Monthly Expense Report – July 2019 – Full-time RV Living

It’s time once again for our monthly expense report where we share the costs associated with our full-time RV life. We live in a 24′ Thor Chateau 22E Class C RV with our two cats, Maggie and Molly. We do not have a sticks-and-bricks home base, but travel wherever the weather takes us as we chase 70°.

First, a reminder of the caveats related to our expenses. Every RVer is different–different rig, different diet, different interests–so our expenses are unique to us. Also, I’m not going to share every single personal expense that we incur each month, but only the ones that are directly related to our RV life in some way.

We’ve just completed eleven full months on the road. In this post, I’ll be sharing the most recent three months’ expenses as well as our average-to-date for comparison, since line items can change drastically from month to month.

We spent all of June and July in a free boondocking site in the Coconino National Forest on Forest Road 151 (also known as Hart Prairie Road), off Highway 180 northwest of Flagstaff. The weather has been near-perfect for boondocking, and there are plenty of empty camping spots along this road so we haven’t felt any pressure to leave this area.

Because we stayed in one spot all month and didn’t move the rig except to dump the tanks and refill propane and water, our camping expenses were lower than average in June and July. However, this month we decided to replace our cheap deep-cycle lead acid batteries and invest in a couple of lithium batteries for our solar system while they were on sale in Flagstaff, so our expenses did jump significantly in July because of that one line item (see Equipment below). But the change has already made a significant difference in our camping experience since we don’t have to babysit the batteries or constantly monitor our electrical usage at night or on cloudy days.

That said, here are our expenses for the past three months:

Camping fees + Electricity

May: $207 – We boondocked for free for 24 of the 31 nights. The seven nights we spent in the Grand Canyon Railway RV Park in Williams cost us $27/night which was a 50% discount on their normal rates with our Passport America membership, for a total of $189. The remainder is the prorated cost of our annual pass to New Mexico state parks (expires October 31).

June: $17 – We boondocked for free for the entire month in the National Forest, so there were no out-of-pocket expenses. The $17 is the monthly prorated cost of our annual pass to New Mexico state parks (expires October 31).

July: $17 – Same as June.

Eleven month average: $152

DUMPING FEEs

May: $42 – We didn’t have to pay to dump while we had full hookups in Williams. While staying on FR 320, we dumped three times at an RV park in Tusayan for $14 per visit. Technically, we could have driven into the Grand Canyon National Park and dumped at their campground for free, but we still would have had to visit the Tusayan RV park to buy propane, and Andy decided it was easier to just get everything done at one location.

June: $40 – We dumped the tanks and refilled our fresh water four times at Black Bart’s RV Park in Flagstaff at $10/visit.

July: $40 – Same as June.

Eleven month average: $33

Fuel for the RV

May: $111 – We moved three times, but only filled up the rig twice. We drove a total of 239 miles and used the generator 22.2 hours. We bought 34 gallons of gas and averaged approximately 9.6 MPG, net of generator use. Our average gas price in May was $3.22/gallon–another effect of being in a high-tourism area.

June: $62 – We filled up the RV one time toward the end of the month, and basically it was just the expense of running the generator all month plus taking the rig into town four times to dump the tanks. We bought 21 gallons of gas at $2.99/gallon, and ran the generator for 14.7 hours, and drove the rig 118 miles.

July: $0 – The RV was only moved four times in July, when Andy drove it into Flagstaff to dump the tanks, a 30-mile round trip. We ran the generator 14.7 hours in July (same as June, seems to be a pattern here), which equates to about 6.3 gallons of fuel.

Eleven month average: $129

Fuel for the Truck

May: $115 (37 gal, 19.6 MPG)

June: $95 (30 gal, 19.5 MPG)

July: $43 (15 gal, 18.8 MPG)

Eleven month average: $120

PROPANE

May: $76 (15.9 gallons) – Most of our propane purchases in May were at the RV park in Tusayan, where the cost was $4.85/gallon + tax = $5.28/gallon. They were the only propane supplier within reasonable driving distance, and they knew it and admitted it. We had some very cold weather, including sleet and snow, so we ran the furnace a little more than we usually do. Fortunately we had one week with full hookups in Williams when we were able to use the electric space heater, which offset at least a portion of the propane cost for the month.

June: $38 (12.5 gallons) – Warmer weather means less propane usage. And after the high prices in Tusayan last month, it was nice to get back to some reasonable propane prices. We filled up twice at Tractor Supply in Flagstaff, at $2.79/gallon.

July: $22 (7.7 gallons) – Another good month for propane usage. We filled up once at Tractor Supply in Flagstaff at $2.83/gallon (including tax).

Eleven month average: $39

groceries

May: $464 – We were a little surprised at this number being down so much, as grocery prices in Williams and Flagstaff are a little higher than we’ve been paying. But when we saw what we spent on dining out (see below), the grocery figure made sense. Many of our restaurant meals involved doggie bags that provided us with an extra meal at home. And usually, when we ate lunch at a restaurant, we were too full to eat dinner later.

June: $466 – This was a fairly typical month for groceries, all of which were purchased at Walmart in Flagstaff.

July: $418 – Our grocery cost was down a little bit this month, as I cooked more one-pot meals that could be spread over two or three meals, and we also ate out a few more times this month.

We made two meals out of these Instant Pot Mexican-style Stuffed Peppers.

