Tag: boondocking

RV Wind Storm Safety: How to Survive

Living full-time in an RV means encountering every type of weather condition. I’ve been through some crazy wind storms over the last six years, experiencing wind gusts up to 70 mph/43 km. Sitting in your RV in the desert with raging wind can be a terrifying experience. Today, I’m going to share tips on how you can prepare for and stay safe in a windstorm. I’ve learned a lot in six years! Check out this video from when I first started: https://youtu.be/B3wUldsSCuk.

RV Living and Wind Storm Safety

RV Safety Tip #1: Don’t Drive in a Wind Storm.

If you don’t have to drive, DON’T! Stay put and ride out the wind storm. A Class A or Class C RV is hard to control in high winds, so you are better off staying parked and waiting to travel. Even winds as low as 10MPH can be problematic for large-profile vehicles and RVs. And winds over 40MPH make controlling your RV, 5th wheel, or trailer difficult, and risk being blown off the road, into other lanes, or even getting flipped over. Play it safe! Wait it out.

RVing During Wind Storms

Tip #2: Point the NOSE of your RV into the Wind.

It takes a lot to flip over a Class A or Class C RV. So you will be safe. But with the largest areas of your RV (back or sides) facing the wind gusts you’ll feel a lot more rocking and swaying. And trust me, that can be scary! The nose of your RV is the most aerodynamic, since it’s meant to take you down the freeway at 75 mph smoothly. Pointing the nose in the wind, you will be more stable and experience far less rocking.

Wind Storm Safety for RVing

RV Safety Tip #3: Be Mindful of WHERE you park during a Wind Storm!

This should be obvious, but in case it is not, for RV safety during a wind storm, don’t park under trees or powerlines. Find a clearing to keep you safe from falling limbs or at worst, a whole tree falling. If boondocking, make sure if a tree comes down, you have a way to leave the area. How remote are you? Either stay closer to town or carry a chainsaw or an ax to remove fallen tree branches.

RV Safety during a Wind Storm

Tip #4: Secure everything down and bring in anything you don’t want to lose!

I’ve lost storage containers, awnings, and other items during high winds. Make sure to secure anything outside or bring it in to keep it safe. The last thing you want is to go out in the middle of a windstorm and risk injury to save your favorite camping chair.

Wind Storm Safety for RV Living

RV Safety Tip #5: Prepare yourself and stay calm during the Wind Storm.

The best defense against fear is staying informed about the weather. You can use alert systems and apps to stay up to date on current weather conditions. You can use NOAA Radio and the CLIME App. This App is the NOAA Weather Radar Live app. It is an all-in-one weather tracker and uses your GPS signal to alert you on conditions where you are in real-time. Make sure you have supplies and clothing/shoes ready that you may need if conditions become unsafe. Stay calm and alert, so you will not be surprised by changing weather conditions.

Be sure to check out my blog, where I share tips for all types of extreme weather: Extreme Weather Safety Tips, or watch the video below:

Looking for RV products to help keep you cozy in the winter? Check out RV Winter Products I use.

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DISCLAIMER: Carolyn’s RV Life and Carolyn Higgins share her experiences, thoughts, opinions and ideas in this blog post and on this website for entertainment purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, instruction or guidance. Viewers/Readers should consult with professionals before pursing any actions or behaviors exhibited in this video. Carolyn’s RV Life or Carolyn Higgins cannot be held liable in the event of any accident or injury that may occur as a result of application of procedures and information provided in this video.

My Best States for Winter RV Life

Fall is in the air, and winter is around the corner. For those of us who live in Residential Vehicles, cars, or vans, this time of year means we either winterize or move to warmer weather. I prefer to chase livable temps than to suffer through freezing cold days, snow, and ice. There are a few states I’ve wintered in, that are comfortable and offer plenty of boondocking. Below are my three favorite states for winter RV Life.

#1 Arizona

Arizona is snowbird mecca. Every year, thousands of RVers from the U.S. and Canada flock to Arizona for the warmer climate and plentiful boondocking on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands. Quartzsite which is 128 miles west of Phoenix, is especially popular as it hosts the annual Tyson Wells Market and Swap Meet and the Rock and Gem Show. There are plenty of campgrounds, RV parks, Long Term Visitor Areas (LTVAs offer designated dispersed camping areas for around $180 for the entire season! So, you don’t have to worry about moving every 14 days like you do when dispersed camping on BLM lands) and vast deserts with ample BLM land for free dispersed camping.

Boondocking in Arizona for Winter RV Living

There are thousands, maybe millions, of acres of BLM land in Arizona. Just use an app like FreeCampsites.net or Campendium to find spots people recommend, or get a BLM map and explore on your own to find your own piece of desert paradise. I’ve explored the state from the Mexican border to the Grand Canyon and have found some gorgeous desert campsites. Just remember, when wintering here, stay in the lower elevations for warmer weather.

Temperatures During Winter RVing in Arizona

Just because you’re in the south doesn’t mean you’re going to be warm. Elevation plays a BIG role in temperatures. Remember, for every 1000’ in elevation you rise, the temperature gets three degrees cooler. So stay low for the warmest temperatures! Winter temperatures in the low elevations of Arizona are comfortable. They generally range from the 60s to 70s during the day and high 30s to 40s at night. It rarely drops below freezing at night south of Phoenix, so you won’t have to worry about freezing pipes.

#2 Southern California 

From Slab City to Anza Borrego State Park, Joshua Tree to the Mojave Preserve you can find some beautiful, quirky, and remote places to boondock in southeastern California.

Boondocking In CA for RV Winter Living

If you’re not afraid of anarchy and have some street smarts be sure to check out Slab City, they call it the last free place on earth (Learn more in the 4 part video series I did: https://youtu.be/Y3oNM53oEtg). You can actually live in Slab City if you want but it gets HOT in the Summer. Many nomads spend the entire winter there, enjoying the freedom and warmer winter temperatures.

If you’re looking for more solitude and less anarchy, Anza Borrego State park has free dispersed camping and it’s gorgeous! It can be a little crowded in some of the designated camping areas, so keep that in mind when you go.

There’s also camping near the Salton Sea which is a fascinating piece of CA history. If you really want to be alone explore the thousands of acres of the Mojave preserve, a pristine, desert with ample boondocking. But be sure to know before you go by checking out the website. You can’t boondock just anywhere within the preserve. There is also some decent boondocking on BLM land right outside of Joshua Tree National Park, which is a must-see if you’re in Southern California.

Temperatures for California During Winter RV Camping

Winter temperatures in the Salton City area are between 70 and 80 during the day and 50s at night. With Anza Borrego being about 10 degrees cooler and the Joshua tree area about 15-20 degrees cooler. The same weather/elevation rule applies here. The higher you go, the colder. Be sure to always check the forecast before traveling to higher elevations so you don’t get stranded in snow!

#3 Nevada and New Mexico Winter RVing

Both are a little higher in elevation than the areas I mentioned above. But, if you want less crowds and can handle cooler temps, you’re in for a winter RV life treat! There is plenty of BLM land in both Southern New Mexico and Nevada, and you won’t find the snowbird crowd in the heart of winter.

Boondocking in Nevada and New Mexico to Enjoy Winter RV Life

Nevada: there is boondocking south of Las Vegas on HWY 95 at the Dry Lake Bed and plenty in Pahrump, just about 60 miles northwest of Vegas. (Remember to check your camping apps!). Going north of Pahrump takes you higher in elevation, where the temps will be colder, and you’re more likely to get snow. BEWARE: And check weather forecast before you go so you don’t get stranded in snow!!! Storms can come out of nowhere and dump inches, if not feet very quickly in higher elevations.

