One of our favorite things to do in our travels is put some extra miles on our hiking shoes. There are countless trails across America just begging for your feet to join in the steps of so many others before.
Now, I’m not saying that we are hard core hikers, or even intermediary. To be perfectly honest, we are lazy hikers, and usually only motivated by the thought of getting some exercise and seeing something spectacular at the end of the trail. So we look for trails that lead us to a magnificent view such as a waterfall or scenic overlook. We’d even settle for a unicorn along the way, or a taco stand run by leprechauns at the end of the trail. Yes, we need motivation.
If there is no “reward” at the end of a trail, we’ll tend to just walk until we feel we’ve had enough exercise for the day, and then head back to the car. That’s not to say that we don’t enjoy the journey. Although, whenever Al looks over his shoulder to check on me, he comments that I don’t look like I am enjoying myself. I simply do not have a poker face, and so you can plainly see that I struggle as we climb in elevation. But I tend to skip along without a care in the world when we are heading back down hill.
We hiked Bull Of The Woods Wheeler Peak Trail last week. It is classified as difficult. We were above 9,000 feet in elevation, so we felt the breathing challenge. But the temperature was perfect, we were surrounded by dense woods, and there was a luscious river keeping us company as we climbed up the mountain. We stopped and chatted with a guy along the path to ask him if the trail led to a scenic overlook or lake. He told us he had been hiking for about 8 hours that day, and was picking mushrooms. 8 hours? Why are we asking him for directions when he is obviously lost? And for goodness sakes, I wouldn’t even know which of the thousands of mushrooms we had seen on the trail were edible. For all we knew, that guy was tripping on those shrooms.
A few days later we hiked the Slot Canyon Trail at Tent Rocks National Monument. This was a shorter hike than Bull of the Woods, and only about 10 floors in ascent compared to the 25 floors we did at Wheeler Peak. But this trail would prove to be my ultimate challenge.
We arrived around 12:30pm, in the heat of the day. I think the temp got to 96º that day, which felt well over 100º in the direct sun. The park ranger at the gate informed us that the top of the trail closes at 3:30pm, and that he would be up there to usher everyone off the mountain top at that time. The reason for this is so that everyone gets down and off the mountain before the sun goes down and they close the gates. He can also make sure that no one is stranded or hurt along the trail as he follows the last person out.
As soon as you step foot on the trail, you begin to feel the climb as the sand trail makes every step more of a challenge than it needs to be. There are parts of the trail where large boulders block your passage and require that you climb over them. And then you begin a steep climb up the mountain. It all amounted to my perfect storm. I was huffing and puffing, my head spinning from the heat, and fighting the urge to throw up my lunch. My legs were weak and wobbly from the constant climb. Al was a great partner and helped pull me up quite a few times. But I was quite determined to make it to the top of the mountain.
This got me to thinking about ego. My ego was taking quite the pounding because I thought I was in better shape than that. Ego is like a double edged sword. It looks out for your comfort and survival, but it also makes you do some stupid shit. So in a situation like this, ego can make you give up because you’re just too uncomfortable and it’s just too hard, or it can give you a fierce determination to continue on and push past your discomforts. So, it can be seen as your ego fighting your ego. Which side of your ego will win?
I’m proud to say that I made it to the top of that mountain, and spent about 30 minutes trying to recuperate before we headed back down. I could see that others had a much easier time going up that mountain than I did. But I am not in a competition with anyone but myself, and I am proud of what I accomplished. On another day, I can maybe do that climb with much more ease, grace, and strength. It truly is a beautiful trail, and I would be happy to do it again. But maybe first thing in the morning rather than in the heat of the afternoon.
As we lingered at the top of the mountain, I thought about that park ranger saying that he was going to be up there at 3:30 to clear everyone out. I began wondering if he had a secret elevator that takes him to the top. Or maybe a helicopter. We passed him as we made our descent and he was headed up. I couldn’t believe it. He makes that climb everyday!!! I joked with him about my secret elevator theory. He replied that the Bureau of Land Management would never invest money to make his job easier. This broke my heart, these unappreciated rangers who work so hard to keep the parks in a condition to be enjoyed by all of us. They truly are the caretakers of this land. I assured him that I would be willing to pay extra in taxes to make his job easier. But if I had to guess, just feeling appreciated by all of us for the work they do, and picking up after ourselves, would make a world of difference in their life’s.
And so, this wraps up our westward journeys this year. We make our way east tomorrow, looking for lower elevations and higher humidity. See you on the road.
Written by: Elizabeth DiPace
Today we celebrate our 2 year nomadic-versary in Taos, NM. Looking back at our blog entries, it seems we have only done one other entry since or 1 year nomadic-versary. We’re pretty good about posting pics to our Instagram page once we leave South Florida, but we thought we’d be better at this whole blogging thing than we are. The reality is, we have a lot that we juggle, and this is low on that list.
