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, 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

Work camping, Take II: This time, everybody wins

We’re doing more work camping!

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

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

It’s a city park now, but until 2004 it was a state park, with the acreage, trails, riverfront and wildlife to show for it.
We think it’s a perfect camping destination for those who want the feel of a state park while exploring the Texas Hill Country. Yes, longer RVs can fit here (I’ve seen several with 3 AC units on top, which is a big clue), but spots that big are limited, as are spots with full hook-ups. Call the park to check availability.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swept off the porch too…

… and wiped down the kitchen and serving areas.

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

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

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

So where to next?

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

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

Work camping for Amazon, Part III: Boy, did we ever Do More!

A lot More. More than we’d even expected. It was just… not really the type of More we’d had in mind.

(New here? Click to review Part I and/or Part II.)

On the plus side, this post conveniently doubles as our 4th quarter update, because we stayed in Tennessee for these jobs, from mid-September all the way until December 24. Other 2017 quarterly reviews are at 1, 2, and 3.

December in middle Tennessee: it didn’t snow, but we endured several frosty windshields and overnight lows below freezing.

I am now typing at you from our frequent home base of San Antonio, TX, where we are looking forward to a delayed holiday celebration with my side of the family and both of our boys next week. Both of them!

Heh. And look at what we found, just three miles from where we’re parked.
No.

But back to my Amazon Camperforce wrap-up. I’ll start you off with some statistics.

  • Where we worked: Amazon’s BNA-3 Fulfillment Center in Murfreesboro, TN
  • Department: picking
  • Weeks on the job: 13 (starting dates are flexible; we chose a 3-month window)
  • Number of days we reported to work (most, but not all, were full 10-hour shifts): 57 for Tim, 56 for Emily. I took one unpaid day off for my annual girlfriends’ weekend, which they conveniently held in Nashville so that I could maximize my escape/drinking time.
  • Number of hours worked: 562 for Tim, 552 for Emily. For each of us, 47 of those hours were overtime, for which we were compensated at time and a half. We also earned 5 hours each of paid time off, which we took on one gloriously lazy Thursday morning.
  • Gross pay at $11.50/hour (wage varies by Camperforce location and shift, so do your homework): about $6700 each
  • Completion bonus: about $575 each
  • Total combined gross earnings: about $14,550
  • Additional compensation: As part of the program, Amazon paid our campground rent for the duration, saving us about $1500.
  • Miles walked: 660 for Tim, 463 for Emily (average was about 8 miles/day), and yes, I literally walked my butt off. Had to buy all new pants!
  • Number of items picked: Maybe 800/day each? I’d love to be able to give you a specific total for each of us, but our numbers varied widely depending on which part of the warehouse we were working in, and neither one of us kept daily track of the amounts shown on our scanners. I can give you a range though: a “slow” day would be about 600 items over 10 hours. If we were really hot and got lots of multi-picks, we could handle upwards of 1000 items per day, each.
  • Most frequently-picked item: socks

But as Tim pointed out, there is a less labor-intensive way to do this. It just requires having a large chunk of cash lying around. “If someone had invested $50K in Amazon stock in mid-September, and sold it the day our jobs ended, they would have made as much money as Emily and I earned, combined.”

We had to work on Thanksgiving Day, but everyone was released a few hours early. These are our “pardoned turkey” faces.

So how’d I do with my three predictions from Part I?

  1. We will be using our time off for little other than subsistence chores and recuperation: cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, cooking, eating and rest. TRUE. We did all those things on our days off, and very little else. We broke with our usual travel tradition/preference and did no exploring of the area beyond running essential errands. Not only that, but our work evenings took on a very set routine of setting out the next day’s clothes, packing lunches, and doing everything possible to minimize morning trauma before our 30-minute commute and 0730 clock-in time.

    It’s harder for me to do this than you might think, but I managed to pull it off a few times.

  2. Social media and overall computer use will decline. Markedly. TRUE. OwnLessDoMore’s presence on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram dropped to 2-3 posts/week, instead of my usual goal of 1/day. Not only did I not have that kind of time, I also lacked resources on my camera roll, and photos are necessary to grab social media interest. We hardly went anywhere but Amazon, and we were not allowed to carry phones/cameras into the work areas, so I relied heavily on throwback posts and memories.

    When we did go out, we did our best to patronize locally-owned restaurants. One day it was a cute little cash-only BBQ shack.

  3. We will complete this deployment. By comparison to the ones Tim made during his military career, this is a short one! TRUE. We did it. We performed well, exceeding minimum requirements by far, and we stuck it out until the final clock-out at 6:00 p.m. on Saturday, December 23. We’re proud of what we did, and we have no regrets.

    Also? I won a thing!
    There were raffles, contests, games and other incentives to keep employees motivated during Peak. Yay me!

That said, we also have no intentions of doing this again. I discussed a few reasons why in  Part II. Here are a few more.

