2016  HIKING, CYCLING,

& RV TRAVEL ADVENTURES

Thunder Mountain Trail, Red Canyon, UT

 

   
 
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   OUR MORPHING RV LIFESTYLE:  
MORE FREEDOM = DIFFERENT CHALLENGES

SUNDAY, JANUARY 3

 
"It's a pretty miserable day here -- rain, cold, and some sleet on and off. The thing about   
full-timing is when the weather is bad, you can't go home. Not compainin', just sayin'.
. . .  Ah, there's some blue sky. Better get out there!"
 
~ Jim, in an e-mail to a friend, from Horsethief CG
on the Canyonlands, UT "Islands in the Sky" mesa
 
 

Our buddy Eric quickly replied that maybe we "can't go home" because we are home but we can always drive to where the weather is better! He's absolutely right, and we've done that many times. Some flexibility is crucial for full-time RVers.

Our lifestyle and manner of travel have certainly morphed over the seventeen years that Jim and I have been together.

Although we both dreamed of extensive travel after we retired from the daily grind of the workaday world in 2004, we didn't originally imagine a life without a permanent home base. Full-time RVing wasn't even on our radar then but it's a satisfying way of life for us now.


We have taken our little mobile house with us all over North America, including twice
through Canada to Alaska. This is a view of Worthington Glacier north of Valdez. (June, 2015)

This entry describes the evolution of our RV lifestyle, our current rolling residence and other vehicles, weather and other challenges full-time RVers face, and the types of camping ("glamping?") we prefer.

Let's start with what we live in and how we transport it from Point A to Point B.

OUR VEHICLES

When Jim retired we had a 2001 diesel 4WD F-250 truck and 2003 HitchHiker II 5th-wheel trailer that we had purchased new and used for one- or two-week camping trips while he was still employed.

Within a few years we wore both of them out with long cross-country trips twice (or more) a year.

When the Ford needed extensive repairs in early 2009 we upgraded to a new 2008 diesel 2WD Dodge Ram 2500 truck. The next year we purchased a new 2010 Carriage Cameo 36-foot 5th-wheel coach, which we are still using. We got good deals on both vehicles because of our timing during the recession when RV and truck manufacturers/dealers were willing to make less profit.


Odyssey, Ram, Cameo (off-doorside) at Zion Canyon RV Park, Springdale, UT  (4-10-16)

The truck and camper are still in good condition, thanks to Jim's hard work to keep them well-maintained.

The cost of new or good used trucks and RVs is so exorbitant now, in a booming economy, that we hope to keep both of these vehicles for several more years -- especially the Cameo, which is more expensive to replace. We like its quality build (for an RV, which gets shaken up a lot in transit), modern design, convenient layout, and neutral cream-tan-brown color scheme.

Jim does most of the maintenance and repairs on our vehicles. Some day I want to do an entry focusing on all the modifications and upgrades he's done on the Cameo. His largest projects have been the addition of solar panels and installing hydraulic disc brakes but he's done many other improvements besides those.


Doorside view with awning retracted at Horsethief BLM Campground in the Moab, UT area; we 
relied on those solar panels, batteries, inverter, and generator with no hookups for 11 days.  (4-22-16)

We also travel with our 2002 Honda Odyssey, which has about the same number of miles as the truck (~ 140,000 in late March, 2016). The minivan is not worth much to trade or sell but it's worth its weight in gold to us because it's more comfortable and economical than the truck to drive when we're camped somewhere.

The main challenge with having an extra vehicle is having to drive separately to new locations. I drive the car and follow Jim:


Unless you're the lead dog, the view never changes . . . Jim wants me to
drive this close but when I do, I can't see far enough ahead to be safe. 
(Riding above the swamps on I-10 in Louisiana in April, 2015)


I have great views when I drive farther behind him (heading toward Zion National Park, UT recently).

Cody rides with me because it's easier for him to get in and out of the minivan than the truck. Casey rides with Jim in the truck while he tows the Cameo from one campground to the next.

Sometimes I wish for a nimble, high-clearance 4WD vehicle instead of the minivan so we can access more rugged dirt roads/trailheads -- or Moab's slick rock trails:


Someone else is having fun in their Jeep at Salt Flats Recreation Area
on a multiuse 4WD/cycling/hiking trail near Moab, UT.  (4-25-16)

We'll probably keep the Odyssey until it costs more than it is worth to repair. At that point we might decide to not replace it and just use the truck to get around. That would be simpler and less expensive. Or we could get a newer truck at that time with 4WD.

