Leaving Little London

The Leaving Little London Carnival (or Circus???)

Go to our happy place.  OUR HAPPY PLACE....
Go to our happy place.  OUR HAPPY PLACE....
Go to our happy place. OUR HAPPY PLACE….

I feel like a broken record saying WOW, what a long time it has been, and that I have been very busy, BLAH BLAH BLAH…….. But really, the last several weeks have been CRAZY.  Sometimes crazy good, sometimes…..welllllllll not so much.  Having said that, we know how blessed we are to be living this life, and I hope that we continue to take full advantage of it.  The benefits have been great and we already see a much closer relationship with Z.  Mainly because she hasn’t had the opportunity to make a lot of friends.  But hey, a win is a win.

So what has gone on?  I know you are probably yelling at your screen by now for me to quit tip toeing and just get to it.  So without further adieu, I present to you, THE LAST 3 WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEKS.

As mentioned in our last post, we were at Lake Whitney in Texas.  We had a nice site, and although the heat was continuing to kick us in the junk, we had some time to do some fun things.  We headed to a science museum, but it turned out to be more for little kids and not our big 12 year old.  She made the most out of it and I appreciated her efforts.

Z bear posing at the science museum.
Z bear posing at the science museum.

I love her attitude and love watching her grow up.  We also got to go to a wood turning show and we were blown away by just how creative folks can be.  There were all kinds of awe inspiring creations and Lisa’s dad and family are very in to it.  It’s always GREAT to get to spend time with anyone who is extremely passionate about their craft, no matter the craft.  Z was soaking it in and asking great questions.  Unfortunately, I didn’t take any good photos from that event.

We did meet some fellow full timers and bloggers from http://rvreboot.com/

A really nice younger couple who are spending the year really hitting a TON of states.  When I met them in Texas, they were headed toward Maine and planned to be there in a few weeks.  It’s always interesting to see how people approach this lifestyle, and it’s fun to share stories.

As we wrapped up our stay at Whitney, our plan had always been to head to the Texoma Thousand Trails, then up to Norman OK.  This is where the issues began.  We went to pull in our main slide and heard a few “pops”.  I crapped myself a little bit and we stopped pulling the slide in.  I reversed and put the slide back out and a very nice neighbor came over to see what was going on.  He pointed out that the slide was out further on one side than the other.  You could probably feel the stress radiating off of my gigantic head.  Questions began to swirl and concerns were flooding my way.  As we continued to work on it, all we could come up with was to push it in manually to get it all of the way in.  We were able to do that and we decided to move forward with the plan.  It was a very quiet drive.  When we landed at Texoma, we had to put out the slide in order to live for the night.  Of course it struggled, but with some pushing, we got it all of the way out.  Process repeated the next day as we headed to Norman.

Unfortunately, because we are on this extended trip, taking your home in for repairs is VERY difficult.  On top of that, we were heading to Mexico for a wedding and I just didn’t have the energy nor desire to start getting it looked at right before we left.  I didn’t want to leave any responsibility on my family, and we opted to just set it up and await our return.  Luckily, my father in law has a great friend who allowed us to park Dory on his land and he had a 50amp hook up which allowed our fridge to stay on, a HUGE plus that you probably know about if you know RV’s.

It was actually a great distraction and stress reduction to head to Mexico.  I doubt many know that I am an ordained minister (online) and have been asked by some family and friends to perform their weddings.  I was blessed to have the same happen here and I was lucky to perform the wedding for my awesome family.  Between that and 5 nights of tequila therapy, I didn’t even think about Dory.  It was all pool, party, and good times.

Upgraded to first class.  BOOM
Upgraded to first class. BOOM
The spa, we spent some great time here.
The spa, we spent some great time here.
Pool side drink delivery and meeting new people.
Pool side drink delivery and meeting new people.
What RV????
What RV????
Father Norton espousing words of wisdom or something like that.
Father Norton espousing words of wisdom or something like that.
She said yes......YAYYYY
She said yes……YAYYYY

The flight home began to add weight to my shoulders with every mile.  What were we going to do about Dory?  I feared that we were really starting to cause some additional damage, and I wasn’t sure how to address.  As we got closer to Oklahoma, Lisa and I decided to get Dory from her spot out west of Norman and pull her in to the Cleveland County Fairgrounds in Norman.  It’s the ONLY full hook up RV campground in the area.  You can stay at OU but it’s power and water only.  Great for a weekend football game, not so good for long term.

The debacle debacle

We pulled in to the “campground” (I put quotes because its more of a parking lot with several hook ups), and found that the Fair and Carnival were starting in 2 days.  A fair AND carnival?  YESSSSSSSSS.   What can go wrong with rides that are traveled around the US and have very little governance.  Sign us up.  Of course we bought the unlimited rides package.  We are on this trip for adventure aren’t we?  Well what spells adventure more than taking your life in your own hands at a pop up carnival?  Nothing I tell you, NOTHING.

Looks so safe.  SOOOOO SAFE...
Looks so safe. SOOOOO SAFE…

Many sites were blocked because of the need for parking, and we actually found the only spot remaining.  Again, I hate to sound uppity, but we ended up on a row of permanent tenants and the way they parked it made it VERY difficult to get Dory in.   I think they did it on purpose to try to dissuade people from parking there.  When we set up, getting the slide out was nearly impossible.  We decided enough was enough and we told Jayco we would be calling a mobile repair guy out.  After several calls, we got one we felt comfortable with.  They came and determined that our issue was that one of our motors had been torn up by an errant screw and had been pulled completely out of the housing.  WHAT??????  He was going to order a new motor, but felt sure that this would solve our problems.

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I am no expert, but this looks wrong. You can actually see the screw on the lower left side of the opening and you can see where it was tearing up the motor.

Whew, maybe I am just an over reactor.  Maybe this isn’t so bad.  In a few days, he would come out and sprinkle his magical friggin pixie dust on our trailer and all would be back to normal.  So upon his return with our new motor, I was giddy, like it was Christmas.  He installed. and told me to go ahead and try to pull it in.  Wellllllllll……………………

Look at the top then bottom of the window and tell me if you see an issue.
Look at the top then bottom of the window and tell me if you see an issue.
I must be drinking, because this looks all off to me.
I must be drinking, because this looks all off to me.

Needless to say, Jayco got a call.  The bottom of our slide came in, but the top stayed.  We are stuck.  We really couldn’t even sit in the couch.  And because we were so close to our neighbors, we couldn’t lower the side patio, so we were really out of places to hang out.  A lot of time was spent at the in-laws.

One thing did occur to me.  Given how close we were to our neighbors, how would anyone work on lifting and repairing our slide?  We were also having some intermittent power issues.  After MUCH debate, Lisa and I decided to move Dory, with her slide open, over to a new site that had only recently come open after the fair.  There were several nicer units over there and if we were lucky, we would have plenty of room for repairs to be made.  It was a WHITE KNUCKLE event.  We loaded Dory up and pulled out at the blistering pace of 0-1mph.  Lisa walked along the outside, presumably to be able to scream at me that the whole slide had fallen out should that have occurred.  After about 20 minutes of sweating in an air conditioned truck, we successfully moved and it made our view, neighbors, and everything feel just a little better.  It’s amazing to me how the spot or the park can change your whole attitude.  Being away from the “mobile home” side of the grounds and with people like us to travel full time or were in for the game made it feel like things were getting better.

Jayco, for what it is worth, has done a very good job of working with us.  I don’t want this to become a Jayco bashing session, because really and genuinely, I feel that they are as frustrated as we are.  I have actually been very glad that we bought a Jayco after hearing some of the horror stories of our neighbors.  I just really feel like this entire industry is one that pumps out units and the quality control is nil.  I have had multiple people from within the industry tell me that one in like 5 units is actually even checked and that the assembly line often knows which ones (seems like a bad system), and that in the spring/summer busy months, that number can go down to as little as zero units inspected.  I can’t say for sure if this applies to Jayco or not, and I like to think they don’t do that.  I have been working with a gentleman from Jayco who has honestly worked very hard to help us out and has been very flexible with our needs.  So from that perspective, kudo’s to them.  I would have hated to own a different manufacturer who might not care.  I just wish there was more care put in to the product pre-release.  It seems at this point that Jayco is losing their asses on us.  Between new patio railings and a new toilet being shipped and installed, to 6 on site service calls, to shipping it back to Indiana for repairs for a month, I feel like they could put a little more effort in to pre-production quality to mitigate these types of costs.  I am beginning to think that part of the cost bakes in these types of repairs, but it seems silly.  We have owned this rig for 5.5 months and have only been able to travel for 4 of those months.  Given the length of the loan, this doesn’t bode well.  I have repeatedly told Jayco that either they make all of their units crappy (which I don’t believe), or I got a lemon.  I will say that I have asked to speak to someone about trading in to a new one given all of the challenges we have faced.  Also, Jayco did contact Lippert (the manufacturer of the slide out systems, frames, and leveling jacks) and they did send one of their best of not the best guy out that they could.  For that I applaud both companies.  Ron, our guy, was there bright and early and worked even in the rain.  In the end, he was able to complete the repair on site, but told us that something still isn’t working right and he fears this will happen again.  GREAT.   While I had him there, I explained that our “auto leveling” system has hardly ever worked right.  He took a look and it turns out that the “brain” of the system that says whether we are level or not was mounted to a soft underbelly portion of Dory.  He said it had to be attached to a rigid cross member of the frame and he did that work for us too.  I was so impressed with his work ethic that I called his boss to tell her what an asset he is to their company.

