Time to Bolt!

Our coach is an amazing creature which provides us with mega comfort.  No matter where we explore in the U.S., we always come home to our comfy pillow and pick up where we left off in our novel or watch something on one of our satellite TVs.  No more hotels for us.  We LOVE this lifestyle and we love our coach.

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The sleeping quarters of our comfy little castle.

But when our coach has a hiccup, solving the problem can be a real adventure.  Anyone who has a coach knows that there is always a list of things to be looked at or repaired.  Early on, most of our issues were “How in the world does this widget work?”

Let’s face it, this is a complex machine.  A house that rolls down the bumpy road.  Someone once said that if 80% of the stuff works 80% of the time, be happy.  That’s the approach we take.  We fix what we can and live with things that aren’t perfect until we get back to the factory for maintenance once a year.  But sometimes something really important requires that you change your plans and get it fixed — stat!

Uh Oh.  Big Problem!

In February we had such an issue.  Our furnace went out.  Not good when you’re wintering in the Pacific Northwest!  Our furnace is an Aquahot system.  The Aquahot circulates hot liquid to provide:

  • heat to each of five zones (front, middle, bedroom, bathroom and basement of the coach)
  • Engine pre-heat
  • Continuous hot water for ultra-hot, endless showers

The Aquahot can use either electricity (from our generator or a 50-amp service pole) or diesel (from our 238 gallon fuel tank), or both to heat the water.  It’s a complex, whiz-bang system that we absolutely love.  But after 12 years, she had sprung a leak and the Aquahot factory told me — “gotta replace it.”

Shower

We can stand in our shower all day long with our endless hot water and de-stress from our stressless life.

So we patched her up as best we could and headed to the factory to have the furnace replaced.  One thing we have come to realize is that, although it is never convenient to go to the Newell factory in Miami, Oklahoma, it’s where she was born.  And those folks are the only ones on God’s green earth who really know how to fix her and provide the right maintenance.  Since Newell only makes 24 custom coaches each year, no other maintenance shop has seen enough of them to really know what they’re doing.  And the longer a shop takes to figure out this beast, the more we pay for their service.  It seems that anything we have ever had done to our coach by someone other than Newell, had to be undone and redone by the Newell factory.  And the factory hourly rate is lower than most other service shops we’ve been to.  So I think we have finally learned our lesson.  We go to the factory.  It’s cheaper.  They provide better customer service, and they’re much faster because they know what they’re doing.

Time to haul rear!

Up until now, we’ve not had a reason to drive hard.  We typically get on the road by 10am and off by 3pm, with a lunch in between.  Why hurry?  But in this case, who wants to lally-gag across Wyoming in the wintertime?  It was darn cold and we had furnace issues.  So we covered 2,400 miles in four days.  We can really haul when we need to!Hurry to the Factory

It was actually a fun trip.  Quite an adventure.  Our big concern was Wyoming, land of the big winds and snow.  And, true to form, we had to stop in western Wyoming for the night at a truck stop (Little America) because I-80 was closed across Wyoming.  First thing in the morning I checked and I-80 was open again, so off we rolled, passing trucks that had skidded off the road from the prior storm.

Driving all day is really pleasant as we roll along and listen to our books on tape (We borrow audiobooks from all the libraries we belong to in Maine, Florida, and Washington.).  Each morning we were up with the sunrise and we would find a place to stay the night before the sun set at a casino, Walmart, rest area or a truck stop.

Newell Factory.

We actually enjoy our visits to the Newell factory.  They must have close to 30 service bays.  It’s quite a site to see 20 or 30 of these big beasts lined up in the service bays.

As a Newell owner, you are free to walk around the service bay, climb in your coach while they work, watch them work on your coach, ask questions, and inspect what they do as they work.  After three years of owning our coach, we now know these Newell technicians.  And they know us and the coach.  They even remember the first owner of the coach (We are the second owners.).  Our electrician helped build our coach 13 years ago.  The technicians are the best Newell has, having worked in the factory for a decade or two before they are hand-selected to work in the service area.  I think they must select them not only for their technical knowledge, but also for their ability to work well with customers.  Amazing customer service!

Factory Tour.

Newell recently completed construction on a new factory, which replaces the old one.  So we got a tour of the new factory.  It’s mind-bending to see a coach go from the early stages of creation, to the ugly guts-hanging-out almost-done stage, to the finished gleaming product.

Newell - Early Stage

You’re looking at the south end of a north-bound Newell in an early stage of production.

Newell - Missing Technology

This is the — guts hanging out ugly stage.  Left front view.

Newell - Needs Paint

Almost ready for paint.  Still a homely beast.

