Tag: safety

Wildfire Safety

It’s summer! The days are longer, the sun is brighter, and the temperatures are higher. Do you know what this means for most of the western United States? If you guessed Wildfire Season you guessed right. It’s a sad reality for many western states. From May to October wildfires present tremendous risk to our National Forests and a huge potential to destroy them. Wildfires can begin in a heartbeat and spread within minutes.  Do you know Wildfire Safety while camping or boondocking?

It Could Happen to YOU!

Recently, I stayed at Lake Cochiti campgrounds. Just as I settled in, I received notice to evacuate due to wildfires spreading only five miles away. I was close to the Cerro Pelado Wildfire near Santa Fe, New Mexico. I’d been watching the smoke come over the ridge for a few days. But, I was told it wouldn’t cross over into the campground. Well, that assumption and information were DEAD wrong.

When I had to rush to pack up and leave, it got me thinking. I spend a lot of time in forests. I need to arm myself with more information about what to do in case of wildfires.

A few months ago, I released a video about preparing for weather emergencies, but I didn’t talk about wildfires. And the honest answer is I didn’t know how to talk about it. I’d never experienced it as a danger while boondocking. Well, now I can talk about wildfire preparedness. I’ve done the research to find tools, apps, and resources to help me prepare. Having armed myself with knowledge, I feel safer while camping on public lands and I don’t fear getting caught in a wildfire. I’ve done the work, so you don’t have to start from scratch. 

Ready? Let’s dive into how to stay safe if a wildfire breaks out while you are camping or boondocking.

No time to read and want to listen to the original video about my wildfire experience from my YouTube Channel? Click below.

Tips & What You NEED to Know

Boondocking on public lands adds an extra element of danger for recreational vehicle dwellers. I’m sharing what I learned about boondocking safely in national forests (since that’s where most of the wildfires are), tools for staying informed on fires in your area, and how to be prepared if you need to evacuate.  

Tips When Boondocking Near Wildfires

#1 DO NOT GO OFF-GRID!
If you are within 100-miles of a wildfire, stay within range for cell signal. You need to have your location, GPS, and emergency alerts on at all times. High winds accompany wildfires and can change at any time, changing the direction without warning.

#2 KNOW Where You Are. You need to know the closest towns around you.  Remember, boondocking in a forest alone means no one will be there to tell you to evacuate or what town to head to or away from. After you are settled, take a look at what type of emergency alert system the towns use. If a town near you gets evacuated, YOU NEED TO GO! Don’t stay, pack up and get moving to safety. 

Pro Tip:

Three places to check for alerts: Facebook for local Fire or Police, the National Forest Service for the forest you’re in (follow them on Twitter for FAST, real-time updates), and the City Government Offices near you. Some cities will use an emergency alert system to notify the town of evacuation in the event of a wildfire. Call the City to find out if you can sign up for text/phone alerts, but stay proactive and alert in case phone alerts fail.  

#3 Don’t Camp Alone. While solitude is great, (and you all know how much I like camping alone!) in this situation, if you know you are near wildfires, there is safety in numbers. You never know who might have a resource, like a HAM Radio, to help receive information about the fire and evacuation notices.  

#4 Make a Plan. Prepare ahead of time! Have an evacuation plan, know how you came in. Find an alternate route out, if possible. If you think you might need to make a quick getaway, bring all your things inside and stowed for travel, bring in your awning and anything else that will take you more than 5 or 10 minutes to pack up. Look at the towns around you and find their emergency evacuation routes. Know your way out!

Helpful Resources and Apps for Wildfire Alerts

Wildfire Safety Resources

FEMAFema.gov and available in your app store. You can sign-up for email and text alerts. You can enter up to 5 locations and you can change them as you move around. Make sure you locate towns north, south, east, and west of where you are camping.

National Weather Service: Website weather.gov and available in your app store.

Clime App: Fire Weather Alerts

Fire, Weather & Avalanche CenterFireWeatherAvalanche.org and search FWAC in your app store: This website/app will show you how big the fire is, containment, weather conditions, smoke drift, and more.

Ready.gov/wildfires: National service to help people prepare for disasters and emergencies.

