Vanished…Yet Hope on the Horizon

These times during the COVID-19 Pandemic have up-ended our intention for adding new updates to our 12mph blog. Thanks for hanging with us!

On Friday, March 6, 2020 with a smidgin’ of phone service available at our campsite at Kartchner Caverns State Park, we placed a call to an RV park in Santa Fe, New Mexico to secure the final reservation as part of an upcoming 12-month, 56-stay, 31-state trip. What a huge relief! It had taken us months with dozens of hours in coffee shops or public libraries for WiFi in order to accomplish this immense task. Unbelievably, we began making some of our reservations in October and November 2019. 

Lovely March 6, 2020 enjoying our beautiful campsite in Kartchner Caverns State Park near Benson, Arizona. Sunshine. Mild tems. Blue sky. Arid climate. Tranquility the Nash Trailer. AZ IF the Ford F-350. Life is Good! The last reservation was made!

Why plan so far in advance? We learned during our first year of full-time RVing that it was necessary for us to plan nearly a year prior to reserve in private, state park, and national park campgrounds depending on their reservation window. Reminders were added to our Google calendar as to when the reservation needed to be secured. We devised a list of all 50 states and the earliest a reservation could be made in each state park campground. Another rule of thumb was national parks are typically six months in advance UNLESS they are managed by an outside vendor who can take reservations sooner i.e. Florida Everglades National Park. Another list indicated when to make reservations for private and national park campground stays. Then from these lists, we knew when to reserve. It was kind of bizarre to be making reservations in Texas for March at the same time we were making reservations for a campground in Georgia for a November visit. Plus, we reached out to family and friends months to a year in advance, mainly because of planning for an entire year for an extended trip not likely to be done of this depth or breadth again. Details, details!

On February 26, 2020, Bernard’s Coffee Station in Globe, Arizona had good WiFi. We spent one afternoon making more reservations. Globe was a 30-minute drive from Tonto National Forest where we had no cell phone service. Plus Globe had a pretty good laundromat where we did laundry before Bernard’s.
Bernard’s provided ample table space to sprawl. Plus their vegetable soup and sourdough bread, and of course coffee, oh my!

The evening before, we would review the campground website (namely county, state, or national parks where one selects a specific campsite) to see which sites would work for our situation using advanced search filters: hookups required, length of trailer, and having one slide. With the campground map that included site numbers juxtaposed with a Google map of the campground in satellite view, we’d look at each potential site. We often were able to discern which site provided the most direct sunlight. Sometimes this was desired and other times we’d be looking for shade. We also learned over time that if possible, a longer site really made it easier with our big pickup truck. A list of sites was created and kept handy for reserving bright and early the next morning.

The morning that we’d need to reserve, our alarm would be set 30 minutes prior to the time and time zone for the earliest a reservation could be made. (Sleepy-eyed in Arizona for the Florida reservations). Learning early in the reservation process that it takes roughly 10-15 additional seconds for the “I’m not a robot” CAPTCHA to complete before the reservation is submitted was a helpful caveat. Unbelievably we lost a couple of reservations to others making reservations early in the morning. Kind of crazy! Yet it worked fairly well and our year was planned! Whew!

This was a simple way to keep track of reservations in tandem with Google calendar and documents was to use a legal pad and make our own calendar. We couldnt locate a planning calendar when tucked away into more remote areas.

The trip was created with several goals in mind: visit family and friends; camp near the southern edge of each of the five Great Lakes; prefer county, state, or national park stays; conduct genealogy research; visit numerous cemeteries related to Diane’s heritage in OH, PA, NY, CT, WV, and MA; help Diane pick up VT, NY, MA, RI, and CT for her list of states visited; have Thanksgiving with cousins; spend December-March along the southern Atlantic and Gulf Coasts; welcome Christmas and New Years in the Florida Everglades; take a couple of day-trips to the Florida Keys; spend a month in one place near Gulf Shores, Alabama; tour NASA near Houston; visit Big Bend National Park, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

Barb’s home in Denver metro where we sheltered in place for 52 days.
Morning view from Barb’s back window. It was a drastically different view that what we were enjoying a week prior in the Benson, Arizona area.
On March 20, 2020, it was 23 degrees yet felt like 15. This wasn’t Arizona anymore!

