The Time Of Our Lives

Sitting by the fire, in front of an orange tree growing at our campsite, in shorts and a shortsleeved shirt in January. BTW, it is -53c (-63f) with the windchill back in Winnipeg on this day.

I suppose it could be argued that any time we are still breathing is the time of our lives. But as Betty & I continue our overlandish odyssey, we both feel very blessed by this time we have together. Yesterday was another birthday – not a big milestone date, just a regular one like the (too) many before it – but it always causes one to pause and consider where we are, where we have been, and where we are going.

Where we are currently is Far Reach Ranch, just north of Orlando, Florida. It is a family owned and operated blueberry farm that participates in the Harvest Host program. Today Betty & I had the opportunity to sample and purchase a variety of jams and honeys made on the farm, and look forward

Tonight’s free campsite: Far Reach Ranch north of Orlando.

to a quiet night here, before we join our kids and grandkids for an anticipated less quiet, high energy Disney visit, starting tomorrow.

Since our last post, we left site 30 at Cyprus Glen for a fabulous weekend visit with a Boondockers Welcome host in Floral City, Florida. Cindy and Regis extended

Parked in Cindy & Regis’ front yard, under the hanging moss and beside the flowering plants & bushes.

the kind of hospitality that we have come to expect from this great program. It turned out that we had left Winnipeg without the key to unlock Betty’s bike from the back of our motorhome, so Regis, who previously owned a bike shop, graciously agreed to cut the lock off for us. Somewhere along the way, unbeknownst to us because of the bike cover, my rear wheel had become severely bent out of shape, and Regis was able to recommend a local bike mechanic who trued it back up on short notice. Since both our bikes had been locked together, we are now free to go for rides again. Yeah! Super serendipity!

Cyprus Glen is one of a number of campgrounds within Withlacoochee State Forest.

We then returned to Withlacoochee State Forest Cyprus Glen campground, this time to site 27, for five more nights, enjoying the unique jungle-like sights and sounds of this quiet central Florida forest. BTW, the site is quite unlevel, as are many of the others, even though they are all equipped with 50 amp electrical service, water, picnic table and fire ring. It had rained for a day before we arrived, and the

For $13.45/night, we enjoyed this nice, but unlevel, site 27 in the Cyprus Glen campground.

back wheels of our motorhome sank into the parking spot’s gravel up to our axles. If it wasn’t for our hydraulic lifters – which are working fine now – we would have required a tow truck to get us out! Thank goodness for our levellers, boards, and snow shovel that allowed us to dig out. Who knew that the snow shovel would come in handy down here in Florida. Lol.

Betty & Lorraine ham it up at one of their resort’s swimming pools.

For my birthday yesterday, Betty & I drove into Orlando, and finally bought a new set of golf clubs to fit the closet built for that purpose. LOL.  We also had a great visit with our old next door neighbours from Winnipeg, Robert & Lorraine, who now winter in a well-appointed resort complex near Orlando’s convention centre. It was fun to talk about our families, where we are, where we have been, and where we are going from here. Just like the past, the future is not likely to be all smooth sailing for us, but for now as we continue our bucket-list adventure, Betty & I agree that we are having the time of our lives. Here’s hoping that you are also!

Cheers!

We couldn’t resist including a picture of this theatre in Inverness, Florida, for our red-headed daughter, Valerie. lol
This armadillo was a regular visitor at our Cyprus Glen campsite.
They are a little hard to see, but Betty assures me that these are two of the wild pigs she saw making the rounds at Cyprus Glen.
Much of central Florida is still swampland. Apparently the alligators in Withlacoochee State Forest are hibernating just now, but we were warned not to let Charlie go for a swim!
If you listen closely, you can almost hear Tarzan swinging through this jungle/forest.
We had to duck our motorhome under many of the low hanging trees on the twisty road in and out of the park.
Another view of tonight’s site at Far Reach Ranch, with Charlie on the dash, watching the photographer..

Addendum: Some people might think that, to qualify as “the time of your life”, one must participate in a high energy, adrenalin-producing activity like bungy jumping or sky diving, where you are reaching out to cheat death. But I can’t help but think back to a poem memorized in public school.  Daffodils, by William Wordsworth, ends with the verse:

For oft, when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude;

And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the daffodils.

These days, bliss can be found just as much in solitude and admiration of the world around us, as in the fast-paced activities of our culture. Our lives seem to have a combination of both just now, and Betty & I are happy to have this time of our lives.

Cheers!

Flowers were blooming in January at our Boondockers Welcome site in Floral City.

Exploring Florida Forests

At Tate’s Hell State Forest, we had the $9.17/night campground all to ourselves.

Cheap, cheap. Is that the sound of birds in the tall trees around us? Or is that just us not opening our wallets so much? LOL.  In comparison to Texas and Arizona, Betty & I have learned that Florida can be an expensive state for RVers. We have already committed to a week near Disney World with our kids & grandkids at $69./night, and have a reservation at a Key West campground for double that rate. But otherwise, will we be able to do Florida on a reasonably cheap budget, or will we blow out the bank account?

800 pages of where to stay in the U.S.A.

Before we left Winnipeg, we purchased on-line “The Wright Guide To Free and Low-Cost Campgrounds”  in the United States, and have been using it, the “Free camping Near Me” website, Harvest Hosts, and Boondockers Welcome, to help reduce our accommodation expenses.

