Tag Archives: Life on the Road

Expectation vs. Reality

expectOnce upon a time, I was an uber-busy working wife and mother. I had a more-than-fulltime job, a husband and two young boys to care for, and juggled volunteer work at the boys’ schools AND church. Free time was nonexistent and sleep was optional.

Yet, as frantic and stressful as that time was, it was an enormously productive and satisfying period of my life. My life was full in every sense — full of busy-ness and stress to be sure, but also full of the joys of raising children, and interacting within a rich social network. I enjoyed deep and satisfying relationships within my work, social, church, family, and running circles. However, as I juggled and multi-tasked, I couldn’t help but long for that time in the misty distant future when I would have fewer responsibilities and the option to sleep in.

Within a few short years, everything changed. Our older son went off to college. Our younger son died in a car accident shortly thereafter, leaving us instant empty nesters. That traumatic event left Jeff and I rudderless for a time, re-evaluating every priority. I opted to take an early retirement package, and left my longtime job. Conflict at church ultimately led to my drifting away, after 20 years of intense involvement. Even my running group mostly fell apart, due to injuries or shifting priorities. Adrift, I immersed myself in preparations for our long-planned full-time RV life. After all, that was the dream — a life of travel and adventure. We sold the house, gave almost everything away, moved into the bus, and took off. Total freedom – at last! No boring routine, few responsibilities, and new horizons around every corner! Nirvana!

So here we are, two years in. Did expectation meet reality?

For me — partly yes and partly no. Don’t get me wrong, I love travel and adventure! We’ve had some absolutely marvelous times exploring national parks, visiting cities, and learning new things everywhere we go. But, I’ve faced some adjustment struggles along the way. I underestimated how challenging it would be to cope with a constantly-shifting environment after living in the same neighborhood for 30 years. I struggled to establish a healthy routine, when our days HAD no regular pattern. And I missed my people — my daily, in-person interaction with friends and family who knew me down to the bone. No amount of social media can fill that need for face-to-face human contact.

So, we’ve changed things up. This past year, we prioritized visiting and spending time with friends and family. We slowed our travels, spending more time in places, which helped me to re-establish healthier habits and an exercise rhythm. We have elected to spend the entire winter season – five months – at an active adult retirement community. And here, I have really found myself again. I’ve thrown myself into the daily activity schedule, made friends, and even joined a local church choir. Once again my days are full, productive, and include ample opportunity for social interaction with like-minded folks. It’s a place where I can feel part of a community again and enjoy an established routine – for a while. I feel more like *me* than I have in years and I’m having a blast!

Now, we don’t want to STAY here forever, we still want to travel. But, I think I’ve found the way to have it all. If I can get my social fix during the winter season, I can happily pursue adventures the rest of the year. Plus, we can bake in visits to family and friends as we travel. For me, I think this will create the happy balance.

So, what have I learned in this process?

  • Any major life change requires a period of adjustment. I expected that, but it hit me harder and lasted longer than I anticipated.
  • I underestimated how essential certain aspects of my life are to my daily happiness; especially, an exercise routine and meaningful social interaction.
  • If you’re not happy – change something. And keep changing things up until it’s working. If you can identify whatever increases your soul-level happiness, you can seek creative ways to fill that fundamental need. (Hint: it’s never about getting more “stuff”). You can ALWAYS change something, even if it’s just your perspective on the current situation.

We’re deep in the holiday season, which often carries its own heavy set of expectations. If you’re stressed or unhappy about something – change things up!

Here’s hoping you find your happy balance, through the holidays and beyond.

Rule #1 of RV Life: It’s Always Something

its-always-something.jpgI used to be a runner …. trained for and completed more than 25 half marathons, 6 full marathons, even two 50K ultramarathons. Early on, my more-experienced runner sister shared a truism about running events:  It’s Always Something. Conditions are never “perfect” for a race. Maybe the weather is less than ideal (hot, cold, rainy, windy), or you are experiencing a wardrobe malfunction (something chafing or not right for the conditions). Maybe the race organization is less than stellar (poorly-marked course, too few water stops, disorganized start/finish) or the course is too crowded. Maybe the terrain is different than you trained on, or perhaps you just don’t feel 100% that day. There is always something. But you learn to roll with it, persevere, and aim to finish despite the issue du jour.

RV life seems to be the same. We bought one of the nicest RV’s available from a manufacturer with an excellent reputation and two year warranty. But it seems that SOMETHING is always broken, glitching, malfunctioning or otherwise causing some level of aggravation.  All of the time.