Newell - Final Touches

There’s a newborn getting her final touches.

The list price on a 2017 Newell is just shy of $2 million (and they always sell for list here).  Wendy and I just smile at each other when we consider that we get the same level of service for our 2004 coach as the owner of a $2 million dollar 2017 coach.  Sweet deal!

Everything works now!

We arrived at the factory with our gripe list.  We always keep a list of issues so we don’t forget anything at our annual factory visit.  Topping our list was to replace our Aquahot.  Here’s our newly installed Aquahot.

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The Aquahot 675D.  Our endless hot showers make us happy, happy, happy!

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The Aquahot gets neatly tucked away behind these two stainless steel doors.

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Everything disappears, neat and tidy behind the basement door.

This adventuring thing is not for the faint of heart.  It can lighten your pocket book in a big hurry.  There is a reason we call her Zane.  Because you have to be “in Zane” to roll down the road in this castle on wheels.  But we are happy and off on new adventures, nice and snugly-warm as we see new wonders from our coach.

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Weekend in Seattle

We were planning on spending the weekend in Seattle anyway, so when the furnace blew up (Don’t worry, I like to say systems “blow up” when they stop functioning and have to be replaced.  If something really does blow up, I’ll let you know.) we figured, we can either hang around the AquaHot service center in Centralia, WA and fret about the thousands of dollars it will cost us to replace our hydronic heating system, or we can go to the Seattle Boat Show and pretend we can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a boat.

So we left our coach in the capable hands of the Brazel’s RV Performance Center and got a great deal on a VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner) apartment in Seattle for the weekend.

Seattle is such a cool place.  A city surrounded by water with snow-capped mountains in the background.  And it’s a city famous for airplanes, with the historic Boeing factory.

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A Connie welcomes us to the museum.

So our first stop on Friday morning was to once again visit the Boeing Museum of Flight.  This may be one of the three best flight museums in the world.

Our tour guide, Bart, began our day with the fascinating story of the Wright Flyer.

Our tour guide, Bart, began our day with the fascinating story of the Wright Flyer.

A cornucopia of historic airplanes.

A cornucopia of historic airplanes.

The SR-71 surrounded by a gaggle.

The SR-71 surrounded by a gaggle.

The pointy end of the Concorde.

The pointy end of the Concorde.

They have airplanes and excellent displays for WWI on one floor, WWII on another, and an outdoor pavilion with a Concorde, a vintage Air Force One, a 747 and the new Dreamliner, each of which you can stroll through.  I had my pedometer going and we logged 3 miles Friday morning.

But if you really want to log some miles, go to a boat show.  After lunch, we headed to Century Link Field Event Center for the Seattle Boat Show.

Boats, boats everywhere!

Boats, boats everywhere!

What’s up with our interest in boats?  Well, Wendy and I love to explore.  And we love to experience things from a new perspective (i.e., airplanes, motorhomes, and …. boats).  There are three areas of the country that interest us that can only be truly appreciated from a boat.  So let me tell you about them.

northwest-passage

There are thousands of amazing scenes along the inner passageway of Western Canada.

Juan De Fuca Straits to Alaska via the Inner Passage.  This area is vast, with lots of islands and is relatively protected from the wide open sea.  Wendy and I have seen some of the wonders of these waters from the cockpit of my airplane and from an Alaska cruise liner.  But we have only touched the surface.  Since we’ve been in Sequim, WA we have become friends with many people who cruise their boats up into these amazing waters during six months between April and October and we think it would be way cool to do the same.

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The Great Loop.

The Great Loop.  Each year, hundreds of boaters travel the great loop, which circles from the Florida keys up through the intercostal waterway along the east coast, stopping at all the major cities and seeing things like the Statue of Liberty from the water, then inland through the Erie Canal to the Great Lakes, then down the Mississippi and down the western coast of Florida.  So we’re thinking this would be a fascinating challenge and would give us a whole new perspective. 5500 miles of perspective.

A beautiful playground.

A beautiful playground.

Caribbean.  For our 25th anniversary (11 years ago) I took Wendy on our first cruise in the Caribbean.  Boy was that habit forming!  We’ve been anywhere a cruise ship would take us in that area, including the Panama Canal, Costa Rica, Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Colombia, Puerto Rico and all the islands in between.  If we were to buy a boat to do the Great Loop, we would most likely want to motor on over to the Bahamas, since they are nearby.  Of all the places around the world we have snorkeled, the Exuma Cays were the best.

The only questions are: can our energy level and our pocketbook keep up with our ambition?  Hmmmm, we shall see.

