Sunday, November 23, 2014

Store It At The Store

We raised 4 kids on a small acreage in a rural area in a small town.  I can recall many days of leaving the grocery store with TWO grocery carts full of supplies to get us through the week.  I was conditioned to keep a sharp eye out for sales and then I would stock up when I could.  I froze, I canned, I dehydrated everything I could and squirreled away food as if we were preparing for the Apocalypse.  It was natural to buy by the case.  I could throw down a meal for 25 without even making a trip to the store, and this happened pretty regularly with impromptu gatherings with the kids and their friends as teenagers.  Have you ever seen how much teenagers can eat?  Good Lord!

One of my biggest adjustments has been (and continues to be) NOT buying the JUMBO pack, the MULTI pack, and three for the price of two.  I realized that they do, in fact, sell fresh chicken pieces in packages smaller than 35 pieces.  You can buy a package of pork chops with just 4 little pork chops in it instead of 16.  Who knew?  I also learned to create meals for "two" which has taken me a while and I am still working on it.  I forced myself not to bring along the huge cooking vessels into the RV that I had at home and gave them to my kids.  When I am going to need a 32 quart pot in the RV?  I'm not. The cooking supplies I had at our house looked like I ran a soup kitchen.

When you really think about it, unless we have a national crisis (and yes, we might, I know) there is really no reason to expect that you are going to be unable to visit a grocery store on a very regular basis.  Only get what you need.  Don't buy 4 cans of diced tomatoes if you don't plan to use them THIS WEEK.  Buy one, even if it costs you a little more, and live with the fact that paying a little more per ounce for your food in smaller portions is a good investment in so many ways. I know, this goes against everything your mother taught you! But bear with me on this...

It's more than just space saved.  Saving space is critical when every bit of it is likely spoken for.  It's also about weight.  True, a few extra cans of food aren't that heavy, but it's more about a code of conduct.  You must be mindful of bringing THINGS into the RV to be hauled around with you.  The worst thing that will happen is you will have to make a trip to the store for items you don't have to make something in the kitchen that you hadn't planned on.  No big deal, and how often does that really happen anyway?  What IS a big deal is having an extra several hundred pounds of "stuff" that will undoubtedly start collecting over time until you will be forced to get rid of it. There went your "savings" for buying in bulk, and I am not even going to talk about gas mileage when you weigh 1,000 pounds more than you really need to.

So, "Store it at the store"! IF the Apocalypse happens, then you will be better off than most. You can hitch up, take off and go somewhere where the grocery store has what you need!  Part of "full timing" is changing the way you manage your grocery inventory. It might not feel natural at first for some of us, but the reward is, much less wasted and unwanted food that we are only eating to "get rid of it".

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

An Odor Free Black Tank: Yes, It Is Possible!

If there is one topic that always comes up among RVers, especially NEW RVers, it's how to use and care for their rig's black tank.  It's for good reason that people are almost obsessed with this one feature of most RV's: It can make your life HELL.  It can cause more discomfort, more embarrassment and more frustration than any other part of your RV.  Fear not: like most things "RV" their is an art to it.

Now, if you are squeamish, maybe you should enjoy a different blog post! For the rest of you, read on:

I don't know why dealerships, when delivering a new RV to a starry-eyed, brand new RV Owner, do not take great care to make sure they get a few things understood right from the get-go.  One of those crucial matters is the black tank, simply because there are a lot of WRONG ways to use it.  Most people, unfortunately, try a few wrong ways out and that is why we get to the frustration and exasperation point.  It needn't be so, because a black tank works amazingly well, if a few easy rules are followed.

Now, I would like to make perfectly clear that our method of caring for the black tank is our own, and I don't claim that it is perfect.  It has been perfect for us.  We were lucky because some kind soul many years ago (I cannot remember who) brought us into the light with regard to what reality is with a black tank.  Thank goodness for this person, and I would like to pass this favor on to you. Please do the same for a fellow RVer who has (or soon will have) an RV that smells like... Well, you know.

So, my friend here are the "Rules". If you understand them, your RV life will be odor-free and easy with regard to the bathroom stuff.

1) A black tank is an artificial environment, and "natural" solutions are of no benefit whatsoever.
Yes, there are shelves of "Enzymes" and "Natural" additives for your tank.  They will work great in a home septic system.  In fact, a knowledgeable septic expert will tell you that PUMPING a healthy septic system is one of the worst things you can do to it.  It upsets the balance of bacteria and enzymes and matter that keeps them fed.  In fact, if you want to really get right into the business, did you know that human excrement has enzymes in it already that begin working on it's demise after it leaves the body? Yep. When the environment is right (as in a healthy working septic system) then there is no buildup of solids, and no real odor.  Hard to believe, but true.  Your black tank is NOT a "natural system" so you cannot expect natural means to keep it working.  It is simply a plastic vessel that carries a lot of (hopefully) effluent waste, that is purged often.

