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!

Expense Report for January 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.

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 fifth 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 entire month of January boondocking (camping without hookups) at the Pilot Knob LTVA (Long Term Visitor Area) which is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). It’s located in southern California, about seven miles west of Yuma, Arizona. When we arrived here in late December, we purchased the annual pass for the entire winter season for $180, which allows us to camp for free at any of the seven winter LTVAs through April 15, 2019. The only time we moved the RV all month was to drive it one mile round-trip to the nearby Chevron station to dump the tanks and refill the fresh water and propane tanks.

Our new desert campsite by the mountains

Staying in one place for the entire month radically affected our expenses for the better. Here’s how our spending went for January.

Camping fees + Electricity

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.)

January: $68 – Entire month in the Pilot Knob BLM LTVA. We actually did not spend any money at all this month for camping fees, but for monthly reporting purposes I am prorating the cost of our annual camping passes for New Mexico State Parks ($225 for 13 months) and BLM LTVAs ($180 for December through April).

Five month average: $227

Rainy days often result in gorgeous sunsets

DUMPING FEEs

November: $0

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

January: $70 – It costs us $12 to dump our tanks and fill up our 50-gallon fresh water tank at the nearby Chevron station, although one time they only charged us $10 for some reason. We dump our tanks every 5-6 days depending on how often we shower.

Five month average: $17

Fuel for the RV

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.

January: $0 (Stayed in place all month, 21.9 generator hours and we still have almost 3/4 of a tank of gas left from the last time we filled up in December.)

Five month average: $192

Fuel for the Truck

November: $52 (17.7 MPG)

December: $221 (20.0 MPG)

January: $59 (17.7 MPG)

Five month average: $147

PROPANE

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)

January: $67 (19 gallons) – Propane was our sole source of heat in January since we were never connected to electricity, but we only used it early in the morning until the sun warmed up the rig. Right now propane is $3.49/gallon at the nearby Chevron.

Five month average: $26

groceries

November: $479

December: $492

January: $480

Five month average: $479

I’m really surprised at how consistent this number is every month. We do almost all our grocery shopping at Walmart, so I’m assuming that that explains the consistency from month to month. 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.

Andy selecting oranges in the produce section of Cardenas in El Centro

dining out

November: $213

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

January: $230

Five month average: $221

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

Lunch at The Garden Patio (El Pariso) in Los Algodones

household / furnishings

November: $87

December: $42

January: $35

Five month average: $58

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

petcare

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.

January: $40 – Stocked up on cat food, treats and litter.

Five month average: $82

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

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.

January: $276

Five month average: $261

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 significantly unless the plan rates go up.

mail forwarding

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.

January: $7 – Had mail forwarded once early in the month, but with the new scanning service we were able to just check online to see what mail had arrived in Livingston throughout the rest of the month. There was nothing that was time-sensitive so we decided to wait until early February to have the next packet sent, which should include all the tax-related forms that arrived in January.

Five month average: $14

Laundry

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.

January: $29 – We did our regular laundry once in Yuma, but then we had to make a second trip to the laundromat to wash the quilts and blankets again. Another little kitty accident (or are they just trying to punish us for something??). The laundromat here in Yuma is more expensive than any we’ve seen, but it’s also very well-maintained.

Five month average: $20

attractions / entertainment

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.

January: $72 – We visited the “Center of the World” which cost us $10.

Five month average: $86

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

The “official” Center of the World inside the pyramid at Felicity, CA

memberships

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

December: $0

January: $0

Five month average: $22

Equipment for RV

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)

January: $0 -FINALLY, a month when we didn’t buy any new equipment for the rig!!

Five month average: $577

Our new solar charge controller lets us know how our batteries are doing

RV Maintenance & REpairs

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)

January: $108 (replaced the water pump and strainer)

Five month average: $130

Crack in the back side of the strainer was allowing air to enter the plumbing lines

truck maintenance & repairs

November: $0

December: $0

January: $0

Five 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:

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

December Total: $3,309

January Total: $1,677

Five month average: $2,697

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. In January, we once again had an excellent month in terms of our pocketbooks while eating well, entertaining ourselves, staying warm and dry and enjoying the beautiful surroundings and interesting culture along the southern border.