New Mexico: The southernmost part of the state is the warmest. I’ve stayed in the Carlsbad, NM area, and while not pretty, it is warmer and not very crowded. There is some boondocking not far from the world-famous Carlsbad Caverns. New Mexico also offers an annual State Park Pass, which is a great deal! Most parks are open year-round, and they’re empty. You can go plug-in when it gets too cold!

Temperatures During the Winter in Nevada and New Mexico for RV Living

Temperatures in both southern NM ad NV are similar. The days will be in the 50s to low 60s, and the nights in the 20s to 30s. You’re also likely to get snow – oh and strong winds! But if you don’t mind the cooler temps, and you can handle one or two nights below freezing, without worrying about your pipes freezing, you’ll be rewarded with quiet and solitude.

Before you go, be sure to check out my video below for cheap and simple tips for keeping your RV Warmer in winter without a lot of effort or technical know-how. And if your solar doesn’t quite cut it with the shorter days and cloudier weather, check out the Jackery Power Station. It’s been a great addition to my RV Life for running my laptop, charging camera batteries and phones, running my coffee grinder and Nutri-Bullet and more!

What’s Your Favorite RV Living Winter Spot?

There you have it! My favorite Winter RV Living areas! Of course, many snowbirds also winter in Florida and Texas. I like the Southwest and the drier climate, gorgeous desert sunsets, and lack of bugs!! Where do you like to spend your RV life winters? Let us know in the comments below!

Helpful Links:
My Favorite Things for RV Living
Finding Free Campsites
Safety Tips for Extreme Weather

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DISCLAIMER: Carolyn’s RV Life and Carolyn Higgins share her experiences, thoughts, opinions and ideas in this blog post and on this website for entertainment purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, instruction or guidance. Viewers/Readers should consult with professionals before pursing any actions or behaviors exhibited in this video. Carolyn’s RV Life or Carolyn Higgins cannot be held liable in the event of any accident or injury that may occur as a result of application of procedures and information provided in this video.

Securing Your Campsite When You’re Gone

Leaving a Dispersed Camp for Supplies

Living in a Class R RV has many benefits, but it also has its drawbacks. People always ask if it would be easier towing a vehicle (“Toad”) for running errands and zipping around towns. And the bigger question is, what do I do when I need to leave camp to go get supplies? “How are you securing your campsite when you have to leave in your RV?”

Normally, I find a camp that I plan on staying at for the maximum amount of time, which is about 10-14 days, depending on how much I conserve my water. By then, I’m ready to move on. But sometimes in my travels, I might be seeking a one or two-nighter and get lucky and find a spot I want to stay at longer. That means I must run into the nearest town to supply up. So how do I secure my spot?

Make Your Dispersed Campsite Look “Lived-In”

First, I put a few things out to claim my camping spot. I usually leave my RV Rug and a cheap chair. You can also hang a clothesline or drape a tarp. If you have a cheap tent, put that up too, the more you can make the site look ‘lived in’ the better. Also, spread things out across your camp to claim all the space you need to feel comfortable and safe. AND NEVER leave anything you can’t live without! Leave only inexpensive, replaceable items in case they walk away while you’re gone.

Leave a Sign Securing Your Campsite

Second, I always leave a sign that the site is occupied and the date. This lets Rangers and other campers know that the site isn’t abandoned and that I plan on returning soon. Use a sharpie and a big piece of cardboard and prop it at the opening of your site on a chair, tree, or rock so that anyone who might be thinking of taking the spot will see it right away.

Supplied Up & Camp Secured

That’s all it takes to secure your camping spot in the National Forest or on BLM lands. Using these two simple tricks has saved my spot for a morning, afternoon or most of the day while I supply up.
Do you have any tips for saving your spot to run errands that I haven’t mentioned? Leave them in the comments below!

Looking for More RV Living Tips & Resources? Check out the link below!

How to Buy an RV to Live In

RV Products and Must Haves

Easy Tips to Find an RV to Live In Full Time

Subscribe to my YouTube Channel by clicking the icon above for more RV Life How-To and Not Tos.
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DISCLAIMER: Carolyn’s RV Life and Carolyn Higgins share her experiences, thoughts, opinions and ideas in this blog post and on this website for entertainment purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, instruction or guidance. Viewers/Readers should consult with professionals before pursing any actions or behaviors exhibited in this video. Carolyn’s RV Life or Carolyn Higgins cannot be held liable in the event of any accident or injury that may occur as a result of application of procedures and information provided in this video.

How to Dump an RV Black Tank

One of the most frequent questions asked by my YouTube audience is how to dump my Class C RV black tank, especially since I like to boondock and not stay at campsites. I know many people are intimidated by the thought of having to deal with dumping waste. Dealing with sewage is not ideal, but it is a part of RV life. Today, I am sharing how to do it in 10 easy steps.

Easy Ways to Find a Dump Station for Boondockers

If you are like me and prefer to boondock, you can use these sources to find dump stations along your travels.

  • SaniDumps.com – You can search by zip code to find RV park, non-park, municipal, truck stop, rest stop, campground, camping, resort, commercial, pay, donation, and free RV dump stations.
  • Campendium – You can find campsites and dump stations near your current location.
  • RVDumps.com – You can search by state, city, or what is closest to your location. The map will also show you Interstate rest areas with dump stations.

Using one of the above websites or apps will help you plan your route and know where your next dump and refill location will be. Dump stations are shared spaces, so remember to be kind and leave it cleaner than you found it. Use the hoses at the dump station to rinse and clean the area when you finish dumping your tanks.

Dumping Your RV Black Tank: First Steps

First, how to prepare for emptying your holding tanks:

  • Locate your dump valves on your RV or trailer.
  • Pull up to the dump station as close as possible, leaving enough room for you to get in there and work.
  • Use disposable gloves or gloves that you store just for handling your sewage hose to keep your hands from being exposed to any possible leaks or spills. Let’s face it, no one wants poop all over their hands!
  • Note that your sewer waste valve is BLACK and your gray water tank cover is usually GRAY.  
  • DO NOT store your fresh water hose with your sewage hose.

Easy Step by Step Instructions to Dump Your RV Black Tank

Now that you are positioned at the dump station and your gloves are on, you are ready to dump your tank.

1. Take your sewer hose from its storage compartment. Most newer rigs have the hose stored in the bumper. If you have an older RV or trailer it is probably behind a little storage door. TIP: Make sure you have a good quality sewer hose!  If not, pinholes will develop over time and create leaks. You do not want sewage spraying all over you or the ground. Get a good quality, thicker hose like the one I use: Rhino ten-foot sewer hose.

2. Unscrew the cap from the holding tank spout. A few drops of liquid will come out, but not to worry because this is why you have gloves on.

3. Fit your sewage hose onto the dump tank spout. You want to make sure it is on nice and tight before releasing the water from the tank. If you do not have a tight-fitting, it will leak, or worse, your hose will fall off, resulting in a yucky mess. Place the loose end of the hose down in the dump station spout, which is usually a hole in the ground with a cover. Some covers have a foot lever, so you can open it by pressing with your foot and then release it to hold your hose in place. If there is no cover, use rocks to hold your hose in place.

4. DUMP BLACK WATER FIRST! Pull and twist the lever at the same time, to release your blank tank water. You will hear it start draining. You may need to move your hose up and down a little by picking it up, to help it continue to drain.

