Anywhere we visit offers sights to see, so we try to take advantage of those opportunities whenever we can. Our stay in Yuma was no exception. From its mountains to its history to its close proximity to the Mexico border, the “Gateway to the Great Southwest” has much to offer. Here’s a look at some of the most visited attractions we enjoyed:
Located on the border of California, the Yuma Territorial Prison is the oldest in the state of Arizona, dating back to 1875. The first inmates built the facility, some of which is still standing today. You can walk through a sally port to enter the prison museum, tour the cell blocks, peek into the hospital, and even enter a cell in the newest yard, opened in 1900. You can also climb a guard tower that overlooks the Colorado River.
One of the biggest highlights is the Dark Cell, aptly named for its dungeon-like atmosphere. This served as the cell for solitary confinement, although multiple inmates shared it at the same time more than once.
After 33 years in operation, the prison closed — but not for good. It actually served as the city high school between 1910 and 1914, after the area high school burned. I don’t want to give away all the interesting details of this unique state park. It’s worth a visit if you’re ever in Yuma.
An International Adventure
We may not have been able to take a cruise for a year, but that didn’t stop us from leaving the U.S. for a short excursion. Not only does Yuma border California, but it’s also close to Mexico — specifically Los Algodones, Baja California, a popular destination for dental work and eyecare. So close that you actually have to drive through the tip of southeast California to get there.
Having no medical or dental insurance for 10 months, we were in need of teeth cleanings. So, we left Gulliver and Tagalong behind and ventured to the border with my dad, parked on the U.S. side, and walked across to Mexico. Only 400 meters in, we arrived at Castle Dental, where we had scheduled appointments.
I’ve never had such a smooth, painless teeth cleaning. Nor have my teeth ever looked as clean after. Bob and I both got exams and X-rays — not the super uncomfortable kind where you have to bite down on what feels like a strong piece of plastic sticking up in the roof of your mouth. No, the dentist held something up to the roofs of our mouths, nodded to his assistant, and a picture of our teeth showed up on the computer screen in front of my chairs. Technology at its finest.
Two cleanings, two exams, and two sets of X-rays — all for the reasonable price of $60. You can’t beat that.
Bob also ordered a backup pair of glasses from another shop in Los Algodones, Castle Optical. He and Dad ventured back down to Mexico the following day to pick up the glasses, and Dad got his teeth cleaned. He left just as amazed as us at the quality of work.
My parents have a view of the Gila Mountains from their house. Part of that view includes the well-traveled Telegraph Pass Trail, a 5.3-mile path that leads to a peak dotted by communication towers.
In November, Dad started hiking this trail three times a week and was eager to share the experience with someone. I’ve always liked the great outdoors and physical activity, so I jumped at the chance.
The trail starts off easy enough. We faced a few rolling hills for the first 1.5 miles or so on the way from the car to a utility gate. And that’s where the real climb starts. It’s paved all the way up from that point, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy climb. Far from it.
Clad with a Camelbak hydration pack, I was determined to make it all the way up without taking a break. I figured if I sat down, I might not want to get up again. I knew slow and steady wins the race. If I’d just keep putting one foot in front of the other, I’d make it to the pinnacle.
The closer we got to the top of the trail, the steeper it grew. I finally succumbed and took a sit-down break. I hadn’t done anything this strenuous in quite some time. After about a 10-minute breather, we set out again and didn’t stop until we topped the peak … well, almost.
The first communication tower we came to wasn’t at the very top. After we sat there long enough for me to inhale a snack, we continued northward on the path to all of the towers, which meant more climbing. Upon finally reaching the true apex, we enjoyed a respite and the view of the valley below.
Rested, we slowly made our descent. About halfway down the really steep part, my legs felt like Jello. I had to sit. When we restarted our decline, my thighs voiced their disapproval, but I pushed on. Part of the way, I zig-zagged to lessen the stress on my ailing muscles.
Before long, our hiking boots transitioned from concrete to rocky terrain, and we arrived at the utility gate. The hardest part behind us, I forgot we still had another 1.5 miles to go over some rises and dips. We trekked on, and I’m happy to say we made it.
The activity may have adversely affected my walking ability for a few days, but I’m thankful I got to share the experience with my dad.
After four restful months in the Phoenix area, downtime together gave way to busy-ness. We crossed a number of things off our to-do list and hit the road, thankful for the time we had with family and with our friends at the Commemorative Air Force — and appreciative of the many beautiful sunsets we got to see.
