1 It all started several years ago when it became apparent that I would never settle for a sedentary life once I retired. It wasn‟t that I was excessively active (far from it) or that I strove for some (or any) specific goals, grand or otherwise. It was just that after all these years I was feed up with the nine-to- five, day in/day out grind. I was tired of the increasing tendency of government (particularly the local variant) telling me what and when I could or could not do something and, as a home owner, increasingly deciding through onerous property taxes (layers and layers of property taxes) that they know better then I do how to spend my hard earned money. I was tired of the constant need to do something or be somewhere at a certain time and the constant financial demands that homeownership placed on my limited resources (a direct variant of the increasing age of the house). In addition I have spent the last several years caring for my aging mother who suffers from Alzheimer‟s disease and although, thank god, my eldest brother provided much (but not all) of the necessary finances, the 24/7 personal (and, yes additional financial) responsibilities were overwhelming. Also, for the last several summers I have enjoyed road trips by car to the northwest, the northeast, and the southeast. In short I have known for sometime that when I retired I would chuck it all for a RV and life as a full-timer. I have always had an eye out for my eventual retirement and from an early age arranged a monthly sum to be put aside from my paychecks—and this very much predates IRA‟s and 401‟s. Then when my father passed away, I split my inheritance into three equal sums and bought into three annuities. At the time I wasn‟t certain when I would retire and so I addressed three possible outcomes—retirement at ages 55, 60, and 65. A couple of years ago I became increasingly disenchanted with my current lifestyle. In particular I have become totally disillusioned with the education field (I am currently a teacher)—not only is the direction it has been going in for the last several years wrong but the continued and, may I say, intensified efforts of politicians and academic „educational‟ experts pretty much guarantees that a major debacle is pending. As usual, although pretty much innocent of the decisions and edicts that have made modern education as bad as it is today (see above…politicians and academic experts), it will be the poor teachers who will bear the burden of blame and retribution for the resulting disaster and I don‟t want to be around when that happens. Additionally I am just sick and tried of the assortment of games that teachers are required to play (and the ever increasing number of hoops we must jump through) in order to satisfy the whims of clueless administrators and politicians. In any case, here in Texas they have what is called the „rule of 80‟ for teacher retirement—the teacher‟s age and years of service must add up to 80 in order for a teacher to retire at full benefits („full‟ meaning a little more than half of the pre- retirement pay level—teachers in Texas are penalized under Social Security as „double dippers‟ so when I reach 65 my S.S. will be virtually non-existent despite all of those years I worked and paid into the system before I entered teaching) but the teacher must be at least 55 years of age--they recently changed this to 60 for new employees if you do not want severe financial penalties. At the time I figured that at age 57 (at the end of September, 2008) I would have accumulated 23 years of service and would qualify (57 + 23 = 80). Then I found out that the state lets you „buy out‟ up to three years of service (costly—about $34,000 in my case)—they have since changed it so that as of September 1st of this year you no longer can do this--which would allow me to retire in about a year 2 and a half (May 29th, 2007—55 + 25 = 80). I went ahead and took advantage of this last January by rolling over one of my IRA‟s. Besides the benefits to my soul that retiring early would provide, the extra pension checks (one and a half year‟s worth) would more than pay back the initial cost and the additional monthly income (for retiring with „25‟ years of service instead of 23) would represent as good a „return on investment‟ as I could have expected from any IRA or annuity and be icing on the cake so to speak. Due to certain events (more on this later), I recently played with the idea of retiring at the end of September of 2006 (when I would become 55 years of age but would not yet have 25 years of service) which would be about eight and a half months early and would cost me about $130/month in pension payouts. I found out, however, that unless you meet the „rule of 80 „—I would be at „79‟ (55 years old + 24 years of service)—not only do you face a salary penalty but you would be forever barred from taking part in the retirement system‟s health insurance program. Although the offered insurance is expensive (particularly in cases like mine where you do not yet qualify for Medicare) it offers a pretty good drug benefits package and getting independent health insurance at my age (and with my existing conditions) would be difficult if not impossible and definitely expensive. So I guess that I am pretty much stuck with that New Years retirement (but that will be one hell of a nice Christmas present when I can leave for the holidays knowing that I will never have to come back to work). In any case my choice of how much to withdraw from my annuities each month is flexible (although I would prefer to remain conservative and attempt to limit my monthly withdraws such that they are balanced with earned interests—this way I would never deplete my investments, they would stay at about the same levels as they are now). I figure that between these withdraws and my monthly pension I should remain comfortably situated while „on the road‟. I am currently withdrawing funds from one of my annuities to make the payments on my RV ($1,002 per month) and toad ($478/month) but the toad will be paid off in just a few years and I figure that after retirement, once I liquidate my real property, I can completely pay off my RV loan in one lump sum. See my proposed budget below. Having made a life plan—retire at age 57 in the year 2008 and knowing that I would buy an RV and travel fulltime—I reverted to my compulsive habit of researching the subject to death. I started to read books on the RV lifestyle (and particularly full-timing), referring to sources that compared RV types and manufacturers, and even visiting the local RV dealers (since retirement appeared to be several years away—2008—I wasn‟t yet prepared to start making the RV show and rally circuit: first because I didn‟t want to deal with the over eager sales people who hound you when they think they smell a pigeon and second because El Paso is so isolated from any other big cities—Albuquerque or Dallas being the closest and yet each a day‟s driving away—that travel to these expos is prohibitive unless you can „take‟ a weekend). I must confess that among the greatest mysteries that I faced was the apparent flightiness of most RV owners I read about. When I buy a car I keep it for an average of ten years and then only trade it in because the cost of upkeep and frequency of repairs (and more importantly, the increasing lack of dependability) becomes untenable. Now a car is considerably less an investment then a RV, which can easily be more comparable to the purchase of a home. So why is it that apparently RV‟ers trade up, down, or sideways about every two years—would a 3 Bill Basis for Estimated Yearly Daily Cost FUEL Diesel for RV and Generator $4,500.00 $12.33 15 K mpy @ 10 mpg @ $3.00/gal Gasoline for Chevy Colorado $810.00 $2.22 6 K mpy @ 20 mpg @ $2.70/gal LP (propane) Gas $244.80 $0.67 8 gal/month @ $2.55/gal CAMPING $16.00 per nite average $5840.00 $16.00 FOOD & Cook-In, Dine-Out, and $5,475.00 $15.00 GROCERIES Sundries @ $456.25/month ELECTRONICS Dish Network Satellite TV $1,368.00 $3.75 @ $114.00/month XM Sat. Radio @ $27.00/month $324.00 $0.89 Internet (Earthlink)/Computer $300.00 $0.82 Supp.@ $25.00/month Cell Phone @ $139.68/month $1,676.16 $4.59 MAILBOX @ $13.75/month $165.00 $0.45 INSURANCE Health @ $295.00/month $3,540.00 $9.70 RV (plus Road Service & CPS) $2,756.14 $7.55 Toad (plus AAA) $909.00 $2.49 VEHICLES Licenses & Registrations $510.00 $1.40 Maintenance @ $ 181.00 /month $2,172.00 $5.95 DUES Club (SKP, FMCA, Good Sam, $194.00 $0.53 LoW) Campgrounds (C2C, RPI, AOR, $303.00 $0.83 PA, HC, EA) MEDICATIONS 4 @ $10.00 ea/90 days $160.00 $0.44 ENTERTAINMENT @ $70.00/month $840.00 $2.30 HOBBIES @ $40.00/month $480.00 $1.31 EMERG. EXP. @ $62.00/month $744.00 $2.04 MISCELLANEOUS Assorted non-repeating costs $1,095.00 $3.00 @ $3.00/day LOANS RV @ $1,002.20/month $12,025.40 $32.95 Truck (toad) @ $478.13/month $5,737.56 $15.72 TAXES Federal Income Taxes $7,085.52 $19.42 GRAND TOTAL COST $59,254.58 $162.34 ANTICIPATED TRS Pension @ $2,174.99/month $26,099.83 $71.51 INCOME Current Annuity Payout $19,069.08 $52.25 Other Annuities @ 7.5% return $16,887.96 $46.27 TOTAL INCOME $62,056.87 $170.02 DIFFERENCE +$2,802.29 +$7.68 Total of all Annuities @ 7.5% return on investment is $34,889.08/year 4 home owner do the same? I think not! I approach the purchase of an RV as a lifetime investment (at my age that may not be unrealistic) so I look for comfort, quality, and durability. I also want it decked out with all the amenities as I truly intend to make this my permanent home. I determined early on that, for me, the choice of RV came down to a fifth wheel or a Class A, the only two type of units that I felt had the roominess for fulltime living. I just felt that all the other types had a „weekend outing/two week family vacation‟ feel or a „trailer park‟ feel. I liked the Class A because of appearance (after all when someone mentions RV what image first comes to your mind?), because of convenience while traveling (I can stop and walk back to get ice for my soda or a cup of coffee—without leaving the vehicle), and because when it came time to set up camp you didn‟t need to unhitch (and no wheel chucks to keep the unit from rolling) and leveling shouldn‟t be as much of a hassle. The Fifth-wheel, on the other hand, had a „built in‟ tow vehicle—a truck that you need anyway but can easily detach and utilize for local transportation. Believe me, the prospect of wheeling around in a 30 plus foot motor home for trips to the local 7/11 did not appeal to me one bit—I was realistic enough to know that a Class A would definitely require a separate tow vehicle. Internally both types of units could be outfitted in a similar manner—same amenities, roominess, could contain the same pleasant appointments, and for the most part undergo the same construction techniques. The next question was cost. Having taken a brief look at RVs several years ago, I was already aware that there was a wide range of prices for motor homes (back then they started at less than $35,000). I was however surprised at the wide range for fifth wheels. I suppose that there is a RV (new or used) priced for every budget but I was looking for a unit (new) that would meet my needs for comfort, would be built to last, would have high ratings in all categories in RV buying guides--and would be backed by a company with a good reputation for both quality and service. In addition I wanted to splurge on options (slides, built in washer/dryer, CB radio, fireplace, satellite TV w/two separate receivers, satellite radio, built in GPS system, surround sound, large refrigerator/freezer w/ice- maker, large water heater, large furnace, adequate insulation for winter camping in snow- -to include holding tanks/basements protected from freezing). I also know that once I hit the road, get a feel for the experience, and can afford it, I will probably be looking at solar panels, a mobile internet dish, and an anti-collision systems (either side cameras or a complete VORAD-type radar system) and a large flat-screen plasma or LCD TV. I had pretty much decided on narrowing down my search to fifth wheels. I guess that I did this for two reasons: first, I wanted an independent vehicle for local travel but I didn‟t particularly want to tow one behind a motor home and, second, the Class A units that I liked were too expensive. On a visit to a local dealer, I looked at a Travel Supreme fifth-wheel and was very impressed-- it had a beautiful interior and I firmly believe the best floor plan I have seen (fifth-wheel or Class A) before or since. Further investigation convinced me that based on company reputation and safety/driving/customer satisfaction ratings New Horizons probably offered the best fifth-wheel units on the market. I had mentally pegged the price of unit and tow at $80,000 to $90,000 total. But the right size New Horizon units ran $90,000 to $120,000 (and this was just for the fifth-wheel unit). When I looked at tow vehicles it became obvious that most units on the road where being towed by underpowered trucks. As I started to review specs for tows--GMC, Dodge, Ford, etc.--I quickly determined that only the commercial versions of their products were 5 capable to safely tow a good-sized fifth-wheel. The only unit that I found that would work was a Ford F550 (diesel), it would have to be special ordered from the factory and, comfortably outfitted (after all I would be doing all of my driving in it and therefore a comfortable cab was a must), would easily run $50,000. So my maximum budget became about $170,000 (twice what I originally planned for). For Class A motor homes I had determined that, if I should get one, I would want a diesel pusher with a Cummins engine. I understood that you get better power (particularly for going up hills) from a diesel and that although you had a higher initial cost to buy one, a diesel incurred much less repair cost over its life span and lasted much longer to boot (in fact I heard that at the point that most gasoline engines needed replacement the diesel engine would just be reaching the point were it is considered broken in) and I had always heard that the Cummins engines were the top of the line in diesel. Also, since the diesel units were typically the higher priced models of each manufacturer‟s line, the overall quality of the units were better, the appointments were nicer, the features were finer, etc. The costs of these types of motor homes were easily $250,000 on up and, as I said earlier, this was just too much for my budget. I had pretty much decided on a large top of the line New Horizon fifth wheel and a F550 tow truck. I had even contacted N.H. and the local Ford commercial dealership and talked about floor plans, options, and pricing. But I was still several years out from retirement and had no intention of buying prior to then—in fact the only timing uncertainty was whether I would order the units six months before I retired (so they would be just about ready when the big day came) or whether to wait and make shopping for the units my first big order of business after retiring. I put away the pamphlets, brochures, and buying guides and concentrated on reading up on the RV lifestyle and possible destinations and sights to see. Then two things happened. It was late in the year 2004 when I learned that one, I could buy out three years of service under the state pension program just by rolling over one of my IRA‟s and, two, that the state credited a teacher with one year of service after only one semester of work (i.e. I would receive a full years service credit by December and not have to wait until May/June—a fact that the TRS, Teachers Retirement System, seemed to encourage as an option—although I strongly suspect that the state will close this loophole very soon). Suddenly it seemed that I could accomplish full retirement in two years instead of four with little to no downside (the average annual income that my pension would be based on would be slightly lower but I really don‟t see anybody rushing to increase teacher salaries anytime soon, either) and the current state and local trends seem increasingly detrimental (read that anti- teacher) for working conditions, professional respect, and future retirement conditions. So I took advantage of the buy out in January and am now capable of retiring in late 2006 instead of late 2008. Oh, by the way, I lied, four things happened. In the spring of 2005 I started subscribing to RV magazines and e-mail newsletters and I started surfing the web, book marking RV sites. I even joined Good Sam club, Escapees, etc.. Then, in early May I was visiting a web site for an RV dealership in Albuquerque (as it turns out a branch of the same local American RV and Marine dealership that I already knew of from various visits here outside of El Paso in Anthony). There, under featured specials, was a brand new 2004 Travel Supreme d iesel pusher (the unit had never been owned but was left over on the lot when the 2005 models arrived). It was a Supreme model, 38DP03 (meaning a 38 foot diesel pusher with 3 slide-outs) with 6 many of the options I wanted already included. Under price it read „email us a bid‟. I knew that the same unit, in 2004, easily ran $250,000 and for an equivalent 2005 model would probably run at least $270,000. I thought--what the heck--and clicked on the link. Based on my maximum budget for a New Horizon fifth wheel and Ford tow truck (see above) I entered a bid of $170,000, thought „no way‟, and promptly went on with my everyday business. Then, a day or so later, the phone rang, “Hello, Mr. Gad. Did you e- mail this bid for a Travel Supreme?” “Why, yes I did. ” “Well we can‟t let her go for $170,000--that would be below our own cost but how about $178,000?” “Can I put a deposit on my Credit Card?” Two days later they had the unit on their lot in Anthony (having to prep it and drive it down from Albuquerque). It was beautiful. I had negotiated the installation of a washer and a dryer, a fireplace, a dual feed satellite TV system, a Cobra CB radio, and a Pioneer XM satellite radio w/GPS mapping system to complete my options wish list. It would take them a couple of weeks to get the equipment in and installed but that was okay—it was mid-May and school didn‟t let out for the summer until the end of the month--until then I had enough to worry about without trying to figure out what I was going to do with a 38 foot bus. Besides I had a few little details (like financing and insurance) to take care of. The financing terms offered through the dealership were for an interest rate of 6.25% and would mean monthly payments of about $1,300 (partly because I wo uld also be financing the $12,000 in Texas state and local sales taxes). Furthermore, when I shopped around for insurance the best quote I got was for $1,100/6 month period--$2,200 a year! One company wanted about $900 per quarter--$3,600 a year! I don‟t understand auto insurance. Here I have been driving for almost 40 years, never been in an accident (never even gotten a ticket) and yet the insurance companies take me to the cleaners with their rates. Never mind shopping around (I‟ve tried), there is no competition in this field. Before leaving his office, the salesman handed me a business card for a lawyer, well known and respected on the RV circuit, who works out of Montana and helps RV owners set up LLC‟s (Limited Liability Corporation) based in Mo ntana. Although the advantage of doing so is ostensibly to avoid state sales taxes (which aren‟t collected in Montana), a person also benefits from low vehicle registration fees and considerably lower insurance rates (about $1,000 per year total). Now there are those who will argue that using this service is morally wrong and, although I am not among them (after all I wouldn‟t be required to pay sales taxes if I were buying my future home and in fact that is exactly what I am doing), I am such a law-abiding smuck that if it were just a matter of sales tax I probably would have forgone this man‟s services but the insurance rates I could get just by being registered in Montana (plus a 5.9% interest rate through an independent financing source he set me up with) were compelling and every which way I studied it I either had to go all one way (the LLC) or all the other (the dealership). The way I see it, two conditions must be met in order for the state to require me to register my RV (and pay the sales taxes) in Texas—both the person (myself) and the vehicle (the RV) must reside in the state of Texas. These two conditions do not exist! I may reside in Texas (at least until I can retire—then I‟m out of here) but my RV resides (is stored) in New Mexico. It also occurred to me that should the state audit the RV dealership--all of the paper work (purchase agreement, loan documents, insurance, etc.) is in the name of the LLC and if the state checks out the LLC documentation in Montana all they will find is 7 an address in Missoula, Montana which is the office of my lawyer who acts as my agent for the corporation (somehow I don‟t think he will be providing information about my place of residence should the state of Texas ask). The more likely source of trouble with the state would be the presence of the rig, with Montana license plates, at my place of residence and that will never happen. As the date approached for me to sign the papers, I found it difficult to bring all the pieces together. I arranged to take the $38,000 down payment out of my investments (this being a sum that I had already put aside meant, along with the money I was forced to use to buy back my mother‟s land, to buy an RV) and to have $1,589 per month deposited in my investment account at Merrill Lynch from one of my annuities (I thought I would only need $1,000 to make the loan payments but added a buffer), the LLC paper work was completed and the big day—complete with detailed walk through was fast approaching (May 20th ). Having the financial (and required insurance) paperwork coordinated (and signed, sealed, and delivered) between the credit company, the insurance agent, the bank, the RV dealership, and myself was not, however, that easy. As it turned out I had my „walk through‟ before I had officially signed on the dotted line. Being new at the RV game, I hesitate to give advice since there are many out there who are better qualified to do so--but I am absolutely certain that what I did next was one of the wisest things I have ever done. On the day of the walk-through I collected my video camera, extra batteries, and several tapes and arranged to meet a fellow teacher at the dealership at the appointed time. While I watched closely and asked the salesman all of the questions that came to mind my friend video taped the entire walk through and managed to ask additional questions that occurred to him. Once I was home, I downloaded the tapes onto my laptop (where the entire event safely resides to this day). Utilizing the video editing software on my computer I edited and sequenced the video (three full cassette tapes worth), broke it into numerous labeled segments („scenes‟) such as „microwave oven‟, „furnace‟, „generator‟, etc. and burned them onto DVD‟s. Now I not only can slip a DVD on my computer or DVD player to review anything that I was told during the walk through but, using the „scene select‟ feature that is standard on such players, can go straight to the device/area I want to see. Believe me, I have already used these DVD‟s many times and expect to be using them for years to come. Note that I consider the third party „photographer‟ a must as I think that it is of utmost importance that you concentrate on what you are being told, asking as many questions as possible, and not be distracted by camera operation--focus, lighting, angles, etc. Later, the day to take my unit home finally arrived. My friend the fellow teacher again came to my aid, drove me to the dealership, and followed me home as I drove the unit. I must confess that I did not feel comfortable driving that big rig. I hope that as I get more experience I will relax more when I am behind the wheel. I think that this summer (school‟s out), as I have more time during the weekdays, I will try taking the rig out—preferably to large, vacant lots and practice parking, turning, and backing up (not to mention also learning how to operate and program the satellite radio and GPS unit and how to read and interpret all of those gauges). In any case I have already made reservations at the Life-On-Wheels pre-conference and conference in Moscow, Idaho this summer so I‟ll be getting in a lot of driving then (I hope to enroll for driving lessons while I am there). You would have thought, if you had known my residential layout, that I would have the perfect, safest, most convenient place to park my RV right outside my own front door. 8 But no—enter the first of many occasions when what I thought I knew when it comes to RV‟s in fact has no basis in reality. My home resides on the front acre of a 5 acres lot in a still relatively rural section of northwest El Paso city/county. The half of the acre in front of the house is level and paved and the whole thing is set back (and separated) from the public street by a main irrigation canal crossed, just in front of my property, by a bridge. In addition, along the front and side of the 5 acres is a road that leads to another paved street one block over. So I thought I could pull my rig well off the public streets and park it right in front of my house on my own property without interfering with the day-to-day operation of my other vehicles. When it came time to leave I could either „turn the rig around‟ and head back out the way I came (over the bridge to the public street in front of my house) or pull through and down the side of my property to emerge on the street behind us. You would think “perfect off street parking for a 38 foot motor home” wouldn‟t you? Think again. The 1/2 acres of paved parking has a large circular planter smack in the middle of it—leaving the area available for parking sort of donut- shaped. I had no idea of how much room it takes to turn a 38 ft RV, experienced truck drivers can understand that you can‟t just „turn it around‟ but under the circumstances would be forced to perform a series of „backing- up and turning‟ maneuvers while avoiding fences, lamp posts and planter. Then there was the matter of the bridge. Those of you familiar with farming areas know that bridges across irrigation canals/ditches are not the mighty steel constructs that span rivers or even the quaint wooden covered affairs crossing babbling brooks that you find in picture books and occasionally back east. The typical irrigation bridge is basically a large, metal culvert that has been covered with dirt and rock to allow farmers to drive their trucks or trackers across the ditch to and from the fields. I drove my motor home across my „bridge‟ several times before I took the opportunity to look at it closely. What I found were my own tire tracks embedded (several times) in the sloping embankment of the bridge! Closer inspect showed that the entire bridge width was barely inches greater than my wheelbase. So much for that avenue of ingress and egress! So I looked at the back exit (side road). This unpaved road was typical for the type that allows farmers to service various portions of their fields and crops. Since I still farmed the back 4 acres of land, this road was relatively free of brush or debris and fairly flat (if a little narrow) but, unfortunately, at several points, where minor irrigation ditches crossed the road, there was noticeable erosion. I probably wouldn‟t hesitate to take a truck with heavy-duty suspension (and maybe four wheel drive) down this road but not a 38 ft. luxury recreational vehicle. So enter the first of many quandaries—where do you park the darn thing? El Paso, often called the unwanted stepchild of Texas (because we are so removed from the population centers of the rest of the state), is located a t the state‟s extreme western border. If you travel anywhere from El Paso (except east) you leave the state-- maybe even the country. My home is situated at the extreme northwest of the city/county such that if I travel but a few blocks north or west of my house I am in New Mexico and just across the border (down the road from me), in New Mexico, is a self-storage center with a secure lot for storing RV‟s (by far the closest such facility). So here is where I store my RV (for just over $40 per month) and this is why I said above that although I currently reside in Texas, my RV resides in New Mexico. Now I had a RV and a safe place to store it but no vehicle to tow. Somehow the thought of going somewhere to camp and explore and not being able to travel around and 9 see the area (without decamping) just didn‟t hack it for me. I have been driving the same Chrysler Sebring for the last ten years and, even though it was starting to cost me in yearly triple digit repair bills and I had to start scheduling time to visit it all of times it was in the shop, I was willing to consider it as a possible toad (after all it was a small car and got good gas mileage and I had just spent $178,000 so I didn‟t feel like taking on any additional debts). Then I started looking at equipping the car and the rig for towing. I found that the Sebring (and for that matter most vehicles, especially those with automatic transmissions) do not take well to being towed. Apparently, even in neutral gear, the transmissions on many vehicles continue to spin and, since the vehicle is off, there is no lubrication for the unit (transmission) so it burns up! I also suspect that some manufacturers do not wish to take on the possible liability should something happen to their product during towing and so, although safe, will not endorse the practice in their operator‟s manuals. I did not want to have to purchase a trailer or dolly to allow for the towing (cost, where would I park it—both in and out-of-use--and how much strapping/anchoring of vehicle to trailer is enough?). So I convinced myself that since the Sebring was becoming costly and undependable and would need replacement soon, anyway, and since I pictured future camping in rustic areas (and/or snowy climes), what I really needed was a new/used four-wheel drive vehicle that was suitable for towing four wheels to the road. I went on the internet and found a RV/trailer magazine (“Trailer Life”) that apparently makes it a point to publish a yearly review of all makes and models of vehicles on the market and which are capable of being towed without trailers/dollies, for both standard and automatic (2W and 4W drive) transmissions. I visited their online archives and printed out several years‟ worth of listings and prepared to go car shopp ing. Here it was Memorial Day and I found myself once again at dealerships shopping for a vehicle. I found this beautiful fire red Chevy Colorado crew/extended (four door) cab truck (used but well maintained) that was 2-wheel/4-wheel drive selectable and, since it was on my tow-able list, I bought it (another $478 per month in loan payments—there goes my buffer from the annuity payouts). All I need to do is pull the radio and replace it with a Pioneer AVIC-N2 with XM satellite radio and XM traffic system (this is the same unit that I had installed in the RV before I took delivery) but this will have to wait until next summer at the earliest. Now I do not consider myself a frivolous or even particularly