Answering the call of doodie

Military duty ended with Tim’s retirement in 2013. Service to others did not. And that is how we ended up scrubbing a lot of public toilets this season, even though it definitely wasn’t on our list. Semper Gumby!

As mentioned, we’ve served as park hosts here before, early in 2018, and although some of the maintenance team at Kerrville-Schreiner Park has changed since then, our reputation as reliable workers has endured. There was a need, we were here, they asked, we said yes.

Last year, we worked mainly on what can best be described as special projects, and only cleaned restrooms occasionally. This year? The opposite of that.

And that’s OK — not a favorite, but also not unreasonable. And like last year, we are compensated by getting to live rent-free in a site with full hook-ups for the duration.

Mere steps from our site, we enjoy this view of the Guadalupe River, and the Kerrville VA Medical Center.
I get unlimited use of this riverside “yoga studio” as part of the bargain.
It once served as an ampitheater.
Now it helps me forget that we clean public bathrooms.
Another perk? We’re at one end of the Kerrville River Trail, so we’ve got a traffic-free place to go running and biking.
And speaking of free, we’ve got a key to the park host laundry facility.
This is it.
It’s a single washer and dryer shoved into a closet on the backside of one of the bath houses, but it gets the job done.
No quarters required.

It hasn’t all been swabbing decks, though. We also empty trash.

Oh, and Tim has done a fair amount of assisting with grass cutting and tree trimming — between hail and thunder storms, that is. It’s been a rather violent springtime.

Last time he did this was 2015. when we still had a yard.
Hail storm 1
Hail storm 2. We had to wait it out before unloading our groceries!

Some things at the park haven’t changed: we’re still visited by the resident deer and feral cats, and since we got our start a little later this year, we were here for Texas wildflower season, and the bluebonnets were stunning.

Our workamping gigs have become not just a source of income/savings for us, but a valuable and rewarding part of our RVing adventure. Heck, even though we won’t repeat working for Amazon, we consider it an experience worth the time and effort we put into it.

I wrote a (paid!) post for Escapees about how and why we take on jobs like this from time to time, and we’ve in fact signed up for another while doing our thing here in Kerrville.

This fall, we’re taking on seasonal positions that are entirely new and different for us, and we’ll be compensated with both a wage and an RV site.

In San Diego.

Stay tuned, my friends. All will be revealed. We’ve got a few thousand miles to go before then!

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…

WheRVe we been? Our travels, 4th quarter 2018

Well, we certainly didn’t put on the miles like we did in the 3rd quarter, but I’m writing this post from an entirely different 5th wheel than the one we started in, and there were lots of cows and puppies!

Due to commitments both expected (medical appointments, construction work on a friend’s ranch) and unexpected (buying a new RV!), we mostly made Texas triangles between San Antonio, Houston and Palestine, with a quick zip across I-10 during the final week of 2018.

We arrived in Texas in mid-September and stayed there, which, combined with our first quarter of the year, makes 2018 The Year We Spent More Than Half our Time in the Lone Star State In Spite of Ourselves.

Here’s a summary of our 4th quarter travels, mapped with a little help from Google.

RV miles traveled this quarter: about 2590.

We went from San Antonio to Houston to Palestine, and around again twice more, with brief side trips to Kerrville, Medina Lake, and Granger Lake.
Then we took off two days after Christmas to ring in the new year with friends in Florida.

San Antonio, Sept 16 – Oct 29: A funny thing happened while we sat at Lackland Air Force Base, juggling medical appointments. Enough things finally went wrong with The Toad that we decided to throw in the towel and start shopping in earnest for a new RV — a process that was neither quick nor painless. We spent hours talking, agonizing, losing sleep and making lists of pros & cons before pulling the trigger.

It sort of started with a moisture leak that caused a mushroom to grow out of a corner in our living room.
Tim fixed the leak, then gutted and replaced the wall. And since we too had begun to feel gutted, by the never-ending repairs to our 10-year-old 5th wheel, we chose to move on.
And speaking of moving, I took up running in 2018, and completed my first 10K in September. My daddy and my husband ran it with me. That made me smile.

We ended up making three trips over six weeks to the Houston area, braving its infuriating spaghetti mix of highway interchanges, to buy the RV.
First look – 10/10
Thorough inspection – 10/30
Gotcha Day – 11/29
You’ll find more details about our 2018 Mobile Suites 38KSSB in this post.

