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The Travels of Bucket List Bessie

John & Pat go fulltime in an RV

The Good, the Bad, and the Merely Inconvenient

Pat and I hang out on several sites populated by people who are either contemplating RVing full-time or are already doing it.  The questions are endless and there seems to be no threshold for what is considered too unimportant:  Gas vs. Diesel, how do you do your wash on the road, how do you deal with pets, what does it cost, what can I afford, how this, how that, etc.   I thought I’d do this blog entry that touches upon a number of questions I’ve been asked, and even though I’m not an expert yet, at least I’ve been through the retirement -> house sale -> domicile -> rig purchase process and I’ve got some insights from having done it.  This one is about our coach and our thoughts on what we thought we needed to hit the road and make it stick.

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We’ve been driving and living in our 2017 Fleetwood Bounder 35K for a month now, so let’s do a gut check on our satisfaction level.  Depending on the price point, every RV has things we love about it, and things we don’t.  When Pat and I went shopping for our full-time RV, the one we’d live in for the foreseeable future, we had done about 3 years of Internet research, and didn’t have much practical experience.  In the words of one RV tech I talked to along the way, when I told him I was a rookie RV’er who decided to go full-time, “Man, you’re sure not afraid to dive into the pool without finding out how deep it is, are you?”

What we thought…

Well it wasn’t just a dive.  More like walking down the pool stairs instead of doing a cannonball from the pool edge.  We researched the hell out of this (Internet is your friend here), went to RV shows, asked people – both who were trying to sell us coaches and those who owned them with no dog in the fight – what they thought and what they’d do over again.  In effect, we were the people on the introductory paragraph above.  After much argument we came up with a list of criteria that our RV had to satisfy:

It had to be a Class A coach.  I got lots of advice on this from wonks on the Internet. The most popular types of RV are 5th-wheel trailers (towed by a $70K beefy diesel pickup truck that we didn’t have), Class C coaches, built on a van base, Class A coaches like the one we ended up with, and “travel trailers” that are towed behind a pickup truck in a typical bumper-hitch configuration.  Every type has its fans and supporters who think it’s the bomb, and we heard arguments from all of them.

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Typical class C coach. We rented one for a week-long trip and thought it was too small for full-time life.

Pat didn’t like the idea of driving a big pickup all over the place to do our sightseeing once we reached the RV park and unhitch, so 5th wheels and travel trailers were out, and we found that full-time living space was a problem in all but the largest Class C’s, so that left a Class A coach as the obvious choice.

It had to be 35-38 feet long.  This was for ease of driving, and because many RV parks out there are older ones from the bygone days of shorter RVs, and it’s hard to fit a 45-footer into one of their sites.  And, really, no way do I want to drive one of those down a secondary road and tow another 20 feet of car behind me.  We thought anything smaller than 35 feet just wouldn’t be big enough to allow for gracious living for the length of time we were contemplating doing this.

It had to be a gasser.  Class A’s come in two flavors: diesel (known as a Diesel Pusher or DP, because the engine’s in the back) and gasoline.   I was unfamiliar with diesels, plus they cost more to maintain and cost about $30-50K more than gas rigs of the same basic amenities.  I was told by diesel wonks, well yeah, but you can get a 7-8-year-old used one with plenty of miles left for about the cost of a new gasser.  Well, maybe next time.

It had to have a washer and dryer.  These rigs don’t feature a lot of closet space, so our downsized wardrobe demanded a lot of washing.  We could use the campground laundry at a cost of about $3 per load, but we figured it would work out cheaper to have our own facility in the coach, which is only really useful if we are in a park with water and sewer supplied.

We had to have a King-size bed – It was what we were used to at home, so why not?  The model of RV we ended up with had a queen bed, but there’s more to the story.

We need a big shower.   This might not be a big deal to others, but we’re not small people, so it made no sense at all to buy a coach with a shower too small for Superman to change his clothes in.   The shower is built into the design of the coach layout, so it was not negotiable or fixable after the sale.  We walked around the RV dealership with a tape measure just to be sure.  Ours is 30″ x 40″, about the minimum that we considered acceptable.

We didn’t need four TVs in a 35-foot coach.  Since this was two TVs more than we had in our house, we were amused when we’d tour RVs that had TVs all over the place.  Bedroom, Living Room, above the dashboard, and even one accessed through a hatch on the outside of the coach. Some high-end coaches even have one in the bathroom.   RV manufacturers seem to think that their chances of selling the coach is proportionate to thenumber of TVs it has.  We really only wanted two – bedroom and living room.

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The mostly useless (at least down south in 90-degree temps) TV in the coach, in my opinion is the exterior one on the patio side of RV.  Maybe it’ll show its worth later when we get up into a milder climate or don’t have to swat bugs so much.
We wanted a kitchen table and chairs rather than a dinette booth like you would get in a fast-food restaurant.  This one was harder to find, since we were bucking the buyers’ trend.  And, although we could have swapped out a booth for this setup at great expense later, we really wanted it from the get-go.

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The table pulls out and accepts a drop-in leaf that stores normally under our bed, along with two more folding chairs.

The Good:

After sifting through all those criteria, we settled on a 2017 Fleetwood Bounder 35K.  It had all of the stuff we wanted and, as this coach has begun to educate us in what it can do, we realized that we got a winner.

The Gasser – while a diesel pusher can do a bit better going up and down hills, our recent trip through the Blue Ridge Mountains convinced me that our coach is no slouch in the mountains, either, even when dragging our car behind it.  Yes, there are times when we have to pull into the truck lane and put on our 4-ways while going up steep grades, but on the whole it does pretty well.  In 2016 Ford introduced a new, 6-speed transmission that is night-and-day better than the previous 5-speed, and we’re very happy with it.  The length is 36 feet (including the rear ladder) and that fell into our desired range.  It would take a lot to convince me that we would need to go any larger, and in fact there’s a lot to suggest that we could do with a smaller coach a few years down the line if we decide to buy a new one.

Washer & Dryer –  I really like our Splendide combo wash/dryer, and I didn’t think I’d like it as much as the other alternative – an over/under dryer/washer combo.   With this model, we just put our clothes in and start it up, go do something fun, and when we return they’re clean and dry.  It tends to wrinkle cotton, but liquid fabric softener takes some of that away.

