Traveling full-time in an RV can make it challenging to keep in touch with friends. Thank goodness for the internet — email, Facetime, Facebook, Messenger, and this blog have helped to bridge the gap.
Traveling in an RV can also make it possible to reacquaint ourselves with friends from 50 years ago (Barbie and Jeff in D.C.!), to visit with Maine snowbirds in their away-from-Maine homes, and to make and foster NEW friendships along the way.
A dear friend who splits her time between Maine and Idaho caught up with me on Facebook and asked if we could get together when we came through her area. Jean suggested that we meet in the beautiful city of Couer d’Alene to have lunch and then take a boat ride on the lake. She brought along her daughter, one of her sons, and her granddaughter (all of whom I’d heard so much about). We had a ball! This part of the country is simply magnificent — we managed a short hike before lunch and even biked 10 miles on the famed Couer d’Alene Bike Trail after dinner. So good to see you, Jean! See you in Maine this summer. 🙂
While on the Arizona desert, we made friends with several couples. Lydia (a fellow Quartzsite Quilter) and Tom spend their non-desert time in their home in Helena, Montana. They were kind enough to invite to “mooch-camp” in their yard (we hooked up to their water but used our solar power) and it was terrific! We got to know them so much better—they were amazingly generous and couldn’t wait to share their beautiful part of the Big Sky world with us!
Tom took Al on an 80+ mile ride up into the mountains on his flashy new Razr (4-wheeler). What a ball they had! Even though it was early May, there was still plenty of snow up in them thar hills and that determined the length of their ride. I’m quite sure that Al and Tom will find plenty of places to explore this winter when Lydia and I are at quilting club.
(Al) We rode up to the continental divide. Beside the amazing views, it is quite something to realize that all the rain falling on one side goes to the Pacific, and on the other side it flows to the Caribbean and Atlantic.
Lydia and I had quite an adventure ourselves! Lydia couldn’t wait to show me several of her favorite quilt shops. Even though Helena is the state capital, it’s not a terribly large city. It supports a number of successful quilt shops which I found amazing.
As we drive/ride outside of the Northeast, we are struck by the speed limits. 80 mph is the posted limit in so many places! It’s not at all unusual to be able to see 40 or 50 miles ahead—little dots in front of the huge mountains turn out to be farms. Traveling 80+ miles to go out for dinner isn’t a big deal to those in Big Sky territory. Think about it: in the same time it would take us to drive back and forth between Bass Harbor and Bar Harbor, we could be nearly 80 miles away. But we don’t. When we’re pulling Rhett, we don’t go faster than 60.
We learned that the Missouri River headwaters are in Montana! The river actually begins at the confluence of the Madison, Jefferson, and Gallatin Rivers near Three Forks, Montana. We followed miles and miles of the Missouri and it was breathtaking: huge, still a bit brown with snowmelt and erosion, and marked with a number of beautiful falls where water flow is managed and electric power is generated.
Just past Great Falls, we stopped at the very impressive Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. We spent a thorough two hours learning so much more about the incredible adventurers who answered President Jefferson’s charge to check out what the U.S. had just “purchased” or was it “acquired”? This was one of many, many times on this trip where we were reminded of the very complicated relationship between the Native Americans and the white man. It took us right back to our church’s mission trip to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota some twelve years ago. It still hurts.
Tom and Lydia showed us a terrific time and we’re already talking about the next time. They say we’ve barely scratched the surface!
We are LOVING the West—South Dakota and Yellowstone NP blog entries will come in short succession here. We’re trying to catch up at a time when the driving distances can be long and we’re spending most of our time away from our computers enjoying all that’s here to see and explore.
When we first starting considering getting an RV, Al was quite excited about the possibility of dry camping, i.e., living ‘off the grid.’
I wasn’t so sure. All I could picture was Little House on the Prairie: brushing my teeth with a twig, beating my dirty clothes on a rock (while it’s raining, of course), combing baby powder through my hair every week or so, and dragging myself across the dry desert in search of an oasis.
You get the idea.
“It’ll be fun!” “It’ll save us money!” and “We can DO it!” just didn’t cut it for me.
Last year, after we’d made our purchase, but before we had taken ownership of our RV, we flew out to Arizona for one last time sans RV. Al had read extensively about a wide variety of dry camping locations, most of it land owned/managed by the US government: Bureau of Land Management (BLM), US Forest Service, Army Corps of Engineers (COE), and lots more. We wanted to explore our options.
Think of it as ‘shopping for land’ if you were building a house. Kind of.
It was late winter/early spring. We drove through some US Forest Service mudsludgewetlandslogging roads woods. We spotted a couple of campers set some distance off the road beaten path. I couldn’t see a soul. I was convinced that those RVs were set there as a come-on for would-be camping enthusiasts.
Too isolated for me.
We couldn’t find any COE areas near us. We did drive along a stretch of the Colorado River where we saw quite a few campgrounds. RVs were literally inches apart from each other. So close that you could borrow a cup of milk from your neighbor by leaning out the window — never having to leave your rig!
Too crowded for me.
We had read about Quartzsite. An RV mecca in the winter. Snowbird country. Home of a HUGE RV show (the BIG TENT) each year. Rock Capital of the World.
And desert. LOTS and LOTS of desert.
Not that Lawrence of Arabia kind of desert with blowing white dunes. No oases either. And actually a bit more vegetation than I expected.
We had read about the BLM land in Quartzsite where many snowbirds park their rigs and boondock (dry camp) for most of the winter. We stopped at the small brick building at the entrance to LaPosa West; there we found a very friendly host couple volunteering their time to answer questions and register newly-arrived campers. They couldn’t say enough about what a fabulous time they’d had in Q during this, their second winter onsite.
I remember peering out the small window. There were RVs but they were spaced at quite a distance from each other. And I saw people! In a few spots, I could see a group of 3 or 4 campers near each other—a neighborhood!