Some upgrades we’re enjoying in the new RV
– a cozy electric fireplace
– an automatic dishwasher
– a residential fridge (no more 8 cubic feet of refrigerator tetris!)
– a hall closet for Tim’s computer command & control center
That closet was intended to be a laundry room, and you can just see the washer hookups there behind our printer. We opted against installing a W/D. Why would I want to give up my regular opportunities to collect Tales From The Laundromat?

One of the benefits of being in central Texas when we need muscle, is that we can usually convince our younger son (left) to make a trip from Austin to help out.
For this job, swapping out our pin box, he brought a friend.
And those boys were quite willing to cooperate, especially knowing that gas money and a BBQ lunch were part of their compensation package.

November & December: Palestine, Castroville, Medina Lake, and Granger Lake, TX; Mandeville, LA; Pensacola, FL

In November, we added a new experience to our RV lifestyle: ranchdocking.
It’s like moochdocking, but on a friend’s ranch.
We can plug ourselves into a 50-amp outlet in the garage, and fill our fresh water tank from a spigot on the ranch house, but we’ve got no sewer hookup. Stays are limited to 7-8 days before we need to go dump, but the rent is free and the views are fantastic!

We were at the ranch because back in the spring, Tim helped take down the owner’s historic log barn at its old site in Boerne, and move it in pieces to its new home in Palestine. This past fall, it was time to start putting things back together.
The original barn was built in the mid-1800’s. That’s it in the top left photo, prior to its disassembly in March.
While Tim reassembled the Lincoln Logs, I got to know some of the furrier residents of the ranch. A litter of puppies was born in November, and I snuck in daily snuggles.

People We Love!
– Lunch in Castroville with Dan & Lisa of Always on Liberty and Sean & Julie of Chickery’s Travels
– Early December shenanigans at Medina Lake with David & Cheryl of Landmark Adventures, hyping the book written by our mutual friends, Marc & Julie of RVLove.
– A quiet Christmas with our younger son at a Corps of Engineers park just outside Austin
– A wine infused overnight with old Navy friends in Louisiana, on our way to Florida. I was over-served!

We watched the sun set on 2018 in Pensacola, and spent the first few days of 2019 there.
Our friends, Jay & Kris, have a home just northwest of town, and we moochdocked in their driveway in return for some sweat equity on household projects.
And it’s one of Jay’s cousins who owns the ranch, so we’ve definitely felt like part of the family this year!

Right now: We’re back on the ranch for our third stay. This time, Tim’s leading the charge on installing the tin roof.

Barn progress as of January 9, 2019

And look who was waiting to play with me when we returned!

Where to next? By mid-January, we’ll start making our way northward to Indiana, for our February warranty appointment at the DRV manufacturing facility in Howe. After that, we’ve got the annual RVE Summit on the calendar for March, and we’ll be back in Texas by late April. 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.

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

Go big or go home? Went big. Bought new home.

And yes, it’s on wheels. See?

This is the way we want to live until it becomes unfeasible to do so.
We’re still looking for that permanent place to park ourselves and put down roots, but it’s no longer the focus of our travels.
Like so many of our adventures together, we’ll figure it out along the way.
And if we’re paying proper attention, we’ll know it when we get there. 
We have found several cities we enjoy visiting, but what we enjoy more is the freedom of not being tied to any of them.

I know what you’re thinking. In our most recent annual update, we said we weren’t going to buy a new RV. That we were going to keep making modifications and upgrades to our 2008 Heartland Bighorn “until we feel like we’re done.”

Welp, by late September, we felt done, for a few big reasons.

First, we’d realized something about Own Less, Do More: that what we were doing disproportionately more of was maintenance and repairs. That’s… that’s not really what we’d had in mind, although yes, we know it’s all part of the cost of ownership.

Second, Tim has fallen into a ground-level opportunity on an RV-related programming project that excites him, and whether or not that turns into a profitable gig, it means he really needs to be able to put in more hours at the keyboard than under the RV.

Third, we’d begun to feel as if we were surrounded by ticking time bombs — like the roof, the air conditioning, and the refrigerator — and that replacing those big-ticket items was likely to cost us more out of pocket than the value of our 10-year-old coach.

