They say that getting there is half the fun. But when you hate driving your RV, it’s no fun at all.
They say that getting there is half the fun. But when you hate driving your RV, it’s no fun at all.
Hoo boy – it’s been a month of mishaps. Is Mercury in retrograde or something?
A couple of weeks ago our much anticipated high-speed internet was finally installed. It lasted two whole days before we ripped the cable off the house with the RV.
Yeah, the cable guy hung the wire too low and it snagged on the roof of the RV the first time we passed underneath.
A simple, no-tech explanation of all that electrical stuff in your RV.
(30 Amp Motorhomes)
You usually don’t think about the power in your home too much. Just plug in an appliance or flip a switch and everything works. It’s unlimited power, courtesy of the electric company.
But an RV is different. They are much smaller systems, have multiple power sources, and each has limitations. Basically you’ve got a little power plant on wheels.
Managing your RV power use is important if you don’t want a failure. This means every time you flip a swiitch or plug something in you need to know what power system is being used. Where is the power coming from? How long will it be until that power is depleted or gets overloaded?
So before you let that ceiling fan run all day or plug in a coffee pot, let’s be sure you know what’s giving it juice.
Got a new RV? If you’re hitting the road for the first time there’s a few essential RV accessories you should bring along.
These are the necessary items the dealer didn’t bother to tell you about, but other campers surely will. Or, like us, you might figure it out after a few misadventures.
LIFE ON BOARD – PART TWO
There’s more to traveling in an RV than you might imagine.
And because nobody ever talks about the little, stupid stuff you have to
go through, this series documents exactly what it takes to…
Hit The Road
Yay! It’s travel day. We’re up early and will be on the road by the crack of Ten. Yup, that’s just how it happens. Doesn’t matter what time we roll out of bed, it’s always ten o’clock when we head down the driveway.
There’s a last-minute flurry of Do Not Forgets to round up – the dog’s tie-out cable, food and water for the three cats we’re leaving behind, deadbolt all the doors, set the alarm. Got your wallet? Oh wait, I forgot the GPS. And on and on.
Once the coach is unplugged from the garage and rolled out of its carport it’s time to load the motorcycle on the carrier rack. It’s a two-person job, and even though we’ve done this a hundred times before it’s still a challenge to heave the bike up the ramp and secure it with a system of ratcheting tie-downs. A final wiggle back and forth to check the straps and I’ll habitually ask, “Is that tight enough?” To which Tim always replies, “Same as ever.”
And with that, we’re off.
Making it down our own driveway is the most nerve-racking part of the whole day’s drive. We have a quarter-mile gravel road with plenty of potholes to bounce over, a blind curve around a limestone cliff that looks like you’re going over the edge, and low-hanging limbs we have no way to trim without extensive scaffolding. Then there’s the turn onto the blacktop road that always elicits shrieks from the passenger because from that seat it looks like the back wheels are headed into the culvert.
Whew! Glad that’s over with. Now…where are we going?
Regardless of our travel direction we’ve got to take the main state road out of town. It’s a heavily used byway that has become a really bumpy ride, and it only takes a couple of miles before something we’ve forgotten to secure takes flight. Drawers slide open, a soap dish bounces off the counter, the shampoo bottle crashes to the floor. Yikes! What was that? Oh, I forgot to pack away the [insert random object here].
Unhook seatbelt. Walk down moving aisle like a drunken sailor. Secure [random object]. Return to seat. Buckle up. Repeat as needed.
The pets travel with us. Well, just the dog and parakeet actually. The three cats remain at home in the garage with a giant bucket of food, multiple sleeping accommodations, and frequent visits from the neighbors. And while the cats always seem glad to see us when we return, there’s an unmistakable look of dismay when they realize the dog is home, too. Oh. You brought that thing back.
Coco the dog has a couple of preferred travel positions; lying on the floor looking out the special patented Thor Pet Window© or curled up in the passenger’s lap. She’s a good traveler. Hardly complains and mostly just naps the hours away. Which means that by the time we stop for the evening she is primed to party while we are ragged and ready for an adult beverage.
The parakeet, Billie, has a small travel cage and rides in the kitchen sink. It’s the only place he won’t bounce out. Coming through customs from Canada several years ago the agent came aboard and asked if we had any animals. I pointed to the dog at my feet and causally mentioned there was also a bird in the sink. He rolled his eyes as if we were the stupidest Americans he’d seen all day. Back then Billie the Bird was in love with the screen door on our old motorhome. In humid weather the door squeaked and squawked and Billie would spend all day trying to have a conversation with it.
