Certainly Beats the Classroom

This just never gets old.

Yesterday there was a teaser on TV regarding the NHL team St. Louis Blues, which is one of the teams in the 2017 NHL playoffs. (If you didn’t already know, we’re die-hard hockey fans.)

During the teaser, the boys saw the St. Louis Arch. They got so excited and started yelling: “That’s the St. Louis Arch! We saw that! We drove right by it!” Indeed, this past September we did drive right by it on the way to Mississippi from Illinois.

We can’t even tell you how often they’ve made comments like this, positively thrilled that they saw, experienced, and learned about things in person, not merely from books. We’re not saying they haven’t learned about things from books or the Internet, but what they remember, what they talk about, what gets them super excited, are the things they have actually seen, been to, and done.

Our boys can say they’ve been to the top of a lighthouse because they’ve climbed the 203 steps to the top of the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse in Florida.

Our boys can say they’ve seen hundreds of huge windmills because we drove by and between them in states like Indiana, Ohio, Nebraska, and more.

Our boys can say they’ve played in the snow while a young moose walked by only feet away and watched two bull moose fight in Alaska.

Our boys can say they’ve been to the top of the Space Needle and looked out over Seattle, with Mount Rainier and the Olympic Mountains as the backdrop, in Washington.

And yes, the boys saw the St. Louis Arch glistening in the setting sun in Missouri.

Already they’ve stayed at least a week in each Alaska, Washington, Colorado, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Puerto Rico, and D ‘Skiy has been to New Mexico, although he was only one year old at the time and doesn’t remember it except for the pictures.

(And then there’s our home state of Florida, of course.)

The boys have camped in the sweltering heat of the Florida Keys and the snow-covered hills of Maggie Valley, North Carolina.

They have been on steam engine and diesel engine trains, climbed many rock walls, rode on wave runners, took on several ropes courses, snorkeled crystal-clear waters, canoed and kayaked, fished in both salt and fresh water, walked dozens upon dozens of trails, and splashed in freezing mountain streams.

They’ve been to many gardens, zoos, museums, science centers, historical landmarks, and amusement parks throughout the country and the Caribbean.

The beauty of it is that they’re still so young, and they still get so excited whenever we go someplace new, enter a state we’ve never been to before, and pack for any adventure, whether we’ve done it ten times or this is the first.

That’s part of the beauty of homeschooling. The world is their classroom and everything is an open book.

And it never gets old when they can point to something on TV or in a book and say, “I’ve been there.”

Nearing the End of a Journey

We’re now Florida-bound, wrapping up our 12-week adventure. For the most part, the map above was our route. There may have been unexpected changes, such as moving across the state of Georgia due to Hurricane Matthew and flying to Alaska out of Kansas City instead of Denver, but the main idea is there…and a picture speaks a thousand words.

In that short time period we camped in 12 campgrounds in 9 different states, drove through 20 states (not including our home state of Florida), flew to and stayed a week in each Washington state and Alaska, and created countless new memories with our sons.

We wore bathing suits and shorts in Illinois and Georgia, and we donned multiple layers to protect us from below-freezing temperatures in Alaska and Virginia.

We admired the views from atop the Space Needle, hiked paths within miles from the peak of Mount Rainier, slowed waaaaay down for the horse-drawn Amish carriages in Ohio, rode in a horse-drawn carriage in Indiana, and explored the depths of the Luray Caverns.

We watched families of elk explore a Washington village, two bull moose spar for the affection of a female in Alaska, bald eagles soar the Alaskan sky, and antelop graze in Colorado prairies.

We were in Illinois for Labor Day and Grandparent’s Day, Ohio for Columbus Day, Colorado for Halloween, and Virginia for the history-making presidential election and Veteran’s Day.

We attended a Rennaisance Festival in Wisconsin, went to the theater of a childhood idol of the boys AND Mama ‘Skiy in Washington, partied alongside other goers at an American Red Cross street party in Indiana, and took the boys on an educational tour of Civil War points of interest in Virginia.

We even had to make an emergency drive back home to prepare and protect our house from the looming Hurricane Matthew…which turned away last-minute and just enough so our house and neighbors were safe.

