Rows of red-dotted trees stand at attention, branches drooping under the weight of their fruit. Fields of corn sprout their cobs, only one or two per stalk (who knew?). A rooster crows, announcing its location as it roams the farmyard, protecting the hens under its watch.
A tractor pulls a double trailer showcasing stacks of 5-gallon buckets overflowing with freshly picked yellow squash. Workers stand in windowless buses tossing watermelons onto a conveyor belt for cleaning and packing. A forklift carries 23-bushel apple bins to fields to collect the day’s picks.
The greasy smell of fresh-baked donuts wafts through the air, beckoning passersby to the farm market and bakery. Retired farmers reminisce over coffee about their early days of farming.
These are some of the sights, sounds, and smells we’ve experienced while spending time on my brother’s 6-acre farm near Lansing, Michigan, and my cousin’s 300-acre farm in southwestern Michigan.
Small Town Life
Something about the small towns, friendly people, active workers, expansive greenery, and fresh produce feels familiar and alluring. Perhaps it’s because Michigan is my birthplace. Or maybe it’s a welcome respite after 24 years in the bustling Phoenix area with 6-foot block walls separating our yard from our neighbors’.
Being able to pick fresh fruit right off the tree and squash and zucchini straight from the plant is a treat. We find it appealing to be surrounded by fresh, healthy food.
Small farm towns feature their best at annual county fairs, something else we got to experience while in southwestern Michigan. Building upon building featured livestock of all sorts, from rabbits and sheep to goats, pigs, cows, and horses. Another building displayed hand-crafted items. Tiny stands sold fried food creations. Screams from spinny rides mixed with live country music.
No Michigan county fair is complete without a display of tractors and/or riding lawnmowers. The one we visited included both. Mowing is such a big deal in the area that my cousin, Debbie, greeted us on her riding mower when we arrived at her place, eager to cut the grass so we could park our home with ease.
Farm life with family also offers abundant opportunities to pitch in and help, something we cherish. While at my brother’s, I got to scout for eggs. I’ve always enjoyed a good Easter egg hunt and have relished hiding the plastic treasures for my kids to find. I still get a thrill out of it.
When Steve asked me to help find where one of his hens was laying its eggs, I jumped at the chance. I searched high and low, but the chickens didn’t lay the eggs where I would have if I were a hen. Maybe they knew something I didn’t.
After watching them, I realized they wouldn’t go far from their coop where predators could swoop in and take their precious goods. Sure enough, I found some eggs in a shrouded nest perched in an old tree right behind their coop.
Bob helped Steve with a tree-trimming project and a driveway expansion, as well as installing a dryer vent.
At Debbie’s, we got to assist with replacing carpet and tile with Lifeproof flooring. Since we don’t own a house anymore, it’s wonderful to be able to participate in these types of activities.
Bob also cooked a lot of super delicious meals and helped with computer projects.
Another plus of farm living for us full-time RVers is being able to do maintenance on our vehicles, such as the fuel tank upgrade for Gulliver while at Steve and Ginger’s.
Our duration in southwestern Michigan gave us ample time to install shocks on Tagalong to help soften the effects of bumpy roads on our belongings.
Bob did prep work for the project, which involved closing the trailer’s four slides and moving it from a grass field to a dirt parking lot so he could jack up Tagalong. With my office out of commission, I had to work at Debbie’s and watch my home from across the street.
With the prep work done, we were able to move the trailer back to the grass field and set up our home again. A mechanic friend, Ethan, pitched in to weld brackets in place under the trailer to hold the shocks, which should smooth our anticipated drive to Alaska.
You might also like Lake Living in Florida.
As crazy as it sounds, one of my greatest delights is doing manual labor, especially outdoors. Maybe it’s because of my upbringing, helping my dad work on a tomato farm and later operating a bandsaw for his wooden toy business. Or maybe it’s because I spend most of my days in front of a computer.
When we owned our house, I delighted in taking care of the yardwork — potentially to the detriment of my children. It gave me a welcome break from staring at a screen and got me outdoors to enjoy sunshine and fresh air. I looked forward to going home from my office job to mow and edge the grass. It provided a way for me to shift my mind from work obligations to home life. The same can be said for other projects around the house.