Smokeybear.com: Learn more about Wild Fires and Wild Fire behavior. The more knowledge you have, the more confident you will be when needing to respond in this type of situation.

TIP: You can GOOGLE search the fire name to find more specific and updated information as well! Stay proactive and know the name of the fire(s) in your area. Typically, this search brings up a link to local information reported about the fire and possible Facebook pages to follow for local police and fire.

Wildfire Safety prepared

Stay Alert, Stay Safe During Wildfire Season

Having accurate, current information about your surroundings can be critical for anyone living a nomad life or even if you are just a recreational camper. Knowing how to stay safe near wildfires while camping or boondocking and having a safety plan can be the difference between life and death for you. Literally. 

Wildfires are fierce and unpredictable and often uncontainable. Know your surroundings, and have a plan. Be prepared, be happy, be free, and be safe this summer.

Other Resources from Carolyn’s RV Life:

RV Life Extreme Weather Survival Guide Vid

Extreme Weather Safety Blog

Tips for Keeping Your Dog Cool in Your RV

How to Stay Cool in Your RV During the Heat of Summer

Escaping the Heat in Florida’s Blue Springs Park (click below)

Have a question for me or want to chat about RV Life? Check out my Roadside Chat with Carolyn Video Call HERE: Live Calls with Carolyn and Personal Video Messages – Carolyn’s RV Life (carolynsrvlife.com)

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.

Safety Tips for RV Living and Extreme Weather

Weather Safety Tips for RV Life

Living and traveling full-time in my Class C RV since 2016, I have experienced more extreme weather this year than any other time. I have encountered tornado watches in Wyoming, windstorms that knocked down trees, and blocked forest roads causing difficulty to get out. I have been in heavy winds in the desert, to the derecho (which is a long stream of wind and thunderstorms), that I had to escape in Wisconsin. With these real-life lessons, I’ve learned it is imperative to know safety tips for RV living and extreme weather.

Just recently, I was under another tornado watch in Arkansas. I found out the next day after waking up I was only a hundred miles from the tornadoes that wreaked devastation across four states. My heart and thoughts are with everyone affected by that horrible devastation caused by those tornadoes. Sadly, I think severe weather occurrences are only going to get worse. So it’s critical to know how to keep yourself and your loved ones safe, especially if you live in a vehicle.

Be Prepared Living on the Road or in Sticks & Bricks

Living as a Nomad, either in an RV, bus, or car, we are at higher risk than any other group. What puts us at higher risk? We’re often in unfamiliar places. Living in California most of my adult life, I know what to do and where to go for help if there was an Earthquake. I was familiar with the community and the resources offered. Nomads do not have that familiarity. We are at a disadvantage, especially if we are moving a lot. We probably won’t know the surrounding area, where the safe places are, where to get help, and in some cases, we don’t even know what to expect from the weather.

Weather Safety Tips for Nomad Living

As I was lying in bed the other night, I started getting alert after alert on my phone for a tornado watch. My first thought was that I don’t know what to do if a tornado hits! I don’t even know if there are warning signs before a tornado hits. This situation got me thinking about other nomads and newbie RVers. So, I decided to put together the single most comprehensive bad weather/extreme weather safety guide out there. I will share how to stay safe in tornadoes, hurricanes, severe thunderstorms, high wind events, earthquakes, flash floods, and extreme hot/cold temperatures. Everything you need to stay safe while living in your vehicles and traveling is right here in one place.

Here is a baseline guide of seven things you need to have in an emergency. These are general tips for just about anything, whether living a nomadic lifestyle or even a static lifestyle, that will help you be prepared in an emergency.

7 Safety Tips:

1) Keep a cell phone charged and a charged backup battery.

2) Have clean water and food ready.

3) Fill your gas tank.

3) Have a bug-out bag packed with a flashlight, cell phone charger and backup battery, a transistor radio and batteries, a flashlight, water purification system, and your important papers (ID, Passport, medical records, prescriptions, bank info, etc.) and don’t forget your Vet records for your pet.

4) Have a plan for your pet.

5) Know your area- what weather is it prone to?