5. Go inside your rig and start flushing the toilet with fresh water to help rinse and flush out the very bottom of the black tank. I usually flush three full toilet bowls of fresh water at the end of draining the black tank. If you use a good black tank deodorizer and waste dissolver like Bio-Pak Black Tank Deodorizer and Cleaner it should all flow out easily. You can also close the black tank valve and fill it up with a few gallons of clean water and then open the valve for an extra flush to get rid of any debris at the bottom of the tank.  Tip: If you are out of fresh water, fill up a large (gallon size) water bottle with water from the dump station water spout to pour into your toilet for flushing.

6. Next, dump your gray tank by releasing the gray valve. You can leave your black valve open while doing this to allow any debris to wash out. Dumping your gray tank last will flush and clean any black tank debris from your valves and hose.

7. After it has drained for a bit, go inside and run fresh water down your sinks to help clean out your gray tank.  Tip: You can use the same Bio-Pak Black Tank Deodorizer and Cleaner in your gray tank that you use in your black. After I close the valves I dilute the recommended amount in a gallon or two of water and dump it into my drains and into my toilet. It dissolves any food and human waste and sloshes around, kind of like a washing machine.

8. Once you know all the water is drained out of the gray tank, close your black tank valve and then the gray tank valves, and replace the cover with the dump spout.

9. Clean out your sewage hose before you put it away. Leave the end of the sewage hose in the ground spout and rinse using the water hose connected to the dump station or the water spout if there is not a hose. Then, take the end of the hose out of the ground spout and rinse with the fresh water to clean off before storing.

10. Fill your fresh water tank.

Filling Your RV Fresh Water Tank

When I am completely done handling the dump hose for my RV black tank and grey tank, I wash my hands with soap and water. This should be obvious after dealing with poop, but if this didn’t come to mind, here is your reminder! Then, I fill up my fresh water tank. I store my freshwater hose in a bag (I use a white bag to ensure I don’t mix it up with the sewage hose stored in a black bag) to keep it clean and sanitary. Be sure to use a freshwater source not located on the dump station side. The freshwater source to fill your water tank should be far enough away from the dumping station to prevent contamination. Check your gages to see when your tank is full to prevent overflowing.

My 42-gallon fresh water tank will last me about two weeks while boondocking. I conserve water to stretch how long it will last and reduce my trips back to dumping stations while boondocking. Typically, I always run out of water before the gray and black tanks are full. (I have about 52 gallons combined in my holding tanks).

Bonus Tips for RV Black Tank Dump

The last thing you want is a clog in your tanks. This will prevent you from being able to dump your black and gray tanks and can be costly to fix. Here are a few tips to keep your tanks clog-free.

  • Use a thin, not double ply-extra soft, thin septic-safe Toilet Paper. Less is more when using an RV toilet, so don’t overuse your TP.
  • Try a waste tank drop-in. Drop-in packs help break down solids and deodorize your black tank. They are pre-measured and safe for septic tanks. Simply place one packet in the toilet after dumping your black tank and flush it with fresh water.
  • Do not rinse grease from animal fat down your sink drain. This will result in clogs in your kitchen sink and your gray tank. Food particles will go down the drain, so I use an eco-friendly soap to help dissolve food and clean my gray tank.
  • Dump stations often have trash receptacles, so you throw away your trash while dumping your tanks.

Don’t Fear Dumping Your RV Black Tank

I hope this easy step-by-step guide helps you have more peace of mind and confidence when dumping your RV waste tank for the first time. It’s actually really easy to empty the tanks. Most of the time, I can be in and out in 10 minutes. If the idea of dealing with sewage has kept you from boondocking, I hope this guide now has you realizing it is not that bad and it is a simple one-person job. Until next time…

Be happy, Be Free, and Be Kind!

New to RV Life?  Check out my YouTube Channel for tips and tricks!
Thinking About RV Life? Start Here!
Full-Time RV Living How Tos
5 Reasons for RV Living
Full Time RV Living Resources

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DISCLAIMER: Carolyn’s RV Life and Carolyn Higgins share her experiences, thoughts, opinions and ideas in this blog post and on this website for entertainment purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, instruction or guidance. Viewers/Readers should consult with professionals before pursing any actions or behaviors exhibited in this video. Carolyn’s RV Life or Carolyn Higgins cannot be held liable in the event of any accident or injury that may occur as a result of application of procedures and information provided in this video.

Finding Free Campsites Tips

Viewers on my YouTube channel ask me all the time, how I find the Most AMAZING FREE campsites for boondocking in my Class C RV. Below, I’m going to share with you my best tips and secrets for how I find free campsites for boondocking locations using my favorite apps.  So let’s talk about Boondocking.

What is Boondocking?

Boondocking simply means “dry-camping” outside of a formal campground. It’s formally called “Dispersed Camping”.  There are no services! No toilets, garbage service, water, or electrical hookups. Just you and nature! While it feels wild and free there are some rules and regulations, so be sure to check with the Public Land Agency you’re visiting before camping anywhere.

Free Campsites for boondocking

The Best Websites for Free Boondocking Campsites

So, let’s jump right into the tips and what I use for finding free campsites.  I have two favorite websites:

  1. http://Freecampsites.net 
  2. http://Campendium.com

These two websites are invaluable to my RV Life! You plug in the city or town you’re in or simply use your current location’s GPS coordinates and it will show you places that other boondockers have reported.  Here’s why I love these resources:

  1. Each provides great detailed information about the sites they list.
  2. They tell you conditions and what size rig it would accommodate.
  3. They often tell you if there’s a cell signal and which carriers pick up service.
  4. Most sites are reviewed by others, which is invaluable!

In most cases, I already know if I can get there with my 25ft Class C RV before I arrive.   

Next, let’s talk about other tools I use for finding my own special boondocking spots!

Apps for Free Campsites

Are there Apps for finding my own Boondocking off The Beaten Path??

“Is there an app for that?” is probably the first thing you think or say when someone says you should try something new. The answer is YES, of course, there are Apps for going off the beaten path ad exploring public lands on your own! Here are a few of my favorite apps that are available for Androids, iPhones/iPads, and Google devices.

Free Apps and Tools for Going Off the Beaten Path

  1. Google Earth & Google Maps (Free Apple App Store & Android Google Play Store): Google Maps with Satellite view is my FAVORITE App! If you want to avoid crowded sites and like exploring remote places, you’ll love using Google Satellite View for boondocking. I can use Google Maps to virtually explore National Forests, Deserts (BLM), and other Public Lands for potential camping spots away from the crowds. Then, I can use Google’s Satellite layer to explore an area further by zooming in on the map. It’s the perfect tool because it allows me to can get right down to the road and see any openings for camping. So for me in Class C RV, being able to see the road is really important and it gives me a good idea of whether or not I would be able to drive the roads.
  2. FreeRoam (Free Apple App Store & Android Google Play Store): This app will help you find campgrounds, boondocking, and RV Parks. There is a filter setting for things like the weather, safety, crowdedness, cell signal, and more. You can also find nearby dump sites, fresh water, groceries, propane, and more. You can even find routes around low clearances! There is a lot of detail with this app than can help you plan routes and make the most of your next campout.

Purchased Apps and Membership Websites for Finding Free Campsites

Now a few tips on apps that you will need to purchase for finding free campsites.

