WheRVe we been? Our travels, 3rd quarter 2017

Here’s a summary of our third quarter travels for 2017, mapped with a little help from Google. (Want to review the others? Here’s the first quarter, and here’s the second.)

The map’s a bit misleading, because we did some doubling back on parts of I-81, from northern Virginia to just northwest of Nashville, TN, then to southwestern Virginia, followed by the southeast side of Nashville.

RV miles traveled this quarter: about 2565. RV miles traveled this year: about 7665.

Fond du Lac, WI, June 30 – July 5: What an all-American 4th of July experience we had in Fond du Lac! Not only were there fireworks over Lake Winnebago on a perfect summer night, but the local symphonic band played patriotic tunes in the lakeside bandstand, which has been home to these concerts since 1901. It was like going back in time to a much simpler era, when entire communities showed up to make the most of holiday celebrations. We also took in the weekly farmer’s market, and I got to visit with an old friend in her new life on a small farm. She’s got chickens, horses, acreage, and hay bales, and I got to meet Olive, the turkey. He’s a very patriotic looking fellow himself!St. Ignace, MI, July 5-9: Ohhhhh. The upper peninsula. Now we get it. Summertime in northern Michigan is indeed worth singing about (see Kid Rock video) and although we crammed a lot of sight-seeing into our 4-day stay, it didn’t feel long enough. We took the ferry from St. Ignace to Lake Huron’s Mackinac Island — home to the Grand Hotel (remember the movie “Somewhere in Time“?), famous fudge, fantastic bike riding, and no motorized vehicles.

That’s the famous Mackinac Bridge on the lower left, which we crossed under on the ferry, and over in the RV. Luckily, we had a wind-free day for that!
On the lower right is our reward for hiking 9.2 miles at Tahquamenon Falls State Park.

Erie, PA, July 10-24: The youngest cousin at our kids’ level on Tim’s side of the family tree graduated from high school this year, so we rolled to Pennsylvania to help celebrate, with more family members than we could count. Let’s hear it for reunions! We also took advantage of our first “mooch docking” opportunity, and parked for free in a cousin’s driveway for a week. Other celebrations included Tim’s birthday, and a milestone wedding anniversary for us. Can ya guess which one?

Upper right: a map of Presque Isle State Park.
We biked the 14-mile perimeter, and checked off our third Great Lake for the summer. In June and July, we hit points on Lakes Michigan, Huron and Erie!

Haymarket, VA, July 24 – Aug 8: Here’s the deal. Tim’s parents wanted to take him on a birthday trip to the Netherlands. And since we could pick any airport for his embarkation point, we chose one in a part of the country where I had lots of friends to play with. And play I did — with Army, Navy and Air Force friends from several of our prior duty stations, as well as with a fair number of high school friends. Some live in the MD/DC/VA area, and others showed up at my 30th high school reunion in Frostburg, MD. I didn’t ask any of them for permission to share their photos here on the blog, so you get two of my photos from my day exploring part of Manassas National Battlefield Park, and one that Tim’s dad took in the Netherlands.

That’s General Stonewall Jackson up there on the right, rendered in, ummmm…, stone.

Ashland City, TN, August 9-22: One of us was very, very excited about the total solar eclipse on August 21, and insisted on booking a campground as close to the path of totality as possible. The other was just along for the ride. But an old shipmate of Tim’s drove down from Boston to view the spectacle with us, so I had the pleasure of watching those two 50+ men act like little boys on Christmas morning, as we stood in the middle of a cornfield in Springfield, TN, waiting for it to go from light, to dark, and back to light again. All they lacked were feetie pajamas.

Is it time yet? Is it time yet?

Damascus, VA, August 23 – Sept 18: We spent almost a month in Trail Town USA, so that Tim and a friend from Norfolk could tackle a 7-day hike together on the Appalachian Trail. I used the first week to fly to San Antonio for my regular round of 6-month cancer appointments, and plenty of check-in time with family. This also happened to be when Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, and we watched, horrified, as my brother’s hometown of Port Aransas was nearly wiped off the map. His family, their pets, and their house made it through, and their town will too, but it’s going to take a years-long, arduous effort of cleaning, restoring, and rebuilding.

Top left: Yet another visit to the mammography clinic’s changing room. All clear!
Top center: My parents taking our younger son grocery shopping the day before fall semester classes started at UT-Austin.
Top right: Tim & Greg starting their hike.
Bottom: just a tiny part of the scenic Virginia Creeper Trail. It took us two visits, two years apart, but we’ve now biked the entire 34 miles — some of them twice. I wrote about the first half here and the second half here.

Manchester, TN, Sept. 18 – Christmastime: I’d say “here we sit” in Tennessee again, but we’re really not doing all that much sitting. We’ve taken on seasonal jobs as pickers at the Amazon fulfillment center in nearby Murfreesboro, and after two weeks of work, I’ve walked 65 miles! I blogged two weeks ago about why we did it and what we expect from this adventure with the CamperForce program, and I’ll post an update on how it’s going when we reach the halfway point.

