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Friday, August 30, 2013

Trying for some perspective

The events of our journey towards the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Northwest Coast have really stirred our mettle. Though the tire blowouts in Tennessee and Iowa had been anticipated, they were not expected. The technical issues that Clifford has struggled with had also been foreseen but were not really expected to  become a problem.  They were just a few of the many, many “what-ifs” we considered in our planning.

Since leaving ST Augustine, Florida May 18th, 2013, we have experienced a really wide scope of emotions and situations that have upped our game of presence and purpose.

We found our extended time spent with close familyPhoto in Florida had given us irreplaceable joy and contentment so the personal power it has taken for us to leave that comfort zone to venture west to flesh out a life long dream has both surprised and empowered us to continue. 

 

It all began in the early 1990s in our growing awareness that economically, our retirement years could never fulfill the expectations being promised for decades by economic prognosticators and pundits. Our chances of living the promised life were less likely than our winning a lottery.

The short story is that as we studied this and sought solutions it became clear that there was no scenario that would let us stay in the home we had bought to raise a family and live out our years.

The inescapable conclusion was that we would not even be able to afford to live anywhere near Raleigh, NC after retirement. We realized that downsizing was inevitable and to do it without financial and emotional whiplash was going to take a lot of time and planning.  Eventually, it was obvious that we needed a means of transitioning between a work a day family life and our end stage lifestyle.

We both had always loved to travel in the western US and wanted to see a lot of the Pacific Northwest and east to the Rocky Mountains.

Clearly, our transition solution was going to be a lifestyle of living in an RV of some sort and using it as a home to search out our Shangri-La.

We formally engaged this plan in 1998 to transition from a full family middle life existence through a rescaling lifestyle of travel and eventually find a suitable end-life settlement.  Through that process, we expected to live an extended self contained life in a recreational vehicle and to that end we began the search for a suitable RV and vehicle to tow it with.

In November 2003 we found our prize, a 40’ King of the Road Crown Marquis fifth wheel trailer in Stillwater, OK. We eventually named it DaKotR because we got tired of saying “I’m going out to the King of the Road” ( aka Da-KOTR.)

That purchase decision took nearly 6 years of studying everything we could find on full time life in an RV and which vehicles were more compatible to that lifestyle. Much of that time was spent virtually “living” in any RV we could find at RV shows, on RV dealer’s lots and online. The hours and days we spent paid off and we have been very pleased with DaKotR and we have been very comfortable living in it for the past 6 years.

Now, our Steel Steed, the 1999 Volvo truck (Clifford) was also the result of a number of years of studying forums, websites and dealers. I even spent 8 weeks in July/August 2004 in the North Carolina Truck Driver Training School in Smithfield, NC to become a Certified Professional Driver. I wanted to develop the skillset, knowledge and muscle memory necessary to safely and confidently handle whatever vehicle we would find necessary to tow DaKotR. 

Believing the used truck salesmen motto, “A 1 ton dually can pull any RV on earth” we bought a 1999 Ford F350 CrewCab 4x4 dually. It was a great truck but after pulling a half a dozen different 5th wheel trailers weighing 10,000 to 16,000 lbs it was a no brainer when we dropped DakotR onto it in Tunica, MS to pull it back to Raleigh, that this just was not enough truck, period.

But, a year later it was a love fest when we found Clifford in West Memphis, AR in November 2004. He is a handsome brute with only 562,000 miles on him and all the recommended maintenance and parts replacements had already been done to him.  He was definitely a gem to score.

Our original expectations in 1998 had included using the truck as a daily driver but as the costs of diesel fuel kept rising that became a fading hope. We had to have something to run around in wherever we stopped that would be comfortable, cost effective and not too large to wander small byways and trails. 

At that time, quite a few Full Time RVers were double towing (pulling a small car or Jeep behind their 5th wheel trailer). This seemed to be an efficient solution but it was always a very risky scenario to me. The previous owner of DaKotR had done it so I was sure that DaKotR could handle it. We seriously considered it for along time, but this never developed into a palatable solution for us.

