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While taking some incredible photos in the Grand Tetons a couple of years ago, it occurred to me just how many National Parks we’ve had the good fortune to visit. We don’t have a bucket list or a specific goal of seeing every National Park, but we have enjoyed more than a few.

The United States has set aside just under 65 protected areas of the country (plus one shared by Canada) known as National Parks. Since Nadyne and I have been together, we have visited 29 of them, with more on the horizon. It didn’t hurt that we lived in Colorado and in proximity to Utah, but we stopped in many of the parks after we hit the road in our 5th wheel.

Our favorite so far? That’s a difficult choice. I loved Zion and Bryce, and camping on the edge of the Badlands was memorable. Acadia was a bucket list item for me that didn’t disappoint, as was Campobello for Nadyne, along with Rainier and St. Helens. We were both in awe of the sheer size of the giant redwoods, the splendor of the Rockies and, of course, the sights and sounds of the mighty glaciers in Alaska. And I didn’t even mention the Grand Canyon. No, there’s just no way to choose.

Here is the current list (as of this post) of the National Parks we’ve toured, followed by a slideshow of a few of my pics of some of those remarkable places:

  • Acadia (ME)
  • Arches (UT)
  • Badlands (SD)
  • Black Canyon of the Gunnison (CO)
  • Bryce Canyon (UT)
  • Campobello Int’l (ME-NB)
  • Canyonlands (UT)
  • Death Valley (CA-NV)
  • Everglades (FL)
  • Glacier Bay (AK)
  • Grand Canyon (AZ)
  • Grand Teton (WY)
  • Great Sand Dunes (CO)
  • Great Smoky Mountains (TN)
  • Hot Springs (AR)
  • Joshua Tree (CA)
  • Lassen (CA)
  • Mammoth Cave (KY)
  • Mount Rainier (WA)
  • Mount St. Helens (WA)
  • New River Gorge (WV)
  • Petrified Forest (AZ)
  • Pinnacles (CA)
  • Redwood (CA)
  • Rocky Mountain (CO)
  • Saguaro (AZ)
  • Sand Dunes (CO)
  • Wind Cave (SD)
  • Zion (UT)
  • Acadia (ME)
  • Arches (UT)
  • Badlands (SD)
  • Black Canyon of the Gunnison (CO)
  • Bryce Canyon (UT)
  • Campobello International (ME-NB)
  • Canyonlands (UT)
  • Everglades (FL)
  • Glacier Bay (AK)
  • Grand Canyon (AZ)
  • Grand Teton (WY)
  • Great Sand Dunes (CO)
  • Hot Springs (AR)
  • Joshua Tree (CA)
  • Mount Rainier (WA)
  • Mount St. Helens (WA)
  • Pinnacles (CA)
  • Redwood (CA)
  • Rocky Mountain (CO)
  • Saguaro (AZ)
  • Sand Dunes (CO)
  • Wind Cave (SD)
  • Zion (UT)

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You may be aware that we purchased an RV site at an Escapees Co-Op in Texas in order winter in place. But, why winter in one place?

You may have read my article, My Top 9 Trepidations of Full-Time RVing, in which I describe several anxieties upon moving to and setting up in an RV park. Some of these trepidations are the availability and status of full hookup sites, cell and Internet access, parking and setup difficulties, weather on the road, satellite reception, road hazards, pet friendliness, and others. Consider the fact that we commonly change campgrounds every two weeks or so, meaning that I experience these emotions more than two dozen times a year.

But, it’s more than these apprehensions. Driving takes a toll, especially as we get older, and fuel is a big expense when you are constantly on the move. The cold of winter leaves little of the country available for visiting in anything other than frigid climates. The usual RV snowbird regions, i.e. Florida, Texas, Arizona and Southern California, are rife with more large rigs than small, leaving space, convenience, solitude and privacy all wanting.

Even with RVillage, a virtual RV community with over 500,000 members nationwide, telling us which other members are camping in a specific park we arrive to, RVers in a park are often strangers, even more so during the pandemic. RVers are people, meaning that they include all types of personalities, social acumen and political persuasions, and not everyone is open to meeting newcomers.