2) ALL odor in the black tank comes from aging, rotting material that has adhered to the surfaces of the tank and solidified.
Usually this is due to improper cleaning and maintenance of the tank and/or from leaving the tank valve OPEN during use allowing solids to stick to the surfaces of the tank and solidify.  NEVER leave your valve open! Water is your friend, use plenty when flushing.  If you have strong odors coming up from the black tank, you need to clean and flush it.  Any solids that are in the black tank become liquids fairly quickly if there is enough water.  Common sense tells you that this is a good thing. If you have a stinky black tank and don't believe me about the solids being the source of the odor, then do this simple test: FILL you black tank with water as full as you can without going too far.  You will notice that the odor is nearly gone because the solids that have adhered to the tank surfaces are under water.  The tank itself does not have odor, the stuff stuck on it does.  If you need further convincing: put a few sheets of toilet paper in a jar of water and shake it up.  Pour it out on the ground in a dry spot and let it dry.  What do you have?  A paper mache' sculpture. That's what is in your black tank if you let it dry out, full of bacteria and reeking to high heaven.

3) The "blue" additives, all of them, mask the odor, and DO help with odor, but do nothing to "remove" it. 
It is better to prevent foul odors in the first place.  They do not HURT anything, and are very useful if you already HAVE a smelly tank and are working to get it in shape. Go ahead and put the deodorizers in until you get it clean.  You will then have the odor that has been tempered with the much more acceptable fragrance of tank deodorizer.  Whatever dry surfaces still exposed in your tank that have dried-on matter, will still stink.  Some tank treatments have lubricants and additives that are supposed to be good for your tank, and they ARE a good solution for tank maintenance, but they are expensive.  Additionally, there are a growing number of parks that ban these toxic chemicals altogether.  Unless you NEVER consume fat or oil in your diet, your seals will be lubricated quite naturally and the ten cents worth of laundry soap and bath salts will encourage a slippery environment for the tank walls.  Fats and oils pass through us quite readily, and if you were to visually observe the inside of a septic tank, you would notice a layer of oily fat floating on top. How's that for "too much information"?

4) Your black tank benefits from having plain old detergent and bath salts dumped in it and allowed to become FULL before pulling the valve.
Adding detergent and bath salts (Calgon) will cause the solids adhered to the walls to release thanks to the detergent and soft water (cheap laundry soap works well).  This is the same principle that you use if you have a cooking pan with baked-on grime.  You soak it in soapy water, add baking soda if it's really bad.  If your tank stinks, put about a cup of laundry detergent in it and FILL it with water and allow it to sit for at least a couple of days-even better, drive the RV to agitate the water. Then flush it, repeatedly if needed. Make it a rule to always add detergent and water softener after every dumping of the tank, along with a healthy amount of water.  A wet tank is a happy tank! It keeps the seals working properly and helps prevent sticking valves.  We are not adding water softener right now because we are using a well at the park we are at that has a water softener on it.  Our water is already soft.

That's it!

Water is the most powerful force on earth, allow it to work, and it will.  The solids must never be allowed to spend time in a dry tank, ever. They form a concrete-like substance that is HIGHLY STINKY due to bacterial action. It is the bacteria feeding on the adhered solids that smell.  A little care and attention and you will never have odor in your tank. Add 1/2 a cup of laundry detergent, 1/2 a cup of bath salts and a couple gallons of water after every dump, and you will be pleased with the result. A wet tank is a happy tank!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Your RV's Silent Enemy: Interior Humidity

Let's be honest, owning an RV and maintaining it is far from being a passive undertaking.  Yet, there are countless incidences of people purchasing a new RV, using it a few times and then storing it for months, even years, without doing anything to maintain it.  Nothing could be more harmful to your RV!  There are so many things that can hurt these very fragile and temperamental RV's, and this is one of the main reasons that we have always bought new.  Not winterizing properly can burst pipes and break hardware and ruin interiors.  Overloading can compromise suspension and welds, not caulking regularly can cause catastrophic moisture damage in the walls and floors.  The list is long, and some of the damage is difficult for a novice RV shopper to find, until a costly repair crops up by surprise down the road.  One of the things that causes a lot of aesthetic degradation is interior moisture being trapped in the RV causing mold and moisture damage and just a plain unsightly mess.

