2018 Grand Canyon Hike

Tim

A couple months ago, I was presented with an opportunity to join a group of five guys in a hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon in early May.

Who could pass that up?

The story in photos:

(Hint: Click on the first photo, and navigate through)

If Willy Wonka had been a florist instead of a candy maker…

… his world would look like this. The colors of these flowers are almost obscenely vivid and rich, to the point of surreality.

We are visiting family in western Washington during tulip season! Usually we visit during the holidays or the summertime, so this is a rare treat.

For better event and travel information than I can give you (because my advice would be “Call my mother-in-law, and she’ll tell you everything you need to know,” and I’m not sure she’s up for that), visit the Tulip Festival and RoozenGaarde.

I’ll let my photos* do the rest of the talking. You start planning your trip for next April.

I can’t take him anywhere. #selfiespoiler

Recreating an iconic family photo: the preparation

Nailed it!
On the left, our sons in 2004, which was the last time we tiptoed through the tulips. The boys were 9 and 7 at the time, and our family was stationed in Bremerton, WA.
On the right, these two parents in 2018, ages 51 and 49.


* I used the auto-enhance feature on these photos, but no filters. In person, the colors of these flowers are so vibrant and luscious, you may be tempted to lick them. I do not recommend it.

WheRVe we been? Our travels, 1st quarter 2018

Everything’s bigger in Texas and it’s our home base and lots of people we love either visited or were already there — and that kind of explains why we spent the first three months of 2018 in the Lone Star State.

Here’s a summary of our time there, mapped with a little help from Google. Links to prior updates appear at bottom of page.

RV miles traveled this quarter: about 970, all in Texas.

We went from San Antonio to Port Aransas, back to San Antonio, up to the Fort Worth area, and back down to Kerrville.
(source: maps.google.com)

San Antonio, December 26, 2017 – Jan 6, 2018: Still recovering from our stint as Amazon Camperforce Associates, we arrived at home base San Antonio after Santa Claus did, but we were just in time for a quick meet-up with new friends, Marc & Julie Bennett of RV Love, before ringing in the new year with old friends from our older son’s years in Boy Scouts. We took a walk through the South Texas RV Super Sale, introduced some of our own family to our Heartland Family, and then our sons arrived for…

Yes, our sons are very tall, and we are very not.
I’m not sure how it happened.
Fed ’em well, I guess.

Port Aransas, January 6-10: Family work party! The two of us, my parents, our younger son from Austin, and our older son & his girlfriend from WA caravanned in three vehicles from San Antonio to Port Aransas to help my brother’s family do some building after Hurricane Harvey. Then it was back to San Antonio to clean up and prepare for…

Fort Worth area, January 14-25: New flooring for the RV! I wrote a detailed post about that whole adventure here. In summary: The first round of vinyl planking looked good until it didn’t (the next day), so we had to extend our visit for a do-over. It was one of only a few RV repairs/upgrades for which we wrote a check instead of doing the work ourselves, and I think we’re still getting over it.

Before: worn, stained, smelly carpeting and cheap linoleum
After: fresh, cushiony, odor-free carpeting and chocolaty vinyl planks

Kerrville, January 25 – March 31: We did a little more work camping, this time alongside friends at Kerrville-Schreiner Park; upgraded from a cranky and complicated manual awning to an automatic one that works with the push of a single button; met fellow RV nomad, Peter, of Faith: the Final Frontier for a couple of beers; and reconnected with Lisa of Always on Liberty for an afternoon of shopping with my mom, her sister, and a bonus giant chicken. One of the best things I did was take a goat yoga class, and I’m pretty sure it offset the worst, which was going through the hassle of upgrading our driver’s licenses to show we’re qualified to drive this much rig. But both of us are official and legal now, and I only cried a few times.

Sorry. There’s no photo of me throwing a hissy fit over having to take an actual driving test at the age of 49.
But you can read about my unattractive meltdown here.

Where are we now? We’re parked for a few days in Salt Lake City, on our journey from Texas (home of our younger son and my side of the family) to Washington (home of our older son and Tim’s side of the family). Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and/or Twitter for updates as we go!


We started full-timing in August of 2015, but I didn’t think to do an annual review until the end of 2016, and it was just a listing on Facebook of places we’d visited. After that, I started using a quarterly format.

4Q 2017        3Q 2017        2Q 2017        1Q2017        2016

New truck? Didn’t make my butt look big, but definitely caused a weight problem, plus much crying and swearing.

Warning: I don’t come off well in this story.

I was petulant. I whined. I yelled at my husband (even though it wasn’t his fault). I stomped, swore, shook my fist at the heavens, hyperventilated, and lost sleep.

