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

May 22, 2017

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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An Overview of Our First 10 Years of Full-time Travel + Reflections after 9 Years!

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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

.

Reassemble RV faucet after cleaning 1

Reassemble the pieces.

Put RV faucet together after cleaning it 2

.

Put RV faucet together after cleaning it

.

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

.

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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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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2016 – A Year of RV Travels in the National Parks

When 2016 burst upon us last year, our only goal for the year was to take our RV to the Canadian Rockies. As it turned out, on the way there and again on the way back, our year of full-time RV travels took us to a slew of National Parks.

Lake Louise in Banff National Park Alberta Canada

Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

By mid-year, we had visited so many that we gathered all of our National Parks adventures from our nearly 10 years of travels onto one page:

National Parks and UNESCO World Heritage Sites Travel Adventures

We always keep a list of our most recent posts at this link (under “Latest” in the menu bar). But we also wanted to share our yearlong journey from 2016 on one page for RVers and other travelers who would like to follow in our path.

Arches National Park Utah

Arches National Park, Utah

Living as we do is a dream come true for us, and we began the year with some reflections on what it takes to live the dream. We were in Phoenix, Arizona, to ring in the new year where we enjoyed some wonderful encounters with wild (feral) parrots that take up residence in the saguaro cacti.

Peach faced lovebird parrot saguaro cactus Scottsdale Arizona

A peach faced lovebird perches on a saguaro cactus in Phoenix, Arizona.

From Phoenix we made our way to Quartzsite, Arizona, the RV gathering place.

Quartzsite Arizona RV boondocking in the desert

Quartzsite, Arizona, is the RV Gathering Place each winter

The Quartzsite RV Show was in full swing in this crazy truck stop town where the name of the game is “Anything Goes.”

Quartzsite Desert RV Boondockging AZ

Sunrise in the Arizona desert in Quartzsite

From Quartzsite we headed east to Tucson, Arizona, where the historic part of town is filled with wonderful old adobe doorways.

Adobe door in Historic Tucson district Arizona

Historic Old Town Tucson in Arizona

We visited the beautiful Xavier Mission in Tucson which evokes the days of the Spanish explorers.

Front San Xavier del Bac Mission Tucson Arizona

San Xavier Mission, Tucson, Arizona.

We found even more ancient history among Saguaro National Park’s ancient Indian petroglyphs. This was our first National Park visit of the year, and we discovered wonderful native Arizona animals in their habitats at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum there as well.

Arizona Sonoran Desert Musuem Tucson Mountain Lion

A mountain lion at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson, Arizona.

Despite being February, temps suddenly hit 90+ degrees in Tucson, so we began our trek north, stopping in Sedona, Arizona, to ride our bikes on the Bell Rock Pathway and hike The Crack at Wet Beaver Creek.

Mountain Bikers Bell Rock Pathway Sedona Arizona

The Bell Rock Pathway is an easy hike or bike ride in Sedona’s quintessential red rock scenery

We took in some sunsets under stormy skies.

Cathedral Rock at sunset Sedona Arizona

Sunset peeks through brooding skies at Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Arizona

In early March, we witnessed another stunning sunset and sunrise at Horseshoe Bend Overlook near Page, Arizona and explored Lees Ferry and Marble Canyon nearby.

Horseshoe Bend Sunset Arizona

Horseshoe Bend, Arizona

Paria Riffle and Paria Beach Lees Ferry Arizona

The Paria Riffle at Lees Ferry, Arizona

The ancient Indian ruins at Navajo National Monument and Monument Valley beckoned, and we learned about the proposed (and staggeringly massive) Bears Ears National Monument. For the next few weeks we would travel in and around the land area that would become Bears Ears National Monument by year’s end.

Ruins at Navajo National Monument Arizona

Betatakin cliff dwelling ruins at Navajo National Monument.

At Valley of the Gods and Goosenecks State Park, we were swept us up in the otherworldly red rock beauty of southern Utah.

Valley of the Gods Utah Scenic Drive

Valley of the Gods, Utah.

It was only mid-March, so a surprise snowstorm at Newspaper Rock wasn’t really a surprise.

Ancient Indian Petroglyphs Newspaper Rock Utah Mixture

A few of the hundres of petroglyphs at Newspaper Rock in Utah

Southern Utah is peppered with stunning scenery and National Parks, and our eyes were popping as we hiked the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.

Canyonlands National Park Needles District Utah

Canyonlands National Park – Needles District.

We took in Moab’s gorgeous snowcapped mountain views and visited Arches National Park.

Double Arch Arches National Park Utah

Double Arch in Arches National Park Utah

Nearby, we witnessed a stunning sunrise at Dead Horse Point State Park, a spit of land that is embraced by the much bigger Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park where we enjoyed brilliant night skies.

Dead Horse Point State Park Utah Before Dawn

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

It was now April, and it was warm enough to take our trailer further north through southeastern Idaho’s picturesque mountains and farmland.

RV travel trailer on bridge Salmon Idaho

RVing Idaho’s back roads on the Salmon River.

We traveled along US-93 following the Salmon River through Challis and Salmon, Idaho.

RV roadtrip through southeastern Idaho mountains

Idaho in early Spring

Driving up through the Bitterroot Valley of Montana, we watched a herd of elk cross the highway in front of us.

Elk crossing road Bitterroot Valley Montana

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We had a chance to sample a little cowboy life and cattle ranching too.

Riding horses in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana

Savoring the views of Montana’s Bitterroot Valley on horseback.

In Phillipsburg, Montana we discovered a sweet town that’s been dubbed one of “America’s Prettiest Painted Places.”

Philipsburg Montana main street

Philipsburg, Montana, one of “America’s Prettiest Painted Places.”

Early May found us on the western side of Montana’s Glacier National Park before the park was really open for the season. Placid Lake McDonald shimmered lovely reflections.

Lake McDonald Glacier National Park RV travel

Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park

Crossing into British Columbia, Canada, we had finally arrived in the Canadian Rockies. We were blown away by the casual attitude of the big horn sheep who wander all over the roads in and around Kootenay National Park.

Big horn sheep crossing a road in British Columbia

Big Horn Sheep just outside Kootenay National Park, British Columbia, Canada

Kootenay National Park gave us glimpses of bears nibbling Spring’s earliest treats, but our arrival at Lake Louise was when we began to feel like we were in the heart of the Rockies!

Lake Louise in Banff National Park Alberta Canada

Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

We took several trips up and down the southern half of the Icefields Parkway, a scenic drive like no other.

Icefields Parkway Banff National Park Alberta Canada

Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

We were stunned by the majesty of the towering snowcapped mountains all around us in Banff National Park.

Rental RV Icefields Parkway Banff National Park Canada Rocky Mountains

Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

Icefields Parkway Banff National Park Alberta Canada

Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta Canada

On the Icefields Parkway, which included a stop at royal blue Peyto Lake, we felt like we were driving on a highway right across the pages of a brochure for the Alps.

Peyto Lake Icefields Parkway Banff National Park Alberta Canad

Peyto Lake in Banff National Park is an incredibly vivid royal blue.

In contrast, we reached picture perfect Moraine Lake in Banff National Park by bicycle, and we had it almost to ourselves because the road to it was still closed for the season.

Moraine Lake Banff National Park Alberta Canada

Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Canada has four National Parks that are adjacent to each other in the heart of the country’s best Rocky Mountain scenery, split between the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia. On our trip to Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park, we bumped into the fabulous waterfall at Natural Bridge.

Natural Bridge Yoho National Park British Columbia Canada Rocky Mountains

Natural Bridge surprised us on our way to Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park, British Columbia, Canada.

Emerald Lake Yoho National Park Alberta Canada

Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park, British Columbia, Canada

Banff, Alberta, has been a resort town since its inception, and we met an inspiring pair of young artists at the historic hotel in town.

Banff Alberta Canada and Cascade Mountain Canadian Rockies

Banff, Alberta, Canada

It was late May by now, and we celebrated our 9th anniversary of full-time travel by splashing around in the outdoor hot springs that bring a touch of summer to Canada’s snowy Rockies year round.

Banff Upper Hot Springs Alberta Canada

Banff Upper Hot Springs, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

Visiting Athabasca Falls in Jasper National Park and spending some time in the outdoorsy town of Canmore rounded out our visits to this part of the Canadian Rockies.

Snow Icefields Parkway Jasper National Park Alberta Canada

Beautiful patterns of snow on the mountains near the Columbia Ice Fields.

But there was still more to come with a scenic drive through jaw-dropping Kananaskis Country, where some of the 1988 Winter Olympic events were held.

Sunrise Kananaskis Country Canadian Rockies

Dawn in Kananaskis Country.

Dropping south from there, we visited Waterton Lakes National Park, Canada’s sweet little sister to Montana’s Glacier National Park.

Horseback riders Waterton Lakes National Parks Canada

Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada.

Waterton Lakes National Park is a beautiful jewel in Canada’s National Park system. Taking the Waterton Shoreline Cruise on a historic ship to the southern side of the lake in Montana gave us even more incredible views.

Waterton Shoreline Cruise Waterton Lakes National Park Canada

Waterton Shoreline Cruise in Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada

We were now well into June, yet when we arrived in Saint Mary on the east side of Glacier National Park, we were surprised to learn that the Going to the Sun Road that traverses the Park was just opening!

Happy camper Glacier National Park Montana

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

The heat of the summer was on in full force by the 4th of July, and after all those National Parks we were ready to spend some time in quiet, less visited communities. We found just that in pretty Libby, Montana, where we spent happy days watching eagles and hummingbirds.

Lake Koocanusa at sunset Libby Montana

Sunset in Libby, Montana

We met some special travelers while we were there: a lady who had traveled cross country by horse for many years and a couple sightseeing by bicycle.

Bernice Ende on 28,000 mile long horse back ride

Long Rider Bernice, and her beloved mares Essie Pearl and Montana Spirit.

Nearby, we visited Kootenai Falls and Ross Creek Cedars, Montana’s answer to California’s sequoias.

Ross Creek Cedars Scenic Area and Kootenai Falls MT RV trip

Ross Creek Cedars Scenic Area, Montana

As we dropped down along the back roads of Idaho, we visited the charming small towns of Sandpoint, Moscow and McCall.

RV Trip from Sandpoint Idaho to Moscow and McCall on the Little Salmon River

Idaho’s back roads

What an absolute delight it was to find a summer beach town in the middle of Idaho’s mountains perched on Payette Lake.

Payette Lake shore near Legacy Park McCall Idaho

McCall, Idaho, is a fantastic beach town!!

Unfortunately, the summer months in America’s west always bring huge wildfires, and we soon found ourselves dodging fires and smoke. We had planned to spend several weeks in beloved Sun Valley Idaho, but were chased away by smoke.

