As I’ve mentioned before, I love love love the southwest. I hadn’t been there in so long that I’d forgotten how delicious the air feels to breathe, and how big the sky seems. And a nice side benefit is that it completely takes all the frizz out of my hair!
I fantasize about wintering in Arizona, but I don’t think I’d want to be there in the summer. The temperature was nearing 100 degrees in late October, and I came home one day to this:
The outdoor thermometer must have been directly in the sun, because it wasn’t really 115 outside – more like 98. But I’m sure the inside temperature was correct. The air conditioner worked really hard to get that number down! The desert is always much cooler at night, so there was some relief.
I only had a few days in Arizona, and I spent one of them with a genealogy friend, visiting the historic town of Wickenburg. Then I caught up on personal business, and prepared for my trip to Mexico. I put the RV into storage near the airport for a week (I would highly recommend Guardian Self Storage on Van Buren), and stayed at a park-n-fly hotel the night before the flight.
You may think that someone who’s retired doesn’t really need a vacation, but that’s not true. Even though I’m technically not working, it’s still a great relief to take a break from the “real world”. After seven months in the RV, it was truly terrific to just spend a week doing nothing but laying around the pool reading novels. My good friend Sandra and her 28-year-old daughter joined me there.
Keep in mind that I’m still, and always will be, a Frugal Traveling Pensioner. The timeshare week in Mexico was a gift from my ex-husband, back when I was taking care of my dying brother in 2013. And the flight to Mexico was paid with frequent flyer miles. So, my expenses were limited to food, drinks and incidentals in Mexico, storage for the RV, and a night in a hotel before and after the trip, all of which totaled less than $500.
Sandra flew back to Phoenix with me, and we made the two-day drive to Fresno together. I’d never had anyone ride shotgun in the RV before – what a difference that makes! I mapped out a route which avoided any big hills, so we crossed the Sierras at the very south end, over the Tehachapi Pass.
During the second day of the drive, we noticed that there was a gap between the bumper and the hood of the Mini Cooper. The hood of the car was also slightly uneven. I had no idea how or when the damage had happened.
After more thought, my theory now is that it happened while driving along a road in California that had some unusually severe undulations (when I was off the interstate trying to avoid the mountains!). When the hitch was originally installed last year at the Camping World in Lakewood, New Jersey, Eric was concerned that the height distance between the RV and car was too great. At the time, the mechanic said it was on the outside of the range (we had read that there should be only a three inch height difference), but that it would be fine. Well, it wasn’t fine. At least, that’s my theory.
I stopped at the Camping World here in Fresno last week, and they seemed to agree. I have a longer appointment scheduled in December to see what they can do.
As Eric and I often say to each other – IT’S ALWAYS SOMETHING!! But that’s true of life in general, right? In my retirement, in my quest to avoid stress and conflict, I prefer to take these blips in stride, deal with them, and move on!
From Illinois, I headed to Marshfield, Missouri, where I met a first cousin for the first time. People ask how it’s possible that I have a first cousin I’ve never met. It’s because my uncle had a daughter in between his two marriages, and he didn’t meet that child until she was a grown woman. Once I knew she existed, I just never made it a priority to get to Missouri until now. I totally regret that, because Dixie is an amazing person and I wish she had been in my life all these years.
I met five of Dixie’s six children, seven of her ten grandchildren, and two of her four step-grandchildren. I have never seen a family where every single person is so happy, grounded, bright and respectful. It just felt good being with them. I especially enjoyed having 5 year old Abby take a nap on my lap, and holding little 8-month old Ellie while she laughed:
One night, we had a “Show and Tell”, with my computer hooked up to their television so together we could see our family tree and pictures of our relatives and ancestors, and hear all the family stories. That was great fun and definitely cemented our family connection for all of us.
I was sad to leave Dixie and her beautiful family, but I was also excited to head west. I hooked up my car in Marshfield in the dark, at 5:30 am. Last Christmas, Eric gave me a headlamp which I use all the time – hands-free light, wherever I need it! I try to hook the car up the night before a departure, but sometimes the site configuration doesn’t allow for it.
About halfway to my overnight destination in Sayre, Oklahoma, I passed a police vehicle with its lights flashing on the side of the road. The next thing I knew, he was following me with his lights still flashing. Did he want me to pull over? I certainly wasn’t speeding – the limit on I-44 was 75 mph, and I was only going 62. The shoulder was very narrow, but I decided I’d better pull over.
