Holding Tank Treatments

This post was written by Lee who as you can see is extremely passionate about tank management. 

This is a followup to my post a few days ago about not leaving your gray tank open when hooked up to a sewer connection.  Today I am going to save you money and time talking about “treatments” for your tanks. Before I begin, let me say that what follows is my opinion (except science, which isn’t an opinion) and your mileage may vary. If you have a way you do things, and don’t want to change, by all means, keep doing what you’re doing! I am not interested in changing hearts and minds. If you’ve been RVing for a while then you already know this, and if you’re new then this will hopefully be useful and helpful information.

This is probably going to be a very unpopular opinion based on that fact that I’ve certainly been treated to lots of very strong feelings about this topic. Some of which defy all logic, learning and attempts to prove them! Here’s what my Mom would have referred to as the “Reader’s Digest” version for those who want to cut to the chase: There is no product  that you can add to your tanks that will do anything at all to reduce or eliminate odors or reduce or eliminate poo or paper.

For those interested in the longer format, read on!

There’s nothing you can add to the tank that will do anything because, really, science just does’t work that way. Except in a very few rare cases, or in very large quantities, anything you buy and put in either your black or gray tank is a waste of time and money. You are literally flushing money down the drain.


The number one clue that this is the case is that all of the methods and products are sold for use in both black and gray tanks to “break down” solids, control odors, and “lubricate” valves.  Take a moment to think about that. The contents of black and gray tanks are not even remotely the same, so the idea that a few ounces of anything will do all of those things is absurd. The first thing to consider is that whatever you are putting in there is going to be seriously diluted. Let’s take a look at some examples, do some math, and compare the claims to reality! Science is fun! Sorry he gets like this sometimes.  It’s generally worth hearing him out though. – Trace



Right off the bat, I am going to debunk the much beloved GEO method.  This is essentially using Calgon, water, bleach, and laundry detergent to clean your tank – Trace.   Since the mid 80’s people have been swearing by this method, which was apparently “invented” by someone who uses their RV “at least one weekend” per month, and based on that says that his RV bathroom gets “heavy use”. You haven’t seen “heavy use” of an RV toilet until you live in an RV full time and are prepping for a colonoscopy- Trace.

The method claims that you can keep your tank clean and control odors. Nonsense. There is no such thing as a clean black tank which has ever been used. It describes the result as a tank that is “clean, sanitized and disinfected”. I think that’s a pretty wildly irresponsible claim. I personally guarantee you that there is no way pouring anything down a toilet will result in the tank being “sanitized and disinfected”. I am willing to bet that the guy who invented the GEO method would be unwilling to drink clean water run through his own “sanitized and disinfected” tank.

Anyways, here’s how you are supposed to invoke this sorcery. First, you empty your tanks. Then dissolve 2 cups of Calgon water softener into a gallon of warm water and pour it down the toilet. Pour 1 cup of laundry detergent (or dish soap) down the toilet to clean the tank. Then you are also supposed to add half a gallon of bleach when the tank is about half full to “deodorize, sanitize and disinfect them”. There is no mention of adjusting these quantities for the size of the tank. Apparently this magical elixir is able to adjust it’s properties to fit the tank size!

Which brings me to the theory where you can adjust the ingredients and the amounts and still get the same result. That’s ridiculous. Imagine changing a cake recipe by tripling the amount of flour, adding 4 cups of vodka, and 14 eggs, and expecting to get anything resembling a cake at the end. The fact that the ingredients and quantities vary is a pretty good indicator that this is made-up nonsense. But even if you pick one “official” list of ingredients and quantities, then you will still get the same result; a black tank full of poo and pee and paper with trace amounts of soap, salt and bleach. Calgon is nothing more than water softener.  It’s active ingredient has no beneficial chemical reaction with anything that is likely to be found in black or gray water. In addition, that level of dilution (two cups in 50 gallons) renders it nearly inert.

The theory behind using it is that the water softener makes the inside of the tank slippery so things won’t stick to it. Utter garbage. In order for that to be the case you would need to coat the interior of the tank. Pouring a gallon of solution into it just isn’t going to do that. Instead you will have a gallon of solution in the tank and when you add other things to the tank, it’s just going to mix together and dilute.

The next ingredient in the GEO method is 1 cup of soap. Laundry or dish soap. Again, what does it tell you that you can use either of those things? How about shampoo? Dog shampoo? Dry shampoo? Dandruff shampoo for sensitive skin? An equivalent amount of soap shavings from a bar of soap?

It is possible that the soap will help in breaking up grease in a gray tank, but that’s really only if there is agitation.  If you’re not in motion, that’s not going to happen.  Furthermore, almost all manufacturers of all soap recommend a 1% solution for best results.  For a 50 gallon tank this would be a half gallon, or 8 cups. Using just 1 cup is going to be a severely diluted solution. The next time you wash dishes, try doing it with just a few drops of soap and see what results you get.

I don’t even know what to say about the bleach. , apart from most people think of bleach as “strong stuff” so maybe it’s just in there to make us think we’re really bringing out the “big guns”. I’m not saying to be reckless with bleach, it can be dangerous, but again, science is here to help. To use bleach as a disinfectant, you need one cup per gallon. So again, a 50 gallon tank would need 50 cups, or just over 3 gallons.  And of course, all of these ingredients are only active for a very short time. Most black tanks get filled about every 10 days, and these ingredients would be inert within 3-5 days.