Once we sold our home of 24 years and moved into our fifth wheel, I thought my days of yardwork, painting walls and trim, and other projects were over. But in each of the three years we’ve lived on the road, I’ve been surprised and blessed to be able to help with painting projects.
That got me thinking. We stay at campgrounds. We boondock. We moochdock. But maybe there’s another kind of camping we’ve been missing, something called tradedocking.
What is tradedocking?
Simply put, tradedocking is trading work for a free place to stay. At the three places I painted, we were moochdocking at the time — in essence, tradedocking.
Tradedocking should not be confused with Boondockers Welcome, a membership for RVers who offer free stays on their property in exchange for free stays on others’ property when they travel. (Thankfully, it’s not limited to RVer hosts. We’re able to take advantage of it too.) Technically, that could be considered a form of tradedocking.
But true tradedocking is more akin to work camping. A handful of websites offer ways for full-time or even half-time RVers to camp in a single location for free for a set number of months — typically at least three — in exchange for labor.
Some RVers even make an hourly wage on top of the free stay. They do tasks such as landscaping, cleaning restrooms and campsites, and handling camp registrations.
Tradedocking is work camping on a much smaller scale. We commit a week or two (sometimes longer) to stay with a host and help with projects. In addition to my painting contributions, Bob has helped some of our moochdocking hosts with various tasks, including computer work, cooking, and fixing machinery.
Most of our tradedocking hosts have been family members, but that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t or couldn’t help friends with projects too. At the risk of overbooking and overcommitting ourselves, we absolutely would.
We feel blessed anytime we’re able to help others. Tradedocking offers those opportunities in spades.
You might also like What an RV Travel Day Is Like.
Another tornado warning sounded from our phones, alerting us to take cover in a basement. But in the Gulf city of Waveland, Mississippi (elevation 16 feet), there are no basements to be found. Many buildings are built on stilts to protect them and their inhabitants from flooding.
Although we were camped next door to a brick bath house at a state park, we loaded into the truck and headed to a different building, one on stilts. It went against my better judgment to ascend stairs when the National Weather Service encouraged people to descend to the lowest area they could find, but fellow campers followed suit.
The truth about safety in numbers rang true. Bob and I could be together in the laundry room to ride out the storm instead of separated in his and her restrooms. And we were in the company of other campers in the same boat.
We stood outside on the balcony, enjoying the cool breeze. When the wind picked up, I took it as my cue to move indoors. Bob stayed outside until the storm grew in intensity and he started getting wet.
The electricity in the warm, humid laundry room blinked off but came right back on. After about 20 minutes, the tornado warning expired. The fierce thunderstorm responsible for it continued to make its presence known with bright flashes of lightning, loud booms of thunder, and a deluge of rain.
Thankfully, we had already closed our slideouts before taking shelter. We headed back to our trailer, completely intact, to sleep for the night, thankful once again for our safety.
An Eerie Night
The rest of our time in Mississippi was uneventful, other than an afternoon to the beach to bask in the sun. After relocating to north-central Florida, we started looking for things to do in the area. It turns out the University of Florida in Gainesville has bat houses, and every warm evening, the nearly 500,000 bats emerge from the houses to forage for the night.
Unsure we wanted to make the 40-minute, one-way drive to see this event, we read reviews from others who had experienced the phenomenon. The reviews convinced us the drive would be well worth the trip.
We arrived at the University of Florida to find three houses on stilts, each with a bat insignia on the side and an overpowering stench of guano to let us know we were at the right place. The bats fly up under the houses and nest there during the day upon return from an adventurous night of hunting.
While waiting to see them emerge, we watched in wonder as a fence rail moved in front of us, alive with moth caterpillars and spiders. Bob joined some caterpillars on a bench. I stood, not wanting to share space with the creatures and too excited to relax. More people arrived, eager for their chance to see the bats.
The sun set, and we waited another 10 to 15 minutes. Then it happened. One bat left one of the houses. And then another. And another — until a tornado of bats spun from one house and flew over the tree above our heads, the guano scent stronger as they approached. The bats joined their comrades and, together, they made a trail in the sky.
When one house emptied, bats started emerging from the next one, and so on — truly a sight to behold (pictures don't do it justice).
Glad we had made the trek, we headed back to our trailer on a Boondockers Welcome farm. Tall oak trees dangling Spanish moss shrouded the dirt road to the farm, more eerie at night than during the day. After a moving fence rail and the bat barrage, it made for a creepy evening. But we made it home just fine.
