The car snack conundrum

What do you do when you are on that long drive between point A and point B and stopping to pick-up a sandwich (or pop into the fifth wheel and make them) just isn’t feasible?  This is a common problem for us, between Pickles needing to eat at roughly the same time everyday and just plain hunger on those long drives.

We’ve tried the old standbys of crackers and cheese, fruit, and cookies but honestly those aren’t such a great solution.  We don’t have anywhere we can store a cooler to keep things cold.  Dave always suggests jerky but it is usually overly salty and not the best choice for the animals (despite their universal love for all forms of jerky). 

I made these awesome cookies last weekend and in the middle of this week.  They are oatmeal cookies so full of good fiber.  But they are not savory and trust me, Pickles hyped up on sugar in the backseat chattering his fool head off will make no one happy!

This week we ordered a meat bar from Epic.  I know sounds weird right?

Dave was the designated test subject.  Let’s just say they weren’t what we were expecting.  We were both surprised when he opened the package and there was moisture, ooey, gooey moisture.  Raised eyebrows and a skeptical bite later (well, ok I took a small nibble as opposed to his bite) and we were confused.

It wasn’t bad, but at the same time it wasn’t something I’d go out of the way to find again.  Yes it’s full of protein and is something we could all eat in Lana toddling down the road, but it is incredibly bland.  And by incredibly bland, it might have been raw bison because there was no other flavor note.  We couldn’t taste the bacon or the cranberries, although you could see the cranberries.  There needed to be a spicy, peppery note to balance out the sweetness.

It’s hard to wrap your mind around wet meat that is shelf stable.  Admittedly it checks all kinds of trendy boxes: gluten-free, paleo, environmental etc. but as nice as all that may be, if in the end the product is just weird on the palate what’s the point?

We have more of the bars sitting on the counter and I highly suspect they will become expensive dog and bird snacks while traveling.  I still need to come up with a savory cookie that travels well and tastes good.  I can’t see myself voluntarily consuming the meat bar. 

So, what do you eat driving down the road?


Our First Week

We’ve been here a week today and so what is the general take-away you might be wondering? If your spouse isn’t your best friend then the close quarters will not be to your liking. Luckily, we are best friends and so far so good!

Biggest Challenge

Pickles is the biggest challenge so far. Birds, much like toddlers come with a lot of kit. It isn’t so bad when the sun is shining and we can chunk him on the back patio to hang out. He’s loving the experience but his cage eats up real estate which can be challenging at times. We knew that going in so it isn’t a surprise.

Our mission when we return to “civilization” is to look for different options for him. We need to have the ability to let him come out and play safely (for him and The Gump both) and sleep at night. His travel cage isn’t an option because he doesn’t have the room to spread his wings. We will figure something out, even if it means making it ourselves.

Biggest Surprise


Wally has been the biggest surprise. At fourteen and half, he isn’t the most spry dog but he has embraced the lifestyle with enthusiasm and gusto. Sure the stairs up into The Gump aren’t his favorite but hey that’s why we got a toy hauler with a back patio so the dog ramp could be used. He is active and loving every minute.

Sangria has taken to the woods like a duck to water. This is the same dog who won’t poop while walking her home neighborhood. But apparently, put her princess bum in the woods and pooping is no longer an issue. She’s been awesome the whole time.


Leo loves laying down and chattering at the birds and squirrels. He hasn’t tried to escape once, well the cold may have something to do with that. Overall, one very happy cat!

The Humans


Once we solved the data dilemma, or rather Dave did, we have settled in quite comfortably. The Xbox One is connected and we can game. We have settled into spots on the sofas with ease. We have our own space but are never far from one another.

There are certain things you learn to live with and handle. The black tank backing up because of the 10° temperatures at night, the after effects of broccoli for dinner, and forgetting to turn on the bathroom fan after use. But overall, small things compared with the solitude and peace we’ve experienced in the last week.

Our Top Tips for Newbies

1. Be adaptable – you will forget something and things will act up. A little patience goes a long way into making challenges molehills and not mountains.
2. Forgive and forget – yup, things will annoy the crap out of you pretty quickly in tight quarters. Grumble and forget is our best advice.
3. Bring more socks than you need if the weather is inclement!
4. If not connected to 50amp shore power, be prepared to flip the breaker often until you get in the habit of checking amp usage. Coffee pot, fireplace, and microwave/convection oven cannot all run at the same time!
5. You will never miss that missing width from a residential king mattress.

