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The Travels of Bucket List Bessie

John & Pat go fulltime in an RV

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.

Getting down to the wire

Things are moving along in our exercise to get free of our Stick & Brick lifestyle and transition into becoming full-time RVers.   This post also signals the end of a long doldrum in this blog’s history, since the pace is picking up.

We’re getting down to the odds & ends. When the house gets emptied, we’ll move into a hotel for a month or two.

The hardest part of this whole process is getting rid of the contents of the house – and I defy anybody who says it’s easy.  My attitude is a bit looser than Pat’s about how we dispose of our household contents.  Whether erroneously or not, I advocate the KISS principle (also known as the TIO principle – Throw It Out) but Pat is determined to find a home where our goods will be treasured by somebody.  This has put money in our pockets along the way because she has been working the phones, Craigslist and several local online flea markets to find buyers for the more valuable stuff that we just can’t let go without getting paid for it.  Every time somebody shows up at the door to pick up this or that knickknack, she walks around with a “ka-ching” look in her eye and offers to buy me dinner out.  In the meantime we’ve been identifying those things we just have to have with us on the road, and we’re finding interesting ways to bring them along.

No trailers for us. What doesn’t fit in the car or the roof box stays behind.

So far:

1.  We made the transition from “working” to “retired” rather painlessly.  We’ve gotten our retirement income stream stabilized and life has become, if not quiet, at least predictable.

2. We signed up with America’s Mailbox,  a mail forwarding firm in Box  Elder, SD that will be our official “address” while we’re on the road.  We’ll change our postal address so that all of our important mail gets forwarded to our current location based on a schedule we establish.  Junk mail gets deleted, and we can actually scan the envelopes to determine what is or isn’t important.

3. Since Mac the Incredible Diabetic Cat is a member of our family, we contracted with Banfield Pet Hospitals – a nationwide firm with a common database for its patients – as our Vet of Choice.  We put her on an ongoing health care plan similar to our own, requiring a small copay for visits to the Vet.

4. We rented room in a storage facility for those valuables that we’ll eventually return to Maryland for, but were too bulky to fit in our Chevy Equinox for the trip out west.

5. We signed on with a realtor.  He and his wife identified a couple of things we’ll need to do to make the house marketable by March 14, when the listing goes “live,” and recommended firms to do the work.  We also signed up a company to refinish our hardwood floors and paint the walls, which can’t happen until all of our stuff is out the door.  He also strongly hinted that, after we get rid of the stuff, we turn over the keys and leave the rest to him.  So…

4. We reserved a room at a local hotel for the duration that our house is on the market, which around here averages to about 58 days.  We can’t leave the area until the house is sold, and if our realtor has his way we’re not going to hover over the property making sure every blade of grass is the right height, etc.   That means we’re going to have a lot of time to kill.  It wouldn’t be very fun to sit around the hotel twiddling our thumbs, so we’re going to go to the gym, eat out a lot, spend time with our busy kids and finish our bucket list of things we haven’t been able to do in the Baltimore/Washington area in the 30 years we’ve lived here. Maybe even repeat a few.

First load off to the auction house. We’ll borrow the realtor’s truck to get the large furniture there, and we’ll have the services of a couple of brawny lads to help us get it out of the house.

Things for the future:

We were advised that Maryland doesn’t give up its right to our income tax without a fight, so it’s important to erase as many ties to this state as we can in our shift to South Dakota to prove that this move isn’t just to dodge paying Maryland taxes.  we are going to have to give up our local credit union of 30 years to a new bank in South Dakota and move all of our financial business to it.  We’ve found a couple potentials on the Internet, and signing up with them for an account is as easy as pointing to our America’s Mailbox address.  We may also have to establish our primary care providers in South Dakota, but that’s something we haven’t totally decided.


That’s all for this installment.  When I have time to sit down and post further maybe I’ll get to the part about how much energy this process takes.  It’s too much like work for this retired boy.

