After equipping Gulliver with new shoes, we left the tire shop in Northern Las Vegas around 3:30 p.m. on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, wanting to get some ground behind us. Three hours later, we stopped for the night at a rest area north of Tonopah, Nevada. We slept comfortably without unhooking the trailer or opening any slides and, as a result, were able to get back on the road early the following morning.
Saturday we drove through the historic town of Hawthorne, Nevada, home to the Hawthorne Army Depot and nearly 2,500 bunkers that were used to store reserve ammunitions after major military conflicts, starting as early as 1930. We also skirted Walker Lake, which is surrounded by camping areas, and witnessed three young bighorn sheep cross the road in front of us.
Wanting to put California on our map (the rule is we have to spend a night in a state to be able to put it on our map), we spent Saturday night in a casino parking lot in Susanville, California, arriving around 2 p.m. Although the casino was closed due to COVID-19, the restaurant remained open. After donning the face masks we were given to walk through the casino, we enjoyed a nice relaxing dinner in the restaurant.
We ventured further north on Sunday, semi-circling California’s magnificent Mount Shasta at the end of the Cascade Mountain Range. Standing 14,179 feet tall, Mount Shasta’s snow-topped summit peeks above the pine trees from many miles away and is quite a sight to behold.
Mission Accomplished: Medford, Oregon
We had planned to park and stay at one of my cousins’ in Medford, Oregon, upon arrival but learned he had been exposed to someone recently diagnosed with COVID-19. So, we opted to visit his sister and her husband who are also in the area. After examining their driveway, however, we determined we wouldn’t be able to get our trailer up it, especially with the low-hanging branches. (Our rig stands 13 feet, 3 inches tall.)
We quickly searched RV parks/campgrounds in the area and found a place behind what used to be an Econolodge with 12 RV spots. The location had one vacancy, which we took for two nights. The spaces were tight, and we had the biggest rig. It reminded me of “A Goofy Movie” when Pete and PJ set up their expansive RV next to Goofy’s.
The majority, if not all, of the other 11 spots were occupied by full-time residents. To say the place was sketchy is an understatement. For example, one of the residents suggested we fill our rig with marijuana to sell elsewhere. But we just needed somewhere to park and sleep for two nights while hanging out with my cousin. And it worked without event, thankfully. We were happy to pull away from there and have no intention of going back.
We headed to a Jayco dealer to get estimates on some minor RV repairs: drawers opening every time we go down the road, loose flooring in the hallway that leads to the bedroom and bathroom, non-functioning USB plug-ins, ripping/peeling trim on our internal stairs and, of course, the cattle guard-related cosmetic damage to the outside of our rig.
As it turned out, the service center didn’t have trim color to match the exterior of our rig and wouldn’t be able to get it for a number of weeks. Not planning to spend that many weeks in the area, we opted to deal with that later down the road. But we are having the other issues looked at.
With free parking in the RV shop in Medford, Oregon, we headed to Eugene, Oregon, where our son and two of Bob’s brothers live. Although temporarily homeless, we’re enjoying catching up with family.
We spent our first week on the road north of Flagstaff, Arizona, near Humphrey’s Peak, where high temperatures ranged between 60 and 70 degrees and lows dipped down to 27. Yes, you read that right: 27. We had to dig out our winter clothes and heavy blankets, especially after leaving 100-degree temperatures in the Valley.
We camped with Bob’s brother, Tom, and family. They’ve been full-time RVers for two years and gladly shared lots of tips and tricks. We couldn’t have asked for a better way to start our journey (although a little warmer wouldn’t have been bad).
Since I don’t have a full-time job right now, we decided to get a jump-start on the holiday weekend and head to Oregon. We planned to travel to Medford, Oregon, in three days. Plans are subject to change, and they certainly changed for us.
Pit Stop in Las Vegas
We made it north of Las Vegas around 4:30 p.m. when a fellow motorist waved us down to let us know something looked wrong with one of our truck tires. We thanked him, moved to the right, and started navigating Google Maps to find a gas station with enough clearance for our trailer.
As it turned out, the exit we took also led to a tire shop — probably the last easy-to-get-to tire shop before leaving the greater Las Vegas area. We went directly there.
Upon examination, we realized the tread on our front passenger tire had started to split. It wouldn’t have been much longer before it let go completely. The other front tire didn’t look much better. God was definitely watching over us. If we had attempted to drive to our intended destination, we could have had a major incident on the freeway.
The listing agent for the sale of our house had encouraged us to get new tires before our journey. We should have listened to him.
