RV Life Highs and Lows…and Highs

Full time RV life is a great adventure, but, adventure isn’t always fun. The highs are amazing but, unfortunately, so are the lows. You have to be ready to adapt and make the best of bad situations. We’ve had to learn this lesson, mostly the hard way.

Labor Day began bright and early at Great Sand Dunes Oasis, a store just outside the gates of Great Sand Dunes National Park, where we rented sand sleds for the day. A sand sled is made of plywood with an upturned front and a small cushion near the rear to sit on. Along with the sled you get a block of wax that you rub on the bottom of the sled then polish by rubbing the sled on sand before you make your run. After we got our sleds, we drove a couple miles to the parking area, gathered our sleds, sunscreen, and hats and headed for the dunes.

Walking on sand dunes is not easy, for every step forward you fall back at least a half step. Walking on sand dunes at 8000 feet of elevation quickly becomes a slog because there is less oxygen to breath. It felt like it took forever to walk the mile from the parking area up the first, and smallest, dune because we had to stop more than once to catch our breath.

But, everything changed once we were on our sand sleds. We had an absolute blast sledding down the dune! We both wiped out spectacularly and repeatedly but, once we got the hang of it, we wiped out even more spectacularly in between a few good runs. The downside, of course, is that each good run down was followed by a long slow walk back up the dune. After a few hours we were covered in sand and close to exhaustion. We each made one last run down a steeper slope. Carolyn wiped out, rolled a few feet then stood up, laughing, and got back on her sled to finish the run. My final run went through a patch of soft sand and I ate a lot of it. Completely exhausted now, we slowly made our way back to Belvedere and dumped the sand out of our shoes (and shorts). Then our luck began to change.

The weather forecast for the next day was a surprise early winter storm that would bring lots of snow and freezing temperatures across a large portion of Colorado. We made a decision to cancel our reservations at the campground inside the park and head somewhere that wasn’t expected to freeze. That led to some quick research to find a place that wouldn’t have sub freezing temperatures. We decided our best bet was to head to lower elevation about three hours away in Montrose, Colorado. Decision made, we headed out to fill up on diesel and start the 4 hour drive.

Thank Goodness For Our TPMS

There is absolutely nothing but open land for about fifteen miles between Great Sand Dunes and the town of Mosca. On a desolate county road about five miles from the gas station , the alarm on our tire pressure monitoring system went off. It showed us losing pressure in one of our rear tires at an alarming rate! With no room to pull off on the side of the road, we had no choice but to limp to the gas station in Mosca. Once there, I asked if there was anyone who could help us with our tire. The very nice lady pointed me to a truck and tire company just six miles down the road. I filled up our tire and we limped to the little town of Hooper and pulled into the tire place.

Did I mention it was Labor Day? The tire place was closed and our tire was now down to 14psi, so we called roadside assistance and they dispatched help. When they arrived and got the tire off we could see that the valve stem had cracked and broken off on the way to Hooper, taking the TPMS cap sensor with it. While I was unhappy about losing the sensor, I also realized we were VERY lucky that the tire did not blow out.

Belvedere waiting for her tire to come back.
The remains of the valve stem after it had been removed and replaced.

It had taken about an hour for help to arrive, and once they arrived and got the tire off, they decided to take the tire back to their shop, repair it there then bring it back. A process that ended up taking another three hours. That’s when we learned that being broken down is a very different experience in an RV. We were parked in an empty parking lot, not on the side of the road. So, while we waited, we made lunch and settled down to watch tv while eating ice cream. Carolyn even took a nap. Except for the road noise it was kinda nice to have a quiet afternoon after such an active morning.

Finally, we were able to get back on the road. But, it was now five o’clock and we still had a three and a half hour drive ahead of us on winding roads and the smoky sky meant darkness would fall earlier than normal. We decided not to stop for anything else and get as far as we could before dark. In fact, we were so intent on getting over the mountains that we barely noticed the sign when we drove over the Continental Divide for the first time ever. There was simply no time to stop for pictures.

After all the twists and turns on dark roads we finally pulled into Centennial RV Park outside of Montrose. I’m very grateful to the campground owners for meeting us at the office when we rolled in. We were also both thankful for the long hot showers to wash all the sand off before we climbed into bed. It’s not a large park, but it’s very nice. In different circumstances we would definitely stay there again.