While stationary, we took advantage of having the same address for more than a few weeks and ordered additional supplies from Amazon, as well as picking some up from local stores. As a result, we faced the challenge of finding homes for all of our new additions, lengthening the process of packing and getting everything ready for travel. We somehow managed to squeeze everything in.
Last year, we did a lot of moochdocking. This year, we plan to do more boondocking. In preparation, we bought and installed two more Renogy 160-watt solar panels to increase our power supply. To support the added intake, we swapped our two Renogy 12-volt, 100-amp lithium iron batteries for three BigBattery 12-volt, 170-amp lithium iron phosphate batteries. The advantage of our new ones is more amp hours, and they won’t charge if the temperature is below freezing.
The compressor on the dorm fridge in our outdoor kitchen died, and we decided not to replace it. Instead, we chose to use the space differently. We ordered some plastic drawers to organize our paper plates and plastic utensils, and we bought an AC/DC cooler to use in place of a refrigerator. This gives us more flexibility for keeping food and drinks cold during travel and excursions.
Addressing Maintenance Issues
We also took care of a number of things that needed attention inside and outside our coach. We resealed a mirror on our closet door, cleaned our windows and screens, touched up blemishes in our wooden furniture, and resealed holes under our rig, replacing temporary duct tape fixes with long-lasting, waterproof Gorilla Glue tape.
Gulliver enjoyed some spa treatment: a fuel filter replacement and some grease added to the trailer hitch. He’s still in need of a wash before our big journey begins.
Tying Up Loose Ends
One of my goals before leaving the Valley of the Sun was to secure a job. God provided me with six freelance clients, all of which have been keeping me quite busy and contributing much-needed income to replenish our depleted savings.
In addition, I accepted an offer to become the full-time blog managing editor for a California-based tech company and am looking forward to that. Bob is taking good care of me to make sure I can keep up with all of my jobs. And, to make it easier to do my work, my dad helped create a makeshift keyboard tray on top of my desk drawer to reduce strain on my shoulders and neck.
We’ve traded views of the Superstition Mountains for looks at the Gila Mountains in Yuma, Arizona, as we gear up for this year’s cross-country trek. We’re enjoying spending time with my parents, who moved back to Arizona after we visited them in South Dakota last year.
While I work, Bob has ample opportunity to address other things on Tagalong. For example, he’s rigging up piping for a new propane heater we picked up that won’t need to draw electricity while we’re boondocking.
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It’s typical when you start anything new to make some mistakes as you get the hang of it. Although we had been camping with our family for years with a pop-up trailer and then a travel trailer, we still had a lot to learn about camping with a fifth wheel and a dually truck. Here are some of the biggest mistakes we’ve made thus far.
You may have seen those truck tailgates that dip down in the center to allow a fifth wheel hitch to slide right over without contact. We don’t have one of those. We stuck with a traditional tailgate to keep anything in our truck bed secure under our Tonneau cover.
The very first time we took our fifth wheel out for a test run, we got set up and disconnected from the truck just fine. But, we kept the truck bed underneath the hitch while Bob worked on the electrical connection. With his job complete, he closed the tailgate and went to drive the truck away from the trailer.
BAM! The whole trailer shook. I emerged from inside it to see what had happened … and discovered our dented tailgate. Closing the tailgate before driving away from the trailer put the tailgate in the direct line of the kingpin. A crash was inevitable — and expensive to fix.
We ordered a new tailgate from Amazon, painted to match the color of our truck. The first one we received arrived dented. So, we ordered another one. As you can imagine, our Amazon driver wasn’t too happy with us. The second one arrived intact, and Bob replaced it on Gulliver. Now we always follow a checklist when hooking up to and unhooking from Tagalong.
Although the control panel in our trailer shows gauges for two gray tanks, we thought one valve controlled emptying both of them. And every time we opened the cap to drain our sewer, meaning both black and gray tanks, we’d get some leakage.
We had a mobile RV repair tech come out to our rig for an evaluation, and he suggested we get a see-through attachment with a built-in valve that we could connect to our sewer pipe to help us see if leakage continued. We tried that for about a week and, sure enough, leakage continued.
So, we had the mobile RV tech come back out to replace the leaky gray valve. He and a partner showed up and completed the job and gave us the $350 bill. Before they left, he informed us we have two gray tanks and showed us the location of the valve for the second one.
Most likely, we threw $350 down the toilet (pun intended) because the second gray valve had been open the whole time. And that was the real cause of the leakage.
