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.
Not all campgrounds are created equal. Sometimes, we encounter some that clearly weren’t made for modern-day big rigs like ours. They have narrow roads, low-hanging tree branches, and tight turns. The state park in Traverse City, Michigan, comes to mind.
Thomson Causeway Campground in Thomson, Illinois, is not one of those. An Army Corps of Engineers campground, it offers plenty of room for big rigs and features expansive views of the mighty Mississippi River — for only $20 a night for 50-amp electric hookups, a necessity in this incredibly humid area. It also offers access to potable water and a dump station.
The Thomson Causeway Recreation Area is actually built on an island in the Mississippi. The Woodland Indians used this island for hunting, trading, and rituals. You can even find Indian burial mounds on the premises.
Clinton: Iowa’s Easternmost City
We chose Thomson Causeway for its proximity (across the river) to Clinton, Iowa, where we had friends we hadn’t seen in 15 to 20 years. We got together with Shawn and Christina and their amazing children many times to catch up, play games, eat, chat around a campfire, and sightsee.
Fulton, Illinois, and an Engineering Wonder
The Great River Bike Trail spans 60 miles along the river in Illinois. We took out our bikes for a 13-mile round-trip adventure on a portion of it to see Lock and Dam No. 13, an engineering marvel of the Army Corps of Engineers in Fulton. A series of 29 locks and dams stretch along the upper Mississippi from Minneapolis to Granite City, Illinois, to help boats gradually adjust to the 420-foot drop in the river’s water level.
We didn’t get to see a boat going through the lock but are glad we visited the structure nonetheless. It reminded us of our trip to Soo Locks in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Our bikes survived the ordeal without running out of battery power, but we learned that distance was about the extent they can go on a single charge.
Wisconsin: Across the River from Dubuque, Iowa
We glimpsed our first view of the Mississippi River on our way westward in Dubuque, Iowa. We stayed at a campground in Cuba City, Wisconsin, across the river from Dubuque and ventured into the Iowa city for a pleasant evening on the river.
For a nightly fee of $50 for full hookups at the Wisconsin campground, we got to be packed in with other RVs like sardines. When we set up, all I could see outside my office window was the window of another RV. Thankfully for us, the RVs on either side of us left the next day, and those spaces stayed free until the night before our departure.
Despite the tight accommodations, we enjoyed our stay in Wisconsin, sampling different cheeses (and, of course, cheese curds), playing some pool, and photographing gorgeous sunsets.
After 11 weeks in Michigan, we traveled south to visit some friends, Jordan and Niki Brown, in Indiana. They had planned to house us on their property, but rain had softened the ground prior to our arrival. So, they decided to move us to the Terre Haute Regional Airport to park next to their airplane hangar. The setup included a picturesque view of their C-47.
C-47 Skytrains served as military transport aircraft in WWII. They hauled 75mm guns and other supplies through mountains, transported spies, and were used to rescue the forgotten 500 from Yugoslavia.
This particular C-47 had been designated to be the backdrop for an airport event the night we arrived, so we got to taxi in it with our pilot host to get it into place.
Another WWII aircraft needed to be moved to the event as well, so we also got to taxi in the Twin Beech C-45. These planes served as light bombers and transporters, as well as trainers. They were also used for scouting missions.
I got to take a flight in the C-45 before the week was up. You get a much better feel for a location when you see it from above. Green wooded areas and farm fields surround houses and small communities in this section of rural America. We’ve grown to love small-town USA — especially after living in a large metropolis for 24 years.
As it turned out, the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) Airbase Arizona’s B-25 “Maid in the Shade” arrived in Terre Haute two days after we did as part of its mission to educate, honor, and inspire. This iconic warbird, made famous by the Doolittle Raid, is the one Bob serves as a crew chief on and that we tour with every summer.
This year, Bob volunteered to be a summer tour coordinator and had actually coordinated this stop. We had planned to visit at this time before we knew the B-25 would be here at the same time. It made for a nice reunion with our CAF friends, and we were able to pitch in and help the crew as needed. It was like being on tour without being on tour.
A couple of days before we left, an SBD Dauntless WWII dive bomber and scout plane landed at the airport and parked next to the B-25, providing a bonus peek at history for onlookers.