I am still working with Jayco on what we do next.  I can’t help but feel as though we got a bad unit.  We may have got a bad unit from a good company, but that doesn’t help the fact that we are trying to take our daughter cross country in a trailer that sells for over 120k list and we haven’t even had it on the road for 20% of the time we have owned it.  I am hopeful that we can come to a conclusion and so far Jayco hasn’t given me reason to doubt that we can.  I would rather have this issue with Jayco than any other similar manufacturer given the stories, but we will see.  I don’t want to include any lawyers or anything, I just want to get what I paid for.

All of that aside, we did leave Norman early Saturday morning.  There was a BIG OU football game that evening, and we were warned, repeatedly, that we would want to beat the traffic.  So we were up at 7 on a Saturday morning, loaded and on the road by 9.

Let the adventure really begin.

So the funny part of this all is that, as I believe I have mentioned previously, we are just actually starting our “adventure” portion of the trip.  Family commitments have kept us going in the opposite directions that we would have otherwise.  This week represents a few major milestones.  First, at the end of this week, we will have completed 6 months of this adventure.  It hardly seems like we have been doing this for half of a year already.   Second, our current stop at Terra Starr RV park at Lake Eufaula in eastern Oklahoma represents the first stop that we have no commitments and we can really go whatever way we want. stay as long or short as we want, see what we want, and really DO what we want.  We are headed toward Tennessee then will hopefully head toward Georgia and then to Florida.  We will get to see our kids and our grandson in December as we are flying them to come see us for our grandsons first birthday.  I will also get to see my Marine brother while near Nashville, and we will get to see other family down in Atlanta.  This next phase has already seen lower temperatures, which is nice.  We have actually sat on the deck for football games, and once everyone is healthy (a bug ripped through the RV), we will be out on the bikes and on walks.  Third, we are entering our first holiday season in the RV.  It will be very interesting to see how things like Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas go.

We are so looking forward to the future.  If this has taught us anything, it’s that stressing out does little to solve problems.  I have been proud of our family for how everyone has handled our adversity.  It may not seem like it, but Karma has really shone on our family.  We have yet to have an issue that we couldn’t get resolved on the road, and although we continue to be plagued with problems, we have managed to be in places where we had a support network.  Norman was no different and Lisa’s folks and their family and friends came through huge for us.  It was the longest we had spent with them too, so that was nice.  This life has a lot of upsides and we are preferring to look at that.  Keep in perspective just what is important.

The important things in life.
The important things in life.

Until next time, thanks for reading.  I hope it is helpful.

Busy Busy Busy, Lazy Lazy Lazy.

Our newest airman and her Army sister.  Our family kicks some ass.

Texas Summer Coming to a Close

Wow, this has taken a long time to write.  No clue why, other than the fact that we have been very busy and I let the heat make me lazy.  Ok, I am just lazy.  But it really has been a busy several weeks, and now we are almost done with our Texas summer.  So I felt that it is the right time to catch up.

July was packed with tons of family, friends, and we ended our month there with some great times with a great friend of mine from the Marines and his wife coming out and camping with us.  They brought out their boat and we just had a blast hanging out with them.  I have been blessed with some great friends from back in the day and hanging out with Dave again took me back to our days in the barracks drinking beers and ironing uniforms.  He hasn’t changed a bit, which is great because he is a great guy.

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Dave and I, friends for over 25 years
Fun at the lake.
Fun at the lake.

We then got our beloved Dory back.  Not after some stressful moments though.  Jayco had some issues getting our unit on line to be repaired.  You see, we have a goose neck adapter for our trailer rather than the standard 5th wheel hitch setup.  I could get in to why, but it’s not that important.  Just know that if you do the same, it’s tough to get things done to your trailer because everyone is set up for the latter.  That said, for all of the issues, Jayco really did a great job of getting us our trailer back with 2 days to spare.  Something that turned out to really be a blessing, but I will get in to that in a few.

Upon her return, we gave her a thorough inspection.  Now I won’t lie, when we sent her to Jayco, there were a LOT of repairs needed.  Something that we are repeatedly told is expected with new units.  But I really felt as if it were A LOT.  That said, I was extremely pleased with the amount of repairs that Jayco completed.  I plan to do a video outlining our rig, so I will cover some of that then.

I am happy to say how nice it was to move back in.  It was wicked ass hot, humid, and hot.  But after a few sweaty hours, we were home.  We had a minor flap when one of our hoses had a small leak, but a quick call to a local mobile repair guy and we were fixed.  Having a Jayco has been great because at least if there is an issue, they have reimbursed us for any repairs.  I don’t need perfection, I do need a supportive company, and Jayco has been that.

There was the one other issue that was no fault of anyone, but was a major learning experience for us and may be for you too.  When we got back in to Dory for the first time, we opened the fridge to find a LOT of mold.  This was due to the fact that we emptied the fridge but never let it fully thaw and dry out.  Door closed, hot weather, equals bad mold.  Lisa, the OCD cleaner, spent several hours making it cleaner than when it was new.  Thank the lord, because we would have been living with mold if it were me.  That was gross.

Our time at Conroe wrapped and we headed back to Medina Lake outside of San Antonio.  We had scoped out some sites last time we were there and we were happy to have the one we wanted be open when we got there.  We actually met up with my mother in law and her hubby who also own a Jayco 5th wheel.  We got side by side sites and it was a lot of fun.  Lisa’s Aunt came out too.  We had quite the family gathering.  This was made even more awesome when our oldest daughter was granted last minute leave to come out for her sisters Air Force Basic Training graduation.  She and our grandson came out and stayed with us.  It made us all so happy to have our whole family together.

A Jayco family.
A Jayco family.
Grandma loves her little man.
Grandma loves her little man.
Grandpa got some love too.
Grandpa got some love too.

As mentioned, the reason for this was because our middle daughter graduated Air Force Basic training.  I am blessed to have strong, independent daughters who also have taken this opportunity to serve their country.  The AF has a full weekend of “graduation” activities, so we were in to San Antonio (45 min drive each time) every day from Thursday to Sunday.  It’s all worth it when you get to see this.

AF coining ceremony day
AF coining ceremony day
Getting together with our newest Airman.
Getting together with our newest Airman.
Graduation day. Congrats girl.
Graduation day. Congrats girl.
Our newest airman and her Army sister. Our family kicks some ass.
Our newest airman and her Army sister. Our family kicks some ass. Even if your eyes are closed and Nama is photo bombing.

I did put together a picture of each of my daughters and I all in our dress uniforms.  I love this picture.

A family of service members.
A family of service members.

With graduation complete, Lisa headed back to Seattle with our oldest and our grandson.  Z and I hung out with the in-laws and she even learned some new skills.

Guitar Lessons. She is on her way to the rock hall of fame
Guitar Lessons. She is on her way to the rock hall of fame

We had a few more opportunities to meet up with my man Derek and his wife before heading out.  It’s always good to get to spend time with these guys.

Me and D and 6 hours at top golf
Me and D and 6 hours at top golf
Saying goodbye to D and his lovely wife. Was a really fun night.
Saying goodbye to D and his lovely wife. Was a really fun night.

We then moved up to Lake Whitney just north of Waco.  We found a great site with good water pressure (we were missing that in Medina and you never know how nice it is until you don’t have it).  We will wrap up a week here with Lisa’s dad coming down for a wood working show.  We will then head up his way before Lisa and I depart for a hardly deserved Mexico vacation.  Our map is up to date up through Oklahoma if you would like to see where we have been.

Once complete, we will FINALLY be heading east without any real schedule.  After nearly 6 months of travel under our belt, we will actually be doing what we set out to do.  Can’t wait.

 

Building an empire and a community out of shiplap……

Good guys are finishing first in Waco TX.

BP_HFXUP202H_BTS_hosts-Chip-and-Joanna-Gaines_portrait_474438-1043986.jpg.rend.hgtvcom.1280.960

Last week Lisa and I took Z up to see Lisa’s favorite HGTV show’s shops in Waco.  If you haven’t heard about Chip and Joanna Gaines from Fixer Upper, you are probably not married, live in a box, or dare I say missing out.  The show, and the couple, are a perfect example of the American success story.  An awesome mix of funny, hard working, selflessness,  and family oriented television, these guys have quickly built an empire on the back of Joanna’s creativity and Chips child like humor.  So say what you want, take my man card now, but I like them and I am glad we went.

I really didn’t know what to expect when we arrived.  To give you context, in case you don’t know, the show is in Waco Texas.  Yes, the same Waco that prior to this show was most known for the Branch Davidian compound.  For those too young to recall, here is the history that anyone of my age remembers about Waco.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waco_siege

waco_fire_wide-9203577b23bd582c55a3ac54d95e03ced5cd9573-s900-c85

But when we arrived in Waco, we were greeted by a simple Texas town.  Nothing fancy, certainly nothing like that.  But then you turn a corner toward Magnolia market, known now simply as the “Silos”, and you realize that something is different.  People, on a Wednesday afternoon, in sweltering heat, were flocking here as if it were a holy ground in Israel.  Now you might think I am kidding, but go for yourself and see.  What these guys have done, in a few short years, due to a home remodeling show is nothing short of a miracle.  They have transformed this town single handedly.  That’s not to say that it’s all them, but they have led a revolution and rebirth of a town that others only knew of as Wacko not Waco.