sensitive type of guy but I had noticed that many people tend to christen their rigs with pet names and by golly for once in my life I was going to do something silly. Many years ago I was a big fan of a short lived TV Sci- fi series called Firefly and two years or so ago a DVD set of the complete series was marketed. I have watched those DVD‟s several times and continue to be impressed with the quality of the show. Additionally, for quite some time, a soon-to-be released theatrical version has been hyped in the trades. The name of the spaceship in the show was Serenity and it was a firefly class ship. When I was asked what name I wanted to give my Montana LLC, I immediately said „Serenity Ventures‟ because I intended to name my RV „Serenity‟ and my tow vehicle „Firefly‟ (nice considering that it turned out to be fire red in color). I even found an internet outfit that would make custom window screens. I searched the web and found a digital picture of the „ship‟ orbiting a blue, cloud covered planet with the name firefly in the corner. I e-mailed the screen company this picture along with the appropriate dimensions for the rear window of the truck. It fit perfectly and looks great. As a last touch I ordered vanity license plates for the truck that read „firfly‟ 10 (unfortunately we are restricted to six letters/numbers on the plate and „frefly‟ was already taken). Someday, if I can find an outfit that does quality work and am convinced that the end results will be tasteful, I may have the movie logo (a circle with the name serenity vertically printed, in Chinese characters, and the name serenity in English printed horizontally across it) placed on the back of my rig. Enter the next collision with reality. For some reason I thought that hitching and towing a toad would be easy (and not very expensive). Was I wrong! First I find that you need to install tow bars/systems on both the RV and the truck and then get a remote braking system that can be placed in and removed from the towed vehicle. Say bye-bye to another couple of thousand dollars. Then I find out that hooking them together is no- where as easy as I assumed (attaching tow bars, attaching what looks like half a dozen wires/cords/cables/and coils between RV and truck, inserting, engaging, and wiring the „brake buddy‟, and, once it is all hooked up, placing the trucks automatic transmission in Park but transferring to the 4-WD gear box which you place in Neutral). After all this I learn that you are never, under any circumstances ever to try to back up while the two units are attached to each other. I suppose it is another something that I will get used to with enough practice. Luckily when it came time to pick up RV and truck after the towing system was installed I once again enlisted the aid of my fellow teacher/cinematographer, a video camera, and my computer DVD editing system (see walk through above). I insisted that a tech from Camping World „walk me through‟ hooking everything up. Something tells me that I‟ll be reviewing this DVD a lot! This in turn brings up a question about how often RV‟ers are victims of crimes (in particular thief). I, of course, have had zero experience with camping but along with about a zillion other concerns have read up on all of the advise in books, magazines, and on the internet that concern RV security/safety from crime while camping. The impression I get as to the general consensus is that as long as you stick to secure locations (such as patrolled Walmart parking lots) or reputable campgrounds you should be relatively safe (and to tell the truth, in all the material I read, I never came across an author who claimed/admitted to being the victim of a crime although, in true „urban legend‟ fashion, everybody seems to know someone or somewhere where crime against RV occurred—alas, at least, of a minor nature). So why is it that one of the first things someone told me was to put padlocks on all the towing fittings on both vehicles? What could someone possibly want with a loose tow bar? A few words here about mapping/GPS systems. Don‟t leave home without one! I would highly recommend such systems to all travelers, and particularly the hands free type I have, to all solo RV‟ers. I put a unit in my Sebring several years ago (one of those CD/DVD players where the screen slides out and tilts up at the touch of a button— radio/DVD unit by Kenwood, GPS/mapping unit by Alpine) and, although expensive at the time, have never regretted it. I have driven all over the northeast, southeast, and even to Alaska and don‟t even use a map. The unit will direct you (with both audio and visual prompts) straight to the front door of any address in America (at least any I have tried to find). I have used my unit to navigate to home addresses in busy cities like Cincinnati and Raleigh and new homes in the middle of, until recently, farmers‟ fields in rural Ohio and West Virginia. When the time came to order one for my RV, I chose the Pioneer AVIC-N2 to take advantage of the newer features (including voice activation, satellite radio, and a satellite-transmission traffic system that shows 11 actual real-time traffic problems in your vicinity on the screen and automatically reroutes you around them). It even has a feature such that the view on the screen can be switched from the traditional map view to a sort of heads-on view to replicate, if in a somewhat simplified fashion, what you as the drive will see as you drive down the road (i.e. upcoming turn-offs, permanent roadside features, and the like). And, even better, this unit, as is common for most electronics as the technology becomes better developed, was considerably less expensive then that original unit that I bought for the Sebring years ago. You may have assumed from all the previous talk about the various ways I have been preparing for retirement all of these years that I am a sensible and frugal fellow. I would like to think that much of the time I am--but I must confess that I have a fatal flaw. Every so often I splurge and get myself a new „toy‟ (definition--something, usually expensive, that I „WANT‟ but do not „NEED‟). This is bad enough, and by far this motor home is the „biggest‟ toy I have ever purchased (and most likely ever will), but it gets worse. Once I buy my toy I am compelled to buy everything related to it that I think I may „need‟. For instance when I buy a camera I just have to go out and buy all of the extra lenses, adapters, and assorted accessories that are offered. Logic would dictate that there are some things that must be bought in order to make the original item even minimally usable (like, say, batteries) but that many „accessories‟ out there are not „must have‟ and can be purchased some time in the future when and if needed. In this area logic escapes me and I feel compelled to buy any and everything that I think I may ever need just so I will never be caught short without it. Now in my defense, what with the transient nature of many commercial products these days—particularly electronics--many models on the market today (and their accessories) may be obsolete in no time and, he nce accessories et al unavoidable, but it does led to expensive (and often unnecessary) expenditures. So you can see where this is heading. I am not going to complain about the cost of preparing my RV for its‟ first trip. I realize that stocking an RV for living is much the same as outfitting your first home abet on a slightly smaller scale—you need just about everything! You need pots and pans, plates, cups, saucers, and silverware, coffee pots and toasters, etc. for the kitchen. You need bedding and pillows for the bedroom (and again for any stowaway sleeping niche such as the convertible sofa, dining table/bed, etc.). You need towels and cleaning supplies, insecticides, toilet brushes, carpet cleaners, baking sheets and cooking (and serving) utensils, etc., etc., etc. And all of this is just the „normal‟ stuff. Then you need the RV (or „not normal‟) stuff such as dark water tank chemicals and refrigerator fans, special „toilet paper‟ for RV‟s, a football fields length of Velcro, non-skid this and plate separator that, bars for refrigerator shelves and secure closing devices for every door, drawer, and cabinet in the unit (and are there a lot of those). If you opted for the satellite dish you need to buy the appropriate receivers, you need to invest a fortune for batteries to run the 10 plus remote control units you have and the slew of emergency flashlights, smoke, carbon monoxide, and propane leak detectors. You need to buy dozens of irregularly sized light bulbs, odd sized fuses, air fresheners, CD/DVD racks, shelf dividers, and storage bins (lets not forget a trash can for the kitchen, one for the bathroom and another for the bedroom—not to mention one big one to keep outside and empty all of the smaller ones into). Let‟s not forget the need to decorate the interior—there are pictures and plants, bric-a-brac and knick-knacks. Then, since you are going to be on the road full- time you will need a comprehensive first-aid kit and emergency road kit. Now we move to the „normal‟ stuff for outside. There are lawn 12 furniture, welcome and „lawn‟ mats, barbeque grill (and supplies), folding picnic table, etc. Then there is the outside RV „not normal‟ stuff. You must have various lengths of sewer hoses, sewer connectors, elbows, two water hoses—one for drinking and another for everything else, an electrical extension cord made for 30/50 amp loads, electrical adaptors for 20 amp to 30 amp, 20 amp to 50 amp, and 30 amp to 50 amp, outside entertainment center equipment, connectors for cable and telephone se rvices—for those parks where one or the other or both are available, ladders, extended brushes for washing and waxing the RV, heavy duty tire gauges, etc., etc. I have already spent a fortune and I haven‟t bought the first sundries, consumables, or perishables (cleaners, detergents, spices, flour, coffee, foods, drinks, or liquors). In short this winter I have set aside an entire room to collect various materials that I am accumulating for the RV. I wonder how much to budget for what breaks the first time I pull out because I haven‟t learned how to properly secure it? There remain numerous items that I still need/want such as electric heaters so that I won‟t have to burn up my propane by using the furnace all of the time while winter camping, sheets, pillows and blankets for the convertible sofa, silk flowers and wall hangings for decoration, barbeque utensils, etc. There are also several big- ticket items I would like to get such as a radio/GPS unit for the toad, an inflatable boat with small motor so that I can go out on those lakes and rivers I want to visit, a 48- inch flat screen high definition plasma (or LCD) television, side cameras and/or collision avoidance system for the RV, a self- contained internet system so that I don‟t have to depend on campgrounds being computer friendly, and solar panels so that I can boon-dock without having to depend on my generator. I guess that I am just like everyone else and can‟t go to an RV store like Camping World or view an RV related e- mail pitch without seeing some tidbits that I would like to have. Luckily, Camping World is the only RV related local store that I know of. This is definitely an ongoing (read that as never ending) and expensive endeavor. I realize that what I am about to say seems contrary to normal experience--but I don‟t think that I will really feel comfortable with the expenses of Rving until after I retire and can afford it! Next comes the whole question of camping. As I said early in this treatise I spent/spend a great deal of time reading up on the RV experience. Let me start this discussion with some general impressions I got, and conclusions I reached, on camping clubs from what I read. First I note that many of the „professional‟ Rvist/writers appear to own memberships in some RV campground discount program (it never seems to be the common- man, half-price type clubs like Passport America/Happy Camper/Enjoy America but rather the more exclusive, membership campground type clubs/organizations) and from their continuous descriptions of those parks they visit these are posh places (dare I say resorts). Now they are quick to mention how inexpensive their stays were and they never seem to mention any hassles about being turned away because the park is full or having to leave/rotate between parks because of weeks- in/weeks-out rules or blackout dates (often I wish that someone would put out a book—or at least include a chapter in their current books—on how they manage campground reservations, get descent camp sites without reservations while on the road, or stay in one place for awhile and avoid the weeks- in/weeks-out restrictions that most camping clubs/organizations maintain). Invariably these authors (and they usually come in husband/wife pairs) imply that they are of the „common man‟ variety but you notice that 13 they both apparently came from successful high paying jobs wherein one or both owned a business and/or were high level/well paid executives (whereas I read that in 2001--the average (75%) of all full time Rvers survived on less then $2,500 per month--total income—that‟s $30,000 gross per year). They sold expensive homes/property/and, yes, even businesses before they hit the road. It usually turns out that early in their RV life- on-the-road these individuals „bought‟ a campground membership (with the inevitable „home park‟) for several thousand dollars thus being able to exercise reciprocal camping privileges at „partner‟ campgrounds. Now, first off, after finally cutting all the ties of a „home‟ to embrace the full-timer life style—the last thing I want to do is buy into a „home park‟ membership. Isn‟t that just trading one anchor around the neck for another? Additionally, I see too many people who seem desperate to sell their „memberships‟ which tells me that, one, the initial purchase prices in general are extremely high and/or two, the yearly „dues‟ are extremely onerous. Particularly because of that last bit, I decided to wait and get some experience „on-the-road‟ before I joined any camping schemes. Then I started to look at how much these campgrounds charge for a site for one night‟s stay (something I had always assumed wouldn‟t be that much). I must admit that I have yet to visit any „resort‟ campgrounds—they may not exist in this neck of the woods—so what I have seen is pretty bleak and barren, absent of any trees or grass (this is, after all the desert) with no „facilities‟ like swimming pools or lakes or club houses that I can see or they are just down right „trashy‟. The sites seem stacked pretty close together and the only recreation (other then unhitching the tow vehicle and going elsewhere each day or evening) seems to involve watching the guy in the next trailer practice personal hygiene on their toenails. And yet, the average cost seems to be around $30.00 a night—heck I can stay at a motel 8 for that (or at least I used to be able to) and that included a complimentary breakfast. At that rate you could easily end up spending over $10,000 per year just for camping fees and all for pretty crappy campgrounds (as I said I haven‟t found any luxury/resort campgrounds locally and can only guess at what they could cost). After seeing the going prices on camping, I re-evaluated my decision of waiting to „do something‟ about available discounts. I think that elsewhere I have indicated (either openly or by pretty clear implication) that once I set out in a certain direction I often go overboard--so what I did next is by no means endorsed for others and I fully understand that I may very well come to regret it but believe that in the future as I develop my own feel for life on the road I can/will be able to modify these choices. I took advantage of just about every club offering camping discounts (typically 10%)—Good Sam, Escapee, KOA, etc.—which in itself is probably not a bad idea as membership costs are low and other benefits can be derived from belonging to said organizations. Then I joined several half-price camping clubs—Passport America, Happy Camper, Enjoy America, etc.— again, probably not a big mistake as they do not cost a great deal and can be dropped at the end of your „membership‟ year but probably wasteful as I am sure they each mostly duplicate the same camping ground choices. Then I was contacted by a campground in southern Arizona (The Caverns RV Resort) that offered a reasonable membership that included affiliation with several nationwide $6/$8 and $10/$12 a night organizations (RVA, AOR, RPI) and a campground in Montana (Conestoga Campground) which offered an upgrade to AOR Gold and an affiliation to Coast to Coast. Of course both campgrounds offer free camping at their facility for a couple of weeks a year as well as 14 the low nightly fees in exchange for their membership. I took advantage of both because compared to so many I had read about these seemed reasonably priced (probably because (1) so many Rvers are particular about their „home park‟--wanting to pick one close to relatives—something I didn‟t need, and neither of these seem close to anything and (2) I think they were pricing their membership based on the hope of achieving volume sales). Now this last move may very well have been a mistake and I may well regret it in the future (NOTE: I have since come to suspect that the Caverns RV resort was a bad idea—they keep hitting me up for „upgrades‟—first AOR Gold then AOR Platinum—and they practice a very high pressure sales technique). I will be the first to admit that I am naïve and too trusting and I believe that I read the various contracts thoroughly but many of my past experiences have shown that something may have lurked in the fine prints that I missed or failed to grasp and that these will some day come back to haunt me. In any case, although I may not know much about Rving, it isn‟t hard to figure out that how (and which combination of) cost saving systems actually work for me will depend on how I end up traveling. For „on-the-road‟ (in transit) use--the discount/half price options MAY (and I emphasize MAY,) be of value since I will be at the mercy of whichever parks are on my route and whether or not they honor these discounts. The membership/affiliate discounts will probably only be of value at some specific „destination‟ parks—the maps, with their multitude of dots indicating „affiliated‟ campgrounds, look very impressive but when you actually sit down to take a look at them, few if any are „on the way‟ to anywhere but are places that you would normally „go to‟ and stay awhile (possibly fanning out to visit surrounding sites). So how I end up traveling will dictate which if any (or all) systems are best for me. This brings me yet again to a couple of asides. First—how do you decipher those campground directory entries to separate the nice campgrounds from ones like those I described above? Second—am I being naïve and snobbish by believing that there should exist a difference between what we consider a campground and what is a trailer park and that the two terms shouldn‟t be used interchangeably—and that a trailer park and a mobile home park are the same thing? Is it my imagination or of the 3 million plus full- timers out there do about half of them crowd into a ten acre piece of desert in Quartzsite, Arizona for months each winter, dry-docking, and are packed so tightly that neighboring units must take turns extending their slide-outs (and, apparently, the other half of that 3 million frequent a campground in Florida--but at least that campground has hook-ups)— and this is supposed to be fun? Would anyone intentional make a Walmart parking lot their preferred destination? Can anyone who has ever tried to drive down your average residential neighborhood street question local ordinances restricting RV parking on the streets? As I may have said (or you may have guessed), I put a great deal of study into the full-time RV life style and the available equipment on the market. Due to unexpected circumstances, I ended up with my dream rig well before I intended to. Since then I have had only two things to concentrate on: one, outfitting my unit and two, where and how do I wa nt to travel once I retire. As to the first item, I have a room in which I am accumulating the items that I feel I will need for my RV once I hit the road--this is an endless, ongoing procedure (isn‟t there always something out there that you see and know you must have for your RV) and the room is getting quite impassable due to all of the “stuff” I have purchased. 15 Outfitting a motor home is really like outfitting any domicile--there is all the standard stuff like cooking utensils, linen, cleaning equipme nt and supplies, etc., etc. But then there are also things like a bike, portable lawn furniture, barbecue equipment, mats, awnings, etc. (I would even like, some day, to get an inflatable boat and electric outboard motor). I have wanted (and tried in a minimal fashion) to decorate the interior of the rig (you know plants and flowers, pictures, bric-a- brac, etc.). The one way, however (and yes, somewhere, deep down inside, I know this), that an RV is not like a domicile is space—I will probably face a day of reckoning when I come to realize that all this „stuff‟ I thought I would need/want for my rig doesn‟t fit and can be „done‟ without. But yet again I digress to a great extent. As the much anticipated day of retirement approaches (and, alas, it still remains the end of December—almost a year hence—175 „school/workdays‟ but eleven calendar months away), I find myself obsessed with collecting ideas (and remembering them) on where I will go. I read books on great RV trips in the east, west, north, and south and Canada and Alaska. I subscribe to RV magazines and e-mail newsletters and scour RVer websites all to get ideas of interesting places to travel to. I have already joined RVA, AOR gold, RPI, and Coast-to-Coast--also Passport America, Happy Camper, Enjoy America, and KOA discount clubs. I do not see myself 'roughing it' in the boondocks often although I look forward to the experience when I visit our national and state parks or when visiting those attractions that are too remote for full hookups. I want to drive up through New England in the fall and visit all of those quaint little villages and hamlets in Vermont, New Hampshire, and up-state New York, Niagara Falls (both the U.S. and Canadian sides), some of those small coastal fishing hamlets in Maine, colonial Williamsburg, Shenandoah Valley, Kentucky and Tennessee, North and South Dakota and all of Wisconsin. I would like to travel the original Route 66 highway and see places in Minnesota and northern Michigan, numerous places (north, east, and west) in Canada. I don't like crowds (and have had my fill of desert) so I would prefer to avoid places like Quartzsite, Arizona and, although I treasure the company of fellow Rv'ers (in measured doses), I would rather only occasionally attend national or regional RV rallies. I am not a fan of big cities but, having said that, have a desire to visit those with history and character like New Orleans, Boston, and San Francisco (probably by parking in the boonies and taking the toad). I have been asked (and I quote) "what are your plans--are you just going to get in your campe r and take off by yourself?" My answer (and it is late and I am going to shut down my computer for the night after finishing this sentence) is that my plan was to retire, get an RV and then--wing it! Believe me--that chapter of my life is definitely a work in progress. You can clearly see that I have been putting a great deal of time/effort into thinking about the places I want to go. And this doesn't even include visiting my brother in North Carolina or his ex and her new husband in Ohio (both pretty areas and I am banking on a completely different experience as a full-time camper instead of a brief visitor)--or my newly graduated niece who got a job as a Chemical Engineer at a c heese factory in Monticello, Missouri (I've never seen that part of the country but bet that it is really pretty). There are RV rallies and local festivals (both big and small) in 16 every nook and cranny of this great country and probably during every week of the year! And then there are regional specialties like Amish country, the Ozarks, the Blueridge Mountains, etc. In all truth I often think in general terms (call them themes). I don't know if I can explain this clearly but let me try and, if I wax philosophical, please forgive me. My formative years were the 1950's and my theory is that my parent's generation was the last to be raised in what was still considered a period of 'rural' America (the 1920's and 30's). I (and my brothers), on the other hand, were the first generation to be raised in what is now predominantly considered 'urban' America. We are truly the children of transition (I believe a much more accurate term then 'baby boomer')! Because my parents were brought up with rural values and traditions, they instilled many of these in us, their offspring. Since many of these qualities and traditions no longer exist, many of us feel a hole (a lose or longing) for things we were taught to want but can no longer find (we may not even realize what it is that is missing)--at least in our local here and now--but I believe that they still exist some place out there. So I want to find that Currier and Ives Christmas complete with snow and horse drawn sleds, strolling carolers and frozen ponds with ice skaters (and those little cardboard displays where you open a little window for each of the twelve days of Christmas). I want to find that small town that still holds the community Easter egg hunt (with those large sugar formed Easter eggs with the built-in view finder showing the idealized spring pastoral scene when you look through it) and an Easter parade. I want to be there for a Fourth of July bandstand concert complete with a box lunch picnic, an ice cream social, and an evening of watching the fireworks while lying on a blanket on a grassy embankment overlooking a lazy river. I want to find the old fashion pancake dinners and hay rides, to attend an old fashion town meeting, to see a traditional county fair and go to a classic company-type picnic complete with sack-races, hand cranked ice cream, and picnic tables laden with home made potato salad, fried chicken, and cherry cobbler like my grandmother used to make. I would like to attend summer stock. I believe that you can still find the cluttered old country store with glass jars filled with red and black licorice whips and jelly beans that, when ordered, are ladled out on a shoe-horn shaped scale/scoops and poured into little, white paper sacks (sort of like Cracker Barrels but for real) and with soda fountains that still make real ice cream floats and banana splits, phosphates and egg creams (remember the old Rexall Drugstores) and how about an old fashion ice cream parlor (not a chain like Baskin Robbins)? Some of these things were still around (in a faded fashion) when I was growing up but many I know about only by stories my parents told me or from picture books, from those quaint old Christmas cards, Norman Rockwell pictures from the covers of "Life" magazines or those scratchy black and white movies that were already so old when I was growing up that they were already appearing on broadcast TV when that medium was still young (and let us not forget the perennial "Readers Digest" which my grandmother always subscribed to). Have you ever listened to "The Prairie Home Companion" on NPR? I apologize as I have run on and am still not entirely sure that I have clearly communicated to you a sense of what I am about and of what one of my major 17 underlying goals in traveling may be but at least I have tried. I suppose some people may call it a search for „small town‟ America but somehow I think that although that inspires many of the same emotions --in the end the term „small town‟ more describes geographical and architectural characteristics rather then „way-of-life‟/community „life-style‟. For my purposes I wish to coin the phrase „nostalgic‟ America. In any case, I have always had an affinity for small towns and old fashion settings. For instance there is a whole town in Ohio (Lebanon) that promotes their quaint old 'main street' complete with an ice cream parlor and there is a general store in Lordsburg, New Mexico that still features a soda fountain and each summer the folks of Fairbanks, Alaska host a Frontier Days week of old fashion fun. These sorts of things are out there and I hope to find them in my travels. Another „theme‟ I wish to pursue is to visit old/restored train stations and Harvey Houses as many stations were truly grandiose and others quaintly charming. Another „theme‟ is the old movie theaters (the ones that had stages for live performances and orchestra pits, heavy velvet curtains, balconies, and „boxes‟). Maybe they actually did mean to ask about what, if any, concrete plans I had in mind. Beyond the general idea of travel, I have nothing more specific in store after January 1st a year hence (not to say that I won't have by then--as you so aptly noted I am a planner), I guess that I can bore you with what I have in mind until then (beyond a constant yearning to get started with my new life). The following is my 'plan' for this coming year. I am sure that you are well aware that most public institutes have very detailed procedures that must be followed if you wish to become retired and not just generally unemployed. The Texas state teacher retirement system (TRS) is no exception and, to satisfy the bureaucratic dictates of that system, I have already requested and received the 'packet' of forms and procedures that must be filled out in triplicate and adhered to in great detail in order to successfully retire. I hope that one year is adequate time in which to complete the process. As a teacher in Texas, you must be a minimum of fifty-five years of age to retire (I will reach this age in late September of this year). Additionally, to be able to retire at full benefits (including to partake in the optional retirement system health insurance program--a very serious consideration for those of us who chose life on the road), I must have twenty-five years of service. This is quaintly called the Rule of Eighty since your age and years of service must add up to 80--this way the older you are the fewer years of service you need to retire. Of course since the size of your monthly pension check is dictated by your number of years of service, the longer you work the better off you are financially. Luckily the state credits you with one-full year of service once you complete one semester of teaching (which I will do as of December 22 nd of this year--as long as we continue to start our fall semesters in August and finish before Christmas break). I will actually have only twenty-two years of teaching experience at that time but last year I took advantage of a loophole and 'bought out' the maximum allowable three years of service in the system by rolling over an IRA I had. My timing was extremely fortunate since the state legislature met last summer and changed the retirement guidelines—they eliminated the option to „buyout‟ years of service 18 (apparently you can still do so for the purposes of increasing the number of years of service