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.
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.
We left South Dakota with plans to stay two nights at a Minnesota campground overlooking the Mississippi River on the Wisconsin border. After an uneventful trip, we exited the highway, followed a curvy dirt road to the campground, pulled into our very uneven spot, and set up camp.
Because the site was so uneven, we ended up using every single one of our leveling blocks to prop up the tires and stabilizing jacks on the passenger side of the trailer. Breathing a sigh of relief at having just the right amount of blocks, we tried to get into the trailer. I couldn’t even reach the door handle from the ground.
After extending the legs of our stairs as far as they’d go, they hovered above the terrain. If we had tried to climb the stairs in that situation, we could have broken them and/or caused more problems.
We searched the area for anything that could support the stairs and spotted three thin boards under the site’s picnic table. Unfortunately, those still left at least a 3-inch gap — and only helped one side of the stairs.
After more exploration, Bob found some leftover firewood at a vacated campsite. It was just enough. We stacked the small pieces of wood to create the base our stairs needed and made it into our coach to complete setup. Whew!
A Mistake and Low-Hanging Branches
The next morning, as Bob climbed the ladder at the end of our coach to attach our Wi-Fi antenna, he noticed something didn’t look right around one of the vents. Upon further examination, he discovered a major issue: A screw had pulled out about halfway from securing the TV antenna to the roof and, as a result, had pulled the rubber membrane — the main roofing material — out from under the nose cap.
With a storm in that afternoon’s forecast, Bob secured the roof with duct tape and the shiny type of duct tape that’s used on water heaters.
It seems I had failed to secure the TV antenna, which sits toward the front of the trailer, in the proper position for travel. Normally, the rounded portion faces front. This time, however, the rounded portion had faced the driver’s side, leaving the metallic parts of the antenna free to grab onto leaves of low-hanging branches we passed.
As we had entered the campground the day before, we encountered some branches that hung a bit low for our 13’ 3” rig. Tagalong made it through, and we didn’t think anything of it. Evidently, we should have.
4 States in 1 Day
Gulliver is not a storm chaser. No, he’s more of a storm evader — at least when he’s pulling Tagalong. After hemming and hawing about staying at the beautiful campground and risking roof leakage, we ceded to Gulliver's nature and quickly packed up the trailer, hooked up, and hit the road — and some more low branches in the process of leaving.
We had planned to spend at least one night in Wisconsin, but storms were expected to blow through there that afternoon too. So, we hightailed it through three states all the way to my cousin’s fruit farm, Piedt’s Farm, in southwestern Michigan, where we could be close to Elkhart, Indiana (RV mecca) if we needed more repairs than we could do on our own.
After a two-hour round trip to Camping World the next day to get roofing supplies, we spent the following day hanging out on the roof in the hot sun trying to get all the wrinkles out of the rubber membrane. We taped it down with super sticky tape made especially for RVs and succeeded in fixing the roof.
Despite the trials, we’re still having fun, especially since the electric bikes we ordered arrived. We’re enjoying time on the farm, eating fresh produce, spending time with family, exploring my old stomping grounds, and traveling down memory lane. I was born in the area and spent my fifth-grade year here after moving out of state at the age of 4.
I never thought we’d be the kind of RVers who spend a night in a rest area or Cabela’s parking lot on their way to a destination. At the outset, we had planned to stay a week in each location we stopped. As is typical, however, those plans changed because our new lifestyle requires us to pay close attention to the weather.
After a relaxing, rejuvenating time with family in Eugene, Oregon, we picked up our rig in Medford, Oregon, the morning of June 3, happy to have our home back. Instead of embarking on our transatlantic cruise to London that day as originally scheduled, we departed on a cross-country trek to South Dakota.
Since I’m still not working full time (I have had interviews, and I’ve picked up some contract/freelance work in the interim), we decided to make the journey in five days. That would allow us ample time to recover at the end of each day to make the trip enjoyable.
