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)


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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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First Time Gate Guarding – Day 16

Day 16

Healthcare has been on my mind lately, and since this blog is meant to be in no way political, I only want to talk about how it impacts us and the lifestyle. This year we joined ACA and purchased an EPO Blue Cross program which is subsidized based on our estimated income.  This is allowing us to pay $361 a month (versus the $900 a month it would cost un-subsidized).  The plan has high deductibles, but does cover wellness care, and this is a big deal for me since I just turned 50.  Right before we hit the road I had a physical, a mammogram, and because I am high risk for breast cancer, an MRI.  At the time I had really great corporate insurance and those tests cost me nothing. Since going on the road, we kept that coverage for the first year, then bought a gap plan with a high deductible but no wellness care, and now ACA.  It’s been two plus years since I had a mammogram and a pap smear and I am also due for a colonoscopy because I am 50.

This is where it gets complicated.  I don’t have a primary care physician anymore because my doctor (who I loved) is in New Hampshire and I haven’t been back their since we left. We also are not wintering in Florida because the costs are too high for us, and there aren’t jobs there that will offset the costs.  Instead we wintered in Arizona last year and this year in Texas and who knows about next year, although gate guarding may definitely be a viable winter option.  So I feel like I should find a primary care doctor here in Texas and try to get these tests done.  Since it is an EPO I don’t have to be referred by a primary care physician and I have been able to verify that any doctor in the Blue Cross/Blue Shield network who takes my insurance will do, but it’s intimidating.  I went online and looked up female OB/GYN’s  in the San Antonio area and there were of course tons.  I found a group of doctors in New Braunfels that looked promising but when I called to absolutely verify that both the doctors and their associated hospitals took my insurance I had a hard time getting an answer and frankly was met with some ambivalence.  My old doctor worked out of the local hospital and they always worked with me to schedule the exam and then the mammogram back to back so I only had to take off one days work, but I definitely didn’t get the vibe that they would work with me when I called.

Plus, even if I can get both the tests run before we leave, what are the odds I can get the colonoscopy in that time frame as well?  And if I could schedule it, who would drive me home? Lee can’t leave the gate when I am gone.  These are the things that can make me crazy about moving around so much.  Something relatively simple in my old life becomes super complicated.  Yes, it was challenging to schedule these appointments in the past because of my work travel schedule, but once I was locked in I could almost always work around that. Now I am facing whether to do it here (not knowing when this job will be done) or do it in Portland, Oregon where I think we will have more time.  (Personally I vote for Portland. Much less complicated on all fronts. I was going to make a joke here about colonoscopies and everything being bigger in Texas, but I decided against it. – Lee)  Either way, the challenges make me want to say “screw it” and leave it for another day.  But I’ve never been a person who does that.  I’ve faithfully had all of my wellness care checks done my entire adult life.  I might get sick at some point, but not because I didn’t do what I was supposed to do.  Now though it is very hard to keep doing that, and ironically when I am at an age when the tests probably matter more.It’s also a little complicated by the fact that we have to get physicals for our summer job.  They will contact us and help us schedule them “wherever we are” and the company pays for it, but I am guessing those physicals will be pretty basic.  Should I try to piggyback onto those exams?  Could I at least use that exam for our new life insurance policies also?  Where the heck will we even be when they call?  See? It’s complicated!

So it’s been on my mind, and I’m trying to figure it out when I went to a blog I read and saw exactly why it’s so important.  Winnie Views is a blog written by a solo full timer who is a cancer survivor.  I find her thoughtful, fun, and I absolutely adore her pictures.  She recently went to Mexico to RV with some friends and then I sort of lost track of what she was doing.  Her latest blog post caught me up.  While in Mexico she was having some serious back pain and went to a local doctor.  They ordered an MRI ($300 versus the $3K we spend here) and found a large tumor wrapped around her vertebrate.  They immediately put her in the hospital and scheduled surgery because she was at risk of becoming paralyzed. Her write-up is thoughtful and very interesting, because in Mexico a member of the patient’s family stays with them and helps with meals and bathing.  She didn’t have family with her so she ended up hiring a nurse’s aide who did a wonderful job taking care of her.  The surgery, which was extremely complicated, went very well but only 90% of the tumor was removed.  Now she has a prognosis of 12-18 months unless chemotherapy can kill the remaining 10%.  What struck me the most was how early detection could have saved her life.  When she was declared cancer free, a full body scan MRI was not done in the US because insurance wouldn’t pay for it.  This cancer could have been with her this entire time or it could be something totally new, she will never know. Her post about her experience is absolutely amazing and reminded me why I get these tests done.  Obviously they don’t 100% guarantee that an issue will be found in time, but it’s certainly better than doing nothing.  So I am going to start again, and see if I can find a doctor who can help me schedule these tests I need in a timely manner and takes my insurance. I’ll let you know as I go along how it turns out.  And Winnie, I am praying for you.

Update:  After writing this post, I looked for a medical center that provided mammograms, OB-GYN services, and Colonoscopies.  I found one in San Antonio where the respective services are on Floors 3, 5, and 4 of the same building.  That along with the fact that several female doctors were listed in their directories is a good sign.  I’ll definitely give them a call tomorrow and see if I get more help.  2nd update.  Lee made the very good point that since I don’t get a day off here at all I may not want to get a colonoscopy when I would need to work that night.  That’s an excellent point and didn’t really occur to me.  So Portland it is.  Lee has a good friend who has lived there for many years so maybe she can make some recommendations.  – Trace

Back to the gate guarding.  I was feeling a little antsy today so left to go to the grocery store and get bread.  I got a little lost and took the long way around and I have to say that Dilley is a very depressed little community.  It’s somewhat surprising to me since the oil is flowing here, but with a few exceptions it is pretty rundown.  It was good to get out though, and the only other exciting thing that happened was they changed the water pump.  The first one kept stopping and was leaking water like crazy, so they replaced it with a smaller version that’s actually a little louder.  This one leaks pretty bad as well, and we have a bit of a mud bog developing behind our rig.  The good news though is they think it will be gone in a couple of days.  Thank heavens, as the extra noise is definitely not welcome.  

The second one leaks as bad as the first but it keeps running

The second one leaks as bad as the first but it keeps running

I also tried to make a cake and have decided I am definitely not a baker.  I love to cook and think I am getting pretty good at it, but baking is just not my thing. And what’s really unfair about it is my sister and my daughter both have out of the home baking businesses.  How in the heck did that gene skip me???   Seriously, do not look for any baked deserts in this recipe book that are not extremely forgiving! I am going to try to make Grandma Murray’s carrot cake though, and I really hope that turns out.  Bill makes the best carrot cake I have ever had, and I simply have to give it a try.  But just in case you think I am being melodramatic, here are the pictures to prove it. 

Cake in a bowl started out very promising

Cake in a bowl started out very promising

 

Flipped it out...not so much. I am going to try this again though with another recipe

Flipped it out…not so much. I am going to try this again though with another recipe

This is the cranberry upside down cake after I flipped it. Maybe I need to stop making things that need flipped!

This is the cranberry upside down cake after I flipped it. Maybe I need to stop making things that need flipped!  Lee, God love him, ate it.

I also received a comment from a reader, and since it may be a question other people are also wondering I thought I would answer it here him and everyone else as well. Here is the main portion of his question:

I have been reading your blog for a while now, we also read several others … and frankly we have come to realize that unless you have a steady source of income ( retirement, SS, Pension etc) this idea of just having the time of our lives is a crock. … So the question really is: Why would you want to subject yourself to this monthly financial worry?  Compared to waiting until retirement age when you do receive additional income, Medicare etc. If I travel I want to enjoy it, not be constantly worrying about the next dollar.” 

The short answer is that I had financial worry before.  Here’s the long answer.  In our heyday, Lee and I made over $150K a year and I still worried about money.  Mainly I worried about losing my job, which would lead to us not having enough money.  I worked for the same company for 15 years, in a job I really liked,  and had never been fired in my life, but I watched person after person I knew reach their early 50’s and get “downsized”.  I personally survived 4 major lay-offs, and too many minor ones to count, which I think would lead any rationale person to never feel safe.  Two years before I left the company I worked on a small 5 person team with a combined 100 years of company/industry experience.  In that year, three of the five people were laid off and they were all good friends of mine.  You start to develop survivor’s guilt in a situation like that and it’s really hard to not fall prey to doing “whatever is necessary” to keep your job.  You work longer hours, you work almost all of your vacations, you become cutthroat in that environment and it’s either move up, or move on.

