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We have been talking about getting solar since before we bought our rig because Lee has always been interested in Boondocking. Boondocking is camping with no outside water, electric, or hookup to dump your black tank. The reason Boondocking is so attractive to people is to get to the places that are really out in the middle of nowhere you generally need to give up the services. Also it is much cheaper. For example, our average campground fee is running $25 a night, but Jim and Barb (who do a lot of boondocking) had an average campground fee of $5 last year. A solar solution helps you generate your own electricity. The system is sized based upon how much electricity you think you will need in a day and varies from rig to rig and person to person. We have a generator which will use propane to generate electricity, but we only had one battery and generators are pretty noisy. Some campgrounds have designated generator hours and others don’t allow generators at all. We knew we would need some sort of solution, but we also wanted to make sure we had enough information to order the right system for us. Plus, cost is a factor. A top of the line system can be very expensive and we knew we wanted a small system to start with the ability to upgrade over time as our needs changed. Enter our friend Greg who owns RV Solar Solutions. Greg sat with us and really listened, helping us determine the ideal system for our rig. He was understanding of the fact that we are on a budget and we ended up with a quality, perfectly sized system that was affordable and met our needs. He also designed it with future upgrades in mind, so we can add more panels if we decide to add a residential refrigerator. Currently our refrigerator runs on propane or electricity, which is great, but it’s also pretty small, which is not so great. They are also pretty expensive to replace, so if this one ever dies, we will probably replace it with a residential fridge. Since those fridges won’t run on propane, you either have to be on electric hookups all the time or have an alternative way of generating your own electricity. It sounds simple, but it’s not, and having a professional help navigate the myriad of choices was invaluable.
For those who care, we ended up getting 4 panels and 4 batteries with an inverter and a controller. Honestly, I don’t understand everything about it yet, but the important thing for me is we have enough juice to run my fan and noise machine all night long and the system is set up to automatically shut off when you hit below 50% charge on the batteries. The batteries we bought are very expensive and have a shelf life, so it’s important we don’t reduce their useful life by taking them below 50% charge too often. Greg oversized our system and programmed it to shut off to ensure we would never be put into that situation. So here’s the specs…again not sure what all this means but I know it matters to some people.
- Four 6 volt 220 amp Lifeline AGM batteries
- Four 160 watt Grape Solar panels
- Magnum Pure Sine 1200 watt Inverter
- Blue Sky 3000i Solar Charge Controller
Here’s some pictures of the install. The guys all wanted to get in on the action and learn more about solar and I didn’t mind. Plus with so many helpers the job went really fast.
Obviously we wanted to try it out and when we left OBX we and three other couples stopped at a Cracker Barrel and spent the night. Many businesses allow RVers to spend the night in their parking lots because it doesn’t cost them anything and they can benefit from the good will and business revenue from RVers. One of the most RV friendly businesses is Cracker Barrel; all of their locations (excepting those in a city where local ordinance does not allow it) allow folks to spend the night. There are different schools of thought on “Wallydocking” as it is commonly called. Some people love it, do it frequently, and use it as a way to keep down costs. Others rarely, if ever do it, preferring to stay in campgrounds or “Moochdock” at a friend’s home. We were interested in trying it, and although the experiment was extremely successful from a power standpoint (we had enough juice to watch 2 hours of TV, read, and then run the fan all night) neither Lee nor I was crazy about the overall experience. Let me be clear, the Cracker Barrel manager was really nice and allowed us to stay in the evening and into late morning with no issues but we weren’t particularly comfortable with the arrangement. The parking lot was not level so we were at an angle (Lee said he dreamed about falling all night) and we both felt “exposed”. Nothing unsafe happened, but we just didn’t feel very comfortable. Also in this case it actually was not cost-effective. We spent about $40 eating a dinner and then breakfast at Cracker Barrel and although we saved $25 on campground fees it did not help the budget overall. It is considered polite to spend money at the place you are staying at, and although no one enforces the rule the thought is if too many people take advantage the companies will discontinue allowing it. I will say I am interested in trying a Walmart though, because groceries are part of our standard budget, so we could buy some groceries and follow the spirit of the etiquette without any incremental cost. We would still have the safety issue to deal with though, but we will need to try it more and see. So even though we didn’t get the solar to Wallydock we are glad that we now have this option if we can’t find a reasonably priced campground in the area we are traveling through. As an FYI, we have been using Passport America campgrounds on most travel days and that has worked very well for us. We have services and generally the cost is around $17. They aren’t always the nicest campgrounds but we have yet to run across one where we didn’t feel at least marginally safe. Again, we are very very new to this and some people swear by it, so we really need to try it a few more times before we make a final judgement.