Anyway, we had a great time at the boat show.  You can’t imagine how much research Wendy does before going to something like a boat show.  We have read at least a dozen books and mined Internet websites on boats and boating with the idea in mind that we might buy one to fulfill one of the above mentioned objectives.  So when we got to the show, we had a good idea of what we were looking for.

Aspen Power Catamaran.  We’re done with hoisting sail, so we were looking for a power boat.  After a lengthy conversation with Nick Graf at Aspen discussing his fathers’s boat design, we spent the rest of the day  looking at displays and boats (7 miles on the pedometer).

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40-foot Aspen C120 (Catamaran)

The next morning was Saturday and at the invitation of Larry Graf (designer and builder of the Aspen), we met him and his son at the boat dock and took a two hour cruise in Larry’s 40-foot powered cat design.  What a great opportunity for Wendy and me to spend time on the designer’s boat with him.  His enthusiasm was infectious, and with good reason. We love great designs and this one, with it’s asymmetrical proa hull design, silky smooth handling and awesome fuel ecomony was a complete winner.

Beautiful cockpit displays.

Beautiful cockpit displays.

Wendy and I had lots of fun putting this amazing boat through her paces.

And the scenery was awesome as we boated past quaint and colorful floating homes and watched lenticular clouds form over Mt. Rainier.

After visiting the Museum of History and Industry (these Seattlites are an innovative bunch: Microsoft, Amazon, Boeing, Costco, Nordstrum, Cinnabon, Eddie Bauer, Red Robin and Starbucks all started here), we capped the day off by walking the piers and having fish and chips at Ivar’s Acres of Clams.  Our top floor apartment on the hill looks out over bustling beautiful sparkling city as day turns to night.

We love Seattle.

Tomorrow, we plan to go through the Boeing airplane factory tour in Everett, north of Seattle and then take two ferries back to the Olympic Peninsula by way of Whidbey Island.  When you live by a HUGE ocean sound, there are two choices to get places: drive umpteen hours out of your way around the shoreline or suck it up and pay for ferries to hop through islands. Ferries are more fun.

The next couple of weeks should be interesting.  Our motor coach will be in the shop for 7 to 10 days while the AquaHot factory custom builds a new unit and ships it to Centralia, WA (2.5 hrs from Sequim) where it will be installed into our coach.  So we will be staying at a VRBO house in Port Angeles where Wendy will do a short stent of work (5 days over a 2 week period) to fill in for a vacationing ENT doctor.

And… we will continue taking our US Power Squadron Marine Electronics and Marine Weather courses with some great instructors.

We try to stay flexible and wing it as necessary.  Life is good.

  • Clay

Americana Emersion

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Jackson, Wyoming

Ahh, we are drinking deeply in Americana this week as we meander along the Oregon Trail on our way to the Northwest.

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Can’t seem to get enough of the famous pioneer trails! Oregon Trail, Baker City, Oregon.

We are camped at Mountain View RV in Baker City, OR.  This town is ready for Halloween!  The city streets are decorated with hay bundles and scarecrows.  The gold and orange leaves are falling in the neatly manicured old neighborhoods where, in just 24 hours, children will giggle with the thrill of knocking on doors and asking for treats.  What fun!

As I sit here writing, I can hear the distant train whistle.  The other day, we had lunch at a prototypical diner, Inland Cafe.  Wow!  Step back in time!  We had the sweetest waitress, a magnificent turkey dinner and a take-home cinnamon roll that melted all the way down. All for $22.  Don’t you love a diner where the town folks come in to talk about whatever comes to mind?

We just returned from attending the local LDS church, which you can see from our motorhome window.  One couple knew us because they had just been through the Martin’s Cove trek leader training program we helped lead in Wyoming.  We love to attend church each Sunday everywhere we go.  The Baker City 1st ward congregation is chuck full of children. These parents are doing an excellent job of raising their young ones.  It gives us hope for the future.  We enjoyed the Sunday School interactions.  Where else can you get this kind of wisdom and good feelings even though we have never met these people before? The church, it’s teachings and programs are the same all over the world.

Before we were full-time travelers, it was hard to tell the difference in our lives from one week to the next.  But now —- stuff is happening!

We started the week Monday morning by reeling in the electrical cord and leaving our 6-month home at Missionary Village near Devil’s Gate, Wyoming.  Our mission responsibilities there had ended.  But we couldn’t get out of the campground because some rogue missionaries (Elder Crist — repent!) had blocked the gate with detour signs.

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Road crew was busy preventing our departure

 

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Even the wood-working team got in on the shenanigans!

It was bittersweet to leave that place that stores so many memories for us now.