Since we purchased the annual pass to the BLM Long Term Visitor Area for $180, we are allowed to boondock for free at any of the seven winter LTVAs in Arizona and California through April 15. We’re starting to think about moving to a different LTVA just for a change of scenery, but have not made any specific plans. We’re very comfortable where we are right now, so we’ll see how itchy our feet get in February. Any time we decide to move, it will impact our expenses for fuel, so stay tuned to see what happens.

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.

Pilot Knob LTVA, Solar Power, Geocaching, Los Algodones Mexico, Missing Family

We just spent our twelfth night boondocking here at the Pilot Knob BLM LTVA (that’s Bureau of Land Management Long Term Visitor Area). So far we are really enjoying it, even though we haven’t spent a whole lot of time exploring the area.

The first few days we were here were spent getting our solar system up and running. Andy had to drill a hole in the floor just above the battery compartment in the entry steps so he could run the cables from the battery to the new charge controller which he mounted above the front door. He ran the cables through a length of PVC pipe conduit to make them less obvious. Now he just needs to fasten the conduit to the wall and then seal up the hole, and that project will be complete.

Our new solar charge controller lets us know how our batteries are doing

We are in love with our new solar system! It has drastically reduced the amount of time we need to run the generator–now we only run it when we need to use the microwave or the Instant Pot, or on a rare rainy day like we had on Saturday. Each morning before the sun even rises, the panels start charging a tiny bit as soon as there is light in the sky. Since I’m the early riser in the family, I go outside and turn the panels toward the east, and at about 7:15 AM when the sun finally rises over the nearby mountain, the panels start doing their magic. By watching the numbers on the charge controller, you can literally see the voltage flowing into the batteries as the sun rises. During the day, we turn the panels to the south and then to the west to follow the sun. On most days the batteries are fully charged by about 10:00 AM, and then the panels just keep them topped off until the sun goes down, by which time we have enough voltage to get us through the night.

Our solar kit also came with the Kodiak portable solar generator, which is basically a big lithium battery with an inverter which allows us to plug in any of our devices that need to be charged, as well as any of our small appliances that run on 110V like the television, Roku, hair dryer, etc. Without the Kodiak, we would have to run the generator to power those devices.

Our new Kodiak portable generator to be charged with solar panels

Since our campsite is free (after purchasing the $180 annual pass last month) and we’re not spending money on fuel to move from campground to campground this month, we’re hoping that the additional savings from not running the generator will all add up to make this a month of significant cost savings, which would be really nice after the last two months of solar investment, maintenance, and repair costs.

This is our first time to stay in a BLM LTVA, and it’s an interesting experience. The camp hosts are a couple named Roy and Joann, who basically collect the entrance fees and answer questions. There are no designated campsites, you just find an area that you like and park your rig there. There are a few rigs that are parked fairly close together since they are friends traveling together, but mostly everyone is pretty spread out and respectful of each other’s privacy. There are all types of rigs from big Class A motorhomes, truck campers, fifth wheels, travel trailers, vans, small Class B and C motorhomes like ours, and even skoolies. It is very quiet here, other than the sounds of the trains going by.

One of our neighbors barely visible through the Sunday morning fog

After having such an intense week in Glendale at Christmas time and then spending a couple of days working on the solar system, it was nice to finally just relax and hang out without having an agenda. Most of the time the weather has been nice, although there were a few days that were extremely windy and cool, and yesterday it rained most of the afternoon. It has never gone below freezing at night where we are, even though it has been colder just to the north of us in Quartzsite and Phoenix.

There are a lot of geocaches in the area, so I’ve gone out on several hunts. Andy went with me on one of my hunts, and I think he might be starting to get the bug! 🙂 Even though the desert looks flat when you look outward, once you start walking across it you find small dunes and washes that conceal all kinds of interesting things that make good hiding places for caches. So far I’ve found caches in an old squatters’ shack, a tree next to an old hot tub, an old paint can, and a pipe buried in the sand in the middle of an old tire. From a short distance away, none of these places are visible due to the slight undulations of the land.