Dashing far down south, we landed in Cedar City, Utah, where we witnessed a most moving event: the release of a golden eagle in honor of America’s First Responders.

Golden eagle release Cedar City Utah Southwest Wildlife Foundation

A rehabilitated Golden Eagle flies to freedom, honoring America’s First Responders.

Just like the Banff area in the Canadian Rockies, we were once again situated in a sea of National Parks. Cedar Breaks National Monument is a lesser known gem in the area, but it is Bryce Canyon National Park that really knocked our socks off (as it always does, no matter how many times we see it).

Photography at Bryce Canyon National Park Inspiration Point Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

After walking along the Rim Trail with our eyes popping, we then explored special parts of Bryce Canyon we’d never visited before.

Navajo Loop Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

Hiking down into the hoodoos in Bryce National Park, Utah.

We hiked the Fairyland Trail and took our bikes on the newly extended Bryce Canyon Bike Trail.

Windows Fairyland Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

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We even discovered a year-round waterfall in the Park.

Mossy Cave Trail Waterfall Mossy Cave Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

Bryce Canyon’s Waterfall.

Mother Nature was in grand form while we were there, letting loose several August hail storms that pelted the area, but rainbows appeared and the sun shone as we wandered among the thousand year old bristlecone pine trees at Rainbow Point.

Bristlecone Pine Shadow Rainbow Point Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

A bristlecone plays with its shadow

Satiated with red rock scenery, we were ready for some fall color, so we spent much of September crossing Utah from west to east. Scenic Byway 12 is a stunning drive, and we stopped along the way to do the wonderful Lower Calf Creek Falls hike.

Sunshine waterfall Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

Lower Calf Creek Falls, Utah.

A little further on, we drove between the towering cliff walls of the Burr Trail.

Red rocks Burr Trail Scenic Byway 12 Utah

Burr Trail, Utah.

Arriving in Colorado in late September, we drove the fabulous San Juan Skyway through the dazzling fall color.

Motorcycle in fall colors San Juan Skyway Colorado Rocky Mountains

Fall colors on the San Juan Skyway, Colorado

A surprise snow storm turned the world into a spectacular landscape filled with orange and yellow and a dusting of snow.

Golden aspen and pine trees San Juan Skyway Colorado Rocky Mountains fall foliage

A dusting of September snow on Colorado’s San Juan Skyway.

Life in an RV is cold when it snows, so we quickly dropped to Durango at the south end of the San Juan Skyway to enjoy a Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

Horse and carriage Durango Colorado

Durango, Colorado, is the perfect setting for a Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

Heading west across northern Arizona, we drove alongside the Vermillion Cliffs where we took a peek at the “Cliff Dwellers” roadside stop.

02 761 RV travel Vermillion Cliffs National Monument Arizona

Arizona’s Vermillion Cliffs National Monument

Our “National Parks” travel theme was so well established by now that we just had to make a quickie stop at Grand Canyon’s North Rim to do both day and night photography.

View from deck Grand Canyon Lodge North Rim Arizona

Tourists on the cozy back deck of the North Rim’s Grand Canyon Lodge in Arizona.

Milky Way at the Grand Canyon North Rim Arizona

Full moon and the Milky Way at the Grand Canyon’s North Rim!

Then we continued on to the majestic scenery of Zion National Park.

Virgin River Zion Canyon Zion National Park Utah RV trip

Zion National Park, Utah

Exploring an area in Zion National Park that we hadn’t visited before, we did a hike into the autumn colors of Kolob Canyons on Taylor Creek Trail.

Autumn Leaves Kolob Canyons Zion National Park Utah

Zion National Park’s Kolob Canyons in Utah.

November and December saw us flitting between Arizona, California and San Luis Rio Colorado Mexico as we made several visits to our dentist and spent time socializing with friends.

Fabulous year of RV travels

What a fabulous year of RV travels!!
Moab, Utah

During 2016 we published quite a few non-travel posts as well. The links are below:

RV Tips, Tricks and Tech Topics:

Truck Related Topics:

RV Warranty & Repairs:

Lifestyle:

Product Reviews:

Dental Care on the Road:

Mexico’s Gold Coast:

An Overview of Our First 10 Years of Full-time Travel + Reflections after 9 Years!

Summaries of Each Year on the Road - All of our travel posts in chronological order:

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Visiting the Dentist in Mexico

Dentistry is really expensive these days, and RVers that make their way south in the wintertime can take advantage of the good quality dental care that is available just over the border in Mexico.

The November/December 2016 issue of Escapees Magazine features our article about some of the great experiences we have had with dentists in Mexico just across the border from Yuma, Arizona, in San Luis Rio Colorado, Mexico.

Mexican Dentistry Escapees Magazine Nov-Dec 2016

Escapees Magazine Nov-Dec 2016
Article by: Emily and Mark Fagan

Escapees has posted the article on their website at this link:

The Affordable Alternative of Mexican Dentistry

Our dentist, Dr. Sergio Bernal, is a general practitioner in San Luis Rio Colorado just over the border from San Luis, Arizona (south of Yuma).

Last year he coordinated and oversaw a root canal I had done in a tooth that already had a crown on it (described in detail here).

Eight years ago, Dr. Bernal put a porcelain crown on a baby tooth of Mark’s that had never fallen out. It was an exccellent crown and very easy procedure.

The crown was fabricated by the lab and ready to be installed within 18 hours of us arriving at Dr. Bernal’s office for the very first time. It fit perfectly and cost just $130.

Mark always said it was the best crown in his mouth.

Unfortunately, the baby tooth under this crown came loose this past October, and Mark was suddenly in a lot of pain. He needed another solution.

Ironically, this happened just as the issue of Escapees Magazine with our article about Mexican dental care was being mailed out to Escapees members.

Because we lived on our sailboat in Mexico for the better part of four years, we have enjoyed top notch dental care all over Mexico, from the Arizona border to the beautiful Bays of Huatulco very near the Guatemala border.

We have always been very satisfied with both the dental care and the price.

With Mark’s tooth aching, we dashed to Yuma and then zipped across the border from San Luis, Arizona, to San Luis, Mexico, on our bikes (you can learn more about doing this as well as walking over the border in our blog post about Mexican dental care here).

Even though dental care in Mexico is excellent, the upscale frills that Americans are accustomed to are not necessarily a part of the deal.

For starters, dentistry in Mexico is usually handled on a walk-in basis rather than making an appointment in advance.

Some people have read my writings about dentists in Mexico and have tried to find these dentists on the internet. Well, most Mexican dentists don’t bother with the expense of setting up a website, as they rely more on word of mouth and patients showing up at the door when they need care.

So, we got psyched up for a day of dentistry, rode the 1/2 block from the border to Dr. Bernal’s office, leaned our bikes against the wall and peered in the door. Unfortunately, he wasn’t there.

Rather than wait, we decided to ride over to visit the endodontist, Dr. Horacio Avila, who had done such an excellent job on my root canal last year. I needed to see him for a follow-up on my root canal anyway, and we figured he might have some thoughts about Mark’s aching baby tooth. We each took a quick turn in his dentist’s chair and looked at our x-rays with him on his computer screen on the wall.

My root canal was doing great, but Mark’s situation was more complex. The adult tooth was present but was lying sideways, which meant there was no option for an implant. Instead, Dr. Avila felt he probably needed a bridge.

Mexican dentist San Luis Rio Colorado Mexico

Mark and Dr. Avila check out his tooth on an x-ray.

Being an endontontist and not a general practice dentist, bridges are not his line of work. So, he handed us the x-rays and sent us on our way.

The bill for our five x-rays at Dr. Avila’s office was $50.

We biked back to Dr. Bernal’s office and found he had returned from his errands and was happy to see us.

Mark got in his dentist chair, and Dr. Bernal had a look at his tooth and Dr. Avila’s x-rays. Of course, Dr. Bernal has an x-ray machine too, but there was no need to duplicate the x-rays. He agreed that an implant was out and that a bridge was probably the best way to go.

He pulled Mark’s tiny baby tooth out of his mouth with a quick yank and explained that a bridge involves grinding down the two adjacent teeth, putting crowns on them, and then suspending a false tooth in between. Egads!!

Sadly, the two teeth on either side of Mark’s (now absent) baby tooth were 100% healthy. Mark felt really badly about grinding those teeth down to support two crowns and suspend a false tooth in between.

Dr. Bernal scratched his head for a while and studied Mark’s teeth for a while and then suggested he consider a different option: grinding a tiny channel on the back side of each of the two healthy teeth and suspending a false tooth in between on wings that were inserted and glued into the channels.

This sounded intriguing.

He suggested that Mark try a temporary solution like that and see how it felt before committing to a permanent solution. So, we hung around San Luis for about three hours while Dr. Bernal’s lab technician across the street fabricated a plastic temporary tooth. In the middle of the afternoon, Dr. Bernal inserted it and off we went back over the border.

He charged us $20 total for all of his work and the lab’s work.

Mexican Dentist San Luis Rio Colorado Mexico

Dr. Bernal goes over Mark’s options with him.

Mark liked the idea of being able to keep his healthy teeth mostly intact and not crown them, so we returned a few weeks later to get the permanent work done. Again, we showed up unannounced around 8:00 in the morning, and by late afternoon Dr. Bernal’s technician had fabricated a permanent false tooth with wings and Dr. Bernal had prepped Mark’s teeth and installed it.

The cost: $250.

Mark absolutely loves this tooth. He’s had it for a few months now and doesn’t even notice it’s there. It chews fine, looks fine, and the teeth on either side of it are totally intact except for a tiny indent in each one to support the wings of the false tooth. A retired dentist friend of ours said similar dental work in the US would have cost over $1,000.

Besides the high quality workmanship and low cost, the best thing about all of this was the back-and-forth conversation we were able to have with Dr. Bernal. Rather than the brusque manner of many dentists, he took the time to consider other options besides a bridge and to listen to our concerns about destroying two perfectly good teeth. I was in the room with Mark the whole time, and I liked the feeling that we were participants in Mark’s dental care rather than being just recipients.

Next door to Dr. Bernal’s office there is a hair cutting salon. Both times we visited Dr. Bernal, we dropped in on the hair cutting salon to get haircuts. The most delightful stylist named Amber works there, and for just $3 for men and $5 for women, she does a great job.

To find her shop: as you walk into the alcove where Dr. Bernal’s office is, the hair salon is on the right side before his office. For both of us, these have been the bests haircut we’ve had in over a year!

Barber next to Mexican dentist San Luis Rio Colorado Mexico

Next to Dr. Bernal’s office there is a great little hair cutting place.