Attack of the Ticks
Because we were boondocking at a farm, we didn’t have electric hookups. That meant no air conditioning. Three days of rain made for some muggy, sticky conditions inside the trailer and out. Wanting some relief, we decided to go out to dinner to take advantage of the A/C in the truck and the restaurant. What a difference that made!
Upon our return, I got ready to shower to wash off the stickiness from the humidity in the hope I’d sleep better. As I looked down, I found what appeared to be a scab on my upper left thigh, where my leg bends. I didn’t remember injuring myself, and I could get my fingers around the “scab.”
Grabbing a flashlight, I had Bob examine my leg. He pronounced the “scab” a tick.
I had taken a walk through the woods earlier in the day and must have picked it up then. Fortunately, we’ve carried a tick remover* tool with us since we started traveling. It made relatively easy work of removing the tick. Before long, Bob found and removed two more ticks — one on my back and one on the back of my knee.
Although we still had another day and a half in the area, I stayed away from the woods.
Absent of cows, chickens, or crops, this farm didn’t have the familiar E-I-E-I-O sounds. The owner told a fellow camper he grows campers in the winter and weeds in the summer. Regardless, the farm came to life after sunset.
Camped near a pond, we learned just how loud frogs can be — and they don’t all ribbit. The American bullfrog blared its raucous, low-pitched, bellowing call. The Southern chorus frog emitted a rapid clicking sound. The Southern leopard frog added to the symphony with a laughing noise and a chitter. And the Northern cricket frog joined the chorus with a chirping cricket sound.
This “song of the South” played us to sleep every night, reminding us how blessed we are.
You might also enjoy Expanding Our Cultural Horizons.
* As Amazon Associates, we earn from qualifying purchases.
We stay at a lot of different places as we travel the country, from the property of friends and family to rest areas and Walmart parking lots to forest and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land to established campgrounds.
Not all campgrounds are created equal. They can range from primitive, dirt parking spots with no hookups to wide concrete pads with full hookups — water, electricity, and sewer. One of our favorite types of campgrounds to stay at are state parks, but they can leave much to be desired too.
What is a state campground?
A state campground is an amenity offered by many state parks, which are areas set aside or preserved for their history, natural beauty, or recreation. Unlike federal parks, which fall under the administration of the federal government, state parks are controlled by the local state government. More than 8,500 state parks with more than 200,000 campsites span the country, according to America’s State Parks.
Although most state parks came into existence in the 1930s, some in New York and Pennsylvania date back to the 1880s. In 1933, as part of his New Deal, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Civilian Conservation Corps to put unemployed 18- to 25-year-old single men to work to improve America’s public lands. Their work included planting billions of trees, constructing trails and shelters, and establishing more than 800 state parks.
Let’s look at four pros and two cons of state campgrounds, starting with the cons.
Con 1: Not Built for Big Rigs
Nearly 100 years ago, when most state parks were built, the big-rig RVs people drive and live in today didn’t exist. With a few exceptions, the travel trailers of yesteryear were less than 20 feet long and not much taller than the vehicles pulling them.
Today, trailers and motorhomes come in all shapes and sizes. The largest stretch 45 feet long, reach 13 feet, 6 inches tall, and span 8 feet, 6 inches across. Because state parks were built with smaller rigs in mind, they have narrow roads with tight turns that can be difficult for big rigs to maneuver.
In fact, it was at a state park in Michigan that Gulliver needed a tow because we got stuck while trying to park our rig.
In addition, parking pads tend to be short and narrow. We encountered some parks where the max RV length allowed was 40 feet. Our rig stretches nearly 42 feet. If you can find a campground with a long enough parking pad — and they do exist — truck or toad vehicle parking can be a challenge.
Con 2: Trees in Need of Trimming
Because of state parks’ ecological nature, and because they weren’t created for today’s supersized rigs, campgrounds in wooded areas tend to have low-hanging trees. With all the people camping these days, rangers don’t seem to prioritize trimming trees to make it easier for rigs to get in and out of campsites. They have many other things to tend to.
The roof of our 13-foot, 3-inch tall fifth wheel is a rubber membrane. If it comes in contact with prickly branches, they can poke holes in it. And that’s happened more than once. Many times, we have to crawl up on top of the roof and trim trees to prevent damage during wind or storms.
