2 years in: RV there yet?

Today marks the start of our 3rd year of living full time in The Toad, which, depending on my mood or the situation, is also our rolling bedroom, a 38′ port-o-potty, an imminent disaster on wheels, or Emily’s Food Truck.

We shall celebrate this milestone by answering 12 of the Questions We Hear All The Time. (By “We,” I mean me and my computer, because Tim is out of town. And by “All The Time,” I mean yeah, pretty much all the time.)

Sounds like a lot of things go wrong with the RV. Don’t you miss living in a house?

Yes they do, and no we don’t. Things go wrong in everyone’s RV, from the newest to the oldest, from the high-end to the low — just like in a house. They never happen at a good time, they’re expensive to fix, and although Tim can handle most repairs on his own, sometimes we have to pay someone else to do it — just like in a house.

You don’t miss anything about having a house? Really?

Fine. We miss having a bathtub. And I’m not crazy about living without my photo albums and other prior-to-digitization mementos, all of which are in our storage unit in San Antonio. I feel like a big chunk of my history is missing.

How many states have you visited in the RV, I mean like, for more than just a rest stop?

By my count, 19: Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Virginia, West Virginia, Utah, Wyoming, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, North Carolina, Alabama, Washington, and Oregon

I didn’t compile a “year in review” of 2015 or 2016. Sorry. But I’ve been keeping on top of summaries for this year! 1st quarter 2017 is here, and 2nd quarter is here.

This loop represents just four months of travel, from mid-April to mid-August of 2016.
We started in San Antonio and went counter clockwise.
(Source: maps.google.com and my crappy skills)

Have you found a place in any of those that feels like home? That’s what you set out to do, right? Find home?

Yeah… about that. No. We are no closer to finding home than we were when we started this crazy adventure, and that is because we’ve spent most of our time going from one “Hey, come join us for this” occurrence to another, and occasionally finding spots to explore and play between those events. But we’ve spent time with more friends and family in these last two years than we had in the prior 20, so we have no regrets!

Flagstaff, AZ, was a contender for a while, because we liked the size, the landscape, the people, and the vibe, but when a friend posted a few months later that it was 28 degrees on the morning of Memorial Day? Gone. Dead to us. Off the list. No.

You sold two houses in 2016, so are you just rolling in dough? Must be nice to be so rich that life is a permanent vacation.

Come closer.

I want you to hear me say this: We lost money on both houses.

I won’t tell you how much, because there is not a big enough margarita on the planet to make me feel better about it, but for 13 months of these past 24? We were paying the mortgage on a house we weren’t living in, waiting for it to sell.

It hurt, I don’t recommend it, and we should probably not be allowed to buy property ever again because we are terrible at market timing. We are relieved to have the homeownership burden lifted, and we are now rebuilding our savings, thankyouverymuch.

House 1, in San Antonio TX, sold in March of 2016.

House 2, in Norfolk VA, sold in November of 2016

So… are you poor? Is that why you’re living in an RV?

No. We’re not poor. We are living on Tim’s military retirement pension, and had in fact been doing so for two years before we downsized to the RV, so we already knew that if we maximized use of his retirement benefits while simultaneously reducing expenses, we could make it work. The RV is simply the means by which we are Owning Less to Do More. It could just as easily have been a tiny home or a boat or a yurt.

Are you thinking about getting a new RV still?

No. We’ve decided to keep upgrading and modifying this one until… well, until we feel like we’re done. We’ve painted, replaced some furniture and fixtures, upgraded the power system, added disc brakes and a bit of insulation, and I forgot what the hell all else, but we talked a lot about it in this video by Heartland RVs.

The old got the old heave ho into the landfill.

The new required some assistance.
I can now answer the question “How many RVers does it take to get a new sofa into a 5th wheel?”
It took 4 of these fine folks, and we didn’t even have to remove the door or a window!

How about a new dog?

No. We miss Lola, but this just isn’t the right time for us to add four paws to the mix. Besides, we really don’t look good on paper (no yard, no fence, no vet, no permanent address), so I’m not sure a shelter would deem us a proper adoptive family anyway. Now if a dog finds us? All bets might be off.

– Lola –
Oil on canvas by Tim’s sister, Whitney

About that “no permanent address” thing. How do you get mail? Or vote? Or go to the doctor?

OK, we do have a permanent address; we just don’t live in the UPS store where it’s located. We’d already been renting a mailbox in San Antonio for a while before we started traveling, so we just kept it. It’s the address we use for our driver’s licenses, voter’s registrations, vehicle registrations, banking, etc. Every 2-3 weeks, we call them to have our accumulated mail forwarded to wherever we are.

Our medical “home” is also San Antonio, and we return every 6 months for my cancer follow-ups, and anything else that needs attention. While traveling, we are able to make use of military treatment facilities and VA hospitals, thanks to Tim’s 25 years of Navy service.

