I did a dumb thing (and nobody got hurt).

Blame it on hormones. Or Mercury in retrograde. Or the children. I don’t care.

I honestly don’t know why I thought it was the ideal moment to try backing up the RV for the first time. 

(I know. I did all that practicing for the upgraded driver’s license last year, but that was with a friend’s flatbed trailer, which I could see behind. That’s not possible with our 5th wheel, which is why I’ve heretofore been too chickenshit to try it.)

Anyway, our site was a giant parking lot at a remote casino in northern CA, for a quick overnight.

There was only one other vehicle in it. 

Sure, it was after dark, but there was plenty of room beside that big rig, and all I had to do was go straight back. 

I knew I could do that. 

In fact, I’d already done it quite successfully on the opposite side of the lot, but after Tim guided me all the way back, he realized he’d backed me up to a closed gate, and we didn’t know if or when someone might need access, so we moved. 

I declined Tim’s offer to spot me in the second location, because I knew I’d be done when my front end lined up with that semi’s cab. Easy peasy!

But also a big mistake. 

That is when we were reminded that some big rigs are shorter than others. 

Some are even shorter than we are. 

Like this one. 

So yeah. I backed into the fence. Because another compounding factor? Wire fences are pretty much invisible in the dark. 

I didn’t feel it — at all — but Tim definitely saw it when he got out to check my position. 

If I’d pushed any farther, there’d have been some flattened fencing — and two red-faced Rohrers exchanging insurance information with the casino manager come morning. 

The truly embarrassing part was that I know better. I paid more attention to my overconfidence than to two critical rules. (Hell. I couldn’t even see those rules, blinded as I was by that sparkly outfit Overconfidence was wearing.) 

  1. Take extra safety precautions after dark. 
  2. Always — always — use a spotter when backing up. Yes, even if the lot is the size of Connecticut. And especially after dark. 

So now my sense of embarrassment is the size of Connecticut.

There’s no photographic evidence of the actual smoosh, but I took a morning-after shot, showing that I’d had to make a forward roll of shame.

Oh, and one showing where I’d scraped the paint off Tim’s bike frame, although that might actually be from a far older boo-boo. Neither one of us is sure.

And uh, one showing that I bent our bike rack pretty good. Dammit. We really like this one, and it took no fewer than three prior duds to get to it.

The fence took no damage; my ego sustained a fairly large bruise. 

And that’s why I’m sharing this story. 

Let it serve as a reminder that things like this can happen to any RVer, new or seasoned. 

It could have been worse, and thankfully, Tim and I go easy on each other when it comes to such incidents, by which I mean we know full well that we take turns being the bonehead. 

This time, it was my turn.

None of the above: a sojourner meanders through the 2020 Census

We were recently introduced at a gathering as “sojourners,” and that pleased my inner word nerd because it’s a term that isn’t used so very often, and it carries with it a sense of romanticism and history.

Also? I’m pretty sure nobody’s ever called us that before.

And then I got to wondering about wandering. What makes a sojourner different from any other type of person on the move?

Based on my travels from one online dictionary to another (see what I did there?), the meaning hinges more on the destination than on the journey — which seems odd, because the “journ” part is right there inside the word. 

A sojourn is defined as a brief or temporary stay, thus  sojourners are people who spend a short time in one place. 

That’s not an inaccurate way to describe us. Between stints as sojourners, we are travelers — or nomads, wanderers, vagabonds, itinerants, and/or peripatetics. Maybe even pilgrims or hobos, depending on our purpose, and how long it’s been since we last showered and changed clothes. 

No matter what you call us, or what we call ourselves, I have a feeling that completing our 2020 Census form might be a little tricky.

I’ve taken a look at the Census Bureau’s proposed questions, and those involving residence do include “mobile home” as an option, but it’s clear from the list of responses that they mean the kind of mobile home that stays in one place. (“Hello, we’re from the government. Have you experienced an oxymoron today?”)

Anyway, I’ve lifted a few images from the document linked above, and I think you’ll see pretty quickly that in some cases, we’re just gonna have to choose whichever answer is least untrue.

Hmmm.
Our home is owned with a loan, but we also pay rent in the form of campground and RV park fees — unless we’re boondocking or work camping, and then we don’t pay rent at all. And what about the rent we pay for our storage unit?
Shit. Next?

Not sure how to answer this one either.
Do I measure the size of our current RV site?
The acreage of the entire park?

I guess for 18a we’re gonna have to go with an average, as our monthly rent varies widely. Or do I put the amount of our loan payment there?
18b is an easy no, and 19 makes me want to ask, “Wait. How much is it worth? Or how much would we actually get for it? Because we have a proven track record of being shitty at selling things.”

Yes, but it wasn’t parked here, and the address I dig up and give you for wherever we were on this date last year is not going to match our official mailing address.
Oy, this.

Finally some easy ones.
Yes to all!

“Similar debt.”
Ummm, maybe?
It’s more like an auto loan, I guess. Monthly payments and all that.
Scrolling on…

A ha!
A box with our name on it! Best I can tell, this is the only census response that allows for a dwelling that is not actually a building. Even though the question asks you to describe the building. Help!