I knew exactly what I needed to do to move up and frankly I didn’t have it in me. I spent the last two years of my time at the company completing efficiency studies that ultimately resulted in at least 75 people being fired.  Everything in me rebelled against that, but I needed to feed my family, I needed to pay my mortgage, and I needed to keep my job.  When I raised my concerns early on the message was loud and clear.  “Get with the program or else.”  So I got with the program, and did the best I could to live with it. Finally I was lucky enough to be moved to another project where I actually got to spend the bulk of my time building something instead of tearing things apart, but the damage had been done.  So when the opportunity came along I took it, and not 2 months later there was another huge merger and another round of layoffs. When I heard, all I could feel was relief.  Changing my life has not been easy and it certainly is not completely stress-free, but when I think about this pressure versus that pressure, it is no contest.  Plus, this time around Lee and I are in it together.  We succeed or fail as a unit, versus me feeling (as the primary breadwinner) that the pressure is all on me. Working as a couple has definitely come with its own share of challenges, but has its rewards as well.

I have no idea how this is all going to turn out.  It may end tomorrow, or may go the next 10 years.  I do know I wouldn’t trade one second of it (not even selling  Christmas Trees) for more of my old life.  I really feel like I am living, instead of just going through the motions of the same old grind. And God forbid, if I died tomorrow, I would have done this. I saw those places, I took those pictures, I lived those moments.  Me, the person who spent a whole lot of time sitting on her couch.  I stood 40 feet from a grizzly bear, I had a bonfire on the beach explode on me and my friends, I watched a moon rise over the ocean, and  I saw Mt. Denali in all it’s glory.  I seriously doubt any of those things would have happened in my old life, because even though I had 4 weeks vacation a year, I had very little time.

That being said, I appreciate very much what you are saying about travel. But who says you get to travel after you retire?
One of our best friends died at 45 from esophageal cancer.
A former boss at work died from liver cancer 3 months after retirement .
The president of my old company died from stomach cancer one year after retirement .
My grandfather discovered he had Alzheimer’s a short time after he retired, and there was precious little travel in the ten years before he died.
The husband of a friend died of a heart attack at 47 right in front of her.
A friend from high school died in his sleep of a brain aneurysm.

These are just a few examples just of people I personally know. There are others (the latest being Lynne’s story above) and they all that have taught me one thing: There are no guarantees.  If my choice is to live now and not have things exactly the way I want, or to wait and maybe never get it at all, then I choose now.  It’s OK with me that others choose differently.  But more than anything else that’s why I made my choice.

This decision was never just about travel for me.  This isn’t a travel blog (my friend Deb writes an excellent one if that’s what you are looking for).  It isn’t even  a blog about living in an RV, although that certainly is a central theme around many of our posts.  It’s a blog about how a pretty normal couple after 27 years of marriage and raising three kids quit their jobs, moved into an RV,  and changed their lives.  I wish I could express to you how much of a gift this journey has been.  Just the fact that I actually have something this interesting to write about is amazing to me. So the short answer to your question is, I “subject” myself to this life, because it is better than my old life.  That may change, and it may not. I really have no idea what is going to happen, and that in itself is a wonderful thing.  I always had a pretty good idea what was going to happen in my old life.  This is better.

Thanks for asking, it really was a fair question and I hope I answered it.  Take care and thanks for reading! Trace

(I would have said everything Trace said, but, you know, funnier. – Lee)


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First Time Gate Guarding – Days 14 and 15

Day 14

This is what it looks like when you are watching your budget and having weekly meetings to review costs. It’s really not that different from when we were young and broke and lived paycheck to paycheck.   It’s January 24th and we are running close on the food, home improvement, and gas categories.   I thought I would share a few of the day-to-day decisions.

  • Want Pizza Hut for the championship football game.  Decide not to spend the money and eat what’s left of a bag of frozen french fries instead.
  • Don’t go to that great sandwich place everyone says has great hamburgers just to “check it out.”  Why tempt yourself?
  • Menu plan using what you have in the rig. Limit purchases to essentials like milk and bread.  No subs (which I have a craving for, but the components are very expensive) until February.
  • If something breaks don’t fix it unless it’s mission critical.  No puttering that might require additional parts.
  • Don’t drive the truck unless you really have to.  Try to stay in town if possible.
  • Try not to go crazy and blow your budget Feb 1st so you don’t have to do this next month.

And then….we ran low on data.  That’s pretty ridiculous because we have 80 GB, but as the old adage says you “spend” what you have. And it’s a big deal when we run out of data because it’s $15 for every extra gig.  (Don’t even get me started with that. I think it’s criminal that we pay right around $ 3.75 per gig on our plan, but if we hit our limit, the “per gig” cost is $15. Ridiculous. Absurd. At the moment I can’t think of another business that penalizes their customers for wanting to purchase more of their product. And it’s one of the many reasons wireless companies are reviled by most of their customers. So if there are any AT&T execs reading, knock that crap off, offer a product people want instead of punishing them for wanting something you don’t offer. – Lee)  With 5 days left in the billing cycle that could get out of hand really quickly. This is one of those “hot” topics of conversations for us also, so we always have a hard time talking about it without snipping at each other.  This year though, the year of good decisions, we need to actually talk about it.  We went over our data plan 4 times last year and here we are in one month and going over again.  So we worked the problem.  Lee took a look at the AT&T website and saw what reports they have.  He’s also looking for apps to download on each individual device to give more information. And we went into our phones and Ipad and turned off every app for data and then went into each apps individual settings and changed them.  Wow there was a ton of data drains in all of that.  Here’s some of the things we did in the individual app settings. And to be clear, we have done this before, but it’s been awhile and things get changed over time by you saying yes to something in the heat of the moment.

  • Background app refresh.  Turn  off, they suck data
  • Location > Always Change to never or only when using, then make sure you close the app when you are done using it
  • Automatic notifications .  Change to off (I ended up turning texts, GMail, Messenger  and Word Press back on as these are the main ways I communicate with people)
  • Photos. Change to Off
  • Usage Sharing Off

It’s not the end of the world or anything, but 5 days does seem like a long time.  (And for us, who stream most of the TV we watch, by not watching them now, we are just moving that data usage to next month, so it’s a longer term problem. – Lee) And this requires way more self-control than when we had no money in the bank. Actually that may not be true.  We used to spend irresponsibly because we had no money in the bank and it all seemed pointless when we were kids.  At least now we are mature enough to understand the goal and hopefully make the right decision.  It takes effort though, and it’s a lot easier to do when you have the distraction of lots of free, nature related activities.

(In addition to the above steps, I installed a free piece of software on the PC that tracks data usage by the day, and lets me know exactly how much data various programs are using, so I can see if there are any data “leaks” that I can plug. Right out of the gate I saw three pieces of software that use small amounts of data each day without any reason. It looks like a small amount, but 20Mb of data per day x3 x30 is 1800Mb. That’s the equivalent of 7 one hour TV shows, so that’s a lot. So far I’m seeing a lot of data wasted by ads, especially video ads, that continuously refresh on a page. And leaving three or four web pages open for long periods of time, or overnight, that do that can really eat data. – Lee) 

We are also looking at each Apple device by day and keeping track of how much each one uses then resetting the data (located at very bottom of the screen) for the next day.  I am doing mine at shift change (4am) every day for example.  I can also see usage by app which is extremely helpful as I do play Facebook games and have no idea how much data those are taking.  The information the Iphones and Ipad offer are really good and hopefully will help us track it down.  It is important to note though that these feature ONLY work if you are using cellular data.  Wifi usage is not included and since we routinely had these devices hooked to our wifi in the past all that data was lost.  Now we are using cellular on each one and much better information.  The computer and laptop have to use the wifi box though, hence the need for a special program to track each one of them.  I actually was pretty happy Lee saw all those leaks so quickly because those are easy fixes.  One of the programs was for our Truck GPS docking and took 25 MB every time we rebooted the computer.  This software enables us to download our Good Sam Trip Planner into our GPS.  IT’s a great feature, but only something we use ever couple of months and spending 25 MB a day unnecessarily is a huge waste. Anyways, I feel much better about things since we are really working the problem and we shared so much detail because I am sure everyone who doesn’t have unlimited data runs into this sort of thing.

