Full-time RV Pioneer & Escapees RV Club Co-Founder: Kay Peterson

We just received the very sad news that Escapees RV Club Co-Founder Kay Peterson has died.

Kay was a guiding light in the RVing community for many decades, a woman who lived her dreams to the fullest, despite many seemingly impossible road blocks along the way. Nearly two years ago Mark and I were utterly blessed to spend several very memorable hours with Kay learning about the winding road she took through a fascinating life.

As we all know but too often forget, “Time stops for no man,” and if there was anyone who understood the power of those words it was Kay Peterson. If you have a big dream but keep putting it off for one reason or another, Kay’s rich life offers all the inspiration you need to squash your fears and live life with gusto.

To give you a sense of the way Kay approached her life, I just received a touching note from Cathie Carr, Kay’s daughter and retired leader of Escapees RV Club. As Kay lay dying and holding Cathie’s hand, she faced her future with a profound optimism as she said:

“When you’re born, you cry and the world rejoices. When you die, you rejoice and the world cries.”

For our newer readers who do not know her incredible story, we are re-publishing this post today in honor of Kay Peterson’s life.

Escapees Magazine Cover Jul-Aug 2016 Photo by Mark Fagan

Escapees Magazine — July/August 2016
Cover Photo by Mark Fagan

The July/August 2016 of Escapees Magazine features a lengthy article I wrote about Kay Peterson, the co-founder of Escapees RV Club and a pioneer in the full-time RV lifestyle in the 1970’s.

Writing this really fun article followed a truly inspiring personal visit that Mark and I enjoyed with Kay last fall

You can read the Escapees Magazine article here:

Kay Peterson – Escapees Magazine July/August 2016

Like many new SKPs (the Escapees RV Club nickname for the word “Escapees”), our first real evidence of being members was in receiving and reading the bi-monthly Club magazine, Escapees Magazine.

We knew little else about the club when we joined, but when I saw the first issue of the thick magazine, I was struck by two things: the artistic cover photo and the very first article inside called “Thoughts for the Road” written by Kay Peterson.

As the months went by and more issues arrived, I was always very taken by the images on the cover of the magazine, and I couldn’t help but sit right down and read Kay Peterson’s opening essay immediately.

She always spoke of the importance of pursuing your dreams, of taking chances, of overcoming your fear of the unknown and of following your own heart.

She seemed to be speaking right to us, because those topics were hot on our minds as we discovered true independence and freedom in our first few months and years on the road.

After decades of living a conventional lifetsyle, we’d struck out on our own in a little travel trailer and we were loving every minute of it. “Everyone should do this!” we kept saying to each other. “What’s holding them back?”

And then we’d read Kay’s latest installment, and she’d remind us that too often people are held back by fear. They want to wait for a “better time” in their lives to chase their dreams, a time when they have more money, or more time, or fewer responsibilities.

I was astonished that this RV club magazine would dive right into these weighty, philosophical topics, and that Kay would keep persisting, gently prodding us to think about the important things in life. Who was she, where had she come from, and what had her life been like? I wondered.

Full-time RV pioneer and Escapees RV Club Founder Kay Peterson

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At that time, we had no idea what the Escapees RV Club was all about beyond the magazine. We aren’t joiners or “club” people, and we had started RVing full-time to get away, not to become part of a social group. But the quality of the magazine and those intriguing opening essays that Kay wrote touched us both.

The images on the cover of Escapees Magazine were always beautiful, and the articles inside had a different thrust than other RV magazines we subscribed to that focused on RV reviews, product reviews and info about RV gear. Escapees Magazine had a lot of that stuff too, but it also went into detail about the unusual things that affect people who live on the road in their RVs full-time or for months on end.

Escapees Magazine Covers

Escapees Magazine is different than other RV magazines

I felt an affinity with Kay Peterson right from the get-go, but when she mentioned in one of her essays that she’d gotten her start as a writer when she sent an article to Woodall’s Trailer Travel Magazine and that they responded by publishing it and sending her a check for $75, I was blown away. I had just sent an aritcle to Escapees Magazine about Goblin Valley, Utah, right in time for the Halloween issue, and they had responded by publishing it and sending me a check for $75!

Kay’s writing, her philosophy of life, and the essence of her message stayed with me, and as I wrote more and more, on this blog and elsewhere, I often felt her influence in the back of my mind. She is a generation ahead of me in age, and she was like a guide and mentor, even though we had never met.

Mark and I finally had an opportunity to meet Kay last fall when we were in Texas, and what a fabulous experience that was.

Kay Peterson and Emily Fagan full-time RVers

I was thrilled to be able to chat with Kay Peterson

She was warm, animated and downright charismatic as she told the two of us her life story. She has lived an incredible life, going through lots of twists and turns and bumps in the road on her way to many impressive achievements, and her intriguing journey continues to this day.

As soon as she greeted us, I had to smile at hearing her light Boston accent. That accent is near and dear to my heart, because I grew up there, and even though I don’t have the accent and can’t mimic it, whenever I hear it spoken authentically (not the Hollywood version), it sounds like home.

What was much more surprising, though, was to find out that she got her nurse’s training in the 1940’s in the exact same hospital where members of my family had been born and died in the 1960’s and 1970’s. As it turned out, Kay and I had grown up at the same end of town!

I was also fascinated to learn that back in her day, the student nurses lived in dormitories at the hospital while they were in nursing school.

Full-time RV pioneer Kay Peterson and Emily Fagan

We found we had a lot in common!

For most of us born after the Great Depression and World War II, the events of the 1930’s and 40’s exist only in faded black and white photos and jittery newsreels. Even though, for me and Mark, the war ended just 10-15 years before we were born, about the same distance back as 9/11 is today, it is impossible for us to understand what life was really like back then.

But as Kay described her childhood and youth to us, that era suddenly came to life in vivid color. She came of age as the war was ending, and her young adulthood was intricately tied to and shaped by the events around her.

It’s easy to take society’s changes from the Women’s Liberation movement for granted now. Having forgotten just how much the world has changed in the past 65 years, Mark and I were both very affected by the movie Philomena, which is about a young woman who was forced to live in a Catholic home for unwed mothers and give up her baby for adoption in Ireland in the 1950’s. But as we listened to Kay’s story, we were shocked to hear that tale told again, but this time in the 1940’s in America.

Likewise, we have always known that tuberculosis is a terrible disease, but we had no idea that until the vaccine for it was developed and made available, patients were isolated from society in institutions to prevent spreading it further. Most didn’t make it out alive, but Kay did.

Hearing Kay’s tales of her past, we not only saw how perseverance and optimism can lead to a fulfilling and rich life, as happened for her, but we got a history lesson as well.

Escapees RV Club founder Kay Peterson with Emily Fagan

I scribbled notes furiously but was captivated when I read her autobiography later!

Kay tells her life story in riveting detail in her book, Beating the Odds, published in 2013. After Mark and I spent several hours listening to her story in person during the course of two different visits, we absolutely devoured her book. It is an inspiring tale of overcoming and becoming that we couldn’t put down.

Kay faced many brutal hardships, from poverty to an abusive husband, and she struggled against many agonizing obstacles in her early years, including a life threatening disease, but she never lost her belief that life could be better.

A turning point came for her when her beloved grandmother died and she realized, while going through her belongings, that this woman she had always adored had lived more timidly than bravely and had died without ever allowing herself to be bold enough to insist on living her dreams. At that moment, Kay vowed never to fall prey to fear like that herself.

Escapees RV Club Sharing the RV Lifestyle

Kay and her husband Joe created the Escapees RV Club in 1978

Upon meeting Joe Peterson, she found her soulmate, and the two of them began to make history together when, at age 43, they joined the tiny ranks of people who were living in their RVs full-time in the 1970’s. Joe had the ideal mobile occupation as a “tramp” electrician, and in a few short years, she became a writer for both Woodall’s Trailer Travel Magazine and the Snowbird Newsletter.

These writing gigs led to her starting an RV journal of her own, which ultimately became Escapees Magazine. From that came the founding of the Escapees RV Club in 1978. The rest is history, as Escapees RV Club has grown in all kinds of creative ways since its inception.

But the most fascinating thing for me is that Kay Peterson has grown too.

Besides co-founding Escapees RV Club, overseeing the development of an outstanding RV magazine, and creating the first of its kind assisted living center for RVers (Escapees CARE or Continuing Assistance for Retired Escapees), she has published a slew of books, including the first book ever written about full-time RVing, called Home Is Where You Park It. This bible for full-timers was in print for 22 years until its last edition came off the presses in 1999.

Her fifteen years of full-time RV travels with Joe ultimately whetted their appetities for more travel adventures and led them further afield to explorations that took them overseas to Europe, Africa, Australia, Fiji and other exotic destinations.

A few years back, when she was in her mid-80’s, she mentioned in her Escapees Magazine column that she was now pursuing a dream she had held since her youth but had never made a top priority: writing a novel.

Never one for mere pipe dreams, in 2013, she published 13 Days in Africa, a novel that was inspired by her own safaris in Africa. This novel was so well received that she sat down and wrote another, and this past winter, on her 89th birthday, she published the sequel called The Elephant Bond.

Escapees RV Club Rainbow's End RV Park

The Escapees headquarters campus in Livingston, Texas, is so extensive they offer tours on a trolley bus!!

Dramatic and poignant, her novels draw from all of her life experiences and are compelling dramas. Kay was not quite finished discovering the stories behind her characters after the second novel, however, so she is planning to turn this pair of novels, whose stories now span three continents, into a trilogy, with the publication of a third novel in the series on her agenda now!

Added later: Kay completed the trilogy and published her third novel in the series, When Cultures Collide, in February 2017.

Escapees RV Club CARE Center for Retired RVers

Escapees CARE (Continuing Assistance for Retired Escapees)
Kay’s proudest accomplishment, and one which took extraordinary patience and fortitude!

At the moment, however, she is attending the Escapade RV rally in Essex Junction, Vermont (held July 21-23 in 2016), and lots of lucky Escapees members are having a chance to meet her in person and listen to her wisdom at the rally.

For those who have a dream — whether it’s a travel dream or lifestyle dream or something totally different — Kay stands out as one of those rare mentors who not only made their dreams a priority and made them come true, but who has consistently reached out to those around her and encouraged them to pursue their dreams as well.

I highly recommend reading Kay’s autobiography, Beating the Odds, and her book of essays, Chasing Rainbows.

The essays are drawn from over three decades of her inspirational Escapees Magazine articles. She offers many pearls of wisdom and gems of hope that are great reminders of how important it is not to let life pass us by.

Two of my favorite Kay Peterson quotes:

If you don’t fulfill your dreams now, when will you?

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Some of us prefer to live 365 days in a year crammed with as many experiences as possible.
Others are content to live the same day 365 times in a row.

In addition, I highly recommend that all RVers, especially those who use their RV for extended travel, join Escapees RV Club, even the “non-joiners” and non-club folk like ourselves.

Of the many things that Escapees RV Club is involved in — a myriad of overnight parking options (from free sites to site ownership), an online RVers forum, RV rallies, RV education, an RV weighing program, assisted living for RVers, and a massive mail forwarding outfit — the RV advocacy work they do benefits everyone who owns an RV and is well worth supporting.

US Mail truck Escapees RV Club Headquarters Livingston Texas

This US Mail semi tractor trailer full of RVers’ mail pulls up at Escapees HQ in Texas EVERY DAY!!

The cost to join is minimal but the impact that a large, cohesive group can have on the rights of RVers is enormous. Besides, the magazine is excellent. You can join here:

Join Escapees RV Club

If you happen to join, we’d appreciate it if you’d let them know you heard about Escapees from this blog, Roads Less Traveled, as they will put a little something in our tip jar. This might sound shallow or self-serving, but the truth is that we have spent years recommending Escapees to other RVers and did so long before Escapees even knew we had a tip jar!

Full-time RV Pioneer Escapees Founder Kay Peterson with Mark and Emily Fagan

What a special time this was – Mark, Kay and me.

Also, for any Escapee with a camera or a flare for words, Escapees Magazine is always looking for photos and articles from members.

Mark’s cover photo in the July/August issue (at the top of this page) is a classic example of how a beautiful photograph taken with an inexpensive point-and-shoot camera can end up on the cover.

When he saw a Class C motorhome reflecting in his mirror in our truck, he grabbed the shot with the closest camera he could put his hands on, which turned out to be a cheap one he’d gotten years ago. We both then tried to improve upon his image with our fancy cameras, but gosh darn it, that little point-and-shoot got the best photo of them all.

So there it is, proof positive that sometimes the best way to go is just to jump in and do it, whatever “it” is, regardless of your gear or preparation, because that first impression and rush of enthusiasm may give you the biggest return.

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Royal Flush! – A Surprise RV Toilet Replacement…Under Warranty :-)

Our fifth wheel trailer is 10 years old now, and we’ve been living in it full-time for most of those years. Our RV toilet has been with us every step of the way, although over the last few years it has struggled to hold water in the bowl.

Last week, out of the blue, Mark put his foot on the pedal to flush the toilet, heard a loud snap, and then the toilet flapper valve refused to budge. It was completely broken and unable to open and flush properly. Ugh!!

Luckily, the toilet bowl couldn’t hold water any more either, so it was kinda able to flush, just in a dribbling sort of way!

RV Toilet Replacement under an Extended RV Warranty

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So, our delightful plans to go play in the dunes at Great Sand Dunes National Monument in Colorado were dashed, and we drove off over the horizon in pursuit of a replacement RV toilet.

Broken RV toilet can't hold water in the toilet bowl

The toilet flushing mechanism broke, and pressing the pedal no longer opened
the flush valve in the toilet bowl. Fluids dribbled out quickly anyway… Not good!

After some calling around, we found a shop that had our exact Thetford toilet in stock, and when we arrived, there it was on the display rack!

New RV toilet at the RV repair shop

What luck! There is an identical toilet on the display rack.

We have an RV Extended Warranty with Wholesale Warranties that has been a huge help in dealing with the many surprise financial blows we’ve faced as our trailer has aged and various components have quit working.

We first got our warranty in October of 2014, and by Christmas of the following year it had paid for itself several times over as we faced one major repair after another, all in a row.

Unlike vehicle insurance, which protects vehicle owners against accidents, an extended RV warranty protects against failures of the systems in the RV that aren’t caused by a mishap.

Installing new RV toilet in tiny RV toilet room in fifth wheel trailer

There wasn’t a whole lot of space to work in our little toilet room!

We learned from our last RV toilet repair job that replacing broken parts in an RV toilet is often more expensive than simply swapping out the toilet all together.

So we weren’t surprised when the service manager said he wanted to replace our toilet rather than troubleshooting the problem and disassembling and reassembling the toilet to replace the broken part. He called our RV warranty company and explained that the toilet couldn’t flush and that the flushing mechanism was broken.

The warranty company agreed to cover the toilet replacement in full.

To get started, the RV technician removed the shield around the base of the toilet and then unscrewed the two large bolts that hold the RV toilet to the floor.

Remove RV toilet base shield in fifth wheel trailer

The first step to removing the toilet is to remove the shield from around the base.

Two bolts hold an RV toilet to the floor of a fifth wheel trailer

Two bolts — one on either side of the base — hold the RV toilet to the floor.

Then he detached the fresh water line from the toilet and pulled the toilet off of the hole in the floor that goes to the black tank underneath.

Old RV toilet removed from hole to black sewage wastewater tank

The toilet is removed from its position over the sewer drain hole that goes to the black wastewater holding tank.

Next, he detached the hose clamps holding the rinse spray wand’s flexible hose onto the toilet

Removing broken RV toilet before installing new RV toilet

The hose clamp for the fresh water rinse sprayer is removed.

After pulling out the toilet, all that was left in the little toilet room was the hole in the floor that goes to the black wastewater holding tank, the blue fresh water line that fills the bowl and flushes the toilet, and the fresh water spray wand with its flexible hose (this was an option on our old toilet and didn’t come with the new toilet, so we kept the old spray wand).

Empty RV toilet room in 5th wheel trailer

After the toilet is removed, all that remains is the black water sewer hole, the blue fresh water flush pipe and the flexible fresh water sprayer hose.

Then it was out with the old — and in with the new!

Removing broken RV toilet from fifth wheel trailer

Out with the old toilet…

Installing new RV toilet in a fifth wheel trailer

…In with the new toilet!

To install the new RV toilet, the process was repeated in reverse. First the toilet was positioned over the black tank hole, then the fresh water line and the fresh water spray wand were reattached, and finally the RV toilet was bolted to the floor.

Since the spray wand is an option, the toilet ships with the barbed hose fitting it slides onto sealed shut. So, before sliding the hose onto the barbed hose fitting, the end of the fitting had to be clipped off.

Back of new Thetford RV toilet with optional spray wand

In order to attach the rinse sprayer, the hose connection must be clipped to open it up.

Optional sprayer nozzle on RV toilet installation

Sprayer and fresh water flush lines attached.

And then the installation was finished and our sparkling new RV toilet was all ready for its first Royal Flush!

The whole procedure took an hour from start to finish. When we settled up with the service manager, the final bill was the following:

FINAL BILL FOR REPLACING OUR RV TOILET:

Parts – New RV toilet (porcelain bowl) $297.59
Labor – One hour $105.00
Tax $11.61
Total Cost $414.20

RV EXTENDED WARRANTY PAYMENT BREAKDOWN:

Warranty Coverage (amount we saved) $314.20
Out of Pocket Cost (our deductible) $100.00
Total Payment $414.20
New RV toilet installation in fifth wheel trailer

A nice sparkling brand new toilet. Yay!

This brings our total repairs and savings with our Trailer Extended Warranty to the following:

Here's a summary of what our four year RV warranty through Wholesale Warranties cost, what our repairs WOULD HAVE cost, and what our warranty reimbursements have been to date:

Cost of Warranty $1,904
Total Cost of Repairs we've had done $7,834
Total Out of Pocket Costs for those repairs $1,145
Repair Reimbursements:
Trailer Axle Replacement $1,036
RV Refrigerator Replacement $1,647
Plumbing Issues & Window Leak $1,142
Suspension Replacement $2,550
RV Toilet Replacement $314
Total Repair Reimbursements $6,689

Our trailer warranty has paid for itself 3.5 times over, and there's still lots of time left on the contract!

If you are curious what an extended RV warranty would cost for your rig, Wholesale Warranties is offering a $50 discount to our readers. Call our contact, Missi Junior at (800) 939-2806 or email her at missi@wholesalewarranties.com and mention that you heard about them from our website, Roads Less Traveled. Or go to this link:

Wholesale Warranties Quote Form

The $50 discount comes off of the quoted price at the time of purchase — just be sure to ask!

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10 Years of Life on the Road by RV and Sailboat – The 2nd Half!

“If you are lucky enough to find a way of life you love, you have to find the courage to live it!” — John Irving

Continued from: 10 Years of Full-time RVing & Sailing – The Early Years…

When we ended our season of RV travels in the fall of 2013 and flew back to Marina Chiapas on the Mexico / Guatemala border, our sailboat Groovy was ready and waiting for us.

After a few days of getting acclimated to the stifling heat and getting the boat provisioned, we crossed the treacherous Gulf of Tehhuantepec, a 350 mile long voyage that required meticulous planning to avoid the ferocious winds that blow from the Gulf of Mexico and then pick up steam and become even more savage when they hit the Pacific ocean.

