Last week was a blur for me. The culmination of a year of effort at work resulted in a lot of over time as we finalized for launch on Monday. That meant I ended up doing very little other than working and didn’t get to enjoy the location as I typically would.
We spent through Thursday at Acorn Campground. On Friday I drove to the office where the frantic work continued. Kendra took Shanti to a rover for daycare, then dropped Torta off at the Mercedes dealership in Sacramento to fix the DEF sensor. That was covered free of charge under warranty, but was an exhausting day for Kendra and the pets. I am still a bit put out with Mercedes for programming the vehicle to force you into the shop for bad sensors.
Over the weekend we drove to Fort Bragg, my wife’s home town. Due to the terrain there are no highways into the town, just a choice of incredibly windy mountain roads. I wish I had a GoPro on the dashboard so I could put up video from that drive. It was a couple hours of gorgeous mountain forests which words cannot describe. If it weren’t for the fact that it was heavily traveled, forcing me to pull over and let cars pass constantly, it would have been a lot of fun driving in. We may take a lesser traveled route when we leave, though it is lesser traveled because it is every bit as windy but more than twice as far. We will see.
We have a spot where we can see the ocean again, which is just the best. The cliffs prevent me from hearing the surf, but Kendra can at night. With my overtime completed I think we are going to have a great week exploring this area.
On Sunday we went hiking in Big River Gorge with old friends. The tide was coming in as we did the hike so the river current was going up stream. I find it fascinating that a river can have a current that flows both directions at different times of the day. I want to do a canoe trip down stream both ways some day.
We have far more things to do this week than we will have time for, so next blog entry should be heavy with new photos.
A little rant to begin the entry, because sometimes people drive me nuts. As we transitioned from Avila Beach, more on that later, into the foothills near Sacramento we stopped for supplies in Fresno. If you are visiting California Fresno should be on your do not visit list. Passing through was unpleasant and I cannot imagine why anyone chooses to live there.
The last stop of the day was Whole Foods which was in a strip mall type environment and we had to park a couple hundred yards from the store. Since we were getting supplies for six full days it was more than we could comfortably carry that far. We carted it out and then, since it had no cart area except right at the store, I pushed the cart all the way back to the store. At that distance at the end of a long day it was tempting to leave it tucked in a corner, but I could not bring myself to do it.
As I am nearing the store I see a person finish loading their groceries into their car in the third closest parking spot to the store. You could literally spit from their trunk and have a decent shot of hitting the cart storage area. They shoved the cart in the exact direction it was already pointing far enough that they could back out. This blocked the first and second closest spots, both handicapped, completely. Were they having a bad day and were like “fuck everyone but me”? Were they a sociopath that doesn’t give a crap about anyone but themselves? Would still be a better president than Trump, but what a jerk.
Back to the coast, we had a delightful time in Pismo Beach. Long walking beach on which we watched nearly every sunset and had one sunrise walk on as well. We could hear the surf at night and slept very well.
On Thursday we hopped twenty minutes north to Avila beach. This was us parking about twenty feet from the ocean. Surf was loud enough my coworkers could hear it in meetings and the dog spent hours running in the waves with canine companions. Even though it was a little pricey, I would recommend staying there except it turns out it is on the route to the Diablo Nuclear Power plant. Apparently people work very odd hours there and a near constant flow of traffic even through the night. With the surf it wasn’t awful, but some people had very loud vehicles including one Harley that made my teeth rattle.
We settled into a campsite about an hour south of my office and will move into Sacramento on Friday so I can work in the same building with coworkers for a day. We are in a federal campsite that is underfunded and a little dirty but overall very relaxing. Both the pets love it here.
Also on Friday Torta goes into the shop again.
In Phoenix when I added diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) the sensor didn’t register that I added it. I had spilled some, so we purchased another box and filled it all the way up to the very tippy top. Still told us we were low. Research said this should eventually go away so we decided to ignore it until we got an oil change in Portland. As we pulled out of Fresno this godawful dinging sounded and the message came up that we have only sixteen starts remaining. Apparently if you ignore the DEF message Mercedes has decided that you come in or you cannot even start your very expensive engine.
If you have read my past posts you will know that if two wheel sensors fail Mercedes puts you in limp mode which means first gear only with a top speed of under forty miles an hour. If the DEF sensor fails you get to turn off your engine only sixteen times, possibly far less per the sprinter tech, and then no start for you. The engine won’t fucking start even though it is perfectly capable of it, they just arbitrarily decided that you cannot based on sensory information from a single data point. I have to imagine that someone at Mercedes home office had a diabolically evil laugh as they made these decisions. That person has now risen to number two on the list of people I feel I should be legally allowed to smack displacing Bill Gates.
