Doing more: We went to the roller derby!

Surely it’s no secret by now that full-time RV living allows us to live by our name: Own Less, Do MoreAnd one really cool thing we got to do recently, while staying at a campground near our former hometown of Norfolk, VA, was attend a friend’s roller derby game — a first for us.

Now before I get too far into this, you need to know right from the first whistle that I am not a sports fan. I rarely know which -ball season it is, I don’t understand team loyalty because the team changes every year, and I really really don’t care about your fantasy league.

But ya know what? Watching roller derby was a blast, y’all!


My friend, Heather, who goes by Sugar Rush when skating as #711 with Mid Atlantic Roller Derby, is a woman of many talents. In no particular order: hair stylist, mermaid, craft business owner, pinup girl, step mom, and former U.S. Marine.

She is Fun with a capital F, and a beautiful person through and through.
See?
(Note to self: Stop posing for photos with Heather.)

So when I showed up to have her give my hair a quick trim, and she asked if I wanted a couple of tickets to her game the following week, I could not say yes fast enough.

Heather had dressed up as a derby girl for Halloween one year, and her fancy became an obsession, which then turned into a passion, after a player named Tenacious V invited her to a team practice. Heather became a real live derby girl in November of 2015.

When Tim and I arrived at the arena for the game, I expected to see lots of torn fishnet stockings, booty shorts, tattoos, and wild hair styles. And I was right. Lots. Those women did not disappoint.

What I did not expect was the family friendly atmosphere, the pre-game national anthem, the camaraderie and support — not just amongst teammates but even between the two teams — and the philanthropic aspect of the game. A portion of that night’s proceeds benefitted the Alzheimer’s Association.
What I saw was a commitment to sport, safety, and community, while also getting to take in a really good show. The players even signed autographs for some of the youngest fans after the game!

That’s Heather signing a fan’s arm.
How cute is that?


A simplified description of play, summarized from my program (for the real deal, go here):
  • Each team sends a pack of 5 players to the track: 4 blockers and 1 jammer. 
  • Each jammer is identified by the star on her helmet, and jammers are the only players who can score points.
  • Jammers score points by passing opposing skaters by the hips, and the first jammer to break through the pack legally is called the lead jammer. 
  • Only the lead jammer can call off the jam before the 2-minute duration is up, which she does by tapping her hips repeatedly, making the moves nice and big so the referees will notice. 
  • By calling the jam off early, the lead jammer prevents the opposing team from scoring. (There’s a brief video explanation here, and you can see a real live jammer “call it off” at about the 1:17 mark.)

Could I follow all the action? No. It confused the heck out of my poor sports-challenged brain. But “Call it off” is my new favorite gesture, and I wish I’d had it in my parenting arsenal when our boys were young.

I guess I could now use it in the RV when Tim is making me crazy. Right?

Heather admitted to a rookie mistake involving this very gesture. “I have called off the jam not realizing I was not the lead. Oops!”

My favorite part was reading the roster of skaters’ team names, which are really terribly creative. A few that made me LOL: Brooklyn DeckHer, Slayboy Bunny, Larraine of Terror, Matilda the Hun, and Zombie ApocaLyzz.

Would I go to see roller derby again? Absolutely! And I encourage you to Google “roller derby near me” to find out where and when you can take in a game too. You might just find a new obsession.

As for why Heather stays with it, “The biggest reason is that I don’t just want to say ‘I did roller derby,’ I want to remember that I gave it my all. We support wonderful charitable organizations, and I have met so many amazing people, I cannot even describe the support and friendships that have developed with this sport.”


Author’s note: A version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.

An epic fail, advice from a stoner, and how we ended up with a new truck

A funny thing happened in March, on our way from San Antonio, TX, to Elkhart, IN, for a service appointment to take care of some welding issues on The Toad: the BFT is the one that failed us.

Irony: the dependably cooperative BFT dies on the way to having the notoriously lemony RV repaired.
WHO THOUGHT IT WOULD BE THE TRUCK???

Not what we were expecting.

Our incredibly reliable, tough-as-nails, much adored 2012 Chevy Silverado 3500 dually sputtered and quickly died while we were driving on I-35 just south of Dallas — a mere 225 miles into our 1300-mile trip.

We are very thankful that despite the scariness of the incident, the travel gods were indeed watching over us.

We were on flat ground instead of a hill.

There were no vehicles riding too closely behind us.

