As you can imagine, full-time RVing offers a lot of opportunities for out-of-the-ordinary experiences. After all, you can wake up in a different city or state any day of the week, depending on your travel. And no two locations or RV setups are exactly alike.
Bundling up to make morning coffee because it’s 42 degrees in the trailer is certainly unusual. But among our travels in 2020 — from the beautiful Pacific Northwest to the windy plains and farmland of the Midwest, to the small towns and prominent history of the East, to the slower pace of the South — three experiences stand out as the most unique:
1. Vacuuming Out Our Holding Tanks
You know the saying: “When you gotta go, you gotta go.” The same applies to emptying RV holding tanks: “When they’re full, you gotta dump them.” Well, when you’re set up in a location for an extended period of time and don’t have sewer hookups, you might have to get creative with how you deal with that emptying imperative.
As with most things, there are multiple ways to address this endeavor. The most obvious would be to close down our trailer, hook it up to the truck, and tow it to a dump station. But we had another option: have a company that regularly empties and cleans porta-potties come to our trailer (for a fee, of course) and suck the contents out of our tanks into a holding tank on a truck for transport to a sanitary dumping facility. We went for option No. 2.
A young guy met us at our rig and proceeded to hook up the hoses on his truck to our holding tanks, flip a switch, and vacuum out the contents. We looked on while the guy took care of our mess — and we didn’t even have to close anything up in the trailer. It cost more than a dumping station would, but the convenience was well worth the extra price.
2. Corn Palace
In the small town of Mitchell, South Dakota, stands the world’s only Corn Palace, which got its start in 1892 as a gathering place for locals to enjoy a fall festival in celebration of a successful crop-growing season and harvest.
Every year, the outside of the palace showcases a new theme designed completely out of corn — 12 different shades of corn. The theme for 2020: South Dakota Home Grown. Murals inside the facility also reflect the year’s theme. And the upper level of the interior displays pictures of the previous themes all the way back to the beginning, so you can see the progress throughout the palace’s history.
You’ll find corn-made items inside as well. We saw a “corny” pair of sneakers emblazoned with the grain, as well as some tools and other things. A corn-themed gift shop culminates the unique experience, where you’ll find all kinds of corn-related souvenirs to commemorate your visit.
3. Sight & Sound Theatre
Having met as light technicians, we have an affinity for live productions. We enjoy going to the local theater and watching a play come to life right before our eyes. Our kids were involved in plays and musicals in high school, and we took pleasure in attending those performances as well.
But nothing compares to the phenomenal live performance we experienced at the Sight & Sound Theatre in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
I started snapping pictures before we even parked, finding the outside beauty of the building mesmerizing. When we walked in, the scent of roasting almonds filled our nostrils, beckoning us to sample the novelty. So, of course, we obliged.
After navigating to our seats in the third row, stage right, we settled in to take in our surroundings, confident we were in for a special treat. Once the production started and the curtain opened, the stellar acting and sets captivated our attention. But then, the side walls disappeared to reveal an extended set and more actors on each side.
You’ve likely heard of theaters in the round, where the stage is surrounded by seats so every person has a good view of the action, regardless of where they sit. This had that same feel, but on a much larger scale. We look forward to visiting again the next time we’re in Pennsylvania or Branson, Missouri (their other location).
You know you have a good thing going when you’re away from your RV for two weeks and miss being home. That’s a nice surprise of our new lifestyle. Dorothy said it best in “The Wizard of Oz”: “There’s no place like home.” In addition to that revelation, here are the top surprises from our first six months of RV living:
1. 400 square feet is more than enough space.
The living area of our fifth wheel doesn’t sound like much, but it’s just enough for the two of us. We have everything we need: a living room, kitchen and table, bedroom, bathroom, and a dedicated office — even enough space to entertain. It’s easy to take care of and keep clean, and it feels homey. We really enjoy it.
2. We have more than we need or use.
When you set out on a major adventure, you likely have an idea of what equipment you’ll need. We did. And it’s always better to be over-prepared than under-prepared, right?
But thinking about inventorying the things in our trailer we haven’t touched since we left the Phoenix area in May sounds like work. We have more unnecessary things than I’d like to tally. There are the fishing poles, DVDs, certain clothes, some dishes, and plenty more. And we didn’t even fill up all the space our rig has to offer.