The weather was favorable, so we chose to head west via Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  We followed the Wind River Mountains northwest.  There was some snow at Togwotee Pass, but the roads were dry.  Pine trees!  Tetons!  Snake River!  After 6 months in the dry, sage-covered sand, we were ready to drink in the cool mountain scenery.

After window shopping and dinner in Jackson, we found a wide spot in the road and slept soundly that night.

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I don’t know many places that sell genuine triceratops fossils other than Jackson. At $300,000 it was a bargain! But, since it wouldn’t fit in the motorhome…

Although we considered a jaunt up to Yellowstone, all the animals Wendy wanted to see (moose and bear) are in winter disappearance mode and it was a rainy,cloudy day so we decided to continue on west instead.

Next stop: Uncle Earl and Aunt Sandy White’s place.

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You should see their garden in the summer- I’m coming back for the strawberries and raspberries.

Wendy has some amazing relatives. They live on the Snake River in a little Idaho town called Heyburn.  Here they have a small farm (White Cloud Ranch) where they raise a bobcat, cheetohs (exotic house cats), dogs, fancy chickens (Silkies, Frizzles), quail and peacocks.

 

We gathered multiple kinds of delicious fresh apples off the trees and took home a carton of multi-colored exotic chicken eggs.

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White Cloud Ranch is a treasure trove of fascinating hobbies and we’re always welcomed with great food (including purple fried breakfast potatoes, Sandy’s eggs, home canned pears and grape juice) and loving kindness.  We so loved the peaceful, fall scene looking out over the Snake River as the roosters crowed, chickens clucked and the peacocks strutted.

If you ever need any down-home therapy, head for the White Cloud Ranch!  Having family is a wonderful thing.

The next morning we rolled on to Boise, Idaho.  This was my first time visiting the city and I must say, I was surprised and impressed.  The economy is healthy and it’s a beautiful place with nice weather. They call it the Banana Belt as it remains relatively temperate in the winter.  So for those of you who would like to live out west, Boise should be on your possible’s list.

We arrived Wednesday afternoon and tracked down our friends, Chuck and Tonya King from our college days at Brigham Young University 33 years ago.

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We raised our first babies together at the Provo laundromat and thrift stores. They’ve been hard to catch up with over the years as they were living Hong Kong and Mexico City. We had a delightful dinner with them and reminisced and caught up on children’s lives and future plans.

Next day we visited Great-Uncle Cecil and Aunt Elsie Grow (Wendy’s relatives on her mother’s side).  It just happened to be Uncle Cecil’s 89th birthday.

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These people are endless!  They’re fit!  And they were so kind to us. We also spent time with Orri Grow (Grant’s son) and his daughter Natalie, who were visiting their grandparents. Wendy had fun quizzing Cecil and Elsie about their genealogy.

Wendy has fond memories of spending time in their home as a child and hanging out with their sons Craig and Grant.

Cecil and Elsie have served five missions for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We hope to have that much energy to continue serving over the coming decades.

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Missionary plaques for Riverton California, Mongolia, Kenya, Nauvoo Illinois, Monterey Mexico

Friday was another 130 mile drive to Baker City, Oregon.  (You will notice we don’t go far each day.  What’s the rush?  The joy is in the journey.)  Saturday we were able to grab the last jet boat of the season with 15 delightful German high schoolers to go down the Snake River through Hell’s Canyon.

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Hell’s Canyon, Oregon- deepest canyon in North America at 7900 feet.

The canyon is formed by the meeting of two techtonic plates and not from the river carving its way into the earth.

We boated through level 4 rapids down the Snake and had lunch on the grounds of a remote, off the grid cabin at Sheep Creek. A bald eagle soared past us as we returned upriver. It was a wild ride intermixed with peaceful scenery.

And here we sit comfortably in our home on a Sunday afternoon.  One of the best things about this lifestyle is we can travel without pushing hard to get somewhere.  Plus, we’re never exhausted and rarely uncomfortable — because we bring our home with us including our couch, recliner and the most comfortable bed we’ve ever owned. (We also like the dishwasher, washer and dryer.)

Anyway, that’s what we did at our house this week.  It was a great time full of new insights, scenery and ideas.  How much fun!

-Clay

Post Flight Review – 1st Wild Camping

Can you imagine what a challenge it must be to take a submarine on its first voyage?  So many complex systems to manage; the nuclear, electrical, communications, fresh water, sewage, oxygen, warfare systems, etc.  I often think of our coach, Zane, as a simple submarine.  Only if we spring a leak, we’re not likely to sink.