Speaking of money, our RV insurance rates more than doubled in January and since we have never filed a claim we have no idea why.  I have to say I am extremely disappointed in Millers Insurance, because I have sent emails and left voice mails and gotten absolutely no response.  I am guessing they are inundated with calls because lots of people are running into this, but some sort of response is really needed.  I would just move onto another agent, except I really like our Nationwide truck policy and felt they were very fair with us over the truck engine incident.  Because of the lack of response, I called Nationwide myself.  Turns out they still had my New Hampshire license on file and when that switched to Florida it looked like I didn’t have a valid drivers license.  Once I gave them the updated Florida license information the monthly payments actually went down a little.  They will be applying the double payment to upcoming payments and all is right with the world again.  Weird really, since we have our truck insurance through them as well, and that didn’t change, but it is two different policies.  Anyways I thought I would mention it because if you get a strange jump in insurance rates, it’s definitely worth the call. (More importantly, I think the lesson learned is to watch every transaction carefully. You will be surprised at how often things get screwed up, and if you don’t catch, who will? I went to the store the other day and one of the things I was buying had a coupon for $1 off. Normally I’m not a coupon guy, but hey, it was hanging right in front of my face, so I grabbed it. I handed it to the cashier and went through the whole “pretending to be patient” during the checkout process thing, and because it was such an incredibly short list, I noticed when I got my receipt that the $1 wasn’t taken off. Not only am I not normally a coupon guy, I’m definitely not a look at the receipt guy, and for just a second I thought, screw this, I want to get home. But no, I also wanted my damn dollar. So I asked for it, and got it. Now I have a dollar I didn’t have before. It all adds up, so review transactions carefully. – Lee)

OK, back to the daily account.  Traffic has picked up and once again it appears we are in a new phase.  The only way we know this is we get lots of new vehicles we have never seen before.  Now that the big equipment is mostly in, we have gone back to checking all trucks in and out and it does take a little longer, the first time a vehicle visits.  Since we share the road with the ranch down the way, it’s important we pull the trucks forward and keep an eye on what’s blocking the road.  We have been told twice that truck drivers can get killed this way, by sticking out into the road.  Since we have both gotten pretty good at entering info into the Ipad it’s not that big of a deal unless multiple trucks come together.  This doesn’t happen that often, but occasionally a group of three vehicles from the same company come at the same time.  In that case they absolutely will be sticking into the road, but you just grab the minimum info as quickly as possible and wave them through.  Sometimes, we send them in and then get the details when they are on the way out.  It’s much safer going the other way because they are on the ranch road.

We are also seeing LOTS of salespeople.  Our friend Ted asked if there was a point to even gathering the names and in this particular case I would have to say not really.  I have worked security before, when badges and ID’s were shown to gain admittance.  This gate is not that.  We were told that in case of accident the fire department would use these records to make sure everyone evacuated, but I find that unlikely, especially because we were not given any protocols to follow in case of accident or emergency.  We were also not given any list of people who could not enter.  So does it bother us to do something that is largely pointless?  Surprisingly, no.  We are here to make sure the deer don’t jump the gate and that’s OK with us.  If we need to track entrances/exits to justify our existence, so be it.  And to be clear, not all gates are like this.  Some have very strict rules, some have armed guards, and others require gate guards to wear full fire protection gear at all times.  This is quite a bit mellower and especially for our first time, we are fine with that. (I have noticed that some of the deer are trying to construct what looks like a pickup truck out of twigs and leaves in order to pretend to be oilfield workers and drive out, but they seem to be having trouble getting the wheels right. – Lee)

Lee left today and went to the AT&T store (an hour away) to change over my Verizon phone number to AT&T.  Thankfully it was incredibly easy, and even manually adding the contacts from my old phone Lee’s old one wasn’t that bad because we had lots of the same numbers.  The Iphone 4 does have a tiny little screen, but since I have my Ipad all I really need it for is phone calls and texts. We also got water today and should be on a weekly schedule now.  Some gate guarding companies don’t have an issue with extra water deliveries, but ours was clear from the start that we get 300 gallons for the week.  Lee will be monitoring our daily usage starting tomorrow so we can get a feel for how much we need to ration. I don’t think it’s going to be a huge deal, but we will see. (I’ve been meaning to put together a little detail on water usage for people to ooh and ahh over, this seems like a good time to do that. – Lee)

Also our neighbor gate guard stopped by on her way home from her shift and we had a nice long chat.  She talked quite a bit about how much gate guarding has changed since they started four years ago, and how that has impacted their lifestyle.  When they started, they were routinely paid $225 a day, and now the rates are routinely $125.  (That’s not exactly accurate, ALL of the gigs we are seeing in a Gate Guard FB group are offering $150 a day. I can’t decide if our $125 rate was a one time “starter” rate, or if we were supposed to ask for more, or what. But we won’t be taking a $125 gig again. It’s just not quite enough. – Lee) That $100 difference adds up to a missing $3K a month, (even the $25 difference adds up to $750) which is obviously not insignificant.   They used to make enough to work some and play some, but now are faced with the same situation as us where you kind of have to work most of the time.  The community has also changed now that there is less work, and lots of social activities folks used to take part in, no longer exist.  There was a woman’s group and a men’s group that included somewhat frequent get togethers.  They have had some friends leave gate guarding and try other things, but they had trouble finding the kind of work where they could make this much money consistently.  Don’t get me wrong, there is higher paying work out there, but it’s tougher to get and despite a potential oil rebound it may never get to the rates it was when oil was in the triple digits.

We don’t know any different of course, since this is when we started, but I did think it was good to mention.  The point it made to me was even if you find something that is really working for you financially, just like real life things can change.  For us really working on keeping our costs low is the most logical next step, because it opens up more options for us on what types of jobs we can take.  There are absolutely limits though on how deep we are willing to cut, so simultaneously looking for revenue streams is also important.  Once we finish up trying these traditional work kamping jobs, I’d really like to think outside of the box a little and try something different.   We’ll just plugging away at it and see what happens.

Day 15

Today we finished up trying to plug our data leaks and were pleased that our typical usage (Facebook, web searches, etc) don’t use an inordinate amount of data.  That’s a relief.  And I made a new fried fish recipe that turned out pretty good…so hooray for that! (She’s modest. It was excellent. Not like a raw ribeye, or pie, but really outstanding. – Lee) I should also say that even the failures aren’t completely a lost cause, because I am learning cooking techniques I can apply to other recipes when I make them.  For example, I tried a cake that I microwaved in a bowl in under 9 minutes.  The technique was pretty cool and the cake cooked OK, the taste just wasn’t quite right.  (She made it perfectly, but the recipe was truly awful. – Lee) But that’s OK, because I will definitely try that again.  I’m also close to finishing going through the last two years of photos (doing about 3 months a night) and I am pulling out food pictures, group pictures (I have this idea to try a wall mural with them) and our best couple pictures from every state.  I would like to have a United States map and cut out pictures of us to put on them.  For the record I never considered myself a very crafty person, but my sister definitely is and she inspires me to at least try.  Plus now I don’t have the excuse of “no time”, so we’ll see how things turn out.  Don’t look for anything on that real soon though.  I am famous for starting the prep work on things and then never getting around to them.  I am hoping I can change that, but the recipe book is absolutely my number 1 priority.