Finally, along came Smart cars!  They were only 98” long which was short enough fit crosswise on a bed between the cab of the truck and the front of the towed 5th wheel Trailer.  I just had to find a way get it up and down from there. 

PhotoA few other RVers also caught this idea and built a variety of mechanical platforms to ease the process of winching a Smart car up onto the bed. However, we chose to design a bed and a system using a couple of ramps that would allow loading and unloading from either side without winches, extraneous mechanics or hydraulic lifts.

Finishing this bed in 2009 gave us this solution and it completed the construction of our caravan. All that was left to do the logistics of planning and initiating the start of our quest. 

The obvious similarities of our efforts to those of many of the pioneers and settlers of the western United States are clear. They had to think about what they wanted to do. Think about what they would have to be prepared for and plan their journeys with a strong focus on contingencies for the unexpected. Making the end goal for their journeys set a direction for their travels but their contingency planning is what defined their benchmarks and way stations along the way.

Today, as I sit and relate life to this point, the parallels that pop out at me are even more personal. Each time one of these unexpected events have happened, there has been a small sense of very old déjà vu as though somewhere, sometime in the past this same event happened but just involved different technologies.  Instead of a horse throwing a shoe our cargo carrier on the back of the trailer fell apart.  Instead of a broken wagon wheel, we blew a tire… and then another.

Instead of a horse coming up lame or with colic, Clifford had a loose pin on a connector to his engine computer.  For some of the pioneers, their events could have been show stoppers  They certainly felt like they might be to me as they happened to us along the way.

Last Sunday as we limped the excruciatingly long slow 2 miles to the Sioux Falls KOA in a broken Clifford, I was suddenly starkly aware of the similarity to events our ancestors may have experienced  in this same place many decades ago.  On impulse I proposed this similarity to Merrily with the question; “I wonder what the settlers would have said if their team of horses suddenly died here?”  She shot right back with, “We’re HOME!”

So now, Emery, South Dakota is officially our home base… for now…

ttfn

Budd

Thursday, August 29, 2013

In a Holding pattern

Today we became official South Dakota residents!  Got our home address at MyHomeAddressinc.com in Emery, SD, became registered SD voters and swapped our North Carolina CDLs for South Dakota’s versions in Mitchell, SD. home of the world famous Corn Palace.

This was a really big benchmark for us to reach.

But, we are still in the Sioux Falls, South Dakota KOA. It has  Killer Wi-Fi  (6 Megabit download rates) and this has really helped us work out a lot of the unexpected kinks. However, it is really hot (90s – 100) in the whole area so it is not as much fun as it could be.

Clifford is still in the shop with his electrical problems.  It is unlikely that they will have him working before next week so we are here over the Labor Day Weekend. This will give us some “free” time to focus on a lot of little things we have been putting off for months while getting ready for this trip.

A lot of “stuffed here and there” paperwork that needs to be handled and filed properly and a few RV things to fix. We are comfortable, cool and happy despite the frustrations and apprehensions about Clifford’s ailments and the eventual costs to put him right. Things happen and there’s no point getting all twisted up about it. Just take care of business and make the most of the unexpected opportunities that have come with these things.

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One of these has been a visit to the Falls Park in downtown Sioux Falls.  It was quite hot when we went there and I was not expecting much besides rocks and water but it is really beautiful and a very pleasant place. Although they do have formal sidewalks and a pedestrian bridge crossing the river, it is all open spaces to sit, wander or play in.  Very pleasant experience. Of course, temperatures in the 70s and 80s would definitely be nicer.Photo

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Monday, August 26, 2013

Clifford’s got the Colic…

Clifford is now waiting for a mechanic at the Sioux Falls, SD Kenworth/Volvo dealer. My steel steed has a bit of colic and is not doing so well.  

He went to the Volvo shop in Champaign, IL to have a few things checked out and an estimate for doing the work and to get the A/C fixed. When I paid and got the keys, he was really sick. Would not shift. Gave me error lights about the brakes and other things and really balked at the bit.