Some of the issues we’ve experienced are due to our own learning curve. For example, the day we were panicked over our generator not charging the house batteries — that was caused by the Spartan shop not re-engaging a breaker after generator service. Later, we thought our house batteries were shot, but discovered that the auto-gen start settings were incorrect (they were resetk to default during the aforementioned service). After the programming was adjusted, the system has oworked well since. We’ve learned how to recognize and correct this type of problem.

Other items are to be expected due to the stresses of being in a moving home. We’ve encountered a window shade mount falling out, kitchen sink faucet handle broken, wall board popping loose in one spot, tear in slide topper, etc. Many of these problems are cosmetic, minor, or easily fixable, just part of daily life on the road.

And, I guess you have to expect that all of the bouncing around can reduce the life of appliances and accessories.  The JBL sound bar on the outside TV isn’t working. Our rear Girard awning is out of commission – it trips the circuit breaker when we try to extend it. Our Samsung microwave went out and had to be replaced. The rear Coleman air conditioner unit failed and was replaced. Our Winegard Trav’ler satellite dish motor has failed and been replaced twice! Dealing with these issues under warranty is a bit of a hassle, but they don’t stop our progress. It’s more of an inconvenience – and usually incurs some expense on our part.

But we’ve also had serious issues that stopped us in our tracks. Like, severe (undiagnosed) tire alignment issues which forced premature (emergency) replacement of the steer tires and, later, the tag axle tires. We might have recognized the issue earlier if we’d been more vigilant, but we just didn’t expect the alignment to be so severely out of spec on a brand new coach. That learning experience was not cheap – new tires and alignment ran north of $3000. And then there was the day our Blue Ox tow bar failed on the road. THAT just shouldn’t happen. Still, we figured out solutions on the fly and were able to stay on track.

This last issue though, just about sent Jeff over the edge. When we fired up the engine to leave Cosby Tennessee after sitting for a month, the Check Engine Light came on. A call to Spartan customer service revealed that the error code was related to the diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) head in our diesel emissions control system. We have an appointment at the Spartan factory in a few weeks, so customer service thought we should be fine to make it there, just keep an eye on it. What the customer service did NOT advise was that every time we re-started the engine, the computer advanced the severity of the code. By the time we reached our campground destination, the Stop Engine Light came on, rendering us effectively immobile – more than an hour from the nearest repair facility. The engine was perfectly fine, but due to EPA regulations, the computer was throttling the engine because it thought we had no DEF.  ARRRRRGHHH!

Jeff’s worst nightmare is having the bus towed – a non-trivial exercise that includes disengaging the drive shaft! We’ve heard horror stories about damage incurred due to towing. The idea of being towed an hour away to sit in a repair shop parking lot for days waiting for parts wasn’t exactly life inspiring either. So, after considerable research, several calls to Spartan and not a little angst, a plan was developed. Although the needed part (a new DEF head) wasn’t readily available, Spartan arranged to drop ship the entire tank assembly (containing the DEF head) to us. Once we had that, Coach.net emergency roadside service was dispatched to swap out the tank unit at our campsite. As we are still under warranty, it was done at no cost to us. We were good to go!

We set off to our  next destination, my home town of Anderson, Indiana. Not 15 miles down the road – you guessed it – the check engine light came on again. Same error codes – no DEF.  By the time we reached Indianapolis, the error was already advancing in severity and de-rating the engine, so we headed directly for the nearest Cummins service center in Indy. It was Saturday and nothing could be done until Monday, so we unhooked the toad, packed up Pumpkin and drove to my sister’s house to wait out the weekend in comfort. Monday, it was revealed that the DEF pump supply and return hoses had been reversed during the tank swap, causing the DEF pump to suck air. A simple fix, and we were back on the road. Since this particular problem was caused by human error and not equipment failure, we had to front the almost $500 repair cost, and are being forced through a convoluted process to get reimbursed. We are now sitting in our nice Anderson campground for several weeks, hoping that this particular problem is permanently fixed. In the next few weeks we have service appointments at both the Entegra factory AND the Spartan factory, which should address any and all pending warranty repair items — including fixing the rear slide out which got tweaked during our Brown County DEF repair process and currently won’t fully retract. <sigh>

The moral of the story is that this life is not for the easily frustrated. Due to the variables and stressors involved in moving the beast from place to place, failures WILL occur, with regularity. There’s nothing that can’t be fixed if you throw money at it, but some aggravation is inevitable. That’s part of the price of living this life of exploration and adventure. You have to roll with it, persevere and endeavor to travel on, despite the issue du jour.

Because it’s always something.


