Thursday, December 14, 2017

Catching up?

We are settled for a month in Vidalia,  LA.  We're taking a little time to see whether we want to maintain the blog since we haven't for 6 months!

It SNOWED!  One of us might have been excited.
We continue to use Instagram daily and have been testing using You Tube.  So hopefully we'll decide in the next week or so.   Or not!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Nature, friends and brews

5/30/2017 - 6/16/2017 
Bend Area

On our trek north to get ever closer to home, we first stopped at Collier State Park near Klamath, OR.  It had full hookups although we couldn't reach the water spigot so we had to buy a longer hose!  Basically we felt like we were back to camping again with kids, campfires, and dogs but also really nice and mostly quiet.
Collier State Park
It also rained so we felt like home!  
We did a lot of miscellaneous shopping since we'd been away from larger cities for awhile.  Since it was rainy, we binge watched Dark Matter on Netflix and just generally relaxed.  We enjoyed a side trip to Crater Lake and Klamath Falls fish hatchery (which was super fun).  Crater Lake was so different with all the snow!  We were glad we saw it for the first time a few years ago without the snow but it was fun to see it piled so high around the lodge and visitors center etc.

So strange to walk among the
tops of trees at Crater Lake
Love the lodge at Crater Lake.
And a fire just makes it!

So odd to see it with snow all around!

We took this picture last time we were here when there was
no snow.  Now I just have to find it!

Pat had fun testing his drone taking shots of our campsite in Bend.
We were among the trees where you can't hang a hammock (not bitter)
On Friday June 2nd, we moved to Bend Thousand Trails (our first time there) and found a really great spot with tall trees and limited views of other campers!  But horror of horrors, they had a rule about hanging things from trees (including hammocks) so someone was really pretty put out when I informed him of this rule.  He'd already had it halfway up (one of the first things he did when setting up camp!).  We also had trouble getting satellite of which we only cared about 110 because it provides the locals.  I didn't mind but Pat said he just doesn't feel settled unless that working properly!   AND the site only had water and electric so halfway between our two week stay, we had to dump the tanks which is basically like a move day!  We did see two deer in our spot when we pulled in and three squirrels jumping from tree to tree chasing each other.  Oh and a bunny later on.  It was time for laundry again so we did that on our travel day (and later before we left again!).

Wonderful hike to the falls with friends from home. 
We were thrilled to see our dear friends from home on that Saturday.  They had planned this trip much earlier and when we discovered that, we moved up our schedule so we could meet them.  We had a  full day of hiking (Bendham Falls and picnic lunch), brewpubs (Atlas Ciders and Riverbend brewery) and a home cooked meal of steaks and baked potatoes at the place they were staying.  What a GREAT day!

"Home" chores - reworking the tech cabinet.
We used this two week period in Bend to just be "home" meaning we just did what we felt like each day.  Sometimes it was to go out and ride the bikes, other times to do things around the RV and other times explore scenery and brewpubs and downtown.  We made summer reservations and did calendar planning.   We got a lot done around the motorhome - reorganizing the tech cabinet and "retiring" the receiver (too big and we don't use) as well as reorganizing the freezer, sorting through scrapbook stuff (mostly toss!).  We moved the satellite a gazillion times and finally found the local channels so we could get the morning and evening news.  We binge watched another show on Netflix (Haven) and it ended the series so we can let that one go!

T-boned by a dog (who was ok!).
About $1400 damage - arghh!
One of the more memorable things that happened was we were hit by a dog (as Pat says we were t-boned!).  We are so happy the dog was ok but our car definitely was not!  We could only get the passenger door open about 10 inches... which for us is not wide enough!  Found out Bend is super busy right now after a particularly rough winter so sadly we can't get the work done here.  So we hope to do it in Vancouver when we're back there for a couple of weeks.