I considered all kinds of unspeakable acts to try to get out of what I considered a horrifying situation: having to take a written test and an actual driving test in order to get the license I needed to tow our 5th wheel legally.

“Wait. What?” you say. “Emily. Haven’t you been driving that get-up for more than three years already?”

Yes. Yes, I have. I even wrote about what it was like to learn how.

But… our May 2017 upgrade to the new BFT (B is for Big, T is for Truck, and you can figure out the F), a 2017 Dodge Ram 3500, caused us to gain enough combined vehicle weight rating that it bumped us up into a new level of driver’s licensing requirements in our home state of Texas.

Oh hello, Hell. How very unpleasant to encounter you. I am not gonna like this.

If we’d stayed under a 26,000-lb Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating (GCVWR) with the truck/5th wheel combo, as we had with the prior BFT, a 2012 Chevy Silverado 3500, we could have kept our regular old Class C licenses, and motored on as usual.

But the Ram put us over the limit of 26,000 pounds GCVWR. Thus, Class A non-commercial licenses would be required to keep us legal on the roads. And that meant:

  • Written test
  • Driving test
  • Dammit and FML

Top: under 26,000 lbs GCVWR with the Silverado
(Orrrrr… maybe not. See embarrassing update at bottom of page.)
Bottom: over 26,000 lbs GCVWR with the Ram

We bought the new truck in Kentucky in May, and registered it in Texas, but then continued to travel out of state until after Christmas. When we returned to the Lone Star State, we started working through the license upgrade process.

In January, we studied the appropriate material from the Texas Commercial Motor Vehicle Drivers Handbook.

Don’t panic.
If you’re doing this for an exempt/ non-commercial license like we did, there’s a lot of material in here you can skip.
(Screen cap of handbook cover from dps.texas.gov)

In February, we took our 20-question multiple choice tests, and both of us passed on the first try.

We then scheduled our driving skills tests for March, and here’s where things go sideways for me.

Since The Toad was all set up and hooked up for our latest work camping gig as the home sweet home it is, we borrowed a friend’s trailer for practicing and testing purposes. Because his trailer is rated in the same weight class as our 5th wheel, we were able to use it legitimately on test day.

The trailer’s class is 14,000 lbs, which put our GCVWR at about 26,000, which is what was required for the test.

But practice didn’t go well for me.

It probably went even worse for my patient, long-suffering husband, who coached me through it, but he never let on. Yes, nominations for his sainthood will be accepted. Maybe not by the folks at the Vatican, but definitely by me.

I hit curbs. I backed in the wrong direction. I couldn’t get the feel of the damn thing. And worst of all? I knew it was my fault.

I know I should have been making myself practice these skills all along — it’s been 3.5 years since we bought the RV — but I haven’t.

On the outside, I swore. A lot.

On the inside, I cried.

But I knew I needed to do this. I could see the benefit of the training. And I drew inspiration from the knowledge that I’m far from the first woman to drive a big-ass contraption like this. I know women who RV solo. Hell, I’ve interviewed three of them.

As stated above, yes, I have been towing our 38′ RV all this time.

And in the limited situations in which I’d take the wheel, I was very good at it. So good that Tim would usually nap or work on his laptop while it was my turn to drive.

I was safe, skilled, and conscientious — at going forward. On highways. And into parking spots in gigantic lots where I had zero likelihood of having to put our 10 tires, 13+ tons, and 60 feet of vehicular insanity in reverse.

In other words, I was a wimp about it, and relied on Tim as a safety net for doing the tricky stuff.

(Go ahead. Close your eyes and shake your head from side to side with an audible sigh of incredulity. I deserve it, and I’ll wait.)

In order to pass the road test for this license upgrade, I’d have to be able to show proficiency in situations that I have almost always effectively avoided: in-town driving, backing up, and parallel parking.

And after our second practice session, I felt so demoralized and incompetent that I rescheduled my test for a later date, because to be quite honest, I would not have passed me. I knew I was unqualified, and I did not want to go through the trauma of failing the test and having to repeat it.

So with Tim’s help, I dug back in, because I know I need to be able to do these things on my own, without coaching, even though I hate all of it, and I don’t want to do it.

I decided to approach the parking and backing skills like I did yoga.

What???

Hear me out.

When I started doing yoga, there were poses I couldn’t access (yoga-speak for “pretzel myself into”). After regularly practicing the same maneuvers over and over again, I could then perform them correctly, and with ease, almost every time — which is exactly what needed to happen with the trailer.

And on those occasions when I messed up a yoga position? I knew how to make a series of tiny corrections to get myself back on track without damaging anything  — which is exactly what needed to happen with the trailer.

And power to the namaste, y’all. That’s what worked! I’m still not what anyone would call great at parking and backing up, but I’ve progressed enough to know how and when to pull forward and fix it — which is what I had to do during the parallel parking portion of my test, and it’s the only “bad” mark I got. I passed!