Visit a "Campingworld" in the fall and you will see large displays of dehumidifying products.  Desiccant holders and electric appliances which are designed to extract moisture from the air and deposit it either into a container (which must be emptied or disposed of) or as in an appliance, through a hose into a drain.  They all work pretty well, and they all make an important difference as to whether you open your doors after winter storage to a fresh smelling clean RV or something that smells very musty and moldy, or worse has visible black mold growing on surfaces.  Don't disregard this important step in preparing your RV for winter!  Deploying a couple of inexpensive moisture collectors is cheap and will help ensure you don't have any nasty surprises.  The one shown at left is the one we use.  I like that you can use as many as you need, and you can toss them out.  I also like that they cannot "overflow" making a big mess.  Sticky "desiccant water" is a mess to clean up.

Don't worry, there is much you can do to avoid this silent interior destroyer!  You don't even have to spend a lot of money, but you CAN if you want to!  As with most things "RV" a little effort will save you a lot of money and heartbreak.  If you want to be passive about removing moisture, it will cost a little more.  There are electric appliances that will do this for you, but they are not cheap!

A good rule to live by: MOVING AIR=GOOD, STILL AIR=BAD.  One of the most impactful things you can do may be the most overlooked: Keep moisture OUT to begin with.

Here are some DO's and DON'T's in that regard:

-DO keep a window cracked open and a roof vent cracked whenever possible for cross ventilation.  This is the most effective way of keeping moisture at bay: Circulating air.  Even when you are boondocking and conserving power, this is a great way to keep the air moving in your rig.

-DO If you are hooked up, turn on your furnace to fan only mode.  This is a fantastic way to move the air around.

-DO Use an electric fan to move the air around.

-DO Limit your use of water inside the rig. This includes washing dishes and taking showers, etc. Any water that comes in causes a portion of it to become water vapor, and this is airborne moisture. That's a bad thing.

-DO Limit cooking of high-liquid-content-foods inside. Things like boiling pasta, cooking open pots of liquids on the range, boiling water, etc.

-DO Place moisture absorbing products inside the RV and check them regularly. They will fill up or become saturated and need to be replaced.

-DO Remove any sources of water as quickly as possible.  Once you boil the pasta, get rid of the water, don't just let it sit on the stove steaming and releasing more moisture into the air that you will have to remove.

-DO Use a bathroom fan religiously when showering!  This is a really important one.  Get that steam OUT!  When finished, close the bathroom doors and leave the fan running until dry.


-DO NOT hang wet towels or clothing inside the RV to dry.

-DO NOT boil or simmer liquids on the stove for long periods of time. Put a lid on them or use a slow cooker to reduce evaporation.

-DO NOT take long steamy showers without using the roof vent until all steam is out.

-DO NOT allow wet rugs or shoes clutter the inside.  Keep them outside.

-DO NOT allow windows to drip with condensation. Remove the moisture with towels and work to prevent moisture from collecting on windows by increasing ventilation.  An electric fan helps a lot with this.

All of these things will become habitual.  In a sticks-and-bricks house, you usually have the opposite problem of not enough moisture in the air, but NOT in an RV! The dry air in a house is caused by a furnace constantly going, which creates a giant dehydrator.  Your RV is far too small to be able to digest the amount present inside simply from us breathing and doing simple chores.

You must stay ahead of moisture inside you RV.  You will be rewarded by a greatly extended lifespan on your RV and much better resale because your interior will be fresh and clean.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Fulltiming: What It Is And What It Isn't

We are new fulltimers.  One thing we have learned though, is that if there is one thing that most "fulltimers" will agree on, it's that it's hard to agree on a "method" to fulltiming.  If you ask 10 different fulltimers how they fulltime or why, you will get at least 7 different answers. And by the way, you may as well just right click "Fulltiming" right now and select "add to dictionary".  I hate those red squiggly spell-checker lines!

This is a lot what it feels like to us in our 5th wheel!
We are not "camping".  We are not "on vacation".  It's not like we are camping all the time.  Maybe a little at first, since we were avid RVers long before we became Fulltimers.  That wore off soon though.  We are not retired, so there is still work and that quickly kills any notion that we are on any sort of vacation!  We are living in a very small home.  We like to call it our "Jeanie Bottle".

Really, the routine of our life is no different than anybody else's.  We get up in the morning, go about our daily routine, and go to bed at night.  To us, much of fulltiming isn't so much about where we live or how we live, but the awareness that, at any time, we can change our "neighborhood".  This is the essence of the lifestyle.  True, we usually stay where we are for long periods of time, but we are free to leave any time we want with almost no effort at all.