While en route to a beautiful campground on the Mississippi River on the Minnesota/Wisconsin line, we encountered quite a few low-hanging branches. Bob did a great job slowing down and maneuvering to one side of the road or the other to avoid as many of them as possible, and we successfully made it to our campsite.
Upon examination of the roof after arrival, Bob noticed a ruffle in the rubber membrane of our roof covering. Upon closer examination, he discovered our TV antenna had been pulled up from the roof, a screw in the corner protruding. And this snag on the TV antenna had pulled the rubber membrane partially out from under the nose cap of the trailer.
When we had packed up at our previous site to head to this one, I checked the TV antenna from inside but, unfortunately, didn’t turn it all the way to the proper direction so that it wouldn’t catch on tree branches. The way it was positioned left it prime for snagging any low-hanging branches we encountered.
With rain in the forecast, we had to scramble to fix the issue to avoid leakage inside the trailer. So, we bought some specialized roofing tape and self-leveling roofing sealant, and Bob pulled the membrane back into place as best as possible and resealed the popped-up screw on the antenna enclosure. This turned out to be a cheaper fix, and we’ve had no trouble since.
Now, we always make sure we follow our checklist, and I double-check that the antenna is facing the right direction for travel before we go anywhere.
If you’d like to learn about more of our mistakes, you might enjoy:
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After successful evasion for 10 months, we succumbed to the pandemic, leaving us confined to our tiny home.
To pass the time, I hung out in my office doing some freelance writing, assembling jigsaw puzzles, researching boondocking stops for this year, and even interviewing for jobs. Bob played video games and watched “Dr. Who.” We came together every day to eat and watch movies.
Thankfully, we only had mild symptoms and no fevers, but we still felt pretty cruddy for more than a week. Our symptoms seemed to come one after another without overlapping. One day I had a sore throat. The next day a dry cough plagued me. Diarrhea and abdominal pain appeared, followed by three days of excruciating back pain. Then I felt normal for a day, but it was short-lived.
Down to 3 Senses
The following day, major congestion assaulted my sinuses. This lasted for a number of days while visions of tasting and smelling danced in my head. Yes, I lost my sense of taste and smell for 10 days at the time of this writing. I’ve been getting hints those senses will be fully restored soon. Bob has had his all along.
You don’t realize how much you take things for granted until they’re gone. I haven’t been able to tell if my clothes pass the sniff test or if the scent of flowing propane indicates a burner on the stove went out. On the other hand, I haven’t been subject to unpleasant odors.
Food lost its appeal for me without being able to taste it. I cooked some meals thinking they sounded good, but I couldn’t taste them to see if they had enough flavor. I was left to “taste” based purely on texture. Did my grilled cheese have a nice crunchy exterior? Did my mashed potatoes have a creamy consistency? And things like that.
Our laundry piled up, and dust accumulated, and we didn’t have the energy to address it. Congestion gave way to a headache and ear pain. We took over-the-counter medicines to help, such as Tylenol, DayQuil, Robitussin DM, and NyQuil. We drank Throat Coat Tea to soothe our ailing throats and to bring some relief to our stuffy noses.
Despite our tall ceilings that made confinement to our tiny home tolerable, it felt like the walls were closing in on us after a while. To cope, we carried our dinner outside one evening and ate it on our concrete pad. We took short walks away from people to stretch our legs and get some fresh air.
After more than 14 days, I felt mostly back to normal and ventured out to restock our dwindling refrigerator and pantry inventory, thankful our food supply lasted the duration. I also visited a local laundromat and caught up on our overflowing hamper of dirty clothes.
And then, I cleaned the entire trailer after two weeks. It’s wonderful to have a clean home again — and to be on the other side of the pandemic.
Amazingly, we didn’t get sick of each other but rather found the close proximity of one another comforting. It gave us assurance we were in this thing together.
We’ve been in the same lot at a mobile home/RV park in the Phoenix area for three months and have another month to go before moving on. It’s been interesting staying stationary for this long after our eventful summer and has made us realize a number of advantages and disadvantages of being anchored for a time. First, let’s look at the pros. Then, we’ll move on to the cons.
Pro #1: Cheaper Rate
When you commit to an extended period of time at a park like we’re at, the park often gives you a bigger cost break. Because we signed up to stay here four months, our daily rate — including utilities — adds up to less than $20. We likely couldn’t stay at a campground for that price.
