Cows Come Calling, Milestone Birthday, Generator Conks Out

From the Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff, Arizona:

Summer is definitely showing signs of winding down here in the mountains. The angle of the sun is noticeably different than it was when we arrived here back in late May, making the shadows longer and darker. The temperatures have continued to be mostly very pleasant with highs in the upper 70s, with just a few days climbing into the low 80s. However, with the exception of about a week of rain last month, the monsoon failed to really develop in this area so the humidity levels have been very low, making the temperatures even more pleasant.

Summertime in the Coconino National Forest

Of course, our campsite and the nearby road are very dusty, so it’s a constant battle trying to keep the rig and the truck somewhat clean. I’ve already told Andy that our next stop needs to be a place with water hookups so I can spend a day or two deep-cleaning the inside of the RV to get rid of all the dirt and dust we’ve accumulated. But every boondocker worth their salt knows that a little dirt never hurt anyone, and we’ve learned to just do the best we can with a whisk broom and a hand-vacuum.

Over the summer, the grass around here has grown tall and thick, thanks to so much winter and spring moisture. Starting in early August, when we would drive into Flagstaff, we noticed that there were cows grazing in the forest lands on the other side of Highway 180 from where we are located. We thought that was unusual, but then again there are plenty of old dried-out cow patties scattered around our campsite that would indicate that cows have been here in the past.

Then last Friday, we both started noticing these weird sounds coming from off in the distance, down the mountain. They got louder and louder as the day went on, until we recognized them as cows bellowing. And finally, around 2:30 PM, cows started appearing out of the trees, wandering through our campsite, headed further up the mountain toward the nearby pond (Hart Prairie Tank).

The cow parade lasted for a couple of hours. They were mostly females with their calves, but there were a few bulls in the mix as well. They were pretty noisy, calling out to each other as they were being herded into their new grazing area. By nightfall they had pretty much congregated near the pond, and we could here them  throughout the night.

Since then, the cows have spread out over the area, and they wander from spot to spot, grazing on the tall grass. I see them scattered out all along my usual hiking routes, sometimes in large clusters, but often in small groups of four or five. We still get regular visits several times a day from four to six at a time coming through our camp, especially in the early morning or late afternoon. One day Andy was sitting outside in his chair reading, and I looked out the window and saw four cows right behind him. He had no idea they were there, they had walked up so quietly. 🙂

I did a little research and found that some of the local ranchers lease the grazing rights from the National Forest in order to meet the local demand for grass-fed beef in stores and restaurants. As a vegetarian, it’s sad to me to think that these intelligent, social and docile animals will wind up being butchered, but I’m glad that they at least didn’t have to spend their short lives on some factory farm being fed grains that they are not designed to eat.

Yesterday was a big day in our household. It was Andy’s birthday–he finally reached the Big 7-0! He said he doesn’t feel any older, and he certainly doesn’t look any older, so I guess it’s true that 70 is just a number. Happy Birthday, Andy!!

My plan was to bake some cinnamon rolls for his birthday breakfast, so as soon as he rolled out bed, I went to start the generator so I could use the convection oven. Of all days, on Andy’s birthday the generator refused to run. It started a time or two, but would immediately shut down. We had been having some intermittent issues with it, and Andy had been nursing it along with Seafoam fuel treatments and checking the oil, but yesterday, nothing he tried would work to keep the genny running.

The generator decided to crap out on Andy’s birthday, so no cinnamon rolls for breakfast.

It was time to call in the professionals.

So we headed to Starbucks. 🙂

Although Starbucks didn’t have cinnamon rolls, they do have some decent pastries, so we had coffee and sugar for breakfast while I did a little research on Google to look for a generator service shop. I found a place in Flagstaff that works on Onan generators (ours is the RV QC 4000) and who have excellent reviews, so after we left Starbucks, Andy called them while I went inside the post office to pick up our mail, and he made a service appointment for 8:00 AM this morning. (If you know Andy, you know he’s NOT a morning person, so that’s how seriously important it was to get the generator fixed.)

We went back to the rig for the afternoon to make sure that the kitties were comfortable since it was a little on the warm side. We leave the windows open and the fans on while we’re away, so we don’t like to leave the rig unattended for too long. Once things started to cool off later in the afternoon, we drove back into Flagstaff and I took Andy out for an early-bird birthday dinner at the top-rated (per Yelp!) Mexican restaurant in town, MartAnne’s. I chose this place because, in addition to their rave reviews, they also have several great vegan/vegetarian options on their menu. They actually have crispy seitan tacos, served with rice and beans, which we both had to try. The server gave us complementary chips and salsa (they’re not usually free there), since we ordered guacamole and it was Andy’s birthday. Their salsa is excellent, very smoky and a little spicy. We each had a margarita, and thoroughly enjoyed our meal there.

Delicious seitan crispy tacos at MartAnne’s Mexican restaurant in Flagstaff

Afterwards we walked around the historic downtown area, checking out some of the shops, and picked up a bottle of hard cherry cider for later. Then we drove to Baskin-Robbins where we could enjoy some dairy-free dessert. We made it back to the rig before sundown so we could make some preparations for taking the rig in for the generator service this morning.

We had no way of knowing how long the rig would be in the repair shop, and were a little worried about the kitties being in the rig for very long while it was parked in the direct sun while they worked on the generator. We talked about me following Andy into town in the truck in case we needed to rescue the kitties and take them someplace cool. But, in that scenario, the campsite would be unattended, and we didn’t want to lose our solar panels, so after we got back from Baskin-Robbins last night, Andy went ahead and loaded the solar panels in the back of the truck, and we decided that I would stay in camp unless he called me to come rescue him and the fur-babies.