  1. US Public Lands App ($2.99 Apple App Store & Android Google Play Store): This app will show you an overlay map of public lands around you. It will show you the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), US Forest Service, National Park Service, Army Corp of Engineers, and more. Moreover, you never have to guess where one boundary begins and one ends.
  2. Boondocker’s Welcome & Harvest Hosts App (The App is Free Apple App Store and Android Google Play Store): Boondockers Welcome (boondockerswelcome.com) and their app, Harvest Hosts, are great for escaping crowded campgrounds and instead of finding a private spot to camp that is provided by a host. The annual membership fee is $50 and the app (Harvest Hosts) is free to download. What you get in return is access to over 2900 Host locations across the country on private property to boondock for free. You must have a self-contained RV that can dry camp for as long as your stay. This is not for tent camping or vans. Travel Trailers, motorhomes, and truck campers are allowed.
Free Campsite Tips

Ready, Set, Let’s Camp!

I hope these resources help you find some amazing boondocking spots this spring and summer.  If you’ve never tried boondocking, I hope you will give these resources a try and go explore our beautiful country! Get out there and travel the unknown roads and live adventurously! I’ve listed more apps and vids, below. As always…be HAPPY, be FREE, be KIND.

Helpful Vids & Links:

How to Drive an RV on Mountain Roads Without Killing Your Brakes

Remote Boondocking in a 29′ Class C RV

Easily Share Your Location with Family and Friends with Google Maps

BEST Tires for Boondocking RV Life

My Favorite Free RV Camping Spots

Subscribe to my YouTube Channel by clicking the icon above for more RV Life How-To and Not Tos.

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DISCLAIMER: Carolyn’s RV Life and Carolyn Higgins share her experiences, thoughts, opinions and ideas in this blog post and on this website for entertainment purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, instruction or guidance. Viewers/Readers should consult with professionals before pursing any actions or behaviors exhibited in this video. Carolyn’s RV Life or Carolyn Higgins cannot be held liable in the event of any accident or injury that may occur as a result of application of procedures and information provided in this video.

Goodbye to the Southwestern Desert, Hello Sedona, AZ!

As the spring heat closed in on the Arizona desert, it was time for me to move to higher elevations and cooler temperatures.  As I left Ehrenberg for the last time this season and headed north toward Sedona, I contemplated my route:  I could take the ‘easier’ Interstate route, or the windier, slower backroads.  Interstates bore me, so I decided the extra 26 minutes Google said it would take, would be well worth it. Plus, I’d get to explore real towns along the way, not overly engineered and architected Interstate truck stops and rest areas!

With a quick glance at the Google map, I noticed the yellow lines of highway 60 to Prescott and 89a from Prescott to Cottonwood were quite squiggly in the green areas marking National Forests. Oh well, I’ll have some mountains to climb! I’d spent my first several months as a full time RVer driving all over the Sierra Nevadas, I’d driven Hells Canyon in Eastern Oregon and many other mountain roads, those squiggly mountain passes looked unthreatening. How bad can they be? I’d heard from a friend that the length limit was 40 feet– I’m just 29 feet. Piece of cake!

“Piece of cake”, famous last words, right???

As my RV labored up the first pass, leaving the ninety-degree desert floor, germinal with the first delicate signs of super-bloom,  behind, I spotted the first real tree I’d seen in four months. I was so enraptured that I considered stopping to give it a giant bear hug.  I might have if it wasn’t in someone’s yard.  I thought twice and realized a tree-hugging Rver with a duct tape repair job and California plates may not fare well, trespassing in Arizona: I resisted my urge and moseyed on.

Driving out of Quartzsite, AZ toward Prescott, rte. 60

Matilda trudged up the windy mountain road through Prescott National Forest. 4000 feet. 5000 feet. 6000 feet. The Chaparral grew bushier and the Piñon Pines and Juniper taller. I was in the forest!!!  Ahh. Hello Forest, I’ve missed you!  I rolled down my window and inhaled the crisp winter air.  And as the musty aroma of conifers and damp forest permeated my senses I felt my face erupt in a spontaneous smile. I’m home!

As I ascended to 6000 feet, I felt a marked drop in temperature. It was at least 15 degrees cooler than the desert I’d left just an hour earlier.  I grew concerned that I’d jumped the gun on my “great desert escape’ as I eyed snow dusted peaks just above me. Maybe it is too early to go north. Maybe I’ll  get  stuck in a snow storm. Maybe I’ll freeze! The doubt only thickened as I passed dirty patches of snow stubbornly clinging to the sides of the road, desperately holding their place in the late winter landscape. Well, I’m not turning around to fry in the ninety+-degree heat in the desert. Forward…!
Eventually I reached the summit and slowly descended the narrow, curvy pass into Prescott. Yes, I’d driven on Sierra Nevada routes, but these were some narrow roads and deserved extra caution. Slooooow, I went…

I’d hoped to spend the night in Prescott, but it was Saturday and the historic city was busting at the seams with tourists.  In the outskirts of town, the Prescott National Forest was laden with California-like rules and regulations about where you can camp. Camping is only allowed in designated campgrounds; which were full.  One of the things I’ve learned in my first season as a snowbird is that winter in the south is treated like summer is, everywhere else. The summer months are too hot to leave the comfort of air conditioned homes, so people flock to enjoy the outdoors in the winter, when the temperatures are tolerable, making it impossible to avoid crowds at the popular tourist towns, hiking trails, parks and campgrounds during winter months.

Prescott, AZ served as the capital of the Arizona territory until 1867 and currently has a population just under 40,000. Its rich history (which includes a stay by Wyatt Earp’s older brother Virgil in 1879) and a quaint old-fashioned downtown, packed with touristy shops and cafes, attract visitors from all over the country.  If it wasn’t the height of tourist season and I wasn’t in a 29-foot RV, I might have gotten out and explored. Unfortunately, the narrow streets of old-west mountain towns are not conducive to driving- and especially parking –  giant RVs.

So, on l went; next stop Cottonwood! I’d heard of many fulltime RVers and VanDwellers going to Cottonwood. Surely there’s bound to be plenty of camping there!

Driving into Jerome, AZ

Up another narrow, squiggly pass and back down again. My new front brakes were emitting burned brake smell and smoke billowed out of the nose of Matilda. “That’s normal. Flash told me that would happen,” I told myself.  Down and down and down I went in my 12,000 pound steel box on wheels. My brake pedal  got spongier every time I pressed the brake. More smoke and more rank odor of burning break pad filled my cab.  I started to get nervous. Will my giant, heavy, barreling-downhill-RV stop when I need her to? I slid my new, still-to-be-tested-in-rough—conditions, transmission into low gear. Ok, that’s better, at least I feel like I have more control.

Just as the majestic red rock of Sedona came into view, thousands of feet below, the white smoke became even thicker. I was too nervous to go on. I pulled over, inspected underneath, and confirming that it was my brakes causing the smoke and not something else,  I thought it best to sit and let them cool off before proceeding down the second half of the 6000 foot mountain.  I pumped the brakes and noticed the sponginess was dissipating. “That’s a good sign”, I thought.

Driving through Jerome, AZ

Ok, this isn’t too bad. I was armed with the confidence that my whole brake system had just been inspected, my front brakes, rotors and calipers were brand new and my rear brakes were in good shape.  And, I was still able to slow down, it just took more pressure on the brake pedal to do so. I had no cell signal, so I couldn’t call someone for help or advice. I didn’t have much choice…

After sitting for about thirty minutes, I decided to press on. I slowly exited the turnout, and in low gear,  proceeded down the pass at 20-30 mph.  Being in low gear slowed me enough to not make the descent treacherous, but my heart pounded as my now-white-knuckled hands clutched the steering wheel.  One of the thoughts I had, as I glanced at Capone laying innocently in the passenger seat, is that I need doggy car seat so I can strap him in while we drive.  The thought of anything happening to my clueless copilot was too much..