I would also like to point out that there is nothing in the GEO method that “lubricates”. I’ve heard people say that the soap does the trick, but when was the last time you heard of someone recommending using soap as a lubricant? I don’t want to get too personal here but there is a reason smart people don’t use soap as a sexual lubricant.  If you ever tried you know it is not very effective. – Trace

Soap breaks up oil, it’s not a substitute for it. Dish detergent might make a finger slippery for a few minutes to get a tight ring off, but it’s not a method to lubricate a mechanical device such as a gate valve. And if you think that any of this stuff makes the inside of the tank itself more slippery, and allows more stuff to drain out, that’s not how fluid dynamics works. In order for that to work, you would need to coat the inside of the tank just like greasing a cake pan before using it. The lubricant wills only going to work where it is applied to the material, and that material would have to be clean and dry.

The inside of your tanks have not been clean or dry since the first time you used them. Also, the tank is made of a plastic that’s pretty well hydrophobic, so not much sticks to it. Mostly what’s in a tank that smells bad isn’t sticking so much as floating or sitting under the water, and most of it goes away when you empty the tank.


But what about all of the other products available that are specifically formulated to do all these things, using “chemistry”  to somehow magically convert solid and liquid human waste and paper in the case of black tanks, and oil, hair and food particles in the case of a gray tanks?


Every product available commercially is made up of more or less the same stuff. It’s all varieties of soaps and salts and perfumes. None of it can work magic. There is no science that supports the claims they make, and the same principles of what I described with the GEO method go for other chemicals and substances. Just because a word is hard to pronounce, or we don’t know what it means, doesn’t mean it isn’t bound by the laws of physics and chemistry.

There are very few things that can actually be used to treat black water, but they require time to work and a balance of bacteria, enzymes, solids and water that is carefully maintained, and none of that is going to happen in a tank that is emptied every 7-10 days. Porta-potty companies used to use formaldehyde, but that’s more or less illegal in every state now. Neutralizers and scents used in porta-potties do and will work, but are pretty expensive, and those tanks are emptied a lot more often than people think.

Also, their primary tactic is volume as truly staggering amounts of biocides and perfumes are used in portapotties. You’ll need a second vehicle and some wealth to be able to afford it and transport it. Also, here’s a fun fact, the blue dye serves no purpose other than to mask the appearance of what it mixes with. I would like to interject here that we spent three summers cleaning bathrooms and we got up close and personal with pit toilets and port-a-johns.  Since the company we worked for was trying to control costs we were limited on the amount of solutions we were allowed to use.  Essentially based on that experience the toilets would smell clean for roughly 24 hours after pumping (less if it was a hot day) and nothing we tried lasted longer than a couple of days.  You know what sort of worked?  Air fresheners. – Trace

So, having told you all about how none of the stuff you can buy will “treat” your tanks, what are you left with? Well, my answer is: nothing. ? If you are using the tanks properly, and managing them the way they were designed to be managed, then they should operate as designed, which means minimal odors and chances of clogging. If you experiencing either odors or clogs, then you are operating the equipment incorrectly, or something is wrong with the equipment.

A holding tank is just that. It “holds” the stuff until you can dump it in a sewer.  It’s just a giant bedpan with some fancy features to make it less gross. Some people think when they’re hooked up they can leave the black tank open to drain directly to the sewer. Don’t do that. If you leave the black tank open to drain directly into the sewer, the liquids will run out and the solids will not and eventually you will end up with a pyramid that is rock hard like concrete. Likewise, you should use plenty of water when you flush, just like at home. If you are stingy with the water, which some people do to maximize how long they can boondock without dumping, then you are upsetting the design balance.

Using special toilet paper is not the solution using more water is. I’ve also heard people talk about only using their black tank for poo, and peeing elsewhere and/or putting toilet paper in a trash can or bag. Again, not having enough liquids in the tank will make it more likely to clog. Paper in and of itself is not a clogging problem.  It will fall apart if any pressure is put on it at all. Clogging is caused by solids, not water or paper, and making sure you have plenty of water in the bowl is the solution.

ANYTHING else that goes into the black tank is going to be a problem. Anything but toilet paper will clog it. Paper towels, wipes, whatever. If it’s not pee, poo or toilet paper, don’t flush it. The brand or type of toilet paper doesn’t matter. All that “swirl it in a glass of water” nonsense is a waste of time. Your RV tank is not a septic system, it doesn’t need septic safe toilet paper. Any toilet paper is OK if you use a bowl of water when you flush and you dump the tank when it’s full instead of only partially full.

And finally, the one thing you can do that will actually be worth the time and effort is to rinse the tank. And by rinse, I mean rinse it out by filling it with water and then emptying it. Dump it, then fill it and dump it again. When you dump the tank, most of the stuff in it will come out, but there will be some that is left behind.  That’s the nature of solids and fluids and gravity.  If you repeat the dumping and filling process, more stuff will come out every time.   You don’t have to do that every time you dump, but once every four or five dumps  will help prevent a buildup of sludge. And whenever possible, drive with the blank tank at least 1/3 to 1/2 full. The acceleration and deceleration of driving will slosh the liquids and solids around break up a lot of the solids, and much more will get cleaned out when you arrive and dump.

Speaking of which, don’t bother pouring ice down the toilet. It will melt long before you get any scrubbing benefit. This is another myth that persists even in the fact of basic science.

