Let the 2018 RVing Season Begin!

This has been a miserably cold and wet winter, but wonder of wonders–this weekend is supposed to be beautiful here in Northeast Mississippi! So we have booked a reservation at Tombigbee State Park for the upcoming weekend, just about 18 minutes from our house, and we’re going to spend some quality time with Lizzy!

Got Lizzy uncovered for the year. Andy is inspecting the condition of the roof.

On my lunch break today we went to the storage facility and removed the cover from Lizzy, exposing her to the sun for the first time since last fall. We found a couple of little things that weren’t perfect–there was a little bit of water on the bathroom floor below the overhead vent, and the vent fan over the bed had a tiny bit of water caught in its bug screen. Both vent covers were intact, so we’re thinking it was probably (hopefully) just condensation. We plugged Lizzy in to shore power so the refrigerator can start cooling down, and I left a dehumidifier running inside. It’s supposed to rain quite a bit over the next 48 hours, so we’ll check to make sure there are no leaks.

On the outside, we found that a section of the vinyl insert trim molding had come loose above the cab on the passenger side. We were able to re-insert it into its track to cover the screws, but it may not hold since it’s been stretched. We’ll need to keep an eye on it.

Vinyl insert trim molding came loose while in storage.

We’re still making upgrades and improvements to systems in the RV. For instance, the TV is located in the over-cab area, and we watch from our seats at the dinette. On our previous trips in the summertime, we found that it was really hard to hear the sound from the TV while the air conditioner is running right over our heads. To resolve the problem, I purchased a YanLitek Bluetooth transmitter that plugs into the back of the TV and transmits the audio to our Hex 808 Bluetooth speaker. We can set the speaker on the dinette ledge right next to our heads while we watch TV or movies. Unfortunately there is a slight lag between the audio on the TV speaker and the audio transmission via Bluetooth to the Hex 808, so we can’t use both audio sources simultaneously, but just having the Hex speaker close to our ears at the dinette will make a huge difference.

YanLitek Bluetooth Transmitter, Portable Wireless Audio Adapter with 3.5mm and RCA Cable Adapter

Transmitter plugged in to the back of the TV using the USB port and the audio out jacks.

Here’s a link to the product description on Amazon. It was $18 and change, and is well worth the small investment.

Since we’ll have shore power for this camping weekend, we’ve decided to use a small Sunpollo ceramic electric heater for nighttime warmth (supposed to be in the high 30’s at night). After all, why deplete our propane supplies when we’re already paying for electricity? We ordered this heater for our RV from Amazon for $38.

This past Sunday afternoon we took a drive over to the park to check out the available sites. We’ve had a lot of rain lately, and we wanted to make sure we didn’t reserve a site that had a lot of standing water, especially around the picnic table or fire pit. We decided on site #15 as our first choice, and site #12 as our backup. By the time I got around to making the reservation on Sunday evening, site #15 was already gone. Bummer! But it just tells me that there are a lot of other people who are itching to get outside once the sun comes out and the the temperatures rise a little!

Now it’s time to plan the menu for the weekend and get the packing list printed out. So excited!!

Sizing Up the RV

Andy and I spent some time in the RV this afternoon. Yeah, she’s actually parked in a storage lot with her cover over her, but we took advantage of some spare time on this cloudy, dreary day to start sizing her up for future organization ideas.

We took pictures of every drawer, cabinet and vertical space, and recorded the measurements of each. We even measured the inside of the refrigerator and freezer.

I’ve stored all the photos and measurements in my Evernote cloud account so I can access them from any of my devices. If I run across something that looks like it would be a good organizational option, I want to be able to refer to my notes to know right away if it will actually fit in its intended spot.

It was a good exercise to actually eyeball the insides of all our little cubbyholes, because we found where the wiring and plumbing might interfere with storage, but we also found places where we could reconfigure things a little bit to gain a few precious cubic inches.

I think I’ll just keep that tape measure in my purse from now on, in case something at the Dollar Tree catches my eye! And now I’ll start thinking of all my clothes and possessions in terms of cubic inches (not to mention weight, but that’s another subject).