Some fulltimers move all the time, every few days or weeks.  Others prefer to stay put all winter in one place and all summer in another place.  I would say most are somewhere in between.  We look forward to retirement when we can also enjoy the pleasure of no particular reason to stay anywhere.  For now, we are fairly stationary in a park hosting job that suits us perfectly.  It's in a perfect location for us and it gives us some much needed experience in park hosting.  We are building our resume for the future when we plan to participate in "Work Camping" at some level to offset living expenses for part of the year.

It has been a lot of fun getting to know our new home, and we were amazed at how quickly it felt like "home" after living 20 years in a house that we built ourselves.  We expected a lot of emotional turbulence moving out of the house, but it has been far easier than we anticipated.  We have also been surprised by how much we don't miss our "stuff".  Everybody has too much "stuff".  There have been many books written on how to simplify your life, and most of them involve the thinning out of your belongings.  Most of us have heard the sentiment that we are a "slave to our stuff".  After getting rid of nearly everything we own, we completely agree.

Our usual campsite at Boardman RV Park in Oregon
One of the more fun things has been taking our trailer to other locations after moving into it.  Our first real "vacation" was an annual 10 day trip we take with many friends to a campground that is right on the mighty Columbia River.  I remember that first morning when I came down from the bedroom to get coffee and was greeted by the surprise of a gorgeous view outside of my familiar living room window.  It was like in the Wizard of Oz when the house was dropped via tornado into a completely new and magical location!  DELIGHTFUL!  We don't have to pack or prepare much to "go on vacation" we just hitch up and GO!

One of the other hallmarks of fulltiming that we greatly enjoy is the friendships you gain as you travel.  Almost all fulltimers remark on what an unexpected surprise it was when they were expecting to be on a more solitary existence as they left friends and family and began travelling, only to discover that they became part of a whole new "family" of other fulltimers and "longtimers" that are enjoying the same lifestyle.  Rallies, clubs and memberships help you tailor your travels to what suits you best, and inevitably, you meet others who are like-minded.  There are endless groups that meet up on a regular basis to enjoy common interests.  This is something that most "stick and bricks" dwellers don't get to experience at this level.  We love this aspect of fulltiming.

So what are the downsides?  I would have to really give that some thought.  We have 4 children, and I miss having them all over to my house, filling it with their voices and their antics.  The big family dinners and the casualness of them stopping by without calling first, coming by to borrow some tool of dad's or to get something from the barn they needed... I do miss that a lot.  But I focus on the fact that they have their own homes now and it's perfectly alright to pass that torch to them.  THEY can now have US stop by in the same capacity.  Other than that, I am actually hard-pressed to think of any real downsides... We are not "building equity" in real estate, but to be honest, nobody is.  Certainly not fast enough to cover property taxes and maintenance and improvement costs that all homeowners shoulder.  Owning a house now (and in my opinion the foreseeable future) is NOT an equity-building equation.

Whether fulltiming is for you or not is a question only you can answer.  You need to take a very honest, hard look at your life, your relationship with your partner, and what you really need to be content.  You also need to have the courage to receive the inevitable scorn and disbelief that you will get from friends and some family. We had that, and know that we will continue to have it.  Many people associate "living in a trailer" as some sort of lonely, desolate, desperate situation.  We couldn't disagree more.  In fact, we have found more often than not, a deep envy from many of our friends and family that they cannot enjoy the same freedom as we do.

Fulltiming is perfect for us.  I hope that if you think it might be perfect for you, you will go ahead and look into it.  There are many resources on line for you to get started.  Attend RV shows and sit in different rigs and visualize.  Read other blogs and listen to podcasts.  Click the link on this blog titled "Blogs We Love" to get you started.  It's a wonderful life for many, and all it takes is an open mind.  The rest follows quite naturally!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Thermal Cooking Is PERFECT For RVers-Try This Easy Recipe Too!

I am very late-to-the-game on this one.
Between reading blogs, magazine articles and our 20+ years of experience, we have gathered a good many ideas that work well.  Some things sound good, but upon putting them into practice, weren't really all that great.  Then there are those that you try and say, "Where have you been all of my life!"  Thermal cooking is one of those cool things that I have really started to have a big affection for.

What it is
Thermal cooking basically relies on using the principle of trapping existing heat in an air-tight, leak-proof vessel, and allowing it to continue cooking after initial application of traditional heat (like on your stove top) and bringing it to a rolling boil for several minutes.  You then place the cooking pot inside of a thermal container and seal it and don't touch it for 6-8 hours (depending on the cooking apparatus you are using).  Because the thermal container is air-tight and well insulated, the heat is trapped inside and it continues to cook the contents, like a slow cooker, but without using any further energy, like electricity or gas.