As far as boondocking in general we will see when we get out west. I will say I am cautiously optimistic, and since we have two weeks scheduled at the farm in Wisconsin and two weeks scheduled with Deb and Steve in Glacier National Park we will get plenty of opportunities to figure it out. For me those two places drove the decision to get solar sooner rather than later. Glacier is an absolute bucket list item for me, and I am taking a week’s vacation so we can go deep into the park. The farm is owned by my future son-in-law’s parents. We stayed with them with our travel trailer and had a wonderful time, but they only have 15amp service so we knew this time we would need to be able to produce our own energy to make it work. Plus (and this is no small thing) I trust Greg and the quality of his work. Those three things drove me to dip into our contingency fund to make this happen.
As a side note we have been spending some of our contingency. The solar and the wedding were the major factors thus far. I am going to talk more about budgets at the end of this month, but at the halfway point it’s not looking pretty. Being with friends for three weeks and then the rally has had a financial impact. Would I change my decisions?…largely no… but this month is a special circumstance. I am concerned though because next month we are visiting our home town and the month after that is the wedding, so there are two more months of special circumstances coming up. When I balance the cost with the quality of experiences it’s a no-brainer, but we will need to find a balance between living this amazing life and our costs. We simply aren’t there yet, and I try to give myself a break and think of it as the “newbie” learning curve, but it’s tough. I do feel it’s important to mention to provide a balanced picture of what’s happening.
We went back to Ebenezer Park for the week between OBX and the rally and I got to spend some more time with my sister and her family. I also scheduled a work trip and was in New Hampshire and Westminster, MA Monday through Thursday morning. I worked in the Westminster corporate office for 12 years and had not been back since I went out on the road. People’s reactions were pretty interesting. Many folks knew I was doing something unusual and were interested. Others are closer friends and they have been following on Facebook and the blog and they were VERY interested. My favorite experience was having dinner with two long-time close friends Kellie and Kathy. They have known me forever and as we have created a support system for each other have seen me at my best and worst over the years so their opinions carry weight with me. Both of them were genuinely happy for me and kept saying how great I looked and how I had this glow. Kathy said if a year ago someone had said Tracy would be traveling the country in an RV she would have laughed at them…and rightly so…if you knew me before you never would have thought I would have done something this unconventional. And they both stressed that they could just tell how happy I was. They also mentioned I am not that good a liar so they knew it was true. Their comments meant a lot to me, particularly because these are both women who talk straight and if they thought I looked like shit they would definitely tell me…they have certainly done it before. It was an external validation of the choice I made from people who really care about me and it was a great evening. As Kellie said, “You took a risk and it’s wonderful to see that it paid off.” Couldn’t have summed it up better myself.
Lee spent the last three days working on a project for the RV, shooting video of an install for Greg, and hanging out with the gang who fed him in my absence. Not that he is not capable of feeding himself, but Lee is never one to turn down good food. When I came back into Charlotte on Thursday, Lee and I went to see my sister who made us a wonderful dinner and made Lee two whole chocolate pies from scratch. Right out of high school Wendy went to pastry school (that’s where she met her husband) and even though she is a nurse now, she still is the best baker I know. Plus she’s known Lee since she was a little kid and is aware that the best way to his heart is with pie. So Lee was in pie heaven and we got to spend some quality time with the boys, the baby, and Josh. I was sad though. Wendy and I have spent more time together in the last six months than we have in 10 years and it made me sad that Abram (who is 11 months old) won’t remember any of it. Since we are headed out west it may be awhile before we get to see him again, and the thought was not a pleasant one. I am going to have to start pulling out those ideas for staying in touch with kids on the road I have been reading about, because I absolutely love the little peanut and want him to know who his Aunt Tracy and Uncle Lee are.
So it was another full week and now we are headed to Marion, NC and the reunion rally. We scheduled this trip 9 months ago and are very excited to see Red and Pam who have been out west for the past year and we miss very much. Plus looking forward to seeing Howard and Linda again and meeting other RV Dreamers and learning from them. The opportunity to learn in person from long-time full timers is a valuable one and I know I will have lots to add to my “Things I Learned from RV Dreams” page…so stay tuned.
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Another busy week here at the OBX compound. On Thursday, Glyn and his wife Diane from RV Driving School arrived. Several weeks ago Jo (who took training from him and now drives her rig almost everywhere) arranged for Glyn Carson from RV Driving School to come and visit our group here in OBX. They were willing to send him for four couples so Lee and I, Cori/Greg, Kelly/Bill, and Sue/Guy signed up. So Glyn and Diane arrived on Thursday and Jo cooked a very nice meal for the group for their arrival. We had a nice time chatting and since the weather was perfect we built a fire down on the beach. The circle was much bigger with 12 couples so Craig built a larger fire than normal. I had a lovely chat with Glyn and Diane who are very nice people. Their story is very cool because they started full timing when Glyn was 47 and ended up moving to Alaska after they fell in love with it. Glyn worked as an ice road trucker and after 14 years he semi-retired again and they are back on the road. Very interesting because Lee and I are that age and it’s great to hear a story from someone who full timed for a while, took a break, and started again. Eventually the crowd dwindled down and there were only 7 of us left. The tide started to rise and we all sat in our chairs laughing when we had to lift our feet when a wave came up too close. Suddenly a particularly strong wave completely covered our fire and BAM there was a steam explosion. Sand, water, and wood sprayed everywhere and thankfully no one was hurt. I got a huge glob of wet sand on the top of my head and when we were sure everyone was OK we all started laughing hysterically. Craig (who was a professional fireman) was as surprised as the rest of us. So it was amazing BUT please do not try this at home. We are really lucky no one got hurt!!