Pro 1: Economical Price
Despite those drawbacks, the economic value is what draws us to most state campgrounds. They usually average between $20 and $30 per night, depending on the area and amenities. Compared to an RV resort that can charge more than $50 a night, state campgrounds win for us, hands down.
We’re very careful to research the campground and look at its satellite view on Google Maps to choose spots that can best accommodate our rig.
Pro 2: Hookups and Bath Houses
Most, but not all, state campgrounds offer at least water and electricity hookups. If they don’t offer sewer hookups as well, they contain a dump station so RVers can empty their black and gray tanks before departing.
In addition, most state campgrounds feature bath houses with flushable toilets, sinks with running water, and showers. These are a boon for tenters and for RVers with limited tank capacity. You may even find laundry facilities at a state campground.
Pro 3: Trails and Activities
Because state campgrounds are part of state parks, they typically include trails for visitors to explore nature. Campers can get out and enjoy room to roam. We often hop on our little electric bikes to explore state campgrounds.
Most provide a playground for kids. Some have access or at least close proximity to lakes, rivers, or the ocean. Some even offer organized activities, such as lectures about wildlife in the area.
We stayed at a state campground in central Texas that contained bird blinds with seating for visitors to watch birds through plexiglass. The other side of the plexiglass comprised natural foliage, water features, and platforms where rangers would lay out seed to invite the birds to linger.
One of the best things about state parks is that they include plaques and information about the history of the area. At a state park near Dallas, we learned about and explored buildings and old machinery left over from an 1800s farm. Another state park informed us about turkey roosts.
Pro 4: Online Booking
We’ve encountered numerous campgrounds that don’t have an online presence. To book a reservation, you have to call. We did that to stay at a beach campground near Corpus Christi,Texas. But, more often than not, no online booking option is a no-stay for us.
State campgrounds have interconnected online booking availability through reserveamerica.com. That means with one username and password, we can book reservations at state campgrounds across the country. That convenience makes it easy for us to book at our leisure, even if it’s after traditional open hours.
Although state campgrounds aren’t ideal for today’s big rigs, the pluses they offer keep us going back. We just have to be particular and intentional about the campgrounds and campsites we choose.
Rising fuel prices are plaguing the world in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. As you can imagine, that certainly affects our RV travels. The average diesel price today is $5.13 per gallon, according to AAA. That’s more than a $2 increase over last year’s average of $3.06.
Gulliver gets about 8 miles per gallon when pulling Tagalong. With a 32-gallon fuel tank, that comes out to an average $164 per fillup, compared to $100 last year. We never run the tank to empty, so we don’t pay that full price. Gulliver’s endurance on one tank is about three hours, and that gets us down to a quarter of a tank.
Savings in Numbers
Thankfully, we’re part of the TSD Logistics fleet, a tractor-trailer fleet that allows RVs to join through its Open Roads program. This enlarges the fleet overall and lowers the diesel cost for everyone involved. That gets us significant savings on fuel prices.
For example, a truck stop we visited in Texas had a published price of $5.31 per gallon. Thanks to our discount, we only paid $4.26. That said, the pump doesn’t show the discount, which can be a sticker shock. We realize the discount later.
Our TSD Logistics card is tied to our checking account, so our fuel purchases come out as bank drafts. The program doesn’t charge us the full amount we see on the pump and then apply the discount. Instead, it collects all the information about the transaction, subtracts the discount from the published price, and deducts that from our checking account.
Why Is Diesel More Expensive at Truck Stops?
Truck stops have a pretty exclusive market. Diesel cars and pickups can likely find diesel cheaper somewhere in town. But semi trucks and big RV rigs have a much harder time navigating to those places, if they can fit into the pump bays at all. Highway truck stops are designed for fueling many semis at a single time, with easy access in and out.
All truckers use fleet cards, so none of them pay that sticker price you see advertised on billboards. If we didn’t belong to a fleet, we would have no choice but to pay the inflated published price at the truck stops since our rig is as big as they are.
Many different fleets are in operation. TSD Logistics is only one of them, and it’s the only fleet that allows diesel-fueled RVs to participate. Discounts for our fleet apply to TA, Petro, and Love’s. We get our best prices at TA and Petro.