3. Solid friendships traverse time and distance.
It truly is a small world — and country. Traveling across it and reconnecting with friends and family we hadn’t seen in months and years reminded us of the depth of those relationships. The time apart didn’t matter. We made new connections and rekindled longtime friendships, picking right up where we left off.
4. Truckers are our friends.
Semi-trucks (tractor-trailers in the East, where Bob grew up) were one of the best sights for us to see on any road. If truckers who travel regularly drove the roads we were on, it gave us confidence we could make it on those same avenues — because our rig is only 3 inches shorter than a semi.
Seeing trucks at rest areas and travel stops gave us that same level of confidence for the same reason.
5. Rest areas are quieter at night than we thought.
At the onset of our RV journey, the thought of sleeping in our rig in the parking lot of a rest area didn’t sound very attractive. Vehicles going in and out of the stop every so often would surely keep us awake. And, knowing we’d have to park where truckers park because of the length of Gulliver pulling Tagalong just added to the certainty of the din.
While traveling across the country to stay ahead of some storms, however, we quickly learned otherwise. Wanting to cover a lot of ground in a few days’ time necessitated overnight stays close to the highway. As you probably guessed, rest areas made the perfect stops. And we slept just fine, unbothered by the drone of the diesel truck engines.
6. Even though our rig is made for full-time living, things break.
Not all RVs are created equal. Some are made to be taken out for a short weekend trip, or even for up to two weeks or a month at a time. Others are more robust, designed for full-time living. But no matter the durability behind the construction, all of them are susceptible to things breaking.
Someone summarized it well: Our home experiences a mini earthquake every time we take it on the road. Highways aren’t designed for transporting your home every day, or even occasionally. Just as things break in earthquakes, they break in our rig and require fixing.
Our downtime from traveling during these winter months gives us the perfect opportunity to address those issues (some have to be dealt with right away) — and dwindle down our belongings.
In our first five months living full time on the road, we traveled nearly 8,000 miles, averaging 294 miles per trip and staying in 27 different locations — not including the two weeks we spent in Montana on tour with the Commemorative Air Force B-25 from Airbase Arizona. That 8,000 miles doesn’t include all the running around we did in Gulliver while set up in a location.
In our longest trek, we covered 667 miles in about 13.5 hours, including stops, as we rushed back to Arizona early to be with family. Our shortest distance: 28 miles in Massachusetts. We stayed at a truck stop the night before because we didn’t want to be rushed when setting up at Bob’s brother Bill’s. It made for an easy drive the next day and plenty of daylight to get our setup just right.
Our 27 stays included:
We liked the various stays for different reasons. For example, rest areas make a nice overnight stop when traveling a long distance. The same with casinos, Cabela’s, and Walmart. Here we outline our favorites among the first four types of stops listed above:
Favorite Moochdocking Stay
We greatly appreciate all the people who generously hosted us and allowed us to hook up to water and electric as needed. We enjoyed spending time with friends and family at each of those destinations.
But if we had to pick a favorite moochdocking stop from this past summer, it would be my cousin’s farm in southwestern Michigan, where we stayed for a full month. Getting a little taste of farm life — literally — edged out the other stops. The farm is also where we picked up the little electric bikes we ordered, which were super fun to ride around there.
Favorite Rest Area
We overnighted at rest areas in Tonopah, Nevada; Orovada, Nevada; Rock Springs, Wyoming; Lexington, Virginia; and Jasper, Tennessee. Of those five stops, the Tennessee Welcome Center in Jasper was definitely our favorite.
This rest area sits on an island in the Tennessee River and features beautiful sunrises over the water. Plus, it boasts a building with a Keurig and a vending machine of K-cups, as well as other vending machines. This coffee option may be commonplace at rest areas today, but it was the first one we saw.
I really liked the Great River Campground at the edge of Minnesota, near the Wisconsin border. Unfortunately, the low-hanging branches on the way into the campground ripped our roof (because I didn’t have our TV antenna facing the right direction), so we didn’t get to give the site a good try. We left after one night to avoid storms.
Instead, Four-Mile Creek State Campground on Lake Ontario in northern New York proved to be our favorite of the summer. Although our campsite didn’t overlook the water, we enjoyed riding our bikes around the campground loops to areas with lake views. We also had a campfire there for the first time on our trip. And, it served as an excellent jumping-off point to visit Niagara Falls.