On Saturday, Sue planned an excursion for us to Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. I teased her that she needed an itinerary to plan an excursion for a group of this size and without a beat she made the following flyer for all of us and handed them out. This made me laugh so hard, because Sue was poking back at me about my tendency to over-schedule. I love that Sue has a wicked sense of humor and was excited that she was going to navigate the group for the day. Whenever we go anywhere it’s 3-4 cars, coordinating the leave times, and finding a good place for lunch. Oh, and you’d better check Trip Advisor for that lunch! So the outings have been a blast but keeping everyone together is a bit like herding cats, so I loved just going along for the ride on this one.
The drive to anywhere here is absolutely beautiful and Lee and I had a great time in the car and were in the back of the pack when we all came to a stop. Now, finding a place to pull over with 4 vehicles (two of them dually’s) in a line is challenging, but I give Jo huge credit (she was driving the lead truck) for pulling us into a side residential street. Turns out the address shown above is not 100% accurate…actually there was no true address for the refuge. Every wildlife place we have been has a ranger station of some kind that offers information on the park. This one had two wooden stands with a couple of maps. The maps were not super clear as the street markers were very faded. Also the roads were dirt and gravel and were supposed to be wildlife drives but truly not so much. The “restrooms” marked on the map for example was one port-a-john. At this point we have been to lots of these parks and none of us have ever seen anything like this. So it really was a great day to not be in charge of the schedule. Sue did a valiant job of getting us all to the first walking area…I say valiant because there was no cell service, the GPS didn’t work, and the maps were super unclear. But we made it and the walk itself was very nice. The park is off the island on the mainland and was quite a bit more humid than we have been experiencing but the flowers and foliage were very pretty. It was also very interesting walking the path with Craig and Glyn who are experienced hunters. There was quite a bit of bear sign around the path and they pointed out to me how I could tell where the bear had been. We didn’t see any bear (probably for the best) but I did learn a ton about tracking their movements. Afterwards we had a great lunch at Tortuga’s Lie Restaurant. The jerk chicken was the best I have ever had and then everyone split off to run errands. It really was a lovely day and Sue did a wonderful job. Hmmm we may need to give her the additional title of Excursion Planner!! Seriously Sue would have made an awesome cruise director.
As if the day wasn’t nice enough, when we got back to the campground there were flowers waiting for me at the rig. My middle daughter Kat worked with my husband to send me flowers at the campground for Mother’s day. They were absolutely beautiful and the card brought tears to my eyes. My oldest daughter Kyrston had called a few days back to ask about what to give me and I knew exactly what I wanted so she shipped the soy lotion candle to my sister. I also had a great conversation with Kay, my youngest. She admitted she was at a loss as to what I would want…a great question since we just got rid of everything and are pretty tough to buy for. I told her an ITunes gift card was good anytime, because there was always music or ebooks that I would be interested in. Since this was my first Mother’s Day on the road I wasn’t sure what to expect but my kids all went out of their way to tell me and show me how much I mean to them. Really there is nothing else a Mother could ask for and I am truly grateful to them all. They have been 100% supportive of our full timing lifestyle from the very beginning and I am exceptionally proud of the women they have become.
Mother’s Day morning my driving lessons started. I was really mellow about the whole thing until the morning of the first session. The girls all got up and came out in their pajamas to wish me luck, which was incredibly sweet and I found myself getting nervous. I have driven some, mostly on the interstate, and was starting to get nervous about driving “in town”. Glyn was very calm however. As he said later, after driving a truck in Alaska all those years not much could rattle him. We practiced backing up, parallel parking in a shopping center so you can get out (my favorite part) and lots of left and right turns. Because you use your own rig the lessons are extremely helpful and after a few hours I felt MUCH more confident. One of the best things he did was show me what would happen with a little toy truck and trailer first. I was having a heck of a time visualizing what was happening on the “blind side” of the trailer, but when Glyn showed me with the toy a light bulb finally went off in my head. Lee is a good teacher and has been very patient, but I just wasn’t getting certain things. Glyn showing me and all those things Lee had said finally clicked. Each couple had purchased 2 sessions of 4 hours each for $440. The price is on the high side but it is hard to put a price on gaining that level of confidence. Also I called my insurance company and they did say we would get a break on our insurance for taking the class, so hopefully that will help offset the cost. I will say though that for me I think a single 4 hour session would have been sufficient, but I have already driven some and you may feel you need the additional hours of practice. The great thing about Glyn is he is very open to providing a custom experience. A couple of the women stated they were nervous about driving over bridges and he immediately changed their route to make sure it included bridge driving.
