Sunday, January 28, 2018

Let's Hope This Means We've Broken the Fire Curse

The night before last something woke me around 1am. The wind was howling.  I did a check on each of the animals and the bus and was heading back to bed when I noticed a strange glow on the neighbor's porch.

We are parked in an RV park, and right up against the property line are some 3-story tall condos.  The strange light was flickering on the balcony of one of the 2nd-story condos.  I sat down to watch it for a while.  Our 2017 Napa and Brookings wildfire experiences are still very fresh in my mind. In fact, I still find ash here and there in the bus and trailer from one or both of them.

The neighbor's patio fire started out small enough, probably from a short BBQ grill, a candle in a pail or perhaps a cigarette butt in a trash can on his balcony.  I hoped that it would fizzle out, it did not. Eventually it melted the can it was living in and I thought "that's the end of it, it should be out of fuel now", but no... it picked up speed and started throwing sparks sideways onto the downwind neighbor's balcony.  That's when I woke up Lance.

Let me tell you, nothing will get a man out of bed faster than  a firm shake of his leg and the words "honey, wake up, fire".  He leapt out of bed like a scalded cat, feet already in motion before he hit the ground.

We went out to look at it together.  There was a fence between our property and the condos.  We climbed the tree on our side but couldn't get high enough to get a good look at the fuel source.  We didn't know which condo belonged to which person and decided against banging on everyone's doors.  We were still trying to figure out how to get our RV ladder over the fence and up onto his balcony with our RV fire extinguisher when the wind kicked up again and we saw sparks land on his downwind neighbor's patio furniture.  We decided with the strength of the wind it could get beyond us too quickly; I made the 911 call.  It was just before 2:00 am.

The dispatcher had a hard time understanding my voice over the wind, and opted to just send a police officer to our location. He told her over the radio on his shoulder "yes, it's a fire" and almost immediately we heard sirens down the highway coming fast in our direction.  We moved our car (coincidentally parked in front of that condo) to make room for the firefighters to do their thing. The officer disappeared into the condo building.

Within minutes the big fire truck pulled into the yard - those guys are FAST.  They turned off the siren at the entrance but left the lights flashing and parked right in the middle of the RV park.  The first firefighter jumped out of the truck wearing a helmet and a full firesuit and got the ladder down.  He carried it to the fence and was trying to negotiate his way past it when the police officer and the homeowner opened the sliding glass door and came out.  The homeowner said "I got it" and dumped the contents of a tea kettle on it.  Just like that: disaster averted. Smoke, fizzle, done.  The firefighter looked a little crestfallen not to get to deploy the big ladder, and loaded it back onto the truck, then left the lights flashing in the middle of the park for what seemed like an eternity while discussing it with the reserves that had followed the truck in.  I went instantly from worried to relieved to worried again, this time that my RV park neighbors would all hate me in the morning for waking them.  Then I think back to the sparks and the crazy wind and I'm sure making the call was the right thing to do.

I'm hoping this means that our run of bad fire karma has come to an end; I would really like this to be the last one I experience for a while. By 3:00 we were back in bed, eyes wide, and by the next morning it all seemed like someone else's story, or a bad dream.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Key West, where the roosters rule

We made the trek from Key Largo to Key West today.

End of the Road
Said one mannequin to the other "let's catch a ride"
The down-home sound of roosters is Key West's soundtrack

Typical Key West architecture

Cholo Chicken taking charge of his corner

Next stop, Cuba
Key West Lighthouse, Round 2.  The first one was washed away in a hurricane long ago. They therefore placed this one inland a bit.

Lance and Chloe at the Southernmost Beach

Pelicans hangin' out

On our way home, at the beginning of 7-mile bridge (you may recall it from the movie True Lies - they blew up a portion of the old one in the movie) , all the dash warning lights started flashing on the Subaru.  So we'll be hunting down a repair shop tomorrow. Good thing we made it home safely, that long and narrow bridge was not the place for a breakdown.