All machines are created on paper (or software) by an engineer who divines how the machine should operate in order to meet its mission.   All machines have their idiosyncrasies.  So whether its a submarine, an airplane or a motorhome, you don’t just hop in and go for it.  You have to study the systems and test them step by step so that you and the machine become one as you use it to fulfill your mission.

Mission Type 1 – RV Resorts:

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KOA, DeForest, Wisconsin

For the first year we owned Zane we kept it parked at an RV resort in the mountains of north Georgia while we prepared to sell our business.  There we experienced temperatures ranging from 5 to 95 degrees.  So in the winter we learned to heat the water supply and the basement so our pipes would not freeze and in the summer we learned to manage our awnings, shades, fans and A/C to keep it cool.  Living in an RV resort allowed us to live on the cheap (as compared to a house) while enjoying a community with regular pickle-ball games, dinners, and the amenities of a pool, hot tub and exercise facilities.  What a wonderful lifestyle!

Mission Type 2 – Vacation Travel:

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French Quarter RV Resort, New Orleans- great place, walking distance to the quarter!

While we were anchored in north Georgia,  we used our motorhome for vacations.  We parked in the French Quarter of New Orleans

and at Gulf State Park near the beach in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

 

How much fun it was to be a tourist who goes to their home each night instead of a hotel.  I cannot begin to express the comfort and convenience of that paradigm.  And traveling to/from locations is entertaining.  Our coach is powered by diesel and audio books.  Wendy and I always have an audio book downloaded from the library to her phone so we just plug it into our sound system and listen to stories as we roll on down the road.  So much fun!

 

Mission Type 3 – Wild Camping:

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Pick a road, any road

Now that we have sold our business and are full-time travelers, our primary residence is on wheels so we can move it anywhere in the country.  And one of the most enticing kind of place for us is on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land.  This is property owned by the Federal Government whose purpose is to manage the property for the citizens of the United States.  As such, it is to be used by campers and leased for cattle grazing,  extraction of oil or gas, etc.  Dirt roads are cut to get access for these purposes.  And wide spots are created so that people can camp on them.  Vast areas in the western United States are managed by the BLM.

This month we had our first wild camping experience (also known as boon-docking or dry camping).  We were in Southwestern New Mexico within 10 miles of the Carlsbad Caverns, in the Chihuahuan Desert.

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Home Sweet Home- awnings fully deployed in the desert sun

 

The big question in our minds was whether our RV (and us) would function well in a wild camping situation.  Think about it.  Where do you get power for your lights, fans, PCs, fridge, and TVs?  What about your water?  What about your poo?  How long can you last on batteries without being tethered to the utility grid?  Did the engineer take into account that we have a SubZero residential refrigerator and satellite TV?

As it turns out, Zane is an awesome wild camping machine due to her 161 gallons of fresh water and six huge AGM batteries.  We are able to stay at our remote site for 14 days (the limit for camping at one BLM spot) with no trouble.  And in the process we determined that our stereo receivers gulp lots of wasted amps in standby modes, so we shut them down completely when not in use.  And, we tried with success a bathroom ritual to save water – ergo, if it’s yellow let it mellow….. if it’s brown, flush it down.  Plus, when showering we let the cold water collect in a gallon jug (to be used for washing dishes), then when it gets hot, we hop in, soap up, rinse down and get out. About a 90 second shower. We still had a quarter tank of water at the end of 14 days.

The house batteries lasted overnight and sometimes into the morning hours. When they got down to 12.0 volts we would turn on the diesel generator with the flip of a switch and let them recharge for a few hours, morning and night. During the generator time, we also used the electric cooktop and convection oven (which drain too much power to use on batteries alone) to fix our meals.  So we spent (0.4 gallons/generator hour x 5 hrs x $2.18/gal)= $4.36 a day.  How’s that for cost of living?

Whohoo! We love to wild camp. The privacy and scenery are wonderful. And it’s free!

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It is so great to have a machine that can meet all of our mission requirements.   Our plan is to do a spoke and wheel type program where we move the RV to a central location (preferably free BLM land) and do day trips to explore the area in our Jeep for a couple of weeks.  Then move to the next hub location.

The general plan is to stay in the desert southwest from November through April, then slowly work our way north through eastern California, Nevada, Utah or Colorado to the Northwest and Canada for the summer. Rinse, repeat.  We will spend most of the winters on BLM land for free so we can spend a little on rv resorts on occasion the rest of the year.  We also plan to work camp and volunteer during a month or two during the summer.

And, to add to the mix, Wendy plans to work 3 or 4 months each year as a temporary contract doctor (Locum Tenens).   So we will be arranging contracts here and there as the mood suits and the opportunity arises.

-Clay

Get Along, Little Dogies

Free at Last!

