Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Places We've Stayed -- Part II -- Day 62

It's been a little over a month and 1600 miles since I first posted a Top Ten list of our favorite places. When I made that list, we hadn't even stayed in 10 places yet! Oh how quickly things can change ...

I have learned so much in the last six weeks since that post that it boggles the mind. I attended the Escapees RV Boot Camp, which was an amazing daunting experience. We celebrated Thanksgiving with random strangers in Bay City, I had my birthday at a nudist resort down in Edcouch, and we got to see Star Wars during opening weekend back in Irving! Then there was the scary brake failure in Grand Prairie, and Christmas with my son. That's a LOT of adventure for such a short period of time!

There were 11 stops over the last six weeks, 3 of which were repeats (Hico, Lake Park, and our son's apartment.) Of the 8 new places, 4 were only for a single night and of those 4 only 1 made us wish we could stay longer. It's also interesting to see how priorities have changed with our experiences, and that influences the enjoyment of the stay. This Top Ten list will only be places that we stayed since the last list was made.

From worst to best (based on my enjoyment of the stay):



10. The corner of Skyline Rd and Center St -- Grand Prairie, TX. If you have read my other posts, this is where Fezzik came to rest after the brakes failed. I would be happy to never this intersection again for as long as I live.

9. Mustang Island -- Port Aransas, TX. As part of my birthday celebration, I wanted to hit the beach, see the ocean, stir up the spirit of my island heritage. This is not the place to do that. At least not in winter. It reminded me of the Oregon coast we used to visit when I was a child. Cold, windy, gray. No ocean view from the RV park, and no electricity in the first place that we were assigned. Nobody liked it here, and I don't see us coming back. 

8. Cedar Hill State Park -- Cedar HIll, Tx. Located just the other side of Lake Joe Pool from Loyd Park, which we loved, we were excited to try this park out. One of the top rated disc golf courses is just a few minutes away, and it's close enough to civilization to visit our loved ones. However, the roads were so bad I thought I was going to tip the rig over, and the camp sites were so uneven that we couldn't run our refrigerator! We ended up only staying one night, thanks to the brake issue, but we were not impressed.

7. Lake Park Campgrounds -- Lewisville, Tx. Still the least expensive option when staying in DFW. They even got their WiFi up, which was adequate. Internet access was limited though, so no YouTube or Netflix, and the disc golf course was closed because of the flooding. We'll still stay here for the cheap, but this was the least fun we've had here.

6. City of Hico's Bosque River RV Park -- Hico, Tx. Down from the former top spot, Hico was really put into perspective for us. Yes, the internet is still the best we've seen. Yes, it was cool that since we arrived late on Friday we didn't have to pay until we left on Monday. BUT the "Koffee Kup" restaurant that is one of their "famous" landmarks was terrible, and the disc golf course is not really that good. 

5. Mother Neff State Park -- Moody, Tx. Sleepy little town with a really well-kept state park. Great, level, concrete pads with crushed granite surroundings. Electric, water, and sewer for only $25? Plenty of trees for privacy, and even though the thunderstorms were violent, we felt safe and secure. Wished we could've stayed longer!

4 60 North RV Park -- Bay City, Tx. I'm not gonna lie, this is an ugly park. It's like a big parking lot, with only a few trees near the entrance. Having said that, we really had a great time here! We came during Thanksgiving week based on the online reviews stating fast internet. The internet was nothing compared to Hico, but the manager had her three kids with her the whole week. Zoe had playmates! The manager also invited any guests that didn't have plans to join her family for Thanksgiving dinner, which was really awesome. I doubt we'll come back here, unless we know the kids are out of school.

3. Lake Corpus Christi -- Mathis, Tx. Beautiful and serene, just the way we like it. Not very crowded, and plenty of wildlife to enjoy. We hiked and geocached, Zoe went fishing with some Brits she met. This was one of those magical places that we love to discover. We loved it so much that we opted to spend an extra day just relaxing in the peaceful atmosphere.

2. Randall and Jason's apartment -- Irving, Tx.  Our son Jason and his roommate Randall always let us crash at their place when we're in town. This time it was after the rescue of the brake failure. They were so gracious, and giving. It really makes a parent proud, ya know? Amenities included: hot showers, super fast internet, lots of video games, and pizza. Zoe would have loved to stay forever.

1. Nature's Resort -- Edcouch, Tx. To be fair, we haven't been staying in resorts, so the other places are at a serious disadvantage. Pool tables, darts, petanque, horseshoes, shuffleboard, pickle ball, two heated pools and a hot tub? Yeah, this was the best birthday present. We loved it so much, we talked about renting a spot for a YEAR (it was only $2300!) Calmer heads prevailed, as we realized that it's going to be hellishly hot in the summer months. But we're definitely planning to come back whenever we can.

The one place that I left off the list is our final stop, Independence Park in Gonzales, Tx. We just got here last night, so there isn't much to go on. I will say that although the park appears a bit older and the roads are pretty beat up, the campsite is one of the most level we've seen and it's quiet. There is a disc golf course 2 miles away that we're going to check out either later today or tomorrow, and THAT will determine where this spot lands on the next Top Ten list. Stay tuned!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Ed, the Christmas Angel -- Day 57

After the veritable Hell that was the last 72 hours, it's nice to be able to write about something happy and positive. I don't believe in coincidence, and neither does Ed.

Ed works for Massy Wrecker and Towing, and he's an ex-truck driver. He's been all over the country and seen a lot of things. He's done things that he's not proud of, and paid the price for those mistakes. Now he lives his life with a higher purpose, and tries to make the world a better place.

I can say with full confidence that Ed is doing it. When he showed up Tuesday morning to tow us, I already had a good feeling about him. Wiry little guy with a dusting of gray stubble on his well-lined face, his ready smile and firm handshake immediately put me at ease. I was saddened when Good Sam told me that he wasn't the right guy, and to send him away. Fortunately for us, Ed knew how these things go, and that if he left we would probably have been stranded there all day.