While BLM land is popular and available in New Mexico & Arizona, Florida has a number of other low-cost options. In addition to state parks, which are plentiful but often just plain full this time of year, Florida has Wildlife Management Areas, National Forests, and State Forests which often allow camping. This week we have been exploring the forests, and hope that our luck continues in finding great, cheap, accessible campsites.

Ocala North RV Park was a well-treed campground, with acorns pounding on our roof during an overnight wind storm.

After Tate’s Hell State Forest ($9.17/night), we went to Ocala North RV Park($38.70/night) because it was on our route, available, and we needed to dump and do laundry. It turned out to be a very well-kept full-service private park with level, cement pads, and included cable tv and excellent wi-fi. Bonus! It was also located in Reddick, Florida – a bastardization of our last name that we see sometimes when people have trouble with …och (the proper Scottish spelling. LOL.)

Our campsite (#53) was across from a park, which was adjacent to the campground swimming pool.

The wi-fi allowed us to research other inexpensive (Betty doesn’t want to give the impression we’re cheap. Lol) camping options, and ended up at the Big Bass Campground (site #13) in

Nestled in the trees at Ocala National Forest, our solar still kept our batteries charged enough that we didn’t turn our generator on once.

Ocala National Forest ($10./night). We weren’t sure if the campground would be open, because of the federal government shut-down, but there was no gate across, and we used an honour system box to deposit our camping fee. While the site itself didn’t have services, there was potable water nearby, as well as bathrooms, garbage bins, and a dump station.

Apparently the flea market opened at 5 a.m. for enthusiasts. When we arrived at 2 pm., almost everyone was gone…

Before and after Ocala National Forest we stopped at two famous Florida flea markets. One was called “The Market of Marion” at Belleview, Fl., and the other “Swap O Rama” atWebster, Fl.. On the thrifty theme, I was there in search of a new set of golf

Bush’s Beans, in a variety of tasty flavours. lol

clubs, as I had previously seen cheap, cheap clubs at Belleview on an earlier visit with Betty’s brother, Jack. Unfortunately, I had no luck this time, but we did pick up some fresh fruit and vegies while there.  BTW, on the food topic, while we still have been bbq-ing rib eye with prosciutto-wrapped asparagus from time to time, we also have been slumming it sometimes with a variety of Bush’s Beans on toast…

Our site (#30) at Cyprus Glen Campground, in Withlacoochee State Forest.

We are now in Cypress Glen Campground Withlacoochee State Forest ($13.45/night) site #30, which includes 50 amp service and water at the site. Many of the campsites in this

Charlie’s steppin’ out at our current campsite. He just needs to learn to shut the door behind him!

area are sloped side to side, or front to back, so would be hard to level our motorhome. Fortunately, site #30 is reasonably flat, with boards needed under only 2 wheels. We are looking forward to visiting the Gulf coast from here, but also having a quiet stay in this tranquil forest, with only the chirp of birds ringing in our ears.  Cheap, cheap!

Cheers!

Our $10. campsite in Ocala National Forest included a picnic table and grill, with a small pond in behind. What a price for a water-view property!

TREES

Joyce Kilmer, 18861918

I think that I shall never see   
A poem lovely as a tree.   
   
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest   
Against the sweet earth’s flowing breast;   
   
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;   
   
A tree that may in summer wear   
A nest of robins in her hair;   
   
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;   
Who intimately lives with rain. 
   
Poems are made by fools like me,   
But only God can make a tree.

To Tate’s Hell Through Hurricane Hell

An unlikely name for a beautiful campsite at $9.17/ night.

Blue skies and sunshine, green leaves on tall trees – with not a breath of wind – a large, quiet, remote campsite.

Our site (number 21). There are only 2 other sites in this remote campground – both vacant.

That’s what greeted Betty & me today as we arrived at site 21 in Tate’s Hell State Forest, near Tallahassee, Florida. It’s about as far from hell as one could imagine!

Our free Harvest Host site. The owners weren’t there, but we left them a thank you note.

After leaving Big Lagoon State Park near Pensacola, Florida yesterday, we drove along the Gulf coast to a Harvest Host location – Three Oaks Winery– northwest of Panama City.  Having read and heard of the severity of Hurricane Michael in October, we were surprised to see little or no damage on our journey. The winery is only open on weekends in January, so the owners confirmed by phone that we would have the parking lot to ourselves for a restful, free evening.

Many of the homes along the coast have completely disappeared.

Today was another story. As we made the short drive from the winery to Panama City, we began to see more and more garbage on the roadsides, and wondered if there was some sort of sanitation strike in the area. But once

We almost missed the turn onto Highway 98 at Panama City, as the road sign was still flattened.

we reached highway 98 and began to follow the Gulf coastline eastward, we saw incredible destruction along the way. With Mexico Beach as its apparent epicentre, Hurricane Michael ripped out almost everything in its path – from homes, to stores, to offices, to schools, to churches, to whole

An American flag and a few palms stand vigil at what was once someone’s home.

forests. Most structures that remain standing are covered by blue tarps, awaiting roof replacements. The highway was washed away at many

In the background is an idyllic coastal beach. In the foreground, appliances have been hauled to the roadside for pick-up by the many trash collectors.

points, and we zig-zagged around pilons placed near temporary patches. The road was reduced to one lane in a number of locations as crews worked to restore a major artery. In the meantime, we waited in long lines as traffic alternated through the construction zones.

