Ah, spring. Warmer weather, budding trees and flowers, and chirping birds greet us every morning. It’s peaceful and serene with new life abounding all around us. Well, almost.
One bird greets us with a tap, tap, tap on our windows at 7 every morning. We found the gesture cute the first couple of days. But it quickly became annoying. We thought we had left the eerie experiences behind in New Mexico, along with the dirt, dust, and wind — but maybe not.
A day after settling into our new, green location near Dallas, Texas, a female cardinal perched on a branch on a mountain cedar tree directly behind our rig. We marveled at how close we could get to her, as she couldn’t see us behind our dark-tinted privacy glass. The male cardinal fluttered off, but Polly (as we named her) lingered, posing for pictures and alighting on our built-in trailer ladder that leads to the roof.
Then, she started flying at and pecking at our back window. Silly bird. Maybe she was saying, “Hi! May I come in? I want to be your friend.” Or maybe it was more like, “Hey! You’re crowding my turf.” Maybe she was upset that Mr. Cardinal left her.
Whatever the cause, this pecking behavior continued daily. You would think the bird’s beak would hurt, that she’d wise up, and that she would have given up after a day or two, but no.
We tried to outsmart Polly by hanging a couple of shiny kitchen utensils to encourage her not to stay. She thought they were cool. Polly likes shiny things.
We tried putting paper up in our back window to break up the reflection she must see. That didn’t deter her either.
She’s like the feisty, aggressive female cardinal in New York that bit the same Audubon scientist eight years in a row when he and his team performed their annual capture and banding. She doesn’t give up.
I’ve stared at the tree Polly usually launches from, peering to find her nest — but to no avail. She must feel threatened. It’s springtime in Texas. Mr. Cardinal has only returned rarely and briefly, from what we’ve seen. Maybe Polly’s upset at him and taking it out on us. Maybe she’s simply going after the bird she sees in the reflection of our windows.
Whatever the reason, Polly has morphed into Birdbrain in our view, and we’ll be happy when she no longer considers us a threat. That may not be until we move on to our next destination.
Desperate for relief from the daily tapping noise, we visited the local Dollar Tree store and purchased three pinwheels. We secured two to our back ladder and put the third in a tree on the south side of our rig. How did she respond? She perched on our ladder just beneath the two pinwheels.
Battle of the Wills
I lowered the highest pinwheel to kind of block the step Polly normally sits on, and that succeeded in keeping her away from our back window.
So, you can imagine how flabbergasted I felt the next morning when I heard her tapping on our window again shortly after 7. Just as I had hoped, our back-ladder boobytraps kept her away from the back window. But I kept hearing her tapping.
Polly decided to alight right next to the pinwheel in the tree on the south side of our trailer. Remember how I said she likes shiny things? She used that branch as her launching point to fly at the window behind our TV. And then she kept trying to land atop another window, hanging onto the ¼-inch glass for dear life — thankfully without causing any damage.
We may have finally found what she’s so angry about. It appears she had begun a nest right near our concrete pad. No one had occupied this campsite for a long time as the campground had been closed for restoration after flooding.
Whether that was truly her nest or not, Polly has a vendetta against us. Somehow we’ll have to coexist until we’re ready to leave this place for our next destination — because we’re not leaving on her account, and she’s clearly not leaving on ours.
Aliens, boonies, and winds … oh my! The Carlsbad, New Mexico, area is known for Carlsbad Caverns, its close proximity to the Guadalupe Mountains and Roswell, and the wind.
We thought we had experienced the most extreme weather we’d face in our travels when we survived a major windstorm in the area. But, the following weekend, the forecast called for gales of 30 to 55 mph with gusts up to 75 mph.
Battening Down the Hatches
Our rig wasn’t built to be lived in with the slideouts closed. In fact, when the four slides are in, we can only get to two rooms: the bedroom and the bathroom (the most important rooms on a long journey). Because of the severe weekend weather, we closed all the slides to give Tagalong the best chance to handle the storm unaffected.
Saturday, we ventured into town, a nice reprieve after a busy work week and a welcome break from the wind. Upon return to the trailer, we hunkered down in the bedroom for the evening.
The winds continued to roar the next morning, and our tummies grumbled. Eventually, we had to get into our kitchen to get some food. But that required opening our dining room slide. Bob figured out an app on his phone would allow him to close the dining room slide with us in it — even though we’d be cut off from the bathroom. But the winds were too great to keep the slide open.