WORK AND TRAVEL
Between us, we have 5 Instagram pages, and 3 Facebook pages, and 3 blogs that we manage for personal and business purposes. And even the business accounts don’t get as much attention as we would like. There are many travel bloggers who have made their living as a “professional travel blogger”. We, on the other hand, saw where the business we already had in place could easily go mobile. We feel we have been very successful in owning our own profitable business, and making it fit into a lifestyle of freedom and travel that we craved.
It’s not always been graceful. I work from home, but Al flies all over the world for his clients. This may mean a 6 hour drive to and from the airport to drop him off, depending on where we are staying. A lot of times, we only have a month notice about a job. We obviously need to plan our campsites much further in advance than a month if we want a good site, or if we want to avoid having to move the RV from site to site within the same campground. While I do fine on my own, I do not want to have to move this RV by myself. So, this all requires a lot of planning, as well as the need to stay very flexible.
But our business does take us back to South Florida every year for about 5 months. Because this just feels like “home” to us, even though we are still in the RV, we don’t tend to post pics that often during those months. It’s when we leave South Florida that we get inspired by all the beauty that is so different from what we take for granted back home. And what’s there to write about when you’re just home, working, paying bills, and stationary? I doubt anyone wants to read about my trips to Publix. It’s as if the inspiration is “out there somewhere”, like the New Yorker who never visited the Statue of Liberty.
We’re a big believer in keeping our private lives private, and we don’t like to post the negative stuff. Not because we want to create an image that all is peachy and perfect, but because harping on it doesn’t correct the situation. But we realize this leaves others who may be planning to take the BIG JUMP without enough information, and therefore they are mentally unprepared for the challenges that may arise. So here is the real low down on being full time RV’ers: It is a love / hate relationship.
There are times when Al and I are visiting some amazing bucket list place, and I find myself so grateful for the freedom and experience. I realize how lucky we are to be standing at the rim of the Grand Canyon and looking out at the vast beauty before us. This is why we do this, and this is what makes life worth living for us.
Our costs are definitely way down, and we view possessions and money much differently than we did before. We have been able to see our first full fall season in over 25 years, which was a big treat for us (there is no fall season in South Florida, no leaves changing colors). We were also able to spend extended periods of time with our nieces and nephews while they are still kids, and not quite yet teens. We are able to pick up and move easily when a hurricane threatens, which has been a big comfort during hurricane season. Al no longer has to mow the lawn, or worry that the roof will spring a leak every time it rains, resulting in shelling out another $500. He doesn’t hear me nagging him about something I want fixed or updated (I don’t nag, but that’s the word he would use).
But on the flip side, I feel very isolated at times. Many RV’ers talk about the close knit RV community. We’ve not experienced that. We are shy and keep to ourselves. We spend most of the time inside our RV because we are working. And we find that we have a different neighbor every few days. For me, the isolation has been the hardest part. I love my alone time, but everyone has their limits.
Another challenge has been space. I wish with all my heart that there was more room inside to exercise or do my yoga. If you are energetically sensitive, as I am, an RV can be just too small for your aura and energy field. If we have to run the generator, I feel bombarded. The AC is incredibly loud for me, and so close to my head. And I cannot focus on anything at all when the dryer is running. And if I cook curry, fish, or onions, it will smell in here for at least 3 days.
And FYI, it doesn’t matter how great of an AC system you have, it can only cool your RV by 10 degrees compared to the outside temp. So, if it is 96 outside, the coolest you can get it inside is 86. We were in Utah once, and the temp reached 114 outside, and about 99 inside. I must note here, if you are able to get a shady spot, the cooling capabilities are much more significant.
To be honest, there have been times when I really felt “stuck” in this lifestyle, and could not see a way out. Al loves it. Me, not so much. Or at least, not 100% of the time. I want him to have the life of his dreams. Does this mean we have to go our separate ways? But Al will always chooses me over this lifestyle, and tries to find ways to make this work for both of us.
At one point, when I was close to an absolute breakdown, and was expressing my discontent, Al asked me “Then what’s the point of the Our Big Windshield blog and Instagram account? Is it just for show?” It was an honest question. I explained that it is a way to keep reminding myself of all the amazing things we have been able to see and do as a result of this lifestyle, as well as a way for me to be engaged with the RV community in some way.
Al is amazingly considerate and looks out for my comfort at all times. He setup a wireless audio system so that he can listen to the TV on headphones as to not disturb me while I am sleeping. He switched out the recliner system for a very cute purple couch so that I feel more like I am in a house. He takes care of all the exterior breakdown and setup on RV moving day.
I don’t have to do any of the destination planning. I just tell him what I’d like to see and where I’d like to go, and Al makes it happen. When planning our trek from point A to B, he tries to keep the drive days to no more that 5 hours (when practical) because he knows I really cannot function after a long day on the road. And he makes sure that any campground he books is really nice, while sticking to our budget.
Now, I realize all of this makes me sound terribly fussy, and Al seems like a saint, and you may be right on both counts. But truth be told, Al likes really nice things too, so he doesn’t do all of this just for me. And he truly enjoys the research and planning of our travels.