It would be going faster, but things have picked up in the evenings and between 4pm -9pm we have more traffic than before.  That means true quiet time doesn’t start until about 10pm and even though I am not tired I find that my eyes are.  I’m keeping the lights off in the rig to help with that, but going outside in the dark and back into the light does seem to make my eyes work overtime.  Lee read an article though that said the blue based light reminds the brain of daytime so it is harder to go to sleep after so much screen time at night.  (This is definitely a problem, and there are settings in some phones and apps to combat it. Basically the “daylight” color temperature is measured over 5000 kelvin, which is a very blue white, and traditional incandescent light is closer to 3400k, which is a very “warm” or yellow white. I’ve experimented with using the setting on my phone to make my screen white warmer after dark, and it definitely helps. It’s generally a bad idea to use screens before you try to go to sleep, but this helps. It doesn’t technically matter what the color temperature is, as long as it’s well below 4000k, which our brain reads as daylight. When the brain sees that color temperature, it suppresses melatonin, which is a hormone that helps us feel sleepy.- Lee) There is a way to adjust the light to warmer tones on some devices so I am going to try that and see if it helps.

Oh and one last thing.  Lee finally got the guy at the warranty company to take his call and he has completely changed his story.  When we asked for the reason the claim was denied in writing, he said the dealership didn’t provide sufficient information to approve the claim.  So Lee left a message with the Service Manager at Camping World, and we will see when he calls back.  Being the monkey in the middle on this is absolutely ridiculous.  Thank heavens we aren’t sitting somewhere unable to move until the repair was completed.  Will keep you updated as things unfold.


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First Time Gate Guarding – Days 12 and 13

Day 12

Since it was Championship Football day, Lee and I changed things up a little bit and right after I had some breakfast and took a quick shower I took over for him.  It was REALLY windy all day.  Lots of gusts and even though the wind was behind us it was coming through under our rig with enough force to knock over chairs and tables.  The temperature was OK, but the dust was really getting to me, so Lee had a brilliant idea.  He pulled the truck over and I used that to sit in and log trucks in and out.  Not sure why we didn’t think of it before, but it worked brilliantly.  I still had to get out on occasion to log in a truck or person I didn’t recognize but it was so much more pleasant.  And the truck drivers didn’t seem surprised by it and quickly adjusted to looking at me in the truck.

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The most interesting thing that happened was they brought in another huge CAT.  The scale of these things never ceases to amaze me and since they unloaded it right by the gate I got a couple of pics.

See the driver for scale. It was crazy huge

See the driver for scale. It was crazy huge

The unhitch the trailer and then drive the cat down then hitch back up. Quite an operation.

They unhitch the trailer and then drive the cat down then hitch back up. Quite an operation.

I went inside around 3pm and watched both games.  They were both pretty boring, but since the Patriots won I was still pretty happy.  I did feel a little guilty though about being inside during Lee’s time, so decided to go ahead and clean the carpet.  Between beets and Christmas trees the carpet had taken a beating, but the small carpet cleaner did a wonderful job and it didn’t take that long to get it really clean.  I have been trying to save tasks that are quiet for the night-time (gotta fill that time until 4am), but louder jobs (or things that require phone calls) I am doing during the day when I am inside.

Nice clean carpet

Nice clean carpet

Oh and in case you missed it my gate guarding neighbor said the deer may have been killed by a cat.  There are bobcats, cougars, and possible jaguars in this area and since the ranch across the street is 33K acres, there is lots of room for them.  I guess a cougar was killed on the road not that far down from our gate in December.  Not sure how I feel about all that, other than it would have been nice if our company had mentioned it, but maybe that’s just something folks down here know about.  Once again our neighbor came through with great info and it’s really been a blessing knowing her.  We IM every day and she’s always available to answer questions for me.  Really nice. (For those unfamiliar with this wildlife, I have included some pictures for reference. – Lee) 

Bobcat

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Jaguar

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Cougar
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I also wanted to mention that she and her husband are campground managers in Minnesota in the summer season, and they are looking for some part-time help (2 days a week for full hookup site) in their campground this summer.  I don’t know if anyone wants to spend time in that area this summer, but thought I would pass it along since they have been so great to us. Here’s the link to the job ad if anyone is interested. OK back to working on the recipe book.  I am currently going through all my pictures and finding generic ones of cooking stuff so I can use them on the title pages.  Fun, but a little time-consuming. Oh, and I will say going out to open the gate in 50 degree weather, really helps with staying away.  That night air gets a little nippy sometimes!

Day 13

My neighbor invited me down today to see my oil rig since she has a great view from her location.  I also got to see her guard shack, which was very interesting, and meet the person she and her husband are sharing the shifts with.  Some of the gate guarding jobs are from your rig, but others have a shack.  I really liked how it was set up and they even had satellite TV inside.  According to them, some gates still make you go outside to check in trucks, but theirs was awesome because they were allowed to stay inside.  They had heat and AC, and even Millie the resident cat.

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The trailer

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Entrance has a fly screen hanging down

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Pretty roomy inside. Didn’t make me feel claustrophobic at all

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Cat just hanging out

And here's a picture of our rig

And here’s a picture of our rig

It was great talking to both of them and I think my biggest take-a-ways were all companies are a little different, and don’t be afraid to negotiate terms. They also explained that many gate guards took long-term contracts and then subcontracted a couple of weeks or months to someone else while they did some traveling.  I was wondering about that, because I can’t imagine staying here for an entire year, but I understand the appeal more.  If you get a good gate, it sort of makes sense to hold on to it and then just get someone to cover for you.  I don’t think we will go that route, because we would need to be here part of the summer, but you never know.  I also talked to my neighbor about the fact that younger white men seem to have a bit of an edge when talking to Lee.  She said her husband runs into the same thing (they have been very polite to me) and thinks it’s because in the oil business we are the lowest folks on the food chain.  Older men and Hispanics have been unfailingly polite to both of us but the younger guys do have a bit of an edge.  It’s not a huge problem, but it is slightly irritating so I thought I would mention it.

Speaking of slightly irritating, I met someone who works at the ranch next door and he told me he dumps his deer carcasses behind that gate.  The smaller deer was not one of his but the other pieces were.  No wonder the hawks are hanging out over here.  It’s a buffet.  Not sure how crazy I am about that since it’s less than 50 feet from my front door, and since there are wild cats and coyotes in the area not crazy about anything that would draw their attention.  I didn’t say anything though, but hopefully now that we are here and I told him I could smell it, he will discontinue the practice. On the plus side we have picked up a very cool Northern Mockingbird that hangs out near Lee in the daytime.  He likes to drink from the AC water that goes into the trough behind us and doesn’t seem concerned about us at all.  Allowed me to take some nice pics.

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird

On a completely different note, I have had a series of failed recipes in the last couple of days.  They weren’t awful, just not to my liking, and they culminated in a particularly spectacular Cookie Dough Drop failure.  I found this recipe to make cookie dough and drop it in a deep fryer and thought I could shortcut it by buying prepacked chocolate chip cookie dough.  What I ended up with though was melted chocolate dough in the oil and a bit of a mess to clean up.  It wasn’t a total loss though as I made cookies out of the remaining dough but still, kind of a bummer.  I seem to hit these streaks where several recipes are great and then have multiple failures in a row. Ah well, what can you do?  Just have to keep plugging away.

That’s all from the land of gate guarding.  We completed another week and as you can see from the chart below the hours are getting longer.  The traffic isn’t super busy at night but there is enough of it to lower the hourly rates some and keep me awake. Now that the rig is up we will see what this next week holds.

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First Time Gate Guarding – Day 10 and 11

Day 10

Today was a busy one as they started to bring in the equipment for the drilling rig.  Lee also met the “company man”.  As a side note I am really not crazy about that term everyone uses for the oil company rig boss.  It’s a little 1930’s for me, but hey when in Rome,  He was actually someone different from we were told would be our contact, but that was fine.  He introduced himself and made it very clear he did NOT want the heavy equipment trucks logged in.  Lee said sure no problem, everyone is pretty clear never upset the company man, but I did call our Account Manager to verify since it was never mentioned to us in our orientation.  She said, “Whatever he wants” and told us how to put it on the tally sheet.  It’s actually less work for us, I just wanted to make sure we didn’t have a problem down the road.