I guess I’m saying that we miss friends and social circles in which to gather to share moments, stories and laughs. A two-week stay in an RV resort may afford us an acquaintance or two, but the process of our getting to know each other typically starts from scratch each time. Sure, there are stories from the RV lifestyle all RVers can relate to, such as many of the anecdotes I share in my book, “RV Life Happens,” but there are only so many black tank tales or RV park complaints you can regale. By spending four of five months in one community, we can begin building some real, longer-term relationships.

One quick mention: We have made several valuable personal connections in RVillage and on the road, and some will become lifelong friendships. We don’t diminish this possibility and always leave ourselves open to making new friends wherever we go.

Then there is the convenience of staying in a place long enough to see doctors and dentists, and to get RV repairs or make sure maintenance is performed. Although we had been returning to Denver each year for a couple of weeks to get medical and dental treatment, two weeks isn’t always long enough. After our first year on the road, I had to forgo one medical appointment when they couldn’t make space within our travel window in Colorado. RV upgrades and repairs can be especially difficult when moving around the country, with parts and materials taking longer to arrive than we are camping in any particular area.

One of the reasons we decided not to spend considerable time in any one park when we started this adventure is that we both had many, many items on our must-visit list and we were anxious to experience them all. We circumnavigated the country three times in our first three years and will embark on another grand circle as soon as the pandemic lets up, perhaps checking Yellowstone and Nova Scotia off our destinations lists. We have camped in 36 states and driven in 44, with more in our future itineraries.

Now that we have seen so much of the country, we can afford to take time to relax in a single community for the winter. The Escapees Co-Ops make this affordable but some have waiting lists with hundreds of names on them. The sites have space and hookups for an RV of nearly any size and for one or more sheds or casitas. Fortunately, in our Texas choice, we started at #42 on the waiting list and, in less than two years, we will were awarded a property last spring. We quickly moved our stored stuff from Denver to the new site and moved in, just in time for a tornado and major hail storm, but that’s another story.

Lastly, it would has been nice this year during the pandemic to have had a permanent spot to hunker down in rather than having to worry about whether any or all of the RV parks we had booked would decline our reservations when we arrived. During national emergencies, it’s comforting to have a home base to go to.

So, why Texas? Several reasons:

  • No state income tax
  • Milder and longer winter and spring seasons than most winter locales
  • Friends and relatives living in Texas
  • Availability of affordable sites
  • Driving distance from Mexico (for drugs and medical treatment)
  • Driving distance to the Gulf (for recreation)
  • Lots of DQ’s (Nadyne’s favorite) and several In ‘n’ Outs (Jack’s favorite)

All told, we have many reasons for being stationary in the winter, but that doesn’t mean we plan to give up traveling the country. We’ll still have eight months a year to continue our adventures.

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Contrary to the title, this post is really more about our lifestyle than travel. We spend, on average, two weeks in each campground or resort we stay, meaning that about twice a month we have a travel day, moving our house to the next stop, sometimes taking three of four days to arrive, boondocking at Walmarts or Cracker Barrels on those nights in between destinations.

Often during these commutes, I have anxieties about our next stay. Here are some things I think about, in no particular order.

  1. Availability and status of full hookup site
    We belong to Thousand Trails so that we don’t have out-of-pocket resort fees to worry about, but most of them are first-come, first-served, for full hookups, meaning that we may or may not find sewer or 50 amp electric hookups. This is important because without sewer, we can’t shower more than once or use our toilet more than one week during our stay. It takes a couple hours to set up or break down camp, so even if there is a dump station on-site, it takes much time and hassle to make use of it.

    A couple of years ago, we called ahead to confirm that we could easily get a full-hookup site with at least some cell signal for Internet, and they assured us that was the case. When we arrived, however, neither was available. We ended up passing up the resort and paying out of pocket for a private campground.

    Often water pressure is an issue as well. For that reason, we always keep our fresh water tank full in case there is little or no water from the park spigot, which sometimes happens mid-stay.
  1. Availability of cell coverage and Internet
    Speaking of confirming Internet availability, both Nadyne and I work on the road, Nadyne remotely doing insurance agency accounting and me writing and marketing. Both of us require Internet and Nadyne must be able to speak to clients across the country, so early on we purchased a cell booster to give us a stronger cell signal and more reliable Internet, along with utilizing cell coverage from Verizon, AT&T and Sprint. Among the three service providers, we almost always have something we can use, but every once in a while, we don’t. This was the case in the resort I mentioned earlier, where we only found two bars of coverage in one parking lot on one end of the park, and no signal from any campsite. You can’t boost zero signal, so this was unacceptable and we had to move to another campground.
  1. Parking difficulties
    We haven’t had a massive RV: a 31′ fifth wheel until this year and now a 36′. Still, backing into some spaces requires time, energy and nerves of steel.