Getting a haircut in San Luis Rio Colorado Mexico

Amber gives me a haircut

Another thing that’s great about going to Mexico for dental care — besides receiving excellent care at a fraction of American prices — is that it’s an excuse to enjoy a daytrip to another culture and eat some really wonderful Mexican food.

In San Luis there is an absolutely fantastic restaurant called El Parianchi that serves incredible food, complete with fun entertainment. We’ve now eaten several lunches there and a breakfast too, and we have loved the experience every single time.

El Parianchi Meal San Luis Rio Colorado Mexico

The first course of a feast for two for $13 (pancakes and omelette not shown) at El Parianchi restaurant.

We’ve gotten to know several of the waiters as well as the harpist, Elias. Mexicans enjoy listening to folk songs played by various kinds of musicians while dining, and the harp music adds a special something to the ambiance at El Parianchi.

Mexican restaurant El Parianchi San Luis Rio Colorado Mexico

Elias entertains us with his harp.

El Parianchi also has a stash of huge sombreros, and sometimes the waiters bring them out and put them on their guests as a gag. We ended up wearing these crazy hats on one of our visits for my root canal last year (see this post). On one of our visits this year, a group celebrating a 26th birthday ended up in the hats right behind us!

People in sombrero hats El Parianchi Restaurant San Luis Rio Colorado Mexico

Sombreros for everyone at the birthday party!

For lots more details about dental care in Mexico, including directions to our dentists’ offices, check out this link:

Mexican Dentists – Finding Affordable Dental Care in Mexico

Basic info for our primary care dentist. He’ll set you up with specialists in town as needed:

Dr. Sergio Bernal

Call him directly from the US by dialing this number: 011 52 653 534 6651
Address: First St. #118-9 San Luis Rio Colorado, Mexico

Open Monday-Friday 9-5, Saturday 9-2, Sunday 9-11

For first timers, walk 100 yards from the border to Dr. Bernal’s office (detailed directions at this link), and then take $2-$3 cabs to visit other dental specialists, if needed, and be sure to enjoy a meal at El Parianchi! Here is a map showing the locations we visited:

Locations of Dr. Bernal’s Office, El Parianchi Restaurant and Dr. Avila’s Office – Interactive Google Maps

On the above map, the locations are labeled as:

  • Dr. Bernal = “Calle 1 115”
  • Dr. Avila = GPS 32.477776,-114.766224 (Calle 13 & Madero)
  • El Parianchi is in between them at Calle 10 & Captain Carlos Calles

To get the hours of operation of the San Luis, Arizona, USA / San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora, Mexico border crossing and other info about the border, call: 928-627-8854

When we crossed the border for our first visit with Dr. Bernal this past October, we were alarmed to see a huge group of illegal immigrants waiting to cross into the US. On our return visit a month later, Mexican authorities had removed them from the sidewalks and placed them in shelters. The sidewalks near the border were empty as they always had been before.

So how do you get hooked up with a good dentist in Mexico?

We first heard about Dr. Bernal from fellow Escapees members at the Escapees Kofa RV Park in Yuma. For new RVers, we highly recommend joining Escapees RV Club, as it is little tidbits like getting the name and address of a trusted Mexican dentist that are the unsung benefits of being part of this club.

Escapees is known for its fabulous magazine, its many member parks, its discounts on RV parks across the country, its workcamping job board, its massive database of boondocking locations, its bootcamp training for new RVers and its incredible mail forwarding service and RV advocacy work.

But sometimes it is the little things that are passed on member to member, like dentist and doctor referrals, that make the club particularly helpful for folks living on the road in their RV. Lots of people go RVing, but there is a comaraderie among Escapees members that is unique.

To learn a little more about the unusual history of Escapees, check out our links:

If you think you might want to join Escapees RV Club, you can become a member at the link below…and if you mention that you heard about Escapees from this blog, Roads Less Traveled, they will put a little something in our tip jar as a thank you (and thank YOU!!):

Join Escapees RV Club

We’ve been members since 2008!!

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Power Inverters – Exeltech’s Pure Sine Wave Excellence

An inverter, sometimes called a “power inverter,” is a piece of electronic gear that converts DC power to AC power, and it is what enables RVers to use regular household appliances in an RV without hookups to an RV park power pedestal relying on a generator.

The September/October 2016 issue of Escapees Magazine features our detailed article about inverters: what they are, how they are sized, what flavors they come in and how to wire one into an RV.

Power inverter for an RV - an Exeltech XPX 2000 watt inverter

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For RVers who enjoy dry camping in public campgrounds or boondocking on public land, an inverter is the key piece of the puzzle that gives their RV traditional 110 volt AC power — like the power in the wall outlets of a house — without plugging the RV into a power pedestal at an RV park or a noisy gas-hungry generator.

WHAT IS AN INVERTER?

For beginning RVers, it is easy to confuse a converter with an inverter, because the words are so much alike. The difference is actually very straight forward:

  • A converter converts the 110 volt AC power coming out of a wall outlet, RV park power pedestal or generator into 12 volt DC power, and charges the RV’s 12 volt battery bank.
  • An inverter converts the batteries’ 12 volt DC power into 110 volt AC power so household appliances like the TV, blender, microwave and vacuum can run.
Exeltech XPX 2000 watt pure sine wave inverter living off the grid in an RV

Our “house” inverter – an Exeltech XPX 2000 watt inverter.

RV FACTORY INSTALLED CONVERTERS

Most trailers and some smaller motorhomes come with a factory installed converter. Frequently, these factory installed converters are inexpensive units that are not multi-stage chargers. So, for RVers who want to dry camp a lot and keep their batteries in tip-top shape, or charge them up efficiently with a generator while dry camping, it is a good idea to replace the factory installed converter with a better quality converter (we did).

More info on upgrading an RV power converter here: Converters and Inverters in an RV

RV FACTORY INSTALLED INVERTERS and INVERTER/CHARGERS

A few high end trailers and most higher end motorhomes come with a factory installed inverter.

In many cases, especially high end trailers, the inverter is dedicated to powering a residential refrigerator that runs exclusively off of 110 volt AC power (unlike an RV refrigerator that can run on propane). The inverter is there so the fridge can continue to run off the batteries while the rig is being driven from one RV park to another without a connection to 110 volt AC electricity. This inverter is sized to support the refrigerator and is not intended to be used for any other purpose in the rig.

So, for most trailer owners that want to do a lot of camping without hookups, an inverter is an extra piece of gear that must be installed.

In contrast, many higher end motorhomes come with a factory installed inverter/charger that can do two things: 1) provide the RV with household 110 volt AC power at the wall outlets via the batteries while dry camping and 2) charge the batteries when the RV is getting its 110 volt AC power from an RV park power pedestal or a generator. These inverter/chargers essentially do the work of both a converter (charging the batteries from shore power) and an inverter (providing AC power via the batteries while dry camping).

So, for folks with a higher end motorhome, an inverter is usually already installed in the motorhome at the factory in the form of an inverter/charger, and it does not need to be added later. However, it may not be a pure sine wave inverter (see below).

INVERTER SIZES

Inverters come in all shapes and sizes and all price ranges too, from little biddy ones that cost a few bucks to big beefy ones that cost a few thousand dollars.

They are rated by the number of watts they can produce. Small ones that can charge a pair of two-way radios or a toothbrush are in the 150 watt range. Huge ones that can run a microwave and hair dryer are in the 3,000 watt range.

  • Small inverters (400 watts or less) can be plugged into a cigarette lighter style DC outlet in the rig. Mark has one that he uses for his electric razor every morning.
  • Larger inverters (500 watts are more) must be wired directly to the batteries and require stout wires that are as short in length as possible.

Our RV has a “house” inverter that is 2,000 watts. It can run our microwave and hair dryer and vacuum comfortably (we don’t run those appliances all at the same time, however, as that would overload it). Our small portable inverter lives in our bedroom and gets used for a few minutes every day before we head downstairs:

RV power inverter with electric razo

Mark uses this small inverter to power his electric razor every morning!

MODIFIED SINE WAVE vs. PURE SINE WAVE INVERTERS

Inverters also come in two flavors:

Modified sine wave inverters are cheaper than pure sine wave inverters and are the most common type of inverter sold in auto parts stores, Walmart and truck stops. Many inverter/chargers on the market are modified sine wave inverters.

Our sailboat came with a 2,500 watt inverter/charger that produced a modifed sine wave. It was wired into the boat’s wall outlets, including the microwave outlet. We used this inverter when we wanted to run the microwave but not for anything else (we preferred using a pure sine wave inverter instead).

Some vehicles now ship with an inverter installed in the dashboard. Our truck has a small modified sine wave inverter in the dashboard, and I use it all the time to plug in our MiFi Jetpack and get an internet signal for my laptop as we drive.

Exeltech XP 1100 Inverter

Our first pure sine wave inverter: an Exeltech XP 1100 watt inverter. We keep it now as a backup.

WIRING AN INVERTER INTO AN RV – DC SIDE

As mentioned above, small inverters can plug into a DC outlet in the RV wall (these outlets look like the old cigarette lighters found in cars).

Large inverters must be wired directly to the batteries. The wire gauge must be very heavy duty battery cable and short to support the big DC currents that will flow through it. If possible, the length should be less than four feet. A wire gauge chart gives the correct gauge of wire to use for the current that will flow and the length the wire will be.

To determine the maximum possible DC current that might flow through these wires, simply divide the maximum wattage the inverter is rated for by the lowest voltage the inverter can operate at. In our case, we divided our inverter’s maximum 2,000 watts by the minimum 10.5 volts it will operate at before it shuts off. This yields 190 amps DC. Our cable connecting our inverter to the batteries is 2 feet long. So the proper wire size is 2/0 gauge (“double ought”) and can be purchased here: High quality Ancor Battery Cable.

Heavy duty battery cable on Exeltech XPX 2000 inverter in an RV

We used 2/0 Gauge Ancor Battery Cable to wire the DC side of our inverter.

WIRING AN INVERTER INTO AN RV – AC SIDE

All inverters have at least one household style female 110 volt AC outlet. Usually they have two. These outlets look like ordinary household wall outlets.

One very simple way to wire the AC side of the inverter is to plug an appliance directly into it, for instance, plug the power cord of the TV into the inverter. We did this with a 300 watt inverter and our 19″ TV in our first trailer. The inverter was plugged into a DC outlet on the trailer’s wall, and the TV was plugged into the inverter right behind where it sat on our countertop.

If you want to plug more than two appliances into the inverter at once, then plugging a power strip into one or both of the inverter’s AC outlets is one way to go. We did this on our sailboat. We had a 600 watt pure sine wave inverter on the boat. Plugged into one of the inverter’s AC outlets, we had a power strip supporting our TV and DVD player. Plugged into the other AC outlet, we had a power strip supporting everything else: two-way radios, toothbrush, and laptop charging cords and camera battery chargers.

