3 years in: RV there yet?

No!

Today marks the start of our 4th year of living full time in The Toad, and I’ll celebrate the occasion by updating last year’s post, which included answers to the 12 Questions We Hear All The Time. Bonus: I’ve added a 13th question to make it a baker’s dozen.

Many answers are still the same; updates are written in this nice shade of purple, and I’ve replaced most of the photos too.

1. 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.

2. 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.

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

By my count, 25: Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Virginia, West Virginia, Utah, Wyoming, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, North Carolina, Alabama, Washington, and Oregon, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota. Without really even trying, we’re more than halfway through the Lower 48!

My criteria for counting a state as visited are a bit fluid, which I know will drive some people a little nuts. Did we stay overnight? Long enough to do the weekly laundry? Go on a hike or visit a national park? All of those are valid to me. Just driving through on the way to elsewhere, with a potty break at a gas station? Not so much. 

This map represents our travels from March through June of 2018. It’s not exact, but it’ll do.
I deliberately left out one-nighters, and some of our stops in WA lack labels because I had to zoom out so far to show our path from end to end.
(source: maps.google.com)

4. 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 three 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.

And now, Coeur d’Alene, ID, is a contender. Tim spent his high school years there, and still feels a connection to the place. I like it too, and we’d have a built-in network of friends. The city itself is way too crowded for us, but 10-15 acres several miles outside the city limits sounds appealing. And yes, we’d keep an RV so that we could easily winter elsewhere. I don’t see us pulling the trigger on a land purchase any time soon, but the bug is buzzing about our brains.

5. 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 a total of 13 months between 2015 and 2016? 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

6. 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.

We’ve also done a little work camping since last year: the stint in Texas paid us in free rent, and our gig with Amazon Camperforce in Tennessee paid us in both free rent and an hourly wage. With those savings/earnings, we were able to pay off the loan for the new BFT, and we are now living debt free!

7. 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. We’d still like to add solar power, and get an exterior paint job.

In 2018, the biggest upgrade that I wrote about was our flooring replacement. The biggest modification that I didn’t write about was having our undercarriage stuff upgraded to 8,000-pound axles and H-rated tires by our friends at Performance Trailer Braking (and the fact that I used the term “undercarriage stuff” should explain why I didn’t write about it). 

We also replaced our manual awning with an automatic one, helped my brother’s family with some post- Hurricane Harvey work at his house, and went from not-exactly-legal to clearly-and-absolutely legal with our Texas driver’s licenses. I behaved abominably over it. Here’s why.

Practice makes perfect, and I had to practice a lot to pass the driving test required for our license upgrades.
I crushed a few safety cones.
Sorry, safety cones.

8. 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

9. 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.

10. 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 are 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

11. 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 52, I’m 49, 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.

The way I like to characterize it is that we are living our twenties now. I even got up to a little mischief during a recent stay in an age-restricted RV park.

12. What’s next?

We’ve traveled from Idaho back to Washington for the month of August. We want to do some hiking in the Cascades and/or Olympics, and we want to see our older son and his girlfriend again before we head back to Texas for our autumn round of family visits and medical appointments. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and/or Twitter for updates as we go!

After the first week of October, both the calendar and the roads are wide open.

Oh, the places we’ve seen…
… and the places we’ve yet to go!

13. Do you make money from this blog?

Nope. The only payment we receive is your attention, and so far that’s enough for us.

We have not monetized our blog or any of our social media accounts by accepting advertising, by promoting products for manufacturers, or by using affiliate links. If we mention a product (or restaurant, campground, RV park, etc.) that we really liked (or didn’t like), we do so without the owner’s prior knowledge and without compensation.

We have lots of RV blogging friends who make use of some or all of those income streams, and we encourage you to support them. It helps fund their travels, or at the very least, the expense of purchasing and maintaining their web site. We’ve not felt the need to take this step, but we’re not ruling it out as an option should we begin attracting a (much, much) wider audience.