We locked ourselves in the kitchen and living area, fed our bellies, and rode out the storm, enjoying the adventure as if we were kids in a self-made fort. It gave us a good taste of what Tagalong normally experiences when we travel down the highways: lots of rattling and shaking.
By Monday morning, the winds finally subsided, and we emerged whole — as did Gulliver and Tagalong.
When boondocking, you have to be self-reliant, and that includes filling your rig with freshwater and emptying the black (toilet) water. Bob’s brother, Tom, let us borrow his macerator and portable black tank for the latter process, which turned out to be a two-person job. Tom ran the macerator attached to Tagalong, and Bob monitored the waste level in a portable black tank situated in Gulliver’s bed.
A loud vibrating sound emanated inside and outside the trailer for about five minutes while the macerator chopped our sewage into tiny particles and propelled it through a hose into the carrying tank. The transfer successful, Bob drove to the nearest established campground and paid a fee to dump the contents of the portable tank into the dump station there.
The fee also covered the purchase of freshwater. Bob filled a couple of portable bladders with a total of 37 gallons of water to refill our depleted resource. Once he returned, Bob hooked up a pump to Tagalong’s water inlet and force-fed the water into the tank, a process that took about 20 minutes — but meant we could continue to shower and wash dishes.
Third Time’s a Charm
We couldn’t pass on the opportunity to visit Carlsbad Caverns while in the area. Unfortunately for us, many other people had that same idea, as we quickly discovered. After two failed attempts to arrive at the national park early enough to be counted among the day’s 1,000 permitted cavern visitors, we got smart.
We rose early, dressed in layers, packed chairs and blankets, and headed to the park — about an hour and a half before its scheduled opening. A long line of visitors greeted us, and we settled in for the wait with hopes that we had arrived early enough to get in this time.
After about an hour, a park worker made her way down the line, taking a count of how many tickets people intended to purchase. Fifteen minutes or so later, two rangers greeted each visitor and handed out time slot markers to go down and see the caverns. We made the cut!
When our scheduled time came, we took an elevator 750 feet below ground for a self-guided tour. The elevator doors opened to an expansive, dark cavern. Our eyes adjusted, and we followed the 1.25-mile trail around the Big Room, in awe of the beautiful formations surrounding us.
We felt like we had walked into the belly of an alien’s nest. Either we spent too much time in southern New Mexico, or we’ve seen too many science-fiction movies. Regardless, we plan to visit Carlsbad Caverns again when we have more time to spend there.
Howling winds gusting 25 to 35 mph shook us awake at the wee hours of the morning. We knew they had been predicted for New Mexico’s High Plains, but we’d hoped we’d be able to sleep through them.
Gulliver stood protector, but his girth couldn’t keep the southwesterly air currents from blasting at Tagalong and rattling the covers over his slideouts. After tossing and turning for about an hour, I got up to move to the couch, thinking it would be quieter out of the direct line of the wind. But the banging of a kitchen vent made the alternative noise in the bedroom seem quiet.
Bob got up with me, and we decided our best course of action would be to close all three of our slides facing the south. But that meant first moving things out of the way to make room for the slides to come into the coach. That plan of attack succeeded in quieting the tempest, giving us some respite.
The morning light brought continued winds and a forecast of gusts up to 40 to 50 mph. Keeping the bedroom slide closed to allow Bob to make up for lost sleep, I opened our kitchen slide so I could access my office. And I opened the office slide about halfway. This staggered slideout approach seemed to take away the brunt of the wind force on us and the accompanying noise.
We had experienced considerable wind in Yuma, too, but we didn’t mind it there. We had a tight, yet perfect, fit right next to my parents’ house, which largely protected us from the gales. The winds there paled in comparison to those we had experienced in South Dakota last year.
But these New Mexico winds rivaled South Dakota’s. Around 5 p.m., they finally subsided.
The fact that we were boondocking in New Mexico added another element to the situation, making Gulliver and Tagalong our only shelter from the storm. Neither Tagalong nor Gulliver endured any damage, but they were worn out after the long battle.
Thankfully, we weren’t alone in our wind encounter. When we said goodbye to my parents and Yuma, we traveled 2.5 hours and joined Bob’s brother, Tom, and his wife Molly to travel east together. They’ve been full-time RVing for more than two years and have a lot more boondocking experience than we do.
Because of our inexperience, we stocked up on groceries as if we wouldn’t see a supermarket for a month or longer. We didn’t even shop like that when we bought groceries for a two-week camping vacation for our family of seven.