Now let's get to some of the other ways our RVing lifestyle has evolved over the years.

LESS & LESS STRUCTURE

When we worked, we had a lot of structure and limited time to travel. That forced us to pick and choose where we went very carefully. Those trips were mostly focused on the ultra-distance foot races we ran all over the USA and were limited to no more than two weeks at a time.

After we were both retired, but still owned a house, we had lots more freedom and time to travel. Although we had less structure in our lives, we timed our ultras and long summer and winter trips out West to include the drive back to Virginia to see our doctors and take care of our property in the spring and fall when the colors were pretty and the weather was nice.


Pretty fall colors near Cedar Breaks Natl. Monument, UT  (9-21-15)

Then five or six years ago we both had to give up running because of knee problems described in the previous entry. No running left us with less structure because we weren't planning our travel around ultrarunning events any more. We had even more options of where to travel and when.

The last eighteen months since we sold our house have been almost without any structure. Now there is no need to return to Virginia twice a year to check up on the house and see our medical providers.

All that freedom sounds great. We can come and go anywhere we can haul the Cameo, right?

Wrong. We really don't have unlimited travel options in an RV, more because of weather considerations than our personal preferences.

WEATHER CHALLENGES FOR FULL-TIME RVers

Granted, Jim and I prefer a moderate temperature range all year long and no snow, ice, or sleet. We're weather-weenies. We do our best to plan our destinations with that in mind -- warm places in the winter, cool places in the summer, or what I call the "Dandelion Time Warp" because it's like eternal spring at the various latitudes and elevations we choose.

But the main reason we try to stay in areas that are above freezing is more practical than just personal preference. When you live in a RV, even one rated for "all-season" use, frozen pipes are not desirable!

Nor are high winds. They are a real safety issue in a relatively flimsy RV. I'm sure you've seen on TV or in person the devastation wrought by tornadoes to entire communities of stick-built houses. The images from mobile home and RV parks are even worse; those news videos freak us out.


Hmmm . . . that doesn't look good! Dark clouds on a schizo day on the high mesa near Canyonlands NP
in Utah; we had everything at our CG from sunshine to rain, sleet, and hail that day but no wind.  (4-28-16)

So we watch weather forecasts and trends very closely when we're making travel plans and on a day-to-day basis wherever we're parked.

Here's one good example. In late April, 2015 we changed our plan to camp in Austin, TX for the month of May because of all the tornadoes and flooding we heard about that spring. It certainly wasn't the first time we've modified our plans because of violent weather somewhere up ahead.

We can't always avoid inclement weather, though.

In the example above, instead of Austin we spent last May at one of our favorite places, the USAF Academy in Colorado Springs. We've been there a couple times before in May when the weather was warm and sunny.


Jim rides along the popular bike path above Monument Creek in Colorado Springs.  (5-25-15)

We expected it to be warm and sunny again. Some days were, like in the photo above, but even NOAA's forecasts aren't accurate several weeks ahead so we didn't know what was in store for us.

Last May the Springs had some below-average temperatures and three separate sleet storms that dumped several inches of white stuff on the RV park! We had several nights below freezing but we managed to keep our pipes from freezing (there are several tricks to doing that).

The dogs and I enjoyed the sleet/snow while it lasted briefly. We much preferred the dry, warm, sunny days better, though, and it was still a lot safer and more comfortable than Austin last May.


Pretty (but unexpected) snow at the USAFA  (5-10-15)

More recently we were in a dilemma re: where to spend the winter season 2016-7.

I'd like to go back to Kings Bay Sub Base near Jacksonville, FL and the Blue Angel Navy Recreation Area in Pensacola, FL. Even though we enjoyed the last three winters in northern Florida and southern Georgia we're glad we weren't in that area of the country this winter.


Colorful beavertail cactus blooms brighten the spring desert near Yuma, AZ.  (2-21-16)

Yuma's warm, dry, low-desert climate was a much safer option for RVers than this winter's copious rain, high winds, and tornadoes in the Southeast. We're relieved we got it right this past winter season.