Oh, and on a related topic, we do not have a YouTube channel. Appearing in and editing video is absolutely unappealing to us, so you’ll just have to put up with our “old-fashioned” ways.

So that’s it for the end of Year 3! 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.


Other updates: 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.

WheRVe we been? Our travels, 2nd quarter 2018

Wow. So uhhh… all that not leaving the Lone Star State we did in the first three months of 2018? We more than made up for it during the 2nd quarter!

Here’s a summary of our travels 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) and Idaho, mapped with a little help from Google.

RV miles traveled this quarter: about 3,215.

It’s not exact, but it’ll do.
I deliberately left out one-nighters, and some of our stops in WA lack labels because I had to zoom out so far to show our path from end to end.
(source: maps.google.com)

Texas to Washington, March 31 – April 12: We spent our first night in north Texas, having received a quick and positive answer to a last-minute, “Hey, I just realized we’re passing through. Are you guys free?” Erika & Tony, with whom we became friends through the Heartland RV Owners Club, not only secured us a spot in the RV park where they live, but also treated us to dinner!

In many ways, the RV community reminds us of our military community. We’ve got friends all over the place; they welcome us even on short notice; they offer generous support and assistance of all kinds; and we pick up right where we left off, no matter how long it’s been since we last saw each other.

After that, we stopped for a few days in Norman, OK, where the The Toad got upgraded tires, wheels, and axles from our friends at Performance Trailer Breaking; and we got to reconnect with a college friend of mine and her family for Easter dinner (that’s her bunny in the photo below). Moving on to Utah, we stayed for a couple of nights at the beautifully secluded and pleasantly uncrowded Fremont Indian State Park, before continuing to Hill AFB in Ogden to restock the fridge and do the laundry.

– Our scenic spot at Fremont Indian SP
– Flower, the bunny
– The face I make when I find dollar washers and dryers (hurrah for access to military RV parks)
– A nice, long hiking day in Sevier, UT
– A trail with a view, perfect for an afternoon run at Hill AFB

Skagit County, WA, April 14-30: At long last, we arrived in Washington on April 12, but had to hang out on the east side of the Cascades for a couple of days while we waited for a non-blizzardy time to cross Snoqualmie Pass — yes, in April! The primary reason for our visit was to help Tim’s folks clear the last of the stuff out of the house they’d just sold, in order to downsize to a 5th wheel. Like son, like father much? It was a perfect time to experience the best of a PNW springtime. The tulips and cherry trees were in bloom, the sun was out more often than it wasn’t, and although temps were a little chilly for my taste, we were able to enjoy several outdoor activities.

– A colorful afternoon at the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival
– Tim reminiscing with his mom, over a tub full o’ family mementos bound for storage
– An ornamental cherry tree (maybe one of these?) at our campground
– A view of the Columbia River, from our holding spot at the Wanapum Rec Area
– Midpoint of a “sluggish” run

Here’s an outdoor activity for ya: We ran our first race together in Mount Vernon, in the rain, with temps hovering around 48 degrees.
This was a 5K to benefit the non-profit agency one of Tim’s sisters works for, Community Action of Skagit County.
The things we do for family!
(photo credit: Community Action)

Jefferson County, WA, April 30 – June 1: For the entire month of May, we hung out close-but-not-too-close to our older son and his girlfriend, and were able to spend as much time with them as possible, juggling get-togethers and adventures around their full work schedules and community commitments. They had their home; we had ours.