Pat's new toy with his "mad" money (and Ellen thinks
it is mad indeed (but totally cool video and photos!).
Our two purchasing highlights were getting Pat's drone (Costco!) and Ellen's guitar (Bryan's guitar).   Ellen had one (before downsizing!) but it was too big for travel so the new one is really small and works well!  Pat is cautiously practicing with the drone and as he says he's afraid of heights - as in too low (and hitting trees etc.!).  It will be fun to have more photos (and video) from the above pesrpective.

Another highlight during this stay was the drive (which wasn't  the good part) to Salmon Creek Church UMC where they were holding a Legacy Sunday with 5 former pastors (most of whom Pat worked with while he was Choir director there).  It was so GREAT to see dear friends and connect with family (however briefly since we drove out and back the same day!).

Pat got his VR goggles as part of picking up mail while in Vancouver and we had fun testing that out too!  It works with his Samsung 7 phone and isn't the greatest but definitely novel and fun!

Lava caves where we tried out our new Costco headlamps!
We had a lot of fun on the bikes (after we finally got a map!)
Wild Ride Brewery - always love a place by the fire!
Found this at Costco!!
Sadly only at the Bend location!
We didn't go far on this hike -
too much snow!

Beautiful scenery all around you - especially the
snow covered mountains on a sunny day!

Someday it would be nice if the majesty of the scenery
could show up in these photos!  Oh and the SMELL!!
And probably the last highlight of this stay was meeting up with Instagram friends at Bend brewery.  Great people and we really enjoyed seeing them again after an initial meetup outside of Bryce.  So much fun to exchange stories and share what led us to this lifestyle.  And share tips!

One of the many brewery stops!

Highlights:  Just being settled for awhile, visiting friends and family, this area and weather was beautiful!  Continue to love riding our e-bikes and this area (mostly) was great for that.

Lowlights:  crowded and bike riding in Bend (at least where we went) wasn't as friendly as we'd hoped.  Have to ride on the road quite a bit more than we expected (with lots of traffic) and maps and trails weren't marked as well as expected.

Another brewery!
Things we're wondering:  how do we handle mail now that Pat's aunt (who was doing it for us) will be moving away from the area.  We have to fill out a form to allow a virtual mail place to handle our mail but the form requires you to list where you live (plus your license and one other id need to match that address).  We've had at least 3 addresses within the last year PLUS we'll have the new one with the virtual address!   An none of them are where we live now!

Things we're also wondering:  How to get better at putting photos on our blog so they don't look stupid!!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

6 month on the road assessment introduction

Since I can't figure out how to put an introduction at the top of the nicely formatted Word document which is a table, here is the paragraph before we get to the official assessment in the next post!

We've actually been living in the RV since August 15, 2016 when we picked it up in Michigan but we don't consider our "travelling" to have started until we retired and left the Pacific Northwest after Thanksgiving 2016.  So this assessment is based primarily on December 2016 through May 2017.  Weather and the places we went of course would impact this assessment.  So, here are some of my (Ellen's) thoughts of our experiences so far!  For most of you this will be TLDR (too long didn't read!) but if I could tell my earlier self some things, this is some of what I would say!

6 months on the road assessment

Size matters but not as much as we thought

Because we unexpectedly love boondocking, size doesn't really matter.  Since there is so much open space, if you can drive it there, there's lots of room.  However, we do appreciate the shorter length for maneuvering in most of the other places we've been and for more choices of campsites.  And when we're back home, it will matter again since there are fewer accessible boondocking sites in Washington.  Also because we pull our toad, we don't pull off to places along a route very often because we're too long to maneuver in many roadside attractions/markets/views etc.

After all the struggles to find the perfect RV, is this the right RV for us?

So far, I think yes!   BUT I still envy smaller and simpler (like vans and small trailers and airstreams with lots of windows and no slides).  But I love the room the double slides provide in the living area of our RV where we spend most of our time when we're in camp.  But the windows are so small and have bars across them so it doesn't feel like you're "out in nature".  The only window that is always wonderful (unless you're facing the sun!) is the front window.


