The Beginning Part Four

We purchased the second RV, a 2001 Hitch Hiker.  We intentionally purchased a smaller fifth-wheel (30’) because it would be easier and less expensive to tow to Texas.  Since we would be living in the Hitchhiker (from now on referred to as HH) for only about four months of the year, it would not have to have all of the storage space that the RR had.  We did chuckle to ourselves that the trailer we bought to take to Texas is a full four season and the one we were leaving in Iowa was only a three season.  Little did we suspect the changes that were in store for us!

We purchased the HH and made arrangement to have the RR moved from our seasonal site at Cutty’s.  The RR was going into storage so that we could give the HH a good ‘break in’ period.  The plan was to live in the HH through another Iowa winter, spring, summer and fall before heading to Texas.  That would let us become accustomed to the trailer.  The reality of what happened was; the slideout on the RR refused to slide in.  Upon examination, it was discovered that a corner portion of the slideout had suffered water damage and ‘dropped’ several inches.  It may be repairable.  However, since the RV is twenty years old, the cost is likely more than the trailer is worth.  The Cutty’s maintenance staff was able to tow it (with the slideout still in the out position) to the on site storage area.

Now we are left with the possibility of moving all of our belongings from the RR to the HH when we had planned to only move a portion of them.  We now need to make plans to either tow the HH to Texas AND BACK or to purchase yet another new RV.   There are other options also such as renting a place to stay, abandoning the idea of moving with the seasons or …. ?

We’d just have to see what God had in store for us.  For now we are settled in for another Iowa winter in our new home, the HH.  We have already had our first snow of the season.  One to five inches of very heavy, wet snow that took down trees and power lines as well as snarled traffic with accidents.


The Beginning Part Three

I’m not an expert – just experienced

Imagine downsizing from our Big Old (built in 1890) Victorian home to a 35′ RV

Cutty’s Resort remains open it winter so it was possible to go ‘full time’ in the RV.  That same year we sold our 1890 Victorian home and became full-timers.

Our dream had been to retire to a ‘mobile lifestyle’.  I envisioned it being something like, waking in the morning and flipping a coin to decide if we were to travel left or right, forward or back.  We were still several years from being able to retire but we were beginning to live a version of the dream.

Our friends and family were concerned for us to the point that when we said we were going to live in the RV during the winter they asked, “Won’t you be cold?”  To which we replied, “I don’t know, ask us again in the spring.”  Well, thanks to following the advice of other full-timers, we made it through that first winter with only minor difficulties.  And, “No” we were not cold.  We learned to use foil-backed foam insulation to skirt the trailer.  We also learned to use ‘trouble lights’ to provide just a little heat behind the RV refrigerator. (Unlike household refrigerators which use a compressor, RV refrigerators rely on evaporation and must have heat to work.)  We learned to use plastic film to cover the windows.  We learned how to depend on the fresh water tank for water and how to keep the water lines from freezing.  But most of all we learned how beautiful God’s world is in the winter.

We watched the leaves on the trees around the lake turn from green to bright fall colors and then to abandon the trees for the winter.  We watched the sunlight sparkle so brightly on the lake that it almost hurt your eyes.  We watched the geese and ducks invade and then leave as they passed through to warmer areas.  Gold finches changed to their drab green fall color.  Rabbits, raccoons, deer and hawks became the winter time entertainment replacing the song birds of summer.  We discovered that the winter sun shining on snow and ice mimicked the sunlight sparkle of the summer lake.  We discovered how little we needed for us to be happy.

For the next couple of years we made the resort our home base.  However, we also were able to volunteer as camp hosts at a couple of Corp of Engineer parks around Saylorville Lake.  We both were still working full time (though we were both doing temp work).

In the years since then we have both retired.  Ella was tired of waiting for new temp jobs to open.  I had a heart attack that made me even more aware of how quickly things can change.  Since retiring, we have done more work camping and some part-time jobs.

Now that we qualify for Medicare it will give us more freedom to travel without worrying about whether our insurance will be honored.  Our plan is to travel to the Austin Texas area for the winter of 2012-2013 and then return to Iowa for the summer months.  However, we’ll see how those plans work out.  They have already gone through some revision.  The original plan was to purchase another RV to take to Texas.  We would then leave that one in storage in the south and return to Iowa and live in the RR. (to be continued)

The Beginning Part Two

If you haven’t read “The Beginning Part One” you should read it first for a fuller understanding.

For about three years prior to the cancer incident, we had begun looking at travel trailers, motor-homes, and fifth-wheels.  We had pretty good ideas about what we wanted for when we retired.  It had to be a full four season RV with a decent kitchen area and lots of closet space.  The type of RV was something on which we had not come to agreement.

I liked the idea of a Class A motor home – you know – those big busses – not fancy van conversions.  Ella hated the idea of a motor home.  “I don’t want a steering wheel in my living room,” was one of her frequent remarks.