We got up very early this morning so that Andy could leave with the rig around 7:15 AM for our 8:00 appointment. He texted me around 8:30 to let me know they had already diagnosed the problem and were getting it taken care of. First of all, for some reason the oil dipstick did not fit correctly and we were getting an oil leak. Secondly, the carburetor was dirty and needed cleaning. They replaced the dipstick, removed and cleaned the carburetor, and then did an oil change on the generator. The total charge was $160 for parts and labor, and they were done by  about 9:15. The morning was cool enough that the kitties were fine, so it was a very successful visit to the repair shop. A big shout-out to Flag Tool & Engine Repair–if you’re ever in the Flagstaff area and need generator work done, be sure to look them up!

While Andy had the rig in town, he went ahead and dumped the tanks, refilled the water and propane, and topped off the gas tank, so we’re good to go for another week of awesome boondocking!!

Cloudy or sunny, full-time RV life is awesome!

Living in an RV means you have to be able to roll with the punches and go with the flow. We’ve actually been very pleased so far with how this RV has performed in our first year of full-timing. This RV was never designed for full-time living, but it’s held up pretty darn well. I think it helps that we don’t move around as much as a lot of other full-timers do, so we don’t put as much stress on the rig. Over the summer, we’ve driven her about 30 miles per week, just to go into town to dump the tanks and get water/propane. We’ll do more driving this fall, but even then, we tend to get where we’re going and then stay there for at least a couple of weeks before moving on. That’s just the way we roll, and I think it’s good for us AND the rig.

Hard to believe that Monday will be our one-year anniversary of living full-time in Lizzy. We just got our new 2020 Texas registration stickers in the mail to go on the windshields of both vehicles. Texas is kind of weird–instead of a yearly sticker to go on the plate, it goes on the windshield. Texas does require a yearly vehicle inspection to complete the registration, but when you renew on-line as we did, you can self-certify that the vehicle is currently out-of-state, and they will send you the sticker anyway. Then, once you drive back into Texas, you have three days to find an inspection station and get the inspection done–until then, there will be a note on your file with the DMV stating that your registration is incomplete. We’ll be heading heading through Texas in late October or early November on our way back to Mississippi for Thanksgiving, and will get the inspection done then.

We have legal vehicles for another year!

So that’s all the excitement around camp for now. We’re all doing well, enjoying life with the deer and the cows, listening to the wind in the pines and the aspens, hiking through the mountains, reading good books, and generally feeling blessed to be where we are.

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!

Quick Update on the Museum Fire

As I’ve mentioned before, I follow several accounts on Twitter that provide updates on wildfires in Arizona, so that we can stay informed in the event that a fire breaks out near us. Yesterday just before noon a tweet came across my feed regarding a 1-acre fire just north of Flagstaff. The tweet said that firefighters were responding.

The fire was named the Museum Fire, due to its proximity to the Museum of Northern Arizona.

Our camp in relation to the Museum Fire.

Within an hour the fire had grown to 200 acres, and there was a Type 2 response team on the scene with almost 200 crew and tons of equipment, including water tanker helicopters and large planes dropping fire retardant.

Around 2:00 both Andy and I received loud alarms on our phones indicating that evacuation and pre-evacuation orders had been issued near the fire zone. We checked the map and verified that we were not being ordered to evacuate. In fact the fire was moving toward the north and east, away from us.

From where we are camping we can see the smoke rising over the pine trees. By early evening the fire had grown to about 400 acres. As night fell, the moon rose through the smoke, appearing blood red–kind of spooky.

Smoke is visible from our campsite

During the night, the firefighters concentrated on “burnout” operations, which involves intentionally setting small, closely controlled fires ahead of the main fire to deprive it of fuel and protect property. The fire is close to the hill where the TV, radio and cell towers are located, as well as some neighborhoods in the northeast Flagstaff city limits.

This morning, the latest estimate of the fire is 1,000 acres. There will be a “heavy air attack” component of the firefight today. The skies are overcast but the forecast calls for little chance of rain in our area today, although chances increase on Tuesday and Wednesday. The monsoon season has been a bust around here so far, but hopefully it’s about to arrive in the nick of time. Of course, it can be a double-edged sword, as monsoon storms typical bring wind and lightning which can just make things worse.

Unless something drastically changes, we are safe where we are. We are actively monitoring the situation via our Twitter feed (yes, Twitter is an excellent tool for getting the most current notices and announcements from the proper authorities). We were already stocked up on groceries, fuel and water, so we don’t have any immediate need to drive into Flagstaff where things are pretty busy right now.

If this fire (or any other fire) should approach our area, we can be packed up and on the road in 10-15 minutes with everything we own. That’s one advantage of living in a RV–we can move our house away from a wildfire.

Even if the fire doesn’t move our way, it’s still possible that the Forest Service will close off this area from recreational use as a precaution and we’ll have to leave (especially if we don’t get some rain soon). Hoping that doesn’t happen, of course, but could totally understand if they make that decision. We love it here, and hope to stay longer.

If you would like to get the latest updates on the fire, just do a search on Twitter for #museumfire for the chatter, or follow Coconino National Forest (@coconinonf) or InciWeb (@inciweb) for more official announcements.

Otherwise, we’re doing fine, just enjoying the great weather while the rest of the country was sweltering. Doing a lot of hiking on some new trails–there are so many to choose from!

Thanks for taking the time to read our blog. Be sure to subscribe to keep up with our travels. You can also follow us on Instagram for updates between blog posts.

