Troubles and Hassles

https://youtu.be/x-Q9JJP_kC8

Twenty three days into our new nomadic lifestyle, things are not yet running smoothly. For a while, it seemed that something would break literally every time we moved our rig.

For instance, our High Pointe microwave died on the trip down to Texas. It was covered by our extended warranty, but with a $100 deductible for a $140 microwave, we decided it was not worth the hassle to do the claim.

Our next stop after leaving Texas was Arkansas’ Petit Jean State Park. On the drive up to Arkansas, the light for the “stabilitrack” (whatever that was) came on the dash, and we could not put the truck in 4 wheel drive mode. Not a major problem by any means as we were not going places at the moment where we would need it.

Petit Jean is rumored to be the prettiest state park in Arkansas and has a beautiful legend associated with it.

The first night in Petit Jean, we got in late and set up camp in the dark as we fought off armies of flying bugs to set up our camp.

The next morning, we woke up and decided to move our campsite as we were on a pretty significant slope. Also, we needed a campsite with a tent pad because my brother, Ben, his girlfriend Jennifer, and their 5 kids between them were coming to join us that night.

When we tried to start the pickup, it was dead. So, I went to the visitor center to see if anyone could give us a jump. Luckily, a gentleman from the maintenance crew was able to help us!

We have a 2013 GMC Denali 2500 truck. We could not see a date on the battery, but it looked like it most likely was a factory battery so it was due to go out. We took the pickup out for a brisk drive after we moved our trailer, and it started again after we turned it off.

But we were running on borrowed time with the battery as we began to smell a rotten egg smell while we were driving. I did not know this, but that is a sign that your battery is going out when you smell that. Hans made a trip into town and got another battery for our truck and that problem was solved easily.

My brother and his girlfriend and the nephews and nieces arrived and the good times rolled!

We were able to tick Arkansas off our RV map.

A couple of days into our stay at Petit Jean, rain finally broke the oppressive heat wave. We had not turned on the TV since we left Texas. When we decided to entertain the kids with a movie inside the trailer, we realized the TV was kaput. It had worked just fine in Texas! How disappointing!

Instead, we played cards and told ghost stories about Albert, the ghost who haunted the front bedroom of our former Denver home, and LCHD, the haunted plane I was on in the 1990’s.

The ghost stories may have been too convincing. The kids had been interested in sleeping in their own tent, but instead chose to sleep in the camper with us. We utilized the sofa, the table and the floor for them, and even though it was a snug fit, everyone was OK with it.

It looks like a big mess but really there are children under all those blankets. (Hans likes it super cold to sleep so the rest of us need lots of blankets!)

After a few days with the kids, we loaded up for the drive to Tulsa to take them back home to their dad. Ben, my brother and their dad, is super handy. He installed an electric hookup with water so that we could comfortably stay in Jennifer’s back yard in Oklahoma.

We were making great time and things seemed to be going smoothly. We accidentally got on a toll road. This was he first indicator that our luck was changing. I really hate toll roads. Somehow the filter in my gps app turned off the “avoid toll roads” feature. We didn’t have enough coins in the truck so we had to borrow money from the kids who apparently are loaded.

Our second indicator that our luck was coming to an end was when the brakes briefly locked up as we were approaching a toll booth. That was SCARY. The children even broke eye contact with their video games when we jolted.

A Walmart parking lot was conveniently located at the end of the exit ramp so we pulled off the road. (We spend more time than I care to admit in Walmart parking lots because they are EVERYWHERE and their lots are HUGE.)

This is what we saw:

Like a dead snake lying in the Walmart parking lot, there was our cord that connected the trailer lights to our truck. It had dragged on the ground until the insulation surrounding the wires in the cord had been burned through and caused our brakes to engage.

It was official. We were broken down in Broken Arrow, OK, in the parking lot of a Walmart. I felt like this was definitely the lowest point of my RV-ing experience so far.

I called my brother because we were not sure that we could safely drive the trailer at this point. I knew he would know what to do. He said we were only twenty minutes from his house. He said to leave the cord disconnected and use hand signals to signal turns and use caution as we would no longer have turn signals or brake lights on our trailer.

