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.

The Story of Us. Or, How a War and a Postage Stamp Led to, Well… to This!

We recently celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary, and in the course of posting a lot about that on Facebook, we learned that many of our friends don’t know The Story of How We Met, and those who do are tactfully, generously and graciously allowing me to tell it myself.

In other words, they’re sitting back and waiting for me to write it. Finally.

We have recounted it out loud many, many times over the years. It makes people gasp, and sigh, and clasp their hands to their hearts while smiling kind of sappily.

It never gets old, and I have been urged repeatedly to write a book.

Y’all. I’m not writing a damn book about it. That’s what Nicholas Sparks is for.

But I’ve got a blog, so you get it here. Own Less, Sigh More.

Ready?

This. This is how it all started.

So… Remember when people used to write letters? Like with a pen, on stationery with coordinating envelopes?

I’m one of those people.

And one of those letters, written on a whim, to put off opening a college text book and studying, ended up in the hands of the man who would eventually…

… hand it to the man who would become my husband.

It’s like this:

Almost exactly 27 years ago, on August 7, 1990, President George H.W. Bush ordered an increase in military strength in the Persian Gulf, after Iraq invaded Kuwait. Hello, Operation Desert Shield, and aren’t you scary?

I was 21, and a senior studying journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. Nobody in my immediate family was serving in the armed forces at the time, nor could I think of any relative who had served during my lifetime.

I had no clue.

But I wanted to do something to make a difference, so when the newspaper published addresses for folks like me to send morale-boosting mail and care packages to “Any Service Member” deployed as part of Operation Desert Shield, I knew I’d found my gig.

I was not looking for a date, a boyfriend, or a husband. It wasn’t a mail order bride thing, and Match.com and Tinder didn’t even exist. I was going to get my degree and launch a long, successful career in magazine publishing, dammit. I had priorities.

That said, apparently I give good letter.

And this is the start of The One.

My opening salvo, dated September 6, 1990, found its way to mail call onboard the USS GUAM, and was randomly given to a married officer in his 40’s.

That man — who may not even know about the chain of events that followed — encountered then 24-year-old Ensign Tim Rohrer in a passageway, handed him my letter, and joked, “Here. This chick’s too old for me. You should write to her.”

Tim let it sit on his desk for several days. He was already struggling to keep up with correspondence from his own family, a few friends, and a school teacher and her kindergarten class somewhere in the midwest. He was on a ship at sea in the Persian Gulf during a war buildup, and he seriously did not have that kind of time.

But I guess some sort of paperwork or other junior officer drudgery came up that he wanted to put off doing, so the man picked up his own pen and paper, and answered my letter.

We corresponded for 8 months, through Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, through the ship’s safe return to its home port of Norfolk, VA, in April of 1991, and through my graduation from UT in May.

Yes, we’ve saved all those Gulf War letters that brought us together. They’re currently buried in our storage unit in San Antonio, along with the rest of our important artifacts, so I was unable to get my hands on them for this post.
Luckily, I’d scanned a copy of that first letter five years ago, for our 20th anniversary, and I still had it on my computer.

I flew from Texas to Virginia to meet Tim in June. We spent a week together, learning that we were just as compatible in person as we’d been on paper.

A month later, he called to ask me to move in with him in Norfolk.

Ten minutes after that, the Air Force called to offer me my first real job, a civilian position in public affairs at Scott AFB — in Illinois.

But I couldn’t let the story end.

I chose the guy.

Our “We’ve moved in together portrait” was taken on a real camera with real film, in a modest little 2-bedroom apartment we didn’t have enough stuff to furnish.
July 1991: no selfies.

I told my parents I’d made a big decision. They gave me their car, helped me pack it with all my things, and watched me drive away.

They understood — because they had a romantic story at their beginning too.

A year later, on July 18, 1992, Tim and I were married.

Simple dress.
Simple cakes.
Simple decor.
Shades of Owning Less to come…

Our first son was born in Monterey, CA, in 1995, and is now working in Washington state. Our second son was born in Annapolis, MD, in 1997, and is now a student at UT-Austin. (And to the best of our knowledge, he is not sending letters to any sailors.)

To rapidly condense the rest: 1 apartment, 4 sets of military quarters, 2 rented houses, 3 purchased houses, 7 states, 1 US territory, 3 dogs, 10 vehicles, 1 nursery school, 3 elementary schools, 4 middle schools, 3 high schools, 3 Cub Scout troops, 2 Boy Scout troops, 5 Navy promotions, 1 Navy retirement, and 1 RV later, we celebrated our 25th anniversary with a stay in the same room at the same B&B where we spent our wedding night.

The carriage house at the William Seward Inn, in Westfield NY.
Do not disturb.

Our story started with a letter.

And a war.

And the wrong guy.

And a whole lot of random gone right.

And we’ll keep writing it.

Because we like it.

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.

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.