Virginia, Tennessee, and Alabama

Hello friends! Yes, it’s been awhile. We’ve been busy. This retirement life is hard work! Seriously, we are having fun, but there’s lots of planning involved. Where should we go next? What campgrounds are available in the area? What things should we see and do at our destination or along the way?

Stops since our last post:

  • Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia – The state park there focuses on John Brown’s raid as the major historical event. Quite interesting.
  • Scenic Skyline Drive took us through the Shenandoah National Park
  • Luray Caverns – met a couple from RI, also traveling in a Winnebago View
  • Appalachian Trail – walked a small portion – learned about the AT14 State Challenge from the Park Service Guide at Shenandoah National Park
  • James River State Park – biking trails
  • Grayson Highlands State Park – fog!
  • Knoxville, Nashville, and Memphis Tennessee – getting our city fix
  • Birmingham and Montgomery Alabama – home to major events in the struggle for civil rights

Shenendoah National Park & Luray Caverns

We stayed 2 nights in the Shenandoah Valley. There are several caverns in the area, including Luray Caverns which by most accounts are the largest and most interesting. We also drove Skyline Drive with beautiful views of the valley. In the video below you can see the caves and mountain views, plus a small sample of what it looks like from Wandah’s “cockpit”. You’ll see winding mountain roads, driving in the rain, and flat and dry highways. We really enjoy the high perch and large windows. You can see so much more in the RV than in a passenger car!

Knoxville, Nashville, and Memphis

Heading southwest (mostly west) from Virginia, we stopped in several Tennessee cities in a row. We had never been to any of them, and it was fun discovering their charms. Sorry the video is so long! There was so much to see and do that even after cutting the video down to less than half it’s original length, it’s still over 9 minutes long. You’ve been warned!

Knoxville, – We started our day with a trip to the top of the Sunsphere – it was built for the 1982 World’s Fair – it’s 26 stories tall and the gold-colored, glass paneled dome is 75 feet in diameter and provides great views of the city. Fun fact – the Sunsphere was featured on The Simpson’s as the Wigsphere. From there, we walked over to Market Square where a young man was practicing his skills on a public piano. Afterwards, we took an outside table at Tupelo Honey Cafe and enjoyed an afternoon snack of the area’s popular banana pudding. It’s everywhere. If you like bananas and pudding, it’s tasty.
Bean Pot Campground – stayed just one night, but couldn’t pass this place up when we saw the name. Of course, it had nothing to do with Boston, but somehow we felt a little sense of “home” here.

Nashville – We chose a campground without much personality, but it was super close to the city. That’s generally the trade off when visiting cities. Otherwise, we prefer State Park campgrounds. Rather than drive Wandah into Nashville, we took an Uber to the city, and walked all over the city. We started at the Parthenon (a replica of the actual Parthenon in Athens Greece built originally in 1897 for a world’s fair). It also houses an enormous statue of goddess Athena completely covered in gold leaf. Other points of interest we visited include: Centennial Park, Vanderbilt University Campus, AMAZING chicken at McDougal’s, Music Row, Country Music Hall of Fame, Woolworth’s on 5th (made famous in the civil rights struggles) the State Capital and the Tennessee State Museum. This last stop was an unexpected gem; so interesting with great exhibits on southern culture, food, art and history. And it’s free! We loved it.

On our last day in Nashville it was raining – AGAIN! We had a lot of rain in October. So, we checked out the Gaylord Opryland hotel and convention center. It has a beautiful indoor conservatory space with over 50,000 plants, fountains, and several waterfalls. A river runs through it, complete with a boat ride. There are also retail shops and many restaurants.

Memphis – When we arrived in Memphis we discovered a large art and music festival along the riverfront. The next day we started with a walk to Arkansas! There’s a nice footbridge across the river. Good exercise, nice views, and our first and only (so far) visit to AK. Later that day we took a 3 hour food tour in the downtown area. We tried some local dishes and learned a bit of Memphis history, too. Later we returned to Beale street for a drink. They close off the street to cars, and people walk up and down with their “to go” drinks. Music was coming from everywhere, street performers were doing handsprings down the middle of the street, quite a scene. We also had amazing Bar B Que ribs at Central BBQ. OMG Amazing!