The hosts encouraged us to hop back into our rental car and drive through the area to check it out. It turns out that this Long-Term Visitor Area (LTVA) is one of a network of seven winter LTVAs across southwestern Arizona and southern California. They pointed out that the BLM area in Q comprises four large areas (LaPosa West, North, South, and Tyson Wash). AND…(drum roll please!) that there are actually a dump station, waterfills, and trash dumpsters at LaPosa South!
Maybe my teeth and hair could possibly be very happy here.
We drove into “town” and it seemed fairly peacefulquiet deserted. Turns out that it was late in the season and many of the snowbirds had left for points north. Knowing all too well about the craziness of ‘tourist season’ (summertime in Acadia National Park), we had a hunch that Q might be just the right spot for us. And all that desert!
Fast forward seven months. We get our eight solar panels installed on the RV (details in this earlier post) along with all of the thingamabobs that will sustain us electrically while on the desert.
Fast forward another six months. We recently left LaPosa South where we spent just over four months. And…WE LOVED IT!
How did we fare? Just great! We learned that:
Having nearly four acres of desert all to ourselves is AMAZING! There are literally miles of land available for camping. Having stayed at so many campgrounds with TIGHT spaces as we came across the US, camping on the desert was a dream.
Paying $180 for an entire SEASON of camping is a sweet deal. You can park on an LTVA — and move from one LTVA to another within the system in SW AZ and SO CA — from Sept 15 thru Apr 15 for just $180.
Navy showers aren’t so bad. Short and sweet.
If you are careful, you can easily go a week before needing to refill your water tank and dump your black/grey tanks.
Wiping off dishes with a paper towel just after eating greatly reduces the amount of water you’ll need for dishwashing.
Pouring your dirty dishpan water down the toilet helps to maintain the black tank.
Eight solar panels can sustain you every day! We only ran our generators 2 or 3 times across the four months we were there (and that was when we’d had two cloudy/rainy days in a row.
You can NEVER get tired of desert sunrises and sunsets.
People are very trustworthy. You can LEAVE your camper on the desert (while you fly to see your kids and grandkids over Christmas) and not a thing is disturbed.
The desert can be VERY windy and dusty; I became quite proficient at wiping down counters and windowsills frequently.
It’s easy to meet new people on the desert.
The rattlesnakes don’t reappear until very late in March.
Many, many people who spend the winter on the desert own and ride their side-by-sides, jeeps, or ATVs all over the desert.
Bicycling on the desert works best if you add an extra-thick gel seat to your bike. It’s also a good idea to wear a stretchy nylon cowl or bandanna over your mouth and nose in case a side-by-side passes by and kicks up dust.
Following the desert bloom is thrilling!
Rockhounding in the Q area is a nearly full-time hobby for many snowbirds. The Q Gem and Mineral Club has so many resources available for novice and experienced rockhounds and lapidarists including classes, use of equipment, rock/gem shows, and lots of rockhounding field trips.
Quartzsite is a hub for so many fabulous things: an incredible public library (large supported by snowbirds); a very active quilting club (my peeps!); welcoming churches; one of the best game stores we’ve ever seen; an amazing number of fairs, festivals, rallies, concerts, hobby clubs, gatherings; and best of all, some fabulous new friends who are certain to be traveling companions.
It was just right. And we’re going back next fall.
Our kids and their spouses got really creative this Christmas and gifted us with some unique experiences in the Yuma valley, about 80 miles south of where we are wintering in Quartzsite, Arizona.
Beth and Jon gave us a Field to Feast experience and what a fabulous time we had this past week! We had to be at the Yuma Visitor Center by 7:45 AM so we left our campsite just after 6 AM. It was that time when the dark of night yields to the first trace of dawn; the stars and a few planets were still visible as the eastern sky was just giving way to a hint of light.
We arrived in Yuma and were surprised to see a very large, luxurious tour bus waiting for us in the lot. We signed in and hopped onto the bus just as the sun rose in front of us for another gorgeous desert sunrise.
Mark, our tour guide, explained our itinerary for the day—our first stop would be the University of Arizona Agricultural Center where we would meet with a master gardener and a research scientist before harvesting some vegetables for the local food bank.
When we arrived at the Ag Center, the speakers hopped onto the bus one at a time and explained the gardens. Martha first told us about the variety of crops and how they’re planted in a rotation so that there is always something to harvest. The huge garden includes brussel sprouts, several varieties of lettuce including romaine, broccoli, several kinds of beets, cauliflower, radishes, carrots (including purple ones!), and lots more.
Dr. Paula Rivadeneira then hopped on board and explained that she has her Ph.D. in poop! She is an associate professor who specializes in food safety and wildlife as a cooperative extension specialist. Her main goal is to assist fresh produce growers in excluding wild and domestic animals from their fields and gardens to prevent potential fecal pathogen contamination of fresh produce crops.
Most of us on the bus were aware that the Yuma Valley was the source of the romaine lettuce recalled in the recent e. coli scare. Paula explained the precautions that are taken regularly by all the farmers in the area; food safety is the farmers’ number one priority! All farm workers are required to take safety training which is updated and reviewed regularly.
She is quite certain that the e. coli was introduced farther along the production line (the offending romaine was found in bagged salad sourced from multiple farms) when it was processed in a plant on a variety of machines and handled by a number of people.
Arizona growers can participate in a “Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement” (LGMA), which sets practices and standards for food safety. Participation is not mandatory, but nearly all growers do—competitiveness in the market demands it. If a grower participates, then the LGMA’s requirements become mandatory for the grower. The LGMA received a major update after last year’s e. coli outbreak.
Prior to harvesting, SIXTY soil samples are taken from EACH acre of the crop. Each sample is analyzed for fecal matter and other contaminants in a microbiology lab.
