Heading Back East

Our last week at the campground was nice and quiet because we were the only ones there!  We finished up some last minute items and had a nice meeting with our managers about the opportunities for next year.  We won’t know for sure until November, but we’re confident something will work out. We also changed our days off so we could leave on Sunday, because we thought we might be able to meet Cori and Greg in Cheyenne along the way, and the extra day would allow us to spend more time with them, instead of just a few hours at the end of a long day of driving.  Unfortunately on Saturday we learned that Denver was supposed to get snow, which changed the plan quite a bit.

We really wanted to see them  (and as an added bonus Dave and Sharon just happen to be with them!) so I spent some time on Saturday re-routing us while Lee finished up last minute items on our rig.  We definitely would be able to meet up with them, but in order to do that a few of our travel days would have to be a little longer than 300 miles, which we like to keep as our outer limit of driving, but it would definitely be worth it.  And we would be going on new stretches of road (through Utah and Idaho) which is something I always enjoy.  So we finished up our last gate closing on Saturday and were both up by 5:30am on Sunday.  It still took us 3 hours to get on the road, but that was mainly because we double and triple checked everything.  When you have been sitting for a while, it’s easy to forget your normal travel day routine and we were both extra cautious to ensure we didn’t have any issues.

The weather was absolutely perfect and because I-84 was still closed due to wild fires along the Columbia River Gorge from Troutdale to Hood River (we heard on the radio once we were under way that they opened one lane Sunday morning, but we were already going the other way) we headed east on U.S.  26 (Mt. Hood Highway) instead. From just past Government Camp we took OR-35 to Hood River to catch I-84 eastbound from there. We got to see Mt. Hood with a fresh dusting of now!  It was a nice way to end our stay in Estacada, and the drive itself was a nice one.

Mount Hood

Mount Adams

Driving along the Columbia River

Our route actually took us through western Oregon, which we didn’t have time to explore this summer.  It gets pretty hot there, so next time we will definitely take some trips early in the season, and it’s always a surprise how quickly the landscape changes.  Lots of farmland, and quite arid, although we did have some beautiful views of the Snake River.  Our campsite for the night was even along the Snake River, and the views were spectacular.  We stopped at Catfish Junction RV Park because it was Passport America and the owner was really nice, and it was neat as a pin.  Plus it only cost $16 which was very reasonable considering the view! Not to mention there were only about 4 rigs in the whole park. We particularly love travelling in the off season and shoulder season, because even parks that are normally cramped feel wide open when there’s nobody in them.

Pendleton area of Western Oregon

Catfish Junction

Our site was on the end and easy to back in. If you have a larger rig you might want to call ahead because not all sites would be that easy to get into.

Gorgeous view from the front of our rig

There are also numerous boondocking spots along the snake river and close to the campground, but on our first night on the road we wanted full hook-ups.  When we have sat for a while Lee fills the black and grey tanks with about 1/3 water (I use the water meter to keep track of how many gallons I am putting in. It’s a very handy gadget to have for lots of reasons. – Lee) and the agitation from traveling helps to loosen and break up whatever sediment may have collected in either tank from sitting for so long.  Lee calls it a poop smoothie. Since we sat for almost 5 months the tanks definitely needed it!  We woke up the next morning and got on the road by 8:30am again, because I wanted to make sure we arrived at our next destination somewhat early. By choice I did not make any reservations, and generally in the off season this is not an issue.  But you never know what you are going to run into, so if you time your arrival by around 2-3pm, you still have time to deal with anything that comes up.

This day of driving was not nearly as interesting, unfortunately.  I didn’t really like the terrain all that much, although it did get much better when we hit Utah towards the end of the day. That was OK because I am trying a new thing while Lee is taking his driving turn.  I can’t read in the truck, it makes me carsick, but I can cross stitch, and this is a fun thing to do because I can just stop when there is something interesting to look at.  Lee and I have been splitting up the driving as well, changing drivers about every 2 hours, which also helps break up the long day. There was lots of construction and I swear it always happens on my turn, but surprisingly they still allowed people to drive 70 despite being down to one lane.  I just set the cruise control to 65 and let folks pass me, because despite the relatively flat terrain, I just felt more relaxed.  That section of highway was actually 80 mph but since there were 2-3 lanes folks didn’t seem to mind my slowpoke speeds.

Idaho

Some mountains as we got closer to Utah

Finally we arrived at Willard Bay State Park and I was pretty disappointed.  (Overall we are finding that state parks are not our cup of tea. They tend to be a little pricey for what we get. – Lee) There was no one at the gate so we had to use $30 cash, and since we didn’t have a campground map we had to drive around the campground, select a site, then drive back up and pay.  None of the sites had water views,which was disappointing considering it’s on the water, and it’s pretty close to the interstate so you can hear a lot of road noise.  On the plus side, the sites are nice and large, although not very level, and there was a nice paved path that took me down to the water.  It was pretty down there and I saw lots of birds, but overall it was just too pricey for a very average overnight stay.

Our site was on the end which was nice

The paved nature trail

The beach area was great. I can see why this would be a big draw in warmer temps

Egrets were in the marsh and lots of song birds

Even saw a huge flock of what I think were coramonts flying overhead

 

Overall it was pretty, but I was really hoping it would be special enough to qualify us for a state sticker, but that was not to be.  Our rule is we only get a state sticker if we spend the night AND see or do something unique to the state.  The last piece is a bit subjective of course, but when I tasted the lake and it wasn’t salty I had to decide to save my state sticker for something else.  Hopefully we will be able to get our Colorado sticker and Iowa sticker on our way to Indiana and Ohio, because it has been too long since I had the pleasure of putting a sticker on!

And then next morning I woke up pretty early and was as I was looking at Facebook and waking up I got pretty bummed out.   Some people we know are taking their time exploring this area and their pictures really made me sad that we were flying by without doing or seeing anything. Utah is an area we have been wanting to explore for a while now, and I hated that we would be so close to Moab and not see it.    It’s one thing to have Moab on your bucket list for example, but quite another to be less than an hour away and not be able to stop because of a schedule.  That’s not exactly true, we could change our plans and see it, but for me, it’s not a place I want to just jump out and take a picture.  It’s a BIG bucket list item and as such deserves more than a quick peek.  It’s worth noting that in my old life I definitely would have stopped, because I wouldn’t have been sure we would ever get back. Now I am confident enough that we will return that I can afford to wait, but it’s still a bummer.

Plus, we are spending money like crazy.  Gas Diesel on the highway is around $2.90 a gallon, even with our 8 cents off Pilot discount and it’s about $100 every time we gas fuel up the truck. So, it’s going to cost us about $1,000 in gas diesel to get from one end of the country to the other, and it’s hard to watch the money we worked so hard for this summer slip away.  More importantly, we are also “spending” 9 days of our precious time off, and since we don’t think we will have another long break until April, it’s hard to lose the time.   We could slow our pace of course, and the temptation to do that is strong, but we have family and friends who haven’t seen us in over a year and that is important as well.  I guess my point here is there is a tendency to see this lifestyle as freewheeling and completely without boundaries, and that simply is not the case for anyone we know.  People have doctor’s appointments, family obligations, repairs to attend to, and financial constraints, all of which impact their travel. When you are just looking at Facebook pictures or blogs you forget about that, and even though I know better than to judge my life by someone else’s “highlight reel” I am still guilty of it.

Basically I was feeling pretty sorry for myself, and then as often happens, the universe gave me a little nudge. Not ten minutes after writing the above couple of paragraphs I walked outside and there was a beautiful doe and her adorable, furry fawn less than 15 feet from our rig.  I just stopped and stared and she stood there for a long time staring back at me, and finally they strolled away, unconcerned with my first-world full-timer problems.  If I have a spirit animal, it is definitely deer, so the moment really spoke to me.  It definitely brightened my mood and I quickly finished our morning routine and we got on the road.

