Our first week as Houseless but not homeless

Well, it’s official as of last Friday we are fulltimers which is when we surrendered our keys to the sticks and bricks world.  This morning marks the seventh day we’ve awoken on The Gump without a “safety net” to return to.  So how’s it been so far you might be asking yourselves?  Short answer, stressful from the start but hopefully as week two dawns, the stress begins to abate as we settle into our routine.

We luckily picked the hottest possible time to move out of the air conditioned world of a sticks and bricks house.  The temperatures last week and this in Phoenix was in triple digits with an average somewhere right around 115 with little relief overnight. 

We picked up The Gump and parked him at Estrella Mountain Regional Park which was close, as the crow flies, to the house.  The two nights before we turned over the keys let us get the flock settled and gave us someplace to sleep as the last of our worldly possessions was removed, more on that in another blog post.  Estrella Mountain is hot and there are no mature mesquite trees to provide any relief for RV campers. 

The stage is now set for Sunday morning, when we pack up and head to Tucson for three weeks.  Tucson is a good stopping off point, big enough to let us donate if we were overly optimistic about what would and would not fit and had a pool and reservation availability over the holiday weekend.  So, my parents stop by and we say a tearful goodbye and then off we head to Tucson. 

We check in, pull in, and begin to settle in when Dave suddenly realizes “OH CRAP”.  “Hun, did you stow the satellite before we pulled out?”   My face crumbles in terror as I realize, “No, oh good heavens I completely forgot.”  Panic ensues as we turn on the satellite receiver and nada, go outside and discover the dish bent in half.  Dave climbs onto the roof and unbends the dish but to no avail.  The receiver and the dish just aren’t communicating.

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At this point, we are each blaming ourselves and Dave is in flat out stressed to the max.  We have the unspoken agreement that only one of us is allowed to freak out at a time and so, I remained calm.  So, while sweating in The Gump which has not yet cooled down I sent out emails to Winegard and La Mesa (which just happens to be across the street).  After doing all we can do, we finally go get something to eat for the first time all day and try not to focus solely on the destroyed satellite dish.

Monday morning rolls around and bright and early I hear from our service advisor.  A tech is here in less than an hour and confirms that yep, it’s broke but he does share good news.  While the satellite may be a complete loss there is no structural damage to the roof.  We quickly get a quote and an appointment for Wednesday morning.  We decide to board Leo at PetSmart because he would not handle sitting in the service center reception area well. 

Yesterday, went smoothly and the satellite was repaired quickly and faster than than time we were quoted.  Only really damage was to finances, which while painful and will hurt for a couple of months, it wasn’t catastrophic.  The Gump and his family are now settled in for the remainder of the stay in Tucson.  I need to finish putting away things that got stowed in the office for “later” and we need to forgive ourselves. 

Lesson learned, not eating and extreme temperatures is a combination designed to make us fail.  We are adding to visual reminders to The Gump specific to the satellite.  We are adding a small wind chime to the railing on the front door and a ribbon to the handle on the utility cabinet where the satellite control box is located.  If either of those two items are still attached they will be obvious in the future before we close up and lock up to travel.  No system is fail proof but it’s a better, more reliable chance than non-visual reminders.

So, week one is complete and boy howdy was it a learning experience.  It was a definite speed bump but we handled it.  I’m proud to say that despite the heat, stress, and unexpected financial impact we didn’t lose our tempers with one another and we never blamed one another.  There has been one other lesson this week but I will save that for another post.  For now, The Gump is healthy, whole, cool, and his family is in-tact.  All is good with the world.

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It’s a good thing despite initial impression

As you know, we spent a couple of weeks in New Mexico at the beginning of May on our final shake down trip after picking up The Gump from La Mesa.  We needed fuel and food and so we stopped at a Petro truck stop just over the border in New Mexico.  Dave pumped diesel and I went in search of snacks.  Fuel and food obtained we continued on blissfully unaware that we, well I, had picked up an unwanted passenger for the trip.

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We arrived at Percha Dam State Park mid-afternoon on Saturday and settled in comfortably.  Come Monday morning I was starting to feel a wee bit off but then Tuesday arrived and I spent the day in bed wondering if I’d survive.  Whatever cold/flu virus I picked up was nasty awful and hit me hard.  That first week is a blur, I was miserable and felt like I was drowning.  I finally start to feel better and wham Dave gets hit with it that Monday of the second week. 

We changed campgrounds, for a variety of reasons, on Thursday and go to the KOA in Las Cruces.  We hunker in the bunker so to speak, not doing much of anything.  Sunday morning arrives and we leisurely pack up and head back to the house for the final time.  About four hours into the trip back, I tell Dave he is weaving.  He denies it and I say, hey hon seriously you’re weaving.  He’s congested and coughing up a storm too.  I quickly make reservations at KOA Tucson/Lazy Days and here we are until Memorial Day.