Why is this so wonderful?
Well, let me tell you!  First, let's talk about the use of energy, in the form of your stove top or a slow-cooker or an oven.  All of these require electricity or propane.  If you are in a site with hookups, the electricity is probably not a concern, if you are not planning on going anywhere, but leaving an appliance running while you are gone and (at least in the summer) heating up the rig might be distasteful to you, it is to me.  When it's hot, anything producing heat inside of the RV is NOT a good thing!  The air conditioner works hard enough as it is, sometimes.

If you are planning on being underway to another destination, it's an outstanding way to throw something in the thermal cooker when you leave and then dinner is ready after you get setup at your new destination and you may not feel excited about a lengthy meal preparation.  I typically put the meal in the cooker and set it in the sink to keep it from travelling anywhere during the trip.  It works exceptionally well.  The outside of the cooker stays cool-to-the-touch, so it's no problem if you need to carry it around or move it at anytime, in fact, it's a great picnic vehicle!  Most come with a carry handle on top for this reason.  Travelling with it is encouraged.

For some reason, these little suckers are spendy, at least I think so.  You will fork over between $60-$180 for one of them.  That's a lot in my book for what is essentially a large thermos with a steel pot inside.  No matter though, you will hopefully be as pleased with it as I am.  I advise you to go ahead and get the best one available because it is important that it seal properly and that the materials are of high quality.  I own a "Saratoga Jacks" brand in the 5.5 L but I would really like one that is smaller.  It is essential that the pot inside be FULL when you put it in the thermal container, or it will cool off too fast.  Often, I don't want to make 5.5 liters of something.  I would like to make, say, 4 liters.  So, I am shopping for something smaller.


There are tons of recipes for these cookers, but you can easily adapt your own existing recipes too.  Not all recipes will work because the essential ingredient in any thermal cooker is liquid.  The food being cooked must be immersed in liquid, which is brought up to a hard boil for a few minutes to ensure the proper, safe cooking temperature inside of the cooker.  I am currently looking into immersing a bag of food in hot water to use it, but I haven't done that yet.  I will report back when I do.  If you do this, it is exceedingly important that you use BPA free plastic bags.  I am happy to report that most products (Even cheap Wal-Mart products from China) are stating this on their label.)

One of my favorite recipes so far is one that I created myself.  It is a sort of Jambalya using readily available and easily stored ingredients that you can have on hand for longer periods of time (like travelling and boondocking).  It is a Cajun-style recipe and you can adjust the heat to suit your taste. I like recipes that have simple, common ingredients that we can pick up at Wal-Mark or the like.

Cajun Shrimp and Sausage Jambalaya

1 large box of "Dirty Rice" mix, or "Red Beans and Rice" mix
1 large onion
1 green/red/pepper (optional)
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 can of red beans
1 package of Aidell's Andouille sausage, cut in 1/2 pieces
1 1-lb package of frozen raw shrimp (peeled, de-veined, tail-off)
Tabasco sauce to taste

Saute onion and peppers for a couple of minutes in 2 Tbsp olive oil.  Add remaining ingredients and water according to package directions. I find it best to reduce the water by about 25% or your dish will be a little saucy.  The thermal cooker doesn't allow steam to escape.  Bring to a hard boil for 4 minutes and then put cooking pot into thermal container and seal according to manufacturer instructions.  This dish could easily be eaten after only an hour or two, but will hold for 8 hours.  It's delicious and if you have a freezer for the sausage and shrimp you can easily have the ingredients on hand for long periods of time.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

#170 Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

This is NOT going to be a good "review" on Bryce Canyon National Park, by any means.  We were only there overnight, long enough for a couple of hikes and then we moved on because we were on a pretty aggressive travel plan.  Even though we weren't there very long, we were left with a lasting memory of this awesome place.  Everyone should see this.  We actually visited Bryce Canyon on September 18, 2013. 

Passport Cancellation Stamp
Our bikes were always the first to arrive!
As we got close to Bryce, driving through very hot and dry landscapes, we were greeted by the changing colors of the rocks.  I take a lot of pictures through the windshield and our bikes get there before we do!  It's so nice to have the bikes along. Soon we started to get closer and closer to the park and the landscape changed so dramatically it was like we were on another planet.  Unable to wait, we went straight to one of the viewing areas of the park to scramble up the trail and take a peek...
Reds, tans, golds, yellows stretched out as far as we could see.  It seemed very much like we were standing in an artificial environment it was so amazing and perfect.  I simply could not wait until in the morning when we got our hiking boots on and headed into it to see it up close!
WOW! Simply AMAZING! It's like being in the pages of the guidebook we have.