The drive through Utah was much prettier than the day before.  I had timed it so we missed most of Salt Lake City’s morning traffic, but it was still congested enough that it took some time getting through the city.  It was more industrial than I thought it would be, at least what we saw from the highway, and the surrounding mountains were really pretty.  Lee took the first shift, but we switched outside of town and our route took us off the interstate south of Salt Lake. We were driving US-6 to get between I-15 and I-70 and both of us were glad to be going through the countryside a bit.  That part of the drive was really beautiful and although the road was pretty twisty turny it had great signage, and lots of passing lanes so I could drive at my own pace.  The terrain also changed during the drive going from beautiful tree covered hills to some amazing canyons.

Grabbed a picture of the beautiful mountains at the Flying J before we jumped on Highway 6

This terrain was really pretty and we started to see some color

Then it turned into mining country with some amazing rock formations including Castle Gate pass. Unfortunately there was no place to stop and get a picture but this was really majestic

We also found a really nice, large travel plaza on Highway 6 and stopped for our lunch.  Since the huge parking lot was practically empty I practiced backing up and I think I did OK.  I haven’t backed up the rig since I went to RV driving school waaaay back in Spring of 2015 in the Outer Banks,  so I was a bit nervous, but Lee talked me through it step-by-step and overall I think I did OK.  I really need to take advantage of opportunities to practice this more in the future, because it definitely has an element of “feel” to it.

I wasn’t quite on the center line, but I was in the two outer lines

After our lunch stop we switched drivers again and the terrain down to I-70 was pretty barren. But when we reached I-70 and headed towards Moab we got to see some absolutely beautiful canyons, from the outside at least.  We talked again about changing our route, it’s nice when you have no reservations so you can talk about things and Lee is great about last minute changes, but once again we decided to push on.

The drive on US-6

The canyons on I-70 from a rest area we stopped at

Finally we left Utah and entered Colorado and the terrain changed once again.  There is a section along the Colorado River that has lots of wineries and fruit trees , which really surprised me and we were close to our stop for the night.  It was only 3pm at this point, which turned out to be a good thing since I had planned to stay at the James M. Robb state park.  I knew it would be pricey ($28 for full hookups and $7 daily entrance fee), but I wanted to try one of their state parks. The first section was in Fruita and since it was in town we skipped it for Island Acres which was outside of town and about 12 miles farther.  Unfortunately I had the wrong address and we actually ended up in a third section which was day use only.  Lee went inside and talked to them and we headed farther down the road, but it was actually 4:00pm by the time we arrived.  The park was in this really cool canyon, but when we pulled in, once again, not impressed.  Despite being right beside the river you couldn’t see it from your site and there was a train that ran through really close by, just on the other side of the river.  Plus there was a distinct sewage smell in the area and after some discussion we finally decided to move on, to a more reasonably priced option that would put us a little closer to where we would be meeting up with our friends.

Cool entrance to canyon

I looked in Passport America and there was a nice campground about 1-1/2 hours away that was only $25 (with the discount) for the night. Lee said he was fine with driving and we kept going. Unfortunately we had to go farther east to turn around, and then go back 25 miles the way we came to get on US-50, but eventually we made it. About 11 miles outside of Montrose we checked in to Centennial RV Park. The office was still open when we arrived a little after six and it was a well-maintained and friendly campground.  The Passport America price was right and we checked in and Lee quickly hooked us up to water and electric, and sewer. I made a quick dinner, trying a new fish recipe which we both really liked, and we both sort of collapsed.  It was a long day and the driving wear and tear is a little cumulative.  We knew we were tired when the person at check in asked us where we came from and neither of us could remember lol.  I finally said Utah, above Salt Lake, but for the life of me couldn’t remember the name of the campground.  But we are here and only about three hours away from Cori,Greg, Dave, and Sharon.  Tomorrow we will be going  over Monarch Pass, which on the eastern descent is about 6 1/2% grade for 10 miles, so we definitely wanted to be fresh for that drive.  Looking forward to seeing our friends and taking a day off from driving, plus still hoping to get that Colorado State sticker!


Camper Chronicles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, a program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. We very much appreciate any purchase you make via our website links.  There is no additional cost to you and helps support our blog.  Search Amazon.com here

Or you can check out our recipe book filled with 80 real recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. The cookbook specializes in recipes that have a limited number of ingredients, without sacrificing flavor and is organized into categories that matter to full time RVers such as Happy Hours, Travel Days, and Pot Lucks   You can preview the kindle version on  Amazon or the Apple version on Itunes.    It is also available in paperback.

 

 

Living on the Road and Major Family Events

 

When we first started out on our grand adventure I thought that we would be spending more time with family and not less.  Initially that is exactly what happened.  We spent six weeks with my sister in South Carolina, spent a month in Minnesota with my daughter for her wedding, and had numerous short stops to see family and friends in Columbus, Texas, Florida, and other places.  Almost all of that happened while I still had my corporate job and had more freedom in my travels.  Once we started working traditional work kamping jobs, that changed.  Yes, people can come visit us where we are working, and we can try to schedule the route for our off time so we can meet up with people, but it all gets much more complicated. If you have income coming in, don’t need to work, or have a mobile job, you probably have much more flexibility in where you go, but that is not our reality and as the last year has been a series of disappointments in this area I think it’s time I wrote a post about it.

I freely admit my situation is complicated.  I have three children in three different states (or countries now, as our youngest was recently deployed to Korea) and a large extended family in a fourth state.  We don’t have any grandchildren, which makes our situation much less complicated than many others, and thankfully all of our parents are alive and in good health. But as with any family we have weddings, births, birthdays, and deaths, and in those cases it is simply impossible for us to always be there.  Actually I shouldn’t say that, if we chose a route that went from family member to family member and kept us on the East Coast we would be able to attend most of those events, but the places we want to be aren’t usually close to where those things are happening.

We do have some experience with this of course.  We spent fifteen years living in New Hampshire, which wasn’t close to any of our family, and during that time we missed lots of events.  The difference was, I had a job with a salary and a bereavement policy that allowed me the option to travel if I felt I needed to.  Even with all of the resources in the world, I didn’t always make the trip, but for the “big stuff” we could always jump in the car and make the twelve hour trip home, or one of us could stay home with the kids and the other could fly.  We attended our grandparents’ funerals that way and I went to my brother’s wedding and sister’s nursing school graduation. It certainly wasn’t perfect.  I often had to work during those trips and they were always too short, but they were possible and at least I could physically be there to show my support and love.

This new work kamping life is very different, and we have had a series of events this year that have proven that.  My mother’s husband was sick and eventually died this year, and although my original plan was to go and stay with her at the end and through the funeral, ultimately I didn’t go back at all.  We were gate guarding at the time, and both were needed to hold the position, and since it was 24/7, if one of us left the other one would have to go as well.  We needed the money, and more importantly we needed to have a solid gate guarding experience for future work opportunities, so we stuck it out and although I talked to my mom on the phone almost every day I wasn’t able to be with her.  In that case my brother and sister were absolutely fantastic and since they had more flexibility in their schedules were with her through the experience.  But I hated not being there and although she was 100% supportive and understanding as she gets our lifestyle, I still feel sad that I wasn’t with her.