After BBQ we noticed the Lorraine Motel right next door. As you may know this was the site of MLK’s assassination. We’ve seen it so many times in film and TV, and the exterior facade has been preserved just as it was on that fateful day in the 60’s.

We almost skipped Graceland. Lori wasn’t sure she wanted to risk ruining her childhood memories of The King. She fondly remembers watching Elvis movies and listening to his music with her cousins back in the day, and after his death, she often imagined visiting Graceland. Mark convinced her to knock it off her bucket list, and she was not disappointed. These pictures show some interior rooms, but what Lori enjoyed the most couldn’t be captured on film. Throughout the house, were images of Elvis as a regular guy, enjoying his family. In the lower level, they show his old home movies with Priscilla and Lisa Marie swimming in the pool, celebrating birthdays, and riding horses on the property. Happy to say, the memories are fully preserved.

On our last day in Memphis we took another traveler’s advice to see – believe it or not – the huge Bass Pro pyramid. Inside are wilderness exhibits, a koi pond, an alligator pond, and much more – but the main attraction is a free standing glass elevator to the restaurant and viewing platform at the top. Would have been a great view if not for the dense fog that rolled in during lunch before we got a chance to take any pictures!

Birmingham and Montgomery

Birmingham – visited the Art Museum. Ironically Mark finally had some “Nashville Hot Chicken” which is all the rage in TN. It was fantastic, and they had deviled eggs as a side! These folks really know chicken. We also spent an afternoon at the Birmingham Zoo. Quite a nice way to spend a sunny afternoon. Sure beats working. :)

Montgomery – was on our “must” list, in order to see the relatively new National Memorial for Peace and Justice. Shocking and moving to see this huge and somber memorial to victims of lynching by whites bent on maintaining their dominance over formerly enslaved people. Another excellent resource to understand racist oppression of American blacks is Montgomery’s Legacy Museum. Very much worthwhile.

Ok, we’re out of steam. We hope to blog in “smaller bites” from here on out. We’ll see!

Next Posts:

  • RV Daily Living
  • Chattanooga, Cloudland Canyons, Rock City

Roots, Ruts, Rocks, and Ru-roh!

This post is a special installment, relating the strange events of a single day.

Tuesday, October 15. Clarksburg, Maryland.

Ignorance is bliss, they say. Blissfully we decided to ride the bike trails near Little Bennett regional park campground. The bike trails were, inconveniently, half a mile away on the other side of a river valley. To get there, we’d have to take some hiker-only trails. A friendly park employee pooh-poohed the hiker-only designation, saying they’d be a fine way for us to get to the bike trails. So off we went.

At first it was not too bad. A gentle downhill slope, not too many roots, rocks and ruts. But soon the slope became steeper and the trail rougher, and we stood on our pedals with brakes clamped as we continued to lose elevation – every minute incurring more vertical debt: a commitment to climb the same distance to return home. Though it became clear that this BMX-style ride was a poor match for our semi-street ebikes, apparently some odd and unfortunate cognitive bias made turning back seem even worse. Ordinarily Mark is the one to throw caution to the wind, but in this case he offered to abort the mission, but the uncharacteristically intrepid Lori wanted to push on.

Somehow we reached the river bottom intact. We crossed a bridge, and found the “natural surface” bike trails (dirt and gravel) still somewhat of a challenge with very steep sections and lots of unmarked branching this way and that. Still, we enjoyed them well enough, and spent an hour exploring. Eventually it seemed prudent to start back. We located ourselves on the map. Retracing our steps would be dull and take too long, so we chose another not-for-bikes “shortcut” that would lead us to paved road and eliminate several miles of trail. The shortcut turned out to be a steep hill climb, and we needed full power assist just to keep moving up the steep and rutted hiking path.