When I had reached my wits end, we discussed renting a house or apartment somewhere for 6 months or year and taking a break from the RV life. But where? One of the major reasons we made this big lifestyle change is to sample different areas and see where we would like to move to permanently and put down roots. We’ve not found that yet. In short, we don’t know where we want to live temporarily or permanently. So finding a place to rent temporarily feels like we’d be forcing something.
And yet, as we start planning out our spring and summer for next year, I am excited at the prospect to traveling up and down the east coast of the US, spending time in North Carolina, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine, and Nova Scotia.
So, these are the hard truths to consider if you are planning to go full time in your RV. As much as we did our research beforehand, there are things we just could not anticipate. If you’ve already taken that big leap, and you are finding the dream has many unexpected pitfalls, you are not alone. And if you had to give up the dream quicker than you thought, that does not make you a failure, nor does it mean you made a bad decision. There are many things to be gained from this experience. It will transform you in ways you did not see coming, and that was the whole point anyway, wasn’t it?
So, as Elizabeth pointed out, I do love this RV Living Lifestyle. It’s far from perfect, but I’ve found it satisfying on many levels. I think my approach to it was quite reasonable and realistic. Especially compared to so many others I’ve seen online sharing their experiences. According to a lot of other full-timers, they didn’t research enough and got themselves into RVs that ultimately didn’t suite them. I get how not completely understanding what your situation is until you’re living in it. So, I’ve felt very fortunate that the motorhome we bought ended up suiting us relatively well; and we really didn’t looked at that many. We just knew we wanted a Class A, not being pick-up truck people. We were looking for something used but in decent shape, not a fixer-upper. We were just adamant we needed a bath and a half, as well as a washer & dryer, because giving up certain creature comforts just wasn’t part of the arrangement we were looking to have. That quickly weeded out a good chunk of unwanted RVs. So it was just a matter of us, together, climbing into enough rigs that met our criteria, to find the one we’d end up buying. That happened the first day visiting an RV dealership.
Two years later, I’ve been pretty happy with our slightly used, 2016 Thor Challenger 37LX motorhome, with no desire to trade it in or upgrade. We’ve all heard the horror stories of folks buying their brand new RV, just to have to return ‘em to the dealership for repairs. Sure, we had our initial period of shoring up and fixing things, most of which we figured out on our own, or was able to have serviced while at our campsites. This process just allowed me to get more acquainted with my RV, which I greatly desired. Figured the more I understood the inner workings of this RV, the less stress I’d feel living in it. Being able to easily troubleshoot when things malfunction, just gives me a lot of comfort.
I entered this RVing lifestyle with the attitude that it was going to be challenging at times (hence the motorhome’s name Challenger). I was going to be learning a lot on how my RV operated and how it’s different systems worked and how to manage them. I was prepared to deal with things not working correctly at times and did my best to educate myself on how to deal with those. I wanted to master this lifestyle!
Mastering this lifestyle also meant learning how to adapt our everyday life to it. Luckily our business was a relatively easy fit, and I personally didn’t find the slimmer quarters problematic. Having the half bath (which is essentially my own private little room), a bedroom that can be closed off from the rest of the RV, and Bluetooth headphone technology made sharing the smaller space a easier than I even expected. Figured we’re still better off than most sharing a NYC apartment.
Having the outdoor space, complete with built in TV, which I admit to snickering at when first seeing it, also offers yet another way to spread out some. Of course, enjoying the outdoor space doesn’t always prove doable as conditions aren’t always ideal. The awning can only help so much against rain, angle of the sun, gusty winds, extreme temperatures, and mosquitoes. Even when all those issues are good, your neighbor’s smelly sewer hose being a tad too close can kill the atmosphere.
But I digress, back to mastering this lifestyle. And when I say mastering, I mean living this nomadic life so that it feels relatively easy and stress free. Going through all of the different processes of moving the RV, setting it up, living in it, packing it up, and moving it again without crying out “what the hell was I thinking?!”
Not sure if I’d call myself an RV Master now, but I’ve definitely learned so much in the past 2 years that now days this RVing thing seems like a breeze. Far less angst, malfunctions, and energy spent on overcoming undesirable situations. Much of that was realizing we were moving around way too much. We now stay longer in fewer campgrounds. We stayed in 41 different campgrounds our first year, compared to 24 this last year.
Dealing with our tandem tow dolly, which has been a huge source of anxiety due to its size and weight, has also improved. Seemed like we were always having to unhitch it, and rarely under optimal conditions. Then there was that time one of its wheels flew off while driving down the interstate, but we won’t get into that now. However, lately with our “Move Less, Stay Longer” strategy, as well as learning to book our sites a more carefully now, it’s also been less of an issue.
Ultimately, the most important thing I learned was how Elizabeth dealt with it all. I assumed a lot about how we’d live and travel, based on my own approach to things. Not realizing a few things would be more difficult for her. For example, I love to drive and figured there would be times when I’d forgo a campground stay to drive late into the night to get the miles in. We’d just pull into a Walmart or rest-stop whenever I was ready to sleep. While I’m driving, I assumed she’d just enjoy the ride, maybe do some work on her laptop or phone at times, watch some TV or go in the back and sleep or nap as she pleased. Turns out she really wasn’t that kind of passenger. She couldn’t sleep so she’d stay up front with me, concentrating on the drive almost as much as myself, eventually needing us to stop due to her own exhaustion. I don’t schedule us on drives like that any more, and everyone’s happier now.