Then my oldest daughter was getting remarried and we went to some trouble to plan our route so we could be in Charleston in October.  The kids know we can’t change our travel plans at the drop of a hat, so the wedding dates were agreed upon well in advance.  We were going to spend at least two weeks with her, but then life got in the way and when she needed some emergency dental work and her fiancées insurance to help pay for it, she decided to move up the wedding.  It was always going to be a low-key ceremony on the beach, so moving the dates wasn’t a huge deal, but we were faced with some tough choices about whether we could be there.  Flights at the time were around $650 each and we would also be missing work.  No paid time off with these seasonal jobs, and although this one is flexible enough that we could have gotten a few days off, when we added hotel room and rental car to the equation, it wouldn’t be cheap.  We actually talked about just me going, to help keep some of the costs down, but ultimately after much hand wringing on my part, we both decided not to go.  Ultimately she chose to get married with just the two of them on the beach and it was a lovely and special ceremony, but missing my daughter’s wedding was an extremely difficult decision for me and once again I felt like I let someone I loved down.

And just yesterday my favorite Uncle died.  He was always a huge part of my life and extremely supportive and encouraging of my life and choices.  There are some people in your family who just get you, and he was that guy for me. We had a very special relationship and when I found out he was close to the end, I wanted to fly back and see him one last time.  But then it’s the same choices, money for flights, missing work, the logistics of where to stay and getting around while I am in Columbus, although I have family there who could help me out with that.  I didn’t go and then got the call that he passed away. Now, once again I am faced with the choice for the funeral.  Funerals are very important to me.  I believe that showing respect and providing support is one of the most important things you can do to honor the person and since he was so good to me growing up, I really want to do that for him and his family.  But the flights are $700 and worse, most of the available cheap ones are 12 hours or more, and of course I would miss work and on Monday someone would need to cover for me. Still, I have looked up flights twice, hoping there would be a cheaper option, but finally realized I needed to let it go.

I wish I believed he would understand, but I know he would want me there which makes it harder. So I will have to settle for sending flowers and visiting his grave site the next time I am passing through, but it’s rough, no two ways about it.  And if you are reading this and thinking she could have gone to all of those things, you are absolutely correct.  It probably would have cost me around $10K all in to attend these events and I do have that much in the bank.  That would have also taken a huge chunk out of our savings and I wouldn’t have had any way to easily make up that money by working.  Plus, I am under no illusions that next year won’t hold similar circumstances, and since we are committed to making this lifestyle sustainable without plowing through our savings, there had to be a sacrifice.

So each situation has to be looked at individually and with the family member, decisions were made. They weren’t easy, and none of us were happy about it, but we did the best that we could with the situation we were working with at the time.  You might choose differently.  Heck, given the same set of circumstances occurring again, I might choose differently, but this is where I am. There is enough of a pattern here though, that I thought it was important to mention.  I certainly didn’t think it would be like this when we started out.  I envisioned being able to pick up and travel to family whenever I felt the need, but that simply has not been the case.  And it’s not all about the money.  Driving an RV cross country takes time, and emergency events don’t usually allow for 5+ days of travel time so that means flights are necessary.  It’s complicated, and yes it was complicated before, but throwing money at problems can make them a lot simpler. And that’s just not an option for us in this life.

 


Camper Chronicles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, a program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. We very much appreciate any purchase you make via our website links.  There is no additional cost to you and helps support our blog.  Search Amazon.com here

Or you can check out our recipe book filled with 80 real recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. The cookbook specializes in recipes that have a limited number of ingredients, without sacrificing flavor and is organized into categories that matter to full time RVers such as Happy Hours, Travel Days, and Pot Lucks   You can preview the kindle version on  Amazon or the Apple version on Itunes.    It is also available in paperback.

First Time Kayaking on the Clackamas River

Conventional wisdom recommends that anyone who is becoming a full time RVer invest in three things; good hiking shoes, bikes, and kayak(s).  With visions of all of those activities in our heads we started our full timing journey with two of the three.  Oddly, the one item I skipped (decent hiking shoes), I came to regret when I sprained an ankle during a hike and hobbled around for three weeks.  Now my Merrill Hiking shoes get tons of use and I will absolutely replace them with a like pair when they eventually wear out.  On the other end of the spectrum we went to quite a bit of trouble to bring our bikes.  Lee had a custom bike rack built and we carried them everywhere with us the first two years.  Unfortunately we never found a good way to cover them, so every time we wanted to use them we had a rusted chain, flat tire, or some other bike issue and despite our best intentions they saw little use.  Finally, we gave them away last summer in Alaska, and only rarely do I wish we had them.  The main problem for me is that I like to take pictures, and I am not coordinated enough to ride a bike and stop frequently with a big camera around my neck. It just wasn’t fun for me.

Finally, we purchased a Sea Eagle Kayak. Lee liked that it was inflatable (thus easier to store) and I liked that it was a two person kayak.  I had this vision in my head of riding in style (and barely paddling) as Lee moved us down beautiful rivers, but again, the reality did not live up to my fantasy.  First and foremost, when we went to one vehicle finding a transport company to give us rides, was much more difficult than we thought it would be.  Also, Lee made it pretty clear he wasn’t interested in doing all of the work.  Setting up an inflatable takes some time in and of itself and with our work schedules neither one of us was super interested in the tons of manual labor paddling upriver entails.  Don’t get me wrong, we love floating downstream, but the upstream was just too much work.  We tried some lakes to avoid needing to go upstream, but neither one of us was getting the experience we wanted.

Let me just take a minute here and say LOTS of our friends kayak, bike, and hike on a regular basis.  We definitely fall outside of the “normal” curve on this one, but we are also working physically demanding jobs on a regular basis.  Even if we weren’t though I am not sure we wouldn’t have the same issues.  I think my main point is we didn’t completely change who we are overnight simply because we became full timers.  As big a fan as I am of buying everything you need upfront, you might want to hold off on these items until you get some experience with the lifestyle.  Except the hiking boots.  Definitely buy those, because even if you aren’t planning on tons of hiking, odds are you will experience lots of places with uneven ground.

All of this really came to a head this summer, because we are living on a beautiful river.  We both wanted to get out and kayak, but the idea of paddling against the current (especially after our long, hard days of hauling trash and scrubbing bathrooms) was not appealing.  So it was get rid of the boat (which was super pricey at $850) or find another solution.  Lee really wanted to try a trolling motor, and although I had some major concerns about throwing good money after bad I agreed that it was worth a shot.  Lee did the research, found the motor, and figured out the mounting and finally we took it for a maiden voyage.

All the boat stuff including new motor and battery case

 

Lee put on the mount

 

Strapped on the battery

 

And added the motor

We launched from the Promontory Marina next to the campground and since we had no idea how long the battery would last we headed upriver.  I’ll just jump to the end here and say it was a huge success.  Lee loved having the trolling motor and we had enough battery power to go upriver and get most of the way back.  I was able to take lots of pictures and we only paddled when we got into shallow areas or if I wanted to add a little speed.  The view from the river was also really cool, and as familiar as I am with the river at this point, being in it gives you a totally different perspective.

The view from the marina

 

The Clackamas River

 

I loved these trees, not sure what they are but very pretty

 

It was fun seeing the campsites from the river

 

The Day Use Area

 

And you can see a hint of our camper in the upper left hand corner

 

We made our way up to these wooden structures which we think are there for the fish to rest in

 

Several people were in the area either fishing or paddle boarding

 

I loved these structures

 

They were really fun to kayak in and out of

 

And super photogenic

We went far enough to get some great views of the cliffs

 

Found the base of this waterfall by hearing the water trickle into the river

 

And saw this area on an island where people sometimes camp

 

It was fun and Lee had a really good time with the trolling motor, so hopefully we will be doing more kayaking in the future.  Time will only tell, but my personal favorite is still the scenic drive for seeing an area.  This was nice because you get into nature and see things with more detail, but we only covered a couple of miles of terrain while doing it.  It really comes down to personal preference I suppose.