When the sun started to set, we watched the shadows spreading across the canyon and it was just so cool.  But, our rumbling tummies caused us to decide to load back into the truck and go and find a place to park it for the night.  We were sticking to our commitment to boondock as much as possible, though it is much more challenging when you are close to a national park.  For one thing, boondocking (or overnight parking) is never allowed anywhere on park property.  Now, before you feel disgruntled about this rule, imagine what it COULD look like if they allowed this.  Most national parks have many thousands of visitors every year.  If even a tiny percentage of these people camped overnight in common areas, you can well imagine how much it would degrade your experience when you came there.  Even if people were clean and respectful (which many are not, as we all know) it would be a calamity.  It's a good rule.

So we headed out of the park and consulted our map.  After not finding anything there that looked promising we consulted our notes, where I had annotated a helpful blog post by a boondocker who mentioned a place of off Tom Best road.  We headed that way.  I don't know what we did before GPS and the internet.

Boondocking near Bryce!
Wow, what a sweet find!  We journeyed back on a very passable dirt track that led us back into some desert scrub overlooking a large plateau area.  There were quite a few equestrian campers back there too, and we found a nice quiet spot.  It's well worth the effort to do a little research before your trip if you plan to do some boondocking.  Often when you need to find it on the road, you are outside of internet coverage and cannot use your normal online tools.  I make an email folder for each destination on our "Big Trip" where we might be spending the night and drop copied blog posts or directory listings in there so that I have them on hand when I need them.

As you can see in the photo, we did pretty well.  This was not exceptional though.  I can say that we regularly find some good spots where we aren't breaking any rules and we aren't bothering any body.  We always leave no trace of our visit, and pick up any trash that might be in the vicinity.  We practice the good neighbor policy, and you should too.  Please encourage others to do so as well, to help keep this fun, exciting resources available for the future!

The next morning we had a big, filling breakfast and packed up our backpacks for the days hikes.  The air was brisk, but we knew that it would get a lot warmer later on so we layered as they always advise you to do.  We filled up water bottles and packed snacks.  We were ready!  Back into the park we went.  The hike was gorgeous.  Unfortunately one of the trails we wanted to go on was closed due to a washout the week before, but we still had a stellar experience.  

It's a strenuous hike, even though the trail is perfectly groomed.  It's a lot of climbing and descending on switchbacks.  If you have health issues, you would be well advised to choose your trails carefully.  There are some scary sheer drop-offs, too, so be careful!  Be sure and watch for snakes, I felt like they were all around me, but I didn't actually see one. (I am terrified of snakes unfortunately).

We loved our hike, and were truly tired at the end, a day well spent!  We began to talk about our next stop, ZION!  I was SO excited to go there, and it turns out, I had good reason to be!  Stay tuned!

Todd takes a break a little TOO close to a cliff for my taste!

Crazy rock formations are everywhere.

Taking a break.  It got hot!!

Gorgeous scenery was in every turn of your head.

I loved the slots and channels along the trail!

I can't wait to go back!  September is the perfect time to go!

National Parks Passport: What Fun!

Me hiking The Narrows at Zion National Park
We are really into our National Park system.  I just can't think of a better way to feel your national pride than to travel to these outstanding parks and soak in the rare beauty and grandeur that is America.  I am talking about the 58 core "National Parks", as opposed to National Monuments, National Historic Sites and National Recreational Sites, etc.  Not that there is anything wrong with those! We LOVE those! We travel to them constantly, usually in conjunction with seeing the parks.

For a location to be established as a National Park, it has gone through a lot, and a lot of effort was made to make it so.  If you are so inclined to learn more about them, you would be very well served to watch one of the many outstanding documentaries made about John Muir and others who were so key in getting many of our parks designated.  You can learn more about John Muir HERE. It certainly wasn't always easy.  One thing most of them have in common is that the location is so rare, so unusual, so beautiful and so utterly and singularly amazing that it was designated and set aside for EVER AND EVER as a National Park.  Sacred ground, sort of.  When you visit them, you will completely understand why.

There are many ways to enjoy the parks. They all have their local favorite activities, often hiking and touring, or climbing or just simply walking or driving through some of the most amazing areas imaginable.  One thing they absolutely have in common, you WILL learn something really amazing when you are there.  Our National Parks system is second to none and they have done an outstanding job of creating destinations that you will remember for your entire life.  When you leave you will have an understanding of what you have just visited and why it's so amazing, and what's more, YOU WILL feel amazed by it.