There appeared to be an almost arbitrary nature to the force, with most structures destroyed, and others suffering little or no damage.

For Betty & me it was no more than a minor inconvenience. But we couldn’t help but think of the hell experienced by those who lived through the hurricane, and the ongoing nightmare of trying to rebuild lives in a beautiful spot that is so vulnerable to

The view through this hazy window coincides with the current view for many area residents.

the extreme forces of nature. As we drove, we saw a lot of dazed looks on the faces of those we passed. But we also saw work crew after work crew beginning the rebuilding

Few trees were left unscathed in the forests we passed along the coast.

process. Our hopes and prayers are that those in the Florida Panhandle who suffered through this extremely destructive event will have the resilience to experience blue skies and sunshine, green leaves on tall trees, and not a breath of wind for a while.

Bright blue skies and sunshine, green leaves on tall trees, and not a breath of wind at Tate’s Hell State Forest today.

Sailing Into Big Lagoon

Betty adds Arkansas to our sticker map.

As Betty & I continue our overlandish odyssey, we capture images along the way – either on our phones or through my Nikon – that help to tell the story of our adventure. But we see far more on our journey than we record, and we post only a fraction of the sights captured. Sometimes, the story tells itself when we download the pictures, and sometimes we need to weave a thread that ties it together. This post is more of the latter, capturing random images from the past week.

One of our levellers began to bleed red fluid when we arrived in Russellville, Arkansas.
We called the Hose Doctor, and he performed surgery on our ailing Boy – from his modified ambulance – getting us back on the road with a new hydraulic hose to our leveller..
Our nice site at Buccaneer State Park in Mississippi was a short hour’s drive from New Orleans, Louisiana.
Gavin gets in on the action, adding Louisiana to our sticker map.
Through much of Mississippi, Route 90 follows the Gulf shoreline, with many miles of well-groomed white sand near the roadside.
We passed at least 9 casinos near Biloxi, Mississippi. This one sports a huge guitar on its front.
Betty & Charlie take a break on the beach near Biloxi.
Our add-a-room gets added at our Big Lagoon  State Park campsite by Gulf Breeze, Florida..
Betty strolls the squeaky sand along the Gulf Shores, at the Alabama – Florida border.
We had a great beach day in early January, near Pensacola, Florida.

We are thankful for the marvels of modern technology that allow us to share our travels with you. As we explore the state of Florida, and travel back up the east coast, Betty & I hope we can continue to transmit images that capture the epic nature of this marvelous adventure.

Cheers!

Fantastic Florida helps to fill out our sticker map.

New Orleans!

On narrow Bourbon Street, looking toward downtown New Orleans.

Readers of this blog may have noticed a number of references to songs that have struck cords with the writers: from Willie Nelson’s “On The Road Again”, to Bob Marley’s “We Jammin”, to Glen Campbell’s “By the time I get to Phoenix”, or Marc Cohn’s “Walking In Memphis”, among others. But how is it possible to choose a song about our visit this week to New Orleans?  Should it be:

…the city of New Orleans. Say don’t you know me? I’m your native son…

Fats Domino: Walking to New Orleans

Johnny Horton: The Battle of New Orleans

Jimmy Dean: Big John

Creedence Clearwater Revival: Born on the Bayou/ Proud Mary

The Rolling Stones: Brown Sugar

Arlo Guthrie: City of New Orleans

The Animals: House of the Rising Sun

The Tragically Hip: New Orleans is Sinking

Chuck Berry: Johnny B. Goode

Janis Joplin: Me And Bobby McGee

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band: Mr. Bojangles

Wrought iron balconies surround many buildings in the French Quarter.

There are dozens of songs referencing New Orleans,  so we’ll leave it to the reader to pick their favourite…

OK, I can’t resist humming a tune from a special singer I saw live, back in the day. During the Festival Express tour in 1970, Janis Joplin belted out:

“Busted flat in Baton Rouge, waitin’ for a train
And I’s feelin’ near as faded as my jeans
Bobby thumbed a diesel down, just before it rained
It rode us all the way to New Orleans…”

Our Russellville, Arkansas campsite.

When Betty & I left Ivy’s Cove campground in Russellville, Arkansas, the forecast was for rain all the way into New Orleans, but by the time we reached Texarkana, the drizzle had ended, and it was clear sailing until our stop for the night, an attractive road side rest area south of Alexandria, Louisiana.  It was a bright sunny day when we passed Baton Rouge the next morning, so our windshield wipers were not

Our overnight rest stop, north of Lafayette, LA had seen lots of rain before we arrived.

slappin’ time, but I was holding Betty’s hand in mine, and we sang every song that we both knew. LOL.  For the next few days, we camped at the beautiful Buccaneer State Park in Mississippi, just an hour’s drive east of New Orleans.

Someone added an editorial comment on this Bourbon Street One Way sign. LOL

Betty & I have been to New Orleans twice during Mardi Gras: Once unintentionally with our 4 young children (on our way back from Disney World), and once with Betty’s brother

A mix of colourful low rise homes and shops enliven the French Quarter.