Favorite Boondockers Welcome Stay
We’re still learning the benefits of this option after only staying at two of more than 2,600 Boondockers Welcome hosts. Our favorite stop of this sort would have to be our first, at Lynnwoods Rest Stop in Fremont, Ohio. The host provided full hookups (for a small fee), visited with us for a bit, and made us feel right at home. Situated in a farm area, the stop provided an excellent opportunity for us to take our bikes out and go exploring down a cornfield-lined street.
That’s not to say our other Boondockers Welcome stay was subpar. Quite the contrary. We were so relaxed at that one that we didn’t even leave our trailer for two days. Just enjoyed some much-needed downtime.
Although we drove through 24 states, we could only add 19 to our map because we didn’t spend a night in five of them. Of those we did stay in, our favorite would have to be Pennsylvania.
We moochdocked at the grandparents’ of a girl we met in Guatemala last fall on our Panama Canal cruise. We appreciated visiting with our welcoming and delightful hosts every evening.
We probably explored Pennsylvania more than any other state we toured over the summer, venturing into Gettysburg, Lancaster, and Philadelphia — and glimpsing autumn leaves in the process.
Although we had owned a popup trailer and a hybrid travel trailer (hard-sided with fold-out, canvas-covered beds) in the past, living full time in our fifth wheel presented new challenges.
For one thing, the fifth wheel is the longest rig we’ve ever towed, stretching about 42 feet. It’s also the tallest — just 3 inches shy of the height of a standard semi-truck. Our size on the road certainly played a part in some of our scariest moments in our first five months on the road. Here, we count down the top five:
5. Windy Night in Oklahoma
After four calm, relaxing days at a friend’s farm near Oklahoma City, the wind picked up. Having lived through some incredibly windy days in South Dakota just fine, we didn’t think a whole lot of it. But the theme song from the “Oklahoma” musical kept playing through my head: “Where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain.”
Settled in for the night, we were shaken awake at 1 a.m. by the howling wind moving the trailer. I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep with that sound playing right outside my bedroom, so I got up to explore how the rest of the trailer was faring. It seemed quieter in the living room, so I thought maybe I’d just go down there and sleep on the couch.
I also checked the weather app on my phone, which predicted the wind would increase in intensity over the next hour. We weren’t afraid the trailer would blow over, but we decided it would be best to pull in all four slides to get through the night. So, that’s exactly what we did.
We had to move some things to make room for the slides to come into the trailer, but then we were able to get back to sleep. Although the wind kept howling, we didn’t hear or feel it.
4. Cattle Guard Collision
We expected to make mistakes as we started our new life on the road. After all, as Albert Einstein said, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”
Despite that, we didn’t expect to make a huge error on our very first stop. As we pulled off the main road onto a forest road north of Flagstaff, Arizona, we had to cross a cattle guard. Unlike most cattle guards that have outer supports angled away from the road, this one had 90-degree supports.
We didn’t take the turn wide enough to clear those supports. As a result, the side of the trailer hit the cattle guard while I watched in my rearview mirror. I jumped out to survey the damage and try to determine the best way to get us out of the jam. We had two choices: go forward or reverse. Bob thought we had the best chance if we moved backward and tried to take the turn wider.
He proceeded to do that while I stayed outside watching and listening to the sound of aluminum grating against steel — and pulling my hair out. This was our house, everything we owned. I didn’t want it destroyed on our very first stop, not that I wanted it destroyed at all. I screamed and kicked rocks, but there was really nothing I could do. The damage had been done.
Once clear of the cattle guard, Bob got out to assess the damage. It appeared to be cosmetic only. Thankfully, his assessment turned out to be right. Everything was still functional.
3. Bob’s Head Injury
You never want something bad to happen to your loved ones. That’s doubly true when there are only two of you, and you rely on each other for your livelihood.
While in Georgia, Bob somehow managed to scrape his head while crossing under the bedroom of the fifth wheel. He hit the corner of the hard steel that holds the fifth wheel kingpin that connects to the hitch in the bed of our truck. I hadn’t seen that much blood from a single wound before.