Exeltech XPX 2000 inverter and Trojan Reliant AGM Batteries in an RV

Our inverter is placed as close to the batteries as possible by being suspended above them.

Obviously, you have to be careful not to run too many things at once, or they will overload the inverter. Most inverters will shut down when overloaded or sound a beeping alarm if your appliances demand more from it than it can give. We ran into that a lot when we lived on our portable inverter for a few days while our house inverter was being repaired.

A more sophisticated way to wire an inverter’s AC side so it supplies power to all the wall outlets in the RV is to wire it into the rig’s AC wiring using a transfer switch.

WHICH INVERTER TO BUY for a BIG INSTALLATION?

Because we live off the grid and never plug our RV into a power pedestal (we’ve lived this way for nine years and hope to do so for many more), we rely on our trailer’s house inverter to run all of the AC appliances we own, every single day.

For this reason, we invested in the highest quality inverter we could find on the market: an Exeltech XP 2000 watt pure sine wave inverter. This is a very pricey unit, but it is our sole source of AC power day in and day out. It is the brand that was selected for both the American and Russian sides of the International Space Station, and its signal is pure enough to run extremely sensitive medical equipment.

Exeltech power inverter manufacturing

We visited the Exeltech manufacturing plant in Texas and saw first-hand how meticulously these inverters are made and tested prior to shipping.

Exeltech is a family run company with electrical engineering PhDs heading up their R&D department. All manufacturing is done in-house at their headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas. They have phenomenal tech support and an excellent warranty.

When our beautiful new Exeltech XP 2000 inverter was inadvertently blown up by a welding snafu at a trailer suspension shop during our trailer’s suspension overhual (the plastic sheathing on a bundle of AC wires got melted onto the trailer’s frame, bonding the wires to the frame and creating an electrical short — ouch), they got it repaired and back to us very quickly.

And thanks to our RV warranty, our failing suspension was rebuilt completely at no cost to us, and has worked flawlessly for 12 months now.

Power inverter

This high quality Exeltech inverter is a serious piece of electronic gear!

Many RVers like the Magnum brand of inverters. These inverters have a built-in transfer switch which makes them easy to wire into the RV’s AC wiring system.

There are many other brands on the market from Schneider Electric / Xantrex to Go Power, Power Bright and others. If you are going to dry camp a lot, then installing a high quality and expensive pure sine wave inverter makes sense. But if you are going to dry camp for just a few days, week or month here and there, then a cheaper one may make more sense.

MORE INFO ABOUT INVERTERS and SOLAR POWER

All of this info and more is covered detail in our feature article in this month’s Escapees Magazine. We also have loads of other info about inverters, converters right here on our website. Links to our many RV electricity related articles are at the bottom of this page.

ESCAPEES MAGAZINE and RV CLUB

RV Power Inverters

Inverters – AC Power from DC Batteries
Escapees Magazine Sep/Oct 2016
By Emily Fagan

Our five page article on inverters in this month’s issue of Escapees Magazine is typical of the kind of detailed technical articles the magazine publishes.

I have been publishing articles like this in Escapees Magazine since 2008, and I have written about anything and everything we’ve learned in our full-time RVing lives, from solar power to photography to batteries to the importance of fulfillling our dreams.

What makes Escapees Magazine unique is that it is written by RVers for RVers.

The magazine article topics come from real life experiences that RVers have encountered in their lives on the road.

Just as my article in this issue of Escapees Magazine is about what we’ve learned about inverters since we started RVing (and believe me, back in 2007, I was the one asking trailer salesmen what the difference was between inverters and converters, and I got some wacky, wild and very wrong answers!), other RVers write articles for Escapees Magazine about things they have learned.

When I sat down to read the September/October issue, I was impressed — as I am with every issue — by the quality of both the articles and the presentation.

Besides including some cool travel articles about RVing Alaska via the Alaska Marina Highway ferry system, and visiting the Very Large Array that listens to the cosmos in New Mexico, and traveling on the Natchez Trace in Mississippi, this issue has two wonderful profiles of full-time RVers doing intriguing things as part of their RV lifestyle.

RV by ferry on the Alaska Marine Highway

RV Alaska by Ferry!
Escapees Magazine Sep/Oct 2016

One article this month is about a full-time RVer who lives in an Airstream trailer and has dedicated himself to ensuring that the original silkscreen art prints created by the WPA artists in the 1930’s for the National Parks remain in the public domain, owned by the NPS rather than private collectors. It is a fascinating tale, written by Rene Agredano who has been full-timing since 2007 and writes the very informative blog Live, Work, Dream, a terrific resource for anyone who wants to learn the ins and outs of work camping.

Another article this month shares the stories of three very long term (10+ years) full-time RVers who have flourished as artists on the road. One RVer/artist specializes in watercolors and has held many exhibitions of her work around the country. Another RVer/artist discovered the fun craft of decorating gourds and teaches classes at her home RV park. A third RVer/artist has self-published a photojournal about her travels specifically for her grandchildren. This insipring Escapees Magazine article is written by full-time RVer Sandra Haven who shares the same home base RV park as the artists.

There is also a detailed article written by a lawyer on what it takes to establish a legal domicile and register to vote when you’re a full-time RVer without a sticks-and-bricks home built on a foundation that stays in one place.

These kinds of articles aren’t found in most RV industry publications!

Full-time RV traveler artist

RVers take their art on the road
Escapees Magazine Sep/Oct 2016

And what’s neat for would-be writers and photographers who are Escapees RV Club members is that the magazine’s editorial staff is always eager for new material from members…click here!.

Escapees Magazine is just a tiny part of the overall Escapees RV Club, however.

Founded by full-time RVing pioneers Joe and Kay Peterson, the Escapees Club strives to serve the varied interests of all RVers and to alert RVers to changes in government policies or the RV industry itself that might affect us as consumers of RVs, RV and camping products and RV overnight accommodations.

They also work as tireless advocates on behalf of all RVers at both the local and national levels.

RVers BootCamp at Escapees RV Club

RVers BootCamp – A training program for new RVers

One of the most interesting articles in this month’s magazine alerts members to corporate consolidations in the industry that will affect our choices as RV consumers in years to come. It also reveals that the Escapees advocacy group is investigating possible changes at the Bureau of Land Management that will affect RVers ability to use their RVs on BLM land nationwide.

In addition to the magazine, the Club offers discounts for RV parks, regional chapter groups, national rallies, bootcamp training programs for new RVers, and assisted living for retired RVers who are ready to hang up their keys but not ready to give up living in their RV.

One of the most charming articles in this month’s magazine is about Nedra, a woman in her mid-80’s who was once an avid RVer but now lives at CARE, the Escapees assisted living facility in Livingston Texas. I had the good fortune to meet Nedra when we visited the Escapees headquarters at Rainbow’s End, and she took me on a fun tour of the CARE facilities. Escapees is like a big extended family, and it was very heartwarming to see her story in this month’s issue.

We’ve been members of Escapees RV Club since 2008 and highly recommend joining if you are a current or future RVer, whether you plan to travel full-time or just occasionally. Supporting their advocacy work benefits everyone who owns an RV and ensures we consumers and hobbyists have a voice in this very large industry.

You can join Escapees (or Xscapers, the branch of Escapees dedicated to younger, working age RVers) here:

Join Escapees RV Club

If you mention this blog, Roads Less Traveled, when you join, they put a little something in our tip jar. We began recommending Escapees RV Club to our readers eight years ago, and this friendly gesture from Escapees is a brand new development in the last few months. So, this is not a sales pitch from us to earn tips, by any means. We simply believe in the work Escapees RV Club does to support RV consumers and hobbyists and hope you do too!

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SOLAR POWER OVERVIEW and TUTORIAL

BATTERIES and BATTERY CHARGING SYSTEMS

LIVING ON 12 VOLTS

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How to Heat an RV in Cold Weather and Winter Snow Storms

Heating an RV in cold weather during the winter, especially in a snow storm, is quite different than heating a house, and it often requires utilizing different kinds of heaters and a little creativity too.

RV camping and travel in snow in winter

Is that SNOW??!! We sure didn’t expect THAT!!!

A few weeks ago, at the end of September, we woke up to find ourselves in a beautiful snowstorm at 10,000′ elevation in Colorado.

We had to pull out all the stops to make sure we were cozy warm in our RV even though overnight lows were in the 20’s and daytime highs didn’t get out of the 40’s for a week.

Bikes on RV bike rack in snow in winter

We looked out our back window and saw snow covering our bikes!

The first order of business was to go outside and build a snowman, and Mark got right to it.

Winter RV tips for staying warm in cold weather

It’s snowing!!! Let’s make a snowman!!!

While he’s busy getting that snowman together, I wanted to share with you the strategies we’ve used for heating our RV without electrical hookups, because we use different heating appliances in different situations.

For “cool” conditions, like December and February in the Arizona desert or May in the Canadian Rockies, when lows are in the 30’s, keeping our buggy warm is a cinch with our blue flame vent-free propane heater that Mark installed back in 2008.

But in in “extreme” conditions, like this recent snowstorm on a mountaintop in Colorado, we use a different strategy and rely more on our RV furnace that was factory installed in our trailer.

We have tried different strategies in very cold weather at very high altitudes like this in the past, and this most recent cold spell was our most comfortable, despite the wet gloppy mess of snowy covered jackets, hats, mittens and boots and the sullen gray skies that persisted for several days. So, we seem to have gotten it right this time.

Of course, “lows in the 20’s” is far from “extreme” for North Americans living in houses with central heating, but it definitely feels extreme when living in an RV off the grid. In reality, RVs are most comfortable in temperatures that stay above freezing.

Winter RVing in the snow

The snowman gets sticks for his arms…

Even though high end RVs are marketed as being “four season” coaches, boasting high R-factors in the walls, ceiling and floor, you just can’t compare 1.5″ styrofoam walls that have a thin layer of gelcoat and wallpaper board to a residential house wall that’s made of 3.5″ fiberglass insulation covered with a half-inch of drywall, half-inch of plywood, Tyvek and exterior siding.

Besides the skimpy walls, we find that the RV windows are the biggest reasons for the poor insulation. The metal window frames are extremely cold to the touch when temps outside are in the 20’s, and all that metal around our many windows conducts the cold right into the rig.

Some folks like to have thermopane (dual pane) RV windows, but if moisture gets between the two panes, which can happen more easily in an RV that rattles down the road all the time than in a house that stands still on its foundation, the moisture is likely to remain there permanently, no matter what the weather does outside or how many years go by.