How to stay connected in an RV anywhere

I’m going to geek out here so it may cause some to go cross-eyed at the goofy tech.   I have been giving some thought to how to stay connected when we’re on the road.  It’s something that most Stick & Brick folks don’t think much about.  In our house we contract with a cable TV company for TV and Internet connectivity, and our setup hasn’t changed much over the past 20 or so years (unless you count the ever-increasing advances in Wifi).   It looks something like this:

homenet

Rather than keeping important files on cloud sites like Google Docs, Dropbox, etc. – that cost me money to rent and may not be very secure or accessible in a 4G blind spot, I prefer to keep my stuff close at hand.   I bought a Seagate 4-Terabyte portable USB hard drive, and then spent $15 on a Hootoo Nano – a tiny travel router that serves no other purpose here than than to turn the hard drive into a NAS – a Network-Accessible Storage Drive.  It connects the hard drive via Ethernet cable to my main house router and allows anybody on the LAN to access it for things like E-books, videos, music, sensitive financial and medical records, photos, etc.

nas.jpg

This setup is inexpensive, so small that I can slip it into a pocket, and seems like just the thing for an RV where space is at a premium.   At home I use a power brick to provide juice via the micro-USB port, and on the road I can either use the brick, a cigarette lighter adapter or even my laptop’s USB port.   The problem with keeping files local rather than in a Dropbox is that things like an RV fire could wipe out all that data, so I bought a second 4TB drive that I use as a mirrored backup to the pictured drive, and I keep it in a Sentry fire safe along with all of our paper records that can’t be scanned into PDFs and stored on the drive.   I pull it out every month or so to sync it up with the data on the NAS so that nothing gets lost.

backup

A cable modem and Ethernet router won’t do us much good on the road, so I’m planning on leaving them – along with my two security cameras that watch the house when we’re not at home – with the house when I sell it.   Instead, we’re looking at Pat and I both having individual Internet plans on our mobile phones to the tune of about 30-35GB per month each.  One of us will keep our current AT&T phone and the other will get a Verizon phone to increase our chances of being within range of a cell tower, no matter where we are.  A simple click turns the Android phones into WiFi hotspots.

I plan on buying something called a WISP router for the RV, to take the WiFi from our phones – as well as the occasional and usually not very frequent decent-quality campground WiFi – and provide an Access Point for things like our PCs, Wifi printer, Rokus, and as a wired connection for the above NAS setup (the Hootoo travel router can be configured for Wifi only, but the slower speeds cause a lot of buffering if you’re watching a video stored on it).

As anybody who uses a Roku TV-top-box or its Google equivalent, the Chromecast, knows, it is really only good if you have an unlimited Internet connection, something that we will NOT have in the RV.   Watching just one longish YouTube video takes a nasty bite of our mobile phone plan.   On top of that, most campgrounds do not allow you to stream internet movies, sports, etc. from their “free” wifi links, so downloading Amazon movies just isn’t going to happen very often.   We’ll likely rely on Redbox DVD rentals for movie entertainment, as these do not use up our mobile gigabytes.    But I plan to keep my two Rokus because they are useful for streaming stored videos, family photos and music from the above NAS setup to all of the TVs on the RV (newer RVs usually come with up to 4 TVs).  So our RV LAN will likely look like this:

rvnet

Also regarding TV/video, we plan on having a DirecTV or Dishnet satellite TV plan, and many (I would say most but I’m not sure of the stats on that) RVs come with a satellite dish on the roof.  That’s separate from my RV Internet plan and food for another post later. Bye for now.