Found a geocache in this abandoned squatters shack hidden between the dunes

There’s also a rock quarry in the side of the mountain (Pilot Knob) next to the campground. There are some geocaches hidden at the top of the quarry and the mountain. Andy and I made an attempt to go after them but the only trail we could find to the top was very steep and unstable, so we decided it wasn’t worth risking an injury. We’re know our limits! 🙂 But we did have a nice hike to a spot about a third of the way up the quarry where we got a great view of the area.

Hiking down from the rock quarry (photo cred: Andy)

So far we’ve gone into Yuma three times. Andy went once to pick up some wire he needed for the solar hookup, and then we went grocery shopping twice at Walmart (two different ones). Once interesting challenge with this location has to do with oranges. When we drive back to the campground (located in California) from grocery shopping in Yuma (Arizona), we have to go through an agricultural inspection station and tell them whether or not we have any fresh produce. If you remember from our previous post, when we first arrived, they actually came inside the RV to inspect, but let us keep our produce. It seems they are most interested in oranges. When we went grocery shopping last week, of course we loaded up on produce as we always do, and that included oranges. We were hoping that since we were in the pickup instead of the RV, they would just wave us through. But no, when we rolled up to the inspector, he specifically asked if we had oranges, and we couldn’t lie. He asked to see them, and then said that although technically he should confiscate them, he would let us keep them “this time”. Of course, yesterday when we went shopping we decided not to get any oranges, and when we pulled up to the inspector he just waved us through without stopping us. You never know. It’s a bummer because the closest grocery store to us on the California side of the border is about 37 miles away, so we’re going to see if we can find a farmer’s market stand or something a little closer that sells California oranges.

Last Friday we spent most of the day in Los Algodones, Mexico. The border crossing is about four miles from where we are….in fact, we can see the lights of Algodones from our campsite at night. Getting in to Mexico is no problem. The local Indian tribe has a parking lot next to the border where you pay $6 for a regular passenger vehicle, then you just walk down the sidewalk through a couple of small buildings with some un-manned metal detectors, and then you’re in Mexico.

Arriving in Los Algodones, Baja California, Mexico

The place is crowded this time of year with American senior citizens who are there to get their prescriptions filled, their glasses replaced, and their dental work done, all at prices much lower than in the US. Many of them live in Arizona and Southern California and come here on a regular basis, others are full-time RVers who specifically stay in this area in the winter for this purpose.

We didn’t need any those services, we were just there for some Mexican food, a margarita, and some sightseeing. We had lunch at a popular spot called “El Pariso” or The Garden Place. It’s a large outdoor seating area surrounded by shops. While you are perusing the menu, a small army of vendors approach your table with all kinds of things for sale–jewelry, wall art, blankets, hats, ponchos, belts, t-shirts, you name it. But once your food arrives, they pretty much leave you alone. I bought a hat which actually came in handy because the sun got pretty intense even though the temperatures were very comfortable. The food was so-so, but the margarita was excellent!

Lunch at The Garden Patio (El Pariso) in Los Algodones

After lunch we did some shopping around for a particular kind of candy we found several months ago when we crossed the border from Columbus, NM to Palomas, Mexico. It’s called Damy Peanut Crunch, and it sells on Amazon for $12.95 for a 100-count bag. We get it in Mexico for about $3.50/bag. Luckily we found it in a small candy store in Algodones, and we found another brand that is similar (although the pieces are smaller) for about $2.05 in the liquor/pharmacy store.

When in Mexico we always look for a bakery, or panadería. We didn’t spot one immediately so we asked one of the vendors, and he said there wasn’t one currently open. Later we stopped to get some freshly made churros from a street vendor, and the guy that was helping him told us about a bakery that was close by, and he volunteered to walk us to it. His name was Victor, and he was such a nice guy. He told us about all the times he visited and lived in the US (which explains how he speaks such good English), but he has returned to Mexico to be with his family. Victor helped us find the Pan Superior bakery where we picked up some of our favorite Mexican sweet breads.