Sailboat anchored in Tangolunda Bay Huatulco Mexico

Anchored in stunning Tangolunda Bay in Hautulco, Mexico.

We arrived in the Bays of Huatulco and found ourselves in paradise. Even though we had been here the year before, knowing that this would be our last time sailing these waters made every moment precious — and tenderly bittersweet.

We loved the tropical flowers and birds that surrounded us.

Exotic passion flower

We were in the tropics again!

Hummingbird at exotic flower Mexico

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A flock of wild parrots was hanging around the tiny fishing village of Santa Cruz and we loved watching their crazy antics in the trees above us as we drank our morning coffee or afternoon beers in the middle of town.

Wild parrots Santa Cruz Huatulco Mexico

Wild parrots cuddling in the late afternoon sun in Huatulco.

We ended up staying in Huatulco for three months, going out for day sails in the bay every few days.

Sailing in the Bays of Huatulco Mexico

We took the boat out for a glorious daysail every few days.

What a life this was! We settled into a delicious routine anchored out in Huatulco’s various coves and bays.

Taking the dinghy ashore in Huatulco Mexico

Our dinghy was our commuter car in our cruising lifestyle.

One day a group of people came alongside our boat on paddleboards and kayaks. It turned out they owned a beautiful resort on a hilltop overlooking a secluded beach, and they invited us to come and spend a few nights.

Wow! We were there in a heartbeat. And what a romantic place Las Palmas Resort is. Every guest has their own private villa, and pretty swimming pools with exquisite views are situated all over the unusual and intimate property.

Las Palmas Resort Huatulco Mexico

The owners of Las Palmas resort invited us to stay in their luxury villas for a few days. Incredible!

The engine alternator on our boat died unexpectedly one day, and shipping a replacement to Mexico was going to cost a small fortune. If maintaining a boat is expensive in the US, it can be doubly so in tropical foreign countries.

Fortunately, the owner of Las Palmas resort was flying back to the US for Christmas, so he carried our new alternator on the plane with him when he returned in January, saving us $1,000 in import taxes and fees.

Mark got the new alternator installed, and we eventually said goodbye to Huatulco, a little piece of heaven on Mexico’s southern Pacific that few people know about.

Aboard Hunter 44S sailboat Groovy

In the spring and summer of 2013 we covered 2,500 miles at 7 mph
sailing from Mexico’s Guatemala border to San Diego

We began our long journey north by sailing 450 miles to Zihuatanejo. We were now much more comfortable with overnight sailing, and this was a pleasant trip. With each familiar place we visited, it was like coming home, but it was hard then to leave them and all the memories surrounding them in our wake.

Fishermen repair their nets Zihuatanejo Mexico

Fishermen repair their nets on the beach in Zihuatanejo.

Our inland trips to Oaxaca, San Cristobal de las Casas, and Palenque in Chiapas the previous season had been so rewarding we decided to visit the colonial city of Morelia too. It was a straight shot inland from Zihuatanejo. This beautiful city has a fabulous antique aqueduct and a cathedral that is jaw-droppingly ornate on the inside.

Ornate cathedral Sanctuario de Guadelupe  interior Morelia Mexico

The interior of Sanctuario de Guadelupe was like a jewel box!

Traveling by car with friends, we were able to get to two very out-of-the-way spots, first visiting a major Monarch butterfly migration stopover and then visiting a totally authentic farmer’s market in Pátzcuaro. We were the only gringos there, and what a delight it was to experience the earthy hustle and bustle of that marketplace.

Continuing our voyage north, we stopped in Manzanillo Bay to witness one of the most exotic sunrises we have ever seen. The pattern in the sky was spectacular.

Sailboat at sunrise Santiago Bay Manzanillo Mexico

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Over the next few weeks we made our way very slowly up the Costalegre coast, living in bathing suits and sailing short distances.

View from the helm Hunter 44DS sailboat Groovy

View from the helm on Groovy.

There are several stunning and rarely visited coves on this coast that are challenging for sailors to anchor in. But our skills with setting a supplemental stern anchor had improved to the point where we were able to enjoy each one.

The sense of accomplishment at having come so far as sailors was immensely rewarding, and the little bays were charming.

In the “Secret Anchorage” of Cuastecomate we enjoyed beers on the beach along with exotic snacks.

Exotic snacks Cuastecomate beach Costalegre Mexico

Mangoes and other goodies on a stick!

In tiny Paraiso Bay we found unusually clear, jade colored water. A “reef” obstructing the area where we wanted to drop our anchor turned out to be a massive school of fish that gradually swam away, revealing pure sand underneath!

Happy sailor Paraiso Bay Costalegre Mexico

Swimming in a jade paradise.

In Careyes Bay we found a hillside filled with brightly colored homes. What a sight! We heard that the German model Heidi Klum has an estate there, but we never saw her.

Sailboat anchored in Careyes Bay Costalegre Mexico

Colorful Careyes was a spectacular anchorage, but it required a stern anchor, and we still rolled as the winds and current shifted!

As we made our final approach to Puerto Vallarta early one morning, we passed several breaching whales whose silver, barnacle encrusted bodies shimmered in the morning sun. And then we tied up at the docks of the luxurious Paradise Village Resort marina.

Groovy sailboat in Paradise Village Marina Puerto Vallarta Mexico

Groovy sidles up to the dock at Paradise Village Marina.

Paradise Village Resort is exactly that, an intimate resort community in Paradise. Our docking fee gave us full access to the entire resort complex which included not only fine dining, a spa, a gym and a fancy hotel, but hot tubs, swimming pools, water slides, indoor and outdoor bars and a huge and endless beach. This swank resort became our home for a memorable three months.

How often in life do you get to live at a high end resort?

Mexican dancer Paradise Village Resort Puerto Vallarta Mexico

Paradise Village has lots of wonderful entertainment for their guests.

After two months of pure vacation at Paradise Village Resort, we did a final bus trip inland to the colonial city of Guanajuato which quickly became our favorite of all the colonial cities we visited in Mexico.

Colorful hillsides in Guanajuato Mexico

Guanajuato is a silver mining town with a rich history that is truly magical.

It is colorful almost to a fault, with a vast valley and hillsides filled with colorfully painted homes.

Colorful houses Guanajuato Mexico

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Callejon in Guanajuato Mexico

Bands of minstrels sing in these alleys ever night.

It’s a town full of quirky charm. For starters, a group of men dressed in Medieval garb sing folk songs in the alleys every night.

One afternoon we saw a ballerina dancing on the balcony outside of one of the town’s several theaters. In the evenings, Mariachi musicians at the restaurants on the town square would take turns with the pops orchestra playing in the bandstand in the middle of the square, alternating traditional folk music with classical pops as they filled the whole town with music. We loved everything about this lively city.

Horseback riders Guanajuato Mexico

We never knew what we’d see in Guanajuato!

Nearby is the equally beautiful but much more reserved city of San Miguel de Allende. We zipped over there to visit my childhood figure skating idol, Toller Cranston, who had made his home in San Miguel for several decades.

I had wanted to see him for almost 40 years, and the timing turned out to be perfect, as he died unexpectedly just two years later. How fortunate we were to be able to spend time with him before he was gone.

Cathedral San Miguel de Allende Mexico

The cathedral in San Miguel de Allende.

Throughout our cruise in Mexico we always kept an eye out for RVs and RV parks. Lots of people take their RVs south of the border, and we spotted an Airstream trailer sitting under the palm trees. What a spot!

We also met the son of the first couple to take their RV on the train through Copper Canyon back in the 1980’s, and his story of growing up in an RV largely in Mexico was fascinating.

Airstream trailer in palm trees Mexico

What a great place to camp!

At long last it was time to head back to San Diego.

The sailing voyage north along Mexico’s Pacific Baja coast is known as the “Baja Bash” because you are bucking the winds, currents and waves the whole way. During July, at the beginning of hurricane season, the winds change periodically as the storms blow through, blowing up from the south for a few days at a time. This makes the trip a little bit less of a bash, although it remains a bash nonetheless due to the waves and current.

The hurricanes roll up the Baja coast in July like bowling balls, one after another in relentless succession. Luckily, they are not as big and deadly as the hurricanes that occur later in the season.

We timed the two legs of our trip north from Puerto Vallarta to perfection, first jumping from Puerto Vallarta on the mainland to Cabo San Lucas at the bottom of the Baja peninsula, and then sailing from Cabo San Lucas all the way up the Baja coast to Ensenada just south of San Diego.

The hurricanes were coming so thick and fast that we couldn’t stop or we’d be overtaken by the next one. Instead, we found the sweet spot between two hurricanes and rode along with them as they moved north.

We stopped just long enough to fill up with diesel in Cabo and again half way up the Baja coast at Turtle Bay. If we had stopped any longer, we would have found ourselves in the eye of a storm.

Sailing into the sunset

We left tropical Mexico with tears in our eyes.

The Baja Bash was like our Final Exam in Seamanship Skills, and we were very proud to pass with flying colors despite several white knuckle moments along the way.

We made the 1,300 mile journey in an extremely fast 8 days and 7 hours. When we arrived in Ensenada, Mark got off the boat and kissed the dock. Literally!

We felt utterly triumphant — and very relieved.

Perhaps what made our homecoming even more poignant was that friends we had started our cruising adventure with in Ensenada nearly four years prior were there to greet us. They had fallen in love with Ensenada and had bought a house in town, and they welcomed us into their home like family.

As we unloaded all of our stories and emotions on them about the bitter sweeness of ending our cruise, the beauty we’d seen, the fear we’d felt and the truly mixed emotions we had about finishing our cruising dream, they understood exactly where we were coming from.

As sailors themselves, they knew just how beautiful the lifestyle can be and they also knew how incredibly challenging and frightening it can be and what very hard work it requires.

At the marina, down on the docks, a well dressed Mexican man walked up to our boat on afternoon and asked if he could have some photos taken of his daughter for her Quinceañera (15th birthday) on our boat. The Mexican quinceañera is like a wedding in size and scale and importance, and it was a total delight to see this beautiful young girl posing for both a professional photographer and a professional videographer aboard Groovy.

Quinceanera on sailboat Groovy in Ensenada Mexico

What a perfect end to our Mexico journey
— a Quinceañera photo shoot aboard Groovy!

In return, the dad invited us to sit at the head table for the festivities. What a blast to be guests of honor at this quintessentially Mexican (and Latin) celebration!!

A few weeks later, we sailed the final 70 miles of our nearly 7,000 mile voyage from Ensenada north to San Diego.

Groovy Sailboat in Kona Kay Marina San Diego California

Kona Kai Marina in San Diego made a fabulous home as we transitioned to a life on land.

The crazy thing on that first day we woke up in San Diego — in the very quiet Kona Kai Marina on tranquil Shelter Island on the bay — was that we had become so accustomed to true peace and quiet and a relaxed way of life in Mexico that we weren’t at all prepared to be living in the middle of a huge American city.

Mark went out for a walk on the palm fringed waterfront paths at dawn and came running back to the boat and jumped in bed and pulled the covers over his head. The frantic pace of the joggers, walkers and bicyclists on Shelter Island was more than he could take.

“Where’s the fire?” He cried in disbelief from under the blankets!

But we gradually acclimated and did a few day sails in the bay. We even saw a dolphin leaping out of the water, but it was time to begin the very arduous task of stripping the boat, putting it up for sale, and somehow squeezing all of our belongings back into an already full fifth wheel trailer.

Porpoise leaps out of water San Diego Bay California

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After living on Shelter Island for four months, we said goodbye to our beloved sailboat Groovy one last time, with tears in our eyes, and returned to our equally beloved buggy and were back in the RVing lifestyle in the Arizona desert by Christmas of 2013.

Happy sailors aboard Hunter 44DS sailboat Groovy

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We had now spent nearly equal amounts of time RVing and sailing, and we had grown immeasurably as travelers and adventurers.

The pride we felt at having had a huge dream and of having gone for it and pulled it off and lived it to its fullest was immense. We had given our cruising dream everything we had, and it had given us the deep satisfaction of both accomplishment and confidence.

Saguaro cactus with starburst sunset Arizona

Hello Arizona!

The unexpected bonus was that we fell in love with our neighbor south of the border.

We never ever would have traveled in Mexico if we hadn’t bought a boat. It just wasn’t on our bucket list of international destinations. Yet how much narrower and smaller our lives would have been if we hadn’t spent all those years living there.

We left to go cruising so we could play on the beach and swim and snorkel and live sunny lives on the water. But we had discovered that the far more meaningful side of our cruise was immersing ourselves in Mexico’s culture, making lasting friendships with Mexicans we met along the way, and discovering the true beauty of a country we knew absolutely nothing about.

Motocross biker jumps in the sky in Arizona

A motocross jumper in Cave Creek, Arizona.

We were flying high. The experience of completing a very successful voyage and of returning to a lifestyle we loved and found so easy to live was exhilarating. We had dreamed a dream and we had lived it. And we still had so much more life to live!

Hummingbird in Arizona

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We decided to make every effort going forward to spend as much time as possible doing only those things we really loved to do and spending as little time as possible doing the things we didn’t like. With boat maintenance and scary moments at sea behind us, this simple rule of thumb became our way of prioritizing our activities every day.

By early February of 2014 we were ready to head out on our RVing adventures, and we went to the beautiful red rock country of Sedona.

Hiking the red rocks in Sedona Arizona

Sedona, Arizona — Home of the red rocks!

Further north we explored the wonderful Wire Pass Trail slot canyon.

Slot canyon hike at Wire Pass Trail Arizona

Wire Pass Trail was an eye popping slot canyon hike.

Our target for the summer of 2014 was eastern Oregon, but we started by heading north and west through some of the most remote land I think there is in the continental US — northern Nevada and southern Oregon.

After driving for hundreds of miles through nothing, we found a cool little bar on the side of the road. A cartoon on a wall showed a man and woman in a car driving by a sign that said, “Entering the Middle.” She was studying a road map entitled “Nowhere.”

But soon we were at Crater Lake National Park where the water is a vivid royal blue.

Crater Lake National Park Oregon RV trip

Crater Lake is bluer than blue!

Continuing north, we headed to Bend Oregon and Smith Rock State Park.

One thing we had begun to notice now that we had seven years of travel in our back pockets, was that we often recognized the places where photos were taken. This happened not just with photos in magazines and online but with movies too.

One night about a year or so after our visit to Smith Rock State Park we were watching an old John Wayne movie and we kept saying to each other, “That sure looks like Oregon.” Well, a few scenes later our jaws dropped when we saw Smith Rock right there in the movie. Sure enough, John Wayne started talking about Fort Smith, and in the credits at the end the producers listed Smith Rock State Park.

Smith Rock State Park RV trip Oregon

Smith Rock State Park, Oregon.

This kind of thing happens frequently now as we see more and more places in our travels. It’s like our little database of knowledge about North America’s most beautiful places is getting filled in. The funny trade-off, though, is that we’ve forgotten a lot of other things we used to know so well, like how to get around town on the streets of our home towns!

One of Oregon’s most charming towns is Baker City where we watched a fantastic Tour de France style bicycle race.

Baker City Oregon annual bicycle race

Oregon’s Baker City Cycling Classic zooms past.

But the Wallowa Mountains and the cute town of Joseph (population 1,000) were what really took our breath away that summer.

Wallowa Mountains Oregon with horses and pastures

The Wallowa Mountains in northeastern Oregon.

Snowcapped Wallowa Mountains Oregon with red barn

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Dropping south and east we visited Sun Valley, Idaho, a beautiful, trendy town that has wonderful bike trails and a unique car race right out on the Sawtooth Scenic Byway. We watched a Bugatti Veyron hit 244 mph!

Mountain biking in the Sawtooth Mountains Idaho

Sun Valley Idaho is an outdoor lover’s paradise.

It’s also an artsy town where we came across a group of professional artists painting with oils on canvas out in the National Forest. We later saw this guy’s painting for sale in a local gallery for several thousand dollars!

Plein Air painting Sawtooth National Forest Idaho

“Plein Air” artists were bringing the Sawtooth National Forest to life on their canvases.

At Grand Teton National Park we saw gorgeous mountain scenery.

Horseback riders in Grand Teton National Park Wyoming

Grand Teton National Park.

As the summer came to an end we swung through Colorado’s rugged Black Canyon of the Gunnison and picturesque Maroon Bells.

Happy Campers in Maroon Bells Colorado

Maroon Bells, Colorado.

Then we caught the stunning fall foliage season at the tiny town of Silverton high up the Million Dollar Highway on a mountaintop.

Fall Foliage in Silverton Colorado

Fall colors on the San Juan Skyway in Colorado.

Silverton Colorado in peak fall color

Silverton Colorado is so perfectly “authentic” it feels a little like a movie set!

Returning to Arizona for the winter of 2014-15, we got a distant glimpse of Monument Valley.

RV trip to Monument Valley Arizona

Monument Valley views from Arizona.

Arizona’s Sonoran Desert is lush and full of life, and we saw some wild (feral) peach faced lovebirds that have taken up residence in Phoenix in the nesting holes created by other birds in the saguaro cactus.

Peach faced lovebird in saguaro cactus in Phoenix Arizona

A peach faced lovebird peers out of a saguaro cactus in Arizona.

One afternoon a big thunderstorm whipped across the valley followed by a gorgeous rainbow that filled the sky above the cacti.

Rainbow over field of saguaro cactus in Phoenix Arizona

A rainbow and cactus — what a great mix!

As our travels expanded through the years, so did this website, and we had the crazy experience in Quartzsite of being recognized by a few people here and there. This surprised us and made us feel very special. But we faced a few bumps in the road as this website found its niche in cyber space too.

One day I got an email from a woman threatening me with legal action if I didn’t take down our website immediately. She had trademarked the phrase “Roads Less Traveled” and other variants of those words and felt our domain name violated her trademarks.

I was shocked, but luckily a knowledgeable friend of mine calmed me down. It turns out that domain names and trademarks are two very different things. Besides, there is a very popular book with a similar name and at the time there was a TV show as well.

Ironically, she had purchased several similar domain names a year or two before I purchased “RoadsLessTraveled.us,” and by the time she contacted me our two websites had been living amicably side by side on the internet for many years with nary a squabble between them. So I decided to take it as a compliment that our website was growing in popularity and getting noticed!

Columbine flower

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A few years later, as I researched the steepness gradient on a remote road in Utah for an article I was writing on the towing capability of our truck, I poured through everything I could find online about this particular road, as no one, not even the Utah Department of Transportation, seemed to know exactly how steep it was.

In the process, I bumped into an old news article about upcoming road construction on that exact road, published by an affiliate of USA Today. I gasped when I saw my own photo from our website being used in this news article! Oddly, the photo was attributed to a nonexistent website.

Needless to say, I contacted the top dogs in the editorial department using the word “plagiarism” in large letters, and they quickly responded by paying us for the photo, removing it from the old news story, and chastising the news reporter.

Wild Horses of the Salt River Phoenix Arizona

Wild horses on Arizona’s Salt River.

These little hiccups were few and far between, but the responsibility of managing a website and writing regularly for a loyal readership had become a significant part of our lives. Over the years, it also taught me volumes about the shadier side of the internet, something I valued learning.