As I spilled closer to Sedona, I drove through the tiny mountain micro-town of Jerome. If I wasn’t so stressed I might have actually enjoyed the historic town, etched into the side of the mountain. It reminded me of some of the hilltop towns I drove through on my trip to Greece a couple of years ago; tiny narrow streets carved into rock, framed by houses and tiny shops.  In Greece, I was in a small compact car, not a 29’ RV, which admittedly, made it more enjoyable!  I’m really thinking I need to downsize!

First views of Sedona on rte 89a from Prescott

As I gingerly maneuvered through the crowds of  tourists licking waffle cones and converging outside of historic taverns and eateries with names like the Haunted Hamburger, Mile High Grill and Asylum Restaurant,  I kept testing my brakes to be sure they weren’t giving out. They were spongy again, but were definitely slowing me down.

I finally made it through the crowds in Jerome and began my final descent into Cottonwood. A slow and tedious eight miles at 30mph with no turnouts to let the growing line of cars behind me pass. As I neared the edge of Cottonwood, one angry follower in a giant Ford pickup truck crossed the double yellow line to pass me, waving the middle finger salute as he passed. Excuse me for inconveniencing you in my pursuit to stay alive!

His action made me ponder my own impatience: I used to be that person! Always in a hurry, always cussing the slow people in front of me, “how dare you not consider ME! How dare you hold ME up!” Driving an RV has taught me, not only how to slow down and enjoy the journey, but in that moment, when that man aggressively raced  past, flipping me the bird, I realized it also showed me how easily we get  caught up in our own wants and needs and don’t stop to   consider what someone else may be going through. When I tailed an RV on a windy mountain road, I never considered their safety and comfort; all I cared about was getting to my destination five minutes sooner!

I’ve contemplated this before; in our fast, anonymous world, we encounter more strangers than at any time in history. Nameless bodies, we pass on the crowded streets, blurred drivers whizzing past us on the Freeway, or faceless people we flip off and fly by on a windy road without a thought to the person behind the wheel and what may be going on with them. My Bird Flipper hadn’t even considered that I was frightened for my safety, my dog’s safety and the safety of everyone else on the road. If he’d known that, would he have been more patient? Kinder? Waving, instead of gesturing profanity at me? I wonder.  (I realized, I probably should have turned on my hazard lights… lol).

By the time, I entered Cottonwood and the endless annoying traffic circles, the brake pedal sunk all the way to the floor and I was barely able to stop. After sliding into at least one circle a little too close to a passing car, I exited, pumped my brakes a few times and voila, they were back; firm, and strong. I pulled over anyway to let them cool off a bit.  They’d stopped smoking but the noxious fumes were still strong enough to give me a headache!

While I sat there waiting for my brakes to cool, I checked freecampsites.net for a place to camp. I wasn’t exactly feeling confident in my brakes so was looking for something easy and close by. (When I was back to the safety of flat ground I did some research on how to drive a Class A or Class C on mountain roads. Read what I learned here.)

Back on the road, with a firm brake pedal once again, I drove north on 89a exploring a couple of forest roads along the way for a campsite, to no avail.  I wasn’t in the desert with sprawling, flat, BLM land anymore! The off-road sites big enough for Class C RVs were few – and occupied.  So, I’d bumble back onto another rutted/wash-boarded dirt road, keeping my eye out for the next one, as the sun slid toward the western horizon. Now I was racing against the clock.

Finally, I pulled into Dear Pass Trailhead, one of the campsites.net recommendations. It was packed!  I followed the dirt road (Angel Valley Rd), deeper into the red-tinted mountains to see if I could find something away from the crowd. The rutted narrow dirt road coerced me further and further with the promise of open space in which I’d find a spot big enough for Matilda. There were a few campsites, but they were all full to the brim with trailers, vans and tents. Darn! 

Sedona View from the camp I ended up in

Angel Valley Road was harrowing, to put it mildly, and as I propelled down yet another steep and narrow road, I had to ask myself how I kept ending up in those situations; do I have a secret death wish? I just had brake issues and there I was on another steep downhill slope. I had to wonder…   But in all fairness, how could I have known? And it’s not like I can just turn all 29 feet of Matilda around anywhere. I was committed, so down I went.

I ended up at the entrance of what looked like a private community or commune of some sort. (I now know, it was Angel Valley Sedona, “a sacred retreat community for healing, transformation and empowerment.” If I’d know that at the time, I might have stopped. Looking at their website, it may have been the serenity and peace I needed at that moment! Check them out here). Some say there are no mistakes, maybe the universe sent me there for a reason!).  It was a dead end- but at least a place to turn around! So, back up the bumpy steep road (in low gear) and back to route 89a, I went.  Cottonwood was a bust. I guess I’m going to Sedona!

As I drove into Sedona, Mother Nature’s grand architecture rose from the earth before my awestruck eyes. Wow! Just wow! The sun had barely set and the full moon hovered over the rust-imbued landscape giving it an other-worldly glow.

Night was settling in quickly and the last thing I wanted to do was search the treacherous, narrow roads in the dark.  After exploring a couple of forest roads and nearly getting wedged into a narrow place, I finally settled on a large flat-ish spot on a forest road about 5 miles out of Sedona,  just off the busy 89a.  It was 7:30 pm. My 3 ½ hour drive had turned into 8 ½ hours. I was DONE.

I settled in, getting my rig as level as I could, leashed up Capone and went for a much-needed moonlit walk to exercise out some of the day’s stress.  It felt good to be back in the forest, among the trees and the brush. There’s so much life! The bats bobbed above as they dined on insects, the birds chirped and sang their last tunes of the day before settling into their safe nests for the night and critters scurried in the brush at my feet.  The moon cast enough light to see the ground without a flashlight; and I kept my eye out for rattlesnakes.

Back home in my RV, I made a quick salad of romaine lettuce, kale, tomatoes, red beans and vinegar and oil dressing, fed Capone and called it a night. Settling into my warm and comfy bed, it didn’t take long for sleep to win over the noise of the nearby highway…

As I drifted off a feeling of peace and gratitude warmed me;  it was a good day. I was content in knowing that every day I’m not rotting away in an apartment, passing the time on junk-tv and dreaming of freedom, is a good day! I felt happy to be alive – really alive!

I’m a Full-time RV Snowbird in Arizona and Nevada!

It’s almost February and I’ve been on the road for ten months.  When I try to create a timeline of the places I’ve been and the things I’ve seen over the last ten months, it’s but a blur. It’s true, the older I get, the faster time seems to go by.

I fondly remember the slow, lazy days of summer, exploring southern and eastern Oregon. Wintertime living in an RV is different; the days are short, the nights cold and I am spending much less time outdoors. Sure, some of that is because I’ve been consumed with work, but also, there are just fewer hours of daylight to take advantage of!

Since spending Thanksgiving in Medford with my good friend Bob and his family, I’ve frolicked in snowfall, high in the Nevada desert (and shot a video about it that went viral!),  woke up to a twenty-five degree rig in the outskirts of Carson City (where it was about 15 degrees outside),  survived RV-rocking 45 mile per hour wind gusts near a ghost town in Goffs, CA (video), explored Joshua Tree National Park (video) where I gazed  wondrously at the mysterious twisty-trees  and ambled through the rocky desert of southern Arizona (video).

My trek from Oregon to Arizona was adventure-filled, that’s for sure! I was excited to spend the winter in the desert- my first season as a genuine Snowbird!