If any animal poop is discovered in a section of the garden, there is a five foot buffer zone established around that section; nothing can be harvested there. Scientifically, it’s proven that five feet is a sufficient buffer but many buyers opt for a 100 or even 200 foot buffer zone! She said that she wishes the buyers would understand the science and not unnecessarily waste so much food.
She pointed out that when driving by the fields, some people will stop and notice a section that the “farmer must have forgotten to harvest!” In fact, the passerby will sometime stop and grab (i.e., steal) some fresh veggies. NOPE. Farmers don’t forget to harvest an area of the garden; it’s money out of their pocket! These unharvested areas are where a fecal sample or some other problem was discovered and a buffer zone (don’t harvest!) section is designated.
Dr. Paula (as she likes to be called) talked about consumer food safety in great detail. EVERYTHING should be washed as soon as you get home from the market—yup, even that ‘triple-washed’ stuff (lettuce, spinach, etc.). She said to fill a CLEAN sink with cold water, a couple of glugs of white vinegar and a squirt or two of lemon juice. Soak everything for two minutes; run it through your salad spinner and you’re good to go! She also recommended that we clean our refrigerator shelves AND crisper drawers with the same solution.
The recommendation that we often hear to ‘wait to wash your fruits and veggies until you’re ready to eat them’ is WRONG. Wash it all as soon as you get home.
And, yes, even wash those bananas, melons, avocados, and pineapples. Whatever lurks on the skin, just travels through the fruit as we cut and slice. Interesting fact: cantelopes in the U.S. are the ONLY cantelopes in the world that do NOT have a smooth skin. The webbed skin can make it easy for ‘things’ to lurk there that you really don’t want on your food. Yuck!
Dr. Paula explained in great detail the variety of ways in which birds are kept out of the huge gardens. A range of acoustic deterrents are used including sound cannons, screamers, and shooters. Falcons and owls are used to deter small rodents; Paula is particularly excited about the falconry program! Counters (people) are used to stand on the edge of a large garden tract to keep track of bird activity and monitor the effectiveness of the deterrents.
It was time to help with the harvest! We had been told ahead of time to wear closed-toe shoes. Once off the bus, we had to wash our hands and put on hairnets and gloves. We were each handed two plastic bags and a knife–we were to write our last name on one bag and the other bag would be filled and placed into large crates for the food pantry. Yup! The bag with our name on it was for us to FILL AND TAKE HOME! And we had TWO!! What a treat!
The rows in the garden were clearly marked — we could choose whatever we wanted. We first went for brussel sprouts (we love to roast them!) and learned that they can be quite difficult to pick. We were warned to not cut off a stalk but to go for individual sprouts. If the stalk is taken the plant will not produce any more sprouts; if only the sprouts are taken it will continue to produce.
Then we found a stupendous head of butter lettuce with large leaves, just perfect for the veggie wraps we’ve been enjoying this winter. We dug up two large golden beets and a gigantic head of cauliflower!
One of the master gardeners handed us some purple carrots. We ended up with two HUGE bags full of fresh veggies that were stored in the luggage compartment under the bus along with the other visitors’ bags; what fun!
Just before we left the U of A site, a local farmer (he calls himself a “grower”) came on board to talk to us as we traveled to one of his farms; he farms more than 4500 acres and that’s considered a small farm. This is a HUGE agricultural metropolis! In fact, nearly 90% of all domestically-grown vegetables found in U.S. supermarkets this time of year come from from the Yuma Valley region.
While en route, we learned more about the irrigation systems and the effects of the petulant weather on the crops in the valley. All of the irrigation is supplied by a canal system sourced by the Colorado River. This particular grower said that fields need to be irrigated the first few days after a new crop is planted so that seed germination can take place. He doesn’t have a particular sensor system to tell him when to water as the crops grow; he goes out into the fields to check on the dryness of the soil.
The soil types in this area vary greatly. This grower’s fields have a large component of clay; it holds the water quite well resulting in less frequent waterings. We visited another (research) farm where the soil was much sandier; they have to irrigate every few days.
Too much water can be as much of a problem as too little. If there happens to be a heavy rain across a couple of days (which happened recently) and lots of wind, entire crops can be lost. Crops that haven’t made it, as well as areas that have been buffered due to fecal contamination, are just tilled back into the ground. Everything breaks down and helps to build up the soil for the next crop.
Crops are grown to order (rather than on speculation). The reason these people refer to themselves as “growers” is that they simply grow the crops; the purchaser is responsible for all of the other steps—harvesting, processing, packaging, shipping, etc.
It was fascinating to learn that broccoli is shipped by boat to Japan on the same day it is harvested. Due to a poor growing season in Europe this year, romaine lettuce from the Yuma Valley is in great demand and shipped by air to Europe.
As with all other parts of our lives, technology has radically changed farming. Tractors and other large equipment are self driving, guided by enhanced GPS (apparently the farmer still has to turn them around at the end of the rows). The irrigation systems used to bring the Colorado river’s water are gravity fed. To make this efficient, all the fields are leveled by laser as the last step in field preparation before each planting.
We arrived at one of the grower’s fields just over the Colorado River in California where romaine lettuce hearts were being harvested. This is an amazing process with the people actually picking the hearts and the people bagging and boxing them working only a few feet apart.
From the time the lettuce leaves the ground to the time it is bagged and in a box ready to be shipped to the supermarket appeared to be well under a minute!
Our guide, Mark, told us that he has been leading this tour at least once a week for three years, and he had never before been as close to the harvesting operation as we were able to get! Score!
After thanking the grower and saying goodbye, we went to Arizona Western College, for a lunch prepared by their culinary department using food from the UofA Ag Center’s garden. Delicious!