White Sands National Monument New Mexico RV trip

We visited White Sands National Monument in early 2015.
It’s like a mammoth beach — with no water.

In our first years of RVing we had seen diesel prices climb from about $1.89 a gallon to over $5.00 a gallon. And when we returned to RVing from sailing, the prices were hovering in the high $3’s and low $4’s. But by early 2015 prices had dropped dramatically to the very low $2 range.

This was our cue to make a long trip for the 2015 summer season!

Swinging through Big Bend National Park in Texas on our way to get our trailer brakes upgraded to electric over hydraulic disc brakes (an upgrade we highly recommend to everyone that tows a large fifth wheel trailer), we dashed out to Florida where we plunked right down in the soft white sand.

Pensacola Beach Florida RV trip

We arrive on the beach in northern Florida.

One of our goals in Florida was to upgrade our electrical system while staying at a friend’s house, replacing our wet cell batteries with Trojan AGM batteries, upgrading to an Iota converter, and replacing all the wiring as well. We eventually upgraded our inverter from an 1100 watt pure sine wave inverter to 2000 watts as well.

In between working on the trailer, we visited The Ringling museum and saw some baby sandhill crane chicks hatch right by the side of the road!

The Ringling Mansion and Museum Sarasota Florida RV trip

The Ringling museum in Sarasota, Florida.

Sandhill crane mom and chick and egg

A parent sandhill crane checks on its newly hatched chick and yet-to-hatch egg.

During the spring of 2015 we worked our way north from Thomasville, Georgia, where the Big Oak tree dwarfed us with its immense branches.

The Big Oak tree in Thomasville Georgia RV trip

Thomasville, Georgia.

Traveling along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina and Virginia, we saw stunning wildflowers and many dramatic waterfalls.

Wildflowers seen in North Carolina RV trip

Wildflowers in North Carolina.

Dugger's Creek Falls North Carolina Blue Ridge Parkway RV Trip

Dugger’s Creek Falls, Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina.

Dashing across the very busy states of Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire, we finally stopped on Mt. Desert Island in Maine. Wow. The classic little New England harbors were filled with lobster boats and sailboats, and they were just beautiful.

Downeast Maine Harbor

Downeast Maine harbor with lobster boats!

Colorful sailboats at anchor on Mt Desert Island Maine_

Sailboats moored in Maine.

We’ve never seen wildflowers as big and bright and hardy as the lupines in northern Maine. They blanketed the landscapes everywhere in stunning shades of purple and lavender.

Happy campers in the wild lupine flowers in Maine

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But it was the rugged beauty of Acadia National Park that really impressed us. The Carriage Roads interconnecting the various parts of the park were a thrill to ride.

Acadia National Park Maine bicycling on the Carriage Roads

Cycling under an old stone bridge on Acadia National Park’s Carriage Roads.

Venturing further north along the coast we came to the “matching” Quoddy Head lighthouses in the waters around the American/Canadian border.

The West Quoddy Head lighthouse in Lubec, Maine, looks like Pippi Longstocking’s stocking, while the East Quoddy Head Lighthouse on the far north end of Campobello Island in New Brunswick, Canada, has a big bold red cross on it.

West Quoddy Head Lighthouse Maine

West Quoddy Head Lighthouse in Maine.

East Quoddy Head Lighthouse Campobello Island New Brunswick Canada

East Quoddy Head Lighthouse on Campobello Island in New Brunswick, Canada

But our lighthouse magic reached its zenith when we went to Nova Scotia’s south shore and saw the most thrilling sunset burst into color all around classic Peggy’s Cove lighthouse.

Peggys Cove Lighthouse sunset on Nova Scotia RV trip

Peggys Cove Lighthouse in southern Nova Scotia, Canada.

Peggy’s Cove was a sheer delight with a handful of brightly colored lobster boats crammed into a tiny harbor.

Peggys Cove Nova Scotia lobster boats

Peggys Cove, Nova Scotia.

Equally magical was the nearby town of Lunenburg which is as quaint as can be.

Lunenberg Nova Scotia sailboats seen on RV trip

Lunenberg, Nova Scotia.

At the northeast end of Nova Scotia we drove the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island where the small harbors were equally charming but were backed by the rugged Highlands shoreline.

Lobster boats in White Point on the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island RV trip

White Point on the Cabot Trail, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.

We had now traveled from Arizona to Florida to Nova Scotia, which definitely counted as a long trip that took advantage of the cheap diesel prices! On our way back we took a ride on the unique Cog Railway train that claws its way straight up Mt. Washington in New Hampshire.

Mt Washington Cog Railway White Mountains New Hampshire RV trip

Mt Washington Cog Railway in the White Mountains of New Hampshire RV trip

Further west and south we fell in love with the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York where the old fashioned lifestyle of a large Amish community creates the very real image of what America looked like a century or more ago when everyone outside the cities lived on a small farm.

Amish buggy in Finger Lakes New York

An Amish “courting” buggy for a young Amish man (open air seating for two).

Amish farmers at Seneca Auction New York Finger Lakes RV Trip

Amish farmers at the Seneca Produce Auction in the NY Finger Lakes.

Wildlife abounds in some parts of the Finger Lakes, and we were stunned when we looked out the window and saw two fawns and a fox stop dead in their tracks to stare at us!

Two fawns and a fox at Seneca Lake New York Finger Lakes RV trip

A once in a lifetime shot!

The Finger Lakes have many beautiful waterfalls, and at Watkins Glen State Park we found some of the best we’ve every seen.

Watkins Glen waterfalls New York Finger Lakes RV trip

Watkins Glen State Park, New York.

Beginning our journey back out west, we were lured across the Ohio River by an absolutely charming town on the Kentucky side of the river called Maysville.

Maysville Kentucky on the Ohio River

Maysville, Kentucky, is a sweet town perched on the edge of the Ohio River.

To our utter astonishment, we were welcomed into the Maysville community like long lost family. We found kindred spirits of all kinds at the local watering hole, O’Rourke’s Neighborhood Pub.

Suddenly we found ourselves being taken on a personal tour of the tobacco fields during the harvest season, and we even became friends with the mayor. We did a 5k run, went to a church fair and hit a free concert at the opera house, and we learned the secrets behind the beautifully renovated Masonic temple which houses the visitors center and a gallery. To our complete surprise, we also ended up on the front page of the local newspaper!

Perhaps what impressed us most in Maysville was the resilience and spirit we found. Living with the seasonal threat of devastation from Ohio River floods, and with daily challenges caused by the demise of the tobacco industry, their flood wall keeps the water out and their warm and friendly community keeps the happiness in!

Maysville Kentucky RV trip

Maysville, Kentucky, will always have a special place in our hearts.

One of the many reasons we had left the sailing life behind was the incredible amount of work it takes to maintain a sailboat in the corrosive salt water environment. Keeping Groovy in good shape had been a full-time job for both of us.

Our trailer had never needed much of anything other than minor tweaks and small preventive maintenance projects here and there. But after we left Nova Scotia in the summer of 2015 we were hit with a series of major breakdowns.

The first was a bent spindle on one of our trailer axles, and we limped to Bangor Maine from Nova Scotia to have the entire axle replaced. Luckily, our extended warranty covered the repair!

Then, after leaving Maysville, our refrigerator died. This time we limped to the outskirts of Indianapolis to get a new RV refrigerator installed. Again, luckily, our extended warranty covered the repair.

Sunrise at Tuttle State Park Manhattan Kansas

Arizona has consistently beautiful sunrises, but this stunner was in Tuttle Creek, Kansas!

Then we had a slew of water leaks, ranging from a mysterious roof or window leak to several plumbing issues, and for those repairs we went to Chanute, Kansas, and again we were very grateful that our extended warranty covered the work.

Thinking that we were all done with major repairs, we headed west through New Mexico where we stopped at the town of Tatum which is decorated from head to toe with fantastic metal art work.

Tatum New Mexico metal art seen on RV trip

Tatum, New Mexico, has wonderful metal art all around town, thanks to two unique artisans.

But we had one more major repair in store when our trailer’s suspension failed all together. Once again, our extended warranty came to the rescue, but we had a hunch we were pushing our luck!

Back in Arizona once again at the end of 2015, we had the really fun experience of buying a new Dodge Ram 3500 dually truck that was sold with an electric guitar signed by Mark’s longtime rock idol, Alice Cooper. By a quirk of good luck we got to meet him too!

Alice Cooper guitar on our 2016 Dodge Ram 3500 Dually truck

Which does this happy guy love more, the brand new truck or the Alice Cooper guitar??

Since we started traveling, we have collected the special “WPA” postcards at all of the National Parks we’ve visited, and we have them displayed on our trailer walls.

National Parks WPA Postcards

National Parks “WPA” Postcards.

National Parks WPA Postcards

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There were quite a few National Parks we hadn’t been to yet, and diesel prices were still low when the winter of 2016 rolled into spring, so we planned another long trip for the year, this time to the National Parks in the Canadian Rockies. We hoped to hit a few other National Parks on our way there and back.

First up, though, was a visit to the glorious red rock country of Sedona, Arizona, once again.

mountain biking in Sedona Arizona on an RV trip

It’s hard to keep your eyes on the trail while mountain biking in Sedona, Arizona.

Cathedral Rock Sedona Arizona sunset on an RV trip

Cathedral rock revels in a last minute burst of color during a gloomy sunset in Sedona.

Venturing north, we stayed with the red rocks through northern Arizona into southern Utah.

Mountain biking in the Arizona red rocks on an RV trip

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Canyonlands National Park RV Trip Needles District

Canyonlands National Park – Needles District – Utah.

The area around Moab, Utah, is littered with National and State Parks, and we gorged on endless stunning vistas for a few weeks, visiting Canyonlands National Park, Arches National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park along with many other fantastic locales.

Moab Utah RV Trip

The back side of Moab, Utah — This should really be the Front Door!

Arches National Park RV Trip

Arches National Park.

Leaving Moab and taking back roads through northern Utah and southern Idaho, we saw stunning snow-capped mountains and gorgeous rural scenery.

Snowcapped mountains Logan Utah

Snowy peaks in northern Utah.

Pushing further north, the charming town of Philipsburg, Montana, was a delight, and seeing a herd of elk dashing across a highway and over a fence into a meadow was a thrill.

Phillipsburg Montana RV Trip

Picturesque and inviting Philipsburg, Montana.

Elk crossing road and jumping fence in Montana

A herd of elk crosses the highway and bike path and then jumps the fence to safer pastures.

Even though our earlier travel years were filled with daily “firsts,” we still had plenty of new experiences on a regular basis even though we were now nine years into this lifestyle.

As a city girl, the only four legged creature I had ever ridden was at the church pony ride as a child, but special friends in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley made sure I got to know their horse Snipper, and I took a gorgeous ride across pastures and farm fields with my friend and mentor, Bob, under the watchful eye of the mountain peaks.

Horseback riding in the Bitterroot Valley Montana

A horseback ride in Montana — What a place to ride a horse!

The most dramatic “firsts” of 2016 were the many jaw dropping vistas that greeted us day after day as we traveled through the Canadian Rockies. The Rocky Mountains in America are lovely, but the craggy, spiky peaks in Canada blew us away completely.

Kootenay National Park Waterfall RV trip

Kootenay National Park, Canada.

Visiting each of the four adjacent Canadian National Parks in the heart of this stunning mountain majesty, our eyes popped out of our heads repeatedly.

Banff National Park RV Trip to Canada

Banff, Canada.

Icefields Parkway RV Trip to Canada

Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Canada.

Dawn at Lake Louise Banff National Park RV trip

Dawn at Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Canada.

Peyto Lake Icefields Parkway RV Trip to Canada

Peyto Lake on the Icefields Parkway in Canada

This area is also home to lots of large animals whose presence isn’t a hidden mystery. We had to stop the truck for big horn sheep in the road on several occasions, and we saw a few bears quite close by too.

Black bear Kootenay National Park RV trip Canada

Large animals were common all over the Canadian Rockies.

But it was the vivid blue and turquoise water of the glacial lakes and rushing rivers that gave these places their truly majestic beauty.

Natural Bridge Yoho National Park RV trip to Canada

Natural Bridge in Yoho National Park, Canada.

Emerald Lake Yoho National Park RV Trip

Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park, Canada.

When we started traveling full-time in 2007, many people we met didn’t have an email address. We used a payphone card to make phone calls at outdoor phone booths whenever we needed to talk to someone at a distance, and we had already been on the road for a month when the iPhone was first introduced.

One of the crazy things over the past ten years has been the rise of the smartphone, and nowhere was this more noticeable than in the Canadian Rockies.

Canada’s National Parks are hugely popular with guests from every country in the world, and as we fought our way to the front of mobs of people at many of the overlooks, we were taken aback by the insane cell phone selfie mania that seemed to have overtaken the human race.

Moraine Lake sunrise near Lake Louise Banff National Park RV trip to Canada

Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Canada

When we returned home from our life afloat in Mexico we discovered that America was in love with smartphones. Folks had been just as obsessed in Mexico — our very special friend in Puerto Madero had two cell phones, one for his wife and one for his mistress — but we were so busy seeing the sights and trying to speak the language that we didn’t notice how much people were looking down at their phones.

On our RV trip during the 2016 season this phone obsession hit us like a ton of bricks. Everyone we saw in the National Parks on both sides of the American/Canadian border was either looking down at their phone or setting themselves up for a selfie portrait with a phone and a selfie stick. It was nuts!

We didn’t (and still don’t) have a phone, but I can’t say we didn’t join the crowd and take tons of selfies like everyone around us… of course we did!

Lake Louise Hike Banff National Park RV trip Canada

Getting to the Canadian Rockies early enough in the season to see lots of snow meant there was still ice on the lakes at higher elevations!

One of the coolest and most unexpected delights in the Canadian Rockies was sitting in the naturally heated swimming pools that are filled with steaming water that pours out of the hot springs.

Banff Upper Hot Springs Banff National Park RV trip Canada

Banff Upper Hot Springs.

But for all the drama of the scenery at Banff, Yoho, Kootenay and Jasper National Parks, it was only when we rounded the bend and came south through the less visited Kananaskis Country to the Alberta/Montana border at Waterton Lakes National Park that we found both the charming intimacy of a small village and the breathtaking vistas of mother nature all in one place.

Waterton Lakes National Park RV trip Canada

Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada

Waterton Shoreline Cruise Waterton Lakes National Park RV trip Canada

Waterton Shoreline Cruise from Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada to Glacier National Park in America.

Alberta’s Waterton Lakes borders Montana’s Glacier National Park, and the awe-inspiring views continued to fill our camera lenses.

Logan Pass Glacier National Park Montana RV trip

Going to the Sun Road at Glacier National Park in Montana.

Two Medicine Glacier National Park Montana RV trip

Kayaks on the beach at Two Medicine, Glacier National Park, Montana.

The summer of 2016 was in full swing, and we were delighted to find two fabulous beach towns nestled in Idaho’s mountains: Sandpoint and McCall.

Summer on the Payette Lake beach in McCall Idaho

Beach Town USA – McCall, Idaho!

After enjoying some beach time in Idaho, raging wildfires filled the air with smoke, so we drove all the way to southern Utah’s clear skies at Bryce Canyon National Park.

Sunrise Bryce Canyon National Park Inspiration Point Utah RV trip

Sunrise at Bryce Canyon National Park’s Inspiration Point in Utah.

In late September, we drove the golden hued San Juan Skyway in southwestern Colorado where the aspens were showing off their vibrant cloaks of yellow and orange.

Fall foliage golden aspen San Juan Skyway Colorado RV trip

Reflections of autumn on the San Juan Skyway in Colorado.

Visiting the Colorado Rockies when fall begins to nudge winter is always a flirtation with very cold weather, and we soon found ourselves surrounded by snow.

RV in a snow storm San Juan Mountains Colorado

What do you do when it snows unexpectedly? Build a snow man!

But what gorgeous views waited for us once the snow stopped falling!

Golden aspens in snow San Juan Mountains Colorado RV trip

Magic happens when Fall and Winter mix
in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.

One of the cool things we’ve learned in our unusual outdoors oriented lifestyle over the years is the wonders of the night sky. We had never paid much attention to the phases of the moon in our former lives, and seeing the sky filled with stars wasn’t possible where we used to live our workaday lifestyle.

But living on the ocean had taught us about the moon. We relied on that beautiful orb in the sky to light our way on our overnight sailing passages in Mexico. Whenever we could, we timed our nighttime sailing voyages to coincide with a full moon or a moon that would be up there as our friend among the stars for as many hours of the night as possible.

The coast of Pacific Mexico is often too hazy and cloudy to give the stars much of a chance to show off their best sparkle, but now in our land based lives we could seek out dark moonless skies in hopes of seeing of the Milky Way.

Ironcially, after unhappily losing sleep on the ocean due to wild waves and swell, we now deliberately got out of our warm bed to chase both sunrises and the Milky Way all night long!

At Grand Canyon’s North Rim we got a good view of the Milky Way.

Milky Way Grand Canyon National Park North Rim RV trip

Hiking at night at Grand Canyon’s North Rim in Arizona.

Ultimately, improving our skills as photographers remained at the top of our “makes us happy” list, and we traveled both lesser known and well trodden paths to see America’s most sensational vistas as 2016 drew to a close.

Lower Calf Creek Falls Utah RV trip

Lesser known Lower Calf Creek Falls in Utah.

Zion National Park in Utah RV trip

World renowned Zion National Park in Utah

Back when we moved off our sailboat, we vowed we would include lots of international travel in our mix of destinations. Yet in the three years since we’d left our sailing life hadn’t gotten on a single plane to go see a foreign country.

We changed all that in January and February of 2017 when we took a very long 24 hour flight with three legs to Bangkok Thailand.

Chao Phraya River cruise Bangkok Thailand

Cruising the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok, Thailand.

As soon as we landed, our foreign travel instincts from Mexico returned, and we traveled all over Thailand for a month.

Interestingly, before we left for Thailand we faced the same fears and concerns we had had before we started traveling in Mexico: Would we be safe? After all, southern Thailand has seen an awful lot of terrorist attacks. Would we like it? Would it be worth the time and money to go?

In the end, Thailand was surprisingly similar to Mexico. Thailand has the same climate and vegetation as Mexico and both have a similar “developing” economy and stature in the world. Except for the language and the Buddhist temples, being in Thailand felt very much like being in Mexico..

This was a huge surprise. We had thought Thailand would be dramatically different from anything we had ever experienced.

However, in Cambodia we found a world totally unlike our own in North America.

Angkor Wat temples Cambodia adventure travel

The ancient Khmer temples at Angkor Wat in Cambodia were stunning.

Although the ancient Khmer temples at Angkor Wat were a lot like the Mayan ruins in Mexico, both in form and in their time period in history, and even though the locals in Cambodia were just as warm and friendly as the good people we had met in Mexico, our eyes were opened wide with a gut wrenching seriousness when we learned what happens to people when a totalitarian regime takes over a country — as happened in Cambodia in the 1970’s.

Sharing photos with Cambodian kids

Mark shows his photos to an excited group of Cambodian kids.