We emerged to find the road worse than anticipated. We’d have to ride down a steep, no-shoulder road with bursts of traffic roaring down it. Lori was terrified, but we’d given ourselves little alternative. We blasted down the road, hitting 30+ mph, with fortunately few cars passing us. This led us back to the river bottom, bridge, and the long climb out. Again, we relied heavily on the electric assist (these bikes weigh 45 lbs after all!) and made the rough bouncy hill climb out.

Finally, we made our way to a paved campground road. Victory!! We rode in triumph back to the RV for a well earned rest and refreshments.

But…

Just as the bikes were secured back on the rack, Lori frantically felt her back pocket for her phone. She had a look of panic on her face and Mark knew…. the phone was lost!

In a panic, we took the bikes back off the rack to retrace our recent path. We scanned the campground roads with little hope but not knowing what else to do. Suddenly Mark stopped, calling for Lori to follow him back to the RV. He had remembered Apple’s “find my phone” feature.

During our entire 8 mile ride, we’d seen only 2 other people – so the chances that anyone would find the phone seemed vanishingly small, and the clock was ticking. Not only would we lose light in a few hours, but the phone battery would surely die. And rain was on it’s way for the evening and into the night. It was find it now or find it never.

Logging into iCloud revealed a location near a trail we’d been on, but not quite on it. Assuming the location accuracy was within a reasonable margin of error, we hastily loaded up the bikes, readied the RV (unhook water, electric and sewer, put in the slide) and tore off to find the trailhead. 10 minutes later we arrived, lucky to find a parking area there as well.

Mark jumped on his bike and rode to point on the trail we’d been on that was closest to the “find my phone” locator coordinates. He returned 10 minutes later without success. The next attempt was to go to the actual spot identified by the “find my phone”, even though we hadn’t ridden on that particular trail. When Mark reached the spot, he used his own phone to confirm the exact location. Strangely, it was now reporting a different spot, on road we had not been anywhere near! What??

Apple’s “find my phone” shows us where Lori’s lost phone was last “seen” by the cloud.

Mark returned the the RV, feeling defeated, and a little frustrated by the “find my phone” feature. What had seemed so hopeful, was turning out to be a bust.

Lori suggested to Mark that he call her phone. An obvious thing in retrospect, but we really hadn’t consider the possibility of anyone finding it. We were completely alone on the trails we’d ridden. But we called anyway. Why not? And there was an answer!!! Oh joy!

As it turned out, the finder wasn’t able to reach us with the locked phone, so he had headed home. Unfortunately, he lived almost 20 miles away! We got the bike back on the rack, got the RV turned around, and headed for the rendezvous – tired, but overjoyed at the prospect of getting the phone back. We wound up (in the 26′ RV) in the dense historic downtown city of Frederick, MD. Not RV friendly! But finding an alley to turn down, we parked, and Lori waited with the RV while Mark made the connection.

The guy who had found the phone was very nice, happy to have helped us out. He even recommended some places for the celebration that we’d independently decided was a fitting end to the crazy day. The restaurant turned out to be quite good, with a mellow chardonnay and crisp hefeweizen amplifying the pleasure of a satisfactory outcome.

Savoring success with Shrimp Scampi at the Ragin’ Reef.

P.S. Our happy ending nearly reverted back to nightmare! At the restaurant, Mark had parked the RV in a fenced rear section of the parking lot (trying to be “out of the way”). Lori, concerned, mentioned it to the restaurant host, who advised us to move it, as the fenced area is owned by another business who often closes and locks it until the following day! Mark moved the RV immediately, and sure enough, when we returned after dinner – the fenced area was locked. Whew!

This is *not* the kind of adventure we were hoping for on this trip, but of course some tribulation is inevitable, and thank goodness it all worked out in the end. Hope we’re not using up all our good luck!

See ya!

A Week of Firsts!

16 days into the trip and we’ve already been to Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland. Mark created this video of our visits to:

  • Colt State Park, Green Animals Topiary, and Newport Cliff Walk (Rhode Island)
  • Gillette Castle and Devil’s Hopyard (Connecticut)
  • Nockamixon State Park (Pennsylvania)

Since our last post, we’ve had a series of “firsts” that we’d like to share.