Jack, and his wife Christine. The focus then was very much on the party atmosphere. But this time we were able to

The large French Market borders the Mississippi River in New Orleans.

concentrate more on the unique architecture and lay-out of the French Quarter. The weather was warm, with blue skies

A beautiful day to stop at this courtyard cafe for some Cajun cookin’.

and sunshine as we walked through the French Market, and enjoyed an al fresco meal in one of New Orleans’ special courtyard restaurants. It was a magical visit, and enticed us to want to return again.

A late lunch at Cafe Amalie in the French Quarter.

“There Betty shared the secrets of my soul
Through all kinds of weather, through everything we done
Yeah, Betty baby kept me from the cold…

And, feelin’ good was easy, Lord, when she sang the blues
You know, feelin’ good was good enough for me
Good enough for me and my Betty  eee.”

Cheers!

Fresh flower baskets accent the unique New Orleans’ architecture.
Walkin’ in New Orleans…
Bourbon Street is a little more visible, without the Mardi Gras crowds. LOL
Getting a feel for the history of this unique city by walking through one of New Orleans’ above ground graveyards. 

“I’m the train they call the city of New Orleans
I’ll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done.”

Whither The Weather?

Isabella & Georgia’s fort stands guard over our motorhome, parked by their front yard in Winnipeg, Dec. 24/18.

In our December 9, 2018 post – Dreaming Of A White Christmas – Betty & I postulated that Winnipeg might have snow on December 25. We were not wrong.  But how well will we be able to accurately predict the weather for the remainder of our overlandish odyssey? We are now living in a connected world, often able to access the Weather Channel or other on-line forecast as we drive. However, despite all the sophisticated radar models, predictions of upcoming weather still seem to be 50 – 50, so your guess is as good as mine… LOL.

2018 Christmas dinner at Andrew’s, all with appropriate cracker crowns.

Fortunately when it comes to predictability, the reader might just as well read the December 19, 2017 post – Can’t Wait To Cue Willie – to catch the flavour of our festive Christmas activities. In addition to the school concerts referenced in an earlier

Gathering by the tree on Christmas day, 2018.

post, Betty & I hosted our family for at least the 30th time at Marigold’s Restaurant, while Andrew hosted the traditional Christmas dinner at his Winnipeg home. Everyone contributed to making a fabulous feast! By the marvels of modern technology, I was able to bring the Queen and her annual Christmas message into Andrew’s dining room before we snapped the Christmas crackers. A great time was had by all!

Not a lot of other traffic on the road…

Back to the subject of this post:  It wasn’t quite as cold on Dec. 26/18 as last year, but maybe we were a little more prepared. Our family outfitted us with hand, feet and bum warmers, and we headed into the winter wonderland with a full propane tank to run

Driving down the Interstate, before the road disappeared…

our furnace. While fairly well readied, I forgot to consider the need to open my driver’s window at the U.S. border, to hand our passports over to the border officer. The window was frozen shut, so all I could do was smile and wave to the officer. Of course that led to us being pulled over for further inspection, which was relatively quick and painless. Before he left our motorhome, the officer warned us that we were heading into a blizzard, so drive carefully! What adventure would lie ahead?

Walmart parking lot in Fargo, with plows continuously passing our motorhome. We decided not to stay…

Because we never know which food items will be accepted or rejected at the border (the officer did make a point of checking our empty fridge and freezer) we planned to stock up and power nap at the new Walmart in Fargo, North Dakota. However, by the time we reached Fargo, the wind and snow had picked up considerably, and we decided to push on rather than shop.  Traffic became lighter, and the road became whiter. If not for the fact that the road is straight and flat in that section of the Midwest, we would have had to depart the slippery stuff much sooner.  As it was, we were able to reach the Dakota Sioux Casino parking lot, on the border with South Dakota, before calling it quits for the night.

Resting at the Flying J in Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Through most of South Dakota the next day, we had the Interstate to ourselves, with only 3 vehicles passing us southbound, even though I was driving at no more that 45 mph.  There were only a handful of hearty travellers heading northbound through the blizzard that day.  Usually, the Sioux Falls Flying J is just a quick pit stop for us, but it became our overnight resting place on the night of Dec. 27.  (I was about to say that it became our final resting place, but didn’t want to give you the wrong impression. Lol.)

Thankful for the truck wash that finally removed our accumulated grime.

The road was clear by the time we reached Omaha, Nebraska, and we pushed on through Kansas City and Joplin, Missouri to our first actual campsite: Ivys Cove RV Retreat, in the Ozark Mountains just west of Little Rock, Arkansas. Fortunately, as we pulled off the Interstate, we came across a truck wash that did an excellent job of removing all the road slush and grime from both our motorhome and Smart car. I have often had to wash the vehicles myself, with a stack of U.S. quarters (they don’t use loonies or toonies), so was very pleasantly surprised to have a team of 8 men make short work of returning our shines.

Clear sailing, with blue skies and sunshine in Arkansas on Dec. 28/18.

