it would and now they are living permanently in a small trailer, coming to Florida in the winter and going to Wisconsin in the summer. She told me her tale with the sweetest, warmest smile, a smile that seemed to say, “Well, that’s the way it is and we’re making the best of it.” So many stories and traveling we get to hear them.

Another couple we talked to at breakfast at the same park now live in Arizona, having moved there from California. Another tale of hopes dashed by unexpected bad fortune. This couple had lived in a very fancy, very expensive home with a beautiful view of San Francisco bay. When investments went bad, they didn’t want to move down as far as they would have to stay in the San Francisco area, so they moved to Arizona, where they could buy more with what they had. Charming people, upbeat people, people coping with what life brings. These are the real heroes.

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Notes from the Road — Episode 5

I am always interested in the names people give their vehicles, so I have started collecting RV names. Our is PGRV, or PG for short. We have a kitchen and family room combination at home and we call it the PGR, for pretty good room. It’s not a great room, but it’s a pretty good room. You can tell there are Minnesota roots in there someplace. So our RV is a pretty good RV, or PGRV.

One couple called theirs ‘Baby’ because they took more pictures of it than they did of their own child. Another called theirs ‘Charlie’ as a nod to Steinbeck and his travels. A Canadian couple who own a View and travel a lot between the US and Canada call theirs “Inter-View”. A former NASA employee calls the RV ‘The Command Module’ and the SmartCar Toad the ‘LEM’ or Leisure Excursion Module, capable of carrying two explorers to unknown destinations and returning them safely to the Command Module (for those old enough to remember ABC science reporter Jules Bergman). And then there’s ‘Sadie’, short for Mercedes. One couple’s grandson couldn’t pronounce Winnebago, so he called it Whinney Diego. As a result the RV is now called Diego. And then there are those 2007 RVs called either ‘Bond’ or ‘James’ to honor double oh seven.

We have participated in a number of rallies of our little RV. These are organized by other people who have a similar rig, not by any corporate entity. One of the best parts of these rallies have been the tech sessions. That’s where we share tips and tricks to keep these things purring, we learn from other people who have had the same problems that we have had and solved them, and we learn what people do to keep problems from occurring.

After a while we found that we can contribute as well. We collect plastic bottles to serve as knee pads when you need to get under the RV. After sharing this tip, we give away the bottles to our fellow RVers. We also participate in an on-line discussion group that now has over 5,000 members. This group has saved us thousands of dollars. When we have a problem, we post the description of what is going on and within a few hours we have 4 or 5 suggestions on how to solve it.

We pulled into Winnemucca, NV one night, very late. After arranging for our campsite in the office, we went out to move the RV and we couldn’t get it into gear. Husband had read on the discussion group how to overcome this problem. Voila! It worked. I sent an e-mail message to the group, asking for the nearest Sprinter dealer. Salt Lake City, came the response. The next AM we use the ‘trick’ again to get into gear and head for SLC.

We get there, only to find that the tech person who works on Sprinters is at a seminar and won’t be back for 2 days. In the meantime, someone on the discussion group has suggested that it is a taillight that is out and the fuse is blown. Mercedes, in its wisdom, has decided that it isn’t safe to drive with such a condtion! We go to Napa, buy a new taillight, a fuse puller and a fuse. Voila! Fixed. Probably saved $500 for a tow and who knows how much for the service! And this is just one of many instances.

There are certain people who are so expert and so willing to share their knowledge. And these people are usually equally willing to admit their ignorance. Our Sprinter key has a battery in it to open the door by pushbutton; we asked one of the most technical men at the last rally if he knew how to open it to replace the battery. “Nope,” he said, “I’ve never had to do that. I only know how to do things I’ve had to do!”

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Notes From the Road — Episode 4

One of our favorite campgrounds is Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores, AL. This despite the fact that we have only managed to stay there once in the 3 times we have been camping in the Gulf Shores area.

The first time we went into the park on our bicycles and saw lots of empty spaces. Now this park has almost 500 sites (I think the actual number is 496). We must have seen at least 100 empty sites. So, we stopped at the office to see if we can camp there the next few days. “Sorry, we are full up until April 1st” we are told. “How can that be?” we ask. “We see all of these empty spaces!” Turns out they are all rented; the renters just don’t happen to be there at the time. Some of them have gone home already but the rental runs through March; some of them are off traveling someplace else for a few days. Don’t you think it would be nice of those who have gone home to say, “Hey, you can rent out our site. We’re not coming back.” Or something to that effect. It’s a wonderful park but it’s darn hard to get into!

Signs along the way:

  • ‘We never really grow up, we only learn how to act in public.’
  • ‘She has a strong will but a weak won’t.’
  • ‘Don’t trust reality, it’s only a strong hunch.’
  • ‘Plan to be spontaneous tomorrow’
  • ‘Everything in moderation, including moderation’
  • ‘He who hesitates is probably right’

Our RV is built on the Sprinter, a Mercedes Benz engine and truck. Friends of ours tell of going into the Mercedes Benz dealer in south Florida to have some repairs done. But let Tom tell it: “Marci and I drive in from the campground in, guess what, our campground clothes. I’ve got on my shorts and T shirt and she’s just as dressed up. As we sit in the waiting room, having our coffee and waiting for them to let us know how long it will take, we are getting all these sideways looks from the men in their golfing finest and their trophy wives in their cute, short tennis outfits, perfectly coifed hair and beautifully manicured nails. We are told to come back the following day and the repairs will be done then. Well, Marci insists on getting her hair done, getting a manicure, and putting on her finest before returning to the Mercedes dealer! I had to wear my dress clothes, too!”

When we travel in the RV we save the indoor ‘chores’ for those rainy days. Well, today is a rain off and on day. We think it has stopped for the day, we get ready to go, we get about 10 feet from the RV, and it starts dripping again. Back home we go. After another half hour or so, the cycle repeats itself. It would be so much better if it would just go ahead and pour and get it over with. Or have a light rain and we would figure that we were inside for the day and could settle down. But this impending sunshine can drive one crazy!

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