Pro #2: Active Members of Society
Our park has both permanent and seasonal residents. Because it’s gated, it’s kind of an entity unto itself, making for a community atmosphere. As a result, we’ve befriended fellow RVers, as well as permanent inhabitants. Everyone we’ve encountered here has been quite friendly.
Not only do we feel like an active part of this society, but we also contribute to the society outside our park instead of being transients passing through. For example, we’re able to volunteer at the Commemorative Air Force weekly, visit family in the area, and regularly frequent the same grocery store.
Pro #3: Package Delivery
Being in a single location makes it easy to stock up on supplies. By staying in a city, not only can we visit local stores to purchase items we’ve run out of, but we also have a shipping destination for supplies we order online.
A word of caution: Some campgrounds don’t allow campers to receive packages. Be sure you check the rules of where you stay.
Pro #4: Chance to Do Bigger RV Projects
Just as a house requires regular maintenance of key systems, so does an RV. When traveling, it’s hard to find time and a spot to tackle some of those larger projects. Having a designated lot for a period of time allows us ample opportunity to take care of them. For example, we were able to grease Tagalong’s wheel bearings and axles, an important step before embarking on our next journey.
Again, many campgrounds don’t allow for maintenance-type activities, so be sure to check before attempting a project like this.
Con #1: Accumulation Creep
The collection of our things has undoubtedly grown while we’ve been stationary. Without packing and closing the trailer regularly, the added accumulation hasn’t been as noticeable as it might otherwise be.
Some RVers are careful to follow the “one in, one out” rule to avoid this, meaning for every new item they introduce to their RV, they remove one. Because we haven’t been diligent about that, we’re playing catchup to eliminate the things we don’t need or haven’t used before we hit the road again.
Con #2: Lackadaisical Attitude
Knowing we’d be in one area for a while put us in kind of a procrastination mindset, thinking we’d have plenty of time before leaving. Now that we’re down to one month left, we’ve realized (and made a list of) all the things we need to accomplish before we set out on our next adventure. Lackadaisical attitude, be cursed!
Con #3: Reliance on Modern Conveniences
Because we have full hookups — electric, water, and sewer — we’ve found ourselves liberal with how much we let our water run for dishes and showers. Here, it’s not a commodity like it is when we’re boondocking. However, if we don’t take measures to curb this habit, we’ll be sorry when we find ourselves with no hookups and have to keep close tabs on our water usage.
Similarly, we’ve grown accustomed to having constant access to our microwave. It’s definitely a luxury item that doesn’t work when we’re not plugged in. So, we’ll have to make some adjustments before heading to a location where we don’t have shore power.
Con #4: Out of Practice
“Repetition is the mother of learning, the father of action, which makes it the architect of accomplishment,” said author and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar.
After being stationary for three months, we got out of the repetition of packing and closing our trailer to hook it up to Gulliver. We found out just how out of practice we were when we had to revisit those steps in order to carry out some needed maintenance. It’s a good thing we keep checklists so we don’t miss anything.
After 2.5 months of staying in the same spot, the adventure bug hit. So, we heeded the call and jetted to Las Vegas to celebrate 30 years of marriage, leaving Tagalong secure in the mobile home/RV park we’re at through mid-February. Gulliver stood sentinel at the Phoenix Airport economy parking for four days, watching cars, trucks, airplanes, and passersby.
The hotel we stayed at in Las Vegas, Treasure Island, upgraded us from a deluxe king room with a view of the Strip to a petite suite with the same view, for no additional charge. This suite housed two bathrooms, both of which had a toilet, sink, counter, and closet. The larger of the two bathrooms featured a jacuzzi tub, while the smaller held a shower.
Living in a fifth wheel, we’re used to sharing one bathroom just big enough for one of us, with a decent-size shower. The large bathroom alone spanned more than the living room in our trailer.
Our typical RV showers consist of turning on the water, getting wet, turning off the water, lathering up, and then turning on the water to rinse. That’s it. And that’s after turning on the water heater and waiting a half hour or so for it to generate warm water.
Living in the Lap of Luxury
As you can imagine, we lingered in the luxurious tub, soaking up every minute of it. We could have stayed in our hotel room for the duration of our trip and been just fine, other than needing to go out for food on occasion, but we could do that anywhere. Since we were in Vegas, we took the opportunity to do some sightseeing.
This was the first time we stayed more in the heart of the Strip rather than at one end or the other. We visited the “Avengers” interactive exhibit in our hotel and enjoyed seeing costumes and props that were actually used in filming the movies. (Don't worry, we used hand sanitizer before and after touching any of the exhibits.)