The House is a Hole, into Which We Throw Money

   Under the premise of “Spend a little to get a lot” we’ve been judiciously pumping money into our house to get it ready for sale, which has to happen before we can hit the road as full-time RV’ers.   Figuring on a remodeling budget of $50K against a likely sale price of $380-400K, so far we’ve put in new concrete walkways, stairs and patio extensions, mostly to erase the ravages of time on a 60-year-old property, some of them pretty severe.   We’re done with the concrete contractors, who ripped out the old walkway, poured  us a new front porch across the entire front of the house, and fixed sagging bricks caused by the failure of the old, original porch cement slab.   

    This week’s project has been to put two patio roofs up, one over our back stairwell into the basement and the second over our patio, and it has been an interesting time.  Mother Nature intervened in the project, and rain and snow caused delays that put the workmen back in their schedule by a couple of days.   Nobody in their right mind could expect somebody to work on top of a frozen, slippery roof, so a 1-day job begun on Friday just got finished on Sunday afternoon.  We’re pretty happy with the results.  The company we went with was Bright Covers, out of Cleveland, Ohio.

20160320_085547
For years we’ve had problems with fierce downpours filling up the bottom landing of the stairwell and threatening to spill over into our carpeted basement. No more.

20160320_125551

   The next project comes next week, when we replace the patio entry door on our garage with a fiberglass and leaded glass french door that matches one we had installed in the front of our garage a few months ago.

The Old (yuck) and the New (next to its mounted, older brother)

   That’s about it for this installment. Nothing much about RV’ing in here, it’s all about the house.

T Minus 1 year and counting

I follow a number of bloggers who love to talk about their fulltime lifestyles, from major strategic decision-making right down to what a great beer they had last night.  The ones I find most interesting are the “I wish I knew that before I set out” posts, that every fulltimer seems to have once a year or so rolls around and they take stock of their experiences, or a forehead-smack moment happens.

A blog that I follow pretty closely is “Technomadia“, created and run by Chris Dunphy & Cherie Ve Ard, who have been fulltiming for a number of years in a 60’s-era converted GMC bus.   Apparently Chris is very knowledgeable about electronics, mobile connectivity and RV tech, and despite their much-overhauled, 50-year-old vehicle, they have pushed the envelope of cutting-edge RV tech considerably .  I bought one of their books, “The Mobile Internet Handbook”, and it has helped me develop a picture of what I think I need to stay connected once we hit the road.   Other bloggers, who mostly write in order to generate an income stream from advertisers, write about different aspects of the full-timing lifestyle: the places they go, unexpected problems like mouse infestations, RV cooking, DIY and a host of RV trivia about things most folks don’t think about very much in their weekends-only RV experience.  How do you wash an RV?  How do you change the oil yourself? Service a generator? Where do you park when boondocking and for how long?  How do solar panels work on an RV?

Another great source of information on RV life is YouTube, where video bloggers like the RVGeeks, Gone with the Wynns, RVwithTitoPippi Peterson and RVLove throw out a steady stream of RV advice on repairs, upgrades and generally anything having to do with the RV experience.

 

Healthcare

At this stage of our preparations, we’ve done a lot of the strategic decision-making for our RV escape.   Being government employees, Pat and I have separate, self-only, Federal Blue Cross/Blue Shield plans that we’ll take into retirement with us.   As anybody who moves a lot knows, BCBS wants you to incorporate your plan in whichever state you reside (Blue Cross Massachusetts, etc.), and it can be difficult when you don’t own property in any one state.  But the Federal Employee BCBS plan doesn’t tie itself to one state, has no problem with us using a mail forwarding service as our official address, and since we each have our own plan (cheaper than doing a “self plus one” option), if we need to see a doctor or refill a prescription in any one place, the BCBS folks won’t give us any guff about the location in which the service is performed.  I’m still a bit confused about how to transfer my medical records between doctors in distant states, but that’s one of the things we’re working on.

We also plan to keep our current Maryland doctors in the loop, with the possibility of doing a yearly stop in MD to visit kids, get physicals, dental cleanings and vision checks.