So we spent the late morning and early afternoon watching a parade of very interesting equipment come by. We had 88 equipment trucks and 105 regular trucks for a total of 193 vehicle entrances/exists.  Not as busy as gravel truck day, but still pretty busy.  Lee took some pictures to share and we don’t really know what much of it is, but thought we would pass it along.  It made the day a little more interesting that’s for sure.

To give you a feeling of the scale

To give you a feeling of the scale

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They did run a water line near the gate though and we got to see that.  Not sure why when they are drilling a well around the corner, but they are bringing water from 2-1/2 miles away for the drilling.  Watching them run this hose it was extremely clear these folks had done this before.  Very efficient.

Giant Hose spool pulled on a flatbed by a pickup truck

Giant Hose spool pulled on a flatbed by a pickup truck

Then hose pushed into place vy a CAT

Then hose pushed into place vy a CAT

And buried in dirt where it cross the road. No trench was dug though

And covered with dirt where it cross the road. No trench was dug though

At the end this "pump?" was left here

At the end this “pump?” was left here

The coolest thing is I had read a black hose was a great deterrent to rattlesnakes, but we don’t own a black hose.  Look what’s behind our rig now though!!  Not sure if it will help, but didn’t cost me a dime and since it’s so big hopefully the snakes will continue to stay away.

Runs all the way across behind our rig

Runs all the way across behind our rig

Between trucks I noticed that the Harris’s Hawks were pretty agitated so on a break I started to walk over.  I didn’t think it was the trucks, because they haven’t really cared up to this point, but wanted to see why they were screeching.  Fair warning the next pictures are nature graphic, so if that bother you please scroll down quickly until you see  Day 10.

 

Boy these guys are camera shy but I got this pic

Boy these guys are camera-shy but I got this pic

The were flying around.

The were flying around.

So beautiful

So beautiful

As soon as I got close, I could smell something dead.  This is recent by the way, because I walked over a few days ago and smelled nothing.  Initially it was hard to see, but there was a deer torn apart and it was on two sides of a fence pretty far away from each other.  The back-end was on one side, and the head and front was near me.  Not much was left, but I could tell why they were making so much noise.  Scroll NOW if you don’t want to see.

The body on one side of the fence

The body on one side of the fence

Head

Head

And legs pretty far away from each other on mine

And legs pretty far away from each other on mine

Why I am even showing this is I am wondering if these birds are powerful enough to have done this or have coyotes been in the area and this is what remained that the birds were fighting over.  I’m not even sure how a deer got here.  Our ranch has high fence designed to keep deer in, but the ranch across from us has a lower fence.  I guess it could have come from there, and I have heard coyotes in that general direction, but this was right next to the road.  Could have been hit by a truck I guess, but it’s a good 20 feet between the front and back half.  These are powerful birds so maybe they did this.  I just kind of want to know if coyotes were that close to the rig.  Anyone know if a raptor could do this?

Anyways, sorry about all that.  On the one hand it was gross, but it was also kind of cool.  We think these birds have a nest in the clump of trees right across from us, and there are several congregating over there. It’s like Wild Kingdom!!  You need to remember this is the closest to nature I have been in several months, so I may be obsessing a little lol. Update:  Our gate guarding neighbor said it might have been a cougar.  In December a “beautiful one” was killed right down the road from where are gate sits.  I knew there were coyotes, but it’s good to know about the cougars, since I am going out at night to open and shut the gate.  Generally they don’t mess with people though, but still good to know. 

Day 11

So what have I done over the last couple of nights.  Worked on the taxes some, added a couple of recipes, mopped the floor (wow was it dirty), carpet cleaned the couch (wow did it need it), and answered a slew of emails.  I also played some computer games and watched a little TV so it wasn’t all work.  We are starting to see a little more traffic at night, but between 2-4am it’s still no trucks.  That’s the hardest time of the night for me, but when I try to sleep I wake up groggy and then have a hard time getting back to bed. For right now at least I think it’s easier to just push through.  I like my 4pm – 4am shift, although dinner time is a bit of an issue now that we are getting busy.  Lee covers for me while I cook, but then I am getting up several times during dinner to check guys out.  That’s their dinner time as well and many of them leave the job site to go into town to get something to eat.  Overall the shift itself is fine,a nd I really like going to sleep while it is still dark out.  I worked thirds shift for a year when Kay was a baby and I always had a hard time falling asleep when it was light outside.

Thankfully the generator noise isn’t bothering me, because first thing this morning they started the water pump and it is loud.  Thankfully it is a temporary solution until the well onsite is completed, but I am not sure why they had to put it so close to our rig. Our generator purrs like a kitten in comparison and we have to raise our voices now to talk to each other outside.  IT was another busy day of big equipment coming in and Lee got some pics to share.  Again, have no idea what much of this stuff is, but it was huge and kind of cool. He had another busy day with 199 trucks and 111 of those were large vehicles.

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It was hot when I woke up (close to 90) and since the sun shines in between the awning during 1pm and 3pm, Lee was getting roasted.  Our account manager and ranch owner stopped by around that time and they were ok with him putting up a tarp to help block the sun.  It’s not pretty, but it helps a little and is way cheaper than the $189 side sun screens, which don’t look like they would work that great anyways. We took it back down at 3pm when I took over and the sun went behind the rig, so it wasn’t up for that long.

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Plus it got crazy windy, and quick. So much so that the awning had to come in as well, but luckily both the wind direction and sun were on the other side of the rig.  It was crazy gusty though, so much so that at one point our carpet blew up and knocked over both chairs and both tables.  Lee staked down those corners of the rug and we got things set back up and about that time the generator started acting funny.  At first we couldn’t figure out was it was, but then Lee realized it was running out of diesel!!  That was surprising since just the day before I mentioned to our Account Manager we had not gotten any diesel, but she said our supply should last a month.  I took her at her word, since what do I know, but we had been told it would last 1 week, 2 weeks, and now a month by three different people. In all fairness to them, the company is going through a major restructure and lots of people are taking on new roles.  Still it was not great since, no generator, no light, and it was now fully dark.

We texted and were told a delivery was on the way to “all locations”.  Apparently we weren’t the only ones having this problem.  Two hours later our delivery showed up and in the meantime I ran the gate in the dark.  We still had lots of trucks coming through, so I used the flashlight to show them where the grates were.  Especially the trucks who were leaving because they needed to make a left turn and on this moonless night you really couldn’t see where the gate was.  Like I said not great, and I left the gates standing open, because I wasn’t going to mess with trying to open and shut them in the dark.  Eventually the fuel game and the generator (and location lights) were back on which was a good thing.

To end on a positive note though, one funny thing happened.  We are on a road that dead-ends into another ranch and were surprised when a big Class A pulled into our driveway.  Lee went out and talked to them and the poor folks were lost, so we let them pull into the yard and then turn around and Lee gave them directions.  It was just really surprising, and kind of funny, to see a Class A out here, and I am glad we had a place big enough for them to turn around. Being able to help someone really lifted our spirits on an otherwise challenging day.  The work is still not hard, but the heat, wind, loss of power, and traffic volume all combined to give us a tougher day than we are used to having. Still nowhere near as stressful as trees of as physically hard as beets, but definitely not the nice, calm days we have gotten used to.  Hopefully most of the big equipment is in now and we can go back to regular truck traffic.  The wind is supposed to continue into tomorrow though so we will see how that goes.

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First Time Gate Guarding – Day 8 and 9

Day 8

Another productive night last night although I had to wake Lee up at 3:51am because I simply couldn’t stay awake a moment longer.  Luckily I did fall asleep unaided though, and slept through until 11:15am.  I mentioned Tylenol PM as a means to get to sleep in my last post and wanted to say a friend of mine who works as a pharmaceutical rep did reach out and say to be wary of taking it too often.  According to her, the acetaminophen can do liver damage if taken every day, especially when combined when alcohol.  Since I rarely drink I didn’t worry to much about the last part,  but appreciated the advice.  It’s important to me that I can sleep most nights unaided, mainly because I am concerned that over time over the counter sleep aids wouldn’t work anymore.  Thankfully the combination of a fan and my Dohm white noise machine seemed to do the trick and I slept very well.