To get back to our trailer after taxiing the warbirds to the Saturday evening event, we had the privilege of riding in a half-track military vehicle, a hybrid between a tank and a Jeep. These vehicles were used in WWII to transport supplies across uneven terrain.
While in the area, we also toured a metal shop that fabricates aircraft and ship parts. The massive specialized machines we saw made us “wow” in amazement. And if that wasn’t enough, a Patton tank and a Deuce military truck stood on display outside the shop, reminding us of the sacrifices made for our freedoms.
We saw a third tank too: our hosts’ tortoise, aptly named “Tank.” He can move faster than you might think and leaves circular “trails” around, marking where he’s eaten grass. He wears a bright orange flag so his owners can find him.
The day before we left Indiana, we got to do some target shooting, making it a completely all-American stop. We both shot a lever .357 rifle for the first time, aiming to hit five plates on a Texas Star shooting target. I got all five in six shots. We also shot some handguns.
The humidity got to us after a while, so we dipped in our hosts’ pool with a cornfield backdrop as our Indiana stop wound to a close.
We left Indiana feeling extremely blessed and appreciative. We were thankful to visit my cousin, Beth, and her husband, Dave, near Indianapolis and catch up and play games. And we greatly enjoyed our time with Jordan and Niki and the B-25 crew.
It’s always an honor to be around warbird planes. We never get tired of hearing the B-25’s engines roar to life and rev up for takeoff. It’s an amazing sound that makes us feel alive and proud to be Americans.
Hoosier Aviation took wonderful care of us and the B-25 crew while we were there. If you’re ever in the Terre Haute area, drop in and say hi to Josh and Becky Thompson and let them know Bob and Lana Gates sent you.
No one wants to be jarred awake by the warning sound of the Emergency Broadcast System on their cellphone. Normally, it’s to alert us of an Amber or Silver Alert. I say a prayer and go back to sleep. But when it’s followed by “Take shelter immediately” and you live in an RV, it’s pretty sobering … especially at 1:30 in the morning.
Having experienced a hailstorm earlier in the day and knowing another storm would be passing through after midnight, we took down our cellphone antenna (which gives us internet) and closed our slideouts before going to bed. So when I first heard the warning to take shelter, I didn’t think much of it. We had checked the weather and knew the predicted storm was supposed to pass over by 2 a.m.
But then we received a text from my cousin, Debbie, across the street offering for us to come there to ride out the storm. That gave me pause. Maybe the storm was worse than I thought. And then Bob read the National Weather Service warning to me, including “Mobile homes will be damaged or destroyed.”
That was all I needed to hear. “OK, let’s go,” I said. We grabbed some warm clothes and our jackets and trudged through standing rainwater to climb into Gulliver and drive across the street. Sleep was out of the question.
Listening for the Train
Debbie said, “If we hear the train, we can go down to the basement,” referring to the unmistakable sound that precedes a tornado. I had never experienced a tornado before, so my ears perked on alert. Any noise out of the ordinary made me wonder, “Is that the train?” Nope, just the air conditioner kicking on.
Bob tracked the rapidly moving storm on his phone and kept me abreast of its direction. It developed two twisters but, thankfully, took a turn and missed us. By 2 a.m., just as predicted, the winds died down. We decided to head home to sleep in our own bed and evaluate the aftermath in the morning.
Assessing the Damage
The hailstorm had a greater impact than the tornado-producing storm. Golf ball-sized, spiky hail broke zucchini plants and marred it and other produce, making it unsellable. The accompanying wind toppled trees and flung branches.
I climbed to the roof of our trailer to see what it looked like. Our shower skylight and three vent covers showed no signs of hail. Our Renogy solar panels, equipped with tempered glass on top, withstood the beating too. It turns out they, like most solar panels, are rated to handle 1-inch hail at 50 mph and up to 140 mph wind. Now we know ours can tolerate hailstones larger than 1 inch.
Although Tagalong’s roof fared well, he did get some cosmetic damage. In our haste to close our slides the day before, we forgot we had stashed our bikes under one of the slides. Closing it with them there wedged one under the passenger side fender, the same area damaged by the cattle guard when we first ventured out.
