Monthly Archives: October 2013

Navigating RV Parks


Written by: Jeremy

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As we begin our journey, Robin and I are easing in with relatively short driving days. Of course, the short travel days result in more stops between planned destinations. In fact, in just the last three weeks we have been in eight different locations including two state parks, four private RV parks and two private residences.

This is not necessarily our intended amount of moving but more the result of our need to get in some family time before the weather turns and we need to get south. Let’s face it, charming Milford State Park aside, there is not a ton of reason to linger anywhere between Denver, Colorado and Dayton, Ohio. We are currently set up at an RV park in Ohio visiting family after visiting family in Missouri. We will spend a couple of weeks here before heading south for the winter. In addition to getting the hang of driving, we are also starting to get the hang of the whole set up and tear down process associated with our new 5th wheel travel trailer. We have had the trailer for a while so we have had plenty of time to figure out how to operate it. Becoming efficient at all the steps required to move is something that is taking more time. Since we decided to go with a 5th wheel over a motor home I knew set up and tear down with hitching and unhitching would be more of a hassle on short one night stays. Because of this, the “Automatic Electric Leveling System” was a feature we decided we had to have. “Find a spot, push a button to lower the gear and then hit the Auto Level button once and you are done!” At least that is how they explained in the RV sales showroom. The reality has been a bit different and we have found that getting the trailer fairly level to start is a prerequisite for the “Auto Level” system to work. That stipulation can be a challenge in a lot of Colorado. Considering that the system has already broken and had to be repaired, I am still waiting for the final determination on return of investment on this upgraded feature. Other parts of the process are getting easier. The hitching and unhitching process is getting smoother every time as is the operations and procedures associated with the three slide-outs. Packing up and securing everything for travel while managing four animals is also something we are getting better and better at. Electric, water and sewer hook-ups are also now a breeze, although the process is still well short of a no-brainer. So far, the only real damage has been to a piece of trim and a cabinet door that that had an unintended union when putting out the office area slide-out. The final and most important piece that we have had to learn in navigating RV parks is the park staff and/or ownership. We have found that most RV and campground websites are fairly limited and your best bet for getting a good spot and deal is with direct communication with the friendly staff. We have met RV staff of all sorts. Older family owned parks seem to be fairly common and lets just say, the pace is different that we might be accustom to in our previous daily lives. Pretty quickly, we determined that I am not really cut-out for this job and Robin has taken over all phone and in person communications with RV park personnel. In fact we have determined that it is best if I wait in the car or act like I am checking out something on the trailer while Robin goes in alone. Although I have only done it once or twice, the line of communication in my experience can be something that extends my patience over the edge. Especially after a long day of driving: Me: “Hi, do you have any available spots for a 32ft, 5th wheel”. Staff: “Well, I recon we could get you in.” Me: “Great, can you tell me what your rates are.” Staff: “Yes” Me: “OK, what are they?” Staff: “$30/night” Me: “Ok, we may end up staying for a week, do you have a weekly rate?” Staff: “Yes.” Me: “Ok, what is that rate?” Staff: “Well that depends on what type of site you want.” Me: “What are my choices?” Staff: “Back in or pull through?” Me: “How about a pull-through.” Staff: “There aren’t any pull-through’s available this week.” Me: “Ok, I guess a back-in then” Staff: “Back lot or front lot?” Me: “Is there a price difference?” Staff: “No” Me: “Ok, I guess we will just take front lot then” Staff: “Really?” Me: “Is there something wrong with the front lot?” Staff: “Well, most people don’t like parking right beside the dumpsters.” Me: “Do you by chance have a map or any literature that details all of this?” Staff: “Yes” Me: “That would be great. Maybe it would be easier if I just looked at that”. Staff: “I recon we could print one out for you”. Me: “Ok, if it is not too much trouble.” Staff: “No trouble, Just need to get my daughter from the basement. She is the only one who know how to use the computer and printer.” Me: “Can you tell me if your general store carries Scotch?” When Robin takes care of it and I stay outside, for some reason, we seem to get much better sites and usually we have the staff doing us favors by the time we leave. I don’t know what she does or how she does it, but then again, the TV and internet is a mystery to her so I guess it all works out for us in the end. I have even tried to book places on-line that say they are full. If it is a place we really want to stay, Robin usually calls to make sure. Five minutes and plenty of mutually animated telephone belly laughing later and we usually have our spot! RV Lesson #6: When trying to get the best possible RV camping spot, personality goes a long way.  However, you have to be ten times more charmin' than that Arnold on Green Acres, you know what I'm sayin'? sj