your pension is based on but not to meet the rule of eighty standards for retirement) as of September 1 st of 2005 and increased the minimum retirement age to sixty for future teachers. These changes would have added from two and a half to five more years before I could retire. Ironically, during the same session, they reduced the age (to 50) and number of years required for legislators to retire (with a substantial yearly income). Does anyone o ut there still hold the naïve impression that our politicians are in it for anything but their own gain? Next Monday we teachers will 'return' to a brand new state-of-the-art high school (the students 'return' on Tuesday). We completed the fall semester in our old building and they are moving us over to the new building during the Christmas break. We actually tried to spend the morning of the last day with students in the new school (the afternoon was put aside for a community 'open house' and evening dedication ceremonies) but someone forgot to get the appropriate occupancy permits from the fire marshal so we were forced to evacuate the entire complex--students and all--before the first period even ended! I expect (i.e. hope for) an uneventful spring semester, which should end on Friday, May 26th. I visit my TS motor home at the storage facility, which is close to my home, about once a month, check the batteries and run the generator for about an hour. In early June I plan to 'de-winterize' my rig, take it in and get it serviced, washed and waxed, and break it in (and, I must confess become more comfortable driving it) by making short day-trips to nearby New Mexico communities (i.e. Las Cruces, Deming, Truth or Consequences, etc.). Last summer I made reservations for this year's Life-On-Wheels pre-conference and conference in Moscow, Idaho in early/mid-July. I understand that their seminars are a wealth of information for new and/or would-be full-timers. They will have available, before and after the conference, driving courses such that novices like myself can get some advise and experience driving these big units--believe me, if you have never driven a motor home before it is considerably different then a car or pickup truck. I have reserved the mornings of the Saturday and Sunday following the conference to attend to such lessons. I also look forward to seeing the area as I have never been in that neck of the woods before and understand that it is quite scenic. Since this will be my first real RV 'trip' there will be many last minute things that I will need to do. I figure that in the first couple of days of July I will move the unit from the secure storage facility I use, to a local campground--hook it up and charge and test all of the systems. During this time I can ferry all of the RV related materials, that I have been collecting at home during the winter, to the unit and set it up or stow it and stock the fridge and pantries with food and other perishables. The last thing I intend to do while there is hitch-up my tow vehicle (something I have yet to do on my own since having the tow system installed). The camp ground is no great place to visit/stay at but it is part of the service facility and dealership where I purchased the unit and had it outfitted with the tow system so I figure that if any problems or questions arise they will be at hand to help. I intend to leave for the conferences four or five days 19 before they are scheduled to start. I figured it this way because I don't pla n on driving much more then 300 miles a day and, secondly, because I want to get to the final campground and settle in a day before the opening sessions of the pre- conference. Sometime this spring I will need to decide where I will be stopping each night on my way to Moscow and which campgrounds in those areas I will be staying at and make the appropriate reservations. Some of the many skills that I realize that I must develop a knack for to succeed in my future RV life is how to read through all of the printed hype for individual campgrounds to distinguish ahead of time between those facilities that I would want to stay at and those that anyone would rather not even stop at--unfortunately both types are out there! Another level of judgment that I must improve upon is when it is wise to make campground reservations and when it is okay to wing it (and just plan on stopping and checking in, wherever and whenever the urge hits you). As you know I have read many a book/article/website on the full-time RV lifestyle, and advise therein, and they all seem to cover the same 'subjects'--selling your home and getting rid of your 'stuff', deciding on a rig, choosing a home base/state, mail services, phone cards, etc. What none have ever addressed is how to manage your camping-reservations while on the road. They all give the impression of a seemingly carefree lifestyle--which doesn't include the nuisances of making reservations--but you know (particularly given the increasing number of Rvers on the road each year) that finding a descent place to hook up at night that isn't already full must be getting increasingly difficult. I suspect that the primary reason the authors neglect to address this subject is that many of these individuals are so-called snowbirds who stay in one place for long periods of time (after all, there are low odds of being turned away from full parks if you stay in one place for months on end and have reserved that spot months in advance). The other may be that they understand that it would be contrary to the image they wish to put forth to discuss the hours they spend pouring over maps and camping directories and making phone calls/reservations when planning each step of their 'adventure'. In any case if I ever figure out a good balanced s ystem for doing this I think I will try to write a book (or at least an article) to share it. On a final note, I haven't yet decided whether to make as definite a set of plans for returning from the conference as I plan to do for 'going'. I may just take off from Idaho and see what‟s available as I amble back to El Paso. I have often taken this approach on past vacations since it usually occurs that there are „definite‟ dates, places, and/or events I want to see going but none returning (nor any great urge to get home)—this also reflects the one (and, as far as I can see, only) advantage of being a teacher—long summer vacations (not the dinky „two weeks‟ of the business world). The one piece of real advise on campground planning that I have come across to date (and one that I intend to take to heart) is to always book reservations for blocks of days surrounding Holidays—that, in this case, would mean only the Fourth of July--but it seems that I read somewhere that in a larger sense this advice could include weekends since apparently, in increasing numbers, many part-timers out there are taking short, weekend RV trips and reserving camping sites for Friday and Saturday nights 20 either well in advance or on a perpetual basis. Something else I read/heard was to stop and get your campsite early (say by three or four o‟clock) although I am not sure whether this advise was intended for daily use or only for Fridays and Saturdays (see above). I would also suspect that anytime I plan on attending major events, festivals, or „in-season‟ tourist attractions it would be wise to „book in advance‟. If I were the typical Rver this probably would include all of those RV rallies (although, being new to the lifestyle, I am not yet aware of whether reservations/entrance fees for these events, in general, include camping rights or not) and most of the winters (i.e. „snowbird roosts‟) but I truly intend to be the atypical full timer and eschew attending most of those industry events and to spent my winters somewhat further north then most fellow retirees. I would also assume that as a full timer you most develop a completely different travel/reservation strategy for different seasons (particularly summer vs. winter) because the demand for camping related facilities must vary greater (not to mention how many, which, and where „off-season‟ campgrounds close). As I mentioned before, I really regret the lack of advice out there over this facet of full time/extended RV life. It feeds the insecurity of those of us new to the lifestyle. Will we find ourselves out there, on the road, unable to find a decent place to camp at night that isn‟t already full? Will this happen often or only occasionally? What are the best ways to avoid this? Of course this is probably where the Rver‟s friend „Wally World‟ comes in handy! I figure that once back from L-O-W I will only have a couple of weeks until the fall (and, thank god, final) semester of school starts. I plan to utilize this time to fix/modify those things in the motor home that I found undesirable during my trip and then it will be time to return the unit to storage until the New Year (NOTE: because of being delayed in Butte, Montana while my toad was being repaired and racking up excessive debt while on the road, I ended up with neither the time nor financial resources to do much except move the unit back into winter storage). The process of winterizing it this time will be more complicated because the first time it was brand new so I didn't have to worry about flushing drinking water/waste water systems, clearing out perishables, providing long term protection against insects, rats, and various other pests, etc. After that the plans become considerably more nebulous. Survive my last semester of work (and this I truly believe will be the longest and most agonizing four and a half months of my life). Make some more specific plans on what to do come January. Put my finances in order (I will need to determine how to arrange payments from my personal annuities to match up with my pension checks such that I will have ample funds which I can readily access while on the road), determine and arrange for adequate federal tax withholdings such that I won't have to worry about making quarterly estimated tax payments (luckily, since there is no personal income tax in Texas I won't have to worry about handling that on the road), arranging credit cards, debit cards, ATM cards, and bank accounts to maximize accessibility while on the road and, at the same time, organizing accounts such that I can transfer funds and pay all of my bills online, pick and subscribe to a new internet service (provider) for use while on the road, select and subscribe to a new cell phone service/provider—one that provides 21 better coverage coast-to-coast then my current one, arrange for network reception (NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox , and PBS, since these national broadcast systems have local affiliates, they are, by law, blacked out on satellite systems unless given permission for reception by the appropriate local broadcasters and special affidavits must be filled out and submitted—basically declaring yourself without a home base-- to receive them on your system), make sure that the bureaucrats in Austin don't mess up my retirement, and probably a whole slew of other details that will require taking care of but that I haven't even considered yet. Once January comes there shouldn't be anything that keeps me from making frequent trips of indefinite length but I realize that there remains certain obligations here (for instance there is the matter of the house and the five acres of land it rests on which must be emptied and sold and providing for ongoing care for my mother who suffers from severe Alzheimer's disease--she resides here in El Paso and I am her primary caretaker complete with power of attorney) which I can't really do anything about until I am freed from the daily routine I currently face. Then it is out of here, no regrets, no looking back. There are a couple of other items that deserve closer scrutiny. First, finances—I understand that I should at this point consider moving most (if not all) of my resources (annuities/investments) from the more volatile (and growth intensive) stock oriented funds to the more conservative (and dependable) mutual fund oriented options. When it comes to accessing these funds to provide for my financial needs, government regulations not withstanding, I believe that I have considerable flexibility. Currently I have committed approximately $1,500 per month to pay for the loans I took out to buy my motor home and dinghy and for this I have arranged an appropriate sum to be paid out of one of my annuities. This leaves two other annuities currently untapped that I can utilize when the time comes (plus sundry other minor resources such as IRA‟s which are restricted—tax-wise—until I reach 59 (or is it 62) years of age and, of course, there is the pittance in Social Security that the government hasn‟t taken away because I chose to go into teaching which will kick in at 65—should I live that long). Ultimately it is my plan to sell the house and land. What I get for the house will make up the bulk of my mother‟s estate and, assuming it is not all eaten up in providing care for mom, will be split equally with my two brothers, but what I get for the land will be all mine, free and clear. I figure that between my share of the proceeds from the sale of the house plus the proceeds from the sale of the land, I will realize enough cash to repay the outstanding balances on both loans and then I will free up all of my cash assets for my living expenses. At that point I should be able to live (and travel) comfortably by splitting my income equally between my pension and my annuities. I understand that at this point in my life—at my age and in my state of health—I probably have more then enough assets to cover all of my needs without worrying about watching expenses--but after having spent so many years worrying about retirement (and watching my mother who „gets‟ by only because my oldest brothe r and I greatly supplement her income--which depends totally on her monthly Social Security) I can‟t help but retain a nagging fear of „using up‟ all of my assets before I die. So said, I am trying to budget (without „doing without‟) such that the percentage of funds I 22 remove from my annuities monthly is balanced out by the growth (interest) that it realizes such that the results are a constant net asset. Elsewhere in this document I have published my proposed budget. I consider it a liberal one where I have not scrimped on anything. I have consulted several „sample‟ budgets that are out there in RV books and on the web and many of the costs should be accurate because they don‟t depend on whether you travel alone or as a pair. Unfortunately some expenses (i.e. consumables like food and dry goods, entertainment expenses, and even emergency, miscellaneous, and— yes—even propane, since the amount of heated water, cooking, and furnace usage will be reduced under solo living) have to be guesses since the e xamples I had to reference were typically for couples. Although in practicality I don‟t think anyone buys that old adage “two can live as cheaply as one”, I don‟t think it is any more accurate to assume that one can live at half the cost of two. Likewise since I do not currently do much entertainment and certainly expect to go many more places where entrance fees will be required, I have no personal basis to estimate those costs. The other items are home base and mail delivery. Texas is already considered a „desirable‟ home-base state because of lack of a state income tax, ease of establishing residency, and the location of the Escapee main headquarters (Livingston, Texas). I am already a resident of this state and so, unless--for some reason I don‟t at this time foresee--I chose to change states, I face no need to hassle with new drivers‟ license, vehicle registrations, voter registration, etc. Really, there may be something I am missing but I don‟t see the „home base‟ thing as such a big deal. Ma ybe because Texas has no state taxing authority (income or property) they do not seem as intrusive as other states--and once I dispose of my home (property), the local authorities should likewise ignore me. As far as I see it, as long as I send a check once a year to pay for my vehicle registration (local government), once every six years to renew my driver‟s license (state government), and once a year to pay my federal income taxes (federal government), I should remain „below-the-radar‟ as far as any/all governments are concerned. I do not in anyway consider myself a Libertarian, but my experience has been that anytime the government (local, state, or federal) wants anything to do with any of us, it is either to tell us that we can‟t do something that we used to be free to do, must start doing something we don‟t want to do, and/or pay (or pay more) for the privilege of doing/not doing it—so I don‟t see myself going out of my way trying to keep in touch with any of them! I will, of course, have to establish a new, „mobile‟ residency and have all of those documents changed over to that new address. This in turn brings me to the subject of mail. I fully intend to take advantage of the Escapee mail forwarding service. I have only heard good things about the m, their rates are reasonable, and I am already a member of the organization. But I am going to try something different. I notice from all of the „going full-time advice‟ out there, that references to mail services are usually restricted to the general admonition that the issue must be addressed and a review of the available options. The task of doing something about it seems to be one of the last undertaken. I think that this is way too late. Even though I won‟t be retiring until January 1 st, I plan on traveling 23 to Livingston, Texas during the summer. While there, I will look over the Escapee facilities and most probably go ahead and set up my mail service/address. This will give me several months to work out the bugs. I know from past experience that the job of change-of-address for mail doesn‟t always go that smoothly. For one thing you don‟t want to notify every source of mail of your new address—this is a perfect time to weed out all of that junk mail, solicitations, and subscriptions that you don‟t want any more. I know that I look forward to the opportunity to eliminate a great deal of the garbage I receive in the mail on a daily basis. Also you should be aware that some sources are more conscientious at handling address changes then others—you certainly don‟t want to be out on the road for a couple of months and still not be receiving all of the important mail you expected because it is still going to your home address. It seems to me that there exists no reason that you can not start changing over to the new address well before you leave and just have the service forward your mail to your home address. This way you can develop a feel for how efficient the service is and how much notice is needed to get the mail delivered to your expected destination. Okay so this requires a few extra (and „unnecessary‟) months of charges from the mail service but the amount isn‟t that much and could well prove worth it. And if there are a few items that you feel can not wait the extra time to be delivered, well, you will be facing that „delay‟ problem anyway, in the not so distant future --once you hit the road, so you might as well start handling it. Of course you can always wait until closer to your departure date before you contact those individuals whose correspondences you feel „can not wait‟ and delay until the last minute having them change your „address of record‟. Having strayed far from the saga of my past experiences, it now may be the appropriate time to return to that subject. In April of 2005 I went into the doctor‟s office for a regular checkup and to renew two prescriptions. In an unusual development, the doctor preformed an EKG. By the time I left his office that day I had an appointment with a cardiologist for mid-may. When the time came I kept the appointment and, although this doctor didn‟t seem particularly concerned, I was subjected to several specialty tests (stress test, sonogram, another EKG, etc.) and, ultimately, I found myself scheduled for an angiogram at a local hospital on June 20th. Now I am no head doctor, but I would be in total denial if I didn‟t recognize/admit that some part (deep down and subconsciously) of the reason leading to my decision to reply to that e-mail, which ultimately led to the purchase of my RV, had to do with the pending medical procedures and some vague and undefined fear of what might follow. It may have been a way for me to “commit” to the future—after all, if I actually had an RV then surely I would be around to retire and follow my dreams, wo uldn‟t I? On the twentieth I headed for the hospital and the test. To make a long story short, the sonogram showed two major arteries substantially clogged (one 90%, the other 95%) and that night I was tested and diagnosed with a sleeping disorder. Much to my chagrin I was admitted to the hospital then and there and heart surgery was scheduled for the next morning. Among other things I provide home care for my mother—I needed to make proper arrangements for my absence. Additionally, my motor home sat 24 parked in front of my house, I needed to move it to storage and I pretty much figured that after the surgery it could be sometime before I was driving any vehicle much less a big rig like that. So I insisted on being allowed to go home and tie up loose ends but my cardiologist refused to permit it. After much stubbornness on the part of both my self and my doctor and armed with medication to keep my blood thinned, I was allowed a 4 hour day pass and the surgery was rescheduled for the next morning. I went home at around 11 o‟clock, took care of things, and returned to the hospital by 2 that afternoon. The procedure the next morning went well and after about a weeks‟ stay in the hospital, I was home for recuperation. I spent several days there under invalid status and, after I couldn‟t take it anymore, started driving myself around once more (short trips and only in my toad—NO RV). Around the first of August I began Cardio Rehab in the afternoons, three times a week, for three months. Since school started August 8th, I took medical leave from teaching for two months (August and September) and then worked full days—Tuesdays and Thursdays—and half days—Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays—throughout October until I finished rehab. Also around August 8th I took my RV out of storage (my first „trip‟ since surgery) and into the dealer for service. I had found that neither the internal nor external tank gauges for the propane supply worked and I had gotten a recall notice from Spartan to take my unit in for a fix for the break system—so I figured now was a good time to take care of both problems. Unfortunately the dealership ended up sending me to the local propane distributor (which I found was not far from where I live and store my RV) to get the former fixed and a local Spartan affiliate to get the later work done. So I ended up devoting a couple of more days to solving these problems. I must admit that the major benefit I feel I gained from this medical leave (including the half days) was more psychological then physical. I have always felt that the first couple of months of school each year are the most depressing and damaging to morale of any months of the year. I think part of this is due to the long stretch (Labor Day to Thanksgiving) without a break and the other part is due to the general feeling like you are being told by the administration to “shut up and do as you are told”—particularly during the first few days of staff development. By „missing‟ these, I felt that I was able to „handle‟ work in a more upbeat and happier fashion and it made the year+ wait for my „much anticipated‟ retirement easier to endure. In passing I should mention that, work or no work, I make it a common practice to be a regular pest at the dealership where I bought my unit—it helps that they also house the local branch of the Camping World store. I manage to „drop by‟ at least one Saturday or Sunday a month. I must confess that I was very reluctant to put my rig in storage for the winter. Except for a few short dri ves to and from the dealership, I have never really had the chance to use it—I have never lit the stove, flushed the toilet, or run the microwave oven. Not only have I never camped in it, but I don‟t think that I have ever spent more then two hours straig ht in it at one time. And this „newness‟, this unfulfilled usage has only added to the fear I feel that if I put it away for the winter („winterize‟ it) and don‟t do so “just right” that, come summer, when I take it out of 25 storage, something will be „wrong‟ with it and it will be all my fault because I failed to do something while storing it (or did something I shouldn‟t have). For this reason I hesitated as long as possible before „putting her away‟ and read all of the literature, watched all of the videos, and wrote into all of the internet „forums‟. I‟ve heard them all. Park her and do nothing, remove the batteries, run it once a week or once every two weeks or once a month (and how do you do that after removing the batteries?) or don‟t run it at all (so that the cylinders will remain coated with lubricant). Don‟t start the motor unless you plan on driving her over the roads for at least an hour or move it a few feet/inches so the tires don‟t flatten on the bottom because they were stationary for so long (and how do you move it at all without starting it—push it?). Don‟t start the motor but run the generator once a month for 45 minutes (or is it 90 minutes and without the batteries, which they told you earlier to take out and store?) with a substa ntial load on it (the only appliance that I know of that puts a really big load on the generator is to run both air conditioners—something that I don‟t want to do for an hour+ in the dead of winter). Drain the water system and pump it full of antifreeze b ut no—take an air compressor and blow out the water lines (and if you have never run the water pump or even opened a faucet?). Incapacitate it by removing everything --from the batteries to the tires to the fuel and/or the oil but drive it frequently? Cover it but run the motor and/or the generator often (haven‟t these people ever heard of Carbon Monoxide poisoning?). In short there is A LOT OF contradictory advice out there—so which is right? Okay, so I understand that this great country hosts a large variety of climatic conditions. I live in the desert southwest, with relatively mild winters, and can see that how I protect my unit‟s systems against winter‟s ravages will differ widely from how someone living in, say, North Dakota, might/should. I also see how living in the desert (with harsh UV rays) would dictate different care for a vehicle‟s paint/finish then living on one of the coasts (with all of that saltwater in the air). That said, you would think that all of the so called „professionals‟ could modify their advise to take these differences into consideration and please, please go back over that advice and eliminate all of those pesky little inconsistencies (i.e. maybe you meant it when you said to remove batteries, tires, fuel, and oil and then to drive the unit once a week but, if so, then you should first tell the owner that they, of course, should put all of those things back in before they drive the unit and second, that they should give up having any kind of life because they will be spending all of their waking hours removing and replacing these items). Realizing that most advice is based on experience, I have come to the conclusion that most advice on RV repair/maintenance (and particularly on „winterization‟) has no more basis in fact than “this worked for me, maybe it will work for you”. Don‟t get me wrong, give me „street smarts‟ over „book learning‟ any day, but the downside of this is that you are confronted with much inconsistency out there and for a novice like myself who is mechanically incompetent and slightly neurotic about their first rig, this frightens me. I bought a cover but haven‟t figured out how to single-handedly put it on and take it off—repeatedly over the winter. I purchased a „glop‟ to spread on the outside of the tires to protect them from UV rays, and I used it, but found that, 26 because of it‟s consistency, spreading it „evenly‟ was not possible. I ended up buying wheel/tire covers and putting them on each set of wheels (but can‟t reach the bottom ties around the inside tires—but so far they have remained in place without the straps). I visit my unit once a month and run the generator for an hour to an hour and a half. In the early fall, when the weather was still warm, I ran both air conditioners but then I had to be content with turning on all the lights, the refrigerator, and the home entertainment center (I‟ll sit and watch a DVD). I also check the batteries and add distilled water if necessary, visually inspect the exterior for…well, for whatever looks o ut of place, and inspect the interior for signs of pest intrusion, leaks, and „whatever‟ (see exterior). The downside of this ritual is peculiar—that is, I am not sure if this is normal, only applies to some makes of motor homes, is only true of my unit or if, in fact, I am doing something wrong (or failing to do something right) but I can‟t seem to start my generator unless I first start the rig‟s engine. Once both motors are running I am free to turn off the engine—the generator will continue to run happily solo but, unless I initially start the motor home‟s engine, I can stand there pressing and holding down the „gen‟ button from here to eternity and nothing will happen. The more I think about it, the more I become convinced that either I am overlooking something or there is some fault in my unit—after all, generators are primarily meant to be run while an RV is stationary/camped (although I am aware that they can be left running while the rig is tooling down the road with no problems) so it would be a serious design flaw to require that the unit be running in order to start the generator. This, of course, greatly bothers me because one school of thought I truly wanted to adhere to was to not start the unit unless I am going to drive it around for a while (which I do not intend to do nor could I if I wanted to). This is definitely at the top of my list to ask about when next I take the unit in for servicing. In any case, as soon as school lets out (June 1 st), I intend to pack up the tire covers and hightail to the dealer/service center. I trust that if I tell them that I just took the unit out of hibernation they will know what service is advisable (I hazard to guess primarily oil, oil filter, air filter, and possibly spark plugs on both the Cummins diesel motor and Onans generator—but would also expect at least an inspection of tires, belts, brakes, etc.). After that it will be off to the best place to get the rig washed and waxed. I feel that I am suffering the tortures of the damned. Our new sc hool building was built just off of the I-10 freeway in rural northwest El Paso County. When we returned from Christmas break, it was to our new school building. My beautiful new classroom/lab is located on the second floor, on the northeast side, at the end of the middle (G) wing. There are three large windows that look out over the freeway and onto the Franklin Mountains in the not so great distance. Inevitably visitors remark that my room has the most spectacular view of our mountains and that I must find it hard not to just sit there entranced by the view. Now before you think that I am about to bemoan the fact that such good fortune overtook me just when I am getting ready to leave (retire), forget it! I am definitely not the touchy-feely type—okay they are nice mountains but, gee-whiz, one occasional glance goes a long way—it‟s not like they‟re going to change anytime soon. I have absolutely no qualms about getting out of here--and the sooner the better. 