It has now been over three months since we left our sticks and bricks home behind. The closing actually happened on January 8th due to delays at the other end of the transaction, but it is finally gone. We are officially "houseless" (but not homeless). Good riddance to bad money pits!
As of this last week, the Chrysler Town & Country is also gone, so we won't have to worry about driving separate vehicles anymore. I finally have my "navigator" back in the passenger seat, and our mascot on the center console!
So... you probably wonder where we have been during our absence. We don't like to publish our current location until after we have left it, so let's just say that we went a little farther north. This was far from what we had planned to do this winter, as it also meant a slightly colder climate to deal with, instead of going somewhere warm. It also meant wasting two whole months out of the limited traveling years we have left behind an RV gate and block privacy walls with absolutely no view of anything... you know... kind of like a prison... or so it seemed.
We felt like we were forced to submit to such torture because we could not accommodate a third person wanting to join us for the winter. I don't intend for this post to come across as negative, but for those who have never gotten themselves into a situation like this, I think they need to hear how easily one can get ensnared in such a predicament and the realities of what usually occurs... so they can avoid it.
Here we were, barely out of a house, still carrying way too much excess "baggage" with us, and still finding our own way in this new life of full-time travel. Instead of the van being the extra sleeping quarters that it might eventually be, it was packed with stuff that we had to have with us in order to deal with it. I'm talking mostly about things that still have to be digitized... like photo slides, printed photos, cassette audio tapes, VHS video tapes, LP albums, and even old 3-1/2-inch computer disks... not to mention the normal stuff of life that we need to carry anyway!
Of course, not "all" of it has to be digitized, but neither did we have time to sort through everything before we left Arkansas, so that still has to be done yet. And we are actually discarding better than half of it as we sort through it. This is what 35 years of marriage (and even many years before that) of collecting stuff and never purging it will do to you!
But the reality was that the bed in the van was impossible to use at this time, and even if it were cleared (by putting even more stuff in storage), we would still need heat in it, and preferably a porta-potty, plus some room to move around! The trailer itself is barely large enough to accommodate two people (plus a mid-sized dog), let alone three adults. At any rate we were no more prepared to accommodate a visitor than the man in the moon! That was obvious to us... apparently not so much to other people!
So we had to locate a place with facilities that would solve the issues we were running into. Boondocking in the desert was NOT the place to be, without spending a bunch of additional money to prepare for it, and we were running out of time. We would have needed additional temporary storage for two months to clear the van out, plus appliances for heat and bathroom facilities, not only for us, but for our "guest". That translates to an outdoor shower/toilet tent, and necessary equipment for that also. Neither did we have enough on-board power available to even keep our refrigerator running, let alone anything else. WE knew the logistics of such an endeavor, even though we couldn't get anyone else to listen to reason!
A thorough search of campgrounds and RV Parks within 200 miles revealed some new facts, but provided no answers. For one thing, because Arizona is a state based on winter RVer use, for the most part, there are few actual "campgrounds". Most of the ones it has, have no facilities like showers, or even a water source. That is also true of the millions of acres of BLM land available for camping. And the state and national forests that "might" have facilities are in the high country where it's too cold at this time of year!
Most of what is available are actual RV resorts, which are at the other end of the spectrum, with so many rules that it makes it next to impossible to camp in them without anything but a full-blown, factory-built RV. Most of them won't allow any kind of home-built conversion of any kind, nor will they allow units without complete holding tanks (both gray and black) in any place except "dry-camping" areas (tent sites, if they even have those... many don't). Even small factory-built units that use porta-potties aren't allowed in some RV resorts!
The other issue we ran into was cost. Even of the resorts that we felt we "could" get into, they were ranging between $300 and $500 per month, even on a monthly rate. We soon found that any that were below that cost were... well... let's just say "they left a lot to be desired". Maybe that is how the better ones weed out the "riff-raff".
Of course, many that were anywhere near Quartzsite wouldn't let us in anyway, because they were already booked up for January and February with visitors to the big events going on there. Most of those, as well as other places, also wanted additional fees... $3 to $5 a day for an extra person (over the normal two), $3 to $5 a day for an extra vehicle (we still had the Chrysler at that time), and even extra fees for pets, some of which were non-refundable! So even if we could get into one of these places, it could have cost us upwards of $700 a month for two whole months... and that is just outrageous! I won't pay it! I don't mind $300 to $350 a month for a decent resort when we plan to stay awhile at a location, but some places like to gouge people just because they can!