Do you like the new truck?

Yes! Wow, do we love the new BFT (2017 Dodge RAM 3500 dually). We actually rather liked the old BFT too (2012 Chevy Silverado 3500 dually), and would have kept it until death did us part, but… oh wait. It did die. We just chose not to live with it after the major organ transplant.

But anyway, the advances in comfort, maneuverability, and electronic features between those model years is noticeable even to me, and I don’t really pay much attention to that kind of thing. (“Does it start when I turn the key? Yes? Good. That’s all I need.”)

2017 RAM 3500 Laramie Crew Cab 4X4 8′ Box
6.7-Liter I6 Cummins® Turbo Diesel Engine
AISIN 6-Speed Automatic Transmission
Dual Rear Wheels / 17-Inch x 6-Inch Wheels
Black interior
True Blue Pearl exterior

How long ya gonna keep doing this?

We have no exit strategy. When we started, we thought it would take a year or two to get all our exploring done and find The Place, but now we’ve decided to play this hand for as long as we can comfortably hold the cards.

Tim is 51, I’m 48, and we’re frequently the youngsters of the RV park, and I’m OK with that. If you’ve read our “How we met” story, and are now trying to do the math, let me help you out. Yes, we were young. We married at 26 and 23, had our sons right quick, and that is how we ended up with an empty nest by the ages of 49 and 46.

We celebrated our 25th anniversary in July, with an escape from the RV to a B&B — the very same B&B where we spent our wedding night.

What’s next?

We’re going to play with friends just a bit more this year, in VA and TN, and then from the end of September until Christmas, we expect to be working seasonal warehouse jobs for Amazon’s CamperForce program, at their Murfreesboro, TN, distribution center.

More on that to come, but for now, if there’s a topic I didn’t cover, you are welcome to ask your question in the comments section below. But keep it clean. My parents read this.

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: Sinful Chocolate Fudge Pie

We encountered a bump in the road two weeks ago, with a catastrophic fuel pump failure in the BFT, stranding us just south of Dallas. Luckily, we were able to have The Toad towed to a park with hookups, so we could live somewhat normally for the duration.

But after five days of trying to keep my spirits up by making lemonade out of our proverbial lemons, I decided I needed something stronger to soothe my soul.

Chocolate.

There are times when only chocolate will do, and this was one of them.

Beware:  This pie is so sinfully rich and intense that you may want to draw the blinds and turn up the volume on the TV to disguise any embarrassing noises or facial expressions you might make while eating it.

Yes, it’s that good. Remember the “I’ll have what she’s having” scene from When Harry Met Sally? That.

Sinful Chocolate Fudge Pie

8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate morsels, melted

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter or margarine, softened

3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

3 eggs

2 tsp. instant coffee

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/4 cup flour

1 cup chopped walnuts

1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Microwave chocolate in microwaveable bowl on HIGH 2 min. or until almost melted, stirring after 1 min. Stir until chocolate is completely melted; set aside. (Alternate: melt over very low heat on stovetop in heavy saucepan, stirring frequently.)

I prefer melting chocolate on my gas stovetop to the microwave method, as I’m less likely to scorch it that way.
You use the method you’re good at.

Beat butter and sugar in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy.

It’s gonna look like this.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating until well blended after each addition.

Add chocolate, coffee, and vanilla extract; mix well.

Chocolate going in.

I used my very precious pure Mexican vanilla, purchased in Mexico on a recent vacation.
You can find it in the states too, but read the ingredient list: if it has anything other than water, vanilla bean and alcohol in it, don’t waste your money. You’d basically be buying vanilla-flavored corn syrup.

Stir in flour and chopped walnuts.

I used walnuts.
You use whatever nuts you like, or leave them out.

Pour into pastry shell.

That nice glossy uncooked batter yields a nice glossy top crust after baking. Underneath it?
Gooey fudgy moan-inducing filling.

Bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until pie appears set. (I used my gas oven for this pie. I have not tested it in my convection oven.) Toothpick test is unreliable. It will come out coated with filling, which is exactly what you want. Don’t be fooled into over-baking!

Cool pie on rack, then refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving. Top with whipped cream or ice cream if desired.

My version is adapted from this original recipe.

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

RV bathroom upgrade: Any excuse for a potty!

I’m sure other people are buying exciting new things like electronics, clothing, and airline tickets for the holiday gift-giving season.

Us? We bought a new toilet for The Toad.

It arrived quite appropriately on Black (Tank?) Friday.

It arrived quite appropriately on Black (Tank?) Friday.