Hopefully this was useful information, and you will save yourself some money you can use for more fun stuff. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask them!

UPDATE: I got a question that I was originally going to do a full post on once we started traveling again, but I decided to just go ahead and answer it here and I will update it again with pictures once we start traveling again. 

A reader (hi Jami!) asked about the heavy particles (sediment) that sit on the bottom of the gray tank, and how they can thicken as time goes by. They use a hose to “blast” down the toilet to break up stuff in the black tank, but you can’t really do that with a sink, and even if you could, the “P” traps and other turns would essentially negate the force of the water by the time it got to the gray tank. In particular the reader was concerned about staying put for a longish period of time, and how much sediment they might be building up by not being able to “scrub” the tanks by driving with them 2/3-ish full.

This is an excellent question, and one that I myself pondered about a year ago because we were sitting still for a long time ourselves. I noticed that we did very little actual travelling, and we were basically going from a 4 month stint of gate guarding to a 5 month stint at a summer gig, and not doing a lot of traveling. So I started thinking about how I could solve this problem before it became a problem, because filling up the gray tank and emptying in the same way as rinsing the black tank would tank a lot longer, because it’s a much bigger tank. So, last Spring I decided to try an experiment. We use a Flush King at the very end of the line on the rig, instead of just a black cap, for a variety of reasons. (Don’t let the apparent size of it worry you, the entire valve assembly rotates around the bayonet fittings, so it can be adjusted a full 360°!)


Reason #1, it’s clear plastic, so when I am dumping tanks, I can see what’s happening. It really is good to have an idea of what’s coming out of your tanks and going down the sewer line. If you can’t see, you don’t know. This allows me to monitor how fast things are moving and what’s moving. When I rinse the black tank, I know we’re as clean as we can get when I fill it up and all I see is clear when I dump it.

Reason #2, when I take off the cap, there is nothing in the cap. NOTHING. Because there’s a valve there, anything left in the pipe that might drip down, especially when I lift the front end to hook up, stays behind that gate where it belong, until I hook up a line and open the gate. I never get so much as moisture on my hands.

Reason #3, if there’s a leak in either of my valves, I’m going to know because that clear part is going to have something in it. No surprises!

Reason #4, twice in all of our time doing this, we have had “clogs” in the process of emptying the black tank, in both cases, it was a result of sitting in one place for too long boonndocking and trying to make the tanks last longer by using as little water as possible with each flush. So putting a hose on the Flush King and pushing water into the clog broke it loose.

This was the foundation of my experiment, because I was not worried about the possibility of a clog. I also knew that our rig rides a little “nose-high” when we’re hooked up. Not a lot, but a little. And I know that the outlet for my black and gray tanks is rear-facing. And finally, one of my favorite gadgets, the water meter.

This uses garden hose threads and can go anywhere inline between the spigot and your rig, and you can use it to keep track of how much fresh water is going into your rig. It’s incredibly handy to be able to know this stuff. You can use it when filling up your fresh water tank, you can use it to keep a running total of how much water you use in a day, or a week. And, if you want to know how much capacity a tank has, you can zero out the counter, and fill up your completely empty black or gray tank, and once it’s full, the meter will tell you how much it holds. If you have, for example, a 50 gallon gray tank, and you do this, and it takes 45 gallons, that means you have 5 gallons of gunk. (This is assuming that you are getting an accurate reading. The way to test that of course, is to fill something like a five gallon bucket, or a 1 gallon jug, and see if the meter is accurate. I’ve lost 4 of these things by forgetting to take them off the campground spigot, and they’ve all been accurate.)

So my method was to empty the gray tank completely right before we hit the road to travel for 5 or 6 days. Normally I try to travel with at least a half tank that first day to get some good sloshing going. But in this case I completely drained it and left the gray valve open, but closed the Flush King valve. We hitched up and drove all day, at least 6 or 7 hours. When we arrived at our campground I hurried back to the outlet and saw that the clear plastic pipe was indeed completely full. During the drive, what was in the gray tank had slid out and down the line and stopped at the valve. I hooked up a sewer hose and pulled the Flush King valve open and…….nothing. Nothing happened. I looked closer and saw that what I thought was gray water with a lot of white flecks of grease and food bits in it was actually more like a really, really, REALLY thick milkshake, or like a sediment sausage. It was just sitting there and not budging. I gave it a minute and just when I was starting to think I might need to start putting some water down a sink drain or maybe hook up a hose to blast from the outside, it verrrrrrry slowly started to ooze out and down the sewer hose. It took forever, because it was mostly sludge and hardly any liquid, but gravity eventually pulled it down into the hose. And there was a lot. I would say that there was at least 2 feet of that sludge that had to drain out and then it took rinsing some water down the sewer hose to break it up and speed it down the drain. I wasn’t really worried, because although it was dense, it wasn’t packed, and although it wasn’t really wet, it wasn’t dry either. It just took a while for it to move. I then closed the Flush King valve, but left the gray valve open, because I didn’t want to pack any gunk that might be sitting in the gray valve into the seal. We took showers and did dishes and I did laundry and once the gray tank was as full as I could get it, I opened the Flush King and let the “whoosh” do it’s job and then closed the gray valve. I did the same thing the next travel day, and got the same result, but with a shorter “sausage” of goop, and it was not as dense. On the third day there was nothing but a few inches in the flush King. So after almost 5 years, I probably drained three gallons of sediment, but that doesn’t mean much, because we spend the vast majority of our time sitting still, which I think contributes. I have noticed that whenever I “slosh” the gray tanks when we’re traveling what comes out is so dark it’s almost black. (Interestingly, a friend of mine recently bought a very old rig and had this same experience and just told me about it the other day!)

