WheRVe we been? Our travels, 4th quarter 2020

For a period of travel predominantly dictated by where we had to be, rather than where we wanted to go, there were many more hidden gems in the mix than we expected to find. Come examine them with us? 

The very short version of the story is that attempts to fix my left shoulder kept us in Texas. Attempts to fix the RV sent us to Indiana.

The same description applies to both situations: we’re not exactly sure what’s wrong, but something definitely isn’t right. Both are being examined and treated by experts; we just don’t want to publicize details on either until we can include the end of the story — or at least see it from where we stand. Stay tuned.

We went from TX to KS to IN to TN to FL, and added our 41st RV state with that 5-day stop in Kansas.
RV miles traveled this quarter: about 3143 
(Map does not reflect exact routing.)

Texas

Our home base for most of October and November really was a base, namely Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. The RV park there is safe and spacious, convenient to our doctors and my family, and easy on the budget. Tim served for 25 years, so military bases feel like home to us no matter where they are.

And it felt even more like home on Thanksgiving, when we got one of our boys and his girl, who drove down from Austin for the big meal.

That said, the noise level at Fort Sam is a little high (frequent trains, occasional choppers) and the scenery really isn’t… scenic. So when we had longish breaks between appointments, we went AWOL with a few side trips.

Side Trip 1: our site at Hickory Creek Park, near Dallas, offered one of the best yards we’ve ever had.
We liked it so much we’ve booked a return stay in May, for a Dallas-area wedding.
Sunrises were definitely worth the wake-up.
Side Trip 2: The friends whose land we stayed on in Wyoming are working as camp hosts just south of Dallas for the winter, so we stopped for an overnight visit, and were treated to the usual photo opportunity with their littlest doggo, Henley.
We’ve got history, as you can see in this collage from August.

Side Trip 3: Crane’s Mill Park, Canyon Lake

Side Trip 4: An overnight at the little known but very delightful Museum of Texas Handmade Furniture, a Harvest Hosts location in New Braunfels
Side Trip 5: We spent the night at another Harvest Hosts location, the Medina River Winery in Castroville. As it turned out, our friends, Phil & Stacy of You, Me & the RV, were parked nearby, and they brought their friends, Phil & Shar of A Year to Volunteer over for an evening of wine tasting and plan hatching.
More on that below, in the “Where to next?” section.
(Photo credit: Medina River Winery)

Finally, on December 1, we were bound for somewhere outside Texas.

Destination: the DRV Factory Service Center, in northern Indiana. I know. Everyone’s favorite winter vacation spot. Don’t be jealous. It was the opening they had, and we needed it, so we took it.

But first, we stopped in… Texas. Big state. And if we’re heading north or west from San Antonio to get out of it, we end up stopping for the night within its borders.

Eisenhower State Park is not in Oklahoma…
… but you can see it from there.
A short walk down the embankment behind our site yielded this view of the dam along Hwy 91, just north of the Texas border.

Kansas

When Tim was evaluating various routes to Indiana, he discovered that we could stay in yet another Eisenhower State Park. And since liking Ike that much would allow us to add another RVisited state to our list, we made a reservation at the Kansas version.

Our back-in site on the tip of a peninsula offered 180 degrees of lake views.
December sunset — with a visitor

Indiana

After a stop at MORryde in Elkhart for a suspension check, we then had 3 nights available before our service appointment at DRV in Howe the following week. We could have split the stay between the two parking lots and paid nothing, but we seized the opportunity to go somewhere quieter and prettier.

Hello, Indiana Dunes State Park.
We found lots of RV sites available in December, there on the southern shores of Lake Michigan. Surprise?
The trails were nearly deserted, and the weather was chilly, but sunny enough for hiking on our first couple of days.
And since the state park is enclosed within Indiana Dunes National Park, we explored a fair amount of those trails too. So starkly beautiful at that time of year.
But then more typical weather arrived, and as soon the RV was done, we aimed our nose southward again.

Tennessee

We realized when we crossed into Tennessee, that we hadn’t been back since we left after our Amazon CamperForce gig three years ago.
Our 3-night stay at Harrison Bay State Park was far more enjoyable.