A couple of years ago, on my way back from a backpacking trip in Capital Reef National Park in Utah, I stopped for the night in Mojave National Preserve. I was tired from my long drive and pulled off on Zzyzx road (yes, that’s a real road) into the desert to sleep in my car. I awoke to a mauve-tinted sandy landscape alive with sun-glow creosote and crisp, layered hills of the high-desert mountains in the distance. I pulled my backpacking stove out of my pack, boiled hot water and made my morning coffee. I sipped it’s smooth, robust warmth into me as I leisurely drifted over the barren land.  As the coffee pushed away the morning fog, my soul became electrified with adventure and freedom.  As I devoured the serenity of my surroundings, I made a promise I would go back and backpack it someday.

Camping Winnemuccca in the snow
Boondocking near Winnemucca in the snow

Last year, determined to keep my promise to myself, I drove the eight hours to Mojave Preserve for a three-day backpacking trip. It turns out ninety-degrees in the desert is far different from ninety degrees in the mountains. By 11 am, after hiking five miles, carrying 16lbs of water (a 3-day supply, or so I thought) plus 15lbs of gear, I had to stop, set up my tent for shade and lie as still as possible. I think I nearly got heatstroke!  I literally could not move a muscle until the sun went down.

The next morning, I was up and packed before sunrise, hell-bent on getting back to the safety of my car before it got too hot.  I hiked five miles in less than two hours and was back in my car luxuriating in my powerful AC by 8 am. I had gone through all two gallons of water in 24 hours!

Despite my less-than-fun backpacking experience, I couldn’t wait to get back to the desert- this time with plenty of water and my home behind me. So, I in my new RV life, as a winter snow bird, I headed south, in early December.

My first stop in the “real” desert (low and warm!) was on some BLM Land (Bureau of Land Management) in Pahrump, Nevada. I found an idyllic spot, high upon a mountain, amid creosote, Cholla and Joshua trees overlooking the city. I had almost complete solitude the four or five days I was there, save for a few dune-buggiers (yes, I believe I just made up a word).  My camp wasn’t far from the edge of a wide and deep wash that lent for gorgeous walks each day (video). The weather was mild, with days in the sixties and nights in the forties. I enjoyed my stay there immensely, but it was time to move on. I had plans to meet a group of fellow nomads in Arizona, for Christmas and a few places to see along the way.

From Pahrump I went into Las Vegas to do some banking and stock up at Whole Foods. I found a wonderful dry lakebed just south of Vegas to boondock for a couple of nights before heading to my next destination: Joshua Tree.

Boondocking in Pahrump,Nevada

In 1996, my BFF and I took a 10,000-mile road trip zig-zagging our way from Berkeley to New York and back. We were young, adventurous –  and poor.  I’d been working my way through college as a waitress at Goat Hill Pizza in the Potrero Hill neighborhood of San Francisco, where Kristi and I met.  One night at our favorite dive bar, after downing a few shots of tequila to wash away the crazy-busy night of serving pizza to Potrero Hill hipsters, we hatched a plan to drive cross country together once I graduated from Berkeley in May.  For months, we stashed tip money into a locked piggy bank to save for our grand adventure.  My little 1981 bright yellow Toyota Corolla was reliable, so all we needed was gas money, food and a tent.

Nine months later, we were in Joshua Tree National Park; the first stop of our cross-country adventure!  I’d never been to the desert and I was struck with awe; the smooth reddish rocks, the weird deformed-looking cactus-trees and the quiet serenity of the lumpy landscape.  It left a lasting impression on me. For decades, I dreamed of going back.

Ehrenberg, AZ

Twenty years later, a week before Christmas, Matilda carried Capone and me back into the park that held such fond memories. It was cloudy, gloomy and crowded.  Nothing like the barren and secluded place, I remembered. Nevertheless, it was perfect! I drove the windy roads in renewed awe at what our planet offers a hungry adventurer. I wanted to park my RV, grab my backpack and immerse myself in its beauty. But Capone isn’t allowed on trails in National Parks, so I had to be content driving through, stopping at crowded scenic points and making short jaunts into the scenes before me.

After carefully exploring and maneuvering Matilda through a couple of cramped and narrow campgrounds and finding nothing suitable for giant Matilda, I pulled into Belle Campground around 4pm and got the last site;  which  happened to be just big enough to squeeze into.

The next day, tired of the crowds and the rules and restrictions of a National Park, I exited on the long and desolate Pinto Basin Road toward Cottonwood.  I wasn’t exactly sure where I was heading, but thought I’d explore some BLM dispersed camping near the south entrance to the park. Just as I passed the Cottonwood entry sign, I spotted a sandy road that led to the West, speckled with Fifth Wheels, Motorhomes and Vans: boondockers galore! Yay! Home! I pulled in, found a level spot within eyesight of four RVs and called it a day. I could see and hear Interstate 10 from my site, but it wasn’t too bad. I ended up staying a few nights.

BLM Camping near Parker, AZ

Next, I drove due east to Ehrenberg, AZ, where I met up with my friend Bob and fellow full time RVers and VanDwellers for Christmas. The camp off the East Frontage Road in Ehrenberg was a disappointment:  rocky and barren, with obvious signs of heavy use and not much greenery – just overall bland. I stayed for Christmas (video), enjoying community and a low-key Christmas day potluck and then moved to the Colorado River for a few days.

The river was low and down the bank from camp I had a sandy beach all to myself.  My camp was framed by desert trees and brush, which shield me from the other boondockers along the river road; back to peace and solitude!

For the past month, I’ve been exploring Arizona, with a quick trip into Los Algodones  Mexico for migraine medication (video). I’ve spent time in Yuma (where I experienced more RV trouble, videos here), Kofa Wildlife Refuge, Parker and Quartzsite where I attended the CheapRVLiving.com Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) and met so many wonderful people (video of our meet and greet).

I have plans to explore southern Arizona and California over the next month or so, before it’ll be time to head north or to higher ground when the temperatures get to hot here.

I will have lots of fun and adventure to share and will do my best to keep blogging about it.

How to Drive an RV on WashBoard Roads

Fun RV Living Fact of Life: How are Washboard Roads Formed?

We’ve all encountered them, and those of us who love to boondock on BLM land and National Forests drive on them a lot. Those ridged, bumpy, wall rattling, dish-clanking, drive shaft clunking, dirt or sand roads that are annoying as hell to drive on.  So where do they come from? How do those ridges get created?

I finally looked up what causes dirt roads to  washboard and ripple!

I figured you might be curious about this too!

There have actually been laboratory studies done and articles published in science journals about the phenomenon. And from what I’ve read, the science seems to be inconclusive.

Most road and physics experts believed washboarding (also called corrugation) is caused by a lot of traffic traveling on loose dirt, sand or gravel roads at speeds greater than 5 mph.  An automobile’s suspension causes the tires to bounce, putting pressure on certain parts of the road, pushing up the sand or gravel, thereby causing ripples.

Driving RV on washboard roadsHowever, laboratory studies have shown that  even when “springy suspension of the car and the rolling shape of the wheel are eliminated”, washboarding occurs (source: Science Daily article “Physics of Bumpy Roads: What Makes Roads Ripple Like a Washboard?”)

So, while heavy traffic and suspension may be part of the problem, it seems there may be other (currently unidentifiable) factors at play.

How to drive on washboard roads

The next question is: how the heck do we drive on those annoying washboard roads safely and efficiently? Is it better to slow down or speed up?

I went to one of my favorite sources for this answer: MythBusters.

According to MythBusters and their field test, with a 1970 Cutlass Supreme, driving at 5mmph and then at 70 mph, they found that yes, indeed, at 70,mph,  it is a smoother ride and the “high-speed camera footage revealed that the faster-moving wheels literally move across bumps in the road” (MythBusters, “Bumpy Ride“).