Finally, the tour went to AWC’s agricultural center. The college offers an associate degree in agriculture. Their focus is twofold: hands-on learning in the soil to complement the book/classroom learning, and doing research studies in conjunction with industry. Many of their graduates go on to complete a bachelor’s degree with a double major in agriculture and business at the University of Arizona. We were able to talk with AWC students at various stages of progress through the program, as well as one graduate of the program (and of UofA) now employed in the industry and performing research on the college’s fields.
After a very full day, we headed back home (the camper is home!) and washed all our new vegetables as instructed by Dr. Paula. Now… how to fit it all in our refrigerator???
Boondocking. It was a new word for me. Just over a year ago.
We had already purchased our RV — let the planning begin!
While we were dreaming about what might be ahead for us as we neared Al’s retirement, he mentioned (with great excitement) the possibility of boondocking. It sounded like something out of a 60’s sitcom, but I soon learned what it meant.
No hook-ups. What?!?!
So, when you camp with an RV, you can camp in a campground or state park that might have hook-ups, i.e., a spigot that you can attach (with a hose) to your camper, a pedestal with electric power (30 or 50 amps) that you can connect with an electric cord to your camper, and a septic hook-up—you got it! You hook up your sewer hose to the hole in the ground. You get the idea.
In some of the campgrounds we have visited en route to Arizona, we stayed *very* close to our neighbors. It’s not unusual, if the campground is near a tourism hot spot (a National Park, a popular city), to be lined up very close together.
Another name for boondocking is DRY camping. It can also be called dispersed camping—as you are outside of a campground. You bring your own water, provide your own electricity (if you choose to), and have to dispose of your own waste—both black (septic) and grey (shower, kitchen sink) tanks. It’s just you and your “campsite.” And lots of room.
We knew we wanted to be in the Southwest for the winter. We’d visited Arizona several times and loved it. Less than a year ago on our last trip to Arizona (before we took delivery on the RV), we drove around to check out some boondocking sites. I remember my stomach doing a little flip as we drove through some fairly desolate areas. I couldn’t help wondering…will I feel safe? Will I feel isolated and lonely? What if we run out of water? And on and on.
Al assured me it’s something he’s sure I could handle but there was absolutely no pressure. We took delivery of Rhett (our fifth-wheel coach) in April and had lots of fun dreaming about where we’d take him. Occasionally, Al would mention the boondocking “thing” and soon he started investigating solar power for the RV.
For those of you who know Al, you will understand when I say that he researches everything VERY comprehensively. He’s been a regular on the Grand Design Owners’ Forum online for over a year — and has learned SO much from SO many. As he learned more about solar and helped me to understand what it would allow us to do, we soon decided to get a recommendation for an installer.
Al already told you all about that install in an earlier post.
So, here we are now. On the desert. So what’s it like? Here are the good points:
It’s dry, dry, dry. (NO snow!)
There is lots of sunshine, but it never gets too hot. We’ve been averaging in the mid-to-high 60’s and sitting out in the sun is a pleasure. The nights are cool and we sleep with a bedroom window open. Love it.
We have been able to run everything from our eight solar panels, and haven’t run the generators yet. It’s going to be quite overcast for the next couple of days (it’s actually raining right now) so we may end up turning on the generators to keep our batteries topped off.
We have plenty of water and if we need to refill, we either drive the RV just 2/10 of a mile to fill up OR Al puts the large water bladder into the truck bed and takes it to fill.
We have a good deal of space to ourselves; Here, we’ve got several acres of desert to ourselves. It’s nice! And, as you can see, Al can fly the drone here—he’s quite happy about that.
The sunrises and sunsets have been absolutely glorious! (If you follow me on FB, you’ve probably seen my photos — it’s so hard not to share them!)
A magnificent sunrise—I took this pic from bed!
There is lots of space to ride our bikes (although some of it is a bit, um…challenging! More about that below).
The surrounding scenery is magnificent. There is so much to explore—a number of huge wildlife refuges included—yeah!
I’m sewing again—and I seem to have my cooking mojo back, too.
Black bean enchiladas with Hatch chiles. Yum!
And the not-so-good stuff:
Wi-fi has been spotty at best when camping. Luckily, my Messenger and Words with Friends games don’t use much data so I’ve been able to keep up with folks. I’ve even been able to still participate in my Maine church’s Bible Study via Facebook video. And email works, too, but on its own schedule. But forget it if you want to use the Internet—downloading or even just following a link is impossible 90% of the time. (I know—first world problem!). We’re in the public library right now because they are hard-wired for the Internet—it’s like buttah! (And this is a pretty amazing library for such a small town—we need to find out about library cards for snowbirds.)
DUST…DUST…and you guessed it, MORE DUST! I know—we choose the desert.
Biking off-road on the desert can be a bit tricky. I took another spill off my bike this week. When you’re trying to cross the desert (think: bushwacking), you never know when you’re going to hit a patch of deep sand or rocks, and those desert washes can be a challenge!
Off we go! Pretty innocuous. We’re actually on a four-wheeler track here. It’s all fun and games until you decide to cross the wash (it’s where the water collects when there’s rain—and therefore, it’s quite thick with bushes and undergrowth—and steep gulleys). Like this…
I’ve been kinda lonely. Don’t get me wrong; Al is great company! But I am missing my family and friends and this week, the desert grey-brown got to me. It didn’t feel like Advent at all. And being together 24/7…well, we all need some independent time occasionally. So Al encouraged me to take the truck and go off for the day. It was *just* what I needed! I drove 80 miles south to Yuma (just shy of the Mexican border) and it was wonderful. Flowers, large trees, lush green fields of all kinds of crops, beautiful mountains, and a huge shopping area that went on forever. It was great to see lots of Christmas decorations and it really put me more in the mood. And it was simply nice to be around lots of people. It’s a balance.
So, it’s official. We are BOONDOCKERS. And SNOWBIRDS. We’re learning how to live on the desert — and for the most part, it’s awesome!