Eleven month average: $492

NOTE: We primarily eat a whole-foods, plant-based diet so we buy a lot of fresh produce and whole grains, along with some wine/beer. We buy very little processed foods in boxes and cans, although we do buy canned beans and tomatoes.

dining out

May: $464 – We spent way more than usual on eating out in May. We had a nice lunch in Sedona ($76); ate three times at the Grand Canyon Brewing Company which was conveniently located right across the street from the RV park where we stayed in Williams (twice we only had drinks and appetizer, total for three visits was $103);  ice cream and coffee at Twisters on Route 66 in Williams ($19); dinner at El Corral Mexican Restaurant on Route 66 in Williams ($41); two visits to We Cook Pizza in Tusayan ($71); brunch at Toasted Owl Cafe in Flagstaff ($49); lunch at the Bright Angel Lodge Harvey House Cafe in the Grand Canyon National Park ($37); breakfast at McDonald’s on the way to the Canyon ($26 – highway robbery!); and a few other miscellaneous charges including reloading Andy’s Starbucks card for $25. When we dine out, we pretty much order what we want and don’t worry about the prices, especially if it’s an unusual place with high-quality food. But hopefully we can get back on track in June and get this line item back in budget. 🙂

June: $192 – We did much better on dining out this month, thanks in large part to finding Fratelli Pizza in Flagstaff where they have a pizza-by-the-slice lunch special for $10 that we are now addicted to. We also visited Cornish Pasty Company in Flagstaff where they have delicious vegetarian/vegan options, and we also hit the local Pita Pit and IHOP (twice). Oh yeah, I think I remember stopping for some ice cream in the historic district one afternoon… 🙂

July: $246 – We tend to be creatures of habit, and once we find a good deal, we stick with it. So we had lunch at Fratelli Pizza 3 times and brunch at IHOP 3 times (we like to eat a big breakfast before we go grocery shopping). We also spent $20 on food and drinks at the Flagstaff Art in the Park festival, and another $20 for crepes in downtown Flagstaff. And then a weird thing happened–someone fraudulently used my Starbucks gold card (or at least the card number) in Brooklyn, NY to buy $16 worth of whatever. The only reason I found out about it was because I have that card set up so that whenever the balance on it falls below $10, it automatically reloads the card with $25 from my Paypal account by charging one of my credit cards. And I have my credit cards set up to send me a text message whenever ANYTHING of any amount is charged to the credit card. So when I got a text message one morning from my credit card company saying that I had just reloaded my Starbucks card, I knew something was wrong. I called Starbucks, and they reimbursed me for the $16 and then created a new gold card for me with the remaining balance from the old card, and cancelled the old card. They also moved the $25 that had been reloaded onto the old card over to the new card. Long story short, this month’s dining costs include that $25 for reloading my Starbucks card. And a big shout-out to Starbucks customer service for handling this issue to my complete satisfaction!

Strawberry Cheesecake crepes from the Creperie in downtown Flagstaff

Eleven month average: $239

NOTE: These numbers include coffee and snacks that we buy when we’re really there just to use the wi-fi. 🙂

household / furnishings

May: $149 – Includes $76 for a new Blu-ray player to replace our old one that quit working. We don’t play DVDs very often, but while we were camped on FR 320 we had very little cellular service and could not do our usual streaming of Hulu and YouTube, so we fell back on our DVD collection. When the old Blu-ray player wouldn’t play the discs without freezing and skipping, we replaced it with a newer, “smarter” version from Walmart.

June: $25 – Nothing this month but the necessities.

July: $36 – My flashlight bit the dust, so I got a new one for $16. Otherwise, just the typical paper products and cleaning supplies.

Eleven month average: $131

These numbers include things like toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning supplies, small household items for the kitchen, etc.

petcare

May: $24 – Just food and litter.

June: $24 – Another month of just food and litter.

July: $48 – In addition to food and litter, the babies ran out of treats this month so we had to restock. Those things are EXPENSIVE, but our babies love them. 🙂

Maggie in her hidey-hole.

Eleven month average: $57

These numbers include cat food, litter, treats and the occasional toy for our two kitties, Maggie and Molly. Will also include vet visits when needed.

verizon cellphone / internet

May: $276

June: $276

July: $276

Eleven month average: $269

These numbers include a prorated charge for the purchase of our iPhones when we bought them in the fall of 2017. We both have the iPhone 8+ which we use for internet access as well as hotspot wi-fi for the laptop and the Roku. We are now on the AboveUnlimited data plan so we can go longer without getting throttled. Once the phones are paid off this fall, the monthly charge should drop by about $30/month unless the plan rates go up.

mail forwarding

May: $30 – Renewed our mail scanning service for another three months. This service allows us to see the front of the envelope that is sent to our mailing address in Livingston, Texas, and then we can choose to have it shredded or added to our next mail forwarding. Because of this scanning, we were able to see that there was nothing urgent in our mail this month, so we did not have anything forwarded to us in May. It will instead be held until our next forwarding request, probably in early June.

June: $7 – Had our mail forwarded one time, nothing of any interest in there. Probably won’t have it forwarded again until August.

July: $7 – We wound up having our mail forwarded once. When we checked the website to see what incoming envelopes had been scanned for us, we saw that the renewal notices for the license plates on both vehicles had arrived, so we had them forwarded this month instead of waiting until August.

Eleven month average: $17

Laundry

May: $15 – Did laundry once at the RV park where we stayed in Williams. I also had to wash the top quilt on our bed because Maggie puked on it (she’s not sick, I think she just gagged on a hair in her throat). Oh, well, at least they’ve stopped peeing on it!! 🙂

June: $25 – It just worked out, timing-wise, that we did laundry twice this month (we usually average going to the laundromat about every three weeks).

July: $28 – We did our regular laundry once, but then we had to make a special trip to wash the bed linens, as one of the kitties tried to baptize us one morning.

Eleven month average: $20

attractions / entertainment

May: $58 – Just the monthly subscriptions listed below, plus a bag of assorted puzzle books that I picked up at the Goodwill store in Sedona. NOTE: We visited the Grand Canyon National Park several times for free with Andy’s “America the Beautiful” senior lifetime pass for which he paid $10, right before they increased the price to $80. But even at $80, it’s still a tremendous bargain if you visit any of the national parks or monuments, especially since it’s a lifetime pass. Can’t wait until I turn 62 so I can get mine!! 🙂

June: $85 – In addition to our monthly subscriptions (see below), we checked out the Flagstaff Folk Festival ($10).  We also purchased a few items to carry in our hiking packs in case of emergency (lessons learned from Andy’s big adventure). We visited the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, but got in free with Andy’s “America The  Beautiful” senior pass (saved $25). We also visited the Arizona Snowbowl and took the chairlift ride to the top of the ski lift, but thanks to a fortuitous conversation with a couple in the parking lot, this excursion was also free (details here). This month we dropped our subscription to Netflix and replaced it with a subscription to Hulu, where I binge-watched 11 seasons of “Frasier” and am now working my way through “This Is Us”.