The next morning, Tuesday, was the day the storm would be rolling in and, while no snow was predicted for Montrose, there would be plenty of rain. Since we had booked at the last minute, we only got to stay at Centennial for one night. We unhooked and moved to a another campground that had a spot for the next three nights. The rain was just beginning to fall as we got hooked up. I opted to not hook up the water hose in case it got down below freezing. Fortunately, it never did.

Exploring Montrose

Until the storm forced us to change our plans we had not intended to come to the western side of Colorado on this trip. But, I’m so glad we did! Our new campground, Riverbend RV Park and Cabins became one of our favorite places we stayed on our trip. It sits on the banks of the Uncompahgre River in Montrose, Colorado. The sites are gravel, but they are very level and the office is a brand new building with a new laundry room and nice showers. The staff was incredibly friendly and helpful. We could not have asked for a warmer welcome and even though we had to move sites after our first two nights we couldn’t complain because our new site was right beside the river. We truly were lucky to have found them.

When there was a break in the rain, we walked to the Ute Indian Museum and spent some time exploring their exhibits. It’s a small, but very well done, museum with a great story to tell and some beautiful artifacts. Ute are the only Native American Tribe that doesn’t have a relocation story. Though they lost most of their land, the Ute reservations are on a very small portion of their ancestral land. The museum sits on land that had once belonged to Chief Ouray a chief who was chosen by the US government to be the spokes person for the tribe and for whom the town of Ouray, Colorado is named.

Just outside the museum, we discovered the city trail that went right past our campground and continued all the way to the city center. A short walk down the trail brought us to a bridge that led to a shopping area with a Target, a Natural Grocer, and other stores.

Since we were settled at Riverbend for a few days I contacted Borg, the valve stem manufacturer, to see about getting a replacement. They were incredibly nice about it! I sent them a photo of the valve stem stump and they FedExed me two replacements, one for the missing stem and one just in case it happened again (spoiler alert; it did!). The replacement stems arrived Thursday afternoon and Friday morning we had the new stem installed and with the return of warm sunny weather it was time to hit the road again. This time toward the San Juan Mountains newly covered in snow.

Neither of us can believe how fast things changed from a fun day of sand sledding to being broken down and fleeing a winter storm to discovering wonderful new people and places. But, we’re learning that this is what full time RV life is. It will test you and reward you and test you again. The only thing you can do is keep your sense of humor and in the darkest moments and celebrate the good times. Like the first sight of beautiful snow covered mountains.


Where We Ate:

Since we were on vacation the week after Labor Day and the weather was fairly bleak we decided to find a different restaurant for lunch each day. These are the places we tried.

Camp Robber: This very nice casual restaurant has been in business since 1994. It’s unusual name is the name given to the Canadian Gray Jay because the birds have a habit of swooping in and stealing food from campsites. The staff was friendly and the food was very good. We started with Green Chile Chicken Potato soup, then I had Green Chile Pistachio Crusted Pork Medallions. A favorite dish that has stayed on their menu since they opened. It was a nice treat on a cold rainy day.

Himalayan Pun Hill Kitchen: This unassuming restaurant occupies a small building tucked between a liquor store and an auto parts store north of downtown. But, inside you are a world away. There is an extensive menu of Nepali and Indian dishes so we took time to study it before making our choices. Portions were generous so we ended up taking home half of what we ordered.

Is It Time To Take Cover? Choosing The Right Weather App

As I write this it is pouring rain outside and we’ve had pop up thunderstorms almost every day for the last couple of weeks. So, weather apps have been at the top of my mind all week. Since we moved into the RV, we have spent a lot more time outdoors than we ever did in our sticks and bricks house. The RV doesn’t offer the same level of security in bad weather that a house does, so it’s incredibly important to know what may be headed our way in case we need to either secure our belongings or pack up and leave.

Because it is so important, I don’t rely on a single weather app. Maybe I’m just a belt and suspenders type of person, but (spoiler alert) I haven’t found a single app that I feel is 100% reliable. They all have strengths and weaknesses and some, while quite useful, only make important features available on a subscription basis. Of course, any phone app is also only as good as our connectivity. So I find myself using different apps to try and get as complete a picture of the weather as I can. This by no means a thorough review of the apps I use. This is simply my current experience with the apps and what I like and dislike about each of them. I also use an iPhone 10 so all of these apps are iOS apps. I’m sure there may be Android versions of at least some of these, but I have no experience with Android phones or apps.