He cheerily hooked us up and brought us to Prevost, taking care of our home the whole way. After the mighty phone battle that afternoon with Good Sam, it was nice to see his familiar face coming back to take me to the park to get some rest.

Customer service is all about meeting the customer's needs. Those that are good at customer service will anticipate other needs that may arise and meet those as well. Ed had chilled bottled water for me while we drove. It even had Star Wars figures on it.

Superior customer service sometimes requires doing the unusual. Ed was asking me what happened and why we were going back to the park. After I explained the situation, he asked if it would be ok if he spoke with his boss, since they have a whole service bay to take care of their trucks. They have mechanics on site that aren't super busy, since it's Christmas week.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Of course you can ask your boss if y'all can fix my rig! Ed called Bobby, and Bobby wanted to warn me over the phone that they aren't licensed to work on our vehicle, and they might not even be able to do the service. But if they couldn't do the service, they would tow me back to the park, as the original plan at no additional cost to me.

CHRISTMAS IS THE TIME FOR MIRACLES

So they took us in, immediately started working on my rig and had it done by the following day. I highly recommend Massey Wrecker and Towing, if you're ever in Dallas. They tow 24 hours!

Ed saved Christmas!


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Wooosah -- Day 56

This is one of those days. I mean one of those days.

We lost our brakes yesterday, which was a terrifying moment, but we survived and persevered. Alive and happy, and clutching our roadside assistance info, we figure we're going to be okay. The tow truck showed up 47 minutes before we expected him, which was amazing, but then he left without a word. I called dispatch and he needed a bigger truck, which is understandable. This is a 34' Class A Motorhome, not something that you tow everyday. We have Good Sam roadside assistance, and one of the cool things they do is send a follow-up automated message to make sure that you're taken care of. Since we had not been, it connected me to customer service. It's late, dark, getting colder, and we're still stuck on the side of the road.

I do not blame Good Sam, because I know they don't have tow trucks. They are contracting the work out to a provider, and they have no control over what happens after that point. However, it was really disappointing to have the person on the other end of the line tell me at 11 o'clock at night that there was no way anyone was going to come and tow me back to our campground. Fortunately, we live in an RV, so technically we were already home -- but it would have been nice to have electricity and heat, which we get from plugging in at our campsite. We hunkered down to wait for the morning, when I was supposed to call to reschedule the tow.

As dawn broke, the chill in the RV was annoying, but the smoldering anger at being left on the side of the road warmed me from within. I called Good Sam just after 8am to see how long it would take to get a tow truck out. They were courteous and quick and dispatched one right away, to arrive within the hour. When the confirmation text message came through, the destination still said Cedar Hill State Park. See, last night they were supposed to tow us there, and then come back to tow us somewhere to get our brakes fixed.  That's the policy: either to a service shop, or if that is not available, to a safe place.  "No worries," I'm thinking, "I'll just call and tell them they have the wrong destination."

Every time I call Good Sam, I have to repeat all of my information: name, phone number, membership number, and then explain my situation. This, if you are keeping track, is phone call number five in the past twelve hours. After the brief explanation, they tried to get in contact with the person that had dispatched my truck incorrectly. They asked if I would mind being called back. I've got nothing else to do today, right? I can't go anywhere.

Good Sam called me back, and apologized for the mix up, arranging for another tow truck to be dispatched to take us to a Prevost service center to get our brakes fixed. While I was on the phone, the first tow truck arrived and I explained to him that he had the wrong information and his service was not needed. He asked to speak to the Good Sam rep to clarify, so I handed my phone over to let these strangers figure it out. After much confusion, Ed from Massey Wrecker and Towing got us hooked up for the drive to Prevost, about 8 miles away.

Ed is a really cool guy. Professional, friendly, and helpful. I really appreciated his attitude, and the fact that he showed up with the right equipment to complete the job. After dealing with the ineptitude of the Good Sam rep, it was nice to have someone competent to deal with.

We arrived at Prevost just in time to interrupt their catered lunch only to find out that Good Sam had not notified them that we were coming. The service department supervisor also warned us that it would be $115 per hour for labor, at a four hour minimum JUST TO DIAGNOSE THE PROBLEM.  I immediately called Good Sam back to make sure that they had taken us to the right place. While I was on the phone, Anya continued to speak with the supervisor and described the problem to him. He informed her that they don't normally work on our kind of rig, and they may not even have the parts. It could be days or even weeks to get the job done. He didn't understand why we weren't towed to a regular RV place? I relayed this information to Good Sam, and they insisted that this was the nearest place that could do the work, and if I wanted to be towed elsewhere, I would have to pay for it.

Wooosah.

I explained that their job, as my roadside assistance, was to tow me to a place that could get the brakes fixed. They have not yet done that, and I would like for them to complete the job for which they have been paid. I also mentioned that this situation was now entering it's sixteenth hour without resolution, and I was quite unhappy. I may have raised my voice a little.

The folks at Prevost were super nice, and let us hang out in their customer lounge with free sodas and cable TV while we waited for Good Sam to resolve our situation.  Another hour or so later I get a call from Good Sam informing me that they had good news and bad news. They found a place that can work on our brakes! But it's not going to be until the first week of January!

Woosah!

Our reservation was paid up through the 27th at the Cedar Hill State Park, and they have a limit of 14 consecutive days. I figured that I could throw myself on their mercy and beg for an extension, since I have no brakes, and couldn't conceivably move the rig when the time was up anyway. Plus, it's not that far for Randall or Jason to come pick us up to do grocery shopping when we run out of food, or for disc golfing. It's a workable situation, although not ideal.