27 No, where the torture part comes in is not the view of the mountains but rather the view of the freeway. As most of you are aware, I-10 is THE major southern transcontinental highway. It stretches from Riverside, California all the way to Jacksonville, Florida and in the process goes through (or near) many of the preferred snowbird havens of the South. For most of the school year (at least mid-October through mid-April), I can watch a never-ending parade of every kind of recreational vehicle there is either going east or west on I-10—I seldom need wait more then a minute before another one passes by! Now, as I have previously indicated, I have absolutely no desire to spend winters in the south (and definitely not the southwest desert) both because I have had my life time fill of „mild winters‟ and the thought of crowding into a few square acres with hundreds of other Rvs holds no appeal for me, but I can‟t help but speculate which of those west bound rigs are headed for Tucson, Phoenix, and (of course) Quartzsite and which intend to continue on to Palm Springs, San Diego, and/or the Napa Valley. How many units that are on I-10 east are headed for Padre Island, Corpus Christi, or the Rio Grande Valley and how many of them are on the long haul to Orlando, Miami, or Key West? In short my wonder lust kicks in and I envy them their freedom. So contraire, the emotions concerning my limited stint in these new digs revolve more around the length of time that I will need to suffer this daily onslaught then the fact that I will be leaving now that I have such a nice place to teach. As the winter wanes and the spring looms the young at heart can think of only one thing—road trip! There is something about the first hint of pollen in the breeze, the first green blades of grass shooting through the sno w, and the year‟s first round of sun tan lotion commercials that enrages my wander lust. A couple of weeks ago I dusted off the details of my reservations for the Life-on-Wheels conference in Moscow, Idaho this summer. I checked their website again but nothing concerning the 2006 schedule has yet been posted. I revived my quest to get reservations for RV driving lessons during the conference (I feel an urgency here because I understand that their limited number of available slots at these events are quickly snapped up and this will amount to the only chance I will have to get some professional training before launching my new fulltime lifestyle). I have tried several times in the past to get these reservations but each attempt at contacting the company i nvolved has been ignored—I thought because of the great deal of time before the conference they weren‟t yet making commitments (although I considered it impolite not to at least be given a reply explaining this fact). So once again I started the process of e-mailing them (and leaving messages at their website) and once again I got the same results—nada, zip, zero, et al. But this time I was determined. I e -mailed the sponsors of the conference and explained my difficulty in contacting this company. It worked because that same day the head honcho of the driving school called me from some event he was servicing in Las Vegas and, to make a long story short, I am now confirmed for lessons on the two days (Saturday, July 15 th and Sunday, July 16th) following the close of the conference at 8:00 am each morning (my choice—I‟ve always been a morning person). 28 Here it is, the middle of February--three and one-half months until summer break, ten and one-half (calendar) months until R-day (although officially retirement will be on December 31 st I feel actually it will be at that time when I walk out the doors of the school for the last time on Friday, December 22 nd—a teacher workday w/no students), one hundred fifty seven school days --153 if the district doesn‟t get another waiver to start early again this fall. In any case spring break is just three weeks away (mid-march) and I have always had it in the back of my mind that that would probably be the point where I started getting serious about deciding on which campgrounds I would utilize on my trip to Moscow during the summer (three nights on the road) and start trying to make reservations—including the local campground for pre-flighting the unit before the trip. I understand that campgrounds have a varying policy on the acceptable timeframe under which reservations can be made—not too early but if you wait too long they may be completely booked up. I am willing to take my chances on finding vacancies on my return trip (heck, if necessary I‟ll even boon dock), but going up I want to be sure I have a place to stay each night. This made me think that it was time to take stock in my camp „memberships‟. One reason for the sudden resurrection of interest in this area is that I have recently been inundated with pitches from Camping World for something called “Camping Club USA” (and, yes I went ahead and joined it—didn‟t I say I was compulsive). So last year I joined a slew of camping organizations some of which I was given the choice not to activate until I was ready to use them. Unfortunately I don‟t remember which. Additionally they each come with small yearly fees and, now that the anniversary of my purchase of my RV approaches, I must remain aware that several yearly costs will become due (the RV‟s vehicle registration from Montana, it‟s auto insurance, and who knows what else) all at once. I felt a need to know what camp club fees were due and when. Apparently most of my affiliated camping memberships (like RPI, AOR Gold, RVA) were left open (and inactive) so I won‟t owe a fee this year (and still have the choice of which month to commence each), the Coast-to-Coast will be due in September (as will the „home park‟ dues), and I‟m still not sure about the half-price memberships such as Passport America and Happy Camper (although I do know what their fees are). I have already surveyed the route to Moscow and don‟t think any of these clubs/organizations will apply (which goes to show what I have come to believe— the type of campgrounds that seem to „belong‟ to these groups/affiliates are „destination‟ parks and are mainly of value when you are planning to visit an area (probably with many attractions) and stay awhile in which case you would locate a park that is as centralized as possible but falls under one of these discount plans, set up you rig, and then fan out each day by toad to take in all of the sites in one particular direction. Maybe one of my last lines of defense—the 10% discount group (Good Sam, Escapee, KOA) will pan out. I might also (during spring break) work up the ambition to start moving my „RV stuff‟ into the unit and setting it up (or putting it away). Most of the material in question is being stored in a small ex-home office and the RV is still currently stored relatively close to my home so it would be the ideal time to transfer everything. I must confess that I can muster much greater enthusiasm for buying 29 things for my rig then I can for finding safe and convenient places onboard to stow it and so far my attempts to utilize Velcro have met with, at best, extremely limited success. At the very least I need to install and activate the DISH network satellite receivers, measure the sofa/bed for sheets and get them plus an extra pillow and blankets for both beds, sort and stow the accumulated equipment from the basement into plastic tote boxes, and figure out how to hold/dispense the toilet paper while in use. I‟m also beginning to think about the day that I take my motor home out of winter storage. At that time my first order of business will be to get it services. I wish I knew exactly what needs to be done but beyond changing oil and oil filter, air and fuel filters on both the Cummins diesel engine and Onans generator I am at a loss. I must confess I am not very mechanically oriented and beyond having my cars oil changed regularly (and asking at that time to have the mechanics check fuild levels) I have no idea what to do. There is a Cummins service center on the other side of town and I would like to take the unit there for all of the motor and generator servicing required but I really don‟t look forward to driving that rig all of the way through town during rush hour traffic. And is that all that needs service—what about transmission, steering, brakes, lubes? What about the air compressor, slides, and any/all of the appliances in the unit? Once I get the engine and generator serviced at Cummins do I take the rig into American RV & Marine and give them the vague “check everything else” request? The next item on my agenda will be to get the unit washed and waxed. I have taken advantage of the higher speed of the internet hook-up at school to do some preliminary research on campgrounds in the Farmington/Bloomfield/Aztec area (New Mexico--night one), the Helper/Heber City/Scofield area (Utah—night two), and the Twin Falls, Idaho area (night three). I eliminated those campgrounds that have length restrictions below that of my rig (would you believe that some of these places have maximum motor home/trailer lengths of as little as 20 feet) but this still leaves me with a couple of choices in each area. In each case I have tentatively identified one site that appears superior but I am refraining from taking the next step--looking up each campground in my Frommer‟s guide as well as Woodall‟s and Trailer Life for more detailed, and hopefully more subjective, descriptions and ratings (I read somewhere that Frommer‟s is the better guide because the descriptions and ratings are more pertinent and the information is less „tainted‟ because they do not accept advertisements). I expect to be doing so early on during spring break. I really want these choices to be good ones because ,one, it will be my „first‟ trip and because, two, I will have my brother, whom I sense is skeptical of my new life choice, tagging along on the way up to the conference and I would like to „win‟ him over—nothing would please me more then to have him going away thinking that maybe this RV life is something he might want to do! On the other hand, if some or, heaven forbid, all of these campgrounds are barren, desolate, over-occupied „trailer parks‟ I can see him leaving shaking his head, thinking that I must be crazy. In any case it looks like the camping fees will average about $26.00 a night although I expect that some or all will honor a Good Sam or KOA discount. 30 When this calendar year began, and I returned to school from Christmas break, I thought to myself that this time would be peculiar for me. After so many years of the same routine I thought, since this is my last, that I would approach each standard „event‟ with the thought in mind that, “gee, this is the last time I will be doing this”. I sit here—in early March—awaiting visits from my student‟s parents. This is the semi-annual parent-teacher conference wherein students are released at noon and teachers are expected to remain (in their rooms) until 7 or 8 p.m. to meet any parents who might care enough to come by and discuss their children‟s progress and behavior. We hold this event twice a year—once in the fall and again in the spring—so I can‟t say that this is one of those „events‟ which will leave me with the realization that my time here is limited—I will still have another one before I retire. Normally I would bet that I will have few parents tonight because they usually come in the Fall and once is enough for them too but this is the first such „night‟ in the new school building and I am betting that there will be many individuals who didn‟t attend either the dedication/open house night or the open house Saturday that were held just prior to and following the Christmas break. These individuals may view tonight as an opportunity to “kill two birds with one stone” and come. I must confess that I suffer the extremes of anticipation when I think of my up- coming endeavors (both short term—summer, L-O-W, and Idaho—and long term—life on the road). Don‟t get me wrong, in what may seem the most daunting aspects--changing my whole life, something that would most likely lead to second thoughts for any sane individual--I am not the least bit concerned. Maybe it is because I have always been solo with nobody else to worry about (or have to consult with) and have lived a lifestyle that I have intentionally minimized of responsibilities and ties, but I have never had a problem with making major changes in my life. All of this press I have read about „preparing‟ for the full time lifestyle spends an inordinate amount of ink (and emotion) on the „process‟ of shedding oneself of your house and other possessions and „preparing‟ your family/friends (and I suspect in the process yourself) for your new „lifestyle‟. With a very few exceptions I can (and have in the past) turn(ed) my back on my current life and headed in a different direction. This may be why I have always found it easy to „take‟ off alone on road trips or overseas tours. Then again the whole thing may be so overwhelming that I just block it from my mind. The fluctuations I am feeling are in anticipation of my abilities (or lack therein) to cope with the nuts and bolts of Rv‟s and tow vehicles. Sometimes I think of the first time I will have to „harness‟ up my truck to the motor home or the first night that I am out on the road and have to “set up camp” (or for that matter—the first morning I have to “break camp”). What will I forget or do wrong? Will it be major or minor? And then there will come that day of reckoning—the first time I will have to dump and flush the black and gray water tanks! Just how much of a fumbling incompetent will I prove to be? As you can surmise, I will probably wait until my tanks are overflowing before I attempt a „dump‟ and I will probably wait until I am settled into a campsite with plans of an extended stay (such as the week in Moscow) before I untether my toad from the back of my rig. I worry about the first time I have a „back-in‟ camp site instead of a „pull-through‟ (I 31 suppose then you must detach the toad before and reattach it afterwards regardless of whether I intend to utilize it during I stay or not). Add to this the fact that I am still not completely comfortable behind the wheel of my rig (although I have at least once faced the ordeal-by-fire of driving the unit in heavy traffic and maneuvering it into and out of a too small parking lot). I kno w that this will pass once I have gained experience behind the wheel and I have heard that those who undergo the driver training that I will be taking this summer emerge better and more confident drivers. It is this that sometimes seems overwhelming but at other times I can reduce these concerns to manageable proportions and understand that all of these worries will be faced and overcome when the time to do so is upon me (in other words I will prevail because I must prevail). And then I think about the „first‟ real winterization (i.e. the first time I will have to prepare the unit for winter storage after it has actually been in use). Here it is March 7, 2006, four days until spring break (one whole week plus leading and trailing weekends off) about 145 school (work) days until R-day. I find myself obsessed with the coming event (and particularly RVing). I fear that these feelings are affecting my attitude towards my employment. I have grown to hate this school, this district, and its administrators. I realize that a part of the reason for this comes from within myself and involves my current outlook towards retiremen--but from the increasing souring attitudes of those teachers around me I can‟t help but believe that these feelings I am having have more then a little basis in existing conditions and not just my „hitch itch‟. The new superintendent, her husband as the new principle of our school, two new (and apparently arrogant) assistant principles and, I suspect the current school board members as well--I think have all made this district distinctly anti-teacher oriented. Unfortunately by the time the taxpayers of this district realize what is happening I think that word will have gotten out and no teachers will want to work here (and then it will take a concerted effort, a drastic house cleaning, and a long period of time to reverse) and in the meantime this district‟s schools will suffer from a long period of loosing good teachers, understaffing because they can‟t find any replacements willing to work here, and an assortment of inexperienced (and often incompetent and probably uncertified) new teachers. I have already advised several fellow teachers who even have only a couple of years left in their professional lives to seek jobs elsewhere during the coming summer. I figure that with only one semester left for myself (4 months), I might as well stick around (but I fear that it will not be a pleasant experience). I got a letter from Action Services in Montana. They are the outfit that helped me to set up a LLC to purchase the RV. They also steered me to a finance institutions that got me a good interest rate and to an insurance company that saved me at least a thousand dollars a year in insurance cost. Apparently Montana changed their vehicle registration laws. They used to have one date a year, during the month of April wherein all RV‟s registration came due regardless of when they were originally registered. Apparently they have changed to a normal monthly registration and are re-registering all vehicles (including issuing new plates). I replied to Action Services‟ letter with my VIN number and credit card information so that they could proceed with my new registration. Afterwards 32 I had second thoughts and e-mailed them to see if I could get vanity plates (SERENITY). I can but Montana only allows 7 letters on their plates (one more then Texas does) not 8, so I have asked for (1 st choice) SERENTY or (2nd choice) SERNITY. I should hear back from Montana later today or tomorrow morning. I heard back (same day) and it‟s a go for choice #2! I scour the internet for books on full-timing, retirement lifestyle, travel guides of interest, camping cookbooks, motor home operation/maintenance and even on-the-road stories, I order them and then I get impatient for them to arrive. Just last week (and Monday of this week) I have ordered at least a half dozen new books (and a subscription to RVliving). This past weekend I even got so anise that I put together a computerized inventory of all of the RV/camping related books that I already have (unfortunately, I tend to forget what I have already purchased and have duplicated several books). I eagerly check my e-mail for e- zine newsletters from the various RV sources that I have subscribed to or for correspondence from my RV pen pal. I even went back to all of the RV websites to see if anything new had been posted. In any case I am getting motivated to do something „RV‟ related during spring break. I already plan to decide on and book campgrounds for my L-O-W trip but that will only take a couple of hours max as will the drive out to the Cummins/Onan authorized service center by the Horizon City exit on the freeway (so that I can scope them out prior to my June 1 st excursion there) . I want to try to avoid spending money during the break (which probably means that I should steer clear of Camping World) and I really don‟t want to do anything that requires starting the RV or gen (certainly nothing that requires moving it). I am thinking that I might inventory and maybe move to and store in the RV all of the „office‟ stuff I have amassed for the rig over the winter. I am getting to where I don‟t remember if I have already purchased small items (like measuring cups and spoons) plus the proximity of home and RV (in storage) will never be better then it is now! This would be the best time to inventory what I have onboard the RV and at home, ferry it out from home to rig, sort the stuff from the RV basement and the home office into those plastic tubs I purchased for just this purpose, stow them in the „basement‟ and secure those items I intend to „travel‟ with topside. Maybe I will even get super-motivated and attempt to hookup and activate my Dish satellite receivers (although this will definitely require me to start the generator—which first requires that I start the engine). If I did all that I would not only be ready to move the unit to the local campground July 1 st but also have some idea of those nitty-gritty little items that I still need. I received my e-mail newsletter from “The RV Education 101” and was intrigued by an article by Mark Polk on sanitizing the water system after taking the unit out of winter storage. As you would know, if you considered it, all sorts of nasty things form and grow in water that is left standing over a period of time and fresh water tanks are no exception. They can never be 100% drained— there will always be some residue—and sitting there dark and dank for nine months is just inviting God only knows what bacterial concoction to develop (not to mention algae and various fungi). So Mark proposes flushing the system by adding a mix of one gallon of water to 1 and ¾ cups bleach to almost 100 gallons 33 of fresh water (in the tank), running facets and shower until you smell the bleach ( to assure that the mixture fills your „pipes‟ as well as the fresh water tank), then driving the rig around—to „slosh‟ the contents thoroughly, and then leaving the whole thing to stand for 12 hours. Afterwards you are to drain the system (100 gallons of bleach tainted water), refill with fresh water (another 100 gallons), and run the facets/shower until all signs of bleach are eliminated (you are warned that the refill/facet-shower thing may need to be repeated). It occurs to me that not too many places would be thrilled to have 200 plus gallons of tainted water dumped on their grounds nor, for that matter be willing to let you repeatedly „fill up‟ you tanks from their water hose. Strangely enough, although all of the books are crystal clear on what a major faux pas it is to improperly dispose of the contents of your gray and black water tanks, none say a word about what the proper etiquette is for draining your „fresh water‟ tank! Additionally it may sound straight forward to say “pour the gallon of water/bleach mixture” into the fresh water tank but where exactly do you pour it. I know the sink and shower drains lead to the gray water tank and the toilet leads to the black water tank but what leads to the fresh water tank? The only „opening‟ I am aware of is the one that the water hose connects to when you „hook up‟ at camp. I received a mailer from Camping World and noticed several „water fresheners/deodorizer‟ additives for „de-winterizing‟ your water tanks. The information provided in the ads was insufficient to determine if (1) any of these products „kill‟ those organisms that may grow in the tank during storage and hence can be used in place of the above procedure and (2) whether they may be added while the system is „in use‟ without requiring that the system be flushed (like above) and without effecting the safety, quality, or taste of the drinking water. This will need further investigation! Today at approximately 4 p.m. I officially started my spring break. No more classes or students until March 20th. I am also down to 142 'school days' until the big 'R' day. I still plan to decide on and make reservations for campgrounds for the trip to the L-O-W conference early on during the 'break'. But at the moment I am feeling particularly ambitious and feel that I may also inventory all of the RV 'stuff' that I have purchased and am storing in my RV room at home and all of the 'stuff' that I purchased and already moved into the RV. It's getting where occasionally I am reading some RV book and some obviously 'must have' item is mentioned (something small and inconsequential) and I find myself thinking "did I get one of those?". For instance I am not exactly sure whether I bought measuring spoons and measuring cups when I bought dishes, eating and cooking utensils, etc. I definitely need a list. A long time ago I read a suggestion that in order to efficiently store items (and still be able to find them) in motor home basements, you should get those large plastic tubs with lids. You can then store all loose related materials in the same tub. So for instance in one such tub you can place your electrical extension cords, your 50 amp-30 amp- 20/15 amp adapters, spare fuses, your multi-meter for checking campground plug ins, etc. In another you can store your sewage hoses, adapters, cleaners, etc. This way you don't have all of that loose stuff rolling around in those large storage compartments and you can find anything 34 you need relatively easily. I bought several of these 'tubs' at the Dollar store many months ago. I have the urge (while inventorying stuff) to sort it all into these tubs and go ahead and stow them in my rig. Right now the unit is in storage in one of those secure lots that are part of a self-storage business just down the street (but in New Mexico). In other words at the closest point to my house as it is likely to be prior to my summer trip. Likewise, although initially I was very conscientious about putting everything away in the RV as I acquired it, I soon became overcome with 'stuff' and so there are numerous items that are sitting in the RV waiting to be put away (of course, being new to this 'RV' scene, I realize that I will probably have to re -locate many things I have already stored because (1) those items wouldn't 'travel' well where I put them and (2) I had no idea how much 'stuff' I would need to store ultimately and many things will need to be moved around so that everything fits) so I really should plan on making that ship-shape in the process. I even have (at home) two dish satellite receivers sitting at home that I need to be installed in the rig and activated thru Dish network so that my satellite TV will be working. And then there is the question of where I will put all of my RV and travel guidebooks. I even bought a fire proof safe to store value papers in--where will that go? Well spring break has sprung (broke?)