After 13 days in OKC, we finally got back on the road Tuesday, October 27. Whew! The last week was spent trying to fix a glitch caused by an engine computer update, which they didn’t charge us for.  But it does cost to live in a motel and eat out every meal. And yes the repair bill was a Zooiinng, but Zane is working great and starts up right away now.

Farewell, Oklahoma!

Farewell, Oklahoma!

Then we drove south to Aledo, Texas (near Dallas/Ft. Worth) and the Cowtown RV Park for one night, so we could go to dinner at a cajun restaurant with my brother Mark Walton and his wife, Christy who live in nearby Saginaw. It was lovely to see them and to have our rig back!

Wednesday, we scooted down to Abilene, Texas and Wally-Docked (boondocked overnight in a WalMart parking lot). We realized that staying for free in truck stops and rest areas meant we were using our generator for the entire time (15 hours) and that added up in diesel fuel costs. Maybe WalMart would be quiet enough to just leave the generator off and open the windows. It worked out fine. Cheaper boondocking. Oh yeah, now the expenses are coming down.

Thursday, the next morning, I was anxious to see the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature Museum, which Clay so graciously found on TripAdvisor.com (things to do in Abilene, Texas)- wasn’t that sweet of him?  I love, love, love children’s book art. So we found the museum, walked up to the door, and discovered it was closed due to ceiling repairs. Drats and disappointment.

The consolation prize was the Frontier Texas! Museum. Neat displays and hologram images of characters from the old west and the conflicts between the buffalo hunters who wiped out the herds and the Comanche horse culture that depended on the buffalo for their way of life.  We learned some things and had fun doing it.

On we rolled in the afternoon.  We passed endless fields of ripe cotton and bales the size of huge trucks, oil rigs and windmill farms on our way to Hobbs, New Mexico for another Wally-Dock.  Because we have a big fridge and great food, we never eat out for any meal. And the Hello Fresh recipes are amazing.  The grilled chicken breast with peach and spinach leaf salad and garlic/olive oil toasted baguette croutons was so tasty and refreshing after a long day.

Carlsbad For Now

Friday we arrived in Carlsbad, New Mexico, our stay put destination for the next few weeks to a month. So tickled to be out West!  I keep clapping my hands like a little kid.

We had looked on the ALLSTAYS app for BLM (Bureau of Land Management) places to boondock without fees or hook ups of any kind. Our goals for this first extended boondocking experience are to:

  1. Spend no money.
  2. See how long we can live on our 161 gallon water and dump tanks before we have to refill and dump.
  3. See how long we can live on our 6 massive AGM Lifeline batteries before we need to crank up our generator to replenish them.
  4. Be completely alone.

(We’ll let you know how it turns out in a later post.)

Being new to this BLM dispersed camping routine, we drove 20 miles down the road to the first option as it appeared on the app, unhooked our toad (Jeep) to investigate the road condition and any potential problems. These are not official campsites– just pull off areas alongside dirt roads people have used for years and then told others about.  Although it looked like the perfect camping spot on the satellite views, the Dark Canyon area had piles of gravel blocking every entrance. Curses, foiled again.

Plan B: Go to the BLM office in Carlsbad and see where else we could camp.  Mr. Goodbar of the BLM graciously spent time with us, marking a survey map with potential spots we could try.  He was very enthusiastic and helpful.  With some hope, but not much confidence, we set out again in our Jeep, 25 miles out of town, off the main road and over a cow guard onto an unmarked two track hard pack dirt road.  About a mile or so driving through the desert over a rise and down again, we found a parallel pull off that would work great, and then drove further until we found a well head (natural gas?) with a cleared out areas for large trucks to turn around. Should work for Zane!

We drove back to get the RV and a heavy duty brush clipper from the hardware store. I got into my long sleeve work shirt, pants, boots and gloves and drove the toad up the dirt track, with Clay following in Zane, stopping every thirty feet to cut back thorn bushes with 1 1/2 inch long wicked thorns that might stick to the tires or scratch the paint until we got to our site.  It took about five hours to get this all done from the time we arrived in Carlsbad.

This is a good spot!  The coach cockpit faces South, with sun rising at the East-facing head of our bed and the sun setting at the foot of our bed over the low ridge of Guadalupe Mountains out the West-facing living room window.  We placed our lawn chairs on a mat and sat down in the hot sunshine. Home Sweet Desert.

You cannot see the rig from the highway, which we like, and we are surrounded by low desert scrub and cacti as far as you can see in all directions.

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Zane in her native habitat

Zane in her native habitat

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There is no noise, no wind, no sound except
the other night, about 3 in the morning, cool air through the open windows carried the spooky call of a coyote very close to the RV. Aaawwwwoooooooooooooo.