I also hesitate to remodel and make it our own wondering if we might decide we want something else and resale value will be impacted if we aren't careful with the changes (or even keep the original furniture).   I think we're ready to remodel (change the things we don't like) but it's so much work to figure out what we want and research how to make it happen!  So until the pain of what we have outweighs the work, I think we're staying the same for awhile!


We are loving using the economical car to make day trips with.  We can't imagine doing this in a real gas guzzler.  We spend enough on sightseeing gas as it is!


I think the biggest regret of what we ordered as options was getting the upgraded sound system because of the following:


1.       It's huge - between the receiver/amplifier and  the subwoofer we've lost a lot of usable space for something we aren't using due to the following...

2.       We don't really use it for TV and it doesn't do what we really wanted which is to bluetooth from our phones to the surround sound speakers.

3.       We often don't have hookups (to electricity) so we are using a portable battery boombox anyway and they make quite good sound.

What are some of the issues you wish you could solve or hope to solve with this motorhome?

Here are some things that I wish were different about our motorhome (not in any particular order).  Also, I don't think we'll actually change (or be able to change) some of these!

1.       Smaller TV - the current one is something like 48" and covers the whole window!  So it feels oppressive when it's up (it's on a televator - which is good!) and just feels huge for the room.

2.       Replace couch with reclining love seat for more comfortable seating but retain ability to lay on the "couch" (our couch space is pretty short!).

3.       Booth dinette is uncomfortable and sticks out pretty far.  Would prefer cupboards and rolling table with chairs for more flexibility.

4.       Better linen/pantry space - it works but all of the cupboards (or restricted openings) make it a challenge to put anything wide and/or tall  into the cupboards.  I miss having one large cupboard that is flexible to make it a space that works best for your needs.

5.       A place to put the kitchen garbage.  Because we really need the cupboard space under the sink, we don't want to remove the shelf in order to put the garbage can there.  So it sits in the middle of our very small kitchen space!

6.       Need some sort of shade for the front window to keep down the heat!  The black shade seems to attract the heat rather than block it!  We'll probably invest in an outside windshield cover.



We have travelled as quickly as nightly (rare) and as much as two weeks (also rare).  We seem to like 5 - 7 days as the most relaxing but we mostly move on as we feel like it.  Sometimes we're happy to just hang around and not worry about where and when to go next and sometimes we are itching to move along for one reason or another.  If we are paying for a campsite, we'll often only pay for two nights at a time to make sure we don't commit to longer in case we want to move on due to boredom , weather or meeting up with friends somewhere etc.  We try to average around 120 miles per move but it's often shorter than that unless we're trying to get some place faster then it will be farther.

Lonelier than we thought

Of course we knew we'd miss our family and friends.  And before we started this venture I worried how we'd make friends when we're constantly traveling.  Others (on the forums) assured us we'd make many new friends along the way.  I think that will be true some day but so far we've made a lot of "could be" friends!  But you have to be with them in order to go beyond acquaintances  and  become friends!   When we stay at Thousand Trails, we meet a lot of friendly folk - for minutes at a time then they move on or we move on.  And we often feel out of place between the "older" retirees and the young working couples or families.  Within the last month or so, we've started connecting with Instagram "friends" which has been the best because we have an instant affinity (boondocking and living full time on the road) and we can stay in touch as we each travel our separate ways and reconnect when we're close again.  Even those we haven't met in person seem like friends as you discover what you have in common and personalities are revealed in posts.

Not camping in State, County and National Parks like we'd hoped


There are four main reasons for this 1) cost of state parks (in CA/WA at least!)  2) Many were  full or closed due to snow or off-season or you have to have a reservation   3) Plenty of free beautiful boondocking spots (in the SW)  4)  When Thousand Trails is nearby, it's easier and cheaper to just use that as a home base


Because of the cost in Washington State parks, we don't think we will stay extended times there when we're back home.  You pay a premium for peak season (when we're home) and for "popular" campsites (which seemed to be all the ones we want!).