Safe travels!

Finally Preparing to Move On

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been camped in the same spot for almost three months now. We arrived here at the Pilot Knob BLM LTVA (long term visitor area) on December 27 of last year. We have thoroughly enjoyed staying here in the Yuma area over the winter, and can now understand why so many snowbirds flock here every year. While the rest of the country has endured blizzards, floods, tornadoes and humidity, we have enjoyed sunshine and dry air, with only the occasional light rain to settle the dust. The most annoying weather here has been the wind which can get quite gusty from time to time, but most days the weather is gorgeous.

The wind makes some interesting cloud formations over the campground

However, it is starting to warm up now, and Yuma is NOT the place you want to be when winter is over and it begins to heat up. The temperatures next week are forecast to be in the high 80’s, which if you’re in a sticks and bricks home with air conditioning is not a problem. But if you’re in an RV sitting in the middle of the desert without an electrical hookup, it’s an issue. We do have a generator that we can use to run our air conditioner, but generators use fuel. So instead, we choose to chase 70° and move on down the road.

Spring has arrived in the desert, and the rain showers have brought flowers!

We had been considering moving to the Imperial Dam LTVA since we still have another month left on our annual pass, but when we checked the weather forecast we found that it was not going to be that much cooler at that location. We need to gain some altitude, so our plans are to head up to the Wickenburg, Arizona area to some BLM land where we can boondock for free. We have a spot picked out, and are keeping our fingers crossed that it isn’t too crowded with weekend warriors on ATVs, since we’re planning to arrive on Friday.

We’re getting all our ducks in a row to leave Yuma. Andy found a family doctor here in Yuma that he likes, and was able to get all his prescriptions renewed for another year.

Laundry day again. At least they have free wi-fi!

Yesterday we got the laundry done, picked up an extra moving pad from Harbor Freight to protect the solar panels during travel, and stopped at Home Depot to get a replacement part for the plumbing system. The part is called an “air admittance valve” or “mechanical plumbing valve”, and it fits under the bathroom sink to prevent stinky smells from the black tank from getting into the RV. The old one wasn’t working properly, so Andy installed the new one and it’s much better. It was an easy fix–just screw the old one off and screw the new one on. Thank goodness for YouTube–it’s our go-to source for DIY help on RV maintenance and repairs!

Andy has his last dental appointment this morning when he’ll be getting a new crown. This dentist office has one-day service for crowns since they make them in-house. So unless he needs to return to their office to get something adjusted, we should be done with the dentist today.

After that, we’re going to have lunch at a Mexican restaurant in Yuma and pick up a few items at the grocery store. When we get back home, Andy will do a final check of all the fluids and tire pressures in preparation for travel. Tomorrow morning, we’ll make a final visit to the breakfast buffet at the casino, then we’ll stow everything away, stop by the dump station to empty the tanks and fill up on propane, and then we’ll be on our way!!

Unless something changes drastically over the next year, we definitely plan to return here next winter. There are a lot of geocaches around here that I purposely chose not to hunt, so that I can look for them in the future. And by next year my COBRA dental insurance will have run out so we’ll get to check out the teeth cleaning in Los Algodones, Mexico.

It’s time to be nomads again!!

Thanks for reading our blog! If you enjoy it, be sure to subscribe and share it with your friends who might be interested in fulltime RV life. You can also find us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads to keep up with us between blog posts.

Safe travels!

 

 

RV Expense Report – December 2017

Happy New Year, everyone, from our campsite in the BLM Pilot Knob LTVA in Winterhaven, California, just west of Yuma, Arizona. We hope your 2018 was as exciting and fulfilling as ours was, and that this new year brings you nothing but great things! Get out there and make it happen!!

Now it’s time for our monthly expense report where we share the costs associated with our full-time RV life.

First, a reminder of the caveats. 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 our fourth full month 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 the majority of December boondocking (camping without hookups) in Arizona on BLM land. We spent the week leading up to Christmas in a mobile home/RV park in Glendale, AZ where we had full hookups, so we could take care of some maintenance items and also visit with some friends. We got our solar system set up and running and it’s already reducing the our boondocking expenses by cutting our generator hours way back, but it did require some additional expenditures for the month.

That said, here’s how the expenses stacked up.

Camping fees + Electricity

October: $323 (7 different locations, but primarily in state parks at $4/night.) We bought the $225 annual pass for the New Mexico State Parks which is actually good for 13 months. For purposes of this monthly expense report, we’re pro-rating that cost over 13 months.)

November: $137 (Nov 1-3 @ Elephant Butte SP, Nov 4-17 @ Leasburg Dam SP, Nov 18-30 @ Pancho Villa SP, all at $4/night on annual pass. Expense number also includes prorated cost of the annual pass.)

December: $166 (1 free night in a Chevron parking lot, 1 free night in Camping World parking lot, 16 free nights on BLM land in the cactus forest, 7 nights in RV park in Glendale at $19.50/night, 5 nights in our current location in the BLM LTVA where we paid $180 for the annual pass, good through April 15 which comes out to $1.89/night  which I’m pro-rating on this expense report.)

Four month average: $266

Setting up camp at sunset at Pilot Knob LTVA

DUMPING FEES

October: $0

November: $0

December: $16 (While boondocking we had to pay to dump our tanks at the Pilot/Flying J stations.)

Four month average: $4

Fuel for the RV

October: $452 (Drove 1,335 miles, 0 generator hours, 8.3 MPG)

November: $79 (Drove 172 miles, 0 generator hours, 8.8 MPG)

December: $367 (Drove 767 miles, 91.5 generator hours, ~9.1 MPG net of generator use.) We started using the generator this month since we were boondocking without electrical hookups. The generator uses gas from the RV fuel tank.