We take turns driving, Tim and I, usually in two hour shifts. By then we’re ready for a pit stop and a stretch of the legs. Maybe a snack, too. If we’re on the interstate we might pull over at a rest area (I have an app on my phone that lists all the rest stops) or we’ll look for a truck stop. We like to fill the tank when it gets to the half-way mark and that has saved our bacon more than once, like in a 6-hour traffic jam or out on the lonely stretches of Wyoming desert.
We prefer Flying J truck stops (there’s an app for that, too) because many have special RV islands that are easy to pull into. If we’re traveling the back roads, which is pretty often because state parks are always in the middle of nowhere, then we’ve got to search for a local gas station that can handle this beast. It’s not easy to find. Either the pumps are pointed in the wrong direction, or the turn is too tight, or the station is too crowded. Making matters worse, Thor opted to place the gas cap on the ass end of this RV, meaning we need to pull ALL the way forward at the pump, usually blocking all other pumps and half the exit aisle. Why they didn’t put the gas cap on the side like every other vehicle on the planet is yet another mystery known only to the inscrutable Thor engineering team.
Because we have packed food for eight in the RV we are well equipped to lunch on the road. So of course we eat at McDonald’s. Or Subway. Or whatever fast food chain has attached itself to the truck stop we just pulled into. Tim will get the gas pump going, I’ll walk the dog in the slim, littered margin of weeds, and then a hot meat sandwich will be consumed at our dinette. Usually this involves extracting ourselves from the gas island and maneuvering to a seedy parking area between semis. Wash up with some of that water we’ve been lugging around and we’re on our way again, with a change of driver.
Yikes! What was that? Oh, I forgot to put away the [insert lunch object here].
Out on the road it’s Driver’s Choice of entertainment. Could be the radio, talking books, or Coast-To-Coast podcast. But mostly just chatting. We do a lot of planning and scheming on long road trips. Solve world hunger, plan our next million, play road bingo. Important stuff like that.
We like to keep our travel days to five hours or less of road time. Beyond that and we get a little punchy and start whining for that kidney belt. Actually it’s a comfortable ride, but 250 miles a day is about our limit. And we’re slow. Really slow. Like lines of traffic behind us on a country road slow. Out on the interstate our top cruising speed is 62 mph. Not that the engine won’t handle more, it’s just hard to keep a big, tall rectangle centered on the road at wicked speeds. So we take our time and try to tuck into a campground around 3:00-4:00 in the afternoon. Then there’s plenty of time for the dog to romp and have that adult beverage.
Life On Board – Part One
I’m a bit of a voyeur – I follow a bunch of RV blogs to see what they’re up to. What interests me most is not the destinations they describe so floridly, nor the swanky restaurants documented down to the last bite. Instead I snoop for details – the everyday bits that are truly life on the road; laundry, cooking, sitting around at camp, passing time on those endless driving miles. The boring stuff. Because it’s these in-between moments where life is really lived. All the small stuff that happens along the way is what makes RV travel so unique.
So for all the other Peeping Toms out there, here’s a tour of Life On Board that rarely gets documented.
Prepping For a Trip
Our RV is really a second home. It has its own linens, pots and pans, and groovy outdoor furniture. Everything is permanently packed so all I need to do is load in clothes and food. Easy, right? Yet somehow it manages to take up the whole dang day.
I may have discovered a rift in the Space/Time Continuum where two hours stretches into twelve.
I try to plan and organize but it hardly helps. After consulting the weather map we make piles of clothing to pack. How cold will it be? Okay, I’m taking sweaters. Oh wait, the forecast just changed to 80 degrees. Add shorts and tee shirts to the pile. Hold on, now they’re predicting storms, so toss in a couple of jackets. Eventually most of my wardrobe ends up in the travel pile and I’ve got nothing left to wear in the meantime except a formal ball gown.
Our camping food supply is also carefully calculated to feed the Third Army. Cases of soda and water bottles. Dry goods like rice and noodles. Do we need paper towels? Lemme check. How about snacks? Chips and nuts? More bags get added to the pile. Of course there’s also the fresh food provisions waiting to be shuttled to the RV. Our big Frigidaire is loaded and it’s like a giant game of Tetris to cram it all into an 8 cubic foot fridge in the motorhome. Lessee, if I turn this box sideways I might be able to squash a bag of salad in here…
All this food gets packed in the coach because in the back of our brains we are sure there are no other grocery stores in the rest of America.
Actually, this obsessive habit with food is left over from our backpacking days. When you’re hiking for a week in the wilds of Appalachia there really are no grocery stores. Everything you want to eat goes with you. So we’ve clung to this mindless routine of packing a ton of food in the RV thinking, hey, we might go hungry!