We proceeded carefully the 20 or so miles to their home and harbored safely in Jennifer’s huge backyard.

As timing would have it, we ended up spending the 4th of July with Ben and Jennifer and their kids which was a lot of fun.

For the 4th, we went with the family to a Tulsa Drillers baseball game followed by fireworks. The Drillers are the farm team for the Dodgers. I can not think of a more American celebration than a baseball game and fireworks for the 4th.

And of course we fired off fireworks in Jennifer’s back pasture!

Ben helped Hans install a new trailer cord.

They also replaced a fuse that had been blown when the trailer cord dragged.

To repay him for his help, we babysat the kids so that he and Jennifer could have some time alone. Babysitting tip from the Taubs: Babysitting is much easier if you wrap the children in plastic wrap so they cannot move.

Just kidding! I really do not know who started this, but no children were harmed, and they actually asked us to do it again the next day!

By the way, if you didn’t know already, we are child-free. I am sure everyone is relieved to hear this! Haha!

We took the truck to the dealer in Tulsa on July 5th to diagnose the “stabilitrack” problem. The problem was the “coder motor” on the transmission had burned out so we replaced that to the tune of a few hundred dollars. It was a relatively easy fix, all things considered.

We left Ben and Jennifer’s back yard and ventured down the road and resumed our journey towards the upper Midwest where (hopefully) cooler temperatures beckoned.

We went to a nearby dump station at a state park to empty our gray and black tanks. Our luck took another turn!

We had had a lot of help from the kids when we dumped our tanks at Petit Jean. The kids gloved-up and helped Uncle Hans.

Somehow in the hubbub, the black tank valve remained open. This was not good when we dumped after the visit in Tulsa.

I was sitting in the truck with the windows rolled up texting with a friend when I smelled a very, very bad smell. I jumped out to see if everything was ok.

It was not. It looked like our trailer had diarrhea next to the dump station. How gross and embarrassing!!! We washed it off as best we could in the direction of the sewer opening. I squirted some Blue Dawn on the aftermath to try to clean it up better than simply washing it with water. We were both gagging! Ugh!!!!

Moving on, we continued uneventfully on our journey until we reached the Downstream RV Park. It was part of the Downstream Casino, and we could get 2 free nights of water and electric hookups if we joined their Players Club!

We thought our streak of weird mechanical luck had thankfully come to an end, but no sooner than we had set up camp, we got a phone call from our neighbor that our home in Denver had flooded because of a broken sprinkler!

Thanks to our fantastic neighbor, Patrick, for handling everything and for family members, Sonny and Calius, flying out from California to fix the broken sprinkler.

Even with the setbacks we have had, we have felt loved and supported every step of the way, from my brother wiring hookups for us and buying Hans a comprehensive tool kit, friends offering us a mooch-dock, to all the nice gifts and messages of support from family, friends and neighbors, we have never felt alone, and we feel so fortunate to be a part of a loving community of friends and family.

We also had the good fortune to be in Quapaw, OK, for the 146th Annual Powwow of the Quapaw Tribe with other tribes in the area. It was so moving to hear the music and see the dancing and the traditional garb of the indigenous people. I am awed at how these people have managed to salvage their traditions and uphold pride despite the genocide that almost annihilated them. I would like to say that the broken sprinkler was the end of our travails, but it was not.

As I write this from Robertsville State Park in Missouri, a mechanic named Chris is putting the finishing touches on installing a converter box for us. He came to our campsite to assist us today after we parked here two nights ago and discovered our batteries were not charging. The lights were pulling off of our battery, which should not happen, so we were unable to use the lights. Thankfully, the air conditioning still worked.

The RV season is in full swing right now so it would have been 4 weeks to get into an RV service shop in St. Louis. We were glad that we found Chris to come out in the first 2 days. It was also nice because we got to catch up with our dear friend, Ann, in St. Louis.

We went to a great place called Louis’s Wine Dive that I highly recommend if you are passing through. They have a gluten-free option on almost every item on their menu. I especially love their Brussels sprouts!

Wish us luck as we venture northward later on this week. I hope our mechanical problems are over for now!

Back Home On the Ranch

We have been “mooch docking” on the ranch in Whitney since my last entry.