Since we had tossed all our freezables inside the motorhome just before we left, this campground has provided the first opportunity to de-winterize (get the antifreeze out of our water lines; fill the fresh water tank; and turn on the hot water heater) unpack, and put things away in their proper spots.  As might be expected after driving through a blizzard, one of our levelers began leaking hydraulic fluid when we arrived, and our fridge has stopped working. We are hoping that both involve quick fixes, but the local RV techs are closed until Jan. 2/19, so we might have to hold up here for awhile.  It’s a nice enough place and the weather is moderate – not a hint of snow in the forecast – so we’re good to go (or stay…) whither the weather!

Our campsite comes with cable TV, so Betty & I couldn’t resist turning on the Weather Channel. Because we are at the end of one year, about to enter another, the channel featured all the extreme weather events of 2018, with many dire predictions for 2019. If we were still in a “bricks ‘n sticks” home, we’d just have to hunker down until the heavy weather passed. This week we turned the ignition key and kept driving until we left the inclement weather behind. Whether that will be possible on our further adventures, only time will tell. Just like the professional forecasters, we have about a 50-50 chance of an accurate prediction. Let’s hope we all can choose the right half in 2019!

Cheers!

A stop for coffee at the new Flying J south of Winnipeg on Dec. 26. Gas price is low for Canada, but not near as low as U.S. gas prices!

Venturing Into The Great Unknown

Venturing into the great unknown…

In a sense, we are all venturing into the unknown as we approach a new year. What will 2019 have in store for us?  If your plan is to settle into your favorite chair to watch your favorite television programs, then 2019 might hold a little more certainty.  But as Betty & I continue our great adventure, it is difficult to anticipate exactly what we will encounter.  While we have some ideas about where we wish to go and what we hope to do, there are many uncertainties about getting there – especially with a disinterested navigator like Betty! She has many other interests, but GPS and maps just aren’t her things… LOL.

So I’ll be relying on The Band’s Up On Cripple Creek to get to our first destination:

“… you know where I wanna go?
Straight down the Mississippi river, to the Gulf of Mexico
To Lake Charles, Louisiana, little Betty girl that I once knew
She told me just to come on by, if there’s anything she could do

Up on Cripple Creek she sends me
If I spring a leak she mends me
I don’t have to speak, she defends me
A drunkard’s dream if I ever did see one.”

A drunkard’s dream if I ever did see one…

After leaving Manitoba, the Interstates take us straight down through North & South Dakotas, Iowa, Kansas, and Arkansas, before depositing us at Palmetto Island State Park,  just east of Lake Charles, Louisiana. While I anticipate our wine rack will be full of “Wally wine” (Walmart Special Reserve: $2.98) by the time we get there, I’m still not sure it will be a drunkard’s dream! LOL.

In any event, Betty & I may usher in the new year at Palmetto Island, or head east to New Orleans, or further east again to Buccaneer State Park in Mississippi. It all depends on which way the wind blows. Our first stop in 2019 might be Meaher State Park on Mobile Bay in Alabama, with our first reservation at Big Lagoon State Park, on the Gulf of Mexico in Florida, from Jan. 7 – 15/19. From there we hope to make our way around the State of Florida, stopping in Orlando for a Disney visit with our kids and grandkids in mid-February, and with our old Winnipeg next door neighbours who are wintering in the area.

Of course, our furthest south destination is Key West, in the Florida Keys, where we hope to take in the attractions before heading up the coast to Cape Canaveral, Daytona Beach, Savannah Georgia, Charleston and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, to name a few bucket list stops before beginning our journey home.

Whether your current vision for 2019 is clear or cloudy, Betty & I hope and pray that you can enjoy the full richness of life on planet earth as you venture into the great unknown. Happy New Year!

Cheers!

“Now there’s one thing in the whole wide world I sure do love to see
That’s how that little love of mine puts her doughnut in my tea…” LOL

Merry Christmas!

As we count down the days until our departure on Dec. 26, here are a few pics from our family to yours:

Our daughter, Valerie, brings some homemade Imperial cookies, while granddaughters Georgia & Isabella hold an attractive, custom-made gingerbread house & creche.
Our grandson, James, waits for a special Christmas visit.
Stockings are hung by the fireplace with care…
Georgia (in red dress) plays percussion in one of her school’s concerts.
Isabella & Georgia participate in their school’s concert finale.

Merry Christmas & cheers for the new year!

Dreaming Of A White Christmas

While there are no guarantees in life, Betty & I can be pretty much assured that we will see snow on the ground in Winnipeg this Christmas. Just to be on the safe side, the snow arrived in early November, and we may very well have to brush it off the old Boy and the Smart before heading to Florida on Dec. 26.  In fact, the white stuff could remain in southern Manitoba until our planned return in early May. As a contingency, on our return trip we are considering holding up near Betty’s brother in Amherstburg, Ontario, until the snow melts in Manitoba.  Amherstburg is outside Ontario’s major snow belt – actually south of Detroit and on a similar latitude as northern California. We should be safe there in our plan to never have to winterize our motorhome again!

Dashing through the snow (or at least past it) on a previous trip.