We still have more than 1,000 miles before we’re back at our house, not including a couple of stops to visit the boys’ grandparents first, and we’ll still have two more states to add to the number that we’ve driven this trip. When all is said and done, we’ll have driven more than 8,000 miles towing our 5th wheel and 12,000 miles for our truck alone.

Wow. Those are some figures!

Given the opportunity, we’d do it all again.
Could we? Please?!

What’s In a Name?

We tend to pick names based on meaning.

Our oldest son’s name means “Lover of the Earth.” Our youngest son’s name means “Gift of the gods.”

Our cat’s name is Luna, which translates to “moon” in Russian. We adore the moon, and she happens to have a white crescent shape on her back.

Our truck’s name is Bertha, simply because she is big and reminded us of an old song about cave men and women, where one of the cave women was a big woman named Bertha, “one of the Butt sisters.”

So when it came time to name our new fifth wheel, we decided to go with something that had meaning to us.

Our fifth wheel’s name is June. Yes, after the month.

There are two years between our sons, but they were both born in June. Mama and Papa ‘Skiy were married in June of 2001. And we found Bertha in June.

Okay, so the former two are better reasons to go with the name “June,” but the latter is still relevant.

Our first rig’s name was Cubby and our second was The Coach, and each of these names were actually plays on the models of those travel trailers.

This time we went traditional and wanted meaning. June is a very special month for our family.

Let’s hope June and Bertha become good, lifelong friends.

Movin’ On Up

It’s both exciting and sad to make a change. Case in point, we tearfully said farewell to our beloved Coachmen Freedom Express travel trailer — aka The Coach — as we traded her in for our first fifth wheel today.

As you may recall, we’ve had ongoing A/C issues and had discovered a leak someplace at the front of the Coach, and we couldn’t figure out the source, although we’re fairly certain it was caused by the awning getting ripped off last year. The dealership that maintained her said it wasn’t a big deal, but we could already feel the front left nose cap softening and the odor in Mama ‘Skiy’s closet (from the leak and resulting dry rot) was getting stronger.

The fifth wheel we decided to get is actually one that we’d seen plans for online months ago and really, really liked. But finding this model at a dealership or show anyplace in the southeastern portion of the US seemed impossible. And there was no way we were purchasing an RV online or driving across the country just to “research” another rig.

Then a couple of weeks ago we were on the way to a dealership to take a look at a travel trailer model we’d found online. We were a mile from that lot when we passed another dealership…and saw the model that we’d only before seen on the computer.

We immediately stopped to take a look. She’s less than 36 feet long, mid-profile in height (almost 2 feet shorter than traditional or full-profile fifth wheels), has a desk in the master bedroom, room for a washing machine, no island or extended counter in the kitchen, a bunkhouse with two bunks, a huge master bathroom…and a half bath right off the bunkhouse, complete with wardrobe space for our sons!

In short, she was everything we’d hoped to find.

We left and still went to go look at the travel trailer at the other location, but this rig — this Wildcat — had stolen our hearts.

That night, the remainder of the weekend, and over the course of the week that followed we made phone calls, did more research, played with numbers, and measured to make sure we could park it next to our house. It didn’t have the extremely high cargo carrying capacity we’d hoped to get, but we figured RVing was about doing more with less and are considering upgrading the wheels and tires (up to 16 inches).

There was so much to do if we wanted to get this rig, though. We now had the horse — more than enough horse, actually — but we didn’t have the hitch to tow her. Papa ‘Skiy had already counted on getting a slide hitch if we went this route. Now it was a matter of finding the right one.

We decided to go with an auto-slide hitch as opposed to a manual-slide.

Days later, we made the tentative deal over the phone, but you know how we are: what’s meant to be will be…so to the dismay of our salesman, we didn’t put a downpayment on her.

Apparently, it was meant to be. We went back this morning — July 22nd — to have the hitch installed in the bed of Bertha, trade in our Coachmen (*sniff-sniff*), and pick up our new — and first — fifth wheel.

But guess what. Towing a fifth wheel is nothing like towing a travel trailer! No, Bertha had no problems pulling the rig. As a matter of fact, Papa commented how he couldn’t feel it behind him and never felt any shear or sway from the storm that decided to test us and the truckers that zipped by.