New Fire Extinguisher

You may have heard about the huge recall that was issued last year on Kidde fire extinguishers. (If not you can check it out here.) The recall affected almost 38 million fire extinguishers, many of which were used in RV’s and motorhomes, including ours.

We received a recall notification from Thor last month informing us of the process we needed to follow to exchange our potentially-dangerous equipment. Andy called the recall hotline to arrange shipment of a new unit, and it arrived today!

The new unit has metal parts where the old one had plastic.

Now we just have to box up the old unit in the same shipping box and send it back. Easy peasy, and a little more peace of mind.

Spring Travel Plans and Google Maps

I am SOOO ready for winter to be over! We’ve had colder-than-normal weather even here in the Deep South, along with rain and even a decent snowfall in January. I am so antsy to get back in the RV and hit the road.

As I mentioned in my last post, we decided to keep our 2004 Toyota Tacoma to use as our “toad”, which we will drive separately from the RV. The only precondition that I had for this arrangement was that we would replace the factory-installed audio system in the truck with a new one that has current technology, including Bluetooth capability. Hubby was agreeable to that (and why wouldn’t he be since he got to keep his beloved Tacoma!), and we got the JVC KW-V230BT system installed this week. It sounds great, and it will make it much more enjoyable to drive the truck while Andy is driving Lizzy.

So now we are planning our spring travels, which will be more-or-less shake-down trips before we move into the RV permanently later this year. And in order to give Lizzy (and ourselves and the kitties) a good shake-down, we need more than just a weekend trip to a local state park.

Fortunately, I have quite a bit of paid time off accrued at my job, so I was able to get approval for a two-week vacation in April. Our plans are to head south toward the Gulf Coast and then go east into the northern part of Florida and possibly southern Georgia. Our goal is to become more comfortable with making up plans as we go, boondocking for as long as possible before paying for hookups, and learning to locate essential services while on the road (dump stations, fresh water, propane, etc.).

However, at this point I’m not really ready to just hop in the vehicles and start driving. I need to have at least some idea of where we’re going and how long it will take to get there, especially since I do need to be back at work on a certain date. So this week I’m teaching myself how to use Google’s “My Maps” to pin interesting locations and then map routes between them.

TripMap

First draft of our route for April 2018

I’ve been playing around with the map today, primarily to learn how to use the application. It’s not exactly intuitive, but I found a few YouTube video tutorials that gave me a pretty good overview of how to use it.

The first step is to mark or “pin” locations where you might want to stop along the way. I’ve been using Campendium.com to research possible free/cheap campsites along this general route. We do plan to limit our travels to the less congested areas of Florida, and we know that we will be competing for camping space with the last of the snowbirds who will still be in the area before they head back north for the summer.

After pinning your locations, then you use the “Directions” function to link these pins in the order you plan to visit them, and Google maps your route for you, providing you with distance and driving time between the pins.

As I said, I’m just starting to put our route together, but I can already see just how much time it takes to plan your travels when you have to consider things like road conditions, hookups, proximity to services and amenities, physical demands of driving, and possible bad weather conditions. I think it will be much simpler when we don’t have to worry about being somewhere on a particular date and we can just plan our route as we go. Ahhh…just a few more months!

We do plan to do a short weekend trip, probably to our local state park, sometime in March so we can shake the cobwebs out. We may try to dry camp on that trip, but it will probably depend on how cold or rainy it is when we go.

So that’s what’s going on with us at the moment. We’re making sure to get all our medical, dental and optical needs taken care of before the summer. Andy just got his first new pair of glasses in about ten years, and not a moment too soon. The lenses in his old ones had gotten so cloudy that he was having trouble seeing well enough to drive. We’ve both cleaned up our eating habits and are at good, healthy weights with no significant health issues that we know of. We plan to do our second garage sale in March, and I’m still in the process of scanning paper photos to my hard drive.

The nomad life is calling, and we’re getting ready to go!

Must a TOAD be Towed?

One of the most important decisions we’ve had to make as we prepare to enter full-time RV life has to do with what auxiliary vehicle we’re going to use while we’re on the road. Those vehicles are commonly referred to as “toads” because they are typically towed behind the RV, usually Class A and Class C motorhomes.