  • This job is not a good fit for someone like me, who tends to hate all the things everyone else just loves and thinks are so amazing (I even hate the word “amazing”) and must have because they are trendy. Like tutus for grown women. Seriously? I guess those were a thing back in the fall, and I picked dozens and dozens, each one making me twitch a little more than the last. Actually, I’m not a big fan of things, period, and being surrounded for so long by so much evidence of consumerism took a mental toll.
  • On a related note, it didn’t even feel like we were helping deliver Christmas joy for the season, by picking things like children’s toys, winter coats, the year’s hottest electronics and games, etc. There were some of those to be sure, but mostly we picked socks (have I mentioned all the socks?), underwear, items for overindulged pets, and an occasional sex toy. Not that we’re opposed to sex toys — you do you, and have a very Merry Christmas while you’re at it  — but I’m pretty sure that was not in the proverbial brochure.
  • And finally, the way Amazon crams merchandise items randomly into overstuffed bins might keep their company-wide productivity and efficiency levels high, but it’s very difficult on the individual worker, worrying about making quotas, and knowing how much easier it would be if things were organized in a better manner. Many times, I became so frustrated, I had to mentally repeat the following mantra until I calmed the hell back down: It doesn’t have to make sense. I don’t have to understand it. I just. Have. To do it.

    Been there.
    Done that.
    Got the t-shirts.

I won’t end on a negative note, though. Here are some things we liked:

  • The Camperforce program makes it easy for couples to work the same schedule — a great perk for RV-dwellers, most of whom share only one vehicle.
  • Being on the lowest rung of the corporate ladder, we were able to leave work at work. All the pressure we felt to make quota disappeared the second we clocked out for the day.
  • The entire application process was handled online, and we were able to have our mandatory pre-employment drug testing done quickly and conveniently, where we were parked at the time in August.
  • Neither one of us got injured or fired, and Tim’s the only one of us who got sick, with a minor head cold during the very last week.
  • We made some great friends!

    Penni & Chip were our next door neighbors at the campground, and we all worked the same shift.
    What started out as the convenience of a daily carpool turned into a lasting friendship, and we look forward to crossing paths with each other again.

And hey, we now have a never-ending source of campfire stories. “Oh. You ordered something from Amazon today? Let me tell you a little bit about the time we worked there…”


Notes:

This is the “After” installment in my trilogy chronicling our 3-month gig with Amazon’s Camperforce. Other chapters quite logically include the “Before” and “During.” All should be linked to each other now; let me know if I missed one.

For more information, feel free to dig around on the Camperforce web site, and to check out this exposé that appeared on Wired, or these articles from The Guardian, Marketplace, and Ozarks First. And if you search Google for “Camperforce,” you’ll also find a lot of personal blogs written by other RV’ers about their experiences. Mine is definitely not the only voice in the chorus!

Work camping for Amazon, Part II: Whooooaaaah, we’re halfway there!

Here’s the Halfway Q&A.

I’ve interviewed myself for you. Seemed like a good format for breaking up the text a bit, since I’ve got no photos to accompany this post. We can’t take our phones anywhere in the building other than the one lunch room that’s located outside the security check point, so my camera roll is suffering from neglect.

(To review Part I first, click here.)

Do you like your jobs?

No.

Tell me again what you’re doing there?

The job we chose is picking, meaning we walk all over the cavernous fulfillment center — up to 12 miles/day — pulling items off shelves and out of cardboard bins.

We’re pretty sure that most items we pick are for pending orders, but sometimes we get requests for such large batches of a single item that we suspect we’re just pulling non-sellers off the floor in order to make room for newer merchandise.

We see no customer information whatsoever, so we can’t use that as a clue.

(Note: there are other positions available to Camperforce associates; please keep in mind as you read that I’m speaking only about picking.)

Are you going to quit?

No.

We believe in honoring our commitments. We are not being mistreated, and we do not feel unappreciated. We just don’t enjoy the work, and that’s not a good enough reason for us to bail.

This is a temporary situation, and the end is in sight. We will continue to do our jobs, and to do them well. We are both consistently meeting or exceeding our weekly quotas, and we feel good about that.

So what would you consider “good enough” reasons to quit?

Hmmmm. Accident, injury, serious illness. Family emergency. Unsafe or intolerable working conditions.

Look. We knew going in that these would be tedious, clock-punching, entry level jobs involving repetitive physical motions that might cause stress and/or pain. What we did not know was what it would be like to do that kind of work for 40-60 hours/week. Now we do, and we don’t like it, but that doesn’t mean we can’t or won’t stick with it.

What are some of the good things that have come out of this so far?

We’ve made new friends.

We’ve learned a lot about our own strengths, and the bonding that’s built by sharing the same work experience with one’s spouse — which is new to us.

We have a deeper appreciation for the hourly blue collar workers of the world, who come home after a physically demanding day to the even further physical stresses of cooking, cleaning, laundry, household repairs, grocery shopping, kids’ school and extracurricular commitments, etc. We thought we had a clue as to what that might be like. We did not.

We’ve also learned a lot about how this one small part of a very complex global corporate operation works. It’s really kind of neat to be an insider, and when we look back on it later, we will harbor no regrets about accomplishing this task. We just probably won’t repeat it.

Is it worth it?

Financially, not so much. As I mentioned in Part I, we took these jobs for the experience, not the income, and we know we are privileged to be able to make that choice.