Knowing where we planned to be which days, we checked the weather in those locations and learned about some developing thunderstorms. Not wanting to set up or even drive in inclimate weather if it could be avoided, we condensed our five-day journey into four days in an effort to beat the storms.
That resulted in some intense drive days — and saddle soreness — but we enjoyed seeing the varying country and wildlife in the states we crossed. Which states were they? Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming before arriving in South Dakota. We weren’t able to put Utah on our map as we only drove through it and didn’t spend a night there. (Sorry, Andy and Erin, but rest assured we’ll be back at some point.)
Along the way, we learned some more important RV lessons:
1. Everything Takes Longer Than We Think
Just because we’re full-time RVers doesn’t mean we get special treatment when our coach needs service or repairs. We have to wait in line behind the weekend warriors just like they have to wait behind us.
Although we had hoped to drop off our coach for only three days, the service center had it for eight. Similarly, just because we think our rig will be ready for pickup at a certain time doesn’t make it true. Even though we arrived at the service center at 9 a.m., we didn’t leave there until 11.
The same longer-than-we-think concept applies to packing up and getting on the road. It always takes us longer than we think it will. And, if we have to stop at a dumping station, we can plan on adding another hour to our trip.
2. Use Produce Before Dropping Off the Coach
Not expecting to lose our rig for as long as we did, we left everything in the fridge and freezer. Not only did our ice melt and meld together, but our produce also went bad, making for a messy, smelly reunion with the coach. We should have thrown out the ice and eaten the produce or taken it with us rather than leaving it.
3. Cleaning Is a Full-Time Job
Gulliver eats a lot of bugs while traveling for days. We need to clean his grill every 1,000 miles or so to keep him looking shiny. Our trailer also needs regular attention.
I had asked my fellow full-time RVer sister-in-law if she cleans her rig before or after moving. The answer was both.
We need to clean the coach before closing it up for a journey if we’ve been in a single location for more than a few days. But we also need to clean the trailer once we arrive at a destination if we were on the road for a while because dust enters from the slides and from the tires jostling things around on the highways.
4. 200-300 Miles Is Ideal for One Day
We arbitrarily chose a goal date of August 1 to arrive in Massachusetts. That meant ambitious journeys between locations spaced a week apart. Because we’ve learned lesson 1 above, we know those targeted destinations aren’t ideal and have made some changes to our schedule and itinerary as a result. (That’s also what’s resulted in our long-haul treks.)
In the future (at least after August 1), we plan to go a little slower and cover less ground in a single day — and not choose arbitrary dates to be in a certain location if we can help it. It’s more important to enjoy the journey.
We spent our first week on the road north of Flagstaff, Arizona, near Humphrey’s Peak, where high temperatures ranged between 60 and 70 degrees and lows dipped down to 27. Yes, you read that right: 27. We had to dig out our winter clothes and heavy blankets, especially after leaving 100-degree temperatures in the Valley.
We camped with Bob’s brother, Tom, and family. They’ve been full-time RVers for two years and gladly shared lots of tips and tricks. We couldn’t have asked for a better way to start our journey (although a little warmer wouldn’t have been bad).
Since I don’t have a full-time job right now, we decided to get a jump-start on the holiday weekend and head to Oregon. We planned to travel to Medford, Oregon, in three days. Plans are subject to change, and they certainly changed for us.
Pit Stop in Las Vegas
We made it north of Las Vegas around 4:30 p.m. when a fellow motorist waved us down to let us know something looked wrong with one of our truck tires. We thanked him, moved to the right, and started navigating Google Maps to find a gas station with enough clearance for our trailer.
As it turned out, the exit we took also led to a tire shop — probably the last easy-to-get-to tire shop before leaving the greater Las Vegas area. We went directly there.
Upon examination, we realized the tread on our front passenger tire had started to split. It wouldn’t have been much longer before it let go completely. The other front tire didn’t look much better. God was definitely watching over us. If we had attempted to drive to our intended destination, we could have had a major incident on the freeway.
The listing agent for the sale of our house had encouraged us to get new tires before our journey. We should have listened to him.