Isolation is another aspect I didn’t anticipate. The incredibly friendly RV community was one of the things we heard so much about, but never materialized for us. I’m guessing the main reason is that we’re simply younger and still working compared to the typical retirees we find parked around us most of the time. Both Elizabeth and I operate well on our own, so being alone isn’t that big of a deal. But I travel a lot for work, leaving Elizabeth spending extended periods of time alone in places where she doesn’t know anyone. I know that it takes a toll. And even when I’m home, it’s just the two of us most of the time, and I do miss us interacting with friends or family. Thank goodness for social media.
All in all I feel blessed that we’ve been able to experience this lifestyle and pull off this experiment of sorts, rather successfully. I appreciate the opportunities it allows us, to change course whenever we want, the countless options it affords, and to go to places we probably wouldn’t see otherwise. I really like that as we move forward, we can continue to make adjustments so that this lifestyle is comfortable for both of us. Not locking us into any particular routine, travel pattern or place. We’re essentially free to go where we want for as long as we want. I’ve never felt as in control of my life, as I do now, and I really like that.
Love, Al and Liz
This is our 3rd trip to the southwest in the past 4 years. This region keeps calling us back because of all the geological eye-candy. Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado are home to so many spectacles of nature. We’ve of course visited many of the big tourist spots and national parks this area has to offer, and feel blessed to have been able to see and do so much. The items on our bucket list for the southwest are the same as most peoples- Grand Canyon north, south, and west rim, Antelope Canyon, Arches, Canyonland, White Sands, etc. But we only heard about Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah about a week ago from the Department of the Interior’s Instagram page @usinterior. And as luck would have it, we found ourselves in Albuquerque this week, about a 2.5 hour drive from Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah.
The pictures we’d seen of Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah were enough to motivate us to take the day trip. But for us, the icing on the cake was that this place is not on most tourist’s radar. This hidden gem is seldomly frequented. The whole area is pristine, free from liter or vandalism. But the absolute cherry on top was that we had the whole place to ourselves! This could have been because it was a Wednesday, or perhaps because it’s the middle of July. Regardless, we felt like kids exploring another planet together. The moon like surface and shale rock structures add to the fantasy. And the area is strewn with petrified wood!
As we hiked the half mile from where we parked our car to the site, we became very aware of the fact that we were alone in the wilderness. Being from Miami, FL, we don’t have a whole lot of wilderness that isn’t swamp land infested with cobras, gators, and mosquitos. So whenever we find ourselves in a moment like this, we tend to appreciate how rare it is.
But you also becomes aware of how vulnerable you are out there alone. No cell service, no amenities, no one to hear you cry for help if you take a bad step and hurt yourself (I’m still a bit cautious after my spill at Canyonland last year). And the skeletal remains of foals and calfs adds to the reminder that you are indeed in the wilderness. The horses roam free out there, and leave the evidence behind in large piles.
For those who are energetically sensitive, this place is light and fun. You can feel the energy shift on your return hike to your car, as if you’re suddenly dropped into density.
It was a day well spent and full of wonder. A definite “must add” to anyone’s bucket list!
The geographical coordinates are 36.139482, -107.920727. From I25 in Albuquerque, you’ll take US-550 west for about 115 miles (and enjoy majestic views all along the way!), and turn left on Co Rd 7800. Only the first 4 miles of this road is paved. After that, it’s dirt roads the rest of the way. 13 miles down 7800 the road ends, and you’ll turn left onto the even bumpier dirt road NM-57. You’ll see the sign for Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness Study about 4 miles down on your right. Drive up that road about 50 feet and park at the barricades. You will then need to hike about half a mile to the good stuff.
There are no amenities out there. No bathrooms, no garbage cans, no food or water. So come prepared. You will need plenty of water! Protect your skin with sunblock, hats, and proper attire.
Make sure you have a vehicle that does well on dirt roads. Do not go there if there is a chance of rain that day, or if there was heavy rains the day before. The dirt roads turn into mud traps, and the basin of Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah will flood. Each time it rains, the waters alter the terrain and create something new and beautiful. But you must wait for the area to dry out before you venture in.
True photographers may have a preference about what time they are there for lighting purposes. We planned our day to beat the heat. We arrived around 9:15am, and spent about 2 hours wandering around and playing.
I personally would not take little kids or pets there. If you do, please keep your pet on a leash at at all times and clean up after it. Do not let kids or pets wander off without you; the area is vast and a family could easily get separated.
RESPECT THE LAND – LEAVE NO TRACE
Do not climb on the structures. They are beautiful, and delicate. Please remove EVERYTHING you bring into the area. Please DO NOT remove any of the rocks, fossils, or petrified wood. Please do not feed the wild life. Please do not mark the area in any way. We are the custodians of this land, and we are each responsible for it’s preservation.