Florida

For the holidays, we’re moochdocking in a friend’s driveway near Pensacola. We’ve stayed here before, and we were greeted by the same cat, who just happens to bear the same name as our late canine companion, Lola.

She’s a vocal one.
Plus, there are foster puppies here this year, and I’ve been getting lots of snuggles.

Where to next?

After a quick run back to San Antonio in January, we plan to spend a significant part of early 2021 in Georgia and Tennessee, doing service work with A Year To Volunteer. When we met founders Phil & Shar in November, we knew right away that their mission meshed well with our own values, so we registered for three of their upcoming projects. After so many rewarding stays in state parks over the years, we are excited by this opportunity to give back — with what sounds like a lot of sweat equity.

I’ll try my best to blog about each project individually, and as ever, you can follow us on Facebook, Instagram and/or Twitter for updates as we go.

Our Pandemic Caveat
We are traveling a lot less than we normally would, and as often as possible we choose destinations that offer ample outdoor opportunities, and are unlikely to be crowded.
When we gather with friends or family, we keep our numbers small, and we request honest communication beforehand about their comfort level.
We continue to wear masks in public and wash/sanitize hands frequently, and we limit our outings.
~ The rrrrOHHHHRRRerrrrs, March 2020 – ?

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, 3rd quarter 2020

We put some miles on, y’all!

And thanks to friends in remote places, we were able to feel safe about where we stayed — a fair trade for making a big diamond around CO instead of spending time exploring it as we’d originally hoped to do this summer.

Just in time for fall, we drew you a leaf!
We went from TX to AZ to UT to MT to WY, and added our 40th RV state by spending a night in NB on our way back to TX.
RV miles traveled this quarter: about 4338
(Map does not reflect exact routing.)

1st major stop: 45 miles outside Kanab, UT, on private land belonging to friends of friends, who are now our friends

When I wrote last quarter that we’d planned to head northward to cool off, but didn’t really have a specific itinerary, our friends, David & Cheryl Goldstein of Landmark Adventures said, “Well, if you don’t know where you’re going, why not stay with us on the way?”

It was impossible to argue with that kind of logic.

They’d set up housekeeping in southern UT, on land belonging to fellow Escapees, Cindi & Roger, who we’d somehow managed not to meet at the Escapees Baja Mexico Hangout that we all attended in February, but we quickly made up for that lost opportunity during our very private, 12-day “Socially Distanced Unofficial Hangout Limited to 6 Escapees.”

Getting to our secluded enclave involved a 45-minute drive out a dirt road, from a point that was a 30-minute drive from the nearest town. Now that’s remote!

Getting into our designated site was a challenge that required navigating tight turns, narrow pathways, tree branches, and the other two RVs.
Tim likes to call this video “How I performed a 187-point turn into a tight spot in only two minutes.”
(We were aiming for that yellow square.)
I like to call it, “Keep your eye on your wife, and you might get a fun little dance at the end.”
The view from the property was well worth the parking hassle.
Got a little warm inside the RV, though.
Usually means it’s time to head north when I shout, “Honey, the coconut oil has liquified!”
We did some hiking through mystical rock formations…
(Location: Lick Wash Trail)
Location: Peek-a-boo Slot Canyon
… and rented one of these so that all 6 of us could go on a “motor assisted hike”
(Cindi & Roger drove their own).
Seriously, though. Who wouldn’t have a good time with a group like this?

2nd major stop: Thompson Falls, MT, for a birthday celebration that was worth the travel

We’d decided months and months before we’d even heard the word “Coronavirus,” that one way or another, Tim was going to find a way to be with his parents for his father’s 80th birthday in August.

You think we’re moving targets? You should try keeping track of my in-laws!

As it turned out, we were able to meet in Montana to celebrate about two weeks early, with the added bonus of doing so with one of Tim’s sisters and her husband.

So many of us missed multiple milestone events with our families this year. We are exceptionally thankful that this one happened.