One.
Let me introduce you to our sole vehicle, a 1-ton dually we call the BFT.
OMG, we’re going to trigger all the federal alarms.

For starters, it’s not a building, you guys. See above.
And the year it was built differs from its actual model year.
Do we even answer this question?
Sheeeesussssssss.

So there you have the points I’m pondering.
Even within this post I’ve wandered — from finding the definition of a single word, to trying to define our home, so that we can check the right box, while living a life that most people would describe as outside the box.

And yes, we will get our Census in the mail, at our official-on-all-the-things address, just like the rest of you. So they will find us. (See Question 9 in this post.)

But depending on where we are, how much fun we’re having, and when we actually call to have our mail forwarded that month, there may be a delay…

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…

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!

Arizona canyons: size matters. And what the hell kind of squirrel was that???

You know the name of the biggest canyon. It’s 277 miles long by up to 18 miles wide, and about a mile deep. All we could see from our walk along the south rim ten days ago was rock — that is, when our view was not impeded by other tourists, cars, campers, shuttle buses, information centers, restaurants, and guest lodges.fullsizerender-14

Sigh. I know. I’m having no small amount of trouble with our overcrowded national parks. Remember Yosemite in July? Shudder.

fullsizerender fullsizerender-9

I found my place on the Trail of Time. Each meter signifies a million years of history, so um, it didn't take long.

I found my place on the Trail of Time.
Each meter of distance signifies a million years of history, so um, it didn’t take long.

fullsizerender-17

After countless cross-country military moves and other travels within striking distance over two+ decades, we finally made it to the Grand Canyon. Yippee!

By significant contrast, we decided about a week later to check out Arizona’s second largest canyon, which is Sycamore Canyon, at 21 miles long by about 7 miles wide, and about 1500 feet deep, with lots of trees and vegetation in the part we saw. For you geology types, it’s desert riparian. For those of us who simply enjoy the sound and smell of the wind rushing through branches, the place is full of fragrant ponderosa pines.

You probably haven’t heard of Sycamore Canyon because it offers more of a wilderness experience than it’s larger sibling to the north.

You probably haven’t heard of Sycamore Canyon because it offers more of a wilderness experience than its larger sibling to the north.

There are no paved roads, no visitors’ centers, no developed campgrounds, and on the Sunday afternoon when we went — traveling over 15 miles of dirt and gravel forest roads to get there — almost no people.

There are no paved roads, no visitors’ centers, no developed campgrounds, and on the Sunday afternoon we visited — traveling over 15 miles of dirt and gravel forest roads to get there — almost no people.

We explored the southwest section of the rim trail for nearly three hours and encountered only two men, who were rock climbing on this cliffside.

We explored the southwest section of the rim trail for nearly three hours and encountered only two other humans, a couple of guys who were rock climbing on this cliffside.

Our hike took us a little over 3 miles, from Vista Point to Sycamore Falls and back. Don't let the map's orientation fool you. North is down, so we in fact hiked along the southwest rim.

Our hike took us a little over 3 miles, from Vista Point to Sycamore Falls and back.
Don’t let the map’s orientation fool you. North is down, so we in fact hiked along the southwest rim.

That black wedge is where the falls are when there is actual water running. Do we still call it a water fall if it's dry?

That black wedge is where the falls are when there is actual water running.
Do we still call it a water fall if it’s dry?

It was the day before Halloween. The creepy trees were catching my eye...

It was the day before Halloween. The creepy trees were catching my eye…

... as were the skeletal remains of this poor critter. It took everything I had not to start singing, "I ain't got no body..." so I settled for "Hey, Honey. Get a backbone!" Groan

… as were the skeletal remains of this poor critter.
I considered singing, “I ain’t got no body…” but settled for pointing it out to Tim and shouting, “Hey, Honey. Get a backbone!”
Groan

Although black bears and mountain lions are known to roam the area, all we saw were a lot of birds, and a couple of, well, we didn’t know what manner of rodents they were until we got back home to Google. But before then, it was, “Oh my god. Is that a skunk? Wait. No. It’s a… Well, damn. What is that?”

Turns out they were Abert’s Squirrels, common round these parts, but never before seen by either one of us. Freaky looking little buggers with those tufted ears and white tails! (Photo borrowed from enature.com; I wasn’t fast enough to get one of my own.)

Turns out they were Abert’s Squirrels, common ’round these parts, but never before seen by either one of us. Freaky looking little buggers with those tufted ears and white tails!
(Photo borrowed from enature.com; I wasn’t fast enough to get one of my own.)

After two weeks here in Williams, AZ, we haven’t done as much exploring as we’d hoped, due to needing to be… well, heck… I almost said “near a phone.” Seriously? When in the last decade have we not had a phone with us at all times? I guess it’s better to say that we’ve needed to stay within a strong cell signal area, and the places we like to kick around often lack that. Nothing’s wrong; we’ve just had some business matters take priority, and I’ll have news to post about that later.

"The mountains are calling..." - John Muir "No, wait. It's just our realtor again." - Tim and Emily Rohrer

“The mountains are calling…” – John Muir
“No, wait. It’s just our realtor again.” – Tim and Emily Rohrer