It took about a half hour for him to give me a written warning because my right front headlight was out. Sheesh, it was broad daylight and I didn’t even need to have the lights on – I wished I had turned them off once the sun came up. On the bright side, all of my paperwork was in order, thank goodness.
So of course for the rest of the drive that day, I wondered whether I would be able to figure out how to change the bulb, or if I would have to take the RV to a repair shop. I was planning to leave in the dark again the next morning, and knew I needed to take care of it before then.
I arrived at the Bobcat Creek RV Park in Sayre around 2:30 pm, and the owner says, “Looks like we’ll be gettin’ some weather tonight”. So I asked what that meant. Well, there was gonna be some heavy winds and rain, and possibly a tornado. He pointed out the underground tornado refuge not far from my campsite, and said I would hear the sirens in town, and he would make sure all the campers were gathered together. Holy Oklahoma!! A tornado is not healthy at all for an RV!
My first concern was to take care of the headlight before the storm came. I opened the hood, and it was just not obvious at all how one would access the bulb.
So I checked the internet, and to my great relief a kind soul had posted photographs of exactly how to remove the casing and access the bulb, which I was able to do with the help of the incredibly nice campground owner (the trick is to pull up and back on those two little black tabs above the light).
Then it was off to the auto parts store, where they had the correct bulb; I bought two, just in case. Back at the campsite, I was able to install it and put everything back together. Whew!
About a half hour later, I saw the owner wandering around, and went out to ask him what was up. He looked at the sky and said, “Looks like some wind is coming – you better get inside”. And seconds later the wind was so strong that I had to fight it to get the door to the RV closed – I flashed on Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.
It wasn’t a tornado, but the wind was so strong that the RV was rocking, and it was being pounded hard by what looked like white rocks. I initially thought that the wind was stirring up all the gravel around us; the sound of those rocks on the roof was absolutely deafening. It was frankly quite terrifying.
It turned out to be hail – very large balls of ice. How does that happen on an 80 degree day?? My car now has little dents on the side that was facing the wind.
I was very glad to leave Oklahoma and head on to Albuquerque.
From there on, the trip was relatively uneventful. I drove probably 200 miles out of my way to avoid going through the mountains. The direct route from Albuquerque is to head west on I-40 to Flagstaff, and then south on I-17 to Phoenix. After referring to my Mountain Directory, which I acquired after overheating on a steep hill in upstate New York, I decided to go south from Albuquerque on I-25 through Truth or Consequences, and then west on I-10 though Deming and Tuscon.
I loved driving through the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona – it brought back many memories of the time I worked at the Grand Canyon when I was 19 and 20 years old. The whole area has always been magical to me. It quite literally stirs my heart to be there.
I absolutely loved being in Illinois along the Mississippi, near the little town of Fulton where my Abbott ancestors lived. In fact, it was probably my favorite place to date. In my previous post about Illinois, I included a picture of a gorgeous sunset across the river – I saw many of those. Here are daytime pics in both directions from my campsite at Thomson Causeway:
Toward the end of my stay there, I connected with the very friendly and helpful folks at the Fulton Historical Society, who put me in touch with present-day Abbotts in the area. I promised to provide the Society with my research on the Abbott family, which I first need to write up properly so others can benefit from it.
I spent a delightful afternoon with 91 year old Bill Abbott at a local nursing home. It turned out that he is from a different Abbott line, but I greatly enjoyed hearing his first-hand account of the history of the area. The next day, I had a great chat over coffee with a distant cousin, a descendant of my pioneer ancestor Clark Abbott. Unfortunately, no one had any information on Clark’s parents, which has been a long-standing brick wall for me.
Amazingly, I also discovered some collateral Goodenough relatives who lived in Morrison, the Whiteside County seat. My branch of Abbotts left Illinois in the late 19th century, while the Goodenoughs didn’t arrive until the early 20th century, so the common location was purely coincidental. It was certainly thrilling to see my maiden name on all sorts of dairy farm memorabilia in the Morrison Historical Society’s Heritage Museum!