While there are many RVers in smaller rigs who don’t use a tow vehicle, most of those with rigs of our size or larger do have a toad. It just makes sense to have a vehicle that can be used for running errands or sight-seeing while the large motorhome is parked at a campsite, possibly connected to electric, water, cable and sewer service. Nobody wants to disconnect all that just to run to the grocery store!

We’ve considered several different scenarios as we’ve made our plans for full-timing. We actually did consider not using a toad–but only for a few minutes, and then moved on. Last year on most of our trips, including our week-long trip to Tennessee for the RV Rally, Andy drove the RV and I followed behind in our Prius. We did not want to invest any money in a tow dolly for the Prius since we had no plans to use the Prius as our toad in the future. The only drawback to using a separate vehicle is that we did get separated once or twice when driving in heavy traffic around Chattanooga, and the walkie-talkies were no help at all once we got over a mile or so apart.

After doing a lot of research we decided that we definitely wanted a vehicle that could be towed flat, also known as “four down”, since it seems to be less hassle and less expensive than using a dolly or a trailer. We found out that not every vehicle can be towed flat (neither our Prius or our Tacoma pickup qualify), so we started looking into the possibility of buying a used Jeep and selling our current vehicles.

Jeeps are well-known for being reliable, easy-to-handle toads. Both the manual and automatic transmission models can be easily put into tow mode, unlike most other vehicles. We originally decided on the Jeep Compass, but later became more interested in the Jeep Wrangler Sport. Andy even visited a Jeep dealership to check out a few, and we found one on CarMax that looked very interesting. We were just about ready to pull the trigger.

But part of our transition to this new lifestyle is learning to look at our spending and purchasing decisions much more critically, especially when it involves thousands of dollars. While we would be able to pay cash for a Jeep and the towing setup, it would be a big chunk of change. We have to remember that my retirement income stream will not start for several more years, and while we have enough savings to be comfortable until that time, we don’t want to burden ourselves unnecessarily.

So after we discussed it further, we changed direction again, and this time it’s our final answer (unless something totally unforeseen happens!). We are going to use our Toyota Tacoma Pre-runner as our toad, but we’re not going to tow it. One of us will drive the RV, the other will drive the truck.

Our un-towed TOAD will be our Tacoma pickup with camper shell.

Here are some of the advantages that we see in this decision:

  • The Tacoma is a 2004 model with less than 100,000 miles on it. It has always been very reliable.
  • It has a camper shell on the back which will provide us with more storage space while we’re on the road.
  • It has the off-road package which will allow us to do some of the back-country exploring that we were planning to do with the Jeep.
  • The cost of insurance and registration will be lower for an older vehicle.
  • It already has a tow hitch on it in case we ever need it for anything.
  • When looking for boon-docking sites in the desert or on forest roads, the Tacoma can go ahead as a scout vehicle to make sure it’s safe for the RV to follow.
  • There will be less stress on the RV engine when climbing mountains, and less weight on the brakes when descending.
  • RV will get better gas mileage if it doesn’t have to tow anything. And the Tacoma will get better mileage traveling in the slip-stream from the RV.

The downsides to this solution are:

  • We don’t get to ride together when moving from location to location–but we’ll be together every other minute of the day, and we don’t plan to make many long drives anyway, probably a max of 250 miles in a day. Most days we won’t be moving at all.
  • If one of us gets too sick or injured to drive, we could be stuck in a location for longer than anticipated if we can’t figure out how to move both vehicles with one driver.

The only thing that needs to be upgraded in the Tacoma is the audio system. It currently has a radio/CD player, but we’ll be replacing it with a system that includes Bluetooth connectivity so we can connect our iPhones for music, audiobooks, navigation and hands-free phone conversations.

We’re not the first couple to decide to use an un-towed toad. Here’s a link to a great video from Duet Justus that explores all the options for toads.

So, it’s nice to finally have that decision made so we can move on to the other 999 decisions that we still have to consider this year! We’re so antsy to get on the road!