It all started out simply enough.  The lady that runs the park asked us if we would mind volunteering Sunday evening so she could watch her beloved Patriots in the playoffs.  To which Lance replied, pointing at me, "sure, she'll do it, she hates football".  To which I replied "&*)%$#^... yeah, he'll be helping too".  And our fates were sealed, just like that and we became Bingo Staff.

I have have never participated in a bingo game, never even seen bingo played, don't know the rules or the etiquette or anything at all about it.  We were told not to worry, just show up and Frank would tell us what to do.

We arrived a little early in case they needed help with the setup (they didn't), and got to enjoy a birds-eye view of the players walking in.
Rubber chicken - lucky somehow?
The first couple in the door came in proudly carrying a rubber chicken. Yes, a rubber chicken.  They meticulously laid it out on the table between them and they each pet it once reverently before settling in.

Shortly afterwards, the old ladies arrived in an assortment of colorful sweaters and scowling faces, clucking to themselves and each other, reminding me of angry parrots.  The oldest, tiniest parrot struggled with placement of her cane and getting comfortable.

One young lady settled in at a separate table with a well-worn fashionable hat and a polished shell which she carefully placed at the top center of her workspace.  Then she stretched her elbows out in each direction to be sure she had space.  At her very own table.

Ooooooo this was going to be good.
Frank turns out to be a local live-aboard sailor who uses the RV park dock to make landfall with his dinghy now and then.  He has the perfect temperament for these things, as he is quite unflappable, a characteristic I find many experienced sailors share, I liked him immediately.  He set about setting up the bingo table, and handed me $20 in small bills for making change.  My job was to sell the bingo cards.

Then Lance was handed a bucket with some tickets, his job was to sell cookie tickets. Oddly enough I never saw any actual cookies so it's some part of the game I still don't entirely understand.  We started working the room.

When I made it around to the oldest, tiniest parrot with the cane, she snarled at me that she wasn't ready yet "can you just wait a minute until I'm SETTLED!"  which caused me to jump back a step.  So I circled back to her last, and when she scowled at me again my natural reply was "well you appear to be seated now, do you want a card or not, I think they are mandatory equipment for this game" which got a snicker from the other parrots while she just scowled and shoved the bills at me.

Later down the table the parrot wearing the "upholstery" as Lance coined it clutched at my arm and reminded me to have the caller call out ALL the numbers OUT LOUD.  Which she said pointedly while making eye contact with me and shaking her ink dauber in a stabbing-type motion.

And we were off.  After the first couple of rounds I saw the rhythm of the thing; sell the cards, call a raffle number and giveaway something, pull the bingo balls and call the numbers, fetch the winning card and have Frank verify it, give away the money, repeat.  The club keeps a very small portion of the cash for a scholarship program of some sort.  Frank is also a volunteer.  Let me repeat that before we head into the next chapter: Frank is a volunteer.

After round 3 the rubber chicken couple pulled me aside and told me I should remind Frank to read out every number on each winning card so that the whole room could verify it at the same time as he and I were verifying it. "We called bingo, we know" they said with an air of authority.

The tiny parrot with the cane is making eyes at Lance. I pretend not to notice.

The upholstery parrot huffs as I walk by "I won't be coming back next week". Lance makes a horrified "oh no" face, which sends me into giggles.  She'll be back.

The night wears on, I make my rounds with cards.  Folks wanted the card from the top, the bottom, the middle. Apparently some cards are luckier than others, I had some cards refused and peeled off others at parrot request.

Oh, and there's Absent Man. Every time I come around to sell cards he's nowhere to be found.  I know his pattern is to only buy one card, but still it doesn't seem right to handle his cash pile which he leaves on the table when he wanders away, so I skip him.  Which inevitably means that he will chase me down RIGHT as the first ball is being pulled to buy a card. Which I give to Frank and he has to update the pot amount over the air. Perhaps that's the point, to hear his $2 contribution over the air.