Good Sam refused to tow me to the park. "Policy states that we are to tow you to the service center, if one can be verified, so that is where we are going to tow you. If you want to go back to the park, you have to pay for that towing."

WOOOOOOOSAH

So what am I supposed to do for the next two-and-a-half weeks while my rig is at the service center waiting to get looked at? "We have discounts on hotels and rental cars, if you have the Travel Assistance package on your membership."

WOoOoOOoSAH!

I don't have Travel Assistance. Why would I? I live in an RV! I'm not going to be renting cars, or staying in hotels. I stay in my RV and I drive my RV. "Would you like for me to transfer you to member services to see what they can do for you?" I was so defeated that I let her transfer me. Of course member services couldn't do anything for me, I had no opted in to that package. I hung up the phone and wanted to rage. I don't like feeling helpless, and now here we are about to be homeless for two weeks.

Wooooooooosaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhh

This roadside "assistance" wasn't very helpful. They brought me to somewhere that I didn't want to be, and now they're going to do it again? NO. I'm not going to stand for this.

I called through the automated system, locked and loaded, ready to get this situation resolved to MY satisfaction. I am PAYING for this service, and Good Sam had screwed me over.

I will spare you the gory details, because it wasn't pretty. There was a lot of rapid fire heated logic bullets tearing through the flesh of the weak phone reps, mowing them down on my way to the boss battle with the person who I knew could make decisions. THE MANAGER.

Being the coward that most middle managers are, I actually didn't even get a chance to speak with him. I got a call back an hour after I had laid waste to the phone reps that didn't want to give me what I demanded basically granting me everything that I had been requesting -- which was simply that if it was going to be over two weeks before I could get my brakes fixed, I would like to be towed to the park where I had paid for a reservation. And then I would like for my rig to be towed to my appointment, but at the expense of Good Sam, since that would complete the job for which they were hired.

wooooosaaaah

So, they dispatched faithful Ed to come take me back to the park. Randall came and picked up Anya, since it was now almost 3pm and someone had to stay with Zoe while the boys went to work. I waited for the tow truck and drank some more free sodas.

Tasted like victory.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Sometimes Your Brakes Fail -- Day 55

Riding high off of Star Wars weekend, and seeing friends and family, life is cruising along at a comfortable speed -- and then the brakes fail. Literally.

Driving a 34’ motorhome has been a learning experience with it’s own share of scary moments. Remember the time a passing truck was so close to us that we bumped mirrors? Well, that was was nothing compared to our drive home last night when our brakes failed. It is a very uncomfortable feeling to step on the brake pedal and have a dashboard warning light turn on that says, “BRAKES” and notice that you are not, in fact, stopping. Fortunately, we were approaching a not very busy red light, and I was able to maneuver into a right turn down a side street. Also of note: when you have a brake failure, hills are not your friend. This side street that we turned down was a down hill to a short flat area and then an uphill to another flat area, where I was able to coax Fezzik to a full stop.

Breathing may now recommence.

Here are some tips, if you are thinking about becoming a full-time RVer:

  1. Have roadside assistance. I highly recommend this to anyone driving any vehicle. AAA, Good Sam, or through your insurance provider. You never know when you might need it, and it can really save you.
  2. Know where your roadside assistance information is stored. While this sounds like a no-brainer, I didn’t know where our packet was. Fortunately, Anya did.
  3. Get a Randall. If you don’t know what a Randall is, I’m not sure that I can help you. An invaluable resource, that makes my life so much easier.

Also helpful, if you are planning on breaking down in any way, you should probably do it during business hours. We had our brake failure at 8pm, which was really inconvenient for the service departments, the towing companies, and us. We had to wait an hour for the first tow truck to come, only to find out that he had the wrong equipment. He left without a word, and I had to call his dispatcher to find out that he was getting the bigger truck. When my roadside assistance provider called 45 minutes later to ask how the service was going, I had to tell them that we were still not being towed. An hour later they called me back to let me know that it was too late for anyone to come out and we would have to call back in the morning.

I’m not mad, really.

This is where your Randall comes in handy. Everybody should have that one person that you can count on, any time of the day or night. For some, it's a close friend, others have family. We have Randall. To call him a friend would cheapen the depth of the relationship that we have. He's more like family, only not the kind that gets on your nerves. He's the guy that would use his last dollar to buy you lunch, give you the clothes off his back, and insist that you sleep in his bed while he takes the couch. I love him completely.

Not only did Randall drop whatever he was doing and forsake whatever plans he had for the evening, he drove 30 miles at midnight to our location, and took Zoe out for chicken nuggets while we were waiting for the tow truck. When they said we were going to be stuck here, he offered to watch Zoe and Muffins until we could get the situation sorted the next day. Zoe was thrilled because Jason and Randall have the coolest apartment to hang out in, and we didn't want her to miserable all night on the side of the road.

Now we’re sitting here, 12 hours later, still waiting for a tow truck. But we’re safe, alive, happy and together.

Life is still good.

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Force Awakens -- Day 52

People want to describe me as a huge Star Wars fan, but in deference to the true fans out there, I have to confess that I’m not. Just because I own two copies of the original trilogy (the original and the digitally remastered) as well as copies of the awful prequels (just to complete the set) all of which I’ve watched multiple times, does not make me a huge fan. I know people that have Star Wars tattoos, have watched the movies HUNDREDS of times, and named their children after characters. Those are the real fans, I’m just a casual fan.

However, I was super excited to see the newest movie opening weekend with my family. Excited enough to drive away from warm, sunny south Texas 600 miles so that we could all be together. It’s all about priorities.

We did have some stops along the way, since I don’t really like to drive more than 150 miles in a day. Lake Corpus Christi State Park was gorgeous, and actually enticed us to stay two days. We had also planned a stop at Blanco State Park, but they were completely full so we pushed on to Hico (our favorite small town in Texas.) We spent four days catching up on emails, youtube, Netflix and other internet needs (because they have the best WiFi of any park we've ever seen), before the final leg that put us back at the Lake Park Campground in Lewisville. We like this campground because it’s close enough to the people we love, it’s cheap, and it has WiFi and disc golf.

