March 1, 2006
Yesterday the window shade guy told us that he'd be by sometime this morning to reinstall our rebuilt day/night window shades, so we set aside the morning for his visit. He showed up mid-morning with the shades in hand and set about reinstalling them. Come to find out, the shades failed because the shade cords wore through where they make a bend through some bushings. There was a problem with the factory bushings which he replaced with some of better quality. The replacement cord he used is also of heavier duty quality so we should be in good shape with those three rebuilt shades for quite a while to come.
We found the shade man, "The Dirty Blind Man" (www.dirtyblindman.com), on the internet while we were in Bakersfield. When we found out that he was located here in Palm Desert, we decided to make a detour here so that he could examine all of our shades and give us a professional opinion as to why they failed after only five months of use. He said that bushing problems or too much tension on the cords can contribute to early failure.
We can't say enough good about Tom, The Dirty Blind Man. The first thing we noticed when he stepped into our coach was that he immediately removed his shoes, very impressive. From there he went around to each of our problem blinds and gave them the once over. The cord had completely broken on one of the shades, so he quickly re-corded it in the hope that it could be put back up without more extensive rework. It was then that he discovered the bushing problem and decided to take the shades back to his shop for complete rebuilds. His work is first rate and the cost to rebuild a shade to better then new condition is very reasonable.
Tom serves the local Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Palm Desert areas but the good news is, he also does mail-order repairs. Just send your defective shades to him and he'll take care of the rest. For those that are handy with tools, he also sells complete rebuild kits for day/night shades along with a DVD showing step-by-step instructions how to repair them. The blinds are actually very simple and clever in their design and rebuilding them is straightforward and easy. We bought several rebuild kits and he threw in the DVD. We felt very lucky to have found Tom and his service.
As we posted earlier, this is probably the nicest RV park that we've ever seen. We like it so much that we were planning on coming back here next winter and staying for at least a month. We saw ourselves taking long walks in the park, biking, swimming and generally leading the good life. All of that evaporated into thin air when we heard that the park is set to close for good in a few weeks. We were stunned. This amazing place is set to be bulldozed and replaced by condos. Such is the value of California land. Rumor has it that the park owners sold the park for forty million dollars. That's a lot of money and I guess we can't blame them for taking it. After all it is a business, but still, the RV community is losing a wonderful resource. Judging by the people we've talked to around here, it will be missed.
Tomorrow morning we'll be heading east into Arizona. We're not sure where we'll be staying tomorrow evening but that's part of the fun of being on the road.
March 2, 2006
Our last RV before this one was a 21' Sandpiper tow-trailer manufactured by Forest River. It was a great little trailer except that when we first took delivery and towed it home from the dealership, we discovered that the brakes didn't work. No problem, I fixed the brakes but on our first major road trip (to Indianapolis from the San Jose, CA area), we discovered that the windows leaked like a sieve. We hit major thunderstorms from St. Louis to Indianapolis and I can tell you with conviction that those windows leaked because Margo and I spent several hours with towels and her hair dryer making the unit fit to sleep in that night. Food supply running low, our dinner consisted of canned chili and two-day old French bread. This was RV'ing at it's worst, but not the end of the world. Despite those early ordeals with the Sandpiper, we came to love it and spent many happy days and nights enjoying it including several trips cross-country.
That trip to Indianapolis is one that we will both remember for a long time. We were living in the S.F. area at the time and decided to take the trailer on a one-week trip to Indianapolis to see my dad and sister. In order to spend any time at all in Indiana, we would need to drive pretty much straight through both directions. The short version of this story is, that the first leg of our trip extended from Sunnyvale California to somewhere in southwest Missouri, and was driven non-stop in one sitting by yours truly. Long road trips have always been my specialty. I can put in long hours behind the wheel and not blink an eye. Maybe it's the old trucker in me, I don't know for sure. Some people can do it and some can't.
But when we decided to hit the road as full-timers, we vowed that we would never put ourselves in a position where we would need to pull "all nighters" behind the wheel again. Our goal is to try and keep the daily mileage at 300 miles or less. If we need to do a 700-mile day, we'll do it but I'd rather not. Today's mileage came in at about 265 miles which is kind of on the short side, but we got a late start and we lost an hour to a time change at the California/Arizona border. When we left Palm Desert this morning our sights were set on Tucson, AZ, but we came up short of that goal and ended up stopping for the day in the tiny desert town of Gila Bend, AZ.
"The Gila Bend route" is well known as a by-pass around the city of Phoenix. Phoenix is a nightmare of traffic that seems to go on and on for miles and it should be avoided at all costs. When traveling eastbound on I-10, just take highway 85 to Gila Bend then pick up Highway 8 and follow it to where it joins up with I-10 on the other side of Phoenix. Use the reverse for westbound travel. Gila Bend is actually a good place to stop and fuel up even if you don't spend the night. Our favorite fuel stop is the Holt Shell station at the highway 8 junction, which has dedicated RV pumps for both gas and diesel. The mini-mart is jam packed with tacky trinkets and Arizona souvenirs but it's cool. We bought a small chainsaw carved bear the last time we stopped here and we named him "Rocky". He now guards the entrance to our trailer when we get set up in a park.
Operated by the Shell station and located just behind it is the very basic and very inexpensive RV park called "Holt's Shell RV Park". The going rate for a full hook-up is $15 a night, which includes access to clean bathrooms (no showers) and a nice little laundry room. When we arrived there this afternoon I stayed outside and fueled the truck (diesel $2.55 a gallon), while Margo checked us in. The girl in the store asked Margo if we had a Passport card, which we do, and the rate immediately dropped to $7.50 a night! This is a record low rate for us on this trip. Our prior low rate was $9 a night at a Passport park in Berea, Kentucky. We have no problem with the bargain basement parks as long as they're clean and safe. We've stayed at this one before and it's a winner if you just need a nice place to spend the night that won't break the bank.
Our goal for tomorrow is the easy run east to the Voyager RV Resort located in Tucson. We've heard a lot about Voyager and think it's time for us to check it out.