So, at higher speeds a vehicle can literally glide over the bumps whereas at 5 mph you feel every single one – and it prolongs the agony, right?

However, their test was with a  Cutlass Supreme, not a  29′ Class C RV with all kinds of stuff to rattle around and make noise. I’ll stick with 5 mph!

How about you? Do you prefer to fly over them or take it slow?

RV Life in Enterprise and Joseph Oregon

I loved this part of northeastern Oregon!  Enterprise and Joseph are just six miles apart but are quite different experiences.

I first drove into Joseph from the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway and was spilled into a small town bustling with a pleasant mix of (mostly boomer-generation) tourists and old-time residents.  The idyllic scenery is the first thing you notice; with a quaint tree lined main street stretching toward the picturesque Wallowa mountains. One sign referred to the Wallowas as “The Little Alps” – and for good reason. As I drove out to Wallowa Lake on my second day, that is exactly what the small, but dramatic range reminded me of.

Bronze statues decorate the streets of Joseph, OR
Bronze statues decorate the streets of Joseph, OR

Joseph’s Main Street is the heart of the tiny town, speckled with restaurants “WELKoming hunters”, locals and tourists with names like: “Outlaw Restaurant”, “Old Town Cafe”, “Home Cooking Cafe” and “Stubborn Mule Saloon and Steakhouse” and a couple similarly themed hotels: “Indian Lodge” and “Bronze Antler B&B”. There’s also a “Cattle Country Quilt and Craft” store and art galleries full of rustic old-timey Cowboy and Indian inspired bronze sculptures, photographs and paintings of local scenery and western themes.

And then there’s the usual tourist fare: souvenir shops selling Enterprise, Oregon T-shirts, mugs, shot glasses and overpriced magnets and candy; an ice cream store; a gourmet chocolate shop; espresso cafes; and the obligatory small-town True-Value Ace Hardware that carries everything from souvenir t-shirts to washing machines to guns.Joseph Oregon WELKomes hunters and tourists alike!

Our first stop was food! We’d been driving for hours; it was past lunchtime and we were both starved.  We found the perfect spot, a diner brimming with locals and aptly named “Home Cooking Café”. After clearing a table for us in the full diner, the waitress handed us menus and giant plastic cups of ice-water. She seemed to know everyone by name and chatted them up as if she sees them every day, “Hey Joe, where’s Frank today? Did you get that part fixed on your car yesterday?”

As my friend Bob and I ate, discussing travel plans and the weather, the man next to us busted into our conversation and gave us his weather report. He was friendly and helpful, so I forgave his eavesdropping and crashing into our apparent, not-so-private conversation.

The walls were covered in old barn boards, adorned with burnt-in brands of local ranches, washed-out black and white photos of days-gone-by Joseph, and framed posters with funny sayings like, “Historical moment, an argument was won by the man of the house on this date….”. There was an old iron wood stove against the back wall that sat cold, even on that gloomy and rainy autumn day.

The meal was humongous – I ordered a veggie omelet and home fries and my plate came heaped high and overflowing . It literally took me 3 days to eat it all – and I don’t have a tiny appetite! (In my RV life, I’ve become “mostly-vegan” when I eat out. Unless I only want to eat salad and French fries, it’s nearly impossible to find vegan fare in most small towns).

Excellent diner with HUGE portions in Joseph, OR
Excellent diner with HUGE portions in Joseph, OR

After lunch, we walked the two blocks along Main Street to the post office to see if my general delivery mail had arrived from California. Along the way we peeked inside inviting storefronts and pined for ice cream and chocolates even with full tummies.  As suspected, my mail hadn’t arrived yet (it has just left California the day before) so we headed back to the RV parking lot, behind the local grocery store, to work for a couple hours before heading out to find home for the night.

We’d arrived in Joseph with two potential locations for boondocking, just a few miles from town in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. One was off of Hurricane Creek Road, which, according to Google maps, had a couple of forest roads that appeared to be worth exploring,  and the other was outside of Enterprise, on Lime Quarry Road. The question was- as always in this area – will there be cell service so we can work?

Before nightfall we headed out of town, past the tiny airport to Hurricane Creek Road. At the Joseph Grange Hall, Hurricane Creek Road turned toward the National Forest and within ¼ mile pavement turned to gravel. We passed several residences with big signs warning travelers to slow down. The forest road that Google Earth Maps showed, off to the right about two miles in was nowhere to be found (and now researching this blog, it shows a house there – that was not there a month ago!)– another Google maps mystery!

Hurricane Creek NF Campground, Joseph, OR
Hurricane Creek NF Campground, Joseph, OR

We’d passed a National Forest campground and decided to turn around and stay there for the night rather than drive to Enterprise and explore another forest road so late in the day. When I found a wide spot in the road, big enough for my RV to turn around in, we made our way back to the campground. As suspected there was no cell signal – so we had the night off of work! For $6/night, with all three spots that were big enough for my rig and Bob’s van open, we decided to call it home.  It’s a small campground with about 13 sites, resting right on Hurricane Creek, which even at this time of year was flowing freely, providing a nice backdrop to the already cool and misty evening.

The next day we drove back down to the RV parking lot in town to work for a couple of hours before Bob took off for Salt Lake City to meet up with his son who flew in from Alaska.  When Bob invited me to go, I debated, but in the end was looking forward to some time alone to finish exploring that part of Oregon.  We’d been planning to head to Seattle to see Bob’s friend Suanne and I thought I might still head there – or maybe the Columbia River. Or Maybe Couer d’Alene, Idaho. “Who knows?” I thought, “that’s the beauty of my new life. I can go anywhere I want and I can decide tomorrow!” But I couldn’t go anywhere until my mail arrived- I still have a couple clients who pay me by check – and they are on their way!

hydrant-in-josephAfter Bob left for Salt Lake City, I worked for a few hours and then headed toward Wallowa Lake to do some exploring. But first the post office… no mail – sigh. It was Friday. That meant I was stuck there through the weekend, which wasn’t the end of the world, but I hate feeling trapped! .

The drive to Wallowa Lake was scenic and I found a day use area with good 4G, a beach and a gorgeous view of the lake. I made a mental note and continued toward the State Park sprawled at the base of the Little Alps on the other end of the lake.   Once there I discovered a little touristy lake-side community with cafes, restaurants, hotels and the Wallowa Lake State Park.  I considered spending the $30 to stay there, but there was no cell signal.  I decided I’d rather stealth camp in town. I spent some time at the day use area, took Capone for a walk on the lakeshore and relaxed a bit before driving back to the RV parking lot in town to get some work done.

I ended up parking in front of Joseph Community Center  across from the Forest Service for the night. Other than a little bit of traffic and loud drunks passing by when the restaurants and bars closed, it wasn’t bad.

I woke up early and drove to the Wallowa Lake day use area and boat ramp, made coffee, turned on my generator and got to work.

another-lake-view-wallowa-joseph

Later I drove to the small neighboring town of Enterprise. A really cool, sleepy little town, with streets lined with buildings that used to house bustling businesses – now scarce with a consignment shop, a couple of restaurants and cafes and empty storefronts and offices.  Unlike the relative bustle of Joseph, Enterprise felt like a ghost town. It’s wide streets, empty and plenty of room for me to park my RV.  Which was convenient since I found Gypsy Café and couldn’t resist stopping in for an almond milk Cappuccino!