But we’d finally had it with our old one, which was just not worth the hassle of yet another repair effort. Despite more than one round of disassembly and cleaning, plus replacement of critical parts, the flush ball mechanism would no longer seal correctly.  And as anyone with recreational vehicle bathroom experience knows, that creates some unpleasant issues, none of which are appropriate for polite company.

Tim checked online reviews for newer models, and we settled on (pun absolutely intended) the Dometic ceramic bowl gravity-flush toilet, model 320. Being a handy guy, he knew we could handle this job ourselves, and it took even less time than we thought: only one hour from opening the shipping box to the first successful “test drive.”

Opening it up was an exercise in itself.

Opening it up was an exercise in itself.

It was the day after Thanksgiving, and although we still had visions of pie in our heads, we knew that was not whipped cream

It was the day after Thanksgiving, and although we still had visions of pie in our heads, we knew that was not whipped cream. At all.

I was positive we'd find the directions in the bowl, mainly because that's where I'd have put them. Close enough.

I was positive we’d find the directions in the bowl, mainly because that’s where I’d have put them.
Close enough.

I was the Reader of the Directions. I kept asking Tim if the toilet was flush with the floor -- and then giggling uncontrollably. That shit never gets old. Ha!

I was the official Reader of Directions.
I kept asking Tim if the toilet was flush with the floor — and then giggling uncontrollably.
Because that shit never gets old.

Some tips for anyone who decides to tackle this job:

  1. You will need to turn off the water supply to your RV while you’re working. Prepare accordingly by filling a pitcher with clean water for drinking, using the old toilet one last time before you disconnect it, and putting some soapy water in a bucket for washing hands.

    Critical tools: socket wrench set, and an iPhone (which served conveniently as both a flashlight and an internet reference guide)

    Critical tools: socket wrench set, and an iPhone (which served conveniently as both a flashlight and an internet reference guide)

  2. Choose a location — and time of year — for adequate ventilation. The floor opening to your black tank will be exposed for a while, so you’ll definitely want windows open!

    One of the toughest parts of any RV repair job: maneuvering in really tight spaces

    One of the toughest parts of any RV repair job: maneuvering in really tight spaces

  3. Tools and materials we used: socket wrench, screw driver, putty knife (for scraping deposits from floor flange), rags and paper towels, spray cleaner/disinfectant, plastic garbage bag, and rubber gloves. If your toilet model comes with a hand sprayer, you will also need a drill to install the mounting bracket on the wall.

    Prepping the floor flange by scraping out the yuck. It was about as disgusting as you'd imagine.

    Prepping the floor flange by scraping out the yuck.
    It was about as disgusting as you’d imagine.

  4. We also recommend talking with your RV and/or toilet manufacturer before you place your order, to make sure you purchase a model that will fit in your camper, along with any additional required parts. And if this type of project is new for you, you may also want to do the installation at a time when the manufacturer’s customer service department is open, so that you can call for help if needed (yet another use for that cell phone).

    Out with the old, in with the new!

    Out with the old, in with the new! Aside from being a requirement in this case, it’s also how we Own Less with other stuff: new in, old out. Always.

Of course the most important thing you will need for this job is a sense of humor. Toilets and bathrooms are funny, and making as many crappy jokes as necessary will help pass the time.

Our new throne. Let me just say that the spray nozzle is a total game-changer. That is all.

Our new throne.
Let me just say that the spray nozzle is a total game-changer.

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

Some funny things happened on the way to the Grand Canyon

We departed from Home Base San Antonio a week ago today, and arrived yesterday in Williams, AZ, which will serve as our base camp for a week or more as we explore the Grand Canyon, Sedona, and other northern Arizona destinations.

Our first stop was only an hour outside San Antonio, in Kerrville, TX. We wanted to spend some time with our friends, Jay & Kris, plus we had some tools of theirs to return, so we hung out with them for a few days at Kerrville-Schreiner Park.

It's a city park now, but until 2004 it was a state park, with the acreage, trails, riverfront and wildlife to show for it. Very pleasant stay, and highly recommended as a camping destination.

It’s a city park now, but until 2004 it was a state park, with 517 acres of trails, camp sites, cabins, wildlife, and riverfront access to show for it.
Very pleasant stay, and highly recommended as a camping destination.

Funny Thing 1: Giant crawdad at the boat launch. I really don't like knowing they grow this large, but...

Funny Thing 1:
Giant crawdad at the boat launch. I really don’t like knowing they grow this large, but…

... if we hadn't found it, we wouldn't have learned that Jay is some sort of crawdad whisperer! He unhooked the leash from one of his doggies, dangled it in the water, and used to to lead the crawdad out. I. Almost. Died.

… if we hadn’t found it, we wouldn’t have learned that Jay is some sort of crawdad whisperer.
He unhooked the leash from one of his doggies, dangled it in the water, and used it to lead. the crawdad. out.

The doggies, however, were most amused by this new plaything.