After our visit to Gillette Castle in CT, we had a quick overnight in NJ. We stayed at Donaldson’s Farm in Hackettstown through our Harvest Hosts membership. It was a peaceful place to sleep that night, along the edge of their corn fields. The next morning we enjoyed shopping at the farm stand before heading off again. We stocked up on fresh fruits and veggies, plus some baked goods.

Our stay at Donaldson’s was our first boondocking experience (also referred to as dry camping) which means we were not hooked up to any services. No water, sewer or electric. We learned a little more about balancing our battery/solar power that night. We knew we would need to keep our fridge running, use some lights, and turn on the water pump for flushing or using the sinks. We relied on our charged battery and some additional solar power, and we stored some fresh water in the tank before leaving our previous location. We had also followed the weather reports and noticed it would stay in the low 50’s overnight, so we wouldn’t need the heater. The next morning, the RV was nicely warmed by the sun. Everything went well, and we are happy to have that successful experience under our belts! We like the Harvest Hosts concept and now we’ll feel more confident using it in the future.

After New Jersey, we booked a few nights at a campground in PA, and since it was during the week, the place was super quiet. We had the whole back area of the campground to ourselves. It was there that we had our first campfire of the trip. With 2 large logs and only a small amount of kindling, it was a challenge to get the logs to catch. Mark fanned the flames for a long time, but those darn stubborn logs wouldn’t fully catch, no matter how hard he tried, so he eventually got out his battery powered air pump to create a blast furnace effect, which finally did the trick. That was a funny sight! While sitting around the campfire, we popped open a bottle of champagne to celebrate our first full week on the road. Cheers to new adventures!

The next day, we visited Nockamixon State Park where we had another opportunity to enjoy our bikes. The park is beautiful with wide, paved trails for walking or biking, interesting bird life, and great water views all around. However, the highlight of our time in PA was our visit to Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square. Fortunately, our schedule is flexible, so when we saw clouds predicted for Friday, we changed our plans and went to Longwood on Thursday instead. We had a perfect sunny day for exploring the extensive grounds. There are many different garden areas, a conservatory, several fountain gardens, an outdoor theater, a few large tree houses, a children’s area and an old homestead. We took a guided tour of the current exhibition, Blooms and Bamboo, and later in the day, we took a tour of the Homestead, which focused more on the history of Longwood. A highlight for visitors, are the musical fountain shows offered several times each day, especially the illuminated evening shows. For anyone visiting the PA area, Longwood is a great day trip.

Late Thursday evening, we rolled into the Delaware Seashore State Park. Our site was on the end of a row, overlooking the Indian River Inlet. In fact, we were right at the point where the river meets the sea, which makes for very interesting water patterns. It was cool to watch as the river and the sea struggled together.

We could watch the river from our dinette but a five minute walk led to the surfers in the sea.

As you might imagine, campgrounds and campsites vary quite a lot, and we are continuing to figure all of that out. Our Delaware site was very flat, which is a nice feature in a campsite. At our site in PA we had to gather large, flat rocks to put under our tires to level the RV, and that was not the first time! After that, we went shopping and bought our first set of leveling blocks. Super handy!

Friday was a bit gray, and a little chilly, so we decided to spend time on some chores. We tidied up the RV, which takes about 15 minutes from top to bottom! Lori likes this a lot. Then we drove off to a grocery store and our first trip to a laundromat. It was handy moving the groceries from the cart and straight into the RV fridge/cabinets. So convenient – as was sitting in the RV having our lunch while the clothes were in the washing machines. When Lori returned to move the clothes over, she got into a conversation with our “dryer neighbor” – a retired teacher. They chatted until all their clothes were dried and folded. Big surprise! :-)

On Saturday, we drove an hour over to MD and spent the day at Assateague Island National Seashore, our first National Park. Lori had wanted to visit this area since our son, Tyler, camped here a few years ago. It was also the perfect opportunity to pick up a National Parks Pass. We’re all set now for entry into the rest of the National Parks on our list. Assateague Island is known for their wild horse population. These beautiful animals roam the beaches and marsh areas freely, untamed, and truly wild. It’s quite a sight, but visitors must also be cautious. There are warnings everywhere to keep a safe distance from any horse you encounter. Forty feet is the recommended distance. If they feel threatened, they will bite. If they get spooked, they sometimes run towards the road and get hit by cars. While riding our bikes, we came upon several wild horses grazing along our path. We watched them for a bit and then gently biked passed. The island is home to a variety of other wildlife – such as deer, rabbits, raccoons, turtles, various sea creatures and a huge selection of birds, including bald eagles. We saw a beautiful grand egret along one of the marsh trails.