RV windows don’t seal all that well either. Our top quality, four season fifth wheel trailer is downright drafty inside, with a definite breeze that can, at times, flutter a tissue by the “escape” windows. You don’t notice it so much when it is 70 degrees both outside and inside with no wind blowing. But when it is a blustery18 degrees outside and we are trying to heat the rig to 65 degrees inside, the breeze by those windows is a shock.

The microwave vent is another drafty spot, and if the wind is howling outside and blowing directly on that wall of the RV, it blows right into the kitchen through the vent holes on the top of the microwave. One solution for that, of course, is to tape over the vent on the outside of the rig and not use the microwave for the duration of the cold snap (we haven’t done that, however).

Winter RV trip in the snow

The snowman gets a hat!

So, in our experience, keeping an RV and everything in it toasty warm when it is snowing out can require a little creativity.

Back in our house living days in snow country, we would set the thermostat to our preferred indoor temperature and keep it there 24/7, perhaps raising it slightly at the breakfast and dinner hours and lowering it slightly while we were at work or asleep.

When a blizzard blows into our RV lifestyle nowadays, we can have that kind of stable heat in our rig if we plug into shorepower with access to unlimited electricity. Portable electric heaters can back up the RV furnace, and RVs that have an air conditioner with a heat pump can use that (ours doesn’t).

We have a portable electric ceramic heater for just such an emergency where going to an RV park and plugging in is our best line of defense for weathering a storm.

However, it is possible to stay warm without hookups, even when it starts snowing.

RV in snow in winter

What fun!!

We rely on our vent-free propane heater for 95% of our heat year round. These little heaters use propane very efficiently, don’t need any electricity to run, and can be installed in an RV permanently to run off the RV’s propane tanks.

There are also handy portable models that can be stored in a closet when not in use and then placed anywhere in the rig where you want a little heat. These run on disposable propane bottles, so it isn’t necessary to plumb the heater to the RV’s big propane tanks.

Animal tracks in the winter snow

We found fresh animal tracks in the snow.

We have a detailed article describing the different kinds of vent-free propane heaters on the market, the pros and cons of each type and the type of heat they generate, plus a step-by-step guide for how to install one in an RV at this link:

How to Install a Vent-free Propane Heater in an RV

These heaters heat the rig amazingly quickly. We find that our 20k BTU blue flame heater warms our rig at a rate of about one degree every two minutes. So, in twenty minutes we can warm up our home by 10 degrees, and in an hour we can raise the inside temp by 30 degrees.

The best part is that we can hover over it and warm our hands, bodies and clothes, just like standing in front of a woodstove or fireplace. We do that a LOT and totally love our little heater for the terrific blast of instant hot air it provides!!!

How to heat an RV in winter and cold weather

When you’re chilled, there’s nothing like hovering over this heater!

We use our blue flame heater year round, and we have used it at elevations ranging from sea level to 10,000′.

This past year we traveled primarily in cold places where overnight lows were in the 30’s and 40’s. We went north through Utah, Idaho and Montana in March and April and spent May and early June in the Canadian Rockies. Consequently, we saw quite a bit of snow and hail, and during those months we used our heater almost every day.

Aspen and pine trees in winter snow

The snow in Colorado fell for hours and gave us a beautiful winter wonderland — in September!

Colorful aspens in winter snow storm with pine tree

Fall colors with snow – Magic!

We thawed out in July long enough to get overheated and write a blog post: “How to Beat the Heat in an RV.” Then it was back to the high elevations of Utah and Colorado in mid-August where we saw more hail and overnight lows in 30’s once again.

Our vent-free blue flame heater has been keeping us warm during all four seasons like this since Mark installed it in 2008!!

Snowy road with aspen for an RV in winter

.

Snowy road in winter

It was really cold, but it was so beautiful we didn’t mind!!

The basic difference between an RV furnace and a vent-free propane heater is this:

  • RV furnace – Uses a lot of electricity, uses propane inefficiently, brings fresh air into the rig (because it’s vented)
  • Vent-free propane heater – Doesn’t use electricity, burns propane efficiently, uses up oxygen in the RV

So each has its place under certain circumstances. In a nutshell:

— The ventless propane heater is awesome as long as there is sufficient oxygen for it to run. We like to use it in the mornings and evenings, and since we are in and out of the rig a lot, there is a lot of air exchange inside our RV from opening and closing the front door all day long as well as from all the drafts and breezes that blow in the RV windows and microwave vent.

— The RV furnace is best for other scenarios: in cases where there is a risk of the water pipes freezing (the hot air ducts keep the basement and water lines warm), at very high elevations in extreme cold, and at night, because it is vented and continually circulates the air in the rig. The RV furnace is very loud and tends to wake us up at night, however, so we don’t use it overnight very often.

So, we use our vent-free blue flame heater for 95% of our RV heating, and we turn to our RV furnace on rare occasions.

Aspen and pine trees in snow in winter

Fall colors and snow — a gorgeous combinations!

Dodge pickup truck covered in winter snow

This snowfall was definitely sticking around a while!

Vented vs. Ventless Propane Heaters and Propane RV Stoves & Ovens – Safety Concerns

An RV furnace is a vented system, meaning that it releases warm, moist air from inside the RV to the outside, and it brings cold air from outside to the inside of the rig. This makes it very inefficient in its use of propane, because it is essentially heating the outdoors as well as the indoors. Put your hands by the RV furnace vent outside, and they will get nice and warm and a bit damp too!

While RV furnaces are safely vented yet very inefficient, vent-free gas heaters are very efficient and are required by law to have an automatic shutoff when the available oxygen goes below a certain threshold (there is a built-in sensor that triggers the shut-off). We know when ours is about to shut off because the flame begins to sputter and make noise. Once it has shut itself off, it won’t turn on again until we air out the RV a little by opening the door or windows for a while.

Ironically, propane RV stoves and ovens are not required to shut off automatically when the available oxygen is depleted. To me, this makes them inherently quite a bit more dangerous than vent-free propane heaters.

Of course, an RV fitted with propane tanks is basically a rolling bomb, so it’s a very unsafe place to call home (I say this with a smile, because we wouldn’t trade our 9 years on the road for anything)!

Every time we have seen our blue flame heater shut itself off (probably 30+ times), the RV stove and/or oven has kept right on a-cookin’ without any hint that our supply of oxygen inside the rig was running out. We could easily have baked something in our factory installed propane RV oven and simmered something on our factory installed propane RV stove for hours while camped at 10,000′ with no inkling that the oxygen in our rig had dipped below safe levels!

Winter snow on RV steps

Welcome home…. Brrrrr!

Which Heater is Best Under Which Conditions?

For most of this year as we traveled in cold country, the lowest temperatures we saw were in the low to mid 30’s overnight. Daytime highs were in the mid-60’s to mid-70’s. These kinds of conditions are very similar to what we see in the southwestern deserts in the winter months (except January, which can be colder). These conditions are ideal for a vent-free propane heater.

We usually run our vent-free propane heater every morning until the rig is 60 to 75 degrees inside (depending on our mood) and then again in the evening if the temperature inside has dipped below 65. If the windows have fogged up from condensation (about 5% of the time, usually only in the winter), we run the RV furnace too to help dry the air out.

In general, we don’t heat our RV overnight in this kind of climate. We prefer to bundle up with down comforters instead. If we do run the heat at night, we use the RV furnace and set it to 50 degrees. If outdoor temps drop into the 30’s overnight, the RV furnace will come on once or twice in the pre-dawn hours.

Golden aspen in snow in winter

Golden aspen leaves in snow.

Ironically, if the outside temps dip really low — into the 20’s or teens — and daytime highs don’t get much past 50 degrees, then the RV furnace will start coming on before midnight and will come on every hour for 15-20 minutes as it struggles to keep the rig at 50 degrees.

Since we are light sleepers, this is extremely annoying. So, at the times we would want to run the RV furnace most — overnight when it’s really cold — we opt not to!

On overnights that we don’t heat the rig, when we wake up in the morning our bedroom is around 10-12 degrees warmer than the outside air (bedroom door closed all night) and our living area is around 5-7 degrees warmer than the outside air.

It is routine for us to wake up to temps in our trailer that are between 37 and 42 degrees. For us, that is a small price to pay for living off the grid, however, for many RVers it is good reason to get electric hookups and have more substantial and consistent heat in the rig overnight.

Aspen covered with snow in winter

The colors of Fall in Colorado.

There is a lot of debate about whether you can operate a ventless propane heater at high elevations. By the time we got caught in that September snow storm in Colorado two weeks ago, we had been living at elevations between 8,000′ and 10,000′ for 5 straight weeks, running our vent-free propane blue flame heater every morning and evening without a hitch.

Along with many weeks spent heating our rig at high elevations in previous years, including 8 weeks or so at 6,000′ or higher this past spring, our 5 weeks at 8 to 10 thousand feet this fall kind of proved the point for us: it’s no problem to run a vent-free propane heater at high altitudes in cool weather.

But in sub-freezing overnight temperatures and daytime highs in the 40’s under stormy skies at 10,000′ elevation, we’ve found a vent-free propane heater is best used in combination with the RV furnace.

Bikes on back of RV in snow

Well, we won’t be biking any time soon!!

Until the the snowstorm came to our mountaintop spot in the Colorado Rockies at 10,000′, we hadn’t been using the RV furnace at all. But once the temps dropped to the 20’s (lows) to 40’s (highs) at that elevation, we couldn’t rely on our blue flame heater exclusively any more and had to change our heating strategy for three reasons.

1) There is less available oxygen at 10,000′ than at lower elevations, and once the oxygen in the rig dipped below a certain level, the blue flame heater would shut itself off automatically. Because it was so cold outside, we weren’t thrilled about opening the windows and doors to let in more air just so we could turn on the blue flame heater again. It was time to use the RV furnace.

2) Our RV roof and ladder — along with our solar panels — was covered with snow and ice. Mark wasn’t jumping up and down with excitement to climb up there to clear off the solar panels, and I wasn’t about to get up on that slippery roof either. So, our batteries were no longer getting charged by the sun and wouldn’t have enough juice to run the RV furnace.

3) Vent-free propane heaters emit a lot of moisture. We had just had several days of torrential rain, and everything in our rig was wet. Our shower was filled with raincoats and rain hats hung up to dry, our boots and socks were wet and muddy by the door, our pants were wet and hanging in the bathroom and our bath towels refused to dry. While our blue flame vent-free heater would exacerbate the moisture problem, our RV furnace would help dry out the air inside our buggy.

Doing all these things gave us a nice dry and toasty warm environment to live in during this cold spell in snowy conditions at 10,000 feet.

To implement this heating strategy, we did two things. We stocked up on gasoline and propane and ran our Yamaha 2400i generator and RV furnace a lot. Sometimes we also ran the blue flame heater alongside the furnace.

