Wednesday, April 24, 2019

4/24 Almost Seven Years On the Road

I have had the travel bug as far back as I can remember.  As a child, I did a lot of reading, and some of my interest in travel probably stems from the books I read.  I read just about anything I could get my hands on, both the usual girl's series book, and adult books that were in the house.  Neither our community nor the schools I attended for elementary had libraries, and my mother never took me to any of the libraries in nearby communities, so I was pretty desperate for reading material. I remember reading the Reader's Digest and National Geographic magazines in the dentist office, but those magazines said you had to be a member, so I did not know that anyone could subscribe to them. 

In addition, my mother subscribed to a European travel magazine, which I also read as a child.  All in all, I just wanted to go to all of the places that I had read about and envied John Steinbeck for being able to take a year-long trip across the country in the pickup camper he bought during the last year of his life.  

Most of my adult life, I dreamed about being able to travel, but life and family responsibilities conspired to keep me working to earn a living and to stay in one spot.  So, when my kids were grown, my parents had passed away, and I was ready to retire, I bought my motorhome, sold my condo and my car, and put my furniture and belongings into storage.  At the age of 69, I was finally free and able to take off.

After living full-time in my motorhome and driving 124,000 miles exploring the country, I have had people ask me a lot of questions, so I have decided to post some of them here and answer them for anyone who might want to learn about my experiences and feelings about this lifestyle.  I welcome any other questions, so feel free to post any in the comments section.

When are you going to quit and settle down?  My first choice would be "Never."  I will keep doing what I am doing as long as I possibly can.  Hopefully, my health will hold out at least a few more years.  Right now, I am still able to drive safely and can handle the chores needed to hookup and unhook from campground utilities and go through the process of dumping my waste tanks every few days.  

Don't you get tired of living in such a small space?  My answer is "No, I am very happy living in 250 square feet because I have lots of windows and the view always changes."  And really, I am very comfortable in my home on wheels and have everything i need here.  I took out the front dinette when I bought my RV and replaced it with my old, leather La-Z-Boy rocker-recliner.  I spend most of my indoor waking time sitting in it and watching satellite TV my 30" television set, while working at the online college course I teach.  I can look out of windows on three sides while sitting here, and enjoy watching the scenery and people around me.  I am less than 10' from my small kitchen and refrigerator full of snacks and only about 12' from the bathroom, so everything is convenient.  

Addendum:  The above sounds like I stay in all day, sitting in my recliner, which is not quite true.  I do get out and about during the day, taking a walk somewhere when the weather is good or socializing with fellow campers.  It depends on the time of the semester and how much work I have to do with my class, but I drive out at least a couple of times each week to explore and visit things like museums.  Unlike people who are on a limited time vacation, I am in no hurry to race around seeing things every day, so I have lots of time to see things. Also, I have the chores everyone has to do regularly--grocery shopping, laundry, cleaning, getting a hair cut, RV maintenance, and moving to the next campground. 

For example, today I changed my bed, did three loads of laundry, cleaned my bathroom, dealt with several student issues online, and washed my 32' motorhome with a hose and long-handled brush.  (Washing this huge beast is exhausting!) Tomorrow, I need to unhook and flush my tanks, get a new portable hard drive from Best Buy, do some grocery shopping, get a haircut, call the doctor to get scheduled for cataract surgery, and drive to Tillicum Beach, which is about two hours away.  

Don't you miss having a real bed and bathroom?  Actually, my bed is as wide as a queen-sized bed, but shorter, which is OK with me since I am pretty short, as well.  It has a regular innerspring mattress, which I have topped with a 3" memory foam topper.  I have regular bedding that includes a down comforter and extra throws if I get cold at night.  I have two propane furnaces in my motorhome--one in the front and one in the bedroom.  The neat thing about the one in the bedroom is that I reach up and adjust the thermostat while still in bed.  Can any of you do that??  

My bathroom is tiny, but it has a regular shower and toilet.  The shower might be too small and too short for some people, but it fits me fine.  I have an Oxygenics shower head, which somehow adds air to the water stream, so it feels like you are using a lot of water when you really are not.  The big plus of a tiny bathroom is that I can wash the floor with one large square of paper towel and a spray of cleaner!  