I shut him off, took the keys back to the service desk and left it there for 3 days (over a weekend+) and when I came to get him back, they said he needed a new transmission computer…. gulp!!! A heart lung transplant would have seemed a less drastic prognosis.

Anyway, I haggled down the $700+ bill and left. He was working just fine after that.  We left Champaign for points west.

Blew the tire near Newton, IA and got those replaced per previous blog and then on to Des Moines and finally to Onawa, IA for  a 3 day rest. The 2 hour drive from Onawa to Sioux Falls, SD was easy and pleasant and things were fine until we pulled into the FlyingJ to refuel and hit a horrendous DIP entering their driveway.

Shook him to his teeth.. and us, too.  Ever since then, he has struggled against the bit and balked at everything.

Poor Clifford.  I can sort of manually shift from gear to gear with the buttons but it is not a reliable way to go far. 

Fortunately, we were about 3 miles from the Sioux Falls, SD KOA and that is 4 blocks from the Volvo Service center.. God works in mysterious ways, doesn’t he?

I guess for some reason we are supposed to spend some time here.  Interestingly, I have had all my bills handled for the past 20 years by Paytrust, a Sioux Falls, SD company. What are the odds?

ttfn

Budd

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

KA-Bloooooo ieeeee !!!!!

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Ok, so I knew the Trailer tires might be iffy but I pressed on, anyway.  Should have just changed the whole set while sitting for a month just a block from a good tire dealer in Champaign, IL.

Sometimes I am just too tight for my own good.

Heck, I really can't complain, though. These BF Goodrich LT235/85 - R16 tires were made in 2006. 7 years for an RV tire with virtually 100% tread left is still pushing it. No cracking or glazing. No UV damage but sitting loaded for many months at a time and then traveling 500+ miles to sit again, is very hard on the best of tires.

I have to say that I am very impressed with these tires. That age and those circumstances and the other two still hung in there very overloaded.  Having now lost one tire on each side on the highway has pretty much guaranteed that the remaining tires, no matter how good they were, aren't anymore.

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I can see a very slight linear crack parallel to the tread on the sidewall of the tire right behind the last blowout, indicating that the sidewall has really been overstretched and the surface rubber has separated. Had we not stopped when we did I am sure that I would have lost that tire, too, in a few more miles.

A Couple of things I have been monitoring were pressures and temperatures.  IMG_20130821_143634Using my Infrared digital thermometer with real time readout, I immediately  checked each tire's temperature around the sidewall and along the sidewall around the tread seam. Each of these older tires have warm spots that varied 6 degrees or less from the rest of the casing once they had been rolling awhile.

On a 93 degree day the typical sidewall temps were 115 - 119. Hotspots were 121 - 125. The tread temps were running more like 125 - 132 with the higher numbers on specific tires and at hotspots but most of the tread temps were pretty even from tire to tire.

I run 80psi cold in them all. That is the max pressure for these tires and since they have been scaled at 90% of their max rating, this is the right pressure according to the manufacturer’s load/pressure/speed tables.

The good news is that I found a local tire dealer, Magnum Automotive in Newton, Iowa, that can get me 6 new tires by tomorrow and at a better installed price than Sam's Club. I am all for that.

I won’t tell you it was fun changing that blown tire but fortunately, I discovered it in a rest area and it was on the shady side of the trailer. Doing it in 95 degrees in the shade on hot concrete is not a recreational activity but it is part of the journey. I had just checked the tires less than 50 miles before and all was well so that tire had blown awhile back.  After I stopped in the rest area, a guy came up and said he had tried to get my attention quite a ways back, so it blew out way back there. The stresses on the tire could have been exacerbated by the strong cross wind from the driver’s side which added additional loading on the curb side tires. I Just don’t know for sure.

Other than cost (pay me now or pay me later, thing) it only delays us a day which we are trying to lose a few, anyway, so we don’t hit Jackson Hole, Wyoming before Labor Day. yes, it could have been much worse. We could have been in the wilds of Montana in 100 degree heat and many miles to anything that could help… but it didn’t… this time so maybe this was close enough that I won’t let the risk get so high ever again.  

