Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Travel Interrupted: Full-time RVing During the Covid-19 Pandemic

Lots of people have been asking us about traveling and full-time RV living during this pandemic.  Our first response is that it has been challenging and certainly not the normal we are used to.  But really, that applies to everyone – RVers or not.  Traveling has definitely impacted full-timers since we don’t have a house where we can wait out travel restrictions, self-quarantine, or escape the Covid madness.

When the pandemic first broke out we were in Louisiana.  We were finally, and eagerly, getting rid of a small storage unit we had since we started full-timing nine years ago.  Yes, we were the ones who initially thought we might only RV for a couple of years and had “stuff” we just couldn’t live without.  After nine years, and lots of $$$, we finally decided to empty the unit and be free.  Our stuff (which we really couldn't remember what was there) was locked away in two wooden vaults back in 2011 when we started full-timing.  Please, don’t make the “storage unit” mistake if you are considering full-time RV travel!  

Our stuff was advertised on Ebay, Mercari, Craigslist, and Facebook Marketplace.  Selling on Marketplace was red hot in early March but turned south when the pandemic hit and people were leery about meeting face-to-face and spending money on items they really didn’t need.  Online selling was still an option for small stuff but larger and unique items were a challenge.  We found a very nice consignment store nearby the storage unit that agreed to take the remainder of our stuff.  They were officially closed as they were deemed a non-essential business by the state but they nicely opened up one morning so that we could drop off our remaining artwork, decorations, furniture, and nick-nacs (a term I have come to loath because so many of our boxes in the storage unit were labeled “nick-nacs.”  I thought those boxes would never end.)

That's just a small part of it!
When the pandemic broke out, every state and to some degree counties, responded differently.  Campgrounds were in a gray area.  Some states deemed them essential while others closed them.  States like Georgia remained wide open with public state park campgrounds and private ones being allowed to stay open.  Maryland to the other extreme was closing both private and public campgrounds.  We were lucky Louisiana allowed private campgrounds to remain open and we were not booted out.  RVers and campers were upset at state's decisions to close campgrounds and took to social media.  They cried, "Camping is by definition social distancing!"  It can be for some, but, it all depends on the individuals...as we were about to find out.

The RV park we were staying at remained open but management swiftly closed common areas.  So while temperatures hit the high 80’s, we could only dream of plopping ourselves in an inner tube and floating down the lazy river or relax by the adult only pool.  As much as we wanted to use the gym and relax in a lounge chair, we were glad precautions were being made.  Mail was placed on a table outside the office for you to pick up so you didn’t have to go inside.  For two weeks or so the park was quiet and people really kept their distance.  CDC warnings were being heeded.  But as time wore on, the weekends became a time for locals to dust off the camper and escape the confines of home.  Fridays were a flood of RVs stacked with bicycles, BBQ pits, corn hole games, and fire wood entering the park.  Social distancing among them was a term not recognized, nor practiced.

No social distancing when you have a "buddy" site with three RVs and nearly 20 people hanging out.  I took this picture from our roof early in the morning while they were sleeping their hang-overs off.

After our brief stint in Louisiana, we were scheduled to head back to Florida April 1st for annual doctors appointments and a vet appointment for Spirit. In March, we learned our camping reservation at the state park was cancelled.  We scrambled and found a private park nearby that had availability….but that came at a cost…a whopping $83/night!  Then guess what happened?  All of our doctors appointments were cancelled except Spirits which turned out to be at the end of our stay so we would be there for the duration.  Beaches were closed, restaurants were closed, parks were closed so we hung out at our $83/night site and bided our time.  We were very glad Florida did not close private campgrounds and that where we were staying was quiet and practicing safe guidelines.  Let's face it, even from a distance the Florida Panhandle white sand beaches and emerald green waters are nice to look at.  

Like many RVers we had the itch to travel but more importantly, we needed to!  You see, our one and only toilet broke.  And in the times of a contagious pandemic we were not eager to use a public restroom, even if they were open (which many were not).  So while we had a stash of toilet paper, we needed a place to use it!  Traveling was a must for us so off to service in Georgia we went.