6) Be familiar with the nearest shelter/grocery store/gas station/hospital/vet/ have emergency phone numbers on hand for the area.

7) Have a reliable weather alert system in place.

These are general safety tips to help you be more prepared in case of a major emergency. Now let’s talk about specific weather types you may encounter while traveling the country and how to stay safe.

Specific Weather Conditions

The first one is not weather-related, but still an environmental threat: Earthquakes. In California, it is common for people to jokingly say, “It feels like earthquake weather today.” Really, there is no scientific evidence that weather changes cause earthquakes, and there are no warning signs. Here are important things to know and do in the event of an earthquake.

Earthquake safety for full-time RVers

Earthquake Safety Tips

  • Drop, cover, and hold on to something sturdy and stable.
  • Protect your head and neck with your arms and hands.
  • Get out of your RV if parked under power lines.
  • Follow the 7 Safety Tips I listed above.
High wind and living in an RV

Heavy Wind Safety Tips

Wind as low as 10 miles per hour can cause problems when driving an RV. Always be aware of this. I have encountered some pretty heavy wind while driving, and it is not a fun experience. The wind can flip your RV around like a soccer ball. Most RVs can withstand winds up to 75 miles per hour when parked. So remember, it’s usually safer to be parked during a wind storm.

  • When parked, point the nose of RV into the wind and hold on. It takes a lot to flip an RV, especially a Class A or C.
  • Avoid parking under trees, find a clearing to prevent injury or damage from falling trees or limbs.
  • If boondocking, think about if you can get out if trees fall and block the roadway. How remote are you? Either stay closer to town or carry a chainsaw or an ax to remove fallen tree branches.
  • Secure everything down, on, and around your RV. You do not want to have to go out in the storm and risk injury during a storm to save your favorite camp chair!
Thunderstorm safety tips for RV dwellers

Thunderstorms Weather Safety Tips

Midwest weather in the summer and fall usually consists of rain and thunderstorms. How do we stay safe in our RVs during severe thunderstorms?

  • You are safe from lightning inside your RV as long as it has an aluminum/steel frame, which most have.
  • If plugged into shore power, unplug and turn off all electronic systems in case of a lightning strike to prevent damage. 
  • During heavy thunderstorms, watch out for flash flooding. Know if you are near a stream, river, or creek that could overflow and drag you down. Washes in the desert that may look like they have been dry for years can rage in a matter of seconds. When you see them filling with water, get on high ground!
  • Hail can damage your RV solar panels, vent covers, and roof. It’s best to find shelter for your RV, if possible.
Tornado preparedness for nomads

Sleeping in a Tornado’s Backyard

I was a hundred miles from the crazy tornadoes that ripped through four states on December 11, 2021. I was under a tornado watch for 12 hours. For those not living in tornado alley, in case you did not know, the weather service issues a tornado watch and then a tornado warning. A tornado watch is not as serious as a warning. With a tornado warning, you need to be hyper-vigilant and pay attention to what is going on around you. The tornado watch was supposed to end at Midnight.

As I tried to go to sleep, I kept getting alert after alert on my phone, updating the situation to let me know what was happening in my area. I could see lightning all around me. I started thinking, “Will I know if a tornado is coming? What will I do? Should I stay in my RV?” I want you to remember that just because you are only under a watch, this does not mean you are not in danger! Tornadoes can change directions in an instant. Below are ways I found you can stay safe during a tornado while staying in your RV or vehicle.

Tornado Safety Tips

  • Watch for a rotating and/or funnel-shaped cloud, an approaching cloud of debris, and listen for roar like a freight train.
  • If you are driving – PULL OVER! 
  •  Do not stay in your RV! Get out and seek shelter.
  • If under a tornado warning, find the nearest shelter. Visit the Red Cross website here and zoom in on the map. Do not assume a shelter is open!
  • Seek shelter on the ground floor of a concrete building or basement stay away from outside walls, windows, and doors.
  • DO NOT go under an overpass or bridge.
  • If no shelter is available, lay flat on the ground in the lowest level you can find, like a ditch. Always beware of flash flooding zones.
  • Use your arms to protect the head and neck.