While western countries flirt with the notion of massive government systems that “take care of” (control) their citizens from cradle to grave, enforcing political correctness, silencing dissenting views, and creating a kind of egalitarian serfdom for the populace, according to the world view, whims and needs of a ruling elite, everyday Cambodians have some hair raising stories to tell about their personal experiences living under such a regime.

I haven’t yet written about what we learned in Cambodia, but perhaps I will eventually. I also haven’t written about the very beautiful week we spent in Hawaii right after that!

Angel fish Hawaii snorkeling adventure

An angel fish passes wtihin arm’s reach as we snorkel in Hawaii.

There are only so many hours in the day, and in an effort to fill those hours with the things we love — real life adventures and a lifelong photography learning curve — the storytelling sometimes has to be curtailed, or I’ll never get off my Lazy Boy chair!!

Happy photographers in aspen trees Colorado

Photography is a hobby that will keep us engaged into old age. What fun!

This brings us to the present moment as we travel across New Mexico after an early spring spent in northeastern Arizona.

As always, we are entertaining many ideas for the future, some of which might come to pass and others of which will wait for another time.

Wherever we go in our next ten years of life, we will keep posting our tales, our discoveries, and our photos. We hope you will continue to come along too and that you’ll find inspiration to live life with gusto and pursue your own wildest dreams too.

Every day is another chance to make your dreams come true

Great words to live by!

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10 Years of Full-time RVing and Sailing!! – The Early Years…

“Life is a Book, and those who don’t travel read only a page.” —St. Augstine, 354-430 AD

This week we are celebrating our 10th anniversary of taking off to travel full-time. As I look back on these immensely fulfilling years, I realize how right St. Augustine was when he wrote those insightful words 1,600 years ago.

Our ten year RV and sailing voyage has been an unbelievable journey in every way, and we still wake up every day feeling blessed and fortunate to live the way we do.

What a cool life!

10 years of full-time RV travel and sailing

May, 2017. Where did the years go?

Ten years is a significant chunk of our lives. When we started, we were passionate cyclists, and that hobby defined not only our every waking hour but our relationship too.

Now our days revolve around sightseeing, photography, meeting new people, writing about our experiences and moving from place to place. The evolution makes sense, though, because a big part of our love of cycling — and of bicycle touring especially — was being outdoors and seeing new scenery and camping.

Looking back at all we’ve been through for the last 10 years, we wouldn’t change a thing.

To celebrate our 10 years on the road, I have dug through our memories and older photos to find the images and moments that stand out in our minds. This post and the next share our full story and our evolution. It’s a long story, but to me, the best ones always are.

We began with a brand new 27′ travel trailer pulled by the Toyota Tundra we had originally purchased to tow the popup tent trailer that had taken us on many wonderful vacations and weekend getaways and introduced us to RVing.

1st full-time RV home travel trailer

Home sweet home – May 2007!

The interior was open and airy, and we were thrilled beyond belief to downsize our lives to be able to live comfortably in this pretty little rolling home.

Travel trailer interior first full-time RV home

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Travel trailer interior 1st full-time RV home

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Our first year was a whirlwind of “Wow” and “This is the First Time Ever!” experiences.

Yosemite National Park was one of our first major destinations after we picked up our trailer near Dallas, and all the major National Parks were at the top of our “must do right away” list.

Happy RVers at Yosemite National Park California

Beautiful Yosemite National Park was one of our first destinations.

We loved dry camping with our popup, so we looked for dry camping campgrounds in our new lifestyle wherever we went. At California’s Westport-Union State Park, under the open sky and perched above the crashing surf, we installed our initial solar power system.

RV camping on the California coast

Camping overlooking the ocean was a great place to install our solar power system.

Continuing up the coast, we quickly learned how scary it can be to drive a “big rig” on the twisty coastal roads of northern California and Oregon where logging trucks barrel around the corners at full speed.

Mark quickly got used to it, though, and despite going down a wrong road and having the classic new RVer’s terrifying experience of being in a tight spot with nowhere to turn around, we made it to some gorgeous places along the Oregon and Washington coasts.

Yaquina Head Lighthouse Oregon RV trip

Yaquina Head Lighthouse in Oregon

In Oregon we traded our Toyota Tundra for a much stronger Dodge Ram 3500 truck and discovered the stunning beauty of the Cascade mountains in Washington. Mt. Rainier seemed to pose in the background of every view.

Mt. Rainier RV roadtrip to Washington

Mt. Rainier in Washington

Seeing snow-capped mountain peaks was yet another “first.” At Olympic National Park we were awed by Hurricane Ridge, especially watching a bunch of kids heading up the mountains to go snow boarding in the middle of July!

RVers at Hurricane Ridge Olympic National Park Washington

Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park, Washington

We took the ferry to Vancouver Island and scooted along the coast to Campbell River.

Witnessing real live sheepdog trials, and seeing goats living on a rooftop, and walking past houseboats in the harbor gave us more “firsts,” and taking our trailer on the ferry both ways was not just a “first” but a total thrill.

Back on the mainland we continued our insatiable quest for Beautiful Places at a breakneck speed.

Diablo Lake Washington scenic viewpoint on RV trip

Diablo Lake in Washington

Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park was soon in our sights, and it was only while looking at our photos of the steaming geysers later on in our rig that it dawned on me why the park is called “Yellowstone.”

Such was our simple innocence about this country we had lived in all our lives. It felt so awesome to be out seeing America up close.

Yellowstone National Park geysers at Mammoth

Geysers at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming

One morning in Mammoth Campground at Yellowstone we woke up to see two young elk nuzzling each other right outside our window. Their courtship went on for 15 minutes while we watched them wide-eyed and glued to the window.

Young elk courting outside RV window Yellowstone National Park

Young elk nuzzling outside our trailer window!

More Yellowstone firsts included seeing wild burros, pronghorn antelope, and coming within a few feet of a bison.

Every day we were in a breathless state of ecstasy.

Besides whipping through our bucket list — which wasn’t very long back then — we woke up every day astonished to realize that we were free. Utterly free.

There was no alarm waking us up, no boss tapping his toes waiting for us, and no employees or kids needing our daily guidance.

Grand Teton National Park Wyoming RV travel

Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming

We actually felt a little funny about running away to such an awesome lifestyle so young. We were 47 and 53 years old, and everyone we met would ask in disbelief, “Are you retired?”

We hadn’t realized that the world of full-time travelers, and indeed the world of people in general who are out and about during the day on weekdays, is dominated by retirees.

We’d joke and say, “We’re not working at the moment. If we run out of money later, we’ll become greeters at Walmart!”

Mt. Rushmore National Park Presidents heads from scenic viewpoint RV rest area

Mt. Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota.

We zipped through South Dakota to finish establishing our residency there and then turned south.

Utah had become our favorite state during our vacation RV travels with our popup tent trailer, and in our first year on the road we discovered wondrous Goblin Valley where a little kid running ahead of me into the vast playground of red rock hoodoos yelled out: “This is Heaven!”

Goblin Valley State Park RV campground Utah

Camping at beautiful Goblin Valley State Park in Utah

Nearby, we hiked our first slot canyon, Little Wild Horse Canyon, and we loved every minute of slithering between the towering, curvy walls.

Little Wild Horse Slot Canyon Goblin Valley Utah

Little Wild Horse Slot Canyon in Utah

One of my lifelong dreams had been to become a published writer. As Halloween of 2007 neared, I decided it was time to put my writing dream to the test. Very much inspired by Kay Peterson who was a prolific writer and founder of Escapees RV Club, I wrote a feature length travel article about the ghouls and goblins of Goblin Valley for Escapees Magazine.

I didn’t know anything about editorial deadlines back then, so my submission was very late for the Halloween issue. But their super skilled editor at the time, Janice Lasko, sliced it down to an elegant single page and published it. OMG. I floated up to Cloud 9.

Since then my writing dream has been fulfilled…and so much more. I have now published over 100 feature articles in the RV and sailing industry magazines and was given my own little bi-monthly column on the back page of Trailer Life Magazine. What a dream come true!

Meanwhile, after an early winter season in the southwest in 2007-08, we discovered that Florida was enjoying a lot more warmth that year than Arizona was. So we dashed across the country and dipped our toes in the vivid waters of the Florida’s Emerald Coast.

Florida's Emerald Coast Pensacola Beach RV trip

Pensacola Beach on Florida’s Emerald Coast

If there is one huge lesson we have learned over the past ten years it is that traveling is a process of shedding one’s prejudices and preconceptions.

Before seeing a place, everyone has an idea of what it’s like, because we read things and see photos. But those are just postcard sized glimpses, and they are someone else’s vision.

It isn’t until you actually go and visit a place yourself that you can have any real notion of what it is really like there.

And so it was with Florida for me.

A tern on the beach in Florida

We discovered Florida’s beauty early in our travels and we’re so glad we did!

Mark had spent time in Florida growing up, but I’d been there only a few times to visit family, not to sightsee. The little I’d seen and the tales I’d heard of high rises on the beach in Miami, the cheesy tourist traps everywhere and the endless golf courses didn’t excite me much. So, when we began wandering all over the Florida with our trailer, I didn’t expect to fall in love with the state.

But I did. Florida is just wonderful!

We got down as far south as South Beach in Miami (oooh such clear and warm water — fabulous!) and we hung around the state through Spring Break which was soon in full swing everywhere.

While strolling down Daytona Beach one day, a phalanx of hot bikini clad babes approached us. Our jaws dropped as we stared at this line of teenage female perfection coming at us. I grabbed my camera and Mark quickly jumped into their midst and asked if we could take a photo.

Daytona Beach Florida Spring Break happy RV camper

Mark is one happy camper!

Needless to say, that photo made the rounds of all of his friends for the next 24 hours. The funny things was, as we both were waking up the next morning we said to each other simultaneously, “Did you notice that all of those girls had a belly button ring?”

The world was changing around us, but we hadn’t really noticed. And it would be a few more years before it really hit us just how fast and dramatically those changes were happening.

I had never heard the word “antebellum” before — I guess I wasn’t paying attention in high school — but I knew it well after seeing lots of antebellum mansions in Natchez, Mississippi. These “firsts” seemed endless in those early days.

Longwood antebellum mansion Natchez Mississippi

Antebellum mansion “Longwood” in Natchez, Mississippi.

Our 27′ travel trailer had proved to be too small that first winter. We had been living on solar power since we started this full-time RVing adventure, but our single 130 watt solar panel hadn’t quite been up to the job during the long dark nights of winter. Supplementing with oil lamps hung inside the trailer was okay, but not great!

We realized it was time for a new RV. We loved visiting RV dealerships and factories all over the country, and we had gathered a stack of fifth wheel brochures that was three inches thick. So, on a factory tour of the NuWa Hitchhiker fifth wheel manufacturing plant, we decided to take the plunge and trade up to a brand new year-old model that had been housed inside while it waited for a buyer.

The economy was beginning to stall in the spring of 2008, and we got a great deal on our new fifth wheel trailer. We now had cushy recliners in the back and three slide-outs.

To top it off, we installed 480 watts of solar power on the roof and a big solar charge controller and inverter in the basement. We had gotten hookups only a handful of times so far in this new and crazy lifestyle, but now we would now live as if we had electrical hookups all the time.

Happy RV travelers with fifth wheel trailer Valley of Fire State Park Nevada

Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada.

We also discovered — after exhausting ourselves by running around so much — that we weren’t on vacation. All those beautiful places would still be there next month, so why run? We slowed way down, and the summer of 2008 gave us a full and glorious month at the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. With diesel prices topping $5/gallon at the North Rim, it was an ideal time not to drive long distances!

Imperial Point Grand Canyon North Rim RV roadtrip

Imperial Point at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

This was followed by a month at Bryce Canyon National Park and nearby Red Canyon in Utah.

Bryce Canyon Inspiration Point RV travel

Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah.

During that summer I started this website. I was so grateful for the (very few) sailing and RVing websites that existed before we started our RV adventure, that I wanted to put our journey and discoveries out there for others to be able to learn from too.

Building this website added a fun new dimension to our travels. We now had a special home for all our photos, and it motivated us to try to capture really special images.

Old Roads Less Traveled Website

Here’s how this website looked before I converted it to WordPress in 2012!

We had graduated from our first “Year of Discovery” to our second “Year of Exploration.”

We were still shocked to wake up every day and not have to go to work, and we were still saying “wow” on a regular basis. But our new phrase had became “What a cool area!” as we ventured to places that were off the beaten path and that weren’t posted with National Park Service signs.

Cathedral Gorge State Park near charming Pioche, Nevada, was one of those many jewels that caught our attention as we perused our DeLorme Atlas looking for places to go. Crawling in and out of its exotic pinnacles, we said to each other once again, “What a cool area!”

Cathedral Gorge State Park hiking in Nevada

Cathedral Gorge State Park in Nevada

Winter saw us back in the Sonoran desert of Arizona where the sunrises and sunsets are jaw-dropping… all the time!

Arizona sunset over fifth wheel trailer RV

Sunset in Arizona.

While buzzing around Arizona and experiencing the wild and crazy boondocking scene in Quartzsite, we were absolutely thrilled to have one of our photos of our rig land on the cover of Escapees Magazine, an incredible “first” of what has since then grown into a collection of 23 magazine cover photos.

Escapees RV Club Magazine Cover Jan-Feb 2009 Bryce Canyon UT

Our first magazine cover image
Jan/Feb 2009 cover of Escapees Magazine

Flush with excitement, we zipped out to Florida again to get a whiff of salt air and some sand between our toes.

While watching the boats coming and going on the Florida coast, my yearning to see the world from the deck of a sailboat hit me full force. We had originally thought our travel adventures would be on the ocean, but we had changed our minds at the last minute.

Being on the water revived our idea of going sailing, and we soon immersed ourselves in the search for a suitable and affordable sailboat.

The search took us from Florida to California, and we made four offers on various Hunter 44 and 45 sailboats. We even paid to survey a sailboat in Oakland that we ended up not buying after we hauled it out and took a closer look with a professional yacht surveyor!

Hunter 44DS haul-out and survey

Buying a sailboat was a long process. We paid to haul this one out, but discovered the seller’s definition of “mint condition” was not the same as ours!

In 2009 the economy was in free fall. We knew that with every month that passed, the quality of boat we could afford was getting better and better. But it took the boat owners a full year to realize their beloved yachts weren’t worth what they once were, and California boat brokers are a ruthless bunch to boot.

In our excitement (and terror) at planning a jump from RVing to sailing, we zipped down I-5 in California from one prospective boat to the next. Catastrophe struck while en route to yet another survey and haul out prior to closing.

With a full 10% of the purchase price down on a boat (required by California brokers), we had an accident while driving to the marina with our trailer, and I found myself on the side of the I-5 freeway in tears on the phone with our broker who absolutely refused to refund our money and give us time to regroup and get our rolling home repaired. If we didn’t show up for the survey before the contracted deadline, he said fiercely, we’d lose our money.

More tears and much anguish later, I eventually got the government agency California Boating and Waterways to intervene, and we got our money back. But we hightailed it out of the shark infested waters of California boat buying and sought solace with family in Michigan while our trailer spent seven weeks in a repair shop in California.

After a week or so of family visits in Michigan, we got the travel bug again. We rented a car and did a car/hotel tour of the perimeter of Michigan’s mitten and even got up into the Upper Peninsula. What a gorgeous state! We loved all the small towns that perch on the shores of pretty Lake Michigan.

South Haven Lighthouse Michigan at sunset

Sunset at South Haven Lighthouse in Michigan.

Once our trailer was back in order, we resumed our travels out west and found paradise once again in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho.

RV camping Sawtooth National Forest Idaho

Camping in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho.

We continued to check Yachtworld (the boating MLS service) every day, and saw that boat prices were continuing to fall as 2009 progressed. But we relished our RV travels so much it almost didn’t matter if we made our (my) sailing dream come true or not.

Mark was as enthusiastic about going cruising as I was — we had both been enchanted by the book An Embarrassment of Mangoes about sailng the Caribbean — but the primal urge to live on a sailboat and travel by sea was really mine. Yet I had to admit that every day of our RVing lives was a total thrill too, and during the summer of 2009 we enjoyed every minute in our buggy.

We had never known any true cowboys or cattle ranchers in our previous city based lives. As we traveled the west in these early years we were fascinated to meet and spend time with several different ranchers, and we learned terms like “section” which equates to 640 acres or a square mile of land.

Chatting with one old rancher and his wife out camping, we were amazed to hear their stories of ranching on horseback decades ago as they raised cattle on their SIX SECTIONS of land in eastern Wyoming!

They joked that their kids now do it today with ATV’s. How cool is that? And how would we have ever met that couple if we’d stayed home in our old lives?!

Helmville Rodeo bronco riding Montana

Our first rodeo — Helmville Rodeo in Montana.

By the fall of 2009, we had enjoyed two winters of RV life split between the southwest and Florida, but I just couldn’t spend another winter freezing in our RV again! Both Arizona and Florida are warm states, but the cold winter storms that swing through are much colder when boondocking in an RV!

Besides, if we were going to cruise the tropics in a sailboat, we had to decide whether we’d sail the Caribbean or the Pacific coast of Mexico. It was time to talk to some cruisers in the Caribbean.

On the beach in Grenada eastern Caribbean

On the beach in Grenada – What could be better than a winter in the tropics?!!

We hopped on a plane and flew to the Grenadines. We had sailed together in the British Virgin Islands and I had sailed in the Grenadines in my previous life twenty years prior. How different it was to visit on a land-based trip! Unfortunately, the locals weren’t friendly and we had a bad experience with an official in Bequia.

But that didn’t keep us from having a fantastic time, and it didn’t stop our obsession with Yachtworld either. It just confirmed that we weren’t going to buy a boat on the east coast.

Then, out of the blue, our dream boat came up for sale in San Diego — for a song. It was a one year old, unimproved, vanilla boat, perfect for the major upgrades we wanted to install ourselves. We had known about this boat for a while, but it had been priced out of reach. However, the failing economy had put it into foreclosure, and suddenly, with the impromptu submission of an online bid that was lower than low, the boat was ours.

Carriacou in the Grenadines eastern Caribbean

Carriacou Island in the Grenadines.

We cut our 3-month Caribbean excursion short and left after just 3 weeks to dash to San Diego on a hastily arranged flight that included sleeping arrangements on a luggage conveyor belt at New York’s JFK airport as the New Year’s 2010 ball dropped in Times Square.

Our new 2008 Hunter 44DS sailboat was gorgeous. We quickly finalized the purchase and moved aboard, excitedly unlocking the padlock the bank had used to chain it to the dock.

What a fabulous life! We were in love with our beautiful yacht, Groovy. But our lives were now completely upside down!

Happy sailors ready to begin a cruise of Mexico

Holy smokes, we own a sailboat!

We rushed the trailer into covered storage in Phoenix and dashed back to San Diego to try to figure out how to sail this new boat.

My previous boat that I had lived aboard for four years in Boston Harbor had been just 36 feet long and had had only one sail (it was a wish-bone rigged Nonsuch). Mark had never sailed anything bigger than a Hobie Cat. But we were eager beavers, and we jumped into our new lifestyle with glee.

New cruisers learn about sailing and the cruising lifestyle

We had a learning curve ahead of us on this fancy 44′ yacht!

We sailed 70 miles down to Ensenada, Mexico, as part of our offshore delivery closing procedure, and we lived aboard the boat there for six months while we outfitted it and got used to being cruisers.