We’re currently in Maryland at Little Bennett Regional Park. After a brief visit with a friend in the Baltimore area, this was a convenient stop along the way to our next destination – Shenandoah National Park. We’ve got a few sunny days ahead, but the nights look rather chilly, just above freezing overnight, brrrr. Perhaps we started south too late! We haven’t been planning more than a few days ahead though, so we could always adjust the course toward warmth if we decide to skip the Blue Ridge Mountains. But that would be a shame. We’d miss the place John Denver told us is “almost heaven”. C’mon, sing it!

Almost heaven, West Virginia,
Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River..

– John Denver et. al.

There are also some neat caverns near Shenandoah park, and Lori has never seen giant stalactite/stalagmite formations (do you remember which is which?). We need to remedy that. Fortunately there are many spectacular caves along our route, so if not here, we’ll get to one eventually.

Something we’ve noticed about our living patterns since starting this adventure – they haven’t changed much! We still stay up too late most nights and generally sleep in most mornings. Today was super lazy, and we didn’t get out of bed until 10. Somehow, we thought this might be different in the RV. Turns out, we’re still not morning people, no matter where we live. And we’re okay with that.

Until next time…

2173

We’re off!

The significance of this post’s title? Our starting odometer reading.

Anyone want to guess how many miles we’ll drive in a year? I’m thinking somewhere between 15k and 25k, but who knows?

Launch day, Sept 30th, was nuts. Besides preparing to head off in the RV, we also had to close up our seasonal cottage, which is a fair amount of work. Naturally, we procrastinated and left many chores until the last minute. (We were also enjoying time with friends and family right up until the night before our scheduled launch, so really, no regrets.) When Monday morning rolled around however, we were car-less, having left it with our Somerville condo neighbors the day before (thank you Jack and Kristin!). This made some preparations a bit more challenging, since the RV was parked down the hill at the Summer Village guest lot. We still needed to move most of our clothes over (after doing last minute laundry) as well as the contents of our fridge and freezer, and a variety of this-n-that! Fortunately the Summer Village gatekeeper was OK with Mark driving Wandah right up next to the cottage, for dozens of back-and-forth provisioning trips. Overall, it was a hectic start, and our original plan to leave at noon turned into a 2:30 departure, but we did it!

Enough kvetching already! Once on the road, we had an easy trip to Rhode Island, and spent the evening rearranging the disaster we’d created by jamming lots of stuff into the RV, willy-nilly, in our desire to get going. We are certain we over-packed, but also couldn’t decide what not to take. We had failed somehow to heed repeated advice: “pack light”, “you won’t need it”, etc. Easy to say, hard to do.

Which of these things could have been left behind? portable propane grill, digital dual head tire pressure gauge, air compressor, USB fans, 50 amp dogbone, Zero Gravity chairs, the extra blanket, mini teapot, the Bananagrams?  At least we saved a little space by getting a 3 quart instant pot, instead of bringing our existing 6 quart. Woo hoo!

The RV space is starting to feel a bit more liveable already. We’re eating and drinking down the backlog (the fridge was jammed!) and much of our things are quickly finding their natural “home”.

On Tuesday, we had a nice time at Colt State Park and riding along the East Bay bike path. We rode a total of 12 miles, at least 90% at “PAS 0” (Pedal Assist Strength level 0, i.e. no assist). We had the best cheese steak ever (really, quite fabulous) at Barringon Pizza – our turn around point, just steps from the bike path.

La Vie Est Bon
After our day out, Lori put up this wall decal in the RV as a reminder for us to count our blessings.