Well, it usually has disc golf. Apparently there is has been some flooding prompting construction in the park and the disc golf course is closed until February! Never being one to let the circumstances get us down, I discovered another gem of a course in The Colony a short drive away. Really nice course that more than satisfied my disc golf needs. I can’t wait to share Bill Allen Memorial Park with the rest of my golfing buddies.

Nothing could temper my excitement for this movie.

Finally, Friday morning arrived and we drove Fezzik to the Irving Mall for an 11:30 AM showing of The Force Awakens. It was everything that I wanted from a Star Wars movie, and my inner child was thrilled beyond expectations. Being able to share the moment with my wife and both of my children (all of whom really enjoyed the movie as well) was icing on the cake. I offer no review, no spoilers, and no commentary on the film itself, but I encourage you to go see it. It is a fantastic experience, even for a non-fan.

Hanging out with our friends and seeing the family this week has convinced us to stick around for a little while longer. We had originally planned to leave the day after Star Wars, but now we’re going to stay through Christmas. It just seemed appropriate for the season and all.

May the Force Be With You.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Lake Corpus Christi State Park -- Day 44

After the very stressful saga of replacing the sideview mirror, we needed some serenity. Checking my atlas, I found a state park within our 150 mile travel radius, and plotted our course. What’s that you say? Why am I using a printed atlas? Where’s my sextant? Hardy-har, you! Let me backtrack a bit …


So we were in Alamo, stranded with a busted mirror. The guy said that he would have it no later than 3 pm the next day, so we looked around for a place to hang out. Fortunately, there was a Walmart about six blocks away that allowed overnight parking. Now, you may remember that we hate overnight parking at Walmart, because we had issues with our generator last time, but this time we were confident that it would be different. We had been running the genny off and on all day already, so we thought this would be a great time to use the free WiFi, get some much needed groceries, and save the cost of a camping spot.


After lunch at Carl’s Jr, and a huge shopping trip in Walmart, we settled in for the night. Genny was running good, air conditioning was pumping, WiFi was sketchy -- but better than nothing -- and everybody was happy.  We even had neighbors a few spots away in an old rig that looked like they were doing the same thing. Out of courtesy, and to save fuel, we turned off our generator when we went to bed.


In the morning, the sun was shining, the people were happy, and it was already starting to get warm. Figuring a little AC to cool off the rig was in order, I went to turn on the generator. No joy. Spinning, whining, and then a sick winding down sound was all I got. With no generator, we can’t charge our phones, which we were using heavily last night because of the WiFi. No genny also means no AC and the morning temp was already 70 climbing toward a promised 85. We now have 7 hours to kill in the black-topped, heat radiating Walmart parking lot before our mirror is due to arrive, with nothing electronic to entertain ourselves! Fortunately, we do have books and games, and with the open windows it wasn’t too bad until about one o’clock when we decided that we had to get the air moving to cool off -- for the animals. Gotta keep the pets cool, too.


Our arrival at the repair shop happened to coincide with the parts delivery truck, so we were able to get our mirror and fix it in a jiffy. Then we broke out the atlas to figure out how far we could get before we needed to camp out for the night. I have a Rand McNally Road Atlas with an index card that has 150 miles marked off, and I know that I can make that drive in one day. I realize that 150 miles may not sound like much, but for us that is the perfect amount of travel for a day. Fortunately, Corpus Christi State Park fell within our radius.


This place is magical! Not quite as serene as Inks (see my post), but also much less popular; therefore, more private. We enjoyed two gorgeous sunsets, some hiking, and a little geocaching while we were here. They even have a little WiFi that is just enough to get some emails, and let people know that we’re still alive. We liked it so much that we opted to stay for another day, just to fully recharge our soul batteries (and hopefully the genny’s battery, too.) If you ever find yourself down in Mathis, Tx, I would highly recommend a stopover at this place.


We’re leaving today to head toward Livingston, but it’s going to be two days to get there. We’d like to stop somewhere this side of Houston, because if you don’t have to drive in rush hour, you shouldn’t. My atlas says Stephen F Austin state park, or Brazos Bend state park is within reach. Or we may splurge and get a place with actual wifi.


The beauty of the decision making process is that we get to make decisions. No pressure. Do what you like, and follow your heart. (And the WiFi.)

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Sometimes it's just the littlest things -- Day 42

One thing that is awesome about having an old rig like ours (1992 Mallard Sprinter, dubbed “Fezzik”) is that he stands out in a crowd. Most parks will be filled with these shiny black/tan/chrome monstrosities with various slide-outs, antennae, and satellite dish protrusions, while Fezzik sits quietly in their shadow, not really taking up much space, clear coat peeling off his sun-damaged storage bays. We love him, and he’s family.


All vehicles require regular maintenance, RVs included. There are some particularly specific things that you have to do with RVs that you don’t have to do with other vehicles, and that is just part of the adventure. The less fun instances are when you have an actual damage-causing incident, and you have to replace an impossible-to-find part.

Since I’ve beaten around the bush enough, and I’m not getting paid by the word, I’ll just tell you: I had to buy a replacement mirror. That may not seem like a big deal, and the whole story would take much longer to tell, so I’ll distill it down to the highlights.

We had a close call with a passing semi, where we actually bumped mirrors! Scared everybody in the coach, and probably shaved a few years of off my life. Nothing seemed permanently damaged, and we moved on. The driver’s side view mirror needed adjusting, so we pulled over to do that. It was loose in its cradle, but a few cranks with the trusty allen wrench and we were good. As it turns out, we weren’t good, and the collar that held the mirror in its socket within the cradle had cracked and the mirror wouldn’t stay in the position that was necessary to provide assistance to the driver. If you have ever tried driving without a mirror, it can be really scary. We tried various “fixes” but it was obvious that the collar needed to be replaced.

