First Time Gate Guarding – Days 50 – 55

Day 50

Today was nice and slow again.  We had 5 guys working overnight back on the pad doing cleanup, but since they rarely came out it was not a big deal.  And we hit day 50, which is a substantial amount of time and I have been trying to think about how long I ever worked without having at least one day off.  I worked two jobs once for a couple of months without a day off until I rearranged things so I had one day from both jobs and I worked a couple of projects that we were busy for about 6 weeks with no days off, but I think that’s it.  It’s been a long time though, that’s for sure, so this feels like the longest I have ever gone without one.

I spent some time reading, more proofreading, and watching a little TV.  Only one interruption during Walking Dead.  I also spent some time researching how to get the recipe book onto Amazon.  I am going through a company called blurb and they can sell the book themselves or help you get it on Amazon. The main advantage of Amazon is larger potential readership, but the downside is higher percentage (15%) taken from every sale.  It’s better than iBooks though, they take 30% of every sale.  Crazy.  Either way, it takes a few weeks to get your book listed, and once it is out there you cannot change it.  You have to unlist it then put up a revision, so proof-reading becomes even more important.  I swear every time I look at it I see something else. Today I noticed I had mis-numbered the steps on a few of the recipes.  Crazy, I’ve looked at it  100 times and never saw that before.  Lee missed it as well.  Anyway, I am working on it a little each night and my goal is to have it uploaded by the time fracking starts.

Day 51

Today was by far the slowest day so far.  Only a handful of trucks, which was nice.  I made meatloaf for dinner, because Lee requested an old favorite…I think he is taking a taste tester break, and then we watched a couple of shows before he went to bed.  I am super happy because the Voice is back on.  I am loving this foursome and it’s such a great feel good show. The only thing of interest was that we talked quite a bit about the new unlimited AT&T plan coming out tomorrow.  Lee and I have been very cautious about changing our grandfathered in plan, but we really think we can make this new one work.  (Right before we hit the road, we were lucky enough to get in on the last day of a promotion that doubled your data, so we got 80GB per month for what they were charging for 40GB. 80GB might sound like a lot of data, but it’s not. We use it for everything we watch, and some months we struggle to stay below 80GB. And the worst part is that overages are billed at a ridiculous $15 per GB. So we’ve been watching what AT&T and Verizon have been doing waiting for things to improve. And we think that time might have finally arrived. – Lee) If there are no fine print problems with the new unlimited data plan, it will save us $185 over what we’re currently paying for 80GB, which is a substantial amount of money on our current budget.  I’m excited because I really thought if we waited long enough something good would come out.  Good for T-Mobile and the Millennials for driving this change.  It was past time the companies responded to market pressure on this issue.

Day 52

Another super slow day and we found out that the folks who are bringing the liner for the pond won’t be here until next Monday or Tuesday.  This gives us many days of quiet to enjoy.  The big news today was we signed up for the new AT&T unlimited plan and it went off without a hitch.  That $185 a month or $2200 a year is a big budget changer, so we are both really excited about it. I also got some feedback on the recipe book from my friend Kelly, which was great, and she said she was trying one of the new recipes which was really exciting. I asked her if she thought the recipes were too simple and she immediately said no.  Kelly is one of the nicest people on the planet, but she also tells the truth, and since there was little hesitation I felt much better.  As she said, some of the recipes in each category are more complicated, but most are simple, which I think is a good thing.  My goal was to show real food, that could be made in an RV and super complicated doesn’t lend itself well to the lifestyle in many cases.  Anyway, I was getting cold feet about the whole thing and Kelly made me feel quite a bit better.

Since I am faced with several days with lots of down time I thought now might be the right time to start chipping away at the book about this journey we have been on.  I have been thinking about it for quite some time, but didn’t really feel like I was ready to start but this morning I woke up and it felt right.  This is definitely going to take some time, but getting started is the important thing.   Oh and I also did this month’s budget tonight and as you have probably already seen we had our best month ever.  That was definitely a plus.

Day 53

Lee only had a couple of trucks this morning.  They brought in some pipe and used it.  We did some housekeeping items and just took the day.  Lee watched movies and I worked on the blog and a little on the book.  I started writing last night and things flowed OK.  Good enough for a first pass at least.

Day 54

Today was a good day for it to be slow because it rained all day.  We only had one car all day and were glad of it because the rain and wind were near constant.  I’ve wanted to have all that in one place for a while so it was good to get that done.  Le is also doing the final edit on the recipe book.  I really needed a fresh set of eyes so he was nice enough to go through it one more time.

Day 55

Well we have put all of this free time to good use.  I finally finished a page I have been working on for a while which summarizes all of our  Last night I spent some time finishing up a page I have been working on for a while that summarized all of our working on the road experiences. If you would like to check out the new page click here.  I also took the opportunity to remove some of the less visited pages and reorder the web site in a way that made more sense to me.

For those who have read from the beginning, you have seen the website evolve over time.  The changes are partly due to what people seem to be interested in and partly because of what I want to write about.  The main goals of the blog have always been to have a place to tell our story and to try to write the blog we wish we could have read.  The pages and their ordering reflects that to some extent.  

We also finished the recipe book and I will be uploading that to Amazon very soon and I have started to write the book about our story.  That has been very interesting as we kept it a secret for many months and I have little in writing to help me put together the timeline of events.  Thankfully, I was able to be open in the RV-Dreams Forum and have been going back and rereading my early posts from 2013.  I still can’t get over how quick everything happened.  Even today as relatively adventuresome as I have become, I can’t see myself jumping into that big of a change that quickly.  If nothing else it really shows me how much this all was meant to be.

Oh and sorry that there is next to nothing to talk about regarding Gate Guarding this week.  There are apparently slow periods though and I needed to show the calm before the fracking storm.  Things should pick up pretty soon.


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First Time gate Guarding – Days 47 -49

Day 47

I’ve been chewing on something the last couple of days and I am going to take a deep breath and dive right in here.  I try to write about these jobs in as objective a way as possible and still give people the flavor of my personal experience.  I try to step back a little and look at things from other people’s perspectives and since folks may be using these accounts to decide whether or not to try a job I really try and not let my personal feelings outside of the time period itself impact what I write.  I’ll be the first to admit I come no where close to succeeding on that and recent feedback about my “negativity” has made me even more gun shy.  Unfortunately that has put me in a position to simply account what is happening and that’s OK if personally I am feeling fine about things, but not so great when I am struggling.  This job in particular is even more complicated by the fact that some people do this year round.  Unlike other seasonal positions we have done, there are lots of people who gate guard most of the year and only take a couple of months off.  Their perspective is of course very, very different and trying to describe this experience and keep in mind people do this full time has been extremely challenging.

Because gate guarding for a few months in the winter versus gate guarding year round would be a totally different thing.  We often say we can do anything for short periods of time as long as it helps us get farther down the road, and to some extent that is true. So we judge positions in that context and lots of things that would be unpalatable for us in a full time job become of lesser importance.   In this case I have been trying to straddle the fence between these two realities and just don’t feel like I am doing a very good job.  Yes, the pure facts of the position relate to either group, but the emotions that come along with staying in one place for so long are very different.  Staying away from the emotions is certainly safer…harder to upset people when you are just reporting the facts, but that’s really not what I do. So I am going to delve back into the emotions, at least for this post, and please understand I do it from the position of someone who was looking for short-term seasonal work.

The problem for me is, for the first time, this is position could actually work long-term.  There is plenty of work out there, we are spending very little, and even putting some money in the bank, and the work itself is reasonable. Plus, there is the added bonus of minimal supervision which is something Lee really cares about. (I do not work or play well with others, especially if the others include management of any description. – Lee)  And that’s important because Lee and I aren’t in lockstep over what we want this life to look like for us, never have been.  Just because you decide as a couple to become full-time RVers, doesn’t mean that you are in complete agreement on what that looks like day to day.  To the contrary, it’s more common that couples need to find some middle ground.  The other positions we have done never really brought that up as an issue, because we both knew they were for a limited amount of time.  But here we are, faced with a position we could theoretically do indefinitely, and I have to evaluate it from that perspective.

And, for me, there is so much about this job that I don’t like when I think about it from a long-term perspective.  So here goes, and please keep in mind that for me the lifestyle was primarily about spending more time together and doing cool stuff together.  Having a job with less stress was a distant third to the first two things, but I know for many people that ranks much higher and if that is your primary goal, this work could definitely be a good fit for you.  So here’s what I don’t like, and again this is me and only looking at this long-term.