It will certainly take some time getting used to pulling, maneuvering, and backing up a fifth wheel, but we are convinced of one thing: there’s no way we could or would want to go with anything larger than this Wildcat!

At just under 36 feet and with the nose of her sitting over the bed of Bertha, the remainder of the rig hanging from behind the truck is no longer than that of our travel trailer. So length isn’t what we need to get used to. The fact she’s taller, heavier, and now hitched inside the truck’s bed are all challenges for us to overcome.

It’s worth it. It’ll all be worth it.

OMG! We now own a fifth wheel!

Yet Another Reason To RV: Part 2

As avid RVers, we read the blogs of other travelers. It’s fun to read their adventures, and educational to learn their mishaps and mistakes.

Our favorite types of posts are epiphanic.

We recently stumbled upon one of those. The father of this particular family is the primary blogger. He telecommutes from the family RV and often writes about what he does and where his work takes them.

In that post, however, he wore his emotions on his sleeve.

As he does every morning, he awoke before the rest of the family did so he could begin his work. He worked for a couple of hours and when the remainder of his family was up — his wife and their three young kids — they ate breakfast together, rode bikes, did some homeschool work… Essentially they just went about their day, accomplishing what they needed. It was a day like any other had become for them, and it was normal.

They were together.

He generally finishes up his work after the kids are in bed for the night, after they’ve eaten dinner together and read a story — or three — together.

That particular evening, though, something clicked with him, all because of a comment his youngest daughter made that day. She had commented that, when they were in a house, Mommy and Daddy spent more time with work and taking care of the house, and she was glad they wern’t in the house because Daddy is around more and there’s not as much housework to be done in an RV.

You can probably tell where this is going.

And it’s true.

When you have a domicile — whether it’s your dream house or a small apartment — it seems that what you live in owns you. There’s more housework, more upkeep, more yardwork… More bills, more appointments, more errands… Yet there’s also less quality time, less vacation time, less family time.

We “lived” in our 30-ft travel trailer for almost a month in late 2015. The most tedious chore was laundry. Everything else was completed in about an hour total per week. There was more time with our sons, going out and exploring, and just doing stuff together.

His little girl nailed it. The space is smaller, the “stuff” is fewer, and the responsbilies are less and take less time to complete, which means quality time is abundant.

He went on to say he noticed his kids got along better, the parental stress was far lower, and everybody just seemed happier…and he’d never stop to think about or appreciate it before then. The fact he telecommuted and they RVd so much had made them closer.

When we tell others about how much we love RVing and how we wished we could do it more, many people reply with the same or similar responses to homeschooling: “I could never be in such a small space with my family for such a long period of time — we’d kill each other/drive one another crazy”; “I could never imagine spending so much time with my kids — I need my time away from them”; “I couldn’t handle having my husband/wife around all day long — distance makes the heart grow fonder.”

That’s one thing about RVers that we’ve picked on that makes us so amazing: we value and crave family time. We just love it! We’re crazy about our spouse, we’re nuts about our kids, and we want as much time together as possible. Isn’t that what being a family is about…or at least used to be?

Our sons are growing so quickly. We love that we homeschool and they’re around all of the time. We love our time with them, and there are days we look back misty-eyed and miss their baby coos, when they were learning to walk, and the nursing days.

More is not always better. More can make you miss out on the meaningful. You get more out of life when you have less.

Yet Another Reason To RV: Part 1

(I’ve labeled this “Part 1” because I know I’ll blog more on this topic.)

We went camping with some friends this past weekend. Refraining from names, these friends are a couple who have each been divorced from their previous spouse, have a son from their first marriage, and were blessed to find one another six months ago.

In short, they’re an adorable couple who are completely compatible.

Although he had been camping before with his son, she and her son have never been camping. She loves to try things that are new to her — especially since her ex was a bump on the log that did nothing — so he bought a tent and made arrangements to co-camp with us at an amazing central-Florida park that has a wonderful swimming hole.

Overall, the experience was amazing for everyone. As first trips tend to go, a few things went wrong for them, but it was nothing we couldn’t take care of as a group…and with a few laughs.

