RV life, like anything else, has its ups and downs. The ups include freedom, flexibility, and exploration. But those perks can come at the expense of difficult, stressful drives trying to maneuver a vehicle the size of a semi-truck through unfamiliar neighborhoods when Google Maps steers us wrong.
Although a white-knuckled drive through New York City with fear of low-clearance bridges proved treacherous, it didn’t make our list of top challenges in our third year of RV travel. Neither did rising fuel costs, which we were able to offset with a lot of moochdocking and boondocking stays.
Here’s what did make the list, in no particular order:
1. Flat Tires
After two years on the road, we experienced only one flat tire. In our third year, however, we encountered four — all on our trailer. Two of the flats, about a week apart, were caused by leaks in the stem, related to the tire pressure monitors there. We quickly learned how to gingerly attach the monitors to avoid weakening the stems.
The other two flats resulted from our tires disintegrating from the inside out. Thankfully, in each circumstance, we were able to safely navigate to the side of the road to replace the faulty tire with our spare. And we got really good at changing tires. Since we had purchased our trailer tires, and a warranty, at Discount Tire, we were able to replace them inexpensively.
2. Tornado Warnings
When you live in a home made of lightweight materials such as plywood and aluminum, you know its likelihood of standing up to a powerful tornado is extremely low. Because of that, we take any tornado warning seriously.
In our second year of travel, we endured our first tornado warning, a sobering experience. In 2022, we encountered three such situations.
Our first occurred while we were in New Orleans. The state campground had bathroom buildings we could have sheltered in, but we would have had to separate in the men’s and women’s rooms. Wanting to weather the storm, literally, together, we opted to ride it out in our truck in an empty parking lot, away from potential debris.
The second warning hit while we were at a state campground in Mississippi. Because the campground was on the Gulf Coast, buildings in the area were on stilts. Again, not wanting to separate in the men’s and women’s restrooms, we headed to the second story of a building on stilts and hung out with other campers in the laundry room.
The third warning occurred while we were staying at a Boondockers Welcome host in South Carolina. It spurred us to visit our hosts’ home. They graciously invited us in to ride out the storm.
In each instance, a tornado did not touch down near us, and we stayed safe.
Leveling woes continued to plague us, to the point that Bob called a Lippert (the maker of our leveling system) tech while trying to set up the trailer near San Antonio. That worked to get the trailer level, and we picked up some other tricks along the way.
We learned to get the nose of the trailer higher than level before hitting the autolevel button on our Lippert system. We also learned to stack blocks under each leveling jack/stabilizer before trying to autolevel. This prevents the system from getting an out-of-stroke error, which had been a common occurrence for us.
As a result, instead of it taking two hours to reach equilibrium at a mobile home/RV park like last year, we were able to do so in about 30 minutes, our normal time.
The challenges we encounter help us better appreciate the good aspects of RV living. Despite the struggles, we’re happy with our lifestyle and are enjoying the journey. Thank you for following along.
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Every year in early October, thousands of people and RVs congregate in central New Mexico for a chance to see the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. I’ve wanted to attend the event since I learned about it from a friend during college, but the timing never worked out. Fifty years after the event launched (pun intended), my wish came true, thanks to a perfect storm.
Attending the fiesta can be costly and requires advance reservations to park your RV within walking distance of the launch field. Having planned to be in Arizona during the event, we hadn’t done that. But fellow full-time RVer family members Tom and Molly had. They met us prior to the fiesta to camp at a casino 20 minutes north of Albuquerque and offered for us to join them at the balloon event.
Bob had flexibility as to when he needed to be in Arizona to help with annual aircraft maintenance at the Commemorative Air Force, so that meant we only had to move some doctor appointments. We did have one appointment we couldn’t move: the last show of “Lucky Stiff,” a live musical in which our daughter-in-law had a leading role. So, we booked a round-trip flight to Phoenix to ensure we didn’t miss it. And we’re glad we did.
Up Close and Personal
Back in Albuquerque, we loaded up our belongings and headed to Balloon Fiesta Park to spend a night in Tom and Molly’s class A motorhome. After waking at 4:30 a.m., dressing in layers, and grabbing some coffee and breakfast, we headed to a shuttle to take us to the launch field.
The smell of fried food assaulted our senses as we approached, taking us back to state and county fairs. Trucks and vans pulling trailers got into position to unload their precious balloon cargo in anticipation of the chance to ascend.
Two unique characteristics draw visitors to Albuquerque every year:
The Albuquerque Box refers to the wind patterns that flow from the south at low elevations and from the north at higher elevations. Because of this phenomenon, balloons are able to launch and float north. Then, by ascending to a higher elevation, they can be carried back to the south, making it easier to predict landings. In fact, we saw a few balloons land in about the same area they left from.
Our first morning on the field, we set up our chairs in the middle of parked balloon-hauling vehicles in the dark and waited for the launch. Windy weather prevented that, but as the sun peered over Sandia Peak, rising more than 10,000 feet above sea level, balloons were given the green light to fill with air for static displays and photo opportunities.
We found ourselves in the middle of the excitement. Flames lit the sky, making a roaring noise as balloons came to life and the scent of propane wafted through the air. People milled, snapping photos and asking balloon crews for cards.
As it turns out, the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta has the title of the world’s most photographed event. We certainly did our part in keeping that title alive.
Fortunately for us, the balloon fiesta spans nine days, not one, as I originally thought. Hot air balloons launch every morning, weather permitting. After seeing the static display, we returned a few days later with hopes of viewing the special shape rodeo, an event within the fiesta that began in 1989. Today, it’s the most popular event there and includes 120 balloons in various shapes, in addition to hundreds of regular balloons.
We arrived on the field in time for the balloon glow. A dozen or so balloons filled at the same time and coordinated firing into their envelopes to create a glowing effect against the dark sky. Then they lifted off, before dawn, to test the winds.
After those Dawn Patrol balloons launched and confirmed the working Albuquerque Box, balloon pilots were given a green flag, indicating clearance for liftoff. Balloons inflated all around us, but they couldn’t officially launch until receiving a go-ahead from a zebra. People dressed in black and white stripes like referees, aka zebras, wander the field and direct balloon launches.
Balloons inflated everywhere we looked. Rainbow Ryder balloons with baskets that could hold up to 14 people launched with paying passengers for the thrill of a lifetime. Balloons in various shapes followed: a pig, cat, jack-o-lantern, witch, UFO, bear, monster, beaver, sloth, frog, Humpty Dumpty, Yoda, and more. Other balloons inflated but stayed tethered, including the kissing bees, a cow, a snowman, and a sun with shades.
We tried to take in all we could, amazed at how close we could get to balloons — and even touch them. We were asked to move out of the way a couple of times so other balloon crews could inflate their envelopes.
Although the weather canceled the special shape glowdeo that evening, we did see some celebratory fireworks, bringing a welcome culmination to an amazing, worthwhile experience.
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This is the travel blog of full-time RVers Bob and Lana Gates and our truck, Gulliver, and fifth wheel, Tagalong.