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Our Samsung residential fridge requires that we run the generator while we’re on the road for 5 hours or more, but on shorter hops we just keep it closed and it doesn’t lose any cool inside without 120v power.  Samsung is not a brand I think of when it comes to RVs, but it works well.  Somebody – probably Fleetwood – tried to add a little lever to lock the doors when the coach is bouncing down the road.  It sucked and made it harder to open the door and get stuff, so I drilled out the lever and Pat found a better lock (those two little white squares on either side of the freezer, plus a bungie cord wrapped around the door handles on top) on the Internet and we’re much happier.

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We thought we needed a King Size Bed – Wrong.  Fleetwood (and other makers) found out lately through their marketing data that people really like King beds, so within the last 5 years or so they began pushing them either as an option, or as a primary choice on medium-priced rigs like ours.  Pat and I are big people, so we figured that only a king-size bed would make us happy.  We were wrong about that, and it only took a couple of nights sleeping in our coach for that to sink in.   Ours came with only a queen bed, and we had overlooked the advantages of this size.  First off, whether you have a queen or a king, the width of the slide is the same, so what you gain in bed width, you lose in nightstand width as they shrink the nightstand on either side to accommodate the wider bed.  We kind of like a wide flat place to charge our phones, place our glasses at night, and hold my CPAP machine, and we wouldn’t get anything that wide with a king bed.   Second, the narrower queen gives us more space to stand on the side of the bed in the morning to make it or to get up for something.

The Bad

Cargo capacity –  If I were to think of the worst thing about the coach, it’s that it’s built on a 22,000 lb. chassis.  This means that it can’t take more than that weight on the axles or risk a tire blowout or chassis failure, leading to an accident.   This leaves us about 2200 pounds for two people, groceries, clothes, plus the liquid capacities of the various fuel and holding tanks, and the weight of our towbar assembly.   The first thing we did after we loaded up the coach with all the stuff we brought down from South Dakota or bought in Florida,  is run over to a truck stop and weigh the coach with us inside, and we learned that we only had about 260 lb. left for additional cargo or passengers.

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One of the best things an RVer can do is to occasionally weigh their coach to make sure where they stand in terms of maximum weight.  Should be done a couple times a year and only costs about $10 per weigh.

Why a 22,000 lb. chassis instead of, say, a 24K or 26K chassis?   To save Fleetwood a few bucks and help them meet their price point by cheapening things up.   It’s one reason that the interior walls in the coach are made of thin, wobbly fiberboard and stapled to very lightweight studs.   Walls in a gasser tend to be very flimsy and easy to break, but to put in sturdier walls would mean beefing up the chassis, or dialing down the cargo capacity even further.   One thing Pat and I are learning is to be very aware of what goes into the coach and what goes out, and that we can’t have one without the other.   The gross weight above (21740 lb.) tells us that even just the weight of one of our kids on the road would be enough to put us over the max cargo capacity.

Handling – Another baddie is that this coach is hard to handle on the road.  This has more to do with the fact that the heavy engine is in front, unlike a diesel pusher, and there is a lot of “tail” (the house that sticks out behind the rear axle).   Trucks push us around on the road, and I’ve found that I cannot relax my attention for even a second, leading us to only drive 4-5 hours without pulling off the road due to driver exhaustion.  In addition to the tail, which can “wag the dog” if I’m not careful, the height of the rig causes some alarming sway.   Also unlike a diesel pusher (which has airbag suspension) our coach has a leaf-spring suspension, and this contributes to the alarming swaying and “float” when taking some turns.

One thing  we can do to reduce the sway and improve the steering stability is to install an aftermarket sway bar to harden up the suspension, and also install an aftermarket steering damper – sort of a shock absorber for the steering gear.   Pat and I are certainly going to do this within the next 6 months.  These two generally run about $3500 for both, so it’s a major expense but worth it in terms of peace of mind while driving.  Here’s a video done by a couple of full-time RV vloggers about the process performed on a bounder a  year older than ours, but basically the same suspension.   It also shows the realities of driving a 35-foot motorhome.

Another option is to install Sumo Springs, which sort of mimic the action of airbags on the leaf suspension.  They run about $600 and can have a dramatic effect on sway.  These vloggers drive a Tiffen Allegro rig about the size of ours, and it uses the same Ford chassis and suspension as our Bounder.

The Merely Inconvenient

The thing that falls into this category is POOP!   And how we deal with it.  We have to empty the black tank (what comes from the two toilets only) every four days or so, because our black tank only has a capacity of 42 gallons.  Our habit is to always find an RV park with a sewer at the site, hook up a very high-capacity hose (known as the “stinky slinky”) to the sewer dump, and open the dump valve when the tank reaches 2/3 full. Then we use a separate water hose to shoot water into the tank via a special fitting through the tank wall to flush it and clean it out – takes 2 or 3  repeats of this before the water draining from the tank appears clear.

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Red toilet – no flush. Green toilet – go for it.

The toilet system our RV uses is called a Sealand Vacuflush system – used in many RVs and yachts, and it’s got some quirks.  If you’ve ever used the head on an airliner, you’re familiar with the roar that our toilets produce when we flush them.   Then a quite loud vacuum pump kicks on and recharges the vacuum in the entire system for the next flush.   Nobody can use the system until the vacuum gets restored by the pump, and this can take a minute or so.  There’s even an indicator on the wall that tells you when it’s OK to flush, if the person in the other bathroom has beat you to the punch and flushed first.  The trick to the black tank and when to empty it is to keep an eye on a tank volume indicator above our front door.  If I forget and ignore it, some very bad things – like some very nasty stuff working up the vent pipe to the roof and giving everyone a poop shower – can happen if the tank gets too full, so it’s something you just have to accept that’s different about the mobile lifestyle.

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Crossville, Home of the Old and Retired

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We rolled into Crossville on Friday night.  Crossville is home to a retirement community known as Fairfield Glade, of about 8000 people that seems to have affected the demographics and economy of this part of town in a big way.   The community is the snowbird destination for people from the north, particularly Michigan, who can’t stand the heat of Florida and move up here instead.  The locals call these people “Halfbacks.”  Even the RV park we’re staying at, Spring Lake RV Resort (the “resort” part is sort of a stretch as they don’t really have amenities), is a “55+ park,”  meaning that kids can come visit their ancestors for a day but can’t register to camp here unless they’re over 55.   In place of the swingsets, pool and play areas that you find at normal parks, they have adirondack chairs set strategically around the central, small lake so we old fellers can sit and stare at the plastic swans anchored in the middle.   But it’s clean, close to the people we want to visit, has good utilities, and will serve us very well for our week here.   The lake is also stocked with largemouth bass, and I’d be fishing if my poles weren’t in storage back in Maryland, waiting for us to come get them.