Four month average: $240

Fuel for the Truck

October: $245 (21.5 MPG)

November: $52 (17.7 MPG)

December $221 (20.0 MPG)

Four month average: $169

PROPANE

October: $0

November: $31 (12 gallons) – We use propane primarily for cooking. In November we began using the onboard propane furnace more as the temperatures got colder, running it for a little while in the early morning to supplement the small electric heater.

December: $32 (10 gallons)

Four month average: $16

groceries

October: $499

November: $479

December: $492

Four month average: $479

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

October: $194

November: $213

December: $253 (mostly while we were staying in Glendale, running errands all over the place.)

Four month average: $219

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

Amazing vegan food at Seed Shack in Gilbert AZ

household / furnishings

October: $52

November: $87

December: $42

Four month average: $63

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

petcare

October: $45

November: $5 (we were well stocked up from October)

December: $246 – We took both the cats to the vet in Glendale after Maggie got sick on the drive and showed signs of having worms. Both have been treated and are doing fine.

Four month average: $92

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

October: $245

November: $254 – This month we upgraded to the next higher level for unlimited data so we won’t get throttled so much.

December: $286 – Charge increased as we’re now on the higher data plan.

Four month average: $258

These numbers include a prorated charge for the purchase of our iPhones when we bought them last fall. 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 on the AboveUnlimited data plan so we can go longer without getting throttled. Once the phones are paid off next fall, the monthly charge should drop significantly unless the plan rates go up.

mail forwarding

October: $12

November: $16 – We had mail forwarded twice, but also requested one additional shipment when Andy’s mail-order prescription meds came in.

December: $37 – We had mail forwarded once to Glendale AZ, but with the holidays and weekends, it did not arrive before we moved on, so that packet will get sent back to Livingston where it will be added to a future mail forwarding. Lesson learned: always specify “Priority Mail” with a tracking number when requesting mail forwarding. Also, we signed up to have our mail scanned for the next two months since it’s tax season. This way we can see what has arrived at our mailbox in Livingston, and we can pick and choose what we want to have sent to us and what can be shredded. If anything of a time-sensitive nature comes in, we’ll also know to have that forwarded to us right away. The scanning service is $10/month.

Four month average: $16

Laundry

October: $7

November: $22 – We did laundry twice, first in Truth or Consequences where the machines were bad and expensive, and the second time in Deming where the facilities were much nicer and less costly.

December: $18 – We did laundry once in Glendale, but we also washed all the quilts and blankets from the bed. One of the kitties had a little accident after the stress from the vet visit.

Four month average: $18

attractions / entertainment

October: $84

November: $56

December: $137 – I’ve started a new hobby of geocaching, so I paid for a one-year subscription to the premium version of the geocaching app that shows ALL the caches in the area instead of just the very few that were shown in the free version. I also had to renew my annual “plus” subscription to my Evernote app, which is my online notebook for EVERYTHING.

Four month average: $89

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

memberships

October: $60 (annual renewal for Costco membership)

November: $49 (annual renewal for Sam’s Club membership)

December: $0

Four month average: $27

Equipment for RV

October: $207 (new surge protector to replace one that got fried in a thunderstorm, two vent covers for the roof, extra set of leveling blocks, and other miscellaneous items)

November: $2,215 (ordered solar kit including three 100-watt solar panels and a Kodiak portable solar generator. Here’s a link to the kit we purchased.)

December: $388 (Solar charge controller + cables and wiring supplies, black tank cleaning wand, 50amp dogbone, battery tester, moving blankets to protect solar panels when driving)

Four month average: $722

Kodiak linked to one solar panel, tested successfully

RV Maintenance & REpairs

October: $46 (kit to repair leaky toilet, new gasket seal for bathroom roof vent)

November: $22 (changed out the water filter)

December: $472 (replaced both house batteries, replaced toilet when foot pedal flusher began to fail, replaced weather stripping over cab area)

Four month average: $136

Removing the old toilet

truck maintenance & repairs

October: $0

November: $0

December: $0

Four month average: $3

Vehicle insurance

We have insurance through Progressive and get a multi-vehicle discount. Right now we’re paying $57/mo for the RV and $40/mo for the truck.

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.

Summary

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

October Total: $2,605

November Total: $3,852 ($1,637 excluding the purchase of the solar kit)

December Total: $3,306

Four month average: $2,952

It obviously makes a huge difference whether we’re moving around a lot or staying in one location for an extended length of time. Except for the huge hit on the solar kit that we purchased, November was a very good month in terms of expenses. We lived very well while spending very little. In December we drove more, continued putting together our solar system, and had some additional maintenance items to attend to, so our expenses were higher than we would have liked, even with the free boondocking. We’ll be monitoring our expenses closely in January to hopefully bring our average spending lower.

We purchased the annual pass to the BLM Long Term Visitor Area for $180, which allows us to boondock at any of the seven LTVAs in Arizona and California through April 15. We won’t be moving the RV around very much during this time until the weather gets too warm to stay this far south. Less fuel, less wear and tear on Lizzy, less stress on us and the kitties.

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.

Battery Update, Christmas Plans, More Geocaching

As I reported in the last post, we had another episode of battery death, this time with our brand new 150 amp-hour batteries that we just purchased last week at Camping World. At the time of that post, we had let the generator run all night to try to recharge the batteries. Here’s what happened next.

When Andy got up, we shut off the generator and checked the batteries. Still nothing. Everything was dead, and they were not being charged from the generator.