I notice as we progress that the fashionable hat lady has different colored ink daubers for each of the cards laid out in front of her. And yet even with the switching of the ink daubers she still doesn't seem ruffled to get it all done before the next number is called. She's also sort of watching the football game, and also not winning anything.  I wonder why she's here.  After the second game she quietly brings in a small colorful blanket and drapes it over the old man wearing a Weekend At Bernie's hat in the corner.  I never heard him complain and she never said anything to him, and they are completely across the room from one another.  I wonder if she's really into this game at all or if she is actually an extremely skilled and subtle caregiver.

On and off throughout the night one parrot would tell me to turn up the heat because she's freezing and two feet away a different parrot would tell me to turn up the A/C because she was absolutely melting.  There's no way to please all of them for sure as their requests are all polar opposites.

At various points throughout the night the players yell at Frank when a light doesn't light up quickly enough; those sensors are a little cranky, I noticed a few times he put the ball in the correct hole but the light on the board didn't light up anyways, which resulted in huffs and growls around the room.  In fact, they use any excuse at all to yell at Frank, the upholstery parrot leading the charge.  Still, he remains unflappable.

Later Frank tells me this is why his wife won't help out anymore. She couldn't take the abuse from the parrots.  Which makes me sad. He's a great guy and a VOLUNTEER, it's a scholarship program, and it seems to me that everyone should be having fun. I am certainly getting a kick out of the whole thing.

Who could have known that Bingo was such serious business? 

Friday, January 19, 2018

Six months, my perspective

Movie set outside of Lancaster, CA
A really big canyon somewhere in Arizona
Shakedown trip to Utah at the end of June 2 weeks before we closed on the house.
January 17th marks 6 months of full-timing, what a ride! We have met interesting people, seen parts of the US that we've never seen before, and encountered a whole new group of local animals. I saw a spoonbill today, unfortunately no camera. It looks like a flamingo with a
flattened spoon shaped bill (hence the name). 

The people on the road have been remarkably friendly and helpful, always ready with a restaurant recommendation, advice on campgrounds, or a local point of interest. 

Loretta is behaving remarkably well, coming up on 10,000 miles since we purchased her. We haven't used a drop of oil and she starts every time. 
Monterey Breakwater near the Coast Guard dock
Shawna's office is coming together and our We-Boost cell signal amplifier is working well, between ATT, Sprint, Verizon, and local WiFi we are always able to work online. 

Joss House, Weaverville, CA
Travel days are still stressful for me as all of the roads are new to us. I worry about getting into a tight spot towing the trailer or a catastrophic breakdown in heavy traffic.  I'm glad the bus has been so reliable but my anxiety remains. That being said it wouldn't be an adventure without some danger, real or imagined. 

Surprise rainstorm raised the water level at Trinity lake, CA
The animals are settling in finally, the cats are resigned to indoor life, and Chloe lets us know when she wants to go out. The pet hair is a constant battle however, we vacuum two or three times a day on average. The Dyson has been a lifesaver.

Life on the road has been a little more expensive than I imagined and now that my foot is mostly healed I have no disability income. I'm working to get some video up on YouTube, however my VR camera is being repaired. My video equipment now includes a DJI Mavic Pro drone that I hope to use for some good overhead shots. The real surprise has been the Nikon B700, nice glass for a point and shoot, and good video at 1080p 120fps. It will shoot 4k video but for only 7:30 minutes and 30 fps so not very good for fast action.

I may add a GoPro or a Garmin VIRB as the VR camera has been so unreliable.
Brookings, OR

We have settled into a routine for travel days. Shawna works in the morning (if it's a work day) while I pack up and disconnect the the bus. We withhold food from the cats (Stewie gets the whirlybirds, and Starfish just throws up if we feed them). We then verify that Google maps agrees substantially with the Garmin GPS.  One of us takes the dog and drives the Subaru, the other the bus. I'll drive the bus if Shawna has to work in the evening and we try to limit the miles to about 250. If it's not a work day we will set a short goal (~250 miles) but if the roads are good and we are feeling ok we will have a stretch goal of 400 miles or so.
Clear Lake, CA Mt. Konacti in the background.
We like to stay in sites that are pull-through so we don't have to disconnect the trailer. If there are none available it's not a big deal to back in with the trailer if there is room. 