Fast forward to March 19 in the midst of Plan B and the first three days of sheltering in place at our friend’s home in Colorado. We spent hours over those days emailing or calling all family and friends, campgrounds, state parks, and national parks to cancel our 56 stays. It took two weeks for the last of the credits to be applied to our credit card. It seemed absolutely surreal that everything was cancelled! Not one reservation remained on the books or in the works. The good news is that we were able to recover 89% of what we put down as deposits, some stays being completely pre-paid in-full. It’s still a loss, but it could have been worse.

Beginning March 19, we began keeping our list of reservation cancelations for 56 stays in 31 states over 12-months.

Vanished. Just like that 56 stays were off the calendar!

Yet, the good news was that there was hope building on the horizon! By Friday, March 20, we had a gut feeling that we needed to keep the engine moving and commit to the next plan, our Plan C. Knowing that we wanted to find a home base abode to rent in Pullman, Washington, we explored our camping options between our arrival in the Pullman area and actually finding a place to rent. Not only were we in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we also knew that there may be other full-time RVers needing a longer term site or an influx of snowbird RVers heading north prematurely. We discovered several longer term RV park communities in the surrounding towns. The closest was in Moscow, Idaho, 10 miles from Pullman, placing us strategically with easy access to Jeremy and Michelle and looking for a home. We paid a month’s non-refundable deposit on March 23 in order to hold a spot for an open-ended time at the RV park with our arrival set for May 12. This was a huge relief. At least we had an anchor at the other end.

Throughout our 52-day stay at Barb’s home south of Denver, we kept tabs on the home rental market in Pullman. Thankfully between Trulia, Zillow, and Craigslist, we had a nice list of 15 rentals by the time we left Denver. Trying to imagine what a home-base would look like after having downsized as much as we could, we knew that we’d like ample space to resume projects once we were settled. A three-bedroom or 2 bedroom plus den would provide room to spread out. Having at least a one-car garage would be helpful for storing much of what was in the pickup bed, bicycles, etc. A yard that would require minimum upkeep would certainly make it conducive to hitch up Tranquility the Trailer and at least enjoy some camping trips in Washington, Idaho, or Oregon.

How did the hope on the horizon turn out? Stay tuned for the next post!

Diane & Steve

Living Life at the Speed of Sanity….even after full-time RVing!

 

 

 

The Great Spare Tire Saga

The Great Spare Tire Saga started the day we replaced the truck tires on September 8, 2018. We decided to share this post nearly a year later as it seemed pretty epic in retrospect! Hopefully others will learn from our experiences. Thank you, Steve for putting all of the details together!

Buying truck tires was a new experience for us. The tires on the truck were nearing the end of their useful life, and with our planned travels we decided to replace all four. Since the truck, while still new to us, was now eight years old, we decided to err on the side of caution and replace the spare as well.

In the waiting room of Big O Tires, the tire technician came in and asked us for the spare tire key. I’m sure we looked confused as we confessed (an expression we have perfected as we continue our “learning experiences” with trucks, trailers, and diesel engines) the only key we had was the truck ignition key. 

This is the truck’s old spare tire that couldn’t be removed due to not having a spare tire key.

This is how we found out that most trucks and some cars have special locks to keep the spare tires safe from theft. The Ford documentation states to keep the spare tire key in the glove compartment. I wish we would have known that when we bought the truck! FYI, if you are not familiar with the Ford F250 spare tire lock, it is not visible from the outside of the truck. The key is attached to the end of the jack bars and inserted into a plastic guide tube. The lock is 20” or so down the tube.  And, the spare tire resides beneath the truck bed, not an easy place to necessarily access. Plus the spare is relatively heavy.

Since Big O Tires did not want to hold the spare tire replacement, we had to take the tire with us. (But first, there’s a caveat to the story. Just three days after the truck tires were purchased, we had to return our new truck topper to the topper dealer due to a manufacturing fault. The topper had to be freighted round-trip to California, taking nearly a month to be repaired. Therefore, we had to empty the truck bed since we didn’t have a topper.)

Back to storage we go to unload the truck bed so the topper can be returned for repairs.

To store the new, unmounted, spare tire, this is where it went, tucked in the front of the truck bed:

The truck’s new spare tire went into the truck bed sans the topper.

Research on the internet confirmed the need for the spare tire key. It also exposed much frustration with the spare tire lock and key system. There were many discussion threads on how to remove the lock and make the spare tire removal easier (and more prone to theft I suppose).