Some of you might think, why not just stay in Florida until we know that the white stuff has left Manitoba? As Canadian snowbirds, we are limited to a certain number of days in the U.S., before Uncle Sam comes knocking on our motorhome door. Not only does our calculation need to account for U.S. days in the calendar year, it also must track rolling days. So if we were to spend three months down south at the end of one year, and four months at the beginning of the next, we would be well over our limit and subject to deportation or refusal of entry on future visits.  The Family Motor Coach Association (FMCA) is holding its hundredth international rally in nearby North Dakota next August, and Betty & I would like to attend. In order to do so, we must find an extra five “U.S. days”, either at the end of this trip south, or the beginning of the next.  BTW, if you cross the border at 11:00 pm and return at 1:00 am, that is considered two days, not two hours…

Since this blog was established to keep our kids, grandkids and friends informed of our adventures, there have been no posts for over a month – the longest period since we began. Of course that is because we are not on the road, and haven’t been taking pictures of our familiar surroundings in snowy Manitoba.  We get to see our family in person and don’t need to share pictures from a distance. Yeah!  But as we visit friends and talk to more distant relatives, they wonder if some kind of update could be added. Ok, here’s a very brief update, with possibly another before we go south.

Our son’s wintery Winnipeg home. We are staying on the 3rd floor, so we’re getting our exercise. lol

Well, it has been a very busy time, with check-ins and checkups.  Betty and I have been having some great visits with family and friends, noticing how the aging process affects the very young and old alike! The old Boy was delivered to Stylings RV in Lockport, Manitoba for maintenance and upgrades. The Smart spent a week at the Mercedes Benz dealership addressing issues related to our fuel pump failure on Cape Cod, and I was forced to drive a new Mercedes for the week. LOL.  Betty & I have both visited our dentist, and I got a medical checkup.  Betty has been catching up on her yoga practice with our daughters – one of whom is a yoga instructor, so that helps! Charlie got his meds renewed by our vet, and we’ve shopped on-line and in person for whatever we’ll need on our upcoming trip.

The Christmas season is a great time to spend with family and friends, and Betty & I are blessed with the many relationships developed over the years. We wish all our friends and family best wishes and God’s blessings for a happy Christmas and a merry New Year! And yes, we appreciate the white Christmas where we join with others in singing “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow”.  But as we contemplate the next phase of our overlandish odyssey, Betty & I are also saying:  “Lets go, lets go, lets go!” LOL

Cheers!

Lessons Learned In Our First Year Full-Timing

Ready for the road in our Cruisemaster.

While we might still be considered newbies in a number of ways, with much more to learn on our overlandish odyssey, Betty & I have come to a few realizations during our first year of travel as full-time RVers. These learnings are specific to our situation, but some aspects may be generalized for others. That is the purpose of this post.

  1. Bigger is not necessarily better: As we prepared to sell our “bricks & sticks” home and move into a motorhome, we thought of all the “stuff” we had accumulated over the years, and all the “stuff” we would need to take with us
    A 1998 Prevost H3-45 motorhome with 2 slides: Looks great inside & out!

    on our journey. My conclusion – not that of my wife, LOL – was that we needed a 45’ tag axle diesel pusher to get us down the road. My preference was a 12 – 15 year old Prevost H3-45, because of the huge available basement space. While I still look longingly at any Prevost that passes us by, I now realize that would have been the wrong choice for us. 

    Our old Georgie Boy, with Smart car on behind.

           

Our 2005 Georgie Boy CruiseMaster was already paid off before we sold our home, so rather than putting our money into a depreciating asset (more on that later), Betty & I chose to invest in keeping our Boy roadworthy, while adding a few up-to-date bells and whistles.

When our 4 kids grew up and moved out, we downsized our home and rented heated and unheated storage lockers for the first year. At that point we realized we had never visited the storage lockers and could therefore easily live without that stuff. So we got rid of the lockers and their contents. The first few posts to this blog describe the agonizing decisions involved in decluttering as we downsized from a home to a motorhome. It can be a tough process, but very rewarding and liberating in the end!

Parked by the Atlantic ocean in Massachusetts.

At first, we crammed in whatever we thought we would need for our 5 year adventure. But after our first winter, we realized that we were carrying around more stuff than we were likely to use on the next leg of our journey.  We have learned, confirmed by a number of other full-timers, that renting storage lockers is a waste of money, despite the fact they are everywhere we go on our travels!  Our reality is that we are cheating a little bit by still keeping a bunch of “stuff” in the corner of our son’s basement. But we are committed to going through all that next summer, and deciding on a better home for those former treasures. BTW, Betty & I realize that the heartbreaking exercise of getting rid of our worldly possessions gets passed on to our children when we die, so if we can help dispose of a few things now, it lifts the burden for them later: a worthwhile exercise!

Staying at a KOA in Montgomery, Texas for an FMCA rally.

Ok, now out of the morbid and into the living! Betty & I have learned that we prefer national, state and provincial parks for our back-to-nature camping experience. While they don’t necessarily offer all the amenities of a private paved or gravel parking lot (water, sewer and 50 amp electrical on every site, with no trees to obstruct your slide-outs), they usually provide much larger campsites surrounded by some gorgeous scenery. One need only scroll back to some of our previous

Relaxing in a nice state park on Cape Cod

posts to see what we’re talking about.  Many parks are nestled in forests, precariously close to rugged cliffs, or near the sound of crashing waves. They cannot accommodate 45’ diesel pushers, and knocking down the trees and leveling the rugged terrain would take away from the natural beauty of these spots.  In many parks, 35’ is the maximum permitted length, so those beautiful parks are not an option for a longer rig.