Benefits of Truck Stop Fueling
Our biggest perk to fueling at truck stops is peace of mind regarding height clearance and easy in-out access. The dimensions of our rig preclude us from fueling at gas stations in town because of lack of height clearance or inconvenient pump position.
For these reasons, some fifth-wheel RVers only get fuel when disconnected from their rig. Depending on the size of their tank, that may mean they have to stop frequently on a long journey so they can disconnect.
Another truck stop benefit for us is the ability to pay at the pump. This saves considerable time and hassle. In addition, truck stops offer diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) — a requirement for all modern diesel vehicles — at the pump.
We could buy DEF in 5-gallon containers like you see at The Home Depot and other places, but our DEF tank isn’t 5 gallons. So, we would end up carrying a half-full container of the smelly liquid with us — not to mention how messy it is to pour the liquid from the box into our DEF tank. Although our fleet discount doesn’t apply to DEF, we appreciate being able to get it at the pump.
In addition, truck stops offer extended-handle windshield squeegees for easier reach across tall, large vehicles. Many truck stops also have water — potable or not — and air compressors for tire inflation.
Navigating truck stops
Most truck stops have auto and RV pumps, as well as fuel pumps for semis. Our fleet discount doesn’t apply at the auto/RV pumps, so we have to go to the truck area.
Our first visit to a pump in this area of a truck stop met us with confusion. We didn’t know what to select on the digital screen at the pump. Tractor? Reefer? Both? We had no idea what that meant. Fortunately, a gracious trucker told us to select tractor, and we’ve been following that advice ever since.
The nozzles at the truck pumps are larger than those at the auto/RV pumps as they’re designed to deliver volumes of fuel at a high flow rate. Because the size of our fuel tank pales in comparison to the size of trucker tanks, we have to run the nozzles at the lowest speed to prevent spillage.
Along with every tank fillup over 10 gallons, we always include a fuel additive. Cummins, the manufacturer of Gulliver’s engine, recommends Diesel Kleen to keep the fuel injectors clean and the injection components lubricated — ultimately, improving fuel quality and engine performance.
Because we fuel at truck stops where professional truck drivers fill up, we do our best to give them priority. After all, they have schedules to keep and need to make good time. We have a lot more flexibility.
After replenishing Gulliver’s diesel and DEF tanks and giving Tagalong a walkaround, we move forward to get out of truckers’ way. We often park in that forward space, which it’s designed for, while we go inside the store at the truck stop to use the restroom and grab a coffee or snack. Then, we quickly return to our vehicle and get back on the road.
Truckers probably like to get in line behind a fifth wheel because the smaller fuel tank means a quicker fillup. Class A motorhomes, on the other hand, can take 100 to 150 gallons, making the length of a fillup about equal to that of a semi.
We like to keep a good relationship with truckers. We always feel good about a road where we see 18-wheelers because we know if they’re there, we have the height clearance we need. We want truckers to appreciate RVers as well, so little steps like giving them priority at truck stops can go a long way toward helping with that.
You might also like What an RV Travel Day Is Like.
Gulliver, our Dodge Ram 3500 dually, is worth the same amount we paid for him more than four years ago. But he’s much more valuable to us than he would be to a thief. So, we decided to invest in protecting that value.
If Gulliver were to be stolen, we likely wouldn’t get a dually truck as a rental replacement. And that would mean we couldn’t move our trailer. With the supply chain delays, it could be months to a year or even longer before we could get a replacement truck.
Not willing to take that risk, we upgraded Gulliver with a new security gadget. After tons of internet research, Bob ordered a Ravelco anti-theft device.
A technician came right to our camping spot to install the unit. In about an hour, he replaced the ignition wires under the hood so that they’re all black and nestled in an armored tube. They end in a female receiver that requires a male fob to connect to it before the engine will turn over with the key.
This means our truck can’t be hot-wired. As an added layer of protection, the tech gave us window stickers that say “No Hot Wire” in hopes that wannabe thieves will see Gulliver is not an easy target and move on.
Gulliver also got two new fuel filters. Like a human liver that rids the body of toxic substances, a fuel filter rids a vehicle’s fuel of harmful debris — rust particles and dirt — to prevent damage to the engine.
Thanks to those transplants, Gulliver’s ready to process the 250 or so 32-gallon tanks of diesel we’ll likely power through on this year’s travel adventures.