Isn't it scary to travel to strange places all by yourself?  First, I stay almost entirely in national, state, and county campgrounds.  Nearly all of them limit the number of days you can stay to two weeks, which means you get vacationers and full-time travelers like me, not permanent residents.  Summer can be noisier with families and kids, but all-in-all, I think most campgrounds are a lot safer than hotels or even a lot of residential neighborhoods.  In almost seven years, no one has ever threatened me or come knocking on my door to bother me.  I did freak out once when I stayed in Mammoth Caves huge campground once in November, but that was mainly because I was new to camping alone, it was extremely dark, and I think I was the only person staying in that huge campground!  There was another time when I paid for two nights at a commercial campground and left after only one night because I did not like the group of men who spent most of one day drinking around a picnic table about 50' away from me. 

Also, I always make a point of introducing myself to neighbors when I can.  Except for summer and a few weekends, there are mostly older couples and some singles traveling and camping.  Most people are good, not bad, and there is a culture of campers helping one another.  I have had people offer amazing help to me, including a couple who noticed once that I was coughing horribly and was coming out of my RV only a couple of times each day to put my awning out and put it back in again.  They offered to take me to a doctor or get groceries for me, but I had already been to urgent care and gotten medications, plus was well stocked with groceries.  At another campground, a lady noticed that I had spent a whole day inside, and when I came out she said she was about to get the ranger to check on me because she was worried.  Actually, I had been furiously grading papers, but I appreciated her caring!  

Other helpful fellow-campers included one who did not realize I was just headed to the dump station and came jogging after me with my water hose over his shoulders, thinking I had left it accidentally!  Or the elderly man with one arm who insisted on climbing up on a ladder and removing my broken TV antenna from my roof.  And the man, who upon finding out I did not have the 50 amp to 30 amp connector to hook up to electric, jumped into his truck and drove to two hardware stores to get the $40 part for me in spite of my protests that I could drive my motorhome out.  (I reimbursed him the $40 and gave him a bottle of champagne I had on hand when he came back an hour later.  I try to keep extra wine on hand for such emergencies!) 

Once, I left some homemade banana nut bread for the older motorcycle couple who pulled me off a dead cactus I had fallen onto while on a hiking trail in Borrego Springs, California.  The man pulled me up onto my feet, and his wife pulled out some 2" spikes from my rear end through my shorts.  No photos of me sitting in the cactus, unfortunately.  Next time I need rescuing, I will try to remember to take photos. 

So, really I am never alone in campgrounds, and on the road I have a special RV road service company that has changed tires, given me technical advice over the phone, and even towed me a couple of times.   

Don't you get bored being alone all the time?   The truth is "How bored would I be in my old condo in Michigan?"  I am going to be alone anyway, so why not be alone in the Grand Canyon riding my bike on the wonderful bike trails there or looking at the cliffs in the campground at Zion National Park or Valley of Fire State Park north of Las Vegas? Or taking a raft trip on the Colorado River south of Hoover Dam? I meet some of the most interesting people in campgrounds and have made a lot of women friends on a blog for women RVers.  If I ever get into trouble somewhere, like falling and being hospitalized, I have friends I can call on and know they would come and move my RV to a safe place and bring me what I need from my rig.  It isn't a huge group, but we keep in touch via a forum and meet for anything from a quick lunch as one of us is driving past to week-long more organized get-togethers of up to 25 of us. 

Plus, I am continuing to teach online, so I am in contact with students and other faculty members.  Teaching helps pay for my travels and keeps my brain working at something stimulating. 

Some data and compliments I have received.  I am used to getting compliments on how well I back into camping spots and manage to drive through tight spots in places like gas stations.  However, over time, I have realized that some of those compliments are often because I am an older woman driving a big vehicle.  "You do a great job of backing into a campsite" sometimes leaves off the unspoken "for a woman."  