Full-Timing with Pets / Meet the Family

Written by: Jeremy I mentioned in a previous blog that we have talked about living in a travel trailer or, full-timing, for as long as we can remember. As a family, that has two big dogs and two cats, including three seniors, the idea of full-timing with pets was almost always at the top of the list of excuses for why we could not do it. We are just not the type of people that would make other arrangements for any of them based on life plans that may have changed since we said "I do" to these strange creatures how ever many years ago. In fact, we had all but decided that we would at least wait until we had a couple fewer cats and maybe one less dog before we entertained any type of full time expedition. After we bought the travel trailer, we soon found that our thirteen year old cats Helen and Omar love the trailer. After living in it for a few months while we were in between houses, we knew for sure that this plan could work.  If not "for sure", we knew we were willing to give it a try. After we moved from the RV into our mountain cabin this summer we found that Omar wanted nothing to do with the musty old cabin and he mostly preferred to stay in the adjacent and newer RV. Given our future plans, we let him stay there most of the time this summer as the rest of us prepared to join him in the Fall.

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The cats have lots of large windows to look out and the same comfy queen sized bed that they basically live on in our normal house is still always there; including when we are driving. Sure navigating through the dog gauntlet can be a challenge for them, but overall, I think they like the feeling they get when they have to swat and dominate the big dogs every now and then.

We even have little cat leashes and a cat play pen so that they can all get some fresh air! You should see some of the looks we get when people stroll by our camping spots and see Omar sunning himself on the picnic table.

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Yes, it can be tight quarters, and finding a good spot for the litter box and other issues had to be dealt with. With senior cats, we decided to make prescription medication and food arrangements up front and all of our vet records are on board and digitally available. Our pets are also registered in the Banfield nationwide veterinary network so if we need routine care we don't have to go through the whole process of transferring records to a new vet. So far, the cats have done well and they seem happy; or at least as happy as 13 year old indoor cats that live in an RV with big dogs get.

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As for the 160 lbs of mutt we are taking with us - what can I say, dogs are dogs and we love them but they are not necessarily easy or cheap.  Our older lab mix Hank’s is still pretty spry but most of his over-active collie puppy years are well behind him. Even though he doesn't really know it, he has been looking forward to dipping his feet in the ocean for the first time for over ten years now. We can feel his excitement and anticipation growing as our excitement and anticipation grows for him. Although our younger, big-boy, Rufus, can be a handful, the question, “you want to go for a ride?!” is, without a doubt, the most thrilling sentence he has ever heard a human-being utter. He has no idea where we are going or why and yet he has been up for this journey with us since the moment we met him down at the shelter. Like his older brother, he does not spend one moment of his life focusing on the "what if?" obstacles and fears associated with travel and he certainly does not perseverate on his past. Staying one hundred percent focused on the potential opportunity ahead is not a problem for either one of our dogs. In accordance with our similar philosophy in life, why should we not be primarily the same? IMG_0864 (800x530) I can see why dogs were good companions for the early pioneers. Surrounding yourself with energy forms that only look forward and never back can be a very good thing when living on the move.