The particular blessing Mark noted this day was how handy it can be to have your house with you all the time. No need to pack a lunch on outing days – we just duck into the RV and make a sandwich. Forgot the sunglasses? Need an umbrella? Change of clothes? So much easier when home is always near.

Internet and Media

It took us a long time to decide on an internet strategy. We could rely on campground wifi + comcast hotspots + phone tethering. Ultimately, we bit the bullet and got a Verizon MiFi hotspot with unlimited data.

It’s fast and very convenient.  It would have been miserable connecting each time to a new, and possibly sketchy public wifi. When there’s a good cell signal we get 80+ mbps down. We also got a chromecast to send video from phone, tablet or laptop to our TV. Seems to work pretty reliably, and the quality is good, too.

Food Food Everywhere! Under the dinette seat, behind the TV, over the stove, over the dinette..  Maybe we brought too much (was 2 large cans of diced tomatoes overkill?) but it seemed a shame to throw it out. Maybe over time we’ll reduce the backlog. Not that we managed to do that at home so well. Some of these jars have been in the back of cabinets for years. The rear portion of this space also serves as Lori’s craft cabinet. It was not easy leaving so much behind!

Tubs, tubs, tubs – Lori organizes the world!

With our limited space, and a need to keep items from rolling all around when we’re moving, we needed a variety of storage options – from baskets to bins to buckets! We’re still trying to figure out what works best for each space but, so far, so good.

We can fit seven baskets in the over-the-bed cabinets to hold our clothes. Three for Mark and four for Lori. Under the vanity, there are four covered tubs. One for cleaning supplies, one for Mark’s toiletries and two for Lori. The closet holds twenty-five hanging items. Ten for Mark, fifteen for Lori. Is anyone seeing a pattern here? 

Well, that’s it for now, folks.  We’ll be heading off to CT next, with a visit to Mystic and also Gillette Castle State Park. Thanks for following along!

“Wandah” Making the Rounds

Not All Who Wandah Ah Lost

JRR Tolkien LOTR quote as spoken by a Bostonian.

She has a name: Wandah (or Wanda? I’m not entirely sure).  We just know we’ve got the wandalust so we are going to wandah around the country for a while.

Wandah has been seen in public several times now, including 3 overnights (once with full hookups!) and several showings.  When not at her temporary home at Marty & Paula’s in Westford, here are her appearances so far, in order:

  • Visit to Mom (in Hudson, MA) direct from the dealer
  • Overnight in Dennis Port, MA – for Jonathan’s big day
  • Visit to Josh and Sandra’s – Westford
  • Two nights at Boston Minuteman Campground, Littleton MA
  • Visit to Cabela’s Hudson – Lori’s family over from Clinton MA
  • Visit to Cindy and Rich’s – Sudbury – for “The Barn” preschool teachers & alumni

We have several more visits and overnights to come in MA, NH, and ME.

The First Reveal

Our first overnight was on the Cape. Our good friend Jonathan had a milestone birthday celebration, a huge shindig with scores of out of town guests and accommodations were scarce. So we brought our own! Somewhat more comfy than for those who tent camped in the back yard. This first time out we “dry camped”: no water from hose or holding tank, which simplified things substantially.

A great time was had by all, and we enjoyed seeing old and friends and meeting new ones.

Wandah at the Agger’s Dennis Port

Our first real camping practice was just a few miles away, in Littleton, MA. Full hookups: Water, Sewer, and 30 amp electric.

Water: We hooked up the water supply (pressure limiter -> filter -> hose -> RV) and had good pressure throughout. A quick connect hose coupler has now been ordered, as hookup/disconnect would quickly get tedious.

Sewer: The rhino-flex made its debut, connecting the waste pipe to the sewer. Didn’t need the support ramp since there was a nice natural downhill slope.

Electric: The EMS showed a clean 30A and the connection was fast and easy.

In summary, all systems checked out. No leaks, water got hot, shower was fine, toilet did it’s toilet thing as expected. The freezer froze and the refrigerator chilled. So did we, with a little late night TV via the roof antenna. (The campground offered a cable hookup but we hadn’t brought any co-ax).