March 3, 2006
This morning we pulled ourselves out of bed around the six o'clock hour and decided to have a leasurely morning sitting around the trailer here in Gila Bend. As soon as the sun came up, the temperatures quickly climbed into the mid-70's and it was very comfortable weather wise.
Last evening while checking out this basic little park, I noticed a small outdoor washtub off of the restroom/laundry building that would be perfect for giving Sparkie a bath. Of course he prefers we call it a "spa treatment" but to us it's still a bath. Finding a nice washtub with faucets dispensing warm water is a very rare occurrence. So rare in fact that we've never seen it before. For that reason alone we just had to give Spark's the full grooming treatment before heading east.
Sparkie is what we would call a "high maintenance" dog. He hates to get a haircut, nail trim or physical exam and lets us know it, but for some reason, he doesn't seem to mind getting a bath. Maybe it feels good to him or he just likes the attention. So Margo and I grabbed him up, shampoo and towels in hand, and headed for the washtub. Being spoiled and all, he really seemed to enjoy his bath even though it was in unfamiliar surroundings. Once toweled off, he received a treat for being a "good boy". Like I said, he's spoiled. Our only regret was that we forgot the camera to record him in the tub.
The Gila Bend weather was so nice and the park was so quiet that we almost decided to stay there for a few more days but instead we pulled stakes and headed east to Tucson so that we could check out the "Voyager RV Resort". We've heard so much about it that it had become a "must see". Now that we're here, I'm not sure what to make of this place or why people like it so much. After all we've heard about it, we're really disappointed. The RV sites are spaced close together, are unattractive (in our opinion. See photos in the photo gallery) and none that we can see offer any type of view. From what we've seen so far, most people here are snowbirds or full-timers, who are content to spend a number of months parked in one place in not very attractive surroundings. Maybe people who are escaping the harsh northern winters. This park bills itself as being "Voted best in the United States", but to be honest, we don't know how people can live this way for an extended period of time. Voyager seems to be a curious mix of park-model homes and RV's surrounded by some very average clubhouses and equally average facilities. There is a very active social events calendar so maybe that's part of the appeal to some. At any rate, our decision to stay here was based on what we'd heard from others, and from what we had read on the park website. Big mistake, it's just not us.
Thinking that Voyager might be a nice place, we had called ahead to make our three-day reservation. The park policy is to get a credit card number when making a reservation and the park representative was very clear that they would put the charges through before we arrived. Once we arrived, we didn't care much for the park, but it was too late for us to back out because the charges had already been submitted and couldn't be reversed. This is a good lesson for us and we'll never again commit to a park until we see it in person. Margo's reaction was to take it all in stride (she's a better person than I am) while mine was to write off the money and just get the heck out of here. But money is money and we are on a budget.
So now we're stuck here until Monday unless we want to blow off the $126 charge. Our plan now is to spend tomorrow visiting the nearby Pima Air Museum and then head over to Camping World at Beaudry RV to pick up a few necessities. We stayed at the Beaudry RV park the last time we were in town and although it's nothing to write home about, it is more to our liking than Voyager. All in all, I think we'll avoid Tucson RV parks in the future.
March 4, 2006 To March 12, 2006
Our apologies to everyone for being absent from the web log for so long, but we got detained in Tucson at a park without wireless Internet. When we arrived in Tucson we had no idea that our stay would be for so long or that we would be departing town in a new motor home leaving our trusty Dodge/Challenger combination behind as a trade.
It all started when we got bored sitting around at Voyager and decided to head a few miles over to Beaudry RV Sales "just to look around". Before we knew it a sales rep had us on a golf cart and we were looking at motor coaches. But I'm getting ahead of myself here. Margo and I had talked about motor homes and even looked at a few prior to our stop at Beaudry. What surprises us is that we never thought that we'd end up buying one. That is until we spotted our new '06 Monaco 40DFD sitting there looking all nice and shiny with the perfect floor plan. One look and we were hooked. After agreeing on prices and such the deal was on.
Then came the bad news that we had lost a beloved family member. We were crushed and our happy mood quickly turned to sorrow as we contemplated whether or not to leave town or to stay put. It turned out that there was no need for us to leave Tucson but this was definitely the wrong time for us to be in the midst of a major purchase transaction and a somewhat involved out of state delivery.
In the end everything turned out okay including the transition of our personal affects from the Challenger to the Monaco. The out of state delivery went off perfectly as did our maiden voyage from Tucson to our current location, Las Cruces, NM. The new coach is awesome and in some ways returns me to my days before retirement when I drove a motor coach for a living. Only then, I didn't have anybody to go back and make me a sandwich!
We'll be posting more about the motor home purchase here on the website in a few days but we need to take a few "glamour" pic's of it first. We also want to try and chronicle our deal and delivery experience, plus give our impressions of Beaudry RV Sales but for now, we're both exhausted and are going to relax and unwind with an adult beverage. It's good to be back.
March 13, 2006
When we left Tucson and headed east our planned destination was Hacienda RV Resort in Las Cruces, NM. Hacienda, located just off of I-10 at the Avenue de Mesilla exit, is one of our favorite RV parks. This is our second stop at Hacienda and it never fails to impress. We were looking forward to spending a few days here at the park and our first thought was that we could just pull in off of the highway and they would have space available for us. Wrong assumption.
When we were about 30 miles out from the park Margo decided to call ahead as a courtesy to let them know that we were coming in. To our surprise we learned that the park was nearly full and they might not have space for us. What a surprise. The last time that we were here the park was very quiet and had many empty sites available but not this time. To her credit, General Manager Judy King, told us to come in any way and that she would try and find space for us.
We had our fingers crossed as we pulled up in front of the office and went to check-in. When we arrived at the check-in desk there were several RV's ahead of us and more pulling in behind. Our chances of getting even an overnight space seemed slim at best. Then Judy appeared and asked us if we were the ones who had just called. We said that we were and at that point she took us under her wing and lead us outside to show us what alternatives were available to us. We ended up being able to occupy one space for the night but then having to relocate to another site the next day. No problem for us and a great relief as we needed some "down time" and could think of no better place than Hacienda in which to spend it.