Not spending time outside in our camp as much as we thought we would

This could change as we move into summer BUT I'm surprised we don't use our camp as a living room as much.  Usually it's because of the weather or bugs but another factor is convenience.  Everything we want is inside the motorhome so you end up going In and out a lot and it's just easier to do everything inside unless you're ready to settle for awhile to read or take a nap on the hammock.  When we're travelling more frequently, it takes more time to set up and take down the outside area so we don't do that as much as well. 


And this is an odd statement - the motorhome is so high off the ground, you don't feel like outdoors is an extension of your home like walking into another room.  It's like going from upstairs living area to downstairs family room.  Hope that makes sense but it surprises me how much difference that makes mentally about your space.

Managing weather and routes and places to stay takes more time and energy than I thought!

Because we don't like to drive in heavy winds and we prefer to not go up and down mountains if another route is available and not too far out of the way, we do spend a lot of time trying to find the wind and elevations on our planned and alternate routes.  Not so easy to do!  Not to mention where should we go and what camping options are available (preferably free, quiet, beautiful easy to get in and out and has data!).   And all that is nearly impossible to research without data (now I really admire our full-time RV pioneers who did it without cell phones, email and internet!).

Boondocking is so peaceful and RV parks are not

I always knew that my "space" was important to me.  From the office to home to the RV to camping spots - I need light and nature and privacy.  RV parks drive me crazy - everywhere you look, you see white 5th wheels and trailers and motorhomes (for some reason the darker ones are easier on the eyes in nature!).


When we boondock out in the middle of no and where with a few relatively distant neighbors, the fresh air, views, birds, and quiet are so relaxing and peaceful.  Every window produces a stunning vista or at a minimum of rocks and bushes!

Not as many bugs as I feared

At least not in the motorhome.  Flies every once in awhile and same with those darn stinkbugs.  But so far no ants, minimal spiders, no earwigs, and no mice.  Mosquitos outside in some places.  And I know when we're back in the NW and other parts of the country I'll get to deal with them again!

Colder and hotter and windier than I thought

It seems like we went from unusual (much needed) rain to much colder than normal (so we're told) and straight to mid-80's and skipped the part about low 70's!  We seem to be either too hot or too cold most of the time.  But almost always it's windy!  Southwest I guess!  And season?

Managing solar with a residential fridge, 48" TV and DISH with DVR recorder and laptops and phones takes more power than we thought!

Since we've never measured this before I don't know how we could have a preconceived notion but I guess based on others stating they have all this stuff and their solar/batteries handles it great.  The problem is there are many folks with minimal electrical needs but we are on the mid to high end.  While we don't plan to use microwave or blow dryer on batteries (and we always knew A/C was not an option except on the generator), we did hope we could last days boondocking before we'd need to charge the batteries.  Now we hope to recharge them daily via sun or generator.  We don't have enough experience on the new golf cart batteries and solar (especially in the NW with all the trees) to know if daily solar/generator will work.  Stay tuned!

Solar is good!

We didn't even wait to research solar like we usually do.  We just went to a place several people recommended and said let's do this!  So as we read and learn more about the different options, we wonder if we have the right setup but we're glad we didn't wait.  If it works, then all is good.  If it needs tweaking, then we'll get it done!   Before solar, we ran the generator 2 hours in the morning and 2-3 in the evening.  Now it is quiet unless we want to use the microwave or it's been unusually cold and we've had to run the furnace a lot.  Or cloudy days!

WIFI turns out to be not as important as we thought

We wish we had purchased a cell phone booster instead of a wifi booster.  It was great at first - we would not have had wifi at several parks without it.  But over time we found many parks claimed to have wifi but it didn't reach even our booster or you had to pay extra for it or it limited the sites we could choose.  When Verizon offered unlimited data, that was it.  We now feel so much freer and relaxed about internet.  It's a tool to use when we need it instead of monitoring to see if we have enough data to do the things we needed or wanted to do.