Weather

What I like: This is the app that is part of iOS. It comes preinstalled on the iPhone and iPad. It’s very basic, but, it tells you the current temperature, the expected highs and lows, the percentage chance of rain, and air quality. It gives me a lot of basic information quickly in an easy to read layout. I can also easily add our travel destinations and get forecasts for them as well. It’s like the Local Forecast segments on The Weather Channel and, in fact, there is a very small Weather Channel logo in the bottom left corner of the screen.

What I don’t Like: No radar and no severe weather warnings.

The Weather Channel

What I Like: There is a lot I like about the free version of the Weather Channel App for iOS. I can get basic temperature and rain chance for the upcoming day, then change the view to see hourly forecasts or I can change the view again to see temperature and rain chance for the upcoming ten days. Then, I can scroll down to see weather radar and scrolling further will bring me to sunrise and sunset times, wind, humidity and UV Index. Scrolling further down will bring me to a sweat index, mosquito index, heat index, and air quality. A lot of information for a weather geek to have fun with. Plus, it will send me weather alerts from the National Weather Service and it will send. A useful feature during storm season in Tennessee.

What I Don’t Like: I have to scroll down several times to get to the radar screen. In between each useful bit of information there are a ton of ads, unless you pay $4.99 a month or $29.99 a year for the premium pro version. Also some important features are only in the paid version of the app.

Storm Radar

What I Like: This is a more stripped down app also made by The Weather Channel. It gives me the radar information, temperature and wind direction and speed and it lets me know about any National Weather Service alerts all without having to scroll down which is great in an emergency. When the sky starts turning dark, I go to this app, first, to get a quick view of what’s coming. It will even send me alerts with an approximate time rain will start falling and it sends lightning alerts to my Apple Watch telling me how far away lightning has struck.

What I Don’t Like: Occasionally, it thinks I’m in another state. I first thought this was because I hadn’t updated my location after a trip, but it had my location correct. It, apparently, just decided that I needed to get storm alerts two states away and I could not make it stop. Also, like the other Weather Channel app, some really useful features (including the additional layers on the radar screen) are only available with a $3.99 monthly subscription.

Dark Sky

What I Like: Current Temperature, radar and hourly forecasts are quick and easy to read. You can even change the hourly information to show actual temperature, feel like temperature precipitation chance, precipitation rate wind, wind gust, humidity, dew point, UV Index, Cloud Cover and barometric pressure. Do I use all of those tabs? No. But, I do use UV index because I WILL be outside most of the day. I can also set up alerts for severe weather and an umbrella reminder or a sunscreen reminder. I can also set up custom notifications as well and I can submit a report on current conditions to help make the forecast better. I’ve just started using this app in the last couple of weeks so I haven’t looked at it in great detail. However…

What I Don’t Like: In my experience with it so far, it tends to give a false sense of security. We had a line of powerful thunderstorms move through the area a week ago and while my Weather Channel apps were warning me well ahead of the storm, Dark Sky continued to show “No Precipitation Predicted” even as the rain began falling. Several minutes into the storm, as we watched water rise in the low spots around us, it finally let me know “It’s Beginning to Drizzle”! If I were relying solely on this app I could have been in a dangerous situation and not have known it.

AccuWeather

What I like: It gives a lot of information at a glance and you can scroll down for additional information. Tabs at the bottom let you change to Hourly, Daily and Radar. The radar screen features layers to display active warnings, satellite view, precipitation outlook, temperature contour and 24 hour snowfall forecast. The weather alerts layer could be useful on the road to see if we are heading toward an area under threat. It has ads but they aren’t as obtrusive as the ones on The Weather Channel app. Also, it doesn’t save critical features for the premium version. The subscription price simply removes the ads.

What I Don’t Like: It requires a subscription to make the ads go away, but it’s a much more reasonable $8.99 per year.

Wunderground

What I like: This is an app by Weather Underground, a website that I have used on and off for years. The forecasts are accurate and it gives me information at a glance . The weather radar is also on the main screen.The radar screen has several layers that include a satellite view, a heat map and weather alerts. And, It doesn’t save all the most useful features for the premium version.

What I Don’t like: The interface feels cluttered so I find my self not using this app much at all. It also has the a subscription price of $19.99 a year for the premium version.

3-2-1 Launch! Reflecting On Our First Month As Full-Time RVer’s

I had a vision in my head of how our first day as full-time RVers would go. We would walk out of our empty house, jump into the front seats of Belvedere (our RV) and we would drive away as the music swelled and the credits rolled; the end of one episode of our lives and the start of something new. But, life… isn’t a movie. Though, at times, it IS a comedy.