Along those same lines, the remaining upgrades we wanted to make — adding solar power, having the exterior painted, installing double pane windows and a quieter cooling system — mmmmaybe didn’t make economic sense when all of those things come standard on newer 5th wheels designed for full time living.

This was one of the last straws.
We’d noticed some odd bulging behind the trim in a living room corner.
We thought it might be due to water intrusion from the roof, and then a mushroom grew there. An actual mushroom!
I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure that’s a very clear sign of having a moisture problem.

In the course of repairing the source of and damage from that issue, Tim found a mystery puddle at the base of the toilet.
He stepped out of the bathroom, looked at me, and said, “That’s it. I’m done. I can’t keep up with this.”
And as the primary (OK, sole) fix-it guy in this partnership, he is the one who gets to make that call.

The scales had finally tipped. Our original intent was to run that baby into the ground, but it ran us down instead.

Although we hated the idea of letting go of all the work and money we’d put into The Toad over the four years we’d owned it, we also knew that we were merely putting lipstick on a pig, and that we were ready to say goodbye to what we now refer to as our “Training RV.”

I’d say that’s when and why we started RV shopping, but the truth is, we’re always kind of looking. You know how when you own a house, you go to home shows for the latest ideas, you monitor real estate sales in your area, and maybe even attend an occasional open house, even if you’re not actually looking to buy? It’s the same with RV ownership, but this time, we were looking with intent.

We put together a long list of  Gains & Gives, and we both agreed that any new (or new-to-us) coach would have to offer enough in the Gains column to offset the incurred hassle and debt, and to make it worth walking away from all the work we’d done on the Bighorn.

A few of our prospective Gains

  • 6-point automatic leveling
  • better suspension
  • newer appliances
  • improved HVAC, insulation, windows, and body paint
  • manufacturer’s warranty
  • less worry over aging RV
  • time recovered from long-term future repair projects

A few of our known Gives

  • leaving the Heartland Owners Club
  • the freedom to modify 10-year-old coach however and whenever we want
  • going from a paid off RV to one requiring monthly loan payments
  • nearly new furniture and flooring
  • trading the devil we knew for a devil we’d have to learn

Out of the Old, Into the New
The friendships we’ve made through the Heartland Owner’s Club are a gift to us, and the support and advice we received as members kept us on the road both literally and figuratively.
We will repay that debt by continuing those friendships, and also by continuing to recommend the Heartland brand.
They did right by us.
Our brand switch is due merely to being in the right place at the right time to take advantage of a deal.

To cut through several pages of further details: we ended up trading in the Bighorn, and buying a 2018 DRV Mobile Suites 38KSSB. It had all the Gains, and because it was still sitting on the dealer’s lot at the end of the model year, it was marked down to a price we were willing to pay.

Gain: residential refrigerator
No more glorified dorm fridge!

Gain: updated decor, in subtle colors and patterns that (we hope) will not look dated within 5 years

We purchased from ExploreUSA RV Supercenter in Alvin, TX, and this floor plan photo came from their original ad for our RV.
We are not likely to do business with them again, but I won’t go into detail here until we’ve given them a chance to respond to our list of grievances.
(If you’re dying for details, go to this Yelp review and read the entry by J R., dated 5/10/2018. Our experience was very similar.)

Now, we’ve done a lot of moving in our 27 years together, and whether we count this RV as our 12th home or our 13th vehicle, the transfer process out of the old and into the new was every bit as time consuming and complex as moving into a new house — not just to make everything fit, but to store it in places that made sense. In other words, just because I have room in a bedroom drawer doesn’t mean I want to store 2 cans of corn and a jar of applesauce in there. 

Speaking of bedroom drawers, here are two of mine (note lack of room for corn or applesauce), along with my entire collection of hanging clothing.

Little decorative touches we’ve made to turn house into home

We are happy with our purchase. The upgrades in quality and technology were worth it, but yes, after only 3 weeks onboard, we’ve got a list of items that need factory attention — because RV manufacturing seems, sadly, to be focused far more on quantity than on quality, no matter what the sales brochure says.

Our first warranty visit to DRV is scheduled for mid-February.

Oooh, northern Indiana for Valentine’s Day. Yay?

I had this decal custom made after a discussion with friends about RV manufacturing quality.
There was wine.
And there was one slightly tipsy friend who said, “When you get right down to it, every single one of them is just a shitty box on wheels.”
Truth.

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…