July: $68 – In addition to the subscriptions listed below, I also paid $11 for a one-year subscription for the Elite upgrade to my Walkmeter app on my iPhone. This is the app that I use for hiking (my entertainment of choice) to map my routes and keep track of my time and distance, as well as the weather and other stats. It helps keep me motivated to exercise, so I think it’s worth it.

Could there be a more beautiful place to hike?

Eleven month average: $81

Note: These numbers include our subscriptions to Hulu, Audible, Spotify, and Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited book plan, as well as entrance fees to places we visit.

memberships

May: $127 – Annual renewal fee for Amazon Prime. Currently questioning whether or not we should drop this next year.

June: $0

July: $0

Eleven month average: $37

Equipment for RV

May: $0 – Hallelujah!!

June: $17 – New tire pressure gauge and valve caps.

July: $1,719 – No, that’s not a typo. This month we decided to take advantage of a 10%-off sale on Battle Born lithium batteries at Northern Arizona Wind & Sun. We replaced our two pathetic 25-amp-hour lead acid house batteries with two 100-amp-hour Battle Born lithium batteries. We were tired of having to be so miserly with our energy usage at night and on cloudy days, and since we made the upgrade, we’ve had plenty of power of spare. We can finally run our fan at night without worrying about whether or not there would be enough sunshine in the early morning to replenish what we used overnight–now a full charge will last us for 3-4 days without having to top it off at all. And when we finally make that trip up to the Pacific Northwest, we’ll be better equipped to deal with the cloudy days that are so common up there.

Our new Battle Born lithium batteries are a great investment in boondocking

Eleven month average: $427 (Includes over $2K in solar equipment purchased in November 2018.)

RV Maintenance & REpairs

May: $35 – Bought two replacement lights (the amber teardrop-shaped clearance lights) for the overhead cab area to try to prevent water leakage into the rig.

June: $15 – Bought SeaFoam gas treatment for the generator. We also purchased new LED light bulbs for the interior, but we used our Discover Card reward dollars for those.

July: $15 – Oil for the generator, two cans of compressed air for blowing the dust out of the solar panel cable connectors.

Eleven month average: $76

truck maintenance & repairs

May: $0

June: $0

July: $0

Eleven month average: $8

NOTE: We drive a 2004 Toyota Tacoma PreRunner pickup with a camper shell on the back as our chase vehicle (not towed). It has just over 107K miles on it, and it’s super-dependable, but I think we’re going to need to have the brakes looked at pretty soon.

Vehicle insurance

We have insurance through Progressive and get a multi-vehicle discount. Right now we’re paying $57/mo for the RV. In March, the monthly cost for the truck increased from $40/mo to $49/mo.

VEhicle License and registration

Of course we paid the annual license and registration up front in September but for expense tracking purposes, I’m prorating it across the year. It’s $22/mo for the RV and $17/mo for the truck. Since this was the first year we registered the vehicles in Texas, there was an extra $95 charge on each vehicle to transfer them from out-of-state. Based on the renewal notices that we just received, the expenses for the next year will be $11/mo for the RV and $6/mo for the truck.

Summary

So those are our RV living expenses for the last three months:

May Total: $2,337

June Total: $1,529

July Total: $3,127

Eleven month average: $2,467

After blowing our budget in May while staying in touristy spots like Williams, Arizona and the Grand Canyon, it feels good to have the purse strings under control again. If we exclude the cost of the new batteries that we bought this month, this would have been our best month ever in terms of expenses–so it was probably the right time to bite the bullet and spend the money.

Monsoon clouds at sunset over our rig

We’re still camped at about 8,100′ just northwest of Flagstaff, and the forecast calls for high temperatures between 75° to 79° for the next two weeks. It’s hard to predict exactly because the published forecast is for the city of Flagstaff, and we are about 1200′ higher than they are. The monsoon season has arrived, so we’re getting rain almost every day now. Usually it’s just an afternoon shower, but earlier this week we got a couple of days of almost constant drizzle. As long as we don’t get too warm or too soggy, we plan to stay in the Flagstaff area as long as we can. We like where we’re camped, and we like being in close proximity to good shopping and services. Of course, last week there was a wildfire in the area, the Museum Fire; and while we were never directly threatened by anything more than some smoke, it was a reminder that we could have to evacuate at any time if a fire breaks out near us, or if the Forest Service decides to close off an area due to dry or dangerous conditions.

The first smoke we saw from the Museum Fire on Sunday, July 21, 2019

We’ll continue to closely monitor our expenses and will report them here on a monthly basis. So if you’re interested, be sure to subscribe to this blog so you get all our updates. You can also find us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads to stay up with us between blog posts.

Eleven-Month RVersary, Museum Fire Update, Major Rig Upgrade

Today marks the eleven-month anniversary of the day we moved out of our sticks-and-bricks house and into our little RV to start our new life as full-time RVers. It’s hard to believe that we’ve been out here for almost a year–time just seems to fly by. But we’re still having the time of our lives, and have no inclination to even remotely consider settling down somewhere.

Over the next month, I’m going to be working on a retrospective of our first year on the road. Not sure if it will be a YouTube video or just a blog post, but I’m putting some ideas together, so stay tuned to see what we come up with!

We are still camped in the Coconino National Forest just northwest of Flagstaff. I’m sure you’ve heard about the Museum Fire, a wildfire that started last Sunday, July 21, just north of Flagstaff. The fire grew quickly on Sunday and Monday in the dry timber and steep terrain just about a mile outside the Flagstaff city limits. On Monday, the smoke was drifting to the west, so the air outside our RV was very smoky and hazy. In fact, it was so thick that I didn’t even attempt to do my daily hike that morning.