We decided to replace all six truck tires, but the shop couldn’t get them until the next day. Not wanting to pull the trailer anywhere with the unsafe truck tires, we spoke with the store manager about where we might be able to park the trailer.
He called the owner, and they agreed to let us park our rig at the back of their lot overnight. Even better, they let us sleep in it on the property as long as we didn’t open the slides. (Fortunately, our model makes it easy to get to the bedroom and bathroom without opening any slides.) And, the property had 24-hour surveillance.
Rolling with the Punches
We could have been frustrated and upset, but instead, we chalked up the detour to part of the adventure. We gained time to bum around the northern Las Vegas area, taking a Lyft to a nearby restaurant for dinner.
The beautiful thing about our new lifestyle is we don’t have to be anywhere at any certain time. So, we’ll just arrive in Oregon a day later than anticipated. No big deal. The important thing is we still have our home and each other, and Gulliver has new shoes.
Some people see life as a highway or an opportunity. I see life as an education. There are always lessons to learn along the way. Transitioning to life on the road in a fifth wheel is no exception.
Bob and I packed Gulliver and our trailer over a two-day period. We had to ensure everything fit in a secure spot for the nearly 200-mile trip ahead of us to Northern Arizona. Because it marked our first lengthy journey, preparation took much longer than we anticipated. We didn’t end up leaving the Phoenix area until 1 p.m.
Here are five lessons we learned along the way:
1. Don’t worry about the cars behind you.
We settled into a comfortable pace going between 60 and 65 miles per hour on the freeway and watched those who wanted to go faster pass us by. And it didn’t bother us at all.
As we neared our destination, though, we had to cross a cattle guard off the beaten path with metal fence posts on either side. The cattle guard sat maybe 50 feet from the main road, and a couple of people were behind us. Because our rig is long, we were concerned about those other vehicles sticking out onto the main drag.
That concern led us to make a tighter turn than we should have, and we scraped our new home along the metal fence post on the right side of the cattle guard. Ouch! Thankfully, the damage was only cosmetic and should be relatively easy to fix. It could have been much worse.
Next time we encounter something like that, we’ll take our time to get through it carefully, clear of any obstacles, regardless if vehicles behind us are sticking out into the road.
2. Arrive at your destination with plenty of daylight.
Because we got a late start on this first leg of our journey, and we had to stop along the way to fill our fresh water tank for dry camping (meaning no hookups), we didn’t arrive at our destination until about 6 p.m. The sun still stood high enough for us to park and set up, but the unlevel ground led to some setup challenges that resulted in multiple moves. We didn’t finish parking and setting up until after dark.
Had we arrived earlier, we would have had plenty of time and sunlight to get situated just right, even with the challenges we encountered.
3. Leveling blocks don’t have to be reserved for tires.
The major issue we encountered was that the uneven ground caused our stabilizing jacks’ auto-level mechanism to extend the back jacks all the way, leaving no room for further adjustments. As a result, the rig couldn’t complete the leveling task.
We had some interconnecting leveling blocks with us and had only ever used them under tires on our former travel trailer (which didn’t have stabilizing jacks). It didn’t dawn on us until close to 8 p.m. (mind you, we arrived at our destination at 6) that we could use them under the stabilizing jacks to prevent overextending the jacks. Another lesson learned.
4. Make sure you’re communicating on the same page.
A phrase such as “straighten out” may not mean the same thing to you as it does to your spouse. Does it mean “straighten the steering wheel,” “drive straight in the direction you’re headed,” “straighten the truck to the trailer,” or something else?
Be sure you discuss ahead of time the terminology that will help you communicate best. That will avoid frustration and could save hours of time.
5. Be prepared for the temperature at your destination.
We transitioned from an elevation of 1,700 feet to 9,000 feet — and a temperature difference of at least 30 degrees. We traded 90-degree, shorts and tank-tops weather for 60-degree temps that quickly fell as the sun neared the horizon.
In situations like this, it’s a good idea to have a jacket handy because you may not have time, or stability, to get into your rig and get warmer clothes right away.
We’ve been living in our fifth wheel in a mobile home/RV park in Apache Junction, Arizona, since early April. It’s been a nice transition for us to get used to our new home, which we love, and learn where we hid things we need. We’ve been getting organized and actually found more things we could part with, which resulted in a few more trips to Goodwill to drop off donations.