After kayaking we started our weekend and mostly it was a really good one.  I made $27.70 recycling, which was great, and despite the heat and larger crowds we managed to keep up OK. One of the most exciting things was they finally cleared the slide on the road between Lower Launch and Faraday and we are now able to drive straight through.  Not only does it make our lives easier, it is also beautiful and on Thursday I stopped and took a few pictures.  Right before getting on the road I stopped and checked on my ospreys and discovered three large sized chicks in the nest.  They were on the outer edges of my range but I got a couple of decent shots!

Can’t wait until these guys start flying.  If you look close you see three heads

 

The parent was keeping an eye out


The road to Faraday

 

Good signage around where the slide was

 

They only have half of the road open

 

What’s left after the slide. The rocks with metal netting are used to stop any further slides

 

Really long area which is why it took so long to open the road

 

Some beautiful views of the Clackamas

 

Ending at the dam

 

We even felt good enough to have lunch with fellow Dreamers Julie and Casey who we had met briefly at the 2016 rally.  They are full-time and living in Portland where Casey is working and they were willing to come down during our long break on the weekend.  Julie even brought lunch (which included pie!) and we had a great time getting to know them better.  Casey is a scrum master, which is somewhat similar to what I do and I picked his brain about working while living on the road.  They asked us questions about Alaska and other areas they hadn’t experienced yet and it was a great exchange of information.  Plus they are really nice people and we just enjoyed the company.

Julie, Casey, and Lee who is excited about his pie!

 

So the week was really good with only one sour note.  I thought about leaving it out, but I need to include it because it was kind of a big deal at the time.  On Sunday, we ran out of toilet paper at the Lower Launch and someone wrote “Poop” with a giant “X” in excrement on the wall.  I scrubbed it off, but it really was a bummer way to end the week, because seriously who does something like that?  It obviously happens though, and for those of us who clean bathrooms, it is not pleasant at all.  It isn’t just dealing with the fluids, it’s how intentional the act is.  Craziness. And don’t get me wrong, Lee and I both know these sorts of things are going to happen, but we also shake our head and think who does something like that?

Well, next up is our Crater Lake trip, and we are both very excited about that, and since we won’t be cleaning any bathrooms there I am sure it will be amazing 🙂

 


Camper Chronicles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, a program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. We very much appreciate any purchase you make via our website links.  There is no additional cost to you and helps support our blog.  Search Amazon.com here

Or you can check out our recipe book filled with 80 real recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. The cookbook specializes in recipes that have a limited number of ingredients, without sacrificing flavor and is organized into categories that matter to full time RVers such as Happy Hours, Travel Days, and Pot Lucks   You can preview the kindle version on  Amazon or the Apple version on Itunes.    It is also available in paperback.

 

Reader Question: Would We Do it all Again?

Stacey sent a very thoughtful question and although I answered it in the comments, I think it deserves a longer answer, hence this post.  The question was “If you knew then what you know now,  would you still trade your former careers / work life including sticks and bricks living for your current lifestyle? I guess I’m wondering if work camping experiences are an acceptable trade off for living the full timing RV lifestyle instead of waiting to do it after retirement. I know that the preference is a uniquely individualized choice, but I’d like to hear your personal opinion now that you’ve done it for some time and experienced varied work camping jobs.”

The short answer is: Yes.  If you are a person who likes brevity you might want to stop right here, but there is of course a much longer answer.  First and foremost I am a person who believes in “the journey”.  Every decision I have made, every challenge I have experienced has led to who I am today.  Looking back on my life, the most interesting times were the most challenging and the times of personal growth usually came from something difficult or scary.  So I am not a person who carries around a lot of regret.  Most of my decisions, good and bad, I can live with because they were my decisions and I learned from them.

That being said, I don’t have to experience everything the hard way anymore.  I can learn from others and I am not averse to taking the easier path once in awhile.  I’m older and hopefully wiser now.  So if I knew would I do it?  It’s possible I wouldn’t have had the courage to do this if I knew exactly what I was getting into, but I hope I would have.  This lifestyle is the biggest risk I have ever taken in my life.  That statement should be put into context, because I have never been much of a risk taker, but for me it has challenged me in almost every way.  I don’t think that would have happened if I would have waited until retirement.  I know it wouldn’t have happened if I would have waited until I had tons of money in the bank.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the transition is tough for people regardless of your income level or savings account, but for me some of the biggest lessons I have learned have been around living without a safety net.  Many people have already learned that lesson.  They were fired, started their own business, dealt with a major illness, or got divorced.  I have never experienced any of these things and as thankful as I am for that, I also didn’t know that I would make it out the other side.  Not intellectually know, because of course I believed that, but know deep down in my gut I would be able to handle major changes. My life was relatively stable and sedentary and I was comfortable. I think it’s pretty clear I am not comfortable now, and haven’t been for the last 3 years.

But people rarely grow when they are comfortable.  Yes, they avoid the lows in life, but often they don’t experience the amazing highs either. Life was bland and vanilla and for many, many years I loved it that way.  Looking back on the last three years I see a series of images.  Things I absolutely know I never would have experienced, because going on vacation cannot buy them.  It’s just not the same.  Those moments have to be part of the equation and frankly I can’t imagine many things that would tempt me to give those up. You might think I could have experienced them if I would have waited, and maybe that is true.  Or maybe I could have experienced equal or better experiences just at an older age.  Possibly, but I have always been a bird-in-the-hand kind of person and to me it would have been riskier to wait until I retired.  Too many things could have happened in the 18 years between now and then.

Plus, my life as it existed was about to change anyway.  My youngest daughter was leaving the nest to go into the Air Force and Lee and I would have been in a big empty house that we didn’t like very much.  Yes, we could have downsized into something smaller, but in our case that change wouldn’t have been enough for us.  More importantly for me at least, my former company was about to be bought by a larger company.  I didn’t know it at the time I took the buy-out, but within 6 months of my leaving, Tyco would be bought by Johnson Controls.  My boss, who I really liked, took a totally different position and in order for me to stay with him I would have probably needed to relocate. If I would have stayed in the same position, I may have survived the cut, but it would have meant longer hours, more travel, and definitely more stress.  I survived two major mergers in my 15 years with Tyco and  I honestly don’t know if I had another one of those in me.  Even if I did manage to survive the deep personnel cuts that always come with a merger,  it’s brutal watching colleagues lose their jobs.  It’s very possible that if I have stayed I would have been looking for new employment anyway, but with the liability of Lee needing to stay in the area and a relatively high mortgage hanging over my head.  Knowing what I know now,  selling the house and becoming debt free was the smart move and I am pretty sure we would not have been able to do that if we had stayed in the area.  So the short answer is I don’t regret at all leaving our sticks and bricks lifestyle.

To answer the second part of the question as to whether the work kamping jobs are worth the full-time lifestyle, I would say the answer is largely no.  If we were supplementing other income and could work them, yes, probably.  If we were volunteering for fun, social interaction, and to help with costs, definitely.  But working the amount of hours we work and the types of jobs we have, absolutely no.  I’m not sure how Lee feels about that so he’ll need to jump in here.  We believed we would be able to work a little and play a little when we started doing these jobs, but its mostly been 10 months of work and 2 months of play, and that’s not a fair trade-off to me.  It would be if the jobs were easier and/or more interesting, but they aren’t, and unless we were willing to stick with the same jobs year after year and follow a set route I can’t see that changing.  That’s a great compromise for many people, by the way, and I respect it.  If you want better pay and more interesting work you can always spend your summers and/or winters in the same places and eventually you will get there.  Nothing wrong with that, but we get the big WOW moments from seeing new places and without that travel I still don’t think I would like it.  I think Lee would be fine with that though, but again he needs to jump in.