I had never heard the term before until Hans used it. It is when you borrow power and/or water off of someone’s residence.

The ranch is an ideal place to mooch dock because my brother installed a 30 amp power hookup and there is a very convenient source of water. There is even a septic tank that we could dump our black waste into, but it requires a lot of maneuvering. However, Lofer’s Bend Park, only 4 miles away, has a dump site for $2.

We have an almost perfect situation except for the hook up being next to the junk pile adjacent to my late Dad’s shop. You need a tetanus shot just to step out the door, but it is fun to look over the junk pile while enjoying my coffee in the morning and play find the kitty.

Can you find Sissy Cat in this picture? How about the portable heater? The fireplace grate? The bike tire? The old high-FI TV antenna? Picture finds are good for your brain!

Another fun game we have enjoyed down home on the ranch is playing “find the newest calf”.

We were on our way to the river in my brother’s ATV to fish when we found this little guy who was so new that he could barely walk yet. He was just a few hours old!

Hans found country life agreeable with him even if it was not agreeable with his allergies. He fell in love with the “gravel bar” on the river which is the fishing hole here these days.

Thanks to my Mother’s innovative storage design when she and her sister designed her house back in the early 1970’s, I was able to fit everything that we were not able to take with us in our trailer into my childhood bedroom and the closet. I estimate that I managed to store about 1500 to 2000 pounds of “stuff” in that room. I guess we will find out the next time we are able to visit a CAT scale.

We were also able to clean and UV-protect our trailer, reorganize and optimize our storage areas and install a Tire Minder.Hans worked hard in the hot sun to get our trailer ship-shape for the start of our adventures.

We also took time to pick some peaches and connect with friends and family.The slow pace of country life was a big change for me. It was nice at first, but after a week, I began to get restless. I felt that there was someplace we needed to be.

There was no where we needed to be. I was just creating this in my mind. I had purposely scheduled no work or any definite plans for June or July in order to fully immerse ourselves in this new way of living.

Motion is such a natural state for me after being a flight attendant for 24 years, that it is my comfort zone. I thrive on new places, people and a constantly changing routine.

I never have days that are not packed with plans I have made for us. I literally never sit still. This motion that drives me forward has served me well for years enabling me to be very productive in how I work and to visit 38 (no place for Bermuda on this map) countries and every continent except for Antarctica (bucket list). If I am not running from one place to another, something feels wrong.

Because I am trying a new way of being and living, I decided that this restlessness that was irritating me like the ant bites on my feet that no amount of scratching could alleviate, must be challenged.

So we stayed in place on the ranch for a little longer.and enjoyed more fresh eggs from my sis-in-law’s chickens!

As a result, I took my brother’s ATV and explored places on the ranch that I had not ventured to since 1987 on my horse. Beauty was still around every corner on this pretty place nestled into the encircled arm of the Brazos River on one side. But there was a wild side, too.

It was jolting to drive into what I remembered as pristine fields where my Dad baled hay and see them returned to their natural state. The tangled neurons in Dad’s brain, due to the Alzheimer’s disease that ultimately took him, precipitated the tangles of overgrowth these fields had become. It felt like the landscape of a nightmare.

I ran into a hole that I didn’t see because the pasture was so overgrown and almost rolled the ATV. The bull nettle (aka Satan’s Dandelion) that whacked me on the knee as the ATV tipped quickly brought me back to reality.

If you have never been stung by bull nettle, then you are living a blessed life, my friend. I’m sure it was probably used to torture one’s enemies back in pioneer days. I raced back to our home sweet trailer and made a paste of baking soda and water to put on my bull nettle stings. It did absolutely nothing!

I think I am way too “city-fied” to survive for long on the ranch anymore, but it was so nice to spend time there and reconnect with my roots and show Hans more of my ancestral home.

Murphy’s Law of RV-ing

Being brand new to the art of RV-ing, Hans and I had no idea about the extent that the old adage of “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong” applies to RV-ing.

We set out on our trip to Texas with our trailer fully packed with items to store at my parents’ ranch that we did not want to part with but could not take on the road with us.

We stopped at a CAT scale to check our weight. Our truck and trailer together weighed 20,000 pounds. Our trailer has a capacity of 10,000 pounds and weighed 11,020. So, we were over-grossed by 1,020. Not an ideal situation. Not to mention that we could not even get into the trailer easily because we had it loaded right up to the doors.