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The crazy thing is, you can’t help but fall in love with these two.  It’s impossible.  I dare you to try.  They are a pair that is showing the world that you don’t have to be a ruthless business person, a cut throat individual, a self absorbed show off, or an off the wall freak show in order to be a success both in life and on TV.  They consistently bring local businesses on to their show and incorporate them into the remodels and now in to their stores.  They have been remodeling old homes in the neighborhoods that need it most.  Raising property values and spirits of the people of Waco.  Then there is the store/Silo area.  Here you have a full store packed full of Fixer Upper products, home ideas, gifts, and even more local purveyors selling their wares.  There is a warehouse/barn area that holds a number of other items such as paint, parts, and even more trinkets to buy.  There is an awesome outdoor area where the Gaines’ have invited their guests to just come chill out, play with some yard toys (Giant Jenga, football, etc.), lounge in chairs, visit the many LOCAL food trucks invited, or just swing on the giant wooden porch swings.  It appears that they also have concerts and other events there.

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A Panorama around the Silos yard.

There is a small shop of just gardening products and seeds.  A full garden showing how these things can grow and to inspire you.

Then there is the bakery.  DAAAYYYYYUUUUUM.  I don’t know if it was the intoxication of the moment or what.  But I swear those were some of the best cup cakes I have had.  And if you know me, you know I can put down some cup cakes.

They have built this temple of home improvement and self improvement all in a town that no one would ever pick.  They are lifting up their neighbors and their neighborhoods.  They are religious without being pretentious.  Creative/hard working without being condescending.  They are doing what more people should……they are leading from the front.  Follow us and we will all go places, and that’s exactly what is happening.  What they have done is nothing short of amazing to me.  I can’t imagine how it is for them.  They employ tons of people, all seem to be super happy to work there.  They are talked about like one might a rock or movie star.  They apparently show up to sign autographs from time to time although I am not sure how as I could see it turning in to a scene reminiscent of a Beetles concert.  I literally got the sense that some people (ahem…..Lisa) would have passed out if they walked around the corner.  And yet all you hear is how down to earth and normal they are.  I will even say, people were not just spending money here, they were happily spending money.  But as I looked at the price of items, I was also impressed that they weren’t gouging with prices.  A bottle of water was $1.  Military discounts of 10%.  Prices that were very reasonable.  It was so surreal to see someone who could screw you but doesn’t and yet they are KILLING it.

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Just sunnin herself on the porch swings
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Fangirl Lisa

I applaud them.  They will have fans for life in me, not because of their show, but because they are showing the world that it doesn’t take the attributes usually found in a reality show to be successful.  I am not kidding when I say that these guys are printing money.  Everything they touch seems to turn to gold.  But you also get the sense that they work very hard for it, plan it meticulously, and they don’t screw people over.  In fact they seem to be lifting anyone up that is along for the ride. You will likely not see any drama from them in the news.  They appear to be the real deal.  The American dream built up on a wall of shiplap.

I am sure that this post makes me sound crazy (or many other things I can hear my Marine buddies calling me right now), but that was just how impressed I was with this place.  I see why people want to come here.  As long as there are people flocking to people doing good in this world, I am all for it.  It was a great teaching moment for Z too.  Nice guys can finish first too.  We also found a really fun little bar nearby, so take that buddies. Man card returned.

As for us, Dory is on her way back.  Should be here Friday.  Fingers crossed.  I will write more about that soon.

Thanks as always for following.  Let me know if there is something you would like to know about.

Ryan and Lisa and Z bear.

 

 

A first post from Z bear……

Z asked me to post this weeks ago and I just keep forgetting.  I asked her to write in her words some thoughts about our travel.  I will keep trying to do this so that you get a 12 year olds perspective

 

Hello everyone, it’s Z.  I know, I know, I haven’t been writing anything but let’s just say I’m lazy.  So I am going to tell you about some of my experience in the RV.  I am going to start with the second day because the first was just getting ready to go.  We went to a goat farm (my favorite spot so far) and we got to tour the whole thing.  I got to milk the goats and see little baby goats.  It was like being trampled by little cute clouds.  They were so gentle.  It was just an amazing experience!

Now I’m going to skip a few weeks ahead to the time my cat got lost.  If you are reading the blog, you have heard this, but here is my perspective.  So my mom and I were getting food and my dad was walking Nova and when he came back to the car he opened a window but a little too much.  My cat Aurora got out but he didn’t know it.  When we came back we asked if he had watched out for kitten?!?  Dad said yes, it’s fine, but I had a bad feeling and we thought she was just hiding in her normal spot.  So we kept driving for I would say 30 min and stopped at a gas station.  Dad went to fill us up and mom turns around and says there’s no way to put this…….(I thought I was in trouble so I got butterflies in my stomach)……and she says kitten got out and right then I started to bawl my eyes out because she is my baby and means so much to me.  Mom says it’s ok, someone is coming with her and I started bawling even more because I don’t know if they want to hurt her or something.  But when he came he was like a superhero to me because he said “I would have come all of the way to Salt Lake City”.  My mom said “I know my daughter thanks you so much but she is currently bawling her eyes out in her cat”.  That was probably the scariest moment of my life!

So then we went to Colorado then to San Antonio and that has been some of my fondest memories so far.

Here are some of my favorite pictures so far.

$75 in Candy?   Why not?
$75 in Candy? Why not?

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To Infinity…..And Beyond.

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Mid July, WOW.   We are almost done with our first 1/3 of a year and we technically haven’t even started yet.  We are still in Houston for 2 more weeks (hopefully).  I won’t lie, I am getting a little nervous about being on time out of here.  Jayco still has Dory, and we haven’t had any real timeline for getting her back other than that they know we need to be out of our “cabin” by the 30th (I told them the 28th to be safe).  So fingers crossed, all will go well and we will be making our way to our daughters Air Force basic training graduation on the 30th.

So what has been up?  Well, you know, it’s hot.  Like sweaty, swamp ass, hot.  Like who in the hell actually lives here all year HOT.  Oh, and if hot isn’t enough, it’s also humid.  To those of you from here you might be like DUHHHHH, but man alive it’s hot and humid.  I think I may have mentioned it before.  What I never realized is that the problem is not the heat or humidity, it’s actually the wind chill.  I learned this from reading the weather on my phone a few weeks ago.  Stunning.  025

That said, we have settled in to our new temporary home in Lake Conroe, about 45 min north of Houston, and it’s actually a cool (not the cold kind of cool though) spot.  We have amenities close by, which is huge, and because we have so many family and friends down here, we have been staying busy.  Whether it’s enjoying time with Lisa’s Aunt and her family, or hanging out with some of my Marine buddies, it’s been fun and is helping the time to go quickly.    Z has also made a new friend here.  She is a little younger than Z, but they both had mermaid tails and enjoyed swimming together so who cares about age.

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It’s actually a pretty funny story about this girl.  We had been here for a while, and as usual, Z isn’t too quick to try and make friends.  Not that she is shy, I just think she doesn’t always need them.  Of course, she has me to play with, so who needs friends.  But this girl and her family walk in to the pool and Z is immediately drawn to her because she has a mermaid tail.  Z loves hers, but rarely do we see others.  They quickly became friends and we found out that the fin that she was using actually was the fin we left at the Columbus Texas Thousand Trails.  Her family is a full time family too and they were there right after we were.  We left her old tail so that someone might enjoy it.  As luck would have it, someone did, and it was this little girl.  We have enjoyed seeing Z play with her and we have spent a TON of time at the pool lately.  Her family is very nice and we have enjoyed swapping stories about our adventures.  They have been at this for 2 years already, so we can learn a lot from them.  They travel with 4 children ranging from 12-4, 2 boys and 2 girls. It’s always neat to see how people do this life, and no 2 ways are the same really.

As mentioned, we got to spend some time with Lisa’s family too.  Her Aunt Martha is one of our favorite people and one of the nicest women you will ever meet.  She has a much larger family than ours and it’s always great to get to go see her and her kids/grand kids.  She has had us to dinner, bowling, and her daughter invited us to her little ones birthday party.  I really enjoy Alecia and her husband Michael.  They have a lovely family, a nice home, and they went out of their way to include us in their daughters day.  The highlight of the day came after we heard several family members chanting “bagpipe baby” over and over again.  We soon found out what that was, and I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time.  This mask that Michael wears was like $500 and is AWESOME.  Adding the bagpipe was a classic idea.  I can’t upload the video here, but go to our facebook or instagram page to see.  I was in tears laughing.

We then got a very special treat.  Lisa’s long time childhood friends (really they are family to us) came to Tyler with their new baby.  Of course we would drive 3 hours to go meet this little angel.  We got a sweet baby fix and really love seeing these guys.  They are a great young family and we wish them the best in DC.  Becky has been an awesome role model for my girls, and JT is such a proud and sweet daddy.  We got to spend some time with JT’s dad and wife too, and it was great just to see them all.

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We had rather unique opportunity that we all really enjoyed.  I have been blessed with some great friends that I made from my time in the Marine Corps back in 92-96.  Being the guy that likes to keep everyone in touch, I have managed to maintain some great relationships.  One such is my friend Patrick Buzzard.  He and I have known each other since then and the last time I saw him was in 96.  But with the magic of social media, we stayed in touch.  Well he is an official at NASA here in Houston and invited us to take a back stage tour.  It has certainly been a highlight of our trip.  I always new Patrick (or as I call him Buzz) to be a sharp guy.  He was a locked on Marine, a college grad before he ever went in, but dear lord he blew me away with his knowledge of the space program.  I am sure that it helps that his family has worked for NASA since the 70’s.  We got an excellent behind the scenes look into what I consider to be the greatest achievement that our government has made since the Constitution.