On the “RV Living” side of things, my microwave got fried. I had decided to steam a bunch of vegetables in advance, so I wouldn’t have to do it in single servings every night. After almost an hour of using the microwave, the breaker blew, and the skin inside the microwave was peeling off.
It was quite distressing because I use the microwave all the time. I cook in batches, freeze serving sized portions, and then use the microwave to warm up a meal. In addition to steaming vegetables, since I don’t have an oven, I often cook a baked potato in the microwave. So it was basically a microwave emergency.
You would think that replacing a microwave is pretty straight forward – you just buy a new one and plug it in, right? Not so. The microwave in my RV is built in to a cabinet, so I knew there would be issues with venting, and with keeping it securely positioned.
I thought about having someone install a new one for me, because I didn’t really want to mess with anything involving the electrical system. I could contact a mobile RV technician who would come out to the campground, but it usually costs somewhere around $100 for the house call, and then the hourly rate for the work can be $125 or more. And my experience with taking it in to a shop, like Camping World, is that they are booked out weeks in advance. So, besides the timing of getting it installed, I didn’t really want to spend the money.
After much angst, I decided to try to replace it myself. How hard could it be? If I failed, I figured I could get help any time in the process.
My first step was to remove it from the cabinet so I could see what I was working with:
It looked do-able, with a simple outlet in the back for the plug. After hours of research online, and of course consultation with my RV expert, ex-husband Eric, I figured out what I needed, and then found one specifically for RV’s that was the correct size for the opening, the correct wattage, the proper venting, and with its own trim kit. So I had it shipped to my next stop – my cousin’s house in Marshfield, Missouri.
I’m skipping a lot of steps, but the short story is that I did it. Here is the final product:
This may not seem like a big deal to you, but for me it was a tremendous challenge. I was SO GLAD not to have to spend the money on professional services, and it felt GREAT to complete a successful DIY project!
I’ve learned the hard way that evidently my credit card gets pre-approved for $100 at the gas station, before I start pumping. So when the pump ticker hits $100, everything shuts down. I had no idea until recently – cause who spends over $100 on a tank of gas, ever? I do.
Tolls can also be pricey with four axles. The Pennsylvania Turnpike and the New York Thruway each cost about $55 in tolls when I was crossing those states. I paid $52 in tolls to get from Ohio to Wisconsin. There are probably routes which avoid the tolls, but I feel much safer on the main highways, so it’s worth the extra cost. I was glad when I got west of Chicago where there were fewer toll roads.
I’ve learned that the gauges for my black (toilet) and gray (sinks, shower) tanks are completely unreliable. So I have to know my limitations in other ways. The black tank can go a long time – longest I’ve gone is two weeks without dumping, and I’m sure I could go longer. The gray is another matter. When it’s full it overflows into my shower basin, so it’s very obvious. That happens after about four days. I have a strong preference for a sewer hookup and no worries.
My little Mini Cooper needs to be completely cleaned each time it’s towed to a new campground. Apparently, the RV spits dirt and all manner of gunk from its tires as it’s traveling, and it covers the Mini to the point where it would be embarrassing to drive it around. Most campgrounds don’t allow car washing, and commercial car wash places don’t allow the Mini through with the hitch gismo in the front, so I do a lot of “wiping down” with a bucket of water and a few towels. I enjoy the job, since it’s one of the few things I do that’s away from the computer.
Speaking of the car, when I first started thinking about buying an RV, the different options were overwhelming: the size of the RV, the type (a trailer, or a Class A, B or C motor home), and whether or not to tow a car, among many other choices. Now, after living with it and seeing lots of other options on the road and in campgrounds, it’s a good feeling to be able to say that I made exactly the right decision for my needs. The size of the RV is perfect for me (26 feet), it was a great price, and I’m so glad I chose a Class C motorhome, towing a car. I can’t imagine how I would function if my only vehicle was the RV.
Going over a particularly rough road recently, a few of the unbreakable dishes in the cabinet above the sink flew out and broke. Ever since then, I use a bungee cord to make sure the cabinet stays closed. And the first time I open any of the cabinets (or the fridge) after a day of travel, I know to be ready to jump out of the way of falling objects – because, like the airline attendants always tell you, things really do shift in transit. Cans of food are especially painful.
I much prefer the cooler nights of the fall to the heat of the summer. And in case you’re wondering – yes, I do have a heating system when I need it, but so far I’ve only used it one morning when the temperature inside the my little house was 47.