Not to be left out, Tagalong got upgraded screening on his screen door. The original screening had steadily deteriorated in the 2.5 years we’ve owned him — to the point that pesky bugs were likely to break through this year. Since we plan to spend time in some humid areas of the country, we didn’t want to risk pests infecting our living quarters.
Bob removed the screen door and took it to Ace Hardware. One day and $60 later, it had been rescreened with thicker, darker material that will not only keep the bugs out, but also protect our entry from sun and heat.
You can just imagine what a beating an RV takes in a year of traveling through different weather. Sometimes it bakes in the sun. Other times, it’s plastered with rain. And then there’s the wind that beats against it.
Wanting to protect Tagalong’s neglected exterior, I spent two days washing and waxing him. That’s one luxury of a long-term RV stay: full hookups and the ability to take care of vehicle maintenance.
The rubber roof sucked up the wax, thirsty for a fresh coat. The sun-facing side of the trailer did the same. The shady side, not quite so thirsty, welcomed the added protection.
All in all, the job took about 10 hours. Next time, we’ll pay someone to do it. But for now, we rest easy knowing our home is well-preserved.
The first time we drove through the RV part of the mobile home park we’ve been staying at was to see the wares for purchase as part of a parkwide yard sale. I remember being surprised that RVers had things to sell. With precious limited space, it made sense to me that they’d only carry what they had room for.
Fast-forward a few years, and I have a new understanding and appreciation for those RVers showcasing their undesirables for sale. After two years on the road, we managed to accumulate quite a bit ourselves — especially while stationary.
Purging Our Possessions
Wanting to lighten our load before hitting the road again, we took a full day to address our accumulation issue. We went through every cabinet in Tagalong — inside and out — to determine what to keep and what to purge.
Starting in the bedroom, we sorted through all of our clothes, hanging and folded, and formed three piles of giveaways. Eager to keep the momentum going, we moved to the bathroom and consolidated what we could and trashed what we didn’t need.
From there, we transitioned to the kitchen, going through all seven drawers and 14 cabinets, including the pantry, to wipe them down and identify items we could do without. Next came the living room, mostly electronics. We found lots of objects we hadn’t used in two years and didn’t need.
I almost forgot about my office with its door closed. That’s what I love about it: I’m able to close the door at the end of the workday and be home, forgetting that the little room exists behind its entry. After going through the six drawers in there, I eradicated a mountain of printed documents.
Cleaning the Cellar
Three bags and two boxes of donation items later — plus two trash bags of throwaways — we moved outside. Recovering from his second cataract surgery, Bob sat while I pulled containers from Tagalong’s bowels. We pilfered through bin after bin, finding things we could have used if we knew we had them, such as a bee sting kit. That could have come in handy when Bob stepped on a bee at Lake Michigan and it stung the underside of his foot.
We found plenty of possessions to part with: fishing poles and a tackle box, jack stands, a bottle jack since we had a newer one, a gas hose, drawer racks, and other odds and ends. We loaded RV living items onto Gulliver’s tailgate and drove around the park, stopping where we saw other RVers sitting outside, enjoying Arizona’s beautiful February weather. Our tactic worked, and people took our non-essentials.
The rest of the RV living goods we stashed next to the dumpster. A half hour later when I returned to deposit our three bags of trash (yes, we filled another one), most of the items had already disappeared, no doubt going to homes where they’d be put to good use.
The lockdowns brought on by the pandemic inspired people to purchase RVs and explore America as a way to get out of their homes. Many of these people probably had visions of grandeur, parking next to lakes and overlooking beautiful canyons. Those images, although nice, are not the norm of RV living. True full-time RV life is much dirtier.
Although Bob and I do get to meet people from all over the continent, visit places we haven’t seen before, and capture amazing sunrises and sunsets, there’s much more to RV life that isn’t as attractive — or exciting.
Arriving at a location may end a day of travel, but it can take two to three hours to park in a campsite, depending on a number of factors: levelness (or lack thereof) of the ground, angle and layout of the site, the driver’s experience, and a whole lot more. Here, we explore some of the not-so-pleasant parts of RV living.
Things Get Lost
We lose things more often than we’d like to admit. With only 400 square feet of living space, you wouldn’t think that would be the case. But because we have so many areas to store things, we don’t always remember where we put them. We may know we kept them, but finding their hiding place is another thing altogether.