We haven't done as well this spring, however, with some unexpected cold, wet weather in southern Utah in late April/early May. That's OK. We're keeping warm and know the temps will get back to the 70s F. again pretty soon.

Won't they??

OK, NOW WHERE SHOULD WE GO??

Another challenge with our virtually unlimited freedom to travel all over the continent has been the sheer immensity of choices we have.

Sometimes having so many options is a bit overwhelming to us.

During our lives we've had the opportunity to see many interesting places around the U.S. and Canada. There are still a lot of places we haven't seen and would like to visit. We're continually doing research online and by talking with other travelers to get ideas of new things we'd enjoy doing and seeing.


Jim rides by a pretty pond near Teklanika CG on the road in Denali National Park. Alaska is
one of our favorite destinations but it's not practical to drive up there very often.  (7-22-15)

It's often easier to figure out where we want to go and what we want to do than it is to find convenient and suitable places to park the RV.

That takes a lot more research. We try to find central locations where we can do hikes, bike rides, and day trips in one or more directions. Sometimes the drives end up being too long and wearing us out. There's always a learning curve for every new place we visit.

I'll talk more about how our "camping" choices have morphed in a bit. First I want to mention another major challenge we face as full-time RVers.

MEDICAL INCONTINUITY

That's incontinuity, not incontinence!! <grin>

Probably the biggest challenge for us since we've begun full-time RVing is the lack of medical continuity. Jim joked (?) one day when he was frustrated about when and where to make a particular medical appointment that we made a mistake selling our house in Virginia.

No, he doesn't regret that decision. What he meant was that it was easier in that regard when we had a home base -- we went back to Roanoke every spring and fall, not only to check on the house but also for our annual and semi-annual dental and medical appointments.


Now we're free to go anywhere we want at any time of the year. This is what
springtime looks like at Zion National Park in Utah.  (4-15-16)

Occasionally we have needed medical care when out traipsing around the country and we've found suitable providers that accepted our insurance carriers but we still had regular contact once or twice a year with the same general practitioner, orthopedists (seems like a different one for every joint in our body), dermatologist, dentist, optician, chiropractor, massage therapist, etc.

But now that we don't have a home base, and don't want to return to Virginia twice a year, we have to find each of those medical folks . . . all around the country . . . when our regular check-ups are due.

We don't always go to the same area every year, let alone every six months, so when we need our semi-annual teeth cleanings and various orthopedic injections, or even our annual physicals and other visits, we have to find new providers in a different city each time.

Sometimes it's rather easy, sometimes not so much.


View down to the Virgin River canyon from the trail to Observation Point at Zion NP, one of Sue's all-
time favorite hikes. This is not a trail for folks afraid of narrow ledges and 2,000-foot drops! (4-14-16)

We knew medical continuity might become a problem before we sold our house so it wasn't a big surprise.

No, this challenge isn't enough to change our minds about finding another home base somewhere, but sometimes we get so frustrated that it's tempting. It's just not practical right now. If we aren't even at the point yet of wanting to visit the same areas of the country every six months or every year, how can we possibly think about renting or buying a place somewhere??

One option we've discussed, however, is leasing or buying an RV space that's suitable for either summer or winter use and at least going back to it once a year.

That type of RV park is most common in Florida and Arizona for winter use. Then we could at least have three other seasons to travel wherever else we wanted. It's an option.

LEVELS OF RV PARK AMENITIES

Another gradual change in our travel MO over the years has been the types of campgrounds or RV parks where we prefer to stay and for how long.

There are several reasons for this -- different destinations since we no longer attend ultra distance mountain trail races, more discretionary income with no house to maintain any more, and simply getting older and wanting less work and more comfort.


One of our favorite winter destinations: Eagle Hammock RV Park at Kings Bay Sub Base near
St. Mary's, GA offers full hookups, cable TV, and WiFi at $570/month for lakeside sites. (Nov., 2014)

We used to stay quite a bit in local, state, and national parks, national forests, or BLM lands with few to no hookups.

Those campgrounds are usually much less expensive than private RV parks. They often have more space/privacy between sites, although the sites are sometimes too small for our camper or the access too cramped, and they are often located in beautiful, quiet places.