This collar is an inch-and-a-half tall, two-inch diameter cylinder, split vertically for ease of installation. There is a hole in the top that allows the post for the mirror, and it hold the ball at the end of the post snugly in the cradle. Ours was in six pieces, which I quickly determined was not ideal. Since my last resort (duct tape) couldn’t hold the mirror in place well enough for highway speeds, it was decided that we needed to get a replacement for this little piece of plastic. We asked the front office at the resort on the day that we were leaving if she could recommend a service place nearby, and that’s how we ended up in Alamo, Tx.


If you are ever in Alamo, and you require RV service, I highly recommend RV Services Center. It’s actually the only place in town, and the only place in about a 30-mile radius, but it’s a great little shop. The pack a lot of parts into a very small storefront, and anything they don’t have can be ordered. I showed the guy what I needed, and he pulled out his catalog. The little part that I wanted wasn’t sold individually, I had to buy an entire mirror assembly.

And they come in packs of two.


So $322 later, they ordered my mirrors for delivery the next day. It took me less than five minutes to put the new collar in, and fifteen minutes to figure out where to store this giant box with extra mirrors. The important thing is that we can safely operate the RV. I’m also happy that we only lost one travel day, which we spent in the parking lot of the Walmart six blocks away.

Now, we head back toward Dallas, via Livingston, to see Star Wars on the 18th!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Life, the Universe and Everything -- Day 38

I have been looking forward to this particular birthday for a very long time. For those of you that don’t get why, I encourage you to read the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams.  It would take far too long for me to explain the significance in an eloquent way, so suffice it to say that the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything is 42.

Little did I know that when I reached that magical number in my life, I will have understood the meaning so much better!

This latest adventure is just another chapter in the much larger epic that has been my life. Each experience teaching important things, shaping my worldview, and making me the person that I am today. The path that I am on has been daunting, and exhilarating, and magical, and depressing, and wonderful, and frustrating, and ultimately mine alone.

Here’s some of what works for me:

  1. There are no mistakes.  Everything in life boils down to choices. Should I eat this? Should I go there? Should I say that? Every choice that we make shapes the world that we live in. Sometimes I make a choice that has consequences that make me uncomfortable, and I wish I could go back and make a different choice. But if I had made a different choice, I’d be a different person. I like who I am.
  2. Perception is reality. I’m not breaking any new ground here, but this concept has a real depth of meaning for me. I have seen firsthand the difference in how I am treated based on what people know (or at least perceive) about me. But it is so much deeper than that! The geopolitical landscape, our entire Western culture is shaped by master manipulators that work on the public perception to influence the flow of global power. **puts tin foil hat away** But seriously, there are a lot of things that we accept as fact that are just concepts that we have been taught and accept as true.
  3. Love yourself. Do no accept the external message that we are presented with on all sides about who and how you should be/act/do/say. You are the only one that can make choices for you. You are the only one that can determine what is right or wrong for you. You are the only one that can effectively change your circumstances. Love yourself enough to make choices that are going to make you happy within yourself. When you are making the choice to be happy, you are changing your perception/reality to one that is happy and you will have a much better life.
  4. Time is meaningless. I used to rush around from appointment to appointment, trying to maximize my time, my work, my money = my life. Then I experienced spending five minutes with the most amazing person and it felt like hours, and I sat through an amazing epic movie and it felt like it was over in minutes. The passage of time is related to our perception, and that perception becomes reality. So rather than rushing around and feeling like I was always running out of time, I made the choice to enjoy the moments of my life. The individual scenarios and scenes that made up my epic saga. I began choosing those moments over the need for fancier toys, or a nicer car. We still only have the same number of years on this earth, but you can choose to spend them in a way that makes you happy.

One of the most common comments that I hear from people when I tell them that we are living full-time in an RV and travelling around is, “Man, I wish I could do that.”  Do you? Do you really? Because I am betting that if you really wanted to, you could. I didn’t think that we could do it, and I wasn’t sure how it was going to work, but I can tell that I’m the happiest that I’ve ever been in my life. I feel more freedom and excitement every day when I wake up than ever before. Make the choices that make you happy, spend your years wisely. Change your perception, change your world.

See you on the road.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Bay City -- Day 30

The most expensive thing you can do with an RV is drive it. That, combined with convenience, is why you see so many rigs with little towable cars ("Toads" or "Dinghys") behind them. Drive to a spot, park, set up camp, and stay. Hop in the toad and run to the store, see the sights, engage the community outside the park.

What if you don't have a toad? Then you have to plan a little differently. Hit the store on your way to the park, load up on supplies. Maybe park at the disc golf course for a round before you reach your final destination, if that's your thing. A lot of people will actually overnight at the Walmart, combining the shopping trip with a money-saving night of free camping. When you're full-time in an RV, saving money becomes an art form.

Since this is the notoriously named Black Friday (for the black mark that it puts on America's soul?), you wouldn't want to overnight camp in a Walmart parking lot. Fortunately for us, we were already safely ensconced in the 60 North RV Park in Bay City, Texas. The WiFi is not as strong as advertised, but the management has four kids on Thanksgiving Break (ages 20, 14, 12, 8 -- 3 girls and a boy) which worked out perfectly for Z. We were even invited to join the Thanksgiving potluck meal at no charge with the rest of the guests of the park. I think there were only about a dozen people around the table, but you could taste the love in every dish that was made. Thanksgiving is best enjoyed with close friends and family, but if you can't do that, delicious dinner with strangers is a nice substitute.

Sometimes things work out in ways that you didn't imagine.

