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The Travels of Bucket List Bessie

John & Pat go fulltime in an RV

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.

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.

Our First Trial Run

Pat and I really wanted to visit our nephew and his family in Maine, and we decided to turn it into a dry run for our RV retirement. We’re renting a Cruise America Class C RV in Hartford Connecticut and driving it the rest of the way to Durham, Maine, to the KOA campground where we’ll spend a week getting reacquainted with our family diaspora and checking out the black fly population.

Lessons learned so far:
1. Don’t ever, ever drive the I-95 corridor on a weekday, and possibly at any time.  Even avoiding NYC at rush hour by taking 287 thru the catskills added 2 hours to the trip.  Road construction, rush hour traffic thru Philadelphia and bottlenecks like the Tappan Zee bridge over the Hudson River all contributed to our 9PM arrival at our hotel in Hartford.  On the return trip we plan on cutting West from Hartford to Scranton and down to home via Harrisburg PA. Much nicer drive.

2. New York State roads are as bad on the eastern end as they are on the western end of the state, where Pat’s family (and all of my previous NY driving experience) hails from.  We didn’t even need a sign to tell us when we crossed over from New Jersey; my lower lumbar region suddenly got into that New York state of mind as I did the giant pothole slalom.  It disappeared nicely after we got into Connecticut.

We’re overnighting in Hartford and picking up the coach at 9AM tomorrow for the 3-hour journey to our destination.

America’s Largest RV Show

Pat and I realized our need for information in this enterprise we’re trying to embark upon, so we drove up from Baltimore to Hershey, Pennsylvania.  Aside from being the chocolate capital of the U.S. and the home of one of the better theme parks on the East Coast, Hershey also plays host,  yearly, to what is billed as “America’s Largest RV Show.”   I admit that I have nothing to compare it to since this was my first RV show, but it looked pretty big to me.  Many, many RVs of all stripes, price ranges and levels of luxury were stuffed into a vast parking lot as close as common sense would allow. Everybody in the RV world seemed to be there, including
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campgrounds and RV parks from distant states all vying for attention from the many visitors.  At $10 a day for admittance it was a pretty cheap education in RV tech, and I walked away with most, if not all, of my questions answered.  We’re staying overnight nearby and adding a second day to our adventure.

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