Tim and the Birthday Dad at Kootenai Falls
Tim, his mom, dad, brother-in-law, and sister shaking things up on the swinging bridge,
just downriver from the falls
We climbed all over Thompson Falls, and let the record show that Tim’s folks
went up even higher than I did.
Pretty little riverside town.
Visit Thompson Falls
From Thompson Falls, we made a long day trip to Glacier National Park.
The marmot wanted Tim’s dad to put down the camera and just let him into the rental car.
He clearly knew that cars and humans mean food, and he was not wrong.
We did indeed have a whole day’s worth of snacks onboard.
Now if this guy had asked?
I think we’d have let him have all the snacks, and probably the car too.
“Just take the keys, Mr. Grizzly, sir. It’s allllll yours.”

3rd major stop: Meeteetse, WY, on private land belonging to friends we’d met in January

Hey, remember when we helped clean Carlsbad Caverns by picking lint with teensy little paintbrushes? That’s where we met Debra & Larry, and learned that they own 20 acres of property about 30 miles south of Cody. But when we parted with, “Hey, we’ll let you know if we come your way in our travels,” we didn’t really know it would be so soon.

But summer safety this year meant avoiding crowds, and Wyoming makes it really easy to do that (population of the state of WY = 1/3 population of the city of San Antonio).

We thought we’d boondock on Debra & Larry’s little piece of paradise for about a week, but it turned into a whole month!

Not only is Meeteetse small, but our location was on a gravel ranch road, about
4 miles from the heart of town.
A typical experience: evening drinks and shared dinners at the pole barn
The lifestyle common to our friends, both Wyoming natives, was not typical at all for us.
What a gift that they shared so many of their experiences with us.
These included a 7-mile hike with two humans on foot, two on horseback (I took this photo from the saddle, y’all!), three doggies, and a random herd of cows…
… fishing for our supper …
… canine assisted kayaking …
… stand-up paddle boarding …
… making chili using ground elk instead of ground beef or turkey …
… and making judicious use of an outhouse, which allowed us to save enough space in our black tank that we didn’t have to find a dump station until we were ready to leave,
which was 3 weeks later than planned…
… but was also just in time.
Debra texted us this pic of our “yard” just a few hours after we left on Labor Day.
We knew the storm was coming, and we made it eastward to Casper in time.
We woke up to about 4″ of snow there the next morning.
Debra & Larry got 4-6 feet, and couldn’t open their RV door!

Where to next?

Wellllllll, we’ve got medical appointments keeping us in San Antonio through the first week of November.

After that, we’re not sure. We’ve talked about moochdocking with friends in Pensacola, FL, for part of the winter, or boondocking in the southwest. The latter would put us in better position for a springtime run up to WA to visit family there, as we missed our older boy & his girl this year, along with Tim’s other sister and her family.

We’ll figure it out, and as ever, you can follow us on Facebook, Instagram and/or Twitter for updates as we go.

“It certainly was not the summer we had planned, but it was the summer we needed.”
~ that wise friend mentioned above, David Goldstein

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.

Disappointment: “We own a new kingpin!” has nothing to do with the mafia. At all.

When Tim said, “Honey, I’m gonna order a new kingpin,” my mind went to drug lords and crime bosses.

I should have known. He meant something RV-related. I swear sometimes it feels like that’s all we buy.

For those who are unfamiliar with fifth wheels, the pin box and kingpin assembly are located on the “nose” of the trailer. The pin then locks into a hitch located in the bed of the truck used for towing.

We’d been wanting to upgrade to a smoother ride for The Toad, and after the usual massive amount of online research, Tim ordered the Flex Air Pin Box Long Jaw by Lippert Components, model 328492. Its integrated shock absorber and air bag should give us a lot less shake, rattle and roll than we’re used to, in both trailer and truck.

It weighs 240 pounds, and arrived strapped to a pallet.
How’s that for excitement?

Unwrapped, all shiny and new and hella sexy

If you’re gonna give this a go: as with any upgrade that is expensive and/or heavy, you’ll want to consult with both the item’s and your RV’s manufacturer before ordering, and make triple sure of all measurements to avoid costly returns. As you can see from the photos above, we definitely didn’t want to risk the hassle of sending this sucker back.