With Z's emotional needs being met by the kids and the spotty WiFi, it was time to recharge the soul batteries for the rest of the crew. We opted to drive to LeTulle Park for disc golf, and that was well worth it. Beautiful old-growth trees, if not a very challenging course. Anya kept taking pictures of the trees, and talking to them. I am pretty sure at one point she actually hugged one.  As a disc golf course, there was room for improvement, but it had been a week, so I was happy just to be able to get out and throw. I did lost one of my favorite discs in the water, but the giddy feeling of Anya's happiness combined with 75 degree weather made the loss much less painful. Besides, it's good to be able to let things go.

Attachment leads to suffering. ~ Gautama Buddha

This journey has taught us all to be a little bit more flexible and patient. This week we were rewarded with some unexpected joys that make it seem like maybe this excursion could actually work in the long run. As long as we don't hold too tightly to our expectations, and remain open to the marvelous possibilities of the universe, anything can happen. And with perspective, all of it is good.

 My birthday is coming up next week. I'm going to do something that I've wanted to do for a long time, and that is spend the day in my birthday suit. We found an accommodating place down in Edcouch, Texas called Natures Resort, and we're planning to book a week-long stay there. While there I expect to gain the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything.

Monday, November 23, 2015

RV Boot Camp -- Day 26

Buying an RV and deciding to live in it full time is not a propostion to be undertaken lightly.  There are variables, factors, and considerations several of which are unique to the individual. What kind of RV should you get? What are you going to do with all the stuff that you can’t take with you? How are you going to survive being with your family in 200 sq ft of space 24/7?


There is no single answer that is right for everyone in general, as we are all different personalities with varied interests and priorities. However, there is one thing that I would recommend to anyone that is considering the RV lifestyle.


RESEARCH.


It cannot be overstated. This is a field that has so many interesting nuances that you will never stop learning new things. I have come across people that have been RVing for decades and they always have new stories to tell about new learning experiences. The internet is a wonderful resource, and we spent many hours watching videos on YouTube about everything from how to dump your black water tanks to what cell phone booster is the best for your coverage area. I joined forums (iRV2.com is my favorite) and clubs (Good Sam and Escapees are my favorites) and will talk to anybody that wants to tell me anything about their RV experience. By far, the single greatest investment that I have made was RV Boot Camp.





Three days of intense training on how to safely maintain and operate your RV. Starting with the basics of which kind of RV is right for you -- motorhome (Class A, B, C?), trailer (5th wheel, bumper pull?) -- to the important (fire safety, how to drive safely); this is the most important thing that I’ve done since we bought our rig. I would highly recommend it to anyone that is thinking about doing any kind of RVing, whether full time, or just weekenders. My biggest discovery was that I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I’ve done tons of research, but I was limited to the questions that I could come up with. There were entire areas that I didn’t even know that I should be looking into (like how many fire extinguishers should I have? The answer is 5.)


It was a really cool experience, too. We met lots of cool people, some of whom were brand-new to RVing like us, and some that had been doing it for years. RV people are some of the nicest people that I’ve ever met, and these friends that we made I hope to be in touch with for many years to come. When you’re on the road, the whole nation becomes your community, and you never know where you might run into your friends. Or maybe decide to meet up with them at some remote location, like Big Bend National Park (literally the largest National Park in the system, and the least visited.) The beauty of this adventure is that we are only limited by our imaginations (and the physical abilities of our rig.)


So now that I’ve graduated from RV Boot Camp, and the winter chill is in the air (33 degrees when I woke up this morning,) it’s  time for us to head south. We’re looking at spending the next week in Bay City, Texas, at the 60 North RV Park. One reviewer said the WiFi is faster than what he has at home, so that should be happy. Also, there is a disc golf course 4 miles from the RV park, so that’s a bonus. Now, if only they had a big forest, too.

I guess that’s where we’ll be heading the following week. Maybe. Ask me again next week.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Places We've Stayed -- Day 21

When we launched this Grand Adventure, we all expected that it was going to be a one-way trip to Portland, Oregon for a semi-permanent living situation. Doing it in an RV was supposed to make it easier to travel, and less hassle to find a place to live once we got there. As we were preparing for that life-changing event, it occurred to us that we don't really like cold weather. Not even a little bit. I have been quoted as saying that I would not want to live anywhere the high temperature is lower than my age. As I get older, this makes the options fewer, and farther south.

After much discussion, we opted to wait a bit before heading north. This gives us time to get our rig optimized for our personal use, making sure that we have everything that we need, and that all of our systems work. Driving shorter distances has given me much needed practice, as handling this behemoth is very different from the little sedan that I was used to. Also, it is rough on the youngster to be separated from friends and family at this age. We've moved cross country before, but this was the first major move where she had a bunch of friends that she had grown close to.

So, here we are, three weeks on the road and barely 950 miles under our belts. This makes me the perfect person for a Top 10 list of Place We've Stayed. Except I only have eight entries.

From worst to best (based on my enjoyment of the stay):



10. Walmart Supercenter, Huntsville, Texas -- for those of you that don't know, Walmart will often let RVs and big trucks park overnight in the parking lot for free. We actually hit this place up on two occasions, as the convenience of resupplying and staying for free appealed to us. The parking lot is not overly large, so the odds of a big rig parking right next to you and running his generator all night is higher than in other places. BONUS: free WiFi, though the connection was a bit sketchy.

9. TBA

8. TBA

7. Sunset RV Resort, Bee Cave, Tx -- We only stayed here overnight, so I don't have a lot to say. The staff was very friendly, and accommodating considering we were arriving just at closing time. Office is closed on weekends, which struck me as a bit weird. Still, the facilities were nice for the short time that we were there. WiFi was decent.