I was pretty groggy when I walked outside though and saw that our gate guarding companie’s tech support was onsite.  I was a little embarrassed with the serious “bed head” hairdo, but he seemed to take it in stride.  He brought us an AT&T cell phone booster and we saw immediate results from it.  The CEl-Fi booster system is not cheap costing around $700, but as I said the difference was dramatic.  We went from having 1-2 bars to full bars immediately when he turned it on.  It’s omni-directional, unlike the one we have that you have to point at a tower, and seems more powerful.  The major downside for RV life though is it’s not completely weather proof and you still need to find a high place to mount it.  Still it is kind of interesting and Lee is going to do some comparisons with the one we have versus what they provided while we are here.  A $700 purchase is definitely not in our near future, but it will be good to know and it’s a great benefit for us because we have AT&T and all of our devices are receiving the boost.

Speaking of that I wanted to talk about our cell coverage.  We started with AT&T because back in October 2014 we locked in a great double data deal with them and don’t want to lose it.  Eventually I did pick up a second Verizon phone, because I was running into some issues up in Montana where we didn’t have AT&T and I was working remotely.  At this point though I am spending $67 for a basic phone with minimal data that I rarely if ever need.  AT&T has been working fine in almost every place we have been and has actually been an advantage in certain places like Texas.  So I spent some time talking to AT&T via Help Chat on the computer (I really like when companies offer that service) and discovered I can move my phone number over to an old Iphone 4 Lee has and it would only cost $15 a month.  This would save us $60 a month on our cell bill which is a significant savings.  Eventually I will want to upgrade of course, but I will wait until they are offering some deals with a free phone if you sign a contract.  Right now they aren’t offering anything at all and frankly the Iphone 4 will be an upgrade from what I have.  We could do it all in the mail, but think it will be easier to an ATT store, I just need to call one and make sure only one of us can go.  Since one phone is in my name and the other is in Lee’s it could require both of us, which of course we can’t do.  Still pretty excited about the opportunity to save some money, so we are going to work on that as soon as we can.

Speaking of expenses we got some quotes back from Mor-Ryde and for our rig the basic 8K system will be $3,600.  This is actually very reasonable and I am pretty sure Lee is on board with it.  We are going to continue escalating with the warranty company, but it looks like this will be a good choice for us.  The cost is so low because we are going to do it in stages.  The disc brakes would be another $2,600, but we are going to wait on those and see if they can upgrade our existing ones, and the H rated tires ($615 per wheel) will also wait until our newish tires need replaced.  We won’t get the additional carry benefit without the new tires, but we can upgrade at any time once we have a need.  They also allow you to stay onsite at their facility and the three day installation seems very reasonable.  We haven’t completely finalized our decision yet, but I am feeling good about the choices.  By the way, our friend Bill has been awesome through all of this.  Bill is a guy who loves researching and is more than happy to do it on his friend’s behalf.  He’s spent tons of time on the phone with Lee talking both this and our battle with the warranty company through with him and he’s been super helpful.  All I can say is everyone should have a Bill in their life, because having someone to talk these things through with is great.

We received our acceptance into the gate guarding Facebook group and it’s been very eye opening.  These are all working gate guards and they are extremely frank about their experiences.  We are learning quite a bit and it’s great learning more from an experienced community.  Speaking of gate guarding, I’ve been trying to figure out a way to explain why these long shifts bother me so much less than the other jobs we have done.  The closer I can come is to use a babysitting analogy.  If you ever babysat as a kid, doing it when the kids were awake was a ton of work.  Kids require a lot of attention and if you were any good at it, you didn’t get much of a break.  Once in awhile though you got a babysitting gig at night when the kids were asleep.  That was awesome as you could watch TV, talk on the phone, and eat popcorn.  The parents generally paid you less money for those jobs, but the work was super easy.  So far this has mostly been like a night babysitting job and since the work is easier, the low pay doesn’t really bother me.  If the work gets hard I expect that to change, but hopefully that explains it.  Your mileage may definitely vary on this though, just trying to explain why this feels so much different.

What else.  Well they brought fresh water and pumped out the sewer tank today. I spoke to another gate guarding employee about how long he thought the assignment would last and he felt they would “find what they were looking for” and three wells would be dug.  Each well takes about 45 days and there is some overlap so that should take us into March which would be great.  It’s not guaranteed of course.  If the first well doesn’t produce they may decide to not continue, but since the ranch next door has been so successful odds are they will find it here too.   On a completely different note,  I tried to make corn dogs for dinner with a new recipe…NOT a success, and we both ended up not eating it for dinner.  That rarely happens, but when it does Lee is always a good sport about it, and hey, they can’t all be winners.  We also saw a beautiful sunset tonight. The sun sets behind the rig and is mainly in the trees, but I made a point of watching it tonight and it was pretty.  Not as pretty as sunsets on the ocean, but it was nice.

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Tonight I am finishing a project with my pictures I started last night, starting to gather tax documentation together, and going through some emails, working on the recipe book, and of course writing this blog. Boy it’s nice not having to squeeze these types of things in around everything else.  Having this alone time at night has been nice.  We love each other, but when you live together in a small space and work together long days you rarely get any alone time.  I wouldn’t want it to be like this all the time, but the break has been good after the intensity of the last several months.

Day 9

I woke up this morning pretty warm as the bedroom temp had raised to 80 degrees.  I was a little worried about that when I went to bed, because the temperature switch from 4am to 12pm can be pretty significant.  It’s a shame I am such a light sleeper because there was a beautiful breeze, but the truck noise through the window would definitely wake me up.  Lee and I talked about it and I guess he’ll need to turn off the heater and turn on the AC when the temperature swings this much and try not to wake me up.  We’ll give that a try going forward, and I’ll let you know how that goes.

Despite being a little disoriented I started my morning routine.  One of the things I like to do is read blog comments and there were some really thoughtful ones this morning.  I love when people ask questions, because it makes this more of a conversation than a monologue, and since not everyone reads the comments I wanted to share one here.

Doug asked, “I have a question. Don’t answer, if you think it is too personal. You both quit your careers at a fairly young age to pursue your dreams. How do you plan for your retirement years working hourly jobs that don’t move you towards a retirement nest egg?” and it was such a good question I thought I would also answer it here.

I spent a ton of time thinking about this before going fulltime, so the answer is not going to be a short one.  I knew from watching my Mom that between 50 and 60 were “prime earning years” and thats’s when most people  worked on getting out of debt and really socking some money away. At that point, I had around $150K in a 401K account, but I knew that wouldn’t be enough to keep me comfortable in retirement.  That knowledge certainly gave me pause, but I also knew as a Gen X’er my situation was going to be a little different than the Boomer generation.  We can’t take middle-tier social security until we are 70 and I always assumed I would need to work until then. In my current position (assuming I wasn’t laid off at some point) I was facing 20 years of hard/intense work ahead of myself and had no expectation I would actually live long enough (or be in good enough health) to ever enjoy my “retirement years.”

So I had two choices.  Take the time now, with the understanding 20 years is a long time and I could reenter the professional work force later or continue to plug along and hope my health held out.  I should mention the only reason I had the choice at all is because we were in a solid debt position.  Yes, many people make a ton of money between 50 and 60, but they also spend it.  They either get out of the debt they have created for themselves with school loans or kid expenses and/or they spend it on very expensive vacations.

Don’t get me wrong, those are valid choices, but we went another way, and I fully credit Lee for that.  We helped the kids a little with college (and paid for two weddings) but only to the extent we could pay in cash.  I also took advantage of my work’s tuition reimbursement program and ended up getting my bachelors and my MBA only spending about $7K out of pocket.  Yes, it took me 8 years and it was hard to not go into debt for the kids, but again Lee was adamant.  So at 47 when we started talking about this all we had was the mortgage, car loan, and about $10K in debt.  Never would have been possible if that wasn’t the case.

So the short answer is I was fully aware when I made the decision and we have put the 401K in a lock box (it’s grown to $169K since I kept contributing the first year I was still on the road and was working).   When we get to the point where we are down to $10K in regular savings (we have around $40K since the beginning and so far have maintained that balance) we will get better paying jobs, at least for a little while.