--Monday I go back to work. I can somewhat console myself that once school commences Monday, we are down to a mere 9 weeks left in this semester (minus a four day weekend at Easter)--then its' summer vacation (only two months really--the month of August has been slowly eaten up by earlier and earlier starting dates for school--set for August 8th this year) and zeroing in on 100 (work) days—in May-- and counting down until „R‟ Day. On the minus side I can‟t help but feel that as the end of the semester approaches the pressures from administration with intensify. I really feel that they think that they can „tailor‟ the staff to a passive mass for next year. I have already seen a couple of teachers being harassed in hopes of driving them off and have witnessed disturbing indications that the „school/district‟ is planning on dumping a lot of „extra‟ work duties on the staff next year. For instance there is talk of teachers being required to „counsel/mentor‟ students, being required to attend staff development before or after school or even on Saturdays (sans compensation), take on numerous additional duties related to this high-schools- that-work grant. They have announced that they do not intend to have „tutoring‟ classes within the schedule but to readily offer them on „off hours‟ (a.m., p.m., and weekends)—I just wonder where they plan to get the staff for that. I really do think that „they‟ (administration—at school and at central office) believe that they can subject the teaching staff to all sorts of abuses, unprofessional treatment, and additional work duties (without compensation). I would hope that enough of the staff retain enough dignity, self esteem, and down right gumption to stand up to this and say “NO”. I did accomplish much this last week. I made my campground reservations for July. I'll be staying at the Ruins Road RV Park & Campground in Aztec, NM on July 2nd, Heber Valley RV Park & Resort in Heber Valley, UT on July 3rd, and Twins Falls/Jerome KOA in Jerome, ID on July 4th. I should reach the campgrounds in Moscow, ID on the afternoon of Wednesday, July 5th and the L- 35 O-W pre-conference starts on July 6th. If you want to you can find nice descriptions of each of these campgrounds on the internet--I think that you will agree that they appear to be good choices. I'll let you know later if they lived up to my expectations! I also tracked down the local factory service center for Cummins engines and Onan generators and was pleased to see that they are also authorized to service Sparton chasis. They are all the way on the opposite end of town (in fact outside of town in the extreme southeast). I figure that in early to mid-May I will call them up and make an appointment for May 31th to have the engine and generator serviced after winter storage (and see if they will check some of the other motor/chasis related areas such as transmission, breaks, axles, tires, etc.). I also stopped by CampingWorld and checked out their de-winterizing services which mainly involve flushing and sanitizing the water systems and checking the plumbing for leaks but the manager was very obliging and I figure I'll make an appointment for about June 8th to have all that done and have them check internal systems. Since I am pretty sure that the roof is fiberglass (not rubber), I don't think that I will have to worry about cracks and leaks. Some time between the two appointments I will need to find some place to get the unit washed and waxed. I realize that many of these 'chores' will have to be taken on by myself in the future but for now I just want to be sure everything is done right. This will leave me the whole month of June to take the rig out for short 'day trips' to various locations in Southern New Mexico so that I become more comfortable driving the thing. Oh yes, as I predicted I dropped about a hundred bucks at CampingWorld (bought some water fixtures, another RV book, and a pair of two- way radios so that if someone volunteers to help me back up I can depend on more then my rear view (backup) TV monitor. By the way--all of the camping sites I reserved are for pull-thru‟s and should be big enough that I won't have to unhitch the toad before I park. Meanwhile I have an appointment for April 13th with my cardiologist (the first since last October) to make certain that the recovery from my heart surgery last summer is going well. I did get to carry out my plans to inventory and stow in those plastic tubs the contents of my 'RV room' at home and my actual RV basement. Said plastic tubs are now safely in place in my RV basement compartments. It does fill me with a sense of accomplishment as I feel I am 'mostly' moved into my rig. I still need to inventory those Items I have already put away inside my motor home (sheets, towels, cooking and eating utensils, etc.) and I have a few items for the interior that are still at home (2 satellite TV receivers--which I need to install and activate, front window curtains that I bought to replace the ones that came with the unit-- those being too hard to move in and out of place, tire pressure monitoring system, cloth placemats, napkins, dish towels and wash cloths, e ven these four pottery painted canisters for holding flour, sugar, coffee, etc., even a bike (and helmet) to be attached to the rear ladder at a later date. Then all I need worry about are my books, VHS tapes and DVD's, CD's, clothes and computers/computer equipment. The 'groceries' will have to wait until June 30th/July 1st when I have moved out to the local campground, hooked up and have charged the systems (batteries, fresh water tank, refrigerator, etc.). I was 36 so uplifted by my successes this past week, however, that I may target the next two weekends for the interior inventory and move-in. I realize that I don't need to totally 'move in' for my summer trip but I would like to make this trip as realistically 'as-it-will-be once I hit the road full-time' as possible (I may even seek out a weighing service at the conference to get an accurate reading on total and axle weights). My eldest brother (Shayne) has made plans to come home (to El Paso) in late June. Ostensibly this is to attend his 40th high school reunion but since he intends to tag along as I drive up to Idaho (he will fly out of Moscow to wherever once we get there), I can‟t help but feel it is mainly out of concern for me. My brother has not openly questioned my future life-style choice but has, I believe, had concerns that I will be out who-knows- where, alone, and out of contact and with my health problems last summer—what will happen if I fall ill (or die) and no one in the family will be aware of it? I, of course, intend to establish a system of e-mails and a website (so that anyone—including members of my extended family—can check up on me whenever they please) that I will keep updated as I move about. I also believe that a life on the road will be healthier for me then staying chair-bound at home (or stressed out and chair-bound at work). As far as the travel part of it goes, I would think that he, if anyone, would be understanding as he has always had a affinity for automobile transportation, travels by car extensively in his business (and seems to enjoy it), and does regular cross-country road trips with his son each summer (although why they always include the Garlic Festival in California escapes me). Therein, though, lies the rub—travel styles. Several years ago I took Shay up on an offer to join him and his son on a summer road trip to Alaska. I flew up to meet them in Butte, Montana. We drove up through western Canada to Alaska, made the circuit of that state (picked up his eldest daughter in Fairbanks), and drove back down to Seattle (where we dropped my niece off at the airport to fly back to her college in Ohio). We even sidetracked to Rosaline, Washington, the place that served as the fictitious “Cicely, Alaska” in the TV series “Northern Exposure”. Then my bother, nephew, and I traveled on to “God-only-knows-where”, California to attend my one (and I hope only) annual Garlic Festival. Then we turned east and traveled across the southwest to arrive back at El Paso. The shining light of this last leg was a visit to Angel Valley, Utah to see the animal rescue ranch that operates there. I did find out that, contrary to their well financed TV-ad campaign, T-Mobile is not a very widespread service. I couldn‟t use my cell phone anywhere in Canada or Alaska and found myself roaming on the west coast and most of the way home—apparently the entire service area for this company entails narrowly defined corridors that most likely parallel interstate highways. Before going full-time I will have to investigate cell phone companies and determine the one with the widest service area (not just for verbal communications but also for data), which will mean a new cell phone service and a new internet service provider (including a new e- mail address). This is probably one of the vendors (along with solar panels and front window mask/covers among others) that I will make it a point to visit at the conference. I need to watch out. As I indicated early on in this journal, I have a propensity to over- indulge when it comes to my “toys” and since this will be my first “vendor attended” RV conference I don‟t want to react like a kid in a candy shop and buy, buy, buy. In fact, beyond learning about what is available out there, I would like to restrict my spending to those services that are administered onsite (i.e. driving school, weighing the unit, etc.) 37 and those few things that are best physically applied to the unit by the vendors themselves (presumably the wind shield cover/mask and who knows what else). Radical and big-ticket items, such as solar panels, will involve information retrieval ONLY! Anyway, back to the subject at hand—driving (traveling) styles. Luckily, my brother, like myself, is an early riser (the same, however, can not be said for his kids—particularly the girls). Unfortunately, although he gets out of bed early enough, getting him on the road is a completely different story. Face it—my bother is a KINKO’S ADDICT. Each morning, no matter how early he may rise, my bother simply can not hit the road until (1) the local Kinko‟s store opens and (2) he has retrieved, read, and answered all of his e- mail, made and faxed all of his business correspondences, and made all of his requisite phone calls to clients in Timbuktu and beyond (because of the time differences yo u know). When traveling with him you aren‟t going to get out of town until 10 a.m. at the earliest (and that‟s 2 to 4 hours later then I normally would be burning rubber) and then its‟ drive like hell until 8 or 10 at night (he seems to always want to make at least 400 or 500 miles a day), find the next hotel, and start the whole process over again the next morning. I think that except for that darn Garlic festival he never once did any sight seeing at any town or city along the way (unless of course there was no Kinko‟s in which case he would cruise around trying to find a cyber café—and if memory serves me he found them in some of the most obscure little towns like White Horse in the Yukon and Rosaline (a.k.a. Cicily Alaska) in Washington). Strangely enough, he would stop and spend an hour or two staring at some tree or bush in a national park but would wiz by museums, tourist attractions, and quaint shops or pubs or restaurants (apparently harboring a deep repulsion of anything that may contain even the faintest whiff of civilization). I am just as enamored with nature as the next guy but really I would rather appreciate it while enjoying a picnic lunch or relaxing under a tree reading a book (or taking a snooze). I say in his case “take a couple of photographs—they‟ll last longer!” I would say my preferred mode of travel is thus. I am an extremely early riser (I mean 4:30 or 5:00 a.m.) which comes from years of self-discipline—first for school and then for work. Maybe once I retire I can re-train myself to sleep in late (maybe even as late as 6:00 a.m.). In any case, once up I take care of toiletries (shower, shave, brush my teeth, etc.), eat breakfast and then I‟m ready to hit the road. Sometimes I already have the petal to the metal by 6:00 a.m., usually by 7:00 a.m., and always before 8:00 a.m. I don‟t like to speed so I set the cruise control for the speed limit (on the RV I will probably hold her to 55—60 mph in the slow lane—although my current thinking is to avoid the interstates and catch the back roads to visit small town America). I like lots of stops—rest areas, convenience stores (for a cup of coffee or a coke—really just an excuse for a break), or an interesting town, village, structure, etc. I really only want to drive 200 to 300 miles a day (if possible) and stop for the night in the early afternoon. This will give me plenty of time to settle in, recover from the day‟s drive, and hit the „high spots‟ of the local fauna and flora. Since last we spoke I have: 1) Sent pictures of my rig to Ernestine (who apparently was never told that I purchased an RV). 2) Joined Boomers (a subgroup of Escapees). 3) Joined W.I.N. (Wandering Individuals Network). 4) Joined S.I. (Singles International—a subgroup of FMCA). 38 5) Renewed my membership in the Travel Supreme Owners organization (for another 3 years). 6) Attempted to contact DISH network about my RV exemption application to allow me to receive network feeds (in particular ABC and NBC since I already have CBS, FOX, and PBS) on my satellite TV system. I have a lready sent the application and appropriate documentation to them (twice) and have never heard back. This time I contacted them through their website. Still haven‟t heard anything but I did notice that in the channel 8000 range (below High Definition) I now seem to have network feeds that work. I don‟t know if this was in response to my request (or, for that matter, which one) and I am not sure whether my RV satellite system (which I AM SURE does not employee a DISH 500 antenna) can receive this channel range. This is yet another reason while I should bite the bullet and go ahead and finish the installation of the system (along with replacing that stiff front window „accordion‟ style of curtain with the cloth one I bought last summer). I hesitate to start this process as it enviably leads to starting (and exercising) the generator, which leads to taking the unit out of storage, which leads to de-winterizing it, which leads to servicing the engine and generator, which leads to—etc., etc. Every since I inventoried much of the stuff from the office and stowed it in the RV, I have really fought the urge to complete the task by taking the few remaining items from the office (basically those things that I knew were destined for the inside of the unit rather then the basements), relocating them to the motor home, and doing an „internal‟ audit (inventory) of things. This is mainly because I felt that it would lead to the slew of endless tasks that I mentioned in the previous paragraph. I also would undoubtedly be compelled to indulge in a frenzy of hanging, velcroing‟, and general folding, packing, and stowing loose items. Right now I am trying to psyche myself up with the following plan. Thursday, April 13 th and Friday, April 14th (Good Friday) are school holidays. I have a mid-day appointment on Thursday with my cardiologist but I‟m free all day Friday. I am thinking (tentatively) that I can devote the whole day to the RV with the following priorities: 1) Move all remaining „office stuff‟ to RV and stow it. 2) Inventory everything inside the rig. 3) Exercise the generator. And maybe: 4) Install and activate the (2) satellite receivers. 5) Remove and replace the front window curtains. It was hard to pin down the conference dates, since I originally made reservations almost a year ago (at which time the only notion I had was that it was during the week of July 9th. The start of the pre-conference was/is even harder to calculate as all I know of that is that the web site says it is two days before every confere nce (although it apparently actually begins with dinner three nights before the conference begins (and you are told to have your rig in place by 2:00 p.m. of the day of the dinner. In any case here is what I put into play. I figure that we will leave El Paso on the morning of Sunday, July 2nd. I have made reservations at a 39 campground in Aztec, NM for Sunday night. Monday, July 3rd we will drive to Heber Valley, Utah (have made reservations). On Tuesday, July 4th we will drive to Jerome/Twin Falls, Idaho (have reserved a KOA there. On Wednesday, July 5th we will drive on up to Moscow. After having made all of these plans/reservations, I finally figured out that we do not have to be en-camped in Moscow until 2:00 p.m. Friday, July 7th but what the heck-- this way we will not have to be rushed and will have a day and a half (Thursday, July 6th and Friday morning)to scout-out the area. As for the 'reunion', I was never aware that it was a 'combined' affair. I once attended an Austin class reunion, and swore to never repeat that error again, so I think I will pass on that. There was no need to apologize for the delay in replying to my previous e- mail. Even under the best of circumstances I am sure that you have numerous priorities greater then yaking with me. And now, on top of all that, you have family health problems to worry about. I told you early on that I have no one here to share my growing happy anticipation for my coming life-style change with and I know that as a consequence I tend to write long, rambling letters (e-mails), which undoubtedly contain much detail that is of no interest to anyone else but myself. The mere fact that you are there, that we are sharing a common interest/experience, and that you listen, acts as a great relief (output) for my excitement. I still believe that a list of fellow classmates willing/eager to communicate among each other (as I am) would be of great benefit. I also would very much like to hear details of "the early days" from those of us who have already hit the road or, in fact, from any future members who are privileged to begin their journey before us. At the very least I know that I would find it interesting but I really think that all of us could learn to avoid our own future pitfalls by hearing what our fellow members have endured. Maybe the website you mentioned could have a place to post "progress reports" on or maybe it is time to start talking about a class news letter. I envy you proposed itinerary for the next couple of months. Out here--in the great southwest expanse--everything is so far away that the idea of taking short trips is not realistic. You can drive all day just to reach the next interesting town and when you get there it is not that interesting. I think that I mentioned that El Paso is actually closer--distance wise-- to Los Angles then Houston. I imagine that it is great to have so many places close by to visit (and with beautiful scenery coming and going--not just endless barren desert). I definitely have added Manteo to my future list of destinations (and I'll remember to seek out the harbor--not ocean--side). I am not a country western music fan per say but one of the major objectives I have as I travel is to take in summer stock, community theater, diner theater, and live stage performances where ever and whenever I can. The fact that I have heard of Jimmy Buffett speaks highly of his fame (as far as country western music goes I am so out of it that the only names that readily comes to mind are Buck Owens, Minnie Pearl, and Roy Clark--and doesn't that date me) and I am 40 sure that you will have a great time that will be well worth the effort and cost that you underwent to get the tickets. I haven't progressed on my RV inventory beyond what I have already reported. After my initial limited success on the RV "basement" items, I was raring to go (finish) during the Saturday of the weekend after spring break (unfortunately the RV storage lot where I keep the unit is only open for about 4 hours Saturday morning--and then it closes until Monday morning). Unfortunately, I got to feeling the same as the way you describe your fleeting consideration of EBAY--overwhelmed! The actual job of moving the remaining "office" items into the RV, and then doing an i nventory of everything I have inside the rig, is not that intimidating. The problem I face is the old "one thing leads to another with no end in sight syndrome". When I think about it I start adding tasks. Example: 1). If I move the stuff into the rig and want to do an inventory, I really need to exercise the generator (for power while in the unit). 2). Since I will be unpacking items (still in their original boxes) to inventory them, I will need to place/stow everything safely against damage while the rig is in motion. So that means placing velcro strips and wall hangers. 3). One of the items is (are) receivers (2) for my DISH satellite system (one for the front TV and the other for my bedroom TV--I had a dual tracking system installed) which I will then need to wire into the entertainment system in the compartment above the driver's seat. I will then need to 'initialize' both receivers which requires running diagnostics--through both TV's--calling DISH network service and waiting while they download (via satellite feed) basic programing for both units. 4). Set up the special (sonic not infrared) remote control hand device I purchased so that I could control satellite receiver, VCR, and complete home entertainment system from the bedroom (even though that is a separate room) just as well as I can from the living area. 5). Replace front window curtains. The one that came with the rig is a stiff accordion type that extends from both sides and velcros together in the center of the window. From day one I have had a continuing problem getting the two pieces to fold out (they indent in or out--do not stay 'on-track', do not velcro securely in the center, and constantly come off the holding rings at the top) and when I try to get them to fold back out of the way--they are almost impossible to fold back into the space they originally occupied and secure in-place (with a short cloth strap that wraps around the folded mass and snaps into place). This represents a danger when trying to drive the rig as they flap loosely at the driver's (and passenger's) side. One of the first things that I purchased was a set of 'real' cloth curtains to replace them but this means disconnecting all of the 'rings' that hold the old curtains to the ceiling track and reconnecting them to the new curtains. 6). Etc., etc., etc. In other words I don't know where to stop. As it currently stands, since next Thursday and Friday (April 13th and 14th respectively) are our 'Easter' holiday, I think that I will set aside all day Friday for the motor home (Thursday is my 41 appointment with my cardiologist). I feel for you with the new laptop. All of the newer models I have seen have done away with the old 'floppy disk' drives in favor of CD players/recorders. Unfortunately the file structure on the old disks were much easier to work with for the transfer of data then the file structure for CD's (not to mention reusable). I might suggest that you try 'e-mailing' the files to yourself as attachments then 'saving' them down on your new drive. I have found that this even allows me to save Mac files on PC's (and vis versa)--in fact I do this all the time to send files back and forth between my Mac at home and the PC in my class room. P.S. I expect you to fill me in on every (and I mean EVERY) detail of you May LOW conference in Kentucky. Everything that you do, all of the seminars you attend, everyone you meet, where you stay (since you don't have your rig yet), all the sights, sounds, and experiences you have during the conference hours a nd after hours! This is just an update (I am down to 7 weeks left until summer vacation—and, if you take away two days for Easter break next week and four days for TAKS testing the week after, it really comes to less then 6 weeks of class time). I am still waiting for my new Montana license plates (i.e. SERNITY). I have received my coach insurance renewal notice for the coming year (just over $1,000.00). I have prepared the reply but await a postage stamp in order to mail it. Last Saturday I purchased an HP laser printer/scanner/fax that is Mac compatible (I really am sick and tried of those ink jet cartridges—expensive, short lived, and totally inconvenient). This is destined for my RV. I think that this weekend I will bite the bullet and sit down with my tow vehicle DVD and start preparing a check- off list (my first, I suspect, of many) for attaching Firefly to Serenity. I will also locate the pre-prepared check lists for setting up camp, striking camp, and pre- trip walk around (from Mark Polk‟s „e-book‟ of lists) and print them out—I imagine all will require some editing in order to make them appropriate for my own vehicles and circumstances! This weekend (Easter) I started to make my own personalized checklists. Pre-trip/break-camp, set up campsite, dump wastewater, and attach towed vehicle. That last one will need revision once I get a chance to carefully review my homemade „toad‟ DVD (I can add a lot more detail that is exactly tailored to my set up). This lead me to review my „walk through‟ DVDs. I thought that I might need to create a checklist for set-up and starting of the furnace, another for the water heater, and maybe even a third for the refrigerator but in each and every case I found that with my rig all you had to do was press a button—no valves to prime, no pilot lights to light, no traps to drain or fill. I have hesitated to review these discs for some reason--maybe I thought that seeing all of that overwhelming information again would intimidate me--but I found that in fact it reinvigorated me instead. I am once again impressed with what a fine piece of equipment I have in that RV. I also found that none of the checklists (so far) seem all that onerous (something else I dreaded)—I hope this holds true once I can prepare/revise a detailed checklist for attaching/detaching firefly from serenity. I, of course, DO NOT intend to perform this ritual on a daily basis and, in fact, once I am on the road permanently and have established a „normal‟ 42 routine, I assume that I will only „unhitch‟ when I reach a destination where I intend to spend some time and leave the two vehicles united whenever I just stop to camp overnight. I am beginning however to get the idea that there are at least some campgrounds where you are required to „unhitch‟ before proceeding to your assigned campsite (and I am already aware that whenever I am in the situation were I am required to back up, I will have to first „unhitch‟). Saturday I received the registration packet for the L-O-W conference and found that their „campground‟ is one such. Of course it became apparent (and I really should have figured this out for any such „rally‟ type set up) that the whole affair is in fact a „temp‟ campground—complete with portable power generators, hours when electricity is on or off, and restricted access/departure—all on a college parking lot. It is almost enough to make me consider leaving firefly home during this trip (after all I intend to leave serenity home when I drive over to Livingston to the Escapees headquarters in late summer). This would mean that for the entire length of the pre-conference and conference I would be at the mercy of whatever transportation is available on-site (I didn‟t really intend to use the truck going up or coming back). More importantly, it would deprive me of the opportunity to get the benefits from those „driving lessons‟ that would incorporate my towed vehicle - -as I am sure that some, if not all, do. So I should very much hesitate to decide not to take both. I really, really need to view that DVD and prepare/revise that checklist. Once again I narrowly avoided biting the bullet on my retirement plans. It seems that I am continuously finding myself just ahead of the wave of teacher retirement „reform‟ which the state of Te xas is determined to undertake. Last spring (during the bi-annual Texas state legislative session) the state seemed to take it as their singular mission to keep the “lazy, ungrateful teachers” of Texas from retiring before many „die at the job‟. After all, since Texas teachers receive such generous salaries (40th in the nation) and „full‟ retirement would entitle those ungrateful curs to about half of that (before taxes), something needed to be done to ensure that none of them retired before age 60 (and preferably 65). Actually it all goes back to a change in the federal Social Security laws that took affect two years ago. Belonging to the Social Security/Payroll Deduction system in Texas is the individual decision of each school district and many have opted never to enter into it and their employees do not pay into that system. Many teachers however, because they have worked two jobs--due to the 9 month work/school year and its commiserate measly salary or because, like myself, they have previously worked on regular jobs before becoming teachers, that did pay into S.S. for the requisite ten years (40 quarters)--are therefore entitled to collect from it when they reach retirement age. The feds many years ago (I think during the Reagan years), in an early attempt to shore up the S.S. system, determined that this was „double dipping‟ and definitely a „no-no‟. So teacher‟s social security retirement earnings were penalized (your S.S. retirement payments were „reduced‟ for each dollar that you received from your „teacher pension‟). This penalty was so severe and the „earliest‟ age that you can collect it has been advanced so much (from 65 to 67 or 70—I‟m not sure which exactly) that I haven‟t even considered monthly social security checks in my budgeting for 43 retirement. In any case as usual there existed a loophole. If a teacher was working for a school district that did belong to the social security system at the time that they retired they were eligible to receive full S.S. benefits—no penalty. Needless to say many teachers would „change‟ districts just prior to retirement in order to take advantage of this „quirk‟. Some districts even utilized this as a „recruiting‟ tool to hire qualified educators! As is common, however, somebody in Washington noticed and set out to stop those „greedy‟ teachers from „ripping off‟ their Uncle Sam. So a date (the end of the spring semester, 2004) was set to „close‟ the loophole. So many, many teachers were faced with the choice—retire immediately and collect all of your retirement (social security included) or work a few more years and wait until you had intended to retire and „lose‟ almost half of your anticipated retirement pay. Guess which option they chose? This produced a one-time-only virtual stampede of teacher retirements. This temporary „run‟ on teacher retirement funds, added to several years of „poor‟ growth in investment income--who isn‟t aware of the performance of the stock market during the first several years of this century—led to a perceived „crisis‟ in TRS funding (never mind that the state legislature had been under funding the plan for years). So when the legislature met for the first time in two years in the spring of 2005, many changes were put forth to „save‟ the pension funds. Many of these I have already detailed earlier in this journal. They moved to „phase-in‟ an increase in minimum retirement age requirements from 55 years old to 60 years old and they did away with the option allowing a teacher to buy „up to‟ three years of service from t he system. I was excluded from the first change by being „grandfathered‟ in under the existing system and I avoided the second pit fall because I bought my 3 years during the Christmas break (2004/2005) and the „change‟ would not go into effect until after August 31st, 2005. So in both cases I beat out the system—just. So now the state legislature is meeting in special session (starting Monday) supposedly solely to consider changing the school finance system to meet a June 1st court deadline. The legislators are eager to also consider education „reform‟ (never a good thing for teachers) but so far the governor is obstinate to restrict the session to the finance issue (this is because past efforts have always become sidetracked and consequently left undone just this way) but the governor promised to „open‟ the session up to „reform‟ (Uh-Oh) once the finance issue is passed. In any case, the sunset commission has recommended that the TRS no long credit one years service for one half year of work. So e ven though (as is my case) a teacher reaches retirement age (55 years in my case) prior to the end of the calendar year and that is the year that they would accrue the requisite years of service (25 years in my case), they would NOT receive credit for the last year (the 25th year in my case) until the end of the spring semester—presumably June 1st or so. Currently you are credited with that last year at the end of the fall semester (about December 20 th—whenever school breaks for Christmas) assuming you started in August and completed the semester grading period before breaking for Christmas. But unless something extraordinarily awful intercedes to change (accelerate) the process the standard procedure for such changes is as follows—public hearings on all proposed reforms in May, preparations of all recommendations into a legal document during the 44 summer/fall, and consideration (with passage/failure/modification/postponement and possible governor veto-any or all) in the spring of 2007 during the next regular session of the Texas legislature. So any such change should not be able to go into effect any earlier then the 2007/2008 school year (if then). And unless something goes terribly wrong, I will be taking advantage of the current rules at the end of the 2006 fall semester. I apologize. For some reason I associated the name Jimmy Buffett with country western music. I have done my homework since, looked him up on the internet, and "Margaritaville" is certainly not C.W. although what genre it does fit into escapes me. I'm afraid that, with music, although I know what I like, I can't say that I know--in most cases--who sang it! I did subscribe to XM radio for my RV so that I can hear all of my favorite tunes as I boogie down the highway and not have to worry about constantly messing with the tuner to find a new broadcast when I leave a radio station's service area (and believe me there are some areas in the 'great southwest' where good radio choices are pretty slim pickings). I guess that I keep mentioning that I am a novice at RVing because for so many of the 'sources' of information I reference (books, magazines, and internet) the authors early on mention that they have been RVing/camping on and off in some form or another for years. I don't sense that most would understand that, as you put it--"I just know that this is what I want to do--no doubts!!" I also am in total understanding of your sentiment--that all of the research of makes and models, styles and floor plans, costs and manufacturer's reputations can--and should--be done (we both have done so for several years)--but, in the final analysis, the choice will be made "when I walk in it. I will just KNOW-that is the one!!" Believe me, I am eternally grateful that I happened to be viewing that internet site last spring and decided to submit that bid. So exactly who is in whose head? I realize that it is the 'macho' thing to say that I can fix anything (and, yeah, one of the first things I purchased for my rig was a rather comprehensive tool kit at Camping World). I bought all of the books and DVDs on RV maintenance and repair--all three volumes of "Ten Minute Tech" and I even bought a couple of rolls of electrician's tape and duct tape. But I know, in my heart, that when it comes to even the most basic things like oil changes, lube jobs, and de -winterizing the clear water tanks--I will most likely head to the nearest RV service