(I take a longer view, overall. I think it’s possible to have something resembling a route, and also have the freedom to get the WOW moments, but if I ever feel like I’m chasing something, then I know it’s a losing battle. I’d rather stalk it. I also think that while the WOW moments mostly come from being in new places, I think that we have nothing but time to see new places, and I’d rather get all the WOW I can in a place before I go searching for new WOW. I agree that at the moment, the “recipe” we have is not a good one, and I often wonder how many people start off and give up at this point, because it’s so far away from what they imagined. I’m pretty stubborn, though, and I am convinced that the right recipe is out there, and I constantly remind myself of how unhappy I was before.-Lee)

(Most of the time I feel like my worst day here is still better in the grand scheme than my best day before. The grass is greener syndrome is powerful, and I am avoiding it with everything I’ve got. I do think that if you break the year into two longer seasons of summer and winter and two shorter seasons of fall and spring, then it’s logical that part of the recipe might be that you find a recurring gig in either summer or winter, and intellectually I lean toward summer for that. That would have the added benefit of giving you an anchor point for medical/dental stuff. I know some people might recoil from the idea of spending years experimenting to find that perfect repeating summer gig, but for me it beats a life of grind every time.-Lee)

(Overall, I’m looking for a combination that allows some freedom to travel, but also gives me a little stability. Ideally, a combination of hammering the budget down to the point where we can use the two long seasons to make money, and make enough to play during the short seasons, or some combination. I agree that working 10 months, and taking 2 off is not a good deal, especially if some or most of those of those two months is dedicated to getting from one gig to another. Anything that gets us closer to a 50/50 split would make me happier. I’m also willing to have less in general to get there. For me the trick is to fine tune and tweak until we’ve squeezed as much as possible out of the time we have and the money we can get.  I’m the kind of guy that turns a dish soap container upside down and lets it sit for an hour to get all the soap out, but I think bending over to pick up a nickel is for suckers. I can do something else while gravity gets the soap out for me, but I’m never getting back the ten cents worth of time I spent picking up that nickel. For me, seconds add up faster than nickels.  – Lee)

What isn’t covered in your question is are there any other ways to make money?  The answer is demonstrably yes as we have met many people (mostly younger) doing all sorts of interesting things to cover their costs.  We haven’t even started exploring those options, because we were focused on the most common traditional work kamping jobs, but our focus going forward will be doing exactly that. I’ve never really had an entrepreneurial spirit and again I’m not much of a risk taker, but there are lots of mobile jobs that while out of my comfort zone are not a complete stretch for me.  We believe most work kamping jobs are designed for people who are trying to supplement existing income.  That makes sense because in the past the majority of the work kamping community was in exactly that position.  The demographic of full timers is changing, however, but the work kamping job market has been slow to change to accommodate those of us are financing our travels by working seasonal jobs. We do see some small changes in this area and I expect big changes in the next 10 years, but for right now few of these jobs have been a good fit for us.

What I have learned from trying them though is we can support ourselves that way if we need to.  It isn’t our preference, but it is workable.  (What we’re doing this summer is an excellent example of that. It pays $14.25 per hour and we each work about 35 hours per week, but between the type of work it is and the split shift schedule, it takes enough out of us that it feels a lot more like a sticks and bricks lifestyle. – Lee) This gives me the freedom to be choosier about what types of mobile professional jobs I take.  We aren’t desperate and we know there is work out there, so I can be sure I am not jumping from a less than ideal situation into a worse one.  One thing I absolutely have achieved is less stress.  These jobs may be unpleasant and they are not totally without some stress, but it doesn’t come close to what I was experiencing in my former profession.  My ideal job would be something of relatively short duration, in a nice place,  where I could use my skills and contribute to the betterment of society in some way.  I am fully aware that is a tall order, but at this point I don’t believe it is an impossible goal.

I’m not sure what Lee is going to choose to do. He has talked about trying to get a small business off the ground, but that will require some stretching on his part and a considerable amount of non-revenue generating time to get it started. We have some money in the bank, a really varied skill set, and relatively low monthly costs so whatever we decide to try I think we will be OK. We just need to stretch ourselves.

Which sort of brings me back full circle to my original point.  Once again our desire for this roving lifestyle will be the catalyst for change. We don’t know where that change will lead us, but as long as we love each other and take care of each other, things will be alright and probably we will end up in a better place than where we started.  We usually do.  That alone makes me grateful we started down this path.  Plus, as we are walking along the path,  the view is really amazing.  Seriously, you cannot put any sort of price tag on that.

Thanks for the question and giving us a chance to write about it.


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Or you can check out our recipe book filled with 80 real recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. The cookbook specializes in recipes that have a limited number of ingredients, without sacrificing flavor and is organized into categories that matter to full time RVers such as Happy Hours, Travel Days, and Pot Lucks   You can preview the kindle version on  Amazon or the Apple version on Itunes.    It is also available in paperback.

 

Second Year – By the Numbers

Year Two of Full timing was another year of great change so I thought it was worth several posts summarizing the experience.  At the end of year one I wrote a “by the numbers” post Year 1 overview and a post on the  emotional aspects.  I liked that formula and plan on doing the same thing this time.   Also, since I am tracking our budget based on the calendar year, there will be another post covering Year 2 expenses and revenue in January.

Travel Information

I tried several ways to create one map showing our route, but finally just gave up and created two.  The first picture shows the first part of the year and the second shows Alaska and the return back to the states.

2016-route-1

November through May

2016-route-2

May through November

 

Truck MilesThe trailer traveled 15,558 miles in Year Two. This year we did not have a second vehicle for the entirety (I turned in my company car last year) and the truck traveled 33,710 miles.  Thus, we traveled an additional 18,152 miles with the truck alone.  For those who are interested,  the new engine (which was replaced right before we started Year Two has 33,915 miles on it (since being installed) and the truck itself (which is what the warranty goes by) has 58,743 miles.  The number of miles we put on the truck is a concern, but since the Alaska trip caused a spike in both the trailer and truck numbers, we really think we need at least another year to get a feel for what this will look like over time. (I’m not concerned about the truck miles so much. It’s a diesel, and I’m told that they go trillions of miles. – Lee) 

Travel Pattern – We still like to pick an area and stay in it for an extended period of time, but this year we spent more time than expected traveling to get to places.  The main cause of that was business and family obligations on the east coast that necessitated a cross country trip right before Alaska.  We don’t regret that decision because it allowed us to attend my nephew’s adoption party and an RV-Dreams Rally, but from a travel perspective it certainly added some additional miles.  This may not be an unusual occurrence though as we prefer to travel in the West, but most of our family resides in the east.  Again we will need to see how that plays out over time.  Despite the often crazy travel schedule though we did get to spend chunks of time in different areas, and those are listed below.

  • Weott, CA4 weeks volunteering at Humboldt State Park in the Redwood Forest
  • Quartzite, AZ – We spent roughly 5 weeks in Quartzsite (we left, then came back)
  • City of Rocks, NM – We spent 10 days  with Cori and Greg at the City of Rocks which was a major bucket list item of mine
  • Glenallen, AK – We spent almost 4 months in Alaska work kamping, fulfilling one of Lee’s major bucket list items
  • Sidney, MT – We spent 39 days working the beet harvest
  • New Braunfels, TX – We will be spending almost 2 months selling Christmas trees.