We have some friends who did this by the way.  When the stock market crashed they left the road and went back to work and when it recovered they went back on the road.  There are no rules here, and 20 years is a really long time.  I think folks who are researching (myself included) think it’s a decision that has to last forever and really it does not.  Family , finances, and personal healthcare are all factors that can change quickly and can’t always be predicted. Plus for me there is another factor as well.

I have been trying to find a way to express how I feel about missing parts of my old job and thankfully a reader Dineen captured it perfectly.  She said, “…you realize your personality may not be fully suited (at least at this point) to permanently giving up a career life that doesn’t provide you with meaningful work and an environment in which you are respected for your experience and expertise.” Exactly!!  Thanks so much Dineen and thanks Doug for the great question.  If you would like to ask a question  please feel free to comment or email us at camperchronicles@gmail.com.  Either Lee or I answer the emails privately or if the topic has value for a broader audience we will post them here.

So back to the daily account.  I’m actually sitting outside writing this today on the laptop and that is working great.  It’s a beautiful day, sunny and 66 with a light breeze.  The only problem is the darn bees.  Wow they are aggressive down here, and even without a brightly colored shirt they are all around.  I am obviously not a fan, although thankfully I am not allergic. So asked Lee if he could pop down to the Dollar General and see if they had some kind of a trap we can use. Yes I am concerned about the bee population, but as I am typing this there are 5-6 in close proximity.  My love of nature has limits (Deb you would be freaking out lol). I even changed my orange socks to white ones and that actually seemed to help a little.  Any splash pf color and they are all over it and I draw the line at having bees land on my ankles. He came back with a Raid Fly Stick and two Yellow Jacket Traps  and hopefully that will do the trick.

Raid Fly Stick

Raid Fly Stick

Rescue Yellow Jacket Traps

Rescue Yellow Jacket Traps

I also wanted to mention we have stopped drinking pop/soda and so far so good.  Lee is strictly drinking his tea and I have started making ice tea  and I bought some single serving Country Time Lemonade packs  which are great.  If I feel the need for a sweet drink I put filtered water in a small glass and use a portion of the pack until I get the flavor just right.  Sometimes I like it a little more sour and use less, other times I load up the sweetness.  It’s a real budget saver and much more economical than a whole can of pop/soda, half of which I ended up throwing away anyways. Plus, I am sure it is better for me health wise. 

The only two exciting things that happened today were an oil truck got stuck going back to the water well and it took two big tractors to pull him out.  That all happened rather late and he had to dump all of his water in a field to lighten the load and then come back with another one.  Opening and shutting the gate at night is a bit of a challenge because the new lights they set up do not light the entire area, but I am getting used to it.  I also got another new bird which was pretty exciting.  The Harris’s Hawk (cool because that is my maiden name) is unusual for this area and the only raptor that nests and hunts in groups.  We saw some raptors in the tree across the street from us, but every time I got close they flew away.  This one was on the pole and I got a couple of shots from the rig with my long lense but as soon as I took two steps towards it it flew away.  It’s cool though we know what is living over there and hopefully I can get some better pics.  We originally thought it was the same bird as the other day, but this yellow band gave it away.  Very fun!

harriss-hawk

Harris’s Hawk

Overall it was a good day, but I swear as soon as I finish one task another two pop up.  That’s what happens when you blow stuff off for several months and then finally get a chance to be settled.  I have to keep reminding myself I have lots of time and slow down my pace, but my natural inclination to get things done and over with as quickly as possible is working against me.  The last thing I want is to trade self-created stress for the real stress we are no longer in though, so I am working to keep a grip on myself.  Plus there is a finite list of things to do and sooner or later I will work my way through it.


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First Time Gate Guarding – Day 6 and 7

Day 6

Thank you to everyone who sent their condolences.  It was much appreciated.  This is a wonderful community we are a part of and it’s really great how people look out after each other.  Mom is doing very well, all things considered, and is getting lots of support from friends and family in Columbus, which is wonderful. It’s much easier not being with her knowing she has that.  I wanted to take a moment and start this post with part of Bud’s obituary, which his sister wrote.  She captured the spirit of him much better than I could.

Bud was a loving husband, father, grandfather and brother who always thought of others first. He was the family historian and story teller who kept the memories alive. Bud graduated from Linden McKinley High School and Columbus State School of Nursing. Bud was in the U.S. Navy, worked for the USPS, and was ultimately the Director of Home Healthcare for multiple agencies. He was a talented woodworker, played the bagpipes, and was a handyman extraordinaire. Bud loved Irish music and attending the Dublin Irish Festival. 

Before he died, Bud got to visit Ireland, which was a dream of his.  I never saw him as excited as when he talked about all the places he had been and how he had met extended family members in Ireland who were as thrilled to meet him as he was to be there.  As a fellow traveler, I am so happy he got to experience that before he passed.  It also reminds me that we do this for a reason.

Thanks… I’ll start the blog now.

I slept better last night, but the getting up at 4am and then falling back asleep was still a little rough.  So I took a Tylenol PM and slept through until noon.  My thought here is to try to stay awke until 4:20am or so and then try to sleep straight through.  I may change my mind around 3am, but that’s my idea for now.  It was another nice day here, with great weather and a pretty slow day for trucks.  I have started a spreadsheet by the way (shocking right?) that will show the number of trucks we process each day and the hours the trucks came in.  That way in the final analysis we can talk about hours we actually worked versus hours we were just here.

They finished grading the road today

They finished grading the road today

y002

This machine is on the loud side so glad that is done

I’ve been really thinking about why I feel so much more relaxed in this job than in others we have done, and I think it comes down to the fact that it’s really a one person job.  Yes, you need two people because folks have to sleep, but at anytime one of us can be doing something else while the other works the gate.  Even when you are working the gate there has been downtime.  We can look at Facebook, read, watch a little TV, or play computer games.  Really pretty much whatever we want, as long as we can stop and deal with people entering or exiting. The important thing I think is the mindset.  If we fell into the trap of seeing each truck as an interruption we would be pretty unhappy, but instead we view it as each break is an extra bonus.  Splitting the job gives us lots of time off and if someone needs to leave or do a household task the other person can cover for them.  Since the pace up to this point has been so reasonable those far, it feels like a fair exchange.  Basically, despite the 24/7 seven day a week shift I feel like I have a life.  That is not something I felt at either the beet harvest or Christmas Trees.  Again, it’s early days, but that’s where we both are for right now.

Lee is pretty happy too.  If you haven’t noticed you can tell when he is in a particularly good mood because he brings “the funny” to the blogs. When he’s not feeling it he simply does a grammar check and off he goes.  Today, he spent a couple hours reorganizing the basement and he really loves that.  He found a few items he could get rid of and was happy about saving the weight as much as gaining more space. He also discovered why our furnace isn’t working again.  The duct work was not reconnected properly when Camping World finished the work and it came off. We are hoping that once it is reconnected the furnace will keep running.  It’s good to know what is going on and Lee is going to leave it for them to see and fix when we take the RV back for the axle.  Still haven’t heard from the warranty company if the work was approved, but Lee will be calling tomorrow.  Then we will be ordering the part and as soon as this job is done (or April 1st whichever comes first) we will head back to San Antonio and get all the repair work done.

Upper left corner of pic see how duct ring isn't sealed flush

In the center of the image you can see that the ducting wasn’t properly attached and has just fallen off on the back side. So there’s a 4″ hole in the side of the furnace just blowing hot air into the basement area. And that back side is almost impossible to get to.

And one of the seals was just laying there

And here’s another piece just laying on the basement floor. Not only was it not taped to the furnace, the ducting was not secured to the flange. Sloppy, sloppy work.

We are also both happy that I’ve been able to start cooking again.  Lee covers for me with trucks while I am making the meal, and then I’ll usually get up if a truck comes in.  I’ve tried several new recipes that have been on my list in the last few days and even though they weren’t all “recipe book worthy” it was still fun.  Those were things we had no time for during Beets or Christmas Trees and being able to spend time on the little things really helps.