Pharmacy

Speaking of prescriptions, Pat and I both take regular drugs for mundane things like high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes management, etc.  We decided to go with Walgreens as our usual provider since they have a nationwide computer network and we can simply use their app on our smart phones to scan the barcode off our empty pill bottle, choose the Walgreens nearest to us, and half a day later pick up the drugs.  At the time we decided on Walgreens. it boasted a larger nationwide network of outlets than CVS, and Wal-Mart didn’t make the short list due to other factors.  Hopefully this plan will stand the test of time, but if not, we’ll adapt and overcome.

Banking

Our excellent credit union at our workplace has handled our finances for 30+ years, and we see  no reason to change just because we won’t be near one of their branches.    Secure online access to our bank accounts makes a lot of stuff on the road possible with minimal risk as long as we’re careful about only using it on our 4G links.   Our credit union has a share system with other participating CU’s that allows us to make 4 fee-exempt ATM withdrawals per month, wherever we are, and any other cash needs can be handled through cash-backs at grocery stores and other retail outlets.  Our CU’s free bill-paying service facilitates anticipated regular bills like satellite TV, cell phones and 4G, and even features a free, web-based, Quicken-like accounting service for tracking our expenses. Things like pension annuities, social security and 401K disbursements are all handled by direct deposit these days, so the check doesn’t have to be in the mail anymore.

We’ve been advised by many folks that getting a loan becomes problematic when you don’t have a local address to serve as a statement to the bank of your liquidity.  We don’t anticipate the need for a lot of loans since we’re buying the major things – RV and toad- with cash as much as possible, and hopefully we’ll build up a slush fund for things like medical co-pays or unexpected large expenses.   The lack of an RV loan may hurt us in the federal income tax department, as we won’t have the same itemizations that we benefit from regarding home ownership (mortgage interest, property tax, etc.), but if we can save a bit of our retirement income to handle any overflows, it should work out.

South Dakota.  It’s not just for statuesque presidents.

Once we sell our Maryland home, we’ll be free to drive out to South Dakota and become domiciled there, even before we buy our RV.  SD has changed recently to make it a bit less attractive among the three (Florida and Texas are the others) top domicile states for fulltimers due to state income tax breaks.  They raised their vehicle sales tax from 3% to 4% (sort of a big deal if you’re buying a $150k RV), and some counties have a “wheel tax,” so care must be taken to set things up properly in the right county.  But the other states have certain restrictions too, such as vehicle inspections that require a yearly stopover, or a requirement for a CDL if you drive an RV.  Escapees, an RV club favored by many fulltimers (and of which we are members) has expanded out of its home state of Texas and has set up mail forwarding services in South Dakota, so it’s not so hard to choose SD as our home state.

The best thing about South Dakota is its residency requirements.  All we have to do is stay one night in a motel or campground, show the receipt to the DMV, and we can swap our Maryland drivers’ licences for South Dakota licenses.

You’ve actually got Mail.

Most folks handle their snail mail via a mail forwarding service.  We plan on using a South Dakota firm to do this, mostly because of the ease of determining what we want to see and where it’s sent.   Many forwarders have a website that lets you see a scanned image of the envelope so you can make the decision of having it forwarded or discarded as spam.  It costs a bit extra to have the mail filtered this way, but ultimately it pays off by not having junkmail forwarded to our current location.   When we’re on the move, we log onto the website and instruct the forwarder to hang onto the mail until we reach our next destination.  When we arrive, we log on again and input the address of that week’s campground, and the mail arrives at the campground’s office for us to pick up.    Online purchases are done pretty much this same way, but are shipped to our current address directly, specified when we check our cart out.   I favor Amazon Prime ($99/year), which allows free shipping on a lot of items.   The plethora of spare parts, gizmos and upgrades for RVs on Amazon is amazing, and as long as it’s not too complicated, I’m willing to handle most repairs myself with the right parts and tools.