Next we tried charging them from the alternator while running the engine (the batteries normally get charged while we’re driving the RV). That didn’t work either.

We checked the fusebox again, and didn’t see any problems with the fuses or breakers. At this point, we were starting to think it was a problem with the converter (the system that converts 110 current from the generator or shore power into DC current to be stored in the battery). However, since all the 12-volt systems in the RV were completely offline, it was just exactly as if the battery disconnect switch had been  flipped, even though it had not been. And THAT reminded us that there was another fused breaker hidden underneath the big pantry drawer below the stove.

IMG_3115

Reset button on the battery disconnect breaker located under the kitchen pantry drawer

In order to reach that breaker, you have to empty the drawer and then remove it from its tracks to gain access. Once he could reach the breaker, Andy pressed the tiny reset button, and…

VOILA!!

All the 12-volt systems were back online! The battery was still weak, registering around 11.95 volts as I remember, but at least we knew why the batteries had not been charging…they were in effect disconnected from the system.

We immediately fired up the generator and let it run for a couple of hours, and then checked the batteries again, and found that they were indeed charging and were back to a safe reading of 12.95. And since we needed to run the generator in the evening so I could use the Instant Pots for dinner, we kept the batteries topped off at 12.95.

The next test was to see how well they held up overnight with the furnace blower running, as well as the other minor draws on the system. When Andy got up this morning and checked the batteries, they read about 12.19, or about 60% capacity, which was acceptable. We ran the generator for a little over an hour this morning, and by then the reading was about 13.1, so we’re feeling great about that.

Our best guess of what happened is that when we failed to run the generator on Tuesday morning based on the reading on the stupid control panel, the batteries drained to the point that it caused the disconnect breaker to trip when we turned off the generator on Tuesday night to switch back over to the 12-volt system.

So we’ve learned some valuable lessons in the last two days:

  • We cannot rely on the factory-installed battery meter to monitor the available charge on the batteries. Instead, we are now using the multi-meter to get the exact voltage, even though it’s a pain to have to open up the battery compartment (located under one of the entry steps) to use the meter. We check it several times a day. At some point we’ll probably look into having a proper battery meter installed that displays the voltage at all times.
  • We will always run the generator at least twice a day to keep the batteries topped off, unless we’re driving the RV, in which case they’ll be charged from the alternator.
  • If the entire 12-volt system goes dead, the first thing we will check will be the disconnect breaker under the kitchen drawer.

So Andy called Camping World in Tucson to cancel the service appointment that we had scheduled with them for 8:00 AM on Friday. Turns out they didn’t even log the appointment so they wouldn’t have been expecting us anyway. Funny how that all worked out.

Tomorrow we’ll be picking up our new solar panels and Kodiak generator at our friends’ house in Phoenix. They were kind enough to let us have the equipment shipped to their address, and we’re looking forward to getting to visit with them for a little bit! While we’re in Phoenix, we’re also going to have lunch at one of our old favorites, Green New American Vegetarian restaurant on 7th Street. They have an extensive vegan menu, and we can’t wait to chow down!

IMG_3064

We’ve loved camping among these giant saguaros!

We have also made our plans for Christmas. We’ll be leaving this beautiful BLM campsite  in the Cactus Forest on Thursday of next week (sad face!), and we’ll travel to Glendale where we have reservations at an RV park for six nights. It will be nice to have full hookups again for a little while–unlimited showers, laundry facilities onsite, sewer hookups, electricity, and wi-fi. We were fortunate to get a site in this campground on our Passport America membership at half-price, so the six nights will only cost us $117, which is awesome! We’ll stay there through Christmas Day, and then pull out on December 26th for destination still to be determined.

In the meantime, I’m continuing to hunt for geocaches, finding my fourth one this morning. The ones that I’ve found are all located just off the road so I could have easily driven to the spot and saved some time. But I’ve picked up this hobby primarily for the exercise, so I’m hiking through the desert to each of the cache sites, burning off some calories and seeing some beautiful scenery.

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My 3rd geocache find was hanging near an electrical transmission tower.

If you would like to know more about what geocaching is and how it works, check out their website at Geocaching.com.

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My 4th geocache find was in an oxygen cylindar stuck in a tree. Fun find!

Yesterday we made a quick trip into Marana to ship a Christmas package to my parents and pick up a few grocery items for our salads. While there we also had lunch at Chipotle (the sofritas bowl rocks!!) and later some ice cream at The Screamery.

So that’s what’s been going on around here…just enjoying some blue skies, comfortable temperatures, and fully-charged batteries!! Our next big challenge this weekend will be learning to use our new solar system so we don’t have to run the generator so much to keep the batteries charged. Free power from the sun!!

Be sure to follow us on Instagram to stay up to date with us between blog posts! Also, feel free to share these posts with your family and friends if they are interested in learning more about full time RV life!

Safe travels, and Happy Holidays!!

Our First Sub-Freezing Night In Our RV

Baby, it’s cold outside!

Low this morning was 22.5° outside while it was 69.2° inside!

The cold arctic blast that is sweeping through the country made its way into south-central New Mexico yesterday (Monday), as forecasted. We made a trip into Las Cruces after lunch yesterday to pick up some groceries. When we left the campground, it was sunny to partly cloudy and in the mid-50’s. It was about 70° inside the RV just from the sunshine coming  in through the windows. But as we made the 20-minute drive south to Las Cruces, we could see dark clouds and precipitation over the mountaintops.