Shopping in the panadería for Mexican sweet breads

The worst part of going across the border in Algodones is the long line to get back into the US. We waited somewhere between 45 minutes to an hour, and we’re told that it’s usually closer to two hours. They do provide shade and benches to sit on while waiting in line, and there are restrooms and vendors selling bottled water. Since a large portion of the people in the line are senior citizens, it’s good that they have some amenities to make the wait a little less uncomfortable. Once we got to the front of the line, we sailed right past the customs agent.

We’re already looking forward to our next visit to Algodones–there’s just something special about having easy access to visit a different country and culture, and meeting friendly people like Victor.

In other maintenance news, Andy was able to get the bat-wing TV antenna fixed so it raises and lowers from the ceiling crank on the inside. After we got it raised, we ran the channel scan on the TV and didn’t pick up a single over-the-air station, so we assumed we were either too far out in the desert or maybe we were being blocked by the nearby mountain. But then I noticed that other rigs had their bat-wing antennas up and it didn’t make sense that they would have them up if there was no reception. So I did some investigating a few days later and found a small push-button switch hidden in one of the overhead bins. There were no instructions or labels on the switch, except for the brand name Winegard, which is the brand of the antenna. I pushed the button and a green light came on, so I tried the channel scan again, and Voila!! We’ve got 19 digital channels coming in, about half of which are in Spanish, but we do get the major networks. The picture is crisp and clear, so chalk that up as a win. Of course, we rarely watch TV anyway, but it’s good to know we can see the next season of “The Voice” and maybe even the Super Bowl!

Other than that, we’ve just been hanging out and enjoying life. There are definitely more rigs here in the LTVA than there were when we first arrived, but there is still a lot of empty space around us. Now that we have our maintenance tasks done and we’re stocked up on groceries, we’re looking forward to doing some sightseeing in the area. There’s a lot of history here, and Yuma actually has a lot of cultural activities on their weekly calendar. We’ll let you know what we get into.

Oh yes, we learned one other thing yesterday when we picked up our mail which we had had forwarded to us via General Delivery in Winterhaven, CA. The postmaster there told me that you are only allowed to use General Delivery at a specific post office for 30 days out of a calendar year, and after that you need to rent a P.O. box. That’s interesting information, but when our thirty days are up and we need to have another packet of mail forwarded to us out here, we’ll just pick a different post office. Winner winner, tofu dinner!! 😀

Lastly, on a very personal note, you’ll notice that it’s been longer than usual since I posted to the blog. Last week we received word that my nephew and his wife lost their baby in the middle of her third trimester of pregnancy. We were devastated for them, and it was difficult knowing that we were so far away and could not be there to join the rest of the family for the memorial service. I just didn’t feel like blogging while going through such an emotional time. We send our love and prayers to Tyler and Allie and their two sons, Hudson and Westin, as they deal with the loss of baby Mackson. Our hearts are back in Mississippi with them, even while we are parked here in the California desert.

Thanks for reading the blog, and be sure to share it with your friends if they are interested in full-time RV living! You can also follow us on Instagram to see what we’re doing between blog posts.

Take care, safe travels, and live every day to the fullest!!

 

 

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.

Vet Report, Completing Our Solar Setup, More Toilet Woes

Merry Christmas, everyone!! We hope this holiday finds you happy and healthy, wherever you may be!

Our very first RV Christmas has been spent parked in a mobile home park in Glendale, Arizona. Not the most scenic surroundings, but being here has made it possible for us to take care of some important issues before we head back into the desert for more off-grid living.

Parked in a mobile home park for Christmas

First of all, both the kitties got to visit the vet last Friday morning. If you remember from our last post, Maggie had vomited on our last drive and it looked like she had a case of worms. Molly had been having some constipation problems as well as a runny nose, so we took them both to the same vet that we used for our old cat, Macho, when we lived here in Glendale–Dr. Charles Toben at Apollo Animal Hospital. I was able to get a stool sample from Maggie, but of course Molly didn’t cooperate that morning.

Maggie Mae is 10-1/2 years old. She weighed in at 14 pounds, 10 ounces, which is about a pound more than she weighed in August at her last checkup. The vet checked her eyes and said she’s starting to develop a little cloudiness due to age, but it’s not serious yet. He found some acne under her chin (I didn’t know cats got acne), so he shaved her chin so we could treat it with hydrogen peroxide.