Besides a serious lack of space, our other issue, which we "sort of" anticipated, but weren't sure of when we started out, was our power... or lack of it. Our guest uses a C-pap machine at night, and we discovered early in our boondocking that we couldn't even keep our refrigerator running, let alone supply power for computers or any other extras. There was no way that we could have boondocked while they were here!
We already knew of most of the potential issues that could come up because we have been RV'ing for over 30 years. But to those who have never been avid RVers or stayed aware of solar power or the RVing/camping industry, they have no clue about such things! Some don't even know where porta-potties are emptied! That's the truth, because I was literally asked that!
Fortunately, someone who had known the family for years (but apparently not well enough) suggested we come to their place and use the RV gate in their side yard, where there is a sewer drain and water and electric available. For facilities to accommodate our guest, including use of an indoor bedroom and bathroom, this worked out well. But this is where the warning comes in, for others who may not know better.
If anyone ever offers you accommodations, with or without an RV, accept such invitations wisely. If they are strangers, try not to stay more than a couple days to begin with, until you see how you get along. Take it day by day for anything longer. NEVER, EVER commit to anything longer than two weeks unless you really, really know your hosts! There's an old saying that says "familiarity breeds contempt". In other words, the longer you are around someone and see all the differences you have with them, the less you are willing to tolerate them.
I have lived enough years to know that any time you throw people together in close quarters for any length of time, the outcome is seldom good. Even if they supposedly "know" each other on a casual basis, you never really "know" someone until you have spent a considerable amount of time with them... and I'm talking many months! You don't get to know someone by occasionally running into them once every few years, no matter how many years that may be!
But when someone invites themselves into your private lifestyle in an untimely fashion, and forces your hand into accepting the generosity of such people in order to accommodate them, it is a recipe for disaster! But sometimes they have to "know it all" and won't take "no" for an answer! It's not that anyone of these people is right or wrong... they're just different in their ways... and often ignorant of circumstances or just misinformed.
Also, know something about the area you are being invited into. A rural area can have anything from roosters crowing at the crack of dawn, to overpowering stench from farm animals. In the city, there can be laws disallowing your being there with an RV, in a crime-laden area, outraged neighbors, or just plain city noise.
Our invitation to the RV gate was in a city environment and in an even colder area than we were already experiencing... the last place we wanted to be in our warm-blooded and slow-paced retired RVing lives! We're used to peace and quiet in rural areas, not loud mufflers, sirens at all time of the day and night, unruly dogs barking for hours, neighbors outside on their cell phones throwing out F-bombs with every other word, and stranger's conversations heard over a retaining wall! Yes, we had to tolerate all of this during our long two-month ordeal!
We like heat (within reason), low humidity and comfortable temperatures. We don't function well in 62-degree indoor temperatures in the middle of winter when everything logical about the human body requires 68-72 degrees to remain comfortable and healthy! We wanted to be in SOUTHERN Arizona for the winter, where we could enjoy daytime temps in that range so we could enjoy being outside, not cooped up in our trailer! We can enjoy 62 outside, when we're dressed for it, and on the move to generate some heat. But sitting doing computer work in those temperatures is just plain insane!
We also figured on being on the go regularly, so we could see sites we have never seen before, not holed up behind block privacy walls and staring at the side of a building or fences! If we were satisfied to do that, we could have stayed in our house in Arkansas! But that is what house-dwellers do, and house-dwellers in general lead very boring lives, and that is not our nature! As I said, they often have no clue about what real RV'ing or camping is like.
Although we were perfectly free to come and go as we wished, part of the lack of sightseeing was our own fault, in that we had our own projects to work on, namely all the computer work and digitizing. But there were also outside projects on the trailer itself that got delayed because of the cold weather, which often got down into the low 30's at night. Thankfully, we only got one very light snow, which didn't even cover the grass, and it was gone by the afternoon. Admittedly, it was actually a very mild winter with a lot of sunshine, as opposed to the ice and snow that was occurring back in Arkansas!
We appreciated the very tasty shared meals that we had once a week (on Sunday) with our hosts, but in reality, we feel like we gained ten pounds while there, instead of shedding that much (and more that we really need to!). No one can eat that much food, and especially baked goods all the time and expect to lose weight! We normally eat very sparingly, with usually only two very basic food items on our plates. We try to keep our caloric intake low because we aren't as active when we're traveling (or especially in our case, sitting at computers a lot).
On the other hand, we both love all kinds of food, especially ice cream and candy, and don't want our hosts to be offended because we don't eat, so when it's presented, we do eat... usually more than we need to!