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We have a nice set up for them in the back of the crew crab and with quite a few miles under our belt already, they have been fantastic truck riders and travel companions. The cat crates double as a level platform support area for the dogs and this also provides another options for the cats if they aren't traveling in their preferred position in the trailer bedroom. A dog ramp helps Hank get into the truck and it also provides a nice agility obstacle for Rufus to bound over when he enters the truck using his preferred full-speed, airborne launch method. IMAG0037 (449x800) Yes, I am sure a couple of lap dogs like the ones we see everywhere we go, would probably have made better full-timing companions, but then again, probably not for us. RV Lesson # 4: We are who we are and we can make this trip what we want. We can and will live, breathe, and move with our family instead of with excuses or regret. IMAG0283 (800x449) Besides, indoor space and a fresh, clean smelling house are way over-rated when you have an entire continent to explore. All you need is a comfy place to lay your head at the end of the night. Hank and Rufus agree!

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Live, Breathe and Drive a Big@$$ Truck

Written by: Robin

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I have been driving now for 29 years, so I have some experience.  About once a month I speak publicly for 8 hours in front of 40 strangers, so I am not a coward.  So, I am not sure why I have been such a chicken when it comes to pulling our 5th wheel travel trailer.  Last week I had no choice but to jump in and do it.  I cannot remember the last time I felt as nervous as I did the first time I pulled away with the trailer attached.  However, I have logged about 7 hours so far, and made my way through downtown Kansas City in the process!

I am lucky to have a very good mentor in my husband.  Not only has he let me ease in to it by doing only what I am comfortable with, he has given me all kinds of tips and advice, and most important when I am behind the wheel he trusts me completely.  More than I trust myself.  In my mind, I was letting the physical difference between me and this giant rig get the best of me.  He reminded me that it is no different than conquering anything…let go of the fear.  I had to approach it the same way that I approach anything that is scary (skydiving, scuba diving, public speaking, etc..). I had to convince myself that it is really no big deal and that as long as I believe that I can do it, breathe deeply and most of all…allow myself to be a novice, everything will be just fine. When I work with teachers, I am constantly reminding them what research has taught us about becoming an expert.  Expertise comes slowly (some researchers say it takes 10 years) and only then with constant practice and reflection.  I used to think the opposite of “expert” was “dummy”…now I know that it is “novice”.  To get better at something, you have to practice…a lot.  Then, you have to reflect on your mistakes and figure out a way to avoid them before you practice again.  It helps if you can discuss them with someone else who is learning to do the same thing, as two heads are better than one.  I am lucky that my peer is about six months ahead of me and can help me avoid some of the rookie mistakes.

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Which brings me back to breathing deeply.  You can’t practice something if you are too afraid to try it.  I found myself many times in those first seven hours having to loosen my grip on the wheel (as my knuckles were turning white), slow down and take three very deep breaths.  That always did the trick to help me stay centered and stop freaking out because that semi came too close, or there is a super skinny construction zone for the next five miles. The more uptight I got, the more the trailer would sway; as I loosened up (both mentally and physically) it would settle back down.  Tight but loose.   The tight part is about paying attention; to the many gauges which tell me if my engine is doing ok, to who/what is going on in the lanes around me, to the directions that I need to be following, to the clearance marked on bridges and overpasses, etc… so things do need  to be monitored tightly.  The loose needs to be my state of mind, specifically my anxiety.   If all of the evidence that I am monitoring says everything is OK…then I need to trust in that…and relax.  I might go slightly over the line on the shoulder, I am noticing everyone else does occasionally too.  I might be driving too slowly for some, but maybe I am giving them a chance to practice their patience. (haha) RV Lesson #3:  My advice for those new to towing an RV is to slow down, breathe, let go of your fear and prepare yourself to not be perfect…yes it’s a huge piece of machinery you are operating, but the power of the mind is much more powerful!