Her stool sample came back negative for parasites, but he said that from what we described from her puke, it sounded like the type of worms that are caused from fleas, and that they are cyclical or sporadic,so he gave us worming medication to treat both of them. They don’t currently have fleas, but they had a problem with them when were were in Texas in September, and the vet said these parasites are likely a result of those fleas. He gave them their first dose of meds in the office, and we have to give them a second dose on Friday.

Molly Ann is 8-1/2 years old. She weighed in at 11 pounds, 14 ounces, which means she’s lost over a pound since August. The vet listened to her breathing and said he didn’t hear any problems with her lungs, so her runny nose is most likely seasonal allergies (she’s had this issue for a couple of years). In regards to the constipation issue, we discussed their diet and he recommended adding some canned pumpkin or squash to their wet food in the morning–something else I had never heard of.

Adding pumpkin to the kitties’ diet to keep them regular

Other than those issues, he said they both appear to be healthy. He’s such a great veterinarian, I think he spent almost an hour with us, making sure we had all our questions answered. He provided us with electronic copies of the records, and told us to feel free to call from anywhere on the road if we needed help with the girls.

I’ve started adding a little pumpkin to their morning wet food. So far they are tolerating it, but they definitely know something is a little “off” taste-wise with their breakfast, so they don’t gobble it down like they usually do. I’m still waiting to see if it has the desired outcome (no pun intended!).

After returning the kitties to the rig, we had lunch and then drove to the East Valley to pick up a shipment of solar cables from my friend’s house where they had been shipped. Afterward we drove north to Scottsdale to look for some additional pieces at RV Solar Electric, a place we found via a Google search. Unfortunately that place turned out to only be an office for online sales and not a retail store, so that was a busted trip.

On Saturday we did a little more research and found a solar retailer in Mesa. This time we called ahead to confirm that they had what we needed, and then we made the 45 minute drive back to the East Valley. The store is called Solar Penny, and they were able to take care of everything that we needed. We bought a charge controller so we can charge our house batteries with our new solar panels. We also got the additional cables that we needed to go to the batteries, and the owner even attached the proper connectors so Andy wouldn’t have to do that. We were very pleased with our visit to their shop, and would definitely recommend them to anyone looking for parts or advice for their solar setup.

Picking up vital parts at Solar Penny in Mesa AZ

While we were in the Mesa area we looked for good plant-based options for lunch and found a little gem called Seed Shack in Gilbert. It’s a vegan American-Oriental fusion cafe, and their food is all prepared in-house from scratch. Check out their menu online if you’re in the area and want good healthy food!

Amazing vegan food at Seed Shack in Gilbert AZ

On Saturday night we went to downtown Glendale to see the Christmas lights at their annual Glendale Glitters event which lasts for about six weeks during the holidays. We had a delicious sweet corn tamale from the sidewalk stand in front of Bitzee Mama’s (one of our old favorite Mexican restaurants), and followed it up with some vegan rolled ice cream at Nomadic Rolled Ice Cream. The vanilla ice cream was soy-based, and we chose strawberries and oreo cookies as our mix-ins. It was delicious!

Glendale Glitters 2018

On Sunday we took care of the laundry, and then we went to the VeganFest in Peoria’s Centennial Park. They had about 12-15 food trucks there, all serving vegan food. There were also booths set up for vendors selling things like homemade soap, essential oils, t-shirts, etc. They had a line-up of speakers and demonstrations on vegan topics that appeared to be well-attended and received. Andy had a good falafel pita with fries. I tried the vegan “shrimp” po-boy with cajun chips, and it wasn’t good at all, but it had nothing to do with the “shrimp”–the homemade chips were soggy, and there were very few “shrimp” on a huge roll, so it was mostly bread. Anyway, they get points for trying.