MOM, stop rambling and get to the point!  No one wants to hear about you and Dad’s snotty adventures in New Mexico!!

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Pickles has a small point, but the background information sets the stage.  What driving back to the house on Sunday proved was that we are both capable and ready to adapt to life on the fly without it becoming a huge bone of contention.  We needed to pull off and recover and we quickly found a spot where that could happen.  Sure, it was a mere two hours or so back to the house but it wasn’t worth the risk.  It isn’t just some random life belongings we two behind us but the items we’ve deemed most personal and essential to us.  That ability to adapt and react in a timely manner isn’t surprising to me but it does prove that we are capable of doing so to any remaining family members who doubt our sanity.

Dave is feeling better every day.  We are both enjoying the nightly trips to the hot tub after Pickles goes to bed for the evening.  Wally is getting a haircut Friday morning thanks to a local mobile groomer that could work him in on short notice.  Sangria and Leo happily lay out on the deck during the day while Pickles hangs out in the sun.  Overall, the six of us are quite pleased and content with ourselves. 

We are dreading going back to the house come Monday.  It no longer is home and it is going to be hot with a lot of hard work in front of us.  That being said, we are both motivated to get it accomplished as quickly as possible so we can be free and clear of the house and it’s expenses. 

It’s a good thing despite initial impression

As you know, we spent a couple of weeks in New Mexico at the beginning of May on our final shake down trip after picking up The Gump from La Mesa.  We needed fuel and food and so we stopped at a Petro truck stop just over the border in New Mexico.  Dave pumped diesel and I went in search of snacks.  Fuel and food obtained we continued on blissfully unaware that we, well I, had picked up an unwanted passenger for the trip.

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We arrived at Percha Dam State Park mid-afternoon on Saturday and settled in comfortably.  Come Monday morning I was starting to feel a wee bit off but then Tuesday arrived and I spent the day in bed wondering if I’d survive.  Whatever cold/flu virus I picked up was nasty awful and hit me hard.  That first week is a blur, I was miserable and felt like I was drowning.  I finally start to feel better and wham Dave gets hit with it that Monday of the second week. 

We changed campgrounds, for a variety of reasons, on Thursday and go to the KOA in Las Cruces.  We hunker in the bunker so to speak, not doing much of anything.  Sunday morning arrives and we leisurely pack up and head back to the house for the final time.  About four hours into the trip back, I tell Dave he is weaving.  He denies it and I say, hey hon seriously you’re weaving.  He’s congested and coughing up a storm too.  I quickly make reservations at KOA Tucson/Lazy Days and here we are until Memorial Day.

MOM, stop rambling and get to the point!  No one wants to hear about you and Dad’s snotty adventures in New Mexico!!

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Pickles has a small point, but the background information sets the stage.  What driving back to the house on Sunday proved was that we are both capable and ready to adapt to life on the fly without it becoming a huge bone of contention.  We needed to pull off and recover and we quickly found a spot where that could happen.  Sure, it was a mere two hours or so back to the house but it wasn’t worth the risk.  It isn’t just some random life belongings we two behind us but the items we’ve deemed most personal and essential to us.  That ability to adapt and react in a timely manner isn’t surprising to me but it does prove that we are capable of doing so to any remaining family members who doubt our sanity.

Dave is feeling better every day.  We are both enjoying the nightly trips to the hot tub after Pickles goes to bed for the evening.  Wally is getting a haircut Friday morning thanks to a local mobile groomer that could work him in on short notice.  Sangria and Leo happily lay out on the deck during the day while Pickles hangs out in the sun.  Overall, the six of us are quite pleased and content with ourselves. 

We are dreading going back to the house come Monday.  It no longer is home and it is going to be hot with a lot of hard work in front of us.  That being said, we are both motivated to get it accomplished as quickly as possible so we can be free and clear of the house and it’s expenses. 

“A rose by any other name…” or Wherein I Rename “Dry” Camping

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Romeo and Juliet has produced some of the most memorable lines of Western literature, including the oft quoted “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  The quote is incredibly apt because the connotation of dry camping, wild camping, or boon docking fail to do the glory and solitude of the past two weeks justice.  I’ve renamed it Oasis Camping because it is truly our oasis of peace, solitude, and relaxation. 

Dry camping makes it sound like you are truly roughing it, making do with less than all the creature comforts to which we have become accustomed.  Oasis camping sounds much more inviting and luxurious in comparison.  We’ve been oasis camping for just shy of two weeks straight now without sacrificing anything.  Ok sure, we aren’t showering everyday but hey who cares?  We have showered on a semi-regular basis which is more than sufficient in the middle of the desert with just one another for company.