You can learn more about Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah at the Bureau of Land Management’s website: https://www.blm.gov/visit/ah-shi-sle-pah-wsa
I wrote piece for the International Society of Caricature Artists (aka ISCA) for their member's magazine Exaggerate Features about life as a full-time RVer and working caricaturist. Feel free to check it out here!
So a full year of RV’ing has come and gone. We definitely thought we’d be blogging more, but we’ve not even had time lately to post to our Instagram page. Between visiting with family in Virginia and running a business, we’ve been very busy. These are beautiful reasons to be too busy to look at your phone. But we’ve also had some challenges lately that have kept us on our toes.
To catch you up, we had a mishap as we made our way from Massachusetts to Virginia. We hit a pretty hard bump on the road, and the wheel on our tow dolly bent out. We thought that if we took the car off the dolly, it would make it to the next destination for repairs. But the wheel ended up coming off 30 minutes down the road in Pennsylvania. So we had to leave it in Pennsylvania for repairs as we continued south to Virginia.
Now, September through December is always a very busy time in our business, and Al tends to have to fly from one place to another for work. We try to plan ahead as much as possible, but there are some things you just can’t anticipate. This monkey wrench meant we were going to have to make a 12 hour round trip from Virginia to Pennsylvania to pick up the tow dolly when it was ready. No worries. We can just drive the Jeep up to get the dolly and bring it back to the RV. No need to unhook and spend extra on gas to drive that big bus north and back. Until… I got rear ended in the Jeep by an off duty police officer. Trailer hitch pushed in 6 inches and twisted. Luckily we had the hitch on there, otherwise the back of the Jeep would have been totaled. But this means we cannot tow anything.
So now we also need repairs to the Jeep. Dealing with insurance and repair shop schedules, it doesn’t look like they can start the work for close to 3 weeks from the accident date. Which means our plans to head south after Virginia must be delayed by quite a bit. This also means giving up Al’s very fave campsite that we got lucky enough to book in Stone Mountain.
Then, Hurricane Florence popped up on the radar. We were in Virginia Beach, and the fear of flooding and strong winds across the coast meant we had to high tail it out of there, even if they didn’t get a direct hit. Probably won’t be bad in Virginia for those in houses, but you wouldn’t want to weather out that storm in a car/RV. But this helped solve the problem of how we were going to get the tow dolly in Pennsylvania. We just headed north, and found a lovely campground in Lenhartsville, up on a hill, safe from flash floods. And, conveniently enough, right by where we have the tow dolly being repaired
We’ll head back to Louisa, VA next week, with our tow dolly, and repairs to the Jeep should start the following week. In the meantime, Al will be working in Las Vegas, while I’m in PA. Once we get settled back in VA, Al will be flying out to work in Santa Fe, San Francisco, and Las Vegas. Upon his return to The Mighty Thor, if all has gone well with the repairs, we should be heading back to Florida for the season.
Truth be told, we never thought we’d be dodging hurricanes once we left South Florida. Our first year on the road was a bit of a bucket list experience, moving around hard and fast to see as much as we could. This year, we are more focused on spending longer periods of time in areas we are interested in possibly making our new home. Climate is a HUGE deciding factor for us when considering where to settle down. Obviously, after living in South Florida for most of our lives, we don’t want to move to anyplace that is susceptible to hurricanes or rising waters. We also do not have any experience dealing with brutal winters, nor is that something we want to learn. But Al HATES the heat. So while I love the Southwest, I cannot have a grumpy husband because he’s too hot. Perhaps we can compromise. Flagstaff and Taos have the Southwest vibes, but their higher elevation makes the summers more acclimatable. A large airport nearby, and large cities to support the growth of our business in the area are also very important.
In the meantime, we’re trying to find ways to make our current lifestyle more comfortable for me. Happy wife, happy life. We switched out the recliners for a couch we found on AmericanReserve.com. It’s lighter weight, more comfortable, and has more storage space. It makes the RV look more homey, and the purple color makes us smile in our hearts. We got new throw pillows to add lighter textures into the space, and changed out the colors in the bedroom area with a new quilt to pull it all together. So now it feels a bit more like home to us.
Spending so much time with family lately in Virginia has also been medicine to my soul. Being around people you know and love after so many lonely miles on the road is a gift. When figuring out where we want to live, being someplace where we have family and friends is important. But even the heat and humidity lately in Virginia has Al changing his mind about this. I think he’s willing to live alone on a mountain at this point, so long as the weather is a constant 69 degrees.
And so, we travel on.
This is my first blog entry since embarking on this new RV lifestyle adventure in August of 2017. Since Elizabeth has written the previous entries, I wanted to give my perspective of this experiment we call Full-Time RVing. I’ll try not to rehash too much of what Elizabeth covered already.