We also roamed the Forum Shops of Caesars Palace, the Grand Canal Shoppes in the Venetian, and the Fashion Show Mall — all of which were within walking distance of our hotel. We walked to the Bellagio and watched the fountain show, toured the Paris hotel, observed the volcano show at the Mirage, and ventured to various restaurants when our tummies rumbled.
We commemorated our milestone anniversary at our favorite restaurant in the area, Battista’s Hole in the Wall. After learning about this gem on our very first Uber ride (years ago), we try to visit it every time we’re in the area. It had been closed when we were stuck in Vegas in the spring to get Gulliver’s new shoes, so we were thrilled to find it open this time.
When we did hunker down in our room, we streamed the “Avengers” movies I hadn’t seen yet, inspired by the exhibit we had witnessed and beaming with excitement whenever we spotted one of the props we had seen.
We’re glad to have gone on another adventure, but that old saying holds true: “There’s no place like home.” Although we may miss that glorious jacuzzi tub, we’re happy to be back in our own space with our own things, including our many windows that showcase the beautiful desert scenery around us. But mostly, we’re thankful we have each other to enjoy this adventurous life journey with.
It’s been a different year for everyone as a result of the global pandemic. But it’s especially been a different year for us as we transitioned from living in an 1,800-square-foot house to a 400-square-foot fifth wheel RV. At no time have we felt the change more than during the holidays.
For many years, we hosted family gatherings at our house since we had one of the largest homes and families. At Thanksgiving, the pleasant aroma of roasting turkey would waft through the air while elegant creations and massive balloons floated by the TV as part of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Our kids would help clean and prepare the tables with tablecloths and place settings before occupying themselves with games and looking through the sales ads for gifts they might like. Extended family would start arriving in the afternoon carrying large pies, cans of whipped cream, rolls, drinks, and anything else to make the meal complete.
After setting the food on the tables, we’d gather together to give thanks to God for each other and for our many blessings. Then we’d sit and dig in. It never ceased to amaze me how quickly we could devour what took hours to create. After the main meal, we’d transition to coffee and dessert, followed by a competitive card game of Big Boss, Little Boss.
When our extended family members grew tired of games or felt ready for a change of scenery, they’d head home, and we’d settle in for a relaxing evening, which usually involved a Christmas movie.
No Room in the Trailer
This Thanksgiving, our 400 square feet didn’t allow much space for a family gathering. Nor did our little 19-inch oven offer much room for a family-size turkey. So, we had to scramble to come up with an alternate plan to enjoy Thanksgiving with our family. Bob’s mom graciously offered to host the event, and he and I spent most of the day there preparing.
We made turkey, stuffing, green bean casserole, cooked carrots, butternut squash, mashed potatoes, gravy, rolls, cranberry sauce, pie, and whipped cream. Our three kids in the area and their spouses joined us, and we ate on the deck, enjoying a beautiful warm day and thankful to be together.
New Christmas Tradition
This Christmas has presented its own challenges. When downsizing, we knew we wouldn’t have room for a 7-foot Christmas tree and all that went with it in our new living quarters. So, we gave away all our Christmas decorations except our two stockings. Traditionally for the past nearly 30 years, we’ve decorated for Christmas the day after Thanksgiving. We wanted to do that this year too, but we wanted to do more than just hang Christmas stockings.
Venturing to our local Goodwill, we found a 2-foot Christmas tree, some Christmas balls, and a string of Christmas lights — all for only $6. The lights would have been too heavy for the little Charlie Brown Christmas tree, so we put them around a window.
Setting up the lights and tree inside our tiny home gave me a sense of joy and brought a smile to my face. We also bought a string of colored LED lights to adorn the outside of the trailer. We’re only lacking a little nativity scene to make our decorations complete.
But we encountered a new problem. There’s no room to put gifts under our Lilliputian tree (See what I did there?), and finding spaces to hide said gifts — especially for each other — has been challenging. We’ve had to get pretty creative.
New Appreciation for the Tiny Stable
In Christmases past, we hosted a Christmas Eve gathering where my parents would provide a smorgasbord of food and we’d engage in meaningful conversations with family members before a lively gift exchange. Everybody would part ways, and we’d have our own family celebration and gift exchange the next morning.
This Christmas, we faced the same lack-of-space predicament for a family gathering that we met at Thanksgiving. Thankfully, Bob’s mom has once again agreed to let us gather at her place to celebrate. We’re thankful for her hospitality, for the ability to spend time with family at the holidays, for our health, and for each other.