Another rally – yay! This time we were at the Massey’s Landing RV Resort in Millsboro, Delaware. Set on the Rehoboth Bay, this gem of a campground was a perfect spot for the Grand Design Northeast Owner’s Rally (can you say white sand, lagoons, pool bar, and ice cream sundaes?). There were approximately 200 rigs and about 500 attendees; we broke a record for an owner’s rally (a rally not sponsored by the manufacturer, but organized by a community of owners).
Once again, a number of workshops were offered. We didn’t attend too many this time since they were ones we’d already attended at the Hershey RV Show last fall or at the recent Indiana rally. However, there was a really important session on RV fire safety which was sobering. A husband/wife team both of whom are firefighters shared the story of a recent RV trip they took. Upon arrival at their campsite, they discovered a drawer in their kitchen that was completely charred as were the two drawers above it! This was the results of loose batteries in the drawer that had sparked a fire while they were bouncing around while underway—yikes! You can bet that every one of us went right back to our RV to tape the ends of every battery that wasn’t in its original package — I know I did!
The best part of this rally was the new friends we made! THIS is the best part of traveling the country — meeting wonderful, interesting people who share a sense of wanderlust. We spent plenty of time sitting around the campfire or picnic table sharing ideas about modifications we’ve made to our RV, making suggestions about where to camp, and just getting to know each other. Here are some of the folks we met …
Patti and Steve have recently ordered a new Grand Design RV (their second!) and were trying to decide on what brand of truck to purchase; this is a common quandary. And RV owners are often eager to share, opinionated, pushy, overbearing, obnoxious, enthusiastic about which brand of truck to purchase. Patti had lots of questions and took lots of notes. She was looking for as many ideas, suggestions, and tips as she could. It was great fun to show her a few of the modifications we’ve already made. Steve has a wicked sense of humor and we had a great time visiting and laughing with them both!
Here are Paula and Chuck. We got to know them when we went on an evening cruise up the Broadkill River. We really *clicked* and enjoyed our time together throughout the weekend. It turns out that Paula had actually discovered us on the Grand Design Owner’s Forum online—Al’s been very active on the forum for a year and lists our address as Bass Harbor, ME. She was searching for us at the rally because they’ve vacationed in Maine, in fact in BAR HARBOR for many, many years. We had fun comparing notes (and we couldn’t help but mention that we may have a home for sale there next year!).
We went out for breakfast together and on our last evening at the rally, Paula and Chuck invited us over to their RV to watch a beautiful slide show of their walk on the Camino. They encouraged us to think about it. Paula and I have so much in common (separated at birth?) and have already texted each other a couple dozen times since we left Delaware. Such fun to make new friends!
As we travel to new places, we try to take advantage of as many new activities as we can—who knows if we’ll ever be back this way? There were several offerings at the rally (shopping trip, casino visit, and boat trips) and we signed up for two evening cruises — the first was on the Broadkill River and the second was on the Delaware Bay.
We were thoroughly entertained by some dancing dolphins!
Making new friends as we travel — it’s like finding a lighthouse out on the bay. It’s a beacon that reassures us that we’re on the right course. Full speed ahead!
They say things happen in threes. Or fours. Fives?
We’ve had very smooth sailing until now. This stop has made up for that, but we’re still laughing and smiling.
We stayed at Pine Grove Furnace State Park in Pennsylvania. The campground is about 50 years old according to the campground host. Back then the trailers were not as big as they are now, and some of the corners are very tight.
“They want us to fit into THAT space?”
The road to our site was very narrow, making maneuvering difficult. The site was very short. But with a fair amount of backing and forwarding we were able to get the trailer into position and the truck off the road.
“Ummm, Honey? I can’t find the water spigot.”
Look at the reservation slip… oops! This is an electric-only site. Good thing we have large tanks for “ins” and “outs.” But we don’t travel with the fresh water tank full because of the weight it would add, so… Ask another camper where the water access is. Hitch the trailer back up to the truck, and drive to the water. Fill up. Now get into our spot again. (Did a better job positioning the trailer this time!)
Since we plan to “boondock” (camp with no hookups at all) for a good portion of the winter, we look at this “opportunity” to use only the water we’re carrying as good practice.
We start to open the slides that turn our narrow trailer into a much more spacious (400 sq. ft.) living area.
What the…? Haven’t heard THAT before.
A small rug that we use at the sink hadn’t been put away, and is now under the slide, between a roller and success. It is about 18 inches inside a ½” slot. Our fingers aren’t that small, nor long. Cannibalize the metal handle of a fly swatter to form a dual-hooked gadget with which to snag the rug and pull it out.
Time to leave, and it rained overnight. We squeegee the rain off the slides, so it doesn’t end up inside the trailer. Wait. Why is that slide topper (like an awning over the slide, to keep leaves, etc. off the top of the slide) about 10 inches too far back? Why is that end cap missing? Why is that other end cap broken?
We have the first damage to the trailer. Did we mention that the campground was too small for our rig? We apparently clipped a tree at some point without feeling it. Two inches closer and we would have met the tree with the body of the trailer resulting in much worse damage. So… disappointed that we have damage to fix, but we’re glad it wasn’t worse.
Finally (we hope!) as we return to the truck from a rest stop we notice…
The tailgate is DOWN! Oh shoot!
We lost a few small items from the bed. Apparently one of us had accidentally pressed the tailgate release on our fob at some point.
We’re ready for a few problem-free weeks of travel now. We deserve it!
For the past several months we’ve been saying, “We’re going to a Rally!” Many people who have heard that have returned blank stares, as if to say, “What’s that?” Or, “So what?”
Truth be told, we didn’t really know ourselves. All we knew is that lots of people with Grand Design RVs would be getting together at the Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds in Goshen Indiana. It ran from Tuesday morning through Friday dinner, so now we have some answers.