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Sunrise has been stunning every morning we have been here at King of Arizona National Wildlife Refuge.  The animals are content, basking in the sun, howling with the wind, and chattering at the occasional bird that flutters near.  We’ve watched Dodgers baseball every night, worked without interruption, satellite has been flawless, and there has been absolutely no light pollution.  Sure, the winds have been fierce and have prevented our planned spit grilling but all that meant was that we were forced to go shopping for meat in town and discovered an amazing butcher in the general store.  That butcher and his tender, succulent meats alone would have made the entire trip worthwhile. 

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Sangria is comforting Dave as he’s been forced to rest and rehab his left knee the entire trip.  We wanted to go hiking and see the beauty that is Palm Canyon but that isn’t on the agenda for this trip.  However, while a bummer it hasn’t changed the fact that the overall trip has been amazing.  It has been what we needed on oasis of calm and relaxation.

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There’s me most days, on the patio from sunrise until the heat of the day or the whipping winds drive me inside.  The skies are crystal clear, the flock comes out to join me, and I’ve gotten a lot of reading and writing done, well if I’m truthful more reading than writing.  If Dave’s knee is up to it, we are going to venture into Quartzsite late this afternoon to visit the Reader’s Oasis aka the used bookstore run by the nudist.  It’s supposed to be an awesome used bookstore and I’ll admit, I’m looking forward to it very much. 

So, there you have it we have been Oasis Camping for the last two weeks.  Two weeks off the grid, away from the endless treadmill of modern life, while maintaining our standard of living.  So next time you venture off the grid, enjoy your own personal oasis and go Oasis Camping instead of dry camping.

“A rose by any other name…” or Wherein I Rename “Dry” Camping

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Romeo and Juliet has produced some of the most memorable lines of Western literature, including the oft quoted “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  The quote is incredibly apt because the connotation of dry camping, wild camping, or boon docking fail to do the glory and solitude of the past two weeks justice.  I’ve renamed it Oasis Camping because it is truly our oasis of peace, solitude, and relaxation. 

Dry camping makes it sound like you are truly roughing it, making do with less than all the creature comforts to which we have become accustomed.  Oasis camping sounds much more inviting and luxurious in comparison.  We’ve been oasis camping for just shy of two weeks straight now without sacrificing anything.  Ok sure, we aren’t showering everyday but hey who cares?  We have showered on a semi-regular basis which is more than sufficient in the middle of the desert with just one another for company.

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Sunrise has been stunning every morning we have been here at King of Arizona National Wildlife Refuge.  The animals are content, basking in the sun, howling with the wind, and chattering at the occasional bird that flutters near.  We’ve watched Dodgers baseball every night, worked without interruption, satellite has been flawless, and there has been absolutely no light pollution.  Sure, the winds have been fierce and have prevented our planned spit grilling but all that meant was that we were forced to go shopping for meat in town and discovered an amazing butcher in the general store.  That butcher and his tender, succulent meats alone would have made the entire trip worthwhile. 

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Sangria is comforting Dave as he’s been forced to rest and rehab his left knee the entire trip.  We wanted to go hiking and see the beauty that is Palm Canyon but that isn’t on the agenda for this trip.  However, while a bummer it hasn’t changed the fact that the overall trip has been amazing.  It has been what we needed on oasis of calm and relaxation.

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There’s me most days, on the patio from sunrise until the heat of the day or the whipping winds drive me inside.  The skies are crystal clear, the flock comes out to join me, and I’ve gotten a lot of reading and writing done, well if I’m truthful more reading than writing.  If Dave’s knee is up to it, we are going to venture into Quartzsite late this afternoon to visit the Reader’s Oasis aka the used bookstore run by the nudist.  It’s supposed to be an awesome used bookstore and I’ll admit, I’m looking forward to it very much. 

So, there you have it we have been Oasis Camping for the last two weeks.  Two weeks off the grid, away from the endless treadmill of modern life, while maintaining our standard of living.  So next time you venture off the grid, enjoy your own personal oasis and go Oasis Camping instead of dry camping.

Our Overall Review, impressions, & wish list

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While The Gump is in for service, we thought we’d share our overall impressions about the design and things we would change in a perfect world with unlimited finances.  For reference, here is a floorplan of our Voltage 3970 (ours has the stowable table in the garage not the living room).

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Master Bedroom and Bathroom

Not much here either of us would change, this is especially true of the bathroom.  The bathroom is filled with natural light, although Dave would consider this a detriment when he’s trying to sleep late, and plenty of space to take a shower and dry yourself off without feeling cramped.  Dave isn’t overly fond of the placement of the medicine cabinet but small complaint compared to some of the bathrooms we toured.