Lots of thoughts funnel through your mind at a time of unknowns like that — at least they do mine. I didn’t know if the hospital would need to keep him (although I didn’t think so), how sore he’d be, if he’d be on pain meds, etc.
Although we had intended to leave for our next destination the following day, I quickly made backup plans in my head. I could drive if needed, or we could stay longer and make up the time somewhere else along the way.
Thankfully, Bob only needed three staples and a tetanus shot, and we left the hospital emergency room less than an hour after arriving there, with a prescription for an antibiotic but no pains meds other than Tylenol. We left Georgia the next day, as planned.
2. A Steep Grade in NV with No Guardrail
Early in our summer adventure, we took Highway 140 from Medford, Oregon, to a rest area near Winnemucca, Nevada. We enjoyed the quiet, largely uninhabited, two-lane road that led us through beautiful scenery. And then we didn’t.
We could see for miles and, in the distance, the road clearly made a sharp turn and dramatic climb. We chuckled as we anticipated approaching the ascent, clueless about what awaited us. As we followed the road into the turn, the 3-mile climb began. Gulliver’s mpg gauge dropped to 2 — and so did the guardrail. There wasn’t one. One wrong move, and we could fall off the cliff. Talk about scary — and I was driving!
In no hurry, we took our time on this treacherous road and breathed a sigh of relief once we made it to the top. “Slow and steady wins the race.”
1. Narrow Switchback Road in TN
The Oregon road definitely had us shaking in our boots, but we found a different road even scarier. Traveling from Virginia to visit some friends just south of the Tennessee border in Georgia, our Co-Pilot app routed us through a narrow, curvy road (Route 30). Because we had grown to trust our Co-Pilot app, we followed its guidance.
Had we taken the time to look at the route the app suggested, we definitely would have found an alternative.
My head pounded as Bob’s white-knuckled hands gripped the steering wheel turning us this way and that. Low-hanging branches didn’t seem to be an issue — the app got that part right. But, the tight two-lane road lacked a shoulder on either side. We couldn’t pull over if we had to. And the length of our rig made some of the turns impossible without going into the oncoming lane.
Thankfully, we didn’t encounter much traffic that day and made it through the scary episode. We agreed we’d rather go an hour out of our way than to travel down that road again. It took us a good full day to recover from the stress of that journey.
“The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry,” penned Scottish poet Robert Burns. That saying applies well to full-time RVing, where plans change constantly.
We had planned to spend a few nights near Amarillo, Texas, at a city park that offers free water and electricity, followed by a week in New Mexico with Boondockers Welcome, before returning to the White Mountains of Arizona and then the Valley of the Sun for the winter months.
Instead, we covered about 670 miles in 13.5 hours between Oklahoma City and Gallup, New Mexico, making our first stay in a Walmart parking lot, where the store’s outdoor radio played all night long. The next day, after another five hours and 265 miles, we arrived in the Phoenix area to help Bob’s mom after she fell and broke her hip. She had a partial hip replacement and is on the road to recovery, enduring physical therapy.
We didn’t know it at the time, but the warmer temperatures we experienced in Oklahoma were a harbinger of what was to come. We traded the plains for the Valley and its 90+-degree weather. And that’s only one of the many transitions in our lives right now.
Gulliver ate a lot of bugs and gathered substantial dust on the journey. So, he got a much-needed bath and a respite from towing, even though he’s built for towing. Driving around without the trailer attached makes for a bumpier ride because of his tight suspension.
Bob’s head is now staple-free after 10 days. We had ordered a surgical staple remover from Amazon, and I pulled out the surgical fasteners all by myself while Bob held up a phone to record the experience. The right tool does a great job.
We’re adjusting to being static and not moving every week. It’s a transition as we’ve grown to love that lifestyle. During this downtime, we’ll do some repairs on the trailer — fix some drawer rails and door trim — inventory our belongings, and get rid of things we haven’t used and don’t need. We’ll also take advantage of the opportunity to do some deep cleaning.
The Immovable Tagalong
This immobile adjustment also gives us the opportunity to spend more time at the Commemorative Air Force Airbase Arizona, where we’ve volunteered for about five years. Bob helps with maintenance on the WWII aircraft, and I help coordinate rides on them. He’s excited to be one of the retired Monday, Wednesday, Friday mechanics.