We stopped first at Sam’s Club, where we encountered a cold wind when we stepped out of the truck. Next, we went to Walmart and while we were checking out, Andy overheard someone talking about it snowing outside. When we went back to the truck, I did actually see one single snowflake fall, but it was definitely cold, cloudy and windy. We made a final stop at Sprouts, and then headed back to the campground.

When we got back in the RV, we found the temperature had dropped to 55° inside. Maggie had burrowed down under the comforter on the bed, and Molly was curled up in her fabric-and-foam “hidey-hole”. We turned on the electric heater to warm things up, put away the groceries and set about preparing the RV for the cold night ahead.

The arctic express on radar this morning. The blue dot is where we are.

The forecast was calling for a hard freeze with a low temperature around 23°. We had already dumped the black and grey tanks before we went to town, and Andy had also filled up our fresh water tank which holds 50 gallons. So to complete our preparations for the cold night ahead, we took the following steps:

  • Unhooked our water hose from the spigot at the site and drained it.
  • Turned on the water pump so we would use water directly from our fresh water tank.
  • Turned on the tank heaters for the black and grey tanks to keep them from freezing (these are small heating pads that are attached to the bottom of the tanks). The fresh water tank is actually under one of the dinette seats so it’s pretty safe from freezing.
  • Closed the privacy curtain to the attic space over the cab to avoid heating it.
  • Hung Andy’s t-shirt quilt over the opening to the cab area to keep the cold air out. Also placed our laundry bag and throw pillows on the floor where the blanket didn’t quite reach to block more cold air.
  • Left some of the cabinets and drawers slightly open to allow warm air to reach the plumbing lines.
  • Ran our small electric heater near the front of the RV.
  • Ran the onboard propane furnace, setting the thermostat to keep it between 60° and 65°.
  • I wore a pair of light flannel pajamas instead of my usual tank top, and we had plenty of blankets on the bed.

Using blankets, curtains, pillows and dirty laundry to keep out cold air

The only area that we need to work on in the future is the entry door. A lot of cold air gets in here around that door, so we need to come up with a way to hang a blanket or something over the door when we need it.

This morning when I got up about 5:45 AM, it was 23.9° outside and 62.7° inside the RV–perfect!! I cranked up the furnace a little higher, and over the next hour, the temperature outside continued to fall another degree or so, while the RV got pretty toasty, getting up to 74° before the furnace cycled off. The thermostat isn’t digital, it’s one of those old-school types with the sliding lever that goes from “cooler” to “warmer” and you have to just guess where to put it. I think we pretty much have it figured out now.

So we had plenty of heat, plenty of water, and we’re all snug and safe this morning!

As I mentioned in our last post, we didn’t move to warmer weather because we were waiting for Andy’s prescription to arrive in the mail. The tracking information on the USPS website said that it was due to arrive here in Radium Springs today (Tuesday), so we pre-paid our campsite through tonight. However, our mail actually arrived on Saturday, so technically we could have already been gone if we had chosen to move on. Since we’re only paying $4/night for this campsite, we wouldn’t have forfeited that much money. But since we’re allowed to stay here a total of 14 nights, and the forecast is for warmer temperatures later this week, we decided to stick it out and test out the cold-weather systems on the rig. We had never used the tank warmers and had not used the furnace much at all. It looks like everything passed with flying colors!

The forecast shows two more nights of sub-freezing temperatures with highs in the 50’s before warming to the 60’s on Saturday. The thing about being in the desert–when the temperature is in the 50’s and it’s sunny and there’s no wind, it’s totally comfortable if you’re hiking or sitting in the sun. So we’ll continue to enjoy the beautiful sunny days, and we’ll rely on our RV systems to keep us warm at night.

We’re already making plans for next week, as our 14 days will be up on Sunday.  We’ll be headed west to Arizona for warmer weather, but our plans are to spend a lot of time boondocking or dry-camping, which is something we have limited experience with. So stay tuned to see where we go next! You can also follow us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads to keep up with us between blog posts.

Happy travels!!

Expense Report for September-October 2018

Happy Halloween!

This is the report that several people have requested, and which we had always planned to include on the blog. Today we’re going to talk about what it costs us to live this lifestyle.

First, a couple of caveats. 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.

Now, a quick recap of where we’ve been for the last two months, as this directly impacts how we spent our money.

On September 1, we pulled in to the Escapees Rainbow’s End RV Park in Livingston, Texas, where we spent the entire month. The RV did not move except for one day when we had to drive it into town to get it inspected in order to have it registered in Texas. We paid the monthly rate of $340 for the RV site, rather than the nightly rate, plus a separate charge for electricity which was metered at the site.

Parked in site #60 at Escapees Rainbow’s End

We left Livingston on October 1 and headed to New Mexico, which meant we drove a lot more miles, using more fuel, in both the RV and the truck. Since we’ve been in New Mexico, we’ve moved around several times, mostly staying at state parks. We bought the annual pass for $225 which allows us to stay in any state park campsite for free, plus $4/night if we have electrical hookups which we always opt for if they are available.

That said, here’s how the expenses stacked up.

Camping fees + Electricity

September: $439 (1 location for the entire month)

October: $323 (7 different locations, but primarily in state parks at $4/night.) We bought the $225 annual pass for the New Mexico State Parks which is actually good for 13 months. For purposes of this monthly expense report, we’re pro-rating that cost over 13 months.

Staking our claim to Site #79, best site in the campground.

Fuel for the RV

September: $61 (Drove 302 miles, 7.5 MPG including 10-12 hours of generator use the night before we arrived in Livingston.)