Welcome to the post formerly known as Viva Las Vegas. We spent last work week at Lake Meade and visited the strip one evening. It was amazing and disappointing at the same time. I’ve never been to Vegas before so my expectations were set by movies. I was expecting flashy lights, cheap drinks, cheap food, and excited people winning a jackpot here and there. They have lights, but mostly it is screens like any other city, the one drink I had was $22 for an old fashioned, dinner was $100 and I never saw anyone win once in any casino we walked through. So it did not meet expectations at all, but it was still cool and I enjoyed it.
On another evening we checked out Hoover dam which was actually amazing. We spent a couple hours walking around and wished we had come early enough for a tour. It was a different era when this beast was built.
We spent a lot of time toward the end of the week reading the news and weather reports to determine if fires would keep us from the beach. There were twenty active fires with reports of flames jumping up to a mile ahead of the main burn making containment nearly impossible. Smoke was visible from space and the safe bet would be to divert, but we took the gamble and drove to the beach. We did go through some smoke on the way here, but it was the right call. Air is clear, with sun, seventy degree days, and amazing sunsets. We really love the ocean.
We are staying about a hundred yards from the beach and enjoying the sound of the surf at night. I think I get the most consistent good sleep when I can hear the surf.
I missed a week and feel a little overwhelmed with covering everything in one blog entry. The time involved switchbacks into the mountains, a rattlesnake, old friends, hiking, Phoenix, Old Town Scottsdale, Joshua trees, Boulder City, Lake Meade, Vegas, a React conference, and more. So I guess, start at the beginning.
We stayed in Catalina for another work week and just loved it. I don’t think I would want to be there in the heat of the summer, but Tucson is a lovely area to visit. We did more of the local hikes and explored the camp paths very well. Shanti and I ran into a rattlesnake just after sunset. Not sure if Shanti saw the snake first or vice versa, but I know I didn’t make first visual contact. Shanti was far closer to the snake than I would have liked when I heard the rattle.
Adrenaline is amazing. I had the dog back beside me in record time. I think my reaction alerted the dog to the severity of the situation as she then avoided the snake even more thoroughly than I did. I thought I was recording a video to go below this paragraph as we carefully skirted the snakes claimed territory, but somehow I failed to click record. Adrenaline may not be so amazing for pressing tiny buttons on phone screens.
Kendra and I sat out and watched the sunset on the mountains with dinner, except one night. That night I got off work early and we drove up into those mountains. The pictures really don’t do them justice. We drove an hour and a half and were only three fourths of the way to the top of Mount Lemmon. Well worth the drive, though I was glad it was in the Honda instead of the Winnebago. Pictures really don’t do the experience justice, but I have some below anyway.
Next stop, Phoenix to visit with friends. This time we surfed their driveway for two nights, mooched power, and had a new mattress delivered to their house. To top it all off they accepted our old mattress, and re-homed it with someone who needed it! Talk about taking advantage of friends huh? Feel a little guilty, but the mattress is life changing and the visit was top shelf. Got in a great hike, shopped and ate in Old Town Scottsdale then returned for old fashioned whiskey drinks and sharing of new music.
The next leg of our journey was an interesting mix. We traveled through some beautiful country, which included my first view of Joshua trees but the estimated travel time was only an hour and a half. There wasn’t a direct shot to Vegas so the roads were windy, bumpy, windy, and apparently contained a bubble in time. That is the only explanation I have for how long it felt driving only an hour and a half.
Lake Meade has been a surprise. It came up in old movies all the time, but it is much prettier in person than I anticipated. Rugged mountains all around the pretty blue waters.
Then off to my first professional conference in twenty years. A co-worker, and friend, talked me into the React conference to get us excited for upcoming development at work. Two long days of talks later I think we both came away excited. The conference was a little more pep rally and a little less informative than we hoped, but still worth it. Loved the diversity of the people we met from all over the world. Being a Facebook product I think the global community of the language is as big a deal to them as the language itself.
Next we visit with another old friend, visit Hoover Dam, and spend a work week on the lake before heading for the ocean.
We arrived in Tucson to put the finishing touches on RV upgrades and repairs. When our levelers were broken last winter, getting them repaired was an absolute debacle that left us with a strong distrust of RV dealerships and a great love of whiskey. That adventure ended at La Mesa in Tucson Arizona where we finally had a good experience. They got us right in, communicated clearly, and had everything fixed by lunchtime at no expense. We came back with a laundry list of upgrades and repairs we were sure would take a couple days to accomplish, so we settled into an Airbnb for three nights and dropped off our home.