Plus, it was Friday night! Hacienda has a complimentary Margarita Happy Hour on Friday nights and this just happened to be a Friday. Starting around 5:30 pm they offer pitchers of great Margaritas, munchies and a large outdoor fireplace with comfortable seating, just perfect for unwinding and enjoying the company of fellow RV'ers. Margaritas flow freely as the conversations become more and more animated but the main thing is that park guests have a wonderful time and get to swap stories. People generally have an excellent time.
Next morning the winds started. Not the Florida hurricane winds we are used to but still, heavy high desert winds with 40-50 mile per hour wind gusts. The type of winds that strip the wide open desert spaces of their top soil and send it flying into the air obscuring the nearby mountains and causing I-10 motorists to reach for their headlight switches. We endured two days of this wind tunnel type of existence before the winds finally laid down to a slight breeze and we could once again enjoy life outside of the motor home.
So today we put on our walking shoes and took a hike (we won't have a tow vehicle until we get back to Florida next week) towards the nearby small town of Mesilla. After being confined to the RV for two days because of the wind, both of us were in full-blown cabin fever mode and needed to get out for some much needed exercise.
Mesilla is located just a mile or so south of the RV park and is a worthwhile place to visit. The adobe architecture is wonderful and the shops and restaurants have something for everyone. It is a tourist town but on a small scale. You might say that it's still blossoming. Best to check it out now while it's still small and quaint. I don't think you'll be disappointed.
Margo and I both bought sun hats and ended up with some New Mexico souvenirs as well. As we walked from shop to shop we window shopped and often stopped to chat with the shop owners . As we entered one shop, we were met by a shop employee named Susan who had, along with her husband, recently ended a two year stint as full-time RV'ers. As we chatted with her it became obvious to us that we had much in common. The conversation was prolonged and delightful and it was obvious to us that she missed her days of traveling the Interstate. Like we've said before, this RV lifestyle gets in your blood.
Speaking of the Interstate, we'll be up bright and early tomorrow morning and back on it as we point the RV's nose toward Orlando, 1,800 miles to the east.
March 14, 2006
Our three nights in Las Cruces passed all too quickly, but to tell the truth, we were excited to get back out on the road in our new home. The pros and cons of motor homes verses trailers have been beat to death in magazine articles and Internet forums and the results are well known. The consensus seems to be that trailers are better if a person plans to stay in one place for extended periods, while motor homes are better for frequent highway travel. Having owned both, the truth is that both have their strengths and weaknesses and it all boils down to personal preference. One area that we would agree with is that our new motor home excels over our old Challenger as a highway cruiser. The view from our coach's windshield is unparalleled and the ride is almost Greyhound-like.
Monaco coaches have a huge one-piece windshield that almost gives the feeling of riding outside. The view is amazing. Monaco owners know what I mean. It's similar to the cockpit of one of the old Bell helicopters with the clear bubble. You feel as though you're riding in a giant elevated fish bowl and it's just awesome. Today's run from Las Cruces east to Fort Stockton on I-10 was only 291 miles, but we almost didn't want it to end. We were having a ball.
At one point I glanced over at Margo laid back in her seat. Her legs were elevated by the recliner, eyes closed and she appeared to be totally relaxed. We had a CD of southwest indian music playing softly in the background and the rolling high desert hills took on a totally new feeling. A new dimension if you will. I got to thinking that life just doesn't get any better than this, at least as far as highway travel goes. Would I like to have made this same trip in a Ferrari Enzo? You betcha, but I sure couldn't picture taking a shower or sleeping in an Enzo. By comparison our Monaco is pure decadence.
I hated to disturb Margo's snooze but the I-10 traffic was light and so were the crosswinds. Perfect conditions for her to take the wheel under highway conditions for the first time. So I pulled into a rest area, set the parking brake and turned the wheel over to her.
As far as drivers go, Margo is as versatile as they come. She's no stranger to an autocross course and even has seat time in a Freightliner hauling a 53 footer. She's a smooth capable driver and one that I trust completely. I was pretty sure that she would take to the new coach like a duck to water, but still, the dynamics of this rig are quite different from what she's driven before. I watched as she took the coach down the on-ramp and entered traffic and it was as though she was born to do this. Soon I was the one doing the relaxing and soaking up the wonderful southwest scenery.
I think that after a while that reclining passenger seat was starting to beckon Margo because we ended up switching places back after about fifty miles. She'd proven that she was capable behind the wheel and we had scheduled a fuel stop at Van Horn, Texas. Having more experience, it was probably best that I be the one to maneuver the RV through the tight confines of a crowded service plaza for the first time.
As expected, the Pilot Travel Plaza at Van Horn was packed. We approached the pump islands like most RV'ers do, looking for that one pump handle that stands out as a diesel pump. (Wouldn't it be great if the diesel pumps were marked and visible from a distance?) The Monaco has fuel fillers on either side of the coach and soon I was filling the tank with $2.49 a gallon diesel. Once fueled we pulled out from the pump island trying to avoid other RV's, cars, pickup's and some tough looking guys on Harley's. I managed not to flatten anything and soon we were off towards Fort Stockton.
Fort Stockton is small and has few alternatives for overnight stays. We choose the local KOA campground just off of exit 264, partially because we have a KOA membership card, and partially because it was convenient. Once checked in, we discovered that they have their own little cafe right there on the premises and it serves dinner! Wow, we just had to sample this native RV park cuisine.
They start serving dinner at 5:30 pm and we thought it best to get over there early. Our hunch was spot on because as we approached the cafe we noticed numbers of other hungry RV'ers headed that way ahead of us. Once inside the diner we chose a booth by the wall and sat back to check out the dinner menu. There were a total of four entries offered on the one page menu, one of which they were out of. I ordered the chicken fried steak and Margo selected the Country style Pork Ribs leaving the final entry, "Hand Breaded Catfish Fillets", to the more adventurous. Actually the catfish sounded good but for some reason I couldn't kick the image of dealing with fish bones. Then, to our surprise, there was even a wine offering from a local vintner. Being California wine lovers we couldn't resist sampling the local Merlot.