We also realized there was another issue. Our hosts apparently hadn't read our blog like they said they had, otherwise they would have known that we had two vans. That was made very clear in nearly every post of our blog since leaving Arkansas. Unfortunately, they already had three vehicles, and then we showed up with three more. If that weren't bad enough, they also had another unexpected guest show up for several days with yet another car, and toward the end of the second month, another pair of visitors were due with yet another vehicle, for a total of eight vehicles! Anyone who has lived in the city in a nice new subdivision knows this isn't good. There are parking limitations and restrictions in such places! Violating them could mean an expensive citation!
My offer to help with projects around the house didn't pan out either, as I soon discovered the homeowner was plenty knowledgeable about such things and had his own agenda in doing them. I can understand that. I am somewhat of a loner myself, and due to my own knowledge, often prefer to do repair projects myself, rather than have to explain everything to a helper. I am a born perfectionist, and am very picky about how my projects are done. (You can see some of these most recent projects at http://hardyhandyman.blogspot.com). Sometimes you just know if your ways (in any matters) are different from someone else's, and as for me, I just try to stay out of the way. I often feel more comfortable with my own presence and tasks than to deal with someone who is not of the same mindset as my own. Again, no one is "wrong"... we're just of a different mindset.
I have never been one to wander through life taking other people's words for something. If anything was questionable, I looked up the facts from a reputable source, and often more than one source, just to make sure. I didn't ask other random people who were as clueless as I was (a very annoying Facebook group practice)! I am mostly self-educated, but yet I have worked side by side with engineers and architects, designing both machines and buildings, often finding and fixing mistakes they had made... and many thanked me for it. Those that didn't usually learned the hard way. I am very detail oriented. Most people aren't.
Just because I don't mumble to myself and then laugh at my own jokes, doesn't mean I don't have a sense of humor, either. But I have done my share of firing those types of people in the electrical trades, because they are the type that can get people killed. I tend to be serious and focused... because I had to be.
Because these professionals I worked with were well educated, I had to remain credible to accomplish what I have around them, from knowing their terminology to how to pronounce their words. Besides knowing proper English, I can understand and speak to some extent (though not fluently) Spanish, German, and some French. It came in handy in reading schematics and working with machines built in other countries and dealing with contacts from those countries. But even if they had been built by Native Americans, I would have learned enough of their dialect so as to be able to pronounce common words in their language without offending them or their sacred grounds, especially if I had to live among them!
I understand that everyone is different with their own ways of doing things, but when I heard that the owner's dog (who was actually a very peaceful and gentle creature around humans and most other animals) was allowed to kill a nest of innocent baby rabbits... and eat them... and the owner allowed it to happen, that's where any potential connection ended. I have hunted most of my younger years, which I no longer do, and I have owned guns all my life. But for a non-gun owner, non-hunter to allow his dog to do what he won't do himself to totally innocent animals is guilt by association. I have my own principles to live by and as far as I am concerned, I want nothing to do with such people, don't want to be around them, and could never pretend to be friends with them.
Just as Robert Urich's character in Lonesome Dove was hanged by his friends because he just happened to be "with" some killers by chance, and yet did nothing to stop them, he was just as guilty of the killing. But in this case, thinking it was funny to kill innocent baby animals who would never hurt anyone even as adults was the last straw. I would just as soon chain someone like that to a bait-covered stake in Grizzly country, and let them understand what it feels like to be prey. I'm sure Native Americans have their own way of dealing with cruel humans. After hearing what I did from him, I kept to myself, and was better off.
Another misconception that I detected (through their actions) was that we are somehow "in need" of the help that was given. We are definitely not "in need" simply because we choose to travel full-time in a cargo trailer and conversion van and live well within our means. As the old saying goes, "not all who wander are lost".
We had been planning for the past thirty years to travel anyway, and had made provision for it in everything we had done and planned up to this point. We had seriously worked up to it for the previous two years, and decided to take the leap before we endured another winter in a place we didn't want to be! And in doing so, we used what was already available so as to avoid payments! All of our reasons are spelled out very clearly in the items in the menu bar under the header of this blog... for those who care to read them.
I also laid out with a downloadable spreadsheet that I designed for anyone to use, exactly how much excess income we have with the house being gone, and it equates to roughly a third of our income, not even counting any business income from Azgrand Internet Marketing. Those who refuse to read shouldn't make ignorant assumptions!
As I have said many times in this blog (which I have indicated that our hosts hadn't read), we lived in a part of the country with few RV dealers. And because of our wanting to take Sharon's 360-pound spinet piano with us, we had to have something that would hold it (and us). We couldn't locate any toy-hauler RVs that weren't half way across the country, and since we already owned the cargo trailer, we used what we already owned and built it the way we needed to for our purposes.