Lee got his first official RV Tech repair gig. I say that because he has been fixing stuff for us and our friends since school finished, and we’ve been working on finalizing the details of the business. He put the sign out when we hit OBX and his first job was replacing a Norcold 1200 cooling unit. As these things go that’s a pretty big job, but he jumped right in and successfully completed the installation. You may have noticed I added a map on the right hand side of the webpage showing where we are at any given time. As soon as we complete Lee’s webpage, I will be adding a map to show our upcoming route and we will definitely be adding a DIY tab on this site to show all the customizations he has done. We have never been small business owners so we are working our way through the marketing and accounting aspects of running a small business and our friends Cori and Greg of RV Solar Solutions have been very helpful in sharing their many years experience in running a small business with us.
Monday we got hit with the tail end of a tropical storm and it poured on and off all day. Gene and Eileen arrived on this day and unfortunately because of weather we couldn’t make a group dinner work. The ladies sprung into action though and put together a chili, salad, and cornbread meal for them. I was working during all of this and it was so nice that they took care of making sure they were fed. Since Gene and Eileen drove through the storm, it took longer than they expected and they were really tired. Everyone came to greet them and bring them the food and since I didn’t make anything offered to walk their dog Max. I have missed Gene and Eileen, but I was most excited about Max. I know Hobie is going to get a little jealous but he will just have to learn to share me with other dogs.
For weeks I have been walking the beach and collecting shells with the vague idea of making a shell picture frame and putting a picture of the gang in it. A couple of weeks ago, Cori and I bought a couple little glue guns and some cheapie picture frames at the Dollar General. The weekends and nights though have been taken up with lots of activities and with the driving classes being staggered I didn’t think we would have the opportunity to all get together for a girl’s night. Cori though proved once again why she is such a great friend to me and quietly got everyone together so we could have craft night. It was really sweet and a lot of fun. We all got to be together, talk, and drink a little wine. That’s what I love most about Cori..in very quiet ways she goes to some trouble to make people happy and if you mention it she always denies it’s a big thing. She also happens to be an excellent shell picture frame maker and by general consensus hers looked the best. Lee said, “No offense, but Cori’s looks like it could be sold in a shop.”
Since I had driving class on Sunday the rig has been a bit of a mess, plus the guys are finishing up our solar install so I am working at the kitchen table to try to stay out of their way. During lunch I got to take both Hobie and Max with me to the beach. I’ve been wanting those guys together for the last three weeks and Sue was happy to come with to help me get some pictures. There were a ton of college aged kids on the beach and it was a beautiful day, although a bit windy. It was a great 1/2 hour and I finally got the pics I have been looking for. It’s neat how they look similar but have somewhat different coloring. They are both cavachon’s and I think Max looks more Bichon whereas Hobie seems more Cavalier. Can you tell I am totally obsessed with these dogs?
Tuesday night we had a group dinner of Lasagna (made my Kelly) and home-made Caesar salads prepared by Lee. Lee’s first job was making Caesar salad’s tableside at a fancy restaurant and when Kelly got wind of that a plan was born. Also, Diane and Glyn talked to us about Alaska which was incredibly helpful. There are tons of urban legends about RV’ing to Alaska and they were very helpful in dispelling most of them. You don’t need an extra gas tank for example to visit the commonly traveled areas and you can use some flexibility when booking campgrounds along the way. I highly recommend talking to someone who actually lived there before making a trip as they truly can tell you what the area is like. One of the funniest things that happened all night was Lee was playing ball with Hobie and Max. Max is really good at catching the ball on the bounce and apparently Hobie got a little upset because the first opportunity he had he lifted his leg and peed on the ball. It was if he was saying, “I’ll show you Max.” So funny and we laughed until we cried. The look on Cori’s face was priceless when her “kid” misbehaved. Loved it!!!
Wednesday we finally got to go kayaking. This was the one thing Cori wanted to do and because of work schedules, other activities, and weather it kept getting pushed. So we were going no matter what and we had 4 couples who had boats. Although the tide was very low and we had to do some walking in spots, we had a great time. I also got some cool black and white shots of an abandoned bridge. Then we went to a local bar, Watermen’s and watched the sunset and ate some dinner. The food was delicious and the company was great. For the first time Lee and I shared a meal. (He’s not a hug fan of sharing his food!) We got stuffed mushrooms and prime rib all for $36 before tip. There was plenty to eat for both of us and I think we will definitely try this approach again.
Our last night in OBX we celebrated Greg’s birthday and had our last fire on the beach. IT was a wonderful night and a great way to cap off a great month with people we love. It’s bittersweet to be leaving because we really like it here and have had a great time on the road..but can’t wait to see my sister and get to the reunion rally.