It’s been an insane 9 months since we freed ourselves of so many possessions that filled our Miami townhouse and moved into a slightly used 38 ft Class A motorhome we named The Mighty Thor (based on it’s manufacturer Thor Motor Coach). Our only prior RV experience was a hybrid travel trailer that we took out to Burning Man in 2016. So The Mighty Thor was a bit of an upgrade. Since going full-time, we’ve stayed at 30 different campgrounds, RV parks and ‘Resorts’ in 13 states, along with a Cabela’s and Walmart parking lot, and I feel like were just getting started, or more like we’re just starting to get the hang of this. There’s been a lot to learn and adjust to as full-time RVers, and for the most part I feel like that powers that be, have been extremely kind in doling out our lessons in a manor we could handle and benefit from. I personally went into this lifestyle change preparing to be challenged on all sorts of levels, but to be greatly rewarded as well, and I haven’t been disappointed by either. As we’ve continued on, I feel the rewards keep outweighing the downsides. I’ve never once thought this was a bad idea, but there have definitely been moments where I’ve declared to myself, “I really don’t like this!” Even then, those moments have usually been followed by great feelings of accomplishment, along with much appreciated acquired knowledge I didn’t possess prior. YouTube videos and other friendly RVers have definitely helped in this area.
More often than not, figuring out and remembering how all the systems work together onboard resolves the issue at hand. “Why aren’t the leveling jacks working?!” Oh, the engine needs to be running. “Why aren’t the slides working?!” Oh, the engine needs to be turned off. “Why isn’t there any power coming in through the power outlets?!” Oh yeah, the inverter needs to be on. “Why isn’t the radio/rear camera coming on?!” Oh, the battery usage switch accidentally was switched to Store mode. “Why aren’t the house batteries charging?!” Oh, there’s a reset button that just needs to be pushed. “What’s that beeping?!” Um, depends where it’s coming from.
Of course, living and traveling in a motorhome often offers challenges you don’t expect, or can really prepare for. All you can do is go with the flow, handle ‘em as they come, and learn from them. Here’s a sampling of the challenges we’ve experienced since becoming full time RVers:
I now watch Star Trek, Star Wars, or anything dealing with a vessel of some sort (water, land, air, space, etc.), with greater appreciation. The Mighty Thor, our 38 ft motorhome, along with the tow dolly, Jeep and Vespa is essential our ship and character in our ongoing escapades. Like the USS Enterprise, Millennium Falcon, Nautilus or Black Pearl, the Mighty Thor is the vessel we now travel around, live and have our adventures in. And if you’ve seen any of these movies, you know the ship always takes a hit or two and needs repairing along the way. Sure, we’re not in repeated battles with other RVs out there on the roads (although that’s an interesting concept, note to self). Shit happens, things malfunction, but we’re not gonna let that get in the way of our adventures. On the contrary, it’ll just enhance our adventures. Just wished I could call out, “Damage Report!” And have someone there to tell me what’s wrong. Elizabeth may humor me on this one.
One of the most surprising things since becoming a full-time RVer, has been the response by folks when they learn what we’re doing. So many claim we are living the dream, which I remind myself often of while I’m emptying the grey and black water tanks. Most have questions about how we deal with basics like how we get our mail, decide where to stay, work and run a business on the road. Unlike a good chunk of folks who do this, we’re not retired. Pulling in an income is still a necessity, and one that we’re adapting to this lifestyle. Luckily, we were already running our own business, and with the Internet and cell phones, it wasn’t a huge leap. I travel a lot for work as it is, but a good bit of our income is still linked to South Florida. Uncoupling our dependence for physically being there has been a goal we’re still figuring out.
Meanwhile, we continue to spend much of the year in Florida, which really isn’t a bad thing, especially during the winter months. Thing is, The Sunshine State is a bit too popular with RVers during those colder months, which makes being a spontaneous nomad tricky, forcing us to plan and book campsites far in advance. At least for more desirable campsites, as we learned this past February when we had to stay in three different campsites around Orlando, cause RV parks book up and can’t always accommodate us for longer stays. This means we have to move when we really may not want to, or when it’s not altogether convenient for us.
Working the whole campsite booking game has become an exercise I have a love/hate relationship with. I enjoy the challenge of finding an awesome campsite, but sometimes it can be a real pain just to end up at a crappy site near where we’d like to be. Elizabeth tried to help and assist in this area once when I was really busy, and it didn’t go well. There was crying. She just wasn’t aware of all the methods I’ve developed to find RV sites. Depending on the area, type of RV park or campgrounds, length of stay, and a number of other factors, there’s a variety of resources I use to find and book campsites. ReserveAmerica.com & AllStays.com (along with their apps) are just the jumping off points. By the end, I’ve read reviews; studied Google Maps’ satellite imagery; gathered elevation and climate data; and assessed campsite stats for cost, space, clearance, views, hook-ups, potential discounts & points earned; proximity to airports in case I need to fly to a gig as well as cellular signal and DISH TV accessibility. I definitely prefer booking online when I can, especially since I’m often looking for campsites during my downtime at night. But with many campgrounds and RV parks, you just have to call and talk to someone. In the end, there’s just nothing like scoring the perfect, leveled, spacious campsite, with an scenic view, at a great deal that’s easy to pull in & out of without having to unhitch the tow dolly, access to fast WiFi and/or cellular data, hook-ups that are a cinch to connect and dumping tanks is just a simple opening and closing of the valve drains! That’s good stuff! Despite my efforts, we don’t always end up in ideal campsites. But that’s one of the perks of this lifestyle. We’re not stuck in undesirable sites for too long and there’s always the next campsite to look forward to.