The old-age thing hereabouts wasn’t apparent until Pat and I went to Mass on Sunday.  We looked around and didn’t see many young people unless they were attached to an older person or persons who were obvious grandparents.  The average age of the people at the service had to be near 50.  Like everywhere else we go, we don’t know a lot of these local facts until we arrive and start asking around.

Our biggest reason for coming here was to visit dear relatives on both sides of our family.  My cousin Jim and his wife Leath, both Ohio natives, have a vacation place right down the road from us in Fairfield Glade.   We visited with them later in the week and, thank God, it had nothing to do with a family funeral, which is the only other time, it seems, that we get to see them.  On Sunday we drove up to meet Pat’s niece Sherry and her family – some of them for the first time since we hadn’t seen them since she was remarried – who live near Oak Ridge an hour away, for a visit and had a great time getting to know each other.

As far as fun things to do, we’re still looking.  We went to nearby Cumberland Mountain State Park on Sunday and had a fine time due to its un-state-parklike amenities.   For one thing it has an olympic-sized swimming pool, which seemed to be the main attraction of a hundred or so young folks in the area on a hot, sunny Sunday afternoon.  We swam for a couple hours until the place started clearing out about 4:30, then went over to the park’s very nice restaurant for a good buffet dinner of ribs & chicken.

So we’re trying to find things to do and see.  Over the past couple days, we’ve been driven around the local area by Jim and Leath, taking in the sights, hiking to local waterfalls, visiting the world’s tallest tree house (abandoned), hanging out at their vacation condo a mile or two down the road from us and fishing on their pontoon boat.  We had a great time catching up on family gossip and reconnecting with both of our families that we’ve missed by living in Maryland for the past 30 years.  That last is a big reason why we chose this mobile lifestyle and the past couple days’ activities, IMHO, have validated that choice.

Of the two major housekeeping things we had to accomplish this week, as of Friday the 23rd one of them got done and the other is still, annoyingly, pending.  The finished item was that we got the plastic bubble skylight – broken by a low-hanging branch on our last leg up here – over our shower replaced by a local repair guy, who talked my arm off with advice once I told him I was a rookie RVer.  The unfinished one – our permanent South Dakota license plates – is still in License Plate Limbo.   We got a call from our South Dakota mail forwarder, who was doing the legwork of registering our RV, and they were waiting on one little tax document that needed to be faxed from the Florida dealer where we bought the RV.   So our Friday departure time has come and gone, and it looks like we’ll be here, unexpectedly, over at least the weekend.  Fortunately the RV park office is okay with us staying put in our current site, at the normal daily rate.

This morning (Friday the 23rd) Jim and Leath left for Myrtle Beach for their own family vacation, so we’re here by ourselves.  Last night we got a reciprocal visit from Pat’s niece Sherry and her husband, so we had a repeat reconnection with them as well, took them out to dinner and went on a Tennessee backroad snipe hunt trying to get back to our RV, since they unexpectedly and temporarily closed the main road leading back to our park for construction while we were eating dinner.  I kept hearing banjo music as we tried to find our way back here down back-country roads, but that might have been my imagination.

The weather turned rainy yesterday and continued that way into today, so it looks like we’ll just be hanging around the RV doing some reading and low-key entertainment.  I suspect that this is going to be the pattern for the next couple of days, and my task this morning is to call our dealer to light a fire under them and get the mail forwarder the document he needs to get us our plates. We’ve had to cancel two follow-on reservations so far due to the delay, and every time we do that we pay a cancellation fee so the frustration is mounting.

 

 

 

Our Week in Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains

We had sort of a hair-raising ride up here since I wasn’t used to driving a big rig in the mountains, but once we arrived at Bald Mountain RV Resort we chilled right down and enjoyed our time here.  For one thing, we did not have to use the air conditioner 24/7 to keep us cool, like we did in Florida and Southern Georgia – being up in the mountains is its own air conditioner.  We opened all the windows and enjoyed the breeze at a 3000 ft. altitude.

hiawassee

This was another of Pat’s shot-in-the-dark planning moves and, as usual, she hit it out of the park almost without realizing it.  Hiawassee, the town that encompasses our resort, is a resort area in itself that sprang up from humble beginnings as a logging town when the Tennessee Valley Authority built a hydro dam in 1942 to create Chatuge Lake.   Its population is only about 900 people, but the spring and summer vacation crowds triple that number due to the lake’s attractions.  The dam is in North Carolina, which shares the Chatuge shoreline with Georgia, and the area has become one of the most popular vacation destinations in Georgia.   We didn’t know any of this before we arrived, but we’re always happy to see the infrastructure that tourism brings in because it gives us lots of choices for places to eat and things to do.  For our Good Sam discounted price of $31 a night, we got a pull-thru site with full hookups, good internet and cable TV.

On Sunday, we drove up to Brasstown Bald, the tallest mountain in Georgia (4784 ft.) and took a shuttle up to the peak to check out the view.  One can see three states from up top, and the visitor center has a lot of info about how the U.S. Forestry Service (yeah, the ones that the GOP wants do away with and sell all their land) did a lot to reforest and restock the area after hunting and logging decimated it in the early 1900’s.

The drive up there was impressive enough, and since it’s a U.S. national park, Pat flashed her Seniors’ card and we both got in for free, redeeming in one instance the $10 cost of the card.

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View to the North.  Those shadowy hills in the distance beyond the spidery Chatuge Lake are in North Carolina. Further to the left is Tennessee, including Rocky Top, the famous mountain of Bluegrass yore.
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The visitor center and observation deck share space with the fire tower.  The commanding peak lets the fire wardens see 100 mi. in any direction.

After that we were hungry so we went into Helen, Georgia to find a place that would feed us.  Helen is another logging-town-in-decline that reinvented itself as a tourist town, simply by replicating a Bavarian theme, even mandating it in their zoning laws.

On Wednesday we decided to spend the day looking at the sights around Helen.   For people like Pat and me, who spent a lot of time in the Austrian and Bavarian Tyrol in our military past, Helen (pop. 510) looked sort of artificial, kind of Disney-German, but they certainly pull in the crowds, as evidenced by the conga line of tourist cars slowly snaking down the main drag.  We found a restaurant that some of our fellow campers recommended and had a great lunch, including typical Bavarian fare like kaseschnitzel, wienerschnitzel, spatzle (noodles), sauerkraut, and a pint of Paulaner draft beer.