However, they are a lot more work for Jim, with few or no hookups -- hauling water, dumping gray and black water properly, using and maintaining the generator, solar panels, batteries, inverter, etc.

Above and below:  Imperial Dam Long Term Visitor Area (LTVA) north of Yuma, AZ,
about 5,000 acres of BLM land where RVers boondock for up to 7 months in the winter.
There are no hookups but water and dump stations are available. We had over an 
 acre of land to ourselves and our own "driveway" in early 2012  (photo above).

One step up is a campground with individual sites like Reunion Flat Campground in Teton Canyon, WY on the west side of Grand Teton National Park. It's a national forest campground with no water, sewer or electrical hookups but individual sites have picnic tables and grills.

We've reserved the site below at least four times for several days to a week. It's inexpensive (half price with our senior NPS pass), very quiet next to a small creek, and convenient to wilderness trails where we can hike with the dogs. There is a bathroom nearby and Jim can connect our hose to the water spigot across the road so he doesn't have to haul water:

When we're in damp climates or it's rainy, using propane for heat and cooking steams up the windows and creates moisture problems inside the camper. It's much more comfortable when we can plug in our electric space heaters and use the dehumidifier to remove interior moisture. Some public parks have electrical hookups but we usually have to be in a military or private RV park to get electricity.

RV parks have more amenities than campgrounds. They generally have sites with full hookups -- electricity, water, and sewers -- and sometimes "free" WiFi and cable TV (included in the cost, of course).

They are usually private operations that cost substantially more than public campgrounds. Sites tend to be much closer together and locations are often less attractive and more urban.


One of our least-favorite RV parks ever was in Cantwell, Alaska because the sites were so close
together and the roadways so narrow. Because of its proximity to Denali NP, the cost was relatively
high. On our second trip to the park we boondocked further up the Parks Hwy. for free. (7-13-15)

Although we continue to visit public campgrounds in some locations -- and Walmart or Sam's Club parking lots in transit from Point A to Point B -- we now stay mostly at RV parks with electrical, water, and sewer hookups so life is simpler and we're more comfortable. (Our electric space heaters don't put out the moisture that our propane space heater or furnace expel.)

If an RV park has cable hookups and serviceable public WiFi, all the better. That way we can enjoy more TV stations than our souped-up antenna allows (we don't have a satellite dish) and we can use our private Verizon mobile hotspot just for secure transactions, not all the other things we do on the internet.

We prefer not to stay at places called "RV resorts," such as KOAs, because they have costly amenities like swimming pools and clubhouses that we don't use.


Not a resort, but priced like one -- we spent only a few days at Spanish Trail RV Park in Moab, UT before
 finding a much more economical site in a BLM campground. Location, location, location. (4-18-16)

Our average daily camping costs have increased some over the years but not drastically. We make the choice for full hookups more cost effective in two ways -- by staying on military bases as often as we can, and by staying longer in military or private RV parks with weekly, monthly, or seasonal rates.

Since Jim is retired military, we have the privilege of camping at any of hundreds of RV parks on military bases around the country.

So far we have visited over three dozen different military RV parks, also called Travel Camps or FamCamps, from Florida to Alaska and New York to California. We've been very pleased with most of them.


Blue Angel Naval Recreation Area, Pensacola, FL -- large sites, lots of water and trails nearby,
three adjacent high-caliber disc golf courses, and proximity to the Naval Air Station,
where the Blue Angel precision team trains from spring to fall.  (April, 2015)


Twilight Dunes RV Park at the 29 Palms, CA Marine base even has carports and sheds because   
it used to be set up for mobile homes. Parking the RV on sand isn't ideal, however. (3-20-16)

Military RV parks are much less expensive than private RV parks for the same or better amenities. The sites are usually larger and the locations are generally away from traffic. They can be rather noisy, however (think fighter jets and artillery fire), and they aren't always close to things we want to see and do. That's why we don't stay exclusively at military bases.

In most ways we also feel safer on military bases than at private or public campgrounds. We joke that they are "gated communities with armed guards." We realize they could also be attractive targets for domestic and foreign terrorists, so they may not be as safe as we hope they are.

LENGTHS OF STAY

Here's another way our RV travel has morphed, especially since selling our house. Since we began full-timing we tend to stay in some places for longer periods of time than we used to. We don't get "hitch-itch" quite as fast any more.