My conclusion on this is that this is something you shouldn’t worry too much about, and maybe do it as maintenance step every year, or maybe even every two years. For Jami, who has a 2001 and isn’t the original owner, I would say not to lose any sleep over it while you wait to start traveling again, but as soon as you start to travel, consider starting to work on clearing this stuff out. Not because I really think it’s that big of a deal, but you will get peace of mind, which isn’t nothing.

I highly recommend doing it while driving over the course of several days, so you aren’t living in a rig that’s jacked up all day waiting for this stuff work it’s way out. And only when you are going to be on full hookups at the end of each driving day so you can get more water in the system to keep anything from drying out. Tanks that are in constant use are always wet, and gray tanks get filled faster and more frequently so you don’t have to worry about this stuff hardening, but it IS a good idea to try to keep the tanks as clean as you can, at least in my opinion. Once we started traveling in a few weeks I will be doing this again because I want to see how much has accumulated in a year, and I also want to get some pictures and maybe some video with which I will update this post. Thanks again for the excellent question, Jami, and hopefully this is helpful.

If anyone else has any questions, please feel free to ask them in the comments!


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First Friendsgiving

Thanksgiving was a big holiday in my family, so when we went on the road it was important to me that we at least tried to do something special on the day.  The first year we were lucky enough to spend the holidays with my sister, but since then we have always been working and have been away from family.  Over the years we have had a steak dinner in the middle of the redwoods, ate with Cori’s family, and ate out at a restaurant with fellow employees at Amazon.  This year we are having what I consider our first Friendsgiving.

I first heard the term several years ago when my youngest daughter, who is in the Air Force, banded together with some friends and cooked a meal.  I thought it was really cool that people far from family still honored the tradition and since everyone cooked their family favorites the food was always good.  This year there were only five of us together, but we still decided to do the big meal with all the trimmings.  Bill and Greg smoked a turkey that was brined in Cajun spices (really delicious) and we all chipped in our favorite sides.  Ultimately it was a ton of food, but also generated lots of leftovers, which was just fine with all of us!

They split the turkey before putting it on the smoker. We all thought it might be dry but it was crazy moist and delicious


I had to make deviled eggs for Lee of course as they are his favorite


And Bill made homemade cranberry sauce. Yum!

While Cori and Greg were at brunch with her family, Bill and Lee worked on rig stuff outside and I cooked up a storm.  I miss the big family meals on the road, and ended up making two deserts, broccoli cheese casserole, stuffing, the eggs, and Lee made gravy, which admittedly was a ridiculous amount of food, but still fun.

This cookies were two slices of sugar cookie with a thin mint in between. Looked ugly but tasted OK. I’m not much of a baker!


My mom always made broccoli cheese casserole and I was glad to honor the family tradition


We got a little carried away on the gravy, which made me laugh super hard. Gravy on everything!


Lee has been working on a project under our rig for a couple of days now. He is going to do a separate post on it when he’s done.


It wasn’t all cooking, because I was able to get a strong NBC signal and watched the Macy’s Day parade and then my absolute favorite, the Dog Show!  It was Jack’s first experience with seeing dogs on TV, but apart from the occasional growl (he didn’t like the German Shepherd) or intent interest (he thought the Shih Tzu was really cute) he mostly just chilled. He and Hobie were in and out of the rig all day and were playing a game of sorts with a piece of rawhide.  Jack would take it and not let Hobie near it, and as soon as Jack lost interest Hobie would grab it and take off with it.  It was pretty fun to watch and that piece of rawhide was back and forth between our rigs throughout the day until finally it got chewed up! There was also lots of play time and a surprisingly good Cowboys/Redskins football game.

Jack loves his belly rubs from Aunt Cori


Hobie says, “My mommy loves me best!”


Jack ready to pounce


Can’t have Thanksgiving without America’s game


It was a very nice day and so glad we all got to spend it together.  We all missed Kelly who was home with her kids, but she is coming back on Friday, and Cori and I are going to the airport to pick her up.  Friendsgivings are very special and as much as I miss my family at the holidays, are a nice way to celebrate.

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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 available in paperback on Amazon if you prefer.

Solo Strategy

Let me start by saying this post is a followup to the repair post from a few days ago and was written in one sitting about 5am.  When things are really bothering me I wake up early and the words just pour out and this was one of those posts.  I should have titled this “What Happens if Lee Dies”, (Well that got dark pretty damn fast. – Lee) but I found that I couldn’t type those words in the top section of this post, because it’s hard to even say them out loud.  It’s a serious question though, and one that despite our relative young ages and good health is one I carry around with me.   I  know from campfire conversations that I am not alone in wondering what this looks like without our partners, and personally before we started this lifestyle I really had to think through what that scenario would look like.  Yes, every person in a long-term relationship has to face this issue eventually, but when you are living the full-time lifestyle there are some pretty distinct challenges that would not necessarily need to be faced if we still lived in a sticks and bricks.