Our own dog eared Passport
One of the ways that people enjoy the parks is to participate in their Passport program.  It's so much fun!  You purchase a passport from the National Parks and then, each time you visit a park, you collect the cancellation stamp that is unique only to that park.  The stamps are free and the passport itself is only about $8.  The stamps are usually located inside the local Visitor's Center for each park (almost every park has one).  It's a little addicting... you start to feel like you are on a quest for cancellations!  They are your little trophy that you can collect.
Cancellation Stamp

We started last year on our Passport.  I will include our passport cancellation stamp when I do a blog posting about a park, and we also collect a photo of us standing in front of the park sign.  There are some really COOL park signs!  We have collected a lot of stamps, because besides the National Parks, you can get a stamp from National Monuments, Historic Sites, Recreational Sites, and more. We get them whenever they have them.

You can learn more about the passport, and order your own HERE

Have fun!!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

#228 North Cascades National Park

Welcome to the North Cascades National Park!
Our Official Cancellation

This park is in our beautiful home state of Washington.  

You can learn more about North Cascades HERE

What a beautiful place! It has been on our bucket list for a long time and we finally went.  I think we chose the absolute perfect time of year to go here, because it is a RUGGED place.  There are countless mountains and passes and the weather in much of the year makes it extremely inaccessible and hostile to human comfort.

This is a huge National Park.  It encompasses a vast area of the Cascade Mountain Range and also includes large National Recreation Areas too. Plan on spending at least 3-4 days to see it properly and do a lot of driving.  It won't seem like a lot, the scenery is so awe inspiring that it will just fly by.

One of the things that we noticed is that the highway through Washington Pass is amazing.  It did not escape our notice that they stretch of road through this treacherous territory MUST have been an amazing feat to construct and engineer.  They have created a stunning place to pull off the road and take in the views, and it's a MUST SEE.

Highway turnout in Washington Pass, beautifully constructed. Spectacular views.
When you go there, take the short walk out to the heart-stopping cliffs on glacier rock hanging out over the precipice. It's just utterly amazing.  The railing they created alone is awesome.  It is not an exaggeration that this stop will suffice many laborious hikes to see views no better.  We were lucky when we went, there was nobody else there.  I would imagine during the summer and on weekends it must be swarming with people and tourists.

The stunning turquoise water in the lake you see is not photo shopped The lake really is this color.  The reason given is that the glacier flour in the water (from so much water cascading over the glaciers and interminably shaping them and grinding them down) causes an eerie iridescent color to the water. Hard to fully appreciate from a picture, but there you have it.

Amanita Mushroom
On one of our many hikes
(This one to beautiful Rainy Lake) rewarded us with this surreal Amanita mushroom.  It's beauty and perfection surpassed only by it's deadliness!

Beautiful, Petite Rainy Lake
We saw many new sites on our long hikes.  We saw deer, of course, but also Roosevelt Elk, and countless busy chipmunks, very intent on "shucking" their pine cones!  Chattering and screeching they were always angry at us. Here is a cute video of them doing that (not mine) CLICK HERE

Victoria And Olympic National Park Trip Day 1

As we often do, we decided to leave late in the evening the night before, right after Todd got off of work. We were like kids going to summer camp: We were excited to HIT THE ROAD! We knew we would probably stay at a Wal-Mart parking lot later, but that was fine. It's such an adventure!

Parked in the Escapees $5 Dry Camping Area.
Sure enough, around 11 PM we pulled into the Wal-Mart in Centralia, WA and quietly snuck into a little spot and enjoyed our first night of vacation.  The next morning, we continued on and had planned to get up close to Port Angeles, WA where we would catch our ferry to Victoria B.C.  Since we are new Escapees members, we decided to take advantage of a very nice park they have in Washington not far from where we were headed.

The next morning we headed over to Port Angeles, WA to board Black Ball Ferry's famous "COHO" ferry. We stopped along the way at a local casino to pass the time and then continued to our boarding spot. We were plenty early enough and this put us at the front of the line. We parked and got our fare taken care of and then retreated to the inside of our camper to have lunch and a couple of beers while we waited. We watched a little TV and took care of answering some emails as we knew that our internet access might be limited in Victoria.  I was not willing to pay the rates that Verizon wanted to access through our mobile phones, so we decided to live without it. We needn't have worried, because the park we stayed at had WiFi.

Delivery Day! The Waiting Is Over, And We Welcome Our New Home!