Buzz showed us ALL around.  We got to climb into the trainer for the original space shuttle, got to walk all around a life size replica of the International Space Station, even got to see a shuttle door signed by none other that One Direction (Zoe lost her mind).  We went to Mission Control and got to see the ACTUAL room that the Apollo missions were controlled from.  Where the first landing by man on the moon was witnessed and where the Apollo 13 mission was saved.  We got to see and hear all about the current missions and science projects happening on the ISS, and about plans to continue to Mars.  A day like today took me back to my youth when my dad and I watched the Space Shuttle fly on the back of a 737 way back in the day.  Took me back to the tragic day in 1986 when the brave astronauts lost their lives on the Challenger and again in 2003 with Columbia.  I find it unfortunate that our govt has devalued the NASA program over the last several years, and we have stopped flying to space ourselves.  In fact, I was stunned to find that we pay Russia $72 Million per seat to fly our folks to the ISS and that the only US plans to further space exploration are coming from private investors.  I hope that future years will see an investment in our space program and give our young folks an opportunity to see great things that come when you explore beyond your boundaries.  It almost feels like the lives lost in the interest of space exploration were in vain if we don’t continue to invest in our space program.

We also got to meet a real Astronaut Joseph Acaba, and as you would expect, a very humble unassuming man. In fact, the meeting was so brief and casual, Buzz didn’t even tell us who he was until after he left.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_M._Acaba

Here are some pics from our awesome day.

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From NASA we got to meet his wonderful family and then go to the Buzzard Ranch.  Z got to play with chickens, sheep, and a Donkey.  All in all, it was a great reunion with an old friend.  I had no idea of what to expect, and this exceeded anything that I could have wished for.  Not only for myself but for my family.  These are the exact experiences that I want for Z and she has talked of it often since.

Back at the casa, we are communicating with Jayco regularly, praying for a fast return of Dory.  They don’t seem to think that there will be any issues, but I am not as confident.  We have less than 2 weeks to get her back, loaded, and checked out.  Fingers crossed.

Today, we opted to go Kayaking.  It was a nice Sunday and we enjoyed ourselves.  Z had never been and was very timid at first, but in no time, she was paddling like a pro.  She impresses me all of the time.

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Lisa being an excellent role model for Z
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Z enjoying the kayak adventure

We also got an unexpected surprise.  Our daughter Kailah that is in Air Force basic training called us.  It was so nice to hear her voice.  If you have never been to an intensive training like any military basic training, you don’t know the rush of emotions the first time you hear your parents voice.  She is doing very well and we are very proud of her.  Then, the other day I noticed that their facebook page had posted pictures of a 5k run that they did.  Her dimples are unmistakable.  I got a glimpse of her.  So proud.

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Next week, another great friend from the Marines will be out with his wife.  They are bringing a boat too, so it ought to be great to catch up and have some fun with them.  It really makes this time go by much quicker when you have such awesome family and friends around.

I hope that you all are taking time to find whatever it is that makes you happy.

Thanks for following,

The Nortons

Blessings in disguise/Ohhhhhhhh that smell. Can’t you smell that smell?

Blessings come in different forms.

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I don’t mean to get all spiritual on anyone or anything like that, but if there were ever a time that I realized that sometimes challenges are blessings, it was this last week.  As I have mentioned, we had some issues with Dory since we got her.  Some were small items that would probably be expected by most RV owners, but some, in my mind, were pretty big issues that shouldn’t have happened.  I have decided to be purposely vague right now as Jayco has agreed to take it back to Indiana and fix the issues and make her “good as new”.  If this happens, I will have much respect for them and if not, well let’s just say that I will be disappointed to say the least.  Apparently, anyone in the RV “lifestyle” will tell you that every new RV, no matter the cost, will have a long list of items to be repaired in the first year or two.  This is why most RV companies only have a 1 or 2 year warranty on them.  So buyer beware.  Deal with a reputable dealer and company should you be looking to go to a full time RV life.  So far, I have heard from many folks, we have been dealt with extremely respectably from Jayco.  That said, as a first time RV owner, it seems crazy to me that everyone just accepts this as fact.  We spent a lot of money on our trailer.  We did a TON of research too.  It just seems crazy to me that everyone just expects the kind of issues that we have had.  In fact, often times I hear how lucky we are that Jayco has been taking care of it in the manner that they have.  If we have needed repairs to this point, they have allowed us to hire an RV tech to do the work, pay him, and then they pay us back.  So far so good on that front.  But what I can’t figure out is how this is not only just the norm, but how RV companies don’t do everything in their power to prevent this.  I mean  at this point, Jayco is in to us for a new toilet, new back patio rails, and already over $400 in repairs, and now they just paid to have her shipped back to Indiana to be gone over and completely fixed.  That has to be several thousand dollars right there.  You would think that the old adage of just doing something right the first time would come in to play in order to maximize profits.  Not just for Jayco, but the entire industry.  I will say, so far, Jayco has stood by their word and treated us right, it is just frustrating that they even have to.

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So here is the blessing in disguise.  Last week we rolled in to Thousand Trails Lake Conroe.  It’s the flag ship TT location and it’s easy to see why.  It’s a nice park in my mind.  One that lends itself to our kind of camping (glamping).  It’s right on a lake, they have a nice pool, the sites are big but close enough to meet your neighbors, and so far, the biggest advantage, is that it is actually close to civilization.  Up until now, we have been driving 30-45 min any time we wanted to go to a good store, shopping, etc.  The parks have been lovely, but they are usually remote.  Not the case with Lake Conroe.  But I digress.  So we pulled in and after some confusion (probably because I was asking for keys to our “cabin” while pulling a trailer behind us), we got here.  Now I am not kidding, it had to be 95 but with a heat index of like 2000000000.  We only had a few hours of light, and my intelligent butt just pulled in at the hottest part of the day.  We began unloading Dory.  When we were done (and I had showered and burned the clothes I was wearing because they would never come clean), we stopped and looked at the PILES of crap we had.  We all agreed that although we did a good job of pairing down for our trip, we still have WAY too much crap.  We would have never seen this had we never had to unload her.  Mostly because Lisa is a wizard of the highest order when it comes to finding a spot for everything.  If you looked around Dory when she was loaded, you wouldn’t never known it.  She has a gift.  A gift that was exposed the minute we saw the absolutely massive amount of crap that came out of Dory.  So we have already begun round like 200 of downsizing.  Z has a bag already of clothes she is not going to take back.  We got rid of anything that we haven’t touched in the 3.5 months that we have been on the road.  I am not going to be stupid and say that we are down to the bare bones, but we have been given an opportunity to re-evaluate our stuff.  So had Dory not had all of these issues and had Jayco not offered to take her back to Indiana, we would’ve never seen the sheer amount of stuff that we have brought along.  It was a lot of work in very hot circumstances but it’s done.  And the wizard has been at it again and has made our small cabin already feel like home.

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As mentioned, this Thousand Trails is nice.  They say that it is the template for how they want all Thousand trails to be.  I doubt that will ever happen, but it’s a lofty goal.  They had a large crowd for the 4th of July weekend and did a nice fireworks show on Saturday.  They had activities all weekend, and we spent some good time at the pool, lake, and in our nicely air conditioned cabin.  I have been waiting to get some more locations under my belt before doing any kind of review on TT or our other locations, but I feel that I have a good enough handle on it and will follow with a report soon.  Needless to say, up to now, the TT membership has already paid for itself, but there are some other considerations for those that are thinking about joining.  I will share my thoughts on that soon.

Ohhhhhhh that smell…………..

I decided that the second part of today’s blog would be about an issue that I fear may plague more RV’ers than anyone else.  Hopefully, if you are reading this, the RV life is something you are interested in and this will be of use for you.  Ever since arriving at Medina Lake at the end of May, we have noticed off and on a smell in the cabin of Dory.  Not always, and nothing consistent.  At first I thought it was just the heat.

You see, all RV’s have to have a venting system for the black and grey tanks.  This vent is at the top of the trailer.  My theory was that the heat and humidity were permeating our black and grey tanks through that vent and the result was an off putting (to put it mildly) smell in various parts of the cabin.  However, as time progressed, other theories developed.  You see, smell was coming in to different rooms at different times.  It might be in our bedroom, or the main room.  It may happen in the AM or PM.  It would come from our washing machine area, or under the sink.  I began to explore other options.  I had heard that sometimes, the AC units (which are on full blast in this heat) will suck air in from the vents and draw it back in to the coach.  Made sense as we have been running our AC’s like they were the very lifeblood of our existence.  But that didn’t explain the smells that came from very pointed locations such as the ones mentioned above.  Now mind you, I had already cleared the black and grey tanks, I even flushed the black ones (there are hose attachments that you can flush water in to the tanks to clean them out).  Yet here we were, getting this odor that was less than pleasant to put it mildly.  We began to realize that it would happen mostly when we either did the dishes or ran a load of wash.  So we tried sanitizing the drains, added more chemicals to the black tanks, filled and flushed the grey tanks.  Nothing worked.  If I had hair, I would have been pulling it out.  So thanks to the mighty oracle known as Google, I think that I have figured out what is happening.

If you have an island with a sink in your house, or if you own an RV, your drains to your sink or your washer have what is called an AAV or Air Admittance Valve.