The master bedroom has a couple of items we would both change.  First one being the cabinetry above the dresser which houses the television.  While the two small cabinets surrounding the television are nice, we would both gladly give up the storage space for a larger bedroom window.  The television could be on a slide-out mechanism tucked into the laundry closet. 

There are two heater vents, one in the bedroom and one in the bath.  These vents are less than three feet apart and if you are the partner sleeping closest to the closet on a cold winter’s night you are going to be grumbling about the absence of a heater vent.  Dave is always hot and so he blocks off the heater vent by three quarters in the bedroom and closes the bathroom door except for a couple of inches for Leo at night.  So basically, the hottest person in the family gets all the heater vents and stubbornly refuses after all these years to switch sides of the bed.  So yes, in a perfect world I would move the heater vents because I know I’ll never get that side of the bed.  (Love you honey)

The other major thing I’d change in the bedroom is the bar in the closet.  The bar itself is good, the holes in the metal keep hangers from flying about during travel  However, on each end of the bar those same holes are unusable because the hangers collide.  So it sits there and waits to smack me in the head if I forget its there as I stand up from using the shelving built into the front cap. Small issue but a headache at least once a week for me.

The last little thing are the accordion fabric blinds in the bedroom instead of  MCD shades.  The fabric blinds don’t come all the way down past the window hardware and so cold air seeps in at night.  These blinds also do a horrible job at blocking light in an east west bedroom like ours.  Dave loves to sleep late, or well I should say he used to love to sleep late on weekends.  Now, the daylight forces him to depart from the land of nod well before ten o’clock on a Saturday morning.  MCD shades would do a much better job in blocking cold or heat depending on the season and keeping the room dark during the day.

Living Room

The room with the most changes for both of us, and changes we agree on and differ.  First major change is the entertainment cabinet.  It’s great and awful at the same time.  It’s tall and has a built in bookcase which I adore.  However, those same tall cabinets are wasted space.  So few items are actually tall that most of the cabinet is storing air and not actual items.  If they had just including adjustable shelving for every tall cabinet it would have made much more sense.  Yes, relatively easy fix but matching wood would have made me much happier.  There are also two cabinets that open upward but they failed to install actuators to hold the door open.  So, you are trying to wrangle stuff with one hand and hold open the door with the other.  Not so easy when you are short or when you are tall and you are having to dodge sharp metal corners.  The last thing is that the cabinet would be far more useful if it were an inch or two deeper.  It doesn’t fit a console and we don’t think it will fit the satellite box without leaving the metal door propped open.

The sofa of awesomeness that we loved so much is now not so loved.  Part of that lies squarely with Dutchmen (to be discussed in another blog post) and part of it is personal comfort.  The sofa is comfortable for anything but watching television or playing video games.  The odd angle you have to cock your neck at to see the television makes for an ever growing crick that is painful after a couple of days.  I’d much rather have a wing back chair or Euro-recliner that could be moved to face the television.  We aren’t so concerned with guest seating as everyday life when it’s just the two of us.  Design decision we can rectify in time but so many toy hauler manufacturers make this same odd viewing angle decision in toy haulers and we just don’t understand why.

The L-shaped sofa is a nightmare but if we change it Leo would never forgive us.

That’s right Mom, I love that sofa.  It lets me hang out and watch birds and squirrels and chipmunks.  I’ve had far too many interesting afternoons soaking up sun on the back of that nightmare as you mistakenly call it.

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As you can see, Leo has truly claimed the entire back of that sofa as his own.  We know where to look when we can’t find him.  However, from a human perspective the sofa is a mess.  The recliner (not visible above) completely blocks off access or egress of the non-reclining portion of the sofa.   So, whoever is relaxing in the recliner has to move every time another person wants to sit down or stand up which defeats the concept of relaxing on the sofa.  There’s no easy solution here unfortunately, and for us the sofa has been claimed by the dogs.

Another problem without an easy solution is the fireplace.  We love the blasted thing and it is great for Wally.  But it pumps out a lot of heat that is directly below all of the electronics in the entertainment center.  So every time we turn it one we know we are slowly cooking the electronics to death.  Unfortunately, there is no other place to put the fireplace and neither of us would give it up.

Kitchen

I love my kitchen.  No seriously, I love the layout and the storage.  Everything I need is right there and I have plenty of storage space.  Is it perfect, nope but it far and away the best kitchen in any RV model we walked through.  It has the same problem with metal cabinets opening upward that the entertainment center does.  The design looks pretty but it’s functionality is severely limited by the failure to install actuators.

The oven is worthless.  It was something we both thought we’d need and now I’d give up that item from storage space.  The oven is a propane hog and it’s an odd size.  Cookie sheets don’t fit, whereas a cookie sheet will fit in the convection oven.  I would love to have the oven removed and shelving added to store skillets and sauce pans, or baking dishes that I know fit in the convection. 