My typical “work hair” style channels my inner Rosie the Riveter.
That’s the official t-shirt on the upper right, and our back yard for pretty much the rest of the year on the bottom.

For now, here we don’t sit, and the current plan is to make our way back to San Antonio after we’re done working. Not sure we’ll make it before Santa Claus arrives, but we’ll definitely have done our job as elves this year!

10 Ways I Stay Fit on the Road

Let’s start this off with what you need to know about me:

I’m not a fitness fanatic or expert, and I don’t have a perfect body. In fact, you could say that my desire is not to stay in shape, but more to stay out of a certain shape category.

The round one.

I fight really hard to keep my waistline narrower than what’s above and below it.

At 48, I’m a curvy size 8, 5’4” tall, and my weight hovers around 145. A few pounds less, and I rejoice. A few pounds more, and I extend my middle finger at my scale — and then spend several weeks counting calories to get back on track. This is what’s normal for me.

See? I’ve got curves.
And on that day, I also had new shoes, and they coordinated with both my outfit and the RV park’s fitness room. Winning!

So that covers Vanity, the first tenet in my holy trinity of fitness motivation. Ready for the other two?

Sanity. Activity that works my body gets me out of the RV and my own head, and just generally makes me feel better about myself, my day, and whatever I need to face during the course of it.

Survival. Exercise is widely known to be effective in reducing the risk of breast cancer recurrence. I’ve had that shit. I don’t want it back.

That said, I exercised regularly before my diagnosis too — hell, I was even a Jazzercise  instructor for almost 7 years — and now it’s more important than ever.

As I wrote in a Facebook comment earlier this year, it’s not a matter of “Look at her. She was fit and healthy, and got cancer anyway, so why exercise?” To be quite blunt, cancer doesn’t care how fit you are. But being fit and healthy at the time of diagnosis makes a tremendously positive difference in how the body handles and recovers from treatment.

Now you know the why. Here comes the how.

I can take 19 steps from one end of The Toad to the other. That means I’d have to walk it 526 times to reach that ever popular daily recommendation of 10,000 steps.

Not. Happening.

Instead, I’ve developed an arsenal of several alternatives that I rotate, not just to combat workout boredom, but also to be able to get some sort of exercise even when the weather’s uncooperative, or when we don’t have much time, or when the roads aren’t safe for walking or biking, or when I’m sore from pushing myself too hard the day before, etc.

In no particular order:

Walking — I hoof it at a pretty good clip, 3.5 to 4 mph, on urban trails and in parks when possible, and on regular ol’ roads when not, but only if there’s a wide shoulder or sidewalk to keep me safe. Yes, I always walk against traffic.

I walked in cities all over the country wearing these eye-catchers — until they literally fell apart.
I miss them.

Hiking — I’m slower at this, usually averaging only 2 mph, but that’s because the terrain is often uphill and tricky, and I’m wrangling poles and a pack too.

One of my favorite hikes for scenery was this one in California’s High Sierra, July of 2016.

Biking — We carry our bicycles on the back of the RV, and we use them for both fitness rides and for local transportation.

Our October 2015 ride along the Virginia Creeper Trail

Dancing — It’s my favorite exercise method of all time. I’ve made use of empty picnic pavilions, rally halls and all-purpose rooms, laundry rooms, a fairgrounds exhibit hall, and a cousin’s garage. Have tunes, will travel! Forget dancing like nobody’s watching, and dance like somebody’s filming.

I danced up a sweat in here.


Here too.

Resistance Tube — It’s a small, nearly weightless alternative to dumbbells, kettlebells and the like, which are just not practical to store in an RV. I use it primarily for arm exercises, but occasionally I throw in a few leg and abdominal reps too.

Yoga — Sometimes I use the Yoga Studio app on my phone; sometimes I just do my own thing. I’ve taken enough classes over the years that I can put together my own 30-minute sequence of poses for strength, flexibility, and/or relaxation.

My set-up is a little cramped in here, but I can get my yoga on anyway.
If the weather’s nice, I take it outside.

The Fit RV — Unlike me, James & Stef are fitness experts, and they focus on workouts geared toward those of us with nomadic lifestyles. Thanks to them, I’ve learned how to turn a picnic table into a home gym! Those videos are here and here.

Photo source: The Fit RV

Fitness Centers — Not the kind that require paid membership, but the kind that are included as amenities at RV parks and hotels (yes, we stay in hotels from time to time), and the ones we are able to use for free when we’re parked on military bases. Nothing like walking into a gym full of young soldiers, sailors or airmen to get this girl to work harder!

Here’s a generic hotel fitness room, and a view of my armpit scar. It’s a visible reminder of the good news that the cancer hadn’t spread to my lymph nodes, so I guess I’ll keep it.

Fitness Classes — It’s a little pricey to pay on a per class basis, but sometimes it’s worth it. I’ve been to boot camp classes with a cousin, and I return to my old Jazzercise center any time we pass through Norfolk, VA. I’ve not yet participated in a “yoga in the park” session, but several cities offer them, often in conjunction with their farmers market. It’s on my list!