National Indoor RV Centers (NIRVC) near Atlanta turned out to be a great service center who fixed our toilet immediately but also allowed us to stay there for three weeks as it turned out, at no cost and with full hook up.  NIRVC’s owner believed in helping out full timers since he lives full time in an RV in Dallas at one of his other centers.  We couldn’t be more appreciative and our stay there provided a learning experience about many different motor homes as they came and went and also provided the opportunity to develop relationships with other RVers and the staff at NIRVC.  And that got us through April and into May.

NIRVC nicely parked us in one of their bays so we could have access to the bathrooms inside the building.
Even now, RV travel has certainly become challenging and uncertain.  Our reservations in Maine were cancelled and the campground’s opening date was pushed back and eventually just left up in the air.  The cancellation of our two and a half months in Maine left us in a bind but it took us to places we may not have visited otherwise.  We strongly recommend calling campgrounds just prior to your arrival to verify that they are open.  A New Hampshire campground told us we could stay at their park back in late March but now says they won't let us stay because we are out-of-state residents.  Our Harvest Host membership came in handy to get us through states that closed all private campgrounds.  Oh gee, we had to spend the night in the vineyard that made craft beer and had a take-out burger stand instead of an overpriced KOA.  And we discovered the Adirondacks in upper state New York.  We found an exceptional campground (Moose Hillock Camping Resort) with huge, private sites in the woods with amazing hiking nearby. 

The love we have for traveling stems from the things we do and see and the experiences we have.  This aspect has definitely changed.  We are not able to go to museums, walk into a BBQ joint and smell the smoky atmosphere, wander deep into cold damp caverns, and browse through an art gallery.  Our northerly migration last year was based around James Beard Foundation Award restaurants and we ate our way to Maine.  Since I love to cook and experience regional foods, going to the markets and farm stands were daily activities.  And while some are still open, we limit our exposure by just grocery shopping once a week.  This year we base our travels around places where we can enjoy the outdoors.  Let’s just say we are saving money by eating at home and walking off those pounds from last year! 

We are trying to be very diligent about adhering to CDC safety precautions because catching the virus for us nomads would be very problematic.  We are not near our doctors, one of us could not quarantine from the other in our small space and if one of us was hospitalized, what’s the likelihood there is an RV park nearby?  These things weigh on our minds and spur us to keep safe.  Every state is different with their laws and restrictions and trying to figure these out is not always easy.  Are masks required, what businesses are open, are campgrounds open, etc.          

Our plans are still to spend the summer in Maine and we have been able to secure reservations beginning June 1, because yes, it has been way too long since we have had lobster plucked fresh from the ocean waters of Maine.  Traveling during this pandemic has certainly presented challenges but it has not diminished our love for RV travel nor has it made us reconsider our lives in an RV full-time.  Challenges in life often turn out to be just what you need and lead you to many new open doors.  Certainly did in our case so on we go! 

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Product Review: CLEAR2O® RV and Marine Inline Water Filter

We are often asked what we do about making sure we have good water because we use so many different campground water systems and we don’t want to spend a lot on bottled water.  One must-have item for our RV is a good water filter.  A good filter not only improves drinking water by eliminating smell and bad taste, but it removes hard minerals and impurities that will cause rust stains and sediment build up in your pipes and fixtures.  We prefer to drink water from our faucet in order to reduce the use of bottled water.  So clean, good tasting water is definitely important.  If you have a wash machine and dishwasher you will appreciate no rust stains on your clothes or spotty glass ware. 

Recently, we switched our water filter from the common blue one to the new GREEN filter…the CLEAR2O® RV and Marine Inline Water Filter.  While this filter is slightly more expensive (retailing for $29.80 at Walmart) than the Camco Tastepure blue filter (retailing for $25.97 for a two-pack at Walmart), it was appealing because it has a one micron solid carbon block filter (versus a 100 micron) that reduces more contaminants and eliminates sulfur odors, heavy metals, volatile organic compounds, and other harmful contaminants.  The result is great tasting water with no smell.  