Tornadoes also come with the danger of unpredictability because we often do not always know the direction they will continue to travel in. I would rather stay where I am than be on the road in severe weather. Just because we live on wheels, it does not mean that it is always an option to drive away. Hurricanes also come with this same danger.

Hurricane safety for RVers

Hurricane Season is Real

Did you know there is an actual hurricane season? Right now, this schedule is fluid because of the changing environment. The current seasons to be aware of for hurricanes are:

Eastern Pacific Hurricane Season: May 15 – November 30.

Atlantic Hurricane Season: June 1 – November 30.

Central Pacific Hurricane Season: June 1 – November 30.

Emergency sirens sound to alert residents of a hurricane (or tornado) approaching. Most communities in hurricane/tornado regions use sirens, so find out if the area you are staying in uses emergency sirens. Remember, you do not want to prevent yourself from hearing the sirens at night, so do not sleep with headphones or ambient noise playing too loud. Follow the below guidelines to stay safe during a hurricane in your RV.

Hurricane Safety Tips

  • Pay attention to Hurricane Evacuation Zones on your weather alert channel or App. If you are in one – LEAVE! 
  • DO NOT STAY INSIDE YOUR RV! Get out of your RV and find shelter, like listed with tornado safety.
  • Be aware of the high risk of FLOODING. Be mindful of where you take shelter! 
  • DO NOT walk, swim or drive through floodwaters. Just 6 inches of water can knock you down and drag you away. One foot of water can pull a vehicle away.
  • If you are stuck, find a sturdy building or hill and park your RV on the opposite side from the wind.
  • Check to ensure all doors and windows are closed and locked to prevent water damage.
  • Park on a level spot.
  • If you are parked and on leveling blocks, roll-off of them for better stabilization and less chance of wind coming under and flipping your RV over.
  • There are some techniques for anchoring your RV with wheel chocks, stabilizing jacks, etc. Visit VEHQ.com for a complete How-To Guide on anchoring.

Extreme Heat and Cold Safety Tips

We’re going to be seeing more extreme heat and cold in the years to come. It’s difficult to escape the heat and cold when living in an RV. So what do you do? You can change your elevation.

  • For heat – go HIGH! Higher elevation is always cooler. Learn how to prepare for warmer weather and stay cool with this video. Click here to view.
  • For Cold – go LOW.
  • Plugin to shore power or use your generator so you can keep things warm/cool.
  • Winterize/summarize your RV. Watch the video below for Winter RV Living MUST Haves!
  • Stay in a hotel if you can when temperatures are extreme.
  • Protect your Pet! Extreme heat and cold can be dangerous to your pets too!

You can visit my Shop Page here to view items I use to heat my RV. Visit my Amazon Store here for more ideas for your RV.

Resources/Tools to Use

NOAA

Now let’s talk about some of the best resources that you can use to stay safe on the road when encountering extreme weather. The first tool I want to tell you about is the NOAA all-hazards radiofrequency. Did you know 98% of the population is under their radio frequency? Visit www.weather.gov/nwr for a list of radio stations where you can get up-to-date weather information.

CLIME APP

The second one is the App called CLIME. This App is the NOAA Weather Radar Live app that is an all-in-one weather tracker and uses your GPS signal to alert you on conditions where you are in real-time. This App, by the way, told me I was under a tornado watch. It sent alerts to me on the tornado status and thunderstorm status. I had my alerts turned on for both. I received a notification every time lightning struck within five miles. The app uses real-time radar and enables you to see which direction the storm is going. Monitoring the storm around me and saw I was just on the edge of it. Using the App, I escaped the derecho up in the Midwest. I just barely missed it! I drove out of the path of the storm using this app as a guide.  

“Ryan Hall Y’all”

The final resource I want to tell you about is a guy on YouTube. This guy is amazing! His information is better than most weather stations or weather channels. He’s called Ryan Hall Y’all. You can follow him on YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter. He seems to be an amateur meteorologist and avid weather enthusiast that borders on expert predictions. I’ve been keeping an eye on him for awhile, and he is good at predicting the direction storms are traveling and new storm development. Ryan is very thorough and very meticulous about his data.  I think he is an excellent resource. I have subscribed to his channel and am now going to be using his information for planning purposes. Check out his YouTube channel here

Stay Safe, Stay Happy, Stay Free

I hope you found this helpful and a resource that you will refer to time again, in your RV life and maybe even in your regular sticks and bricks life. Check out the video I posted with all this information as well! 