I’ve talked about exit strategy before and how it’s not something I worry about very much which is absolutely true.  If Lee and I were together and decided to get off the road, we would figure it out. There is not one doubt in my mind about that, because we have years of experience handling adversity and between the two of us have a really complementary skill set that allows us to tackle most of the things that have been thrown our way.  Plus, we have each other to lean on. When one person has doubts, or is weaker for lack of a better word, the other person steps up and takes the lead.  To me that is what a good marriage is all about, and there is truly little that really frightens me as long as we are together.

But in this scenario we aren’t together.  In this scenario I am alone, and although I consider myself a pretty competent person, I don’t know if I could say that when it comes to this lifestyle.  After 3+ years of being on the road I still have many things I am not comfortable doing. I have these blind spots when it comes to our day-to-day routine.  Things that I still don’t know how to do or don’t feel I am strong enough to do, and they make me, I guess the right word is uneasy, when I trip across them.  Let me give you an example.  I drive all time.  I am comfortable driving, except on extreme grades, and try to share the load on travel days as much as Lee needs me to.  Generally when we fuel up we use Pilot or Flying J truck stops and pull into the truck lanes.  We just prefer them and I have learned to pull in and out of them pretty confidently.  But when I am driving, after we pull in, I always jump out and go into the bathroom and get a drink or snack while Lee fuels.  Never really thought about it much, that’s just our routine.  Recently I was trying to help out more and intentionally jumped out and started to fuel up.

To my surprise I didn’t know how to navigate through the screens on the fuel pump.  It looks completely different than the car lanes.  Right off the bat it asked if I needed tractor fuel or reefer fuel and I had no idea what reefer fuel was.  Lee to his credit was standing right beside me observing, and I looked at him, not knowing what to do.   He explained reefer fuel was for refrigerated trucks and was taxed differently (sort of like off-road fuel which I had seen before) so after I selected tractor fuel he had to talk me through the DEF selection and how that worked (separate nozzle in a box for that.)  He was completely nice about it, but the entire incident made me extremely embarrassed.  I mean seriously, that was ridiculous, that we had gotten gas in over a hundred truck stops and I had no idea how it worked.  I didn’t know because Lee always took care of it, blind spot, and I call it that because if someone would have asked me if I could have gotten fuel at a truck stop I would have of course said yes.  I didn’t even know I didn’t know, which I find extremely unsettling. (I don’t understand why this would embarrass someone. The first time I did this way back in 1996 driving a 26′ straight truck for work I stood there like a complete moron who had never seen a fuel pump before. How could she know these things the first time out? – Lee)

In addition to those types of things there is a much larger list of things Lee has shown me, but I have little confidence in doing.  Since I am a fan of lists, here’s mine.

  • Hooking up the hoses for dumping (dumping the tanks itself I have done, but I rarely hook the hoses up)
  • Rinsing the tanks.  Again, something I never do
  • Hooking up the fresh water.  Usually I have a hard time tightening or loosening the hoses.  I understand the theory, I just rarely do it.
  • Filling up the freshwater tank.  It requires the opening of a release valve because it doesn’t automatically shut off and then monitoring that valve and turning it off manually. Plus you have to change the levers to match the diagram or the water doesn’t fill, which always makes me nervous for some reason.
  • Driving on 6% (or greater) grades.  I’m better at this since Alaska, but Lee still talks me through the various steps.  Never done it alone.
  • Backing up while parking. As nice as it is to think I could always get pull through sites that’s not realistic.  I don’t even know how I could do this consistently as a solo.
  • Hitching and unhitching.  I’ve really tried to get more comfortable with this, but my major issues are lining the truck up so the pin goes into the hitch, and completing the “bump test”.  I’ve done all of the steps in this but find the entire process really intimidating, especially because I have seen firsthand what can happen if you screw it up.

If you have been reading the blog you know these are not new problems.  I made a concerted effort to learn these things starting in 2015, but have been hampered by the fact that usually when we do them we are traveling, and are under a time crunch to get on the road and moving, so taking an extra 45 minutes for me to do something myself usually doesn’t make sense.  Even when I do try them what I am missing is repetition.  Like most people I gain competency by doing a task over and over again, and since we generally are only traveling a few days at a time and then stop for a while, even if we spent the extra 45 minutes every drive day that would still be only 5 times and then a long stretch before we did it again.

I could of course take some time when we are stopped and just do the activities over and over again until I was comfortable.  That would make the most sense, and have the added benefit of allowing me to do it without travel pressure. And I need to do that because those things would be a necessary skill set for me to continue alone. For the record,  I have no concerns that if something happened I could get to a place and park it there.  We have really good friends who would come and help me or I could rely on the kindness of the RVing community in the short-term.  But you can’t live your life like that indefinitely, so all of those things I mentioned would become necessary skills.

The bigger question is: Would I want to do all of that?  I’ve met several bad-ass solo women who are completely competent and do these tasks every day, and while I admire them tremendously I don’t know if I fit in that category. I couldn’t really know until I gave it a fair try, and I am sure once you learn how to do them those things aren’t that big of a deal, but something in me is very resistant to the whole thing.  Obviously, or I would have done it already.  And I have to wonder where that resistance comes from.  In general I am a person who likes knowledge for knowledge’s sake, and is pretty resolute about tackling new challenges.  But these things I have gone to pretty great lengths to not learn how to do.  The Why’s of that are buried pretty deep in my psyche and shines a pretty unflattering light on my self image, so it’s hard to get at the root cause. The reasons matter though, because they really go to the heart of a solo exit strategy for me. so I should really try to at least be honest about them, hence this 5am post.