In between these stays we mostly traveled, with usual pattern being 300-350 miles a day and an overnight stay then moving on.  We did spend a couple of weeks last March exploring the Tuscon/Benson area with Cori, Greg, Bill, and Kelly.  And we spent some time exploring New Mexico on our own, but mainly we just traveled to get from point A to point B with a few stops to see friends/family along the way.  This is not necessarily our preference, by the way, but so far a couple of factors are driving that.  First and foremost, our schedule of commitments has been tight and necessitated long travels days with minimal meandering along the way.  But to be completely honest we (or I should say I) am not that great at just wandering aimlessly.  I would like to be, but when I was faced with a full month of travel days to get from New Mexico to South Carolina, I almost immediately started to fill that time up with friend visits.  It was wonderful, we saw tons of people as we went across the country, but Lee was a little disappointed that I didn’t leave more open days.  I tried, I really did, but was really uncomfortable without a schedule of some kind.  Eventually though we would both like to see what traveling with no set schedule is like, I’m just not sure when I’ll be ready for that to be honest.

 Truck and RV Repairs and Upgrades

Although I will be covering this in the financial summary as well, I think this discussion also deserves a place here.  The amount of Truck and RV Repairs in Year 2 was more frequent that I expected. I shouldn’t have been that surprised as we put more mileage on the trailer in one year than some people put on one in it’s lifetime, but we both were.   Our two year manufacturer’s warranty on the RV expired in May and we developed several issues right after that expiration.  Although we have an extended warranty that covers some of the costs, not everything (as you will see) was covered.

  • January – We spent around $300 this month on a fresh water pump and portable fresh water tank (along with other miscellaneous repair items) while we were in Quartzsite.  We needed those items to boon dock comfortably and they were one-time expenditures we were expecting.
  • February – Lee accidentally left our surge protector in the parking lot campground of Circus Circus.  We called as soon as we realized it, but it was already gone, not surprising in that atmosphere. It was going to cost around $200 to replace, but Lee wanted to upgrade and hardwire the surge protector and voltage regulator inside the rig so this could never happen again.  The upgrade cost us an unexpected $500 in total, but we never have to worry about them being stolen and it saves Lee time during his setup process.
  • April – We bought 4 new rear dually tires because their treads were too low for the trip to Alaska which cost $1,013Lee shopped around for these tires and ultimately got the best deal possible (we ended up using Costco), but anyway you slice it, it’s not cheap.  I was surprised that the tread was worn that quickly, but we had put over 40,000 miles on the truck at this point. 
  • May – Right after we replaced the dually tires the shackle strap broke on our RV.  Since the manufacturer’s warranty ran out, we relied on our extended warranty, but that would only cover the one broken strap.  We, in conjunction with our repair tech, felt an upgrade on all straps was called for, especially with our upcoming trip to Alaska.  We paid for the non broken straps to be fixed. Our cost was $747 and this was totally unexpected. Worse, this repair cost us a week of travel and stopped us from spending that week with our daughter.  The time bothered me more than the money, but ultimately I felt grateful this happened in a campground near my sister and not in the middle of the Yukon.
  • September – The truck air conditioner died and we were having problems with the alignment on the truck.  The AC unit was covered under warranty, but the alignment was not, which ended up costing us $448.  This repair was incredibly stressful, because the truck was 3 hours away in Wasilla and we were in a rental for a couple of weeks and we had a VERY hard time getting a commitment that the work would be done by the time we needed to leave Alaska for Sidney.  On the plus side, it turned out that a tie rod was extremely loose and if we hadn’t had the alignment checked, it is very likely we could have lost that tie rod and done significant damage.  And again this could have happened on our trip home, possibly in the Yukon.  I mention the Yukon specifically because there are VERY long stretches with minimal services and that is one of the worst places I can think of to have a major repair issue.

Overall we had $3,208 in incremental costs this year and that is with an extended RV warranty, full truck warranty, and truck maintenance plan.  And unlike last year I don’t feel this is anomalous. Rather, I think over time these costs have the potential to increase as everything gets older.

Top 10 Things We Saw

  1. The Redwood Groves.  We started the year with fulfilling a childhood dream of mine.  Touching those trees was simply magical. I have never felt closer to nature than in those moments.  Yes, we spent a month there and it rained for 10 straight days, but those first few days in the groves were priceless.
  2. The Rose Bowl Parade.  Another dream of mine since childhood and it definitely did not disappoint. I have watched this parade every year since childhood and Lee even talked me into getting our first big screen TV by talking about watching football and the Rose Bowl Parade on it, so it was a big deal to me to see it in person.  (I’m not stupid. I know my audience. -Lee) What made it even better was we attended the event via an Escapees HOP we met some great people and attended some events we probably would not have seen under other circumstances.
  3. Seeing and then walking on Worthington Glacier, fulfilled a major bucket list item for me.  Lee said it was one of the Top 5 things he had done since we started the lifestyle.  What made it very special, was it had a surprise waterfall inside the glacier. For us it was the perfect day.
  4. The Lost Coast was one of our long drives that unexpectedly ended in a magical place.  The Lost Coast of California is wild and isolated and the herd of Elk put the experience over the top.  I am not a tent camper, but if we had one, I would have happily pitched it and spent the night there it was so wonderful.
  5. There are so many amazing moments in Alaska, I could fill this list with them, but my favorite was the Denali Hwy.  It was wild, it was vast, and it was untamed, and we did it together.
  6. Spending my 50th birthday with friends on a Glacier Cruise and seeing the glacier from the sea was incredible. The whole reason I wanted to go to Alaska was I wanted to spend my 50th birthday somewhere cool, and having Kelly, Jo, Bill, and Ben to experience it with made it so incredibly special.
  7. Seeing the Very Large Array. Because this really isn’t located near anything else you have to work to see it.  Lee really wanted to go so we made a special route just to see it.  Personally, I wasn’t that interested but once we got there it blew me away.  The size of it was amazing, the price was reasonable, and it had an excellent walking tour.  Many things in life don’t live up to their press, but others exceed the experience you think you will have.  This fell in that category.
  8. I am still a little kid at heart and visiting North Pole, Alaska was a real treat.  Yes it was kitschy, but it was also really, really cool and I love how Lee not only let’s me have those kid-like moments but also delights in them with me.
  9. Camping in the City of Rocks was a mental picture I had of what this lifestyle should be like.  The weather wasn’t the best, but the campsites were amazing and experiencing it with our friends Cori and Greg  made it a special experience.
  10. We saw 7 Different Wild Mammals in one day. The drive to and from Canada was pretty rough for us, but each way there was one magical day that was packed full of bears, moose, and other critters.  That day made the long trip worth it both times.

When people talk to me about the lifestyle they often ask “Is it worth it?”.  I am going to talk about that more in the emotional arc post.  The numbers do tell a story though, and in a nutshell I think they show that from a sheer experience standpoint, so worth it.  In one year I saw more amazing things than I saw in many years during my “old” life.  Not only that, I spent quality time with friends and family that would not have been possible in my old life.  So yes, Year 2 was totally worth it.


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What Am I Doing With My Life?

Over the past several weeks I have given the impression to many readers that this is the perfect job for me.   It isn’t, and knowing there was a misconception has weighed heavily on me as I have tried to figure out how to write about how I have been feeling, without being disrespectful to my employer.  I’ve never felt it was appropriate to write on social media about problems with a job, and since in this case that job is also tied up with completely personal feelings about my life changes it’s even more difficult to sort it all out.  Since I have been here a month, I am going to give this a try though, for two main reasons.  First, I have always written this blog with the goal of providing information.  I write the blog I wish I could have read.  Second, I use it as a form of self therapy.  When I am struggling I share what I am feeling, because the process of writing it down helps me to clarify where I am emotionally, and when I am lucky it helps me figure out what to do about it. I have always been somewhat cautious about writing about work aspects, trying to stay on the positive side, and hoping folks could read between the lines on the more negative aspects. Striking that balance was easier to some extent when I had a corporate job on the road because that was a huge and largely faceless corporation.  It is much more difficult in these circumstances.  All that being said I have come to the point where I feel I need to give this a try.  Partly because of comments I have received about previous posts and partly out of concern that the beautiful pictures from our days off will completely skew the readers perspective on this experience.