She was absolutely fascinated in all of the different RVs in the park…and by our little 29-ft travel trailer, despite that it dwarfed next to the class A with a super slide situated two lots away from ours. She noted rigs set up on sites that clearly looked like “people live here” and how nice everyone we came upon was.

Then she noticed something we RVers with kids tend to take for granted: kids can be kids!

Right now we live in an S&B in a residential — not gated — neighborhood. Although it’s generally a quiet suburb, crazy people still drive like mad down the roads. There are two bus stops on our street — one directly across from our house — so school busses roar down the road multiple times daily. Let’s not forget the banging of the dump trucks at least once a week too.

Noisiness and speed demons aside, it’s challenging living in any neighborhood this day and age.

Once upon a time, parents could allow their kids to play outside and even ride their bikes around the neighborhood. Moms and dads were vigilant about teaching their kids about stranger danger and looking both ways at least twice before crossing any street, but otherwise kids could be kids.

Nowadays we have to worry more about people that have nothing better to do with their time but try to police parents and raise everybody’s children. In all seriousness, moms still have to worry about their kids playing outside, but now it’s because others will call law enforcement or Child Protective Services and claim the kids that are playing outside are endangered and the parents are negligent. Time and again, tearful children sit hopelessly aside as their mom — or sometimes dad — is handcuffed and loaded into the back of a police cruiser.

All because the kids were being kids.

Not that they were doing anything wrong or in any danger.

Shame on the parents for letting their kids outside, to ride bikes down the street or even just play in their own front — or back — yard.

And don’t even get me started about all the hell raised when kids are at a playground sans parent.

However, it’s different when you’re camping.

And our friends picked up on that after just a couple of hours.

Her son is six, his is twelve. Our sons are five and seven. The three youngest were up and down the road of the loop that our site was located on, riding scooters, and all four of them spent time running around, throwing a ball, collecting firewood, and taking turns on our two pogo sticks. Oh, and we mustn’t forget the tree on our site that the boys got a kick out of climbing again and again.

She was captivated by how she could just let her son run off and play…and not worry about him at all. The four of us could work on meals, hang towels to dry, stoke the fire, and just chat while the boys just did their thing.

Nobody drives around like lunatics, other kids run around and play, there was joyful noise and loud music all around…and everybody accepted and welcomed it.

It’s not like there wasn’t anybody around to make sure rules were being followed and nobody was getting out of hand. It is a campground, so there are rules to keep people safe and things orderly, and there are employees driving around in little sedans and golf carts to keep an eye on things and help out if necessary.

But…kids can be kids!

People constantly complain about kids on smart phones, sitting in the house in front of the TV or game system, or just doing nothing in general, especially if it’s not deemed educational or chore related. However, parents are then rediculed for allowing their kids outside, down the streets or around the neighborhood on their bikes, or at the playground.

In other words, we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

When we’re camping, technology always takes a backseat to getting outdoors…and being kids.

Therefore, another reason for RVing — whether you’re full-time or part-time — is the ability for your kids to be kids and enjoy their youth and childhood.

…The way our generation and generations before us did.

The PT Struggle Is Real

We absolutely love this RV lifestyle. We never look forward to going home and getting back to the everyday hustle and bustle. When we go camping we disconnect from the outside and electronic worlds and reconnect with Nature and one another…and ourselves.

The worst part is packing for and unpacking from each and every trip…but not for the reasons one might think.

True, it’s repetitive and mundane to print out the same checklist over and over again. To make sure we packed the correct amount of food and beverages…because of the time we realized we left the hot dog buns at home on the counter only once when we needed them at the campground. To make sure no type of clothing was forgotten…because we did forget underwear one time. To make sure we remembered protective gear for bikes and scooters, fishing poles and bait, swimsuits and goggles…and so on.

True, it gets exhausting undressing and redressing the beds, unloading and reloading towels and dish cloths, emptying the hampers…essentially washing even more laundry than a typical week would involve.

True, it gets old to constantly move food from one fridge and pantry to another — from the house to the Coach — just to relocate everything again 2 or 3 days later.

Yes, this is all quite accurate. But this isn’t what makes recreational RVing rough.

It’s the fact it’s only temporary.