So in no particular order, here are my feelings about it all.  I like not having to worry about it.  I find it scary and intimidating and a large part of me just doesn’t want to deal with it.  It also makes me feel cared for.  The fact that Lee takes care of all these things is a demonstration of him loving me, and despite being a strong and independent woman I like it when he takes care of me. OK let’s go a little deeper; I hate that it’s in my life.  In my old world, I flushed a toilet, turned on a faucet, flipped a switch, and these things just worked.  If I had an issue I called a repair man (or Lee) and never really had to think that much about any of it.  Intellectually I understand that it is part of the deal, but it turns out I am somewhat fastidious and I find the whole thing distasteful.  That’s tougher to say.  It’s not like I think I am too good to handle any of this, but given the choice, why would I want to? The immediate answer of course is that is the price you pay to travel from place to place, which leads me to the larger issue. (I agree with this completely. I have replaced about every part in a car at one point or another in my life, and never enjoyed any of it. It just had to be done because we were young, and broke, and cars need repair, so I learned to do it. But I didn’t like doing it, so as soon as we could safely afford it, we started buying new cars. – Lee)

Because my solo strategy wouldn’t just be about doing those sorts of things alone.  Those are the most obvious and in some ways the easiest to think through, but it would be lots of other things as well.  Repairs would become my sole responsibility, and I have no illusions that I would be the kind of person who would fix her own rig.  Which means more repair techs and repair shops and of course more expense.  The financial strategy of course would be completely different.  I could absolutely live on a lot less if I was alone, but I would also make a lot less. (She could live on about $50 a month. All she eats is toast and bologna sandwiches. – Lee)   I might be able to make enough to make it work financially, but it would require some big changes.  Costs like campground fees and diesel, with a similar style of travel, would be the same, but I would only have one income to cover them.  I could of course completely change how I traveled, and probably would need to. It’s hard to imagine what that would even look like, but I am sure with some trial and error I could figure that out.

All of those things I mentioned, the entire outer shell of the issue doesn’t deal with the really hard part, living without him.  And that truly at it’s core is the crux of the matter.  Like many other people who start this lifestyle, prior to this we were living largely separate lives.  We had jobs and friends apart from each other, to the point where we at least chose this life in no small part because we wanted to reconnect.  And we have.  Our lives are completely entangled in each other now, in a good way, but what I never really thought about was how vulnerable that would make me. I spent years working myself into a position of independence.  Not because I didn’t love Lee, but because I needed to know I could stand on my own two feet. Over the last three years I have intentionally given most of that away.  On balance that has been a very good thing for me.  I have rediscovered parts of myself in this new life and grown tremendously as a person.  I have let go of all kinds of things that were restricting me and basically created a new life, and a good one.

The reality for me, is that I may not want that new life alone. And I am very sure that at this point I wouldn’t just step back into my old one.  Which leaves me with creating a whole new one again.  And in all fairness everyone who goes through divorce or the death of a spouse faces this very same thing, but I truly believe having this lifestyle would make that more complicated.  Not so much if the illness gives you time.  Cancer sucks, no doubt about it, but you generally have time to work together to put together a plan for the spouse.  Fatal heart attacks or strokes though, no time.  (Why do I get the feeling at the end of this I’ll be eating more salad than I’m comfortable with, and less pie than I require? – Lee) This is not an idle concern.  I personally know two people who have had heart attacks on the road in the last year and although thankfully both were OK, they were also not that much older than me, and both lived a healthier lifestyle. And yes this is the point where you get to say “Lose weight and stop smoking”, which is totally fair, but that doesn’t change the fact that people with no risk factors die all of the time.  The possibility of being left alone exists regardless of minimal risk factors, and should be thought through regardless, so I’m not going to avoid dealing with this by putting pressure on Lee to change his behavior so he lives longer. We don’t have that kind of marriage. (Whew. That was a close call. Barely cooked ribeye and giant pie for dinner, yay!!!! – Lee)

Anyway, I may not want to live this lifestyle alone, and frankly that wasn’t an issue before we went on the road.  I could and would have lived that life alone.  I had a job where I could support myself and although I definitely would have sold my house and moved, I had the flexibility to live in almost any major city. It would have sucked, but I would have figured it out.  And yes, on occasion I thought those scenarios through.  I am a risk planner, that’s how I work.  But now I have no idea.  My initial gut reaction would be to ditch all of this and go back to what was “easier.”  You have to work for this lifestyle and it feels overwhelming.  Then instantly the next picture in my mind is missing out on those beautiful views.  But in that picture I turn to say something to my best friend, and he’s not there.  Sharing that view with someone I love is a major part of it for me.

That’s where I stop, because I don’t know that I would want to do this without him.  I have kids who theoretically would need/want me around, and I have dreams of traveling internationally that never made much sense for us as a couple with children.  In times of crisis I have always found comfort in work, so I suppose that would appeal to me if nothing else, to keep my mind occupied. I have parents who would like to see more of me, and I may eventually have grandchildren that I want to spend time with. I honestly don’t know which way I would land, but I think it’s very unlikely my life would look like it does now. Which frankly just pisses me off.  To work so hard to achieve something and then have it taken away really sucks.  It would have sucked in my old life too, but I wouldn’t have lost both my husband and my lifestyle.  Like I said, I worked really hard to put myself in a position where that wouldn’t happen to me, and then I gave it away to start this.