  • It’s 24/7.  I hate never having a day off.  I don’t care if the work is pretty slow or easy to do, I hate the feeling of never being off.  Cumulatively it’s wearing me down and I just can’t see that changing for me. (I don’t mind it so much, because I know that eventually we’ll be done. If we were to do it for a longer period of time, I would ask about arranging a relief team to give us a week long break in the middle. – Lee)
  • I don’t like never being able to go anywhere.  It’s not even not being able to do things together, there is little I can do myself.  I really only have a few hours a day where I am “off” and there is nothing close by that I want to do. (I agree with this. Going to the grocery store is our excitement. – Lee) 
  • Not crazy about the location.   Being on the end of a dusty farm road in the middle of nowhere was novel at first, but long term that would wear me down.  Yes, there is some beauty in the sunsets and the birds, but most of the time it is unrelenting truck traffic, clouds of dust, and of course the ever present sameness of our view of our gate.  Keep in mind my number 2 reason for full timing was to see beautiful places and as someone who largely judges her life by the pictures she has taken this definitely doesn’t meet my requirements.  (I beg to differ. Take a look at the awesome shots I took of the roadrunner. And this morning I got some great pics of vultures tearing up some roadkill. Seriously though, she’s right. Although I like remoteness, we can’t stargaze because of the floodlights, we can’t enjoy the peace and quiet, because of the nonstop generator and traffic noise, and we can’t walk around naked, because we don’t look that good naked. – Lee) If you are looking at this position as short-term and temporary, no big deal, but when you start to evaluate it as a long-term position it is.  And yes, you get to move gates every couple of months, but from what I have seen they all pretty much look like this.  I like to be a person who can find beauty in small things, but there are limits to what even my imagination can accomplish in this barren of a landscape. (Ya gotta look closer at that roadkill. Lots of color. – Lee)
  • Lastly, it’s kind of lonely.  You would think that it would perfectly fit my number one goal because Lee and I are together all of the time, but we really aren’t emotionally together. (Seriously. We’re together ALL. THE. TIME. – Lee) We don’t sleep in the same bed, our intimate moments are few and far between, and usually one of us is inside and the other is outside throughout the day. We spent years existing in the same space and being isolated from each other, and I can definitely see how this could become a similar situation.  After all, physical proximity is no guarantee of anything. It’s the moments we have created together that had made this lifestyle so special for us the last couple of years, and for the reasons above those moments have been few and far between in the last 47 days.

OK…well, I feel better.  It always helps me when I find a way to express my feelings.  The main thing to understand here is this job could either be short-term or long-term and depending on what you personally are looking for it might be a good gig.  Lee, for example, definitely could see himself doing this for longer stretches of time and I am absolutely not ruling it out for the future. But I am really looking forward to when this stint will be done and we can get back on the road and that in and of itself is a telling statement. It depends on what you consider “on the road.”  We have friends, for example, who were staying with family and are stuck in their pasture and can’t get out due to flooding.  Technically they are on the road, but they can’t wait to get back out there.  Some people consider being in the RV “on the road” regardless of where you are, others need to be actually moving, and still others think of it as something in between.  It’s extremely personal and just because people’s opinions on this differ doesn’t mean they are disrespecting someone else’s choices.  There is no one true way to full-time, just the way you choose to do it and that usually evolves for people over time.  All I can say is right now, in this moment, for me, I am ready to move on and that’s not going to happen. (Like anything else, I think this would be better the second time around. Knowing what to expect makes almost anything easier. I suspect this is why people have more than one child. I also think that while we always say if we can’t stand something, we can leave, but until we do that, we haven’t done it. And I think it isn’t real, and so it’s not a real comfort. Sooner or later it’s going to happen, and when we realize that the world doesn’t come to an end, we’ll feel less trapped when we’re unhappy, and that will prevent being mildly unhappy from turning into very unhappy. – Lee) 

It’s OK. I want to finish out our assignment and see this through until it finishes (or April 1st) whichever comes first. Because it’s temporary, and I can do anything for short periods, and I know we are headed to Vegas for a week, and then to beautiful Oregon for the entire summer.  The thought of picking up another assignment or extending is not a pleasant one though.  It’s just not.  Doesn’t mean I would never do this again.  Doesn’t mean I didn’t like the job or am ungrateful for the opportunity.  Just means I am done doing this for right now.  And that should be OK as long as it is OK with Lee.   (If this assignment were to end today, I don’t know if I would want to take another one to get us to April 1st or not. On the one hand, we would get a nice long break, but on the other hand, in my head, the time from January 1 to April 1 was all about hunkering down and not spending money and trying to set as much as possible aside. The weather is nice, we have hookups, and we’re not doing too badly. But then again, we’re going to be working from May until September, and then from from late October through December, so maybe a little vacation wouldn’t be a bad idea. – Lee) 

Because at the end of the day the only two people we need to make happy are ourselves.  It’s important we don’t lose sight of that, because it is the number one reason we chose to do this in the first place.  Oh and here’s Lee Vulture/Roadkill pictures.  If this sort of thing grosses you out, you probably want to skip down to Day 49.

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I photoshopped out the roadkill on this one. Fair warning the next have it all

I photo-shopped out the roadkill on this one. Fair warning the next pics have it

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Big group

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I couldn’t figure out what it was at first

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But once I saw the tail I knew it was an opossum.

 

Day 48

Yesterday was one of the slowest days we have had so far with only 32 entrances/exits and none for me after 9pm.  It was nice and we both enjoyed it.  We also were looking forward to another slow day because folks had told us the fracking shouldn’t start until next week.  But Sunday morning gravel trucks started coming.  They are finishing building the road from the gate to the fracking pond/water well and Lee had 127 gravel trucks between 8am and 6:30pm.  He went back to the system we used when we first started (leaving the gate open and using a tick sheet) so it wasn’t that bad, but it did require someone to sit outside most of the day.  Thankfully the heat broke and it was very pleasant outside, if a little dusty from the gravel trucks.  Once again we didn’t mind the trucks it was that we had no idea they were coming.  Neither did the guys from the construction company because we talk to them every day and they never mentioned it.  Apparently there is a master schedule but only a few people see it and even the construction company (who have been with us from the beginning) only are notified about their particular tasks.

As a project manager I find this pretty interesting, because it seems to be a well run project, with minimal downtime, but I was always a fan of everyone being on the same page for maximum efficiency. Still I can’t argue with the results and it is clear someone is at the helm of this thing.  After I took my shower I spelled Lee and sat aside and read a book.  Since I didn’t have to get up every time, it was fine.  Lee printed and scanned the final documents for our taxes so we can email it and we are both glad that is done.  Also I finished the rough draft of the recipe book (except one last recipe) and Lee spent a couple of hours proofing it for me.  I have made shrimp stir fry twice in the last week and can’t quite get the sauce right.  I am going to try one more time tomorrow (with pork) and then punt and try to make Chicken Marsala.  It’s a little frustrating being this close and having the last recipe not be quite right.  But what are you going to do.  No sense cutting corners at this point.

The trucks completely stopped at 7:30pm so I should have another quiet night, which is great.  I got the feeling more gravel trucks would be back tomorrow, so we will see how long it takes them to finish that road. It was a nice quiet night and would have been perfect for watching the Oscars but for some reason the only TV station we can’t get out here is ABC.  Since we are getting close to the end of the month we are keeping a sharp eye on the data so I guess I’ll just have to pick up the best clips through social media.   Finally, here is last week’s report.  As you can see there was a huge difference between Monday and Sunday, hence the shift in the tone of the blog posts.  It really goes to show the extreme variation of workload with this job.

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Day 49

Today was another nice slow day and there were no gravel trucks so hooray!!  We had a chance to watch the best bits of the Oscars, and WOW, what an ending!  I am so glad I stayed off social media all day, though, because it was a huge surprise when I saw it.  I  have to say even though I am not a huge fan of Warren Beatty (too pretty for me) I felt bad for him, and thought he handled the situation about as well as could be expected considering the circumstances.  My absolute favorite part was when they brought the tour bus people in.  That was absolutely charming and I loved how the folks in the front row handled that.  If you didn’t get to see the Oscars or don’t care much you should find a clip of that.  I’ve never seen anything quite like it on TV and it was a great moment that really showed we are all just people, no matter what we do for a living.

Oh, and finally I got the stir fry recipe right.  Hooray!  So that’s my last recipe, and I spent the evening putting that in, doing one more look and then sending it out to the folks who contributed recipes for their review. If you sent me a recipe and it wasn’t in the book, no worries, I have printed all of the recipes people have sent me and will be working my way through them for the next recipe book. This time it will be much easier because I know the format and what I am looking for.   Next I need to go back and go through the steps to publish, which I did some preliminary research on prior to starting to use this program.  That was way back in June so I honestly can’t remember all the specifics.  I’m just super excited to have it almost finished and overall I feel really good about it.

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Stir-fry Success!!!


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First Time Gate Guarding – Days 42 -43

Day 42

Although the crazy high levels of traffic stopped around 6:40pm there continued to be what I consider medium heavy regular levels of traffic.  And around 9pm the storm came in.  There was wind, rain, thunder, and lightning and pretty quickly I opened half the gate and watched from inside.  Personally I draw the line on opening a metal gate when there is lightning, but I did make a note of opening the gate and why and the time period impacted on our daily log. Anyway, I brought as much stuff inside as I could and left the rest under our awning.  Thankfully the wind was coming from the backside of the rig, so there was a little bit of wind protection.  It had been humid all night, but I was still surprised by how fast the storm came.  It ended up being one of the worst storms we’ve been in so far and when the couple of trucks came I just popped out my head and waved them through.