October: $452 (Drove 1,335 miles, 8.3 MPG)

Fuel for the Truck

September: $159 (20.1 MPG)

October: $245 (21.5 MPG)

groceries

September: $444

October: $499

Interesting note: We’re paying less for groceries on the road than we did in our sticks-and-bricks home for a couple of reasons. First, Mississippi charges sales tax on groceries where Texas and New Mexico do not, so that’s a 7.5% savings right off the bat. Second, since we have a lot less storage space, we are a lot more careful about planning our meals and avoiding waste. We primarily eat a whole-foods, plant-based diet so we buy a lot of fresh produce and whole grains, along with wine/beer. We buy very little processed foods in boxes and cans (although we do buy canned beans and tomatoes), and we’ve recently developed a dangerous addiction to the $.50 mini-pies at Walmart!

Typical lunch–homemade hummus with raw veggies for dipping

dining out

September: $217

October: $194

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

Black bean veggie burger at Phoenix Saloon in New Braunfels

household / furnishings

September: $72

October: $52

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

petcare

September: $73

October: $45

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

September: $245

October: $245

These numbers include a prorated charge for the purchase of our iPhones when we bought them last fall. 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 on the unlimited data plan which gets throttled before we get through the month. Once the phones are paid off next fall, the monthly charge should drop significantly unless the plan rates go up.

mail forwarding

September: $0

October: $12

We did not need to have any mail forwarded to us in September because we were staying at the Escapees park in Livingston where our mail service is located, and we could just pick up our mail daily. In October we had one batch of mail forwarded to us in Albuquerque that also included our absentee ballots for the November election, for which there was an extra $10 handling charge.

Main post office in Albuquerque

Laundry

September: $25

October: $7

We had to do laundry more often in September due to the high humidity in Texas–our clothes got smellier faster, and so did the laundry bag. Here in the cooler, drier climate of New Mexico, we can go longer between laundry days.

attractions / entertainment

September: $80

October: $84

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

memberships

September: $0

October: $60 (annual renewal for Costco membership)

Equipment for RV

September: $77 (water hose/nozzle, roll of reflectix, 6-gallon fresh water jug)

October: $207 (new surge protector to replace one that got fried in a thunderstorm, two vent covers for the roof, extra set of leveling blocks, and other miscellaneous items)

Installing covers over our vents and fan

RV Maintenance & REpairs

September: $4

October: $46 (kit to repair leaky toilet, new gasket seal for bathroom roof vent)

truck maintenance & repairs

September: $12 (plate holder for Texas tag on the front bumper)

October: $0

Vehicle insurance

September: $97

October: $97

We have insurance through Progressive and get a multi-vehicle discount. Right now we’re paying $57/mo for the RV and $40/mo for the truck.

VEhicle License and registration

September: $39

October $39

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.

Summary

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

September Total: $2,043

October Total: $2,605

It obviously makes a huge difference whether you’re moving around a lot or staying in one location for an extended length of time. We’re in the process of planning our itinerary for November, and it will likely include more time in New Mexico state parks at $4/night, and then our first forays into dry camping or boondocking as we head toward the warmer weather in the Arizona desert.

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.

 

Cookies, Toilets and Travel Plans

Today marks one week that we’ve been camped here at Leasburg Dam State Park, and honestly, I wish we could stay here indefinitely. Unfortunately, they have a fourteen-day limit, after which you must be out of the park for at least six days before you can come back. Besides, I want to visit Santa Fe on my birthday (October 17), and right now we’re about four hours away.

Beauty in the desert

So yesterday (Wednesday) I spent some time in the morning making travel plans for next week. In one of the thousands of full-time RV-related YouTube videos that we watched over the past year, I remember one full-timer talking about “research fatigue”, referring to the effort and time required to plan ahead for that next camping spot. So many things to consider–distance, price, weather, accessibility, surroundings, safety–it’s definitely a time commitment but it’s an important part of this lifestyle.

We have memberships in several RV organizations that offer discounts at campgrounds and RV parks. I was able to get us three nights at a nice RV park in Albuquerque for next week, using our Passport America discount of 50% for the first two nights, and our Good Sam discount of 10% for the third night. Albuquerque is only about an hour’s drive from Santa Fe, but it’s lower in elevation than Santa Fe so it won’t be quite as cold at night. We’ll do a day-trip to Santa Fe for my birthday, and while we’re in Albuquerque we’ll be able to make a Costco run, do laundry, and pick up our mail which I’ll have forwarded to us from our mail service in Livingston, Texas.

After our three nights in Albuquerque, we’re going to head south again to another NM State Park. I made reservations for two nights (Friday and Saturday) since the parks tend to get a little more full on the weekends. If we like the park, we’ll try to get into one of the first-come, first-served sites to extend our stay.

Our favorite hiking trail here in Leasburg State Park

Yesterday was pretty laid back. We did a little hiking in the morning while the temperatures were in the high 50’s and low 60’s. After lunch we drove to the little local post office in Radium Springs to pick up the toilet repair kit that we ordered from Amazon. Later, since I had some bananas that were getting pretty ripe, I decided to bake some vegan cookies in our convection microwave. I used to make these all the time in our stix-and-brix house, but had not tried them in the RV. They actually came out just as good as before! Here’s the recipe:

Base:

1 very ripe banana, smashed until liquid-y

1 cup oats (Quick oats are best, but Old Fashioned work too)

Add-ins:

Chopped walnuts

Craisins (or raisins)

Maple syrup to taste

Peanut butter (or PB2 powder)

Chocolate chips

I don’t use all the add-ins at the same time, that’s just a list of the ones I’ve used in the past. You can add whatever you like. Stir it all together and then drop by large spoonfuls on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. These cookies will not rise or spread, so shape them in the size you want, and don’t make them too thick. Bake at 350° (325° in our RV convection oven) for 20-25 minutes, until they get brown and crispy on the edges.