Some mail forwarders go beyond simply handling your mail needs.   At least one will handle the legwork of registering your vehicle and shipping you the plates, and that’s going to come in handy since, following our switch to South Dakota, we’ll likely drive over to whoever has the RV we want – in Texas, Florida or wherever – buy it and handle the registration and insurance issues via the mail.   One forwarder advised me that it takes about a week to turn around an RV registration in the mail.   It’s going to necessitate a deal of motel-ing while we wait for this, but that’s sort of a part of the mobile lifestyle.

That’s enough for now.  More when I get my thoughts sorted out.

 

Maine post-mortem

We learned a lot of things on our week-long trip to Maine last week. It was the first time in New England for both Pat and myself and we had a great time discovering a beautiful state.

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tollgate

1. Tolls are expensive, especially when you have two vehicles and one of them is an RV – about twice as expensive as a car.  Going up and coming back we made extensive use of the I-95 corridor that runs up the Atlantic coast from Florida to Maine.   It’s a toll road for most of the trip through the northeast, although I seem to recall that south of Washington, DC it becomes free of tolls clear to Florida.  From Baltimore to Maine and back, we spent close to $60 just for the privilege of using I-95 and the New Jersey Turnpike.   The problem is all of the narrow (North to South, that is) states like Connecticut and New Hampshire.  Every one of them has its hand out and, If in some instances it may be possible to bypass the toll roads, other chokepoints like the Tappan Zee bridge get your money instead.

2. Tank capacity: Full hookups are nice but not strictly necessary.   Although our site only had electric and water, Pat and I do like our showers so we didn’t stint.  This is our vacation after all.   So we lived with the fact that the grey tank filled up every 2nd day.  On one occasion early on, the camp honey wagon came by to empty our tanks, but its pump broke down in the last half of the week and we were on our own for the rest of the trip.   We pulled the RV around to the dumping station to dump both tanks and then returned to our site, thereby learning by doing.  We had to do this twice, once in mid-week and again when we were pulling out of the campground for good.  We lamented the fact that the 30′ Cruise America Class C we rented had a chihuahua-sized grey tank in a bulldog-sized RV.  Two lessons were learned here: tank size matters and back in the woods loop where our site was, the pain of pulling out of the site to go dump the tanks would be double in a larger Class-A like the one we’re considering for our future home.

lynx

3. Levelers are a must.  For whatever reason (and I can think of a few) C/A does not supply them. We tried a solution using scrap wood but later on we just popped for two packs of Lynx Levelers; at $32 a pack they are not a cheap solution but they are adjustable and provided a quality leveling experience.

4. Quiet time is nice, if you happen to be a couple of old farts like us.  Most of the kids in our loop were allowed to run wild during the day, and they did so quite  politely, but by 10PM things got quiet and sleeping with the windows open became really pleasant.   Early in the week was the best time as most folks seemed to go home on Sunday and Monday, and then our loop got quiet on Tuesday through Thursday.  By Friday things picked up with the new weekenders.

5. Cooking over a fire is pleasant, convenient and congenial.  It only rained once, just before a visit by our local relatives.  Since we were doing burgers, dogs and s’mores over the fire as a key part of the visit, I had to stand over the fire for about a half-hour with an umbrella to keep it from going out, looking like an overweight male Mary Poppins trying to avoid a hotfoot.

6. In tandem with #2, shower size quickly emerged as a major factor in which motor home we will buy.  The shower in our Class C was about 24 inches by 30 inches – doable but pretty awkward – several times we opted to just use the shower house, which was clean and well-kept, because it wasn’t as cramped.   I decided that at least a 30×40 shower will be a must-have in our future retirement vehicle, and adjusted my short list of potential coaches accordingly.
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Parade during the Yarmouth Crab Festival.  It was a good thing no houses caught fire during the parade since every piece of firefighting gear from every town around Yarmouth was parading past in review.  Including this somewhat extreme example.