Pre-Flight Check List
The day before departure is rather hectic and more complicated by wearing that ball gown, my last piece of clothing available. Morning starts by plugging in the coach to a 30 amp outlet on the side of the garage. This gets all the systems running including the refrigerators. There’s the main kitchen fridge and also a second half-size one outside. That’s an over-kill feature but it came standard with this Thor Ace model, so we might as well use it.
If I’m feeling ambitious I’ll wash the coach with an elaborate hose and wand system. That involves standing on a ladder while grabbing the slippery soap-filled wand with one hand and flailing the heavy hose around with the other hand. Water and soap ends up pouring down my head, so I finally have to give up the gown for a bathing suit. If I have any energy left after battling the hose I’ll give the inside a good sweep. We found a tiny RV-size vacuum and there’s always little piles of sand and camp dirt in the corners to round up. Even though there isn’t a lot of floor space to sweep, I manage get hot and sweaty every time.
Next task is to fill the fresh water tank. It holds 50 gallons of water, which we recently found out is enough to last six days of camping if we take fast showers and don’t turn on the tap too much. The RV gurus will tell you to travel with your water tank empty for better fuel economy – in our case we’d be 400 pounds lighter – but I’m just not comfortable doing that. Too many times we’ve had to change plans mid-transit or got caught in a giant traffic snarl where supper was cooked on the side of the road.
Also I’m pretty picky about using my own potty rather than taking a chance on how Bubba cleans the restrooms at the Redneck Gas & Ammo Stop.
Oddly the fill cap for fresh water is on the passenger side of the vehicle, which is convenient for our hose location at home but nowhere else. Plus it’s located about 5 inches over my head, so another soaking usually happens here.
And now a small rant for the Thor engineers…
Well now it’s mid-afternoon and so far all I’ve accomplished is getting sweaty and soaking wet a couple of times. Our clothes and food still need to be loaded, and here’s where the Space/Time Rift usually kicks in – two hours of packing the RV has stretched into twelve.
Alert Stephen Hawking…we’re on to something here.
The producers of RV and Boat Shows are clever. Very clever indeed. They schedule the big consumer shows in the dead of winter, when us outdoorsy types are deep in throes of cabin fever, itching to play in the sunshine with our motor toys.
Just look at the parade of folks shuffling around in their camo pants at the RV & Boat show, with skin as sallow as a salamander and eyes glazed over dreaming of summer. And every year I’m one of them. Well, except for the camo pants, of course.
Usually I have no trouble dodging Show Fever – that nagging urge to buy something new and glossy with a big motor in order to thwart the winter doldrums. Shoes usually do it for me – it’s a less expensive fix for my sagging mood and typically doesn’t require a bank loan. And Tim is even less susceptible to Show Fever than I, being infinitely more sensible and far less vulnerable to shiny things that cost as much as a nice-size house.
Well, there’s always the exception to the rule.
This year Tim fell in love with the new Winnebago Brave motorhome. It’s a retro-looking reissue of the 1960’s version with a clean, contemporary interior. Outside it’s a big square box on wheels including the iconic eyebrow over the cab.
As anyone with a boat, RV, or even a motorcycle can tell you, you’re always planning for your next rig. The one you’re gonna buy after you’re through with your current model. Usually the trend is to go bigger and better. Move up in class. Get more features, more room, more power, more expensive.
Our Flying Mantis is a Class B+ motorhome. It looks like a passenger van on steroids. The brand is Coach House, which is a boutique manufacturer of luxury models on a small chassis. We love it. It’s swanky inside and out, and extremely easy to drive and park because of its compact size. Strangers often marvel and say, “You could take that anywhere!” And we have.
But with a smaller size RV you’ve got to give up something. There’s only so much you can cram into a vehicle 26’ long. So our model doesn’t have a dedicated bedroom. Instead, the sofa jackknifes into a queen-size bed which most of the time is not a detriment. But once in a while I’d like to take a nap away from the noise of the TV and bustle of the kitchen.
So I always had in mind that an upgrade to a Class A would be the next logical step. Class A motorhomes are built on a bus chassis, and have a bedroom separated from the living room area. Tim, on the other hand, seems immune to the upgrade wannabes. He doesn’t like the Class A’s. Too big, he says. Too hard to park. Trickier to drive and back up. Can’t get into the little state parks we love to visit. All in all, he’s a-gin’ it.
So imagine my surprise when he spots the Winnebago Brave and squeals like a pre-teen at a Beiber concert. It’s the first Class A he’s ever liked. Ever hinted at considering. Which made all the salesmen salivate and stick to us like bees on honey BBQ.