Actual delivery date; June 4, 2014

It's hard to put into words the level of excitement and anticipation that happens with the delivery of a new RV that has been custom ordered and is the symbol of a whole new and exciting chapter in your life. It's not just a beautiful new coach. It's not just a new house.  It's not just "moving". It's not just taking a trip. It's sort of all of that rolled into one, and with the multiplied excitement of each of those things added on! Gosh we were happy! Not since the birth of our children have we been this ecstatic!

It was a long 12 week wait, and we were busy the whole time.  There was SO much to do; selling belongings, donating, and taking things to the trash.  The painful process of getting rid of nearly everything we owned because we knew that we would not have the capacity to haul it along with us.  There were preparations to make as to where we would be parking our new fiver, and what those arrangements would look like.  Of course there was all of the financial planning as well.  I don't think that is ever fun, but a necessary part of being realistic about what your next chapter in life is going to look like.  It's a brave thing, actually: You have to look cold reality unblinkingly in the face, and be prepared to deal with whatever comes back to you.  We did it.

There She Is! Our First View Of Her!
There are other things too. I had to deal with a lot of guilt.  I think it's from my upbringing, but when something good happens to me, I feel guilty.  I felt guilty about uprooting the only home my children had ever known, the place they had grown up, swung in tire swings from huge trees, played in the grass, swam in our pool, had parties, cried over boyfriends, the whole gamut.  Still, the voice of reason (and Todd) kept telling me that this was the PAST and moving into another future doesn't change the past. It felt like I was deserting my family.  I wasn't, it just felt that way.  Thankfully, our children were always very supportive and understanding of this extremely unconventional and uncommon thing we were doing: Moving into an RV as our HOME.

The long period of waiting (about 3 months) gave us plenty of time to be exceedingly ready when we got the call that our new coach had arrived.  We had our money all ready and our insurance.  We had our truck fitted with a new, very heavy duty 5th wheel hitch.  We had purchased new items that we needed for the inside to help ease the transition, things like lightweight Corel dishes, and plastic drinking glasses and things like that.  I had packed up pretty much all of the kitchen stuff I wanted to keep and hoped would fit well in the 5th wheel.  I knew that it would be an ongoing thing to decide on a new way of doing meal preparation.  Almost up until the very end, I was preparing meals for at least 4 of us, and often many more (we have 4 children, all with spouses, so dinner can get big quite quickly.)  All that was left was to DO IT.

Some of our kids went along too! Our first looks at our new "home"!
We drove down to the RV dealership to take delivery.  I have to congratulate myself, because I had thought of everything.  What often takes all day, only took us about 2 hours to finish.  Before we knew it, we were hitching up our new trailer and with one last desperate catching of our breath, threw the truck in "drive" and headed out.  It was a prophetic leap into the future of the unknown, and the scary and the exciting.  Rarely in life do we get to experience this outside of a theme park!

Again, as luck would have it, the ride home was easy and uneventful.  We had towed a large 5th wheel before in years past, and this ride was smoother than any we had ever done before due to the new powerful truck we had and the much better suspension and air-ride hitch pin on the trailer.  We got her home ok.  First we stopped for a quick photo of our maiden voyage at the local truck stop service station near our home.  We knew that everyone would want a good picture of our new rig, so we did that.

Isn't She Lovely?
We drug the heavy trailer 800 feet up to our home and got it parked in our RV spot (we had a 50 amp post installed on our RV pad, so we are lucky there.)  Then we heaved a huge sigh of relief.  It was like running a marathon.  We were both emotionally exhausted and couldn't wait to just GO TO BED! But no, that's not what we did.

All of the carefully packed crates of stuff were loaded out to the trailer.  Putting things away was interesting.  First of all, it was a stark reminder that the cabinets and drawers, however "residential like" in an RV, are NOT "residential like". They are narrow, shallow, and short.  I swallowed my fear as I tried to think of a rational place to put my crock pot.  Well, the living room cabinet I guess.  Pretty soon we were just stuffing things everywhere.  I thought: THERE IS NO WAY I am going to be able to find anything.  Once again, I was right about that too!

A Simple Silverware Caddy
Still, there were many things that I planned right and I am still using them today.  For example, I decided to use a silverware caddy on our buffet table rather than sacrifice a whole drawer to store silverware.  That turned out to be a great decision.  It holds napkins, silverware, steak knives, salt and pepper, and oil and vinegar for salads.  Sitting down for a meal is easy.  I usually just add plates and food!  There are so many things you can do to make your living space bigger and more efficient, and I will go into a lot of those here on this blog.

So, with delivery in the books, it was time to get moved into the 5th wheel, our new "home" and then move to IT'S new "home".  How soon would it "feel" like "home"?  Would we get everything in?  Stay tuned dear readers!  I will reveal all!