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This valve allows air to draw water from your faucets or drains, but shuts off before pulling all water our of your P trap, keeping unpleasant odors out of your life.  The problem comes when the AAV sticks open.  It’s not supposed to do that and if it does it will both pull the water our of your P trap, but also will allow air from the grey tanks to come back up.  I have also found that (surprise surprise), the grey tanks stink.  Sometimes worse than a black tank because of food particles that get stuck down there.  This AAV keeps those odors where they belong.  I am fairly confident now that we have not 1 but two failing AAV’s and have asked Jayco to replace them as part of our repair service.  I write all of this to tell you that if you are experiencing that gut wrenching smell of hell and you haven’t found any cause for it, check those valves.  They can be replaced fairly easily.  If I am right, we will have repaired an issue that has been bugging us now for over 2 months.  I will let you know how it goes.

 

As for us, well we had a very successful 2 weeks with our nephew, had a nice 4th of July weekend, and are just really looking forward to getting through this summer so that we can really begin our major adventures.  The Houston area will allow us to visit some family and friends, so that will be great.  Looking forward to seeing Dory come back.  I will let you know how that is going.

 

If you have any suggestions for topics, or would like to know anything about our current experiences, please feel free to leave a comment.  Hopefully this info is helpful.

Finding cool when you are so hot. And other fun things.

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Entering Month 4

So we are actually starting month 4 today.  Is it possible for time to both crawl and fly at the same time?  I mean the thought that we started 3 months ago, have put over 8,500 miles on a truck purchased brand new in April, and have traversed a vast portion of this great United States, seems like it’s flying.  BUT, as we sit here in the Texas heat, too hot to go outside for any discernible amount of time, and knowing that we are only in June and have to stay until Sept. makes it feel like the minutes are ticking by SOOOOOOO SLOOOOOOOOWWWWW.

We have had some great first experiences though, and of course we have seen some pretty cool stuff here in Texas.  Whether it’s eating at Hopdoddy in Austin, going to the Toilet Seat Museum in San Antonio, or breezing through the Alamo, June has had it’s share of excitement already.  On top of that, I had business trips to Vegas and Dallas to boot.  We are currently nestled in the Colorado River Thousand Trails Campground.  We are preparing to send Dory back to her birth place for some repairs, and we will be in Lake Conroe Tx for all of July.  I hear that it is nice and can’t wait to see it.  We have friends and family down there, so hopefully that will fly by.  Then we will be back to San Antonio where we will get to see our daughter graduate from Air Force Basic Training, and we expect our oldest and our grandson to fly down and join us.  We were fortunate enough to have Z’s cousin and best friend G Bone fly out to visit.  It was our first “holiday” in the RV as it was Z’s 12th birthday.

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We had a fun day where we went to the “toilet seat museum” in San Antonio.  You won’t believe me when I tell you that I actually REALLY enjoyed this.  This 95/96 year old man has a home made museum of toilet seats that he has decorated in numerous ways.  He has pieces of the Berlin wall, dedications to various services, pieces from Space Shuttle Columbia, arrow heads that he collected over the years, etc.  It’s hard to explain, you just have to go see it.  You see, Lisa and I love quirky stops and I expect that many more will don the pages here from time to time.  The greatest thing about this museum was not the tribute to porcelain throne cappers, it was meeting the man himself.  He was amazing.  At his age, he could hardly stand and yet refused to sit.  He had a home made cane that he would walk you around his free museum and he had a story about ALL of the seats he had made.  I could have literally listened to him for hours.  Alas, his museum was in a garage, and the kids quickly overheated.  Not before I was able to sign his Marine Corps toilet seat and hear of his love for the service.  He is someone that won’t be here much longer, and I for one am glad that Lisa found it.  She amazes me with her “fun” finding ability.

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Barney Smith’s toilet seat museum. Love this guy.

We also did a few attractions in San Antonio near the Alamo.  We did the mirror maze and the kids did the Ripleys believe it or not museum and a ride.  I was killing myself when we were at the Alamo, looking at a depiction of the attack on it, and I said “it was after this attack that the city decided that instead of rebuilding a fort, the only thing that would make sense would be to build a series of rides and attractions right across the street”.  No one thought that I was as funny as I did, but I was rolling.  I can just see Davy Crockett’s face if he came there now.  This amazing piece of history, surrounded by this carnival like atmosphere.  Just didn’t seem to fit to me.  But hey, we fit in, and that’s all that mattered.

$75 in Candy? Why not?
$75 in Candy? Why not?
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Gun Show
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Suns out, guns out.
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I look almost as big as the Alamo.

As I mentioned, we are near Columbus Texas and nestled right along the Colorado River.  Due to high waters, and flood potential, we opted for higher ground this time.  I love this camp ground.  One of my favorites so far.  It would seem that we either get a great camp site with few amenities, or a mediocre camp site near everything.  We can’t seem to strike that balance.  But we are about an hour and a half from Austin, 30 min from a little water park that we hit up, and about 30 min from the OLDEST bowling alley in history.  I swear this was straight out of the 80’s and has all of the tail tail signs of musty cigarette smell, dirty feet odor, burnt orange decor, lanes that worked 50% of the time, and it wreaked of despair.  That said, we were the only bowlers as we got there right at opening, and so that was fun.  And the AC worked.  BONUS.

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Come on Napoleon, give me some of your tots.

The only thing that cracks me up here is that there isn’t even a movie theater without going almost to Houston.  There really is very little to do.  We hit up a place called the quirky market, run completely off grid, and it fit it’s name well.  They had a little of everything, and yet nothing at all.  So we spent $50.  HA.  We went to the 2nd largest Oak Tree in Texas.

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That took up about 5 min.  It was really cool though, just not much to do other than look at a tree.  There is no museum to speak of, or really much at all to do.  There are only like 5 restaurants, and 3 of them are fast food.  So on my way to Dallas we took the kids to Austin.  The only problem is, Z was sick and G was tired.  Sooooooooo yeah, not the best day.  But hey, we got ice cream made with liquid nitrogen, and that was AWESOME and so good.

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Science Ice Cream in Austin, made before your eyes with liquid nitrogen. Probably the most smooth ice cream I have had.

Today is a “chill” day at the casa.  We have our G bone for another week, but we don’t want to burn out doing too much.  For now, this is the view.  It’s very peaceful.

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That’s about it.  We have 115 followers on our Instagram, if you haven’t checked it out please do.  We have nearly 100 followers on Facebook, and 25 subscribers to our blog page.  I will be doing a quick write up from Z.  I asked her to sum up her time so far and she did literally that.  I will post.  It’s funny.  Lisa has some blog ideas, we will be running with and I am going to do some reviews of our RV Park stays so far.  Also, if you like what you see and want to support us or even just buy us a beer, check out our beer donations link above.  :)

I hope you all are finding your own happiness.

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Our first TOP 10………and other stuff

Hey there, did you miss us?  Oh, I know you did.  It’s ok, admit it.  Well it’s been a very busy few weeks here in the Leaving Little London camp.  After settling nicely in our Medina Lake site, things got a little sketchy.  Now I will admit, like many people I assume, I had never heard of Medina Lake.  So I thought it was just big brother watching when I saw a news update on our facebook feed that said the spillway at the dam at Medina Lake was over flowing.  I clicked on the link and sure enough, the dam at the very lake we are at was going right over the spillway at a pretty hefty clip.  After a short trip around the lake area near where we were, it was obvious that the lake had come up nearly 6′ after the night rain.  I began to stress a bit.  More rain, more rising, and then the fact that we were going to Dallas for a few days, it became clear that we needed to move.  We found a really nice elevated site and nestled Dory in before leaving.  The thought of coming home to this

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was not appealing.  By the way, this REALLY happened to a man and his son and they spent several hours in a tree avoiding flood waters.  Knowing how dangerous this can be, I am glad we moved.  BTW, you can find the story here http://news4sanantonio.com/news/local/several-rescues-after-overnight-flooding-in-bandera

We spent a few nights in Dallas watching one of family members receive his PHD.  Something that I am not only very proud of him for, but am grateful that Z was able to witness.  Those types of things might encourage and impress upon her the need for better education than I have.

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Congrats Dr. Downey.

On our way up and back from Dallas we stopped in Austin for lunch (of course we did).  On the way up we stopped at Torchy’s tacos.  The original location.  OMG it was so good.  So good that Z decided that indeed we should be moving there when we are done.  When a taco makes a girl want to settle in one location, you know it is good.  On the way back we went to 40N or 40 North Pizza truck and Gordoughs donut truck (or should I say Air Stream).  Yum and Yum.  Austin, you are killing me with the good food.  We will end up there for sure some day if this keeps up.

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GOT DAMN them good donuts.

We checked out the town of Fredricksburg TX for a crawfish festival and enjoyed the town so much that we went back this weekend.  It’s a great little stopping point and had some great food, shopping, and the thing I love most about Texas so far is they treat you like an adult and let you walk around with a beer.  LOVE IT.

I then had to head to Vegas for a conference.  Hence, the long delay in blogs.  I have actually had some people ask where the latest one is, so thank you.  I have had some good feedback, some great ideas, etc.  This has even brought me closer to old friends, and has seemed to inspire some to, if nothing else, consider chasing whatever dreams they have been putting off.  It is really nice to have new conversations.  We have talked a lot lately about our life here.

So here we are, back at Medina Lake, high and dry.  Tomorrow our beautiful and smart middle daughter will be heading off to basic training for the Air Force.  We will then pack up and head to Columbus TX for 2 weeks, then to Lake Conroe for the month of July while Dory goes back to Jayco in Indiana for some TLC.  I have had several people ask me what has happened, and I assure you that more will follow.  We have just had a few issues that are bigger than sending it to Camping World for repair.  Thankfully, Jayco has agreed to bring her back to them for said repairs.  Unfortunately, that means giving up our home for a month.  That said, we look forward to her return, and her being back to good.  Once this is all complete, I will give a complete synopsis of our issues and their resolutions.