Although we’ve exchanged small towns for city life again, we’re enjoying seeing mountains and reconnecting with family and friends in the area. And, we’re hopeful another transition will be to a full-time job for me before too long.
It’s a bittersweet time of change and reflection. We’re thankful we got to catch up with family and friends across the country, some of which we hadn’t seen in many years. We like the RV lifestyle and are already making plans for our next big adventure.
We didn’t expect to see fall foliage after leaving Massachusetts, but we’ve been following it (or it’s been following us) ever since. We’ve been relishing the reds, yellows, oranges, and purples of the changing seasons.
Between Pennsylvania and Tennessee/Georgia, our “rolling stone” spent a week in College Park, Maryland, at a campground close to Washington, D.C. We had planned that stop early in the summer so that we could attend the Arsenal of Democracy flyover to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII.
The event was to feature 60 or so WWII airplanes, including the CAF Airbase Arizona B-17 “Sentimental Journey,” flying over the Washington Mall. Unfortunately, weather scrubbed the flyover two days in a row, so it never happened.
We enjoyed our time in the area nonetheless, catching up with some friends near Annapolis and some friends from the Virginia Beach area who stayed at the campground a few nights. We visited George Washington’s Mount Vernon, the Washington Mall, Washington Monument, World War II Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, and Marine Memorial.
Between Maryland and Tennessee/Georgia, we spent a night at a rest area in Virginia to cut down on our long journey and to be able to put Virginia on our map.
While in Tennessee/Georgia, before Bob’s head incident, we toured Dollywood with our daughter, Megan, and her fiancee, Sydney, and rode most of the rides. We also ventured to an area between Chattanooga and Nashville, where we hiked to some beautiful waterfalls. And, we sampled some Southern BBQ and enjoyed seeing and playing with the dog we had shipped to Megan in March.
All the sightseeing we’ve done may give you the impression we’re on vacation. We’re really not. I’ve still been doing contract and freelance work and applying for jobs. And Bob’s been actively involved in helping facilitate Project Management Professional classes on Saturdays. Thankfully, neither of us had a lot of work while in the Tennessee/Georgia area or we wouldn’t have been able to spend as much time with Megan.
Go West, Young Man and Woman
We may not be all that young anymore but, after leaving Tennessee/Georgia, we headed west and spent two nights in Arkansas as part of the Boondockers Welcome program. We met some fellow travelers at our stop who were also en route from Tennessee to Arizona and exchanged stories. We took a much-needed day of rest the second day there, not even leaving the trailer.
From Arkansas, we moved on to Oklahoma where warmer temperatures greeted us, a bit of a shock to our systems after experiencing fall weather all of September. We took advantage of the warmth and relaxed pace to clean all the bugs off Tagalong. We also participated in the Friday night ritual of BBQ and catfish at a local restaurant.
We’re moochdocking at a friend’s house on a quiet country road. Our windows overlook barns and pastures where horses feed. Occasionally, we hear the bray of a donkey. We find the laid-back farm culture very refreshing after the last few busy weeks we’ve had.
Bob’s head is healing nicely, and we’re feeling extremely blessed with our lifestyle and the friends and family we’ve seen and stayed with along the way. We appreciate being able to travel and still be home every night. Life is good.
We spent a week in McCaysville, Georgia, moochdocking at our friends’ house so we could visit our daughter, Megan, in Cleveland, Tennessee. Although McCaysville is an hour away from Megan’s place, we enjoyed getting to know Greg and Sharon Rothe (friends from the Commemorative Air Force) better and spending time with Megan and her fiancee, Sydney, every day.
A day before we were scheduled to depart the Rothes’, Megan ventured out to their place to visit us and see the trailer, since she had never seen it before. She got the grand tour and seemed pretty impressed. Since Bob and I planned to leave the Rothes’ the next day, Bob went outside to get some things ready, leaving Megan and me in the trailer.
Not two minutes later, I heard his standard call for me, “Lana Gates!” So I went outside to see what he wanted — only to find him lying on the ground holding his left hand on top of his head. He calmly said, “If I pull my hand away, there’s likely to be a lot of blood.” I dashed back inside to grab a roll of paper towels and returned to Bob.