I have to admit I was nervous about my new batteries. They absolutely must not be run empty, but even without solar they shouldn’t run dry in two days unless someone did something stupid like turn on the air.
If you have read my previous posts you may be anticipating harm to my shiny new batteries, but nay nay. La Mesa completed all the repairs in a single day, they ran to Mercedes and Lowes to purchase parts, and my batteries were at 71% when we picked her up. We will return here winter of 20-21 for yearly work. Maybe add that new awning that rolls itself in when it is windy.
Finally we take our bone weary selves to Catalina State Park for ten straight days of no plans beyond the work day. My first weekend without movement, or major tasks, since before selling the house. I still had some tasks to accomplish, including a haircut and a dog wash, but I feel more rested than I have in months.
My wife has suffered with Migraines for more than a decade. The last two or three years she has become very proactive about it, working with a headache center. It has been a painful process of trying therapy after therapy. At the end of three years she takes a monthly shot and has pills she can take twice a week symptomatically. The problem is she actually has migraines at least twice a week still. Being a strong researcher, she began reading. I linked the book if you want details, but the short story is diet change. For eating purposes it isn’t extreme, cutting out a few things like soy, onions, citrus and glutamates (MSG or savory flavorings). I’ve been rocking on my Blackstone griddle learning new dishes that are absolutely mouth watering. I think we are actually having better meals on the new diet and I am gaining skill daily with the griddle. The horror of the diet is no caffeine. Not even decaffeinated coffee or chocolate. And no liquor, not even whiskey. *shiver* There was an anticipated rebound headache that lasted days, but at day four things are looking better. We had a lovely hike toward the base of the mountains this morning.
There are several terms used for sleeping in an RV without any type of plugins. If you are in a rest area, Walmart parking lot, or a campsite with no power we refer to that as dry camping. If you park on a city street and try to make it look like no one is inside that is stealth camping. If you visit friends we call that driveway surfing, though that often comes with a plugin because friends kick much ass. By far and away the best version is when you get out away from civilization and that is called “boondocking”.
After getting our solar installed we went directly to boondocking. In the mountains just outside of Flagstaff are public lands. They are part of the Coconino National Forest, an area that allows people to park for up to fourteen days. It was a gorgeous area with decent sized pine trees and nice walking.
After three nights here, we had run the generator one time just to top off the batteries before night. We adjusted the location of Torta to maximize sunlight and didn’t need the generator again. Also after three nights there we had found the place will no longer be allowing free camping after this year and we found a lot of people had trashed the general area. Because of this we decided to move down near Sedona for the remainder of the week. That is in the same forest, but a very different environment. What a great decision that was.
Since the drive was barely over an hour Kendra took the Honda to scout ahead and the pets and I took the main highway while she took a more direct but curvier route. After pulling the car behind me for so long it was a pleasure to drive without it. The drive from Flagstaff is gorgeous and over eighteen miles downhill with four to six percent grades. This led to the best gas mileage we have seen so far, over nineteen miles per gallon.
We arrived at the dirt road leading back into the free camping areas with an hour until sunset. Kendra had researched and found a spot five point seven miles in called “Nolan Tank” that was especially nice. She took the Honda ahead and I drove Torta. This was a dirt road with a lot of the surface described as “washboard” and other areas described as “big ass rocks coming up out of the ground”. It took well over an hour, but it was worth it. It was about five miles as the crow flies from the nearest power line. There is a level of peace that you find that far from civilization that you cannot get any other way.
We left early on Saturday to go see friends in Phoenix on our way to Tucson for general RV maintenance. We found a slightly shorter route out. A couple sections were even rougher than the way in, but I managed to get this short video in the best section of road. It was slow going, but the views were amazing!
We intend to spend a full two weeks in the Tucson area to give ourselves a break. We have been moving fast and keeping busy for a really long time. I think I may nap one entire day.
For the first time in our travels, I had a complete tourist geek out. When I was old enough to drive my best friend and I would listen to music far louder than we should have. One of our favorites was The Eagles Greatest Hits. I don’t even have a guess how many times it was played on repeat, but I know it was enough that the tape began to warp from overuse.
Torta spent the week at Homolovi State Park just outside of Winslow Arizona. When we went in to have dinner one evening I had to stop and get my picture taken “Standing on the corner in Winslow Arizona”. They had a flatbed Ford parked in front of the sign. It is surprising how much joy I have from such a silly happenstance. If you look at the reflection in the glass behind me you can catch the front of the flatbed Ford.