After leaving the VeganFest, we decided to drive around a little bit to see how things had changed. We first went up to the Arrowhead Mall area, which was crazy because who intentionally and unnecessarily drives into mall traffic on the weekend before Christmas?? Next we drove down the 101 to Westgate in Glendale to see where the new casino is being built (they allow overnight RV parking there so we wanted to scope it out). While in that area we went to Cabela’s where we each picked out our Christmas present from each other–I got a new pair of hiking shoes and Andy got a rain jacket that he’s been looking for. Yes, Christmas is a little different this year, as there’s no way to secretly shop for each other and hide gifts until Christmas Eve. Besides, we’re trying to minimize our possessions, so our Christmas gifts to each other are good quality, practical items.

So, we thought we were just about done with all our spending here in the Phoenix area, and were planning to pull out of here on Wednesday, the day after Christmas. But of course, plans are made to be changed. A few days ago we started noticing that when we flushed the toilet, the water wouldn’t shut off when you released the foot pedal. We would have to really jiggle and bang on it to stop the water flow before it totally filled up the bowl and overflowed. So yesterday, Andy checked on parts numbers and called Camping World, knowing that since it was Christmas Eve, they would be closing early. We got to them just in the nick of time and after talking to the parts tech, wound up buying a complete new toilet since the foot pedal mechanism cannot be replaced separately.

Since we now have another to-do item on our list, we elected to extend our stay here in the mobile home park by another day. Fortunately they were able to accommodate us, and we were still eligible for one more night at the discounted rate from Passport America. This actually worked out for the best because we still have not received our latest mail shipment from our forwarding service in Livingston, Texas. Hopefully our mail will arrive on Wednesday.

So, here it is, Christmas Day, and we’re going to enjoy being together on the road. Last night we did our traditional snack spread while we watched “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” for the 1,738th time, followed by “Springsteen on Broadway” on Netflix. Today we’re having cinnamon rolls for breakfast, and then I’m going to make my famous vegan pot roast–well, it’s famous in our house anyway. We’re going to visit the gravesites of Andy’s parents and leave some Christmas flowers there, and then hopefully drive by his old neighborhood to check it out.

Tomorrow will be last minute chores, including installing the new toilet, as we prepare to hit the road again.

Where are we going next? We’re still not 100% sure, but we’re leaning toward Yuma where it will be warmer. There’s a cold front moving in over the next few days. We are looking at staying mostly in a BLM Long Term Visitors Area (LTVA) for the winter, but we’re closely monitoring the situation with the government shutdown. From what we understand, the water was to be shut off and services suspended at the LTVA’s in the event of a shutdown, even though you can still camp there. The trash won’t be collected and bathrooms won’t be cleaned or restocked. The office won’t be manned, so there won’t be anyone there to collect camping fees. Weird situation for sure!

So that’s where we are now! I do miss my family so much this Christmas–I’m sending my love to my parents, all my brothers, sisters-in-law, nieces and nephews and their spouses, and great-nieces and nephews, including two new ones that are due to arrive in the next month. Merry Christmas, y’all!! And Merry Christmas to Andy’s brother and sister-in-law in Indiana, as well as his nephew and nieces and their families–hope you all have a joyous Christmas and New Year!!

Stay tuned to find out where we’re headed to next–you’ll know as soon as we do!!

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Solar Equipment, Battery Monitoring, True Cost of Dumping

Our primary focus over the past week has been learning to manage our power consumption and battery charging. We have not had another episode of dead batteries, but we’re very diligent about manually checking the voltage on the batteries several times a day. Andy is still convinced that they are not holding a charge the way they should, even though they are brand new. But without any prior experience with boondocking, we don’t have anything to compare it to.

During the day, we hardly use the lights, so the only things that should be drawing on the battery are: (1) the CO2/propane monitor, (2) the water pump, (3) the thermostat in the refrigerator which runs on propane while boondocking, and (4) the backup camera monitor and dashboard display. My guess is that this last item is the one that is creating the greatest draw on the battery, but there’s no way to turn it off unless you just pull the fuse or disconnect the wiring.

Never tire of these beautiful sunsets!

Before the batteries went dead, we were running the generator for about an hour in the morning and an hour at night, and we weren’t testing the battery voltage. Now we’re finding that we need to run the generator at least 90 minutes each time. If there is any significant power draw on the generator while it’s running (i.e. using the Instant Pot or the microwave) then we need to run it longer in order to top off the batteries. That means more gas is being used at the rate of about 1 gallon for every 2-1/2 hours of generator time.

