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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The Best VALUE AROUND

Let’s face it, unless you are an avid oasis camper who doesn’t routinely need the comforts of air conditioning and electrical power to survive, then we all end up paying something to park our rigs and live.  Be it at a five star resort or a city park, if we want amenities then we have to be willing to open our wallets and fork out the cash.  We have no trouble doing so but like all us, we prefer to get good value for our hard earned money.

New Mexico has the flat out best value to any camper, full-time or not, in the country.  Residents pay $180 and non-residents pay $225 a year for an annual camping pass allowing the holder to camp at one of the more than twenty state parks for a nominal fee per night depending on the type of spot.

Primitive (no hook-ups) are free of charge to annual pass holders.  50 amp electrical plus water sites are $4.00 a night, while adding sewer to the above pushes the nightly fee to $8.00.  No matter how you slice the pie, that is an extremely good value for your money.  Many of the parks also have wifi available for use.  Even if you only use the pass a couple of times a year, it more than pays for itself.  You can spend 14 nights out of 20 in any one state park and reservations can be made up to six months in advance.

I know what you are sitting there thinking to yourself, but it’s HOT in New Mexico!  True it can be, but a quick look and almost every state park is located on a body of water.

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Percha Dam State Park is pictured above.  It is far from barren and hot.  There are mountains in the background, the trees are full of birds, and there are actual trees versus cacti. 

The value of the New Mexico State Park pass cannot be beat, especially when compared to the prices for similar amenities in neighboring states.  We have already booked our summer plans and they involve staying at the various lakes around New Mexico.  The Gump can handle winter camping without issue so we are looking forward to doing some winter camping as well.

Learning Experience and curve

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We thought ourselves smarter than the average bear when we decided to purchase The Gump last December.  After all, we had done a lot of research, looked at a lot of different models and manufacturers, we knew what we wanted and needed for our family, and we walked away from the ultimate choice at least twice before deciding to purchase.  It was a non-emotional and well thought-out purchase.  And yet, as we’ve learned we would have landed in the same spot if we had bought the first time we set foot in The Gump.

Listen folks, Mum is about to admit that she was wrong and that Dad handled the situation much better than she did.  Also, can we get The Gump back already!  I miss travelling and impressing folks with my sparkling personality.

Pickles is right, Dave handled the service issues much, much better than I did.  I come from a background where every decision, choice was treated like the life and death matter it was (aerospace) whereas Dave can navigate murky waters of corporate life with an ease I cannot comprehend.  Guess whose skills are more relevant in the RV world?  Yep, not mine.  I’m ok with that, now.  I’m perfectly content to be the writer of the blog and planner of trips.  Those dark, murky waters of slime can be navigated by Dave, I’ll be content to be the port in the storm from here on out.

Rather than turn this into a rant, I’ve decided to share a couple of lessons we learned in the last nine weeks of extended shake-down service.

Lesson One

The closer to home you get your rig worked on, the better.  Nope seriously, sounds like common sense but we learned this one the hard way.  Two hour drive one way through some of the worst traffic in the nation to check on progress of repairs means you won’t be checking in on a regular basis.  Phone calls and emails are easy but are also easy to ignore and dodge.  It’s much harder to ignore a person who shows up and wants to see the status of repairs. 

Next time, despite the lack of trust in the dealership closer to the house we will be taking it there instead of the dealership we’ve spent months building a working relationship with simply because ten miles is a lot closer than two hours.  Our showing up yesterday did far more than all of my emails and phones in the weeks since we dropped off The Gump for service.

Lesson Two

Be willing to make repairs yourself even if you aren’t the handyman type.  We heard this but took it with a large grain of salt.  After all, if you could pay to have the work done professionally isn’t that less risky than let’s say  Tammy All Thumbs trying to repair something?  Short answer, undoubtedly yes but should you opt for the professional repair option be prepared to be royally and repeated screwed.

We have a simple, easy to repair safety issue that Dutchmen is refusing to repair.  The details are for another post but the repair is less than $35 in raw materials and some time and labor.  Fair enough, when the quote came in for the repair let’s just say it was far in excess of 100% markup in what I thought was the cost of raw materials.  I told Dave, nope we’ll figure it out.  He’s always engineering stuff and this time the conceptual can be made real.  We’d save a ton of cash and get The Gump back that much sooner.

Lesson Three

Spreadsheet action items are your best friend.  Your rig may be your weekend get away or it may be your home but either way, the spreadsheet is your best friend when it comes to tracking ongoing issues and repairs. 