Heading into a scenic look-out on the Cabot Trail.

Larger RVs also cannot be accommodated in many scenic road-side pull offs. For instance, we drove the Cabot Trail (Aug. 16/18 post: The Majestic Cabot Trail) in our Smart car, stopping to take a closer look at amazing views along the way. Since motorhomes would not fit in most of these scenic look-outs, drivers and their passengers were forced to sail by and miss out on their trip’s raison d’être.

In the belly of the beast for one of our ferry rides.

Also, the bigger the RV, the more it weighs and the more gas required to move it down the road. Ferries usually charge by the foot after a certain length, and some smaller ferries have a limit to the size of RV they can accommodate. Toll roads often charge by the number of axles on a vehicle, and some parking lots and rest areas simply don’t have room for larger vehicles. While the cost of gas, tolls etc. may not be prohibitive for short trips, it can add up substantially over time, taking away funds that could be better spent elsewhere.

The more Betty & I travel, the more we realize that we can live without a lot of extra baggage. Our focus these days is more on what we can get rid of, rather than what we can accumulate. Living in a smaller RV, we can ignore all the TV and magazine ads enticing us to buy a bigger this or that. When we realize we can be content with less, we are liberated from carrying lots of stuff in a larger motorhome. For us, bigger is definitely not better!

2. We Should Slow Down! In mapping out our 5 year travel plan to visit 48 states and 10 provinces, I thought I was being conservative in limiting travel days to 3 ½ – 4 hours: breaking camp between 10:30 – 11:00 am, stopping for lunch between noon and 1:30 pm, and setting up at our new location between 3:30 – 4:00 pm. That part of the schedule has worked out quite well in our first year. However, we have already visited more than half the states and provinces, because often I only allowed one or two days for each stop. That meant that we were usually more focused on grocery shopping and getting ready to leave, than on enjoying the surroundings at our campground.

Spending a week in our unserviced site at Linkletter Provincial Park on PEI included 120′ of shoreline.

We learned that this overlandish odyssey is not a race, and we should slow down and smell the roses a little more along the way. Why do we need to get up and move so often? Unless there is a hurricane or tornado coming in, we hope to spend a little more time at some of the nicer locations we unexpectedly encounter.  As an example, we only intended to spend 5 days on Prince Edward Island, but after we got there and fell in love with the laid back beauty, we spent at least 2 weeks enjoying just a fraction of what the island has to offer. In future, we hope to return to places like that and spend longer periods soaking up the ambiance and scenery.

Sunset over the St. Lawrence at our free camping spot in Pointe-a-la Frigate.

3. We Can Stay Off The Grid More. While we currently have a glitch with our inverter/charger, we have found the addition of solar power to our motorhome to be very liberating. In addition to the aforementioned national, state, and provincial parks that don’t always have electrical posts at each site, we have accessed many other overnight spots without shore

Our very welcoming free Boondockers Welcome site on the Miramichi River in New Brunswick.

power. Earlier posts note stays in Walmart and Cracker Barrel parking lots, and wonderful visits through Boondockers Welcome and Harvest Host.  Bureau of Land Management (BLM) campsites are a great find, as are the many free camping web sites listed on the Internet. Almost none of them offer shore power, but if you have solar panels, it is possible to dry camp for free or cheap across the continent. 

2 x 250w solar panels on our roof absorb the Arizona sun.

Some camp spots allow generators, and we have used ours from time to time, but there is nothing better than quietly sitting outside in nature, knowing that you are not disturbing your neighbours, near or far. The initial cost of a solar system may be high, but Betty & I believe it pays for itself by reducing campground fees, while liberating us to consider other camping options.

Related to this, and tied to the point above about slowing down: We have found it better not to make reservations all along our route. If we do, we feel obligated to move along in order to prevent a cancellation fee. Reservations constrain us from staying longer at beautiful spots we unexpectedly encounter.

Free Harvest Host camping at Domaine L’Ange Gardien winery near Quebec City.

Having said that, there are times when we have a particular event or place on our bucket list, and the only way to ensure a campsite is to make a reservation. For example, some of our kids and grandkids are meeting us in Florida in February for a Disney visit. Their vacation schedule is fixed, so our campground reservations are required to ensure we can enjoy the time together.

One of the most unique spots in North America to dry camp is Quartzsite, Arizona. We spent 2 weeks there last winter (see March 24/18: Quartzsite & Controlling The Sun, & March 27/18: A Desert Oasis) for a total of $40. That allowed us to camp anywhere on BLM land, fill up with fresh water as required, and use their dump station.  We learned from others at Quartzsite that it is possible to save considerably on accommodation costs and apply those funds for other uses. Next winter we are thinking of spending more time there, in order to explore a variety of other options.

Experiencing the desert in Quartzsite, Arizona

4. A New RV Is Not Necessarily A Better RV: For years advertisers have promoted almost everything as “new and improved”. We have learned that, when it comes to RVs, new is not necessarily improved. For one thing, as earlier mentioned, motorhomes are a depreciating asset.

A 2000 Prevost H3-45 with 2 slides.