As soon as he pulled his hand away from his head, blood dripped to the ground. Red covered his left hand. If we had had a volleyball, he could have made “Wilson II” (think “Castaway”). Megan and I had no doubt Bob needed stitches. I snapped a picture of the top of his head so he could see the gash he had inflicted.
Seemingly cognizant, Bob didn’t know what he had hit, just that it had knocked him to the ground but not unconscious. He slowly got up while holding paper towels to his head, and I mopped up the bloody puddle left behind on the ground.
In the house, I helped Bob clean himself up in the bathroom while Megan found the location of the nearest medical center, a hospital about 15 minutes away.
In Search of Medical Attention
The three of us loaded into Megan’s car and headed to the hospital. After checking in at the front desk, a nurse called Bob to a triage room. Megan accompanied him while I stayed behind to finish filling out papers. That done, Megan and I traded places. I walked in to find a nurse cleaning Bob’s head while another nurse asked questions and entered information into a computer.
Both nurses disappeared, and a doctor came in. He said they’d need to fix Bob’s head with staples. A nurse brought in a stapler. The doctor put three staples in the top of Bob’s head. I expected to hear the normal paper-stapling sound but didn’t, thankfully.
After the doctor left, one of the nurses reappeared. I questioned whether three staples was enough to hold Bob’s gash together. She assured me they would hold the skin intact and help the wound heal from the inside out.
After receiving discharge instructions and an antibiotic prescription, we were sent on our way — in and out of the hospital in less than an hour. It can be nice to be in a small town.
Dream Come True and Lessons Learned
Since we needed to get Bob started on the antibiotic right away, we had to find a nearby pharmacy. Earlier in the week, we had passed a little store called McCaysville Drug & Gun. You guessed it, that’s where we went. And Bob got to look at guns while waiting to get his prescription filled. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Now that you know Bob’s OK, you’re probably wondering what caused his laceration. Well, he had ducked under the bedroom of the trailer, the part that hangs over the truck during travel. Normally, we have a tripod under there to support the kingpin — the part that connects inside the bed of the truck. This time, we didn’t.
As Bob ducked — he didn’t duck quite low enough — he managed to hit the hard metal part of the trailer that holds the kingpin. But, he hit it just right so that he scraped the top of his head on a protruding corner, which is why he ended up with a 90-degree cut and will have staples for 10 days.
Lessons learned: 1) Bob shouldn’t duck under that part of the trailer, even if he thinks he can make it; 2) We should attach the kingpin stabilizer every time as a safety measure for inside and outside the trailer.
We’re thankful Bob’s OK. The whole situation could have been much worse. He could have knocked himself out and lay on the ground bleeding for a while before we found him. God was watching out for us. Bob will be getting lots of rest over the next week.
On our Panama Canal cruise last year, we met a young, red-haired, blue-eyed, fair-skinned missionary gal in Guatemala who’s from Pennsylvania. She turned out to be the translator on our taxi ride throughout the port town of San Jose. Long story short, she took us by the mission she’s involved in there, and we’ve been supporting her and her fiance’s ministry ever since.
Knowing Savannah hailed from Pennsylvania and that we wanted to spend time there, we asked if she knew anyone who might be willing to host us for a week. Her grandparents were kind enough to volunteer, so we’ve been moochdocking at their place this week. It’s been a truly wonderful experience.
They’ve done a lot of traveling, appreciate history, and know the area very well. So, with their guidance and suggestions, we visited Gettysburg and overlooked the expansive battlefield, where history came to life. We rode an Amtrak train from Lancaster to Philadelphia and explored Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, Reading Terminal Market, Love Park, and the Rocky statue.
We drove to Amish country in Lancaster for dinner one evening before heading to Sight & Sound Theatres for the phenomenal presentation of “Queen Esther.” The mind-blowing sets had me mouthing “Wow” throughout the show. The costumes and acting were just as spectacular.
If you’re ever in Lancaster, or Branson, Missouri, and have time to attend a show at Sight & Sound Theatres, we highly recommend it. The cost is well worth it.
Because we attended the 7 p.m. show of “Queen Esther,” we didn’t return to our trailer until about 10:30 that night … only to hear a steady, high-pitched noise. When you live in a fifth wheel, any unusual noise is not a good sign.