Last summer, I had pulled into a campsite and had hopped out to check my level and plug into electric, when the man next door came over and asked if he could help.  I said I was fine and thanks anyway.  The next day, after I had chatted with his wife and him over some problems we were having with the shared electric post, he apologized for offering to help, saying he was not used to seeing older women driving big rigs and assumed I would need help.  There have been other similar examples, including the young German man in Florida who came over every time I came back from exploring to "guide" me into my spot. 

It's not that I don't appreciate help, but the truth is that most of the people who compliment me or offer help are weekenders or people who use their RVs just a couple of weeks a year.  I did some math and determined that since I started out, I have camped for about 2,500 days and pulled in and out of campsites at least 1,200 times.  Practice really does make perfect, or at least almost perfect.  (Won't mention the big tree in New York I backed into.)

By the way, I am running into a lot more older women traveling alone these days, so maybe eventually, people will notice that we can drive and back in as well as the men, older or younger.

Enough for now.  Any other questions I can answer??      

Monday, April 15, 2019

4/10 Drive from Nevada to Oregon

This was a very pretty four-day drive through Nevada and Northern California to Oregon.  Not much to say about it--just photos of desert, mountains, and snow.

There are a lot of little towns in the desert that are abandoned or almost abandoned.  They are the modern equivalent of the old western ghost towns, except with a lot more trash.

A pretty mountain behind an RV park I stayed at for a couple of days.  Rested up and did four loads of laundry. 

This lake was brown with silt from the mountains behind where I was standing to take this photo.  There has been a lot of rain in the west in the last couple of months, so everything is flooded and/or green.  

This is the far north of Northern California where there are volcanic mountains nearby.  Much of this is Lassen National Forest.  I have camped at Eagle Lake, not too far from here, and have reservations again there for next summer. 

This is a view of Mt. Shasta, taken from the south. It was very windy, so the snow is being blown off the peak.

Mt. Shasta is not too far from the Oregon border, so only a couple of hundred miles left to Eugene, where I will be for a couple of days. 

Sunday, April 7, 2019

4/5 My Shower Handle Project

There are very few RVs that are well made.  Mostly, they use very thin and lightweight materials, and components tend to break a lot.  I have never liked my shower handles because they started out clear, but ended up constantly getting cloudy from hard water.  

In addition, over the last year or so, I have noticed that you had to turn my hot water shower handle about three revolutions to get hot water.  The cold water handle was OK, but in trying to replace them, I discovered that both had been installed using wood screws instead of the metal screws that came with the unit.  I am guessing that the person who installed them had dropped the real screws and just picked up some extra screws he or she found on the factory floor!  

I have been twice to hardware stores to get longer and slightly wider screws, but nothing really fit, and this is what I have been living with.  Notice that the handles do not match and the problem faucet on the left has a temporary too-long screw that works but looks awful.  

The white hose, by the way, is attached to my hand-held Oxygenics shower wand.  There is no real shower head in this and most other RVs.  The shower wand has an on-off control that lets you control the amount of water you use and turn the water completely off while you soap up.  It also adds air to the water coming through, making it feel like a stronger flow, but still using very little water.  Basically, it enables me to take a good shower with less than 10 gallons of water! 

I had had a small leak a few months ago and knew that the access panel for the shower handle fixture was on the wall behind the stove. 
I unscrewed three of the four screws, but the fourth one was too hard because I needed a shorter screwdriver because you had to reach behind the stove vent fixture.  So I just slid the panel to the right and taped it out of my way.   

You can see, first, that they did not bother smoothing the edges of the cheap "wood-like" panel board.  Second, what you cannot see is that the piece of thin plywood they used to reinforce the attachment to the thin shower wall is loose.  In other words, if you unscrew the hot and cold water hoses and remove the handle controls, the piece of plywood will drop down into this narrow space, and you will never get it back again!  

Third, the electrical wire to the thermostat is that black hose thing, and it was in the way, so I taped it out of the way, also.   

The first thing I did was to put some black duct tape on the top of the plywood piece and make sure it was tightly attached to the wall. 

Fourth, I was afraid that the water supply hoses might also drop into this narrow area and end up on the floor, so in spite of this not being an "official plumbing procedure," I grabbed some ties and fastened them to the supply hoses.  Then I found some rope and tied each connection to a length.  