The winery is called Ste. Genevieve and to our surprise the vino was terrific. Who would have thought that a high desert community like Fort Stockton, Texas would have a winery capable of producing such a nice wine. At $8.99 a bottle, it was a bargain. We've been through this area many times before when it was very foggy and maybe those cool damp conditions are partially responsible for this excellent yet affordable wine.
Supper was served (basic but good!), and we enjoyed a glass or two of good vino before retiring back to the RV for our "American Idol" fix. This RV travel is definitely okay. Tomorrow: Fort Stockton to San Antonio.
March 15, 2006
Forget what I said about RV travel in yesterdays web log. Today was the pits. It stands to reason that for every good day of doing something there must be a certain number of bad days to go along with them. Today was a bad RV day for us.
We got out of bed early, full of optimism, thinking that the 300 mile run east on I-10 to San Antonio would be a piece of cake. It started out that way except for the flag-straightening gusty side-winds that were determined to alter our course every three seconds or less. Lets face it, RV's are like giant sails. In fact our new coach has more "sail area" when viewed from the side than some of the sailboats that Margo and I have owned in the past. According to a fellow I talked to at a fuel stop, this is Texas' "wind season" and it's to be expected. Combine those winds with that sail area and you are in for a lively drive.
After almost four hours of sawing at the wheel, I finally decided that it was time to take a break, get some fuel and an industrial strength coffee "to go". About that time we saw a sign for a Shell station offering diesel for $2.59 a gallon and it promised to have a mini-mart where I could grab that coffee. I could almost taste the coffee as I signaled for the off-ramp and eased into the brakes.
Our first hint of trouble came when we got to the bottom of the ramp and discovered that there was a major highway construction project going on. As soon as traffic cleared, I turned right and headed the short distance to the Shell station entrance. Just as I turned into the approach to the station, dodging construction equipment and cars, I noticed, too late, that the approach to the pumps was on a hill with a steep approach angle. The first hint that I was in trouble came when I heard the tail of the coach start to drag on the pavement. A second or so of tail-drag is bad enough but three or four seconds seems like a lifetime. As we pulled up to the pumps I just knew that we must have bent something or at the very least, scratched something. The good news is that we had come to rest right next to an empty green diesel pump handle. The bad news came after the diesel was flowing and I walked to the back of the coach only to find that our rear full-width mud flap was somewhat tweaked. My heart sank because I hate to put a scratch on anything. Now my day was ruined and I knew that I'd be thinking of that darned flap for the rest of our trip east. At least until it can be repaired or replaced. It doesn't look bad but I know it's not the way it came from the factory and that's enough to ruin things for me.
Our next problem came when we decided to stop for the night at the KOA on the east side of San Antonio. Margo had called ahead to make a reservation and they promised us a space with both WiFi and clear sky for our satellite dish. KOA is a major RV park chain and we trusted them to provide what they had promised. What we found after checking in was basically a trailer park like environment with lots of elderly trailers used for permanent housing. We can look past that as long as we feel comfortable in our surroundings, but this time we didn't. We couldn't connect with the wireless Internet and the view for our satellite dish was blocked by trees and we couldn't get a signal. The final straw came when a car occupied by some suspicious looking characters stopped at the space next to us and the people just sat there watching what we were doing. After about 10 minutes they finally left but by now we had decided to forfeit our $31 campground fee and leave to search for an alternative.
That alternative turned out to be only a few miles away at the "Braunig Lake RV Resort". We should have stopped here first but to be honest, it's located off of highway 37 which is located off of the San Antonio Loop, highway 410. In other words, it's not quite as convenient as the KOA park, located off of I-10. Good lesson, drive a little further for what promises to be a better park. This place is nice and from what we've seen so far, we can recommend it for a comfortable overnight stay.
As I put out the power cord and other utilities for the second time in an hour, I couldn't help but notice that darned scratched mud flap. Okay, I didn't just notice it; I stood back and scrutinized it. Now that I've had some dinner and a chance to relax, I've had an opportunity to think about the events leading up to the scratched flap and I realize now that they were caused by a combination of distractions and circumstances. No big deal. It was an honest mistake and I'll get over it. The good thing is that the flap can be easily fixed, but not so easily my ego, I'm afraid.
March 16, 2006
A few days ago when we were still in the Southwest, neither of us could get out of the truck without getting a jolt of static electricity. It reminded me of accidentally bumping a spark plug on a car engine complete with the blue spark. Of course the reason for all that electrical activity was the dry desert air combined with us scooting our butts across the truck seats. The air there was so dry that we almost never broke a sweat. Not even when we signed the papers for the new motor home.
But how things can change in just a few days of RV travel. We just arrived here at the Gulf Coast RV Resort located off of I-10 in Beaumont, (East) TX. The first thing we noticed when we climbed out of the rig was, that besides the temperatures being in the high 70's, the air was actually humid! We haven't seen noticeable humidity since we left the south last Fall and it reminds us of our old home in Orlando. Actually, the humidity isn't bad. It's sort of like coming home and greeting an old friend. An old friend that Margo claims to make her hair frizzy but that's another story.
Our route for today covered just shy of 300 miles and led us here to Beaumont via Houston, Texas. Houston like most big U.S. cities has major highway construction in progress. In fact, this same construction was in progress with little noticeable change when I passed through there this same time last year. Maybe it's the RV version of Murphy's Law, but why is it that as soon as the highway construction signs come out and the lanes narrow to the width of a Mini Cooper, the average RV'er finds themselves piloting there rigs between concrete construction barriers on one side and a "wide load" semi on the other. There is usually very little room for error, maybe three feet total. A steady hand at the helm is needed to guide our six figure investments through such danger and out of harms way. To be honest it's tiring and somewhat intimidating, but something that is as common as the next "Cracker Barrel" sign. As RV'ers we may not be getting $0.36 a mile to push our rigs through construction zones but we still do it with skill. Hats off to everyone who has to survive the tangle of construction going on in cities across the nation.