I wouldn’t do it any differently.  Missing out on the last three years because I was afraid of losing it would have been tragic.  I could never regret the time we have had, in fact I would be more grateful that we got to experience it before I was alone. I can feel that way and still hate feeling so vulnerable.  I wanted to add to anyone who has lost a spouse and reading this that I hope I didn’t offend you. I have no illusions that I can even grasp the enormity of change that brings to a person’s life regardless of what kind of lifestyle they live.  I intentionally was looking at it from a very narrow view , partly because that is all my mind can handle, and partly because this blog is mainly about the full timing lifestyle.  It is flippant to say that we would be better off if I died first, but practically we would, because I have no doubt that Lee would be able to figure out a way to continue alone.

Update:  I posted this and my Mom, who lost her husband last year, left me some wonderful advice on Facebook.  Since she has never steered me wrong and has been through this herself, I thought I would share her thoughts here.  “Life is a journey, and creating a new life at different times is part of passing through stages of life (marriage, the birth of children, empty nest, loss of a parent, etc) You can plan what you might do at these turning points to ease the anxiety of the unknown, or you can relax in who you are becoming and enjoy the journey you are on knowing you will be able to make the right choice for you at the time it needs to be made.”  Love you, Mom.

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1st Week Black and White Photo Challenge

Deb challenged me to the black and white  photo challenge for blogs and I cheerfully accept…nominating Kyrston Perkins to accept the challenge as well.  The idea is, you post a black and white picture in your next five blog posts and since I am enjoying playing with my camera so much I was excited to try.  Lee and I have been having an epic philosophical discussion about Photoshop for several weeks, so there are actually two for today.  The first one I took in color and Lee Photoshopped it, and it does look amazing, but I don’t feel like I took this picture…it’s more like he created it.  It’s an awesome picture and as he said…it’s what I had in my head but I didn’t actually capture it. (The ‘shopping here was minimal. I think she should have included the original for comparison. All I did was change it from color to black and white, crop a little bit off the far right edge of the frame, because there was a pretty bright object that I don’t think she intended to include, and it really ruined the elegant slow graduation from bright on the left from natural light through a porthole to the darker interior of the ship on the right. I also tweaked the brightness and contrast a little to coax out that graduation a little more. – Lee)


The "tweaked" pic

The “tweaked” pic









This one is one I like.  I did crop the edge a bit, which to me is no big deal but other than that the colors are as I took them using the black and white setting on the camera.  Heck, I was excited I found the black and white setting all by myself! So I don’t think I did too bad for my first time.

My "raw" pic

My “raw” pic









So since Cori, Lee, and I are having this ongoing discussion I thought I would explain my viewpoint.   To me, photography is sort of the modern-day version of hunting.  You either make the shot or you don’t.  And yes, this way of thinking leads to many near misses which can be disappointing, but when you get that perfect shot it (and the sense of accomplishment) is yours forever.  Lee takes amazing pictures.   Some of the best ones you see in my blog are his, but that came from years and year of practice.  His pictures are GOOD and I want mine to be that good.  The only way I know to do that is to try and fail until I get it right.  If I can fix my mistakes easily then what is my motivation to really work hard and get better, plus how will I ever experience the moment of capturing the perfect shot.  So my personal lines at this point are cropping on the edges is ok…enhancing color is out and I really hate brushing things out of the middle of the picture.  The only exception would be a very rare photo with a combination of people in it. Just for the record I draw the line at photoshopping a person out.  That person was part of your life…own it.   I judge no one else, but for me pictures catalog your life and it is what it is  …good, bad..and ugly. I don’t want to sanitize or enhance my life.  (Luckily she doesn’t feel that way about personal hygiene. – Lee) Plus I really, really love that feeling of the perfectly capturing the moment. …But as I said, that’s just me. (Originally I completely disagreed with her on this. When I was a kid one of my idols was my uncle Gay, who was a pretty serious shutterbug, in addition to being an early adopter in the computer revolution, and a ham radio enthusiast. He also smoked a pipe, and wore hats. You just don’t see cool like that anymore. He was kind, and had a very dry sense of humor, and mostly treated me like a person instead of an obnoxious little kid, which is probably what I was most of the time. Most importantly, he didn’t pooh-pooh my dreams of chasing creative endeavors like lots of people. He took me seriously, so everything he taught me went straight into the middle of my brain and has stayed there ever since. One of the things he taught me was that every professional picture I had ever seen was the final choice from dozens, if not hundreds of shots that didn’t “make the cut”. And then that shot was cropped and tweaked and played with until it was as good as it could be. But I also agree with Tracy now as well. When she says “I want to get good, not cheat”, that makes sense too. – Lee)

This week in OBX started out great with our friends.  (Don’t get nervous, that’s not foreshadowing. It started great, and didn’t suddenly turn sour. It just continued to be great. Not as dramatic, but better in the long run. – Lee) We went down to the beach Monday night and had a lovely bonfire.  I haven’t done that since the kids were small, and it was so fun and the tide kept getting closer and closer and periodically we would all lift our feet to avoid a wave.  Totally awesome!!