Smoke from the #MuseumFire invades our camp on Monday

Fortunately, on Tuesday, the monsoon rains finally arrived, bringing cooler temperatures, higher humidity, and much needed moisture to the Flagstaff area. There was more rain on Wednesday (and fortunately not a lot of lightning) which allowed the firefighters to begin getting a handle on the blaze. The amount of smoke was greatly reduced, and with the shift in wind direction, we no longer had any smoke in our area.

We’ve driven into Flagstaff a couple of times for grocery shopping and dumping the tanks, and while we’ve seen a lot of firefighting activity, including helitankers slurping up water from the reservoirs and dumping it on the hotspots, the residents of Flagstaff for the most part seem to be taking things in stride. Businesses are open, tourists are still flocking in, and things look pretty normal except for the wisps of smoke that continue to rise over the mountains to the north.

Right now they say just under 2,000 acres have burned and that the fire is 12% contained. The emphasis is starting to shift to flood control as the monsoon rains are expected to continue for another month or two. There are a couple of watersheds on the mountains that will funnel water, debris and ash down into some of the neighborhoods, so there are huge sandbagging operations going on right now. The athletic teams from the local high schools and Northern Arizona University have been volunteering to fill sandbags to help protect their communities. On one single day, they distributed over 100,000 of them.

We, of course, have been keeping a close eye on the fire as well as the weather. We are far enough away from the Museum Fire that we’ve never been endangered by anything other than heavy smoke for one day. But the monsoon clouds can bring lightning, even when there’s no rain, and lightning is the primary cause of wildfires in Arizona. There is a very good early warning system in this area that pushes out alerts to every cellphone connected to cell towers in the affected area. The alarms are very loud, and it’s actually pretty funny when you’re in a restaurant or Walmart, and everyone’s phone starts blaring at the same time! But the alerts do serve an important function, letting people know when they need to move out of the area due to fire or other hazardous conditions. If a fire should start somewhere near us, we would be alerted both by the phone system as well as by personnel from the local authorities who fan out into the forests, looking for campers and hikers.

One of the many automated alerts we received while eating pizza in Flagstaff

If you would like to get the latest information on the Museum Fire, you can get the official updates on Inciweb – Incident Information System or you can follow Coconino National Forest on Twitter @CoconinoNF. If you like the gossip around the fire, just get on Twitter and do a search for the hashtag #museumfire and you’ll get the official stuff and the posts from some frustrated people.

Unfortunately for the fire suppression effort, the forecast for the weekend is calling for drier, warmer conditions before more rain moves into the area next week. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that the containment efforts of the past few days will allow them to hold the line until more moisture arrives.

A big “Thank You” to all the first responders, incident teams, firefighters, hotshots, and support personnel who are putting it all on the line at this fire and every other fire that is currently burning. You folks rock!!

So, in other news, we just made a major upgrade to our rig. Back in early December, we visited Camping World in Tucson, even spending the night in their parking lot, to have our house batteries replaced. Being the naive RV newbies that we were, we took their word that the new batteries would provide us with 150 amp hours of power, which should have been plenty for our needs. We soon found out that something was definitely lacking in the power situation. As long as we had the solar panels hooked up on a sunny day, we had all the power we needed during the daytime, but at night the charge would rapidly deplete as the sun went down. The deep cycle batteries that we were using can only be drawn down to about 50% capacity without damaging them, so we had to be super careful at night not to use too many lights or let the fan run overnight. In the mornings, the first thing that I would do upon rising would be to check the charge controller to see if there was enough battery life available to turn on the furnace (it’s propane but the furnace fan runs off of 12V battery power).

We finally took a closer look at the batteries which are stored under the entryway steps, and were able to determine that they were actually only 25 amp hours each, and since you can only draw them down to 50% charge, we only had a total of 25 amp hours between the two batteries. We were getting by, but just barely. Fortunately we have been in Arizona where it’s sunny most of the time, but with the monsoon clouds moving in, we were ready to make a change.

We had been interested in upgrading to lithium batteries for some time. While they are much more expensive, they require no maintenance (no need to add water), and best of all, they don’t have the 50% limit on how far they can be drawn down. You can pretty much use them to their full capacity. In addition, they have a much longer lifespan. The only drawback is that they will shut down if the temperatures get into the 20’s and stay there for awhile. We try to avoid any place that gets that cold at night anyway.

As it happened, on Monday of this week, the local solar system supplier in Flagstaff, Northern Arizona Wind & Sun, announced a 10% off sale on their Battle Born lithium batteries. Battle Born is the top of the line in RV lithium batteries, and so we decided it was time to do the upgrade. Andy called them to ask a few questions, and then told them to hold two batteries for us and he would drive into town to pick them up (the same day that all the smoke was blowing over our campsite). We were hoping to get the batteries installed quickly so that we could make a quick exit from the area if the fire started moving our way. In fact, while he was in town, I stayed at the rig with my maps, trying to plan where we might want to go next if we needed to make a quick escape.

Unfortunately, when Andy got to NAzW&S, they told him they didn’t have the batteries in stock, and it would be Wednesday or Thursday before they arrived. He went ahead and paid for them, so at that point we were committed to staying in the Flagstaff area for at least a few more days. As it turned out, the fire moved away from us and the smoke cleared out of our area, so the sense of urgency was greatly diminished.

When Andy took the rig to town on Thursday (yesterday) to dump the tanks and get water, he called NAzW&S to check on the order, and found out that the batteries had arrived. He drove by to pick them up, and got back to our campsite around noon. We ate a quick lunch of PB&J sandwiches and then got started on the installation project.

Removing the old deep-cycle lead-acid batteries, 25 Ah each

Everybody knows that projects always take longer than first estimated, and this was no different. Pulling the old batteries out was no problem. But the new Battle Born lithium batteries are slightly larger (although lighter), and it was a tight squeeze to drop them both into the battery compartment under the entryway step. Once they were seated in the compartment, the battery terminals on each end were difficult to reach under the upper lip of the compartment, so attaching those stiff battery cables was a real BEAR! But Handy Andy persevered, and an hour or so later, they were all hooked up.