We were not in a construction zone.

We had a wide shoulder to pull onto.

And I was smart enough to start veering toward that shoulder at the same time I was saying, “That didn’t sound right.”

Why did that turn out to be a smart move? Because we had mere seconds before the truck shut down. All power: gone. On an interstate.

The tow truck driver took Tim and the Silverado to a service shop, leaving me on the roadside with the RV until they returned.
Why?
Because Tim can talk truck to the garage gurus, and I shouldn’t ever do that.
We both know I’d say, “You know what? Just burn it. We’ll walk.”

From my personal Facebook account that day: So I sat all alone in the grass next to I-35 for more than 2 hours, waiting for the tow truck to come back for the RV, and this is the only person who stopped to make sure I was OK: stoner on a fucking bicycle.
Said his name is Mondo.
He was riding to Austin for his birthday.
I don’t know where or when he started (and I rather suspect he didn’t either), but he had about 145 miles to go.
Mondo offered me use of his cell phone to make an emergency call, in the event I didn’t have one.
Clearly he’d never met me.
And then, in the way only the perpetually stoned can properly pull off, he told me I should just relax, and not stress out about it.
He then literally rode off into the sunset.

To make a very long story a lot shorter, the problem turned out to be what is rather evocatively known as “grenading” of the fuel pump. Upon its death, it sent shards of metal through the entire fuel system, leaving us dead in the proverbial water.

As Tim described it “The critical part seemed to be the Bosch-built CP4.2 HPFP, the exact same pump used in the Ford F-series Light Duty diesel trucks. If you google ‘F350 CP4 failure,’ you’ll find plenty of discussion on the issue. Same if you google ‘Duramax LML CP4 failure.’”

Tim, who is not an industry expert by any means, but merely a consumer who’s always trying hard to get smarter, further surmised, “A major culprit appears to be the quality of diesel fuel in the U.S. (i.e., the mandated ultra-low sulfur blend plus other things), combined with what might be less than acceptable engineering by Ford and GM. Reportedly, Bosch has been saying for some time that the lubricity of the fuel needs to be higher for these pumps to last, and U.S. diesel fuel doesn’t meet these standards.”

Within ten minutes of meeting our new BFT, Tim was underneath it, checking all the things.

What that meant for us was a $10,000 fuel system replacement (GM paid for part of it) that left us stranded for two weeks outside a really small Texas town. Middle of Nowhere was still a good 10 miles away. We were there so long we painted our RV’s interior!

And then, after the truck repair was complete, and we were finally sitting in Elkhart waiting for the work to be finished on The Toad, we realized that we needed to make a big decision: test our luck by keeping the BFT and its fresh new fuel system with the exact same type of pump that had gone spectacularly belly up, or upgrade to a truck that wouldn’t have that issue.

To make the second part of the story shorter as well, we knew we couldn’t live with the uncertainty of driving a truck that might croak again, any more than we could change the U.S. diesel fuel composition standards that were probably part of the cause.

The Silverado was our only vehicle, and it pulls the Bighorn, which is our only home. We couldn’t stomach the idea of going through a second catastrophic failure, or having it happen under far more hazardous circumstances than the first one.

We opted to upgrade.

Y’all say hello to our 2017 Dodge RAM 3500 dually, which we picked up at the end of May, just shy of 3 months after the Great Fuel Pump Grenading Incident of 2017.

For those who are wondering why we didn’t go with the 2017 Chevy Silverado, which does not have that same iffy fuel pump as the 2011-2016 diesel models, there were three factors that put the RAM on top.

  1. Shorter turning radius for easier maneuvering
  2. Larger payload and axle weight ratings for higher towing capacity
  3. More competitive pricing for better value

We look forward to thousands and thousands of miles together.

My birth announcement.
I figured our sons should know.

12 miles on the odometer, and it definitely does not make my butt look big.
What a great purchase!
Also, we had a terrific experience working with Jeff Taylor, Commercial/Fleet Manager, at Glenn’s Freedom Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram in Lexington, KY. Holler if you’d like a personal referral!


Author’s note: A version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.

From My RV Kitchen: Chickpeas in Curried Coconut Broth

Here’s an easy vegetarian dish bursting with exotic flavors, but without a long list of difficult-to-find ingredients.