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As we walked around town we noticed that the American mixed with the German pretty well.  Next to a restaurant touting Bavarian cooking, there was one offering BBQ and burgers.  My Michigan peeps will recognize a lot of similarities here with Frankenmuth, a town that also exploited the Bavarian theme for tourism, but they have it dialed up to a much greater degree here.   The Chattahootchee River flows through town, and one of the big tourist draws is tubing on the river.

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Since we (especially Pat, who has been walking weird for a couple weeks now) were still recovering from the epic sunburns we got during our Florida kayaking trip, we decided not to add to the sunburn and stayed away from the tubing, but it was fun to watch the tubers float past us.  So we walked around town until we got rained out by a thunderstorm and drove home to take a nap during the rain, which has a unique, strangely soporific, sound as it hits the roof of the RV.

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Thursday was our last day here, so we spent it wrapping up the sights we hadn’t yet seen.  We drove up to Anna Ruby Falls, another National Forestry Service park.  Once again our Seniors’ pass let us in for free, and a quarter-mile walk up to the falls produced some very nice pictures.

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Today (Friday) we pulled out about 10AM and left Hiawassee for Crossville, Tennessee, where we are going to meet up with my cousin Jim Dickerson  and his family this week.  They have a condo where they spend time when they’re not renting it out.  Jim is a retired teacher and builder, and spends most of his time being Dad-on-call whenever his kids need work done on their houses.  When he’s not doing that, he’s golfing at various places in the eastern U.S.   We had another nail-biter of a drive up to Tennessee from Georgia, and actually bumped a low-hanging branch in the middle of TN 68, a road I don’t advise anybody to travel in an RV – but that’s where our GPS sent us.   It punched a hole in the bubble skylight over our shower, so on the way to Crossville I set up an appointment with a local RV doctor to have it fixed.  Hopefully he’ll be able to get it done next week when the part (he had to order it from Fleetwood) comes in.

Another major thing we need to get done is to get our permanent South Dakota license plates.  The RV dealership issued us a 30-day temp tag when we bought the coach, which ran out today, so we’re stuck here until our South Dakota mail forwarding service runs our application down to the Pennington County Courthouse and overnights us the plates.  So, even though we only booked a week here, if the repairs and the plates take longer than that we’ll have to revise our travel schedule and pay for some extra days here.

We rolled into the new campground around 3:30 this afternoon, which actually is not representative of the drive time up from Georgia since Tennessee is on Central Time and we dialed the clocks back when we crossed over from North Carolina.   We’re still up in the mountains, and the coach is running well despite the up/down/up/down of the roads hereabouts.  One moment we’re slowing down 10 MPH while pulling up a hill, the next we’re going down the other side and trying to keep the coach from running away from us.   I’m beginning to wish for the flatlands out west.  After a mighty fine Tex Mex dinner at a local cafe, we decided to call it a night.  At least it will be when I post this.  No alarm clock tomorrow.  Bye!

 

 

Well, what is it you guys do?

20170608_164730.jpgWe’ve gotten that question a couple of times from people not in our situation.  Many, many fulltime RV’ers are still working, and their home on wheels enables them to drive from itinerant job to itinerant job.   But for those of us who are retired, we have to find ways to fill up our day and sometimes it’s hard.  My workplace sort of hinted at how difficult it might be when we were attending retirement seminars prior to our separation, but I wasn’t really listening at the time.  Now I know what they were talking about.

Columbus, Georgia

Sometimes it’s enough just to find a really nice RV resort to stay at for a week or so, with pools, restaurants and other RV’ers to occupy our time.   Other times it’s enough just to lounge about the RV with a book.   What we have devolved into doing is to check the internet every time we hit a new place, and try to find any tourist attractions that are worth our time.   Usually we can find something that’s worth looking at.  We found a must-see place dedicated to Stephen Foster when we were staying in Lake City, Florida. Yesterday we had a break in the rainy Georgia springtime weather and drove the hour and a half up to Columbus, Georgia to visit the Civil War Naval Museum.

I’ve had this fascination with civil war naval technology ever since I found a book on it in my elementary school library.  Cool, I thought. Ironclads, the Monitor and Merrimack, steam technology and all sorts of new ways to kill people (whatever you think about elementary school kids, this is on their minds).  So when Pat ran across that one on the internet, I knew we had to go.

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Columbus is also the home of Fort Benning, and there was a decidedly military flavor about the place. There was some civil war action there that Columbus was sort of proud of, but not a whole lot of tourism prospects.   We did pass lots and lots of pecan orchards on the way back, and stopped to buy a load of them for personal consumption and gifts to mail to various loved ones, but I’m not sure it was worth the time spent on the road to see Columbus if I had to do it over again.

Albany, Georgia

And then there are the times we don’t expect a lot and are overwhelmingly pleased with what we find.  Albany is such a place.  Just a few miles from our RV park is the town center of Albany, birthplace of Ray Charles, and they have developed their riverfront area into something that just makes you want to hang out there all day.

Ray

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Walk along the piano keys to the center of the display, and you can see a statue of Ray Charles doing his thing.  They have installed a pretty nice hidden speaker system among the rocks and gardens, and if you want you can sit, rock in one of the pergola swings nearby, and listen to his entire discography playing around you.  It’s not just a tribute to Ray, it’s also a place for people to come and spend time, kids to play in the water park and playground, and visit an aquarium alongside the Flint River that flows through Albany. 20170608_155513

We walked along the riverwalk for awhile, but because the no-see-ums (bane of the snowbird) had made a target out of us we decided to forego the full 4-mile route and then returned to our car.  On the way, we passed kids playing in the public sprinkler park and old folks sitting and watching.   We stopped in an ice cream parlor and talked to the owner for awhile as we ate our ice cream, then headed back to our car.   All in all we filled up a couple hours of our day and had a great time that surpassed our expectations.