After opening the box came the fun part: off with the old, on with the new. We knew we were going to need a few more sets of hands for that.

Luckily, when it comes to living around other RV’ers, help is there when you need it, and sometimes you don’t even have to ask. Just put up the hood of your car or truck, and within a minute or two, help will arrive. Might work even faster if you are actually leaning over the engine, looking a little perplexed. “Hey, man, what’s going on?” “Oh, you got a busted thingamajig? I’ve got a tool for that.” “Let me tell you about the time this happened to me…” and so on.

I call it the Batman Beacon of the RV Park. Just lift the hood, and you’ll bring all the heroes to the yard!

We were lucky to have park hosts Ed and George, and our neighbor, Dave, show up right on time to help us get the job done that morning. Or maybe they just caught a whiff of the second best way to bring the boys to the yard: set out food and drinks. In this case, it was fresh pumpkin muffins and piping hot coffee. Feed them, and they will come.

Muffins from scratch, and strong coffee for the win!

The process took about three hours spread out over the whole day (you know how it goes), but included only one trip to a hardware store. The new assembly didn’t come with bolts, and the ones from our old unit were too short, so off Tim went.

Another thing that didn’t come with the new pin box? Instructions! Be prepared to spend some time on the phone or online with Lippert if you decide to buy one of these.

Off with the old…

Can you believe I got 18 seconds of video of men working, and not one of them swore? Again with the disappointment!

Take I
Its top edge should not be up against the nose of the 5th wheel like that, so there was a Take II.

Much better.
After a couple of adjustments, we got it into the correct position. Note gap between top of pinbox and bottom of RV nose.

Backing the BFT up to the The Toad to make sure the kingpin is at the proper height to fit correctly into our hitch

Bingo! Kingpin in hitch.
That’s exactly how it should look.

Adjusting the air bag (it’s that black rubber part that looks like a tire) to the recommended 40psi

Tim ended up moving the RV without me for the kingpin’s maiden voyage, and he assured me that the ride was indeed smoother. But he also noticed after the first trip under real conditions, that the thing needs to be adjusted one bolt hole lower for a better fit with the truck hitch.

Looks like we’ll be making use of the Batman Beacon again!

(Author’s note: a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.)

RV bathroom upgrade: Any excuse for a potty!

I’m sure other people are buying exciting new things like electronics, clothing, and airline tickets for the holiday gift-giving season.

Us? We bought a new toilet for The Toad.

It arrived quite appropriately on Black (Tank?) Friday.

It arrived quite appropriately on Black (Tank?) Friday.

But we’d finally had it with our old one, which was just not worth the hassle of yet another repair effort. Despite more than one round of disassembly and cleaning, plus replacement of critical parts, the flush ball mechanism would no longer seal correctly.  And as anyone with recreational vehicle bathroom experience knows, that creates some unpleasant issues, none of which are appropriate for polite company.

Tim checked online reviews for newer models, and we settled on (pun absolutely intended) the Dometic ceramic bowl gravity-flush toilet, model 320. Being a handy guy, he knew we could handle this job ourselves, and it took even less time than we thought: only one hour from opening the shipping box to the first successful “test drive.”

Opening it up was an exercise in itself.

Opening it up was an exercise in itself.

It was the day after Thanksgiving, and although we still had visions of pie in our heads, we knew that was not whipped cream

It was the day after Thanksgiving, and although we still had visions of pie in our heads, we knew that was not whipped cream. At all.

I was positive we'd find the directions in the bowl, mainly because that's where I'd have put them. Close enough.

I was positive we’d find the directions in the bowl, mainly because that’s where I’d have put them.
Close enough.

I was the Reader of the Directions. I kept asking Tim if the toilet was flush with the floor -- and then giggling uncontrollably. That shit never gets old. Ha!

I was the official Reader of Directions.
I kept asking Tim if the toilet was flush with the floor — and then giggling uncontrollably.
Because that shit never gets old.