We decided to replace all six truck tires, but the shop couldn’t get them until the next day. Not wanting to pull the trailer anywhere with the unsafe truck tires, we spoke with the store manager about where we might be able to park the trailer.
He called the owner, and they agreed to let us park our rig at the back of their lot overnight. Even better, they let us sleep in it on the property as long as we didn’t open the slides. (Fortunately, our model makes it easy to get to the bedroom and bathroom without opening any slides.) And, the property had 24-hour surveillance.
Rolling with the Punches
We could have been frustrated and upset, but instead, we chalked up the detour to part of the adventure. We gained time to bum around the northern Las Vegas area, taking a Lyft to a nearby restaurant for dinner.
The beautiful thing about our new lifestyle is we don’t have to be anywhere at any certain time. So, we’ll just arrive in Oregon a day later than anticipated. No big deal. The important thing is we still have our home and each other, and Gulliver has new shoes.
Some people see life as a highway or an opportunity. I see life as an education. There are always lessons to learn along the way. Transitioning to life on the road in a fifth wheel is no exception.
Bob and I packed Gulliver and our trailer over a two-day period. We had to ensure everything fit in a secure spot for the nearly 200-mile trip ahead of us to Northern Arizona. Because it marked our first lengthy journey, preparation took much longer than we anticipated. We didn’t end up leaving the Phoenix area until 1 p.m.
Here are five lessons we learned along the way:
1. Don’t worry about the cars behind you.
We settled into a comfortable pace going between 60 and 65 miles per hour on the freeway and watched those who wanted to go faster pass us by. And it didn’t bother us at all.
As we neared our destination, though, we had to cross a cattle guard off the beaten path with metal fence posts on either side. The cattle guard sat maybe 50 feet from the main road, and a couple of people were behind us. Because our rig is long, we were concerned about those other vehicles sticking out onto the main drag.
That concern led us to make a tighter turn than we should have, and we scraped our new home along the metal fence post on the right side of the cattle guard. Ouch! Thankfully, the damage was only cosmetic and should be relatively easy to fix. It could have been much worse.
Next time we encounter something like that, we’ll take our time to get through it carefully, clear of any obstacles, regardless if vehicles behind us are sticking out into the road.
2. Arrive at your destination with plenty of daylight.
Because we got a late start on this first leg of our journey, and we had to stop along the way to fill our fresh water tank for dry camping (meaning no hookups), we didn’t arrive at our destination until about 6 p.m. The sun still stood high enough for us to park and set up, but the unlevel ground led to some setup challenges that resulted in multiple moves. We didn’t finish parking and setting up until after dark.
Had we arrived earlier, we would have had plenty of time and sunlight to get situated just right, even with the challenges we encountered.
3. Leveling blocks don’t have to be reserved for tires.
The major issue we encountered was that the uneven ground caused our stabilizing jacks’ auto-level mechanism to extend the back jacks all the way, leaving no room for further adjustments. As a result, the rig couldn’t complete the leveling task.
We had some interconnecting leveling blocks with us and had only ever used them under tires on our former travel trailer (which didn’t have stabilizing jacks). It didn’t dawn on us until close to 8 p.m. (mind you, we arrived at our destination at 6) that we could use them under the stabilizing jacks to prevent overextending the jacks. Another lesson learned.
4. Make sure you’re communicating on the same page.
A phrase such as “straighten out” may not mean the same thing to you as it does to your spouse. Does it mean “straighten the steering wheel,” “drive straight in the direction you’re headed,” “straighten the truck to the trailer,” or something else?
Be sure you discuss ahead of time the terminology that will help you communicate best. That will avoid frustration and could save hours of time.
5. Be prepared for the temperature at your destination.
We transitioned from an elevation of 1,700 feet to 9,000 feet — and a temperature difference of at least 30 degrees. We traded 90-degree, shorts and tank-tops weather for 60-degree temps that quickly fell as the sun neared the horizon.
In situations like this, it’s a good idea to have a jacket handy because you may not have time, or stability, to get into your rig and get warmer clothes right away.
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.