On Friday we drove to Phoenix to pick up our solar equipment, which we had had shipped to our friends’ house. When we got back to the rig and unpacked everything, we had three solar panels, the Kodiak portable generator, a 30′ solar cable, and three LED outdoor lights. Unfortunately, we have not yet received the two chaining cables to connect the three solar panels together (these were supposed to be part of the kit), or the car charger to charge the Kodiak while we’re driving (not part of the kit). Andy is going to contact the company first thing this morning to find out when we can expect those items.

Our new Kodiak portable generator to be charged with solar panels

We were able to connect one of the panels to the Kodiak and test it out, even though it was pretty overcast this weekend. But we really need those chaining cables and a good sunny day to see the real potential of this system.

Kodiak linked to one solar panel, tested successfully

Yesterday we drove into Tucson and went to Home Depot where Andy picked up some PVC pipe and fittings to make supports for the solar panels so we can stand them up and lean them at the right angle to get the most sunlight. He’ll be working on those this week.

On Saturday we drove to Eloy again to refuel, dump the tanks, and refill the fresh water tank. The one downside to this boondocking spot is that it’s not really close to a dump station. We drove 64 miles roundtrip to take care of this little bit of housekeeping. The rig gets about 8.5 miles per gallon, and gas cost us $2.60/gallon, so it cost us about $19.58 in gas, plus the $8.16 dump fee at Flying J, for a total of $27.74 to dump the tanks and get fresh water. (Flying J charges $12 to dump and get water, but we get a discount with our Good Sam’s card.)

The exciting news is that we went SIX NIGHTS this time without dumping! That’s a new record for us!! We have never really pushed it to the limit to see how long we can go. The last thing I want to happen is for the black tank to fill up in the middle of the night. YUCK!!

Technically we could save a little money by driving back into Tucson to the free dump station we found two weeks ago, but the hassle of driving in city traffic offsets the small savings. Alternately, we could go to the nearby state park and pay $15 to dump and get water, but we would still have to drive somewhere else to get gas and propane, so we just prefer to drive a little further and take care of everything in one location.

It’s hard to believe we’ve been camped here in the Cactus Forest for almost two weeks. We’ll be pulling out on Thursday, headed to an RV park in Glendale, Arizona for Christmas. While I’m looking forward to having full hookups again, I’m going to miss the peace and quiet and wide open spaces of our boondocking spot. We’re already looking forward to heading further southwest for the new year.

We’ll always remember our first true boondocking spot in the Cactus Forest

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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.

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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!

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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!!

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Safe travels, and Happy Holidays!!

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!

Museum, Enchilada Fries and We Go Solar

We’re down to our last few days here in New Mexico and we’re trying to make the most of them before we pull up stakes and head to Arizona for the winter.

Another beautiful sunrise at Pancho Villa State Park

On Wednesday morning we visited the Columbus Depot Museum which is housed in the old train depot and operated by the Columbus Historical Society. The building itself is worth seeing with the old original floors and windows. They have one room dedicated to the Pancho Villa raid from March 9, 1916, including a diorama that shows how the town was laid out at the time, as well as one of Pancho’s sombreros, the door of the bank vault with a bullet hole in it, and lots of other memorabilia.

A second room is dedicated to railroad memorabilia, as Columbus was originally a railroad town where trains would move soldiers to/from Camp Furlong, ore from the mines in Arizona, and passengers headed west from El Paso. The third room contains a lot of antique household and business items from the early 1900’s.

Inside the Train Room in the Columbus Depot Museum

There’s a small gift shop just inside the entrance that sells trinkets and books. Outside the building there is an old fire engine, some more old farm equipment, and a gazebo that is a recreation of the reviewing stand where General Pershing stood to review the troops as they marched back into the US after chasing Villa’s army through northern Mexico after the raid.