They are best when they’re warm, right from the oven, but they keep well in an airtight container for several days.

Vegan banana oatmeal cookies baked in our convection microwave

Today won’t be nearly as pleasant as freshly baked cookies. Today, Andy will be pulling out the toilet to replace the seals using the kit that we ordered from Amazon. In an RV, the toilet sits on top of a short pipe that allows all your “deposits” to simply fall straight down into the black tank along with some water when you flush the toilet. When Andy removes the toilet, there will just be an open pipe to that lovely black tank until he gets the toilet re-installed. Of course, we will empty the black tank before he starts on the project, but that won’t eliminate all the smell. We’re going to do everything possible to make sure this project goes smoothly and as quickly as possible this afternoon to minimize the time that the pipe is open. Wish us luck!

We’re planning to do some more sight-seeing in the area this weekend. There’s an abandoned fort just down the road from us that we want to visit. We’ll see what the weather looks like over the next few days before we finalize our plans. We’ll also make another trip to Las Cruces for groceries–we eat a lot of fresh greens, so we have to shop a little more often than we’d like to.

And that’s life here in the RV for now!

Follow us on Instagram for more real-time updates on our adventures at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads!

Alley Oop RV Park in Iraan, Texas

It’s our second day on the road, and we found a very quirky place to spend the night.

We had a restful night at the River Ranch RV Park in New Braunfels last night. We weren’t bothered at all by the freeway noise from the bridge overhead since we had the air conditioner running all night to fight the humidity. This morning it was foggy and overcast when we awoke, but the sun was trying to break through by the time we pulled out around 10:30.

We took I-35 south to San Antonio, then took the 1604 Loop west to get back on I-10 west. There was a lot of highway construction around north San Antonio, so the lanes were narrow and traffic was congested. There was also a little bit of light rain at times. It was pretty stressful driving for Andy in the RV, but we made it just fine. Once we got past the road work, we stopped and fueled up both vehicles at a Love’s Truck Stop, and then the plan was to travel about 8 miles further down I-10 to a rest stop to have lunch.

Route for October 2

By then we were well into the Texas Hill Country, and the rest stop was located at the top of a high mesa. Andy was so busy watching the RPMs on the dashboard while climbing the mesa that he drove right past the rest stop. No worries, we just pulled in to the Lowe’s in Kerrville, parked in their parking lot, and proceeded to have lunch.

Stopped for lunch in the Lowe’s parking lot in Kerrville, TX

Before we left New Braunfels this morning, Andy made a huge salad to last us for several days, and I made the dressing to go with it. So while we were in the parking lot, we just opened a can of black beans and heated them on the stove to go with the salad. We enjoyed our lunch, washed and dried the dishes, used the bathroom, cleaned the floor, and then we were ready to hit the road again. So nice to have our house with us!

We got into Iraan about 4:30 and found the Alley Oop RV park right next to the City Park. In the past, RVers were allowed to stay overnight in the City Park for free (no hookups), but it doesn’t look like they do that anymore because the sign says the park is closed from 10PM-7AM. The RV Park right next to the City Park used to be $10/night for full hookups, but now they’re $15. We got the last available spot in the RV Park, and considered ourselves fortunate. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s a bargain.

Alley Oop RV Park, Iraan, TX

Site #4, pull-through, $15/night with full hookups

Iraan has a couple of interesting things going for it. First of all, it’s right in the middle of the oil patch, and most of the RV’s in this park belong to oil field workers who are staying here long-term. In 1926 a successful oil well was drilled  on a ranch belonging to Ira and Ann Yates. They donated the site for the town, which was named for them–a contraction of “Ira” and “Ann”, becoming Iraan. The Yates oilfield is still producing today.

Oilfield equipment display next to the RV park

Iraan is also the birthplace of the Alley Oop comic strip, hence the name of the RV park. There’s a small museum and an Alley Oop-themed “attraction” next to the RV park which we explored this afternoon. It was quirky but fun. We both had to climb up on the dinosaur for a photo op. Later we found out that a mama cat and her kittens have a home inside the dinosaur’s belly, via a square cutout on the underside.

Andy as Alley Oop

Dinny, the dinosaur, currently has a family of cats living in its belly.

There was a beautiful sunset this evening, so after we had dinner and cleaned up the dishes we went for a walk in the City Park. There’s a nice breeze blowing and the temperature is nice, and we didn’t see a single mosquito–that’s awesome!!

Sunset in Iraan, Texas

Tomorrow we won’t be driving quite as far, only about 180 miles to Van Horn. The little town of Van Horn has a special place in our hearts (and our nightmares)–we spent three nights there in 2000 when our fully-loaded U-Haul truck broke down while we were moving from Houston to Phoenix. We were towed in to Bud’s Diesel Shop in Van Horn, and we spent three nights in a little motel waiting for the parts to come in so they could replace the drive shaft which had broken. So this time we’re staying in Van Horn mostly for sentimental reasons.

Andy found the problem with the overhead vent in the bathroom that leaked water during yesterday’s rainstorm. The gasket around the vent had become unseated, so it was an easy fix to adjust it. However it should probably be replaced as it has gotten stiff and hard.

Otherwise, the vehicles and systems are working great (knock on wood!). We’re looking forward to a good night’s sleep tonight before getting back on the road tomorrow. Still chasing 70° and low humidity–New Mexico, here we come!