I thought I would end this blog with a Top 10 list of things we have learned in our first 3 months.  We will be entering our 4th month in a week or so, and MAN, this has been flying by.  That said, Lisa and I both can’t wait to do this on our own terms, and not be going only where we have set objectives or plans.  That will be after our Mexico vacation in Sept.  So with that said, here goes.

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Here are Lisa’s and my agreed upon top 10 things to think about or tips for RVing full time.

10. Don’t let anyone tell you no.

Whether it’s full time RVing, going abroad, or simply moving, for some reason people go through phases of support.  Particularly when it’s something so far out of the norm.  The first is disbelief that you will actually do it.  Second seems to be trying to make sure you have thought of everything.  Third would be either envy or anger.  Either they are envious that you are actually doing it, or angry because change is never easy.  Lastly, once the change happens, it’s back to disbelief that you actually did it, but support of your decision.  I can say, our family and friends support has been nothing short of amazing over the last few months.  Just don’t let fear keep you from jumping.

9.  Throw modesty out of the window.

We live in just over 400 sq/ft.  The odds that sounds, smells, the occasional flash, etc happen are not less than 100%.  I can unequivocally say that if you are a modest person, this is NOT the life for you.  Period.  We are always together and almost always near each other, so just be comfortable with your traveling partners before doing this.

8. In that same vein, get used to smelling “black tank smells”.

The black tank is where the magic happens.  I say magic because that’s where bad things go to disappear.  That said, black tank odors come to you in many forms.  You basically are draining your tanks, both black and grey, in to the same septic tank that several others are using.  so you have an open hose going in to a pit full of good shit, literally.  We found out that if you leave your grey tank open, those smells will creep up into the cabin.  PEWWWW.  There is a fairly easy fix for this that our friends at RV Geeks demonstrate it here.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dslcXoydeY4  We also found that especially on warm days, the septic vents seem to be working in over time.  This will throw a musky odor around outside.  Our washer area has had a smell lately, we found that the drain has a flap that sometimes sticks open, so we are researching that. Then you have the magical “fart fan” as we call it.  This is the bathroom vent fan that you have to remember to put up and turn on when doing your business or even showering.  It effectively pulls smells out of the coach like a boss.  That said, there is one down side.  You see, the fan works by pulling air outside.  That means that any air it can pull, it will.  So picture what happens when you have a black tank that is nearing capacity and you step on the flush handle and let water run in to the black tank.  While that hole in to hell is open, the glorious odors of your family coming rushing toward freedom via the “fart fan”.  Turn off the fan, flush, turn fan back on.  Boom. Last lesson learned was that your black tanks need a way to vent so that they don’t build up gasses in the tank.  They have a vent on top of the trailer.  This vent is close to one of our AC’s.  The AC works by pulling air from outside in and cooling it.  It does nothing to filter the smells.  Soooooo yeah.  We have been researching fixes for that.  I will let you know.

7.  Plan to change your plans.

If you have read this blog, you will know that our plans have changed a lot.  Well actually, let me rephrase that.  Our plan has been executed nearly to perfection, the details of said plan have changed a lot.  When we left, the plan has always been to go up to Seattle to see our daughter and her family.  Then head back via Oregon, back to Colorado for graduation, and then down to Texas.  Check, check and check.  However, my master plans of where to say, how long to stay, and such have been thwarted for many reasons.  Basically, my new philosophy is to plan, but be flexible.  Semper Gumby as my Marine buddies would say.  Always flexible.  Sometimes it’s weather, sometimes it’s fatigue, sometimes it’s needing to buy a new truck, but something will always come up

6. Things will go wrong or break.  Get used to it.

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Get ready to throw a few of these around, just do it and then move on.

Whether buying a new RV or a used one, you are probably going to run in to issues.  Some are preventable (i.e. stupid mistakes), and some are craftsmanship.  There is a debate in the RV world of new vs. used.  On the new side, you are getting a unit that obviously has never been used, is still under warranty, and has no modifications etc.  Tires, brakes, generator, everything is new.  Having a warranty is also very helpful.  On the used side, they will say that the warranty issues will have already come up and will have been resolved, so there is less pain there.  Also, worse than any car, RV’s are worth much less when you drive them off of the lot new.  I would hate to see what Dory would go for in today’s market and we have only had her for 3 months.  We have already had our share of issues, but the new vs. used thing is going to be personal to you.  Decide what features you want/need first (LED lights, generator, 50w power, holding tank capacity, how many beds, quality of craftsmanship, warranty, etc.  Then research all of the new vs. used models. Then settle on an exact model.  From there, you can shop your local dealers, but also check out resources such as RV Trader or the manufacturer blogs.  Read reviews.  Go to shows.  Don’t buy anything for at least a year before purchasing.  In our case, we bought new because they added some very key features that I wanted in the new model.  Those, combined with the warranty, combined with the floor plan I wanted, led me to a new purchase.  I am happy, but I haven’t tried to trade it in or sell it.  Just know, none of these are built to be lived in full time.  Period.  So they aren’t built with the same quality as a house.  Be ready.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Just hope that you have the means for getting them fixed.

5.  Slow down and be patient.

I put these two separate at first, but they are in fact the same, sort of.  Slow down is not only in packing up, driving, setting up, etc.  It also refers to slowing down and enjoying some of the reason you traveled to start with.  We have been on a fast pace due to commitments, but we have tried very hard to enjoy time at museums, festivals, shopping, attractions, or even just the pool.  We spent some time at the lake here at Medina Lake.  We are hoping to really slow it down once we hit September and no longer have any major commitments.  The objective is to see as much and do as much as we can.  We also look forward to seeing family and friends more.  Making new friends in the RV world.  And as far at patience goes, I can say with out a doubt that I have become more patient and I have already found Lisa and Zbear doing the same.  We have taken a different attitude at life.  On Little London Dr. I was focused on negative energy (my neighbors) so much, that it consumed me.  I don’t think I have thought about them 2 times since we left and those are only thoughts of how much I couldn’t care less about what BS they are pulling now.  Patience also relates to the above about things breaking and plans changing.  We are trying to focus on what is in our sphere of influence and control and not what is outside of that bubble.  I have even found a better connection with work and with Zbear.  Yes, we have our moments, but Lisa and I haven’t really even had an argument since week 2.  The first 2 weeks were a little stressful to say the least, but hey we are on track and I would say happier together than we have been in years.

4.  Know your weights.

As you know by now most likely, I planned this adventure out to the most minute detail, or so I thought.  We learned about weights the hard way with Bruce 1.0 and it cost us big.  We all wish we could go back and fix that before it happened.  That said, we did in fact learn and fixed the issue.  Just know the weights.  It may be dry weight of the trailer, GCWR of the trailer, GCVWR of the truck and trailer or tow vehicle (affectionately known as a toad).  It could be water weight (about 8lbs per gallon).  It may be the weight rating of your tires or braking systems.  Research.  Become familiar.  The pressure of having your whole life on the back of a truck is enough.  No need to add any stress items.  Solve as much of that up front, or at the very least, familiarize yourself with it.  You will be glad you did.

3. Give time to break in your RV/trailer before launching.

Ok, so the biggest mistake I think we made was assuming that we could sell our house and move right into our trailer and NOTHING would go wrong.  WRONG.  My very first admission would be that if I had to do it all over again, we would have owned Dory for 4-6 months before moving in.  That way, all of the issues we came across could have been handled prior to launch.  I will say that Jayco has tried very hard to work with us, but let’s face it, when you live in an RV full time, getting her in for repairs is tough.  Like REALLY tough.  My suggestion to you is that you own it, break it in, live in it without moving in to it, move it around, set it up and break it down many times, dry camp (or as it’s called, boondock).  Turn things on, use it.  Then, and only then, launch.  We didn’t have that luxury, and I really wish we had.  I will add a side note to this.  Plan to have it in the shop for a while for any repairs.  Warranty repairs are not as easy as say with a car.  The dealer (like Camping World) doesn’t stock every part for every trailer they sell.  So getting a repair typically involves approvals, orders, shipping, installation, testing, etc.  If you do jump in full time, be prepared, it’s a pain.  Thus, why we are allowing Jayco to take her back to her birth place for some repairs.  It literally seemed easier.

2.  Auto Level doesn’t mean Auto Level and Tank level indicators are total BS.

Ok, maybe it’s because we are new, and maybe it’s because what they tell you at the dealer and manufacturer, but let’s be clear.  At least in my experience thus far, Auto Level is a sham.  I have now set up and broken down my RV 18 times.  I have had a successful auto level exactly 2 times.  That means you drop the front landing gears, press auto level, it does it’s magic, done.  2 times.  TWO TIMES.  I have found a few reasons for this.  1, I think that our auto level system is tied to our 6v batteries.  It’s just not enough juice to make it happen.  This trailer is HEAVY.  The system just craps out.  I have tried blocks to help off set the draw, I have tried being on “fairly level surfaces”, and really just about everything I can.  Even when I think we are almost done, I find that I get an “auto level failed” error or a “out of stroke” error.  It usually takes me several attempts and I also need to really guess how far to drop my front jacks in order to effectively level her.  This is something I have talked to Jayco about and hope to have resolved when we turn her in.  As for the tank indicators, forget about it.  I can just say that my only grey tank indicator is when one of the sinks or showers won’t drain.  As for the black tanks, I know they are full when I turn the fart fan on and the unmistakable smell of a weeks worth of waste gets pulled like a rotten perfume into the room.  Those tank level indicators are in EVERY RV that I have seen, and every owner laughs at them.  Even when I flush the tanks, still, nothing.  SMH.  It’s not Jayco’s fault, but it’s almost not worth having them as everyone knows they are total crap, just like the smell that escapes them if not drained properly.

