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.
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.
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.
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!