Yamaha generator in bed of pickup truck in snow

Our Yamaha generator got a good hard workout for over a week.

The generator ensured that the batteries got fully charged. Because we were running our RV furnace so much, which burned up lots of electricity, the batteries were being depleted much faster than normal. So, not only did we need the generator because the solar panels were snoozing under the snow and ice, we also needed it because of running the RV furnace.

RV in snow in winter

A few weeks prior we had been roasting in the summer heat. What a crazy life we live in this RV!!

In general, we ran the RV furnace every morning until the rig was 65 degrees inside and then ran it on and off during the day and in the evening. If the air wasn’t too moist, we also ran blue flame vent-free heater alongside the furnace to warm things up faster. The vent-free propane heater never shut itself off, so the RV furnace was doing its job of circulating the air.

Golden aspen in snow by pond in winter

Getting creative heating our RV made it possible to enjoy views like this as it snowed.

Using the RV furnace also lessened the possibility of the water pipes freezing. The heater is ducted through the belly of the rig, and the warm air passing through the ducts helps warm the nearby water and sewer pipes. If the temps had gotten below 20 degrees, we would have run the RV furnace once or twice overnight as well just to be sure no ice formed in the pipes.

If we had had brilliantly sunny days every day, we may or may not have needed the generator. Our 490 watt solar panel array may have been able to charge the batteries fully, despite the additional load from the RV furnace.

Also, we probably wouldn’t have needed to use the RV furnace so much because the sun would have warmed up our rig and dried it out a bit during the day.

See how flexible and variable all this is??!!

Colorado fall colors after winter snow

This is why we came to Colorado at this season… Wow!!!

We have descended out of the clouds now and have been living at elevations between 5,000′ and 6,500′ for the past few weeks. The RV furnace is back on vacation and our trusty blue flame heater has taken over all the RV heating duties. Our generator is on break for another 6 months or year, and the shore power cord is buried somewhere in the basement once again.

RV in winter snow staying warm in cold weather

Snug as a bug in a rug!!

If you are going to be using your RV in cold weather this winter, we have another post full of tips for keeping warm that you might enjoy:

How to Stay WARM in an RV – Winter RVing Survival Tips

And if you think a vent-free propane heater is something you’d like to get, have a look at our detailed article that discusses the different types of heaters and shows how we installed ours:

Vent-free Propane Heaters (Catalytic, Infrared and Blue Flame) PLUS How to Install One in an RV

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Long Ride Travel by Horse and Bicycle!

July 2016 – One of the best things about our traveling lifestyle is having a chance to meet some of the really unusual and inspiring people who are out there traveling and seeing the world.

There are many ways to get out of the house and away from convention to start a life on the road exploring, and because we are out and about ourselves, we’ve bumped into some fascinating folks who have taken an approach to travel that is nothing like our own. Each one, in their own way, is having an adventure that is truly extraordinary.

Long Ride Lady with horses in Montana

Traveling full-time by RV is cool, but how about doing it by horse?!

On the 4th of July we stopped in Troy, Montana, way up in the northwest corner of the state near Idaho and Canada, so we could enjoy their “Old Fashioned” small town Independence Day celebration with a parade and a car show.

Troy Montana 4th of July Parade

The 4th of July parade kicks off in Troy, Montana!

The parade was terrific. There were lots of fire trucks and sirens and honking of horns, and tons of candy was thrown out on the ground for the kids to scramble after.

Little girl at 4th of July Parade Troy Montana

Little kids were diving for candy all over the place!

We joined a sizable throng lining the highway (which had been temporarily shut down for the parade), and we cheered everyone on.

Troy Montana 4th of July Parade Car Show

Now there’s a sweet ride!

Near the end of the parade, some horses went by. One in particular caught our eye. A petite woman in a very broad brimmed hat sat astride a horse, and she held the reins for a second horse that she had in tow. The second horse was carrying saddle bags and had a large sign on its back that said:

Lady Long Rider. 12 Years. 28,000 Miles. Today ends 8,000 mile Coast to Coast Journey.

Long Ride Lady Bernice Ende 28000 miles 12 years

28,000 miles…by horse?? Wow!

Holy Smokes!! Who was this gal and what was her story??

In a few seconds she was gone down the road, along with the rest of the equestrian part of the parade, and we were caught up once again in watching the kids dive for candy and cheering the floats that went by.

Later that evening, as we went through our photos from the day, we both stopped at our pics of this unusual “lady long rider” and wondered again what her story was.

The next day, when we were driving on a back road near the town of Libby, we were both completely shocked when we looked up the road and saw the Lady Long Rider walking towards us with her two horses, right down the middle of the road.

What luck! We pulled over and jumped out to talk to her.

Long Ride Lady Bernice Ende in Montana

The Lady Long Rider paused for a few minutes to chat with us and answer our flood of questions about her life.

She smiled warmly and began telling us about her journey as her horses took advantage of the moment and started doing some serious grazing in the tall grass.

Norwegian Fjord Horse

Her two beautiful Norwegian Fjord horses passed the time grazing while their mistress talked to us.

Her name was Bernice Ende, and we found out she has been traveling alone with her horses since 2005. She has covered 28,000 miles all together, criss-crossing the US and Canada several times. Her two horses, Essie Pearl and Montana Spirit, are both Norwegian Fjord horses. They are steady, strong and mellow horses that are ideal for this kind of long distance journey.

Bernice Ende Long Ride Lady with horses in Montana

We had a wonderfully low key encounter on a little used road.

Raised on a Minnesota dairy farm, and trained as a classical ballet dancer, she enjoyed a twenty-five year career as a ballet dance teacher that included teaching stints from San Francisco to Montana. After retiring from teaching, she struck out on a 2,000 mile Long Ride at age 50 with her first horse, Pride, to see a bit of the world. She hasn’t looked back since.

Her story touched me deeply, because much of it paralleled my own journey, with my performing arts figure skating background and my own powerful middle-aged yearning to seek adventure on the open road.

Like me, Bernice was raised by a strong, colorful mother who, along with her four aunts, inspired her with their independent and brave spirits. She says her mom “sought to change the world through education, the arts, science and…adventure,” and she instilled in Bernice an insatiable curiosity to find out what lies over the horizon.

Long Ride Lady Bernice Ende with horses in Montana

Bernice has been traveling with her horses since 2005.

She carries everything she needs on her horses, and she told us she hasn’t slept in a bed in a house since 2008. Totally self-sufficient, she even shoes her horses herself! We were amused to discover she lives without a cell phone too, just as we do.

She has dealt with adversity and faced some scary experiences, but the twinkle in her eye gave away her total love of this lifestyle.

“I cried the day I left and cried for weeks until fatigue finally broke the fear into tiny digestible  pieces. I eventually found a life that tantalized and called to me, a life that suited me. I remember thinking, ‘How will I ever return to a normal life?’ Well, I guess I never did.”

Her long rides have taken her all over North America on treks ranging from 2,000 to 8,000 miles and lasting from a few months to a few years, always bringing her back to Montana for a little R&R between trips.

Boots and packs on a long ride on a horse

Everything she and the horses need, from clothes and food to boots and shoes, is carried in packs.

We were both astonished to hear her story unfold. When Bernice started traveling, although she had ridden horses her whole life, and had even galloped around standing on her bareback horse at age 8, she knew little about long riding. Like so many brand new full-time travelers, she had much to learn.

She has ridden these long rides with several different horses. One of her most beloved horses, named Honor, died in a tragic corral accident that nearly ended her horseback travels. But she persevered and was encouraged and supported by newfound friends along the way, and she resumed her travels with another eager and willing horse named Hart who carried her for 8,000 miles before retiring at age 18.

Bernice Ende on 28,000 mile long horse back ride

Bernice, and her special mares Essie Pearl and Montana Spirit.

As we chatted, Bernice’s two mares munched the grass around us. She introduced us to each of them, but they were content to let us chat with each other while they got a quickie mid-morning snack and ignored the conversation.

Bernice’s little traveling trio was once a quartet that included her faithful companion Claire Dog. Named after Clara of the “(Not Quite) Nutcracker” performances her ballet classes put on, but with a much more unruly personality than her namesake, Claire Dog accompanied her mistress for 7,000 miles on her own four paws (sometimes wearing leather doggie moccasins) and then rode in a doggie box atop a horse for another 12,000 miles.

Sadly, Claire Dog left this earth last year at age 16, but Bernice herself shows no signs of slowing down or ending her travels.

Horses with Bernice Ende the Long Ride Lady in Montana

Bernice lets the horses know that snack time is over.

After spending a little time back in her cabin, which has been cared for by a friend in her very long absence, she will be out on another Long Ride to the eastern states soon.

One of her reasons for her Long Ride is to encourage women’s leadership. She visited Seneca Falls, New York, the birthplace for the women’s rights movement, and she has been invited to speak at Harvard University as well as at several women’s colleges in the eastern states. So, in her next tour she will travel to these campuses on her way to the Appalachian Mountains and the Smokies.

Essie Pearl and Montana Spirit with Bernice Ende in Montana

This trio will be walking and riding the eastern states very soon.

Our jaws were still agape long after Bernice had gathered her horses together and begun making her way down the road once again.

We had forgotten to ask her how far she was going that day or where she planned to stay that night. But she had told us she never plans ahead too much, and she camps much as we do, finding out-of-the-way places on public land.

Essie Pearl and Montana Spirit and Bernice Ende on Long Ride in Montana

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Adventure travelers come in all shapes and sizes, and just a few hours after seeing Bernice disappear down the road, we bumped into a pair of cyclists who have been touring for 3,000 to 4,000 miles each summer for the past five years. This couple had pitched their tent near us, and when I saw their cycling shorts hanging out on a line, I had to go over and find out more.

Rupert and Cyndy long distance cycling on bikes

Our Luxury Mobile makes a fine backdrop for these two rugged cyclists and their touring bikes.

Their names were Rupert and Cyndy, and it turned out that they had ridden with some of the same bike clubs and on some of the same long distance bike tours as we had back about ten or fifteen years ago, and we knew quite a few of the same people and cycling routes. What a small world!

For this summer, Rupert and Cyndy had decided to do multiple “loop tours” in western Montana, rather than riding in a straight line from one destination to another or doing a single big loop from home. So far they had covered about 1,000 miles around east and west Glacier National Park, up into Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park and around Whitefish, Montana.

Rupert and Cyndy long distance bike riding cyclists

Rupert and Cyndy have about 18,000 miles of international self-supported
bike touring under their wheels.