The doggies were most amused by this new plaything.

You think regular old dog breath is bad? Tim got a kiss from Pixie, who'd just licked the crawdad. Eeeeemwwww!

You think regular old dog breath is bad?
Tim got a kiss from Pixie, who’d just licked the crawdad.
Eeeeewwww!

Funny Thing 2: Unexplained teepee in the park

Funny Thing 2:
Unexplained teepee in the park

Funny Thing 3: There were signs everywhere advising against touching or feeding the deer, but I ask you, who can resist a face like that?

Funny Thing 3:
There were signs everywhere advising against touching or feeding the deer, but I ask you, who can resist a face like that?

Funny Thing 4: We took in downtown Kerrville's 2nd annual Chalk Fest. Let's just say that Linus and Charlie Brown weren't the only two characters we saw.

Funny Thing 4:
We took in downtown Kerrville’s 2nd annual Chalk Fest.
Let’s just say that Linus, Snoopy and Charlie Brown weren’t the only characters we saw on those sidewalks, and it. was. awesome.

We also went into the Kerr Arts & Cultural Center (it's free!), and looked up. Trippy!

We also went into the Kerr Arts & Cultural Center (it’s free!), and looked up.
Trippy!

Funny Thing 5: I giggled. And I make no apologies for having the sense of humor of an 8-year-old boy.

Funny Thing 5:
I giggled.
And although I make no apologies for having the sense of humor of an 8-year-old boy, wouldn’t “Kerrville Public Library” have been a less cringe-worthy name?

Funny Thing 5: It's not funny. The day before we left, Jay helped Tim tighten up our trailer brakes. And that's when they noticed we've got some suspension issues, probably relating the Tire Incident in January. I don't understand all the details, but we figured we could make it safely (albeit bumpily) to AZ with the springs and shocks in their current condition. We'll get everything back in better working order before we leave, though.

Funny Thing 6:
It’s not funny.
The day before we left, Jay helped Tim tighten up our trailer brakes. And that’s when they noticed we’ve got some suspension issues, probably relating to the Tire Incident back in January. I don’t understand all the details, but we figured we could make it safely (albeit bumpily) to AZ with the springs and shocks in their current condition. We’ll get everything back in better working order before we leave there, though.

Our itinerary: Three days of driving, from Kerrville to Roswell to Ruidoso to Pie Town to Williams

Our itinerary: Three days of driving, from Kerrville to Roswell to Ruidoso to Pie Town to Williams

Funny Thing 6: Pie Town, NM, is about as big as that crawdad we found, but the people there know it and play to it wisely. They're friendly as hell too. Our receipt might say we stayed at the Pie Town RV Park, but according to some folks we met it town, we stayed at Penny & Jay's.

Funny Thing 7:
Pie Town, NM, is about as big as that crawdad we found, but the people there know it and play to that particular strength wisely.
They’re friendly as hell too, as you can see from this welcoming sign on the RV park bath house, which is open to anyone who may need it. Our receipt might say we stayed at the Pie Town RV Park, but according to the folks we met in town, we really stayed at Penny & Jay’s.

Few things make me smile like an honor system cash box. This is how we paid for our spot, one of six in the gravel lot adjacent to Penny & Jay's.

Few things make me smile like an honor system cash box. This is how we paid for our spot, one of six in the gravel lot adjacent to Penny & Jay’s.

And yes, when in Pie Town, you find whichever of the three restaurants is open (unusual hours: plan ahead), and prepare to be treated like family when you walk in the door.

And yes, when in Pie Town, you find whichever restaurant is open (unusual hours for all three, so plan ahead), and prepare to be treated like family when you walk in the door. “Hi! Where y’all from? Before I forget, we’re out of meat loaf and mashed potatoes tonight, but we can give you a second side with whatever main dish you choose. Is that OK?”

We ate dinner at The Gatherin' Place, saved room for Very Berry Pie, and left our mark on one of their door frames. Can you find ownlessdomore.us?

We ate dinner at The Gatherin’ Place, saved room for Very Berry Pie, and left our mark on one of their door frames.
Can you find ownlessdomore.us?

Very Berry Pie: just the right mixture of tart and sweet, with a wonderfully flaky crust. Worth every calorie!

Very Berry Pie: just the right mixture of tart and sweet, with a wonderfully flaky crust. Worth every calorie!

Funny Thing 7: We learned a lesson in kitchen storage upon our arrival in AZ. Don't let the pizza cutter ride next to the pastry brush. Poor thing got a bit of a trim!

Funny Thing 8:
We learned a late lesson in RV kitchen storage upon our arrival in AZ. Don’t let the pizza cutter ride next to the pastry brush.

Coming up in a few days: the best Grand Canyon photos a girl can get on an iPhone. See ya when we’re done exploring!