– Hello, Port Townsend, and what fine beer you have.
– The boy, his girl, and me, at the first stop of what turned into a pub crawl. They let me tag along!
– Tim spent the first week of our stay on a hiking trip in the Grand Canyon. Off you go, dear.
– Time for rhubarb at the farmer’s market
– If you visit western Washington, don’t forget to look up every now and then

– A 10-mile hike along the Lower Big Quilcene River Trail
– Another race together, the 40th annual Rhody Run 6K
– I may have been a little excited to spend Mother’s Day with one of the reasons I get to celebrate
– Hair color shenanigans to cement my reputation as an RV park “rebel”

But yeah, it was still too chilly for me.
I got caught doing my “I can’t believe I have to wear this much clothing in May, and I am still effing cold” dance.
(photo credit: K. Eichmann)

Central & Eastern Washington, June 1-22: We helped Tim’s folks kick off their first month of full-time RV living by traveling together to a few different campgrounds. In order, we stayed at the resort located inside Sun Lakes/Dry Falls State Park, the municipal park in Bridgeport, a privately owned RV park near Dayton, and a military recreation area near Cheney. And yes, by “traveling together,” I mean we helped each other fix things that broke on or in our respective 5th wheels. Ha!

– Tim’s parents have an inflatable kayak, and we are now considering adding one to our collection of adventure gear
– A hot hike with Tim’s folks, to the ancient Indian caves above the lake
– This unwanted stowaway outsmarted our traps twice, and also dodged the root beer mug, before finally taking that one. final. bite. SNAP!
– In-laws, arriving to join the mayhem. I mean fun.
– Such different scenery than the green forests of western Washington

– Tim’s dad, a talented amateur photographer, got some fantastic shots of the rolling hills of The Palouse. The best one I got was this one of him!
– Another stowaway was hiding inside our tire covers. This is the kind of stowaway we like, but we sent him hopping off into the grass, where he’d be happier.
– The oft-photographed Palouse Falls

Coeur d’Alene, ID, June 22 – July 6: And now we’re kicking off the third quarter of 2018 in a hometown from Tim’s past. He graduated from high school here, and his family still has several friends in the area, so it’s been a trip down many of their Memory Lanes.

What’s better than having a dog?
Having friends nearby with two dogs, one of which is a wriggly, pees-on-contact-but-I-don’t-care puppy!

With all the moving around we’ve done this quarter, it finally happened: I forgot which state we were in.
Let the record show that I have since taken preventive measures.
Not. One. Word.

Tim and his parents recreated a typical family road trip, during opening night of the classic car weekend in Dayton.
What a long, sweet trip it’s been.

Where to next? We’ll head east to Minnesota to visit one of Tim’s cousins, then we’ll work our way back to WA for a little more family time in August and early September. 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.

1Q 2018      4Q 2017        3Q 2017        2Q 2017        1Q2017        2016

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

He ain’t heavy, but his new shed is: helping my brother with a build, after Hurricane Harvey

Let me start by telling you what we didn’t do.

I don’t want anybody to get the wrong idea: We did not go rolling into Port Aransas like white knights on horseback to help rebuild the town — although that was kind of my original intent in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. See?

What's next for us? This screen cap of a text I sent back in August helps tell the story. In short: More hard work, but it'll be more personally meaningful. In long: It's now been just over four months since Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas coast. My brother's family lives in one of those coastal towns. Their house sustained minor damage. Their business, quite a bit. Their hometown of Port Aransas was devastated and faces many more months of recovery. So in lieu of a traditional Christmas celebration, we're gathering the family — including our two sons who are both skilled in construction — for a New Year's working party in Port Aransas. Our caravan of 7 departs San Antonio tomorrow, and we'll spend a week building a replacement fence and shed at my brother's house, and might be able to help some other folks out if time allows. We did not exchange traditional wrapped-in-a-box gifts this year. We chose to spend our money on this experience. And that's how we like to roll. #thebestgiftscantbewrapped #familyworkparty #bestchristmasgiftever #hurricaneharvey #harveyrelief #portaransas #portastrong #ownlessdomore

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We didn’t even rebuild anything at my brother’s house, which survived comparatively unscathed after the Category 4 hurricane came through on August 25, 2017, leaving 75-85% of the town’s homes damaged or destroyed. (Source: Port Aransas Mayor Charles Bujan, in this article from weather.com)

Although we thought we were going to be rebuilding his fence, which had been damaged by the hurricane, needs dictated a storage shed as top priority. While he and my sister-in-law continue to search for a new location for their shop, some of the shop’s contents are taking up a significant chunk of their garage space — space they need for supplies to rebuild the fence and fix other damage. Make sense now?

