Mission: Educate, Honor, Inspire
This summer, we’ve been able to mark three more states off our list of those to visit: South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Montana. Bob had actually been to Wisconsin and Montana before, but I hadn’t. That only leaves North Dakota for both of us to visit to complete all 50 states.
However, since we left Gulliver and Tagalong in Massachusetts and flew to Bozeman, Montana, we don’t get to count this state on our RV map. But that’s OK. We plan to bring Gulliver and Tagalong here next year.
What Are We Doing in Montana?
Bob and I volunteer with the Commemorative Air Force (CAF), specifically Airbase Arizona. And every summer, Airbase Arizona takes its two WWII bomber planes — a B-17 Flying Fortress, “Sentimental Journey,” and a B-25 Mitchell, “Maid in the Shade” — on tour throughout the U.S. and Canada to fulfill our mission to educate, honor, and inspire.
While on tour, we sell static tours to the public, allowing them to go inside our planes and learn about their history. The B-25 is a true WWII veteran, having flown 15 missions over Italy and Yugoslavia while stationed on the island of Corsica in the Mediterranean. The B-17 was built toward the end of the war and never saw combat but served as a fire bomber after the war.
The CAF is made up of volunteer members, and many of us take two weeks a summer (some take more) to go meet one or both of the planes wherever they are to be part of the tour. Bob is a mechanic on the B-25, so he serves as the flight crew chief for our two weeks on tour. That means he’s responsible for maintenance on the plane both on the ground and in the air.
I serve as a ride coordinator, so it’s my job to book passengers on the plane and coordinate the paperwork for the passengers. I also serve as a loadmaster. We fly with four crewmembers on the plane: two pilots, the crew chief, and a loadmaster. The loadmaster flies in the back, or waist section, of the plane and takes care of the four passengers we fly there, overseeing sending them to the tailgunner position during flight. The loadmaster also keeps an eye on the engines.
Typically, we spend one week in a location, offering static tours Monday through Thursday and then flying passengers on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Then we move to a new location on Monday. Because of tour stop cancellations due to COVID-19, we’re spending two weeks in Bozeman, Montana, before moving on to Missoula. Bob and I will fly back to Massachusetts from there.
Weathering the Storms
Speaking of Massachusetts, Gulliver and Tagalong experienced their own adventure while we’ve been away. A major storm blew through the area and downed some trees, which toppled wires and resulted in a power outage.
Thankfully, Gulliver and Tagalong were uninjured, and the power has since been restored. So we’ll find out when we get back how the items in our refrigerator and freezer fared.
Meanwhile, we’re honored to be able to be part of the B-25 summer tour.
We’ve been enjoying catching up with family and friends and visiting old haunts in New England. Bob successfully replaced the cover to the electric cord compartment on our rig, the original of which we lost somewhere in New York. And I’ve picked up some more work (though still not a full-time job).
Other than that, we haven’t had a lot of adventures lately, unless you count walking up and down hills in the neighborhood we’ve been staying in to try to get some exercise. But, we thought it might be a good time to address some common questions about our RV lifestyle. So, here we go:
Does Lana drive?
Yes, I do drive when we’re towing Tagalong. Bob and I both took an RV driving course and found it well worth the cost as it gave us the confidence needed for driving the rig all the time. The instructor, Jordy, met us at the dealership when we picked up our rig. We wanted Jordy to drive the rig off the lot, but he wasn’t allowed to. So Bob did it, with good guidance.
Jordy sat in the passenger seat and gave us tips and advice and lots of instructions for eight hours that day and the next. We went to an empty parking lot, where he set up cones for us to weave in and out of to get used to handling the truck-trailer combination. And then, he made us do the same course in reverse, weaving in and out of the cones going backward.
So, yes, I drive, and I actually think it’s kind of fun. Gulliver was made to tow, so he handles Tagalong quite well. We just have to remember to make wide turns and to watch for low-hanging branches and wires. I haven’t backed up our rig into any parking spots yet. I’m not opposed to it, but I’d rather attempt that in a wide open space than in a tight campground.
How do you get mail and packages?
We signed up for a mail-forwarding service in South Dakota, our state of domicile. Any mail or packages sent to that address can be routed to an address of our choice.
When we need to order things from Amazon or another delivery service, we have them sent to an address we plan to visit. For example, we had a number of packages delivered to my parents’ house before we reached their area. We did the same thing before arriving at Bob’s brother’s in Massachusetts.
If we’ll be at a campground or some other venue that doesn’t accept packages, we can arrange to have them sent to an Amazon locker and pick them up there.
Do you have a washer and dryer in your fifth wheel?
Although our rig is plumbed for a washer and dryer in the bedroom closet, we opted not to cram them into that space. Instead, we use the area for clothes storage. We do laundry at friends’ and families’ when moochdocking. And, when we don’t have that option, we go to a local laundromat, which we don’t mind at all. We can wash and dry all of our laundry in two hours.
How long do you stay in one place?
That really depends. Ideally, we like to stay in one place for at least a week. But there have been a number of times we’ve stayed somewhere overnight on our way to a certain destination.
