September 14, 2014

Seeing Home With A Fresh Eye

Dorothy may have been right. After two months away, I can appreciate her "there's no place like home" sentiment. Travel is fun and energizing. But, home is, well, home.

Being away offers an important opportunity to look at where and how you live with a fresh eye. Things you take for granted may have been missing, or different, while you were away. Something that happened on a trip may give you a few ideas that can be integrated into your daily life. You may return with a new dedication to experience all that your hometown has to offer.


Our home for the last thirty years has been the Phoenix metropolitan area. While the brutal heat for 4 months every summer can wear down even the most intrepid desert lover, there is so much to be thankful for. This trip reminded me of what I too often take from granted:


1) The lack of freezing weather, snow, and road salt means major streets and freeways are usually free of potholes and never-ending rough patches. The side streets near my home are not in the best of shape, but the majority of time I am traveling on smooth, new, roads. That was not the case throughout most of the Midwest and Rocky Mountain states.


2) Phoenix benefits from having several major grocery chains battling for every last percentage of business. Food prices are much lower than any place we were over the past two months. Betty and I were shocked at the prices we encountered and changed our menus accordingly. Milk almost $4.00 a gallon? We pay $1.89 most weeks. 


3) The weather is consistent, with very few surprises. Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, hail, heavy rain, snow, or high winds are rarely part of our lives. Severe weather is so infrequent that years may pass between such extreme happenings. Over 300 days a year are sunny, many of those with no clouds. Humidity averages in the single digits. It is seriously hot from late May until mid September and remains quite warm until late October. But, we know that and plan accordingly. The RV trip reminded us that violent, unpredictable weather with wild swings between heat and cold, storms and clam are normal elsewhere. Oh, and our 70 degree days in December & January are very nice.


4) I love my solid, quick Internet service. One of the most consistent complaints about RV parks is the poor quality of WiFi service. Everyone has it, but the ability to connect or stay connected is always a roll of the dice. Of the twenty two campgrounds we visited, exactly three had high speed, high quality connections. That is never a problem at home. 


5) We have a pretty, relaxing, inviting backyard. I use it much too infrequently. That will change. 


How about the downside, things that I wish home had that many of the places we visited did:


1) Rivers and streams with water in them. Most of the "rivers" in my part of the country are dry creek beds. Betty and I like the sound of running, falling water. The closest we come at home is a fountain in the backyard.


2) What Betty calls "real trees:" trees with big green leaves instead of thorns or stickers. Sitting under a shade tree is something that is hard to experience at home.


3) The Phoenix area has 4.5 million residents. That creates non-stop traffic, air pollution, and few places where you can be alone. Many of the towns we visited had fewer than 2,000 folks....some were lucky to break 500. The sense of openness and lack of traffic problems was a blessing.



Betty and I are "selective travelers." We enjoy going different places and experiencing life in a new way. But, neither of us would be happy being away from home and family for more than a few months a year. The time we can spend with my dad, daughters, son-in-law, and grandkids is too precious.

RV travel and an occasional trip to Europe or Hawaii will remain part of our future. So will being close to home for most of the year.



Saddle up


September 11, 2014

Back Home Safe And Sound

Our great RV summer adventure is over. After 12 loads of laundry and several days of unpacking, our life is beginning to assume a normal routine. There are still important things left to be done to the RV before we can close it down until our January trip to the Palm Springs Film Festival. But, we are safely back in our home.

Several readers have asked for an idea of what something like this costs. As you might imagine, I kept rather detailed records of what we were spending. While I am not comfortable sharing exact dollar amounts here are some final percentages:

We spent 6.5% more than I had budgeted. Almost all of that over-spending went into the gas tank of the RV and car. About a year ago when I started planning this trip I had not anticipated the significant increase in gas costs, the full effect of towing a car behind the RV, and the difference in fuel costs in different parts of the country. Frankly, I though gas in the Midwest and Rocky Mountain areas would be cheaper than in Phoenix, but not so. Prices approached $4.00 a gallon in several areas we visited, making $125 stops at the pump not uncommon.

Of the total amount spent 43% went right into the gas tanks. In fact, our trip was shortened by about a week because of the cost of fuel. 26% of the total paid for our nightly campsites and 13% for food in the RV. The rest was spent on gifts, mementos, stuff for Bailey, occasional meals out, and admissions to museums and parks.

We spent somewhat more than $115 per day for this 5,160 mile trip. A decent hotel, meals, and gas costs for a typical vacation is usually more than that so the RV approach is less expensive, but not substantially. 

Importantly, Betty and I agree that this time away was worth every penny. We grew as individuals and a couple. We saw things that enriched our lives and gave us a new appreciation for the beauty and vastness of this country. We gained a renewed love for where we live and the blessings of our life. We not only survived being in a very small space together (with a dog!) but enjoyed it tremendously. 

Disappointments? Sure. The weather was not cooperative for most of the trip. The first three weeks were spent in places having heat waves that almost rivaled temperatures in Scottsdale. That was followed by cold snaps that meant we had to wear sweatshirts and coats, plus run the RV's furnace while we slept. We were able to set up our outside grill only twice. The bugs and flies were so thick that eating or sitting outside to read and relax, became the exception rather than the norm. As I mentioned in an earlier post, too many of our roads and Interstate highways are falling apart.

But, none of those irritations was enough to cause us to question the trip. The friendliness of the people we met, the beauty of the countryside and the thrill of each new discovery made the journey one we will cherish forever. The planning for next summer's trip to Oregon has already begun.

Betty took almost 14,000 pictures...an amazing average of 230 a day! Many of them are stunning and awe-inspiring. Several will eventually make it onto our walls at home.