Hooking up the Battle Born lithium batteries, 100 Ah each

The next step was to reconfigure the solar charge controller with the appropriate settings for the lithium batteries (as opposed to our old deep cycle lead acid batteries). After changing the eight DIP switches, we just got general FAULT errors on the display, and I couldn’t even get the appropriate menu items to appear so I could make the rest of the changes. After reading through the manual, I determined that we needed to disconnect the charge controller at the fusebox to let it reboot, so that the changes in the DIP switches would be accepted. After we did that, the correct menu items were available, and I made the rest of the changes, and then we had to reboot it again.

Finally, the setup was complete, and we marveled at how much power we had available, just from the amount of charge the batteries had straight out of the box. By then the sun was going down so we didn’t have much time to charge them from the solar panels, but even so, we were able to use all the lights we wanted, as well as run the fan overnight. And this morning, there was hardly a dent in the amount of power used overnight.

YES, that’s what I’m talkin’ about!!

Today we had plenty of sunshine (along with a few small showers), so the batteries have been fully charged from the sun. At this point, we could probably go three or four days without having to charge them again if we needed to. This opens up a lot more possibilities for boondocking in cloudy places like the Pacific Northwest, where I’d really like to visit in the future. Another successful upgrade for our full-time RV life!

This afternoon we had a quick chat with an investment advisor from Fidelity, where we have the majority of our investment funds. Of course he was trying to up-sell us to a managed fund, but I told him I wasn’t interested. He did a quick review of our holdings and told us we looked to be in good shape, although he did advise me that my portfolio might be a little too aggressive since most financial mangers are expecting a downturn in the next year or so. I told him I’d had the same thoughts, and that I’d probably make some adjustments on my own in the next few months if it looks like the prudent thing to do. Fortunately, we haven’t yet had to dip into any of our investment holdings, but it’s nice to know that we have that cushion if needed.

So for now, we’re still just hanging out in the Flagstaff area, enjoying the alpine weather. High temperatures remain in the high 70’s and low 80’s, with lows in the 50’s at night. The humidity levels have risen some this week (right now it’s 73° with 35% humidity outside), but I doubt you’d find any more pleasant weather anywhere in the country right now. We’re going to enjoy it as long as we can.

I’m still doing a lot of hiking–I’m usually gone for an hour and a half to two hours each morning while Andy has his breakfast and starts his day. I’ve been participating in some Fitbit challenges with some of my friends, and that helps keep me motivated when my feet and knees start to ache. There are just so many roads and trails around here, and so much natural beauty, it really isn’t that hard to get motivated to wander in the woods each morning.

Could there be a more beautiful place to hike?

That’s pretty much it for now. Life is good!

Thanks for taking time to read our blog! Feel free to share it with family and friends who might be interested in full-time RV living. If you want to keep up with our adventures, please subscribe. And you can also find us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads if you want to keep up with us between blog posts.

Safe travels!

Dead Batteries Again, Geocaching, Maintenance

It wouldn’t be RV life without something in the rig breaking or malfunctioning, but we didn’t expect it to be the house batteries. We just replaced them a week ago.

New batteries installed to make boondocking more comfortable

As I mentioned before, since we’ve been boondocking in the desert, we’ve been running the generator for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening to keep the batteries topped off. The battery meter on the control panel (granted, it’s not the most reliable indicator) never went below 3/4 before we would run the generator.

Until yesterday.

For whatever reason, we did not run the generator yesterday morning as usual. At lunchtime it was still reading 3/4 and we still did not run it. We know it’s not good to let the batteries discharge below 1/2, but since it was still at 3/4, no alarm bells were going off. We knew we would be running the generator in the evening because I needed to use the microwave when making dinner.

We ran the generator for at least an hour while we had dinner, letting the batteries top off. Then, as we got ready to do the dishes, Andy turned off the generator for the evening, and the rig immediately went pitch black. Totally dark. No little LED lights. Nada. Nothing.

We grabbed a flashlight and checked the breakers in the fusebox, and everything looked fine there. We restarted the generator and all the power came back on, so we knew it wasn’t a breaker or a fuse. We just weren’t getting any power from the batteries.

Andy dug out his volt-meter from the storage bin and checked the voltage on the batteries. They both read 11.95, when they should be over 12. So it was obvious we were going to have to let the generator run all night to have lights, water, heat and refrigeration.

I’m not sure what we’re going to do this morning. Right now it’s about 6:30 AM and Andy is still asleep, but when he gets up we’ll try the batteries again. If they’re still dead, we will most likely make a return trip to Camping World in Tucson to try and get this issue resolved.

It just doesn’t make good sense–the rig was working fine on batteries just before we ran the generator at dinnertime. The generator should have topped off the batteries so they should have had even more charge an hour later. But instead, they were dead. Something just isn’t right. And yes, for those RV geeks out there, we did check the battery disconnect switch (a.k.a. the “store/use” switch”), and it was set to “Use”.

So stay tuned to see how this turns out!!

Otherwise, we’ve been thoroughly enjoying camping here in the desert on BLM land. On Monday, I finally went on my first geocache hunt and successfully located the cache inside a large fake rock, which also housed a live scorpion! I didn’t have any trinkets with me to swap, so I just signed the log book.

My first geocache find was inside a fake rock

Yesterday (Tuesday), I went on my second hunt and found the cache inside an old microwave oven that had been left in the fork of a palo verde tree. This time I had come prepared, as I had picked up some mini-dominos from the Dollar Tree on Monday afternoon when I went Christmas shopping. I left one of the dominos in the cache and removed a little Christmas ornament.

My second geocache find was inside a microwave in a tree!