We haven't ridden the motorcycles as much as I thought we would, mostly due to weather. Just about all the bikers in Florida ride Harleys, the roads are long and straight with slow moving traffic, perfect for hogs. Not ideal for dualsport bikes however.  Soon enough we will go in search of some windy/twisties.

We plan on taking out the kayak and paddleboard as soon as the wind dies down.  
Red Tailed Hawk Skyline Park, Napa, CA
Shellville, CA
Harvest host on highway 140 between I99 and Yosemite
We have no immediate plans to sell the Subaru, it's a great grocery-getter and we can tow the utility trailer with it in a pinch, but it adds a lot to our expenses. Shopping is a challenge, both online and grocery. Amazon is not happy with my constantly changing address and has cancelled orders because of suspected fraud. I had them put a note in my file that I was traveling, but now I worry I will be the victim of stolen account info. They verify every purchase with me now.

I now have five or six customer loyalty cards for grocery stores, none of which seem to work in the town we are in. So add one more.
Castello di Amorosa, Napa, CA

While I am enjoying our adventure so far, I miss being on the ocean. There is a lot more to see however, and we are just getting started.
Near Bodega Bay, CA
Rio Vista, CA

Monday, January 15, 2018

Six Months Down the Road

Our home closed escrow on July 17th. Which means we're about at the 6-month mile marker. It's review time...

First, I can report that without a doubt, I still do NOT miss being a homeowner.

Secondly, I can report that what I do miss about California is the hugs and face-to-face interactions with friends, family and clients, our favorite restaurants, and consistent access to fresh salads.

Thirdly, I don't miss the stuff.  Mostly. Well, I really miss our boat and there will be another one someday.  Other than that we are still shedding stuff we don't need off the bus. It's so much easier to move through life with less stuff. That's a change I should have made years ago.

The camper's dock at Coe Landing, just West of Tallahassee
Mostly our new life is what we expected it to be and what we make of it.  One thing that did come as a surprise is the strategy exhaustion caused sometimes by the little everyday things we used to do on autopilot such as groceries, doctor visits, post office visits, minor car maintenance such as oil changes and knowing immediately where to go for the best ___ (insert whatever food you're craving today).  This everyday research compounds quickly when sudden changes are introduced (such as those forced by weather or breakdowns) and saps energy at an alarming rate. Coming up with a Plan B and Plan C can be a tiring proposition; such was the case when we were offered a spot on the Florida Keys ahead of schedule and suddenly found ourselves mapping out a plan of attack to cover 1400+miles in less than a week during my busy work season.  RVers have coined a phrase for this: "decision fatigue" and if left unchecked it can be a source of arguments, or at the very least the throwing up of hands and loud exclamations of "fine, you figure it out then!"  Some experienced full-timers book locations for a month at a time to mitigate the effects of decision fatigue but it came as a surprise to us, so new RVers beware, it's a real thing.

Otherwise, we are getting better about coming up with guidelines that work for us.  Here's what we have so far:

Guidelines for Happy Campers

Schedule regular workdays and don't move on those days.  If we absolutely must move on a workday, get up early and get the urgent work done first, and then make it a short hop so there's energy left to do the rest of the work after settling in.

Plan a 200-mile day.  And a stretch goal of 300-350 miles if the miles are likely to be easy.  While planning all that take notice of potential repair and emergency overnight sites in case of disaster.

Always dump the RV before we go (Lance covered this in detail his last post - the handling of the blackwater tank is a consistent subject around the RV campground and everybody has opinions about it).  And load some fresh water.  Load some groceries too, we prefer things that can be thrown together as a grazing-type meal such as jerky, nuts, cheese, crackers, fruit.  You'll be grateful you did this in advance if you break down or suffer other delays, or decide to forego all stops and reach for the stretch goal.