Only once have I not been able to, eventually, get parked, but occasionally, because of narrow sites, trees at the corners of the site entrance, narrow paths between rows of sites and/or close proximity to immovable park models, parking can be harrowing. In the case of the Palm Springs RV Resort, all four were problems. Add the situation where a truck or toad is partially blocking your path whose owner can’t be found, or the off-level nature of a site, there is a lot to dread about parking, even if we’ve been to a resort before.

  1. Weather on the road
    We are mobile and can move our fifth wheel when we know severe weather or flooding is imminent, but it’s not always foreseeable. Since we are usually traveling hundreds of miles in any particular leg of a trip, forecasting isn’t often reliable. My biggest concern is wind, which can greatly affect gas mileage at best and cause an accident at worst, not to mention risking expensive hail damage. We were extremely fortunate to not have any serious weather issues during our first three years on the road, but the fourth included a major hail storm, destroying our rig and severely damaging our pickup. This is now something we actively worry about.

  2. Satellite access
    We are often in rural campgrounds without cable or over-the-air TV coverage so we invested in a Tailgater satellite dish and Dish TV service, along with a DVR. This has worked out great except that satellite dishes and trees don’t play well together. The dish needs fairly unfettered access to the southern sky and the farther north you go, the more towards the true horizon it needs to see. In one park, in which we are often parked beneath and among trees, I tried about fifteen locations around the rig until I found a spot in which the dish could see one of the three satellites it normally uses. The only reason I was successful to that extent was because we were in Southern Texas, where the dish is pointed in a fairly vertical direction in the sky. If we had been in Ohio, where it would point farther down for the signal, we wouldn’t have had any satellite TV at all.

  3. Road hazards and clearances
    We were in downtown Binghamton, NY, having no worries about our height and underpass clearance, since we utilize three different resources (including a trucker’s guide) to check our route for low clearance bridges, etc., without any cautions. However, I turned left to enter an underpass and found myself face-to-face with a bright yellow sign warning of a 10′ 11″ bridge height. Our rig is over 13′ tall, so that would have left a mark. Nadyne had to get out and stop traffic so that I could back out of the underpass entrance and turn around. We now have a brilliant yellow vest for her to wear in case that happens again.

    I mentioned that we use three resources to check for clearance and my in-dash navigation system utilizes an app on my phone via Bluetooth to check for traffic and hazards, but no resource is foolproof, as we have learned the hard way. East of the Mississippi, especially in New England, there are far more of these low bridges than out west, but really it’s a nationwide concern.

    The road age and condition is itself a major concern, from coast to coast. The last time we were on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the long duration of significant bumps actually broke one of the springs on the fifth wheel. Any rough road is bad for an RV’s interior and joints. Prolonged travel on such highways can be like riding out a continuous earthquake, but even a single big bump can rearrange our contents.

‚Äč7. Breakdowns and blowouts
Logging over 20,000 miles per year means that the odds are against us. Eventually we will have a major breakdown or tire blowout on the road. To help mitigate this we installed a TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System), which has twice saved us a major tire issue twice since we starting using it.

The first time a tire went flat after picking up a screw while traveling 60 mph, allowing us to pull over before a blowout ensued, and the other a slow leak developed in a brand new tire on a dirt and gravel road and we were able to get it repaired before a serious issue occurred. In both cases a disaster may have resulted and I worry about that happening again, even with a commitment to the technology. Our new rig has a new TPMS system that connects to our smartphones via Bluetooth, and, thankfully, it seems to accurately and quickly discern and communicate the air pressure details.