Oh, how we long for the day we pack our rig, head out for a destination, and when we get there know that we don’t need to return home in a couple or few days…because our home is with us, and we’re already home!

The packing and unpacking, loading and unloading, stocking and moving back into the S&B is entirely worth it for the experience and exposure we get as a family, every time we go anyplace, whether it’s for the first time or our 5th.

We just can’t wait until we have to do it one more time, for the last time.

One can dream, can’t they?

When In Search of a Cart

(This post is intended to be educational for those looking for any type of RV, so keep reading.)

To reference yesterday’s post, we are not only looking for a horse (truck) but also researching carts (RV). And as elusive as finding the right truck has been, it’s nowhere near as difficult as looking for or learning about fifth wheels.

We know what we like, but it seems to be anything but existent. We would consider a fifth wheel that is between 35 and 40 feet long, with a decent cargo carrying capacity, work space for Papa ‘Skiy, sleeping and playing space for the boys, and functionality with the slides in. There’s a bonus if we can find all of this with an additional half bath!

We’re not limiting our research to bunkhouse models. We’re also looking at loft models, den models, and toy haulers.

More than anything, we need strength. We’ve seen too many “perfect” floor plans and lengths, only to discover they only support between 1,200 and 2,500 pounds. Some have been even less, and fewer fall in the sweet spot of between 2,500 and 4,000 pounds.

What’s the big deal? A lot!

Cargo carrying capacity (also known as net carrying capacity, gross carrying capacity, carrying capacity, NCC, or CCC) is the maximum allowable weight that your rig can safely support. This number does not include water, and each gallon of water weighs approximately 8.3 pounds. The tank size of each rig varies greatly, anywhere between 50 and 120 pounds (some more, some less). Once you do the math, if you plan to carry water in your potable tank, that’s even less cargo that you are able to load.

If you are a family like us, with kids who have toys and books and are homeschooled, you need to consider weight for toys, books, school supplies, their wardrobe, and the possibility they will want to have rock or shell collections.

If you plan to work out of your rig, you need to think about computer equipment, monitors, books and paperwork, and customized working conditions, seeing how most family-friendly rigs do not already have private work space built-in.

If you plan to eat, then food, beverages, dishes, silverware, coffee pot, kettle, toaster, dish soap, and ice all take up extra weight.

Don’t forget Fido, Miss Kitty, or Tweety as well as their supplies, if you’re one of the many RVers with pets.

Miscellaneous items to think about are the adult wardrobe, all jackets, shoes, umbrellas, washing machine or dryer (if you have hookups and plan to have one or the other or both), more books, movies, small appliances, space heater, decorations, games, skates, scooters, bikes on the bumper, outdoor toys and balls, patio furniture, vacuum cleaner or broom, various cleaning supplies, blankets, towels, toiletries…

The list goes on and varies, but you get the idea. Every little thing adds weight, and when you’re living in a small space every ounce matters.

Fine. So just get a longer rig that can carry more weight. We have set a length limit for a very good reason.

We’re not fans of private campgrounds and places like KOA. We’ve stayed at them and they’re great, but when we camp we want woods and privacy and aren’t really looking for a clubhouse or schedule of events.

Our preferences are county, state, and national parks. They’re less expensive, the sites are larger and usually a lot more private, and Mother Nature is abundant.

However, for these places to maintain their natural beauty and to minimize damage, most have length restrictions.

We’ve been spoiled by our current rig. She’s only 30 feet long with no slides, so there’s never been a park that we wanted to say at but have been turned away from.

Some public parks and campgrounds allow only tents, do not have hookups (permit dry camping only), or restrict RVs to no longer than 26 feet, 28 feet, 30 feet, and so on. Most public parks and campgrounds have rig length restrictions of up to 40 feet. Even fewer have restrictions longer than 40 feet.

Case in point, we have close friends that have a 41-42 feet-long fifth wheel toy hauler. There are several public campgrounds they would love to get in to, but that extra 1-2 feet in length makes it so they can’t stay. And it’s a bummer.

We did a lot of research, paying close attention to parks we’ve already been to and love, to find out what the majority maximum length permitted happens to be. That magic number is 40 feet.