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Life With Bessie

I’ve neglected this blog for awhile, not because there hasn’t been interesting things happening to us but rather because we’ve been so busy doing our conversion to fulltime RV living that it hasn’t occurred to me to put it all down in cyberspace electrons.   But now that (1) we’ve done our conversion from Maryland residency to South Dakota domicile, (2) we’ve bought our full-time living vehicle and (3) we’re beginning to develop our habits for full-time living for the next several years, I thought that it’s time for an update.

welcome to sd

We packed “Li’l Bessie”, our 2017 Chevy Equinox that would become our towed dinghy (aka “toad”) once we bought our RV, up to the windows and then some (in a rooftop cargo box) and did a 4-day road trip from Baltimore to Rapid City, SD, looking like the Beverly Hillbillies rolling into town on May 3rd.  We booked into a hotel on the east side of town and, next day, hit the ground running:

  • Drivers Licences: We obtained our South Dakota drivers’ licenses at the SD Department of Motor Vehicles.  Aside from identification (passports), we only needed proof of one night’s stay at a SD hotel, and we used our receipt from the previous night’s motel stay in Sioux Falls.  Literally fifteen minutes later, we walked out with our new licenses.
  • The Toad: We retitled our Equinox in South Dakota and obtained SD plates.  Another 15-minute operation at the Pennington County Courthouse.  The process included registering to vote in Box Elder.  We were told by several people that fulltime RV’ers domiciling in SD are exempt from jury duty, but I do not think I would choose this route.  If SD wants me as a resident, I should be able to give back a bit.
  • Mail Forwarding: We stopped by our mail forwarding service – America’s Mailbox – did some notary work and set up with them that, when we bought our RV from another state, for a small fee we would let them do the legwork of titling, registering the RV and overnighting us the plates.
  • A Will: We had never had a will or estate plan done, and we figured that it was time, since as fulltime RVers there might be some confusion if we shuffled off this coil in a place where neither of us had any support system.  So we visited a Rapid City law firm and got the ball rolling.
  • Banking: We opened an account at a South Dakota federal credit union.  Pat and I both prefer CUs over banks.  Since we were advised to cut all financial ties to Maryland because that state is pretty hard core about trying to legally keep people on their tax rolls, we decided that it was time to switch our banking to our new state of residence.  We will slowly move our financial operations to the new CU over the next 6 months.

All of that took about one business day, and we even had time to walk around Rapid City and have lunch and dinner at some local eateries.   We had to leave on May 6th in order to make it down to Florida by the time we’d set up to have the walk-through of our RV of choice, so the 5th was reserved for sightseeing in the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse.

All in all, we’re pretty happy with our new state of residence.  We were never that happy with life on the east coast – expensive, fast moving and graceless – and the slower pace of life here appeals to our small-town sensibilities.  Rapid City is a prosperous city, with most of its income based on tourism, agriculture and newer technologies like wind energy.

Hello, Bessie Dear

So if you’re still with me as you read this, now comes the part about our coach.  We saved the RV purchase for last, for a couple of good reasons.  First, neither of us had much experience with RVs and we wanted to have all that domicile business behind us in order for us to concentrate on learning to live in our new RV without the interference of a pressing agenda.   Second, since the RV has to be titled in one’s state of residence, it saved us about $3000 to title it in South Dakota (4% sales tax) rather than in Maryland (6%) and we were only able to do that after we turned into South Dakotans.   It took us five days to reach Seffner, Florida, where our dealer of choice – LazyDays RV – was located. Along the way we got a phone call from our sales rep, who informed us that they had found a critical defect in the slide system of the coach we had picked out – a slide roller had broken. They ordered the parts from Fleetwood to fix it, but they would not come in until a couple days later, and it had to go to a repair bay before it got to the “delivery to the customer” stage.  So after a couple of extra days, chilling in the motel and sightseeing in Tampa, Dunedin and along the Gulf coast, we took delivery of our 2017 Fleetwood Bounder 35K LX.

Fleetwood’s Bounder is a line of gasoline-powered class A coaches built on the Ford F53 chassis, with a 320 HP V10 engine that is considered very reliable.  We decided to take the depreciation hit on a new coach because we were very interested in getting a coach with the new Ford 6-speed transmission, which Ford began shipping in the mid-2016 model year.  Outwardly the coach resembled previous model years, but the new transmission gave it much smoother shifting on hills, to the point where Pat and I can actually talk to each other over the top of the engine noise.  It proved to be a good decision.

floorplan

The 35K is a one-and-a-half bath design with two slideouts – one a very large full-wall slideout on the driver side, and the second, a slideout the width of the bed and two nightstands.  The Winnebagos we looked at all had a bed like a hospital bed, where the head folded up into a sitting position in order to move the slide in without bumping anything on the opposite wall in travel position.  Ours doesn’t do this.  It slides underneath the opposite wardrobe without folding up the bed, enabling us to sleep on it even with the slider pushed in.  The bed blocks access to the full bath/shower in the rear of the coach when we’re on the road with the slideout pushed in, but we do have access to the half-bath so that we can use it while in motion.   It features an L-shaped couch that extends when the slide is open and collapses down during travel by telescoping the foot of the L into the rest of the couch.  Our coach also features three HD TVs: one in the living room, one in the bedroom and a third that is accessible from outside the coach by lifting up a hatch cover.  Our coach, unlike most Bounders, features a table-and-chair setup rather than the usual booth that drops into a child’s bed – we had to look far to find this setup and prefer it over the booth.

The LX package is an optional configuration of the 35K that includes a few bells and whistles not found on the regular 35K.  A key one is a larger, 7000-watt Cummins/Onan generator (standard is 5500 watts) beefy enough to power everything in the coach:  two electric heat pumps/air conditioners, an electric fireplace/heater, microwave/convection and other high-wattage gizmos like a combination washer/dryer. A better, memory foam mattress is also included, and having slept on it for a couple of weeks, we love it.   One other perk is that all of the storage bays, known collectively as “the basement” have chrome-plated locks with locking keys that are different from the standard CH751 key that is really not very secure because all RVs manufactured for years previously come with the same key.  There are also a few nice-to-haves, such as an electric shore power reel, Corian countertops, as well as an upgraded energy management system.

The coach we picked out was actually delivered to Florida in March 2016,  bought by somebody and titled in October 2016, then was returned to LazyDays in February 2017 after about 1500 miles got put on the clock, so we got it for about $10K less than a coach with zero miles on the clock.  After the repair guys fixed the problem with the slide roller we went over the coach and found a couple “new coach” defects like a sliding shower door with a missing screw, and cracked lap sealant (caulk) around the TV antenna on the roof that caused a small leak through the antenna assembly onto the inside floor of the coach during a really epic spring rain storm.   LazyDays took care of that with a bit of Dicor sealant while we spent a week at their nearby RV park.   Since it was titled previously, we had only about 6 months left on Fleetwood’s new RV warranty so we bought an extra, 5-year  bumper-to-bumper warranty and roadside assistance package.