OK, I know this looks silly, but then again, it would really look ridiculous to have to cut another access panel on the floor and try to retrieve the hoses if they fell down.  Note that I tied the rope to the cupboard handle around the corner.  Might not be fancy, but I should get at least a B+ for creativity and planning for contingencies!!  

So, the next step was to unscrew the water supply hoses from both inlets, then unscrew the original white nut. Pull handle unit off inside shower and replace with new unit. See training diagram below:  

Then you just have to do everything in reverse.  Put on new nuts and attach water lines, making sure they don't leak.    Ha!!!

Except this last step took me an hour. The problem was that once you attached the nuts, there was very little room to get your fingers in to attach the water supply hose connections.  (I suspect that the original installers put the fixture on before they put the shower into the motorhome.)  I had a terrible time trying to get them on straight, so ended up loosening the nuts and pushing the flexible shower wall away from me, giving me just enough room to get the connections on straight and tightening them without stripping the threads.  

Then, of course, I had to re-tighten the new black nuts holding the fixture to the wall.  This meant several trips back and forth to the shower to make sure the backing plate stayed in position. 

Voila!!!  Note that I correctly put the unit on with the shower hose coming out of the bottom, per the design, and, most importantly, put the red hot water handle on the left and the blue cold water handle on the right.  (Had to look at the instructions several times and even verify that red was hot and blue was cold by checking the internet. It says that cold is on the right because most people are right-handed.)  

I have tried the shower out, and the nice thing is that when the shower is off, the handles are up.  When it is on, both handles are down.  So, you turn each handle down to turn the water on.  Hot is turned on counterclockwise and cold is turned on clockwise.   

My finished shower!

Saturday, April 6, 2019

4/4 More Valley of Fire State Park, NV

I'll be here another day, and I have already posted some photos, but this is such a gorgeous place, I just can't resist taking more photos!  Today, I headed to the visitor center and to the nearby town to get a better Verizon signal so I can download some software.  

The far lot is supposed to be for RVs, but it is filled with cars.  There was some sort of bike event, with people loading up ready to go home.  But I was barely able to get a spot and ended up sharing it with a car, which meant I had to back up to get out instead of pulling through, which is a lot easier.  

This poor bird was taking a bath in the puddle left when someone finished dumping their sewage tank at the campground.  The water was not very clean, but when I left, I made sure only clean water was in this puddle!  Water fill hoses and dump stations are visited by a lot of animals, including bees and other insects catching the drips of fresh water!  

Nothing but fantastic views in this park!  There is a much smaller park near Las Vegas that has a lot of red rocks and is popular with hikers, but it does not even begin to compare with this very large state park with long views! 

This looks a lot like brittle bush, but it is actually desert marigold!  Flowers are rounder and petals are tighter. 

This blue-green bush had fuzzy flowerlets.  Will need to look it up. 

My camera automatically brightens dark photos, but this was actually taken at dusk.  The hundreds of desert primroses were opening.  If you came here at the sunny part of the day, you would not see any of these flowers. 

This plant had long spiky branches, but no leaves.  Or maybe these were leaves?  It was definitely NOT a cactus plant because the leaves were very soft.  

Amazingly long views!  

This is supposed to look like an elephant. 

The desert is amazingly green this year!  There is grass, but a lot of the color comes from the creosote bushes. And, yes, they smell exactly like burning rubber.  

As I was heading back to the campground, a large herb of bighorn sheep had decided to cross the park road and were causing a sheep-jam as they crossed from one side to join the others on the other side.  Total was a whopping 20-25 animals, which is a lot for bighorn.  They eat grass and also certain shrubs.  

This looks dangerous, but actually all traffic had stopped, but this young female was scared and running across as fast as she could. 

Part of the herd on the other side. 

You can tell that most of these are females or very young males because their horns are smaller and not curved into a complete or nearly complete circle. 

Last look at my campsite and the view I wake up to each morning. 

Since I am on the outside of the campground, I have a great view of the distance.  

Leaving the state park.