6. Johnson Branch State Park, Lake Ray Roberts, Tx -- I love lakes (as you can tell by the list) and this one is beautiful. The park had multiple playgrounds for the kids, and tiled shower facilities. The parking pads were severely slanted, and cell reception was unreliable. But if you're trying to get away from it all, I would recommend this place. (When we go back, I'm angling for site 13 in the Juniper Cove, lake view with trees for privacy.)

5. Rainbow's End, Livingston, Tx -- Headquarters of Escapees, and the location of our mail center. Great park, lots of helpful people. The WiFi is pay by the day, and not super strong, but the other amenities make up for it. Swimming pool, clubhouse, and All-You-Can-Eat pancake breakfast on Saturdays!

4. Lake Park Campgrounds, Lake Lewisville, Tx -- Beautiful lake, and really inexpensive! Short walk to the disc golf course, and a short drive to Dallas. Internet was unavailable while we were there, but lake views (campsite 30) and some geocaching made up for it.

3. Loyd Park, Joe Pool Lake, Grand Prairie, Tx -- this was our first stop, and we didn't realize how good we had it! Very nice campground, friendly staff, flat site, very private. Nice bathrooms, lake views (site 59). We stayed there right after the flooding, so some of the lakeside sites were unavailable. The staff was diligently repairing and cleaning them while we were there. I would love to come back again!

2. Inks Lake State Park, Inks Lake, Tx -- Park Ranger recommended site 92, and I have to say that she nailed it. Gorgeous views of the lake, and privacy on one side. No internet, being a state park, but tons of lake based activities to distract!

1. City of Hico's Bosque River RV Park, Hico, Tx -- by far our favorite stop. Quaint little town within walking distance that has a 24-hour laundromat, a historic area, and a couple of restaurants. The park has full hookups, amazing WiFi, and a disc golf course! This is going to be a stop for us, any time we're in the area. The one drawback: the flies. Literally a daily battle. At one count we had 30 in various parts of the coach.

And there you have it. Our next scheduled trip is to the Escapees RV Boot Camp, in Livingston this weekend. Once we have that knowledge in hand, we're planning to head south for the winter. We're thinking Corpus Christi, or maybe even Brownsville. We still want to see Portland, but that can wait until Spring. I need at least two more places to round out my Top 10 list!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Meeting needs -- Day 15

We've been on the road for two weeks now, and I think that we're getting it down pretty well.

Or so I thought.

This is an amazing, life-changing, epic adventure! So many new experiences and learning opportunities! We're having the time of our lives! Unless you ask each of us individually, and then you start to see the disconnect.

We have five creatures on this rig, two adult humans, one junior human, one dog and one cat. (Any other creatures are stowaways and have no voting rights.) The dog and the cat are pretty easy to satisfy, as long as they have access to food, water, love and waste elimination opportunities. The humans each have different basic needs ranging from disc golf to watching YouTube. The challenge is trying to get all of the needs of all of the beings met in a timely fashion.

Being the patriarch and course planner, it is mostly up to me to decide where we are going, and what needs are going to be met. Fortunately, my helpmate is really flexible (heh, heh) and really just needs to be around some trees. This is the easiest requirement of our nomadic, camping lifestyle! Of course, I get more points the more scenic and prolific the trees are, so I try to find really nice state parks when I can. The animals are mostly happy when Momma is happy, so there's three sets of needs taken care of with very little effort. The final two are more complicated, and require a lot more creativity and compromise.

My darling 10-year-old is a YouTube fanatic. I honestly didn't know such a thing existed, until she became one. I've spend my share of hours sitting in front of YouTube (usually trying to learn something at first and then devolving into mindless entertainment -- or worse.) But my many (many, many) hours pale in comparison to the hardened, seasoned viewing time that my lovely daughter has put in. Honestly, if there were a college degree in watching YouTube, she would have a Ph.D. She can talk for hours about Jack Septic-eye, Markiplier, SkydoesMinecraft, and others. YouTube is her source of life force energy, and without it she gets cranky, almost depressed. So, what's a girl to do when she's on the road, with no internet to speak of?

The other major entity in need of satisfaction is me. I like to think that I'm a simple guy with simple needs, but this trip has proven that to be understatement. Mostly, I don't mind sacrificing my personal happiness for the happiness of my family. I have proven that for years. The only major thing that I can't generate in any random location is my one sporting outlet: disc golf. Really just a fun hobby, it fills with me with great joy. Also a fun family activity, when I can get the girls to come with me.

So how do we reconcile all the needs of all the people? Hico, Tx. Seriously, you would think that I have a longer answer than that, but it's been pretty simple. This little town has been the answer to all of our issues, and we plan to come through here as often as possible. They have a wonderful RV park located on the Bosque River, with kickass WiFi and a disc golf course. The camping rates are reasonable, too!

Granted, this doesn't address the deeper issues that we all have, and we realize that we can't stay here forever. The bigger solution is to compromise, and rotate getting our needs met in a revolving sequence. In Hico we golf, watch YouTube, and enjoy the park. When we leave, we try to find a place that meets the needs of at least two people, and then on the next stop we meet the needs of the one that was left out. This is the compromise that we're going to try. I'll let you know how it works out.

Friday, November 6, 2015

THIS is what I signed up for -- Day 11

With the sun up just enough to lend the sky the colors of 80’s mall-girl makeup, reflected off the serene, rippling Inks Lake, the call of the ducks is the loudest sound of this blissful morning. The Canada geese are gathering for breakfast while the winking radio tower miles away reminds me that civilization is still out there.

I could get used to this.

When we first were planning to live in an RV, I had mental pictures of mornings like this, followed by days of hiking, bird watching, and evenings with campfires and bourbon. The reality of last week camping out in Walmart parking lots with no electricity, the difficulty of adjusting to life with no internet, and the unique challenges of keeping three city-minded people from getting discouraged away from the usual creature comforts almost made me throw in the towel and head back to a sticks-and-bricks existence.