Before we set out on our epic adventure from Arizona, Bob had hooked up our rig to be able to “plug into itself.” That means through the use of an inverter, we can use our batteries to power our outlets in the rig. Our lights run directly off the batteries, but the TVs and power outlets don’t.
When we’re actually plugged into shore power, that charges our batteries. But, with Tagalong plugged into itself, it creates a loop with the batteries powering the inverter, and then the converter/charger, in turn, tries to charge the batteries. When doing this, the inverter screams a little, which is a bad thing. Turning off the circuit breaker for the charger/controller stops that feedback loop so that the trailer can successfully power the outlets.
We weren’t plugged into shore power at our moochdocking site, so we relied on our solar panels to charge our batteries. Cloudy weather prevented the solar panels from giving us a full charge, so Bob ran the generator for a number of hours to make up for the difference.
Shortly before we left for dinner and the show, he turned off the generator to let it cool. Then he stored it, plugged the trailer into itself, and we hit the road. But, we forgot to turn off the circuit breaker to stop the aforementioned feedback loop — thus, the high-pitched noise.
We immediately turned off the circuit breaker upon entry to the trailer, which stopped the unpleasant noise. But then, Bob turned off the inverter, and we lost all power — and feared we fried our two $1,000 Lithium iron batteries. Because of the late hour and our location in a quiet neighborhood, we couldn’t really run the generator to get the power we needed for the night (our fridge had turned off too).
Had this happened to us while boondocking in the woods, we likely would have run the generator out of necessity. Since that wasn’t the case here, and we were parked in the yard of a home, we decided to plug into the house to try to get some charge on our drained batteries.
Picture us prowling around this sleepy neighborhood with flashlights trying to get this all set up. We looked like robbers.
We successfully plugged into the house with the hope that we’d get enough of a charge that we wouldn’t have to stay plugged in all night. That didn’t happen. So, Bob left a note on our hosts’ vehicle notifying them of what had happened and explaining that we’d unplug in the morning. Our hosts had no problem with the situation. Their kindness and graciousness was much appreciated.
The next day, we breathed a sigh of relief when we learned the batteries were fine. A sunny sky helped us get the full battery charge we needed. I finished my work week, and Bob caught up on some things. Then we ventured into a town an hour away to meet with two friends I hadn’t seen in 32 years.
I mentioned in an earlier blog that Bob and I met in California as part of the Continental Singers & Orchestra back in the ‘80s. In 1988, the year after we met, I went on another tour, this time with the Continental Orchestra & Singers, and I made these two friends then. They both live in Pennsylvania now, and we got reacquainted a few months ago thanks to a Zoom reunion.
Getting together in person with all of our spouses was icing on the cake. We had a wonderful time of fun and fellowship over a Mexican meal in a town equidistant from the three of us. As I shared that night, events like this are the highlights of Bob’s and my new lifestyle. We’ve been able to see and visit many people we hadn’t seen in numerous years, and it truly is a blessing.
Having lived in Mesa, Arizona, for 24 years, we forgot what it’s like to experience the four seasons. The Valley of the Sun, as the Phoenix area is known, really only has two seasons: hot and mild. Leaves don’t fall off trees until December and January. Although frost warnings occur on occasion, high temperatures typically only dip down into the 50s or 60s. And spring is the month of February.
Being in Massachusetts for the past six weeks, however, has been a good reminder of what true seasons are like. We’ve gone from warm, shorts-and-tank-top weather to slightly cooler temperatures. Crisp mornings greet us most days. Other days humidity lingers in the air. Trees are starting to change color. The days are growing shorter.
The changing seasons signal time for us to move on to our next destination. We’ve accomplished what we wanted to in Massachusetts: spent lots of quality time with family and friends. We also visited our old haunts, including Lee’s Hot Dog Stand (where I worked the summer before we wed), Friendly’s (where Bob worked as a teen), Kay’s Dairy Bar (known for its seafood), and Kimball Farm (which has the best ice cream around).
We explored Bob’s childhood homestead and young adult home, as well as the apartment building where we lived early in our marriage. And we roamed the trails behind Narragansett Regional High School that Bob used to run with his cross-country team. It’s been a fruitful and fulfilling time in New England.
It’s also been a reminder of the changing seasons we find ourselves in as a couple with all of the kids grown and living on their own. Of Bob’s new state of retirement. Of my shift from full-time work to contract/freelance work after being laid off my full-time job. Did I mention I love our life?