Gas prices are great in Arizona

And bad in CA.  And probably bad back in the NW when we go back for the summer.  This is still painful to pay when the prices go way up but if we continue to budget it pessimistically then we at least won't go over budget!  Oh, and I never paid attention to gas taxes in other states before.  I recently looked at a chart and Washington is like the second highest in the nation!

More crowded than we expected

Once spring hit, we are continually surprised at how busy and crowded places are.  We're talking about the middle of the week.  Someone said "rolling spring breaks" and that was part of it but now we're at the end of April and it seems everywhere we turn there are so many tour buses and visitors from other countries.  We think it would be very quiet otherwise as we haven't run into that many other Americans traveling mid-week.

Still trying to figure out what we want for this season of our lives

We are very grateful we can have this kind of exciting and awe inspiring life to see the wonders of this beautiful country and meet so many great people.  But its hard not being back home to help family as they go through moves and trials (and joys!) of life.  And to contribute in some way by volunteering etc.  I know we've said this lifestyle allows us to go where we want when we want but in reality, the distance makes it impractical unless we stay close (and/or in one place long enough) in which case it would make more sense to live in a house in a community and make shorter trips for family or adventuring.   So, it will be interesting to see how we reconcile these somewhat  conflicting desires as we move through the retirement years! 


Friday, June 9, 2017

Lower Truckee, Donner Pass, Spanish Creek Campground, a wide spot in the road, and a Fairgrounds with full hookups

Northern California
May 22 - 30

As we left the Reno Lake Tahoe there was a decision to make…  The main highway north was 395, better road, shorter path or highway 89, the more scenic, longer and more uncertain for a motorhome path.  So of course we took highway 89.

As Washoe Lake State Park's dump station was closed due to high water we elected to go to a nearby campground and use their $5 dump station before venturing into the unknown looking for a suitable camping spot near Truckee, CA.  The dump station was on a serious downward incline.  This turned out to be a useless experience as we were only able to get rid of half a tanks worth before it stopped working.  We filled our water and were on our way.  Ended up stopping at an RV park along the way $10 to finish the job.

Empty Campground with reserved on all sites.
We had seen Little Lower Truckee Campground on our Allstays app.  It was a reservation Forest Service campground in the Lower Truckee River.  But as a reservation camp it could be full and we were only a few days from Memorial weekend.  We arrived and it was empty but had reserved signs on all the sites starting in a few days.  Reading the notice board it looked like we could stay one night, but if someone went online and reserved our spot for the next day we would have to move.  We left the Motorhome there and went in search of a Forest Service road where we could safely camp for a few days without worries of having to move early.  Low and behold we came across a Forest Service employee working in the area.  He told us we could safely stay two days at Lower Truckee but most likely not have to leave until the weekend.  This was a scenic byway and there would be no Forest Service road camping allowed.  So we setup at Lower Little Truckee within sight and sound of the river.  We never had any neighbors while we were there and the only one who stopped by was the ranger working on upgrading the potable water system.

While there we visited Donner Memorial State Park.  Learned the full story of the Donner party who
Bike ride near the Lake in Donner Memorial NP.
Donner Statue
were trapped by winter crossing the mountains and lost most of their party to cold and starvation.  I'll leave you to look up the story online, but let me just say the shortcuts are not always the best choices.  It was a great park for biking and we rode the trails near the lake and around the park.

Lower Little Truckee hammock resting.