For example, we knew we had a bag of dried chili peppers somewhere. Bob wanted to use them in cooking, but we couldn’t find them. Our pantry is nearly two feet deep and just over a foot wide, featuring three shelves to which we’ve added levels. We often lose things in there.
All of our food storage doesn’t fit in the pantry, so we have food stored in other cabinets in the rig too. Determining where to search for food items is only part of the battle. We did find the chili peppers, but it took me standing on a stool with my head inside the pantry while Bob shone a flashlight to help me see its contents.
Mysterious Things Happen
Because road travel causes a lot of vibrations, Tagalong essentially experiences a series of earthquakes every time we relocate. These vibrations can jar screws loose and cause other issues. Oftentimes, screws appear from nowhere — even after we’ve been set up for a while. Then we have to figure out where the screws came from so we can reattach them.
One day after I got out of the shower, a screw appeared on the counter. Naturally, I assumed it came from the sliding glass shower door, but I couldn’t easily identify its source.
We set the screw aside and didn’t notice any abnormal or faulty shower door operations until a whole week later. I attempted to slide the three-paneled door from one end of the shower to the other and noticed a huge gap. That screw attached two of the shower door panels together.
Bob attempted to reattach the screw while I held a flashlight for him, but his fingers had very little leverage in the ½-inch slot. We had to order a new tool designed specifically for tight spaces to tighten the screw properly.
Limited Wastewater Capacity
When you live in a home in a city like we did for 24 years, you don’t think twice about where your waste goes when you flush the toilet. When you live in an RV, however, that thought is often on your mind.
Waste collection tanks have limited capacity. After nearly two years living in our fifth wheel, we know our black tank can last about two weeks with just the two of us using the toilet. After that, it needs to be emptied.
If we’re staying in a campground with sewer hookups, that’s not a problem. We typically connect our sewer hose to the drain upon arrival at the campground. To empty the black (toilet) and gray (sink and shower) tanks, we simply exit the rig, pull a lever, and dump the contents.
But that’s not the end. Then we have to close that lever and deposit some sort of chemical or probiotic into the toilet to mitigate odor and break up what will become the new contents in the tank.
If we’re boondocking or staying somewhere without sewer hookups, we physically have to move the rig in order to dump the tanks. Many RVers carry a portable waste tank with them that allows them to empty part of the contents of their black and gray tanks into it to transfer to a dump station. But stopping the flow of wastewater isn’t always an easy endeavor.
Canceled. The corners of my lips sagged as I read the text message announcing the demise of our scheduled flight. After a super relaxing and much-needed cruise and a wonderful Christmas with family in Arizona, we had planned to visit more family in Eugene, Oregon.
Because changing plans are a regular part of our RV life, we took the cancellation news in stride and came up with an alternative plan. We’d rent a car and drive four-plus hours to Palm Springs, California, and fly to Eugene from there the next day. We looked forward to the adventure.
After securing the vehicle and fueling our bellies, we hit the freeway. About 45 minutes into our trip, my phone dinged to announce a notification. The flight out of Palm Springs had also been canceled. Unfortunately, we had prepaid for a one-way car rental. We wouldn't recoup that money. A painful lesson learned.
We turned around and headed back to Sky Harbor International Airport, where we had rented the vehicle from, thankful for the cancellation notice before traversing very far. After successfully returning the rental, we caught the light rail back to Mesa. Given that more than 5,000 flights had been canceled, we didn’t make a third attempt to get to Eugene.
Frontal Lobotomy for Gulliver
We’ve learned that changes to plans provide opportunities. Since I already had the week off work, we took advantage of the downtime to give Gulliver some needed upgrades.
The day of our originally scheduled departure to Eugene, Gulliver wouldn’t start. Multiple attempts didn’t help his engine come to life. We had to ask a neighbor to give us a jump-start.
Some quick calculations revealed Gulliver’s two batteries (yes, two!) were four years old, the typical life expectancy of car batteries in Arizona. After monitoring the battery voltage for a few days, we decided it would be best to change the batteries, with hopes that would fix the issues and it wasn’t the alternator.
New batteries intact, Gulliver acted quirky, beeping when we opened the door and not responding to certain buttons, as if rejecting his new parts. A check on the Dodge Ram forums revealed normal quirkiness after a battery change as the vehicle’s systems reset.