The gentleman who was working in the museum that morning was quite a crusty character. He’s a volunteer, so he gets a free RV spot behind the museum (there’s a second volunteer and they trade shifts). He had his dog with him at his desk, and seeing as how we were the only ones that visited the museum that morning, he was ready to talk…and talk….and talk. He was pretty entertaining, especially later when we could overhear his phone conversation with someone regarding current events….let’s just say he was colorful. 🙂

After touring the museum, we walked across the street and had lunch at the Borderland Cafe so we could contribute to the local economy. This is a popular spot with the locals, as evidenced by the number of people that stopped in for lunch wearing construction vests or cowboy hats and boots. They offered a few veggie options–I got the veg-wich which was a sandwich made with hummus and veggies. Andy got the veggie pizza which was very good. One of their specialties is their enchilada fries–french fries covered with green Hatch chile sauce and Menonite cheese. We split an order of those.

Enchilada fries at the Borderland Cafe in Columbus NM

Yesterday (Thursday) we had to say “See you down the road!” to our new friend, fellow nomad and guitarist-extraordinaire Gary Piazza, who had reached the 14-day stay limit here in the park. He’s moving to nearby Rockhound State Park for a few days before heading to Payson, Arizona where he has a gig waiting. Safe travels, Gary!!

We spent yesterday afternoon hanging out at the local library/computer center, using their speedy wi-fi to do some research on boondocking spots in Arizona and planning our travels for the next week or so.

And speaking of boondocking….

We are about to embark on a whole new chapter in our RV living experience. To date, we have only boondocked twice that I remember. The first time was in a Walmart parking lot in Chattanooga, TN in September 2017 when we were on our way to our first RV rally in Sevierville, TN. The second time was the first night after we hit the road back in August, when we stayed at a Harvest Host location, Landry Vineyards in Monroe, LA.

In each of those cases we didn’t have to be too concerned about how much water, tank capacity or battery power we used because we were only off-grid for one night before getting back to hook-ups. But our plans for the next few months are to spend quite a bit of time off-grid, camping for free on BLM land primarily, so we’ll need to learn to camp differently and more conservatively.

For electric power, we do have a generator that uses gas from the fuel tank on the RV. The generator can charge the house batteries as well as provide power for energy hogs like the microwave and the air conditioner. But we would like to limit the use of the generator as much as possible to conserve gasoline and lower our fuel costs.

And since we are going to be spending a large portion of our time in the Southwest where the sun shines almost every day, it just made sense to invest in a solar system.

Kodiak portable solar generator and panels

After doing a lot of research over the past year, we settled on a solar kit that includes the Kodiak portable solar generator, three 100-watt solar panels, cables, and three outdoor lights. We ordered it yesterday from Earthtech Products and made arrangements to have it shipped to a friend’s house in Phoenix where we’ll pick it up when it arrives in a few weeks (thanks, Nicki and Avery!!).

The Kodiak is a 90 amp-hour lithium battery. The unit has multiple plugs which can be used to keep all our devices charged. In fact, there’s even a 30-amp plug where we could plug the RV directly into the unit to run small things like lights and fans if our house batteries should fail.

If you’re interested in the system, here’s a link Earthtech’s website where you can get the specs.

The cost? Total was $2215, including a car charger which will charge the Kodiak from the alternator while we’re driving the RV.

So yes, this is an investment, not just an expense. The solar panels will allow us to keep our house batteries charged so we can stay off-grid longer, and the Kodiak will provide a secondary power source when we need extra charging power for phones, laptop, Kindles, walkie-talkies, cameras…all that electronic gear.

We do have a couple of maintenance items in the RV that need to be addressed. The light fixture over the kitchen sink appears to have a faulty switch…it keeps dimming and brightening intermittently. Also we have some weather stripping on the passenger-side over-cab area that has come loose and needs to be replaced. Handy Andy will be taking care of these items soon.

Today we’re going to make one last trip across the border to have lunch in Palomas and, yes, visit the bakery again. Tomorrow we’ll drive to Deming to pick up our latest mail packet from our mail service in Livingston, TX, get some groceries, do a little sight-seeing and visit a local coffee shop that looks interesting.

And then on Sunday, we break camp and head west.

Life is good in the Borderlands!

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Stay safe, follow your dreams, and live every day as if it’s your last!!