I also noticed ample opportunities for stealth camping around town both on the streets and near the small city park off the main drag. After hitting Safeway for a few groceries, I ended up at the little league field behind it. The parking lot was far enough away from homes, that I doubted anyone would even notice I was there. I spent the whole afternoon without seeing a single person visit the field – it was only near nightfall that a few people showed up to walk their dogs and play with their kids. I could see the curious looks as I peeked through my curtains, but I spent the night with no issue. The next morning, after coffee and a couple hours of writing, I moved on to another location to get a blog published and then back to Hurricane Creek Campground.

I spent a peaceful night in the dewy forest and headed out the next day to get my mail (it HAD to be there by now!) and hit the road to Coeur d’Alene!

As you know from my last blog that didn’t quite go as planned and I ended up staying an extra day to get some repairs done on the RV. But at last, on Wednesday I was on my way! Only I’d changed my plans:  instead of Coeur d’Alene I headed to Walla Walla, Washington!

 

rv life in umatilla national forest

Van or RV: What should you live in?

 

When I decided to become a full time RVer my first consideration was what should I buy? I wanted a mobile home comfortable enough to live and work in but not so comfortable that I never wanted to go outside. My intent, after all was to spend more time in nature.

Now that I’ve lived in my RV for 6 months, I have a much better idea of what my needs are. When I buy my next one, I think I’ll do things a little differently, so I thought I’d share what I’ve come to realize about the choice I made to live in a 29’ Class C RV and why I sometimes wish I’d chosen something smaller.

Here are some things to consider when choosing your van or RV to live in.

What’s your budget for your live-in RV or Van? –

Yep, of course it always comes down to how much you can spend.  The fact is, older Class C and Class A RVs are cheap. For under $10,000 you can buy something decent that will last you a couple years, at least (most likely a fixer-upper).   Class Bs like Sprinter Vans or even older MotorTreks cost a lot more (even older MotorTreks are $20-$30k), but are durable and dependable.   You may be able to get a box van, or truck with a camper for less, but you’ll have to search long and hard to find a good deal.

What I learned: don’t rush into buying your RV or van to live in. Think about how you want to live and what will make sense for your budget and comfort. If you don’t have a huge budget (and want to pay cash like I did), take your time. Deals are out there; you just have to be diligent and patient (2 qualities I lack!) to find the best vehicle and the best value for you.

 How important is gas mileage? 

The obvious fact here is, the bigger the rig the more horrible your gas mileage will be.  But this may not be a big deal to you. If you’re planning on living in an RV park 3-6 months at a time and not doing a lot of sight-seeing or traveling, or you’re going to primarily stay in one area, you may value comfort over gas mileage and go with a bigger RV. However, if you’re going to be traveling – MPGs will be a huge deal. Huge. (it costs me $100 to travel about 250 miles). You’ll need to figure out what your monthly living budget is and how much you can afford to spend on gas. Then decide if a big RV that gets  8 mpg or a van getting around 14+ mpg makes more sense for you.

WHERE are you going to live in your RV or Van?

This is another huge decision to make before buying your RV or Van to live in.  When you picture your new Nomadic or RV Life what comes to mind?  Do you see RV Parks and Campgrounds? Remote forests?  Desert? Or traveling across the country seeing all the sites and cities?

Here’s why this is so important:

  • RV Parks and Campgrounds: Any vehicle under 30’ can go in just about any RV park or campground (and most can take a larger RV) – so if you want to stick with RV Parks and developed campgrounds, any vehicle would be ideal, for the conditions.
  • Stealth Camping in cities and towns: Trust me there is nothing stealthy about a 29’ RV. While I like to kid myself, and think I can blend into a neighborhood, community college parking lot, country road or strip mall, there is no hiding a big RV. If you’re parked someplace you don’t normally see an RV overnight,  chances are, people will know you’re sleeping in it. A Van, Class B or even truck-camper is much stealthier and will allow you to fly under the radar better when you need to stealth camp. Not to say you can’t get away with sleeping in your RV in cities and towns- I’ve done it plenty – but it’s harder to find places that won’t raise red flags so  there’s always the worry you’ll be discovered and booted out (knocks on the door in the middle of the night are unnerving!).
  • Remote National Forest and BLM lands: This is where I have a lot of experience!  Have I mentioned that I didn’t quite get the fear gene?  Sure, common sense might tell some people not to take a 29’x10’x8’ home-on-wheels on rocky, rutted, narrow, overgrown, barely-roads in national forests, but, seriously, where’s the fun in that?  Instead, I’ve made it my personal mission to prove that having a 29’ Class C RV doesn’t have to stop you from going to remote National Forest lands.  (Ok, ok, we won’t talk about the bumper that’s no longer attached, the duct tape holding the corner panel together, the many crushed and shattered lights – oh and the hole in the back where a branch poked straight through – but hey, it’s my starter rig!).         Yes, I am still learning to drive it and yes, I am also learning its limitations, but I’m also realizing (much to my deep disappointment) RVs are not meant for off-roading!  In a truck or a van, you might have some lee-way on backing up and “feeling your way” when you can’t quite see everything, but RVs are flimsy and so cheaply made, you just can’t do that without damage. This is probably the #1 thing I regret – not knowing how cheaply built RVs truly are. The amount of damage to my rig already is ridiculous, seriously one little tap of a rock or a tree and shit just falls off. (check out this video of me getting stuck – and my friend pulling me out!)off-395

What I learned:  if you want get away from it all and travel on bumpy, rutted, bouncy, sandy and rocky barely-roads, a more rugged, smaller vehicle might be best for you. (I’ve decided I need a conversion military tank to go where I want to go!)

Nomad Living Comfort and Amenities

  • How much home-like comfort do you need? I’ve met people who live out of barely-converted box vans and they’re quite content; pooping in a bucket, cooking on a camp stove or hot plate and having everything they own within arm’s reach. When I decided to live in an RV I basically thought of it as downsizing to a tiny home that I could park in national forests and have the most amazing backyards ever – “home” being the operative word. I like having a toilet. I love to cook so a stove, oven and a refrigerator were must-haves (plus I wanted to be remote and limit my in-town visits, so the fridge is necessary for my fresh produce). Since I knew I’d be living and working in the RV I thought a separate bedroom was necessary (and because 55lb, 11-year-old Capone sleeps with me, I couldn’t use the cabover).   But now, I wish I’d done without the separate bedroom, I could have gone with a 25′ Class C and been just as happy. One thing I do love is all the windows the RV has, so even when I’m working inside I can feel close to nature. stealth camping in an RV
  • How much time will you spend inside? I wanted something big enough to have the comforts of home, yet not so big that I’d want to stay inside longer than I’d need to. I am learning I spend much more time in my RV than I thought I would. But I do work a lot. so, I wonder if I’d gotten something smaller – or a van – would I still be inside all the time and miserably claustrophobic? Or would that have forced me to find ways to get outside more? I don’t know. But my advice for you is to consider this when choosing your RV or van to live in. It’s not easy to break old habits. And the fact is there are insects, rain, wind and heat to consider when being outside. We’ve been in dwellings for millions of years – just because you decide to sell the house and buy the RV doesn’t mean that instinct to be comfy and cozy inside is going to go away. So, consider your RV or van home purchase with that in mind.

It’s hard to know what you’re going to need and be comfortable in until you get out there – and even then, you may not know exactly what’s right. Most full timers that I’ve met who’ve been doing it a while have gone through several different types of vehicles… trying new ones on for size very few years.

I have no doubts my next mobile home will be smaller, tougher and more agile. For those of you who’ve been doing this a while, what would you change about your RV or van home? And for those who are still planning, what are your questions or concerns?