If we wind up staying here for a few more days, depending on the batteries, my next geocache hunt will be for a cache that’s rated “micro”, which means the container is very small, at least in relation to a fake rock and a microwave oven. It will be fun to try something a little more challenging now that I’ve gotten my feet wet. There are lots of geocaches registered in the area, so I’m hoping we can be here a little longer.

Yesterday we also got notification that our new solar equipment has been delivered to our friends in Phoenix. We’ll be driving into Phoenix on Friday to pick it up, and possibly staying in Phoenix for a few days, depending once again on the battery situation. We should have our plans firmed up by later today.

Andy spent the last couple of afternoons doing some maintenance on the rig. First he replaced some weather-stripping along the over-cab area on the passenger side where it had come loose and was sagging. Then he did a thorough inspection of the roof and re-sealed some areas where the caulking had cracked or deteriorated. Water is the enemy of an RV, and we want to make sure that we don’t have any leaks that could lead to rotting wood or mold.

Handy Andy taking care of preventative maintenance on the roof

Not much else going on–I did drive into Marana on Monday afternoon to do a little Christmas shopping, and I also finally pulled out my ukulele and started trying to teach myself a few songs. Just need to get some callouses built up on my fingertips!

Sunset on 12/11/18 was especially spectacular!

And we’re still enjoying the most beautiful sunsets ever here in the Arizona desert! I also enjoy the gorgeous sunrises, but I’m the only one in the rig that’s awake to see them! 🙂 I’ve shot a few more timelapses with the GoPro and will try to put together a compilation video in the next few days.

Keeping our fingers crossed on the battery situation!

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Happy Holidays, everyone!

Boondocking – From Asphalt to BLM

As you know, we spent the first three months of our full-time RV life connected to electricity and water hookups, with an occasional sewer connection. We stayed in state parks and private campgrounds where there were dump stations and showers, but also camping fees.

Well, we’ve changed things up considerably in our fourth month. We’ve now graduated to boondocking!

As I reported in our last post, after leaving New Mexico on Sunday, we spent the night in the back lot of a Chevron station in San Simon, Arizona, along with a lot of eighteen-wheelers. We actually got a pretty good night’s sleep in spite of the traffic noise from the interstate. We ran our generator all night in order to use the electric heater, so it all became white noise after awhile.

On Monday morning Andy made some phone calls to locate a source for new house batteries, and we decided to go to Camping World. They had the batteries that we needed, the warranty would be good at any Camping World in the country, and they would also allow us to park overnight in their parking lot until they could work us in on Tuesday morning.

So after having breakfast in the back lot of the Chevron station, we pulled out and drove across the street to the Shell station to top off the gas tank in the RV even though we had filled the tank the night before at Chevron. We just wanted to see how much gas the generator had used overnight. Turned out it used 6.4 gallons in 15.1 hours, so we’re getting about 2 hours and 20 minutes per gallon of gas. We were also going to top off our propane there, but they ran out when they were helping the customer in front of us.

We drove on into Tucson, arriving at Camping World around 11:00 AM. We went ahead and picked out the batteries that we wanted and set up our service appointment for 8:30 AM the following morning. They have a pretty small parking lot, but we got a good space and settled in, having a good lunch in the RV while we watched customers come and go.

Boondocking in the Camping World parking lot in Tucson

After lunch we decided to do a little exploring in Tucson, primarily to get some ice cream. We drove downtown and parked at Broadway and 6th Avenue. By the way, have you used the ParkMobile app yet to pay for your parking? We first used it in Santa Fe, but found that Tucson also uses it. Very convenient!

We got some delicious ice cream at The Screamery on Congress Street. I had the Sweet Cream Honeycomb and the Rough At Sea. I don’t remember what Andy had, but it was all very good, and the guy that waited on us was very friendly and professional. We highly recommend The Screamery!

Ice cream at The Screamery on Congress Street in Tucson

Afterwards we took a stroll down Congress Street to the Veinte de Agosto Park to see the statue of Pancho Villa. I never realized old Pancho was such a popular character in the area, but he seems to be everywhere! We walked back up Broadway to get back to our parking space, and found this area of Tucson to be full of restaurants, condos, small shops, even a downtown grocery store. If I were in the mood to live in a sticks-and-bricks again, I would definitely consider looking for a condo in this area of Tucson.

Statue of Pancho Villa in Tucson

We returned to Camping World and then spent about an hour looking through some of the RVs they have for sale on the lot. They mostly had travel trailers which didn’t interest us, but we did go through some Class A’s and fifth-wheels, just to check out some floor plans. We’re not planning to trade in Lizzy for awhile, but it doesn’t hurt to stay up to date on what’s out there.

Touring RVs on the sales lot at Camping World

Camping World closed at 6:00 PM so the parking lot cleared out except for us and a big Class A rig that was also spending the night. We cooked dinner, cleaned up the dishes and settled in for the night. Once again we were right off the interstate, and there was plenty of security lighting in the parking lot, so it was almost like napping during the daytime instead of sleeping. We still managed to get some good rest before rising early for our service appointment.

They had told us we could pull the rig around to the service area at 8:00 AM, and sure enough they knocked on our door at 7:55 to make sure we were ready. We verified that it was okay to leave the cats inside the rig while they were swapping out the batteries, and they even agreed to let one of us stay inside with them. So Andy stayed in the rig while I waited inside the store. They were finished with everything by 9:00 AM, to the tune of $285. We got two new deep-cycle, 150 amp-hour batteries, and also were told that the previous batteries had been hooked up incorrectly. That, combined with the fact that we rarely drew down the batteries at all since we were always hooked up to electricity, probably contributed to their early failure. Now we have our electrical system in good shape and ready to work with the new solar panels that we have ordered.

New batteries installed to make boondocking more comfortable

We weren’t ready to leave Tucson just yet because we were waiting on an Amazon delivery to a nearby locker. The item was scheduled to be delivered “before 9 PM”, and we were hoping for something on the earlier side. Since we needed to pick up a few groceries, we left Camping World after topping off the propane tank, and drove to Walmart, taking a spot on the far edge of the parking lot. We fixed a cup of hot tea and settled in with our books and iPhones. Around 11:00 AM we went inside and did our grocery shopping, then put the groceries away and had lunch.