Top 10 things about an (this) RV Rally
10. This fairgrounds has a really big power capacity. There were approximately 375 RVs at the rally, and all of them had either 30 or “50” (really 100) ampere power connections. Even if all of them had 30 amp feeds, that still requires 11,250 amps (@ 120V). Glad we don’t have to pay that power bill (OK, we did–through our nightly camping fee).
9. RV owners are very friendly. We hadn’t even set up our rig before we were invited over to a neighbor’s to sit, have adult refreshments, and just chat. It is fun to meet face to face people with whom you have been corresponding on the Internet for months!
8. You don’t come to a rally to be alone, or have large “campsites”. A rally is all about community, and the rigs are packed in tightly. Even so, there had to be three separate areas in which the rigs were parked.
7. It is possible to feed 800+ people at a pot luck dinner in 18 minutes! They set out 12 serving tables, and assigned every unit (RV, usually a couple) an item: main, starch, salad, dessert, etc., and a table to put it on. Then the roughly 100 tables at which we ate were each assigned a serving table. It worked wonderfully. For the first helpings you had to use the assigned serving table. For seconds (thirds, anyone?) you could go to any table–so many of us grazed and sampled a huge variety of foods.
Sorry, no pics of the potluck. We were too busy eating!
6. There is lots to do! There were seminars going all day, some purely educational, some educational about the advantages of a product (i.e., ads). But even the ads were helpful to people who are new to the hobby / lifestyle as we are. One that Al found especially useful was on general maintenance, given by an independent mobile service tech, and another one on holding tank maintenance (that stinky “black” tank, especially!), given by a person whose job is, yep, cleaning out people’s black tanks when they’ve not maintained them properly.
5. There is lots to do! Every day offered things off-site. Each day you could take a tour of the Grand Design factory, or you could take an excursion, such as a trip to a museum or shopping in a nearby town. Kathe will tell you about her Amish brown-bag tour in an upcoming post.
Each evening there were several campfires around the site. One night was storytelling, another night was s’mores.
Two young (5-ish?) girls had a great time going around to the crowd and asking if they could cook a marshmallow for them. They’d even burn it on request!
4. There are a million ways to make your RV your own. The only limit is your imagination! It was fun to be able to go through other peoples’ rigs and see how they have modified them. Some were minor touches–others were major reworkings of the interior or the inner “workings,” e.g., the plumbing.
3. There is a wealth of knowledge in the community. The air was filled with conversations about things to watch out for, ways to do things more simply, what is good to add, which tools do you really, really want to have with you (and which you can leave home–oops! too late!).
2. The service was phenomenal! To understand this, you need to know two things. 1. Driving an RV down the road has been likened to a Richter 6.0 earthquake. Things are always breaking. 2. RV “manufacturers” are to a large extent parts assemblers. They get a chassis from one company, axles and brakes from another, the refrigerator from another, water heater, furnace, microwave, etc., etc.
This rally was sponsored by our manufacturer, Grand Design, and not only did they have their service techs on site, but they also arranged for all the other companies who supply major parts to have their techs on site as well! All this service was gratis; we have no idea of the total value of all the service performed in these four days, but those service teams were busy from 7:00 AM to well into the evening every day. Thank you Grand Design and partners! We had our refrigerator serviced (it was not closing properly), and see another bit of service we got, below the list!)
1. The people who organized this rally put in an INCREDIBLE amount of work. The planning for the rally started about a year ago, and their work allowed a large rally to come off seemingly without a hitch. I’m sure that there was lots of work behind the scenes during the rally to make it seem that way. Pam and Red Beers were the main organizers (“wagonmasters”), and they were assisted by about 50 other volunteers. THANK YOU!
We got our hitch!
Small things can make us very happy. Up until now, we had been keeping our bikes in the bed of the truck in a moving blanket, with the front wheels in the back seat of the truck. Any time we wanted to take a ride (which we’re trying to do each day), we’d have to unwrap the frames and put the wheels back on. Not difficult, just a bit time consuming and a hassle. Here at the rally, we had a hitch welded on by the chassis manufacturer. (No, this part was not free!) So now, we have our bikes on the back of the trailer–easy to use and no longer taking up space in the truck.
Why we’re traveling
As we said in an earlier post, one of the main reasons we’ve taken to the road is to see areas of the US and Canada other than New England. We’re already seeing differences, at least different from the parts of NE in which we have lived.
We are in Amish country. One of the things we’ve noticed is that all the stores, restaurants, and public buildings have places to hitch up horses and buggies, in, or adjacent to, the parking lots. Here’s a Walmart parking lot!
Another difference we’ve noticed is the cloud formations are different from what we (usually) get in Maine. The cloud structures are quite dramatic, but don’t (or haven’t while we’ve been here) block out the sun for more than a few minutes! Some days we could have used the shade; we had several days that were quite hot. The afternoon clouds have been like this every day we’ve been here. Quite different from our coastal Maine low cloud decks.
Having worked at Jackson Laboratory, I couldn’t pass up this piece of garden humor at the Fairgrounds!
A certain co-worker of mine who shall remain nameless (I’m talking to YOU, Dave!) teased me for quite a while when he learned that we bought a Ford F350 “dually” to pull our rig with. “You don’t need a dually to pull an RV!” But at the rally we learned that we weren’t even trying when it came to tow vehicles. Now HERE is a real tow vehicle!
There were THREE of these at the rally!
On to the next rally!
After wending our way through Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Washington, D.C., and Virginia, we’ll be attending another rally in Delaware. It will be interesting to see how this one differs; it is entirely owner-based, without the sponsorship of Grand Design.
We have one more rally scheduled, but not until January. We’ll attend a rally in Quartzsite, AZ, near where we will be spending the winter.
One of the challenges in full-time RV’ing is storage.
Once we pared down what we’d be bringing, and then pared down again, it was time to play Tetris! How and where would we store the chosen items? How can we use our space most efficiently (and find things later)??