While I would love to be in a position to own a brand new Prevost bus conversion by Marathon, the average cost is around $1,700,000 plus or minus a few hundred thousand.  It becomes used and depreciates as soon as you drive it off the lot, losing about $100,000 in value for each of its first 10 years. That’s a million dollars in depreciation! If you can afford that, good for you! After that, it drops in value by only about $75,000/year, and levels off at around $50,000/year after 13 – 15 years. These coaches are extremely well made and designed to carry large passenger loads safely over long distances. They are a much more sturdy construction than fiberglass motorhomes built for 2 people, and like many high end vehicles, they don’t change appearance every year. Unless one is very familiar with model nuances, it is difficult to guess a 1998 model from a 2008, or even a 2018 for that matter. They are built well, and built to last, but cost a lot to repair, if you can find a shop that will do it.

Motorhome Specialist in Alvarado, Texas has a huge selection of coaches.

High end fiberglass motorhomes, selling for say $600,000, also depreciate significantly when driven off the lot, losing as much as $100,000/year in value for the first few years. At the same time, warrantees are often limited to only a year or two, and many motorhome dealers will not service your rig if you bought it somewhere else. That is a real problem if you are travelling the continent.

This Entegra came with a 2 year warranty.

In touring the manufacturing plants of Elkhart, Indiana we learned, as have many others, that most motorhomes are cranked out as fast as possible on assembly lines that have little or no focus on quality control. That is an unbelievable statement when one is considering investing six figures in a vehicle, either as a home or for pleasure!   When I mentioned during a tour that the black tank rinse valve has never worked in our rig since new, I was told that it was likely installed backwards, as both ends look similar. Who is checking to see that installed items really work?

The interior of an Entegra motorhome, as seen in 2013.

For me, listening to promotional advertising that says “New for this year is…” should be a red flag. What it means is that item either didn’t work last year, and they are trying to fix it, or they are incorporating something that isn’t tried and true. The old saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” applies here. Changing the shape of the headlights, just for the sake of change, means that you will have difficulty sourcing those headlights two years from now, when you need replacements.

Parked among the cacti in Tucson, Arizona.

Betty & I learned that it takes a couple of years to work all the bugs out of a new motorhome. (BTW, we did buy our Boy new, and drove it to Alaska in our first year. LOL). One of our RV plant tour guides told us that it is best not to go too far afield in the first year, because there are going to be a lot of big and little adjustments required. A number of the motorhome magazines we receive have recall pages that list dozens of reasons why new and used RVs need to go back for servicing.

5. Smaller RV Service Centres Often Provide Better Service: As noted in previous posts, all motorhomes need regular service, either for maintenance or emergency repairs. (see April 17/18: Sweetness & Light;July 5/18: Heidi RV Rocks/ Hitch House not so much…;Sept. 22/18: Disillusioned With Camping World, Inspired by Major’s RV, and Sept. 26: Oh, oh!) I won’t repeat all that now, and encourage the reader to check these posts. Suffice to say that, while Camping World in the U.S. was our go-to destination for repairs over the past decade, we have learned that smaller independent RV service centres can and do provide better service. We still haven’t learned how best to differentiate the good from the bad (not all web sites can be believed…), but over time we hope to establish a list of trustworthy repair shops that can keep us going down the road. In the meantime, word of mouth from other RVers and campground hosts can be most helpful.

Our campsite at Quechee State Park in Vermont was surrounded by beautiful tall trees.

6. Some Routines Are Helpful, As We Get Older (LOL): Betty & I have developed a number of habits over the past year. Most of them are quite helpful! We have learned that it is good to prepare to leave a campsite in a certain order (make sure our power steps are up before the levelers come up, for instance), and to set up camp in a certain order (put the levelers down before extending the slide-outs, for instance). While travelling, we also routinely listen to audio books to make the time pass, and map out possible rest stops along the way. We learned early –from our parents- that it is good to have a place for everything, and to put everything back in its place. While our home on wheels may be small, it’s surprising how much time we can spend looking for something that was stored in a different location. I won’t bore you with our other routines – suffice to say that memory isn’t always what it used to be – so following patterns can prevent mishaps.

Al fresco dinner together at our campsite in Shediac, New Brunswick

7. We Learned We Still Enjoy Each Other’s Company: Whether or not this learning is generalizable, Betty & I have found that we love to share these adventures together! We have met folks along the way who have lost their spouses. And while they continue to soldier on, it just seems way more lonely to watch that magnificent sunset by yourself, rather than together with someone you love and care about. We both have hobbies and times that allow us to be alone, but this overlandish odyssey has created a series of great memories (so far, LOL) together: A great bonding experience!

At Cape Hatteras National Seashore, the sign notes that one of us is a genius, and I am pointing to that one… LOL

Well, I’m sure we’ve learned more than seven things in the past year of full-timing, but maybe that’s enough for now. I am far beyond the 600 words targeted for these posts, but far short of the book that could be written about our jaunting journey –even if we are only one year in…  So we’ll sign off with these words of encouragement: There are wonderful, interesting people all across our continent, and it is fun to connect and reconnect with them. If you are one of those we’ve met during our adventures, thanks for taking the time to talk with us and share your learnings. Best wishes on your future travels!

Cheers!

The moon rises through the clouds over Shelburne, Nova Scotia on our first night at The Islands Provincial Park. It’s great to share that view with someone you love!