This filter has the capacity to last six months versus the common  blue filters that the manufacturer recommends changing every three months, but both time frames depend on your starting water quality.  Since using the filter we have noticed a decrease in water pressure which is to be expected because of the more filtration but love the clean tasting water.  The decrease in water pressure indicates that the filter is indeed filtering out many particulates and it is being clogged.  After less than three months we had to replace the filter because the water pressure was so low it made showering difficult.  The company indicated that they are developing a pre-filter, the DirtGUARD, that will strip away sediments before reaching the carbon filter thus making them last longer.  We are not sure of the retail price of the DirtGUARD, but obviously, it will increase the overall cost of water filtration.  

The filter is readily available at Walmart and online and is very easy to attach and no tools are required.  The CLEAR2O® filter attaches easily to any standard garden or water hose so there is no need for modifications.  Simply screw it to the spigot and attach your RV water hose to the other end and you are done.  

Being a full-time RVer means we are always in different parts of the country and water quality varies highly.  In the time that we used the filter, we visited nine different RV parks in 4 states.  The CLEAR2O® filter did provide us with consistent water quality and we never worried about whether the water will taste or smell bad depending on our location.  We will give the CLEAR2O® filter another try when the DirtGUARD becomes available and hope that it lasts longer.  

Friday, April 24, 2020

A Trip Back “Home” to Cincy

Cincinnati, Ohio is a town we know well.  Betsy was born and raised in Cincinnati and spent most of her career there as the Director of an endangered species research center at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens which she founded.  I moved there during college and took a job as a cat trainer at the zoo which is where we met.  We continued to live and work in Cincinnati until 1996 when we uprooted and headed south to the “Big Easy” (New Orleans, Louisiana).

There is always a warm feeling when you go back to familiar places.  And, while a lot has changed in the city since we lived there, there was still the feeling of being “home” of sorts.  We chose to camp at Winton Woods which is a county park north of the city.  Family Motorcoach Association members can stay at the FMCA campground in the city but we chose Winton Woods because of it’s location, nice camp sites, great hiking trails, and pleasant park atmosphere.  The campground has a variety of nice sites offering paved pull thrus, gravel back in sites with paved patios, full hook-up sites to partial hook-ups, and shaded and sunny sites.  Tent camping is allowed and there are rental cabins.  There is a lake which wraps around the campground and through the park which makes for a serene setting and offers opportunities for fishing and boating.  There are plenty of miles to walk on paved paths and rustic trails. 

Cincinnati is a big city and has a lot to offer in the form of things to do and see.  There is the rich cultured side with museums like the Cincinnati Museum Center and Art Museum, historical places like Music Hall, Union Terminal and the Over-the-Rhine district known for its preserved 19th-century architecture.   Downtown’s Findlay Market (which Newsweek named one of the Ten Best Food Markets in the World) is a popular draw for locals and tourists alike.  Outdoor activities lead you to the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden and summertime means Reds Baseball.  As with any big city the deeper you dig the more there is to do and we found plenty like visiting old places of familiarity and discovering new things about the city. 

The real reason we came to Cincinnati was to visit the unique and sensory fulfilling American Sign Museum.   Dubbed “the largest sign museum in America,” The American Sign Museum is a must for any Cincinnati visitor who likes to step back in time and enjoy a part of Americana that everyone can relate to.  Their collection, displayed in a massive 20,000 foot gallery, dates back some 100 years.  Signs range from pre-electric gold leaf to beautiful Art Deco neon covering the extensive history of American signage. 

There are porcelain signs, neon, metal, wood, glass, and more.  The museum offers free guided tours (either with headphones or by a staff member) and is the best way to get the most out of your visit.  The history, unique qualities, sign making techniques, and importance of various signs in their collection are explained in the tour and give you a greater appreciation for the craftsmanship and importance these works played in American history. 

Another part of the museum is the sign shop where they repair and make neon signs.  Both are on display and it’s fascinating to watch and talk to the artists about their craft.  What is really cool is that they offer classes in making neon signs so you can really get the feel for the craft.  This is a really cool museum!!!