Rather than hacking the spare tire system, we pursued a solution that would restore Bessie (Yes, we name our vehicles!) to wholeness. Off to a nearby Ford dealer. By now we knew that there were a limited set of keys and we were hopeful that our Ford dealer could tell us which key we needed. They could not. Evidently, only a handful of dealers carry a full set of keys. Since there are less than two dozen keys, and given the amount of frustration I found on the internet regarding the spare tire key, I find it peculiar that every Ford dealer does not have a set of keys. 

O’Meara Ford in Bloomington, outside of Denver, had a full set of keys. We drove up there and they quickly matched the key to the lock and told us which key we needed to order. The keys are only available online from McGard. O’Meara Ford and McGard were both very helpful during this ordeal, but our saga is not yet finished.

Based on the key number from O’Meara, and that our truck is a 2011 Ford F250, we ordered a replacement key. 

Confident that we would soon have a solution, we continued our travels to several locations in the Colorado mountains. When we came back to the Denver area and picked up the spare tire key from our daughter where we had McGard send it, the key did not fit our spare tire lock! Back to O’Meara Ford to compare keys. Oddly, the key we ordered did not match the O’Meara Ford key. Since our solution did not work, we had O’Meara Ford lower the spare tire.

O’Meara Ford removed the truck’s spare tire for us

This time we took pictures of the keys to highlight the differences and sent the pictures to McGard. McGard responded quickly. We found out that they keys were changed between the 2010 and 2011 model years, but some “older” 2011 models still had the older version of the key. 

McGard sent out a new key to our daughter. In the meantime, we had more traveling to do, so with the old spare removed, we had Big O Tires mount the new spare tire.

Off to Mesa Verde National Park we went with the spare cabled and locked to the side of the truck. What a wonderful trip and we will return! When leaving Mesa Verde, we decided to stop in Mancos for breakfast. Walking to the restaurant, Diane looked down at our trailer tires and found part of a screw sticking out from the tread on one of the tires!

Diane notices a screw in the driver's rear tire of the trailer.
Diane noticed a screw in the driver’s rear tire of the trailer.

Rather than take chances and at the encouragement of Diane’s brother, Chuck, who she called for some feedback, we changed the trailer tire with the spare. Would you believe, the spare tire storage on the Nash does not fit the wheels that come with the trailer? The spare tire rim is different than the rest of the tires.

In Mancos, Colorado, Steve changed out the trailer tire for the spare.

Interestingly, we now had two tires in the bed of our truck in  a new spare tire configuration:

Our truck bed now carried two tires!
Our truck bed now carried two tires!

Meanwhile, in the wonderful world of the US Postal Service, our spare tire key replacement took a side trip and wandered around Zionville, Indiana, presumably waiting for an address resolution. A call to McGard confirmed the correct mailing address and McGard promptly sent out a replacement package to our daughter’s address.

The replacement spare tire key arrived soon after we were back in Denver. The trailer tire with the screw in the tread did not leak any air. So, the truck spare tire is now under the bed of the truck. I changed the trailer tire again and put the spare back on the bumper. All was well.

On October 13, 2018, with all tires in place we left for Utah, escaping a winter storm in Denver just in time.

All tires were on the truck and trailer as intended plus the topper.

IN SUMMARY

From start to finish, our spare tire saga took nearly four weeks. We are thankful that there were no emergencies during this time frame. We were very impressed with the service at O’Meara Ford. There were helpful over two separate visits and never considered charging us for their help. We are also very impressed with customer service at McGard. While we did not get the correct key the first time, which was not necessarily their fault, they were very responsive in sending out the new key, and when that was lost in Indiana, they were super responsive in sending out another replacement. The key that was wandering around Zionville, Indiana eventually showed up. Not a great showing by the USPS, but, hey, mistakes happen. Ford, in general, why did you make this spare tire key thing so complicated?

And then, there is the Ford dealer where we bought the truck. It seems like a functioning spare tire system is something that should have been on their checklist, However, I cannot discount our naivety in buying the truck. Lessons learned! Now if Northwood Manufacturing would consider designing spare tire storage and a spare tire wheel that would accomodate any of the trailer wheels, that would be helpful!

Happy Trails at Life at the Speed of Sanity!

Steve

 

Planning Ahead

It’s been over a year since we laid claim to a full-time RV lifestyle. Frankly, we aren’t sure where the time has gone. It seemed to take the better part of the months from September 2017 until our July 29, 2018 launch to prepare for this new lifestyle. It definitely took some planning ahead!