Since our destination for the night was on BLM land in an unfamiliar area, we decided that we needed to leave Walmart by 1:00 PM to allow time for dumping the tanks and finding a camping spot, even if our Amazon package had not arrived by then. We located a free dump station using the Campendium app (yay!) on Flowing Wells Road in Tucson. A big thanks to Merrigans Arizona RoadRunner RV for providing free sewer dump and fresh water fill-ups to the RV community. I did spend a little money in the store to say “thank-you”.

Free dump station in Tucson

Our destination for the night was a BLM campsite commonly known as Cactus Forest Campground on Cattle Tank Road, just northeast of Red Rock, AZ. It was a good thing that we left Tucson when we did, because when we got off the interstate and started east on East Park Link Drive, we found the road was totally closed for construction. It’s out in a rural area, so there aren’t a huge number of alternate routes to get where we were going. We tried a road that looked promising and wound up on a small dirt road that led to someone’s ranch where we turned around. A friendly guy came out to the rig and directed us to an alternate route using Missile Base Road.

So we turned around and went back toward Tucson until we found Missile Base Road and turned east. This route would bring us into the campsite from the south instead of the north. Unfortunately, Google Maps didn’t know about the brand new paved extension of Cattle Tank Road. Instead, it directed us to another dirt road that was horrendous–we wound up turning around in someone’s driveway again (Andy’s getting really good at that).

We went back to the new paved extension, and even though it wasn’t on the map, we decided to go for it, and it brought us right to the campsite.

New paved extension on South Cattle Tank Road, not yet on Google maps

After living in developed campgrounds with hookups for the past 18 months since we bought the RV, we were in for quite a different experience. The only indication that we were in the right place was a brown metal post that had the BLM logo on it and said “No Dumping” and “Camping 14-Day Limit”. There is a good-sized lot at the entrance where a Class A was parked next to a primitive corral that contained a couple of watering tanks. The dirt and gravel road that leads further into the area is narrow with cactus on each side. Within the first 100 yards are several pull-outs where you can park your rig, and there are obvious signs (i.e. fire ring) that it’s meant for camping. We found a good spot and were set up very quickly since there are no hookups.

BLM sign marking the camping area

We fell in love immediately with our surroundings. It truly is a cactus forest with towering saguaro, jumping cholla, teddy bear cholla, barrel cactus, and prickly-pear, just to name a few. There are also palo verde trees. We took a sunset walk down the road in both directions and were so happy that we didn’t give up on finding this place. Besides us and and the Class A parked up at the entrance, only one other camper was in the area, a van-dweller that arrived after we did and parked further down the road. The campsites are so far apart from each other that you literally feel alone out here.

Our first BLM campsite is in a cactus forest. Beautiful!

After being in such noisy places for the previous two nights, it was such a relief to be here in the desert where it was almost totally quiet and dark. Every once it a while we would hear a car go by on the paved road, or a plane fly overhead toward the Tucson airport, but it was so peaceful, and the sunset was gorgeous, even though it was a little overcast. We waited until it was totally dark before starting the generator to run the Instant Pot, just so we could enjoy a quiet sunset.

Sunset out our front door. Glad to be back home in Arizona!

I wish I could say I got a good night’s sleep. I actually did until about 3:00 AM when the kitties decided it was time to eat–Maggie does that a lot. I held her off until about 5:15 but I was awake the entire time.

By the way, for those of you who were asking, Molly seems to be doing fine at the moment after that one bad day that she had on Sunday. We’ll continue to monitor her, but at the moment her plumbing doesn’t seem to be bothering her.

So here it is, Wednesday morning, and I’m watching the sun rise over a cactus forest in complete silence except for Andy’s snoring–he is impervious to the antics of the cats during the night. 🙂

We’ll need to drive back to Tucson today to pick up the Amazon package that finally made it to the locker about 8:00 PM last night. Have you ever used an Amazon locker? This will be our first time. It’s located at a Quik Trip store, so this should be interesting. It’s a great option for full-time RVers who need a place to have things shipped while not having a permanent home address.

Otherwise we’ll do a little hiking and just soak up the good vibes from our surroundings today. I feel like we’ve graduated from RV prep school to boondocking college!! There will be a new set of challenges to solve camping this way–conserving water so we don’t have to take the rig to a dump station as often, conserving our battery power–but being able to have our home in a place with this kind of view is definitely worth it!

If you have any questions about our RV life, be sure to leave a comment and we’ll address it in a future blog post. You can also follow us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads for updates between blog posts.

Happy holidays, everyone! Safe travels!!

House of Pies, Leaving New Mexico, A Day of Challenges

After an amazing two months in New Mexico, it was finally time to move on to lower altitudes and higher temperatures.

New Mexico cactus in our campsite

We spent yesterday (Saturday) in Deming, running errands, stocking up on groceries and doing a little more sightseeing. First we went by the post office to pick up our mail, about three weeks’ worth, that had been forwarded from our home base in Livingston, Texas. Next we stopped by the bank to use the ATM machine to get a little traveling money.

By then it was lunchtime, and after checking the local reviews on Yelp, decided to try out Elisa’s House of Pies and Restaurant which just happened to be right next to the bank. This place is a little jewel that you would hardly notice from the outside, tucked away on a little alleyway. But once we stepped inside, met the owners and tasted the food, we were blown away.

Elisa’s House of Pies and Restaurant is a jewel!

Elisa and her husband are true Southerners–he’s from South Carolina and she’s from Pascagoula, Mississippi–and their hospitality and food reflect their heritage. Andy and I both had vegetable plates, and the collard greens were definitely the star of the show. They were amazing! And then there were six different pies from which to choose–Pecan, Buttermilk, Pineapple-Coconut Chess, Millionaire, Sweet Potato and Key Lime. Andy got the Millionaire and I got the Chess, and they were both to die for, tasted just like home.

Vegetable plate with the best collards ever!