Next up: Carlsbad Caverns and Bats!

Wendy

Frigid Water and Sunshine Sandwich

There is a children’s book by Remy Charlip called “Fortunately”. It starts out:

Fortunately, Ned was invited to a surprise party.
Unfortunately, the party was a thousand miles away.
Fortunately, a friend loaned Ned an airplane.
Unfortunately, the motor exploded.
Fortunately, there was a parachute in the airplane.
Unfortunately, there was a hole in the parachute…

So, our week has kind of been like that.

Fortunately

On Monday, October 12, we woke up bright and early at our parking spot outside the Newell Factory for a 6:30 am appointment.

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After the beast was brought into the bay, it only took them 50 minutes to get most of the work done, then another few hours for the only guy who knows how to restring the old style motorized window blind to get it completed. By 12:30 pm, they were done and ready for us to leave.

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Then we loaded in our fresh groceries and headed down the road to Oklahoma City for our first routine inspection of the 515 hp Detroit Diesel Series 60 engine. We want them to fix a few things as well: it takes a long time to finally turn over from a cold start and there is some stray exhaust leaking out by the muffler. We just want to be safe on the road.

Unfortunately

And then it got interesting.

Fortunately, the engine repair shop was on our way out west. Unfortunately, they don’t take appointments.

Fortunately, when we arrived on Wednesday morning, they said we could stay on their front parking pad until they could get us in. Unfortunately, it might be two days from now.

Fortunately, a few hours later, they came and said, Hey we have a spot for you inside! Unfortunately, you cannot stay in the RV, so you have 10 minutes to gather your stuff and find a motel.

Fortunately, we have no place to be. Unfortunately, the coach will take a long time to fix.  The engine shop didn’t call Newell Factory until Friday to find out how to get into the engine from the hatch in the floor of the rear bathroom. So, 3 days wasted. Then no parts available until next week. Worst case scenario, lots of time and money to fix the injectors and manifold. Some dollar figure between Ouch and Zoooiiiiiiinnnggggg.

Fortunately, we found a lovely, inexpensive little motel with a pool, microwave, fridge and free full breakfast. Unfortunately, all the non-smoking rooms in the city were completely booked for a national horse show, no matter what the Hotels.com online reservation showed me.

Fortunately, the kind desk clerk worked some magic and gave us a non-smoking lovely patio room facing the pool, which was still open in October! Unfortunately, the water was FRIGID.

Fortunately, the sun was blazing hot.

So the combination of icy cold on the bottom of my wonderful floaty thingy with roasting sun on top, idling around the pool (with no one else crazy enough to swim in an outdoor pool in Oklahoma City in October), soothed by the drifting current and bright blue sky – it was a bliss, contentment and zen sandwich.

For the foreseeable future, we are living in a Howard Johnson motel in OKC. We went to an RV show yesterday and there is a professional rodeo finals event tonight in Duncan. I haven’t been to a rodeo in decades- really looking forward to it.

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So, Yeehaw, Oklahoma- looks like we’re staying a while.

Wendy

The Mighty Mississippi

The Long Way to Wisconsin

When you start out from Crestview, Florida and intend to wind up in Wisconsin, the shortest route is through Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois.  But nay, nay, my friend. Been there, done that.

It was one of Clay’s dreams to watch the barges slowly make their way up and down the Mississippi River and not be in a hurry.  Just sit on the bank and contemplate one’s navel.

So, we left Crestview and drove due east, making it to Vidalia, Louisiana on the first day.  The AllStays app is amazing- showing us both real time location on a map, then you can flip to a satellite view to make sure the beast will fit (65 feet with toad attached). This works well for rest areas and truck stops as well. Since we boondock (stay overnight without hookups and live off our generator, batteries, water and dump tanks) on the way to longer stays, we need to know if truck stops have pull-through parking, as we cannot back up in the RV with the toad (towed vehicle) attached.  Not all truck stops are created equal, but you need to know this ahead of time.

Riverview RV Park, Vidalia, Louisiana

Riverview RV Park, Vidalia, Louisiana

Riverview RV Park, Vidalia, Louisiana

We stayed at the Riverview RV Park on the Mississippi River.  The GPS voice pronounced it “Muh SISS a pee”. Being a word nerd, I giggled at that and kept repeating the mispronunciation. Clay has to put up with a lot.

The RV park is smack dab next to the river. You have to cross the levee to get to it, and sometimes it is closed due to river flooding.

Mississippi River with sideways tug boat- did they ever straighten it out?

Mississippi River with sideways tug boat- did they ever straighten it out?