It was a lovely relaxing week hiking the ruins, and catching the local tourist attractions. Meteor Crater was close by, so we cruised over to get selfies with a giant hole in the ground. This part of Arizona is certainly worth spending a week at.
Friday we pulled up stakes and moved an hour into Flagstaff where we finally installed solar. We moved ourselves and the pets into an AirBNB on my lunch break, then I finished the workday at a tiny desk with a stool. My back does not care for trying to work from a stool!
As soon as the workday was over we moved Torta a mile to the installation location and met Luis, who was amazing. Friday night he took measurements and began working on a board for the components. Saturday morning we hit the ground running. Luis had me drilling holes and attaching brackets to the solar panels while he continued on wiring the components.
When I completed that we went out and pulled Torta apart figuring out how to run wires where needed. I learned a lot about the RV, I drilled holes, I cut holes, and I twisted my body into shapes I didn’t think possible to pull wires through sections of the vehicle. We hoped the thirty plus mile per hour winds would drop off, but no luck. We had to stand on top of the vehicle holding large flat panels while trying not to get blown off or damage my shiny new powergrid.
Just before 7 PM on Sunday Luis informed me he had no more tasks I could do so I took my sore body back to get some sleep. Just before 11 PM he wrote that the entire system up and running. It was so exciting I made an actual squee sound.
Next week, we try out the solar in the mountains near Flagstaff, then visit friends on the way to Tuscon.
In the high desert of Colorado, nestled between mountain ranges, is a lovely little hot spring named Joyful Journey. This is the sort of fairy tale setting everyone dreams about who wants to pull up stakes and hit the open road. The air is fresh and clear, the sunlight sharp, and the views breathtaking.
For our week stay it had lows in the 40’s and highs in the 70’s most of the week. The cool mornings made a hot soak spectacular. The warmth of the day made the evening breeze more enjoyable. This is just an amazing place to decompress after a few months of intense activity.
It would have been absolutely perfect except for one thing, altitude sickness. We were almost eight thousand feet above sea level and I suffered from altitude sickness. I had two symptoms. The first was suddenly feeling like I couldn’t get enough air to sustain life. Yes, it is every bit as pleasant as it sounds. Sometimes it would be after hiking or walking the dog, but sometimes I would just be in a video conference call trying not to look like a fool as I took in big breaths to survive. Obviously, there was plenty of oxygen and air, but the lungs panicked anyway. Stupid lungs.
The second symptom was worse, I would wake up after a few hours of sleep and could not fall back asleep. With work, hiking, and lack of sleep I hit the end of my relaxing week more exhausted than I began. I still enjoyed the experience, but I need to do more cardio if I am going to hang out at altitudes.
We left Colorado on Saturday and headed through New Mexico into Arizona. Torta handled the mountain passes pulling the Honda like a champ. Over thirteen miles per gallon going up and down seven percent grades. Wish we hadn’t been delayed on leaving, because the pine-covered mountains we passed through were amazing. We will definitely return to explore more of Colorado. Northern New Mexico has roads that try to fling all six tons of Torta into the air. We are so grateful we upgraded the suspension as we have. Next week a state park in Arizona and we finally get our solar install!
As we prepared our home for sale, I thought about what I wanted to do with recording our adventures. As part of that process, I decided I did not want to give much in the way of advice. I follow several people and one thing they all seem to do is present their way as the best way. There is no best way when it comes to people. We are all unique and what is right for us could well not be right for you.
That being said, I don’t recommend traveling on a workday. Being on the road does not alter time so if you work from eight to five that is nine hours of your day. Packing up and moving on top of that is exhausting. We have gotten it down to about fifteen minutes tear down or setup, but combined that is a half-hour. Tack on a stop for gas and or food along with driving and you are probably close to a twelve-hour day. At fifty-plus twelve-hour days are undesirable. And whatever you do, never ever travel every day after work for an entire week!
That being said, we traveled every night after work the entire week. We had intended to spend three full days traveling from Ohio to Colorado then relaxing for two weeks as we meandered to our solar install. With the break down we lost that.