So while we have much to learn and figure out still, it’s been a very good week. Everyone is happy and healthy.

Introducing “The Gump”


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. 


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.


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. 


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!


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.


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. 


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! 


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.

James Decides to Retire Early



James, the faithful Range Rover of my youth, decided that his service to the family was over a week ago.  He just gave up the ghost, didn’t let me have one final swan song ride.  Instead, he gave up and caused Mum and Dad oodles of unnecessary stress just before Thanksgiving, the best food feeding frenzy of the year!  I’m officially going to go pout in my corner. 




Pickles may be pouting but he is correct, James decided to retire while we were on the way to my parents house for dinner with the extended family last Tuesday.  The alternator light came on and we were lucky enough to be able to turn into a local neighborhood to call AAA.  James was towed home on a chilly Tuesday night and once disconnected from the tow truck he fired right up and pulled into the driveway with no issues.  So, you can imagine just how frustrated we both were!




Dave immediately resumed the search for a truck that would tow the fifth wheels we have been looking at the last couple of months.  We knew we were going to have to replace James eventually but that was sometime next spring.  Apparently James figured it out and decided on early retirement without consulting us. 




Wally and Sangria have enjoyed many hours in the backseat off-roading and hanging their heads out the windows.  They fit nicely in the back seat together and loved the big windows.  Pickles used to ride on the cover to the rear.  His cage snugly fit between the roof and the cover so he didn’t slide around.  He could see everything and loved the view freaking out little kids as we were driving down the road.


So, as you can imagine our last week was spent looking for new trucks and facing sticker shock.  But more on that in the next post.  James was a much loved, well used, and faithful vehicle for the seven years we had him.  I would never hesitate to own another Range Rover.


Rest In Vehicle Peace James

Heartland Big Country 3900FLP Impressions


Saturday morning arrived and I was all set for a day of football and family time but much to my displeasure Mom and Dad disappeared again for the vast majority of the day. When they finally stumbled in the door some seven hour after they departed, they were tired and out of sorts. I’ve decided to take a back seat in this post because I know my parents moods and they are bummed.




Friday, of last week, I called La Mesa RV in Tucson and verified that the Big Country 3900FLP (the only one in the state) was still on lot and would be available on Saturday.  I then asked that the unit be turned on and the lights on Saturday morning and the patio extended so that we could get a more realistic view of the unit.  They agreed and sure enough come Saturday morning the unit was there and waiting for us just like I had requested.  So far, this was a VASTLY different experience than with their counterparts in Phoenix.  The very nice salesmen even left us alone to talk and discuss things without interference.


Overall our first impression was fabulous, the light from the sliding glass door and the patio combined to make a great fifth wheel experience.  There is plenty of internal storage for just about everything I could reasonably think of bringing.  There is room for Pickles to hang out in the kitchen, in the living room, and on the patio.  The patio is perfection.  Not only could Pickles be easily rolled out there in his cage but both dogs could lay on the deck on sun themselves and there would still be plenty of room for me to curl up and read.  Dave could see everyone from his desk at the kitchen table and thus wouldn’t be too far from the action so to speak.




The double slide out in the bedroom makes it feel huge.  The ability to walk around the king size bed without tripping over your feet, or someday Wally’s sprawled sleeping self in the middle of the night, is huge.  The large window in the bedroom lets in a ton of light which also helps add to the feeling of spacious living.  The under bed storage was also extremely nice.




The bathroom was probably the least favorite thing.  There was plenty of headroom in the shower for Dave, who at 6’2 doesn’t always fit in RV showers.  I was surprised at how cramped the bath was.  Everything you need was there but it felt super tiny and you definitely would not be drying off comfortably in the shower.  Note to self: shower with the coach blinds down to prevent scaring any potential neighbors!


The patio is the huge selling point for this model and it doesn’t disappoint.  The awning on the coach completely covers the patio which is perfect.  It is large enough for dining al fresco, reading, bird sunning, dog lounging and avoiding the creepy crawlies that roam on the ground.  It is truly the selling point.  We both love the patio.