Some tips for anyone who decides to tackle this job:

  1. You will need to turn off the water supply to your RV while you’re working. Prepare accordingly by filling a pitcher with clean water for drinking, using the old toilet one last time before you disconnect it, and putting some soapy water in a bucket for washing hands.

    Critical tools: socket wrench set, and an iPhone (which served conveniently as both a flashlight and an internet reference guide)

    Critical tools: socket wrench set, and an iPhone (which served conveniently as both a flashlight and an internet reference guide)

  2. Choose a location — and time of year — for adequate ventilation. The floor opening to your black tank will be exposed for a while, so you’ll definitely want windows open!

    One of the toughest parts of any RV repair job: maneuvering in really tight spaces

    One of the toughest parts of any RV repair job: maneuvering in really tight spaces

  3. Tools and materials we used: socket wrench, screw driver, putty knife (for scraping deposits from floor flange), rags and paper towels, spray cleaner/disinfectant, plastic garbage bag, and rubber gloves. If your toilet model comes with a hand sprayer, you will also need a drill to install the mounting bracket on the wall.

    Prepping the floor flange by scraping out the yuck. It was about as disgusting as you'd imagine.

    Prepping the floor flange by scraping out the yuck.
    It was about as disgusting as you’d imagine.

  4. We also recommend talking with your RV and/or toilet manufacturer before you place your order, to make sure you purchase a model that will fit in your camper, along with any additional required parts. And if this type of project is new for you, you may also want to do the installation at a time when the manufacturer’s customer service department is open, so that you can call for help if needed (yet another use for that cell phone).

    Out with the old, in with the new!

    Out with the old, in with the new! Aside from being a requirement in this case, it’s also how we Own Less with other stuff: new in, old out. Always.

Of course the most important thing you will need for this job is a sense of humor. Toilets and bathrooms are funny, and making as many crappy jokes as necessary will help pass the time.

Our new throne. Let me just say that the spray nozzle is a total game-changer. That is all.

Our new throne.
Let me just say that the spray nozzle is a total game-changer.

(Author’s note: a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.)

Some funny things happened on the way to the Grand Canyon

We departed from Home Base San Antonio a week ago today, and arrived yesterday in Williams, AZ, which will serve as our base camp for a week or more as we explore the Grand Canyon, Sedona, and other northern Arizona destinations.

Our first stop was only an hour outside San Antonio, in Kerrville, TX. We wanted to spend some time with our friends, Jay & Kris, plus we had some tools of theirs to return, so we hung out with them for a few days at Kerrville-Schreiner Park.

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. Very pleasant stay, and highly recommended as a camping destination.

It’s a city park now, but until 2004 it was a state park, with 517 acres of trails, camp sites, cabins, wildlife, and riverfront access to show for it.
Very pleasant stay, and highly recommended as a camping destination.

Funny Thing 1: Giant crawdad at the boat launch. I really don't like knowing they grow this large, but...

Funny Thing 1:
Giant crawdad at the boat launch. I really don’t like knowing they grow this large, but…

... if we hadn't found it, we wouldn't have learned that Jay is some sort of crawdad whisperer! He unhooked the leash from one of his doggies, dangled it in the water, and used to to lead the crawdad out. I. Almost. Died.

… if we hadn’t found it, we wouldn’t have learned that Jay is some sort of crawdad whisperer.
He unhooked the leash from one of his doggies, dangled it in the water, and used it to lead. the crawdad. out.

The doggies, however, were most amused by this new plaything.

The doggies were most amused by this new plaything.

You think regular old dog breath is bad? Tim got a kiss from Pixie, who'd just licked the crawdad. Eeeeemwwww!

You think regular old dog breath is bad?
Tim got a kiss from Pixie, who’d just licked the crawdad.
Eeeeewwww!

Funny Thing 2: Unexplained teepee in the park

Funny Thing 2:
Unexplained teepee in the park

Funny Thing 3: There were signs everywhere advising against touching or feeding the deer, but I ask you, who can resist a face like that?

Funny Thing 3:
There were signs everywhere advising against touching or feeding the deer, but I ask you, who can resist a face like that?