- Do not let the ocean cover your beach fire when you are sitting near it because it could cause a steam explosion.
- An RV class is a terrific idea, but to make the most of your experience be very clear with the instructor on what your concerns are so he can provide a custom program.
- Crafts can be a fun and inexpensive way of spending time. Adding a little wine only makes it better!!
- Before RV’ing to Alaska talk to someone who has spent a lot of time there or better yet lived there. There is a ton of misinformation on the internet. Big shock right 🙂
- When Kayaking in the ocean sound check the tide levels
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A couple of months ago we made the plans to come to OBX, and opened it up to anyone who had extra time before the RV-Dreams reunion rally. Everyone’s schedule was very different and although 8 of us were available for the whole month, others were going to try to come for just part of the time. I’ve been really excited about seeing Guy and Sue, because I haven’t seen them since we all met a year ago and they had the longest delayed “launch” of any couple. They have been waiting for their house to sell this entire time and Guy continued working and Sue continued hoping through the long winter. Finally Guy’s doctor said the time had come to retire, and they decided they had waited long enough. So the last couple of months they have been traveling, visiting family, and getting used to the lifestyle, and they decided to reroute their plans and spend a couple of weeks here in OBX with us. All I can say about Sue is that in a room full of interesting people, she stood out. She has this great energy she carries with her and I can’t wait to compare notes on how things have been going over the last year. Here’s my favorite pic of Sue from the Rally (it was Kentucky Derby night) and seriously anyone who has access to a hat like this let alone can pull it off is someone I want to hang out with.
Sue and Guy are also taking advantage of this time to add a solar system onto their rig, and who better to do it than our friend Greg, owner of RV Solar Solutions. Lee’s going to be taking some video of the entire process so Greg will have some videos to use for his website. It was a great week, but I am getting ahead of myself a little and should start back at the beginning.
Sunday was a rainy day. Actually we had several rainy days in a row. We all love being here during the “shoulder season” because the crowds are minimal and the weather is beautiful on many days, but we did have a string of rainy/cloudy days this week. So I decided to go looking for a mother’s dress for my daughter’s upcoming wedding, threw it out to the group, and Kelly came with me. One of the many great things about Kelly is that she’s up for almost anything. We had a nice afternoon in Duck, NC going into small boutique shops and talking. Kelly is a really nice person. She didn’t mind the cold or the hour drive each way, she was just happy to help out a friend. Although we didn’t find anything, I did get some ideas and it was nice to see the Duck area which is where many of the wealthier people live in OBX. Worth the drive just to see some of the houses. Crazy money though…we saw a small inland lot (no house on it) for example for $299K. We also stopped at First Flight Adventure Course on the way back and Kelly and I both decided we wanted to do it so we scheduled some time the following Saturday…but more of that later.
Work was pretty busy this week so long days in the rig, but every night we joined together for appetizers, drinks, and sometimes dinner. Cori took on coordinating the food schedule (God love her) and it’s turned into more of a challenge than any of us thought. We have a calendar schedule, but then the girls have to talk about it every night to make sure we have the basics covered. Otherwise you end up with all vegetables and no meat or vice versa. Plus since the grocery store is so far away, we need to pre-plan a bit to have the ingredients we need. It’s a bit of a pain, but the dinners themselves are so fun we don’t want to stop doing it. I actually think it would be much easier with more or less people. With 4 you split it in half and with a larger group there are plenty of dishes so less coordination needed. Even on Bring your Own Grill night we are coordinating the sides somewhat so like I said it takes more coordination than I think anyone counted on. Still I love it personally. Cori did divide the schedule up with some “On Your Own” nights which is great. Each couple can go out to dinner, or eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich if they want to and that has given us an opportunity to break up into smaller groups, which is nice for some deeper conversations.
So Sunday night we hung out with Cori and Greg and then Monday night with Bill and Kelly. Tuesday we all celebrated meeting each other at the Sevierville rally with appetizers and a potluck followed by an excellent fire on the beach and Jo’s famous Cinnamon rolls for a late dessert. Jo even sent Howard and Linda from RV-Dreams a picture of all of us waving on our one year anniversary which was pretty neat since they are right now back in Sevierville with a whole new group.
The week was going great and then Sue said they had rearranged some things and would be in OBX on Thursday!!! Very cool. We scrambled a bit to have a travel day dinner for them. One of my favorite RV etiquette rules is that you cook for whomever is visiting you on their travel day since travel days are so crazy. Nothing fancy, just hot and filling food since travel days also require some physical activity. Cori volunteered to make her shredded pork since she had pork loin in her freezer (I am seriously jealous of her residential refrigerator) and the rest of us pitched in.