I do really try to stay aware of the risk factors and keep ahead of them but I sometimes have other problems too, that whispers sweet nothings in my ear to distract my attention from the risks of reality.  I think it looks a lot like that old Ben Gay Gremlin:

Cory Doctorow at 7:58 am Tue, Nov 15, 2011 •

IMG_20130821_125655-IMG_20130821_125642

The Kellogg RV Park is a pleasant place other than the road noise (upwind of us to the south). Level spots, a few trees for smaller rigs and good water/power/sewer for $20/night – Good Sam’s price.  The tire dealer is about 9 miles away so when he calls we should be able to get over there fairly quickly in the morning.

Yaay!  He called about 3:30pm and has the tires and verified the dates: last week in 2012. Not as current as I would like but current enough.  We will get them installed in the morning and then head on out.

ttfn

Budd

Monday, August 12, 2013

A Prairie Schooner is more than a wagon

imageAs we prepare to launch towards the great continental divide I am frequently reminded of the pioneering settlers of America. They had not been there and done that but each was surely waking each morning stressing but excited about the unknown prospects that lay before them.

They were also probably sore from using muscles that many did not know they had before beginning these preparations. Everyone from outlaws to accountants and farmers to financiers had to do a lot of very physical, mental and emotional activities to get “on the road”.  This has been no less true for us and we count the last few days before “D”eparture day!  Each is filled with “Did you fix xyz?” “Have you filled abc?”  “Where are my glasses?”

We have been planning and working towards this “D” day since the late 1990s…. and perhaps even longer than that.  It has been an individual dream of ours much of our lives. When we actually made the decision to choose the Full-Time RVing lifestyle as a transition to our ultimate retirement life we knew very little about it other than our mutually and frequently expressed love of the Great Northwest and the mountains.image  Heck, we got married in Boulder, Colorado in 1979 and spent our honeymoon in the Tetons around Jackson Hole, Wyoming. One does not get much more of a Rocky Mountain high than that.

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Here, in Champaign, Illinois, not many miles from great jump off points of the pioneers, like Nauvoo, IL and St Louis, MO we see the wide western horizon, incredible sunsets and feel the tug of the unknown journey ahead of us.

Are we scared?  Sure!  Are we excited? Certainly but we are also humbled when we think what it must have been like for all those pioneers and settlers that went from the conceptual security of a fixed community of family, friends and convenience to launch into a vast and unknown life with little more than a wagon load of hopes and dreams.

I have to wonder, how many of them worried about the technical aspects of their wagons, the welfare and maintenance of their horses and their own personal safety?  I am sure they had heard many stories about possible attacks from Indians and outlaws and the threat of an early winter had to always be hanging over their preparations.  Should I wait until next year and get an earlier start?  Should I bring warmer clothes? Will I need a gun, … a toothbrush? 

imageWhatever their choices, their solutions had to fit in a rough riding, weather permeable wooden box on wheels or on a horse or mule’s back. No matter how poor they may have been each surely had a lot more precious property than it was wise to try to bring with them.

DSC01234We have been living in our “Prairie Schooner”, DaKotR, for the past 7 years. It has been wonderful and has rarely been too small. Granted, much of that time was in our own back yard of our Sticks and Bricks house, but still, it has been a real pleasure to have the convenience of  our essentials at our fingertips while living year round in comfort. (Honestly, it does not look like this all the time.)

We have had a lot of practice for this journey. Few of the pioneers had more than a few months to prepare and I will tell you that it is not a simple or straightforward cookbook process.  Even with the experiences of hundreds that have gone before and have been expressed in their many books and Internet forums and blogs, it is not an easy process.

Refining our own check lists from those of many others was the easy part. Understanding how important or frivolous each line item would become, not so much.  Even with our years of experience living in our future environment there has been a huge amount of angst about the journey to come.

We know that we don’t know it all and that there will be a lot of unexpected cost and inconvenience… but we are committed to this journey. Our checklists have become part of us and our intended destinations are our bucket list.

ttfn

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Frazzled but delighted!

A bit of a gap from my Raleigh post in May. In my defense, I have been too sweaty, wet from rain, tired and in a lot of bone deep pain to make much sense in print.