To be fair, though, we had been unsuccessful last year in finding certain items across the country that we normally purchase, so we amassed some of those things. Then, we had to cram all our purchases into every nook and cranny we could find.
Also in anticipation of boondocking, Bob converted our showerhead to a more water-efficient one. And, he upgraded our living room TV after a flying keyboard rendered the original one unwatchable. Yes, there is a story there.
We have a computer that connects to our TV to give us a big screen for research and video games. For the computer, we have a wireless keyboard. A ledge sits directly in front of our TV. When Bob went to put the keyboard on that ledge, the keyboard slipped out of his hands, and the corner of the keyboard hit the TV pretty hard, permanently damaging the picture.
This incident turned out to be a blessing in disguise as we were able to replace the TV with a more energy-efficient, less expensive model — another boon for boondocking.
1 Bird, 2 Rest Areas
On the way to our destination near Carlsbad, we spent a night at a beautiful rest area near Deming, New Mexico, that featured overnight campsites with pavilions, picnic tables, sewer hookups, a shared water spigot, and expansive views — all for free!
Back on the road the next morning, we took time to stop at another rest area known for its recycled roadrunner sculpture, made out of old bike tires, shoes, electronics, and even crutches. The bird stands 20 feet tall and stretches 40 feet wide. You can’t even tell it’s made of recycled materials until you get close.
After driving through desert landscapes, rock formations, nothingness, and mountains, we stopped at yet another New Mexico rest area. And at this one, a live roadrunner posed for pictures. How fitting that the roadrunner is the state bird of New Mexico.
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.
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.
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.
Living full time on the road requires a number of things: a spirit of adventure, confidence in one’s driving ability, and an affinity for travel. But the most important element is flexibility. Here are three reasons why:
Six months before we started full-time RV living, we had planned our first two months of stops. Having been stationary to that point, we had no idea what constituted ideal travel distance for a day. Nor did we know I would lose my job, the keeping of which necessitated moving only on weekends. The biggest variable we didn’t account for was COVID-19, which closed a lot of campgrounds.
We ended up hitting the road earlier than originally anticipated. Two weeks before leaving, we canceled most of the campground stops we had booked. And we quickly learned some lessons that required flexibility. Having that flexible attitude allowed us to enjoy our daily circumstances despite the changes and upsets that came with them.
If you’ve been following our journey, you know we broke our fifth wheel on the very first leg of our grand adventure. The cosmetic damage ended up breaking our pride more than anything else. Bob fashioned a weather-proof fix that we continue to live with because, although we tried to get replacement parts while near Elkhart, Indiana, that didn’t pan out. We’ve decided to live with the constant reminder of our error and get it fixed this winter.
More recently, we encountered railroad tracks preceded by a sign that read, “Rough Crossing.” If you come across a sign like that, believe it. There’s a reason these warnings are not a common occurrence.
Well, we didn’t slow down as much as we should have and lived to regret it. After arriving at our destination and opening our closet, we discovered the upper closet rod had bounced out of its secure position, dropping all of the clothes it held on top of those hanging on the lower closet rod. The additional weight put pressure on the closet doors. We couldn’t even open one of them.
We were able to remove all of the fallen clothes from the closet, but one end of the rod holder had broken off. That meant we couldn’t rehang the clothes until finding a fix. Bob secured the holder in place with a nut and bolt and put the rod back in position, and we rehung the clothes.
Fearing it would only be a matter of time before a similar incident occurred, we rigged a support to secure both 4-foot closet rods. Not only will this prevent a recurrence of what we experienced, but it will also keep the two rods from sagging under the weight of the clothes they hold.
Other things have broken too. And those events always require flexibility as we may have to alter plans and make a trip to a hardware store in order to fix something.
One of the most significant things requiring a flexible attitude is the weather. We learned the importance of this before ever hitting the road when a fellow RVer delayed his trip by a day to allow a storm to pass at his next destination.
Keeping an eye on the weather is paramount as a full-time RVer. You don’t want to pull in your slides during rain and get water (and possibly resulting damage) in your coach if you don’t have to. Neither do you want to set up in a storm if it can be avoided.
If you know one day is going to be more blustery than another for travel, it’s best to move on the less windy day and not take a chance of a gust blowing your rig off the road.
To ensure success in any type of travel situation, especially RVing, it’s best to take a bit of advice from Frank Waturi in “Joe vs. the Volcano” and “get yourself into a flexible frame or else you are no place.”
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.