Here are some quick resources I used to put this guide together.

Ready.gov  for all emergencies 

State Farm Hurricane Tips 

Hurricane Survival Guide

Another video you might like from my channel about high winds: Surviving Crazy Winds in an RV: https://youtu.be/B3wUldsSCuk

And as always…

BE HAPPY, BE FREE, BE KIND. ♥ Subscribe to my YouTube Channel for more RV Life How Tos and Not Tos.

Carolyn's RV Life on YouTube

CaroynsRVLife.tv

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.

10 Must Have Items for Full-Time RV Living

I shared the 10 Must Have Items for Full-Time RV Living in a recent video to help you prepare for full time RV or Van Life.

After living in an RV for nearly 4 years, I’ve learned there are some tools, services and products that I can’t live without. I share those with you and why they’re critical to successful and comfortable full time RV Life!

RV Living and Van Life Necessities

Here are a few of the must have items for Full-Time RV Living or van dwelling, I cover in the video. You can get the full list – and why they’re so important – in the video!

  1. Good Road- Side Assistance. Not all RV Road Side Assistance plans are created equal – make sure you know what to look for! Watch now!
  2. Nationwide Guarantees and Service Plans – don”t be stranded in Hell Michigan with a warranty only good in Texas! Here’s how to get the best service plans!
  3. The Right Tools – I go over ALL the tools you need to take care of yourself in an emergency. There might be a few here that surprise you!

You can watch the video here!

What are some of the items you’ve found critical to successful RV Living or Van Dwelling? Leave your comments below!

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!

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

I recently drove my 29’ Class C RV over two mountain passes in one day. I climbed from sea level to over 7000 feet,  back down to about 4000 feet, back up to 7000, and finally down to 4000’ again. This is a lot of work for a six-and-a-half-ton RV built on a van chassis.  And as my brakes smoked and spewed the toxic odor of burning brake pads, I realized I had a lot to learn about driving a big Class C Motor Home on mountain roads. The more I drove, the softer my brake pedal became; I had to push it almost all the way to the floor to slow down.  I eventually pulled over to let the brakes cool and that helped, but it didn’t take long for the pedal to get spongy again and by the time I reached the bottom of the grade I was barely stopping at all.  (You can read the whole harrowing story here). I was able to get to the bottom safely by pulling over to let my brakes cool and using low gear, but it was nerve-wracking, to say the least!

Driving RV Mountain Roads

Once I was on flat land again I did research to learn what I’d done wrong to make my RV brakes overheat and fade on the mountain passes. Here is what I learned.

Know Your Route and Prepare Ahead of Time!

I’d driven my Class C RV on plenty of mountain passes in the Sierra Nevada’s, so when I glanced at the Google map and saw the squiggly lines of switch-backed mountain roads, I thought “piece of cake”. What I learned that day is that not all mountain passes are alike. Everything from the length of the grade, steepness of the grade, road conditions and weather can impact travel on mountain roads.

The Lesson: Plan your route ahead. Ask others or do research on the route before you go. My mistake was doing both passes in one day. The grades on both were very steep and very long, causing me to use my brakes a lot! I should have done one pass and rested my brakes at least a couple of hours before tackling the next one.

Driving up to toward Winnemucca, N

Safety First – Know the Condition of your RV

The one thing I had going for me that day is that I’d recently replaced my front brake pads, calipers and rotors. My rear brakes had been inspected and the drums replaced. I knew my brakes were in good shape. So, as I was mentally trouble-shooting what was causing my brakes to slide and smoke, I could deduce they were overheating. However, “to safely control a vehicle, every braking mechanism must do its share of the work. Brakes with excessively worn pads or rotors will not provide the same degree of braking power. If you are not sure about the condition of your braking system, have it inspected by qualified service center.” (Source: FMCA, “Mountain Driving: Let Your Engine Do the Work”)
The Lesson: Keep your vehicle maintenance up to avoid dangerous or even deadly RV brake or engine malfunctions on dangerous roads. If my brakes had been old and worn out, a caliper had gotten stuck or I had a brake fluid leak my situation could have had a very different ending.