Like Bernice, Rupert and Cyndy are very experienced in their mode of travel. They have done about 18,000 miles of self-supported bicycle tours all over the world. They have ridden all around the western states, up and over the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado, all through Maine and New Hampshire and into Nova Scotia and even in Newfoundland. They’ve ridden throughout the Canadian Rockies, including two trips along the breathtaking Icefileds Parkway.

They’ve also ridden their bikes overseas, touring both the north and south islands of New Zealand and cycling all over Italy.

Perhaps the most fun surprise for me, though, was discovering that Cyndy studied ballet for 13 years and had a 30 year career as a gymnastics instructor. What are the odds of meeting two such similar women as Cyndy and Bernice within hours in one day?

Long Distance Cycling

The rainy forecast didn’t daunt these two as they set out to ride 60 miles or so to their next stop.

Rupert and Cyndy often take advantage of a wonderful website for cyclists, WarmShowers.org, where folks that wish to host traveling cyclists can make their home available to them and where cyclists looking for a place to pitch their tent and take a warm shower can find one.

They have hosted lots and lots of cyclists from all over the world at their home, and during their cycling tours they have been hosted many times as well. They’ve found it’s a really rewarding way to travel.

They sipped a cup of coffee with us at our campsite before they left and then headed out for the day’s 60 mile ride to their next destination. Like Bernice, they weren’t sure exactly where they would bed down that night, but they talked with excitement about the travel adventures that lay ahead, and they couldn’t wait to hit the road and get started.

18 721 Long distance cycling

There are many ways to travel, and our truck and trailer and sailboat have given us some beautiful experiences over the last nine years. But it is a thrill to cross paths with other travelers who are voyaging long distances for extended periods of time via very different means.

I’m not sure I could be a Long Rider or a long distance self-supported touring cyclist, but what a joy it was to chat with these travelers and hear about their lives on the road. In the end, though, as our conversations flowed and we found our common bonds, it seemed that the most significant journey we had all taken in our many years of travel was not to one particular destination or another but was the journey within that happens when you leave convention behind and follow the rhythm of your own heart.

As Bernice wrote on her website after six years of travel:

“I think with each ride I grow a deeper appreciation for others, for the country I live in, and for the animals that willingly travel with me… Now, with nearly 17,000 miles under my saddle, I am beginning to know what long riding is about….A never ending education. A reminder that the most important thing about traveling from A to B is what is in between.”

There are links for Bernice’s website, Long Riding and Long Distance Cycling below.

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How to Beat the Summer Heat in an RV

There are a lot of ways to beat the heat in summertime when you’re traveling in an RV. The most obvious is simply to head to a cool place when a heat wave hits. Afterall, your home has wheels!

How to Beat the Heat in an RV

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But there are other things you can do to prevent the sun from baking the interior of your home, even if you don’t have electrical hookups to run the air conditioner. And if it does get unbearably sultry, and you do need to run the A/C from a portable gas generator, there are some tricks we’ve learned to make it possible…

GO SOMEWHERE COOL – In the MOUNTAINS, FAR NORTH and/or NEAR WATER

Cooler places are located either in high elevations, and/or up north, and/or by a big body of water — the ocean or a lake.

This may seem simplistic, but places in the eastern states like Acadia National Park in Maine, where you might get out on a boat, or the White Mountains in New Hampshire where you might catch a cool train ride to the top, are good bets.

Moraine Lake Rocky Mountains in Canada

Moraine Lake in Banff National Park is a cool place, even mid-summer.

In the west, the key to temperature is elevation. Many folks who are new to the western states are surprised to find out that there can be a 20 degree difference in temperature between two places that are just 150 miles apart.

For instance, Phoenix, Arizona (1,100′ elevation), is 20 degrees hotter than Flagstaff, Arizona (6,900′ elevation). And the North Rim of the Grand Canyon (9,000′ elevation), (about 200 miles further away) can easily be another 10 degrees cooler than that.

Likewise, Stanley, Idaho is about 15 degrees cooler than Boise, Idaho. It is just a few hours north but is 3,500′ higher up.

In Utah, Zion National Park (3000′ elevation) is 10 degrees hotter than Bryce National Park (9,000′ elevation), and if that’s still a little toasty, a run up to Cedar Breaks National Monument (10,000′ elevation) will be just a bit cooler still.

RV in mountains and trees

Camping near trees in the mountains is pretty cool!

Generally, you can’t go wrong in the Rocky Mountains, and a trip to Ouray, Colorado (7,700′), or Banff National Park in Canada will definitely be much cooler than most other places when a heat wave buries North America.

Similarly, the coasts enjoy wonderfully cool sea breezes. The whole west coast, from San Diego to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington is much much cooler than the communities that lie directly inland (over the coastal mountains), 150 miles from the coast.

Go to the beach to stay cool in summer

Life is definitely cool at the beach (Lake Pend Oreille, Sandpoint, Idaho)!

Bandon, Oregon, on the Pacific coast is 15 degrees cooler than Bend, Oregon, which is in the inland desert, baking away behind the range of coastal mountains that stop the flow of cool air coming in from the Pacific.

If the ocean isn’t easily accessible, spending time near a big lake can do the trick.

Play in the water to stay cool in summer

Want to get cool? Find your inner child and play in the water with a toy wagon.

Large lakes offer “sea breezes” in the afternoons, and many lakeside towns have fantastic waterfronts, like Seneca Falls, New York, in the Finger Lakes, and McCall, Idaho, on Payette Lake.

GO SOMEWHERE COOL IN TOWN

The worst part of the day is the late afternoon and evening, and that’s a great time to get out of the rig. A late afternoon or early evening outdoor picnic under a shady tree in a place with a breeze or cool grassy lawn will work wonders. A trip to the air conditioned library or bookstore with a little cafe inside can be a delightful change of pace.

A hot afternoon is a perfect time to take in a matinee at the local cinema. If the laundromat is air conditioned, the heat of the afternoon might be the time to get that chore done, or if your laundry is already clean, doing the week’s grocery shopping could give you an hour or two of air conditioned respite at the supermarket.

HOW TO RUN a 15K BTU RV AIR CONDITIONER with a YAMAHA 2400i GENERATOR

Sometimes, it’s just too darned hot to survive without air conditioning, and in that case it’s really nice to turn it on.

We boondock every night, and we have just 490 watts of solar power on our RV roof and 434 amp-hours of battery capacity in the basement.

Yamaha 2400i portable gas generator for RV

Our generator gets a good workout a few times a year running our 15k BTU air conditioner.

Dometic RV Air Conditioner 15k BTU

This RV roof AC unit takes some oomph to run!

So, the only way we can get air conditioning in our trailer is to drag out our Yamaha 2400i gas generator and set it up to run our Coleman 15,000 BTU air conditioner.

Some folks say this can’t be done, but we’ve been doing it for years.

We use a variety of adapters to plug the generator into the shore power outlet on the outside of the rig.

To get from the 15 amp outlet on the generator to our shore power outlet on the outside of our trailer, we could use one adapter plus the shore power cord:

50 amp Female to 15 amp Male dogbone adapter

15 amp Male to 50 amp Female dogbone adapter (15 amp Male plugs into generator)

50 amp 125 : 250 volt RV shore power cord

50 amp 125-250 volt RV shore power cord (50 amp Male plugs into dogbone above)

However, when we first bought our trailer, we stayed at an RV park that had a 30 amp pedestal that didn’t match our 50 amp shore power cord, so we had to buy an adapter. Making good use of that adapter with our generator now, we use two adapters plus our shore power cord when we connect to the generator:

30 amp Female to 15 amp Male dogbone adapter

15 amp Male to 30 amp Female dogbone adapter
(15 amp Male plugs into generator)

50 amp Female to 30 amp Male RV dogbone adapter

30 amp Male to 50 amp Female to RV dogbone adapter
(30 amp Male plugs into previous dogbone)

50 amp 125-250 volt RV shore power cord

50 amp 125-250 volt RV shore power cord
(50 amp Male plugs into previous dogbone)

When the generator is powering the RV this way, the generator supplies power to the converter inside the trailer (or inverter/charger), which charges the batteries as efficiently as possible using a multi-stage charging algorithm (if the converter or inverter/charger is a “smart” charger).

Our 2400 watt generator is able to power our 15K BTU air conditioner just fine. However it sometimes takes a little coaxing to get it to fire up because there is a big spike when the air conditioner’s compressor first turns on. Over the years, we’ve learned that the trick to persuading it to run is the following:

  1. Run the generator for a few minutes with no load and make sure it is warmed up
    (also make sure the hot water heater and fridge are set to “gas” and no other electrical appliances are running)
  2. On the air/heat control unit, set the Fan button to High On
  3. Set the System button to Fan and let it run for a few minutes
  4. Set the System button to Cool and listen to the compressor come on
Coleman RV air conditioning control unit

Make sure the genny is warm and let it power the fan on high for a while first… THEN switch on the A/C.

Sta-Bil Gas stabilizer

Keeps the gas in the genny fresh

If the last step trips the breaker on the generator, set the System button back to Off, restart the generator and try again.

On a few occasions it has taken us 2-3 tries to get the air conditioner going. However, most of the time it fires up on the first try.

We always run it for 4-6 hours when we turn it on, and it purrs along just fine. However, we run the air conditioning just a few days each year. The rest of the time we stay cool using other means.

To keep the gas in the generator (and in the gas can) fresh and to ensure quick starts after storage and to prevent gumming and varnish, Mark puts the stabilizer Sta-Bil Gas stabilizer in the gas.

POSITION THE RV
— BIGGEST WINDOWS FACE NORTH and SMALLEST WINDOWS FACE WEST

The toughest time of day is the afternoon when the sun is in the southwest and western sky and is slowly baking the RV. Sometimes it seems to take forever for the sun to set while everything inside the rig quietly fries!

No matter what the wall and roof insulation R-factor is for an RV, the windows are where all the heat comes in. So, keeping them shaded as much as possible throughout the day makes all the difference in the world.

Every rig has a different arrangement of windows, but if you can position the biggest ones to face north or east and the smallest ones (or the wall with no windows if you have one) towards the west and southwest, the difference to the interior temperature will be astonishing.

If there is a way to block the afternoon sun entirely by parking next to shade trees or a building, that is even better.

SET UP THE RV AWNING

Even if the awning will only shade a small part of the RV’s walls and windows for a few hours of the day, this is still helpful! When an RV wall gets hot, you can feel the warmth on the inside of the rig. And you can especially feel it in the cabinets. There’s nothing like a hot bottle of olive oil in the kitchen pantry!

Shade from RV awning

Even though it’s shading just one small window, the awning is keeping the whole wall cool.

Modern rigs have wonderful powered awnings, but ours is the old fashioned manual crank type of awning. The other day we heard two RVers complaining about how putting these old awnings out was really difficult and was a two man job.