Of all the combined years we lived in Cincinnati we never knew of the underground world that existed under the city’s streets, buildings and parks.  When we learned of the Queen City Underground Tour in the Over-the-Rhine district, we signed up.  This is where Cincy’s early history took shape.  The tour is set in the Over-the-Rhine district which is the largest intact urban historic district in America and a proud showcase for the city.  On the tour you really do descend into the cold damp underground world of the city as you step into crypts where some of this city’s first citizens are resting and explore 100+ year-old beer cellars which were first forms of refrigeration that kept the beer cold during fermentation (something very important to this beer-centric city).  Finally, your tour ends with a beer tasting at a local brewery that resides in an old church where samples of ale and lager are placed in your eager hands.  Perfect way to end a tour, in our opinions.

Just north of the city was the unmistakable landmark radio tower field of the Voice of America (VOA).  The expansive field is now an outdoor sports complex and the towers have been removed but the original building and a museum (The National Voice of America Museum of Broadcasting) remain.  Created in 1942, the VOA is the largest international broadcaster and produces digital, TV, and radio content in 47 languages which it distributes to affiliate stations around the globe.  While primarily only listened to in foreign countries with the mission "to broadcast accurate, balanced, and comprehensive news and information.”  Foreign listeners to VOA broadcasts did so at great risk as it was a punishable offence to listen in many countries led by repressive governments.  In Hitler’s’ Germany, it was punishable by prison and hard labor, and death later.  For $10 visitors are treated to a 1 ½ hour tour of the exhibits and documentary video where you learn the history of VOA and Cincinnati’s role in changing how the world received the news.   

One of our favorite things to do in a city is eat!  Our visit to Cincinnati was no different with the only difference being many places we visited were not new to us as they were the old favorites that beckoned us back and stirred up fond salivary memories.  To begin exploring the Cincinnati foodie scene, let’s start at Skyline Chili.  It has to be our most missed city favorite eatery.  Chili is different in Cincinnati.  It is served on top of a mountain of spaghetti with cheese and onions (called a 3-way, if you want red kidney beans then order a 4-way) or in a bun with a juicy hot dog called a “Cheese Coney.”  Skyline began with a Greek man named Nicholas Lambrinides who spent years tinkering with a chili recipe that married a magical blend of flavors with tastes of cinnamon and cocoa.  The restaurants location was set atop Price Hill where the panoramic view of the Cincinnati skyline inspired the name.  It may be an acquired taste, but we certainly have acquired it because we ate there four times and purchased cans of the chili to go.

Food history in Ohio starts just north of the city in the historic town of Lebanon at The Golden Lamb.  The Golden Lamb is the oldest restaurant in Ohio and one of Cincinnati’s beloved traditions.  The restaurant (and adjacent hotel) is over 200 years old and rooted in history.  Twelve presidents have eaten here, as well as travelers from all over the country.  The Golden Lamb has become known for their incredible hospitality and delicious food.  We settled in for a delicious lunch and one of their crafted beers set amongst the historic paintings and American country d├ęcor.  After lunch we took a stroll around town to admire the lovingly restored historic buildings and check out some antique shops. 

One of my favorite places to eat is Izzys because I can indulge in their homemade corned beef which is served with a scrumptious potato pancake.  It’s not healthy, but boy is it good.  Betsy’s favorite for lunch is Frisch’s for a Big Boy.  The famous Big Boy sandwich in Ohio has two beef patties, cheese, lettuce and – the special ingredient – tartar sauce.  For the sweeter side of Cincinnati, you can’t beat Greaters.  They are known for their ice cream but also have wonderful baked goods and other sweets.  Greaters has consistently received Food and Wine Magazines accolades as some of the best ice cream in the country.  

 One of Cincinnati's’ iconic food places and our favorite place to visit is Jungle Jim’s International Market.  What started out as a roadside farm stand is now a ginormous grocery store with an amazing and eclectic array of foods from all over the world.  The place is so big, they have maps and even offer tours. Oh sure, there is the typical Hispanic, Asian, and German sections but things get way more diverse than that with the Scandinavian, Belgian, Cambodian and more.  It’s a gourmand’s heaven!  We would spend hours there wandering the aisles and admiring all the interesting fruits and vegetables from around the world and watching the live fish and crabs move about in large tanks that looked more like an exotic aquarium than a grocery store. 