A Kansas State of Mind

Written by: Jeremy As I am sitting here enjoying the new found freedom of a wife with growing confidence behind the wheel of a truck and pulling a travel trailer, I have had some extra time to take in the expansive state of Kansas via the well traveled but admittedly dull stretch of Interstate 70 cutting through the heartland. Although we are new to full-timing, road trips across I-70 from Denver to visit family in the Midwest is not something new. We have made this trip many times. In fact, the state of Kansas has become sort of a punch line for us and our cool Colorado friends. Long flat, odoriferous, boring stretches of road broken up only by hate fueled, ethnocentric billboards wedged in between an even greater number of billboards for "Adult" bookstores, junk food, and signs luring you into a dilapidated farm for the privilege of looking at a five legged cow. We could only imagine the disappointment on a child's face when they find out the World's largest Prairie Dog is just a somewhat large ceramic statue that looks somewhat like an actual Prairie Dog. One of our very favorite activities was discussing with other travelers about just how bad that trip across I-70 sucks and what a joke Kansas is. When travel planning, we actually discussed whether or not we even wanted to stop for one night in the this state, let along the two we ultimately settled on. Our first night at a local KOA, just across the border into Goodland Kansas, was somewhat charming with a putt-putt golf course and large dog exercise area. It was, friendly, clean and respectable, but ultimately , the highway noise, and overall experience was about what we expected which wasn't much. As we moved on for day two we contemplated if we wanted to make the second stop we had planned in Kansas or if we should just blow through. Fortunately/unfortunately, a couple of urgent work emails for me caused us to need to find a place for the evening. Wanting to avoid another noisy night by the highway, we drifted a few miles off course to Milford State Park near Junction City. As we wound our way through the expansive, but relatively empty State Park in October, we began to experience Kansas in a different light. Having no idea which of the seven available campgrounds would accommodate us best, as usual Robin headed into the State Park information area to make some friends out of the locals and to get the inside scoop. There she met Mel, the campground host from the "Woodland Hills" loop. He immediately pointed us away from the more expensive full hookup sites encouraging us to forgo the onsite sewer dump sites at the more crowed campground loop for the quieter and shady loop he hosted and that has level concrete pads but no sewer hook-up. He even offered to let us follow him there in his truck so he could show us the grounds and point out the sewer dump that we could easily use on our way out after our short one night stay. Mel did not disappoint and pretty soon we were set up in an absolutely gorgeous, shady, level, and private spot where I got set up in my new office for the evening just before the sun began to set.

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Mel was by a little later to drop off a load of firewood that he thought we might find useful. Again, Mel was right. Although I had a mountain of evening work to do for my business, the dogs were not about to let us settle in to computers and then go to bed without exploring this place at least a little. Certainly not after we spent over five hours in that truck. What we soon found, less than 10 miles from the dreaded Kansas I-70 corridor, was a beautiful lake and sunset walk that rivaled any expensive island vacation sunset that we have ever experienced. Considering the fact that we had the whole place to ourselves, that our dogs got to join us, and that I got to sleep in my own Sleep Number bed for less than $20, it actually beat those sunset vacation beach walks by a long shot. Within a few minutes waking around taking pictures, living and breathing in this wonderful place, my heart changed and this blog basically wrote itself into my head just like that.

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What we could see and feel almost immediately was that this new journey would be far more than just a series of punch lines as we rush on through to our next destination. This is what our journey is about. In our previous life as typical Americans racing down the highway, trying to get in a short family visit in Missouri before our paid vacation time was used up, we had never really taken the time to stop in Kansas and see anything let alone actually meet a person.  Our minds were already made up as we held our noses and plowed through. As we strolled through Milford State Park the error of our previous way of thinking and living became even clearer.

How much else of our lives to-date have we missed because we were too busy speeding through with a predetermined and fixed viewpoint? For us, where we are right now, is where we are in life. The state of Kansas is a state of mind. It is very easy to view what people post on social media, the television news or even the messages of billboards and to see this as what life is all about. In reality these things aren't even real. Rv Lesson #2: Every once in a while, you have to pull off the highway, slow down, breathe and actually experience the present world in front of you instead of creating the experience in your own head. Kansas, just like life, can be whatever we want it to be! It can be a hell-hole of a state that's primary redeeming quality is the 75 mile per hour speed limit, or it can be the place where campground hosts like Mel, make you feel like you are at home visiting family  and sunsets make you feel like your are on a world class vacation. It really doesn't matter that in reality, you are at a campground in the middle of Kansas on a Monday night in October for no particular reason. It is all up to us! I guess it is a good thing we figured this out now considering our next intended states are Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and West Virginia. I personally, can not wait to see these places again for the first time!