Our first impression of Gulf Coast RV Resort is that it's a neat place. Different than the resorts of the southwest but nice nonetheless. The resorts of the southwest are occupied primarily by motor homes with fifth wheels and travel trailers bringing up the rear, but here at Gulf Coast, it's just the opposite with trailers being far in the majority. We like it and are looking forward to sampling tomorrow's complimentary breakfast in the clubhouse. Beside the breakfast, they also have complimentary bikes to ride, an inviting swimming pool, children's play areas and reliable free WiFi. We'll need to keep this place in mind the next time through the area. Maybe the Houston highway construction will even be complete. Come to think of it, probably not.
March 17, 2006
One of the best things about this retirement/full-timer lifestyle is the option of making spur of the moment decisions as to where we want to go and how long we want to stay at one location. Last night before we went to bed we decided to extend our stay one more day here at Gulf Coast RV Resort so that we could clean the coach and make plans for our upcoming Orlando visit. Plus, we've spent enough time with the new coach now that we had questions regarding certain aspects of its operation and basically, we wanted a chance to sit down with the manuals to make sure that we were doing things right.
I have many years of experience with heavy-duty Cummins diesels, but I still wanted to take the time to read the operations and maintenance manual for our new engine. As I read through the manual, I saw that there were a few items listed that were new to me and it was to my benefit to have checked it out. As far as maintenance goes, I now have a really good idea of when to change our engine's oil and, after reading the manual, I also know when to change the oil if our engine just happened to be fitted to a garbage truck, cement mixer or transit bus. Good reading for us gear heads, but probably somewhat boring reading for the average person. Some things in that manual pertain to the warranty and to engine longevity so even if it is kind of boring, it is essential and needs to be covered. In my case it just happened to be fun reading.
Breakfast here at Gulf Coast was similar to the one offered at one of our favorite parks, Hacienda RV Resort in Las Cruces. The breakfast bar is set up in a multi-purpose room and is what we would call standard motel fare. There are the usual bagels, cereals, juices, coffee, and waffles which are prepared in a self-serve mode. The waffles are the type that require a person to pour batter into a preheated waffle maker which then cooks the waffles to a golden brown. A buzzer signals the end of the cooking cycle and all a person needs to do is remove the waffle, pour on the syrup and eat. The one distinguishing feature of the waffles here at Gulf Coast is that they're Texas shaped! They're also Texas sized for good eatin'. After breakfast we returned to the RV where Margo set out to update our bookkeeping and I got the gear together to wash the coach.
I've mentioned it before, but I love to wash our vehicles. I find it to be relaxing and somewhat therapeutic. It goes back to before I had a drivers license, when I was a teenager. I'd wash my dad's '56 Studebaker; my reward was getting to drive it from the garage to the driveway to wash it, then I'd get to pull it back into the garage when I was done. Man, I loved doing that! My guess is that those pleasurable car wash days somehow imprinted themselves in my brain and now car washing is a major form of recreation for me.
When I set out to wash this rig today I had no idea that it would take me almost 4 hours to do the job. That's a lot of therapy and a lot of pleasure. A person could almost OD on it. But the weather was nice and we wanted to see the new RV looking as good as it can. The weather will most certainly change before we get to Florida, but it's nice to enjoy a clean RV. Besides, I can use the exercise.
While I was busy outside, Margo worked inside making phone calls and getting us RV park accommodations for the the remainder of our trip to Florida. We received an email from our good friend Reid Rucker (Camping Friends) telling us that because of hurricane Katrina the southeast RV parks were full of refugees and construction workers and that our overnight options might be limited to Walmart parking lots. (Thanks Reid!) Margo's first few calls to parks listed in our Trailer Life Directory seemed to confirm what Reid said, everything was booked solid. Her persistence paid off though and we scored a space at a park in Biloxi and another in Tallahassee. Our final stop will be in Kissimmee, Florida where we also have reservations.
It cost us $5.00 to wash the motor home here in our space and it was well worth it. This is a great little park and after our two days here we can recommend it without reservation. If you're in the Beaumont area we recommend that you give this park (www.gulfcoastrvresort.com) a try. We think that you'll like it.
March 18, 2006
I woke up early this morning, before daylight, with the sense that something wasn't quite right. It's been warm in Beaumont so the windows on our bedroom slides were left open and a cool breeze was blowing across our pillows. I pushed the "light" button on my trusty Casio and it indicated 4:10 am. At first things were quiet but then I heard Sparkie make a faint whimpering noise from down on the floor near the foot of the bed. At first I dismissed his bleating thinking that maybe he was having a doggie dream and soon would move on to dreams that didn't require him to make noises in his sleep. Then I heard him again and I realized that he wanted to come up on the bed with Margo and me and needed assistance in jumping up.
He's been sleeping on the bed with us for all of his 9 years, but the bed in the new motor home is higher than the bed in our old Challenger. If he jumps down in the middle of the night to get a drink, he can't quite make it back up. Normally he finds a comfortable spot on the floor and spends the remainder of the night there, but not last night. He was bound and determined to get back up with us and he was being vocal about it.
At first I tried to ignore him not wanting to establish a new nighttime precedent, but after a few minutes of his pathetic noises, I sat up to see what was going on. There he was in the pre-dawn darkness, sitting up at the foot of the bed as though he was begging for a treat. I just can't resist him when he does that and he knows it. So I reached down and picked him up at which point he headed straight for the open window on my side of the bed to sniff the night air. Oh, and he took time to lick me in the process! What do you do with a dog like that? On the one hand he's totally irresistible and cute, but on the other hand, we do need to get our sleep. Guess we'll need to come up with a step for him to access the bed unassisted. Still, it was kind of special, us both looking out the slide window and getting a breath of fresh air in the middle of the night.
We left Beaumont around 8:00 am and headed for our next stop, "Parker's Landing RV Park" (www.parkerslandingpark.com) in Biloxi, Mississippi. Because of hurricane Katrina, overnight RV spaces are at a premium all along the Gulf Coast. Todays route took us through Baton Rouge on Interstate 12, and signs of Katrina's presence were everywhere, from blue tarped roofs to the many flattened trees and damaged billboards. To be honest, we didn't know what to expect as we entered this area, but we were braced for the worst. We didn't follow I-10 through New Orleans so we have no idea what it was like there, but for the most part it was business as usual along I-12. Local businesses were very busy and the traffic on surface streets was heavy. It appeared to us that anybody with a pickup truck was now a "contractor" and out of state pickups hauling trailers loaded with construction supplies were the norm.