Our dealership is busy and our service advisor is swamped.  I know this logically but honestly, I’d become lazy and dependent like we all have on just throwing ongoing issues in an email as they came up.  Guess what?  Emails are easy to lose track of and a pain to follow-up on individually when there is long list of problems awaiting resolution.  Spreadsheets on the other hand, attach to an email just as easily and keep everything that is ongoing in one place. 

So, as you can imagine we now have an action item spreadsheet for The Gump.  That same spreadsheet will be used until we no longer own The Gump.

Conclusion

So, would we do it all over again knowing what we know now?  Yes, no hesitation and no regrets.  We would do things differently regarding service and letting Dave handle interactions with Dutchmen and Keystone.  But as for The Gump?  No question we made the right decision for us, even if we haven’t made the right decision every time since.  Life is a learning curve and we’ve learned a lot in the last four months.  But much like the photo at the top, the sun is beginning to break through the clouds and there is light at the end of the road.  I’m off to grab a cup of coffee and plan the next shake-out trip.

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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Our PDI Experience

This post is late because we got home from Tucson and immediately came down with very bad colds and the flu. We are both finally recovering and feeling human.   So without further ado, our PDI experience with La Mesa RV Tucson follows.

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Lana and The Gump headed for home for the first time

 

We went to Tucson the third week of December and lucky us, it was the coldest week in the last several months.  Dave was grumbling about the amount of stuff I was packing to take but hey, we were camping out on the lot for at least two days so stuff had to come along.  Once the normal spousal grumbling ceased we made our way to Tucson, fully expecting the worst.  We had heard so many horror stories about dealers rushing the PDI and things not being caught.  I had warned La Mesa I was going to be a stickler and they assured me that it would be no problem.

Our expectations for far exceeded and there was no single question that wasn’t answered or concern addressed.  The PDI was actually an incredibly reassuring experience.  Every person we dealt with was professional, polite, and low key.  When we arrived we greeted by our salesman, Chris Johns, who introduced us to our service manager, Floyd Hall.  Floyd and Chris are exceptional individuals who I will heap praise upon in the next post

Floyd had one of his service advisors, Dave Masters, walk us out to the fifth wheel and he proceeded to walk us through the outside of the coach.  Dave had more questions than I did but the Dave’s asked and answered until my Dave was comfortable.  Then we went inside where I had more questions, which were comfortably asked and answered.

Not once did either of us dig out one of the numerous check lists we had found online prior to leaving for Tucson.  I’m infamous for making lists and so it is shocking that not once during the entire PDI process did I feel the need to pull out a PDI checklist.  I attribute that to the patience and professionalism of Floyd and his team.

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Hard at work for the first time in The Gump

 

When we purchased the coach, part of the deal was that we would spend a couple of nights on the lot at La Mesa before signing off on the PDI.  I cannot tell you how invaluable those nights were.  Dave worked during the day, as you can see above.  (He actually hates that picture but I’m proud of him since he lost fifty pounds in 2015).  Every morning we had an e-mail waiting for Floyd with questions or things that went wrong overnight.  Those camping nights were far more educational than the physical walkthrough.  Every morning John, our service technician, would knock on the door prepared to fix stuff, everything from misbehaving  MCD shades to gouged flooring.

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The first selfie I think we’ve ever taken

 

Speaking of gouged flooring, the amazing ladies at Creative Colors International out of Casa Grande, AZ did an amazing job repairing our linoleum (of which they had never seen or repaired before).  The repair job is so amazing that neither of us can pinpoint the exact location where the floor was damaged.  The pictures below are of the repaired area, before and after.  It’s a little evident in a close-up photo but everyday life, not at all visible.

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Before

 

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After

We are pleased that the floor looks so good and the linoleum didn’t have to be ripped up and replaced.

 

We left on Friday morning, after three nights on the La Mesa lot.  Almost every concern or issue we had was addressed prior to returning home.  The outstanding issues were under discussion with La Mesa and Dutchmen for resolution.  The Gump will be returning to Tucson at the end of January for outstanding items and the new stuff we’ve found on the first trip out.

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Our landing lights, one of which was out and only discovered while camping on the dealer lot

 

Our biggest advice and take-away from the PDI experience?  Staying overnight on the dealer lot before signing off on your rig cannot be under-estimated.  So many issues and concerns were addressed that we would not have found during the normal PDI process.  Should we ever replace The Gump, we will be overnighting on the dealer’s lot during the PDI.