What a culture shock this was on all fronts!

Ensenada Mexico party central

Ensenada, Mexico, is a fabulous party town.

We had been living a very quiet and super easy lifestyle in our trailer where we camped for free every night and saw beautiful things every day. Now we were living in Mexico, a totally foreign culture with a foreign language and very different history than America’s. And we loved it.

Ensenada is a fun and vibrant city that is an absolute hoot to live in. We were lucky enough to be living at the swank Hotel Coral and Marina. Not only did we have electric and water hookups, we also had beautiful resort hot tubs and swimming pools right outside our door. What a life!

Over the years, we had found that the only way to get to know an area was to wander around on foot or by bike, and wander around Ensenada we did. The boat needed quite a bit of TLC, and we installed a fabulous solar power system on a beautiful arch on the transom. With every project we tackled, we needed to hit the town and buy some parts.

So, we walked all over Ensenada from one hardware store — or “Ferreteria” — to the next.

Hardware store ferreteria in Mexico

When we needed parts or tools anywhere in Mexico, the local Ferreteria was where we’d go.

I had studied Spanish before we ran off in our trailer in preparation for just such a life adventure, but Mark hadn’t. Yet he was the one who would walk up to the counter and say, “Buenos Días” with great confidence and then attempt to ask for whatever we needed in whatever Spanglish he could muster.

I was way too embarrassed to utter a sound at first, but over time I got past that. In the end, one of my greatest joys in our years in Mexico was reaching the point where I could hold a basic conversation in Spanish with a native speaker.

We returned to San Diego in the fall — anchoring out in one of the free anchorages every night — and we did our final preparations and upgrades for cruising.

Mark is a mechanical genius, and I was floored that he was able to complete the very complicated 60 gallon per hour water desalination system installation on our sailboat to convert ocean water to fresh drinking water while we were at anchor in San Diego Bay.

Our watermaker included two water strainers, 3 water filters and two 8′ long desalination membranes as well as a both low pressure and high pressure water pumps. It soon became Mark’s favorite part of the boat, and it produced enough water to wash the decks!

San Diego under full moon from sailboat in San Diego Bay

San Diego Bay

Catching the (more or less) downwind breeze out of San Diego in early November, 2010, we sailed 800 miles (at 7 mph) south to Cabo San Lucas and began our Mexico cruise for real.

Cabo San Lucas sailing adventure

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

Then, crossing the Sea of Cortez at its widest spot, we traversed the 330 miles where the violent Pacific meets the raging Sea of Cortez and all hell breaks loose on a regular basis. The conditions were horrible.

Mark laid on the settee in the cabin for most of the trip, not seasick but not happy. “There is nothing about this I like!” he said at one point.

We laugh about that now, how I dragged him to the tropics — kicking and screaming — on a sailboat. But at the time I was just as miserable.

The 15′ waves chasing us down from behind 24/7 were terrifying. Our kitchen knife flew off the counter and landed like a dagger in the floor. Our stainless steel teapot flew off the stove just before I pulled the latch to allow the stove to swing in the massive waves, and to this day it still bears a huge dent in its side from hitting the companionway stairs, a friendly reminder each time we boil water of where our traveling lives have taken us.

Stainless steel teapot dented during Sea of Cortez sailing passage

Our stainless steel teapot got a big dent in it when it flew off the stove crossing the Sea of Cortez. We still use this teapot today in our rig…!

While Mark willed the world to stop rolling and let him off mid-ocean, I spent my time calculating and recalculating just how many more hours it would be until we made landfall.

Three days and two nights of sailing eventually got us across the open ocean to Mexico’s mainland. After dropping the hook and settling into Chamela Bay, for the next week I woke up every night in the middle of the night in a total panic as I felt Mark next to me in bed and wondered who in the heck was on watch in the cockpit steering the boat!

Joshua Slocum, the first man to sail a small boat around the world solo (1895-1898), had the same experience on his voyage. But in his delirious state, when he looked into the cockpit he saw Christopher Columbus at the helm! Now I understood exactly what he was talking about.

What made my confusion all the more real on those first frightening nights at anchor was that the boat moved constantly in the waves. The Pacific Ocean is anything but “pacific,” and the boat swung wildly all night every night.

Waves crashing in Chamela Bay Mexico Costalegre coast

Big waves at Chamela Bay on Mexico’s Costalegre.

We had to make more overnight passages as we continued south along the coast, and although we never liked them — we did 31 overnight passages all together in our nearly four years at sea — we eventually got used to them.

Mark would pass his time on watch learning to play new songs on his guitar, and I would pass my time by writing. Neither of us could sleep a wink while off watch, so these overnight passages were essentially all-nighters for both of us!!

Overnight passage on sailboat

Sailing at night has been described as galloping bareback through the woods blindfolded. Very apt!

But all that uncomfortable stuff aside, the sights we saw during the day were breathtaking.

Las Hadas resort in Manzanillo Bay was our first major stop, and we loved every moment we were there. It was the setting for the movie “10” and even without Bo Derek, this place was a “10” all the way.

Las Hadas Resort beach Manzanillo Bay Mexico

Las Hadas Resort beach in Manzanillo Bay, Mexico

Las Hadas resort marina Manzanillo Mexico

The condos next to Las Hadas Resort looked like something out of the Mediterranean!

We began meeting other cruisers, and several people who had been cruising in Mexico for a year already talked us into sailing further south to Zihuatanejo. And this was where we finally hit our stride as cruisers.

Fishing in Mexico

Mark does a little fishing from our dinghy tied to the back of Groovy!

It was Christmas but you’d never guess it on the beach. We got more and more laid back as we hung around this wonderful little tropical beach town. By day, we’d wander around on foot and on many afternoons we’d grab a $1 beer and “totopos” (salted fried tortilla chips) under a palapa (thatch beach umbrella) with our toes in the sand.

Before taking our dinghy back out to Groovy, we’d pick up a fish from the open air fish market on the beach for a yummy dinner aboard.

Fish market in Zihuatanejo Mexico

The fish market on the beach in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

And then we’d watch the sun set into the ocean. One night we even saw the green flash!

Sunset in the ocean Zihuatanejo Mexico

The sun fell into the sea in a flaming ball of red every night in Zihuatanejo.

An enterprising couple ran a concession for cruisers, taking orders over the VHF radio for anything from beer to diesel to propane to laundry service, and delivering the goods by boat later in the day.

Sailboats anchored at Las Gatas Beach Zihuatanejo Mexico

Zihuatanejo Bay, Mexico.

The VHF radio added a new and strange social element to our lives. Cruisers have virtual VHF radio gatherings every morning in the more popular anchorages, and suddenly we found ourselves hosting these morning rituals. Each boat in the anchorage would check in by name, and then any pertinent news would be announced.

After living such a private life in our trailer, we had suddenly turned into socialites. We gathered all the cruisers together for a Christmas Eve party at a local bar (to the bar owner’s delight). A week or so later, all the cruisers took their dinghies to Las Gatas Beach across the bay for a “pool” party in the water.

There was lots of activity of the non-human sort too. During the two month, 1,100 mile sail back up the coast towards the Sea of Cortez, we saw whales breaching quite close by.

Whale breaching Santiago Beach Manzanillo Bay Mexico

A breaching whale in Santiago Bay, Mexico.

Anchoring for an overnight at Isla Isabel off of Mazatlan, we hiked around the uninhabited island and saw blue footed boobies with their very fluffy babies!

Blue Footed Boobies birds and chicks Isla Isabel Mexico

Blue footed boobies on Isla Isabel.

One of the big surprises in Mexico was that the water was often murky. This was largely due to the frequent invasion of red tide which has a month-long lifecycle that turns the water from the color of Merlot to a dark brown and then to a mustard yellow.

Red tide Pacific Ocean Mexican coast

Red tide in an early phase of its lifecycle.

But up in the Sea of Cortez, in the spring of 2011, we found several anchorages filled with the beautiful turquoise water we had been dreaming of cruising in.

Many of the bays were picture postcard perfect.

Isla San Francisco anchored sailboats Sea of Cortez Baja California Mexico

Isla San Francisco in the Sea of Cortez.

Anchoring in these bays was still a wild ride every night, and there wasn’t much sleep going on. But the tranquility and remoteness during the day was sublime. At one point we went for 17 days without access to the world via the internet. It is hard to imagine that now, but even then it was a shock to be that far removed from the Real World.

Agua Verde anchorage with sailboats Sea of Cortez Baja California Mexico

Agua Verde in the Sea of Cortez

The only people we saw were villagers in the tiny fishing hamlets and small towns that dot the coast.

Well… the villagers and Wilson, of course, who Mark found lying on a deserted beach not long after we’d watched the movie Castaway!

Stranded sailor finds Wilson

Wilson!!

One evening a boat full of people pulled up alongside Groovy in the pitch dark and offered to sell us some lobster. It was a family, and the mom had a toddler in her lap. We aren’t big lobster fans, so we jokingly asked if they had any Sierra which is a golden spotted fish also known as Spanish mackerel. They said no, but they could go get some.

Before we could ask what they meant, they zoomed off into the night. An hour later they appeared with a beautiful fish for us. We have no idea if they had thrown over a line and caught it or if they went back to their village and found someone who had one on ice somewhere, but it was a beauty and it was delicious.

Hunter 44DS sailboat Groovy anchored at Isla Coronado Sea of Cortez Baja California Mexico

Anchored at Isla Coronado in the Sea of Cortez.

One morning we heard slapping sounds outside the boat. We poked our heads out of the companionway and saw a school of rays leaping out of the water. They were popping up all over the place like popcorn. Some even did somersaults.

Flying mobula ray or manta ray Sea of Cortez Baja California Mexico

A mobula ray leaps out of the water.

Flying mobula ray or manta ray Sea of Cortez Baja California Mexico

These guys would fly out of the water and even do somersaults.

Cruising Mexico and anchoring out all the time often means dropping the hook in front of a luxury resort. Suddenly, in the middle of the Sea of Cortez where there is often nothing but raw nature, we came across the brand spanking new Villa del Palmar resort.

It had barely opened, and cruisers were welcome to walk up from the beach and have a drink at their poolside bar. Not bad!

We were given a tour, and looking out a window from high up in one of the towers, our tour guide explained how the six swimming pools had been laid out in the shape of a sea turtle.

Villa del Palmar Resort Loreto Baja California Sea of Cortez Mexico

Villa del Palmar Resort. The swimming pools are laid out like a sea turtle.

Cruising is not without its hazards, however, and on another morning we saw a boat impaled on a towering rock that jutted up out of the Sea of Cortez in th emiddle of nowhere. We found out later the singlehanding captain had dared a night crossing but had fallen asleep at the wheel.

Fortunately, a year or so later when we got down to Acapulco, we learned that he was able to repair his boat and continue cruising.

Sailboat crashed into rock Baja California Sea of Cortez Mexico

The sea can be unforgiving, and we saw and heard many terrifying tales of cruises gone bad.

By the end of that first cruising season we had very mixed emotions about the lifestyle. On our boat we had experienced higher highs and lower lows than in any other lifestyle we’d ever lived. It was thrilling and often extremely beautiful, but a lot of the time it was very trying as well.

We were “living the dream,” but was it a dream??

We had poured our life savings into buying and outfitting a sailboat for what we thought would be a 10 year off-and-on cruise, going home to our trailer during hurricane season each summer. But now we weren’t so sure about it all.

Bahia Concepcion Conception Bay Playa El Burro Playa Ensenada Baja California Sea of Cortez Mexico

Bahia Concepcion in the Sea of Cortez.

We left Groovy in San Carlos, Mexico, on the mainland side of the Sea of Cortez and took the bus 10 hours north to Phoenix. We were thrilled beyond belief to get back in our little buggy and take off for Utah and northern Arizona for a quickie 12 week sojourn.

We loved everything about living in our trailer and camping in the jaw-dropping scenery of the western states, and it felt so great to be doing it again.

Cedar Breaks National Monument welcomed us with beautiful wildflowers and wonderfully brooding summer monsoon skies.

Happy RVers at Cedar Breaks National Park Utah

Cedar Breaks National Monument in Utah.

But we loved many things about our life aboard Groovy too, as tough and gritty and salty and dirty as the cruising lifestyle could be.

After a quick dash from Flagstaff, Arizona, through the red rocks of Utah in our trailer, we returned to Mexico as “second season” cruisers, a status in the odd social strata of the cruising community that took us out of the class of rank beginners.

It felt great to know what we were doing, and in the course of a few months we sailed back down south from the middle of the Sea of Cortez to Puerto Vallarta, Zihuatanejo and then on to Acapulco and finally to the spectacular Bays of Hualulco, about 1,600 miles all together.

Working the winches on a sailboat

Working the winches.

On our way south we revisited all the spots we had seen the year before, but Acapulco was a new and fabulous surprise. We watched the famous “La Quebrada” divers doing swan dives off the cliffs into the depths of the swirling ocean below, and we discovered that the outlying anchorages were absolutely wonderful and full of life.

Acapulco Cliff Divers of La Quebrada

La Quebrada Cliff Diver in Acapulco

One night we were awakened by whales singing to each other in the bay. The beautiful and mysterious sound was amplified by the hull of the boat and filled the cabin with exotic squeaks and squeals as we laid in bed! It seemed like the whales were all around us.

One morning Mark pulled up the anchor to find a sea horse staring at him as it hung onto the anchor chain with its tail wrapped around one of the links.

We discovered other wonders when we did some travels to inland Mexico too. Mexico is home to some truly stunning colonial cities that were built by the Spanish in the 16th and 17th centuries. In Oaxaca we found the cathedrals were ornately decorated and richly painted in gold leaf.

Cathedral at night Oaxaca Mexico Our Lady of Assumption

Our Lady of Assumption Cathedral in Oaxaca, Mexico

Inside Santo Domingo Cathedral Oxaca Mexico

Inside the Santo Domingo Cathedral in Oxaca Mexico

The city of Oaxaca is utterly charming, and we walked the many historic streets mesmerized by the colorful buildings and the very artsy and funky vibe.

Oaxaca Mexico street in the historic district

Historic street in Oaxaca, Mexico.

At night we visited the Zócalo, or town square, where several different celebrations and festivals were all going on at once. From a parade passing by to groups of Mariachi musicians playing on the corners and at the open air restaurants to a school reunion taking place in the middle of it all, Oaxaca came alive at night.

A trio of little girls dressed in traditional Oaxacan garb carrying baskets on their heads as part of their school celebration caught our eye.

Oaxaca children in traditional dresses at school festival Oaxaca Zocalo Mexico

Oaxacan children in traditional dress for a school celebration.

A little ways outside of town we visited the ancient Zapotec ruins at Monte Alban. These mammoth step pyramids dating back to the 7th century were mind boggling to see, and watching a school group in their red and white uniforms tour the ruins and answer their teacher’s questions was very special. This was a far cry from my school class trip to colonial America’s Sturbridge Village in western Massachusetts!

Monte Alban temple ancient Zapotec ruins Oaxaca Mexico

Monte Alban ancient Zapotec step pyramid in Oaxaca, Mexico

Sailing 400 miles further south to the last marina in Mexico’s state of Chiapas, right before the Guatemala border, we again took the bus inland to visit the Mayan ruins of Palenque. Again, we were stunned by the size and scale of this enormous, sophisticated and ancient city.

Palenque ancient Mayan ruins Chiapas Mexico

Palenque — ancient Mayan ruins in Chiapas, Mexico.

Taking a boat ride in an exotic long and skinny boat up the river that separates Mexico from Guatemala, we visited the very remote Mayan ruins at Yaxchilan and Bonampak.

Bonampak lies in a part of Mexico where indigenous people lived unbeknownst to westerners until they were discovered by two American explorers in 1929. Their descendents are now park rangers and they showed us the fantastic frescoes that line the walls of one of the temples, depicting the life and times of ancient nobles.

Fresco in Bonampak Mayan ruins Chiapas Mexico

A fresco depicting the lives of Mayan nobles in Bonampak.

When we left our sailboat in Marina Chiapas in Mexico and flew back home to our trailer for six months in the summer of 2012, how amazing it was to look at the petroglyphs in Dinosaur National Monument in Utah and realize that they were pecked out of the rocks some 500 years after the frescoes had been painted on the walls of Bonampak 2,500 miles to the south!

Petroglyphs Dinosaur National Monument Utah

Petroglyphs depicting… ummm… I’m not sure! In Dinosaur National Monument, Utah

As we took our buggy from Arizona to Montana, our heads were spinning by all we’d seen, and we were beginning to feel a depth and breadth in our souls that hadn’t been there before.

We felt like we were beginning to blossom into true adventurers. Even better, we were developing a budding understanding of the world beyond our back yard.

Sunset Miner Creek RV camping trip Montana

Sunset in the Bitterroot Valley, Montana.

As we visited the gorgeous Bitterroot Valley with our special friends and hosts in Montana and traveled to Flaming Gorge in Utah in the summer of 2012, we began to ponder what had happened to us in the last five years.

Rainbow Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area Utah

A rainbow over Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, Utah.

We had set out to have an adventure in a small trailer, and we’d ended up learning how to live on the ocean in a foreign country with foreign customs and a foreign language.

Our desire to see the National Parks in the American West had expanded to take us to world renowed ancient ruins at several UNESCO World Heritage sites in Mexico.

Living abroad had taught us to see the world differently than we had before, and we felt different inside too.

Happy RVers Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area Utah

Flaming Gorge, Utah.

Our interests were continuing to evolve as well, and photography was becoming more and more important to our daily lives. We wanted to do more than simply document what we saw. We wanted to learn how to take knock-your-socks-off photos!

We attended a terrific photography workshop in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado given by a photography blogger that Mark had been following for a long time, Nasim Mansurov. Those short three days ultimately became a significant turning point in our lives.

Sunrise San Juan Mountains Colorado Rocky Mountains RV trip

Fall color at sunrise in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.

We returned to Groovy in the fall of 2012 knowing it would be our last year afloat and brimming with excitement to make the absolute most we possibly could of our final season of cruising.

Continued at: 10 Years of Life on the Road – 2nd Half!

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Pocket Flashlight Review – Lumintop EDC25 & Lumintop SD26 Flashlights

In our mobile lifestyle in our RV we often find ourselves in the dark. I’ve written in the past about how Mark is a flashlight junkie, and I’m so glad he is, because no matter where we go or what we do he always has one in his pocket!

Lumintop EDC25 flashlight review Lumintop SD26 flashlight review 1000 lumen pocket flashlights

Two nifty pocket flashlights that are lighting up the dark for us!

A few months ago I reviewed the truly incredible Lumintop SD75 4,000 lumen flashlight, which is the brightest flashlight either of us has ever seen, by a long shot. It is truly like carrying around a car headlight.

When we started planning our trip to Thailand and Cambodia, Mark decided to upgrade his pocket flashlight to the Lumintop EDC25 1000 lumen flashlight to take with him on the trip. I secretly wondered where he thought we would be going in the dark once we got to Thailand, but he felt this flashlight was a very important piece of gear that he just had to take with him.

Sure enough, we visited quite a few caves in Thailand, we snuck into the darkest corners of many jaw-dropping ancient Khmer ruins in Angkor, Cambodia, and we took several nighttime boating excursions on Cheow Lan Lake.