In addition to these changes, we finally received our South Dakota license plates, which we’ve been trying to get since June. Their addition solidifies yet another transition to our South Dakota residence status.
Along with those, Tagalong got tattoos. We adhered the stickers we’ve been collecting from popular and not-so-common places: Niagara Falls, New York; and Falls Park and Corn Palace, South Dakota. And, we added B-25 stickers for good measure.
As we get ready to move on, we’ll have to rely on our checklists to ensure we don’t forget anything. This is the longest our trailer has been in one place since we started living in it. We’ve truly been blessed to be able to keep it at Bob’s brother Bill’s (yes, that’s Bill Gates) for the past six weeks. It’s been fun spending time with Bill and his wife Kim and experiencing New England again.
But we’re ready to get back on the road and start venturing south. Stay tuned for more adventures.
After our first separation from Gulliver and Tagalong since we started our journey in May, we are elated to be back together. We’re happy to be able to sleep in our own bed with our own pillows again. There truly is no place like home.
Gulliver and Tagalong, who both fared well during our absence, greeted us with open arms — and no unpleasant stench or damage. All is well. And Gulliver roared to life with no problem.
Honoring a B-25 Navigator
We enjoyed our tour with the B-25 “Maid in the Shade” in Montana and ended up filling eight living history passenger flights while in Bozeman. On the way from Bozeman to Missoula, we had the privilege of circling the small town of Anaconda in honor of a 95-year-old WWII vet who resides in a nursing home there.
When John E. “Jack” Oberweiser learned the B-25 was 25 miles from his town flying at 6,500 feet and 211 miles per hour, he announced to the staff at his facility, “They’ll be here in two minutes.”
His daughter rushed to wheel her mother, 93, also a resident of the facility, into Jack’s room so the high school sweethearts, now married 72 years, could be together for the momentous occasion. Tears streamed down the couple’s faces as they sat holding hands while watching the bomber and hearing the roar of its engines exactly two minutes later, just as Jack had predicted.
Like his buddies, Jack joined the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1943 at the age of 18 as soon as he graduated high school, eager to serve his country. He completed basic training at Santa Ana Air Base in California, where he once walked to the Rose Bowl and passed Bob Hope in the stands.
Lt. Oberweiser served as a B-25 navigator in the China-Burma-India theater with the 491st Bombardment Squadron — known as the “Ringers” for their low loss of aircraft and personnel. The squadron targeted airfields, storage areas, and bridges.
Toward the end of the war, Jack spent time in France and Germany ferrying aircraft back to air bases in Europe. On one mission to Cairo, Jack, an avid sports fan, got to listen to the 1945 World Series game between his favorite Detroit Tigers and the Chicago Cubs, actually using the radio signal as a navigation tool.
On another ferrying mission, Jack’s plane made an emergency landing when something went wrong with the landing gear. Heavy rain prevented a fire as the plane slid on its belly.
After the war, Jack and his sweetheart were reunited and raised seven children in Anaconda, where he worked as a football and track coach and taught geometry and bookkeeping.
The whole town celebrated the B-25 flyover in honor of Jack and his service — and, as he stated, “ALL of the local veterans.” It was a true honor for us and the rest of the “Maid in the Shade” crew to participate. After all, that’s what the Commemorative Air Force is all about: educating, honoring, and inspiring.
Inspiring the Next Generation
Not only did we have the privilege of honoring Lt. Oberweiser, but we also got to work closely with a number of Civil Air Patrol cadets in Bozeman, educating them and the public about the history of “Maid in the Shade” and the part B-25s played in the war.
These kids eagerly showed up numerous days to help clean the plane and to ensure crowd safety during our flight operations. They very professionally secured the flight line, standing at attention with their backs to the plane so they could monitor the crowd, resisting the urge to turn around and watch as the bomber’s engines started and as it taxied in after a flight.
Many of the cadets have big ambitions of going into the Air Force and working with aircraft in some capacity or another. We’re thankful for the small part we got to play in inspiring them, and we look forward to what they’re going to do in the future.
This is the travel blog of Bob and Lana Gates and our truck, Gulliver. We live on the road full time, enjoying all the adventures that come our way.