Lori put up the quick set screen house (getting faster!) and we set up all the chairs and folding table. It rained overnight, and there were no leaks with the slide-out out. All good!  Our first evening meal was salmon, pan fried over a propane stove. Quite tasty. Does camping always make food taste better?

We had some campground fun too. In the evening we had guests Josh and Sandra who showed up with Mexican takeout. Yum! We talked well into the night.  The next morning on a walk around the grounds we found equipment for cornhole, tether ball, and horseshoes, and played them all.

Teardown went smoothly as well. I did my first “dump” sequence – first black water, then gray of course, and I even did a black tank flush!  There’s a connector on the side that goes to a spray head inside the black water tank. This rinses it all clean. The sewer hose has a clear elbow so you can see when the water runs clear. Oh joy!

Boston Minuteman Campground, Littleton
Ready for guests to arrive!

Mission accomplished. Now we know we’ll have an easy time whenever there are hookups. Soon we’ll want to try “boondocking” which is self-contained camping. That’s where advanced skills come into play, balancing our 3 primary resources: water, battery power, and propane, with key goals of: keeping the electric fridge running, staying warm, and staying clean – i.e. shower, toilet and dish washing. Apparently running out of water often occurs first so if we boondock we’ll have to learn effective water conservation practices. We think we can do one day pretty easily, but two or three may start to really test our skills.

Wandah the Debutante  

Wandah had a coming out party, graciously hosted by Rich and Cindy at their home in Sudbury. The attendees were Barn preschool teachers and two husbands. We put out the slide and the awning, and relaxed in zero-gravity chairs with cold drinks and snacks. Champagne followed with a toast to our coming adventures.

Lori shows off her speed. 2:27, a record!

Provisioning & Mods

We continue to stock Wandah with gear. Pots pans bowls plates silverware knives towels bath supplies… You don’t tend to think of how many things you use in a day until you’re forced to make hard choices about what will fit. Lori is big on containerization. We have a dozen plastic tubs to organize things. Tubs for different kinds of clothing, tubs for cleaning supplies, even a junk tub with miscellaneous stuff.

Some recent additions we’re happy with include 1) A vertical set of pouches that we fastened near the door to hold flip flops, flashlights, remotes, anything we’ll use a lot going in and out. 2) A privacy curtain, that divides the bedroom suite (lol) from the living room and kitchen. This means we won’t always have to close every shade, drape, and curtain in order to get dressed. 3) A behind-the-door waste basket. Every inch counts!  Thanks Grandpa Ron for some great ideas.

Ebikes

After testing out half a dozen ebike models, we chose the same kind that our son Luke recently bought, Aventon Pace 350s. We feel these are a good value, relatively light for ebikes, decent build quality, and enough power and range to meet our needs. And they’re fun! Start to pedal and there’s a surge of assist power. To some it feels like you have superhuman leg strength. To others, it’s like a ghost helpfully pushing you forward. Either way, it makes riding fast and effortless. We strongly considered getting manual bikes, but heard so many positive recommendations from other campers that we decided to go for it. Sure it’s less exercise when the boost is turned on, but since this will be our only local transport option other than Wandah herself, we didn’t want any impediment to getting out and doing stuff.  And in some places there are wicked hills. No fun getting hot and sweaty when you just wanted a leisurely tour, or to make a run to the store for supplies.

Our Aventon Pace 350’s

We’re quite happy with the bike rack as well. It holds two bikes up to 60 lbs. each (ours are just 45), is easy to use, and has a locking hitch and bike cable. A zippered cover keeps the bikes dry in bad weather. Nice!
Well that’s all for now folks. See ya next time!

M&L

First Steps

Status

It’s finally happening.

For the curious, our camper is a 2019 Winnebago View, model 24J. Its dimensions are 25’8″ x 11’1″ x 7’6″.  I’ll let you guess which dimension is which. For the really curious, here’s a specifications page

Our first stop was Mark’s mother’s house shortly after we picked up the camper from Flagg RV in West Boylston. Since then we’ve been slowly loading it up with gear that we’ll need on the road.