Without divulging specific numbers, I can tell you that Tim’s military retirement pension pays more per month for him to sit on his ass, than these jobs do for both of us to work our asses off, full time, at $11.50/hour.

However, as part of the Camperforce program, Amazon also pays our campground fees, so we are living rent-free for three months, and that’s a valuable perk! Also, we’ll both be eligible for a completion bonus of $1/hour worked when we’re done.

So what’s it really like to be a picker?

Well, it’s kind of like being a personal shopper. We push carts up and down aisles filled with merchandise, and we get a list, but our list comes to us one item at a time, on the screen of a hand-held bar code scanner. We don’t see the next item until we’ve correctly picked the current one.

The scanner also tells us where to go to get the item, in a numerical code that gives us the specific building section, floor level, row, aisle, shelf, and bin — kind of like going to find a book in a library. But unlike a library, where all the books in section are going to have something in common (topic, author, genre, etc.), merchandise bins are a hot mess.

In a single bin, we might find four cell phone cases, a multipack of toddler socks, two women’s high-lo swing tunics in turquoise, a handbag, a pair of flip flops, a pair of leggings, a set of false eyelashes, 2 boxes of granola bars, an 8-pack of AAA batteries, and a bottle of shampoo. Imagine a Costco filled with kitchen junk drawers. Multiply its size by at least ten. That’s our workplace.

If you’re picturing the final warehouse scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, you’re in the ballpark. In fact, I hum the theme song in my head fairly often while I work.

And then? Realize that this. never. stops. This process goes on around the clock at this single Amazon fulfillment center, which is but one of many around the globe.

Here. This video will show you.

So are you just in daily, miserable pain?

For the first week or two, yes. Yes, we were. Lots of ibuprofen went down, and we really regretted not having a bath tub to soak in.

We invested in good shoes (Asics gels for me, and a pair of Brooks runners for Tim), so foot pain has not been much of an issue.

However, it took several days to get our forearms and wrists used to holding scanners — which are surprisingly heavy — for several hours at a time. The key for me has been to switch my scanner hand from right to left several times throughout the 10-hour shift.

Most days, we come home with tired legs and sore necks/shoulders. I can usually cure mine with some stretching, and be pain-free and ready to go at it again the next morning. I take ibuprofen only at work, and only if I feel I can’t make it through the rest of my shift without it.

Can you take overtime or time off?

Yes, but we haven’t. We have chosen thus far not to take voluntary overtime or time off, although both have been offered at various points during the 6 weeks we’ve put in so far. For this experience to be worth it to us, we plan to work our guaranteed minimum 40 hours/week; and for it to be bearable for us, we plan to work no more than that unless we have to.

As Christmas approaches, we do expect overtime to become mandatory, and we will of course put in those extra hours as required.

Would you recommend this job to others?

Sure.

Understand that you’ll work hard, that you’ll be on the B-team, that you will have to obey strict rules with regard to scheduling and quotas, that you may not feel like your work has value or meaning — and that it’s temporary.

That said, we do feel valued and appreciated by the management team. They seem genuinely happy to have CamperForce workers onboard to help them through the holiday shopping season, known on the inside as Peak.

And Amazon does offer some onsite niceties that make these jobs easier to handle:

  • Free coffee and cocoa in the break rooms
  • Free feminine hygiene products in the ladies rooms (when you’ve got only a 15-minute break, and your purse is in a locker nearly a quarter mile away, this is really helpful)
  • Water dispensers throughout the warehouse
  • A health center with a small selection of free OTC medicines, and certified EMTs on duty for more serious needs
  • Rows of microwaves and fridges, plus napkins and plasticware in the break rooms
  • Free PPE (personal protection equipment) machines, containing belts, compression sleeves, gloves, utility knives, reflective safety vests, and even ponytail holders
  • Sanitizing hand gel dispensers throughout the building
  • A food truck in the parking lot at lunch time on weekdays
  • And we were able to get free flu shots there too!

What’s the most memorable item you’ve picked?

A red iPhone home button sticker.

Talk about a needle in a haystack! Imagine trying to find that little circle, measuring 3/8” in diameter, in a teensy clear plastic pouch, in your deepest, most chaotic kitchen junk drawer. I’ll wait.

Honorable mentions:

  • gladiator sandals for a toddler
  • a corset in size 5XL
  • a multipack of men’s thongs in XL
  • a box of tissues
  • various ummm… battery operated marital aids
  • a pair of spats
  • a harmonica
  • a 5-lb bag of plain white all-purpose flour
  • and lots and lots of tutus, bras, and underwear

Got more questions? Ask below, and I’ll do my best!


Notes:

This is the “During” installment in my trilogy chronicling our 3-month gig with Amazon’s Camperforce. Other chapters quite logically include the “Before” and  “After.”

For more information, feel free to dig around on the Camperforce web site, and to check out this exposé that appeared on Wired, or these articles from The Guardian, Marketplace, and Ozarks First. And if you search Google for “Camperforce,” you’ll also find a lot of personal blogs written by other RV’ers about their experiences. Mine is definitely not the only voice in the chorus!