We were a little apprehensive as we entered the RV park, not really knowing what to expect. We needn't have been concerned because the park residents ranged all the way from FEMA trailers to a new Prevost motor coach conversion spending the night next door to us. The rest of the rigs here are a combination of full-time residents, construction workers and a few transient RV'ers. The thing that bothers Margo and I is the fact that we actually feel a little guilty sitting here in our nice new coach among folks who have lost everything or are here to try and rebuild the area one piece at a time. This is a serious, sad business and here we are on an extended holiday.
Soon after we got setup in our space, our Prevost neighbor knocked on our door asking if we could help him get his television system working. His satellite dish wouldn't acquire the satellite, and he was having trouble getting the park cable system to work. I told him I'd give it my best shot but that I couldn't guarantee anything. I didn't know how right I was. That coach has a central hand-held remote that operates everything from the entertainment system to the window shades, but in this case, it wasn't talking to the giant, drop-down-from-the ceiling, main television. Try as we may, we couldn't get the TV switched so that it would receive the cable signal or any signal for that matter. After about a half hour of trying to help, I excused myself from their world of leather and mirrors and headed back over to our more modest coach for supper. Funny, here's a couple surrounded by luxury, who's major challenge of the day was getting their television to work, while right across from them was a man in a FEMA trailer cooking his meal on a hibachi. The contrast was remarkable and just a little surreal.
Tomorrow: Biloxi, MS to Tallahassee, FL
March 19, 2006
Because we're "losing" hours as we progress east, we keep waking up earlier and earlier relative to clock time. (motor home lag?) This morning I woke up at 5:00 am (Central time zone) to find that Margo was awake too. The natural thing for us to do was to lie in bed (Sparkie nestled between us) talking until the alarm was scheduled to go off at 6:00 am.
We talked about what we've seen so far on this trip, and what our plans are after we leave Orlando (the second phase of our full-time adventure). One thing we agreed on was that it will be exciting to once again be reunited with our Mini Cooper, "Willie", who is in storage in an Orlando suburb. Willie is a 2003 Cooper 'S' model with only 19K miles showing on his clock and is destined to become our "toad" or "dingy" or whatever else motor home people call their towed vehicles. Being boaters I guess we'll go with "dingie" although it would be quite a stretch to imagine Willie transporting us back and forth between our boat and the beach if we were anchored out.
One of our major chores while in Orlando will be to get him set up to tow behind the motor home. Some people say that you can tow a Mini "4-down" while others say, "no", you can't. If push comes to shove, we'll purchase a tow dolly for him because we love that car and are prepared to bring him along with us at any cost. "Mimi" our Miata will have to remain in storage in Orlando but we'll miss her. We'd bring both cars along with us if it was possible, but the best we can do for Mimi is to go out of our way to provide her with a proper climate controlled storage environment. Mimi is a '92 "base" model Miata, which we bought new in 1992 and that I have modified over the years to make even more fun to drive via suspension mods, than the factory version. A tall order as the factory version of the car is hard to beat. 14 years ago I "bonded" with Mimi on the drive home from the Mazda dealership and there is no way we'd ever part with her. Honestly, Mimi is the one difficult item I have to deal with as part of this full-time RV lifestyle. Few things in life make me feel better than being around her or taking her for a sunny back road drive.
Our run today was just over 300 miles with our destination being the "Tallahassee RV Park" (www.tallahasseervpark.com) here in Tallahassee, Florida. This park seems to be made up of Northeast snowbirds judging by the license plates we see, and it has a nice friendly feel about it. Our full-hookup space has all of the amenities, including complimentary WiFi and a very comprehensive TV channel lineup. It seems like a very nice park and we recommend it.
On our way to Tallahassee, we had the motor home weighed at a certified "CAT" scale in Pensacola. My guess was that we were grossing somewhere around 27,000 lbs., but the scale rang in at 29,760 lbs. with full fuel. 10,620 on the steering axle and 19,140 on the drive axle. Of course those figures only tell half of the story as we still need to get our corner weights but we're 3,000 lbs. under our maximum gross.
This afternoon when we pulled into the RV park, Margo went to the office to sign us in while Sparkie and I sat in the coach tending the coach as it's turbo went into "cool down" mode. When Margo came back to the RV she was quick to announce the we had a really good TV channel lineup and that we wouldn't really need to put out the satellite dish unless we wanted to.
But right after we got all settled in, she said, "Hey, it's Sunday, Sopranos tonight but I don't think that we get HBO on the park cable". A quick check revealed that indeed we didn't get HBO on the house cable system so quicker than you can say "whack him!" I had our portable satellite dish set out and aimed. There is no way we would miss a new Sopranos episode, simple as that.
Tomorrow, our run to Orlando will only be about 250 miles, but our arrival there will have taken us back to where we first started this adventure six months ago. It has taken us full-circle from the East coast to the West coast and back again. We've seen a lot, had great times and changed RV's along the way. But this is only the beginning for us as full-timers. We look forward to many more fun packed miles as we head north to the Northeast and New England. We hope that family and friends alike will join us in our future travels. We feel blessed to be able to enjoy this lifestyle and honored to have you with us.
March 20, 2006
Our plan for today was to drive down I-75 to the Florida Turnpike, then take the turnpike east to Orlando. Our Mini Cooper "Willie" has been stored at a vehicle storage company in West Orlando and our plan was to pick him up along the way. Eventually he'll become our dinghy and this was the perfect time to spring him from confinement.
Once at the storage facility we discovered that the battery was drained and Willie wouldn't start. We were under the impression that the car would be started periodically while he was there, but that was not the case. Whenever the car is locked the alarm comes on, and apparently that was what drained the battery. We jumped started the car but the damage to the battery was done and it was pretty much ruined. We replaced the battery later in the day but at least it got us to the Mini dealer where we found a replacement.
Margo drove Willie and I followed her in the motor home as we made our way to the RV park. We had made a reservation at the Kissimmee/Orlando KOA (www.koa.com/where/fl/09329) located in Kissimmee, Florida. Kissimmee is the home of Disney World and we had a feeling that this park may be popular with folks wanting to visit the fun park.