At one point I thought I should turn off the computer because we might lose power but then I remembered we were on a generator.  I guess the generator could get struck by lightning but in that case our surge protector would hopefully save us.  Lee managed to sleep through it. Surprising because we were shaking and the thunder and lightning cracks were pretty loud.  He had a long day though and was pretty tired.  Me too and for the first time in a while I didn’t do anything with the recipe book.  Didn’t cook dinner or even work on the page proofing, just looked at some picture I had taken earlier in the day and watched some TV.

Around 11pm the lightning was pretty far off in the distance so I went ahead and shut the gate.  I got a couple of trucks after that and switched to my hiking boots because things were a bit muddy.  It continued to rain on and off a bit but nothing like before and thankfully traffic slowed way down as well.  As of midnight we had gotten 203 trucks which is the busiest day we have had in a while.  Still looking back over my records we have had days that were close to this busy in the past but they didn’t feel anything like this.  Again I have to contribute that to being required to open and shut the gate every time, so if you decide to ever try this out I would absolutely ask that question.  I know we will.

Another storm started up around midnight and this time I left the gate open until 3am.  There was less wind, but lots of lightning and I just wasn’t willing to risk it. The rain finally stopped right around the time Lee woke up and I gratefully went to bed.  He said he didn’t sleep well because of the wind and thunder, but I was out like a light.  When I woke up at 11:30am, I saw it was sunny outside but the ground was pretty soggy.  I asked Lee how his morning had gone and so far he had done 120 trucks.  He was in much better spirits though because he had solved a couple of problems.  By opening the gate door inward, trucks were able to make the turn much easier and since many license plates are totally covered with mud he learned we can search on the truck number (for the semi’s at least).  He was actually trying to wipe off license plates when one truck driver passed that piece of information along and it makes things so much easier.  Wish we would have known that little tidbit from the beginning.

He also had some excitement during the morning when a truck trailer carrying one of the modular offices got stuck in the mud.  For the 30 minutes it was stuck he was directing traffic in, and directing traffic down to the ranch next door and managed to keep things going.  Finally they sent down a tractor to pull the guy out, but Lee seemed pretty pleased by how he handled that..as well he should.  My first question?  Did you take any pictures?  His answer yes of course, I live my life for your blog.  There may have been some sarcasm in that, but hey, I got both pictures and this little video. As you can see that had to make really wide turns to avoid the mud puddle and one didn’t make it.
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By the time I was covering for lunch it wasn’t that bad, but around the gate are was still pretty slippery.  I changed into my hiking shoes and made sure I stepped VERY carefully when crossing the gate.  One of the downsides to opening the gate inward is you have to cross the grate to grab it to close it again, but since it helps the truck drivers from having to do a three-point turn it is definitely the right thing to do.

One interesting thing that happened while I was covering for Lee was one of my favorite guys stopped and said he couldn’t believe they were making us log trucks in and out on rig move day.  We said we weren’t told any differently, but the real problem was opening and shutting the gate.  He started to say, “Well the ranch owner…” but I immediately said nope, not the ranch owner but a VP at the oil company.  Our ranch owner doesn’t care during the daytime, but this is coming from the executive level.  The look on his face was interesting, so here is my interpretation.  I think, and this is totally speculation, that these mandates happen on occasion but many foremen ignore them or selectively suspend those rules.  I think our original company man would have done just that if he was still here, but our new company man (who is much younger) is a stickler for the rules.  I don’t blame him for that, by the way, he has a job to do and I know from personal experience sometimes it’s safer to just follow the rules as written.  That being said, it does show how much your relationship with the company man can impact the job conditions. We don’t have a bad relationship with him, but it’s nowhere near the level of communication we built with the original person we were dealing with.  In any event it’s just a couple more days and it’s definitely bearable at this point.  It helps quite a bit that the weather is reasonable and it’s not super windy!

I took over for Lee at 3pm and from 3pm -6:15pm I had 62 trucks.  That’s roughly 20 an hour and the pace was pretty intense.  It was ok when 3-4 would come through at the same time, but mostly it was a truck, close the gate, sit down, and then another truck.  Tiring.  I don’t know how Lee did it for 7 hours straight today before I woke up.  Around 6:30pm one of the bosses told me that they hoped they would be finished with the rig move around noon tomorrow.  Since we will be on our third day of a supposedly 1-1/2 day job that’s kind of a bummer, but it was nice to get some news.  And most of the guys were really nice today.  Several stopped and said hi, and one brought me an ice cream cone from Dairy Queen which was incredibly sweet.  And I think those guys definitely had the worst of it.  Their trucks would come back from the round trip just covered in mud, at least over here it has been somewhat dry.  For the first time in a long time Lee and I actually got into a small argument of sorts today.  I think we are both just tired and needed to go to separate corners for a while…it happens.

Around 7:30pm a huge group of 9 trucks came out all together and headed to the other site, and after that traffic did slow down.  I am really hoping for a super slow night and Lee went to bed at 8pm.  Too tired to even try to watch Walking Dead.  It’s weird how tired this can make you.  Even though it’s not physically demanding, the need to be “on alert” constantly and the up/down and in/out of the rig does add up on a busy day. My shoulders are pretty stiff, so I am going to break out the heating pad and soak some of it up.  As of 8:30pm we did 234 trucks, which is plenty.  Since this is a new work week those complete numbers will be on next week’s report, but for right now here are the numbers from last week.

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Day 43

I woke up and the rig move was almost done.  We had also gotten our water and a new sensor set which seems to false less often. Plus it comes with a light flashing only feature which is awesome because that noise really gets on my nerves sometimes.    By 1pm the last move trucks had left and the only folks on site  are the well guys who are pretty awesome.  We are hearing it might be as long as a week of cleanup until the fracking begins, which would be awesome as we are both excited about having a little break.  Anyways, here are the numbers from the last few days.

  • Sunday – 219 Entrances/Exits
  • Monday – 249 Entrances/Exits
  • Tuesday – 63 Entrances/Exits 

Total – 531 Entrances and Exits 

That’s a lot of trucks.  The timing is pretty great because in order to finish the recipe book I really need some time.  Lee went to the library to upload some videos this morning so after writing this I am going to really focus.  What’s left?  I need to finish one more recipe, and I am committed to getting a good shrimp stir-fry recipe!  I have probably made 8 different recipes so far and none of them are quite right, so I found an authentic Chinese cookbook at a second-hand store and I am going to try to use those sauce recipes and then tweak them for ingredients people can actually get.   Wish me luck!

I also need to get some pictures of the kitchen and that means it needs a good cleaning!!  Since the dust accumulation is pretty crazy at this point (layer of dust on the toaster for heavens sakes) that alone could take a while.  No photoshop tricks because I want to show what an actual used RV kitchen looks like.  That being said I am going to show it clean.  And yes Lee before you make a comment sometimes it is super clean.  Usually when we have people over, but hey that counts!  It’s true I am a messy cook and the more complicated the recipe the messier I am.  It’s part of my creative process so don’t judge 🙂

And finally I need to proof read all 80 recipe pages.  That’s going to be a chore as each page needs reviewed and the layouts need adjusted.  The template does come with a standard layout but the recipes all have different amounts of ingredients and steps so each page layout needs tweaked so it is centered on the page.   Not really my idea of fun, but it needs to be done so I might as well get to it.  Something like that would be very difficult for me to do with constant interruptions so I am really looking forward to some long stretches between cars.  So I have the new desktop rolled out and the monitor pulled forward.  I am going to get into the zone while Lee is gone!

I had just settled in and was formatting the first recipe when I got a text from our neighbor down the road.  There is an uncontrolled fire about 14 miles southwest of where we are. I texted Lee who said he saw the smoke when he went into town but thankfully it is on the other side of the interstate.  It’s pretty windy today though and things have dried out pretty quick so it’s good for all of us to keep an eye on.  That’s one of my favorite parts about this gate guarding community is folks look out for each other.  After that though I settled in and tried to learn the interface.  It does a lot of things which is good and bad, because you have options but you have to handle it very delicately.  It took me about 2 hours to format the first 10 recipes but a chunk of that was learning curve.  Hopefully that will be a little quicker as I go along.

And Lee and I had a great night.  We watched two-hour long TV shows and only had to get up once during each.  Way better than the 6 times the other night.  And we sat aside a little bit and watched the bats.  I’ve been meaning to mention this but keep forgetting about it because I can’t take pictures but at night we have several bats that fly all around our RV and eat some pretty big moths that are attracted to the spotlights.  Normally this would freak me out, but because the lights are above us and the bats stay above the roof of the RV and we can see them swooping but they never come close.  They are really fast and acrobatic, and it’s become some of our entertainment to watch them for a while.  So I start my days with vultures and end with bats and am finding beauty in both.  Texas is definitely having an impact on me!