For those who read travel blogs, they would know that there are many other people using cargo trailers for campers and RVs. It's nothing new or that different. There are companies out there who build factory-built units just like this. And for anyone who knows anything about horses and the trailers that carry them, many of them have living quarters built into the front of them. But all of these are still RV's! We're far from alone!
And most of the people who use them do it because they CHOOSE to! It's not a "forever" thing for us, and when we get to a place that has a good selection of what we need, we will continue to look. When the right unit is found, we will be ready to make a deal. We know what we want and what will work, and we aren't going to settle for anything less. If we don't find what we need, we might even buy something like an empty long Sprinter van, and set it up the way WE need it to be for our purpose... not like some designer thinks it needs to be to sell to the masses.
Sure, we incurred some extra expenses in the push to get out west before the winter weather caught up with us but none that we can't handle or didn't expect. Had this guest come next year, or anytime after that, we would have been in a much better position, with less extra baggage to store or deal with, more space in our vehicles (maybe even a bigger one), and more experience on where to be to best suit the needs of all involved. This year, there was no time for preparation! We knew that. They "should" have!
We could have bought another house in any area of the country that we want to live in, but we would rather be comfortable in a hundred square feet that we can see the country in, and move with the weather conditions, than uncomfortable in a thousand square feet that's stuck in a place we don't want to be due to weather or neighbors like the ones we just endured for two whole months! And since we don't know what area we "might" want to settle down in (IF that time ever comes) we aren't willing to settle for second best!
We are doing just fine on our own, and would have been enjoying our winter in warmer temperatures and seeing scenery we have never seen before, and experiencing things we had never experienced before, instead of having two huge months of what remains of our limited traveling years being stuck behind a privacy wall. We appreciated any help we did get with the situation that was NOT of our making, but I know we can all agree that it will NEVER happen again! I will see to it, if no one else does!
So without it being said (at least to us... in fact very little of substance was ever said directly to us, as it should have been) we knew that we needed to get out of that situation for many reasons. We could feel the tension rising in all concerned, and we didn't want it to explode into something that no one would want. And it was obvious there wasn't enough parking space to accommodate everyone showing up. So we left a week early to find other accommodations and make room for more vehicles, leaving our guest there for a couple more days before they also found other accommodations at a hotel for a few days (not with us).
So to balance out the negatives with some positives, what did we actually accomplish while there? For one, we managed to sort and digitize about the equivalent of six (out of nearly a hundred) 140-count Kodak carousels of photo slides. We threw about half of them away, so we actually only digitized about half. Keep in mind, we didn't bring the actual slide carousels with us. Those had been emptied and disposed of before we left Arkansas, while the slides themselves (in groups) were simply wrapped in typing paper. These took up about 1/6th the space and weight of a single full carousel. We also sorted through most of the audio cassettes (not the pre-recorded ones), and threw better than half of those away. The actual digitizing of the remainder will come later.
On the van, we got the rear window repaired very efficiently, and at no cost to us, by nation-wide Safelite Auto Glass. I can highly recommend them for any automotive glass repair. We also put the Chevy van in a highly recommended (by online reviews) body shop for a couple days and got the deer damage repaired (again, at no cost to us), plus a missing body panel behind the right front wheel replaced (at our own expense) that had been gone since we got the van.
We checked on some replacement wheels at Discount Tire, but didn't see any we liked. We're still looking for something that looks like it goes with the van, and not some aftermarket mismatched add-on.
We also put the van in the Chevy dealer's shop and had them run a full diagnostic workup and visual inspection of everything under the van. The problem we thought we had was not there, and everything was ready to travel. Of course, they always will show some things that are borderline, to try to get you to spend some additional money with them, but we passed on those... for now. Some may get done in the near future (such as a full tune-up), but hopefully by someone with less expensive labor and shop-time prices!
On the trailer, I purchased and installed the new 7-pin trailer plug and a proper junction box for the connections on the trailer tongue. Once that was done, I purchased the special trailer wire for the charging circuit to the trailer batteries, and installed that. So far, that is working very well. I do believe that the third 100-watt solar panel and the addition of the charging circuit from the van has solved our power issues. I also found a welding shop and got the tongue jack re-welded where it had cracked when I straightened the mounting plate.