It turns out that this is a really nice park and the best KOA we've ever seen. The park is spotless and appears to be very well maintained. Each space has a concrete pad that is surrounded by grass.
It's strange to be back in the Orlando area and know that we can't go home. In my mind I can still see our house just the way it was, and it would be so easy to go home, do the laundry, take a swim in the pool, and then hit the road again. But the house has new owners and, to tell the truth, we don't even care to go see it again. The strange thing is that we don't miss the house and life on the road is much more appealing to us at this point in time.
March 21, 2006
We have lots of things to get done while we're here in the Orlando area. So much that we needed to make a list and set some priorities. The good thing is that the Kissimmee KOA is in a prime location for stores and shopping. For instance, there's a Sam's Club right across the street. There's a shopping center with a Target Store about two blocks away and a Camping World less than a mile down the road. There are also super markets and tourist attractions, many tourist attractions. Disney is the largest, but there are literally hundreds of others in the area. Some are top notch while others are kind of cheesy, but there is something for everybody and every pocketbook.
When we bought the motor home at Beaudry RV in Arizona we had limited time to get things done to it. We decided to wait until we got to Orlando to make changes and add things. We had Beaudry remove the love seat because we wanted to replace it with a Euro recliner and table. So, yesterday we headed to downtown Orlando to check out some furniture stores we've been to before. It didn't take us long to find the ideal chair at a Danish furniture store on Colonial Ave. We had Euros in the Challenger and loved them. The one we bought yesterday is just the right size to fit the motor home and the leather is a very close match to the existing cockpit seating. The amazing thing is that the chair and it's matching ottoman fit in the Mini! Even Sparkie was in there. It was a little tight but these cars are bigger than they look.
Next on our list was a stop at Camping World to check out the satellite domes. Beaudry had installed a Winegard crank-up dish for us as part of the purchase agreement. We thought the crank-up style would be fine for us as it was a cut above our portable dish. To put it bluntly, the crank-up dish is junk and not worth the cost even if it's free. We tried it for the first time when we stayed in Las Cruces and the wind blew it around so much it wouldn't hold the satellite fix. I went up to take a look at it and the problem was the "elevation" setting. The through shaft from the dish itself to the crank handle inside the coach was so loose (even when locked down) that the signal strength was going from 0-100% and back again as the wind blew.
So we've abandoned the crank-up dish in favor of a stationary dome. We had it installed yesterday and it works perfectly. In fact, the picture is much better than our portable dish, probably because there is less signal loss without the extra cabling of the portable. The Camping World techs here in Kissimmee did a great job on the installation and we're very pleased.
Having the chair and the dish installed the coach feels much more complete. We just need an area carpet for the living room and we'll be set.
Next on the list will be getting the motor home registered in Florida and the Mini set up to tow.
About all we did today was run errands. Boring stuff for the readers of this web log. But this is a "service stop" of sorts for Margo and I. A chance to take care of personal business and regroup before setting off for the next leg of our travels.
We've been looking for an area rug that will fill up the living room of the motor home and protect the factory carpet. Many RV parks we visit are gravel or dirt or some type of material that can and will be carried into the RV regardless of how careful we are about removing our shoes. Sparkie is the biggest offender. He's a small dog but his little feet drag in all sorts of things. Like most RVs, our carpet is very light colored and soils easily. It looks great but isn't really very practical. It's also odd sized which makes it hard to find a nice area rug that will cover properly.
Most rugs come in standard sizes, so we basically needed to find one that was odd sized (not an easy task), but in a style we could live with. After driving all over town with tape measure in hand, we finally found one at a Target store. It looks great in the coach and covers almost all of the high-wear areas.
Our last stop of the day was Camping World. We discovered that they had overcharged us on our satellite dome installation. The installation was supposed to be 50% off, but they had charged us full price. Luckily the Camping World store is only a mile or so down the road from our KOA, so it was no big deal to get the matter taken care of. A credit was issued and we were on our way. It pays to check those receipts though.
March 23, 2006
We enjoy reading the RV forums and there are always lots of discussions about how to store personal belongings while on the road and whether or not people need a "home base". With us it was simple, we sold everything including the house and hit the road. Everything we own that isn't in the RV is in a 10X20 mini storage locker. Included in that 10X20 is our 1992 Miata, some boxes of personal effects, a kitchen table and chairs, two bikes, a treadmill, some tools and a radio controlled sailboat that I built. When the time comes that we decide to move back ashore, we'll need to buy all new furniture including home electronics.
The decision to sell the house was a simple one too. The Orlando housing market was hot so we took the money and ran. Plus, we didn't want the responsibility of home ownership while we were on the road. To be honest, we just don't feel the need for a home base. The motor home is our home.
For us, the decision to get rid of most everything else was simple. We didn't want to pay to store it and we're not 100% sure where we'll put down roots when we're done full-timing. When the time comes we don't want to have to pay to transport a bunch of stuff cross-country. Plus, we've sold everything twice before when we moved aboard sailboats and to us, it's a good feeling to periodically purge ourselves of all the junk that we accumulate.
Our mini-storage is located in Orlando and is a common type of storage unit with cinder block construction and a metal roll-up door. The door is secured with a standard padlock. The storage company does have video security and an on-site manager, which is good. We feel okay leaving our belongings there, but we were still a little apprehensive when we visited the unit today.
We hadn't been to the unit for six months and hoped that everything would be exactly as we had left it. I removed the lock and lifted the door and the first thing that struck us was that everything was covered in dust. When I put the Miata in there it was spotless, but now it's covered in dirt. So is just about everything else. No big deal as we can clean everything but the extreme dust came as a surprise to us. We've never seen this in a storage unit before and we've had a lot of them. Maybe the door doesn't seal all that well or the wind blows in that direction, we don't know.
The one thing we do know is that the Miata is going to come out of there and go into the same vehicle storage where we kept the Mini. We probably should have left it there to begin with but we were trying to save money by combining things in one storage unit. Without the car in the unit, we'll be able to reduce its size by at least half to a 10X10. So we went to the manager to arrange for a smaller unit and tomorrow we'll be moving our things. We sure didn't expect to have to make this adjustment, but it's for the best.