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First Time Gate Guarding – Days 40 – 41

Day 40 

We found out yesterday (from our neighbor at the ranch next door) that our drilling rig will be leaving here Sunday and Monday.  When I asked what came next, I was told that for us it would be the fracking stage.  We have seen an increase in new traffic over the last few days.  Lots of salespeople, lots of new vehicles to put into the system, but for whatever reason we both seem to be settling into the new traffic program.  I think it’s just a big shock when you jump from 70 trucks a day to 120, and since there is never any notice, it’s hard to be mentally prepared for it.  But then the higher volume becomes the new norm and you simply adjust your behavior accordingly.  For me that involves reading more books and staying outside more.  For some reason I get more annoyed when I am doing something electronic and definitely it’s worse when you have to go from inside to outside.  The temperature is absolutely cooperating with this as well, as the wind has died down and temps are in the 60’s and 70’s.

I was also pretty entertained by lots of bird activity across the street.  Lee said he saw an ATV over there so maybe they dropped some more carcasses but there were some turkey vultures going nuts in that area.  They were a bit camera shy, but I did get a couple of good pics and it was a nice thing to look at while I was waiting on trucks.  I know people have a bias against certain carrion eaters, but when they were flying I thought they were quite beautiful.  Took around 100 pictures so I did get a few good shots and my first ever of a turkey vulture.  I always love getting new birds. Plus you gotta love digital cameras.  I am old enough to remember film, when you just couldn’t afford to take that many shots.

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Loved the beautiful white wings

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Before you judge mentally remove the red head and replace with a white fuzzy head. Not that dissimilar from the pictures we took of bald eagles this summer.

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Really beautiful in flight

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I walked over and grabbed a couple of shots when they were on the ground

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But they quickly moved into the trees when they saw me. This one was making a really pretty cooing noise

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This Crested Caracara was pushed further back from the gate area.

Like I said quite a bit going on.  I saw the Turkey Vultures, Crested Caracara, and a couple Harris Hawks in the same general area.  The Turkey Vultures definitely had the size advantage so they were claiming the closest trees, but the others were hovering close by.  And yes it is kind of gross, but they do perform an essential function.  I personally appreciate it because the  rotting flesh smell is almost totally gone from over there. So whatever they are doing it is working.

It’s funny I said we were getting used to the busier pace because of course as soon as I said that things slowed way down.  Lee ran a report and I only had 4 trucks between 9pm and 4am last night.  It does feel a bit like the calm before the storm though, so I’m interested to see what tomorrow will bring.  Since they are moving the rig to the ranch next door we are not sure what that will do to our end date.  Lee and I put together a rough travel plan today that will take us from here to Vegas to Oregon to Indiana, Columbus, Keene, and then to South Carolina.  There is lots of ambiguity in the schedule, which would have driven me nuts in the past, but it isn’t bothering me at all now.  If we have extra time we know where we want to spend it, and if not then that’s OK too.

Quick Update:  I am glad we started planning because I talked to the company man this evening and he said all three wells here are drilled. That’s how out of the loop I am, I thought they would be doing them start to finish sequentially.  I guess it makes more sense to drill all three at the same time, so the next steps are a week for cleaning up, 1-1/2 weeks of fracking, then another 4-5 days cleanup then done.  That puts us out earlier than expected, but those are also very rough estimates and anything could happen. On the one hand we could use the extra money if it goes long, but on the other hand we haven’t had any time off to speak of since last April.  We could use a break.  Willing to play it out however it works for us.  Even if this one ends the ranch owner does have another ranch and they could send us to that location.  Like I said, either way is fine but want to be prepared for any eventuality, which means taxes and recipe book are 100% the priority for the next three weeks.

Day 41

Well the busy is definitely here.  Lee took over 100 trucks between 4am and noon when I woke up, and he looks a little harried.  It’s not just that most are big trucks, but also that some are turning right to go to the ranch down the street and others are turning left.  Plus it’s super dusty today and in the short time I was covering for him while he ate lunch, I got clouds of dust in the face several times.  Most drivers try to slow down as they near the gate, which helps, but some sort of slam on the breaks right before the gate and of course a cloud of dust ensues.  We are hearing rain tomorrow, which I am on the fence about because it would help with the dust but not sure I want to try this out if it’s a mud ball.  Maybe we will get lucky and just get enough rain to help with the dust but not enough for mud.

I offered to give Lee extra time for lunch, but he was committed to barreling through, so I decided to leave for a bit.  There is a small food place that has inexpensive sandwiches down at the local truck stop that everyone says is really good so wanted to try that out.  (Turns out they close at 2pm on Sundays and I just missed it so I got Burger King instead).   Plus I wanted to get some pictures of Dilley and since we need bread and I have to go to town anyway I thought why not now.  I made great progress on the recipe book last night and finished the Income/ Expense section of the taxes so I am going to give myself a little treat.  It’s funny though when being in a place is open ended you tend not to do things because there is always another day.  As soon as you know things might end soon there is a flurry of activity.  That is one of the downsides of staying in one place for too long, it can lead to complacency.   When we are traveling more frequently we find we make the most of every day.

Picked up these yummy cupcakes for 50 cents a piece to support the local cheerleading group

Picked up these yummy cupcakes for 50 cents a piece to support the local cheer leading group

When I came back Lee was even more cranky.  He was up to 150 trucks and felt like he hadn’t had more than a few minutes between trucks all day.  And before I go further, yes, we knew this was coming, but knowing a thing and being mentally prepared for it are two different things.  We fully realize there are lots of ifs in this equation.  If it was a twelve hour shift and we had some time off, if we were getting paid more money, if our need was greater and all factors that could change the way we feel.  But right this second at least, it’s simply not worth it.  Hopefully this is a blip and we can go back to a more sedate pace, but that’s not for sure.  We definitely are committed to seeing this assignment through in any event and then making our evaluation, but for us at least there is a cumulative effect. I’m going to stop now and go relieve him early.  It’s a little after 3pm and he usually ends at 4pm but I think he’s had enough.  I’ll let you know how my night goes.

So it’s been an hour and it’s been super busy.  Trucks every 3-5 minutes and I am covered in dust.  I have been sitting out there trying to think about what this is so different than the first few days when the volume was about the same and I figured it out.  Then we didn’t have to open or close the gate, or log trucks in, just count them.  Most of these are in the database thankfully, but that takes more time.  We had a water truck that was coming through throughout the day when they were building the road and that helped with the dust.  Now not only are we getting our dust but also lots from the main road where the increased traffic going to the other gate.  Also this time people are going both left and right and the folks turning right are making a really tight turn which has brought them very close to hitting the gate several times.  And of course the gate.  Early on it was open constantly so there was minimal getting up and down.  Now we open and shut it between almost every truck (unless we see one on the road coming towards us) so for me it’s read a couple pages of my book, get up, get a face full of dust opening the gate, log them in/out while they are pulling through, shut the gate, sit down start reading and repeat.

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Almost all big trucks taking equipment to the other ranch and then coming back empty

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A few of these, not sure what they are for

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The trucks had a tight turn to make that left

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That cloud of dust comes right up to the date and gets me almost every time

On the plus side, they completely removed that loud pump and the hose so hopefully I will never have to listen to that again!!  It was funny though because when the guy came to get the water hose, it was buried so deep across the road he had to pull out a hand saw and cut it.  Cracked me up.  Plus he was a cutie and very nice.  Called me ma’am a lot.  Alright I am going to leave this here, and get back outside.  At 6:20pm they said they were done for the day!!  Hallelujah.  They will be back tomorrow though and we will see what that brings.

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First Time Gate Guarding – Days 38 -39

Day 38

Last night was nice and slow, which was good, because it got down to 40 degrees.  It actually felt warmer than the night before though because the wind finally died down.  After doing some recipe book work I watched some TV and finished up this mini-series I have been watching Leah Remini Scientology and the Aftermath. I only started watching this because I am a fan of hers and think she is a straight shooter, but I ended up being really impacted by what I saw.  If you haven’t seen it, I definitely recommend it. Judge for yourself, but I think what they are doing is important.  On the lighter side, I have also been watching an older show called Fringe.  People had recommended it to me, so I decided to try it and now I am hooked.  There are 5 seasons, so it’s a great way to kill some time in the early mornings.  If you like science fiction set in a modern day setting, I really recommend this show as well.

Lee has been non-stop all day (well, with stops to open and close the gate) on one long compilation video of a diving trip we took with his parents and our kids to Anthony’s Key Resort in 2001. Most of the videos he’s been editing have minimal edits, just to remove stretches where nothing is happening, or particularly bad camera work, but he felt inspired by the diving video.  So he took about 20 hours of underwater footage shot by himself and his step-dad, and made a highlights reel with Pirates of the Caribbean music as part of the sound track.  When he’s doing commercial work he can’t use copyrighted material without getting legal clearances, but since this is only for family he can, and it adds some fun to all the underwater stuff, which didn’t have sound anyway.  When he’s doing something creative he really gets in the zone and it’s like there is a bubble around him.  That’s not the best scenario in such a small space, but I try to give him as much space as I can when he is feeling creative.