So where are we now? At a full-amenity and full-hook-up RV Resort (that shall remain nameless for now) somewhere in Arizona, where we will remain for the entire month of March. We did make one last run to Ehrenberg and Blythe upon leaving our hosts location, to relocate our stored items to a smaller unit, and also collect what we needed to take with us for the summer. Unfortunately, it is not yet summer, and many of the places we want to go are still covered with snow! Therefore the delay at this much warmer location, until we hit the road again. No, it's not boondocking, and yes, we do have to pay a reasonable monthly rate, but all considered, we're happy with it... and can afford it... despite the mistaken impressions that some people have. We could have gone anywhere, from one of our membership resorts to back in the desert, but we CHOSE this place. No one, nor circumstances, forced it upon us!
While here, we sold the Chrysler van on the first full day here, and we have already gone through nearly every box of printed photos and a couple space-hungry boxes of photo albums we had in the van, and eliminated at least half of them. Likely even more will get pitched before they are scanned.
We also made a huge decision and went through every box of pre-recorded VHS videos, kept a few that we wanted to digitize, and donated five large cartons of them to the local senior center for their thrift shop. We also had about ten large photo albums that we emptied and donated on the next trip to town.
Getting rid of this stuff has probably saved at least 200 pounds of weight and about 20 cubic feet of storage space in the van. That may sound like a lot, but it's not. It's only about 1/10th of what was in the van to start with. We still have a long way to go. I try to scan and digitize about 200 photos a day here in the trailer. It's amazing what the newer 4 x 6 prints weigh, just by themselves! We still have about four boxes of home VHS movies to sort through. Those will take more time, as we have to load them into the player to see what's on them. It will be good to get rid of them and lighten our load! We still have a few boxes of slides to sort through and digitize yet, but we're slowly making progress.
The only glitch is that we have buried our USB 3-1/2-inch disk drive somewhere and haven't found it yet! We need it before we can examine and sort all the old computer and Sony Mavica camera disks we have. There's at least two large boxes of those.
Also, we decided to leave the four boxes of LP albums in storage until next fall. They are extremely heavy, and between them and the phonograph player we need to "play them into" our computer, they take up a lot of space. We can deal with them more efficiently next season after we get these other dinosaurs out of the way.
An issue that showed up yesterday, though, was that I could not save any more images. It appears I don't have enough memory, even on a 500-gig computer. So our next purchase this morning was two 1-Terrabyte-sized external disk drives, one for photos and one for videos. I know how much I tout off-site storage, and we DO have Carbonite for off-site back up of files. I am also going to check into using the new unlimited Google Photo program on the cloud for some that we may want to retrieve from remote locations. It never hurts to have more than one means of back-up, especially if it's free!
If we're lucky, and don't have too many interruptions, we might be able to get this part of our digitizing done by next fall, before we take on all those LP albums in storage. Some people work to make money. For us, this IS our work, and is just as important to us, but for different reasons. Who knows... by then we may have the larger RV we want and can clear out both storage spaces. We haven't been searching seriously yet, but you never know what we will come across in our travels!
Being able to absorb the stuff in storage is also a practical matter. We can't very well dispose of it if it's not with us! But neither do we want to shoot ourselves in the foot and go out and buy another 40-foot RV with huge basement storage, when most of this stuff is eventually going to be disposed of anyway! The storage is cheaper than an RV large enough to carry it!
As of today, we have plans to meet up with another well-known blogger couple this evening. I'll post about that the next time. We still want to get out and do some sight-seeing in this area before we leave, but for now, our primary focus is reducing weight and gaining space in the Chevy van before we leave here.
We discovered on the way here that we have a fluid leak from underneath on the Chevy somewhere, and haven't been able to see where it is coming from, so we want to have someone put it on a lift again and check it out from underneath, so that is another good reason to shed some weight. Everything seems to function normally, but we'll still have it checked out before making another long pull with it.
Apologies for the lack of pictures in this post, but I'm sure you understand why we just didn't get out to take anything worthwhile.
So until next time, thanks for putting up with my overly-long stories and any perceived negativity, for any clicking on links you might have done, or any purchases you might have made. It is all appreciated very much. Traveling like this isn't always the perfect and positive situation that so many other blogs pretend it to be, especially if you allow other people to start running your plans. Stay with what works, and do what YOU want to do. It's YOUR life and YOUR dwelling. Don't allow others to rule what direction either one takes!
Sometimes I can be brutally honest and offend people even when I don't mean to, and other times I just don't care, but at least it's my honest feelings. They just may not want to hear it.
Tough. As Sammy used to sing, "I've got to be me!" You should, too!
Stay well and travel safe.