We owned two conversion vans and therefore began looking primarily at travel trailers that could be pulled by the vans.  We received confusing and conflicting advice from sales people when we asked what size trailer we could pull with the van.  Some said we could pull any thing on the lot and some said it had to be towable by a ¼ ton vehicle.  I finally went to the GMC dealer (since the one we planned to use was a GMC) and asked for his expert advice.  The advice was, “Both are correct.”  As long as we were staying local with the unit we could handle any trailer that could be pulled by a ¾ ton truck.   However, since it was a conversion van, the transmission was geared differently and would not work for long hauls with a heavy unit.



I remarked to the GMC salesman that eventually I would probably upgrade to a ¾ ton truck which would solve my problem.  “Funny you should mention that,” he said. “Come look at this truck that I just took in on trade.”  Yes, I bought it! It was a ¾ ton extended cab with both a fifth-wheel receiver and a bumper hitch. Since the pick up already had a fifth-wheel receiver, it opened us up to looking at fifth-wheels.

The same weekend that we bought the truck we also bought a used 1991 Road Ranger 35Y fifth-wheel manufactured by K.I.T.  Nearly 37 feet long with an amble galley kitchen and lots of storage space, it was very nearly what we had been envisioning.  It was not a full four season trailer.  However, this was only to be our ‘first’ trailer and not the one we retired into.

We picked the Road Ranger (RR for short) up on a Wednesday in the middle of April and took it home.  That Friday night we took it out for a weekend of camping.  We returned home only to pick up more ‘stuff’ until the Corp of Engineers Parks closed on October 30th.

Keep in mind that we were still working so we had to stick fairly close to home – just like we had done when tent camping.  We had adult kids living at home with us and they kept the ‘sticks and bricks’ house going while we camped.

The next year we bought a membership with Cutty’s Des Moines Camping Club which is a members’ owned resort in the Des Moines area.   The campground is over eighty acres of gently rolling sparsely forested hills with an eleven acre fishing lake in the middle. The resort has amenities such as; two outdoor pools, wading pool, eighteen hole miniature golf, western play village, giant slide, playgrounds, basket ball courts, horseshoe pitching areas, sand volley ball, shuffle board and tennis courts.  It is much like the small towns in which Ella and I grew up. There is a general store, café, laundry facilities, RV parts store, repair shop and a large “main street” meeting area where there are all types of entertainment every weekend during the camping season. One of the biggest attractions for us was the large clubhouse which remains open year around.  The clubhouse has in indoor pool, sauna, hot tub, exercise room, showers, and laundry.

To be continued …

The Beginning Part One

Originally published November 2011

The genesis of this story goes back a long time.  I’m not sure of the exact year when it happened but I know that it was at least a decade ago, maybe closer to two.  The company, for which I was then working, added a new benefit to our package.  The new benefit was the chance to purchase Cancer Insurance at a discount.  It was set up so that my wife and I would both be covered.  It was for a one-time payout if either of us was ever diagnosed with cancer.  Because cancer has eaten away at both sides of our family, it seemed like a good idea to take the policy.

In 2003 Ella’s mammogram came back showing a spot.  It was as tiny as a grain of salt.  They performed a biopsy and found it was indeed breast cancer.  The good news was that the biopsy had removed it all.   However, to be double sure, she had a lumpectomy and radiation treatments in January 2004.  The cancer is gone, thank God.

We sent the paperwork to the insurance company and received a check with which we paid the doctor.  There was money left over. What to do?

With a new perspective of our own mortality, we resolved to start doing some of those things that were planned for our retirement.  We loved camping and so determined to get away more often.  We had been tent campers since early in our marriage.  We would often spend two week stints several times a year living in our tents even while going to work every day.

If we camped where there was electricity, you might also find a mini-fridge and a microwave.

Now to understand us, it helps to understand ‘how’ we tent camped.  First there was the tent.  It was 12’x17’ and had 3 rooms with 2 ‘pop out’ closets.  Then we had a screen room which was 15’x20’ which was butted up to the front door of the tent. Then there was the shower tent that butted up to the back door of the tent.  Over the entire layout was a 20’x30’ silver, sun-blocking tarp.  The tarp sat on a home-made frame.  We also had a tarp as a water barrier under the entire set up.  We then had a carpet scrap that covered the tent floor.  We stacked two queen-size air mattresses for our bed.

In the screen room, we had a plywood counter top laid across a series of plastic stacking drawers in the kitchen area.  Two of the drawers also acted as sinks for washing and rinsing dishes.  We used a propane stove that had two burners, a grill, and a tiny oven about 4”x6”x10”. Folding tables and chairs sat in the dining area and camp chairs in the sitting room area.  Both tents were well illuminated by Coleman lanterns powered by a couple of 20 pound LP tanks.

I mentioned the shower tent, well; we had a battery powered submersible pump that connected to a hand held shower wand.  On the floor of the tent was a very small inflatable ‘kiddy’ pool.

With nearly 600 square feet of living space, we were far from ‘roughing it’.  As a matter of fact we often pitied the people in their travel trailers and motor homes for having to live such ‘cramped’ lives.

We lived very well when we tent camped.  However, as all good things do, there came a time when the set up, tear down and put away part of camping became too much for us.  After you’ve rolled up all of that canvas and find yourself on your knees looking for something to help pull you back to your feet, which is when you begin to think about travel trailers.   (to be continued)