Watching the video made me remember the trip and I briefly mentioned I would like to go again.  He looked at me kind of strangely and said “You can’t really plan a $5,000 vacation when you are only making $125 a day”.  OK, good point.  For a moment it bummed me out, but then I remembered that we rarely did things like that.  We took some nice vacations with the kids (Grand Canyon, Washington DC, Prince Edward Island, and Honduras), but those were almost always in conjunction with parents or friends.  The entire time we were married, as a couple we took one vacation to Prince Edward Island, twice  scuba diving to Honduras, once to Florida,and  twice to Vegas.  Since we didn’t live near our family, we had to combine our vacations with our parents having the kids in another state so it was always pretty complicated.  We took separate vacations a few times.  I went to Hawaii with my mom and Lee did some traveling out west, but together there were relatively few instances.  We saw more traveling for work and extending our schedules through some weekends, and both of us got to see some pretty cool stuff that way, but never together.

It wasn’t just the kid thing though.  Vacations are expensive and when you only have a limited amount of time to take them, there is quite a bit of pressure to get them right.  You lose a day to travel, then a frenzy of activity (Lee used to vacation like it was an Olympic sport), then travel day home and a day to recuperate. The only time I can ever remember really relaxing on a vacation was when my mom, sister, and I went on a cruise together.  Don’t get me wrong, the other vacations were enjoyable experiences, but the combination of being a mom on vacation, working on vacations, and one notable case where Lee got a compression fracture to his back on vacation rarely added up to stress-free time.

And I think it’s important to mention that, because even in situations like these where we are experiencing a long stretch of time with nothing “fun” happening, we know this job will end.  No, this lifestyle is not a vacation, but it has more pure “vacation moments” than my old life ever had.  Part of that of course is we have changed.  It’s just us now, which makes it easier and neither of us feel that we have to cram every experience into every moment.  This was a major change for Lee in particular and certainly didn’t happen overnight, but after 2+ years on the road we can definitely savor the moments.  If nothing else, watching these videos he’s making has helped me remember that.   I never had much of a poker face and watching these videos reminds me of how things used to be.  That’s important, because I (like most people) tend to romanticize the past and it’s easy just to remember the highlight reel.  That doesn’t mean I don’t want to go back and scuba dive again.  I would love to go especially now that we have changed our mindset on how we explore the world. (My parents used to go Anthony’s Key at least once a year, for probably twenty years, and we went with them three times. Once with the kids, again without the kids, and that second time was when I fractured my back. Buy me a slice of pie and ask me about it, it’s a great story. Anthony’s Key is really one of the best kept diving secrets in the world, and I’d love to go back again, especially with my parents. It’s not as much as $5,000, the prices are actually pretty reasonable, considering it’s all inclusive and includes a TON of diving. Actually, now  that I’m writing this I see on their website that for 2017 they’re offering a two-for-one promotion that includes the room, three meals a day (their food is spectacular, and plentiful), 3 dives a day for the week, 2 night dives, all for $1400 per couple. And you can get a direct flight to Roatan out of Miami for about $600. Hmmmm. I might not be in a big hurry to spend $5000 on a vacation, but I would definitely spend $2500 for a week at Anthony’s Key. Anyway, if you dive, this is the place to go, hands down. If you don’t dive, research it carefully. It’s a very nice place, but it caters to divers, so you might be bored. If you do go, please tell them Lee & Tracy said
“Hi!” –  Lee) 

Traffic has been pretty steady and I did ask one of the regular drivers what phase we are in.  They are still drilling, and the big trucks are either bringing in drill bits or taking away the dirt and oil mixture they are uncovering.  Frakking is the next phase, and we are not there yet, but we are seeing more salespeople coming in and out so maybe that will be soon.  The pump out for our tank was a day late this week (they had a truck break down) so it required some conservation towards the end as both the portable tank and our grey tank was full.  I opened the grey tank once he started sucking the stuff out so we were totally empty.  He asked me how many extra gallons I had put in, which I think was kind of silly since they were late, but what are you going to do?  He also mentioned that the guy at his last stop had come out of his RV and started yelling at him because he had parked to close to his antenna.  Honestly this guys job is crappy enough (no pun intended) I don’t think he deserves to get yelled at.

Things did slow down a little so we finally tried to watch Walking Dead tonight, but  unfortunately I had to get up for trucks 6 times in the 42 minutes of the show.  One of the problems with scheduling something is you really never know when traffic will come, and tonight unfortunately the time we selected was somewhat busy.  I still enjoyed the show, but it definitely detracts from the experience and although I know that’s the job it’s still a bummer.  I also worked on the recipe book and discovered quite a bit about fonts.  I am using a program called Book Wright and it has been very helpful because it shows errors as you are putting together your book.  I vaguely knew that different tupes of fonts were better for ebooks than printed books but I did not know some fonts are copyrighted and others were not.  The list you are given shows all available fonts and unfortunately I chose Garamond for the recipe names and then found out tonight that is a copyrighted font.  Go figure.  So I went through and changed the font on all the titles.  Kind of a pain, but better than paying royalties on a font. And I chose Arvo in case you are interested which seemed easy to read yet slightly whimsical.  Font selection is definitely more art than a science.  Where is Brick from The Middle when you need him???

Day 39

Before I start on today  I wanted to mention there had been a lot of discussion in the community about a very cheap rural data plan with AT&T.  Lee and I discussed it but when he called this morning they had already closed the loophole.  Apparently AT&T sent a memo out and only people with a home address in one of a few select rural zip codes is now eligible.  A couple people we know got in on the deal before it was too late and since that would have saved us $200 a month we are a bit bummed.  Still, I really think it’s for the best.  Personally I am not a huge fan of these back door deals because you never know when they will be yanked and since we are grandfathered in on a plan at least we know we are in good shape.  That’s just us though.  Lots of people successfully get creative in that area, and good for them.  It’s just never worked out well for us in the past.  I am holding out hope that continued pressure from the Millennials will solve this problem once and for all.  Verizon has taken a step in that direction and given time I think the market pressure will resolve the issue.  In the meantime we will just keep doing what we are doing.

OK, back to the day.  I woke up a little depressed this morning.  I start to get “hitch itch” whenever we are in a place for this length of time and sometime it bums me out.  So I had a cup of coffee and sat down to read our blog comments and what I saw really changed my morning.  First, we heard from a couple we had met at the last RV-Dreams rally we attended.  Bert and Kat have been on the road for the last 8 months and just posted their financials to date.  They have done a fantastic job of controlling costs and they have volunteered in 15 of the last 17 states they have been in.  Volunteering on the road is something most people want to do, but it can be complicated, so I was really interested to see that.  Plus they are a great couple and I was so happy to hear from them and have a way to follow what they are doing.  If you want to check out their financial summary check here.

Then I read from Don about a recent post by Wheeling It comparing 10 couples.  That sounded interesting so I went and checked it out. Nina did an excellent job of breaking everything down and showing comparisons between long time full-timers and there is quite a bit of variation, which I think is a realistic view.  There are so many factors that go into an individual budget it’s not surprising that the numbers vary so much.  Anyway, I was interested, and if you are in research mode I definitely recommend you check it out.  You can see it here.

OK cool.  The coffee was kicking in, I was enjoying myself, and then I got a comment from “Silver” which said, “It is time that you quit acting like a couple of kids that don’t get there way.” My mental response, which occurred in rapid succession, was the following:

  • Wow…alrighty then
  • There may be some truth in that
  • Screw you

That all happened in milliseconds, so now that I had had a little time to think it through let me break it down a little.

  • I am really lucky that almost all of my comments are positive.  Seriously, I have only had a handful that were on the rough side and usually even those come from a place where the person is trying to help.  But since I was barely awake and had little coffee I was not mentally prepared for this one. Stung a little.
  • Which led me to thinking there was some truth in it.  And to be fair there probably is.  I am self aware enough to realize that words only have power when they strike a nerve, so obviously a nerve was struck.  So I thought about it a little.  First off, you have to take the “kids” part our of it, I mean seriously I am 50 years old, but because we are younger than many people in the lifestyle we do get that sometimes.  Since it’s almost always from a good place I try to ignore that mostly, plus it isn’t the worst thing in the world to be a kid.  The second part about not getting our own way…well that is true. This is absolutely not what we envisioned when we started this.  In some ways it is better, in others it is worse, but sitting here at this dusty gate day after day was certainly not our dream picture when we first started out.  I suppose that some people get into this lifestyle with a very realistic picture of what they are getting into, but we were new to all of it and just didn’t know what we didn’t know.  There was also a certain amount of self-delusion as well in the beginning.  I will only speak for us, but I think a certain amount of that is necessary to make a change this big.
  • Which leads me to the screw you.  First off, when folks make comments like this it would be nice to have some idea of who they are. If you are going to offer judgement on my life then I need to know something about you to put that judgement into context.  Without that knowledge I am sort of forced to review the comment in a vacuum and it’s hard not to just dismiss the negative out of hand.  But I really try not to do that, because I believe wisdom comes from unexpected places, so I try to at least think about it.  So the screw you in this case is really based on the statement in conjunction with our situation.  And as these comments become more frequent as we pick up more readers, it’s probably about time I go on record how I feel about comments like this.