Oh my. He was a man in love…with his flashlight! Sigh.

Lumintop SD75 flashlight Lumintop EDC25 flashlight and Lumintop SD26 flashlight with shipping containers

The big Lumintop SD75 searchlight with its suitcase and the two Lumintop pocket flashlights: SD26 (left) and EDC25 (right).

When we returned home, he absolutely had to replace yet another of his small pocket flashlights with the Lumintop SD26 flashlight, another 1,000 lumen total “must have” for a true flashlight junkie!

Lumintop EDC25 flashlight and Lumintop SD26 flashlight with belt holsters

Lumintop SD26 (left) and Lumintop EDC25 (right): 1000 lumen pocket flashlights with belt holsters.

I wondered why a man would ever need TWO pocket flashlights, but of course he has had a flashlight in almost every drawer and cabinet and pocket since I’ve known him, so I’ve learned not to ask. But when the Amazon boxes arrived, I couldn’t help myself from asking him a little bit more.

What makes these flashlights so special?

First, they are extremely bright for their size. Both the Lumintop EDC25 flashlight and the Lumintop SD26 flashlight use the latest Cree LED technology, and the beam they cast is astonishing.

The Lumintop EDC25 flashlight, with its Cree XPL-V5 LED technology, has a narrower beam than the Lumintop SD26 flashlight, which has Cree XP-L HD LED technology, and that is why Mark just had to have BOTH flashlights. Each has its purpose.

He uses the Lumintop EDC25 flashlight to peer into dark corners around the rig. From searching for that small bag of almonds he knows is at the back of the snack cabinet, to crawling under the trailer and looking at the backside of our trailer’s leaf springs where a locking nut recently decided to unscrew itself, to searching the back of the Man Cave (our fifth wheel basement) for his plumber’s wrench or PVC cutters, which he rarely needs so they’re stashed in the depths somewhere, this little narrow-beam flashlight is ideal.

The Lumintop SD26 flashlight has a slightly wider beam and is best for short trips in the dark around the rig where he doesn’t want to carry the whopping Lumintop SD75 flashlight” . He keeps it in a cupboard near the door to shine outside when he hears a strange noise, and it’s the one he grabs for quickie nighttime jaunts in the dark where he doesn’t need to light up the whole world.

Lumintop EDC25 flashlight and Lumintop SD26 flashlight 1000 lumen

Lumintop EDC25 flashlight (left) and Lumintop SD26 flashlight (right)

We took both of these pocket flashlights and the big Lumintop SD75 searchlight out with us on our nighttime hike in New Mexico’s Bisti De-Na-Zin Wilderness recently so we could see the difference in the light cast by each one.

Setting ourselves up near a short cliff, we shined each flashlight directly at the cliff at max power.

The characteristics of each flashlight were very clear to see:

Lumintop EDC25 flashlight 1,000 lumen beam_

Narrower and more focused beam of the Lumintop EDC25 flashlight (1000 lumens).

Lumintop SD26 flashlight 1,000 lumen beam_

Slightly broader beam of the Lumintop SD26 flashlight (1000 lumens).

Lumintop SD75 flashlight 4,000 lumen beam_

The “car headlight” effect of the Lumintop SD75 searchlight (4000 lumens).

Changing our angle slightly, we repeated the test with the flashlights shining at the cliff from off to the right. The same characteristics of each flashlight were very clear to see.

Lumintop EDC25 flashlight beam 1,000 lumens

Narrower and more focused beam of the Lumintop EDC25 1000 lumen flashlight.

Lumintop SD26 flashlight beam 1,000 lumens

Slightly broader beam of the Lumintop SD26 1000 lumen flashlight.

Lumintop SD75 flashlight beam 4,000 lumens

Huge light from the Lumintop SD75 4000 lumen searchlight.

 

LUMINTOP EDC25 1000 LUMEN FLASHLIGHT DETAILS

The Lumintop EDC25 flashlight — the smaller one with the narrower beam — is a true pocket flashlight, complete with a spring clip to clip onto a shirt pocket or the back pocket of a pair of pants.

Lumintop EDC25 flashlight 1,000 lumen beam in shirt pocket

The Lumintop EDC25 flashlight has a spring clip for pockets.

Lumintop EDC25 flashlight 1,000 lumen beam in jeans pocket

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The Lumintop EDC25 flashlight comes with a belt holster which is a more secure alternative if going on a longer hike with it.

Lumintop EDC25 1000 lumen flashlight in a belt holster

The Lumintop EDC25 flashlight also has a belt holster.

The Lumintop EDC25 flashlight is powered by a 3,400 mAh lithium-ion rechargeable battery (the battery is supplied with the flashlight). Simply unscrew the back end of the flashlight and slip the battery into it.

Lumintop EDC25 1000 lumen flashlight and 3400 mAh rechargeable lithium-ion battery

The Lumintop EDC25 flashlight is powered by a 3,400 mAh lithium-ion rechargeable battery.

To charge the Lumintop EDC25 flashlight, just unscrew it in the middle.

Unscrew the Lumintop EDC25 to access the charging port

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The battery is charged by connecting to a laptop or other USB connector. The flashlight’s charging port for the cable is located in the threads of the male half (the back half) of the flashlight.

Lumintop EDC25 1000 lumen flashlight charging port

The Lumintop EDC25 flashlight charging port is located in the threads of the back half of the flashlight.

Plug the charging cable into the flashlight.

Lumintop EDC25 1000 lumen flashlight unscrews for charging

Ready for charging.

Then plug the USB end of the charging cable into the laptop. Initially, the flashlight will light up green.

Lumintop EDC25 1000 lumen flashlight turns green when charging

Initially, the charging light turns green, but the battery is not charging yet.

In order to initiate the charging process, press the on/off button on the back end of the flashlight.

Lumintop EDC25 1000 lumen flashlight back end button to start charging

Press the button on the end of the flashlight to initiate battery charging.

Then the flashlight will light up red to indicate that it is charging. Once the battery is fully charged, the flashlight will turn green again.

Lumintop EDC25 1000 lumen flashlight turns red when it is charging

The battery is charging while the light is red.
Once it turns green again, the battery is fully charged.

The Lumintop EDC25 flashlight has six modes. It can be set to five different light intensities and it also has a strobe mode where it flashes on and off very quickly.

 

LUMINTOP SD26 1000 LUMEN FLASHLIGHT DETAILS

The Lumintop SD26 flashlight is also 1000 lumens but it is a little thicker and slightly shorter and casts a wider beam.

Lumintop SD26 flashlight 1000 lumen beam in hand

Lumintop SD26 flashlight, 1000 lumens.

The Lumintop SD26 flashlight doesn’t have a spring clip on it but it comes with a belt holster to make it easy to take on hikes.

Lumintop SD26 1000 lumen flashlight in a belt holster

The Lumintop SD26 flashlight does not have a spring clip but it does have a belt holster for easy carrying.

The Lumintop SD26 flashlight is powered by a 5,000 mAh lithium-ion rechargeable battery (supplied with the flashlight). This slightly beefier battery allows the Lumintop SD26 flashlight to run for slightly longer than that The Lumintop EDC25 flashlight before needing to be recharged.

Lumintop SD26 1000 lumen flashlight and 5000 mAh rechargeable lithium-ion battery

The Lumintop SD26 flashlight is powered by a 5,000 mAh lithium-ion rechargeable battery.

The Lumintop SD26 flashlight is also charged with a USB cable. The charging port is hidden beneath a rubber cover.

Lumintop SD26 1000 lumen flashlight charging port

The charging port is located under a rubber cover.

Simply plug the charging cable into the charging port on the flashlight.

And then plug the USB connector into your laptop.

Lumintop SD26 flashlight 1000 lumens before charging

The battery charging process begins as soon as the flashlight is plugged into the laptop (or other) USB port.

The Lumintop SD26 flashlight battery will begin charging immediately, and you’ll see a green light flashing on and off to indicate that the battery is charging. Once the battery is fully charged, the light will stop flashing and will stay green.

Lumintop SD26 flashlight 1000 lumens charging from laptop

The battery is charging as long as the light flashes green.
Once it stays lit solid green, the battery is fully charged.

The Lumintop SD26 flashlight has seven modes. It can be set to five different light intensities and it also has a strobe mode where it flashes on and off very quickly. In addition, it has an SOS mode where it flashes Morse code for the letters “SOS.”

 

POCKET FLASHLIGHT SUMMARY

Both the Lumintop EDC25 flashlight and the Lumintop SD26 flashlight are 1,000 lumen pocket flashlights that are o-ring sealed and water resistent and built with aerospace grade aluminum construction.

The thinner Lumintop EDC25 flashlight is 137 mm long, has a spring clip and bulges a little less in a back pocket, but its 3,400 mAh battery doesn’t last as long. It’s beam is narrower and more focused.

The thicker (and slightly shorter at 123 mm long) Lumintop SD26 flashlight does not need to be unscrewed into two pieces in order to be charged and has a longer lasting battery. It’s beam is slightly broader. It also has a cool “SOS” Morse code mode just in case you need to flash a call for help!

If you are a flashlight junkie like Mark — and I was really surprised after writing our Lumintop SD75 review that there are so many like-minded flashlight junkies out there! — then one of these two pocket flashlights might be something to consider for your life in the dark around your RV.

You can buy the flashlights at these links:

Our review of the Lumintop SD75 flashlight is at this link.

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RV Plumbing Tips – Cleaning RV Faucets, Sink Drains & Shower Wands

The effects of hard water on RV sinks, faucets and drains can be an ongoing problem for RVers. This page describes a few tips for how we remove these pesky mineral deposit buildups from our bathroom and kitchen sinks in our fifth wheel trailer and keep the water flowing smoothly in our shower wand and RV toilet rinse sprayer.

RV plumbing tips for cleaning RV faucets and drains and removing mineral deposits

RV plumbing tips for removing mineral deposits and cleaning RV faucets and drains.

We like the water to flow freely in our RV vanity sink faucet, kitchen sink faucet and in the shower and RV toilet sprayer wands, however, periodically these faucets begin to spray water in weird directions because their inner workings have gotten clogged up by mineral deposits from the hard water.

In our bathroom vanity, our first step is to remove and clean the screen filter in the faucet. Sometimes the faucet tip can be unscrewed by hand, but if we’ve let it go too long, we have to use a pair of pliers to break the faucet tip free due to corrosion that makes it impossible to unscrew.

Remove RV faucet screen with pliers

Remove the RV faucet screen (with pliers if it’s stuck!)

Then we unscrew the entire screen assembly from the faucet.

Disassemble RV faucet

The faucet tip unscrews from the faucet.

Dirty RV faucet screen

Ugh… the screen is pretty dirty. No wonder the water comes out funny!

This time the screen was very corroded. We remove the corrosion and mineral buildup by putting all the pieces in a bath of white vinegar for 20-30 minutes or so.

Prior to putting the pieces in the white vinegar bath, it is a good idea to make note of the order that these parts go into the faucet assembly!

Soak RV faucet parts in white vinegar

After noting how the pieces go together, soak them in white vinegar.

After the bath, the bits of corrosion can be seen in the white vinegar!

RV faucet parts get cleaned with white vinegar

Here are all the pieces. You can see the dirt that came off in the vinegar bath!

Using an old toothbrush, we scrub each piece until it is clean.

Use toothbrush to clean RV faucet screen

Use a toothbrush to get the screen totally clean.

RV faucet cleaning with toothbrush and white vinegar

Scrub all the parts with the toothbrush.

Then we reassemble the pieces in the correct order and orientation.

Reassemble RV faucet after cleaning 2

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Reassemble RV faucet after cleaning 1

Reassemble the pieces.

Put RV faucet together after cleaning it 2

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Put RV faucet together after cleaning it

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To make it easier to remove the faucet tip the next time we do this job, it helps to grease the threads with a marine PTEF lubricant prior to screwing the assembly back onto the faucet.

Lubricate RV faucet with PTEF lubricant grease

Lubricating the threads makes it easier to unscrew next time!

Lubricate RV faucet after cleaning

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Reassemble RV faucet

Screw it back into the faucet.

RV faucet cleaned and lubricated

Ta da! Now the flow will be smooth and full.

Our trailer has white plastic sinks in the bathroom and kitchen, and these sinks often develop a skanky brown ring around the sink drain. For years, we relied on Comet to clean these sinks. We sprinkled it on the entire sink, let it sit for a bit, and then scrubbed.

We recently discovered that Baking Soda is just as effective!! The fantastic thing about Baking Soda is that it is non-toxic. This is wonderful not only for our gray water holding tanks but also for the RV dump stations as well as the septic fields and municipal waste water treatment systems that are downstream from them.

It’s also really cheap!

Tips for cleaning an RV sink drain

White plastic RV sinks are prone to getting ugly stains.

Dirty RV sink drain

Yuck!

We simply sprinkle it on the sink and then scrub the sink with a damp Scotch-Brite scrubbing pad.

RV sink drain cleaning with baking soda

Sprinkle the baking soda in the sink and scrub the stains with a damp scrubby pad.

What a great result — a wonderfully squeaky clean sink!

RV sink drain is sparkling clean

Sparkling!

The drain plug also gets gummy, and we use an old toothbrush to scrub it clean with either baking soda and/or Murphy’s Oil Soap (a handy all around biodegradable cleanser).

In an RV that is used for dry camping a lot, like ours, the bathroom vanity sink drain can get really gross really quickly because in an effort to conserve fresh water not much clean water gets flushed down the drain.

This can result in foul odors in the sink drain, and it’s pretty unsightly too.

So, we do two things.

First, we scrub the inside of the bathroom sink drain with an old toothbrush. To get a longer reach down the drain, we taped our toothbrush to an old tent stake we had lying around. Anything long and narrow will work.

Toothbrush and extension rod to clean RV sink drain

Tape an old toothbrush to a long stick to reach deep down the RV sink drain.

Cleaning an RV sink drain

Scrub inside the sink drain.

We also scrub the sink drain plug.

Second, to keep the RV bathroom sink drain fresh smelling, we use Happy Camper Holding Tank Treatment which we’ve found is a particularly good deodorizer. We put scoop of powder in an old water bottle, fill it up with water and shake it well (the bottle gets warm as the enzymes get activated!), and then pour it down the drain.

Most of it goes into the gray water tank, but a small amount stays in the bathroom sink drain p-trap and does its magic there, killing off the offensive odors.

Use toothbrush to scrub RV sink drain plut

Scrub the sink drain plug with a toothbrush.

To keep our RV shower in tip-top shape, we clean the drain there as well. The biggest problem in our RV shower drain isn’t foul odors, because the shower drain gets flushed with lots of water everyday. Instead, the challenge with the RV shower drain is accumulated hair.

In a house, it’s easy enough to use a powerful cleanser like Drano to clean out any clogs caused by hair, but we don’t want strong chemicals like that sitting in our gray wastewater holding tank. Afterall, we want the enzymes and bacteria in the Happy Camper and Unique RV Digest-It holding tank treatment products we use to thrive and go to work breaking things down!

So, we use a long spring hook (and flashlight) to pull the hair out. It just takes a few minutes and then the drain is clear.

Some RV shower stalls may have drain components that can be removed for cleaning. Ours doesn’t.

Cleaning hair from an RV shower drain

Use a spring hook to pull hair out of the RV shower drain.

Periodically, the RV shower wand gets crudded up with mineral deposits just like our RV sink faucets do. Again, we rely on white vinegar to clean up the deposits clogging the spray holes in the shower nozzle.

First, we pour the white vinegar through the shower wand to let it soak from the inside.

Tips for cleaning an RV shower wand

The RV shower wand can be cleaned with white vinegar.

Then we soak the shower wand’s face in a bath of white vinegar.

Tips for cleaning an RV shower wand

Put the RV shower wand face down in a white vinegar bath to clean all the little holes.

If we’ve let a little too much time pass, we’ll also use a toothpick to clean out each hole in the shower head. We use bamboo toothpicks because they hold up well in water. Ordinary wooden toothpicks tend to disintegrate when they get wet. A scribe also works well.

The before-and-after difference in the flow of water through the shower wand is startling. When half of the little holes are blocked from mineral deposits and the other half have an impeded flow, the water can feel like needles on your skin. After cleaning the wand, it is more like a waterfall.

Clean each hole in an RV shower wand with a toothpick or scribe

Use a toothpick or scribe to clean each hole in the shower wand.

Lots of RVers love the Oxygenics RV shower head. We don’t use it because it doesn’t work well with the low water pressure we use to conserve water since we dry camp every night, but for RVers who get water hookups a lot, these shower heads are extremely popular. Of course, in hard water areas, these shower heads will need periodic cleaning as well.

The RV toilet bowl rinsing wand is also subject to corrosion from mineral deposits, and after a while when we go to rinse the toilet bowl we find the water flow from the sprayer is restricted and funky.

RV toilet sprayer wand cleaning

The RV toilet sprayer wand gets clogged with minerals too.

Again, it’s easy to unscrew the end of the toilet spay wand, put it in a white vinegar for 20-30 minutes, scrub it a bit with a toothbrush, and then put it back on the wand.

RV toilet rinse wand cleaning

Unscrew the tip of the toilet rinsing wand and soak it in white vinegar to clean the holes.

As an aside, if you have energy leftover after cleaning all your RV sinks, faucets, drains and spray nozzles, a spray bottle filled with a water and white vinegar mixture is super for washing the windows. As I wrote this, some flies got in our trailer and Mark started spraying them when they landed on the window next to him using a spray bottle filled with water and white vinegar. Besides slowing them down and killing them, he was really impressed with how clean the window was when he finished!

So, these are a few of the things we do to keep our sinks and drains flowing smoothly in our life on the road in our RV.

We hope they help you too!

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B&W Companion Hitch Performance in a Fifth Wheel Trailer Rollover Accident

The April 2017 issue of Trailer Life magazine featured our article on the new Companion OEM fifth wheel hitch from B&W Trailer Hitches. Ironically, just as that issue came out, a reader emailed us the harrowing tale of his recent fifth wheel trailer rollover accident.

Trailer Life Magazine Latch and Release B&W Companion OEM Fifth Wheel Hitch article

Trailer Life Magazine, April 2017.
Text and photos by Emily Fagan.
Installation by Mark Fagan and Mark Graika.

Like most RVers, we installed our hitch without giving much thought to rollover accidents, and we have been very happy with it.

The B&W Companion OEM fifth wheel hitch is special because it is designed to fit into the new puck sytems that the diesel truck manufacturers are now making available in the beds of their pickup trucks.

This makes it easy to install the hitch in the truck without having to take the truck to a shop.

Mark was able to install it in our truck with a friend’s help in about an hour, using minimal tools, and that included opening the boxes and reading the instructions. A step-by-step guide for how to install the B&W Companion OEM hitch are at this link:

B&W Companion OEM Hitch Installation Guide

The other fabulous thing about the B&W Companion OEM hitch is that not only is it easy to install but it is easy to remove from the truck.

Anytime you want to use the bed of your truck to haul something big like lumber, fire wood or furniture, it is a very straight forward process to take the hitch out of the truck.

The best part is that there are no hitch rails in the bed of the truck, so once the hitch is removed, the bed of the truck is totally flat.