Healthy Eating — I’ve admitted already that I count calories when I’m feeling tubby. Overall, I try to eat right by focusing our meals around reasonable portion sizes of lean meats, fresh produce, and whole grains, while also trying my best to keep splurges to a minimum. We love to try local treats, and I will happily order a low-calorie entree in order to sample guiltlessly a hometown diner’s famous pie.

In conclusion, living in a tiny, rolling space is no excuse for me to slack off. I can and do #ExerciseEverywhere.


Disclaimer: I’ve received no compensation from any brands, apps, or entities mentioned above. I’m just sharing what I like so that maybe you can benefit too!

WheRVe we been? Our travels, 2nd quarter 2017

Here’s a summary of our second quarter travels for 2017, mapped with a little help from Google. (Want to review the first quarter first? Click.)

The map’s a bit misleading, because we started in West Virginia, rolled east to the Virginia coast, then backtracked right through WV again on our way to Kentucky.

RV miles traveled this quarter: about 1500. RV miles traveled this year: about 4700.

Little Beaver State Park, WV, Apr. 10-19: What a beautiful campground this is! I reviewed it here, and we really enjoyed the peace and quiet of early springtime in “almost heaven.” Best part of this visit: we were within a 2-hour drive of some family on my daddy’s side, so we were able to share home-cooked Easter dinner with aunties and cousins galore, including the newest little leaf on our family tree. Genealogically speaking, Asher is my first cousin twice removed, but I’m just gonna call him a kissin’ cousin, because that’s what I did to his precious face.

Cousin Asher with a boo-boo that was not caused by my kisses, and the views of and from our campsite at Little Beaver State Park

Norfolk, VA, Apr. 19 – May 1: Friends we love, food we’d missed, and our boy! We got to spend a week with our older son and his girl, who flew in from WA to celebrate his former Boy Scout troop’s 100th anniversary. It was his first trip back since we moved away from the City of Mermaids in 2010, and we crammed in as many visits to old favorite places as we could. The kids stayed with friends, and Tim & I parked at the Little Creek military campground, where that “No wake zone” sign became less funny as the rain continued and the roads failed to drain. Ah, sea-level living by the sea. We don’t miss it.

One thing we do miss about living by the sea is access to good, fresh sea food.
We took advantage.
Often.

Williamsburg, VA, May 1-22: We were having such a good time in our former hometown — without a house to work on this year — that we decided to extend our stay in the area for a few more weeks. While enjoying daily bunny visits to our campsite at Cheatham Annex, we also made a side trip via air to visit friends in Boston, added some insulation to The Toad’s basement, and celebrated Mother’s Day by borrowing a friend and her two boys since ours were absent. And we didn’t leave until we got a Very Important Phone Call.

What could possibly have pulled us away from all this, you ask?

Taylorsville, KY, May 23-30: The new BFT is ready! But first, in a twist of fate that I could not possibly make up: minor RV disaster. When we packed up in VA and I pulled in the slides, I heard a pop-hiss from the front of The Toad. A hose had ruptured, spewing hydraulic fluid everywhere under our bed. It looked like a murder scene. Thankfully, we were pulling in once more beside our friends Always on Liberty, and Captain Dan’s quick and able assistance made it so that we could still get to the dealership and pick up our new truck in time. (The full story about what happened to the old BFT and why we bought a new one is right. frickin’ here.)

Out with the old truck, in with the new!
Oh, and we’ll be getting new flooring soon too. Thanks, hydraulic leak.

Goshen, IN, May 30 – June 18: We finally made it to our first RV owners’ club rally, a national one with 500+ attendees, and we jumped in feet first by taking on jobs that required months of advance planning. While there, we made new friends, learned a lot about RVing from them, and survived more potluck suppers than we ever thought possible. Met up with some old friends too (I’m looking at you, RV Love and Always on Liberty), danced, ate like the Amish, and replaced our sofa, recliner and mattress.

Kelly, of RV There Yet Chronicles, snapped the photo of us at the rally, auditioning for the never-coming-to-a-theater-near-you movie “Derpy Dancing.”
Perhaps you’ve heard of it?

Ozaukee County, WI, June 18-30: We needed a place to go between scheduled events in Indiana and Pennsylvania, so we headed to visit friends just north of Milwaukee. Summertime in Wisconsin is brief, and everyone likes to get out and enjoy it, so RV park and campground spaces can be hard to find at the last minute. Although we thought several times that we’d end up overnighting in a driveway or parking lot, we managed to cobble together reservations at three different spots, allowing us to experience classic WI activities and treats, like local brews, a baseball game within sight of Lake Michigan, a fish fry, and cheese curds (both fresh and fried).

Three reasons we can’t live here:
Winter
Fried walleye
Cheese curds
I’d be too cold, and I’m pretty sure my body weight would double.

Coming up next: We’ll spend a few more days in WI to get us through Independence Day Weekend, and then we’ll roll to PA for a family reunion/graduation celebration with some of Tim’s cousins. We’ll also be spending a couple of nights in a NY B&B to mark our own wedding anniversary. 25 this year!

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.

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.