We did get a call that there would be a one day delay in bringing us more water, but we were sort of prepared for that so were able to say it was no problem.  We are going to make sure we take what is left in the storage tank and put it in our freshwater tank, and then do that every week until we get back to full.  We are also trying to be as pleasant as possible about things in order to hopefully show them that the water tank issue was an anomaly and we can go with the flow.  I worked for a guy once who called it “putting chips in the emotional bank account” and that is completely true.  When you are dealing with coworkers it’s important that you give as much as you take so the equation is somewhat balanced.  Every time you are nice or helpful or do something for the other person a chip goes in their emotional bank account.  Then when it’s your turn to need something usually you can cash in a chip and it’s no issue.  Take too much, or as in our case, take when nothing has been deposited, and there is always resentment.  You might be thinking it’s that person’s job, so they need to do the right thing, but don’t kid yourself.  People are people and everyone hates feeling pushed.  We know we had to push a little to get the tank cleaned so we need to make sure we give back for a while before making any further requests. It’s kind of a harsh way to look at things, but it is also very practical and kind of takes the emotion out of the equation.

And we also turned of the generator for a while today to see what it was like with less noise.  It was fine, but I forgot to turn off the refrigerator and a couple other items so we overloaded our inverter a little before we made the adjustments.  I liked it being quiet, although of course the fence painters came during that time period and ran their compressor for awhile lol. Still it was good to know we can run off solar in a pinch and I liked the little noise break.  The generator isn’t bad, it’s just ever present, and we keep the backside windows closed when it’s on which restricts air flow a little.  We had a lovely breeze today so turning it off and opening the windows was a nice change of pace.  I also didn’t think about the fact that the water pump was connected to the generator so it was kind of funny when I turned it off and then immediately went to do dishes.  Lesson learned.  By the way, the water pressure is pretty decent and with our  Oxygenic shower head  we can take nice showers. I have to shower everyday, but I have switched to Suave 2 in 1 shampoo    and my showers run between 3-5 minutes.  I never was a person who took long showers before so making this adjustment for me has been pretty easy.  I am NOT a fan of the marine showers where you shut off the water in the middle though.  I’ve done it in a pinch, but I just don’t feel clean.  Lee’s taking a 7 minute shower for now so we will see how our water consumption is after a full week.

Good day and not too eventful, so I will start combining days into one blog post and get it out when it gets to a certain length.  As nice as it is to have something to talk about, a quiet blog is not necessarily a bad thing.  Frankly I could use a few days of woke up, nothing exciting happened, went to bed!

y009

 

Day 7

I managed to stay up until 4am for the first time last night and I got quite a bit done.  Worked on the recipe book, wrote this blog, and finalized the tracking spreadsheet.  The first week showed some interesting numbers and it really brings to light how subjective “whether the job is worth the money” can be, especially in these temporary positions.

tracking-sheet

This is definitely a one person job, and I say that because the other person could theoretically leave or work a second job from the home during their off hours.  So the hourly rate is calculated based on that assumption.  Gate guarding pays a flat fee per day, so the calculations are based on that number. I tracked the hourly rate three ways, and as you can see it is very different depending on how you look at it.  If you are a person who believes if you are working when you are available, then the hourly rate is very low at $5.21 an hour.  If you look at when the first truck arrived and when the last truck left, then the hourly rate (at least for these shorter days is much different at between $10 and $11 an hour.  I took it a step further though, and also calculated an hourly wage based on actual hours worked.  I did this by eliminating any hours where no trucks came at all, basing that on our daily reports we can run.  The thought is if you have extended downtime you can do other things so you aren’t actually working.  In order to decide how to choose when to “Stop the clock”, I chose any time we went a full hour without an entry or exit, which admittedly is something arbitrary, because I thought that would be like having a lunch break.  Removing those hours raises the hourly rate significantly and on one slow day brought the wage to $14.71 an hour.

Now these figures are without getting traffic at night, which we are expecting to change soon, and I am sure that will change the equation.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out as we get busier.  It doesn’t really matter which of these three you feel is a fair way to assess how we are getting paid for our time, but I do think it is important to know before you enter into one of these jobs.  For right now at least I was quite pleased with the adjusted hours rate, but then again that might change.  I just thought I would share how we are looking at it before we do the final analysis.

I did have a little trouble going to sleep this morning, and eventually woke up around 10:30. 6 hours sleep was really not enough, but no way I was getting back to sleep.  It was colder today and occasionally rainy and windy, but because traffic was still pretty slow it wasn’t that bad. We took turns watching the gate throughout most of the day as one of us dealt with housekeeping items. One of the things we needed to do was followup with the warranty company.  We never heard back on whether the claim was approved and I have to say I wasn’t surprised when the claim was denied. Some warranty companies deny high priced claims as a matter of course, and this expense would take us over what we had paid for the policy.  Lee, however, was having none of it and slowly worked his way up the food chain appealing the claim.  They stated they denied the axle fix because no component failed.  We stated it was bent and needed replaced because the experts stated it was bent, and there’s evidence of that in both damage to the tire as well as damage to the shackle. Oddly we had a simultaneous claim for a bent front jack and they approved that, but they wouldn’t agree to get the axle replaced.

While Lee was still working on it, I started researching getting a Mor-Ryde System and requested a quote from the company Many people we know in the lifestyle have upgraded to Mor-Ryde including  Howard and Linda, who had theirs done in 2010.  Here’s his blog post on the installation, which has some great pictures and even better explanation if you are curious about what a suspension upgrade is. One of the additional benefits is it can also increase your weight limits on your trailer. For this reason alone, we talked about getting this done from the very beginning, but the timing was never right.  We always knew we would probably invest in it one day though and have the money in savings to cover it. What makes it difficult is not only the money but the timing.  The installations are preferably done in Elkhart, Indiana at the factory, but because of work commitments we can’t make it there until early October.  Now we are facing whether we should roll the dice and continue as is until then or look at other alternatives.

A friend of ours reached out to us and told us they were upgrading both axles to 7,000 pound Dexter and paying a reasonably priced $1700 all in.  That’s much cheaper than a Mor-Ryde system, but while it would give us that extra weight capacity, it would not give us the disc brakes and independent suspension a Mor-Ryde would. Still it is much more budget friendly than the $5K – $7K I am expecting to be quoted, and we may end up going that route.  Also the the Dexter Axles can be done in other states and I am still not sure if Mor-Ryde can be. Oddly I am leaning more towards the more expensive Mor-Ryde solution and Lee is leaning more towards the Dexter.  That’s odd, because usually I am the penny pincher when it comes to maintenance items.  I’ve just heard such great things about the Mor-Ryde system I am a fan. Plus the additional weight would allow us to run comfortably with full tanks, something we don’t like to do at this point because we run so close on weight.

What I do in situations like this is reach out to friends in the community and I also post something on the RV-Dreams Forum.  The RV-Dreams Forum has a strict “be nice” policy and strives to be the friendliest RV forum on the net.  For my money it definitely is, and it is the only forum that I am actively involved in.  It’s not perfect of course, no forum is, but generally the information is pretty solid and even if folks disagree, they are generally respectful about it.  Nothing worse than asking a question and having it devolve into a flame war that ends up not helping the person at all.

So we are collecting information and we are definitely not in a panic.  There are some things you should prepare for long-term if you plan on full-timing and upgrading the suspension (assuming you buy a fifth wheel with a basic suspension) is one of them.  This is exactly why we have contingency funds, and although I wish we could have waited a little longer before spending them, once we are in that position I am going to choose the right solution.  Think of it as the foundation of a house.  Something is wrong with your foundation, you don’t mess around with that.  You get it fixed and fixed well.  The suspension system is the foundation of our home and worth the investment.

On the plus side we did get an offer from another gate guarding company today.  We wouldn’t leave this contract, but I found it promising that there are other jobs that are becoming available.  We still have no idea when this assignment will be complete, but if there is enough time between the end and when we have to head towards Vegas we may try to pick up another contract. Overall we are doing pretty good, and Lee is in reorganizing heaven. He gets very excited when he fills another trash bag with stuff to get rid of. I am just enjoying the luxury of being able to sit and relax for awhile.  That may change as the tempo of the job picks up but for right now it’s pretty great.


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