And NUMBER 1.

First, sorry for the length of this post.  I will be posting several others here in quick succession as I have been away for too long.  I have a lot to share.  But number one had quickly rose to the top in Oregon.  DO NOT RUN OUT OF GAS.  Don’t even come close.  If you aren’t 100% sure of the next stop, you should probably fill up after 1/2 tank.  Not only did we nearly run out in Oregon, but I did a repeat approaching Amarillo.  It’s stressful and unnecessarily so.  It’s an avoidable stress.  I don’t know, maybe I like to live on the edge, but it sure doesn’t feel that way when my ass is puckered and I am literally thinking of what I am going to do if Ol Bruce gives out.  Luckily, we haven’t found out.  But I am trying harder than ever now to be more vigilant.  I can’t imagine anything worse than running out of gas on the side of the road with a 45′ trailer, wife, kid, dog and cat in the car.  Unless it were hailing and a tornado was on the way that is.  Do yourself a favor, and just fill up.  It’s not worth the stress and anxiety caused.

 

Well that’s it for now.  Sorry, very long, I know.  Let me know if you have any top 10 items that you would add.  For now, happy traveling.  Don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter.  Really it is just a way for me to let you know that there is a new blog.  If you haven’t, also, explore the other areas of the blog, including our map.  Check out our facebook and instagram too.  We have 23 subscribers to LLL and over 100 followers on both our instagram and facebook.  So thank you.  I am humbled by that.

Thanks,
The Nortons

I would kill for a “dry heat” right about now.

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This episode of LLL is being brought to you from our current Thousand Trails camp ground at Medina Lake near San Antonio.  The RV people (if there are any) that read this post just choked on the granola bar as I heard them all yell “NO, Not Texas in the summer, you are doing it all wrong”.  This, I know.  You see though, we don’t really have much of a choice.  While our oldest daughter and husband serve in the Army up in Washington, our middle daughter has just graduated high school and is off to Air Force basic training in lovely Lackland AFB here in a few weeks.  The plan all along has been to “break in” the RV on a trip to Seattle to see the grandson and his parents, then back to CO for graduation and to pack up the things, and then down to Texas for the (gulp) summer.  I am sweating just thinking about June-Aug. here.  Hell, let’s face it, my fat behind is sweating just thinking about taking nova for a walk tomorrow.  All of that sweat talk aside, what has been up?  Well I will tell you………..Sit back kids, turn on your fans, shit is about to get real.

Heat Index

First, I need to make an edit to my last post.  Lisa reminded me that I forgot to share one very important and I guess funny story.  On our way from Bend to Boise a few weeks ago, Lisa decided to drive.  She did great.  Better than I would have expected.  Not because she is a bad driver, but because, as she soon found out, the stress of driving your whole life down the road is taxing.  At the end of a 3-5 hour pull, you are just damn wore out.  So it is her first time driving.  We are trucking along.  Pass through some small town and as we exit, we both look at the fuel gauge.  The “range estimator” or as I call it the BS Meter, said we had about 120 miles to empty.  Well good enough, we only have 90 miles to go.  That’s a sweet buffer in my mind.  The last gas station we passed was WAY too small for Dory and Bruce anyway.  We pressed on.  BIG MISTAKE.  As I looked at the map, we had 3 small towns along the way.  Surely, a few gas stations, right?  I mean I saw diesel after diesel, they have to get their fuel somewhere don’t they?  Apparently, they have a secret hidden well somewhere that no outsider is allowed to know about.  On top of that, we were going through a canyon with several uphill pulls.  Now I am no math major, but Bruce pulling Dory up a hill requires more fuel.  Makes sense.  Our “range estimator” was dropping like a lead balloon.

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We had only traveled about 10 miles when the BS meter now read 90 miles to empty and we still have 80 to go.  BUT, surely, there is a gas station somewhere right?  NOPE…… Fast forward, we are now so low on fuel that we are holding our breath, as we go up one last hill, Lisa is telling me how she is going to ride the last 10 miles in on a bike if we run out of fuel.  Yeah, good plan.  I am steadfastly scoping out every house that may have a diesel tank and any business that looks like it has on site fuel.  I am already planning to send Z to a random stranger, crying, begging for a few measly gallons of diesel because her dumb parents can’t plan ahead.  I had $100 cash to use in case that didn’t pan out as planned or if Lisa turned down my idea.

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We literally pulled in to town, stopped right outside of the gas station, swapped seats (Lisa didn’t feel like she was ready to negotiate the turns), and proceeded to put 31.5 gallons of fuel in to our 31 gallon tank.  I am not a terribly religious man, but I believe that someone/something had our back.  I am sure we learned our lesson, or did we?

We had a short stay in Boise, Salt Lake, and then a beautiful stop at Mt. Pleasant Utah.  It was our first Resort Parks International campground and I have to say it was stunning.  I mean the park/town/people were nothing to write home about, but because they just opened, we were 1 of about 15 rigs in a place that has over 50 sites.  It really felt like we had the whole place to ourselves and the views were breathtaking.

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Z being a monkey.
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Oh Deer.

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Nova got to see her first deer and boy did she want a little of that for dinner.  We took a lovely hike up a small man made stream to try and find what was feeding it, and not only did we see a decaying deer carcass (surprisingly, Z handled it very well), but when we got to the source, we found that we had wandered on to a boy scout camp that wasn’t currently in use.  The lake feeding the stream was BEAUTIFUL and Z pointed out they even had diving boards.  It was a very fun little adventure.

From Mt. Pleasant, we headed to our old home, Colorado Springs.  I say old home because, well, it is.  We don’t live there anymore.  Lisa was quick to point out that coming back felt a little like coming off of a vacation, or that we were some how returning with our tails between our legs because we failed.  Well failed we have not my love.  Failure is NOT an option.  As a Japanese officer once told my Marines, “Never Give Up”  In fact, Colorado Springs, for all of it’s beauty, really was a weird stop for us.  We got to catch up with family and friends, tell them of the stories of our first 2 months (which I am sure they knew because they follow this blog religiously right?).  We got to see our amazing daughter graduate.

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Graduate number 2. Great job girl. So proud of you.

We packed up our remaining items and her household goods to move.

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Like a glove.

And we even got some ok weather toward the end.

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Americas mountain.

But it was weird.  It was being a visitor in your old home.  I mean we must have driven by our old house or close to it 40 times.  We were going on all of the streets we left 2 months ago for this adventure.  It was just odd.  We did some of our favorite stops while there, and aside from 1 or 2 people that we couldn’t catch up with, I think we did well at seeing everyone or at least trying.  I had the question more than once of when we would be back.  I think people were shocked to find out that we don’t plan to be back any time soon.  In fact, CO is not on our radar at all for the rest of 2016 and unless something goes horribly wrong, probably not 2017 either.  It’s just one of those things.  We moved.  Just not to one particular address.

We said goodbye to CO and our convoy, myself and Z pulling Dory, Lisa in the rental truck with all of our crap, and Kailah trying to be patient in her car.  As you may have guessed at the end of our story about almost running out of gas, I am not sure I DID learn my lesson.  We were about 50 miles outside of Amarillo with about 80 miles on the BS Meter.  When we finally pulled in to a station about 2 miles north of Amarillo, I again added over 31 gallons to the tank.  It wasn’t as stressful as last time, but for Christ sake can I just stop doing that already?  We beat feet toward Lubbock TX, with the plan to get a hotel for the night.  Something about setting Dory up in a Walmart wasn’t appealing, and frankly, I think we were all excited to stay in a nice hotel room for a night.  Problem was, it was just an OK hotel room.  The first “Penthouse suite” they put us in, the AC wasn’t working.  My sweatometer was off of the charts and when that happens, hulk smash.

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So they moved us.  The beds were ok, the rooms were big, but it just wasn’t Dory.  I almost went out and slept in her anyway.  Lisa and I both agreed that Dory would have been a better choice.

The next day we hauled out and made it to our current spot near San Antonio just after 4.  As previously mentioned, Thousand trails are a first come camp ground.  No assigned spots.  So you have to go, find a spot, find a way to hold it, and then come park.  This was easy with the group we had.  Lisa and Kailah sussed out a spot for us, Kailah got me, I pulled in.  Boom.  But in the heat and exhaustion of the two day pull there, we all just seemed a bit tense.  I am sure it will improve, but the feeling was still there today as we unloaded the moving truck in to a storage unit in the heat and humidity.

sweat

The only way I can accurately describe the heat is in my own language, and that is that my ball sweat had ball sweat.  Sorry, but it’s all I got.  The Medina Lake TT is beautiful though.  We are right next to a huge lake, lots of trees, nice flat spots, crappy well/Texas water, and no kidding about 100 deer that own this place and make Nova go bat crap crazy.  We have some family commits in Dallas coming up, and I have a business trip to Vegas, but other than that, this summer is all about slowing down.  Mainly so I don’t sweat myself to death.