With this situation, we decided to make the 13 hour drive (according to Googlemaps) straight through just switching out drivers when one of us became tired.

I felt like we had a perfect plan. What could possibly go wrong?

Being a frugal person, I looked online and found a place to dump our tanks for free on http://www.rvdumps.com/. The Circle K in Colorado Springs looked perfect. If you buy 8 gallons of fuel, your dump is free! Lots of places charge $15-$20 just to offload your tanks so I am always on the scout for a deal.

What we did not know is that the Circle K off of exit 138 in Colorado Springs is super sketchy at 1 am on Saturday morning! I do not think that Hans noticed the activities in the parking lot as he was too busy checking the air in the tires one last time and dumping the tanks.

During the hour it took for him to do that, I observed an 18 wheeler pull in, a Lincoln Town Car pull up next to them 5 minutes later, the truck drivers jump into the LTC for 10 minutes, the car drive off and the truck drivers take off again. A man living in his car at the back of the gas station was screaming at someone with whom he was FaceTiming. And some guy was busily sorting through the dumpster in the back d the gas station. Yuck. I was relieved to leave.

Now, our trip was up to 14 hours in length. No problem! I had 2 cans of Red Bull and all kinds of candy to indulge myself (I usually do a ketogenic diet so this was a treat, indeed!). Hans was conking out, but with my treats and good music, I was ready to punch through the dark night of the Colorado and New Mexico roads.

I finally hit a wall in Clayton, NM, at about 5:30 am, and had to catch a few zzzz’s. We lost another hour with my nap. Hans managed to take a very attractive picture of me:

Things were still going smoothly at this point. But was we drove through Dalhart, TX, the winds picked up considerably. Wind and a trailer is not a great combination. This slowed our progress even more.

We stopped in Childress, TX, to get some iced tea at McDonald’s. The wind had blown the spare tire cover off. Somehow, although we had made sure our spare was in good shape, we never bothered to look at what was actually holding the spare on. Apparently, it was a single rusty stripped out nut and screw. We were so relieved it had held and no one was hurt by our stupid mistake.

Also, one of the bike handle bars was rubbing a hole in the back of our trailer. Of course the Allen wrenches were not in a convenient place and required gymnastic maneuvers on Hans’ part inside the 95 degree trailer to retrieve them to make the adjustment.

Conveniently enough, there was a Tractor Supply Co. store in the parking lot where we stopped. Hans got what he needed, but of course, it took a while to fix it so we lost another hour and a half here.

But luckily there was a tamale truck in the parking lot, I bought one bag of beef and one of pork for $11, and we ate those for the 3 days and even shared some with my Mom and her husband, Danny.

We continued on driving slowly through the gusty winds of west Texas. So exhausted and tired and so ready to be to Whitney.

We were in our final stretch from Weatherford to Whitney, only about an hour and a half left! Then, I noticed a check engine light. I wasn’t sure how long it had been on. I showed Hans and he said it was the DEF fluid. I had heard of it, but had no idea that it was running low nor that it would activate a speed governor automatically in your engine when it ran out!

We had some DEF with us buried deep inside the pile of things in the bed of our pick up. We pulled over in a residential neighborhood in Weatherford and exhumed the contents of our pick up bed and found it.

We finally made it to the ranch at 9:30 pm. What I thought would take 13 hours, took over 21 hours.

We made it down a mile of dirt road without any problems with tree branches or potholes thanks to hard work on my brother and his friend Wayne’s part. However, we found out that something was wrong with the electrical hook up at the shop.

(I think a surge protector is an absolute MUST if you have an RV you are going to plug in. It could save your rig and your bank account.)

I had told Ben, my brother, that it was a 30 amp plug for our RV. I assumed it must be a 220 volt. Not the case!!! Our Arctic Fox 25Y has a 30 amp plug but runs on 110 volts. I’m not sure, but I think this is unusual.

He and his friend, Wayne Redding, managed to figure it out the next day. Ben was in Tulsa, but Wayne had the mad skills required to fix the problem.