After figuring out how to hitch the toad to the RV, installing the toad’s auxiliary braking system and checking out the electric light connection between coach and toad, we headed north to Lake City, Florida for our shakedown cruise, about two hours from Tampa. Pat planned all of our travel legs and initially she decided to keep them short, no more than about 2-3 hours, because I (it’s me doing all the driving so far) was totally unfamiliar with driving a Class A coach and pulling our Equinox “Toad” and found it initially nerve-wracking and unusually fatiguing.  Future travel legs will be up to 4-5 hours in length, and by that time we should be more familiar with handling this thing in different conditions.  One thing we decided early-on was not to hammer ourselves to death with driving: 4-5 hours once a week seemed about right to get us places without busting a sweat, and as every RV’er knows: it’s the journey, not the destination.  Plus, staying a week between driving legs means we get to take advantage of cheaper weekly RV park rates rather than daily ones.

Keeping it between the Mayo and the Mustard

Driving Bessie is very different from driving a car.  Point the car down the road and it goes where you point it, assuming that the wheels are in good alignment.   Not so with a big RV.  When an 18-wheeler passes us, the air it pushes aside causes the coach to shy away from the truck initially when the truck is abreast of the RV, and then the draft after it passes causes the coach to veer back in towards the truck, so situational awareness is key and I need to anticipate my moves every time a truck passes me, just to stay in my lane and avoid leaving the pavement.   One thing that limits our speed on the highways (some of them are posted with an 80 MPH speed limit) is that our Equinox’s user manual warns not to tow the car faster than 65 MPH or risk transmission damage.  So I found that it’s easiest to set the cruise control at about 62-63 MPH, and that has the added incentive of making me the slowest thing on the road.  I get to hug the right lane, having to pull out and pass nobody, while everybody else has to pass me.  Strangely comforting.  62 also turns out to be the most efficient speed in terms of gas mileage, so in a coach with a 70-gallon fuel tank, this saves a few bucks.

But because the heavy engine and transmission are in front and there’s a lot of “tail” behind the rear wheels, the RV doesn’t track straight down the road even at the best of times.  It takes constant attention to keep it between the lines, and with a 22,000 lb. vehicle (plus 4000 lb. toad), even once drifting off the edge of the road onto soft dirt can spell disaster.  So driving Bessie is not really what I would call a relaxing experience.  It will probably get better with time, but it’s going to take some miles.

Another thing that’s hard, at least initially, is plotting where the other cars are in relation to me.  Bessie has really big electric-adjustable and -heated side-view mirrors, the upper part of which is what you would consider a normal, side-view mirror that I can use to spot vehicles way behind me, but the bottom is convex, allowing me to see a different view of cars when they are up close or alongside.  Plus, I have a TV camera and dash monitor that points backward at the Equinox, and putting the turn signal on left or right causes the monitor view to shift to cameras on the mirror stalks automatically so I can track vehicles passing me on the left or right.

mirrors

The Accessories. Oh, the Accessories!

One thing we didn’t figure on was just how much all of the accoutrements we needed to have just to be mobile in this thing cost.  We spent a couple of thousand bucks of our savings acquiring things like kitchenware, an air compressor to inflate our tires in the middle of nowhere, a telescoping ladder to get onto the roof, a sewer hose, drinking water hose, special hose just for cleaning the poop (aka Black) tank, surge protector, tire pressure monitoring system, RV-friendly GPS, etc.   Buying the RV is totally not the end of one’s economic journey.  We ordered much of it from Amazon Prime, since they deliver quickly and it’s fairly easy to give them a destination in an RV park where we’ll be staying a couple days down the road.  Other stuff we buy from the shelves of RV dealers we encounter along the way.

That’s enough for this post, and it’s getting overly long.  We’re in an RV park in Albany, Georgia until Friday, and after that we’ve got another leg to drive up to Northern Georgia near the Tennessee line.  See you next time!

Bye, JP

 

 

The Time Has Come…

…to leave Maryland and begin our journey.  We settled the house sale this week and, flush with equity from the sale, we went looking for our next home-on-wheels.  I think we found it at Lazydays RV in Seffner, Florida:  It’s a used 2017 Fleetwood Bounder 35K that has 3000 miles on it, and it has most of the options we wanted with the exception of an HD satellite dish.  So we settled on a price and asked the RV dealership to install a Winegard Slimline HD Trav’ler antenna, and we’d pay for it when we get there on May 12th or so.

ourbounder

So we’re down to our last 2 days in Maryland.  We’re loading the car and separating out everything that doesn’t have to ride with us, beginning on April 30, to South Dakota.  Once we get there in 3-4 days, we’ll set up our domicile in Pennington County (near Rapid City), and then run on down to Tampa to pick up the RV.  I am conflicted about leaving our home in Maryland – I mean, we’ve lived here for 30 years and are familiar with all of the nooks and crannies.  And we’re expanding our horizons so far that it will be impossible to know everything about the places we’ll go – we’ll just end up touching a few high spots before moving on.   I imagine myself as a 21st Century Charles Kuralt with On the Road, passing through small towns and sampling all of the sometimes weird and wacky things they have to offer, all in the name of bringing in tourist dollars.  There’s the Chaffee Barbershop Museum, which commemorates Elvis Presley’s first haircut.  Or how about the International Banana Museum in California, dedicated to everybody’s favorite pasty fruit.  Or the aptly named, “Museum of Odd” in Kansas?  Or (seriously) the Moist Towelette Museum in Michigan?

OK, so most folk are going to say, “but aren’t you going to go to Las Vegas and gamble?” Well, no.  I’m as awestruck by spectacular light shows as the next guy, but our journey isn’t really about what everybody else does, it’s about what we do.  Picture Dave Barry coming up with material for his blog, and that’s us during our journey.   I can’t wait.

The last couple of days have been a hodgepodge of loose ends.  I had cataract surgery on one eye earlier in the month, and during the surgery the docs saw something on my EKG that they didn’t like so I had to run the chart past my primary doctor to see if something needed to be done.  I had an EKG done by him as part of the pre-op stuff that turned out normal, and so I didn’t suspect that this was anything serious.  So I visited my primary doctor this week and he ran another EKG, which also turned out normal.  So apparently I am good to go for the launch of the Great RV Adventure.