Speaking of the heating system, I’m also learning how much propane is needed. Propane runs the heater, the hot water heater, the fridge when it’s not hooked up to electric, and the stove. The propane tank has only been filled three times: mid-November last year, after living in the RV for almost three months; late May, after only two months of use; and in early September, after roughly three months. Probably it didn’t last as long in the spring because I had the fridge on propane for a week while I stayed at my cousin’s house in Virginia. That doesn’t happen very often. But it’s not a big deal as it’s not very expensive.
Downloading movies and TV shows from Netflix and Amazon is a whole THING for me now. Since my cellular data is limited, I don’t want to spend it on streaming – I need it for my research. Actually my cellular data plan is Verizon’s definition of “unlimited”, which cuts the speed down so far after hitting a certain threshold each month that it becomes almost useless. And often, I’m not able to get television reception. So I’ve learned how to download and watch shows offline, which first involves finding a place with good internet.
Through trial and error, I’ve learned that Starbucks has absolutely the fastest internet by far, and I can access it for the cost of a small cup of coffee, which is about two bucks. This doesn’t apply to the Starbucks kiosks that are sometimes inside grocery stores. I’ve had one hour shows take a full hour to download at some places, and that’s just a waste of time. At Starbucks it’s a pretty reliable five minutes.
The Netflix app works on both the laptop and the kindle, but the app can be “buggy” and the rules aren’t clear – sometimes Netflix retracts shows off your device and you’re not allowed to download them again for a year. The Amazon app only works on my kindle (not my laptop or Chromebook), but I like it better because you can download the show and a 48 hour viewing window starts when you begin watching it. I plan ahead so I know if there is going to be a Starbucks near my campground. If not, I download a ton of Amazon shows and movies in advance, and then I can watch them over several weeks without feeling pressured. I’m a very happy Amazon Prime customer in general.
I have a completely different relationship with possessions since I downsized to an RV. I’ve never been a shopper – in fact, shopping is right up there with root canal in my top ten things to avoid at all costs. But I marvel at the fact that when I drive by a shopping center these days, I ask myself if I need anything, and 99% of the time, the answer is no.
I drive right by the Home Depot – don’t need anything for the house or yard. No home improvement projects, no mulch, plants, or tools. I drive right by Bed, Bath and Beyond – don’t need any shower curtains, mops or other cleaning supplies, fancy coffee makers, or bath accessories. Don’t need Pier One – no knick-knacks, no photo frames, no furniture. I pretty much live in T-shirts and shorts or jeans, so I don’t need many new clothes. I even saw a Camping World the other day, and didn’t need to stop. Once I got all set up in the RV, I was done buying stuff. It’s amazing to realize how little one needs to live a simple life. I find it to be a great relief.
My friend Peg asked if I get lonely and/or bored on my long drives. Well, I’m certainly not bored. Driving the rig takes all my concentration, even for hundreds of miles on an interstate. I still grip the steering wheel so tightly that my hands get numb from my carpal tunnel – I try to remember to take Aleve in the morning on travel days. Sometimes I turn the radio on for a little entertainment, but not often.
Loneliness is entirely another matter. Before I started this new adventure, I figured I would probably be lonely, but that was nothing new for me. I was living in a country setting and didn’t know my neighbors, I no longer had any single girlfriends, my kids were grown and gone, and after my mother died, I found myself quite alone. Although I would prefer to have company, I wasn’t about to let “being alone” stop me from doing what I wanted to do.
What I’ve found is that I’m lonelier now than I was before, and in my opinion that’s the biggest downside of this lifestyle. When I was working, at least I had the company of my co-workers during the day, and I also had my genealogy friends. Now, I can literally go days without speaking to another human being. I’ve always been very independent and strong, believing that I didn’t need anyone else. One thing this trip has taught me is that my attitude was kind of a false bravado, and I really do need other people. I’m looking forward to the time when I can belong to a community again.
Meanwhile, it’s really NOT as bad as it may sound! I’m perfectly fine being on my own and I’m SO enjoying the total freedom I have. For the first time in decades, I don’t have to consult with anyone else about the schedule for the day, and I don’t have to concern myself with someone else’s needs. It’s all about me. And there’s a lot to be said for having that experience, at least temporarily!