Back in the day when my mom was the one doing the family’s cooking, it may have taken some persistent shopping to find things like curry powder, coconut milk, basmati rice, and fresh cilantro, but now it’s common to see more than one brand or variety of each on the shelves of even small-town grocery stores.

The best part is that this meal is prepared in a slow cooker, so it can simmer while you’re out exploring your latest camping destination.

I like to serve this dish with a garden salad and fresh fruit slices on the side.

Chickpeas in Curried Coconut Broth

2 teaspoons canola oil

1 medium onion, chopped

3-4 stalks celery, sliced

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 (19-ounce) cans chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained

2 (14.5-ounce) cans diced tomatoes, undrained

1 (13.5-ounce) can coconut milk

1 tablespoon curry powder

2 tablespoons chopped pickled jalapeño pepper

1 teaspoon salt

6 cups hot cooked basmati rice

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onion, celery, and garlic; sauté 5 minutes or until onion is tender.

Place onion mixture, chickpeas, and next 5 ingredients (through salt) in a 3 1/2-quart electric slow cooker; stir well. Cover and cook on LOW for 6 to 8 hours.

Serve over rice, and sprinkle each serving with cilantro.

My recipe is adapted from this original.


Author’s note: A version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.

Yosemite Revisited: More Tips, Less Snark

You may recall that I had less than charitable things to say about our visit to Yosemite last July. The park is spectacular; it’s our timing that was all wrong.

Emily “You Can Embroider That Shit on a Toss Pillow” Rohrer

But with summer travel planning season upon us, I thought it might be a good idea to offer up some information that campers might find a little more helpful than my pissy rant of 2016. So here ya go:

If you’ve got your RV pointed toward California this summer for a swing through Yosemite National Park, be aware of three things:

  1. You’ll never forget the scenery,
  2. Unless you’re a photography genius, you won’t be able to capture all that majesty in pixels, and
  3. It’s gonna be crowded — really, really distressingly and disproportionately crowded, to DisneyWorld-esque levels. 1200 square miles is not big enough for all the people, because every single one of them spent significant time, effort, and money to spend part of their summer vacation there, and they are going to have their Experience of a Lifetime, visiting the same top 5 park attractions as you are.

For information on RV camping at Yosemite, click on Visiting Yosemite With an RV, but be aware that even the folks in charge recommend staying outside the park, and shuttling in using public transportation.

From the NPS web site, “Since parking for RVs and trailers is limited in Yosemite, we strongly encourage you to park your RV outside Yosemite and use YARTS to travel into the park if you’re not staying the night in Yosemite.”

If you do want to try to stay in the park, first make sure your RV will fit, and that you can survive without hookups for the duration of your visit. There aren’t any. However, dump stations with fresh water are available at 3 of the 10 RV-accessible campgrounds, and generator use is allowed, but only at posted hours.

Yosemite campground map
(Source: NPS.gov)

It probably goes without saying that you’ll want to make your reservation as far in advance as possible, or, if you’re feeling lucky and adventurous, you can try for a first-come/first-served spot.

When we visited Yosemite last year, we set up The Toad in a private RV park in Lee Vining, CA, which is about 12 miles east of the westernmost entrance at Tioga Pass, and a nearly 2-hour drive to the main visitor’s center in Yosemite Valley. (Be aware that Tioga Pass/Hwy 120 closes from October-May due to snow, so using Lee Vining as your home base is not always a good option.)

Source: Google Maps

We had to visit in the summer because my husband and our younger son were hiking the John Muir Trail, and that’s something you want to accomplish when there’s little or no snow. And if you’re hiking the whole 211-mile thing, like my husband did, you have to go through Yosemite.

But now that we know what the Yosemite crowds are like in the summertime, we will never do that again. Our schedule is no longer bound by school calendars, and we will use that to our advantage by visiting the more popular national parks at off-peak times in the spring and fall.

How bad was it? Imagine crowds of tourists from all over the planet, hollering to each other in umpteen different languages, trying to enjoy the exact same spot you are, stopping to consult their maps right in your path, posing for selfies in front of everything, dealing with children who have obviously just had it, and/or driving slowly with one arm out the window to shoot video that nobody will ever want to view.

Lower Yosemite Falls, and a very small portion of the day’s tourists

By about 2:00 p.m., I was eyeballing the bear lockers in the parking lot. You’re supposed to put your food items in there, rather than leaving them in your car for bears to tear apart while you’re off exploring. But by mid-afternoon, I was ready to take all the food out, and put half the tourists in.