Now that I've broken the ice with this blog rambling that took me way too long to write, I'll be more diligent to write more often. As I wrap this up, Elizabeth and I are sitting in The Mighty Thor up in the Colorado Rockies just west of Denver at a KOA campground overlooking the gambling town of Central City on this snowy day, cozy & comfy. We’ll be here for a month before we move further west towards Aspen and Grand Junction, then into Utah, up to Idaho, Wyoming and South Dakota for the summer. Not sure where we’ll go after that, we just know there’s a campsite waiting for us back in Florida for the winter months.
Blog entry by Al Rodriguez
It’s been a while since we’ve posted a blog. Mostly, because we were in the same park for three months (John Prince Park, Lantana, FL), and just too caught up in the daily routine of our normal lives to truly enjoy the “RV Lifestyle”.
We’ve been in Florida since the beginning of October, and had planned to stay through the end of January. Due to our business, it’s more profitable for us to be in South Florida during these months. Al usually has many jobs that have him traveling all over the nation the rest of the year, and we were going to use these jobs as a road map of sorts to plan our travels for the year. But our calendar has not filled up for the year to show us which direction to head. That keeps us very tied to South Florida (where the money is).
In my heart of hearts, I want to be out west. Ideally, spend a month in Arizona before it gets too hot, a month or more in Utah, a month in Colorado, etc. But we just can’t force these things to happen. Whenever we do try to force it, our guides throw up a minor road block. So, we stay put and play the wait-and-see game. The problem with this game is that many favorable campsites in Central and South Florida are fully booked October – Easter. So we were unable to extend our stay at John Prince Park after January 31st. That sent us north to the Orlando area for the month of February. But due to limited availability, we’ve had to park hop this month.
This has been a very elegant lesson in surrendering and flowing. Our situation makes it hard to have firm plans. And we run the risk of great camp sites being fully booked during peak seasons throughout the US. Not having a plan is a bit of a stress factor for me. We try to be proactive where we can. We have already booked our South Florida campsite for Oct. 2018 – Feb 2019 in the Broward County area. We chose this over John Prince (Palm Beach County) because it is more central to working jobs in Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach. It felt like I was driving from Palm Beach to Miami three times a week last season!
At this point, we do not know what the Universe has in store for us March – September. It is exciting because, quite frankly, the Universe is always gifting us with surprises. And it is nerve wracking because we want to stay in nice places.
HIT OR MISS CAMPSITES
We knew that this first year was going to be a huge learning curve. We’d figure out where we like to stay so we can go there again, and learn what to avoid. You cannot always choose your campsite. You may be planning to stay at a beautiful park for three months, and hate your campsite. And there are many factors that contribute to a site being good or bad. You may be able to choose your exact campsite in advance based on a map, but you really don’t know what it will be like until you are there. The site we’re in right now is a dirt pit, but the ones all around us have lush grass. I hope we don’t try to exodus from here during the rain, because we may get stuck in a mud hole.
Some parks will resonate with you more than others. I felt so much more peace and joy once we left South Florida and got into the Orlando area, but I do not like the campground we are in for the next three weeks. It’s our fist time staying at an Encore / Thousand Trails park. There are many people who live here year round, and it’s a weird mix of campground and trailer park. It has a very different feel from the KOA’s we’ve stayed at the past few weeks. (I LOVE KOA’S!)
This lifestyle, especially if you are moving around a lot over the course of a year, can keep throwing you into different extremes, vacillating between “I love where I live” and “I hate where I live”. Luckily, you won’t be there too long. But this extreme is the difference between me wanting to go out and play, and staying inside and hiding.
MOVING DAY – ARG!
If you do find yourself moving around a lot, you may want to think about a simple rig set-up. We have a 38 ft. bus, with a tandem tow dolly in the back that adds and extra 10+ feet once the car is on the dolly. Because the dolly is so large, this usually means we cannot navigate the park with the dolly attached to the RV, and must store it in the overflow lot. So aside from our normal prepping (bringing in the awning and chairs, disconnecting the hoses and power, etc.), we have a huge chore dealing with the dolly and car that looks something like this:
Needless to say, moving day can really take ALL DAY, even if you are just going to a campground a few miles from where you were originally.
When we were planning for our trip to Burning Man in 2016 with our little trailer camper, my sister-in-law said “It’s only as complicated as you make it”. Wise words. Are we making this too complicated?
We love to travel, both abroad and within the USA. Quite frankly, we can’t believe how much we have gotten to travel and see this year, and there’s still two months left in the year, with a Thanksgiving trip to Colombia and a Christmas cruise planned.