We hung some pictures to make our place feel more homey. Command Strips come in quite handy for RV living — and they’re available in a number of styles and uses. We found ones to hang a shower squeegee, a towel, our PlayStation controller, our TV remote control, our kitchen scrubbies, belts, and more.
Prepping the Exterior
The outside still needed some attention too. Bob found homes for our belongings that go in what we call “the cellar,” the wall-to-wall storage area in the front of the RV underneath the bedroom.
He wired the solar panels and got them working (they’re loving the hot Arizona sun) and even installed circuit breakers so we can shut them off if needed.
We measured the height of our rig so we can be sure to steer clear of any low bridges. We also got a truckers’ phone app, Co-Pilot, in which we enter our vehicle height, and the app routes us to avoid low-clearance obstacles.
Although our June transatlantic cruise was canceled, we still got a cruising sensation every time one of us walked around the rig. So, we decided to buy and install a kingpin stabilizer. True to its name, it helped stabilize the trailer and also added a level of security, as it prevents anyone from stealing our home. (They’d really have to know what they were doing to steal the rig anyway.)
We gave Gulliver a much-needed bath. We also gave him a hood protector, which will prevent dings from rocks, potentially deflect some bugs, and make him look really cool.
Our U.S. map is hung and ready to be filled with the states we visit. Although we’ve both been to the majority of the states already, we’ll only fill in the map with states Gulliver takes us to.
There’s not much left to do before we’re ready to truly hit the road and leave the heat — at least until November. We plan to be back in the Valley of the Sun November through February so Bob can help with annual heavy maintenance on the B-25 WWII bomber at the Commemorative Air Force. We also plan to attend ground school there to be able to tour with the Maid in the Shade next summer like in years past.
For the first stop of our journey, we plan to head to Northern Arizona, gradually working our way to Eugene, Oregon, to visit our firstborn and deliver some things to him. We plan to arrive in Massachusetts, where Bob’s from, Aug. 1. We’re looking forward to our cross-country trip. Cooler temperatures, here we come.
In a matter of four days, Bob retired from his state job, we closed the sale of our house, and we sold our car. And then I got laid off from my full-time remote job. That’s a lot to swallow all at once, but hey, we love adventure. So bring it on.
Adventure is exactly what we signed up for. Somewhere along the way, as our five kids grew and matured and left the nest, we came up with a dream of living full time in an RV and traveling the country. After all, travel is what brought us together in the first place.
We both toured in 1987 with a nondenominational Christian group called the Continental Singers & Orchestra and met at light technician rehearsal camp. Bob’s tour explored most of America that summer while my tour visited all of the Southern states and Bermuda.
More than 30 years and many other travels later, we’re gearing up to hit the road again — only this time we’re taking our home with us and traveling in the comfort of a Dodge Ram 3500 dually crew-cab truck (aka Gulliver) instead of a Greyhound-type bus.
Transitioning to Tiny Home Living
Gulliver will be leading the way to many adventures to come, towing our Jayco Pinnacle 37MDQS fifth wheel (see Figure 1). We moved into the RV nearly four weeks ago, a feat that took careful planning, considerable time, and intentional effort.
Figure 1. The four slide-outs in our 2018 Jayco Pinnacle 37MDQS make for comfortable living space, with a living room area, kitchen with an island, separate office, single bedroom, and a bathroom. Source: Jayco
Downsizing from an 1,800-square-foot house to a living space nearly a third of that size required many trips to Goodwill to drop off donations, a visit to the Household Hazardous Materials facility, bugging our kids with pictures and, “Do you want this?” and an appointment for the “Junk Guys” to haul things away.
Just how big is a roughly 600-square-foot RV? Our rig is nearly 42 feet long, 8.5 feet wide when closed (about 15 feet wide with all four slide-outs open), and 13.3 feet high. Yep, it’s about the size of a semi truck. We took an RV driving class so we’d be comfortable maneuvering the rig, and it helped immensely. We highly recommend it.
We wanted a rig with an office in it so I could close the door at the end of the workday and be home. It was working great when I had my job. I didn’t even think about work once I closed that door.
The Next Stage
With the house and car sold, and more time on our hands, we’re getting the trailer ready for life on the road. We’re trying to stuff things we kept anywhere we can fit them in the RV. The tricky thing is they have to have a place not only when we’re stationary, but also when we travel.
Bob installed solar panels and converted two Honda generators to propane so we can live off the grid, or boondock (read camp for free), and still have the power we need. We ordered a number of things to help get the trailer just the way we want it. I’m on the hunt for a new editing job. And things are falling into place. Stay tuned. The adventure has only just begun.