We voluntarily changed our lives.  We weren’t in dire financial straits and this isn’t the result of a series of bad decisions.  We chose to do it then and every day we stay on the road continues to be a choice.  I started writing about it mainly because I wanted to pay it forward, and since the best responses have come from my most honest blog posts that’s where I try to live.  It’s not always easy, and balancing between being  honest and being too negative is tough. Mainly because what I am interested in exploring usually involves some conflict, either internal or external. That being said I love that this feels like a conversation.  I love that people reach out to me, publicly or privately, I can’t even tell you how much that means to me.  Even though the medium is the internet it feels much more personal than that to me.  So here is what I would say to Silver if they said something like this to me in person.  “You do know that I don’t get paid for this right?  I made $369 last year, and so far this year I have made $99.  As much as I appreciate the support, balance that against the hundreds of hours I spend and obviously this is a labor of love.  You might say since I am am putting it out there, you get to judge.  That’s fair and part of the reason I do this.  You get to judge how something like this would impact your life. Think about what you would do in a similar situation.   What you shouldn’t do is judge me.”

But hey, I get it.  I’ve been guilty of it many times myself. I’ve been mean spirited and felt superior.  I have looked at others’ bad choices or bad luck and thought “I would never have done that”.  We are all human and we all fall prey to it.  What I rarely do is communicate those emotions to the people I am feeling them about.  It has happened on occasion and every time I do I regret it.  I regret it because it says so much more about me than them.  I regret it because there is ALWAYS some piece of information that I am not privy to that changes my perspective. I regret it because I consider myself a Christian and that behavior is the antithesis of my Christian principles. Mostly I regret it because it doesn’t help the person at all.  It puts them in a position where their only response is to say “Screw you”, and rightly so. If your intention was to have me think about something or to talk about something, you might want to find a better way to communicate that.  If you are just throwing stones, then I would really like to see the glass house you are living in.  And for the record, saying it through the internet doesn’t change any of that.   All that being said  I will say Silver that this is not all about you.  I’ve been sitting on this mini-rant for a while and unfortunately your comment brought it out of me. I am sure you are a perfectly nice person and your heart was in the right place.  And I do appreciate your reading and caring enough about what I wrote to try and say something about it. Take care.

(I’ll go ahead and throw my perspective in here as well, since I am one of the kids in question. The whole point of the blog is to maybe help someone out there who is where we were when we first started thinking making this decision. For both of us, a blog like this one would have helped us avoid some moments of weapons-grade crazy.

I mostly agree with everything Trace has said, although I think she’s letting it bother her more than it should. My immediate reaction to comments like that is usually annoyance, and is usually followed quickly with wondering if maybe I’m taking it the wrong way. It’s impossible to tell with crazy internet people, isn’t it? But in this particular case my first thought was “Who the hell likes NOT getting their way???” Don’t most of us like to have things the way we want them? Why on earth would anyone be OK with not getting their way. assuming they have a choice?  Didn’t I read somewhere once that I was endowed by my Creator with the right to pursue happiness? Am I to assume that Silver, and his/her ilk are suggesting that I should resign myself to a life of misery and despair and not to seek to improve my lot in life? If so, I’m pretty suspicious of that mentality. After all, what does it matter to them? I’m a lot happier than people think, even though I’m almost always dissatisfied by everything, because (and here’s what I think the secret to happiness is) just about anything anyone ever came up with anywhere at any time was due to a level of dissatisfaction high enough that they decided to do something. Silver might consider that the next time he/she is outside when it starts to rain and reaches for an umbrella. Also, be nice to my wife or I’ll bop you right on the nose, unless you’re a female, in which case I shall make disparaging comments about your shoes. – Lee)


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

First Time Gate Guarding – Day 22 through 24

Day 22 

Our water was refilled today and since we had a full week of water usage we have a better idea of how this is going to go for us.  Turns out just fine.  We get 300 gallons each week and that’s enough to shower every day (roughly 100 gallons), do dishes every day (roughly 70 gallons), drink lots of water (roughly 20 gallons); we are filtering it twice before drinking, and with what is left over we can even do a couple loads of laundry.  I’m glad, because being on water restrictions would make this a lot less pleasant.  We do keep our showers on the short side and then on water day I take an extra long one lol. As Lee mentioned he is starting  a spreadsheet this week so more data to follow. Update:  We never saw our water guy so around 6:00pm I texted and was told he would be here tomorrow evening.  He said based on last weeks usage we should have 120 gallons. I explained we had 15 gallons left because last week was not a full week and we used some of our own fresh storage tank.  His response was “10-4”.  Alrighty then.   I have to say this really bugs me.  Not so much that it’s late, but there was no notice.  Our fresh water tank is full and we consider it our emergency reserve but I think we have a reasonable right to be notified if there will be a delay in services.  We do our job every day with no issues, all they have to do is provide us with clean water, generator fuel, and pump out service.  In the last two weeks there was an issue with the water, a delay to a delivery, and we ran out of generator fuel once.  I’d love to just shrug it off and say these things happen, but I don’t think they would feel that way if I stopped opening the gate one night, so fair is fair. It’s just another example of companies not putting people first, and since this company provides services provided by people you would think they would make taking care of their resources a priority.  Obviously I am annoyed.- Tracy

The other thing that happened today was our Account Manager stopped by with the owner of the gate guarding company.  We hadn’t seen anyone from the company in over a week so I was surprised when they stopped by. She started by giving me a hard time for not wearing my bright yellow vest, but after that things were fine. Update:  I put this out as a question on our Facebook group and apparently everyone wears their vest.  Getting hit by a truck is a real concern and since I work at night I should be extra vigilant.  They also made the point that if you weren’t wearing the vest you wouldn’t get worker’s comp which is another good point.  Alright, I will wear the vest already, but I won’t like it!  – TracyThey observed us for a while and I think it was  obvious we know what we are doing.  We talked a bit and then they left, but before they did the account manager mentioned getting someone to give us a break for a couple of hours so we could spend some time together.  This is something that was mentioned in our orientation as well, but the person who used to do that is now part time.  Since the account manager brought it up I said, “Well, our anniversary is Feb 4th”.  Crickets. It’s OK if the company doesn’t do this, because apparently it’s not a common practice with other gate guarding companies, but if you are not going to do it, then you really should stop mentioning it. They are also unable to give us any idea how long this job is going to last.  It seems like to some extent it is the nature of the business, but I am not sure how people make this work other than sitting around and waiting for new assignments to open up.  Back when folks were making more money per day they could probably afford to have gaps in their schedule, but at this rate the down time must be quite a bit tougher. Comes down to supply and demand though.  As long as more people want the work than there are jobs for them, folks just have to accept the terms, whatever they are.  That’s where building a reputation is important.  Being high on the list for the next open position minimizes the down time.

The common practice (as I understand it) is gate guards are responsible for finding their own relief and paying them.  There are relief lists on the Facebook group and basically folks subcontract with people to cover for a specified time.  It’s a pretty common practice, but usually folks do it so they can take a “vacation” or need some time off for a family issue.  As I have said before, it’s a small community, so often folks have friends they have cover for them.  It doesn’t make much sense for us to go down this path for just a few hours though, so I will probably drive somewhere and get carryout. There is one Chinese buffet in Pearsall, but we could only eat there individually which doesn’t make a ton of sense, and there is a Pizza hut.  Lee wants Chinese and I want pizza so we will see who wins.  Maybe we can get both.

Oh, and I should also mention that there is a library in Dilley.  Apparently it’s small, but it’s there, so we will definitely drop off the books we have ready to donate and  check out their wifi.  Tommorrow is the first of the month and we are both pretty excited to get some new groceries in here.  We’ve had plenty to eat, but are both a little tired of chicken.

Day 23

Well, I think I finally figured out a solution to the temperature issues while sleeping.  Turning the AC on, but at a temperature of 70 degrees, appears to be working well.  The fan runs continuously for white noise, but the AC portion only kicks on when it starts to get hot in the morning.  I slept pretty well with this system last night.  Just in time really, because the temperature levels have risen and it is getting pretty hot in the daytime.  It’s OK when you stay in the shade and there is a slight breeze, but direct sun is a killer.  So Lee and I are breaking down and buying a cheap pop-up canopy shelter.  We looked at several and the weight and size mean it will probably end up being a throwaway item, so we decided on a $46 model we could use temporarily and then let go if we couldn’t find space for it.  Between 2pm and 5pm the sun is merciless and the angle of the sun makes our awning completely ineffectual.  Since this time period is also pretty busy because of “shift change” or people leaving to eat, we really felt like we needed to do something.

I woke up, took a shower, talked to my mom, and then went outside to cover for Lee.  He has a list of errands which include checking out the local libraries wifi and donating books, checking out the Chinese Buffet in Pearsall (that was my idea to help us decide what to have for our upcoming anniversary dinner, and going to Walmart.  The water did come early this morning, which was a good thing, because we ran out about midnight last night.  Thankfully, we have a full tank now and can make that work, but hopefully the point was made that in the future if there will be delays someone really needs to let us know.  I’m doing fine outside, because I have thrown a pair of shorts on and I am trying to get a little sun on my very white legs!  Some vehicles you can stay in the shade but others you need to walk out either because of the angle they stop at or because they need to be added to the database.  A little sun is OK when you’re mostly in the shade and hopefully I can get a little more brown on my legs without burning.