The person who bought our house turned out to be one of the kids’ teachers from River Hill High School, and even though it’s no longer my home I didn’t want to just take off without making sure that she was happy with the place, since she reported a couple situations of lights not working, problems with hot water, etc.  One of the plastic parts of a DIY water irrigation system for the raised garden beds didn’t survive the winter and needed to be replaced, so that’s on my list of things to do for Saturday the 29th, our last full day in Maryland.

We’ve seen more of John and Katie, our two kids, more this month than in all of the previous 6 months combined.  They’re busy building their own independent lives and working way more hours per week than I consider healthy, so it was with surprise when they started indicating that they wanted to spend a lot of time with us.  I think they realize that we’re not going to be around for awhile and are getting in some last minute parent time before we take off on our adventure.  At some point I’d like to see if we can hook up with them and share our adventure, maybe get them to fly out west to stay with us for a few days, so we’re building in some time during the holidays for us to stay a spell in Maryland before heading south for the winter.  The “rules” of domiciling in South Dakota sort of make staying around in Maryland expensive, since if we stay a total of 6 months here we become eligible to pay Maryland income tax for the entire year.  With that fact in our minds – and the fact that we’ve already been here in Maryland for four months of the year – we might have to cut things short this year.  Next calendar year we can devote more time to hanging with the kids.

We’re leaving town on Sunday the 30th, and our planned overnights include Elyria, Ohio, Madison, Wisconsin and Sioux Falls, SD until we reach our destination of Rapid City, SD.  Each leg includes 6-7 hours of driving, and because Mac the Cat is our backseat road buddy, we’re choosing to stay in Red Roof Inns, which welcome pets with no extra charge.  We plan to roll into Rapid City on the 3rd of May.

 

 

 

More RV Internet Geekery, Router Envy, Verizon’s “Un-Limits”

Being retired means I now have the time to seriously geek out.  After having finished rushing around to get our house ready to sell, we’re now faced with a long wait for the closure process for the sale. Whenever I’m faced with a long period in which I have nothing to do, Pat should immediately confiscate my credit cards, because that’s when I’m tempted to do recreational shopping – you know, the kind where you don’t really do have to do it right now, but you “may as well get it done.”

As a case in point, we moved into a long-term hotel for the duration of our sale, and “free wifi” was advertised. What they didn’t tell us is that the free wifi is so abysmally slow (I suspect deliberately, just so they can tout it as free without paying for decent bandwidth, but Extended Stay America is not likely to read this so no changes are expected) that even just checking your email takes minutes instead of seconds. To get “the faster version” you have to pay $15 per week extra. Rather than play this game of bait-and-switch, and since we’ll be here for up to two months, I decided to channel that money into buying what will become our IT suite once we move into our motorhome.

So off to the Verizon store we went. Verizon has the best rep among RV’ers for having a network that covers more rural countryside in the U.S. than its competitors, and it also re-instituted an “unlimited” (reason for the quotes later) data plan, which admittedly costs more but will provide us with the sort of service we were used to with our home-based cable modem. We ended up buying two smartphones and a dedicated mifi hotspot called a “Jetpack”, all of which share the unlimited plan. Our thinking was that the mifi can handle all the RV-based clients – laptops, tablets (both of which we have one apiece) and various RV system sensors – while the phones are for our pockets when we’re away from the RV and can also be used as surrogate hotspots by turning on their tethering functions.

We tried this RV setup in our hotel room using the jetpack as a sort of router/hotspot, both of our tablets, Pat’s all-in-one PC and my laptop, and it sorta/kinda worked. One frequently used client device from our our old home LAN is an 8-terabyte NAS (Network Hard Drive). We use it for keeping soft scans of important documents, lots of videos, music, ebooks and a complete set of all of our family photos. In essence, it’s our “cloud” that we will be taking on the road. Although it can function in a pinch connected via wifi with the inclusion of a wifi adapter plugged into the back, it really likes an ethernet connection to a router to be effective. The 6620L jetpack fails in this regard, having only one micro USB connection. I tried the wifi approach but the result was slow and wonky.

So I chose the Pepwave Surf Soho Mk3 router for this task, and I couldn’t have picked a better device at any price. At $199 it’s not cheap, but it has every feature I needed to run Internet in a mobile platform like an RV:

1. It has a “USB WAN” port in back that connects to the USB port on the jetpack for a USB-tethered Internet signal. The jetpack’s wifi transceiver instantly became unnecessary after I found out how well the Surf Soho worked with the jetpack, so I turned it off and I roll with just USB tethering now. Speed checks in urban Columbia Md. produce results in the 15-25 gigabit range.

2. The “Mk3” part indicates that the SOHO was upgraded to the latest wrinkle in wifi protocols, called 802.11ac, which the 6620L jetpack doesn’t have, enabling much faster speeds to our tablets and wifi-connected laptop.

3. It has the ability to act as a wifi bridge at the same time that it’s tethered to the jetpack, so that it can take a campground’s Wifi signal (when we’re in Verizon dropout zones) and rebroadcast the wifi to all of our devices. This avoids having to reset all of our client devices to the campground’s wifi settings. This doesn’t mean that we can do online banking or other hacker-jackpot activities over an untrusted wifi hotspot. We will still have to find a Verizon 3G/4G signal somewhere for that.

4. The SOHO includes “Automatic Failover,” which allows me to set up a priority scheme covering items 1 and 3 above, so that the jetpack’s USB comes first, but if our RV is in a Verizon blind spot, the campground’s wifi (few of which are really that good but most fulltimers will tell you that, every now and then, you hit a nugget) automatically kicks in as the first choice without being told to.

5. It includes a complete suite of firewall and event logging software for times when we use a campground’s “untrusted” wifi signal.

Back of the Soho router, with 802.11AC paddle antennae, USB WAN input and ethernet outlets
802.11ac paddle antennae and USB WAN input make the SOHO a good fit for a mobile operation like an RV or boat.

In general I found the Surf Soho plugged all of the holes that were apparent by trying to use the jetpack as a hotspot and rudimentary router, and all three devices were small enough to fit in a 4″ x 9″ footprint suitable for installation in an RV’s interior cabinet.

Jetpack, NAS and router, small enough to RV with and complete enough to handle anything on the road
Jetpack, NAS and wifi router. Small enough for an RV storage shelf and able to handle anything on the road.

When is Unlimited not really Unlimited?