center. I do hope that when the time comes that I need to perform some emergency repairs so that I can limp to the next town where service is available that I will be capable--but, as you say "that's what a good 'road service' plan is for!!!" In any case my retention of details from seminars is rather limited so I suspect that what I will learn about fixing things in my RV will best come on-the-road from doing it with a book and/or wise camping neighbor at my side. So I haven't scheduled any 'maintenance' type classes. Of course I expect A FULL REPORT FROM YOU ON EACH OF THE CLASSES THAT YOU BOTH TAKE, as well as a blow-by-blow account of everything else that transpires at your LOW conference. I started selecting which classes I would attend last fall by downloading last years course descriptions from the LOW website. About a month ago I revisited 45 the site to obtain any posted changes and of course their packet, which arrived last week, held the final (I hope) list of courses and schedule. I high lighted all of the ones I wanted to attend--first in the course descriptions and then each time they were offered on the week long schedule. I then tried to resolve the conflicts- -which I am glad to report I was more or less successful at. I have signed up for 2 two-period courses ( "RVing Made Easy" and "Extended RV Travel"), several one-period lifestyle courses ("Learning Priorities for New RVers", "RVing Solo Forum", "Solo Traveler's Connections", and "Full-timing Overview") and many specific sessions ("RV Driving: Motor homes", "Generators", "DSS-Digital Satellite Systems", "Driving with Air Brakes", and "The Escapees RV Club"), and, finally, I indulged my wanderlust with "RVing the Heartland of America", "RVing America's North Country", "Alaska: The Ultimate RV Adventure", and "Highway History and Back road Mystery" . I, of course, will fill you in on all of these classes, plus all of the after hours activities and optional excursions (I will even attempt to take--and email to you--many, many digital photographs). The clear plastic tub system that you described is great (provided that your rig comes equipped with a 'basement'). I did this but tried to avoid a numbered inventory system because I'm the type who loses these kinds of documents. I just labeled each tub for a particular purpose (i.e. ELECTRICAL--to store things like outside extension cords, adaptors, campground surge protector, voltmeter, etc. or SEWAGE--couplers, donuts, stands or CLEAR WATER--both green and white hoses, water regulator, filters, etc.) so that I can go straight to the appropriate tub for those things I need. I must confess that over the last year I have suffered many moments of asking myself--"can I do it?" I have been particularly concerned about driving such a big, unwieldy vehicle--then as I said in the last e-mail, each additional RV task (i.e. setting up and breaking camp, hitching and unhitching, and dumping black water tanks) added to my uncertainty. In several ways you have helped greatly. First your availability as my sounding board has proven invaluable not only as a continuing source of encouragement but also as an example. Not only do you face the same transition to road life that I do (see all of the above) including the as yet undone selection of your new 'home' but you face the prospect of ridding yourself--putting to bed so to speak--of your past. I must confess that as a life long bachelor I have always found it easier to 'walk away' from my current situations--whatever they might be. So I really have not had to worry much about getting rid of things. For instance the only clothes I worry about are those that I wear now--my 'winter wardrobe' consist of switching from my short sleeve to my long sleeve shirts and remembering to wear my coat when I leave the house (remember this is the southwest--we tend to have very mild winters) and dressing up consist of finding a tie to wear (real fancy means finding a sports jacket and that happens so seldom that I usually end up buying a new one when the need arises). I do have a home and about five acres of land but it is all paid for so other then ongoing expenses (utilities--which should disappear once I hit the road), maintenance cost, and property taxes (onerous but just once a year) I have no pressure to liquidate it. I financed my RV from savings that I had planned for years ago and figure that between my teacher's pension, 46 annuities I also set up years ago, and retirement related health insurance I should be able to get by comfortably whether my house sells or not. So I have the advantage of taking a laid back approach--let a realtor worry about selling it and when it sells it sells. Whatever income I get from the sale will be 'found' money which I can chose whether to add to my savings or to pay off my RV mortgage with (and lose my tax write off). I am sure that if I faced the 'transition' chores that you do (and you are still working to boot) I would really feel overwhelmed. So you truly do stand as my shining example. Additionally I started looking at the "driving RVs" articles on the internet and they tended to have as a common thread the encouragement that this skill could be learned by any everyday person (such as myself) in short order and that I shouldn't worry so much about the learning curve. Then, as I stated in my last e- mail, I got to tackle the various checklists and my home made DVD's and found that--taken one at a time--no single task was that formidable. I can truly say that I am beginning to look forward to 'getting started'. I can remember only once before reaching such an epiphany. I had been taking flying lessons and was reluctantly approaching the time to schedule my licensing flight test--I had the necessary skills but had yet to feel comfortable at the controls of the small Cessna plane I learned in. Then one cold, clear January morning I was soaring (solo) over the practice flight area not far from my home when suddenly everything just gelled. The planes' controls just became an extension of my own will and I was at peace with where I was and what I was doing. I then had no problem passing my flight test and getting my pilot's license. I can sense that I am in the process of undergoing the same sort of experience with my RV. I fully expect that come summer I will feel comfortable (at home) behind the wheel of my motor home and in any campground out there. I am really waffling on the grocery list (although, of course, it is way too early to actually be shopping for that). That overly compulsive side of me wants to fulfill all three pages of the list (i.e. get any and everything I might possibly need/want) and the logical side is saying stock the staples (i.e. seasonings, spices, cooking oils and sprays, condiments --those things that you use to prepare just about every meal) and leave the 'food' (i.e. meats, fruits and vegetables, desserts, etc.) to buy on the road as I need them. The whole storage/space issue is a uniquely RVish concept that I realize that I must come to grips with and if I can learn to suppress a lifetime of learned behavior--the boy scout in me ('to always be prepared')--I would really be better off buying groceries as I go along. Not only would they be fresher but I could buy what I feel like wanting that day instead of settling for 'what's in the fridge'. Of course I can't say that parking a 38 foot motor home (plus hitched toad) in different grocery store parking lots each afternoon/night while I shop is all that appealing! It hadn't occurred to me as to how a big outfit like LOW (or Escapee, or Family Coach, etc.) set up a camping area for a big rally like yours in Kentucky or mine in Idaho. After all there aren't huge campgrounds sitting around out there waiting for a once a year rally to come along for one week. It wasn't until I received my 'packet' that I started to understand the concept of 'temporary' camping. I knew that we would be limited to 30 amp electrical service (but then so are many older 47 campgrounds out there). What i didn't know is that all (any?) electrical service was limited to the hours of 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. (at which time the temporary generators that they trucked in are turned off). Additionally since all RV parking lots are set up on the grass and asphalt parking lots surrounding the university sports arena/dome where I guess much of the proceedings occur, you are required to bring blocks or pads for your leveling jacks--to protect the ground surface below you rig. This created a temporary problem. Every since my heart surgery of last summer I have suffered from 'sleep apnea' a condition wherein you stop breathing in your sleep several times during the night. The cure/treatment is the night long use of a bi-pap machine (connected to an oxygen extractor) both of which run off of electricity. Had I known of the limited availability of electricity I would have arranged to stay at a nearby campground and commute to the conference. Luckily the people at LOW were very accommodating and moved my assigned spot to an area that they keep available for similar occasions where electricity will be provided 24 hours a day. But I still need to go out and purchase 4 jack pads (no complaints since I am sure that they will be needed many more times in the future --it is just that this is yet another occasion when I didn't know that I would need some 'device' for common RV use). I also wish I had a better feel for just how long you can 'get by' on your batteries on those times of dry camping when overnight use of a generator (even a quite one such as mine) is frowned upon. That is definitely something to add to my list of questions for the pre-conference but I suspect it is incapable of receiving a straight answer as too many unanswerable variables such as the power consumption of each device I may use during the night will be involved. As for surviving the next five weeks of school until summer vacation, I must admit that I am increasingly drawn to utilizing the internet to try to 'escape' the classroom and somehow submerge myself into the RV lifestyle--if only virtually. Unfortunately, five weeks still represent almost one complete grading cycle and, particularly after completing the yearly state mandated testing (called TAKS here in Texas), the students have for all purposes started to shut down for the year-- particularly the least mature, the freshmen, who compose the majority of my classes. I can't remember the number of students I have had in the past who 'blew it' in the home stretch (last six weeks) and subsequently failed the school year. So these last weeks represent a constant struggle to keep the students focused on work. Additionally my annual evaluation is still pending because administrators tend to put these off as long as possible. Now I know I am a good teacher, I have always received good evaluations, and my personal integrity is such that although I am preparing to 'leave', I still give 'my all' for my classes but we now face a set of 'new' (unknown) administers and the evaluation process is so subjective that your evaluator can give you any ratings they may want to-- which can be bad if they don't approve of your attitude, your failure rate, or any other number of supposedly non-evaluated factors (remember the terms academic freedom and tenure). Under our system of contracts (and my contract for next year has already been renewed) the worst that can happen if the teacher receives a 'bad' evaluation is that they could be placed on a growth plan for next year which would be re-evaluated at the end of the year at which time the district 48 could chose not to renew your contract for the following year. So I keep telling myself that since I won't be here to be re-evaluated next spring--why should I care? Just keep doing my job the way I always have and if they don't approve it won't matter. But years of conditioning still effect me and I get anxious as I await their surprise classroom observation. I feel, of course, that once that is done I can truly start to unwind for the coming vacation season. I doubt if I will be headed to NC this year as my bother is coming here for his 40th high school reunion and to accompany me (read that "watch out for me") on my trip to Idaho. He plans to stay with me as I camp in Clarkston but to fly out (and presumably back to Cary) on the Friday that the pre-conference commences. Yeah, I don't know what it is about those stiff curtains that they include in RV's. They are solid and covered in quality fabric so they can't be cheap. Maybe they just figure that that is one thing that most buyers will be replacing anyway so why bother with some other system. I will certainly send you a picture once I replace mine. By the way I came across an ad for genuine (read that "fitted") Travel Supreme accessories that included a solar/privacy screen that fits over the front window of my unit (as well as pieces that fit over driver and passenger side windows and that individually cover the wipers. It, or at least the picture, looks great. They block viewing from outside, at least during the day, while allowing people inside to look out and block over 90% of the UV rays from the sun. I am thinking of getting that for my unit. I guess that I have run on enough for this communications so I will shut her down for this letter and go ahead and send it. I am sure that you will enjoy your backstage audience with Lynn Redgrave. I have always admired that family's grace, pose, and acting abilities. One of the items on my short list for my future 'free(r) time' is the ability due to both time and opportunity to take in much more summer stock, community and dinner theatre, and plays and stage shows in general (face it El Paso just isn't the Mecca for this sort of thing). Unfortunately, a couple of weeks have passed since my last entry in this journal. Even the latest e-mail to Bette that I have included above is over a week old. I guess you don‟t realize how much occurs as time slowly (v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l- y) passes. I am now down to three weeks left of school and counting. As you can surmise I watched all of the DVD‟s (even the one on hooking up the toad) and felt much comforted by what I saw (and the „checklists‟ that I prepared). I believe I will need to continuously review my „checklists‟ to avoid a return of anxiety about the whole thing. As you can see, I added a shopping list (which is becoming quite long) and that my thinking is moving back and forth on. My typical instinct is to stock up on everything but my logical side tells me I will need/use little of it (this time)—I honestly think that I will probably be „eating out‟ a lot during this trip. My current feeling is that I should go ahead and get all of the basics (seaso nings and condiments) and certain all-purpose items (hamburger, hot dogs, steaks, eggs, and beacon) and certain other basic items (bread, butter, milk, booze, and ginger ale) but leave all the other stuff for point-of-use purchase. As you can also gather from this e-mail, I received the information on the pre- conference. It will be held at Granite Lake RV Park in Clarkston, Washington 49 which is apparently about 30 miles south of Moscow. The pre-conference itself is scheduled for Friday (evening), July 7th through Sunday (noon), July 9 th. But I will be onsite as of Wednesday, July 5 th. I immediately made reservations at Granite Lake for Wednesday through Saturday night and chose the premier type of sites which are called “lake front” (apparently you pull your unit into the site which is located on the lake front—your front windshield looks out over the water onto the lake—and when you are ready to leave you just “back out”). Beyond the time remaining after arrival and hook up on Wednesday, we should have all day Thursday and until evening „opening pizza ceremony‟ on Friday to explore. From what was said about the pre-conference in the e-mails, it will mainly center on the individual visits by the hosts to the participants rigs and the simultaneous owner/host question and answer session. They were very adamant that their help and advice would extent well beyond the visit so that further questions that may arise will be addressed even beyond the conference itself. I was told I could video tape but (and I personally had the same hesitations) that this may „interfere‟ with the experience! I am undecided but will be taking my cameras (both the digital video and the digital still) and plenty of tapes/memory cards with me. After all, there should be plenty of sights and experiences I will want to preserve in any case. I went ahead and ordered the solar/privacy screen set (specifically) for the Travel Supreme units and they arrived yesterday. This plus the problem I had with the curtains (more about that later), has made me think that I might be better off scheduling the de-winterization procedure (along with installing the screen and getting the unit washed and waxed) first and then taking the unit in to have the engine and generator serviced. If so I think that I will wait about a week and make an appointment at American RV and Marine for Wednesday, May 31 st and at the Cummins dealership for Thursday, June 1 st. Since the last day of school will be Friday, May 26th, the 27th and 28th are weekend days (service center closed), and Monday, May 29 th is a holiday (and the storage lot is likely to be closed all three days), the earliest I could get the unit out of storage is Tuesday, May 30th. So I figure I can get the unit late Tuesday, drive it over to the service center (and park it there over night), and then drive there Wednesday morning to „put it in for service‟. Hopefully the service will only take that one day, I‟ll leave it over night (in their parking lot) and pick it up early Thursday (June 1 st) morning to take it across town to the Cummins/Onan shop. I guess I‟ll be stuck there until they finish, then drive back to the RV place. So come Friday morning I (and my rig) should be ready to roll. In anticipation of the upcoming pre-conference I added another checklist to my growing number. I have started to put down all of the questions that I can think of for my „rig‟ visit. Nothing could be worse then to have this opportunity and forget to ask something. Okay, I know that they (L-O-W) have indicated that once the course is completed, a participant is eligible for unlimited consultation for the foreseeable future, but still I would feel better if I had a list of everything that I can think of to ask prior to our meeting. I realize that some of my questions are of the nature that only a “best guess answer” is possible (i.e. how long my batteries will last without recharging, how often will I need to empty my black and 50 gray water tanks, how long will my propane last, etc.), since the accuracy will depend on how I use my coach, but their experience should lead to a better „guess‟ then I could get anywhere else. In any case this is one list that I intend to keep reviewing and adding to often all the way up to July 7 th/8th. I finally got a chance to visit my rig this last weekend. I asked Armida to help me hang those cloth curtains in place of the accordion ones that I hate--they bend in or out when you try to close them, they come off their hooks way too easy, they don‟t “Velcro” together properly in the center, and they never fit neatly back into place when you need to stow them for travel (and there is a very short strap that folds over them and snaps into place to hold each set—two sides—in place against the back walls so if the “folded curtains” bulge—which they always do--the strap can‟t reach around them). While I was there, I started up the engine (no problem), started up the generator and ran it for the duration (no problem), and I replaced my old Montana plates with the new ones (SERNITY). I also went ahead and put the boxes that I have been carrying around in my truck (the safe, the laser printer, and the speakers), for it seems forever, into the RV. Unfortunately the curtains I bought were way short (probably about 2 feet so) and left a gap for the sun to shine on much of the dash. Armida (and I) agree that longer curtains are needed but she thinks they should be somewhat rigid and slope outward. I think that sufficiently long cloth curtains could be draped over the dash at the bottom and their „cuffs‟ allowed to settle into the crevice between the dash and the window. In any case by now the complete set of curtains had been interchanged and I really didn‟t want to „undo‟ it and put back the original ones (those curtains are one of the reasons I have always hesitated to drive the thing). By this time I knew the solar/privacy screens were on the way and would eliminate the need for curtains to block the sun‟s effect (although I understand because of the „backlight‟ effect some type of drape is necessary at night to keep people outside from seeing in) once they were installed. So we basically took the old curtains and draped them over the exposed dash to protect it from the sun, folded up those courtesy floor mats that service-departments use and used them to block the gap at the sides, shut the rig down, locked up and left. As I was leaving I noticed an area of dash (at the bottom--right where the window meets the dash) far on the drivers‟ side that remained exposed. So Monday I took several towels from home and went to the storage lot after school, opened her up, and placed the towels to cover the gaps. I also took that opportunity to transport the two Dish TV receivers from home to the unit where they now await installation (one less chore plus since they are now in the unit it will become easier to bring myself to wire them up). I have become so fixated on preparing for and attending this L-O-W conference that I tend to forget two things. First, there are many other things I should try to accomplish this summer and second, there is a lot of time to do it that won‟t be taken up by the trip. I thought that rather then making yet another checklist I could list them here: 1) Take a trip to Livingston and arrange a mail forwardi ng service/change of address forms. 2) Go to Central Office and start the paper work for retirement flowing. 51 3) See an attorney and get a last will and testament written. 4) See Mike Higgins and start solidifying the investment/retirement transition. 5) Find a (singular) bank that will be the most favorable when I am on the road (i.e. allow the best chance to cash checks in different places, allow/encourage online banking and bill paying, and be an ideal source for credit card/debit card/check cashing card/ATM card). 6) Decide on the cell phone provider that has the largest service area. 7) Determine what to do about internet access on the road: how it can be done and if there then is a choice—which provider to go with. Here we are on Saturday—in exactly three weeks the school year (including that pesky teacher work day) will be over. I made it over to Camping World this morning. I made a reservation to bring my RV in on Wednesday, May 31th, to have it de-winterized and the solar screens installed. I figure I‟ll take it out of storage on Tuesday afternoon and take it on over to American RV and park it there. Now I‟ll try making an appointment at the Cummins place across town for first thing in the morning on Thursday, June 1 st. I figure on high tailing it to American RV early that morning and driving it across town before traffic gets bad. If all goes well, the unit should be capable of hitting the road by Friday, June 2 nd. While at Camping World I picked up the jack pads and a little giant stepladder. There were these great collapsible ladders but they had a max weight rating of 225 lb. So I assume they would be dangerous and unusable in most cases (like whenever you need to step on it). I went ahead and sent a bio and a picture of the rig to our Class of 2006 web site and volunteered to help out on the „retirement party‟ that is planned to be held in January. I urged them not to hold it in Quartzsite, but who knows? Yesterday I ordered a custom fitted dash board cover for the RV from the RV shop. This will hopefully protect the dash from sun damage when I am on the road or whenever I am parked without the sun screen up. Today, I made a reservation to take my RV into Cummins Rocky Mountain LLC to service the diesel engine and the generator. This will be at 8:00 am on Thursday, June 1st. I was trying to be a conscientious owner and heed the warning that has appeared in the Travel Supreme owners‟ forum to also get the transmission main filter changed, the gear box oil on the engine cooli ng fan, and the front end realigned (at either American RV or Rocky Mountain) while doing all of the other things there but apparently neither place do some of this stuff. Rocky Mountain will change the gear box oil and if they are able to access the transmission (which, according to the forum discussion, is relatively easy) go ahead and change that filter. But neither does front end realignments. Apparently I will need to take it to a Spartan outlet for at least the last one and maybe the last two. Luckily I have already used one (they are located across the freeway form American RV) and I once had to take the unit there to get a manufacturer recall to modify the wiring to the tail lights taken care of. I figure for them I will wait until after the first two services to see what all I will need. Here it is just over one week until summer break and two days until I hit the big 100-days-of-work-until-retirement-date. A snag has developed. I have pretty much determined that to legally drive my RV I must have a minimum of a Class B 52 non-commercial driver‟s permit (I currently have a standard Class C). Since the tests are the same but the privileges are more extensive, I probably should go for a Class A non-commercial license. But this presents a whole bunch of problems. I have no doubt that I can bone up on the Texas driver‟s handbook and pass the written test but I hear that the actual driving test can be murder so I would want to get a lot more experience/practice under my belt before attempting that (plus I would want to undergo the RV Driving School lessons after the July L -O-W conference first). So the first „catch twenty-two‟ is how do I make all this happen if I can not legally drive the vehicle in the first place (and the idea of a „learner‟s permit‟ only works if you have a qualified, licensed driver to go along whenever you drive the rig). Second obstacle is the fact that my RV is registered in Montana. Although I am convinced, at least on moral grounds, that this registration is legit, I can anticipate that the DMV office may have a different opinion and to wave this fact in their face is just asking for trouble. So when and if I take the driving test I will need to do it in some other rig (maybe I can „borrow‟ one from American RV or rent one for a day). Will I have a problem? Some sources I have read say you must take the test in your own rig--but if this is the case how about those individuals who want to rent a RV for extended travel but want to be legally licensed or those who plan to buy an RV but want to have the proper license first? Third obstacle—if I can not legally drive the rig how do I get it to the DMV office for the test (and I understand that only certain DMV offices deal with these types of licenses—so I most likely will have to take it across town for the „scheduled‟ test) and if I fail the test, how do I get it back? I need to think long and hard on all of this and I would probably be smart to talk to some of the guys at American RV. I can‟t help but feel that there are probably a whole lot of RVers out there who are driving with plain old Class C licenses blissfully unaware that they are breaking the law and I may just be better off remaining one of them. Down to the last three days until the end of term and summer vacation (not including today). My „custom‟ dashboard cover arrived a couple of days ago and I have been thinking about the driver‟s license and pretty much decided that I really can‟t afford not to get it. I am eager to get to American RV & Marine a nd talk to them about it and what my available options are—maybe this Saturday or maybe Memorial Day (Monday) or maybe I‟ll just wait until I take the unit in (next Wednesday). Unless something I learn there changes my mind however, I still intend to take several day trips all during June, make the trip to L -O-W, and complete the RV driving lessons (both in early to mid-July) before I attempt the actual driving test! Hopefully nothing requiring me to present my driver‟s license will occur during these „events‟. I went over to Office Depot last Saturday looking to get my „check lists‟ laminated and some kind of erasable marker(s). That went will and the end results should prove sturdy enough to work (and to last). While there I decided to visit Circuit City to get some digital tape cassettes for my video camera. I also was interested in scoping out Verizon phone systems for a future switch in cell and data services (from T-Mobile). The dedicated Verizon store was still closed—it wasn‟t quite 10 a.m. yet--so I headed to C.C. I got there just as they were opening their front doors. They also market Verizon phones and have a 53 booth prominently visible as you enter the store--so I headed straight for it. I was so impressed with their phone services, calling and data areas, and data (air card) services that I went ahead and switched, purchased a new cell phone and their air card (a Kyocera Kpc650). I then went over and purchased a Windows XP software pack--first because, so far as I knew, available air cards were only PC compatible (not Mac) and because I figured that I would need to upgrade the software on my old Gateway lap top (which currently runs the Window‟s Millennium operating system). I bought the total package instead of the one for upgrades, even though it was more then twice as expensive, because I really wanted to „flush‟ the system (i.e. get rid of all the junk software and data—which was mainly school related—that I had accumulated over the years). I also picked up two packs (6 cassettes total) of digital tapes and a backup battery (a tiny, flat CR2025) for camera memory. I have already ordered a directional microphone attachment and a spare battery pack for the camera from Cannon over the internet and expect these items to arrive by the end of the week. I want to be fully „photographically‟ enabled when I head out for Idaho. I got home from the stores and, lo and behold, the cover of the air card package had a stamp applied which said “compatible with Mac 10.X systems”. I was in shock—nothing is compatible with a Mac (certainly not air cards), but this item said it was and the necessary software was included! I eagerly loaded the CD into my Mac and loaded the software. Following instructions I plugged in the air card and—miracle—it not only worked but provided a program screen that allows you to easily choose your source for connection--i.e. Airport (Wi-Fi), Air Card (Verizon cellular service), or dial-up. That last is important because I once tried some third-party freeware software to utilize my old air card on my Mac (it didn‟t work) and found that Mac‟s have a convoluted (either/or) method for switching connection techniques. I wouldn‟t have spent the money on that XP package for my old PC if I had known that I could „stay connected‟ to the web on the road with my Mac! Oh well, I suppose that I can take the PC along as 1) a spare in case something happens to the Mac and 2) for those occasions when only a PC will work--as occurs with many interfaces and most third party software. Additionally, only the PC syncs with my Garmin iQue 3600 PDA/GPS. I already have my Pioneer navigation system in the Serenity but it may be sometime before I can outfit the toad in a comparable fashion and since I will be traveling in a lot of „strange‟ places either in Firefly or on foot, it can‟t hurt to have a portable GPS with local maps loaded. The final day of school before summer break (a teacher‟s „workday‟ with no students) has come and gone. I am too compulsive about getting things done ahead of time and already had everything wrapped up (even had the sign-out sheet almost completed). So ASAP this morning I collected the few remaining signatures and completed the process. So most of this morning was spent watching the two Netflix DVDs I hadn‟t had a chance to see yet. Then the school provided a lunch of grilled hot dogs and hamburgers (no teacher ever passes up on a free lunch). I finally left at about one o‟clock. During the „checkout‟ process this morning I managed to make sure that each administrator was aware of my intended retirement in December. I am hoping that if they know ahead of time— 54 and if they care—then my course load in the fall will not include anything that would be disrupted when I leave. The principal seemed sympathetic and particularly, upon learning that I am certified to teach both math and science, mentioned the possibility of assigning me to teach these two subjects in TLC (The Learning Center). This is something I suggested over a year ago when the department met to give each teacher a chance to request those courses they want to teach during the coming year (the one that just ended)—but at the time nobody seemed to take the offer/suggestion serious. This would be great—not only would it minimize any effect of a mid-year transition but I believe that the position puts much more emphasis on paper work and less on actual „teaching chores‟ (I have always felt that I excel much more on paper work objectives then on lecturing/student interaction) and I don‟t think that it will be caught up in all of this „High Schools That Work‟ crap since it is mainly self paced computer courseware designed for students to get credit for various courses that they are making up or getting ahead on (I understand that a lot of seniors, wishing to graduate early, utilize the system). Mr. Padilla (our principal) seemed a little obsessed with wanting me to submit something in writing. I kept trying to explain that the entire process starts (within the next couple of weeks) with me submitting „retirement‟ paperwork to central office, and you don‟t get much more „in writing‟ then that, but he couldn‟t seem to make the connection so I wrote up a letter to him basically saying that I was confirming what I had already verbally told administrators and central office about my intentions. (P.S. Mr. Padilla seemed to quickly grasp that the purpose of what I was doing was to get an additional „year‟ of credit under TRS, although I doubt that he understands that it is purely for health insurance purposes. I informed him that there are currently in the works plans to abolish this „half year‟ quirk and that most likely after the state legislature meets next spring the chance to use it will disappear—beginning, most likely, with the 2007/2008 school year. This seemed to disturb him and he commented that it seemed that he was always coming up with the „short end‟ when it came to reforms affecting the retirement system—I completely understand as it seems that I am also constantly effected by their „re forms‟ but that fortunately I have been blessed to be riding the „last‟ wave that is preceding these changes. In any case it seems that Mr. Padilla has himself been giving retirement some thought.) My first weekday of summer vacation (ironically a na tional holiday—Memorial Day) has for the most point passed. I went over to American RV early this morning (8:00 a.m.) and caught the General Sales Manager (Mike Shenk). He is the guy who owned/ran the old Air Stream dealership back when my father (and then my Uncle) were involved with him doing his books. It had been my intention first to ascertain their level of knowledge about this license requirement, second to get their „opinion‟ of how „safely‟ I can drive my rig with my current license (i.e. how much I would need to worry about getting in trouble—stopped—by the „fuzz‟ for driving with the wrong license), and finally if I needed a Class B non- commercial license, and if I get a lot of practice driving in June and July (including the „driving lessons‟ in Moscow), when the time came to take my physical driving test, not the written, could I borrow/rent a rig to take the test in. I 55 quickly came to the conclusion that Mike (and by inference the entire American RV staff) knows much less about the whole licensing thing then I do (and, I think, wanted it that way). He kept referring to the ‟26,001 lb.‟ figure from various sources (both New Mexican and Texan) but could never come to admit to understanding that that meant that anyone driving a recreational vehicle whose GCWR exceeded 26,001 must have a Class A or B license. He finally referred me to Pat Haggerty‟s office for „official‟ clarification. He did verify what I figured— that a vast majority of RV drivers are not aware of the licensing requirements and are out there piloting their Rvs blessedly unaware that they are breaking the law. His off-the-cuff estimate was 90% and he says he has never heard of anyone getting a ticket for having an inadequate license (thus implying that it should be safe for me to operate my coach as long as necessary with my current license before applying for a Class A or B license with little fear of „getting caught‟). As to borrowing/renting a rig sometime in the future for my driving test, Mike understood were I was coming from as soon as I mentioned Stony Wilson and the Montana LLC but expressed some concern about insurance/liability. He mentioned the idea of structuring it as a „test drive‟ of the vehicle accompanied by a salesman and I quickly asserted that that would be great since I was concerned about getting the rig to the test site, legally, if I wasn‟t yet „licensed‟ (something I am sure the DMV would take a dim view of) but at this point he admitted that none of his salesmen are legally licensed either! Now he ass umes that this „problem‟, if it in fact exists at all, doesn‟t apply to his trailers, fifth- wheels, or even his gas motor homes (i.e. I was not aware of this but apparently even the relatively large gasoline motor homes—37 or 38 footers—are considerably lighter then diesel pushers of the same „size‟—apparently less then 26,000 pounds). From a purely logical point-of-view, if not a legal one, I am not so sure he is right. Everything I have heard, read, or seen indicates that hauling a big hulking trailer or fifth-wheel (many of which must exceed 10,000 lbs. In weight) is considerably more „challenging‟ then driving a motor home and the tow vehicle plus rig often exceed the length of a Class A rig. In addition, I understand that a vast majority of these trailers and fifth-wheels are being towed in an extremely dangerous fashion by „underpowered‟ vehicles which would have to be more dangerous then a heavy (but legally within weight standards) motor home. The final resolution of this meeting was the vague „promise‟ from Mike that if I do the research (basically get some kind of definitive declaration through Pat Haggerty‟s office—something that makes crystal clear with no ambiguities what license or licenses various Rvs require) that he „may‟ be able to wo rk out something on the use of a rig to take my test in. Somehow I think he just hopes that I will go away and forget about the whole thing. Even though I think that I pretty much understand what the law states, I will most probably follow through anyway because, among other things, I am curious about how this affects RV rentals and how, exactly, they expect a person to legally learn/practice safely driving these things prior to getting the required license. As far as American RV goes—who knows, maybe this will entice them into instituting some kind of driver training/licensing preparation course and maybe if I do „do the research‟ Mike will work out someway such that I can use one of their vehicles for my test. At worst, 56 if they bomb out on the loner, I still think that I can rent an RV somewhere for that purpose. After the trip to the dealership I was still able to make it to the cinemax for the 9:00 a.m. showing of “X-Men III—The Last Stand”. For tomorrow—move the rig! I have several items to mention today. Early this morning I went about trying to download software I ordered yesterday. I started by using my airport/dial-up. The indicated time estimate was over one and a half hours and as often happens the connection broke long before the download was successful. I then tried the Verizon aircard which is supposed to utilize broadband. This time the estimated time requirement was about seventeen minutes and the whole thing was successful (including an additional bonus download that just took minutes). So it appears that the air card/broadband is not only, as promised, much faster then dialup but also much more dependable. Unfortunately I am fading fast as I was up most of last night. Mom‟s night nurse never showed up and I couldn‟t reach Elena. I didn‟t feel it was safe to put her to bed (I understand that she often falls out of her bed) and I wasn‟t prepared to help her in the bath room and change her diapers so I sat up with her all night. When Armida showed up this morning, she q uickly cleaned up mom (who was just as energized as every—lack of sleep never seems to effect her in her current state) and feed us. I enlisted her help for the RV. First (after piling mom into the car) we three drove to the nearby lot where I store my unit. While Armida took the car to a close by convenience store to get some gas, I removed the tire/wheel covers (boy do they need cleaning), stowed them, refreshed my memory on the RV transmission and hand brakes, started up the rig and drove it out of the gates for the fenced in lot where I parked and waited for Armida (and mom) to return. I took this time to note a few items that nag at me. The current odometer reading is 3,449.5 miles and I still have about three quarters of a tank of diesel left. I couldn‟t remember/figure out how to change the channel on the XM radio (although I was successful in selecting that as my AV source. So I was stuck listening to channel one, which is their preview channel. I think I have now figured the channel thing out—we‟ll see tomorrow. The unit started up easily and drove well (as well as my inexperience talents would allow). The driver‟s side mirror was pointed too much downwards to be of much help in driving. There is a power adjustment for the mirror on the dri ver‟s side console (to adjust mirror up, down, and from side-to-side) but I didn‟t want to be distracted by fooling with it while I was driving. I did adjust the mirror once I was parked at American RV (and will re-check it before hitting the road on Thursday). Made it to the parking lot of American RV without mishap, parked and stowed the rig. Then the three of us drove back to the house and I switched over to my truck and drove back to the dealership. I went to the battery compartment and checked all four coach batteries for water (all were full) then climbed back aboard and started up the generator. I turned on the master power switch, double checked clearance on both sides of the rig and hit the first switch for the „sofa‟ slide-out. Nothing happened! I tried it several times (as well as the switch for the kitchen slide-out) but NOTHING! I thought something major might be wrong but then it occurred to me that the 57 engine was still running (a necessity to start the generator). Maybe there is a fail safe that won‟t allow you to extend the slide-outs if the couch engine is running? Sure enough once I shut off the motor all three slides operated flawlessly. I had forgotten how much more roomy the MH fells with the slides out. All this winter, facing that enclosed RV each time I visited it, I would come away with the feeling that there is still so much that needs to be done. But today, working with the slides out, installing the satellite receiver and the safe and removing the empty (or unused) boxes most things are looking in shape. I did try to install the receiver but couldn‟t get Dish network to successfully initialize it. They (Dish) says that the hardware (King Domes satellite dish) can not lock into the proper satellite (119 west). I was reminded of something I heard or read-- that with the King Dome units, if you move from the southern US to the northern (US and/or Canada) you must physically adjust the satellite dish unit to seek out a different satellite—so I am wondering if the original unit/installation may not have been set for that northern clime? So before leaving I added the satellite (and the tires/lug nuts) to the camping world list of items for tomorrow‟s „service‟. I also transferred the canister containing the solar screen and the box with the dashboard cover into the unit and, in the process, I managed to run the generator for a couple of hours with both air conditioners operating. Those batteries should be good and charged by now. Well I made it. I was standing outside of Camping World‟s front door, canister holding the solar screen in hand, at least ten minutes before they opened up. After more carefully explaining the recent „satellite installation‟ problem and signing various work authorization forms, I handed over the keys and left. First I headed to the Vintage Car Wash and splurged for the top of the line interior/exterior wash and hand wax jobs for firefly (that took one hour), then I headed downtown for Option Care to replace the face mask for my Bi-ap machine (would you believe that they require a doctor‟s prescription to get a MASK—so I left empty handed awaiting the faxing of a prescription from my doctor to Option Care and will probably have to go all the way down there again to pick it up). What—do they think I am going to abuse the use of the mask like some „controlled substance‟? I have to wonder if this company has any idea of how incompetent they come across as (this is the same place that never seems to know who they are billing, why, or how much is owed—and all over six months after the service is provided)? Strike One. On the way back my cell phone starts beeping and I have no idea why. So I stopped at Best Buy—I had a vague desire to look at digital cameras but no desire to buy one at this time—and opened up the phone. Voice mail—so why didn‟t I hear it ring when the original call came through? It‟s Camping World wanting me to bring (or tell them were to find) the „card‟ for the satellite receiver—WHAT CARD? I tried to call them back but got transferred, worked my way through half a dozen computerized call screens, and put on hold indefinitely! Went in to Best Buy, did a very quick, cursory look at their (expensive) cameras and left. Strike two. I then drove up to that decorating store I worked with briefly last spring and picked up an (expensive) artistic room deodorizer for the RV bath room area—something I wanted to do last spring but they were out and had new 58 ones on order. But first I sat in their tiny parking lot and once again tried to call Camping World (and this time getting through). There is a slot on the receiver for a „smart card‟ to program the unit but the slot was empty. I went home and looked in the package containing the manual—no card—and the manual said the slot was for „future use‟ but no card was required. I related this to them and was told they would call back and, meanwhile I went to get a pizza. Short version—I needed to come over (after they returned from lunch) and call Dish Network to authorize the initialization of the receiver. I did so and, after considerable manipulation of the receiver/remote, got it working. Unfortunately the service is split between two satellites (110 West and 119 West) and I will need to switch back and forth to watch everything I want to (and pay for). I will add to my „wish list‟ a new satellite dish to allow me to „toggle‟ between the two satellites (or a second dish). The screens were up and looked very nice. Taking them on and off will not be the problem I feared (even if it does require a ladder) but putting them back in the canister for storage will be. Everything else (the de- winterization, the courtesy inspection, the tires and lug nuts) was fine. I was pleasantly surprised with the final bill (only about $230.00). When I explained that I wanted to leave the unit over-night outside of the secure service area, because I wanted to pick it up early (6 to 7 a.m.) to take it to the Cummins place, American RV offered to let me park it in a camping space (no hookups) for the night since that area is patrolled during the night. So my first „camping‟ experience (and „boon docking‟ experience too) is taking place in slot H-3 at American RV without me. Go figure. This morning I got a slightly late start but did most of my driving before 7:30 a.m. (and the freeway was already crowded). Got to the Cummins shop and checked in by the appointed time (8:00 a.m.). Fat lot of good it did me. Don‟t get me wrong—the staff seemed highly competent and knowledgeable, they weren‟t slackers, and they seemed honest and ready to advise against unnecessary work but they were so disorganized. I would say that my coach sat there (in the service bay) with engine and generator compartments open and No One Working On It at least 90% plus of the time I was there They flitted from one job to the next and multi-tasking is apparently not in their vocabulary. They didn‟t finish (and I didn‟t get out of there) until about 3:30 p.m.—I was getting very concerned that I would get caught in rush hour traffic on the way back (luckily not the case but the traffic was already severe and growing worse). The total bill exceeded $600.00 and I didn‟t even get the transmission filter changed—by the time they located the proper filter and fluid—which turned out to be at a shop not too far away—I feared an over night stay if I agreed to let them proceed. I meet two real characters (aren‟t all Rver‟s?). They hailed from opposite directions (one from Brownsville, one from Demning) but they seemed to know each other (but I am beginning to believe that all of this bonding occurred as they spent days awaiting service for their Rvs). I also figured out that the problem with my XM radio in the rig was that, after being in storage for so long, I needed to re-initialize the unit with the XM service (which I successfully did upon returning to American RV after 4:00 p.m.). I also made an appointment with my accountant for mid-day Monday to discuss how to arrange for appropriate 59 withholdings from my various sources of retirement income such that I can avoid having to (1) file quarterlies and (2) having to come up with a huge sum of cash in April to pay each year‟s taxes. I ended up getting back to American RV (where I had left my truck) so late that I just pulled the unit back into the camping slot I had used the night before and left it (but I stopped by the office and insisted on paying for the second night). This morning I had Armida follow me as I left my truck at Country Club Storage and then give me a lift to my rig. I fired up the generator (better to be sure that yesterday‟s service didn‟t inadvertently leave the equipment non- functional sooner rather then later). I then proceeded to do various minor chores. I messed with the satellite/TV and found that the „missing‟ channels, even the local ones, are apparently on separate transponders, not different satellites. I got the dashboard cover in place (this proved easier then I had feared) and I stowed various and sundry loose items. I am rapidly runni ng out of shelf and drawer space and I haven‟t even started to stock up on canned and packaged foodstuff yet. I can foresee that the day is quickly approaching (within the next month) when I will need to reorganize and toss items to maximize space usage. After all of this I battened down the hatches, turned everything off (including the generator), and fired up the rig. After a brief stop at the office on the way out, I drove to the truck wash at the Anthony exit to the freeway and got the unit washed and waxed. This experience would prove more beneficial to the motor home owner if they could figure out someway to dry the vehicle before sending it on its‟ way. I managed to stop at the Texas Information Center to allow my rig to drip dry (somewhat) and picked up several free pamphlets (including one on state/federal campgrounds in Texas and another on private campgrounds in the state. I finally got the unit parked back at the storage yard and put up the solar screens (looks nice). I intentional parked a bit wide to provide a little more room between my rig and my neighbor‟s (hope no one notices/minds—but since my spot is on the end anyway it shouldn‟t matter). I also broke down and ordered a Cannon 8 mega pixel digital camera from Amazon.com (plus an Atomic clock with one remote temperature sensor—but expandable with two more optional sensors, another 1 giga-bite SD card—this one for the new camera, and a „kit‟ for the camera which includes a carrying case and a spare rechargeable battery). For the weekend I just kicked back. I did the weekly grocery shopping and went online and ordered an e-book and a physical book from the rv bookstore and a multi-switch from King Dome (to switch between satellites 110 and 119). I e-mailed Howard (of the rv-dreams.com website) about the reasons for his choice of Merrill Lynch for banking/credit cards and I e-mailed King Dome about the suitability of the switch I ordered for the purpose I intended. I did even less on Sunday. As usual, once I embark on a quest (in this case my RV and the coming trip), I find it difficult to focus on anything else—I just wanted to concentrate on all things RV. I even packed up my DVD‟s in two plastic tubs (but couldn‟t bring myself to tackle the books yet). I tried several times to delve into the world of Dreamweaver software but kept getting discouraged. Both reference books I have go on endlessly showing different „screen‟ pages and different toolbars and labeling everything (with typical „techno-babble‟ terms which sound 60 great but give no clue as to the function they are meant to fulfill). I made it in one book until chapter 7 when it was still introducing more screens and toolbars and still no sample exercises. At that time I gave up. My preference for software manuals/tutorials is for the manual to quickly get into guided exercises meant to introduce you, the user, to the basic operations of the program. Once I know how to do the basics, I can get some practice and as I come across more complicated requirements I can take the book and figure out how to do what I want within the framework of the program. Over time I will then become proficient at using it. I am not sure that I will be able to use Dreamweaver to design web pages until I can find some source that cuts through all the self- important crap that these manuals impose on their readers and just cuts to the bottom line. Today I devoted my efforts to concentrating on retirement tasks. My first stop was at my accountant‟s office to figure out how much (and in what way) to set up for federal income tax withholdings. Turns out that even if I start receiving additional annuity income before the end of the year (I plan to start deducting another $1,380.00 per month beginning in September) I needn‟t worry about withholding any additional funds (and I should still get a tax refund in excess of $4,000 next spring). But next year, assuming the worse case senario (no deduction for things like mom‟s care), I should plan on arranging to withhold about $650 per month (which I will probably do completely through my monthly pension checks—as I will also do with my medical insurance payments). Next stop was to see Mike Higgins at Merrill Lynch. I had many goals in mind here. We discussed the beginning of a shift in investments from stocks to bonds (to start adding more stability to the future income stream). We discussed the Merrill Lynch banking/credit card options and I ended up switching--converting my CMA account to a “Beyond Banking” account and will receive a ML Visa Signature Card which acts as a sort of automatic credit/debit card wherein purchases are billed against your account automatically at the end of the month no bills, no checks to pay the bills. The card also acts as an ATM card and ML promises to cover up to $200 in ATM fees (or 100 transactions)—so you can withdraw funds once a week for a year and never have to pay a fee for the use no matter whose ATM machine you utilize! Since this is in essence the same CMA account I already have (only enhanced), my current annuity payment and automatic monthly RV loan repayment will continue to use the account. I will specify direct deposit for my retirement/pension checks into this account (come next January) and I will have future annuity payouts deposited there (come September). At some point I will switch my truck loan payments over from my credit union account to the ML one. During the fall I will try to phase out the use of my current credit cards (although my feelings now are that I will retain my original Discover Card) such that by year‟s end I will have paid off all credit cards (and canceled them), switched all purchases to the ML and Discover cards (including all auto- pays such as Dish Network, Verizon & T-Mobile while eliminating all of those pesky little auto-charges that seem to accumulate), and switched all of my on-line accounts (i.e. Amazon.com, Barns and Nobel, Powell‟s, etc.) to one or the other of the cards. I will also try to wean the credit union checking account so that I 61 don‟t end up with any piddling checks out there once I stop using the account. I don‟t know what to do about the Chase account but figure that as long as I am still providing care for Mom I will need that account for that purpose. Finally I tried to talk to Mike about starting withdrawals from my other annuities ($1,380 per month) starting in September but he preferred to postpone this (he thinks until September--but I will push to complete the paperwork in early August to provide enough time for it to take effect and so I don‟t have to take time off from school to go to his office to handle it). Once I got home I felt that I had enough „ducks-in-a-row‟ to attempt to complete the retirement papers. I hate filling out forms because it is often difficult to understand what those officials whose forms I am filling out want and they often become dismissive of any forms that aren‟t filled out exactly as they want them. I found two that had to be notarized so I took them to a notary. I tried to finish up by meeting with personnel a t central office but couldn‟t meet with the appropriate individual—so I am currently awaiting an appointment. Speaking of which I am also still attempting to get an appointment at TLC trucks to have my Allison Transmission serviced. I also found an e-mail from King Dome awaiting me that informed me that they were sending me a multi-switch (hand held not wall mounted) free and saying that apparently all I need do in unplug the current switch and plug in the new one—no installation required. I can only wonder if that means that it will automatically work or if I will need to somehow „tune‟ in the satellites I want at least once. All in all a productive day although I must admit that I will breathe a sigh of relief once my retirement papers are completed and safely submitted to TRS. Day started with little ambition on my part. My only definitive plans involved a trip to the local Barnes and Nobel bookstore. But as I was waiting for opening time (9:00 a.m.) to approach before I left home, while writing a long e-mail to Bette, Tracey (of Canutillo central office) returned my call from yesterday and told me I could come over and meet anytime today. So I collected all of my retirement paperwork and headed straight there. We reviewed all of the pertinent forms and sorted out those that Tracey was to retain, fill out, and send in. Apparently I was supposed to write a letter of intent (to retire) addressed to the district (of course nobody told me). Luckily, I had written one for the high school principal (Mr. Padiila) and Tracey said that she would request that he send her a copy. Before I even left the parking lot, I had stuffed the remaining forms in an envelope that I had already prepared and sealed it. I then immediately headed for the closest post office and mailed the package. Everything is now in motion and I must admit to a feeling of having reached a certain milestone in my quest to retire. Now everything is in the hands of the bureaucrats at Central Office and at TRS in Austin. I finally made it to the bookstore. I found a copy of The Alchemist which came highly recommended by Howard of rv-dreams.com, the latest Preston & Child novel (The Book of the Dead), an audio-book by Stephen King (Stationary Bike) and two more books on Dreamweaver software (I haven‟t given up yet—both claim a hands on learning approach and one is from the „For Dummies‟ series so I am hoping for more success this time). After I returned home, the book I had ordered from the rvbookstore arrived (The Motor Coaching Bible) and soon after 62 that they called from TLC trucks about the Allison transmission service I have been trying to schedule since last Friday. Maybe I am oversensitive but this guy at TLC keeps calling and asking me technical questions about this unit—isn‟t that what he is supposed to know or look up (after all I had given him the model and serial numbers for it). Now in his/their defense I looked in the owner‟s manual and found no reference to part numbers for filters and when I called Allison (three different numbers—I kept getting answering machines) they provided several „possibilities‟ depending on whether Travel Supreme utilized the old transmission fluid or the new, synthetic stuff. I really didn‟t want to have to take the unit in for x-number of days while they disassemble the transmission, discover they didn‟t have the „right‟ parts, and then leave it for x days while the right parts are ordered and delivered. So, since the new synthetic fluid is „better‟ anyway, I asked if I couldn‟t just change the whole thing over in any case (probably much more expensive). I finally got back to TLC and after being assured that they had the parts and synthetic oil, made an appointment for Thursday morning at 8:00 a.m. (have been assured that it should take only two or three hours—so I‟ll wait). I‟ll take the unit out of storage and deliver it to TLC before 5:00 p.m. Wednesday and then get a lift over there Thursday morning. Today I contacted AAA with a request concerning the „drivability‟ of the proposed route to LOW (particular the stretch between I-25 and I-70 in northern New Mexico and southeastern Utah). I await their response. The camera „kit‟ (i.e. carrying