These features are not part of the design of conventional fifth wheel hitches, like the conventional rails-based B&W Companion hitch (not an “OEM” model), so it’s a worthwhile to consider buying a truck with the optional puck system on it if you are considering buying a late model diesel truck.

When buying a truck/trailer combination, not only are the quality of the truck and trailer important, but the hitch is really important too, and not just for its ability to tow a heavy load…

We were shocked when full-time RVers Mark and Doran Gipson sent us photos of their terrifying rollover accident with their fifth wheel. They were towing their home, a 2007 32′ Hitchhiker Discover America fifth wheel, with a 2008 Dodge Ram 2500, and they were hitched together with B&W Companion hitch.

While driving at 60 mph on I-10 outside in El Paso in February, two very inconsiderate drivers suddenly cut them off in a series of swerves right in front of them.

Here is Mark’s description of what happened:

“We were going 60 mph and were cut off by two vehicles who decided to not exit on loop 375. They dove back into our lane within 2 car lengths. With no time to brake, I swerved to the inside lane only to have the second vehicle also move into that lane as well. I lost the trailer when I swerved back to miss the concrete median.”

The result was that the trailer went over on the driver’s side at 60 mph, slid 150 feet and hit its roof on the concrete median.

Hitchhiker trailer wheel trailer RV rollover accident

The Hitchhiker fifth wheel hit the pavement at 60 mph and slid 150 feet.
Most trailers would have splintered on impact.

Fortunately, as the trailer went over on its side, the B&W hitch — which comes in two pieces: a base on the bottom and a coupler on the top — separated in two. The coupler stayed attached to the trailer’s king pin as the trailer toppled over while the base stayed in the bed of the truck, allowing the truck to remain upright.

Hitchhiker fifith wheel trailer rollover accident with B&W fifth wheel hitch coupler still attached

The upper half of the fifth wheel hitch — the coupler — remained attached to the trailer
as it rolled over on the driver’s side.

So, while Mark and Doran came to a skidding stop in their truck, sitting upright in their seats, the trailer rolled over, detached and slid to a stop on its side.

Truck damage from fifth wheel trailer rollover accident

As the trailer went over, the fifth wheel overhang crushed the driver’s side of the truck bed.

If the truck had rolled over too, Mark and Doran could have easily been very badly injured or even killed. However, because the truck stayed upright, they walked away unscathed. Thank heavens!!

With the truck badly damaged and the trailer on its side on I-10, Mark called for help and a wrecking crew arrived. As he wrote to me:

“The wrecker driver came with two trucks and a trailer because he had not gotten to a 5th wheel rollover without the truck also on its side and the trailer in pieces. He said that it would collapse when he tried to pick it up. But he put it on its wheels and towed it to his shop and still can’t believe how well built it was.

“Things were tumbled around inside but we virtually lost none of our possessions.”

Fifth wheel trailer damage from RV rollover accident with Hitchhiker 5th wheel trailer

The wrecking crew righted the trailer and were amazed that it stood up just fine on its own wheels.
The damage to the trailer was cosmetic except for a roof rafter.

“We tested the slides and everything worked. The major damage was cosmetic on the side that slid and possibly a broken roof rafter where the AC unit came against the concrete barrier. Though everything was scrambled inside, nothing was broken. We lost almost nothing of our possessions including TV and computers.”

My husband Mark and I saw a trailer accident on the highway once, and the entire trailer was in splinters. That is what usually happens in trailer accidents and that’s why the wrecker driver arrived at the accident scene prepared to pick up a million pieces off the highway.

Hitchhiker fifth wheel trailer sustained little damage in 5th wheel trailer rollover accident

The wrecking crew expected the trailer to fall apart when it was righted, but it stood right up.
They towed it away on its own wheels just fine.

It is quite a testament to the way the Hitchhiker Discover America trailers were built that one could fall over on its side at 60 mph and still be intact with the slide-out mechanisms still functioning and only cosmetic damage on the side that skidded on the asphalt.

Unfortunately, Hitchhiker (NuWa Industries) stopped building fifth wheel trailers in 2013, but used models of all ages can still be found. Our blog posts from our visits to NuWa in Chanute, Kansas, can be found at the following links:

B&W Trailer Hitches is located just a few miles away from the NuWa plant (NuWa is now called Kansas RV Center) in Humboldt, Kansas, and we enjoyed a wonderful factory tour and a unique American heartland small town celebration that was sponsored in part by B&W Trailer Hitches two years ago (blog post here).

For Mark and Doran, the key to their truck staying upright during their rollover accident was the way the pivot arm on the base of the B&W Companion hitch bent sideways and let the coupler break free as the trailer toppled over.

Bent pivot arm on B&W fifth wheel hitch after 5th wheel trailer rollover accident

Looking forward towards the cab of the truck, the pivot arm on the driver’s side bent outwards allowing the coupler to break free (with some small broken parts inside) while the entire hitch base stayed planted in the bed of the truck. This kept the truck upright.

B&W fifth wheel hitch bent pivot arm after 5th wheel trailer rollover accident

Bent pivot arm on the fifth wheel hitch base.

It is impressive that the B&W hitch allowed for the hitch coupler and hitch base to separate completely once one of the pivot arms on the hitch base began to bend as the trailer went over. As the wrecker driver noted, usually both the truck and the trailer roll over together because once the trailer starts to go over the hitch forces the truck over too.

B&W Fifth wheel hitch coupler after trailer rollover accident

The coupler stayed attached to the trailer’s king pin.
In this photo it has been removed from the king pin and laid in the bed of the truck for inspection.

B&W Companion hitch coupler after rollover accident broken pieces inside

The coupler is flipped upside down here to reveal the broken pieces inside.

Broken pieces inside the B&W Companion fifth wheel hitch after a rollover accident

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In the end, Mark and Doran decided to replace both their truck (a 2008 Dodge Ram 2500) and their trailer (a 2007 32′ Hitchhiker Discover America) as well as their slightly damaged B&W Companion hitch with a new set: a 2012 3500 Ram dually truck, 2012 36′ Hitchhiker Discover America and a new B&W Companion hitch!

We feel very blessed to have towed our fifth wheel trailer so many tens of thousands of miles and seen so many beautiful places in nearly 10 years of full-time travel. We’ve had our share of near misses, especially in our trip back east two years ago where traffic is blindingly fast on very crowded and confusing highways, and we’ve seen our share of accidents too.

One RV upgrade we did that has made a massive difference for us in dealing with sudden stops at high speed while towing our 36′ 14k lb. fifth wheel trailer was a trailer disc brake conversion where we upgraded from standard trailer drum brakes to electric over hydraulic disc brakes. This is a pricey upgrade, but one we highly recommend doing.

Hitchhiker fifth wheel RV with B&W Companion OEM fifth wheel hitch under sunny skies

RVing in a fifth wheel trailer is so much fun, especially in gorgeous places far from the open road.
But accidents do happen and good equipment — from truck to trailer, hitch and brakes — can make a huge difference in the outcome when things go wrong.

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Dodge Ram Truck Owners — Please note:
Late model Dodge Ram 1500, 2500 and 3500 trucks have been recalled (beginning 6/23/17) for side airbag problems in a rollover accident. See this article for details: Dodge Ram Side Airbag Recall

More about B&W Trailer Hitches:

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Is RV Solar Affordable? 3 Solar Solutions for RVs and Boats

Is RV solar power affordable or is installing a solar power system on a motorhome or trailer — or even on a sailboat — just too darn expensive to be cost effective? We never thought this question would be hard to answer until recently.

Solar panels on a fifth wheel trailer

Can a solar power installation on an RV or sailboat pay for itself?

Ever since we installed our first (very small) solar power system on our first full-time RV nearly ten years ago, we’ve been excitedly telling people it is a very affordable do-it-yourself project for anyone with some mechanical and electrical knowledge. And for those who can’t turn a wrench, it shouldn’t be that much more.

Our first 130 watt solar power system cost us about twice as much as the same system would today, but even at that high price, we felt it was dollar-for-dollar an equal value to buying a Yamaha or Honda 1000 generator. Best of all, once a little system like that was installed, it was a whole lot less noisy, expensive to operate and complicated to use than a generator would be.

At today’s super cheap solar prices, that little solar power system is even more valuable compared to one of those nice Japanese portable gas generators than it was 10 years ago!

Installing solar panels on a motorhome RV

Installing solar power can be a DIY project if you’re handy.

Recently, however, we’ve heard some crazy prices being quoted for installing solar power systems on RVs. We met one couple with a gorgeous brand new DRV Suites fifth wheel who were quoted $13,000 for a solar power installation. Not long after that, we read an article in a popular RV magazine describing a $12,000 solar power installation on a fifth wheel.

Yikes!! These are outrageous prices!!

We sure hope no one is finding they have to spend that kind of crazy money to get a solar power system installed on their trailer or motorhome or sailboat.

We’ve got oodles of articles on this website that go into the nitty gritty details of things to consider when designing and installing a solar power system on an RV or a boat (located HERE). However, all that theory aside, it’s not all that complicated.

Here are three solar power “packages” — with approximate prices — that will do the trick whether you’re a part-timer or full-time RVer.

Although it is possible to buy “pre-packaged RV solar power kits” online, we suggest hand selecting the components you want so that just in case any individual item has a problem it can be returned easily.

We’ve heard of cases where people bought a pre-packaged solar power kit online and then had problems returning a broken part because they had to return the entire kit — solar panels, charge controller, cables and all — just because the one item wasn’t working right.

 

SMALL RV SOLAR POWER KIT – 150 WATT SYSTEM

Affordable solar panel with a popup tent trailer

For part-time RVers, installing solar on the roof isn’t a requirement.

The following is essentially what we put on our roof and what we camped with off the grid every night for a year when we started.

The brands are not exactly the same, but these components are highly rated and will do the trick for anyone that wants a roof-mounted solar power system on their motorhome or trailer.

This kit includes both a solar battery charging component and an 110 volt AC power component provided by an inverter. If you don’t understand the distinction, please see our post: RV Solar Power Made Simple.

The simplest inverter installation is to connect the inverter to the batteries using heavy duty cables and then to run an ordinary (but long) power strip (or two) from the inverter to somewhere convenient inside the rig.

Rather than using the wall outlets in the rig, just plug the AC appliances into the power strip as needed, taking care not to operate too many things at once and overload the inverter.

Prices always change, so check the links to see the current prices.

The nice thing about this kit is that it is easily expandable. If a second or third solar panel is eventually desired (to double or triple the size of the system to 300 or 450 watts, for another $200 or $400), those panels can be purchased at a later date. At that point the solar charge controller can also be replaced with a bigger and more sophisticated charge controller (for $600).

 

PORTABLE FOLDING SOLAR POWER KIT SUITCASE – 200 WATT SYSTEM

Portable folding solar panel suitcase for RV and motorhome use

A portable solar power kit that folds up and can be carried like a suitcase is an awesome solution for weekenders, vacationers and seasonal RVers.

A really nifty alternative for anyone that isn’t super skilled with tools or that’s a bit spooked by electrical things, is a portable solar power kit that folds into a suitcase. These come with two matching solar panels, battery cables with aligator clips, and a panel-mounted solar charge controller. The solar panels are hinged together and can be folded towards each other. A handle on the side of one of them makes the whole thing easy to carry and store like a suitcase.

These portable folding suitcase solar panel kits come in all sizes. A good size is anywhere from 120 to 200 watts:

The advantage of a portable suitcase solar kit like this is that it is self-contained. If you think you might upgrade to a different RV soon, then there’s no loss in investment when one RV is sold and another is purchased. Also, if you decide to install a roof-mounted system at a later date, the suitcase solar panel kit can be sold to another RVer.

Another suitcase solar kit that includes a small charge controller to protect the batteries is Go Power’s 120 watt kit ($565).

As for the inverter, heavy duty cables and power strip, they are included here just to round out the package so you have AC power in the rig as well as the ability to charge the batteries just like the “small solar power kit” described above.

 

Affordable solar power on a motorhome

Installing solar panels on tilting brackets is popular, but only necessary in mid-winter. We’ve never done it.

With a big RV solar power installation, it is likely that the RV’s house battery bank will need to be upgraded or replaced too, so this package includes a “replacement” AGM battery bank.

The Magnum inverter is an inverter/charger that has a built in transfer switch, making it very straight forward to wire the inverter into the house AC wiring system so you can use the standard wall outlets in the rig rather than plugging things into a power strip.

We’ve been living exclusively on solar power since we started this crazy traveling lifestyle in 2007, and this system is larger than any system we’ve ever had on a boat or trailer. So it ought to work just fine for anyone who wants to RV full-time and do a lot of boondocking.

 

INSTALLATION COSTS

If you are not a DIY RVer, you’ll need to budget for the installation labor too. As a very rough estimate, I would allow for $500-$1,000 for a small system installation and $1,500-$2,500 for a big system installation. The variations in labor costs will depend on how difficult it is to work in your rig, how hard it is to mount the various components and run the wires from roof to basement, and whether or not you choose to have the batteries upgraded or replaced.

 

RETURN ON INVESTMENT

RV park and campground prices are all over the map, but assuming that the average cost is $25 per night for a site with hookups if you don’t take advantage of monthly discounts or $15 per night if you do, these systems can pay for themselves in anywhere from 18 camping days to 14 months, depending on what size system you buy, whether or not you do the installation yourself, and how you typically camp. Of course, this assumes the rig is equipped with a refrigerator that can run on propane and that if air conditioning is needed an alternative power source like a generator is used.

As with everything in the RVing world, starting small and cheap is the best way to go.

 

COMPLEX SOLAR POWER INSTALLATIONS

Solar panel arch with solar panels on sailboat transom

Installing solar power on a sailboat has its own set of challenges.

We have installed three different RV solar power systems and one solar power system on a sailboat.

We published an article in the February 2017 issue of Cruising World Magazine (one of the top magazines in the sailing industry) describing the solar power system we installed on our sailboat Groovy back in 2010. This system gave us all the power we needed to “anchor out” in bays and coves away from electrical hookups in marinas for 750 nights during our cruise of Mexico.

Cruising World has posted the article online here:

Sunny Disposition – Adding Solar Power – Cruising World Magazine, February, 2017

Installing solar power on a sailboat is very similar to installing it in an RV, but there is an added complexity because there isn’t a big flat roof to lay the panels on. Instead, we had to construct a stainless steel arch to support the panels. Fortunately, our boat, a 2008 Hunter 44DS, had a factory installed stainless steel arch over the cockpit already. So, we hired a brilliant Mexican metal fabricator named Alejandro Ulloa, to create our solar panel arch in Ensenada, Mexico.

Solar power installation on sailboat Hunter 44

We turned to Alejandro Ulloa of Ensenada, Mexico, for our solar panel arch
He can be contracted the Baja Naval.

Solar panel arch installation on Hunter 44 sailboat

Alejandro is an artist. He wrapped the arch in plastic to prevent scratches until it was permanently mounted on our boat!

Solar panel arch on sailboat Hunter 44

The arch went back to Alejandro’s workshop for tweaking after this measuring session.

Solar panel arch on sailboat Hunter 44 installed by Alejandro Ulloa

Dimensions now perfect, Alejandro mounts the arch permanently.

Getting the 185 watt 24 volt solar panels up onto the arch was a challenge. Getting solar panels up onto an RV roof is tricky too!

Affordable marine Solar panel installation on sailboat Hunter 44

Getting the solar panels onto the roof of an RV or up onto this arch takes two people (at least!)

Installing solar panels on an arch on sailboat (Hunter 44) with Alejandro Ulloa Baja Naval Ensenada Mexico

The second of the three panels gets installed.

The solar panel arch was going to double as a “dinghy davit” system with telescoping rods that extended out over the transom. These davits supported a pulley system to hoist the dinghy up out of the water. So once the solar panels were mounted on the arch, we had to be sure it could handle the weight of the dinghy.

Our dinghy weighed a lot less than the combined weight of Mark and Alejandro!

Strong solar panel arch and dinghy davit extension

Alejandro and Mark test the arch to be sure it can support the dinghy (which weighed half what they do).

The solar panels were wired in parallel because they would be subjected to shade constantly shifting on and off the panels at certain times of the day as the boat swung at anchor.

Wiring solar panels on a sailboat (Hunter 44) marine solar power installation

Mark wires up the panels in parallel.

Affordable solar panel installation on a sailboat

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Solar panel arch with dinghy davit extension supporting affordable solar power on sailboat

A beautiful, clean installation with wire loom covering the exposed cabling and the rest snaked down inside the tubes of the Hunter arch. The davit extensions for hoisting the dinghy are clearly visible under the panels.

Solar panels installed on arch on Hunter 44 sailboat

Nice!

Down below the cockpit inside a huge locker in the transom, Mark mounted a combiner box that brought three cables in from the three panels and then sent out one cable to the solar charge controller.

Emily and Mark Fagan aboard sailboat Groovy

The transom locker in our Hunter 44DS sailboat was very large!

Combiner box for solar panel parallel wiring on a sailboat

A combiner box brings the wires from the three panels together before a single run goes to the solar charge controller (this is optional and not at all necessary).

The solar charge controller was installed in the cabin inside a hanging locker in the master stateroom.

Xantrex solar charge controller installed in sailboat locker

We have an Outback FlexMax charge controller on our trailer but chose a Xantrex controller for our boat because there were no moving parts. We compare the two HERE.

The solar charge controller was located about 8 feet from the near end of the battery bank which spanned a ~14 foot distance under the floorboards in the bilge.

Two 4D AGM batteries in bilge of sailboat

We had four 160 amp-hour 4D AGM batteries for the house bank and a Group 27 AGM start battery installed under the floorboards in the bilge.
One 4D house battery and the Group 27 start battery are seen here

This 555 watt solar power system, which charged a 640 amp-hour house bank of 4D AGM batteries, supplied all of our electrical needs, including powering our under-counter electric refrigerator.

Usually our engine alternator provided backup battery charging whenever we ran the engine. However, at one point our alternator died, and we were without it for 10 straight weeks while we waited for a replacement alternator.

Why such a long wait for a simple replacement part? Getting boat parts in Mexico requires either paying exorbitant shipping fees and import taxes or waiting for a friend to bring the part with them in their backpack when they fly from the US to Mexico.

During that long wait our solar power system supplied all our electricity without a backup while we were anchored in a beautiful bay. Diesel engines don’t require an alternator to run, so we moved the boat around and went sailing etc., and lived our normal lives during our wait.

Solar panel arch and dinghy davit extension with solar panels installed on sailboat

View from the water — cool!

The dinghy davit extensions on the solar panel arch made it easy to raise and lower the dinghy from the water and also to raise and lower the 6 horsepower outboard engine.

Solar panel arch and dinghy davit extension on sailboat

A pulley system on the davit extensions made hoisting the outboard and dinghy a cinch for either of us to do singlehandedly.

Solar panel arch and solar panels on sailboat transom

For 7 months we left our boat at the dock in Chiapas, unplugged from shorepower, and let the solar panels keep the batteries topped off. Everyday during that time they put 19 amp-hours into the batteries which was essentially the power required to operate the solar charge controller!

At anchor, sometimes the solar panels were in full sun all day long if the current and wind and the pattern of the sun crossing the sky allowed the boat to move around without the sun coming forward of the beam of the boat.