Some items that had NEVER co-habitated in our sticks-and-bricks home had to make new friends — and hopefully, play well together! Knives that always had their own apartment at home now had to share their digs with the small whisk,—big brother couldn’t come—the apple slicer, a single pie server, and others.
Items in the kitchen cabinets are packed in tightly (never the same way twice it seems!) to use up every last morsel of available space. Glass banging against glass? Put unbreakable items between those that could break. Some food staples in bags? Think walnuts or flour. Transfer the contents into plastic containers that stack. Cereal boxes too tall to wrestle into the top shelf easily? Cut them down so they will fit easily in a cabinet. And it’s plastic ‘glassware’ for the win!
And…probably the most helpful tool of all — the TENSION ROD.
They’re ubiquitous. They hold things in place while we travel in just about every cabinet we have. We wedge them tightly either top to bottom or across to keep things in their place. Well, they’re supposed to . . .
Sometimes you also need to think out of the box—see what I did there? Look at this great place to store toilet paper and the huge ziploc bag of laundry detergent! (Yes, we have a washer/dryer.)
All of this said, it can make it a challenge to find something you know (or think) you brought along. We’re still having to empty most of an entire shelf to find that one thing we are pretty sure is in there…at the back, of course. Hiding.
Many experienced RV’ers told us that towing your rig down the road is equivalent to an earthquake. We plan for that and wedge things so that they won’t tip over. I even got creative with some leftover rubbery shelf liner strips to protect the Corelle. Score!
And then, before we depart for the next campground on our itinerary, there are a few things we need to do. We try to remember to check that:
All cabinet doors are securely closed;
Waste baskets are emptied and placed in bedroom closet;
Bedroom closet doors are latched;
Shower head and shower doors are tightly velcro-ed in place;
Electric toothbrush is unplugged and stowed;
Counters are clear — silverware tote and the teapot are in the sink, etc.;
The microwave glass is wrapped up in dish drain pad and secured;
TV has been lowered into its cabinet;
Bathroom door is snapped open with its handy traveling strap;
No loose items are on the floor except under the dinette in a plastic tub; and
Both rugs are rolled, each secured in a bungie cord, and placed next to the dinette.
“Be careful when opening overhead compartments as contents may have shifted during flight.” Yup.
Even with the precautions we’ve taken, we’re still getting an occasional surprise when we open Rhett up after a long drive. We can be pretty sure that, if we were traveling on an interstate in really rough condition (thank you, Indiana!), we’ll find at least one cabinet open. With a few escapees who wanted a better view traveling down the road.
Looks like it might be time to install those really cool magnetic cabinet closures that we bought a few months ago. You lock them with a ‘key’ — and they’re guaranteed to keep the cabinets closed.
We’re writing this on Sunday; we’ve now completed one week of our adventure! Time flies, and so do the miles… We’ve now covered 1195 miles since leaving our house. (Kathe corrected me (Al) when I referred to it as “home.” We have our home with us.)
We cheated a little bit to get going…
Our plan was to leave early on Sunday, August 19 and go to Wakeda campground in Hampton Falls, New Hampshire. We’d get up really (really) early, and do the last steps to shut down the house: draining and winterizing all the pipes in the house.
We decided instead to do that Saturday and then find a hotel room in the Bangor area, leaving from there on Sunday morning. Good thing, too. The “draining the pipes” ceremony took much longer than we thought it would have. We would have been quite frazzled had we tried to do it all Sunday.
Wakeda is a nice, large private campground, with over 400 sites–but you’d never know it. We didn’t feel cramped at all. The road from the office at the entrance to the actual camping areas is almost a mile (you pass a grass landing strip on the property!).
Many of the sites appeared to be (multi-) seasonal with porches or other structures built on (some had sheds!). However, it seemed that the temporary campers (like us) were separated from the seasonals.
We enjoyed biking around the campground roads, but didn’t venture out into the surrounding area.
We planned to meet friends we hadn’t seen in several years in Hampton Beach on Monday, so we used Sunday to do some more figuring out just how we should make use of the limited space in the camper. We will probably have several more rearrangements before we’re through! We did go in to Hampton Beach for dinner on a second floor patio overlooking the beach and all the motorcycles and cars “cruising” on the main road.
The visit with friends went very well, with lots of catching up with lunch across from the beach, and a very nice dinner at “CR’s The Restaurant” in Hampton. Nice atmosphere, very good food!
While we were at Wakeda, we noticed a slight smell of propane, so we know that we have a leak somewhere that I have to find.
For right now, we’re using the propane very sparingly. On. Cook the pancakes. Off. On. Cook the tapioca pudding (my favorite). Off. You get the idea. Our refrigerator can run on 120 V AC power (home wall plug power) or on propane, so that the fridge can stay cold while we’re traveling. Since we don’t want to leave the propane on for extended periods we’re not making use of that feature; we let the fridge warm up while we travel. Fortunately, we have a 12V cooler in the back seat into which we put the most perishable items.
I don’t know whether we will find this true of most KOAs or not, but this one provided more than kampsites. There was cable TV, a large pool, miscellaneous sporting equipment, and little pedal cars (for kids and adults) that could be used for free. However, we didn’t take advantage of any of that equipment. There was also a wine store on site. No, it couldn’t be used for free! Fortunately, there was also a propane fill station. Did I mention that we noticed we had a propane leak?
We were greeted by a crane (not sure which type) as we drove into the campground.
The sites, while close together, were wooded so there was a sense of separation and some privacy that we wouldn’t have had were we on just an open field.
It is interesting that they call themselves “New York City North.” Yeah. WAY north. About 62 crow miles, or 75 car miles north. They do offer transportation into the city.