March 24, 2006
I forgot to mention that yesterday we had tried to do our Florida registration of the motor home. When we bought the RV at Beaudry RV in Tucson, we had arranged to do an "out of state" delivery so as to avoid having to pay Arizona sales tax. Besides, the coach is to have Florida registration and license plates so it made sense to wait until we got to Florida to complete the paperwork.
Beaudry RV is a large RV dealership and is use to out of state deliveries and as such, it sends new RV owners off with all of the legal documents necessary to register their new pride and joys just about anywhere. Anywhere except Florida it appears.
We marched into the Winter Park DMV full of confidence that we'd be out of there and done in just a few minutes. After all, we did have all of those legal, notarized documents and it is a brand new vehicle. Our ace in the hole was that we just knew the state of Florida would be anxious to get their hands on that sales tax revenue due on the sale. HA! What a joke. The DMV clerk took all of two minutes to tell us that we didn't have nearly everything we would need to register the coach and what a couple of dummies we were to not have it all. We would need to some how produce the title (which was being processed who knows where) and we would need to have a document on Beaudry RV letterhead, signed by real live Beaudry employees, stating what the VIN number is the real one. Forget that fact that we presented the clerk with a notarized statement to that affect. That just wasn't good enough. They have their rules and that's it.
I was steamed and ready to establish South Dakota residency and register the coach up there, but Margo hung in there and placed a call to Beaudry to see if they could help us. That place is amazing, a UPS truck pulled up at our door here at the KOA first thing this morning with the title and a certified VIN number statement, all signed and ready to take to the DMV. Less than 24 hours later, and thanks to Beaudry RV, we were headed back to do battle once again with the Florida DMV.
This time we walked in with slightly less confidence but we needn't have worried. We had everything necessary to complete the paperwork and soon the motor home was officially registered in Florida. Oh, and they walked away with our rather hefty sales tax revenue.
What bothers us is, why does everything need to be different from state to state and why does everything have to be such a hassle? It's way past time for interstate computer hookups and a central database for licensing vehicles. In fact, it's high time we had a "United States" license plate and complete standardization of motor vehicle rules and regulations. I know, the individual states would be fighting over taxes and fees, but we were all one country the last time I looked.
After today's DMV adventure, it was time for Margo to head for an appointment and I decided that I'd head over to start transferring the storage units. She dropped me off on the way to her appointment and I was to drive home in the Miata providing I could get it started and out of storage okay.
No problem getting the Miata out. She's dirty but she responded quickly to my efforts at getting her going. Soon she was purring like a kitten and I was transferring boxes from one storage unit to the next. That's when I discovered the nests of Palmetto Bugs behind the boxes. "Palmetto Bug" is a polite term for saying "giant Florida cockroach" because that's what they are. Thankfully none of the bugs had breached any of the boxes, but they're disgusting to look at and would have been a huge problem had we not shown up when we did. I got a good start on the transfer of belongings and will finish up tomorrow.
But today is my wonderful wife's birthday (Happy Birthday, Love!!) and I wanted to get back to the motor home early enough to take her out for dinner. We're pretty basic people and her choice of restaurant was the local Cracker Barrel just a few miles down the road from the KOA. We both like Cracker Barrel and neither of us felt like dressing up for dinner, so Cracker Barrel it was. Rest assured, we will definitely do more to celebrate her birthday when we're on the upcoming cruise.
March 25, 2006 to March 27, 2006
We've been so busy taking care of personal matters here in Orlando that I haven't had time to update the web log and I apologize. Margo and I knew this period of time would be hectic, but we weren't prepared for just how busy we would be. It will be good when we finally leave Orlando and get our lives back to normal.
One project that has kept me busy is trying to get the Mini set up to tow behind the motor home. Normally setting up a toad is a fairly easy task, but this car is special to us and we want it done right. We've considered all of the options for towing including a tow bar, tow dolly and enclosed car trailer. We finally settled on towing the car "four down" with a Blue Ox base plate and tow bar. The other options all have their strengths and weaknesses, but in the end we think the tow bar will present the least hassle.
I found a company in nearby Wildwood, Florida that specializes in towing and they guarantee a clean installation of the base plate and related lighting so we'll see. This particular company claims to be the only one that does development work for Blue Ox so we feel like we may have found a winner. I'll be sure to post the results of their work here on the web log.
As I posted earlier, we're scheduled to leave on a cruise Sunday, April 2nd and we'll be returning back to the Port of Tampa on Sunday, April 16th. We toyed with the idea of bringing the laptop along on the cruise and doing some web logs from the ship, but I think we'll leave the computer at home. This is an RV oriented web log after all.
For those who might be interested, our cruise will be on Holland America's MS Ryndam, which will be departing from the Port of Tampa. We'll be voyaging to the Southern Caribbean for 14 days. The longest cruise we've taken before this one was 7 days. Holland America is known to be a more conservative line with a little older cliental. Since Margo and I aren't what you'd call party animals, Holland America really appeals to us. This will be our 6th cruise with them.
March 28, 2006
Time has been flying for us. Today I wrapped up my personal Orlando business by seeing my doctor for an annual physical exam while Margo did some last minute clothes shopping for the cruise. The motor home will go into storage on Friday and we'll check into a hotel for two days before boarding the ship on Sunday. Sparkie will check into his doggie resort on Saturday and at that point, the stage will be set for us to go "on vacation".
As though we haven't already been on vacation for the past six months of full-time RV'ing. It dawned on me that retirement is an endless vacation for those of us who enjoy the full-time RV lifestyle. Many of the parks we stay at are called "resorts" and our time is ours to do with as we please. We sightsee and we sit in the sun. We travel and we meet new people. If that's not being on a perpetual vacation, I don't know what is. Normally when a cruise draws to an end, Margo and I get a little down in the dumps knowing that it will soon be over. But not this time. This time we'll just be headed back "on vacation".
Having said that, we're going to put the web log on hold until we get back from the cruise. Please join us here on April 17th when we will once again resume our daily journal of full-time RV life.