Spanish Creek Campground.  Near the river.  
From Lower Little Truckee Campground we headed up highway 89 to Spanish Creek Campground near Quincy, CA.  Another spot next to a river.  Here we could stay until Friday of Memorial weekend.  It too was all booked up for the weekend but we could stay three days.  Long enough for us to enjoy the sights and look up near Lake Almanor for our Memorial weekend landing spot.  There were kayakers on the river that made us miss ours.  We really had no way to take them along on this RV adventure, but when you see a great place to play…   We took a daytrip up to lake Almanor and found an "interesting" place to stay.  From there we could easily get to Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Wide spot in the road camping
The place we moved to next was a Forest service road off Highway 36 near Westwood, CA.  I called it "interesting" as it was really a pull off right next to the road.  Most camping spots like this are more off the road with fire rings.  You could tell folks had used the spot for camping in the past as there was some  trash and I picked up the remnant of a broken toy around the area.  We were a little concerned that this might be a local party spot and the weekend was upon us.   The whole weekend we saw only one truck and a motorcycle pass our spot.  Unnerving at first to leave your motorhome for a daytrip in an exposed place in the middle of nowhere, but all went well.

Parking and napping space.
Stinky bubbling mudpot.
Lassen Volcanic National Park was nice but most of it was closed for snow removal.  Memorial weekend and this National Park was still moving snow around.   The Visitors Center had lots of information on different types of volcanos and videos the even featured Mt. Saint Helens eruption in 1980.  Nice to see places from home.  Despite the road being closed we could walk up to the sulphur works (stinky) and hike up the road to see the beauty of this snow covered park.
They're not finished open the road through the park.
View from the snow cleared ro

We also drove to Susanville and took a great bike
Railroad tunnel.
Honking in tunnels is a thing.  Right?
Bike and hike trail on old Railroadbed.
ride down an old railroad grade.  It ran beside a river (I'm sensing a theme here) and went through two old tunnels.  We rang our bike bells in the tunnel in lou of honking a horn.  (Everyone honks in tunnels, right?)

To finish off our northern California meander, we headed up highway 139 to Tulelake, CA.  Ok…  This may seem like a Robert Frost poem as we could have gone 395 or even I-5, but it was a beautiful drive and the sights along the way were not to be missed.

On the way to Tulelake we drove through clouds of insects.
Windshield cleaning in my future. 
In Tulelake we stayed at the fairgrounds.  Inexpensive and it did have power, water and sewer at every site.  There were half a dozen other Rvers there with us.  Most seemed to have an inordinate number of dogs.   We later found out there was a herding dog competition going on there.  Most were border collies and it was fun to see them frolicking.  The mornings also answered the eternal question: "Who let the dogs out?". From here we Visited Captain Jack's Stronghold, in Lava Beds National Monument.  Oddly enough, Johnny Depp had nothing to do with this place.  Captain Jack was the nickname of a Modoc Indian chief who fed up with the amazingly bad conditions on the reservation, returned to the tribal lands and was hunted by the US Army.  Nice hike and I have no idea how anyone could have survived in the desolate place.  There are also some nice caves in the National Monument area.  We wandered through of two of the caves.
Cave dwellers with weak flashlights.

Captain Jack's Stronghold. 
We also visited the Museum at the Fairgrounds that concerned the Japanese internment camp at Tulelake during WWII.  The camp was closed in 1946 and most of the barracks were moved to become houses for the new town of Tulelake.  One of the rangers at the museum actually lived in a former barrack.  So there was nothing to see at the real site except a plaque by the road and some of the administration buildings.  But the museum had lots of pictures and exhibits from that era.

An interesting observation on the area…   There are no gas stations in Tulelake.  We looked on Gas Buddy and found the closest gas was across the border in Oregon.  Grocery stores they had, but gas, not so much.  We took a trip to Oregon for gas and passed one of our Fairground neighbors by the side of the road with a blown tire.  We stopped and assisted.  Ellen kept watch for passing cars as the flat was on the road side of the trailer.  They headed on their way and we got our gas feeling good about Rvers helping fellow Rvers.

Next stop, Thousand trails campground south of Bend, OR.