Tim’s report card is on the left, with perfect marks.
Mine’s on the right, with that one ding for parallel parking control, but I am thrilled beyond coherent speech that it took me only two tries.

So now we’ve completed the whole process, we’re legally licensed just in time to roll out of Texas again, and wow, I hope we never have to repeat that. Our next home state may be determined in part by whether or not we’d have to!

Practice makes perfect-ish.
It also occasionally crushes safety cones.
Sorry, safety cones. I never meant to hurt you.


Important note: I intentionally did not try to tell you whether or not you might be required to upgrade your license or how to go about doing it, because this story is about me. But someone I am lucky to know, an ever reliable source of information and recommendations, has already done those first two things. If you are a Texas RV’er, you’ll find all the information you need in this very thorough FAQ by my friend, David, of Landmark Adventures.


Embarrassing update: Tim read this post, and said, “Um… I guess maybe I didn’t make it clear, or didn’t even tell you, but… we were over the weight limit with the Silverado too.”

Ack! Just not as much??? Meaning we went from somewhat illegal to even more illegal, which is all really just plain illegal? Oy. Back to hyperventilating…

Work camping, Take II: This time, everybody wins

We’re doing more work camping!

No, no. Not for Amazon again. That was… memorable… but not worthy of a repeat. Here’s why.

This time, some friends who live and work in Kerrville, TX, made us an offer we couldn’t refuse, and to make a long story short, we’re spending 2 months helping with spring maintenance at one of our favorite parks in Texas.

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.
We think it’s a perfect camping destination for those who want the feel of a state park while exploring the Texas Hill Country. Yes, longer RVs can fit here (I’ve seen several with 3 AC units on top, which is a big clue), but spots that big are limited, as are spots with full hook-ups. Call the park to check availability.

Our camping fees are waived, in exchange for volunteering our time for various maintenance and upkeep tasks. The park did do background checks on each one of us, but there’s been no strict accounting of our hours. Rather, we’ve proven by example that we are willing to do what needs to be done, and to complete jobs as assigned.

Those jobs have been very reasonable in the level of effort and skill required, and we find it exceptionally rewarding that our work has offered immediately visible results. Plus, it’s a great feeling to know that everything we do improves visitors’ experiences at the park.

We usually work together, but there have been a few blocks of time that Tim has gone out on his own. Both of us have battled upper respiratory crud over the past month, and the weather has often been wet and uncooperative, so unfortunately, there have been stretches of several days when we were unable to work at all.

We hope that the tasks we have completed make up in quality and value for those missed days, if not in actual accrued hours. Here’s a quick photo essay of some of the jobs we’ve done.

We spent our first couple of weeks replacing picnic table tops and benches.
See what I mean about immediately visible results?
What a difference!

And hey, look at the view we had from our “office.”
Hello, Guadalupe River.

We have access to the park’s maintenance compound for tools, supplies, and equipment, including golf carts, so that we don’t have to use our truck.
No cats were harmed in the use of this golf cart. That’s one of the park’s many feral kitties under there.

We’ve swept out cabins, to make sure they’re free of bugs, grit, and cobwebs for incoming guests.

We’ve helped clean out fire rings, which are used depressingly often as trash receptacles, and in the process of doing that one day, we encountered a mysterious ring of raw broccoli.
I have no explanation.

The scourge of Texas: fire ants.
For those unfamiliar, this is a fire ant hill, and if you’ve ever experienced fire ant bites, you know to steer clear.
Which is why…

… one of Tim’s jobs was to sprinkle killer crystals on as many fire ant hills as he could find. And there were lots.
See all those little pests running for their lives?
We are not sad.

We’ve also swept and mopped the rec hall between rentals.

Swept off the porch too…

… and wiped down the kitchen and serving areas.

And yes, we’ve done this too.
Cleaning public bath houses is not my top choice of tasks, but it needed to be done, and we were available, so we pulled on rubber gloves, and we did it.
Done.

Oh, and did I mention that our work is often closely monitored?
Our supervisors tend to show up for a drink at happy hour, and they never tell us we’re doing a poor job, so I guess it ain’t so bad.

And now that spring has arrived in the Hill Country, we are starting to make plans for our next move. We’ve been in Texas for nearly 3 months, which was about 2 months longer than planned. No regrets, but we’re feeling a little twitchy…

So where to next?

Nothing’s firm yet, but after spending so much time here in Texas, near our younger son and my side of the family, we’re thinking it’s time to make our way toward Washington, to hang out with our older son and Tim’s side of the family. So convenient of all of them to confine themselves to only two states, yes?

We expect to be rolling again by the end of this month.