 

Ever since we got to Raleigh I have been fixing and tweaking items and issues on our rig. Time does take a toll and my list of work and changes had gotten quite long.  Worse, most of these items were outside. Things like fixing roof issues including putting Eternabond tapePhoto on the end cap seams and skylight, take a lot of outside physical effort and time.

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PhotoPhoto   In the Raleigh summer climate this might as well be in Haiti. One is going to be perpetually soaked from the effort of just thinking but adding actual physical activity turns one quickly into mushroom fodder.

Most of the major items did get done in Raleigh but summer time was leaking away and we were already very late getting there from Florida. Our plans included a visit to Champaign, IL to see our youngest son, Randy, and wife, Shawna. From there we would go on west to the Rocky Mountains, Glacier National Park and other parts of the Pacific Northwest before settling in Port Orford, OR for the coming winter…. That was the plan.

We are still in the plan but somewhat skewed in time as we have just arrived in Champaign, IL.  Between Raleigh and here was a stop to see daughter Carol Ann near Charlotte, NC.  Her recent job change now has her living and working in that area and she is still in the settling-in process so we really wanted to be a part of this event in her life.

IMG_20130714_174210-MIXWe took her out for lobster on her birthday and it was really great to see her so happy and adjusting so well to a totally new environment, life circumstance and job.  I can now move on and not feel that I am leaving something unfinished or unsupported.  She is productively engaged in being her own person and she and Samantha have some excellent times coming.

We stayed in the Cross Country Campground in Denver, NC while visiting them. It is on the north end of Lake Norman, west of Mooresville, NC and although it is listed as Denver, NC it is actually in Sherrill's Ford, NC.  I mention this because the Butcher Boy Buffet is an excellent place to get a nice all you can eat meal for a reasonable price and it is right across the street from the campground. The campground was ok but not great. The weekly pull through sites are near the highway (NC 150) and while it is not terribly busy there are a lot of motorcycles and loud cars on it. After all, this is NASCAR racing country.

Our move from there to Champaign took us through Raccoon Valley Escapees RV Park in Heiskell, TN for 1 night (that was enough) and then on to Mammoth Caves area of Kentucky. 20 miles out of Raccoon Valley I blew a tire on the trailer. It was shredded completely!  Fortunately, nothing was really damaged but the Tennessee mountains are not great cell phone areas so it took a few hours on a Sunday morning to get Good Sam’s  Emergency Road Service guys to me and swap in my spare.  Yesterday, I just got the blown tire replaced but still have to remount it on the trailer before we leave.

Our trip was planned to next go to Campbellsville, KY to checkout the Amazon fulfillment center and campground for a day then on to Mammoth Caves but I tore something in my calf muscle wrestling with the blowout situation and was just not up for walking. We just skipped Amazon and landed in the Singing Hills Campground in Cave City, KY for a night before moving on to Champaign.

PhotoThe Air Conditioner in the Truck is on the fritz and though I had put some Freon into it before leaving Raleigh, we have not had it working to this point.  A good note here is that the weather has been very, very non-typical for the southeast and with the exception of a couple of hours on the way to Cave City the drive has been very pleasant with the windows open.

I don’t expect this good weather fortune to last so I really do have to get that A/C fixed before we leave here.

 

We are now in the D&W Lake Campground and RV park in Champaign, IL and it is wonderful!  A little pricy but worth it for its location to both our kids and our suppliers of food and materials (restaurants, Home Depot, Aldi, etc). The sites are quite level, gravel and the grass is well maintained. It’s on a great little stocked lake, too.  Just hard to imagine all this in the middle of Illinois. The owner’s live onsite and are really great, too. They bent over backwards to accommodate our unexpected arrival to stay for a month.Photo

This is pretty much the view we have from our site.We will be here for a few more weeks as I finish up the gotta-do’s before heading on westward to the Rockys.  I have a few slideout issues that I may stop by the factory repair center in Grand Island, NE to get fixed… if it’s not too expensive.

Beyond that, I’ll let you know.

ttfn

Budd