These are bear lockers. Big enough for tourists, yes?

That said, I found the park to be most enjoyable in the early morning hours. If you can get in and get some sight-seeing and hiking done before what seems to be the Witching Hour of 10:00 a.m., you’ll have a lot more space and breathing room to take in and truly appreciate some of the most eye-popping scenery in the country.

And hey, if you’ve only got one day to spend in the park, try this itinerary from Oh, Ranger!, one of my favorite resources. Be warned: everyone with one day to spend is going to be trying to see the same list of attractions as you are.

There will be crowds.

You will need patience.

Good luck!


Author’s note: Portions of this article appeared previously at OwnLessDoMore, and a version of this post is published at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.

Little Beaver, Big Treat: Our Stay at a State Park in Wild Wonderful WV

I grew up in western Maryland, not far from the West Virginia border, and through my teenage sarcasm filter, I interpreted WV’s slogan “Almost Heaven” to really mean “almost nothing.”

I was wrong.

But I was also kind of right.

This is private property near the state park.
It is not a golf course. Or Heaven. Despite appearances to the contrary.

There isn’t a lot by way of big cities in West Virginia, and to a mall-obsessed teenager of the 1980’s, that put the state in a location way further south than Heaven, if you know what I mean.

But through my adult eyes, I can see that it’s because of all that “nothing” that the state feels like a paradise on earth.

Those rural pastures, secluded lakes, winding roads and rolling mountains that I scoffed at as a teen because they were “so middle of nowhere, Mom <eyeroll>” now seem heavenly indeed.

Earlier this year, we looked at the map for our upcoming journey eastward along I-64 from Kentucky (see my review of the Lake Shelby Campground) toward our ultimate destination of Norfolk, VA.

Knowing that we had a few extra days to spend en route, we chose the approximate halfway point of Beckley, WV, as our stopping place. And since we are big fans of state parks, nearby Little Beaver became our home of choice for that week.

Source: Google Maps

We knew from reading independent reviews that the 2-mile drive from the interstate into the campground was narrow, hilly, and curvy — not a favorite for those who drive or tow recreational vehicles!

Our 38’ 5th wheel plus 1-ton dually are almost 60′ long, and I was able to negotiate the road with no issues, just verrrrrry slowly and cautiously. I only made Tim suck in his breath and say “Watch the rear wheels!” one time, so I consider that a success.

And once we were in the park? Oh, the beauty and serenity! During the area’s spring break week in April, the place was surprisingly uncrowded, at least by humans. Which means we were treated to multiple wildlife sightings during our visit, as well as plenty of peace and quiet.

Our campsite: shaded and secluded, just like we like it

The view from the OwnLessDoMore work station did not suck. It’s a wonder I got anything done, really.

Little Beaver Lake

Things to do in the park include fishing, boating, hiking, biking, geocaching, and bird and wildlife watching, and there are also picnic areas, playgrounds, and tent/group camping areas.


Little Beaver State Park: Just the Facts

  • 71 miles southeast of Charleston WV, 180 miles west of Charlottesville VA
  • about 2 miles south of I-64, near Beckley WV
  • GPS coordinates 37.755833, -81.080556
  • 1402 Grandview Road, Beaver WV 25813
  • email: littlebeaversp@wv.gov
  • (304) 763-2494
  • http://littlebeaverstatepark.com
  • 40-foot RV length limit
  • water and 30/50A; some sites are water only; no sewer hook-ups
  • dump station on site
  • bathrooms, showers, laundry
  • limited wifi (accessible at camp store, but not at RV sites; our AT&T cellular data worked well)
  • combination of reservable and first-come/first-served sites
  • no fee to enter park
  • rates for RV sites: $30 for W/E, and $28 for W only. Discounts for senior citizens and veterans.
  • SEASONAL: Campground closes October 31 and reopens on April 1

And hey, while you’re there, you’ll probably drive the 9 miles into Beckley for grocery and supply runs. Don’t miss a meal at the King Tut Drive-In for a true trip down small-town America’s memory lane. Save room for homemade pie and hand spun milk shakes! (Note: closed Wednesdays)

I am a big fan of liver & onions.
There are plenty of other goodies on the menu.
You do you.


Author’s notes:

A version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.

This is an independent review. We received no compensation from Little Beaver State Park or the King Tut Drive-In.