Other than that, Gulliver and Tagalong came through unscathed. We did find a few small dents in our truck bed cover as a result of the hailstorm, but that was it. The damage could have been much worse. Although some of the area farm crops are unsalvageable, others received some much-needed rain. We thank God for keeping us safe.
RV travel days bring exhilaration at the adventure ahead, but they can be bittersweet when we have to say goodbye to loved ones we enjoyed spending time with.
Typically, we start prepping for a travel day the night before by packing nonessentials, such as family photos and kitchen items we won’t need the next morning. I like to clean the trailer before a move as well so that we arrive at a new spot with a fresh start.
On the morning of a travel day, I make sandwiches and pack snacks and water for our journey. This accomplishes two things: It prevents us from eating unsatisfying truck stop food, and it ensures I have something gluten-free to eat. Then, we get busy securing everything for transit. Bob handles the electronics and outside preparations while I oversee the interior.
Safeguarding Items for Travel
Once I get everything put away from out in the open, I follow a checklist to ensure I don’t forget anything. It includes securing doors, ensuring windows are closed and shades are up throughout the trailer, installing spring bars to keep items in the pantry and refrigerator from shifting, and things like that. The final steps are retracting the four slideouts, stowing our stairs, and locking the trailer door.
After that, I help Bob finish any outside preparations. He’s in charge of taking down the kingpin stabilizer, disconnecting the electric, water, and sewer if we had full hookups, stowing all our hoses, and packing the electric bikes in the back of the truck cab.
Hooking Up the Truck to the Trailer
Then, we work together to go through our checklist to hook up the truck to the trailer. This involves a number of steps that need to be done in a precise order to prevent a potential disaster down the road. The steps include raising the back and middle trailer stabilizers, adjusting the trailer height to align with the hitch in the bed of the truck, backing up and coupling the truck to the trailer, removing tire chocks, and doing our all-important walkaround.
When those tasks are done, we’re ready to go. If we didn’t have sewer hookups at the stop we’re leaving, we head to a dump station to empty our holding tanks before moving on to the next destination. That’s another involved process that needs to be done in a certain order to prevent a messy situation.
Hitting the Road
We usually have a fuel stop picked out that we navigate to as we burn through our 32-gallon tank of diesel pretty fast, getting only about 8 miles per gallon fuel efficiency while towing. We have to stop every two to three hours. But that works out well, because we usually need to stretch our legs and find a restroom after that much time has passed.
One of us drives, and the other navigates. If we’re not on an interstate that has definite clearance for semi-trucks, we usually navigate on both of our phones using two different apps. Google Maps provides lane guidance and the fastest route. Co-Pilot directs us on roads that have enough clearance for our 13-foot, 3-inch height.
At our fuel stop, we gas up where the trucks do because of our height and length. Plus, we can get diesel exhaust fluid (DEF, which our truck requires) at the pump that way, and we have a truck fuel discount card. Sometimes, we get coffee at our stop, but we usually opt for the food we brought with us in the truck.
With our bladders empty and our fuel tank topped, we hit the road again to complete the journey to our destination.
Parking the Rig
Upon arrival, we assess our parking spot and determine the best way to get our rig situated in it. We’ve gotten faster at this the longer we’ve been on the road. We park the rig, sometimes having to add levelers under the tires on one side or the other to make the trailer level side to side.
The trailer itself is rigged with an automatic leveler to get it level front to back. Its leveler also handles side to side, but if one side starts off lower than the other, the rig sometimes raises the tires completely off the ground, which is not a good idea.
With the coach in the position we want it, we run through another checklist to unhook it from Gulliver.
When that’s all done, we can finally start setting everything up for the week or however long we plan to stay in that spot. Bob again handles the electric and water outside, and sewer if we have full hookups. I busy myself inside opening the slides, putting our normal things out where they go, setting up my office for the week, hanging pictures on the walls, and removing the spring bars from the pantry and refrigerator.
Once Bob’s done outside, he sets up the internet, TV, and his computer. If we’re in a cold place, he also sets up our portable propane heater.
It takes us about 1.5 hours to get ready to travel and about an hour to set up at our new destination. After that, we’re home and can relax in celebration of a job well done — or go exploring. After all, adventure awaits.
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.
This is the travel blog of full-time RVers Bob and Lana Gates and our truck, Gulliver, and fifth wheel, Tagalong.