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So I have this grand idea for a blog where I tell you all of the top 10 things we have learned in our two months, but the heat sapped it out of me.  So here you go, our latest addition to the Norton Chronicles.  I am stoked to be here though, because the sooner we get this summer over, the sooner we get to our snowbird plans.  Plus, all in all, it is really a beautiful spot.

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Dory and Bruce sitting in a tree, C A M P I N G.

While here, I will get to see one of my all time best Marine brothers and his family, and we may even get to catch up with a few other CO transplant friends of ours.  From here it is off to Colorado River Thousand Trails, then off to Lake Conroe where we have tentatively rented a cabin for the entire month of July.  You see, we need to send Dory in for some repairs.  As is typical with new RV’s, ours has a few issues that I don’t want to discuss, mainly because Jayco has been great at trying to resolve them for us even though we live in it full time.  But the final resolution is that we will send it back to them in Indiana, they will fix er up, and ship her back in time for us to head back to San Antonio for our daughters AF graduation.

Last thought for this post.  As I was driving home tonight after the storage unit sweat fest,

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It’s not raining. I am melting the fat away.

I looked down and saw something that to me was truly amazing.  I was about to cross 6000 miles on Bruce 2.0.  We got him on April 8 with 37 miles and today is May 24th?  Soooooo, in my own silly way I started to put that in perspective for Z.  I told her that it was 3k miles from San Francisco to Long Island NY.  Actually just under.  That means that in just over 1.5 months we have literally driven from coast to coast and back.  And that doesn’t even count the miles from Denver, to Buena Vista, to Grand Junction, to Salt Lake, to Boise.  Whew.  I am tired just thinking of it, but our map on our wall is starting to look SWEET.  You can see our progress on the “our map” tab above.

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Hopefully you still find this blog interesting.  Feel free to share and sign up for notifications of when a new one is out.  While we are “slowing down” over the next few months, I intend to do a few videos, some product reviews, camp ground reviews, and of course, try to sweat off years of fat.  I hope that it works like a brisket on a smoker for hours.  My fat will just render in to juicy deliciousness.

That’s all for now folks,

Thanks, The Nortons.

Time flies when you are having fun………

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Or so they say.  It’s weird, today we are back in Salt Lake City Utah.  Our 3rd original stop when we headed off on this journey about a month and a half ago.  It was funny to drive back in to town and Zoe was already starting to reminisce about the things we did last time we were here.  It was also funny for us to think about A. how long ago that seemed even though it was just over a month ago, and B. how much has changed in just that short time.  I mean we didn’t even have bruce 2.0 at then.  I was suffering multiple head wounds daily.  We hadn’t yet fully figured out how to deploy Dory when we got to spots.  We were still sweating any time we had to make a turn.  It took us 20 min on average just to get Dory hooked up and another 1 hour for set up (pat on the back, we are down to hooking up in 5 minutes and set up/tear down to about 20 minutes). We had our whole trip planned out and were on our way to hitting every way point we had dreamed up and every campground that we had plotted.  Funny side note there, we have actually only stayed in 3 of the 12 spots that we had plotted to this point.  Either something has been wrong with us and we needed to stay elsewhere, or the RV park was closed or didn’t have sites big enough for Dory.  She does require nearly a quarter of a football field of RV space for both her and Bruce 2.0 to fit.

Since our last post, we sadly said goodbye to our sweet little Grandson Hendrix and our daughter and son in law in Lakewood WA.  They would have come with us if it weren’t for some pesky thing called a commitment to the Army.  I am very proud of the two of them, both doing active duty and both doing a great job raising our little man.

We have been to Pacific City OR, where we stayed at our first Thousand Trails site.  Soon I will do an entire write up on TT and why we joined, but I want to get a few more sites under my belt before making any determinations on if it was a mistake or not.  If you want to look in to Thousand Trails see www.thousandtrails.com.  We have an elite membership and can go 21 days at a time for “free”.  We can also go right from one into another so when we get to where there are a lot of them, I will have a better opinion.

Pacific City was AMAZINGLY beautiful.  We toured the Talimook Cheese factory,  Blue Heron French Cheese store and wine tasting, walked on the beach (Nova’s favorite new past time), and just enjoyed the sounds of the ocean for a few days.  We had our first actual camp fire since having left on our journey.  One would think that you would have them every night, but the smell can become overwhelming and we end up washing everything we own after one.  So we have kept them to a minimum.  We got to see some amazing spots, and as always we also learned some hard lessons.  When getting to a Thousand Trails site, the RV sites are first come first serve.  So you have to drive around to determine what is best for you.  This particular location had a lot of very steep undulating hills and on one as Bruce was headed up a hill, Dory was still coming down, and she took a small bite out of Bruce’s ample hind quarters.  The dent pissed me off so bad, and set our stop there off on the wrong tone.  The lesson learned is to unhitch Dory, drive around and find a spot, mark said spot, re-hitch Dory (a process that has become somewhat easy now), and head to our location.

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The “view” of the ocean from our deck. You could hear the waves and it was only a small hike down to the water. Really nice and serene.
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Our Instagram photo titled “say cheese”.
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Hi-jinx at the Blue Heron French Cheese store in Talimook OR.

 

From Pacific City we pulled an audible and headed to Bend Oregon.  The Thousand Trails there was great.  We were tucked away in the trees, we had a nice big site, it was lovely.  Except for one small detail.  No sewer dump at the sites.  Our rig has very big holding tanks, but 3 days with doing laundry and dishes etc is all we have been able to get out of a grey tank (the one that holds any water that isn’t fresh or sewage).  There are camping purists who may read this and scoff at the notion that we use so much water, but I say SCREW YOU.  I am living in this thing and not just going for a weekend trip.  I want full damn hook ups.  Period.  That aside, it was a really lovely stop and surprisingly, Bend was a lovely town.  If you haven’t been, go.  Then go downtown.  It really reminded me of a more chill Austin.  Sort of hippy, sort of country, but all American.  We had a lovely time down there and would absolutely return.  We tried to get all educational up in this mother by taking Z to a lavender farm, but because we are out of season, the only thing open was the store.  The owners were so sweet and we drove so far to get there, I think we spent over $100 on goods.  But who cares, Z loves lavender and the owners were so sweet.  We spent mothers day trying to find a way to hike to the Deschutes river.  We took Nova with us and hiked for about 2 miles before realizing that there was no good spot to hike along it.  We ended up back at the campground hiking along the baby Deschutes and it was lovely.

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Office view photo. It was a lovely spot other than no dump station on site.
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Bruce 2.0 and Dory tucked away nicely in the large spots at the Thousand Trails Bend OR.
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Mothers day hike pics. What a great mom, right up until she pushed Z in to the river. Just kidding, but man that would have been funny.

Next we were off to Boise Idaho.  We had been to Boise already (where we purchased Bruce 2.0) and were planning to go to a harvest host for a night at a nearby orchard or winery (www.harvesthosts.com).  Again, our best efforts at planning were foiled when we realized that we were out of season still and they weren’t open right now.  CURSE YOU.  So we headed to a nice RV Park that Lisa found on www.rvparkreviews.com and settled in for a few nights.  We have found that anything less than 2 nights is a real pain in the ass, so two nights it was.  Nothing spectacular, but Boise is a nice little college town and we did end up going down town for a bit.  Z’s favorite was a tea shop that we took her to.

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Z loved the tea in Boise. Wait, that rhymes. Whoa.

A short 5 hour drive south to Salt Lake should have been uneventful.  HA.  Nothing is uneventful.  First off, Lisa and I both stupidly accepted a challenge from our oldest to drink 1 gallon of water a day.  No big deal unless you are trapped in a car and trying to make good time.  Our number of stops has gone up dramatically, and I still can’t figure out how consuming a gallon of water can net 2 gallons of piss.  Maybe one of my doctor or nurse friends can fill me in.  I swear we stopped to pee 20 times yesterday.  Lisa also had a mad craving for Chick-Fil-A.  We found one in Twin Falls Idaho and made our way there.  A perfect spot for the RV as it was next to a Target with a mostly empty parking lot.  Lisa and Z went to grab food, Nova and I went pee (surprise surprise) and when I got back to the truck I opened the windows just a bit for fresh air.  Now mind you, we travel with a dog and a cat.  Both of which we love very much.  Lisa and Z are always telling me that Kitten will jump out of the window.  I have yet to see her really do so.  When the girls got back they gave me my usual verbal lashing about having windows opened.  Z asked where kitten was and I told her that she was hiding under the chair like always.  We headed out.  (Can you see where this is going).  By the love of all things good and holy, I got a call about 5 minutes later from a man that had found kitten and wanted to know where he could meet us.  Luckily, we were at a nearby gas station and he was kind enough to deliver her.  (I Gave him $30 for the effort and thanked him profusely).  Z was a hot mess and I don’t blame her.  Needless to say, I can already hear the verbal assault coming any time I am near an open door or window and kitten is around.  I deserve it.

Well so that brings us to today.  Here we sit in a KOA (unplanned stop number 17) in Salt Lake City.  It’s a nice park and will make a great home for another night.  Then off to Salina Utah, Somewhere near Glenwood springs CO, and then back to Colorado Springs for our daughters graduation from high school.  Then off to Texas for the summer.  More to come on that adventure soon.  Hope you enjoy the blog.  I will be posting a top 10 things I have learned so far on the next one.  Enjoy and please feel free to invite your friends.

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Prom night for our soon to be graduate and Air Force noob. Can’t wait to see what the future holds for this little beauty. Strong, smart, opinionated, and also very strong. :)
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