First of all, it’s a perfectly nice campground and Alaska in general is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.  I have limited experience working in a campground, but I think the environment here is typical of what we will find in campgrounds in general (with the notable exception being we don’t have any seasonal campers here which I have seen does change things).  Most campgrounds are small businesses. They have limited funds, are designed to maximize profit in a relatively short period of time, and use the work kamper force to fill a temporary labor need.   The work is generally divided into male/female roles, with the man doing maintenance work and the woman doing office work and/or cleaning. For Lee this has been great.  He is given a list of projects, and allowed a large amount of freedom throughout the day to complete those tasks.  Once he proved to them that he knew what he was doing, they have largely left him alone and have been very generous in their praise for what he has accomplished.  It’s well deserved as he really has a terrific skill set for this type of work, and largely it is a good fit for his personality, although I should mention that if you are a guy and not mechanically inclined by nature this could definitely be a struggle.  My job, on the other hand, is helping guests, administrative tasks, and baking for the three “free dessert nights” each week.  After the initial training and reorganizing this involves a significant amount of downtime.  I really enjoy helping the guests, and since they tend to come in batches throughout the day those busy moments come the closest to how I used to feel in my previous professional position. The downtime however has been more difficult.  I have tried to fill this time with small maintenance tasks outside that are located near the office, but to do anything more complicated requires someone else watch the office which negates my primary function.  The office tasks can easily be done by either of the owners (not all maintenance tasks could be), so the value I provide is primarily relieving them of the need to do it themselves.  Lee on the other hand routinely saves them money by performing tasks that they would need to hire an expensive outside professional to perform.  So in a nutshell I am performing a task of low value with lots of downtime.  Historically not a great combination for me.

I have never been a person who just punched a clock.  Whether I was pumping gas when I was 18, or running multi-million dollar projects in my 40’s, I rarely phoned it in.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m human and certainly had my slacker days, but I can honestly say almost every day of my life I have felt that I have given more than I received in a work environment and I liked it that way. Add to that I was mostly lucky enough to work jobs that I felt passionate about, and my jobs ended up being a huge part of my feelings of accomplishment in life. Between working, raising three kids, and completing my education, I always had plenty of activities that both kept me busy and made me feel good about myself.  Looking back on that period, I feel almost exhausted by the pace of it all, but as exhausting as it often was I rarely felt adrift.  As a massive overachiever I put myself in positions where I knew my value and felt confident in what I was contributing, both personally and professionally.  It’s as if I was working from an invisible “success” checklist and I was checking all the boxes.   Occasionally during a brief “down” period I might start to feel restless, and then  I would amp up my workload in one of the three pillars of my life.  Take extra classes, volunteer for an assignment at work, or get more involved in my kids’ lives (which I am sure in retrospect they were thrilled about) and I would feel like I was back in the “win” column.  This also had the dual benefit of reducing the amount of time I had for self- reflection (which I have no doubt was subconsciously intentional) and my personal equilibrium such as it was would be restored.

What’s truly interesting to me is how when I wasn’t working at all how this was largely a non-issue.   I was very close to being content and we filled our time with lots of travel, friends, and personal hobbies to the point where those things in a way became my job.  I loved blogging more frequently and the experiences that fed into the content were very precious to me.  Plus the travel pace we  set for ourselves certainly kept me very distracted.  Now, with lots of time in one place, and lots of time to think,  I am evaluating what I am doing with my life. Lee says that is a pretty dramatic way to put it, and maybe it is, but that is the question that pops into my mind at least once a day.  The mental tone of that question varies depending on my feelings in the moment (sometimes derogatory, sometimes merely quizzical), but the core of it remains the same and it needs to be answered.

I do have this vague list of things that I wanted to get to someday;  write a book, travel, learn to do something artistic, and in the past that list was mostly placed on hold to deal with the more immediate needs.  But now there is no immediate need, and the only thing standing in the way is my fear.  It’s ironic that here I am with more time (and to some extent resources) than I have had in my entire adult life, and I am struggling.  All that choice is somewhat scary, and actually trying things opens yourself up to the possibility of failing at them. For all of my hard work, to be honest I never was what I could consider a brave and adventurous person. Diving into something I knew little about was always extremely intimidating and somewhat painful.  There were some moments of bravery of course, but these were almost always attached to a necessary step in my career path, marriage, or parenthood. Even this lifestyle, which is arguably one of the bravest things I have ever done, was directly related in my mind to my maintaining my marriage.  I could look ahead and see what our marriage might look like long-term if we didn’t make a major change, and this lifestyle seemed like a good next step.  I have said many times, and absolutely know it to be true, that left to my own devices I would never have had the courage or frankly the imagination to do something like this. But Lee did, the timing worked out well, and here we are.

The last couple of years has been a flurry of activity.  Keeping my existing job and then leaving that job, adjusting to and learning how to live in this life, and dealing with both “empty nest” and learning how to manage family relationships from afar has kept me pretty busy.  Add to that some wonderful new friendships and at times what felt like an unrelenting pace, and there wasn’t much time to sit back and really think about what I was doing.  Well, that’s not exactly fair, I spent tons of time reflecting, you’ve all been privy to some of those thoughts through posts and my friends have been privy to so much more, but the reflecting was largely about dealing with the moment or near future.  Overall, I know the last two years have been very good for me in so many ways. I have grown as a person, expanded my awareness of the world around me, and had experiences I could never have dreamed of. All of that made answering the question “What am I doing with my life?” pretty easy.  It was self evident.

Now things are different.  For the summer at least, we have settled in and settled down, except those feelings of being settled are mainly making me feel unsettled.  I’ve always been contrary like that.  The job is largely fine, but certainly not enough for me to completely throw myself into. At least one day off a week is pretty amazing, and the fact that we managed to make it to Alaska at all is still pretty amazing, although the realities of limited services, small town living, and being held to one place do mitigate that some.  And of course there is just day-to day living; cooking, cleaning, sleeping, shopping, all take some time.  This is where it gets interesting.  I recognize that many, many people would be perfectly content, maybe even most people.  Life is just life, and those rare and small moments of absolute wonder are more than they need to feel content.  That has just never been who I am, and apparently the full time lifestyle has not really changed that.

I thought maybe at first that I was out of practice on how to relax.  Then I thought I needed constant activity, sort of like a junky needs their next fix, and over time that would change.  Maybe both of those things were true to a certain extent, but I have definitely learned how to just “be” in the last two years.  Not that I don’t still stray into the melodramatic and high strung areas on occasion, I haven’t changed that much, but I truly do know how to just exist, and I have made huge strides in learning to live in the moment. And having experienced those things I can truly say, at least for right now, that it isn’t enough for me.  I’ve met plenty of people who it is more than enough for, to the point where I thought maybe I wasn’t doing it right, but after a ton of thought that’s just not who I am and never has been.  That may change as I get older or do this longer, but for right now I really need to own where I am and who I am.  Actually, what has made me feel OK about that is my relationship with the Xscapers group.  They are a group of RVrs who are largely Gen X and Millennials and their approach to this lifestyle is very different than those who are retired.  Almost all of them know they have to generate revenue of some sort, and most are finding a way to do that on their terms.  I admire that. I don’t always get it, to be honest, but I admire it. But I definitely feel that that is where I ultimately need to end up, if I am capable of it.