The gang at the beach

The gang at the beach

We threw a huge piece of driftwood on the fire

We threw a huge piece of driftwood on the fire

Greg, Hobi, and Cori having a great time

Greg, Hobi, and Cori having a great time








Cori had to travel for work Tuesday – Thursday and I had a ton of work to do myself, so aside from gathering in the evenings to eat together it was pretty event free.  I will say it has gotten cold this week (high 50’s in the evenings) and I wouldn’t mind that so much but the wind cuts right through you.  Since there are 8 of us..no one’s rig is really large enough to accommodate everyone for a meal so we are eating outside.  The food and company are great, but I can’t take the cold so many of the nights during the week ended early for me.  Friday night the weather was a little better and we had seafood night.  Kelly made her world-famous clam chowder (so good), (People, don’t let her lack of poetic prose mislead you, Kelly’s chowder is not just good, it is truly spectacular. There is nothing in the world like it. It tastes like the smiles of angels. A chorus of heavenly voices belts out “Hallelujah” when you lift your spoon from the bowl. – Lee) Then we made scallop skewers with bacon, pineapple, scallops, and mushrooms, and Cori made bacon wrapped shrimp.  Plus Cori, who is the Queen of appetizers, made this amazing crab dip.  It was a huge portion and was gone in no time.

Saturday morning I was up early and captured a beautiful sunrise.  It’s the nicest one I have seen in a while and when Lee woke up and saw I was gone he came down to the beach and joined me.  It was a very nice moment with just the two of us.

Sunrise on the beach with the sea grass I love

Sunrise on the beach with the sea grass I love

The cloud cutting across the sun was cool

The cloud cutting across the sun was cool

Lee had me take this shot...I love that when he sees a great pic for me he points it out but doesn't take over unless I ask

Lee had me take this shot…I love that when he sees a great pic for me he points it out but doesn’t take over unless I ask








Saturday morning we decided to visit the Roanoke Island Festival Park .  It’s a  25-acre interactive historic site representing the first English settlement attempt in 1585.  Although we knew it might be cheesy, for $10 each it turned out to be a lot of fun.It was the second best interactive museum I have ever been to, for one thing.  The content was adult but the exhibits were interspersed with lots of great hands-on activities for kids. (Get your minds out of the gutter, it wasn’t THAT kind of adult, despite Greg’s best efforts. Well, one thing was, but this is a family blog, so you’ll just have to go there yourself to find it. We all laughed like twelve-year olds. – Lee) I would skip the movie though.  We watched all 45 minutes of it and I thought might actually expire from the production quality.  (The movie is truly awful. Not just garden-variety awful, but world-class awful. It was like the tears of angels, it was so awful. – Lee) The museum is indoor/outdoor with a Roanoke Indian village area, a replica of a ship the English brought to the Island, and the fort area.  They had some character actors in certain areas that were happy to answer any questions you had and really added to the experience.  Overall I highly recommend it (especially for a cloudy day) we all learned something and had fun, can’t ask for more than that. It was also a lot easier to visit with a large group than I thought it would be.  There is enough stuff to keep everyone interested without being right on top of each other. (OK, I’ll give you a hint: there’s a part in a little hut that has a row of little boxes, each with a native American word on a door, and when you open the door, you hear a recorded voice pronounce the word. One of them should never have made it past the censors. We opened that door about a million times. It was glorious. There were no children present, but I imagine that busloads of elementary school kids have rejoiced in discovering it over the years, much to the likely chagrin of their teachers and chaperones, who almost certainly hang back once the kids move on, and then repeatedly open the door, and laugh, and laugh. – Lee) 

In the parking lot outside having a nice chat

In the parking lot outside having a nice chat

The gift shop

The first building…loved the flowers







They made canoes by burning first then scraping the softened wood with shells, we all got to try

They made canoes by burning first then scraping the softened wood with shells, we all got to try

This is an old fashioned lathe...really neat

This is an old fashioned lathe…really neat

Bill got very excited about 1500's brew making

Bill got very excited about 1500’s brew making





I wouldn't mess with him...he's fierce

I wouldn’t mess with Bill… seriously he’s fierce








The ship replica

The ship replica

The Ship

The Ship

Dinghy with Roanoke Village in the background

Dinghy with Roanoke Village in the background

Bill spent quite a bit of time talking to the first mate

Bill spent quite a bit of time talking to the first mate

Lee's beautiful picture

Lee’s beautiful picture


This almost was the Black and white winner

This almost was the black and white winner. (There are an unsettling number of pictures of  Greg putting his tongue on things. – Lee)

Lee's grumpy about mixing corn

Lee’s grumpy about mixing corn

Greg made Lee laugh so hard...let's just say one of the Indian names sounded a little dirty and like the 12 year old boys they are they had a huge laugh over it

Greg made Lee laugh so hard…let’s just say one of the Indian names sounded a little dirty and like  12-year-old boys they had a huge laugh over it 🙂









Great recreations in the museum

Great recreations in the museum

Lee is duck hunting..there are ducks on the ceiling with sensors

Lee is duck hunting..there are ducks on the ceiling with sensors

Lee hated doing this but humored me...I think it's super cute

Lee hated doing this but humored me…I think it’s super cute

How can Greg still look cool in this gettup?? Got me but he rocks it

How can Greg still look cool in this gettup?? Got me but he rocks it

It was a really fun day, topped off by an excellent All American dinner made by Cori and Greg.  Can’t wait to see what happens next!
(More misleading foreshadowing…-Lee)


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