However, whenever the sun was forward of the beam, the shadow of the mast and the radome fell on the panels. We could watch the current production from the panels go from full on, to two-thirds, to one-third and back again as the shadow crossed one panel and then two at once, and then one and then none, etc, as the boat swung back and forth at anchor.

Mast and radome cast shade on solar panels on sailboat

RV solar installations have to avoid shade from air conditions and open vent hatches.
On boats the shade from the mast and radome is often unavoidable.

Mast and radome cast shade on pair of sailboat solar panels

When the shadow fell across two 185 watt panels at once, it knocked both of them out of the system so only one of the three solar panels was actually producing power.

The coolest and most unexpected benefit of having our solar panels mounted on an arch over the cockpit was the shade that they provided. The sun in Mexico is very intense, especially out on the water, and it was wonderful to have two huge forward facing jump seats at the back of the cockpit that fully shade as we sailed!

Under the shade of solar panels and a solar panel arch on a sailboat

Made in the shade — What a life that was!!

We have more solar power related articles at these links:

SOLAR POWER OVERVIEW and TUTORIAL

BATTERIES and BATTERY CHARGING SYSTEMS

LIVING ON 12 VOLTS

Our technical articles in Cruising World magazine can be found here:

Do We Miss Our Boat “Groovy” and Sailing?

We describe our thrilling — and heart wrenching — first and last days on our wonderful sailboat in the following posts. It is very true that the happiest days of a boater’s life are the day the boat is bought and the day it’s sold!

Our most recent posts:

More of our Latest Posts are in the MENU.
New to this site? Visit RVers Start Here to find where we keep all the good stuff!!

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Spring in Sarasota FL + Bryce Canyon’s Night Skies – in Trailer Life

We are very proud to announce that the March 2017 issue of Trailer Life Magazine features our article about beautiful Sarasota, Florida, plus a back page column about hiking Bryce Canyon National Park under the stars.

Sarasota's Three-Ring Circus Trailer Life Magazine

Trailer Life Magazine, March 2017
Text by Emily Fagan, Photos by Emily & Mark Fagan

Sarasota, Florida, is a fabulous place to visit in April, and we enjoyed five wonderful weeks there. For RVers that are heading north these days from the hotter parts of southern Florida, a stopover in Sarasota is a true delight.

Venice Beach Sarasota Florida

Venice Beach just south of Sarasota, Florida.

We have been fortunate to visit tropical beaches all over the world, most recently in Thailand but also in many parts of southern Mexico, Hawaii and the Caribbean. Frankly, not one of them has sand that is quite as pure white and fluffy soft as Siesta Beach in Sarasota. It is the texture of confectioner’s sugar! And the turquoise water is ever so inviting too.

Siesta Beach Sarasota Florida

Siesta Beach — Where the sand is like confectioner’s sugar!

But what surprised us was the many other things Sarasota has to offer. A century ago it was just a small fishing village, but the Ringling Brothers decided to settle in the town and make it the home base for their circus, and that changed it forever.

The Ringling mansion Sarasota Florida

The Ringling – Former home of the founders of the circus

Now, The Ringling is a fabulous museum that offers so much for tourists to see that you can get a three day pass — and you need it if you want to see it all.

Ringling Mansion Ca-Dzan Sarasota Florida copy

Ornamentation galore!

The Ringling estate’s mansion is a phenomenal building that is loaded with decorative arches, fanciful cornices, and an altogether fairy tale type of air.

Tourists at The Ringling mansion Sarasota Florida

The Ringling is a “do not miss” Sarasota excursion!

Out front there is a fabulous and enormous rock tile deck that looks out on Sarasota Bay. Standing there I tried to imagine what it was like back in the day when John and Mabel Ringling held parties there. Oh my!

Tile deck at The Ringling mansion Sarasota Florida

Even the deck is absolutely stunning, with inlaid colorful stone tiles.

The Ringling also has a museum that houses the stunning collection of European art that John Ringling collected. Mondays are “free admission day,” and when we got inside we were blown away by this immense art collection.

The Ringling Art Museum Sarasota Florida

The Ringling art museum is free on Mondays and is home to a stunning collection of European masters.

Out back there is a rose garden that was the pride and joy of Mabel Ringling as well as a gargantuan banyan tree.

Banyan tree The Ringling gardens Sarasota Florida

Out back we found a massive banyan tree shading a very cool bar!

Sarasota is one place where it would take a whole season of outings to run out of things to do. One excursion we really enjoyed was going to Jungle Gardens.

This is a zoo of sorts whose welcoming committee is a flock of pink flamingos who go out of their way to say, “Hello!”

Flamingo and photographer Jungle Gardens Sarasota Florida

At Jungle Gardens they hire pink flamingos to be the greeters!

They are extremely friendly birds, and even though they had plenty of natural spaces to stand around and do their flamingo thing in the water and under the tropical trees, one flamingo took a particular liking to Mark and rubbed his beak all over him!

Flamingo Jungle Gardens Sarasota Florida

True love… for the flamingo at least!

Jungle Gardens also has a wonderful bird show, and we were delighted by the antics of the various parrots. One parrot, a 79 year old cockatoo named Snowflake, was a seasoned professional when it came to performing. He was so old that he had appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show before I was born!

He can still do great tricks, though, and we watched him ride a bike on a tightrope while a buddy macaw perched on a swing and went for a free ride below him.

Snowflake rides a unicycle with Andy riding underneath copy

Snowflake’s still got it at 79 years old!

There are lots of parks in the Sarasota area, and we got a huge kick out of watching native birds fishing, swimming and flying by us in some of these parks.

Great Blue Heron Sarasota Florida

The native wild birds are a sight to behold in many parks around town.

Sandhill cranes like Sarasota as much as people do, and to our utter delight and complete surprise, a pair of sandhill cranes had a nest with two eggs near a pond at a strip mall.

Sandhill crane with chick in nest Sarasota Florida

A sandhilll crane mom checks on her brand new chick.

On the day that they were due to hatch a large group of fascinated birders and photographers gathered near the nest and began to watch the arrival of the baby chicks through huge telephoto lenses and binoculars.

Sandhill chick and egg in nest Sarasota Florida

“Yawn…It was a lot of work getting out of that egg!”

This little guy was absolutely adorable.

Sandhill crane with chick in nest Sarasota Florida

“Oopsie!”

And the first little one was soon joined by its sibling while the parents pushed the egg shells aside.

Two sandhill cranes in nest Sarasota Florida

“Are you my brother?!”

Sarasota has lots of quirky charm, and there is a mascot that adorns many homes and businesses around town. Nicknamed the Tube Dude, this guy can be seen holding a toothbrush in front of the dentist’s office, wearing a baker’s hat in front of the bakery and sitting in a Kayak at the local surf and kayak shop. What fun!

The Tube Dude in Sarasota Florida

The Tube Dude at a coffee shop with a water bowl for his dog.

Trailer Life has posted our article on their website and you can read it here:

Sarasota’s Three-Ring Circus – Trailer Life Magazine, March 2017

Flipping to the back of the March issue, there is a photo of a wonderfully starry night taken from the Mossy Cove trail at Bryce Canyon National Park. We spent quite a bit of time at Bryce Canyon last summer, which gave us a chance to get out on the trails in the dark several times.

Stars over Fairytale Canyon Bryce Canyon National Park

Hiking Bryce Canyon under the stars is very rewarding.

It is a little eerie hiking in the pitch dark with a flashlight, but we managed not to fall over the edge and we saw some really cool skies.

Fairy Tale Canyon Bryce Canyon National Park Night Stars

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Bryce Canyon doesn’t have super dark skies, so there is always a big of a glow on the horizon from nearby towns, but even so, the stars jumped out of the heavens.

Fairy Tale Hike Bryce Canyon National Park Night Stars

We ventured out into Fairytale Canyon

We were there fairly late in the season, in September, so catching the Milky Way was a little tricky as we had to get out into Bryce Canyon’s amphitheater of hoodoos in order to look back up towards the rim to see it. But we caught it sailing across the sky on several occaisions between 3:00 and 5:30 in the morning.

Milky Way Bryce Canyon National Park Fairytale Canyon

The Milky Way is easiest to see in late spring and early summer.

Milky Way and tree silhouette Bryce Canyon National Park

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Milky Way Bryce Canyon National Park

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Of course, we stayed out so long on these crazy midnight hikes that by the time we got back to our trailer the morning sky was just beginning to lighten into rich shades of blue. And sure enough, there was the Orion constellation hanging over our rig!

Orion constellation over RV Utah

Orion sails high above our trailer.

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It’s not expensive, and what I like is that it is professionally edited by terrific editors and it is professionally laid out by a graphic artist which gives it a polish in the print edition that just doesn’t exist online, whether on magazine websites or on folksy blogs like this one.

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Interested in visiting Sarasota? Here are our blog posts from our stay there:

More Blog Posts from Florida

Curious about Bryce Canyon and/or Hiking Under the Stars? Check out these posts:

Night Skies in Waterton Lakes + All Night Timelapse of the Milky Way07/31/16

    A Few of the Other Articles We’ve Published in Trailer Life:

    Trailer Life Articles by Emily & Mark Fagan

    Our most recent posts:

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    What’s A Girl To Do at the RV Dump Station?

    Dumping the RV holding tanks is a nasty little job, but it’s part of the fun of traveling around in an RV, and we’ve all gotta do it. It’s really not all that bad when it’s a shared job, but of course that’s easy for us gals to say, because it’s usually our male partners-in-love-and-life who get to do the bulk of the dirty work.

    RV dump station tips for women RVers-2

    Despite lots of progress over the years for the types of work women can do, emptying an RV’s waste water holding tanks is a job many women are just as happy to leave to their better half.

    Sometimes, when we go to an RV dump station, I am amazed to see a woman remain in the passenger’s seat of her truck or motorhome for the whole duration of the job. I’m not sure how these women have negotiated that arrangement with their significant other, but I figure they must be incredibly good cooks to be able to chat with a friend on the phone or check the latest on Facebook while their hubby is grinding it out with the sewer hose, the splashing water, and all that muck and mire.

    RV dump station tips for RVing women

    Mark looks like he’s having so much fun. Can I get away with doing nothing?

    I wish my skills were so awesome in the kitchen that I could be exempt from doing anything at the RV dump station. But alas, in our marriage, I need to be a participant in this dirtiest of deeds to win brownie points for other aspects of our life together. Nonetheless, it took me a few years to find things to do while we were at the RV dump station that were truly useful and helpful.

    We have a full set of “blue” RV dump station procedural tips below — but they don’t say much about the “pink” side of the job:

    Dirty Little Secrets from the RV dump station

    Too often at the beginning of our RVing lives I found my best efforts to help with setting up the RV sewer hose or screwing in the water hose ended up with me underfoot and in the way of the general flow of things. Mark had his methods, and I couldn’t read his mind as to what came next.

    Few people are in truly sunny and radiant moods when they don their rubber gloves at the RV dump, and too often I found that my most valiant attempts to be helpful resulted in tensions rising between us.

    RV dump station tips for women RVers

    I think he’s trying to tell me something.

    Then one day I discovered a way that I can be of significant help and get some important jobs done at the same time.

    GIVE THE BLACK TANK A BOOST FLUSH

    For starters, I fill two 5-gallon water buckets with water and carry them into the rig to dump them down the toilet after the black tank has been emptied. Even if an RV has a black water flush system like ours does, it is still surprising just how many little bits of gunk and human waste solids get flushed out when two 5-gallon buckets of water are poured down the toilet.

    I fill the buckets while Mark gets the sewer hose out and attaches the clear elbow so he can see when the holding tanks are fully drained. Then I can scoot out of the way and carry the buckets around to our RV’s door before he begins attaching the black water flush hose between the rig and the water spigot. This way we don’t end up stepping on each when we first start working at the RV dump station.

    RV dump station tips flushing black tank with buckets of water in toilet

    We have two buckets and I fill each one with water to give the toilet and sewer pipes an extra flush.

    The buckets are heavy to carry around to our trailer’s front door, but I don’t mind a little bit of a shoulder and arm workout, and I take them one at a time. Maneuvering a heavy bucket of water up stairs is excellent exercise for both balance and strength.

    I grab the inside of the doorway with my left hand for extra balance, tighten my abs so I don’t throw my back out with the uneven weight distribution of carrying a heavy bucket, and I leverage myself up and set the pails down inside in the kitchen.

    RV dump station tip flush black tank with buckets of water in toilet

    The buckets are heavy, but I take my time and grab the door frame to keep my balance as I go up the stairs.

    For those who can’t carry the buckets, your partner will likely be happy to carry them for you since this really helps ensure the black tank and toilet get a complete flush. Also, filling the buckets only half way or three quarters of the way can help not only lighten the load but keep the water from splashing all over the place and all over you.

    CLEAN THE BATHROOM

    The other task I tackle is cleaning the toilet room from top to bottom and cleaning the bathroom vanity and kitchen sink. I figure that if my sweet hubby is dealing with the darker side of RVing outside at the RV dump station, I can deal with the same stuff on the inside..

    This insures the bathroom gets cleaned on a regular basis and also means that when we arrive at our next campsite not only are the holding tanks empty but our bathroom is sparkling clean and smells fresh.

    So, once I get the water buckets inside the rig, I begin assembling the things I will need to clean the toilet and the bathroom. When I hear Mark’s knock on the wall, I know he has finished emptying the black tank and it is time to dump the buckets of water down the toilet.

    RV dump station tips flush black tank

    I pour one bucket at a time and Mark watches the flow in the sewer hose to make sure the water eventually runs clear.

    Since the buckets are just inside the RV door, it takes me a minute to grab one and empty it. Then it takes a few minutes more to go grab the other one and empty it too. Having a few minutes between flushes is helpful because then Mark can monitor whether the water from the second bucket is running clear or is still flushing solids out. If there are still chunks coming out, then, depending on whether anyone is waiting to use the RV dump after us, I’ll fill another bucket or two with water and dump them down the toilet.

    Sometimes I have the water pump turned on as I dump the buckets of water down the toilet and sometimes it’s turned off. Having it turned on means even more water flushes down, which is great, but it also uses up water from the fresh water tank. So, whether or not I have the water pump turned on depends on whether there are people waiting behind us at the dump station, as it will take a little longer for us to fill the fresh water tank if we flush a few extra gallons down the toilet as part of the dumping process.

    Now that the black tank is completely flushed, Mark begins emptying our kitchen gray tank. We have two gray tanks, one for the kitchen and one for the shower. We empty the kitchen tank first because it is dirtier and has more things in it (like broccoli bits) than the shower gray tank which is just sudsy water.

    While he works on emptying the two gray tanks, I get to work cleaning the toilet.

    RV dump station tip woman cleans toilet and bathroom

    If Mark is mucking around in gross stuff outside, the least I can do is muck around in gross stuff inside. This also gives us a clean bathroom when we set up camp.

    Since we have a hatch in the toilet room that we leave open a lot, the toilet lid and the floor often get dusty in just a few days. So I remove everything from the toilet room and clean everything, including the floor.

    Over the years we’ve found that the toilet bowl — more so than the black tank itself — can be a big source of foul odors. Unlike household toilets, RV toilet bowls are basically dry except during flushing, so urine can end up drying in the bowl and producing an odor.

    Also, the flow of the flushing water doesn’t necessarily rinse every inch of the bowl, so some areas simply don’t get rinsed all that well, even when using the toilet’s spray nozzle. So, I go to town on the inside of the bowl as well as everything else.

    We use two enzyme/bacteria based RV holding tank treatment products: Happy Campers RV holding tank treatment has worked best for us in extreme temperatures (very cold and very hot) and for controlling tank odors. RV Digest-It holding tank treatment has worked best for us in moderate temperatures to break down the solids in the tank.

    Because these are both basically solutions of living critters, the toilet cleaning products we use can’t be too toxic or the colonies of feces-eating bacteria can’t get established and become self-perpetuating. I’ve been using Murphy’s Oil Soap for the last few years with good results.

    This is the soap that is recommended for cleaning the rubber roofs on the tops of RV’s, which is why we had it on hand to try on the toilet a few years ago. In addition to being biodegradable, what we like about it for cleaning the toilet is that it assists in keeping both the seals in the toilet bowl and on the black holding tank valve lubricated. I used white vinegar for cleaning the toilet for a while, and after a few months the black tank valve got really sticky. Since switching to Murphy’s Oil Soap a few years ago, that valve hasn’t gotten gummed up.

    Periodically, we’ve found the seals in the toilet bowl have stopped holding water which meant the bowl drained completely dry between flushes. This allowed foul odors to come up from the black water tank. This problem is usually due to mineral and gunk build-ups on the seal.

    So, I give that seal a really good cleaning too. The critical areas are on both the top and bottom surfaces of the rubber seal, that is, between the seal and the toilet bowl (the top side) and underneath the seal where the dome flapper (the “waste ball”) closes up against it.

    RV toilet assembly and flapper valve installation

    A disassembled RV toilet shows what the rubber toilet seal looks like without the toilet bowl sitting on it. To prevent it from leaking and draining the toilet between flushes, I scrub both top and bottom of the rubber seal.

    I make sure the water pump is off at this point and hold the toilet flush lever down so I can get at the underside of the seal.

    Often, the build-up is due to having hard water in the fresh water tanks which is very common in Arizona and other western states where the fresh water comes from deep, mineral rich aquifers.

    RV toilet flapper cleaning tips

    The seal needs to be completely free of mineral deposits on both the top and bottom, so I clean the area between the seal and the bowl on the top (red arrow) and below the seal on the bottom (the backside of the seal in this view).

    At this point, depending on what Mark is up to outside, I’ll move on to other cleaning projects. If we have nearly emptied our fresh water tanks prior to coming to the RV dump station, it may take 10 minutes to refill them. Also, sometimes the potable water spigot is a little ways beyond the waste water dump area, requiring Mark to move the whole rig a few feet forward.

    So, if there is time, I will clean the bathroom vanity sink and then move on to the kitchen sink. Depending on our plans for the next few days and depending on how much time I have at the RV dump, I may also add the holding tank treatment to the black tank, via the toilet, and add it to the gray tanks via the bathroom sink, shower and kitchen sink.

    Sometimes, however, I prefer to wait two or three days until those tanks have some liquids in them before adding the holding tank treatment. And sometimes I add just a half tank’s worth of holding tank treatment at the RV dump station and then add the other half a few days later once the holding tanks have become partially full.

    Of course, we add a capful of bleach to our fresh water tanks every few months, and that totally obliterates any colonies of anything that have started to grow in any of the holding tanks (including the fresh water tank) as the bleach water works its way through our plumbing system from the fresh water tank to the gray and black waste water tanks.

    So, for us, creating fully self-sustaining communities of healthy organisms in any waste water tank is not 100% doable. But by using non-toxic cleansers we can help them along in between bleach blasts.

    So, all in all, there is a LOT a girl can do at the RV dump station. We find we are both much happier about the whole process when we each have a set of tasks to do when we get there that are not only similarly grungy but are equally important and that take place in different parts of the RV.

    The best part is that when we leave the RV dump station to go set up camp in a new, beautiful location, not only do we have empty waste water tanks but our bathroom is clean and fresh too.

    Happy cleaning!!

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    Goodies I use for my jobs at the RV Dump Station:

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