Overall the truck drivers have been really nice to us, but when someone is not it really stands out.  I was inside today helping Lee put away the groceries when a car drove up and honked. Now this rarely happens because we are quick to be outside, but in this case I didn’t see them because I was facing the fridge and Lee was facing the sink.  Anyway, I didn’t mind the honk, but I did mind the “Is anyone working?” comment when we walked out.  I’ve checked this guy in and out at least a dozen times and he’s never had to wait so I thought the comment was pretty unnecessary.  It must have shown on my face though, because when I stated “I was putting away groceries,” he immediately apologized.  I checked him out quickly, pretty steamed at the comment, but when he came back in he actually apologized to Lee again so that made me feel better.  As Lee says, we are not getting paid enough to be treated poorly and since we know we do a good job a little courtesy is called for.

I do recognize I have been a little short tempered the last couple of days, but I don’t think it’s because the job is getting to me or anything.  Then again sometimes those things are hard to tell so it’s probably a good thing that Lee agreed to taking some time off.  We are going to be off on our anniversary from 1pm -7pm and are going into San Antonio to see a movie and grab a quick bite.  It will be good to step away for a little bit and if nothing else get a change of scenery, so even though it will cost us 25% of what we make that day I think it’s worth it.  I also think I need to start getting out a little more in the daytime. I don’t have a ton of time between when Lee eats lunch and when it’s time to start my shift but a couple hours away every now and then would probably do me good.

One good thing; we went to the little library in town and they were thrilled that he brought in so many Louis L’Amour books.  Apparently they are big hits down in here in Texas and the librarians were practically giddy.  My fantasy books weren’t as big as a hit, but hey, some kid in this town must like dragons and stuff!

Day 24

Last night was really quiet which was great, and I had the opportunity to try a new recipe called Quickie Donuts.  It’s so simple I had to pass it along.  Buy a roll of refrigerated biscuits.  Heat some oil (I used vegetable but I am going to experiment) to 375 degrees. Use your fingers to make a small hole in the middle of the biscuit.  Pop in the oil and fry until golden brown (this took less than a minute per side).  Drain and then place in a Ziploc bag of powdered sugar and shake lightly until coated.  Eat Warm.  These aren’t as good as a beignet, but the work to taste ratio is fantastic!  Since the desert section is full, I am adding it to my potluck section.  Potlucks in the RV world are different than the traditional ones you think of when everyone has campers close by.  Lots of times we have multiple grills running or multiple fryers and food is often cooked to order.  I can totally see commandeering a fryer and cooking a bunch of these bad boys up for a little dessert and of course they would be awesome for a breakfast/brunch potluck which we have also done many times.

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Thanks Josh for our little fryer. It’s perfect for these

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Finished product…yummy

The only traffic last night came around 3:10am when the enter chime went off.  I looked outside, but no truck and since they do false alarm occasionally didn’t think much of it.  Then it went off again and I looked out the window and saw either a fox or a small coyote.  It was on the edge of our light circle so it was hard to tell.  By the time I got the camera it was gone, but it was a little unsettling.  No animals have gotten that close to the rig until now (a benefit of somewhat steady traffic), so I will need to be more cautious on slow nights. I did start using our large round light on the side of the rig to enhance the light nearest to us a bit and it worked great.  I was worried it would attract bugs, but they stayed over by the big stadium lights on the generator. The main concern is as it starts to get warmer a snake being in the dark part I walk through to get to the lighted gate area, but this little bit of extra light helped quite a bit.

One other thing that’s kind of weird is we are hardly spending any time together.  In the beginning we were doing pretty good there but as we have settled in it feels a little like two ships passing in the night.  We did sit down to talk about it though and decided breaking up the time we are both awake might work the best so we put together this schedule.   Hopefully this will make things a little more equitable and allow us both to enjoy some time off during the day hours.

  • 4:30am – 12pm Lee working; I’m sleeping
  • 12pm -1pm I’m off; waking up, eating breakfast
  • 1pm -2pm Lee’s off, doing lunch and dishes
  • 2pm – 4pm I’m off, my chance to leave the site and get stuff done
  • 4pm – 6pm Lee’s off
  • 6pm – 8pm We both cover, cook and eat dinner
  • 8pm – 4:00 am I’m working; Lee sleeping
  • 4:00am -4:30am Both cover

Last thing, Lee has finished a few of the home videos and put them out for our kids and relatives to see.  It’s interesting watching those from “here and now” because the “then” me could not have even conceived of a life like this.  Raising three kids, especially in the younger years, is pretty all consuming and my attention and focus was all about that. What’s really cool about it is the conversations it is sparking between our now adult kids.  They remember these events but in the hazy way kids do, and obviously each of their perspectives is pretty narrow.  You can see the seeds of their adulthood in certain moments though, which is fun to watch, and their sister dynamics were at play even when they were very small. If nothing else I love that he is doing this for that reason.  I wish we would have video of when I was a child to watch, but there is precious little of that because no one had that kind of money.   Even for us the purchase of our first video camera was a huge expense ($500 if I remember correctly), but now with camera phones anyone can take videos.

Really the last thing!! We are getting more flies and bees now that the weather is warming up, so Lee is going old school and made a bee catcher with a 2-liter of Mountain Dew.  Since the more expensive traps aren’t working on the bees, we will see how this does.

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First Time Gate Guarding – Day 17 through 19

Day 17

Back to gate guarding.  The weather has been cold and overcast the last couple of days with lows in the night-time of 42.  It hasn’t been god awful though and using the truck as a sitting place helps me at least.  Lee doesn’t like sitting in the truck, he’d rather bundle up and sit outside, but either one works.  The night traffic has slowed down quite a bit, and I stay inside with the doors locked at night, but as soon as the sensors go off I hop out, open the gate, and check people in.  I will mention though that my face is incredibly dry from the wind and dust.  I am a huge fan of LUSH Celestial and my skin is soaking it up.  It must be working because Lee likes my “shiny face” and actually commented it made me look younger.  I don’t want to sound like face cream commercial here, but that exchange actually happened and it was a first time I can ever remember in our marriage him making a comment like that.  I’ll take it!

We haven’t heard anything from our gate guarding company at all these last few days, but our neighbor said generally no news was good news.  Still I like a little feedback and yesterday for some reason it started to come in.  One of the oil men stopped and asked me how everyone was treating me and said if anyone gave me any trouble to write down the license plate and let him know.  Since he was a pretty good guy and spoke with some intensity I thought he was serious about that, but reassured him everyone had been extremely nice to me.

Then a second company person stopped and asked me if we were following them to the next rig.  I said I didn’t know because we were new at this, but thought it was a good sign because following rigs can be a pretty lucrative gig and you get paid for travel time in between.  Then I stopped our lead contact at night and had my first conversation with him.  We aren’t supposed to check company men in, but at this point there are 5 different ones in multiple vehicles so I wanted to make sure that was ok.  He was very nice to me and assured me this was an unusual situation and it was fine if I inadvertently checked one of them in.  I try to just grab their license plates on the way in and out and not slow them down, but one guy in particular is in a white truck and we get so many of those I sometimes don’t wave him through.  It’s all good though and I was glad we at least got to exchange a few words with each other.

It must have made an impression on him though, because for the first time the next day he stopped, got out of his vehicles, and talked to Lee.  He explained that they tried to get in and out as quickly as possible because of the pressure of the schedule, but wanted to take a moment and let us know we were the best gate guards he had worked with.  Wow!  That was nice to hear.  Lee was a little dubious though and asked him why and he explained that most gate guards he had worked with out of their rigs often made people wait to get in the gates.  There were delays as people slowly came outside to the gate or sometimes they would even have to honk their horns to get their attention.  This has only happened to me once (when the sensor wasn’t working properly) so I knew this wasn’t a problem with us.  He said he appreciated that Lee was always outside and the fact that I came outside so quickly at night. I’m sure part of that was him being nice, but still it was great to hear.  Since these jobs are so low paying apparently some folks are a little lax, but we take the same work ethic and apply it to everything we do.  Plus our one job is to check people in and out.  The least we can do is do that well.

The pattern of traffic has shifted though and we have found that we can no longer watch TV together at night.  For right now that’s ok, since we have so many shows we have been wanting to watch without each other.  I really like sci-fi and Lee really likes scary shows and rarely are those shows both of us enjoy. I can see though that if this went on for an extended period of time that could become an issue.  The complete lack of a sex life is also a bit of a bummer.  The traffic patterns are so sporadic from day-to-day that their really isn’t a “safe” time.  I wish we could put a sign up that said come on in be back in 30 minutes, but that’s not really how this works.  I keep hoping it settles into a routine at some point and we could schedule something.  I know romantic right.