It was past midnight, and we were so tired. I slept in the old ranch house which has air conditioning. It was way too hot to sleep in the camper. Hans, who has bad allergies to dust and pet dander, slept in our truck with the a/c running.

We were tired, but we were so happy and thrilled to have completed the first leg of our adventure. And we learned so much along the way, such as give yourself at least a third more time than you think you will need to get there. And things may not work as planned when you do arrive so have a backup plan (such as gas to run your generators). Also, keep all tools and essential equipment in easily accessible places.

I’m sure we will learn much, much more!

The Road Is Calling and We Must Go

This is the big day that we hit the road to start our new life. It has been a huge process in the last couple of months to get here.

Hans said the process of adjusting to our new life is the hardest thing he has ever completed. I still insist that passing a 5 hour Calculus/Trigonometry class to graduate college is the hardest thing I have ever done to this day. Math was never my forte.

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It was a HUGE challenge for us was to downsize us from a 3 bedroom, 1700 square foot home to a 25 foot travel trailer with one slide out. I estimate the square footage to be around 171 square feet. So, it is basically a tiny house. We had to go down to 10% of the space we once had. We had to get rid of 90% of our stuff. I was keeping a list of everything we were selling or donating. I got to around 500 items and then abandoned my list. I think I was almost halfway through my clearing spree when I stopped my list.

I initially started off being very zen about it a la Marie Kondo.   , holding it, breathing it in and seeing if it “sparked joy”. But as time flew by, I turned into the Anti-Hoarder (which my family members began to view more as the Anti-Christ, as they began to sleep with their treasured possessions under their pillows lest they wake up to nothing). If I held everything and waited for a joy spark, we would not leave until Christmas as we had so much stuff!

We had a garage sale and off-loaded a huge amount of items despite bad weather forecasted for the weekend. Denver had been sunny and in the 70’s and 80’s, but in true Denver May fashion (we had a blizzard on Mother’s Day 3 years running), the weather dipped into the 40’s and 50’s with rain on the ONLY weekend we could do the sale. So, we started it on Wednesday at 3 PM and continued it through the weekend. We had 3 garages of stuff!!! By Sunday, we were down to 5 boxes of things for the AmVets to collect.

I do think that doing lots of blasts on social media such as Nextdoor app and Facebook marketplace helped a lot with the success of our garage sale. I would take pics of individual items in the garage sale (the good stuff) and post and that seemed to bring in a lot of people. And of course, traditional signage throughout the neighborhood.

Thanks to a trip to Container Store (not frugal by any means, but you can find anything for ANY space), Dollar Tree, IKEA and Target, we managed to make things quite functional in our small space, although we are neophytes to this new life and I am sure our organization practices will change.

We have amazing neighbors in Potter Highlands. Our friends and neighbors, Debbie and Douglas, were super cool and let us park our trailer on their section of our neighborhood carriage lot. We were able to plug our trailer into our home’s electricity. It made it very convenient to get situated for our new lifestyle.

Our last hurdle today before we depart was to back our 10 foot wide trailer down our 150-foot alley that is 12 feet wide in one place thanks to a telephone pole and the fence on the opposite side. We have done this 3 times so far, and it is always anxiety-inducing to the point where I have bad dreams the night before. One of the biggest challenges in an old neighborhood with narrow streets is just finding a time when the street doesn’t have cars  obstructing our wide pathway. We would not have been able to get out at all yesterday, but thanks to third Friday street cleaning, our window opened this morning!

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We put our phones on speaker and use them as walkie-talkies. I watch the back end and tell Hans which way to turn. (It all sounds like a weirdly sexual dialogue. ” ‘Ok. Go right a little. A little more. Oh! That is WAY too much. Oh, that is it. RIGHT THERE. Keep it straight and DON’T let it drift.’ “)

The first time took us over an hour, the second time, 40 minutes. Today we managed this in 25 minutes! So, we are getting better. And no property was damaged. And we are still married! Yay!

This is our new home all packed up and ready for our journey to Texas to visit my Mom at my family’s ranch and drop off some things that we do not want to part with but that we deem unsuitable for our current lifestyle.

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So incredible to think that this metal box and pick up truck hold everything in the world that we have. It is a strange, yet liberating feeling.