Our visits usually started off in the beer and wine section where we picked up a cold draft or glass of wine to enjoy during our hour-long shopping trip.  Then it was off to the endless cheese cases where I drooled over Humbolt Fog, Beemster XO, and marveled at the many varieties we had never heard of before.  And what is cheese without bread?  Nothing, that’s why you want to head over to their fresh bakery where the pretzel bread will have you doing a carb overload.  As you move about the store there are crazy displays of banana eating monkeys, singing Campbells Soup Cans, and other kitchy displays.  Jungle Jim’s is definitely an experience with an amazing diversity of foods and a fun shopping experience.

Returning to old familiar haunts is always fun.  And as much as we liked visiting familiar places from the past, it was also fun exploring new areas undiscovered in the past.   

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Navigating the 2020 Tampa RV Supershow

We just finished up five days enjoying the RV super show in Tampa and, whew, what a time we had.  This is the self-acclaimed largest RV show in the country and is a great place to spend time if you are an RV enthusiast or wannabe.  RV’s fill the Florida State Fairgrounds and are tightly packed together for maximum viewing and ease of slipping into one unit and into the one next to it.  You will find pop-ups and Prevost, Airstream and Aliners, park models to truck campers and everything in between. 

Once you are done looking at all of the RVs head into the huge exhibit halls that are filled with vendors exhibiting the latest accessories and gadgets.  There are the necessities like light bulbs and water filters, the bizarre, like portable hot tubs and massaging chairs, and the fun, like electric bikes.  Speaking of vendors, now is the time we give our RVing friends Pat and Debbie a plug.  They were invited by Camping World to sell their PotHeadz® steam diverter (for Instant Pots) at the show and had a great time.  For you Instant Pot users, this is a must-have item that will protect you and your cabinets from hot steam.  Check their invention out on Amazon or follow their PotHeadz® Facebookpage.  You will also find booths representing campgrounds and RV parks across the country trying to entice you to visit.  As if that is not enough, there are free seminars, evening entertainment, food vendors, and morning socials with free coffee and donuts.  The seminars are a way to get new updates, and information about maintenance on your coach as well as travel information destinations. 

This show can be overwhelming and exhausting!  If you are a serious buyer this is a great place to look at RVs without having to drive from one dealer to the next racking up lots of miles and forgetting what you saw.  Here you can compare different brands, models, floorplans, and color options right next to each other.  Beware: having so many units to view can be distracting.  If your time at the show is short, keep in mind what you want, need and your price range.  We love to look at the $1 million+ coaches but don’t really need to spend much time discussing our favorite floorplan and colors because we are not calling one of those home at those prices.  It's still fun to look.

Past years when we visited the show we stayed in hotels or Air B and B’s but this year we camped at the fairgrounds with the Entegra Owners Coach Association as part of a rally.  This was a great way to meet and talk to other owners at the nightly happy hours and dinners.  The added bonus for us was that Entegra had service technicians present that would perform minor repairs for free. 

Camping at the fairgrounds means you are tightly packed in with a 30 amp connection but the advantage is that you are within walking distance to the show.  It was nice to walk around the show for a few hours, come back home and have lunch and cool off in the AC before heading back in the afternoon.  We definitely liked staying in our RV on the grounds and since we were there from Tuesday thru Sunday we could take our time looking around and revisiting those units we liked.  Attending the show during the week is the best way to avoid the hordes of people and families that descend on the show Saturday and Sunday.  During the week you will also find that it is easier to interact with manufacturer reps and salespeople so you can get all of your questions answered.  Weekends get so busy that you typically have to wait in line just to get inside an RV and then you may find yourself in there with ten other people which makes it hard to see how comfortable the couch is and check out cabinet space, etc.   

After nine years of living full-time in an RV we still love the lifestyle and these big shows generate a lot of excitement and energy for us.  We love seeing the new products and how this industry has changed over the years.  It’s also a great way for us to connect with old friends and meet new people that share a love for RVing.