Torta was fixed Monday before my lunch which was faster than we had anticipated. It was just two wheel sensors and was under warranty. We had choices to make. We could stay the week in Indianapolis, the sensible decision that wouldn’t exhaust us. However; we would be in Indianapolis. Not that it is a bad city, but it isn’t where we wanted to be. We could drive two nights after work and arrive on Sunday to spend one week resting, but then I would be working or driving every day for a couple of weeks. The third option would be to drive every night after work and all day Saturday so we could enjoy a full rest day before the workweek. Over 1,200 miles in six days with a forty-hour workweek. Sitting here I think it was a solid decision, but I am going to nap soon.
The day stops have bled together in my memory. I doubt I could describe all five of them and I know I couldn’t name them. Until solar is installed I must have a plugin to work. Even if we did have solar we would have needed plugins for air conditioning this trip. The temperature was over 90 every day. One day the Weather Channel said 98 and our thermometer read 102. It was an arduous week, but I think we made the right decision.
After five years of planning and six months of trying out life on the road we took the leap. On August 20th 2019 we sold our house and became official Xscapers.
The process of downsizing and preparing the house for sale while working full time was intense, both emotionally and physically. It took us over three months and involved blood sweat and tears. That isn’t a joke, there was truly buckets of sweat and some blood and tears involved. The hardest for me was my books. Thankfully a friend with a big house accepted all of them so I know they went to a good home. We reduced ourselves down to one five by ten storage unit and what we travel with. It is an odd feeling after years of accumulating stuff to suddenly reset, but overall I think we are happy about it.
With the expense of the house gone, and some cash in the bank, we began scheduling the rest of our setup. First step was to convert our 2013 Honda CRV into a tow vehicle. We purchased the Blue Ox tow system and a DEMCO Stay-N-Play braking system. We finalized our solar setup with Northern Arizona Wind and Sun and spent as much time visiting friends and family as we could while the tow system was installed.
While I don’t love Ohio, I love many people intensely. Saying goodbye, even knowing I will come back to visit frequently was tough. Everyone was so kind letting us crash in their driveways, use their showers, and taking time out of their busy schedules to visit. I grew up in an era when men don’t cry, but it was touch and go to stick to that on several occasions.
We had some warning lights on both vehicles which delayed us a week. We missed the long Labor Day weekend for travel so I took a vacation day on Friday and we began our three day trek from Ohio to Colorado. Torta still had an ABS light on, but we don’t plan on traveling in bad weather and will have it looked at in Tucson where we will get a full inspection and maintenance done. We both felt a bit of pressure to get to Joyful Journey Hot Springs. After all the hard work we deserve a week relaxing on the way to the solar install.
First night we crashed at a Cracker Barrel near Indianapolis. I really like their food and most of them will let you spend the night in their lot. A real win win. Because we were short of Indianapolis we got a very early start the next morning trying to get through ahead of the rush hour traffic. The ABS light had gone off, traffic wasn’t too bad and things were really looking like they were going our way. Yea us!
We stopped for gas when we got past the Indianapolis traffic and as we pulled back onto the highway something really weird happened. The vehicle began accelerating on it’s own, much like the cruise was on, only it wasn’t. I rapidly pressed the lever to turn cruise off and tapped the brakes repeatedly. It wasn’t like it was floored, just a steady increase in speed which I could compensate for with brakes. After about ten to fifteen seconds the ABS light came back on and the vehicle began performing normally again. While it was a bit scary, it didn’t seem dangerous so we continued on our way.
About an hour west the excrement hit the wind generation machine. The transmission dropped into first gear and refused to shift reducing our maximum speed to under 40 mph. With the max speed being 70 mph, and still in the predawn conditions, it was a very tense seven miles to the Terre Haute exit with our emergency flashers on and butt cheeks clenched.
We limped into another Cracker Barrel and began researching. Turns out Mercedes Benz has a thing built in called “limp mode”, designed to allow you to get somewhere safe but to force you into the shop. While limp mode was very effective, I’d have preferred a stronger worded message instead. I’d also have preferred to stay in Ohio an extra week and taken care of the ABS there, but hindsight you know.
Took us many hours to arrange the tow. We began working on it at 9:30 AM and Torta arrived at the dealer in Indianapolis just before they closed at 6:00 PM. We rented ourselves and the pets a lovely AirBNB near the dealer and are awaiting news on Monday while questioning our life choices.
If you followed my previous blog entries on Facebook, I mentioned that life on the road is more lively. It is a more intense way to live and when it is good it is really good, but when your entire home is being towed it is absolutely nerve wracking. I speak to a lot of people who tell me they dream of doing what we are, but it truly is not all relaxing by the fire and seeing gorgeous landscapes. I hope that my next entry is about the sunrise while soaking in hot water, but it could be another harrowing misadventure as well.