  1. Being pet friendly and having unfortunate park rules
    We have seen some overly aggressive park rules against pets and other uses of a campsite. We installed a doggie door flap in our rig’s screen door. By setting up a small fence around our steps and giving our dogs both shaded and sunny areas on a mat, we leave some dirt or grass uncovered so they can come and go and potty as needed. We never leave them in the pen without us being home and are always diligent about their barking while outside. Despite this, some parks forbid outdoor pens and even having pets on leashes without the owner’s full participation and attention. While I understand the purpose of such an edict, it makes our lives difficult, as does restricting clothes lines under our awning, restricting noise at 7 pm, a 3-mph speed limit and other rules that some bad apples have forced parks to include in their codes.

  2. Access to grocery shopping and gas stations
    Having a refrigerator only half or one-third the size of a house fridge means having to shop for groceries more often, at least once per week. Staying in the boonies doesn’t make this an easy chore and we often camp up to 50 miles from the nearest Walmart. Small local supermarkets (with “super” being a bit facetious) almost always have a miniscule stock and higher prices compared to a big chain store. Sometimes a rural market has fresh, locally-grown or raised food or delicious baked items, but usually it’s just missing several items we’re looking for. Not having gas stations nearby can also be an issue and requires a more thoughtful plan to stay filled up.

We don’t experience these difficulties often, but enough to cause us trepidation, No matter how much advance research we do, some things just cannot be known until you are present, and that is a cause for concern every time we begin our travel day. I’m sure we’re not the only ones.

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Note: I originally wrote this pre-pandemic…

A lot has been written about how great it is living the good life of retirement in an RV, but now that we’re into our second month, I’d like to suggest some reasons it’s not so great.  Mind you, I’m not advocating turning back and selling the 5th wheel, but it hasn’t been all wine and roses either.  Here are my top 9 reasons NOT to become an RV nomad:

9.  You don’t have a garage.  Or car port.  Wherever you are camping, there’s probably shelter for you and your spouse from tornados, large hail and the like, but probably not for your RV, pickup or tow vehicle. No garage also means limited storage options.

8.  Local news is… well… local.  Even when we find stations from far-away cities, local TV news has become trivial.  Do we really care that there was a car accident in Davenport, Iowa, or that there’s a marathon being run in Rockford, Illinois?  Not really.

7.  Limited night life.  Ever try to find a karaoke bar in the middle of rural Missouri or Illinois?  I tried to many times.  No luck.  Even if I find one, I hesitate being an outsider at a “locals” establishment.

6.  No neighbors from Monday to Thursday.  This might be a good thing for someone living in the city, but when you are hoping to meet other nomads and share some wine or other beverages, the middle of the week sucks.  

5.  Crowded parks. The opposite is also true on the weekends: tons of families (and children) camp from Friday to Sunday, and we’re way past dealing with kids.

4.  Fuel cost.  When you think about it, it makes sense.  We sold our high-gas-mileage Kia because we couldn’t take it with us —  we’re pulling a 5th wheel with our Ford F350.  But that also means that sightseeing is done using diesel at 12 mpg instead of gas at 30 mpg.  Our only drivable vehicle is a gas-guzzler, or, I should say, a diesel-guzzler.

3.  It feels like we’re on vacation, but we’re not.  The temptation is always there to eat out at the local hangouts, do all the tours, drive everywhere.  However, we’re on a tight budget in order to sustain this lifestyle and often we have to stay put in the campground instead of spending all of our time — and money — as tourists.

2.   Guilt.  Let’s face it, when you have to get up at 4:45 am every morning for years because you have a job to go to, sleeping in until 8 am feels great but comes with unexpected guilt.  Ditto with not going to work and collecting a nice paycheck.  Intellectually we both are all-in on our budget, but emotionally, we feel like we should be more productive.

1.  Cleaning, fixing, prepping — there’s always something to do.  When you have a 1,700-sq.-ft. sticks-and-bricks house, you have room to spare, possibly even a storage or clutter room.  That is a luxury we don’t have in our 360-sq.-foot 5th wheel.  Set a glass down on the wrong surface and the whole place looks a mess.  Things break on the road, and you can’t wait until something becomes serious before fixing it, since you don’t want to be living in your rig while it’s parked in a repair facility.

There are other reasons not to partake in this lifestyle and we’re sure to learn many more of them.  But, after a few years on the road, these are my impressions.  Feel free to add your reasons in the comments.  You’ll feel better. 

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