We spent two weeks In South Dakota near my parents’, a month in Michigan on my cousin’s farm, and it looks like we’ll be at Bob’s brother’s for a month (sandwiched around two weeks when Gulliver and Tagalong stay and we fly to join the B-25 tour in Montana).
Why did you decide on a fifth wheel? What is a fifth wheel anyway?
A fifth wheel is a travel trailer that connects to the towing vehicle inside the bed of the truck rather than off the back of the bumper. We chose a fifth wheel for a number of reasons. For one thing, we only have one engine to maintain.
Another factor that influenced our decision is the variety of layouts available in fifth wheels. Motorhomes have limited layout options because of their drivability. But fifth wheels come with the bedroom upstairs or in the back, the kitchen upstairs or in the middle, the living space in the back or in the front, etc. They also usually have a kitchen island, which gives them more of a homey feel.
We chose the Jayco Pinnacle 37MDQS because it’s designed for full-time living (some are designed for weekend getaways), and it includes an office, with a closing door, in the middle of the layout, right off the kitchen. A separate office topped our priority list when evaluating rigs because I wanted to be able to close the door at the end of the workday and be home.
We left my cousin’s farm in southwestern Michigan and spent three nights in the Jackson, Michigan, area, moochdocking and spending time with our sister-in-law and her family. We just missed my brother, who was in Arizona at the time to wrap up the sale of their home there.
First Boondockers Welcome Experience
On our way from Michigan to a beautiful campground on Lake Ontario in northwestern New York, we made a pitstop in Fremont, Ohio (between Toledo and Cleveland), and stayed on the property of a wonderful couple as part of Boondockers Welcome. It being our introduction to Boondockers Welcome, we hoped for the best but didn’t know what to expect. We couldn’t have asked for better.
The open-air location erased any fears of our rig hitting low-hanging branches. The host greeted us on his electric bike as we arrived and led us around the property to our parking spot — complete with full hookups: electric, water, and sewer. Hookups are not required for a Boondockers Welcome host and are really more of a luxury. We welcomed the amenities and gave the host a small stipend in gratitude for their use.
Situated on a small paved road that spanned the farming area, the property offered nice sunset views. We rode our electric bikes down to the end of the road and back — about 4 miles — enjoying the flat landscape and the cool breeze in our faces.
Living the Campground Life
We slept in the next morning, packed up after a quick oatmeal breakfast, and headed toward the campground in New York. Gulliver led us on an uneventful trip around Lake Erie and through Cleveland, Ohio; Erie, Pennsylvania; and Buffalo, New York.
We arrived at Four Mile Creek State Campground to find a lot of other people had the same idea of staying in the area. Bob backed into our spot like a pro, missing posts on the driver’s side and the front of the rig, while wowing our new neighbor — and doing it on the first try.
This was our first true campground stay since the one night in the campground in Minnesota where we tore our roof didn’t really count. The majority of campers, weekend warriors, left the New York park the day after we arrived. We stayed five nights and enjoyed sitting outside, observing and listening to the birds, riding our bikes to explore the campground and Lake Ontario, and watching the dancing flames of campfires.
We also ventured to Niagara Falls to view God’s amazing creation there. The sight is truly awe-inspiring.
Preparing for Uneventfulness
We thought this campground offered full hookups but learned it really only provided electricity. Water was available relatively close by. Bob and our neighbor connected their water hoses together to fill his fresh water tank and ours. When the time came for us to leave, we carefully maneuvered to the on-site dump station to empty our gray and black water tanks.
Remember the tank-emptying adventure we shared while in Michigan? This experience proved somewhat similar in that we spent a couple of days leading up to our evacuation day driving around the campground both in Gulliver and on our bikes trying to determine the best route to maneuver our coach to the right position at the dump station. Overachievers? Maybe. But we’ve found it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Bob even rigged a contraption where he can connect three lengths of PVC pipe together to measure low-hanging tree branches and wires. And he made a football goal-like U for the top of it for those rare occasions when we need to lift branches or wires a bit to pass by without snagging one of the air conditioners on our roof.
Toll Roads and Truck Stops
After a successful tank dumping, we headed across upstate New York, paying close to $50 in tolls due to our four axles. Ouch! It felt more like fees for trolls from the children's stories we grew up reading. We also lost the cover to our electric cord compartment somewhere along the way. Thankfully, that’s not a huge deal, and we should be able to replace it.
Because we spent six to seven hours on the road that day and wanted to ensure plenty of time to set up at our new destination, we spent that night at a truck stop in Massachusetts about an hour from our intended endpoint. A good friend met us for breakfast the next morning before we ventured on our way for the last leg of that journey.
Bob’s PVC contraption came in quite handy for maneuvering through low-hanging wires to our new moochdocking site in Massachusetts. We didn’t have to do any lifting, but we were able to measure the wires to finagle the best way to fit our rig through.
Now we’re parked and happy, hanging out with family and enjoying lots of fresh seafood.
This is the travel blog of full-time RVers Bob and Lana Gates and our truck, Gulliver, and fifth wheel, Tagalong.