Grandma’s Piano Goes to a New Home, September 2017

The best advice that we received from my friend, Judy, was to attend the Denver RV show, visit RV dealers, and follow Facebook groups whose focus is full-time RVing. She really nailed it. We went to the Denver RV show where we were able to get acquainted with various brands and layouts. It helped us wrap our brains around the many sizes and floor plans. We also visited several RV dealers in the Denver area, some of them more than once. This gave us a feel for the used and new market. The third piece, following Facebook groups, continues to be a very helpful resource. By joining these groups, we could easily search for a topic in the group’s search field. Then if a topic hadn’t been featured, we would pose a question via a post.

Steve & Diane at the Colorado RV Show, January 5, 2018

Here we are a year later. How do we plan?
Our planning consists of two basic filters: where to stay and when to stay

Where to stay?
As we are still on a track of visiting family and friends, this is our first consideration. Then we check the 15-day forecast as well as the historical data for temps during each month. Once we know the specific city or general area where we’re heading, we use several apps: Good Sam, All-Stays, Campendium, FreeCampsites.net, RVParky, and our Garmin RV GPS.

We also belong to several Facebook RV groups where we conduct a search by state or city for possible campgrounds or boondocking [free dry-camping without any hookups] areas that others have used and provide favorable reviews. If we know of a national or state park, we often search there first. Having National Park Senior Passes, we frequently can have reduced camping fees. For instance, our camping fee was reduced by 50% at Craters of the Moon National Monument. Our fee was $4/night! Other good options are city or county parks. We have stayed at numerous city campgrounds, which cost a fraction of private ones.

Craters of the Moon National Preserve and Monument near Arco, Idaho, October 22, 2018
Pullman, Washington City RV Park, October 30, 2018

And, yes, we do stay in private campgrounds when other options aren’t viable.

Jantzen Beach RV Park on Hayden Island, Portland, Oregon, November 8, 2018

Recently we had a completely unique-to-us experience by dry camping in a casino parking lot three different times. It was free and permitted RVers to extend their slideouts. We patronized the casino by purchasing our breakfasts. We know that many Walmarts, Cabela’s, Cracker Barrel Restaurants, et al offer free overnight camping. Unfortunately, the number of places offering this option is dwindling as there have been people who abuse this privilege. Etiquette has it that one asks the management before assuming that a free stay is permitted. Secondly, they typically do not permit the extending of slideouts, use of generators, or unhitching the tow vehicle.

Wildhorse Casino, Pendleton, Oregon, October 26, 2018

When to stay?
We reach out to family and friends to make sure they are available for visits from us. When we go to an area with family and friends, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ll spend every waking minute with them. The beauty of visiting them often includes enjoying their community or sites to tour. Recently, we stayed at a private campground in Portland, Oregon. We toured parts of the city on foot, via bus and rail. The bonus was having dinner on two different nights with family and coffee with friends one afternoon.

Visiting our son and daughter-in-love in Pullman, Washington, October 2018!

With the holidays on the horizon, we hope to be near family around Christmas and New Years, but will remain flexible as to when we visit. [Weather will definitely be a factor]. Longer range, we will make our way across sections of southern tier states i.e. Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Tennessee. We have a couple dozen of family members and friends who we can potentially visit in some states. Our plan is to reach out to them roughly six weeks in advance. It’s not feasible to visit every one during this first year of travels. We will have visits to anticipate in coming years!

For the areas without family or friends, we check-out the special events that may be enjoyable to partake or note the timeframes where the supply of campsites may be challenged due to events or a popular season.

Not wanting to be smack dab in a deep freeze or the baking heat of summer, also determines when to visit an area. This time of year the weather forecast plays a significant role as we factor in cold temps, rainy or foggy weather, potential snow, and even wildfires. [Currently we are keeping close tabs on California’s tragic wildfires as we’re soon headed to Central California.]

Soaking up the Oregon Pacific Coast with some haze from smoke and fog, but moderate temperatures, November 2018!

Are you considering a full-time RV lifestyle? If so, please consider reaching out to us if you have questions based on our first year of experience in preparing for this journey and now being on the road for 112 days!

If you are already living the full-time RV lifestyle and have suggestions, we are always open to hearing what you have to share!

~ Happy Trails from “Life at the Speed of Sanity”