But despite these challenges we both really like it.  I’m getting lots of stuff done and really am enjoying the alone time.  We love each other very much, but we’ve been on top of each other nearly non stop for the last two years. A little down time is not the worst thing.  I can see though over time how this could be a problem.  I think that’s why people like to follow rigs, because they get a few travels days off in between assignments.

Day 18 

I haven’t been sleeping well the last couple of days and I think I might actually be getting sick.  Going in and out of the cold night air is not the greatest and temps have been in the low forties the last few days.  During the day time I haven’t been able to turn on the air confitioning fan because it’s too cold so I am not getting the enough white noise to drown out the sound of the pumps.  So I woke up slow and took my time this morning, although I did sit in the truck for an hour and watched the gate when the sun was high and that warmed me up.  I don’t get sick much thankfully, but it’s not surprising everything didn’t catch up with me eventually.

I did feel better later in the evening and started doing a little work.  I’ve gone through all the pictures and now I can start “cleaning them up.”  The pictures are all ones I took, but at the time I wasn’t really thinking recipe book, so many of them need cropped or zoomed in to make them work.   I was also pleased to see today that I am only 12 recipes shy of being finished.  I am planning on having ten recipes per section, which has been harder than you would think, but my sense of order calls out for even numbers lol.  Most of the ones I am missing are in the crock pot/pressure cooker section (amazingly I have 9 out of 10 in deserts done, so looks like Lee is going to eating lots of crock pot stuff.  He really doesn’t like “mushy” or “bland” food much, so that section has been a challenge since Day I am hoping all the extra features in my Instantpot  make good recipes easier though.

Lee’s been working on a project as well.  He brought tons of video footage with us on DVD’s and he’s been going through it and discarding duplicates and cataloging what remains.  Needless to say being married to a videographer lends itself to lots of documentation, and at the end, before we moved, he threw much of it in a box to sort out later.  Hasn’t been much of a chance for that before now, but this job is perfect for a project like that as our computer in our front living room looks out on the gate.  What’s been fun is trying to date some of these videos.  It’s like being a detective and he has been texting people all day for help.  I got into the act when I woke up on Sunday and my favorites were when we dated things by a purse I was wearing, a news story playing on the TV in the background. and finding the corresponding picture and looking at the date stamps.  Once he is all done gathering the footage he wants to start working on videos he was making for the kids.  He finished several years (one DVD per year) awhile back, but then didn’t get the rest done.  Since poor Kasey was only 4 when he stopped making them, she hasn’t got to see quite a bit of her childhood yet.

Lee working on his spreadsheet. The window looks out on the gate

Lee working on his spreadsheet. The window looks out on the gate

This doesn't look like much, but it's thousands of hours of footage

This doesn’t look like much, but it’s thousands of hours of footage

Day 19

The weather was much nicer today and since I dosed myself with some Nyquil  last nightI felt much better. Our company man stopped by and asked us if we were going to continue doing this and we said yes we thought we would do it next winter.  He asked for our card, because he likes our work so much, and said he would give our names to another gate guarding company they work frequently with so they could have it on file.  Awesome!

It was a slow truck day and not much to report, except I did want to mention the bats.  The spotlights behind our rig draw bugs and the bugs draw bats.  They are actually pretty cool as we can see them flying in and out of the light, and since every bug they eat is one less than I have to deal with I am a fan.  They always are flying above our rig  and since we sit outside right beside it no worries about them swooping down on us.  Like I said it’s really pretty neat.

Since nothing else came up I thought I would take a moment and answer a couple of good questions I received in the last posts comments.  It’s nice that people are interested and on slow days it gives me something to talk about, so thanks for that.

First off Dineen asked “Do either you or Lee have experience in filling prescriptions on the road? If that’s too personal, I completely understand. Just wondered how that works and if it’s as much of a challenge as I think it might be without having Medicare.”  I brought a prescription with me on the road and had great success with Walgreen’s online prescriptions.  Your prescription is associated with your home pharmacy, but when it comes up for renewal I get an email and then I can select any Walgreen’s to have it filled.  Super easy and I love the reminder email feature.  I had friends who tried to use Walmart and they had all kinds of issues, because the Walmarts didn’t share the prescription information between stores.  Don’t know if that has changed or not, but I am a huge Walgreen’s fan, even if they aren’t the cheapest around.  I will say though that last year I went to Mexico and bought 2 years supply of my medication at much reduced prices.   This required no prescription and since I went my friend Ellen ,who is a pharmaceutical rep and fluent in Spanish, I felt very comfortable.   I also have a friend who used her prescription in Canada and got her drugs at a much reduced rate.  There are lots of options out there for reduced prices on medication.  None of these medicines were narcotics though.  That is a whole different ball game and I really couldn’t speak to that.

Then Allen asked. “I have been following your blog for a while and I really enjoy reading about your adventure. I have a lot of respect for you guys, making such a big decision to change your life and become full-time RV’rs. However your story about health care costs and using the Affordable Care Act prompted me to leave a comment. Before you went full-time you were earning enough money to support yourselves. Now you are taking taxpayer subsidies for your health care. So as a result of your decision to go full-time, you are not-self supporting, instead now I am paying part of your health care. Why do you think that is right? Please don’t get me wrong. I ask this with respect. I know many people can’t make enough money to support themselves for many reasons. But you could.”  

First off you can ask me pretty much anything and I VERY much appreciate the way in which you asked this.  My answer is a pretty long one (shocking right) and it is something I thought seriously about when making this decision.  First of all, I should say is if there was a reasonably priced un-subsidized insurance plan I would buy it.  I was paying around $361 a month when I had a full-time job and that is roughly what I am paying now.  I have less benefits now and a higher deductible, but I do have wellness care, which is a big deal for me.  My company plan total cost was around $1K a month and the company subsidized $667 a month.  I think that’s pretty common.  And it’s an important point, because I believe that the only way insurance companies can charge those high rates is because employers subsidize our health insurance.  If they didn’t everyone would be paying $1K a month in insurance and frankly how many people could afford that.  More people would drop coverage, the market share would shrink, and prices would eventually go down as demand decreased.  The normal free market price pressure doesn’t happen though because companies subsidize.  Those subsidies don’t come for free though. Labor costs are always calculated to include fringe benefit costs and those burdened labor costs are what drive prices.  Higher benefit costs equal higher priced goods and services to the consumer. So basically your health insurance is subsidized by every purchase one of your customers makes.

Fair enough you might say, but that is our system and by working outside of it you are a drain on the remaining workers and taxpayers.  That may be true, but it turns out I am totally fine with that and here’s why.   I have worked since I was 16 years old, but when I was 25 and had a two-year old and an infant I tried to take a year off work.  It wasn’t only the relative huge cost of childcare, it was also not having anyone I could trust to watch two young children who couldn’t communicate.  Even though Lee was working two jobs we couldn’t make ends meet so for the first and only time we got on WIC ( a program for people with young children providing milk, formula, and baby food) and food stamps.  I felt humiliated.  I was so embarrassed, but it was the only way we could make it work and back then they made you go down to the office once a month (kids in tow) and pick up your food stamps.  Awful.  A few months in I remember calling my mom and crying on the phone to her and she said the most amazing thing to me.  She said she paid plenty of taxes and she would rather have her money go to me than to a war somewhere. Since she came of age during the Vietnam war and worked her entire life, I felt she had earned the right to say that.  Plus as a mom it was a great teaching moment for her and one I’ve never forgotten.  At the end of one year (when my oldest was three and I felt comfortable she could communicate with me if something was wrong) we found a part-time babysitter and Lee and I started working opposite shifts to keep costs down.  We did that for 5 years and were never were on assistance again.

How does that relate to now?  When I started thinking about this lifestyle, the exact same thoughts came into my head.  I want to pay my way, I have always paid my way.  And then I remembered what my mom said.  I have also always paid my taxes.  I have never gotten creative or taken one deduction I didn’t absolutely deserve.  I have never filed a workers comp claim, taken a social security benefit, or taken much in the way of state of federal assistance at all.  So let’s do the math.  Taking a VERY conservative 18% taxes on an average of $50K for the last 20 years and we’ve paid around $180,000 in taxes.  It’s way more of course, but those are solid rough numbers.  It’s currently costing the government roughly $7680 a year to subsidize my healthcare.  Since I am eligible for Medicare in 15 years, I have paid way more than we will be taking out and I am good.  What about social security you ask?  Well since no one can guarantee that will even be there for my, and since I can’t collect until I am 70, I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.  Again I think I am good.   Turns out I’d rather my money went to helping me with healthcare than paying for a war.  I know it’s an oversimplification, but sometimes we get to do that on the big moral questions.

So that’s my answer.  You certainly don’t have to agree with it and trust me I would love for there to be an affordable solution that wouldn’t require a subsidy,  In the meantime, I personally decided I would not be held hostage to a job because of healthcare.  If ACA goes away then we will purchase a catastrophic plan and roll the dice on our health with no wellness care. Thankfully,  I can afford to do that, because thus far we are in pretty good health. If that changes then one of us will have to get a job that provides health insurance. We’ll figure it out.

Thanks again for the question.  It was a good one.  Trace


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