I went to Urgent Care for the first time ever, for a sustained earache, and it turned out it was from a flight I took with a bad head cold a few weeks ago and should resolve itself over time. It was OK. The wait was about an hour but the doctor and nurse were nice and there was no issue taking my insurance. Lee went to get the oil changed on my car, and to the dentist for a routine cleaning, and did not have such a good experience. Even though they said they could get him in right away he waited 1-1/2 hours for a 10 minute oil change. Not great, but we are limited in the places we can go because of my fleet coverage, and there are no chain oil change places to be found in the Outer Banks. The dentist was worse. There was only one Aetna choice, Michael Morgan, DDS in Kitty Hawk. I was placed on hold when making the appointment for 8-1/2 minutes but was thrilled that they had an appointment at 10am on Thursday for the cleaning. Lee said the office had older equipment, but the cleaning and exam seemed competent. The problem is when he went to leave they demanded he pay for the cleaning even though he had the insurance card and it’s covered by insurance. Then they stated it would be $130 but when he pulled out our HSA medical Visa they immediately changed the amount to $75. NOT cool. I ended up calling Aetna and registering a complaint. Not so much because of the $75 but more because of the principle of the thing. I have had wonderful experiences with Aetna over the years and frankly expect more from their in-house providers.
So Lee and I were both pretty cranky when Sue and Guy rolled in, but just seeing them was so exciting I had to give her a huge hug. They had a tough morning having gotten stuck in the mud at a campsite earlier, and were super relieved to be here. We tried to give them some time to settle but everyone was so excited to see them it was tough not to converge on them. So we met around 5pm for dinner and drinks and the meal was hot and filling. Cori makes awesome pulled pork! Then we sat outside (eventually moving into Cori and Greg’s party bus) and we talked and laughed and laughed until 9pm. At one point Cori and I tried to have a little meeting to talk about what was happening the next few days but that got out of hand quickly. Lee is a complete rabble rouser and made the whole crowd VERY unruly. Eventually though we got through it and to share the schedule I will put it below. It’s important to note that any person or couple has the right to opt out of anything at any time…and it may seem like over-scheduling but with work schedules and so many people I don’t know a better way to do it. So here’s the email I sent out. As a side note I was trying to find some time to talk to my daughter about her wedding plans and when I was going through the schedule she said ,”Are you at camp?” My reply, “Yes honey, adult camp with lots of booze thrown in!!”
- Friday night – Lee is making chicken, I am making green beans, Kelly is making REAL mashed potatoes, and Cori is making desert. Sue is organizing a game.
- Saturday morning around 9 am – Kelly is making breakfast with Cori’s assist
- Saturday afternoon leaving for the Adventure Park at noon
- Saturday Night – Derby Night. Cori has sliders, Sue has Black Bean dip (so my husband will hush about it), I have deviled eggs and stuffed cherry tomatoes, Kelly and Jo are still deciding. Cori is organizing a game
- Sunday leave for Ocracoke Ferry at 8am. Lunch is on the island and then everyone on their own for dinner
- Monday is grill your own meat night…sometimes we like to coordinate sides for this but it’s hard …maybe everyone brings their own sides this time???
- Tuesday is Cinco de Mayo with Jo and Greg providing the food and Lee and Guy providing the music (just kidding on the last part, although I would like to see Lee actually hold the guitar at least. Bill is making margaritas!!
- Weds is on your own.
Friday night was fun. Lee’s chicken was a resounding success and even though it was cold and rainy, Cori and Greg opened their rig for us all to eat inside. We brought over several folding tables and the 10 of us fit quite comfortably for the dinner and the game we played after. I am pretty sure Sue’s job will be Master of Games because we played Left, Right, Center which is a very simple dice game that had a “gambling” element that made it very fun. You start with three quarters and roll the number of dice for the number of quarters you have left. Your quarters get passed to the left or right, or stay with you or go in the center pot depending upon what you roll. So there’s lots of trading back and forth of quarters and basically whoever has the last quarter wins what is in the pot. I think there was $7 on the table but some competitive spirits came out and it was easy and a lot of fun. The coolest thing about the game is because it’s simple it doesn’t take a ton of mental attention so you can keep the conversation flowing and still play.
I think we were all pretty sick of the rain by this point, but the forecast calls for beautiful weather the rest of the week and Kelly, Lee, and I were all excited about the First Flight Adventure Course on Saturday. To start the day, Kelly made a breakfast of biscuits and gravy which is Lee’s absolute favorite. I don’t care for it so rarely make it, but my Mom used to make it for him every Christmas we were together. It was awesome, she and Cori put on quite a spread. Then we left to go to the adventure park. It was an absolutely phenomenal experience and worth every penny of the $49 it cost. I’m going to walk you through it step by step though because I truly hope if you have a chance to do this or something similar you do. What you don’t see in the pictures is Bill (Kelly’s husband) who had done something similar about 10 years ago and agreed to take our pictures. He did an outstanding job, especially considering he had to stay outside the action zone a hundred yards away, and shoot through lots of rope and cable and other obstacles. Lee and I are really grateful that he was there to capture the moment.