Now for the problems, which were made all the more evident when we once again went to the RV Show on Sunday and walked through various other fifth wheels from Heartland and the competition.  We are hoping that the issues noted below are isolated incidents with this particular unit and not representative of the 3900FLP build quality overall.





This the the kitchen corner desk/table countertop corner facing the kitchen.  On a brand new, built in August 2015, the countertop is lifting away from the wall.  It is a visible gap and the slightest pressure from above makes the gap more apparent while some slight pressure from below stabilizes the structure (as Dave learned below).  Now, Dave already devised a potential solution if we should experience this issue but overall,  it was unexpectedly poor build quality.


Same area, this time on the wall next to the sliding glass door.



There are also issues with the wood lamination in the bedroom.




And the furniture in the living was not up to the level of comfort we’ve come to expect from Heartland, this was made even more apparent after Sunday afternoon.  It’s decent to look at but there would be no curling up in the sofas and losing yourself in a good book.  The recliners weren’t all that comfortable as well.  We realize that everyone’s definition of comfort varies but this particular coach appears to have gotten the least comfortable furniture ever.



The entertainment center and fireplace were extremely nice.  Roomy cabinets that will easily accommodate the XboxOne with plenty of room for books and games.  But why is the stereo front and center?  It is an eyesore, all blue and glowy.  If it had been recessed or behind a glass cabinet I would be much happier.  Yes, I can live with it but it is an eyesore that isn’t present on the Big Country 3800 which is the almost exact same floor plan without the patio.




Overall, we love the 3900FLP in concept and design but we have a lot of questions to get answered from the factory about build quality and design.    We have conflicting answers from the factory and dealer on axles.  We have generator issues to be resolved.   Needless to say, we won’t be purchasing the one sitting on the lot in Tucson.  The price is good but there are too many issues that were noticed by us on a general viewing walk through to be comfortable purchasing that particular model.  We know things jar loose or break with time, travel and use.  


Conversation with Heartland and Ourselves

After we viewed the coach and spent Sunday looking at other coaches at the RV Show, we had questions and concerns which we raised directly with Heartland.  Marie Pennington is our customer service point of contact and Joel Eberlein is the General Manager for the Big Country model line.  Marie and Joel were both extremely helpful in addressing our concerns and tracking down answers for us.  Customer service has been excellent and deserves public praise in an industry that often overlooks customer satisfaction.


The 3900FLP received a design update this fall and the above living room picture is no longer representative of what the new models look like for the 2016 product line.  With Heartland’s permission, we are sharing the new living room which directly addresses our concerns.  The stereo is no longer an eyesore and the color scheme is much improved.  The sofas also look like the ones we sat in on the Big Country 3800 over the weekend which are a significant improvement over the ones on the FLP we walked through.




Heartland is confident that the lamination and cabinet issues we found on our walkthrough could be addressed and solved during the PDI by the dealer.  Dave and I are both of the same mind, if they exist when we order and do our PDI those are both reasons for which we would refuse to accept delivery of the coach.  One is cosmetic which will drive me bonkers once I notice it and one is structural.  We both understand that the countertop issue may reoccur with wear and tear but new from the factory, it should not be present.


Our other big concerns, were the axles and whether or not our current mattress would fit.  The FLP comes standard with 7,000 pound axles and our dealer told us that 8,000 pound axles were an option.  This has been confirmed by Joel and has eliminated our weight concerns for cargo carrying capacity entirely.  Marie has also confirmed this morning that our mattress will fit the clearance needed for the double slides in the bedroom.  I cannot begin to tell you how thrilled that made us both.


Barring a radical change of circumstances, we have made up our minds.  Come early first quarter we will be placing our custom order for the Big Country 3900FLP.  It is the best fit for our needs.  If gives us so much extra space with the attached patio.  Pickles, Wally, and Sangria can all sun themselves without worrying about creepy crawlers.  Dave has space to work and we all have space to relax, cook, read comfortably, and game.  So, after the holidays are over the decluttering and downsizing will begin in earnest as we prepare to transition to fulltime this summer when our lease ends.