One wrinkle in Verizon’s Unlimited plan is the limit that they place on a device’s “unlimited” activity. After 10 gigabytes of monthly activity (22GB for the phones) the jetpack becomes “deprioritized” on Verizon’s network. Verizon says that this isn’t necessarily “throttling” because it doesn’t just chop your bandwidth when you hit the threshhold. Instead, if anybody new logs onto the network in your vicinity after you’ve hit your threshhold, they assume priority and you take a backseat, possibly with enough bandwidth to keep streaming video but not at the rates that the new guy is getting.

In practice in an urban area I’ve found that my speeds didn’t suffer all that much, and my jetpack’s usage numbers just passed 60 gigabytes 3 weeks into March. I still watch Youtube videos without getting buffered.  Of course it may be a different story when we get to the boonies, as Columbia is a fairly upscale city with newer infrastructure. We’ll see as the year wears on.

My Retirement Report Card

When I was working my 40-hour-per-week desk job in December 2016 my weight and blood pressure were up, my sleep patterns were erratic, my diabetes A1C was on the rise and I showed several of the signs in my bloodwork of hypertension. I was worried about how much this would affect my quality of life in the future.

Having been through only three months of retirement since then, I can honestly say that I see a reversal in most – if not all – of those categories. Over the last 3 months my weight has dropped 20 lb., my blood glucose numbers have become normal for a diabetic successfully keeping his blood sugar under control via meds and diet, I’m sleeping 8 hours per night and waking up to my own rhythms instead of a 5AM alarm, and my blood pressure is in the 125/80 range. Granted, this is early days and having done all of the work necessary to prepare our house for sale, Pat and I are now (probably too) idly sitting around our hotel room with little to do except run various daily errands, reading, banging away on our various computing devices, mostly eating out, and finding new ways to entertain ourselves within the bounds of our retirement budget. We have signed up for a 50+ exercise room run by our county wellness office, and we’re starting to worry less about what has to be done than about what we feel like doing.

Initially, I’d have to say that retirement, for me at least, is a win and I’m becoming a big fan of not working. I’m willing to say this despite the fact that my kids and several other of my relatives are feeling like they never will get to retire. I would like to say to them: Don’t give up hope. You’ll get there even if you don’t think so at the moment.

Since we’re not supposed to be hanging around our house while it’s on the market, we’ve been changing our addresses to the mail forwarding service that we’ll have when we’re on the road. It is:

John & Pat
514 Americas Way #8064
Box Elder, SD 57719-7600

We can also be found – geographically – on http://www.rvillage.com. We hope everybody has a Happy St. Paddy’s day, and thanks for reading.

The High Cost of Selling Your House

If anybody had told me it would cost this much to sell my house, I would have laughed at him.  Early-on in our decision, Pat and I knew we had to spend some money to get money back, so (without talking to a realtor first) we launched a couple of projects that needed to be done over the last year.  They were:

1. New roof: $10K

2. Gutters, removal of a scuzzy old flat front porch roof and repair a vinyl soffett: $5K

3. Two aluminum/polycarbonate patio covers: $11K

4. Stamped concrete front porch, back patio and stairway into our basement: $9K

5. Re-pouring several nasty, busted-up segments of our driveway: $6800.

We fist-bumped each other at the end of all that and said, OK, lets go talk to a realtor.  So then, during the walk-through the couple pointed out things we never imagined would be a problem, and highly recommended we do them.  We learned that we had to:

1. Deal with asbestos tiles in our basement – very common in homes like ours from the 60’s..  We could go the full removal route (way expensive) or elect to have them sealed beneath a self-leveling sealant, over which would be laid vinyl flooring.  We opted for the latter: $2200.

2. Refinish the oak floors throughout the house.  They had the original finish on them from the early 60’s, and needed some work.  We could have laid laminate flooring over them, but after talking to the refinisher we decided it was cheaper to refinish them, with some minor repairs to rough spots.  $4500

3. Paint most of the rooms in the house.  $6000.  Sounds high, but the two guys doing the work have a huge task ahead of them, doing all of the woodwork, spackling, etc. on seven rooms.  They started on Tuesday and will be here at least until Monday.

4. Prettify the grounds around the house with a truckload of new mulch, edging and general cleanup: $1100.

We also paid a handyman to do a couple of small jobs: trim out around our garage door, do a small drywall repair and hang a door on one bedroom.  So while workmen are passing us in the hallway doing this or that task, we’re trying to part with 18 years of accumulated things.  We had to sort out which stuff belonged to our kids (one of whom was using us as her warehouse), which went to an auctioneer, which to GoodWill and the Salvation Army, and which went to the dump.  Pat organized everything into piles and we attacked.  We put some stuff we knew we wanted to keep into storage and all of the big furniture went to an estate auctioneer or (if it was decrepit) to the dump. 

We decided at some point we’d have to move out to an extended-stay hotel, so we booked it for March 1st with an open-ended date until the house sells and we close on it.   We’re trying to keep that at arms length until the really loud work gets started, just because we’re constantly looking at each other in shock over how much we’re hemorrhaging money.  We have no furniture, but after the frenzy of the day recedes, we have two office chairs to sit on and a bare mattress on the floor to sleep on.   We’re eating out a lot.

Reminds me of the early days of our marriage. Pat, Me and a freeloading cat (snoozing, foreground)

Slowly the rooms are getting emptied of their contents.  The auctioneer loves to see us coming because, since we’re selling everything in order to get downsized into an RV,  he’s getting some pretty high-quality stuff compared to what I saw other consigners had on display.  The one we chose does estate sales, so there’s usually some iffy stuff in the mix: old dishes, plates and cutlery, lots and lots of wall paintings, clothes, you name it.  Pat took some really valuable antiques to a different auctioneer, much more upscale, and was pleasantly surprised what he thought they would fetch in the auction.

Can’t cook in a kitchen like this, so we have every restaurant in the area covered.

Tools!  I had a smallish wood shop out in my garage, and ended up auctioning and giving away all of it, except for a small collection that I’m taking with me in the RV.  The neighbor got some good stuff, and I kept back a few things to do a project for my daughter before we get rid of the rest of it.  Auctioneers love tools, no matter how trivial, because they attract the most attention from the largest segment of the audience: grizzled old guys with John Deere hats and a lot of time on their hands.

Tough to live in a house with no furniture.

The pricetag:  Near as I can figure we’ve spent north of $55K.  After the walkthrough the realtor explained the good (read, attractive) aspects of the property and gave us his starting price, which was about $15K more than we expected.  We live in a pretty good area for incoming families, and there aren’t that many houses on the market right now, so who knows?  We may be smiling at the end of this whole process.

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