First we got in and signed releases, were weighed (250# limit and they weigh you on site) and then got suited up. A huge group of kids came along with girls from a bachelorette party, but it’s such a large course it really didn’t feel crowded. The course is divided into three height sections with two courses per height. The higher you go the harder it is and you can stop at any time or use your two-hour block to repeat courses you liked. The staff was fantastic… adult, competent, and extremely encouraging.
It is a requirement that each person complete one of the lowest level courses and then you can go to any level you like. We let the young kids go first and watched a bit and then tackled the first course. Kelly was tentative at first, but we had her go after me and before Lee and she soon got the hang of it. We were all really encouraging of each other and helped each other along. Every course has both a physical and mental component. There is a “trick” to making them easier and we definitely learned from each others successes and “oopses”. This would be a great place to conduct a team building exercise as the three of us totally bonded on that course. It was very cool.
After the initial run we all started to get more confidence and the smiles started to come out. Don’t get me wrong there were some tough ones in there, but we all started to really enjoy ourselves and after 1 and 2 we moved up to the second level and challenges 3 and 4.
So we finished 1-4 and Lee and Kelly (who are smart) decided they were done. I thought I would like to go up and try #5. I would say if I did this again I would either stop at 4 or try 5 earlier in session as I was getting tired and the highest level was MUCH harder.
The first two obstacles were hard but the third was brutal. It required a commando crawl across a rope. I am familiar with how to do it…every military movie shows it and I thought of my daughter in the Air Force and decided to give it a go. Unfortunately for the first time height came into play as you are staring straight down, plus I ran out of arm strength 2/3 of the way through and had to use my legs to scootch the rest of the way. I am proud of myself for doing it, but I was really scared and had to take a minute to compose myself. I was facing away from Kelly and Lee but forgot Bill was on the ground taking pics. Still these really do capture how I was feeling in that moment.
So I am halfway across and Lee told me later Kelly asked him if he thought I would quit. Lee said, “Not a chance in hell.” Which is incredibly sweet but I probably would have if there was an easy way to get down. But it was back or forward, and given those choices I will always pick forward so I took a breath and kept going. Kelly and Lee talked me through the next one, because the center platform tilts sideways so you have to keep perfectly center or you’re going to get dropped some. I understand it’s mainly mental…you are on a guide wire after all, but it’s still scary when you drop.
The 2nd to last one was designed by a sadist because the things you put your feet on roll under you. Finnally I said screw it and sat on one and then moved my butt from one to another which was still not easy but at least possible. The last one had rings to use to pull yourself across which I flat out couldn’t do so I glided down to the next platform instead. Overall I am glad I tried but I think I’ll take credit for completing 4-1/2 courses. Still keep in mind you can stop at any level you want and go back and redo your favorites. We still had 20 minutes left on our time, but we were all pooped out so decided to stop. It was an amazing experience and I am so glad I got to do it.
And if that wasn’t enough Cori organized a Derby party for Saturday night. We all made appetizers and had a nice time watching the race on Cori and Greg’s outside TV. Tomorrow is Ocracoke with the group…but we will have to save that for next week’s post.
Day 3 of the Black and White Photography Challenge
The Black and White Challenge asks bloggers to post 5 consecutive blogs with a black and white photo. I recommend my long time friend Ted Julian to take up the challenge since he is a new blogger who is writing about his camping experiences with his wife and young kids. This week, Lee taught me about shadows and encouraged me to take the same pictures at different times of the day to get different shadow effects. This was taken in the evening and I really like how it turned out.