I will have posts over the next several months that highlight many of the best. But, to whet your appetite here is just a handful of some of the RV parks that we called home or places within a short drive





Putting dozens of patches on the RV spare wheel cover










See the finished wheel cover!


Devil's Tower as seen from our campsite







The Falls at Sioux Falls were just 10 minutes away



Yes, a Las Vegas RV Park Pool




September 3, 2014

The Four "Cs" of RV Travel

We are nearing the end of our 2 month long RV adventure. Safely home (I hope!) sometime early next week, I imagine things will quickly resume their usual patterns and rhythms. Our calendars and to do lists are already starting to fill up with the necessities of life.

What I sincerely hope is Betty and I can manage to take all we have learned about each other and ourselves and integrate as much as possible into our home life. Both of us believe this was a tremendously positive time for us. We are returning with a renewed commitment to each other and the life we have shared for over 38 years.

I will certainly be posting lots of pictures and some stories of the trip over the next several weeks. I have been asked to provide an idea of the costs we encountered, especially for things like gas and campsites. As of today we are about 7% over budget – not too bad.

Before I go any farther with this post, I do want to note that I have decided to continue Satisfying Retirement. Regular readers know I started this trip with a real question about my motivation and desire to maintain this 4 year old blog after our return. Well, I have had over 4,500 miles and 59 days so far to think about my blogging future, and the answer is I do want to keep writing. 

Most likely I will adopt a schedule of a fresh post every 4th day sometime shortly after our return. That is slightly less than the twice a week posting before this trip. But, that frequency feels doable and comfortable.

OK, so back to the subject at hand: what are the four Cs of RV travel? Interestingly, these came to me well over a month ago, and haven’t changed. These points seem to be the essence of a successful trip of this type.

Compromise:

I want to take a nap, or read, or go to a particular museum in town. Betty wants to download photos to the computer or take Bailey to a local park for a long walk. She would like dinner at 6:30pm, I am hungry by 5:30pm. I am content with an afternoon of people watching while she wants to visit an antique store a few miles away. I get tired of movies most evenings, Betty never does.

RV travel is compromise on steroids. Each of us has things we’d like to do at each new town we visit, and things we’d rather avoid. But, like marriage in any setting, compromise is a absolute necessity to make the time together a joy.


Cooperation:

Being inside a 30 foot metal and fiberglass box for an extended period is not the way most of us live our lives. Usable living space is probably 100 square feet. For two adults and a dog that is tight…no, it is dangerous. We have to plan when one of us wants to walk past the bathroom and shower to take a nap….both of us won’t fit at the same time. The kitchen has about 3 square feet of counter space, after we put a cover over the stove top. Cooking and cleanup are difficult. So, it is important that we cooperate to make life not only bearable, but actually enjoyable.

(The) Calendar:

After two or three weeks on the road neither of us could, with any certainty, be able to tell the other the day of the week or the date. In one sense, there is a sameness to this type of trip. After a while RV campgrounds start to look the same and the hours spent driving from one town to the next blend together. But, the important point is that the date of the month or even the specific day of the week becomes unimportant. What begins to matter are the experiences and memories. Except that we have reservations to be at a particular RV park on a certain date, the calendar becomes unimportant.

(Being a little) Crazy:

To spend two months with many of our normal creature comforts no longer part of a daily routine requires an openness that may border on being slightly crazy. Deciding if the shower facility at a particular campground is clean enough to use, putting $100 worth of gas into an apparently bottomless pit of an RV gas tank every other day, taking Bailey out at 6 in the morning, in the cold, to do her business, and wearing the same small wardrobe week after week can become tiring. The dust is everywhere and dead bugs become the new look of the windshield and front of the RV. The menu is restricted to what a small refrigerator ( and even smaller freezer) can hold between shopping trips. When you want to stay in touch with family and friends, Internet connections, even cell phone service, can be frustratingly poor.

It helps tremendously to let yourself go. If you want your regular lifestyle and all that implies, you are going to be frustrated. If you like a vacation with room service, clean sheets every night, and a poolside cocktail, stay away from the RV dealer.

If you want the chance to discover more about your life partner and yourself and if you want to see America and all its wonders up close and personal, the four Cs are your guide.

It may be called the Badlands - but not for everything!


August 28, 2014

One Time Only Experiences

Living in the moment is wise counsel that I ignore way too often. I spend copious amounts of time and energy worrying about the future or rehashing the past. The former I can't really control and the latter is past all control. Even, so, give me 15 minutes and I will probably spend 13 of it that way.

One of the positives of an RV trip (or any type of travel that removes you from your normal routine and place) is the chance to experience something that you will never experience again. Time, place, weather, and attitude combine in a unique way. At least for me on this trip, I was in places I have never been before and not likely to ever revisit. And, for whatever reasons, I was able to simply "be" there.

One of the most pleasant of these "one-timers" was spent in a tremendous city park on the north side of Menominee, Michigan, overlooking Green Bay. On a nearly cloudless afternoon Betty and I found a wide spot along the road, complete with shade trees, a picnic table, and the perfect spot for two folding chairs. 

We simply sat, read, looked at the water and the gulls, listened to the water lapping up against the rocks, and chatted about whatever entered our minds. 




Because dogs aren't allowed in the park, after a few hours we needed to go back to the RV to give Bailey some attention and the chance to do her business. But, for that small piece of a Sunday afternoon we forgot everything but what was happening at that moment. We both recognized we would never be in that spot again.

This mindfulness of the moment enriches us with priceless memories and allows us to be still, with each other and nature.

What a blessing.