I have a huge amount of storage in my floor to ceiling pantry but one again a lot of that is storage for air.  I also store a lot of air in the cabinets above my metal ones in the kitchen.  These are once again too tall to be easily reached by me and seriously how many tall things do you store in the kitchen (besides alcohol bottles)?  Personally, in both of these I’d like to see adjustable shelving that made better use of wasted space.  Sell an after market package that matched the interior wood that let customers design shelving that actually works for them.

I love the center island of the kitchen.  It clearly separates the kitchen from the living room and provides a nice countertop.  I wish it was about two inches deeper however.  Those two inches would make a world of difference for cutting boards or serving dinner.  It isn’t an insurmountable problem, just more of a minor annoyance if I’m in a nitpicky mood.

Garage, Loft, and Outside

The Loft or as it is known here, inaccessible storage.  Seriously, why is this even here?  It’s a huge heat loss.  If you find people willing to climb up there and sleep, you then have the ladder issue to contend with.  We have a frosted glass door separating the garage from the rest of The Gump.  The ladders are steel.  It just takes one minor miscalculation before that frosted glass door is shattered by that steel ladder.  Another problem, assuming we have a full house with at least one other person, but up to four, sleeping in the garage how are they supposed to get the bathroom in the middle of the night if the ladder is blocking the way?  It just a horrible use of space.  We are going to use the space for storage.  We aren’t sure how yet but it makes a great place to store out of season clothing and bedding in vacuum sealed bags.  I’m also going to hide my needlework stash up there since I can’t bring myself to get rid of all of it.  Of course, getting anything back down from the loft is easier said than done.

The garage and deck are pretty close to perfect.  The television cabinet could be improved.  It could run the length of the wall and contain more storage space.  It would also be nice if it were about six inches lower from my perspective.  The garage is one of our favorite places to be honest.  It is flooded with light and stays surprisingly warm even in subzero temperatures with a space heater.

There are things we would change however.  The garage doors leading out to the deck do not open flush.  Thus limiting the size of any potential toy you are considering parking in the garage.  Also, the workmanship on those doors is inconsistent.  There are gaps in the framing that we are going to have to find black caulk to seal.  The Mylar coverings on the screens are also inconsistent in fabrication, some are longer than others and do a better job at covering the screen.  We used felt as a stop gap measure but long term we will need a more permanent solution that isn’t quite so redneck.

The new deck railing is phenomenal.  It is sturdy and we never worry about the dogs being able to push it down.  The steps off the deck are fantastic too, I just wish they were telescoping somehow for those few situations where the steps are too short to secure the deck railing and reach the ground.  We both wanted a Florida porch option for the deck.  We are now in disagreement over the wisdom of such a desire.  Dave is adamant that it would be a potential liability with disastrous consequences should it be in place and we were in a sudden windstorm.  I  agree with his concerns but I still want the option.  I want some type of defense against mosquitos and flying critters.

The outdoor television, the cause of so many of our problems indoors, is in a weird place.  It’s wickedly high off the ground so that anyone sitting outside is going to be craning their neck upwards to watch the game.  It isn’t under an awning so it will have almost constant glare during the day, and the panel opens all the way up so it doesn’t work as a shade device.  The whole placement is just wrong, almost like it was a complete after thought and then someone said “WHOOPS!  We forgot to install an outdoor TV!” 

General Observations

A central vacuum was high on my list of wants when we were looking at rigs and I got my wish.  I hate it.  It is a power hungry, unwieldy, inefficient mess of a vacuum. For the amount of amperage it consumes, it should do a much better job at sucking dirt off my floors and out of my carpet.  Instead, I blew a breaker (usually the house breaker) every time and every time only a fraction of the dirt was removed.  We are investing in a Dyson and putting the central vacuum equipment in the loft.  I would not personally recommend a central vacuum to anyone.

The Gump came with Furrion televisions installed.  We had never heard of them but they are amazing.  They are vibration tested and are designed for RV and marine use.  The picture quality rivals or exceeds our top of the line Samsung television here at the house.  The blacks are deep and the colors are rich.  We highly recommend the television.

Overall, we are happy and pleased with our choice.  Yes there are issues that drive us nuts or that we need to come up with solutions to that fit our needs.  We would both recommend the rig.  In fact, we and the animals miss The Gump and eagerly look forward to his return.

FUNNY Things we miss

Two weeks we’ve been home and I’ve been trapped in this huge house without my evening sunsets!  Seriously, what are Mom and Dad thinking?  They know I’m a solar powered bird, why did we come back to this miserable house with it’s dark interior?

His screaming highness is right, two weeks we’ve been back in the house and I don’t think a single one of us is happy. 