We got situated and then walked along the river.  I also floated in the pool on my super duper Swimways Spring Float ($15 from Target online). A delightful floaty thingy with a small blow up rim and pillow and a mesh bed. Folds up into a small circle. Small is good in an RV basement (the bay doors you see under a rig).

Natchez, MS

The next day, we crossed back over the river and toured Natchez, MS- the start of the Natchez Trace, an overland route which ran from the river through Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee. Flatboatmen would sell their goods and boats (as lumber) in New Orleans or Natchez then make their way back by cart or on foot over the Trace. Plantations shipped their cotton south to New Orleans or upriver to St. Louis or Cincinnati.

Industrial progress sometimes has unintended consequences. The cotton gin (a simple machine used to separate the fluffy cotton from the prickly seed) allowed an increase in speed of processing cotton which then caused the planting of more cotton to keep up with the mill’s need for product. But this meant buying more slaves to do the unmechanized planting and picking.

Before the civil war, Natchez had more millionaires than any other city in the U.S and most of the antebellum mansions were spared during the war.

Stanton Hall

Stanton Hall

Longwood was an interesting octagonal mansion that was started right when the Civil War began and never completed inside. The succeeding generations of owners lived in the basement level and the rest of the top four floors were left open and unfinished.

Longwood

Longwood

Four stories of unfinished faded glory

Four stories of unfinished faded glory looking up through central open gallery

Longwood- bare bones

Longwood- bare bones

Vicksburg, MS

Vicksburg National Military Park

Vicksburg National Military Park

After a few days, it was time to head upriver to Vicksburg, the site of one of the most crucial battles of the Civil War- where the Union Army staged a brutal siege of the town and finally captured control of the Mississippi River, dividing the Confederacy in two parts: east and west eliminating their ability to re-provision over the river.

But, we didn’t want to spend the night in Vicksburg, and didn’t want to leave Zane unattended in a WalMart or rest area, so we got a satellite view of the Vicksburg National Military Park and saw there was bus parking. We’re as big as a bus, right? No problema.  I was driving and, as you enter the parking area, there is a sharp right turn, then a guard shack on the driver’s side and a stop sign planted in the center of the two lane road on the left. About 10 feet apart.  Eight foot wide Zane towered over the guard shack as I crept past it, trying not to bump my mirrors on the shack’s roof, and trying to keep that pesky stop sign in mind. It was a tight squeeze. Then an immediate sharp left turn into the parking lot, where we slid into the first spot we could find.

Whew.  Yay for satellite views and nerves of steel (or at least really tough nylon cord).

A guy walked up to Clay later and said, “How in the world did you get that huge RV in here?”  Clay replied, “I didn’t. My wife did.”

We took a quiet drive in Squirrel (our toad) through the battlefield. The signs of where each regiment was stationed along the battle lines (blue for the Union, Red for the Confederacy) as well as marble monuments at each state regiment’s position illustrated the tragic story of the long and dreadful battle.  One child born in the caves the residents of Vicksburg lived in during the bombings was named Siege.

Union cannons

Union cannons

We also saw the ironclad boat, USS Cairo, which had sunk during another part of the war, and was dredged up in the 1960’s and reconstructed. It was a feat of engineering and its ironclad sister ships were responsible for securing the river for the Union.

USS Cairo ironclad

USS Cairo ironclad

Heading North to West Memphis, Arkansas

Then it was back on the road, part of the way driving on the Natchez Trace, a lovely two lane road through quiet woods and cotton fields.


Across the river from Memphis, Tennessee, we found another cool riverside camping spot called Tom Sawyer RV Park. Watched mighty tug boats with huge engines, smoke billowing out the exhaust pipes, fighting the current and sandbars going upstream, pushing 24 barges lashed together. At one point, they were probably only moving 2 miles per hour. Awesome to watch.

Tug boat barge

Tug boat barge

struggling upriver

struggling upriver

I quickly got groceries and rushed back to Zane to get ready to attend the Friday night session at the Memphis LDS temple. We drove about 40 minutes and noticed: no cars in the temple parking lot. What?? I checked the schedule on line and everything. What??

Oops. It was Saturday, not Friday. Temple closed at 1pm.

At least we got to the temple- closed or not!

At least we got to the temple- closed or not!

So, I guess I am officially retired. Cannot keep track of the days.  My phone gets misplaced too now.  For over 20 years, it has been constantly at my side, no matter where I was (and yes, it was near the shower, too) because I was on call for the hospital and my patients.

No longer. My phone is now just a great way to talk to family and text friends and check the internet. How wonderful is that?

Peace on the river

Peace on the river

Wendy