It’s actually not that bad, and Mark does it by himself in just a few minutes. Here are the steps:

How to set up RV awning - loosen handle

1. Unscrew the knob on the back of each awning arm.

How to set up RV awning - undo clip

2. Open the clip right above the knob on each awning arm

How to set up RV awning - use tool to lower lever

3. Use the awning tool to open the lever on the roller

How to set up RV awning - lower lever

4. Pull down on the lever to open it.

How to set up RV awning - lever in lowered position

The roller lever is now in the down position.

How to set up RV awning - hook awning loop

5. Use the awning tool to pull out the awning by grabbing the webbing loop

How to set up RV awning - pull awning out

6. Pull the awning part way out with the awning tool

How to set up RV awning - lower awning completely

7. Grab the webbing and pull the awning out the rest of the way

How to set up RV awning - Close RV door handle

8. Close the RV door handle to get it out of the way

How to set up RV awning - Pull awning arm out

9. Slide out the awning arm in its track

How to set up RV awning - Tighten down awning arm

10. Pushing down on the awning arm to keep the canvas taught, tighten the knob.

How to set up RV awning - Tighten down other awning arm

Do this on both sides

How to set up RV awning - Raise awning

11. Open the big awning handle to raise the awning up.

If it looks like it might rain, position one side of the awning a little lower than the other so the water will drain off of the awning.

When Mark closes up the awning for travel, he puts velcro straps around the arms to keep them from accidentally opening as we travel.

Another neat awning trick is to get an awning shade extension that drops from the edge of the awning to the ground. This provides shade from touching the rig even when the sun is at a low angle.

INSULATE THE WINDOWS and HATCHES INSIDE

The day/night shades in most RVs are great for reducing sunshine in the rig, but do little for eliminating the heat that pours in through the glass and metal frame.

RV window in summer heat

Pulling down our night shades doesn’t block much direct sunlight.

We cut Reflectix, which is a bubble wrap kind of aluminum foil that comes in a huge roll, to fit each window (a pair of scissors is all you need). We labeled each piece for the window it fits into.

Reflectix rolled up to keep RV cool in summer

Reflectix picks up where RV insulation leaves off…

We raise the RV’s day/night shades, press the piece of Reflectix against the window, and then lower the shade to hold the Reflectix in place.

RV window in summer heat with Reflectix

A layer of Reflectix behind the shade blocks all the sun!

RV Vent Insulator

When leaving the trailer, we close the hatches
and put vent insulators in them.

In our big rear window we jam a pillow under the large piece of Reflectix to hold it up. Otherwise it would drop to the floor.

If we are going to leave the rig for a while, we close all the windows and put an RV Vent Insulator in each of the roof vents. It is amazing to come home after many hours of running around to find that the rig is still fairly cool inside.

However, if we are planning to stay home, we don’t like to live in a tomb, so we have another strategy using fans and open windows that allows us to have some ambient light coming in…

STAY COOL WITH FANS

We rely on two different types of fans to stay cool.

Vent Fans

We have a Fan-tastic Vent Fan in two of our trailer’s four roof hatches. These are designed to push a maximum amount of air in or out of the rig. We set them to push the air out of the rig, and then we open the windows on the shaded side of the trailer to let the cool air from outside come in.

Fan-tastic Fan in RV hatch

Fan-tastic Fan in an RV hatch

If we were to replace our Fan-tastic Fans, or if we wanted to upgrade another hatch to one of these or a similar type of vent fan, we would choose a very simple model that does just the basics.

Our Fan-tastic Fans are whiz-bang models with remote control, rain-sensing, auto-opening, auto-closing, slicing and dicing and who knows what else. Unfortunately, they have minds of their own, and they won’t listen to reason.

They auto open and auto close at the weirdest times, they don’t necessarily know when it’s raining, and they make it impossible for the mechanically challenged (ahem…me) to turn them on or off or to open and close them. There are way too many buttons that do way too many different things.

Also, Mark has had to rebuild various parts of both of these fans, and by the colorful flow of expletives I heard him let loose on these jobs, I would gather that it was not easy.

Portable Fans

While vent fans help move fresh air through the rig by forcing hot air out the vents and pulling cool air in through the windows, portable fans are a godsend to aim right at you when you start reaching the boiling point.

We have a standalone, portable 12 volt Fan-tastic Endless Breeze Fan (and DC extension cord) so we can move it around the rig.

Fan-tastic Endless Breeze Fan

A 12 volt fan may seem necessary, but…

We got this fan in Quartzsite one year for our (not yet purchased) sailboat and we’ve used it a lot in the years since then. But it is extremely noisy. Forget trying to sleep with it running nearby! It’s also kind of silly to spend so much money on a 12 volt fan when a smaller and quieter 120 volt fan will do just as good a job, if not better, for a fraction of the cost. All you need is an inverter.

Portable fan in RV to keep cool

…A small, quiet, cheap portable fan will run on an inverter just fine!

Our little portable fan is terrific, but there are lots of portable fans in all kinds of styles that are just as good.

MAKE ICY DRINKS!

Last of all, there’s nothing that can cool down your body temp like an ice cold drink. A smoothie in a blender tastes wonderful and can bring your core temp down quite a bit. We make ice using old fashioned ice cube trays in our freezer, and we use a few cubes and frozen fruit in our smoothies to ensure they are as cold as possible.

Our Osterizer blender draws 1000 watts, which is well within the limit for our 2,000 watt pure sine wave inverter.

Osterizer blender and frozen berries for smoothie to keep cool in RV in summer

Smoothie time – Get cool with lots of ice and frozen fruit!!

Those are a few of our tips for surviving the dog days of summer in our RV without hookups. It can take a little finagling and strategy, but these things have kept us cool in our trailer for ten summers now!

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One Ton Towing Machines and 75 Years of Trailer Life

The July 2016 issue of Trailer Life Magazine is featuring our article about what it takes for a One Ton Truck to be a true heavy duty towing machine. We are incredibly proud to have been asked to write this article about diesel trucks for Trailer Life, and especially that it appears in this month’s very special edition: Trailer Life’s 75th Anniversary Issue.

Trailer Life Magazine Choosing a Truck for Heavy Duty Towing

Trailer Life Magazine – July 2016
Article by: Emily Fagan. Photos by Mark & Emily Fagan
You can read the article here: One Ton Towing Machines

Trailer Life Magazine has been reviewing trucks and giving readers insights and pointers for towing trailers since 1941. As they note on the cover, Trailer Life is “North America’s oldest and most-read magazine for RV enthusiasts.”

Besides our 7 page article about selecting a diesel pickup truck for towing a heavy trailer, this issue looks back at 75 years of RV history and has some wonderful articles on the evolution of RVing.

2016 Dodge Ram 3500 Dually truck in Valley of the Gods Utah

Trucks and trailers have gone through a huge evolution in the past 75 years!

From the Bowlus Road Chief aluminum sided trailers that resembled an upside down boat and inspired the Airstream, to the Shasta trailers that my hubby Mark remembers from his boyhood camping days with his family, to the iconic Winnebago bread box motorhomes with the big “W” on the side that we still see people driving all over the country, this issue of Trailer Life takes us back in time.

1937 Bowlus Road Chief

A 1937 Bowlus Road Chief — precursor to the Airstream Trailer!

1954 Shasta Travel Trailer

1954 Shasta Travel Trailer – Mark camped in one of these as a kid!

In this issue, they also talk about the resurgence of interest in retro trailers — we see so many retro trailers on the road as we travel! — and they also have a biographical article about the “Godfather” of Trailer Life Magazine, Art Rouse.

1950 Chevy and 1947 Tear Drop Trailer

We spotted a 1950 Chevy and 1947 Tear Drop Trailer in Sun Valley Idaho

1959 Streamline Trailer

We met up with owners/restorers of a 1959 Streamline Trailer in Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona

It is really exciting for our contribution about 2016 diesel trucks to be published this month right alongside such a fun and detailed retrospective look at the RV industry’s history.

Americans — and the world — have taken to RV living in trailers and motorhomes with great gusto for many years. We first got a true feeling for this long history when we visited the RV/MH Hall of Fame Museum in the heart of the RV industry — Elkhart, Indiana — back when we traveled through that area in 2010.

A Visit to the RV/MH Hall of Fame Museum

Besides being able to go into the museum library and peruse yellowed copies of Trailer Life, Escapees Magazine and Motorhome Magazine, as well as many others, from decades ago (the advertisements are hilarious and say so much about American culture in each era!), we also took a walk back in time along their winding indoor “Road Back in Time” exhibit. This took us past and through small and classic RVs from every decade.

RV-MH Hall of Fame Museum Road Back in Time

The “Road Back in Time” at the RV/MH Hall of Fame Museum in Elkhart, Indiana

Some of the craziest and earliest trailers of nearly 100 years ago were just a canvas tent on wheels (some even had wooden wheels!). The museum also displays Mae West’s House Car and other exotics, as well as a few Shasta, Mallard and Coachmen trailers and Winnebago motorhomes from the 50’s to the 70’s.

1967 19' Winnebegao Motor Home

a 19′ 1967 Winnebegao Motorhome on the “Road Back in Time”

But the cool thing is to see these oldies-but-goodies out on the road and still in use as we travel, and to meet people who have bought brand new retro style trailers too. You can get the old fashioned look but have all brand new appliances with the latest technology. How fun!

Modern retro trailer RV

We had a chance to peek inside a brand new retro-style trailer in City of Rocks. NM – Wonderful!

Retro trailer RV

This fantastic retro trailer was pulled by a Honda Element… perfect!

Trailer Life Magazine has been celebrating their 75th anniversary all year long with some really intriguing online articles about the RV industry’s history. Here a link to a few delightful ones:

75 Years of Trailer Life – Online Article Index

For anyone contemplating the RV life or currently enjoying it, Trailer Life Magazine fills a special educational and inspirational niche. It is available both as a glossy print magazine and in digital form online.

After being subscribers ourselves for many years, we began publishing travel destination and technical features in their pages a few years ago (a sampling can be read here), and we still find something new and valuable in every issue. You can subscribe to Trailer Life’s print magazine or digital edition here:

Subscribe to Trailer Life Magazine

We love vintage trailers and get such a kick out of seeing them on the road. We’ve had a few fun enounters with owners of special trailers who have lovingly restored them:

As for buying a big ol’ truck to tow a modern monster fifth wheel trailer, there are some important things to take into account, as not all One Ton trucks are created equal, by a long shot. We talk about a few of those “must have” features in this blog post:

What to Look For When Choosing a Truck for Heavy Duty Towing – Tips for Truck Buyers

There are also quite a few other articles about trucks and towing on this blog as well:

Blog posts about trucks and trailer towing:

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