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The Freeport/Durham area is a very pleasant place for an RV’er in the Summer and I recommend the KOA.  When we weren’t visiting with relatives, we attended small-town parades and crab fests, we shopped in Freeport (an upscale boutique town with much to offer the tourist shopper), and deflated by and in the CG pool on days when nothing particular happened.   A Maine dinner is all about seafood (Got Lobstah?), and we ate way more of this than I’m used to.   We’ll definitely be back one day.

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Seals catching the rays in Portland Bay

Trial Run continued

We’ve been at the KOA in Durham, Maine for two days, and the learning experiences are piling up.  We’ve had enough experience with this RV (30-foot Cruise America rental class-C) to start to realize the good and the bad, about Cruise America, this particular RV, and our own decision-making process.

mainecamp

The good:  This RV has the ubiquitous Ford F53/V10 362HP chassis/engine combination common to most gas-powered RVs, and I have no complaints about the power and driveability.   Granted, we weren’t towing a vehicle as Pat decided to follow me in our Honda Civic, so it remains to be seen how hard it is to tow with this thing, but I was favorably impressed at acceleration, even on inclines.   The engine likes to rev but doesn’t seem to do so with effort.  Even though the temperature was in the high 80’s, the dash A/C kept the whole coach cool and we only ran the generator for the roof A/C, due to high daytime temps on the East Coast this week, when we stopped.   Cruise America added a sticker recommending that users keep the transmission in Tow/Haul mode “for increased fuel economy.”  This means that the engine winds out a bit more and helps brake the coach on downhill runs, much like a car with the overdrive turned off.  We tried it in both modes (Tow/Haul on/off) and preferred leaving it on.

The bad:  I’m going to itemize this just to arrange my thoughts.

1. Small holding tanks.  We made a choice when we reached the KOA. We could have set up in a treeless field and gotten a full hookup, or we could opt for a forested site with water and electric only. We chose the latter, and this brought with it a chance to try out the holding tank capacity of this rental RV.   We like showers, so we didn’t stint on water usage.  This means that we need to leave our site periodically to hit the dump station before returning to re-setup in the site.   Most experienced RV’ers would put this in the PITA dept. but since we need the practice, it affords us the opportunity to work on our tank-dumping skills at least a couple of times before we leave at the end of this week.

2. No slideouts.  Big negative here.  While I’m sure many folks like their class B’s with no slideouts, that’s not the way we roll, and we really like the added room that slideouts give us.  Next time we’ll be renting from a company that features coaches with at least one slideout.

3. No leveling.  Our woodsy campsite is not level, and slopes downward toward the driver’s side of the RV.  For coaches with leveling, this is solved with the push of a button.  We had to improvise, and fortunately our nearby nephew owns a sawmill and provided us with a wooden solution to raise the low side of the coach.  Another reference to renting from a different company here.

4. Fit and finish.  Our RV had 30K miles on it, and had passed through many hands on the way to our temporary stewardship.  Cruise America says “the renter is responsible for all damages”.  We did a walk-around inspection and noted the obvious imperfections, but after two days we’re still occasionally discovering something that didn’t make the list we gave the guy when we left, like roof vent screens that hang askew, roof and stove vents that scream when turned on due to tortured bearings, a bathroom sink faucet with a missing aerator that causes water to gush all over the countertop, Note to self: every switch, every vent, pretty much everything with a button: check.

5. Flimsy house construction.   In order to keep the weight down and increase driveability (see “Good” above), the house construction is very flimsy, with walls less than 1/4″ thick.  This isn’t enough wood to give bite to things like trim staples in corner moldings, screws for brackets to hold doors open, etc.  Aside from the obvious mechanical issues of maintaining the powertrain, this adds a lot of man-hours to just keeping the coach interior in shape not to lose our deposit.

All in all, so far this trip has been a great one for seeing the dirty little details of RV stewardship.  Every day it seems I learn something I didn’t know.   More as the week rolls on.

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