One reason is that the weekly, monthly, and seasonal rates at many RV parks are very attractive.

For example, at Yuma Proving Ground this winter we paid only $375/month for full hookups, cable TV, and WiFi. That's an average of a mere $12.50/day for active duty families and retirees! We had a large site at the end of a row with room for all three of our vehicles and access to useful services and amenities in the Travel Camp and on base:

 

In contrast to the very inexpensive monthly rate, the weekly rate is $130 ($18.57/day, still a good  deal) and the daily rate is $30.00. DOD and military guest rates are higher.

Many private RV parks also have weekly, monthly, or seasonal rates but they are often higher than the military parks. When we don't have a good military campground option we seek out weekly or monthly rates at private RV parks and try to avoid those high daily rates.

One recent example is the very reasonable $500/month we paid at Red Canyon Village last fall for full hookups, WiFi, and cable TV. The RV park was close to loads of hiking and cycling trails, dirt forest service roads, and a long bike path through Red Canyon National Forest and Bryce Canyon National Park. It's also close to Zion National Park and Cedar Breaks National Monument.

We like the location so much we plan to go back there this spring and fall, hopefully in the same site:

Another reason we are staying longer in certain places is that it's easier to to do trip planning when we stop at fewer locations. We can explore those areas more thoroughly and at a less frenetic pace.

Let's face it. As we age, it's nice to have more time to relax and not feel like we have to be out sight-seeing, hiking, or cycling every single day.

We've also begun making more campground reservations the past couple of years instead of just showing up somewhere and hoping to get a suitable space. Some military FamCamps, private RV parks, and public campgrounds are first come, first served but most do take reservations nowadays.

Making reservations gives us less flexibility but we can usually shorten or lengthen our stays if we want. Although we may incur a small cancellation fee we can most often get $$$ back that we've already paid. Since cancellation policies vary widely we note the particulars each time we make a reservation.


We've adjusted our reservation at the USAF Academy FamCamp in Colorado Springs
a couple times this spring. We'll probably be there the month of June.  (5-15-12)

As the economy has improved and gas prices have gone down, more people are purchasing RVs and filling up campgrounds and RV parks. We'd rather limit our flexibility a notch by making reservations than be unable to stay when and where we want.

We continue to enjoy a variety of campground/RV park options, as well as travel destinations, with a mix of old favorites and new adventures to keep things interesting.

LESS FRENZIED ACTIVITY, MORE RELAXATION

Another way our RV lifestyle has morphed is not feeling like we have to go out and do or see something new every day.

Why? Several reasons: we're staying longer in some locations now (gives us more time to see and do what we want), returning to some places we've enjoyed previously (been there, done that), and simply getting older and not having as much energy as we did ten years ago! Alas . . .


Since we spent a month at Red Canyon, UT last fall, we had plenty of time to hike and bike
many of the great trails, bike paths, and roads there and in nearby Bryce Canyon.  (10-1-15)

We still maintain a moderate level of physical activity every day (hiking, biking, walking the dogs, etc.) -- not as much as when we trained for ultramarathons but we still maintain a high enough level of fitness to bike (Jim) or hike (me) for several hours or all day when we have the opportunity and motivation.

It's when we go someplace either new or for a short time that we get into more of a frenzy. I admit that I'm more likely to do that than Jim.

This spring, for example, we're moving around almost every week to a place that is new to us. We planned the destination RV parks, both military and private, so we can visit a bunch of national parks and monuments that we haven't seen before. You bet I'll want to go hiking, cycling, and sight-seeing as many days as possible in each place!

What's that saying? I can sleep when I'm dead??


View of the Colorado River canyon and La Sal Mountains through Mesa Arch  
in Utah's Canyonlands National Park, our first time here  (4-22-16)

On the other hand, when we return to some of our favorite places in Utah and Colorado this year for several weeks or months we'll have more time to simply relax. We'll continue hiking and cycling in our favorite places and try some new ones -- but since we've been there previously, it won't be as frenetic as the first times we were there.

I'm sure our RV lifestyle will continue to evolve over time as our circumstances change. Stay tuned to the 2016 topics page to see where we end up next!

Next entryanother writer's perspective on full-time RVing

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup

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2016 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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