Dave and I haven’t been sleeping well.  Scratch that, we really haven’t slept in two weeks.  We each get a couple of hours of light sleep each night which is little more than glorified dozing.  Restful, restorative, re-cooperative sleep has alluded us both since we’ve been back at the house.  Our formally oh so comfortable bed at the house has not been that comfortable.  And truthfully, it’s huge and I’m constantly waking up searching for Dave because he’s too far away.  A bed we thought we’d hate and replace first thing, is now something we find we are missing.  Odd funny but there you go, we are odd folks.

The house is dark.  It isn’t dark as houses go, it’s just dark in comparison to The Gump.  The hallway isn’t flooded with light, there’s no sky light above the showerhead, and no fabulous views out any of our windows.  Sure we can look at the golfers or look at pavement, but how does that possibly compare with views like this?

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The funniest thing I miss?  The Gump’s kitchen, which just sounds odd even as I type the words.  I have a huge kitchen here at the house with more cabinets and food storage space than a family of two humans could reasonably utilize.  It was a HUGE bonus when we first moved in, and has since become a liability.  The Gump’s kitchen is reasonably sized for two people’s cooking needs.  I have plenty of storage, admittedly most of it is out of my reach but that’s why tall husband’s and step stools exist.  I like having the stove within easy reach of the kitchen sink.  Sure there are things I’d change about the kitchen, which I will be covering in my next post, but overall I miss my small and compact kitchen.

Greatest thing we all miss?  Our back deck!  Wally, Sangria, and Leo miss basking in the heat and sunlight on the deck in the afternoons.  Pickles misses the sunlight and wild birds chattering at him from afar.  I miss being buzzed by hummingbirds as they fly close to inspect Pickles.  Dave misses the fresh air and sunlight pouring into his office, especially on mornings when I’m cold and he’s not.  We have a huge yard for suburbia and it isn’t the same.  There is far too much ambient noise, car fumes, and golf course activity to make spending any length of time outside a pleasurable experience.

Overall, it’s safe to say that we are eagerly looking forward to The Gump’s return from being serviced.  Not only do we miss “Gumping”, as time in The Gump has come to be known, but we miss close proximity to one another and the sunlight and fresh air.  Still deciding on our first trip once we get him back, but I’m thinking The Gump will be experiencing a lake in New Mexico next (right after I decide on which one).

Lessons Learned This Trip (So Far)

We’ve been gone five days this trip and the first three were filled with lessons learned.

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Dave decided he could back The Gump in alone just using the truck mirrors.  He forgot to account for the tree on the passenger side.  The tree decided to fight back and now The Gump has exterior war wounds.  It had to happen sooner or later and now we know.

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Not all camp hosts are created equal and the lovely view above was the last straw after wounding The Gump earlier in the day.  We didn’t come prepared for dry camping, our fault since we misread the campsite descriptor as including sewer.  Damage, no sewer hookups, and a neon green cactus made us change our plans and reservations.

After some quick, but thorough, research we made new reseverations with full hookups and cell coverage according to the maps.

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Well, those cell coverage maps failed to account for the dead spot we landed in.  Zero bars on either AT&T or Verizon which was just soul crushing, because go around the bend and wham four bars of coverage. The site had full hookups but was primitive and poorly marked.

We stayed but sat down and came up with a new strategy moving forward.   First night or two of a new locale we are staying at a known quantity  (either via word of mouth or listed amenities confirmed with campsite personnel) and we will then use the next day to scope out the cell coverage where we truly want to be for two weeks or a month.  The constant moving from campsite A to campsite B is stressful and exhausting.  A little more foresight and planning on our part can elminates, well greatly minimize, the stress.

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Sunday morning we are returning to Fool Hollow Lake State Park.  We both love it there, as do the flock.  Pickles has loved hanging out on the back patio here at Dead Horse Ranch and at Alamo Lake state parks.  The dogs and Leo have been as pleased as punch about it too.

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Introducing “The Gump”

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There she is, all lit up at night while we are overnighters on the La Mesa lot for the PDI.  Pickles is home with his grandparents, thank you Mum and Daddy, along with the rest of the flock.  I will endeavor to carry on without my feathered task master.  We decided upon a Dutchmen 2016 Voltage 3970. 

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It was a very close decision between a Heartland Edge and the Voltage.  The difference came down to does it feel like a long werkender/two week vacation or does it feel like home.  Voltage won out because of the larger bathroom, huge kitchen with lots of storage, and the living room set-up.

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We talked about names on the drive down on Tuesday.  It had to be something we could agree upon and would fit both our personalities.  Dave gets credit for the name this time, I was stumped.  “The Gump” comes from The Marvelous Land of Oz by Frank L. Baum.  It’s a perfect name, it’s geeky and obscure and very bookworm appropriate.  I’m the bookworm, he remembers obscure details about everything, and we are both geeks. 