We had such a good time talking to Elisa and her husband, as well as their daughter and son-in-law who showed up to help them with their Christmas decorations. We found out that they had also done some full-time RVing when they retired from their janitorial services business in Washington State, and that they have been in Deming for about nine years. They are such a sweet couple, great cooks, and we look forward to visiting them again the next time we come through Deming.

Elisa and her husband with me and Andy. Such sweet people!

After we finished lunch we went to Walmart to do our shopping, and then we stopped for an afternoon latte at the Copper Kettle coffee shop in downtown Deming before heading back to the campsite. We spent the rest of the evening having dinner and getting things set to leave this morning.

Time for a latte at the Copper Kettle in Deming.

So yesterday was a great day.

Today, not so much.

This morning I got up early and fed the cats as usual. We’ve noticed lately that Molly seems to be having some “potty difficulties” that come and go, but this morning she was really having problems. She went to the litter box at least 8-10 times and was obviously stressed. She finally seemed to get her business done and settled down, but it seems like we need to take her in for a check up. Both the cats got thorough checkups and blood work done before we went on the road and they were pronounced healthy, but Molly might need a second opinion.

We planned to pull out of Pancho Villa State Park around 10:30, drive west to Lordsburg where we would stop for lunch in Veterans Park, and then continue to Bowie, Arizona where we would boondock for the night in a large parking lot next to the Shell station.

Our last morning in New Mexico at Pancho Villa State Park

When we were breaking camp, Andy unplugged the RV from the electrical post as usual. But I noticed that the refrigerator did not switch over to propane as it usually does when we disconnect. I let him know that something seemed wrong, and when he started troubleshooting he found out that our house batteries were completely dead.

Well, that’s not good when you’re planning to boondock.

He cranked up the RV and turned on the generator, and after a little while the batteries recharged enough for us to feel comfortable moving forward with our original plan for the day. We finished packing up, dumped the tanks, and then pulled out of the state park, headed west. It was a beautiful drive west on Highway 9 to Hachita, NM, then north on Highway 146 to I-10 where we once again turned west toward Arizona.

Driving through southern New Mexico on Highway 146.

As planned, we stopped at Veterans Park in Lordsburg, New Mexico for lunch. It’s not much of a park, just a gravel drive with some covered picnic tables, and we were the only ones there, but it was a fine place to stop for lunch. The batteries had recovered enough on the drive that the meter showed them to be fully charged. We had our usual salad and beans for lunch, and then just relaxed for awhile before moving on. But we noticed that the batteries had already started to deplete after just a little while with the lights on…not good. So we’ll definitely have to have them seen about tomorrow.

Parked for lunch in Veterans Park in Lordsburg NM

We left Lordsburg about 3:00 and arrived at our destination a little before 4:00. Our plan was to fill up our gas tanks at the Shell station in exchange for boondocking on their lot (we knew they allowed overnight parking from the listing on FreeCampsites.net). However when we pulled up to the gas pumps, we found that their regular unleaded gas was $3.69 per gallon–totally outrageous!

We checked our Gas Buddy app and found that gas was anywhere from $2.69 – $2.83 in the vicinity, so we turned around and drove back east for 12 miles to San Simon where we bought gas at a Chevron station for $2.69/gallon.

And here’s where it gets interesting.

I filled up the truck with gas, using my usual credit card. Andy pulled the RV up to a gas pump but when he went to pump the gas, he found a sign on the pump that said he had to leave his credit card with the attendant before pumping. The same sign was on all the pumps except the one I had used. Weird.

So he went inside to see the attendant, and they kept his drivers license while he pumped the gas. The RV took $105 worth of gas. He went back inside to pay for it, using his credit card (both our cards are on the same account, but the cards have different numbers, and I’m the primary on the account). I was sitting in the truck while he went inside.

A few minutes later I got a text message from the credit card company, asking me to confirm a charge for $105 at a Chevron station. I texted back to confirm, but then Andy came out of the store and told me that his card had been denied three times. What the heck!

So I went back inside with him and we tried to use my card, the same one I had just used to fill up the truck, paying at the pump. This time my card was also denied, so I wound up using a different credit card to pay for the gas.

On the way out, Andy asked them if we could park overnight in their lot, and they said sure, no problem, as long as we didn’t block traffic. Andy had decided that he had rather stay at this location instead of driving back to the station with the high prices.

So that’s where we’ve wound up boondocking for the night, at the Chevron station in San Simon, Arizona, right off I-10. They have a large lot where a lot of 18-wheelers are also parked, but we found a spot far enough away from the large trucks that it shouldn’t be an issue.

Boondocking behind the Chevron station in San Simon, AZ

As soon as we got parked, I got on the phone with Capital One and spent a half-hour trying to make sure that our cards were not compromised. They said that we got the fraud alerts because this Chevron station doesn’t use chip readers (they still swipe cards) and because of the large dollar amount, not to mention we had two simultaneous transactions on the same account (one on my card and one on his)–all these issues combined to raise red flags. We’ve been on the road for three months, we regularly fill up both vehicles at the same station on our separate cards, and we’ve never had a problem. But, long story short, our cards are fine, and Capital One now has a voice recording of me being very irritable.

After we settled in, Andy fired up the generator and I cooked a pot of vegetable soup in the Instant Pot. Hopefully we’ll be able to get a good night’s sleep before continuing our travels in the morning. Our first order of business will be to shop for new batteries for our coach, as we can’t really boondock without them. We’ll be stopping in Tucson to get that seen about tomorrow. But for tonight, we’ll just run the generator to make sure we have heat and light in the rig.

We’ll be keeping an eye on Molly to see how she’s feeling. If she still seems to be having issues in the morning, we’ll see about getting her to a veterinarian in Tucson. We also have a package from Amazon that we’ll need to pick up in Tucson on Tuesday or Wednesday, so obviously we’ll be spending some time in the area.

And that’s life on the road….some days are diamonds, some days are stone.

But it’s all an adventure, and we’re loving it.