We spent too many hours inside the Winnebago Brave, and whipped up way too much excitement from the salesmen – they thought they smelled a fresh kill. At last we departed for the parking lot and a chance to calm down.
The next morning, in the cool, clear light of day, the fever had passed. Whew – that was a close call! Next year I’ll bring along some antibiotics and a jug of ice water. Maybe that will chill out the Show Fever!
Eeeek! A mouse!
Out at the farm there are many creatures looking for a meal and a comfy place to den. We have fox, coyote, ground hog, skunk, raccoon, rabbit, and squirrel who poke around under porches and in barns looking for good opportunities.
But the most persistent critter is the unstoppable Field Mouse. A creature so devious and cunning that no amount of preparation on our part can prevent his unwelcome entry into our living spaces and cupboards.
I’m not talking about the small black mouse that daintily pads about on tiny feet in city homes. Nor is it the gentle grey mouse who occasionally wanders from the woods to inspect the depths of a garage or shed.
No, sir. The Field Mouse of the farmland is a formidable opponent. This large brown rouge is wily and tenacious. He will find the slimmest crevice to squeeze through and will set up house and raise two generations before you even know he’s there. No ordinary bait can thwart the Field Mouse. He’s far too clever to fall for such sophomoric tricks. And he easily defeats any attempt to snare him. We’ve tried every device the hardware store sells – snapping traps, whirling traps, glue traps, and contraption traps. Nothing works against this crafty creature of the countryside.
So it was with great dismay that after parking the RV at the farm, I found the unhappy evidence of larcenous entry in less than a week. The countertop was peppered with droppings and a bag of dog food left carelessly on the table was neatly chewed in half, most of the contents missing.
This can mean only one thing…WAR! It’s on like a pot of neck bones, Mr. Mouse!
Once again I was in the aisle at Lowes scrutinizing the mouse traps with some embarrassment, as if they were adult movie rentals. Nope tried that one, nah this one didn’t work, oh that one was terrible…
And then I saw Shake Away’s Organic Mouse Repellent. Each bag contains four little packets of Herbs N’ Stuff. They claim that mice hate the smell and one packet is enough for a whole basement.
I put 8 of them in the motorhome.
It’s been three weeks and I haven’t seen any more signs of intrusion. And the coach has a pleasant minty smell lingering in the air. I’ll be buying more of these miracle packets. And possibly stock in the company!
Among the many reasons we are heading to the farm for full-time living is the luxury of having all our vehicles in one place. For several years we’ve been performing a highly choreographed maneuver of juggling cars, trucks, motorcycle and the RV around our tiny driveway at the city house. Only a couple of vehicles can be parked there at the same time, and the inconvenience comes with living in a suburban neighborhood. Not to mention the substantial cost to store the RV under cover at a warehouse 5 miles away.
But out in the county, with 125 acres at our disposal, we can park any old darn thing we want, anywhere it pleases us. There’s nary a neighbor in sight to complain, there’s no bylaws or ordinances to comply with, and nobody gives a hoot what you do on your own property as long as it doesn’t disturb the livestock or pollute the well.
So we had a 40′ RV carport erected next to the garage last month. A team of busy Mexican guys swarmed about and had the structure up and ready in one afternoon.
And this weekend was the inaugural parking ceremony, which consisted of a slow, cautious drive inside and a lot of standing around saying, “Ain’t that swell!”
Bonus points if you noticed the garage was painted a new color!
This year we find ourselves with an abundance of real estate and properties. The City house, the Farm home, the Cabin, and of course the RV. It’s a bit too much to take care of and maintain. Not that we ever did it extremely well in the past, but adding the farm house to the list has really put a burden on us. Especially since the two residential homes are 50 miles apart.
So after much discussion and gnashing of teeth, a decision was made to sell the city home and renovate the house at the farm. It’s been a tornado of activity since May – coordinating contractors, emptying houses, making hundreds of decisions and calculating budgets. And of course prepping the city home for sale.
Which leads me to the Other, Other Home.
When our house is being shown by the realtor we have to vacate the premises for a couple of hours and bring the dog along with us. Not so bad when the weather is cool, Shadow and I can go walk around a park. But in the heat of the summer nobody is comfortable hanging around outside, and there’s no air-conditioned establishments that would welcome a big smelly dog indoors.
So we head over to the storage unit where the RV is parked, picnic basket in hand, and crank up the AC. The dog stays cool and comfy. I’ve got the TV on in the background and the microwave humming. It’s just like home. Well, just like one of our homes anyway!