Enjoy life like a local. Don't try to do all the tourist stuff, it's expensive and fattening.

Enjoy the location for what it is; if you're in Texas, enjoy the steak or TexMex, don't lament the lack of sushi joints to choose from. It's a waste of energy and you are missing the point.

Some sites are more social than others. Still, that doesn't mean I need to hang around every day and night chatting, eating and (most importantly) drinking cocktails. In fact, if the dog and I take off alone for a long walk or if I wander through a local shop while Lance chats with the dudes at the bar, the toolshed or the fishing pier, that means we both get our own take on the local life, and we have something to talk about together later.

Do the dishes. Now. There's no room for them to stack up.

Expect people to be nice and they will mostly be nice. In six months we've only had a few human incidents; one where we were overcharged for a small repair, one where we were overcharged for a night spot and one where the gal in charge of hospitality was not friendly - she clearly chose the wrong profession. Everyone else we've encountered has been interesting, helpful, friendly, and willing to share their wealth of wisdom. We've never felt unsafe.

Book difficult destinations early.
Wing the rest. 
Over-committing causes stress.

All in all, we are still loving our life on the road.  Folks who aren't RVers always ask us "when and where are you going to settle down" as if it's a foregone conclusion that we will become homeowners again.  Our reply thus far is "when it stops being fun", who knows how long that will take. RVers, on the other hand, ask us where we have been so far and then readily supply a list of places we need to see next.  So our To See/Do List keeps getting longer, despite the miles we've already put on.

America is beautiful and there's still so much to see. Six months in, and my only regret so far is that we didn't start sooner.

Shawna driving on 7 Mile Bridge between the FL Keys

Thursday, January 4, 2018


Our Christmas card this year.

I am working on a degree in poopology, as a sailor and full-time RVer I have come to know a lot guessed it, poop. To 99% of the American pooping public the last time you think about "dropping the kids of at the pool" is when they swirl away down the drain. Not so with the poopologist, take a brief look with me at the dark side of excrement. To those of you who are en-sewered I first need to introduce you to a new concept, the "holding" (boats) or the "blackwater" (RV) tank. Primarily used as a place to generate horrendous odors, it can also be used as temporary storage for le deuce et al. Part of my duties on bus or boat is the care and feeding of the turd gobbler. I've come up with a few simple rules to make this job a little less shitty.
This is where the magic happens

Rule one, never pass up a chance to empty the tank before traveling, in a boat go to the pump out, in an rv go to the dump station. Flush with fresh water if possible. After a night of boondocking we had planned a short day of travel, about 120 miles, rather than dump at our first opportunity, we figured we would be in the campground with full hookups before noon. Long story short, the bus broke down in 100 degree heat and it was three days before we were back on the road. Here I would like to describe the smell, but my mind has blocked it out in an effort to preserve my sanity. 

Rule two, always wear gloves to empty the holding tank. No brainer, right? Remember whether boat or bus it is always trying to cover you in effluent.
P.S. Keep your mouth closed. (Don't ask)

Rule three, don't put anything down the toilet. This is the only way I have found to prevent tank issues, maybe distilled water would be OK but remember, if it can smell it will smell. Everyone has their own way of preventing buildup in the holding tank, from ice in the tank (supposed to knock buildup off the tank while you drive) to chemical cocktails of one sort or another. I've tried filling the tanks with fresh water overnight and draining in the morning, store bought chemical pellets, and various combinations of water softener and detergent. Every once in a while my tank sensors will work, usually for one fill and empty cycle and for a brief moment I'll have hope. It won't be long till they fail, and back to the drawing board. If you are looking for ways to keep the deuce demon at bay, don't look here.  If I find an answer I'll post it as an addendum. My only real advice is never pass up a chance to poop somewhere else. Life on the road has its ups and downs but it's hardly ever shitty