So here’s what we did do.

We cleaned and repainted some siding on the house, which looked pretty dinged up after having who-knows-what-all hurled at it during Harvey’s 110-132 mph winds.

And with the help of several construction/renovation experts in the family — including our 20-year-old son who drove down from Austin, and our 22-year-old son who flew in from Washington — we built a shed over four days, to the point that my brother and sister-in-law can handle the finishing touches themselves.

It was our family Christmas Vacation, just delayed to January because of our jobs at Amazon.

It was the first time all of us had been together in more than two years.

(And by “all” I mean the two of us, our older son and his girlfriend, our younger son, my parents, my brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew, my sister-in-law’s mom and her husband, and the 9 cats, 2 Great Danes, 1 bearded dragon, and handful of exotic fish that rule my brother’s house.)

And it was exactly what we wanted.

For those who’ve never heard of Port Aransas, Texas, it’s a quirky little beach town just east of Corpus Christi, on a barrier island along the Gulf coast.

Population of Port Aransas: about 3400 (before the hurricane, anyway)

RV parks in town have reopened, and seemed to be doing booming business, with what we surmised to be a combination of regular Winter Texans, temporarily displaced Port A residents, and workers who have been hired or are volunteering for rebuilding efforts.

And what do I mean by quirky?

Well, scenes like this weren’t unusual even before the hurricane.

Yes, you can drive on the beach, and also camp overnight in an RV or a tent.
But don’t just show up. An inexpensive permit is required, and there are restrictions on location and length of stay.
You can find all that information right here.

How bad was the damage from Harvey?

Here are some numbers from the Island Moon, in an issue published just over a month after the hurricane hit.

Further statistics, including a staggering amount of debris removed from the island, are in Mayor Bujan’s Facebook post dated October 2, 2017.

What’s Port A like now?

It is a town with an already strong identity, in the process of repairing itself. The sights and sounds of renovation, regrowth, and rebuilding were unmistakeable, unavoidable — and encouraging. Some of our old favorite places like the San Juan Restaurant, Gratitude, Irie’s, Stingray’s, and Winton’s Island Candy have reopened, and more businesses will reopen as repairs are completed.

But as mentioned in the graphic above, some will not return at all. We have no doubt that new friends — and just about everyone in Port A is your friend — will bring fresh ideas and establishments to take their place, and we look forward to our next visit!

Scenes like this are still common on sidewalks, although my brother assures me that this is nothing compared to the debris piles that lined the streets in September.

And if the town didn’t have an official flag before, it does now, at least temporarily: the blue tarp.
They’re festooning buildings all over town, because as you might imagine, roofers are in high demand and hard to find at the moment.

But you’ll also be greeted by scenes like this in Port A…

… and this …

… and this.

What can you do to help?

Visit, and spend money. Many hotels, RV parks, restaurants, and shops have reopened, and Port Aransas needs your business!

Or use your internet search skills to find ways to donate your time, skills, money, and/or supplies. As ever, research any charitable entity before you commit your dough, although I will help get you started by pointing you toward the Rebuild Port Aransas Facebook Page, which seems to be a locally run clearinghouse for relief efforts.

And finally, watch this 3-minute video. It shows the extent of Harvey’s destruction, and says a lot about the strength of the people who call Port Aransas home.


Author’s note: This post was unsolicited, and I was not compensated in any way by any entities mentioned above. I do not represent Rebuild Port Aransas or SandCastleMinistry.org (appears at end of video in link above), nor should my mention of them be considered endorsements. All opinions are my own.