There’s a lot of plumbing related stuff like the fresh water hose, flushing hose, waste hose, hose ramp, water pressure limiter, and toilet additive.

Behold the Rhino-flex 20ft sewer hose with clear elbow!

For the electric supply we were advised to get an “EMS” – a fancy power quality regulator and circuit breaker.

Apparently you can’t trust campgrounds to have regulated water pressure or clean power.

We’re constantly facing the conundrum of what to bring and what to leave, and we’re already in danger of overdoing it. Mark’s tool kit weights about 30 lbs and he still doesn’t feel comfortable about what he’s had to leave out. This, despite advice from seasoned RVers that they carry just the basics.

We got “zero gravity” lawn chairs after trying them in the store and liking how nicely they recline and cradle you. Someday we may even get to sit down long enough to enjoy them

We got “zero gravity” lawn chairs after trying them in the store and liking how nicely they recline and cradle you. Someday we may even get to sit down long enough to enjoy them.

But only one of the RV’s seven external storage compartments is big enough to hold them. Are we wasting that precious space?

Lori was adamant about getting an “instant screen house”. We think it will be a godsend to allow us bug-free outdoor time in the evenings. It’s 6′ long, so it’ll have to go in the “bunk” area above the cabin, the only place to store it “out of the way”.

Quick Set 9281 Escape Shelter Popup Tent

Yes, the preparation phase feels like one massive equipment and supplies buying spree. Diesel Exhaust Fluid? Check. Oil, coolant, distilled water? Check. But we still don’t have: a bike rack, a portable grill/stove, cookware, or all the standard kitchen gadgets like a can opener. Everything must survive road travel, so forget carrying glass or ceramic dishes. Plates need to be cushioned from each other or they’ll rattle on every bump. The list is seemingly endless. And that’s just for daily living. What about hiking?  We need the right shoes, water bottles, day packs. 

And how to record our adventures? Mark got a neat little gadget, the DJI Osmo Pocket.

That head unit is a gimbal image stabilizer, which he says should result in smooth pans and less “shaky cam” than with phone video. Another 10 or 20 hours practice and he’ll have learned most of the features. But then what about video editing? One more learning curve.

So while we’re excited to get going, this first phase is filled with lots of expense and effort and, frankly, stress and anxiety as we fumble our way through the planning. And we don’t even have a single stay booked yet!

We trust that once we hit the road, and get a few stays under our belts, we’ll finally be able to relax a little.  Mark’s office daydreams about this adventure were filled with dramatic ocean or canyon or mountain views, or blissfully relaxing camp side with a cold beer. He didn’t expect to spend hours looking for the best portable air compressor, or agonizing over whether to add another 100 watt solar panel, or swap out the standard 12 volt coach battery for two 6 volt batteries with more total capacity. Do we need PhDs in RV-ology to “get it right”?  Sometimes it feels that way.

But enough whining! We feel so fortunate to have this opportunity and can’t wait to get going. Next will be some “shakedown voyages” to start getting the hang of this whole #vanlife thing. Stay tuned!

The Big Trip

Check. Check. Check 1. Sibilance. Sibilance. Check. Check. Check 2. Sibilance. Sibilance. Is this thing on?

We (Mark and Lori) are planning to use this blog to update friends and family about our “big trip”. For those new to this crazy scheme, it goes something like this.

  • Retire (done)
  • Buy an RV (done)
  • Fill it up with stuff (working on it)
  • Take a few practice trips (thinking about it)
  • Hit the road, sometime in late September.
  • Travel “clockwise” around the US and Canada, staying in nice weather.

The idea is to spend approximately one year, traveling and living full-time in the RV – with the exception of a brief visit to the Boston area at Christmastime. We want to visit lots of state and national parks with a main goal of enjoying some of North America’s most scenic areas of natural beauty. We’ve collected some “points of interest” here. We may also check out a few offbeat attractions, e.g. from the atlas obscura. If you have suggestions for “must sees” feel free to share.

We hope to see many of you soon – either before we leave, or somewhere on the road!