But this is life! The chorus of “Amens” from the honking geese punctuates this as I type. I know that it’s been a little rough, and there are still some things to figure out. But I wouldn’t trade this adventure that we’re on for the security of a decent job, a fixed address, and a daily routine that features unchanging scenery.

Today we’re at Inks Lake, which I highly recommend if you’re ever going camping in central Texas. Beautiful scenery, great hiking, lots of lake-related activities. Since this was our first visit here, Park Ranger Kristen New recommended camp site 92 and it is spectacularly located at the end of a peninsula with neighbors only on one side and incredible views all around. The bathrooms with spacious showers are a short walk, with the camp store just a bit further.

We depart today for Hico, and disc golf tomorrow, if the weather holds. But even if it doesn’t, I’m having the time of my life.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Calling this week a success! -- Day 9

To say the learning curve has been steep is an understatement, but I'm prepared to call this week a success. There are still a few things that need figuring out, and probably some new things that we haven't encountered yet, but I wouldn't trade this experience for the safety and sanity of a mundane existence.

Lessons from the Road:

1. Call ahead. When we were city dwellers, I would never go to a restaurant without calling to get on the waiting list, I would often call stores to make sure the item that I wanted was in stock, I would call the box office to buy my tickets in advance. This habit is invaluable on the road, but has to be done early! I have learned that Texas State Parks usually close around 5pm and weekends book up really fast.

2. Life without a generator sucks. Camping without electricity is an American tradition that dates back to the frontier days when it was a necessity. Personally, I have never really been a fan of "primitive" camping, and my daughter is even less so. Currently, our generator is not charging our house batteries, which means that if we aren't plugged into shore power, we got no juice. This makes dry camping really challenging, and much less fun.

3.  You better really like your travelling companions. Everybody knows how much I love my family. And I've grown accustomed to our pets. The stress of being on the road will put all of your relationships to the test, and I can admit that I haven't passed all of those tests will flying colors. Still, remaining open to life's lessons, and understanding that this is hard for all of us, I feel like we are all learning to love each other better.

4.  Don't be afraid to ask for help. The RVing community is full of really knowledgeable and helpful people! There are lots of online resources, as well as people that are probably in your campsite, that are willing to help you out of many situations. I highly recommend Escapees RV club, RVillage.com, and iRV2.com.


So today, as we wake up just outside of Bee Cave, Tx and enjoy breakfast before hitting the road, I look back on our week and smile. The challenges that we have overcome, and the obstacles that we see in front of us, are just making this adventure more exciting. Can't wait to see what Inks Lake State Park has in store for us today!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Not so Halloweeny -- Day 5

Today I screwed up.


Actually, it started before today, and the fulmination was realized today. It’s Halloween, and while I have always had a certain affinity for the door-to-door candy collection, and the license to dress in anything you like, I hadn’t taken into account the fact that this is probably Zoe’s favorite holiday of the year. Sure, she loves Christmas, we all love Christmas, but Halloween is sanctioned taking candy from strangers. She loves meeting people and she loves sugar, this is her day.


Unless you are stranded in an old folks home.


There are several cool things about the Rainbow’s End RV Park in Livingston, TX. Full RV hookups (water, electric, sewer) plus a swimming pool, activity center, social events, and even WiFi. But being the youngest full-timers that we’ve met so far, there is a distinct lack of children out here. The kids that most of these people have are our age, and settled in somewhere that the grandparents can drive a day to get to. Somehow, I had imagined that the old people would love to dress up, and a concentration of so many people in a small area would make Trick-or-Treating a snap. Ha! I couldn’t be more wrong.


Zoe was a trooper, though. We slept through the pancake breakfast (because we wants to eat at 7am anyway?) and missed the ice cream shop (apparently it’s been closed for four months.) Then she got the news that we aren’t going to get to go Trick-or-Treating. I felt like such a heel.  


The make-up plan is in place. Tomorrow, when we hit the road, we’re going to get pancakes and a giant bag of candy. This life is different, and we have to learn to plan differently. The learning curve is pretty steep, but I can honestly say that I love it, so far. Of course, it did help that I hooked up the PlayStation last night so that we could play a little Minecraft together.

Just because she’s the youngest human in our tribe, doesn’t make her opinion, wants, and desires any less valid. So you can bet your ass that we will be near a Saltgrass for her birthday, come July 1.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Sometimes it rains -- Day 4

Woke up this morning super excited to play some disc golf at Shawshank, only Mother Nature had other ideas. The rain storm that I thought we were going to miss dropped just enough in Huntsville to spoil any thoughts of golfing. But, since we were dry camping in a Walmart, I got to enjoy some free WiFi.

There is balance in the Universe.

Our next stop was the Escapees RV club headquarters, at Rainbow’s End Park in Livingston, TX. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it is a wonderful, friendly place! It reminds me a bit of sleepaway camp, only everyone else here has grey hair. The best part is probably the full hookups that we are enjoying for the first time, in our own camp. Water, electricity, and our own sewer line! Funny how things change in importance in your life.

Since it’s Friday here at the Rainbow’s End, it’s movie night. Casper (1999) was showing, which is a movie I had only seen once before, and didn’t particularly care for. But Zoe was into the idea, so we went. It’s fun to enjoy the enjoyment of others, particularly when they look old enough to be my grandparents, and they are enjoying a movie aimed a target audience of elementary school. I guess the key to life is enjoying things like a kid.

The single biggest draw back to this place is the lack of internet. To someone as tech-dependent as I am, this is painful. There is a trickle of WiFi available for $3/day, per device. However, this does give us all a chance to explore what it’s going to be like when we have no internet at all, in that twisted dystopian future at which we’ve aimed ourselves.

Lucky for us there’s an all-you-can-eat pancake and sauage breakfast in the morning. For $4. Senior citizens seem to know what’s important, after all that time on the earth.