Funny Thing 4: We took in downtown Kerrville's 2nd annual Chalk Fest. Let's just say that Linus and Charlie Brown weren't the only two characters we saw.

Funny Thing 4:
We took in downtown Kerrville’s 2nd annual Chalk Fest.
Let’s just say that Linus, Snoopy and Charlie Brown weren’t the only characters we saw on those sidewalks, and it. was. awesome.

We also went into the Kerr Arts & Cultural Center (it's free!), and looked up. Trippy!

We also went into the Kerr Arts & Cultural Center (it’s free!), and looked up.
Trippy!

Funny Thing 5: I giggled. And I make no apologies for having the sense of humor of an 8-year-old boy.

Funny Thing 5:
I giggled.
And although I make no apologies for having the sense of humor of an 8-year-old boy, wouldn’t “Kerrville Public Library” have been a less cringe-worthy name?

Funny Thing 5: It's not funny. The day before we left, Jay helped Tim tighten up our trailer brakes. And that's when they noticed we've got some suspension issues, probably relating the Tire Incident in January. I don't understand all the details, but we figured we could make it safely (albeit bumpily) to AZ with the springs and shocks in their current condition. We'll get everything back in better working order before we leave, though.

Funny Thing 6:
It’s not funny.
The day before we left, Jay helped Tim tighten up our trailer brakes. And that’s when they noticed we’ve got some suspension issues, probably relating to the Tire Incident back in January. I don’t understand all the details, but we figured we could make it safely (albeit bumpily) to AZ with the springs and shocks in their current condition. We’ll get everything back in better working order before we leave there, though.

Our itinerary: Three days of driving, from Kerrville to Roswell to Ruidoso to Pie Town to Williams

Our itinerary: Three days of driving, from Kerrville to Roswell to Ruidoso to Pie Town to Williams

Funny Thing 6: Pie Town, NM, is about as big as that crawdad we found, but the people there know it and play to it wisely. They're friendly as hell too. Our receipt might say we stayed at the Pie Town RV Park, but according to some folks we met it town, we stayed at Penny & Jay's.

Funny Thing 7:
Pie Town, NM, is about as big as that crawdad we found, but the people there know it and play to that particular strength wisely.
They’re friendly as hell too, as you can see from this welcoming sign on the RV park bath house, which is open to anyone who may need it. Our receipt might say we stayed at the Pie Town RV Park, but according to the folks we met in town, we really stayed at Penny & Jay’s.

Few things make me smile like an honor system cash box. This is how we paid for our spot, one of six in the gravel lot adjacent to Penny & Jay's.

Few things make me smile like an honor system cash box. This is how we paid for our spot, one of six in the gravel lot adjacent to Penny & Jay’s.

And yes, when in Pie Town, you find whichever of the three restaurants is open (unusual hours: plan ahead), and prepare to be treated like family when you walk in the door.

And yes, when in Pie Town, you find whichever restaurant is open (unusual hours for all three, so plan ahead), and prepare to be treated like family when you walk in the door. “Hi! Where y’all from? Before I forget, we’re out of meat loaf and mashed potatoes tonight, but we can give you a second side with whatever main dish you choose. Is that OK?”

We ate dinner at The Gatherin' Place, saved room for Very Berry Pie, and left our mark on one of their door frames. Can you find ownlessdomore.us?

We ate dinner at The Gatherin’ Place, saved room for Very Berry Pie, and left our mark on one of their door frames.
Can you find ownlessdomore.us?

Very Berry Pie: just the right mixture of tart and sweet, with a wonderfully flaky crust. Worth every calorie!

Very Berry Pie: just the right mixture of tart and sweet, with a wonderfully flaky crust. Worth every calorie!

Funny Thing 7: We learned a lesson in kitchen storage upon our arrival in AZ. Don't let the pizza cutter ride next to the pastry brush. Poor thing got a bit of a trim!

Funny Thing 8:
We learned a late lesson in RV kitchen storage upon our arrival in AZ. Don’t let the pizza cutter ride next to the pastry brush.

Coming up in a few days: the best Grand Canyon photos a girl can get on an iPhone. See ya when we’re done exploring!