 Use Your Motor Home  Engine to Slow You Down!

You should also “shift into low gear before starting the downgrade”,  advises the Family Motor Coach Association (FMCA). FMCA also states, “with motorhomes, a rule for choosing gears has been to use the same gear going down a hill that you would to climb the hill. However, new motorhomes have low-friction parts and streamlined shapes for fuel economy. They may also have more powerful engines. This means they can go up hills in higher gears and have less friction and air drag to hold them back going down hills. For this reason, drivers of newer motorhomes may have to use lower gears going down a hill than would be required to go up the hill.

Usually you want the lowest gear that will keep the motorhome at or near the speed you want in negotiating the downhill. For example, if you’re going down a six-percent grade and wanted to go 35 mph, you would start downshifting and using the brakes to get to an engine rpm that will enable you to maintain a speed at or near 35 mph.”

The Lesson: I drove a stick shift for years and if my RV was a manual shift, downshifting would have been a no-brainer. But with an automatic transmission, I’m always unsure when I should shift into low gear.  A rule of thumb, according to RVers Online who attended an RV Driving School is that if your “RV accelerates more than 5mph going downhill then you need to shift to a lower gear”. How helpful! I will be remembering that!!

On the edge of the Anza Borrego Badlands

Proper RV Braking on Steep Downgrades

RV and Motorhome brakes overheat from excessive use – or “riding”.  Riding your bakes on long steep downgrades will cause your brakes to fade- or with consistent use, to stop working completely.

The Lesson: The goal for safe RV and Motor Home driving on mountain roads is to keep the brakes cool enough to keep working. You can do this by letting up on them for 3 seconds for every 1 second of application. (Source RVersOnline.org)

What to Do if Your Brakes Overheat

If you’re driving your RV or Motor Home down a hill and notice smoking, burning brake odor and/or brake fade, pull over as soon as you are able to do so safely and let the brakes cool. Turn off the engine and test the brake pedal if, after sitting a while, the sponginess disappears and the brake pedal becomes firm again, most likely your issue is brake overheating. It’s best to let your brakes cool completely before getting back on the road; that could take an hour or more depending on weather conditions.

Overheating your RV brakes can cause permanent damage to your pads, rotors and calipers. If you do overheat them, it’s best to get them checked out by a brake service center as soon as possible.

Do you have any RV driving safety tips you’d like to share? Or how about a scary story to share? Leave your comments below!

Solo RV Living Safety for Women and men

16 Safety Tips for Solo RV Living (and Vandwelling too!)

I don’t subscribe to “the world is a mean and scary place” agenda that is prominent in our media these days.  Our news has become a joke. With a 24 hour news cycle, they literally scrape the bottom of the barrel for stories to keep their ratings up 24/7. And guess what sells? FEAR.

Safety Advice from a  Solo Traveler and RVer 

I’ve backpacked over 400 miles in the back-country alone. I’ve traveled to 8 countries alone. I’ve lived alone in some rough neighborhoods in and around San Francisco and Oakland. And now  I live and travel in an RV alone. Guess what, I’m still here. Unharmed and safe and sound.

The world isn’t as scary as some would have you believe. Umatilla national forest campsite oregon

With that said, we do have to take precautions for that “just in case” AND perhaps it’s street smarts and gut instinct that have kept me safe. So, here is how I stay safe traveling alone:

16 Tips for Safety when you live and travel alone in an RV or Van.

  1. Always give the impression you aren’t alone: put out two camp chairs and a couple pairs of shoes.
  2. Get a giant pair of men’s shoes to put outside your door.
  3. Carry bear spray and learn how to use it – BEFORE you need it!
  4. Carry a baseball bat (and glove so it doesn’t look like a weapon, which is illegal in some states, like California) and keep it by your bed at night.
  5. Keep your cell phone close by at night and know where you are: your address, GPS coordinates, etc.
  6. Keep a set of keys with you at all times and another someplace inside your RV or Van that would be easy to grab in an emergency. bigstock_vector_burglar_3457584
  7.  Don’t leave hammers, hatchets, or other heavy tools laying around outside your RV! (they could be used as weapons against you)
  8. Get intimidating signs for your windows. “Beware of Dog” or something gun related.
  9. Be aware of your surroundings! – Know who is around you and what kind of people your area attracts. Get out if it doesn’t feel right.
  10. Trust your gut. NEVER EVER second guess your gut! If you feel something isn’t right,  just GO. NOW!
  11. Point your RV, Van or Rig in your escape route. Don’t get stuck in an emergency always be pointing in the direction of your ‘out’.
  12. Strategically place your tools around your RV. Don’t just leave your tools in one place, you never know which direction danger could come. Leave tools around your RV so you can get to them no matter where danger might come from.
  13.  Use your car alarm. In an emergency sound your RV or van alarm – that could scare off potential threats.
  14. Buy a siren or loud horn.  In an emergency this will attract attention and scare off the bad guys.
  15. Get a dog! A scary one, not a fluffy white one.
  16. A gun is a personal decision. There are plenty of gun owners out there who  want you to believe if you don’t have a gun you’re just asking to be murdered, raped and pillaged. The fact is, street smarts, common sense, and gut instinct  go a long way toward protecting yourself. Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t be safe without a gun.  If you’re comforable with a gun, get a gun, But if you’re not, don’t. Trust me, you WILL most likely survive.

In this video I tell a story of my one and only scary night so far of RV living and the lessons I learned. I also go into more detal about all of these tips:

14 Things I Learned in My First 4 Months of RV Living

This week was my 4-month anniversary living in an RV!

Last week, I posted a blog about the day I left the backyard of my suburban apartment and embarked on my new life. And today I’m sitting in my RV, writing and working,  while enjoying a warm breezy day, the sound of a gentle stream and views of Deschutes National Forest right outside my door. I have to admit; life is pretty damn good!

Four months ago, when I started this new chapter, I had a whole bunch of ideas about what this life would look like. Guess what? It looks nothing like that!  (What is that saying about the best laid plans??? ) All I know is that nothing every turns out like I plan – and it’s always better than I could have imagined.

RV Life is full of surprises!

  1. I thought I’d stay close to my home-base in the Bay Area and try to retain a small portion of my old professional life. The fact is, trying to live in an RV in such a densely populated area completely sucked. My goal had been to live in National Forests a couple hours away and commute back a couple times a month. This proved to be too expensive and stressful.
  2. Trying to find remote places to live with a cell signal was harder than I thought. I’m not retired, I have to work. Many of the places I’d planned on living had zero cell coverage. Which meant I had to spend more time in cities. I have to tell ya, trying to be invisible and fly under the radar living in a 29’ Class C RV, so people don’t think I’m a homeless vagrant got old pretty quick. (Read my blog, “How to Stealth Camp in a 29′ Class C RV” here).
  3. Saying goodbye to California! Oh my gosh, how uptight and mean California seems now that I’m living on the fringes of society! When I left California for Arizona two months ago, I knew I never wanted to go back; I fell in love with the open space, the tiny, uncrowded towns and the obvious absence of “Do Not Enter”, “No Trespassing” and “Private Property” signs.  Over the past two months, I’ve spent 2 weeks in California – and 6 of those days was a backpacking trip. I love California, but not as a full time RVer!
  4. I have a traveling companion! I’m independent and I like being alone.  Sure, I had some reservations about constantly being alone, living in remote areas of the National Forests, but I knew I’d be just fine.  The last thing I expected when I headed to Arizona for CheapRVLiving.com’s summer Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) was to meet someone I’d develop a deep connection with and end up traveling with. Today Bob and I have been traveling together on and off  for 5 weeks. It’s nice to have a fellow nomad to be with when I want company and who understand when I need my alone time and need to take off for a few days – or few weeks! After-all, my new life s about freedom and living my life MY way: no exceptions.