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I freely admit I love how it’s lit up at night.  Sure blue wouldn’t be my first choice but I don’t think Dave would agree to pink lights so no complaints here!

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We brought our own bedding which has helped tremendously in making it ours instead of a generic toy hauler.  Sure, the bed isn’t horrible but we are already talking about replacing it as one of the top items on the list.  Bedroom is spacious.  There is a place for Sangria’s bed is the closet and room for Wally at the foot of the bed.  Leo will have no shortage of spots to stretch out and sun himself or curl up and fall asleep.  Pickles will have lots of spots to hang out.  He can sleep in the kitchen at night and be out of the way, in fact there’s his nighttime spot below.  There is a lot of daylight inside and he can always go hang out in the garage or patio when it’s not below 70° outside.

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Overall, with the barest of minimums we’ve settled in comfortably.  We both know things will continue to crop up once we start using The Gump on a semi-regular basis in 2016 but hey, that’s no different than sticks and bricks living. 

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Dave is comfortable working in the garage even if it isn’t quite perfectly set-up yet.  And yes, it’s COLD here in Tucson and he’s running around in shorts! 

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We are looking forward to our first planned vacation time which is in January, assuming we sign-off on the PDI this week.  If we do, then first thing I’m doing this weekend  (after the flock has forgiven me) is booking a reservation somewhere responsibly close.

The “PERFECT” but alas, non-existent ONE

Dave and I keep looking, and he keeps wandering into random fifth wheels every time we look.  As frustrating as that can be sometimes, especially when we’ve narrowed down the list yet again, it is also great because we learn something new each time.  Last weekend he peaked his head into and Heartland Edge 397 and this weekend it was a Dutchmen Voltage 3970.   So last night, I kept myself awake  configuring the “perfect” fifth wheel for us.  It doesn’t exist and to custom order one would be stupid expensive. 

 

So without further ado, here’s what I’d pick and choose for the “perfect” fifth wheel, starting at the front cap and working toward the rear and using stock photos from the manufacturers.

 

Crossroads RV makes the most perfect use of the front cap known to mankind, and it’s not on all of their models either which is unfathomable.  Their Elevation toy hauler line has two models which have the perfect front cap, the Las Vegas and Sonoma.

 

Elevation15_LasVegas_bedroom  There is a TON of light when you walk in the bedroom, even without the lights on and on a rainy day in November.  Using the front cap for a window floods the room with light, allowing for a much more enjoyable space to curl up and read, relax and hang out.  I also love that “window seat” in the front cap which has a lot of visible and non-visible storage.

From the front bedroom perfection of the Elevation’s bedroom to the Dutchmen Voltage 3970 bathroom.  It is roomy and does not feel claustrophobic or confined.

voltage_3970_bathroom_hazel_decor_big-thumb  Well let’s be blunt, I despise that sink immensely and it would be on my wish list of things to have changed out immediately.  But otherwise, this is a good solid, residential feel to a bathroom on wheels.  And as Dave loves to point out and test, you aren’t going to injure yourself tripping up stairs when you’ve had one too many glasses of wine like some models. 

 

We have looked at a lot of toy haulers and they ALL universally suffer from the same problem from our perspective, trying to do too much in the space and thus resort of galley sofas.  voltage_3970_main_living_area_back_to_front_no_kitchen_hazel_decor_big-thumb  The 3970 is the first one we’ve walked in and the L-shaped sofa worked.  I will admit, I hated it when we first stepped into the coach but it quickly grew on me.  Dave sat directly in front of the fireplace and reclined with ease.  I was opposite him on the sofa of awesomeness, more on that sofa later in another post,  and we were comfortable.  If it were just the two of us and Pickles and Leo there would be no misgivings but cram two mutts at 60 and 90 pounds and the foot space is a little cramped.  But overall, this living room space is well thought out and functional.  The television is large, the fireplace is low to the ground and there is plenty of storage space, some of which is even accessible by the short person of the family.

 

The kitchen has been a huge concern and has eliminated more than one coach from further consideration.  The Dutchman Voltage 3970 however has the best kitchen to date in terms of storage, functionality, and ease of use.  And one of the strongest selling points of the coach has the crappiest photos from the manufacturer.

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The refrigerator and pantry sit next to the sofa of awesomeness on the slide-out and the remainder of the kitchen is U-shaped with lots of storage and counter space.  It would be possible for two people to work in the kitchen and not be constantly bumping into one another.