But most importantly, we’re thankful that, even though there was no room in the inn in Bethlehem, God sent his son to Earth to be our Savior.
Equipping a rig to be a permanent or even part-time home takes some doing. You want to get the things you’ll need and use while avoiding luxury items that will just take up space and not get used. We’ve made our fair share of both types of purchases. And, in the process, we’ve learned some key items make life on the road that much better.
In addition to these six must-have RV gadgets, here’s a countdown of our top 12 RV-related purchases. Please note: As an Amazon associate, we may earn from qualifying purchases.
12. Long-Handled Cleaning Brush
Since our trailer stands 13 feet, 3 inches tall, cleaning bugs off the front can be a challenging endeavor. But the DocaPole 5-12 Foot Scrub Brush Extension Pole simplifies the job. Just as the title describes, the pole can span any distance between 5 and 12 feet to make it easy to reach the lower and higher portions of the trailer.
We also bought the pruning saw attachment, for those instances when we need to move low-hanging branches out of our way, and the squeegee attachment to help us clean the windows.
11. Kitchen Sink Strainers
We didn’t know we needed these, but we quickly learned to appreciate their importance. The Fengbao 2-piece Kitchen Sink Strainer saves our gray tank from filling with food particles that cause odors. The tight stainless steel mesh even keeps coffee grounds from going down the drain.
10. Dish Organizer
The Camco Stack-a-Plate has come in quite handy. The two sizes keep our dinner and dessert plates safe and secure during travel. And, our bowls fit right on top of the dessert plates and stay just as safe. We never have to worry about our dishes breaking between destinations.
9. Fridge Fan
The battery-powered Camco Fridge Airator keeps air circulating in our RV fridge to keep food cool. This is especially helpful when we find ourselves in warm weather. As long as we remember to check the battery power, we’re in good shape.
8. Cabinet Shelves
Our pantry cabinet includes three levels of 23-inch deep storage area. Rather than wasting a lot of space, we purchased some mDesign metal storage shelves that allow us to better organize our canned and dry goods. We put one shelf in the back of each level and two shelves on the bottom level. Then we added mDesign plastic storage bins on the lowest level to store our spices.
7. Cellphone Booster
Since we need reliable internet everywhere we go in order for me to work, we purchased a weBoost Drive X RV Cell Phone Signal Booster and have been very pleased with it. When we find internet service is a bit spotty, Bob climbs the ladder at the rear of our trailer and attaches the directional antenna to it, and that usually fixes the issue.
6. Cast Iron Skillet
We use our Lodge Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet with a heat-resistant holder every day and love it. And, because we employ the Alton Brown cast iron cleaning method with oil and salt, we save water in the process.
5. Electric Bikes
Our Ancheer Folding Electric Bikes are one of our favorite purchases. We got them with the intent of having a vehicle to explore tough-to-get-into spots before getting our rig stuck in a precarious situation. They’re great for zipping around a campground or RV park, and they fold up nice and compact to fit in the back of the cab of our truck for transport.
4. Solar Panels
For those times when we don’t have electric hookups, our four Renogy 160-watt solar panels come in quite handy to charge our batteries and provide the electricity we need for everyday living. This includes running our TV, computers, lights, chargers, etc. — but not our microwave.
3. Portable, Rechargeable Fan
This little OPOLAR 8-inch, four-speed fan is a powerhouse and has made a huge difference in the trailer, especially on warm nights with no hookups. Its compact size makes it extremely portable, and its clamp makes it adaptable to almost any situation. When it runs out of power, we just plug it in to charge it. Depending on the speed used, a full charge can last all night.
2. RV Backup Camera
We’ve come to rely on our Furrion Vision Wireless RV Backup Camera maybe more than we should. Because our truck/trailer combo stretches roughly 65 feet, we mainly use this camera to tell when it’s safe to move in front of another vehicle when changing lanes. It’s helpful for backing up the trailer too. We also purchased two side cameras, but we hardly use those at all.
1. Lithium Iron Batteries
Our two Renogy 12-volt lithium iron batteries were by far our best buy. Most RVs come with lead acid batteries, which need to be charged after expending 50% of the stored energy. Lithium iron batteries, on the other hand, can be run down empty before needing to be recharged, giving you much more energy at half the size and weight of lead acid batteries.
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.
This is the travel blog of Bob and Lana Gates and our truck, Gulliver, and fifth wheel, Tagalong. We live on the road full time, enjoying all the adventures that come our way.