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The first people we stopped to visit when we went on the road were our friends Cori and Greg. We stopped in Pennsylvania for the weekend before starting our new life, and had an amazing weekend. Although Cori and I talk or text almost every day we have really missed them. Finally their vacation came and they headed to Florida for a boondocking rally put on by RV Dreams. We are not set up for boondocking, plus Lee is in school every day, but the rally is only an hour or so from where we are staying and we are hoping to come visit everyone on Saturday. (That should be especially exciting, because they will all have been sitting out in a field for a week in the hot Florida sun, with full gray and black tanks, and not having had real showers for several days. It will be like human soup out there. I can’t wait. I won’t be distributing many hugs that day. – Lee) Needless to say we were super excited for a chance to see our friends in person. (1) They left Pennsylvania Thursday night and because they have a Class A and were super motivated, they managed to make it to Winter Haven, FL by late Friday night. (2) I was super excited. (3) I felt like a kid at Christmas to be honest, and we got up bright and early and drove over to see them. (So much for “Christmas”. There were no presents, unless you count the bottle of Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey, which was mine to begin with, but I left it there back in November. – Lee) Sometimes when you see people you haven’t seen for a long time it can be a bit awkward, but with them we picked up right where we left off. The funniest part to me was that Cori would be mid-sentence and then just sort of trail off and smile…she was sun deprived in PA and that Florida weather was working it’s magic. (Or perhaps it was the booze. It’s hard to be sure. – Lee) Hobie, their amazing cavachon, seemed to remember me (or at least my doggie treats) and we had a great morning catching up. Then the day got even better. Kelly and Bill drove over to see them and we also got to see Jo and Craig. We hadn’t seen Jo and Craig since the RV-Dreams rally in Tennessee last April and although I’ve been following her terrific blog (This Moment in Time), it was so great to see them in person again. Texas Jo is a hoot and Craig gives the best hugs on the planet. (I’m going to let that one slide for now. – Lee) So the eight of us talked and ate and then had a wonderful bonfire (our first since coming to Florida). The campground Cori and Greg are at (The Outpost) also has a really nice lake and I got to walk down and take some bird pictures. (We saw a Muscovy Duck which only has small populations in Southern Florida and Texas as it is largely a Mexican and South American bird so that was really a cool sighting.) It’s also a brand new campground and the prices were super reasonable so if you’re looking for a place in the Winter Haven area I really recommend you check it out. (4) Cori broke out her new camera and she and Lee spent some time together taking pictures. (It’s not a camera, it’s a Nikon. – Lee) He was really happy to help someone who actually listened to the finer points of photography…as opposed to me who just likes to point and shoot and doesn’t listen that well in general.
Jo, Craig, Bill, Kelly, Cori, and Greg will all be at the RV-Dreams Boondocking Rally this week and Greg’s going to do a solar install while he is there. Greg is an incredibly smart and experienced solar technician, so if you’re thinking about solar you should really check out his website RV Solar Solutions and give him a call. We are absolutely going to get solar panels down the road, but are trying to be good and pay off our little bit of debt first.
On Valentines Day Lee and I, along with Dr. Jo and Ben, drive over for the day to crash the party. Then Jo, Craig, Cori, and Greg will be staying for a few days in Tampa and I took a couple of days off to spend time with them. Excited about seeing Jo and Craig’s rig since they didn’t have it yet when we saw them last year, although Texas Jo is a super clean person so I am a little afraid Lee might have higher expectations after we see her place. (5. That’s 5 “supers” in one post. I need to get this wife of mine a cape, or a thesaurus. – Lee)
If that wasn’t enough excitement for the weekend we got to go kayaking with Eileen and Gene. The last time we were together I asked if they could help me get Lee into the water in the boat. He is really concerned about kayaking in a rubber boat with alligators. (To clarify, I’m not concerned about kayaking in a rubber boat WITH alligators, that would be foolhardy. I’m concerned about kayaking in a rubber boat while alligators are trying to sink/get into the boat. It’s a fine distinction, but a pretty important one. You can’t be too careful with these things. While there hasn’t been a fatal alligator attack in Florida since 2007, that also means that it’s long overdue. There have been over 20 major bites in the past five years, however. That’s enough to warrant caution. If you don’t think so, go talk to one of those 20 people. They’re easy to spot, what with missing limbs and the like. Also, given that information, it begs the question why my wife is so keen to get me into a boat in rabid alligator infested waters. Food for thought. – Lee) Yes, I know it is unlikely it will be an issue, but as Lee says that is small comfort when you’re the one boat that an alligator attacks. So to get us started Eileen recommended Robinson Preserve because they didn’t see any alligators there. (That’s not exactly an endorsement. Have they been LOOKING for them??? How recently was their eyesight checked? Are they in league with Tracy in her plot to get rid of me, and their role in the conspiracy is to be alligator deniers? This is all very suspicious. – Lee) I was so excited to get on the water, take some great pictures, and hang out with Gene and Eileen!! Robinson Preserve is amazing. It’s free and pet and kid friendly. (Alligators love kids and pets. – Lee) They have walking and biking paths throughout the preserve and easy waterway access to kayak or canoe. They also have a four-story wooden tower you can climb into and the views are amazing. (The alligator problem is clearly so out of control they had to build a four-story tower to keep an eye on them. This is partially for viewing distance, but also to keep the more intrepid alligators from climbing up the tower to eat the watchers. They have very short legs, and would get tired and give up by the third story. – Lee) The bird watching was great and it turns out Eileen has an eagle eye when it comes to spotting birds. (And yet, she’s never seen a single one of the thousands of alligators lying in wait. Am I the only one who sees a problem with all of this? – Lee) Seriously, from now on she’s going on all my nature hikes with me. We just had the best time.. and I am going to let the pictures speak for themselves…mainly because I am completely pooped out by all the fun we had this weekend. (We really did have a great time, Gene and Eileen are a lot of fun, and are so easy-going and friendly, despite their nefarious alligator connections. And even though I never saw a single alligator, that doesn’t mean they weren’t there. It just means that they’re even hungrier than they were before. We’re all living on borrowed time. Hug your loved ones before it’s too late. – Lee)
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