Full-time RV Living: 4 Must-Haves

This is my admittedly-biased list of 4 items that I find absolutely indispensable for RV living.

progressive surge protector1. Electrical Surge Protector  You can’t ever count on the quality of a campground’s electrical feed. It can surge, experience low voltage, be wired improperly, or fail entirely. With all of the expensive electronics in our rigs these days (TV’s, DVD’s, microwaves, etc), you don’t want an unexpected power surge to take them out. The first thing I do at a campsite is plug our Progressive Surge Protector into the electric pedestal  and allow it to diagnose the circuit. After it shows normal operation, only then do I attach our 50 amp plug to the surge protector. This one is quite pricy, so in dicey campgrounds we padlock it securely to the pedestal. There are variations on this model, including an in-line option, depending on your RV’s needs.

water regulator2. Water Pressure Regulator  We are more likely to deal with low water pressure at a site than high pressure. But, we HAVE encountered instances where the campground water pressure is extremely high, risking blowing out our internal piping. Just as with the surge protector, we always hook up a water pressure regulator first, then our water pre-filter, and then our water hose. You can get cheaper pressure regulators without a gauge, but we like seeing exactly what the pressure is, and make any adjustments needed.

weboost3. Weboost 4GX Cell Phone Signal Booster   Cell signals have a tough time punching through big metal boxes, like our motorhome. This device boosts any cell phone signal and re-broadcasts it inside our rig, making decent signals stronger and marginal signals usable. Without it, our AT&T hotspot would be almost useless and we’d be making phone calls outside.  Now, it won’t help you if there is NO signal – nothing can help you with that. But for marginal to normal strength signal, the difference is quite significant.

gel pads4. Sticky anti-slip Gel Pads  One of the features I love about my motorhome floor plan is the china cabinet. It just makes the living space feel homier. But placing glass items on glass shelves with glass doors – that seems almost incompatible with a moving home. Enter — the glue pad! These sticky silicone gel pads make almost everything stick to anything. And they are re-positionable. For example, I tack down our stemless wine glasses inside the china cabinet using the sticky pad, pull a glass out when needed, and when finished, just stick it back on the sticky pad. No residue, no problem. I have stuck things down all over the bus and they stay put! You can also cut them and use smaller pieces as needed. They are like my secret weapon. Eventually, dust can coat the surface and make them less tacky. Theoretically, you can wash and regenerate them, but I just replace it at that point. They aren’t that expensive so I keep a spare package around at all times.

And there you have it – the indispensable tools that we use every single day!


RV Living: Let’s Talk Bathrooms

049Our motorhome has a lovely bathroom. It’s beautiful, clean, and fully functional. But, we frequently don’t use it, bypassing it in favor of using the campground bathrooms. Why, you ask? Read on!

The first consideration is that all of the wastewater generated in our bus (sinks, shower, laundry, toilet) goes into holding tanks (gray or black). Most of the time we do have sewer hookups, but we never leave the tank drainage hoses open. That creates problems. Not only does it lead to a build up of solids in the bottom of the tanks, it also leaves openings for undesirable pests to crawl up and take residence. Ewwww, NOT a good idea! So, tank level management is a constant task.

Secondly, what you put in the tanks has to be drained out. The less solid material you put into a tank, the less you have to drain and flush out later. For example, we are careful to scrape food residue off of dishes before washing them. We don’t have an easy method of flushing solids out of our gray water tank, so we try to keep solids out of the tank as much as possible. We DO have a mechanism to flush/wash the black tank (toilet water), but the same logic applies – the less solid material, the less tank washing required. So, without getting graphic, we endeavor to keep “organic solids” out of the black tank. Sorry if that’s TMI! All it takes is a little stroll over to the campground bathroom and it all magically flushes away.

Most RV’s have limited-capacity hot water heaters, making long, hot showers impossible. That’s not the case in our rig. We are equipped with a diesel-fired Aquahot system which provides a virtually unlimited supply of on-demand hot water. You can shower as long as your tank can hold it (which is a long time!). So why do I often shower in the bathhouse? Several reasons: the shower space is usually larger, the water pressure is better, I’m not tying up the shower/toilet area, I don’t have to consider tank levels, and I don’t have to clean it! Our curved shower enclosure is beautiful, but it’s a pain to squee-gee dry after every use. It takes a little preparation and a bit of a walk to the campground shower, but I can stand under the steaming hot water as long as I like and then walk away. It’s just easier!