Gulliver seems to be back to normal now. The battery upgrades did the trick.
We also wanted to get Gulliver’s tires evaluated before we head out on the road again this year. You may recall Gulliver got new shoes only two years ago, so they should still be in pretty good shape. But all the weight of towing Tagalong and weaving the front tires to and fro to back up the trailer into camping spots takes its toll on the tread.
We’ve trusted our vehicles’ tires to East Valley Tire Outlet for years. After examining Gulliver’s tread, the pros there recommended we simply rotate the tires. With six tires — two of which aren’t easy to get to — we weren’t sure how that was supposed to work. So, we let the experts handle it while we waited.
Having the tires off gave Bob an opportunity to inspect the brake pads, which all appeared to be in good shape. Less than an hour and $80 later, Gulliver was ready to run and back on the road.
If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. That truth should have been enough to clue us in when we decided to set up camp in a parking area near an off-highway vehicle (OHV) trail in a national forest in northern Arizona. But it wasn’t.
We had scouted other potential camping spots in the area, but because we arrived on a rainy day, most were muddy. We didn’t want to risk getting stuck again.
After searching for and not finding any no camping signs in the OHV staging lot, we set up Tagalong in the deserted area. Its gravel-topped, mostly level surface offered a welcome alternative to the muddy spots.
A Knock at the Door
We experienced two days and two nights with no problems, other than a few cows inspecting our digs on their way to the rain-made water holes near us. Then on the third day, a Game and Fish truck arrived. It stopped at the bulletin board we had examined for no camping signs, so we didn’t think much of it. We had seen other cars pull up to the bulletin board too.
The game warden proceeded to another area a few yards away, where a vertical white “sign” stood. From there, he relocated to park directly in front of our rig. Then, a rap on our door announced his presence. The officer informed us we couldn’t camp in that location.
Bob explained that we didn’t see any signs stating we couldn’t. The officer pointed out a very faded one standing at the other end of the parking area — not near the prominent bulletin board full of pertinent information. He and Bob had a cordial conversation about trailers and hunting, and the officer graciously gave us until the next morning to find a new campsite.
On the Hunt
We closed Tagalong’s slideouts and hopped in Gulliver to scout a new location. The game warden had told us about some good spots on the other side of town, about a half hour away, that would have room for our big rig and offer the cell service needed for me to work successfully. We checked them out and seriously considered relocating to that area.
As we headed back to Tagalong, we decided to search more in the vicinity where we had already been parked. After all, it was closer to our longtime family friends, Neil and Leanna, who were the main reason we were in the area at all. To move to the other side of town would kind of defeat the purpose of our stay there.
We drove down another forest road and found a decent site, absent of no camping signs, that looked promising. But once again, it seemed too good to be true. We realized that since we would be in a pullout area off the road, we would still technically be on the road. And we didn’t want to get another visit from the game and fish officer, even though he was very nice.
So, we explored another site a short distance from Tagalong’s current location. Ironically, it was the first spot Neil and Leanna had shown us when we arrived in their neck of the woods. That day, the site had been quite muddy — and occupied by cows. This day, however, the sun had been out and dried much of the mud.
We hooked up Gulliver to Tagalong and relocated to the spot, thankful to still be camping for free. (A state campground in the area wanted $70 per night.)
Camping with the Cows
Ear-tagged cows roam the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in northern Arizona. They wander around, grazing on plant life, drinking from puddles, and chilling in fields. Evidently, we had crowded their territory when we set up our second campsite. And they let us know.
I watched them through our bedroom window as a couple of them rubbed their heads on Gulliver’s frame, looking for itch relief. When Bob heard they were near the truck, he opened the trailer door, and they bolted. He shooed the stragglers away to discourage them from hanging out with us.
The next morning, I spotted eight cows a few yards from our front door. When I opened the door to deter them from lingering, they just stared at me. As soon as I closed the door, they went back to their grazing. And then they moseyed on.
The cows were harmless, and we got along just fine. Their presence added to the wilderness ambiance of the site, which was farther off the main road and much quieter as a result. We were able to take advantage of hiking trails in the area and run our generators to charge our batteries without annoying anyone.
Although it got off to a rough start, our first solo boondocking experience in Tagalong, without Tom and Molly, turned out great.
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.