On June 1st, 2020 we moved out of the house so we could finish doing all the projects we needed to do to get the house on the market. The biggest one was replacing the carpet on the top two floors. We needed the cats to be out of the house so they wouldn’t have to chance to…ahem…make the new carpet theirs. If you know what I mean.

The drive away from the house was anything but triumphant. A pavement crew showed up that morning and began tarring the cracks in our parking lot. Suddenly, we were worried about Belvedere getting tarred in the process, but the crew had a huge truck that blocked the exit. When it finally drove off to get lunch we fled our parking lot to the nearby Blue Beacon truck wash with Carolyn driving Belvedere and me chasing in our Honda Element. Once washed, we checked in at the campground, parked, hooked up water and power then Carolyn set up her laptop and got back to work. That night, after work, we began the process of moving into the RV until we collapsed, exhausted.

After working from home together for months, we now found ourselves with a morning commute. Each morning we would get up, have coffee, then drive from the campground back to the house where Carolyn still had her office set up and, while she worked, I worked on the house; touching up paint, pressure washing and sealing the deck, cleaning the outside of the house and fixing up the flowerbeds. It was a busy month. Every day we arrived back at the RV late in the evening, ate dinner and went to bed. We only took two days off to enjoy our new home and our wonderful new neighbors. By the way, our neighbors are the folks we met last fall and wrote about here and I’ll have more to say about the campground in a future post.

At times it felt like we would never get to the finish line! The day before we got the real estate photos taken we had to replace the toilet in the main bathroom! But, we did make it! The house finally went on the market on July 2nd. We took the fourth of July weekend off to enjoy the lake.

It also rained the day we had our house pictures taken, but it lighting made our yard look amazing!

However, the work isn’t over. We are still purging items as we discover we brought over too much stuff. The Honda has boxes of things we are working our way through. Some will be kept, some will get donated, some will get stored and some more will be trashed. Our storage unit was so carefully packed at first, but, the closer we got to our deadline the more we stashed stuff in it like a drug dealer with cops at the door! Now we have to get it organized. Yay!

All in all the first month felt like we dove in then spent the month holding on to the side of the pool. We got an offer on the house this week so, we’ll see how that plays out. We are here at this campground until the end of July then we off to a service appointment at the RV dealer in St. Louis. Until then, we still have a lot to do. But, at least now, we can also take some time to enjoy the experience of camping as well. Maybe a swim and s’mores tonight!

So, what lessons have we learned in our first month of RV life?

  1. It’s definitely not a vacation. We still work, pay bills, buy groceries and do all the work to keep house. Heck, we haven’t even travelled, yet, so it’s like moving to a very small fixer-upper.
  2. You really don’t need as much as you think you do. After 5 yard sales, selling countless things on E-Bay or Facebook Marketplace, endless trips Goodwill and the dump we find that we STILL HAVE TOO MUCH STUFF!
  3. Patience is more than a virtue, it’s a necessity! So is a sense of humor! Living in a small space with another person is challenging. You WILL hear things and, worse, smell things and invariably you will get in each other’s way so tension mounts fast! Which leads me to…
  4. Communication, Communication, Communication! We went from a 2100 square foot house to a twenty five foot RV. There is no place to go cool off if you’re angry. There isn’t even a door to slam! Like it or not, you have to work out issues when they happen. And they will, because; I may have mentioned this; it’s a TINY space!
  5. Actively look for joy. We’ve been stationary so there aren’t any exciting new places to explore, yet. We’ve been eyeball deep in getting the house ready and all the things we used to do for fun; going to the movies, eating out and shopping; have been taken off the table by Covid 19 so it’s really easy to get in a funk about it all. To counter that we’ve had to really look for things that bring us joy. Our campground sits on the edge of a beautiful lake that we get to go play in. We have better neighbors than we ever had in our sticks and bricks house. We spend more time outdoors than we have in years and there really is something wonderful about sitting outside watching the lake as the sun goes down. All these wonderful little things that we could easily have taken for granted in our old life are now vital to keeping the funk at bay.
  6. RVer’s, in general, are wonderful people and they are ready to lend a hand if needed. And, as a newbie believe me, it’s needed! All you have to do is ask and be ready to pitch in if you’re needed.