028Now, I wouldn’t use nasty bathrooms, but the vast majority of bathrooms we’ve encountered are perfectly acceptable. It doesn’t have to be fancy, as long as it’s kept clean and well-maintained. It helps that we often stay at higher end RV resorts. In fact, some of the bathrooms have been SUPER nice – nicer than I had in my own home! Two notable examples include the chandelier bathroom in Paso Robles, and the gorgeous spa-like bathroom in Moab. Using those facilities was a true pleasure.

Of course, there are always exceptions. Occasionally the bathrooms just don’t meet my standards. Or the weather sucks. Or it’s the middle of the night. Or someone isn’t feeling well. In those cases, our beautiful bathroom works quite nicely.

Travel Day Near-Disasters

I’m starting to not like travel days. It seems that some kind of problem always surfaces. We’ve had tires replaced (on an emergency basis) at a rest stop. On our last trip we had our toad air brake line disconnect, leaving us without brakes in the mountains. We managed to get that line re-connected, but not without some angst. At an over night rest area stop, we attempted to deploy our satellite dish, only to experience a “motor fail” code. Jeff had to extract our 15 foot ladder, deploy it (in freezing rain), and climb up onto the roof to make sure the dish was completely down before it was safe for us to move. (The replacement turret motor is currently in a large box in the back seat of the truck).

We already are sort of on Plan B for Memphis. We were originally going to stay at a park right on the Mississippi River, just for a couple of days to visit Graceland. But, while in Santa Fe, we noticed a water leak at the top of one of the living room windows. We were experiencing high winds and rain was blowing under our slide topper and pooling just above the leaking spot, which is not a normal situation. But, still, the window shouldn’t be leaking! It is likely a problem with a seal somewhere. So, we identified an RV dealership just south of Memphis that just so happens to have a very nice RV park next door. We booked there, extending our stay to almost a week, to deal with the repair and have ample time to explore Memphis, which we’ve never visited before.

IMG_4710We knew we had a long drive day (for us) from Bentonville to Memphis, so we packed up the night before and only had to make final preparations and hook up the toad. We left in good time and headed east. After a fuel stop, I had identified a likely rest stop for a lunch break. However, before we could reach the rest stop, Jeff suddenly noticed in the rear camera that the truck was swaying dangerously behind us! One of the tow bars had disconnected! (Red Alert!) With no time to even reach the next exit, Jeff managed to quickly, but safely, bring us to a stop on the side of the interstate. We hopped out to discover that one “wing” of the Blue Ox tow bar had completely separated in two, partially disconnecting the truck from the motorhome.  That is NOT supposed to happen!!! With some maneuvering of the truck, we were able to get the other bar in position to be able to disconnect entirely. I had no choice now but to drive the truck separately to our destination.

With semi-trucks whizzing by inches from the bus, the side of the interstate isn’t the most comfortable (or safest) place to be. So, as quickly as possible, we readied the truck to drive separately. We hopped into our respective vehicles and carefully pulled back onto the highway, intended to pull off at that rest stop in a few miles and re-group.

However, I had just reached highway speed when I heard a strange noise and glanced in my driver side mirror. Horrified, I watched as Jeff’s bicycle detached from the rooftop carrier and somersaulted over the cab into the rear truck bed. (OMG!!!) Once again, I quickly pulled over onto the side of the interstate highway, as Jeff and the motorhome receded into the distance ahead. Jeff phoned me a few moments later and I explained what happened. When I hopped out, I found that somehow, miraculously, the bicycle seat had caught underneath one of the motorcycle straps, which restrained the bicycle and held it to the truck bed instead of catapulting out into traffic behind me. Could you just imagine? Not only would the bike be scrap metal at this point, it could have killed someone!  I wrestled it out of the truck bed, removed the front wheel, and managed to jam the bike into the back seat (working around the giant satellite TV turret motor box). Whew! Meanwhile Jeff had pulled off at the next exit and texted me his location. I carefully pulled back out onto the highway and made it safely to the rendezvous point. The incident created a few scratches to motorcycle and truck, but everything was otherwise intact.

We did stop at that rest stop a few miles up the road, to allow our adrenaline rush to subside and get a bite of nourishment. Sincerely hoping that bad things DON’T come in three’s, we saddled back up for the remaining 100 plus miles to our RV park, the one conveniently located next to the RV repair shop.

Thankfully, we are here for a few days. Hopefully long enough to fix the leak problem. And the satellite dish motor. And the tow bar. And the bike rack. Sheesh!

It could have been so much worse though. A bit of a scare, a few scratches, but nothing really major. Our guardian Angels really worked overtime on our behalf!

All’s well that ends well. Until the next travel day ……