 

And into the garage we go, yep garage.  First off, I’d shave two feet off of the eleven or twelve foot garage and put that two feet into the living room.  It would open up the living room foot space and provide more space for dogs to stretch out or kids to play.  So, in our “perfect’’ coach the garage is smaller but we don’t intend to use it for hauling toys but rather as a bonus room.  This a a huge space with a patio to the outdoors.  It is perfect for sipping morning coffee, eating dinner, or coming in and shedding muddy clothes after a hike.  A great place to wipe down filthy dogs and dry out boots.   But it also works great as an office space and gaming space, be it board or video games.    There is the added bonus of a completely separate space if you happen to have a fight with your spouse and you need to go to your separate area for a bit. 

 

So, what would my nine or ten foot garage look like?  Well, combine the features of the Heartland Edge 397, Crossroads Elevation, and the Dutchmen Voltage 3970.

 

First up the Edge’s features.

phoca_thumb_l_2015%20EG%20397ED%2067 and phoca_thumb_l_2015%20EG%20397ED%2064.  So, dual patios.  The amount of light that floods in is amazing and the amount of extra living space acquired is tremendous.  The 397 also has this great television which while shown above, doesn’t show off it’s best feature and that is that it pivots to the outside for viewing.  Now I realize in my shortened garage this feature and the ones below are incompatible but it is a great feature.  The 397 also does one thing extremely well, there is a ton of storage built into the wall which is truly great.

 

The Elevation line has one of the single best features in any garage, the washer and dryer is in the garage!

Elevation15_Richmond_garage  No longer is that necessary appliance eating precious space in the living quarters but rather it’s now in the garage where it belongs.  One simple change that frees up so much living space it boggles the mind.

 

The 3970 has the best dining space created in the garage that we’ve seen.

 voltage_3970_garage_front_to_back_hazel_decor_big-thumb  The table feels substantial, not flimsy and stows away somewhere.  The bench sitting is comfortable and more importantly the table is large.  You can easily eat dinner or play a board game.  The 3970 does let in a considerable amount of light for there not being a second patio or sliding glass door.  Also, that recliner in the photo is comfortable and you could easily spend hours in the recliner.

 

The rear patio/ramp on the 3970 has an essential feature which isn’t found on most other toy haulers we’ve seen.

voltage_3970_garage_porch_with_stairs_hazel_decor_big-thumb  Can you guess what the feature is?  voltage_3970_garage_porch_steps_big-thumb

Yep, something as simple as stairs up to the back patio with a handrail.  Why don’t all toy haulers with patios come with this?  No seriously, why?  It makes the patio far more accessible, far more useful, and far safer than without it.  Now old dogs, cranky knees, and people can get onto the patio without tromping through your home.  No muddy footprints and no wee ones jumping off the patio to get down (well in theory).

 

Now for the little things that make all the difference.  First, entry steps are the single most important thing.  They are the first thing a customer experiences, so why are so many fifth wheels so awful with steep entry steps and only three of them?  Best steps ever, for me, I first experienced on the lovely Jayco Pinnacle 36REQS

2892-Pinnacle%20-%20_0004_Pinn38FLSA_Steps%20copy  These steps are easy to use, not steep and feel supportive.  They are made by Lippert I’ve learned and were on the Voltage 3970 that we saw.  Why aren’t they more widely used or a factory option on every coach I will never comprehend.  Dave already knows that if the steps aren’t present on the coach we decide on these steps will be replacing whatever steps are standard.

 

Scare lights, never thought about these until we started looking at the Crossroads Elevation and they were listed as a standard feature.  Now I wonder if they are on all the toy haulers we’ve looked at and they just aren’t listed.  I must remember to ask next time. 

 

This one is more of a complaint about all manufacturers in general and their websites.  Why are the pictures, if they exist mind you, out of date?  Seriously, if you’ve released the next model year then update your websites to show what that model year looks like not the previous model years.  Nothing drives me crazier than looking at pictures online and realizing that “Opps, this is last year and the next year is available at the dealer”.    And when manufacturers take pictures, take the same pictures of every coach, every time, for every model in a particular line and then upload them in the same order.  Nothing is more frustrating, well after my first complaint, then trying to compare model features but the same pictures for different models are unavailable.  It isn’t that hard to do, as an example Truck Masters here in Arizona takes and uploads the same pictures in the same order on every truck. 

 

Now for the compliments and both go to Heartland.  Heartland consistently, across model lines has the most information available and published for the consumer.  I know that I can look up R-values on a Heartland model or water capacity.  The information is consistent, except those rare times when it says TBD which baffles me.  Second, is customer service and this compliment and shout out goes specifically to Marie Pennington, Social Media Specialist for Heartland.  Heartland has a gem in Marie and she has made every interaction with Heartland easy and enjoyable.  We can ask her anything about a Heartland model and she will track down the answers for us promptly and efficiently.  While we haven’t decided on any particular model yet, if two models are close the relationship we’ve built with Heartland through Marie will tip the scales in Heartland’s favor.  Personal, informative, and friendly customer service will always win in my book.