Neither of us had been to West Point since childhood. Google maps said we were about 26 miles away, so visiting was a no-brainer. If you haven’t gone, or haven’t gone recently, it is well worth a visit. There is a very nice display in the Visitor Center and there is also the West Point Museum, considered to be the oldest and largest collection of miltaria in the Western Hemisphere. Due to time constraints we were not able to visit the museum, but we did take a bus / walking tour through the grounds, where we learned some of the high points of the Academy and garrison. There are one-hour tours every hour through the day, and two-hour tours twice a day. We just missed the two-hour and didn’t want to wait until the second one, so we took the one-hour version.
Here are some pictures, but the limitations of the tour (MUST stay with the tour guide–“or you will have a very bad day,”) and the scale of the Academy grounds mean that these do not do any justice to the site.
The original garrison was located here at the direction of George Washington because it was a choke point on the Hudson River, and could prevent the British from going all the way up the river and isolating the “troublesome” colonies in what is now New England from the rest of the country. An iron chain was placed across the river (and removed each winter); 13 original links remain.
One of the bus stops was the Cadet Chapel, a non-denominational Protestant church. The stained glass rivals some of the churches we have seen in Europe, and the organ is amazing, with more than 23,000 pipes. We’d love to hear a concert here!
After the tour we had lunch across the street. “Lunch” is an understatement. It was also dinner, and lunch the next day!
We had a very enjoyable visit with our niece, Susan, that evening.
Friends and relatives have been telling us about the great camping opportunities at state parks. This was our first experience, and it was a good one! Gifford Pinchot is jointly managed by the State and the National Park Service.
The biking trails were fabulous and we jaunted out several times. It was lovely to ride along the lakefront and see so many people out fishing (boats were available). Yes, we both have a fair way to go to get as fit as we’d like but we figure if we ‘give it a go’ on a daily basis (biking, walking, or hiking), we’ll get there eventually. Right?
Eager to fly our drone (“Butterfly” — see what we did there? GWTW?), we needed to do some research about whether this was a restricted area. (We know that you cannot ever fly a drone in a National Park or anywhere near an airport or landing strip.) Turns out that there are only six parks in the whole PA State Park system that allow drones; GP is not one of them. Oh, well . . .
It was at Gifford Pinchot, however, where Al befriended a next-door (next site?) camper who was eager to talk shop about all things RV-ish. Tom and Al ended up exchanging tips and lessons learned while Sue and I shared some organizational, interior ideas. Before long, the guys were under Tom’s camper checking the torque on U-bolts. Apparently, it was a good thing they did! It was fun to meet another couple who has also just started their full-time RV lifestyle.
Also momentous at this stop, we used our washing machine for the first time. It worked great! It was somewhat of a challenge to find the powdered high-efficiency detergent that is required; we are now the proud owner of a gallon Zip-lock bag of detergent that will last us for 100+ loads (it only takes 2 T per load).
It was a wonderful first week — we were surprised at how much room the campgrounds had — we’d been told that campsites are very hard to come by. It was great to have a reserved campsite at each location, but we probably could have gotten one on the spot anyway.
We’re off to Indiana today for an 8 day stay at a county fairgrounds. More about that later!
It’s August 19th and we are ON OUR WAY! Where to, you ask? How’d we end up here?
We love to travel. Al just retired. And we’re tired of New England winters.
Over the last three winters, we came to love the desert southwest. Being warm in February really appealed to us — it felt great! “Hey, I can really understand that snowbird mentality now,” I remarked to Al in February 2016 after our first trip to Arizona. Wow.
When we returned there in March of 2017, we ventured northward and were blown away by Page, Sedona, the slot canyons, Horseshoe Bend, and more. We ducked over the border into Utah one afternoon–wait a minute — there are FIVE national parks in Utah. “Wow! Look at those affordable condos!” I quipped.
But did we really want to be stuck in just one place? There are many fabulous national parks, state parks, national monuments, and more. We didn’t want to be obligated to travel to the same place each year and started musing about RVs. Hmmm. . .
We started investigating RVs and Al joined several RV forums online (Psst, honey? Don’t look now, but you’re using social media!). We started visiting a few dealerships in our area. Over several months, we went from Class A motor home (too large – and who wants to tow a car?), Class B motor home (if we didn’t tow a car, we’d have to pack up everything just to go for a dozen eggs?), and soon we were considering a fifth-wheel (and a truck!). Let’s go to the Hershey RV Show in September! Yeah, that’s the ticket! We won’t buy, we won’t buy…we’re just going to look … we won’t buy!
Meanwhile, I was starting to get a bit more encouraging. . . um, pushy…er, insistent…about the prospect of Al’s retirement! We could travel a lot! And we could do it while we’re still young and healthy enough to hike, ride bikes, etc., etc. It was a well-timed choreography — just before we left for the Hershey RV show, he decided he was ready to set a date for retirement. Yay!
Well, let’s just say that despite our good intentions, we signed a sales agreement for a 2018 Grand Design 310-GK fifth-wheel before the weekend ended! We fell in love with the layout, size, and many, many windows in the 310 (I need lots of natural light). We’d have to come back to PA to pick it up as soon as we were pretty sure winter was over.
Soon thereafter, time to buy a truck. A BIG truck. A ruby red, long bed, crew cab, dually! We named her Scarlett (thanks for the color suggestion, Nancy Jones!) and had to name the 310 Rhett. Of course.
So after many months of planning and more planning, Al is retired, and we have chosen the start of a route to travel the US — we’re not sure for how long and where our travels will eventually lead us. We can’t wait to share our travel adventures with you.
And, oh, yes—why “The Lobsters”?
Our grandkids named us Grandma and Grandpa Lobster years ago to differentiate us from their other set of grandparents. We live in Maine. And we’re traveling. We’re Lobsters on the Loose! We hope you’ll follow our adventures as we discover and rediscover each other and these amazing places we know as The United States of America and Canada!