    Bob and Cody at Crater Lake on my Birthday
    Bob and Cody at Crater Lake on my Birthday

Besides my RV Life looking quite different than I’d expected, I’ve learned a TON! (There is so much to learn!).

Here are the most practical things I’ve learned so far about living full time in an RV:

  1. I can boondock for 2 weeks before I need to dump my black and gray water tanks and fill  fresh water (F/W 33G + 6G H/W; B/W 33G; G/W 25G)
  2. Propane lasts me about 3 weeks (13.9G). I cook twice a day, it runs my refrigerator and I turn on the water heater maybe once a week. I  can also run the heat for about 30 minutes in the morning 4-5 days per week.
  3. All of the sensor lights for black and gray water, propane and battery levels on the range hood are useless. They either don’t work at all or are inaccurate. The only one that works is the fresh water light.
  4. My house battery needs to be filled with distilled water about once per month. (I fried my first battery).

    Great views - near Lake Tahoe
    Great views – near Lake Tahoe
  5. You have to own a voltmeter! Property house battery charging and maintenance is very important if you don’t want to keep frying batteries! (I’ve bought two already – but in all fairness, the first one came with the RV and was 5 years old).
  6. I will never ever ever be completely dirt-free again.  I live with dirt, eat wit dirt and even sleep with dirt. When you boondock in National Forests, dirt is a fact of life (especially with Capone).
  7. A daily sponge bath is just as good as a shower and uses about 1/10 of the water. (Speaking of bathing – baby wipes are your friend – stock up!)
  8. Canned goods can never be stored in overhead cabinets securely – no matter what, they shift and move around when I drive. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had cans come crashing on my head after moving camp.  The other night, I almost killed Bob with a giant mason jar full of lentils!
  9. This lifestyle is NOT necessarily cheap. All that money I thought I’d save by not paying rent??? Yeah, it goes in the gas tank and repairs. I was at the gas station one day and the guy next to me looked over my rig and said,  “that thing  must really eat the gas!” I replied, “yeah, I call it ‘Rent’”.  I get somewhere between 8-9 MPG.
  10. 30 Gigs of data is barely enough – I started out with 10 – and now I barely get by with 30. I only stream about 3-4 hours of TV a month, the rest is work; email, social media, uploads and downloads, etc.
  11. “No Trespassing” means NO Trespassing. In my first four weeks, I was kicked out of 4 different spots. For some reason I thought “Full Time RVer” meant “Outlaw” and rules didn’t apply to me! I was quickly set straight by unamused property owners, security guards and police officers.  I’m now happy to say my outlaw days are over and I’m a law abiding Nomad (mostly). More about this in my blog about stealth camping in a Class C RV. 

    "Stealth" camping in Auburn, CA
    “Stealth” camping in Auburn, CA
  12. I really wish I’d gotten my rig inspected before I bought it. New issues pop up almost every day. Yesterday I turned on my water heater and the place flooded with the smell of propane. My fuse keeps blowing in my speedometer and odometer and the last time I tried to change it, it sparked… so it stays blown (find out why this was a huge deal!)  My ABS light has been on for two months. My engine stopped charging my house battery… the list just never ends. Learn from my mistakes: get your rig inspected before you buy it!!! (So,, at the very least, you know what needs work = peace of mind!).  (Read my future blogs about the transmission rebuild.. ughhh): 
  13. The only weapons I need are my common sense and my gut. But a bat, an ice ax, a hatchet, bear spray and sword don’t hurt for backup! Seriously, I was out in some remote places alone for a couple months and all I needed was my common sense. Read my blog about Solo RV Life Safety or watch the video.
  14. Living in an RV has ruined me. Already, I can’t imagine ever going back.  Even on my toughest days (and there have been a few – especially in the beginning), the thought of going back to my former life fills me with angst and dread. My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner.  I am exactly where I want to be!

I’m sure there are a million other things I’ve learned – and have yet to learn. I’ll be sharing them as they come up.

I look forward to celebrating many more anniversaries on the road!

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a fulltime RVer? And if you’re still in the planning stages, what’s your biggest concern or fear?