As a person who is on the very top of the Gen X age range it is easy to look at the younger generation and think “Wait until life teaches them different.”  I know I have certainly been guilty of that. But the more I experience this lifestyle, the more I think they have some things right.  They seem to take more risks, and in general accept failure as a natural consequence of doing so.   Money isn’t the main driving factor, something I share in philosophy, but they also don’t seem to allow fear of not having money drive the bulk of their choices.  This is an area I have been sorely lacking in, although I am coming to this mindset later in life. Plus, there is just this quirky, fun outlook that I really appreciate.  Nowhere is this more evident than a Facebook group I am involved in called RV Interiors.  The page is largely a group of younger people who have bought old, old rigs and are gutting them, and recreating them in their own image.  The before and after pictures are striking, and what’s even more impressive to me is that many people are living in these rigs. They decided what they wanted, worked within their financial means, and created something really beautiful and unique.  They didn’t seem to spend tons of time creating the perfect circumstance to pursue their dreams, they just jumped in and figured it out.  There is a lot for me to learn in that.

So to get back to the original point, “What am I doing with my life?”, well I know it needs to be something more.  I need to work at something that has intrinsic value to me, and if I am lucky that thing will also generate some revenue.  To achieve that I have to take risks, and most importantly, I have to learn to accept failure with grace.

Choose a thing, be prepared to fail, and try another, and hopefully along the way discover my passion. At almost 50 I would say its about time.

To end on a positive note, I have been waiting a month to receive some sort of customer review for our work here, and here is the first one we have seen, on Trip Advisor.  Definitely worth the wait, and I was glad to see that despite my personal turmoil we are getting it done and having a positive impact on the guest experience.

Camphost Review1

 


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First Time Filing Taxes as a Small Business

Let me start by saying I am in no way a tax expert and everyone’s situation is completely unique, but I wanted to share our first experience with filing taxes as a small business as it might help others who are thinking of starting small businesses on the road.  I should also say that I tend to be extremely conservative when it comes to filing.  When we were kids, Lee worked for a small company that didn’t take taxes out and because we didn’t understand the self-employment rules we ended up owing the IRS $1,000, which was a significant amount of money to us back then.  That was a truly unpleasant experience and one I will personally go to great lengths to avoid, so I always stay on the more conservative side of the line.  For most of the years of our marriage, Lee and I both worked jobs where taxes were taken out, and since we had a mortgage and three kids, generally did fine with those deductions.  As each child left though, we ended up owing more and more each year (despite adjusting what was taken out) so I have been extremely nervous about what this year would look like.

The first thing I did was get a tax accountant who understands the RV lifestyle.  Our friends Jo and Ben who are traveling nurses recommended Travel Tax and after having a free conversation with Joe the owner, I decided he was the person for me. I talked to him at the beginning of the year to make sure I was collecting the information he would need as the year went along, and I also talked to my friend Howard of RV-Dreams who is an accountant and a lawyer and runs his own small businesses, to get his advice.  Plus, just to be on the safe side, we put aside 50% of everything our small business made in a savings account just in case.  Yes, I know that is overkill, but we were able to do that because I was still making money at my corporate job, and it gave me peace of mind.  Despite all that preparation however, I was still nervous, and it didn’t help that we had to file an extension because we were traveling and working during the tax period and there was no time to have a meeting with him.  Extensions are no big deal of course, but I really wanted to know how bad of a hit we were going to take.

This morning I finally had my meeting with Joe and imagine my surprise when I found out not only did we not owe, but would be getting a refund of $3,682!!  How awesome is that?? The timing couldn’t be better as it more than covers the costs for getting up here, and gives us a little extra to splurge on a couple of day trips I really wanted to do but wasn’t sure I could absorb into our budget.  I am not going to go crazy or anything, but a little bit should go towards something fun since it is unexpected money!  I thought I would take a minute to explain how we are handling the business, just please keep in mind as I said earlier that I am in no way an expert.

We decided to setup Lee’s business as a sole proprietorship because we didn’t want to mess with filing an LLC in multiple states.  We created Open Road, which is an umbrella company covering both the RV Repair and video production business and we filed a Schedule C using Lee’s social security number as the business ID.  Lots of folks think you should file an LLC and I am not going to tell you any different, but it is a huge pain to file in multiple states when you travel a lot, and the additional protection people think they get from an LLC isn’t always the case. It was the simplest approach and starting out that’s what I needed and wanted…simple.  We may change it later, but for right now it’s working for us.  Because we don’t spend enough months in any one state we were unable to establish a tax home, and as such could not claim the mileage traveling from one job to another.  That would have been a significant deduction and is well worth investigating with an accountant, but we didn’t want to be tied down to any place in particular. Again, that might change in time, but for right now it worked for us.  We were able to deduct all of Lee’s purchases in equipment and supplies, and the costs for the websites, business cards, etc.  The start up costs for everything ran around $6,000 (equipment in the video world is expensive), and although we turned a profit last year, it was a small one.  Most importantly for us we were able to deduct a portion of our internet costs.  Lee needs to upload and download videos and we have 80 GB a month which runs us around $363 per month in internet costs.  We calculated about 40% of those costs are going to the business, and this was a major deduction as well.

I was concerned about not showing a big profit, but as the accountant explained there is an expectation businesses will lose or make little money the first several years.  What you can’t do though is have a business that loses money year after year and is obviously a tax shelter.  That shouldn’t be a problem for us though, as this is how we will be funding the lifestyle in part so it needs to be profitable to exist.  I also got some clarification on what we can deduct for the jobs we are working where taxes are being taken out.  Again, no mileage to get to the position or for the commute, but if we travel for the job (ie: run to Anchorage to pick up supplies) we can deduct that mileage.  There is a lot of grey in the tax code around small businesses, so my major lesson out of these conversations is that your decisions need to pass a “reasonable” test in case you get audited.  Since that’s where my head goes anyway, we should be OK.  One cool thing I did learn is we can start a retirement fund for the business and if we were in a situation where our income was getting on the high side (that would be awesome) we can put money in a retirement account up until October of the following year.  This is nice because you can get to the end of the year, see your tax situation and decide if you want to take some of the revenue and put it into the small business version of a 401K.  That would be a great problem to have and it’s good to know we can wait until the end of the year to decide.

Oh, and we got a very nice deduction because we put solar on the RV.  Last year RV Solar Solutions  put a system on for us and we got a 30% tax credit on the full amount.  This was a great bonus, and a big part of our refund this year.  If you live in your RV it is your primary residence, and both solar and the interest paid on an RV loan are tax deductible just like if you had a sticks and bricks home.

So it was a good year, and we are leaving the tax money we have set aside right where it is for 2016.  Looking ahead I want to make sure we have plenty to cover 2016 especially because I am going to end up paying the tax penalty on our health insurance for several months.  Back in April my COBRA costs jumped to $1,000 and we decided to buy a catastrophic plan for $361 a month and pay the penalty instead of taking the higher costing COBRA.  Starting in 2017 we will get on the Affordable Care Plan (if it still exists).  I feel like we are in a good place though, and I certainly am much better informed about taxes than I used to be.  My only piece of advice about this is if you become a full time RVer you might want to get a new accountant.  We loved the guy we had in New Hampshire, but he simply didn’t know enough about the other state rules or how the rules applied to full time RVers, or mobile workers.    You don’t want to lose out on deductions, or worse, get yourself into trouble because your accountant is simply unaware.  Yes, you can absolutely do it yourself, and at some point I may go that route, but at least in the beginning I wanted an expert to provide me with their expertise.

Take care and next time we will get back to the pretty pictures and the fun stuff 🙂