When we lived in the house, it always seemed that we returned from a long foreign trip to something that needed repairs, usually the AC. We had a lot of trepidations about leaving the RV for two weeks. Will it be safe? Will it be painfully obvious that we’re not there, making it a target for break ins? We’re on the beach, will a wicked storm or hurricane hit the area while we’re away? We didn’t realize it when we checked in to this campground, but they have a rule that no campsite or RV may be left unattended overnight. Opps! Will they tow it? They mentioned that they may be changing the gate code soon. Will it get changed while we are away, making it difficult to get in and forcing us to explain that we’ve been gone for two weeks?
We got home at 2am. Code at the gate worked fine. RV still there. No notices on the door. All is well… or so we thought. The temp went down to 49 degrees that night, so we opened the windows and went straight to bed. It wasn’t until the morning that we realized some things were amiss. There was no power going to the microwave, refrigerator, heater, or any of the outlets. I think Al made about a dozen calls or more in two days time trying to figure out how to fix this. It would be the first time using the extended warranty insurance, and we weren’t certain about the process. But the biggest frustration was that every repair shop was completely booked for the next 5 weeks, and independent repair techs were too overwhelmed with work to even answer their phones. WTF? Why is everything so booked? Seems that many people received damage to their rigs during the hurricanes. But you would think a full timer could get in ahead of people who use their RV 2 months a year for vacation.
Calls to the Thor manufacturer gave us some guidance that it may be the automatic transfer switch based on the symptoms. We were able to get the fridge to work off the batteries when we turned on the inverter, but still minimal or no power to most everything else. We finally got a highly recommended repair tech on the phone who offered us some suggestions (he was also too busy to come out and help). Following his guidance, Al turned off the inverter and the unplugged us from shore power. He placed the RV in “Store” mode, and flipped all the circuit breakers a few times. He then flipped the switch on the shore power external box a few times before plugging it back in. Abracadabra! The RV came back to life! It took some time for the power to reach all the outlets, but they finally did.
In the house, Al tended to stress more about repairs and the cost. In the RV, he has a very different mindset. He is willing to learn and understand the intricacies of the unit. It is so very different than maintaining a house, and I still find it a bit daunting, but Al has thoroughly embraced it. I have nightmares that I have to unhook the unit, get the dolly hooked up, load the car, and drive cross country with it all on my own!
We are also learning that critters find every nook and cranny to get in here. While Al was on his fourth or fifth call for repairs, I started unpacking and putting stuff away when I came across a large ant colony that had made a nest in my wardrobe closet. It looked like Aliens Covenant happened in there while we were away. Sigh. Truth be told, it could have been worse.
Patience is needed, and a willingness to learn. It helps when you are truly embracing the lifestyle. Be willing to get hands on, and do some research into repairs. The freedom outweighs the challenges.
Our first full month as full time RV’ers was a jam packed adventure. We put 3,359 miles on the Mighty Thor, and drove through 14 states, and stayed in 8 of them. All those miles taught us a lot.
Stay safe! See you on the road!
It has definitely been a non-stop first month, which really needs to be covered in full in another post. Right now we are looking at a beautiful lake scene in Hermitage, Tennessee. This was not a planned stop when we took off in August. We were actually suppose to head back to Jupiter, Florida on Wednesday, with the plan to spend 2 weeks there before going to Cape Canaveral and eventually Palm Beach till January 31st. But then the threat of Irma became very real. So instead of heading home, because let's face it, Florida is home for us, we came to Tennessee instead. We could have gone anywhere, or just stayed in Virginia, but Al has a 2 day conference in Nashville next week, so it seemed like the logical choice. That logical choice may have put us right in Irma's path based on the 5 day outlook, but by then it should be a Tropical Depression. We've been through so many of those in our years of Miami living, and we're not too worried. But we've never been in one while living in an RV. Not sure if we are underestimating the severity. But Al has to be here regardless to work those days, and I'm not confident enough to move this bad boy on my own.
We downsized tremendously when we took that leap to full time RV'ers, with only a 5x10 storage unit. Not much in there that would devastate us if lost, but my car was still in Florida. We bought a plane ticket so that I could fly down and drive it out on Friday, but we started to worry that the traffic getting out of Florida would be at a standstill and gas would be hard to find come Friday (36 hours before the storm). So I called my friend to find out what her evacuation plans were. She had none at the moment and didn't know what to do. So I told her to pick up my car and drive it out of there on Wednesday. Traffic was pretty bad then too, but it gave her an exit plan in a safe vehicle and a place to stay to weather out the storm. As small is this RV is compared to our house, I knew we'd have house guests, and she wasn't the first one!
At this point, we really don't know where we are going next, or when. We have reservations in Cape Canaveral, but how much damage will that area receive from Irma? Al has a job in Atlanta for a day. Maybe we'll just head that way and hang out in Atlanta until the parks in Florida are ready to receive guests again. We're willing and able to be flexible. The beauty of living in an RV full time. We feel as if we dodged a bullet and had divine guidance that led us to sell our South Florida home so close to the water and get out while the getting was good. We're grateful that we won't have to worry about the clean up or damage to our homes and lives. But so many people that we love are still there, and we do not wish to see their lives be negatively impacted by this. The wait for them is the worse, not knowing if you are getting a direct hit, or how bad it will be. We are praying for them and staying in touch.