But there appear to be a lot of fifth wheels within the length limit with ample room. Be that as it may, most of these aren’t at all functional with the slides in.

And…? Well, there are a lot of negatives involved with a non-functional slides-in rig.

Again, we’ve been spoiled. Our current rig has no slides. What you see is what you get. Nothing expands or slides out. So whether it’s an emergency bathroom break alongside a road, a lunch break in a parking lot or rest stop, or boondocking overnight to catch some sleep before continuing the next day, you need to be able to access three important areas of your rig even if the slides are all in: a bathroom, the refrigerator, and sleeping quarters.

Let’s address them in the order listed.

Who hasn’t been traveling anyplace and suddenly the tea you’ve been drinking and the sandwich you ate a few hours ago give you the urge to go…NOW? We’ve all been there at one time or another. If you have a pull-behind rig (or even a driveable one) you want to be able to pull over and use the facilities, and you don’t always have a fast-food joint, gas station, or truck stop nearby.

But when you pull over and the slide is pushed up against the entrance of the hallway that leads to the bathroom or blocks the swinging door to relief, then you’ll find yourself ducking behind a tree or between bushes. In that case, have a roll of toilet paper and hand sanitizer handy in the cab of your truck.

Now you’re back on the road and you’ve been driving for a couple more hours, so you’re hungry. It’s more than an hour to the next exit that has anyplace with anything even remotely edible. But wait — you have a stocked kitchen rolling right along with you! You’ll just pull off and prepare a nice meal on the island in the kitchen.

Only you can’t get to the fridge or open the fridge or pantry door due to said island. Let’s hope you packed a handy cooler since you can’t use your fridge until you’ve reached your destination. Why did you want an island again? It takes up floor space and blocks access to the food and stove. Hmm… Maybe you should have opted for a rolling island.

After you’ve finally figured out what to eat, you continue driving but realize there’s absolutely no way you’ll get to the campground today. It’s approaching midnight and your eyelids are getting heavy. So you call the upcoming Walmart, confirm you’re permitted to boondock overnight, and pull into the lot.

You open the door of the rig, ready to drop into bed…but you can’t reach the bedroom! And because of that island in the kitchen, you also can’t open up the jackknife sofa or reach the dinette that converts into a bed.

No problem. Just open the slide a little so you can get into the bedroom.

Well, there is a problem with that.

There’s an unwritten list of rules (ethics, if you will) when you boondock in a parking lot, rest area, or truck stop. The first is to get permission. Always call ahead, regardless of what anything online says, what you’ve been told, or the fact you’ve boondocked there before.

Next, don’t make it look like you’re camping. No awnings, grills, chairs…or slides out. It’s not a campground, after all, and the store, restaurant, casino, church, or whatever does not have to allow you to stay overnight. You’re on their good side because you asked first, but putting out a slide or anything else may very well warrant a knock on the door from security or law enforcement. On top of that, you increase the chance of the place you stayed at overnight suddenly barring RVs from boondocking because one too many rigs made their parking lot look like a campground. It’s happened before and continues to.

Another reason to not let out your slides is truckers. You are permitted to stop overnight at the same locations truckers do, and many times you’ll find yourself parked right next to a big rig. If you put out a slide — even a little bit — chances are the trucker won’t see it open. He/she is watching side mirrors, your headlights, and the pavement lines to back or pull in to a spot; that rig will accidentally take out your slide. And it won’t be his/her fault.

Bottom line: If you’re not at a campground, leave your freaking slide in!

These are our reasons for why we’re so particular about any rig we research or intend to purchase. Although they won’t resonate with everyone, chances are this post made valid points and brought to light things you wouldn’t have considered otherwise because 95% of the rigs out there look strong enough (there’s a reason to always study that yellow or white placard in the door jamb and on the front driver’s-side corner of the rig) and have the slides all out for display at dealerships and shows.

Like us, think about how you plan to use your rig and under what circumstances you may camp. Do your homework and don’t count on the salesman to be open or honest with you. They’re there to make money, and they’ll all-too-happily take yours.

This will be your rolling home or home away from home. Be as particular and picky about it as you would any sticks-and-bricks home.

Salesman like nothing more than an uneducated consumer. Don’t be prey.