case, spare battery, and neck chain) arrived but still no camera or memory card—oh well maybe tomorrow. I took the rig in to TLC trucks for the transmission servicing (and, as it turns out, to have the driver‟s side mirror adjusted and tightened) scheduled for first thing tomorrow morning. Unfortunately, I dinged a Flying J truck in the parking lot. As a result, a light fixture on the truck‟s right rear end was dislodged and will have to be welded back in place (no big deal). The MH suffered a dent and a small scrape on the rear driver‟s side on the back bin door and the hub above the rear wheel. I figure that tomorrow morning I will ask Armida to follow me as I park firfly at the storage lot and then drop me at TLC where I will wait for the rig—this way I will have an ultimate way home without having to get someone to come and get me. I am playing with the idea of driving Firfly over to Livingston next week to visit Escapees‟ headquarters. The drawback (besides the cost) is that it would restrict the time I will have for practice day trips in Serenty. I need to remember that I still have the last half of July and at least the first week of August once I return from Idaho so there is still time to take care of things like mail service! I have already accomplished much of the agenda that I set out for this summer—I don‟t need to finish up everything right away. Well managed to get to TLC trucks as they opened (8:00 a.m.) but fat lot gooh it did me. I stood and watched as my coach got buried behind tankers and other RV rigs. I built myself a comfortable nest in the waiting room, broke out my DVR and book (Motor Coach Bible), and relaxed. I kept getting up and checking and it wasn‟t until after 10:00 that they finally moved my unit into one of their bays. The good news is that apparently the rig already utilized Trans Synthetic oil so I only had to change the main filter and add 2 gallons of fluid (to make up for what was 63 lost during the operation (instead of both filters and 5 gallons to change over from Dextrom 3 fluid). The bad news is that the small convex mirror on the driver‟s side backup mirror fell off and the whole assembly will need to be replaced (but Travel Supreme will cover it under warranty—which I found is under the name Serenity Ventures not Scott Gad). Apparently the whole unit must be (ordered and) replaced which will probably take place next Wednesday. I really couldn‟t complain, though, as they (TLC personnel) were very obliging and, since I have been having problems with that hold assembly anyway, I am glad to get it fixed now while it is convenient rather than when I am on the road next month. Another bit of bad news. When I returned the unit to the storage lot and went about putting up the solar screens, one piece was missing! It was the small one that fits on the separate back window on the passenger side. I figure that when Armida and I removed them on Wednesday we „missed‟ this piece and as I drove the rig on the freeway it got blown loss. I was afraid that that was it because under most circumstances companies only sell „full kits‟ but I thought it was worth a try. Fortunately I was able to order just the one piece—but it will cost me $45! I‟ll definitely be more careful from now on. The camera (and memory card) arrived today and having no set plans for tomorrow, I figure that I will go out and snap some pictures. And Mike Higgins (from Merrill Lynch) and apparently that „Beyond Banking‟ account doesn‟t „take the place‟ of my current CMA account but „adds on‟ to it. What this means is that I will have two separate accounts— and therein lay the problem. Although it presents some logistical headaches, I can designate the new account to deposit my „new‟ annuity payouts (in September) and ultimately switch over my current annuity payout and automatic loan payment over to it but I have already submitted my retirement paperwork which includes a canceled check designating the CMA account number for direct deposit of my pension checks—I have little enough faith that TRS can handle this retirement without screwing things up even if it is straight forward—but throw in a curve (like changing direct deposit designates) and I fear you would just be asking for trouble. So I left Mike to research whether some kind of automatic transfer between accounts (CMA and Beyond Banking) can be handled internally at Merrill Lynch. E-mailed both the New Mexico and Utah Departments of Transportation requesting their advise about the suitability of that portion of my proposed route through their states as far as a large Motor Home is concerned (i.e. are there any roads too steep in grade or having any low overpasses, etc. I await their reply (I tried the same thing with AAA but did not get the right answers). Went to Sunland Park Mall this morning to try out the camera. I was originally headed to Ciela Vista but decided the closer Sunland would do. I pretty much avoid shopping malls so it has been a long time since I was at Sunland Park (and a much longer time since I visited Ciela Vista). Got there just about at 10:00 a.m. (opening time for most stores). I walked the entire upper and lower floors and snapped about five or six pictures—the point was only to try out the camera. Once I got home I plugged the camera into my Mac and downloaded the shots. Everything seemed to work well. This afternoon the multi-switch for the RV satellite system arrived but I thought that I would wait until tomorrow to go to my 64 rig and try it out. I suspected that it had the wrong plug (telephone style vs. pin). Did the grocery shopping this morning and then headed out to the rig. Removed the old curtains (which have been accumulating dust on the coach sofa since I took them down) and tried some scratch-removal polish on my recent ding—although not impressive, I thought it helped a little (but that could be more wishful thinking then reality). Turned out that the new multi-switch for the satellite system easily replaces the old one. I spent about an hour messing with the system. I followed the instructions but still had to hassle with system setup each time I „switched‟ satellites. I have e-mailed King Dome back thanking them for the switch, describing my problem, and asking their advice (of course it could just be that I need to mess with it some more). Worse comes to worse and I can plan to just get on the phone with a King Dome tech while standing in front of the TV and walk through the whole thing. This is your typical lazy Sunday. Took a trip (early—i.e. 5:00 a.m.) to Wal- Mart and picked up—among other things—twenty pair of T-shirts. On the internet I purchased both East and West coast editions of Mountain Directory (hopefully to keep informed about steep grades on roads I plan to travel), two travel CD‟s from a travel writer in Canada, and a years membership in Inside Track Club (an online trip planning organization). Beginning of a new week and am flying in a holding pattern. Went to Camping World early and almost bought book (Idiot‟s Guide to RV‟s) and looked at a stand-up Dust Devil vacuum cleaner but ended up leaving without buying anything—a first for me! Then I continued on to the Anthony exit to scope out the Flying J service station. I wanted to know (ahead of time) the place and procedure for filling up my RV. They offer a substantial discount for cash purchases (seven to nine cents per gallon) but even on a complete fill up (100 gallons) that is still only seven to nine dollars total and I am not sure that makes it worthwhile to care that much cash—I wonder if Debit card charges are considered „cash‟ under these circumstances (plus, for future reference, I need to remember that I now have an ATM card and these places have ATM machines so I can always get cash to pay). I then went by the bank to cash a check to pay the yard man (who came by yesterday and offered to clean up the front „yard‟ for $75.00. I dropped by the cinema to check on the airtimes for RV but the first showing wasn‟t until 10:40 a.m. and it was just a little after 9:00 a.m. (I think I‟ll try to see it tomorrow). I ordered a model 322 Dish satellite receiver over the internet from Sound Design. It should function just like the 311‟s I have now (but maybe, just maybe, not cause such a routine in order to toggle between satellites) but it also functions for two TV‟s (much like the receiver I have at home) so maybe at least I can hook up both of my rig‟s TV‟s for once—I can, however, foresee a hassle with Dish network when I try to activate it! I also called up those characters at Option Care about my oxygen mask (its‟ been two weeks) and finally got that straightened out. I‟ll go by tomorrow to pick up the new mask. Several days have passed since I last made an entry. I got my replacement oxygen mask, I order an ice crusher for the RV and a bike rack (which appears to be much simpler then the one I had) that is supposed to fit over the RV/toad 65 hitch. I have also started buying the dry goods for our Idaho trip (my aim is to reduce my final grocery shopping trip—on Saturday, July 1st—to only those items that need to be fresh/refrigerated/frozen). I packed and stacked all of the remaining „RV junk‟ on the tables and Monday Samantha and Jake helped me move all of it to the rig. Sam noticed that the engine coolant reserve level was low (below minimum for a cold engine) so I verified the preferred antifreeze/coolant for Cummins engines and located a supply not far from home. My model 322 Dish network satellite receiver came in and I spent much of Saturday morning trying to install and initialize it. Something appears wrong with one of the two feeds from the dish. I shut everything down and figure that I‟ll try reconnecting everything and starting the system up from scratch again when I have the chance (if worse comes to worse, I‟ll pull that receiver and put the original model 311 back in—and sometime in the future, when I get the chance, I take the rig in and have the system checked/fixed). I spent much of Sunday mapping out my trip. I basically took my freetrip itinerary, the western volume of the Mountain Directory, my reservations for camping and a couple of atlases and plotted out a route which I hope will minimize steep grades (and actually it proved to be relatively direct). I also placed an entry on the Travel Supreme forum asking advise on mountain driving—my results, so far, have been mixed. Monday I met with Mike Higgins (Merrill Lynch) with a blank check from my new Beyond Banking account. We set up the direct deposit for my $1400 annuity withdrawals (actually $1406.33) and everything should be in place by the end of this week. The first „payment‟ should be on July 5th and continue every subsequent 5 th of each month thereafter. This should allow me to start using my Debit/ATM card during this trip. It is getting close. I still plan to move the rig to American RV on Friday (June th 30 ) morning, hook up and turn the refrigerator on, and hopefully motivate myself to stow everything that we piled into the unit yesterday. Then, on Saturday, do the grocery shopping for the „perishables‟ and stock the frig. Then early Sunday (July 2nd) hook up the toad and go! Just a short (I hope) note before I leave for the LOW conference tomorrow morning. I have finished stocking the RV (even the fridge and freezer). I am down to my short list--bipap machine and oxygen extractor, computer (obviously), medications, and toiletries. The current schedule calls for my brother to drop his wife and rental car at the airport tomorrow morning where I am to pick him up at 8 a.m. We will head straight from there to the campgrounds where, hopefully, all we will need to do is unhook the power and water, lift the leveling jacks, pull in the slide-outs, and hitch up the toad (I figure I will make one more trip out there tonight and remove the solar screens in order to eliminate the need to do so tomorrow morning). God willing, we can hit the road by 9 o'clock (which is about two hours later then I would have preferred but better then I was worried it would end up). If traffic is good, and no problems occur, we might reach the campgrounds at Aztec by 5 p.m. I understood, on an academic level, the wisdom of a few short 'shakedown' 66 trips (with at least a couple of over night 'camp outs') but I couldn't force myself to do them. Now I am going to pay the price. One of the major aims of my current, local 'camp out' is/was to prepare the refrigerator for food storage (i.e. plug in to shore power, turn it on, and let it cool down--which I understand, because RV/mobile refrigerators are not as efficient as home models <something to do with the method of cooling 'absorption' versus 'Freon compression'> could require a 24 hour period). The refrigerator and freezer compartments have cooled down but I can't seem to get the icemaker to make ice. I don't know if the freezer section isn't cold enough, if there is some additional switch (for electricity) or valve (for water) that I am unaware of that must be engaged, or if the unit just isn't properly wired or plumbed--in which case it will just have to wait until I return. I have already put out feelers (e-mails) at the Travel Supreme owners forum (a great place to ask for help from other TS owners) and believe me I will be prepared to ask the tech at the pre-conference visit to my rig (although I understand that if the issue is repair this is not their responsibility). Between this and the satellite dish/receiver I have come to appreciate the advice concerning 'shake down' cruises. If I had identified these problems far enough in advance and had established that service/repairs were required, I could have had it all taken care of before the 'big' trip. Luckily these are both only minor nuisances. Well if all goes well my next message will be from the Aztec campground tomorrow night and will include a picture or two? I sit here tonight, the third night of my motor trip, finally with the opportunity to communicate with you. Monday was way too long a drive. Something you don't consider until you are actually out driving you rig (and toad) are the limitations that exist on exactly where you can and can not go, where you can and can not stop and/or park. With a Motor Home and a towed vehicle you simply CAN NOT BACK UP (period--no if, ands, or buts)--if the need to back up arises you must first detach the toad, remove it, and stow the tow bar, then you can move the RV back and forth. So you have to make darn sure that any street, parking lot, or gas station that you turn into has an exit that you can access by only driving forward or has enough room so that you can turn the unit around! Today we got trapped at a Flying J station because a truck w/horse trailer blocking our turn around was dead. Because of the severe angle that the toad was at in relation to the rig we could not disconnect the two. A dozen people finally had to be enlisted to push the truck/trailer out of the way so that I could complete my turn. The toad, both because of the added overall length of the combined vehicles and because of the backing up restriction, also often makes pulling in and out of your campsite problematic. You are often wise to unhitch and re-hitch the toad in the parking lot prior to and at the completion of parking and un-parking your rig at your campsite (some campgrounds require it—the LOW conference being one such). The good news is that I have found that attaching and detaching the toad is rea lly not that difficult! Another thing that I have come to appreciate (particular to diesels) is the air/exhaust ('Jake') breaks. I would certainly not want to travel these steep mountain passes without them. Tomorrow we should arrive at the LOW pre-conference site of Granite Lakes 67 RV resort. If it lives up to its hype it should be a very nice campground. I must say that so far I have been somewhat disappointed by the quality of the campgrounds we have stayed at. Night one (The Ruins Road RV Park in Aztec) was the pits. It was more of a trailer park then a campground. Strangely enough, although most of the units were definitely there for the duration (with permanent structures like skirts, sheds, and patios built on), they weren't house trailers or mobile homes but were, in fact RVs--travel trailers, fifth wheels, and even motor homes. And almost all were relatively newer models. But the camp was devoid of landscaping or amenities and the places where you connected your hookups were infested with ants. The second night (Heber Valley RV Park) was a slight improvement. It was definitely a 'campground'--no longterm residency, it was lightly landscaped and pest-free. It had an actual 'office' (rather then the manager's trailer as in Aztec) and even a small store. There were few man made amenities but it was situated on the banks of a river so if you were into water sports or fishing it would have been great. Tonight's venue (Twin Falls/Jerome KOA) is definitely an improvement. Although the sites are closer together then I like (as they also were in Aztec and Heber Valley), it is well landscaped and each site is equipped with a grill and a picnic table. It has numerous amenities including a swimming pool, a playground, a small miniature golf course, and a small lake with paddleboats. The office includes a small store (which includes pre-recorded video tapes to borrow) and behind that is a cafe with a surprisingly eclectic variety of choices on the menu for breakfast and dinner (probably available for lunch also). Plus they provide handicraft classes (tonight it is Sit Upon Making classes all materials provided). This is definitely a place worth staying at for a while --particularly if you are traveling with kids! I hope that the trend of ever improving campgrounds holds up because I really have high hopes for tomorrow's campground (with pull in lake front sites). On a last note the score is as follows: 1) Number of parks with cable hookups: 0 2) Number of parks with Wi-Fi: 2 (Heber Valley and Twin Falls/Jerome) 3) Number of parks were my Verizon data card could access the internet via broadband: 2 (Aztec and Twin Falls/Jerome) Oh Well, tomorrow is another long drive. Don't say "I told you so" about how I would be too busy to e-mail. The fact is that I have been trying but for some reason my server back in El Paso has been rejecting my e-mails. I finally ended up using my mac email account. Soooooo-- the message you probably just got was actually written two days ago--I just couldn't get it sent until this morning when I finally figured out that I could probably switch accounts (note the e-mail address above--but don't worry I am still getting the e-mail that you send to email@example.com so no need for you to change the address you send to). We arrived at Granite Lake RV Park at about 4:30 yesterday afternoon. It is a very pleasant place (see the enclosed pictures of my rig and the surrounding campsite that I took this morning). They told us in the office that there are now 33 rigs signed up for the pre-conference (and that some individuals waited until the last minute to try to make reservations at the park which is a requirement 68 since the presenters will be visiting rigs--the main thrust of the whole pre- conference--onsite). The park managers somehow made room although I am sure that those last minute folks didn't get the sites/features (like 50 amps, full hookups, or the great view out the front window that we did--see the first two pictures above). The park is immaculate and the landscape is very well maintained. The park has Wi-Fi access and cable. The onsite activities are limited (no pool or activity center) so entertainment will require going out to the Clarkston/Lewiston community but it is a beautiful site. I hope that by now you have received both my delayed e-mail (the one I wrote Tuesday night but was unable to send until this morning) and the first impressions of Granite Lake RV Park (including early morning photos). Here's today's digest. I have always been an early riser (something I will have to work on correcting once I retire)-- which has proven a sore point with my brother, as he likes to stay in bed until 7:00 or later--so I was up by 5:30 this morning (hence the early morning photos). During the trip I have always wanted to break camp, get everything squared away, and hit the road by 7:00. As it was, on Wednesday, in Jerome/Twin Falls, I actually drove down the block to the Flying J and picked up some coffee and egg/biscuit breakfasts so that my bother wouldn't insist on going to breakfast before breaking camp--which would have delayed us until after 9:00. We were on the road by 7:30. Unfortunately most camp cafes or complimentary continental breakfasts don't ope n/start until 8:00. In fact, here in Clarkston, we walked over to the camp community center for their continental breakfast at 8:10 and they weren't open yet--of course it didn't help that (as I found out later) we were no longer on Mountain Daylight Time but had, in fact, passed into the Pacific time zone! So, not wanting to disturb my brother, who was bedded down on the convertible sofa and was trying to pretend that that crazy person couldn't possibly be up at that hour, I went outside. I took the photos, which I ultimately sent you, and I tried to add those personal touches to the campsite such as putting up the solar screens and deploying the window awnings--things that you don't do if you are just camping for the night. But even here I was limited as the camp 'quiet hours' extended to 7:00! In the end, once my brother arose from his slumbers and took care of his e-mails and we (unsuccessfully) attempted to attend the camp's continental breakfast we got in the toad and found a cafe in Clarkston for breakfast. My brother needed to get to the airport by 10:00 for his 12:00 flight out. We made the airport in time--this is where I found that it wasn't really 10:00 (MDT) but was in fact 9:00 (PDT). I must confess that I have a lingering trepidation now that I am alone. I fully realize that the real reason Shayne, my brother, came along on this trip was out of concern for me --was I well enough (after my heart surgery last summer) to undertake this trip and was I capable of handling everything? So far (this trip) he has always been there and, although he would seldom 'lend a hand' as I preformed my RV duties (i.e. setting up camp, breaking camp, hitching and unhitching the toad, etc.), I understood that he knew that soon I would be on my own so I would need to be able to handle all of this by myself. So I will miss his presence in the coming days (particularly when I have 69 to de-camp, hitch up, and drive to Moscow at the end of this pre-conference). Believe it or not, Lewiston airport is not the bustling hub of air transportation you might have thought--they have two flights a day and they all (both) go to Salt Lake City. I tried/wanted to stay with him until his plane left (which, due to the time zone confusion, would be three hours) but after one hour it became apparent that he really wanted to use the time to do business (i.e. return calls, answer e-mails, make appointments, etc.) which my presence only hampered. And I must admit that I really was restless in that airport as what few diversions existed there, were not yet open. So after an hour I bid him goodbye and left-- but I must confess that waving goodbye to him, in this strange city with a 32000 lb. rig and a 5,000 lb. toad to manage and so many more miles to travel yet ahead of me, was one of the most difficult things I have done in my life! To wit I sent the following e-mail: Dear Shayne, You are currently still sitting at the Great Lewiston Airport. I am in my RV (yes I managed to find my way back without getting lost). I found it hard to express in person how grateful I am that you took the time to accompany me on my first trip. You gave me the confidence to undertake this first step. It is with some trepidation that I left you at the airport and faced the reality that now I am on my own but, as I told you in the truck, I often have these feelings when I take my first solo step on a new adventure--you should have seen me when I soloed for my pilot's license. But in any case, I just wanted to say that I realize that you did t his out of concern for my well being. I also wanted to take this opportunity to express my gratitude for all that you do for mom. You shoulder the lion's share of the expenses and if it wasn't for you I don't know what would happen to mom. Love and respect you, Scott P.S. This message is sent to test my e-mail system but I thought that I would take this opportunity to say in writing what I find difficult to articulate in person! For some reason that escapes me, I found myself with time on my hands after getting up this morning. While waiting for somebody else (anybody else) to get up, I decided to take the truck and drive over to Moscow. It is only about 30 miles north of here and since I will be driving the rig w/toad there on Sunday, I thought it would be a good idea to see what the road was like. It does not appear to be a tough drive (we certainly experienced much worse over the last few days). There is a long, steep incline just outside of Lewiston so that leg of the trip will be slow going but it is a good 4 lane highway--so faster/impatient traffic should have no problem passing. When I parked at Clarkston yesterday I still had slightly less then half a tank of diesel. Much more then I would need to get to Moscow--but a week from Sunday, when I take off for Missoula, I will want a full tank and for the Saturday and Sunday preceding my departure to Montana I will be totally dry docking which means running on batteries with an occasional assist from the diesel generator. So I asked and was informed that there was a Flying J on the outskirts of Lewiston. Considering our bad experience with that one station 70 coming up here I thought that I had better check this one out (I also wanted to assess how far out of the way I would need to go to get there--from the muddled directions I was getting it sounded as if I would have to go in the opposite direction from my ultimate destination). So after returning from Moscow and attending the continental breakfast (the one we were an hour too early for yesterday), I saddled up the toad and went looking. It turns out that the station is on my way to Moscow (right along my anticipated route) and it has adequate access and egress for my rig. I sought out downtown Clarkston (all two and a half blocks of it). Several residents of the town advised me that there was nothing there to see but they were wrong. There was an authentic Rexall Drugstore complete with soda fountain and a little of just about everything (they even carried an assortment of telescopes). It was a real blast from the past. I look forward to exploring Moscow as, from what I saw of it, it appears to be a pleasant little college town! On returning to the park, I stopped in the office to check things out. Apparently of the 30 some-odd participants in the pre-conference only about half a dozen have arrived so far--they expect the bulk of the arrivals tomorrow. I think that the pre-conference schedule goes as follows: 1) Pre-conference starts at 4:00 p.m. Friday, July 7 (tomorrow) with a pizza party--all participants are advised to be here (in camp) by 2:00. I believe that individual 'rig visits' start that evening. Although Steve Savage is the primary technician for the pre-conference there will be two additional techs also available- -so who visits which rigs may be the luck of the draw! 2) Coffee and pastries are provided Saturday morning and 'rig visits' continue throughout the day. Dinner is a potluck (which always leaves me at a loss since I am a confirmed bachelor with very limited cooking abilities/experience-- absolutely none for large groups or hosting other people). 3) The pre-conference continues Sunday morning (presumably starting with another continental breakfast) and concludes at noon. At that time we are supposed to de-camp and move lock-stock-and-barrel to Moscow (although some individuals apparently stay here and commute to and from the conference each day). The LOW conference in Moscow has some activities commencing Sunday morning/afternoon (the first official meeting is for solos at 2:00, then the opening session--with ice cream and musical entertainment--at 3:00, and the welcoming session at 4:00. I am not sure what those individuals who have already had their rigs visited or who are waiting to have their rigs visited are suppose to be doing during these times. Each 'visit' is supposed to last about 90 minutes and there is some mention of seminars 'on all the basics of RVing' but this is followed with the words 'during mealtimes'. Admittedly, since my brother left today and I am now faced with my first 'solo' move, the prospect of just staying here and commuting is very appealing (particularly considering the pleasantness of this campground and the prospect of dry camping--abet with 30 amp power--for a week in Moscow) but then again my driving lessons are scheduled for that Moscow campus 'campground' immediately following the conference so my rig has to be 'there' then anyway and 71 when I begin my return trip (Sunday after my last 'lesson') I will be heading north out of Moscow (whereas Clarkston is south) towards Missoula, Montana (my scheduled stop for the night). To make the remainder of this 'digest' short. I returned to my rig then went out to the store to buy some charcoal and lighter fluid. I cooked a steak on one of the campground's communal grills and watched one of the many DVDs that I have been saving for my RV life. Since the conference didn't officially start until 4:00 in the afternoon, I took the opportunity to drive my toad up to Moscow (thirty miles north of here) just to see what the drive will be like on Sunday with a full rig. Overall it is not bad--there is some road construction along the way (they seem to be expanding the middle section to a 4 lane highway) but the inconvenience of that are the flagmen who were controlling traffic for the work crew and I doubt that they will be there on Sunday. There is a long (7 mile), steep (7%) grade as you leave Lewiston but it is an incline going north so although the going, at that point, will be slow at least break usage will not be an issue and since that portion is 4 lane, faster traffic can pass easily. <Side Note: On the day of the mass migration, Steve Savage reports that one motor home did breakdown going up this hill> I also scouted out a Flying J gas station for a fuel stop which is conveniently located just outside of Lewiston practically on the way to Moscow (i.e. little side tracking necessary) and the station is well suited for RV pull-through so that no backing up would be necessary (a definite no-no when towing an additional vehicle like Firefly). <Side Note: I used this station but…the RV friendly pump was not marked—although the manager seemed to think RV drivers should have known which one it was and it was out of order anyway…so I used a trucker pump which, as I have been told, pumps diesel much faster then regular pumps but…at least with my rig, the intake nozzle is too restrictive causing a constant splash back which trips the auto-fuel feed causi ng it to cease pumping because it assumes the tank is full so I had to stand there and keep squeezing the trigger to get a few gallons at a time into the tank. I managed to almost fill the tank.> Since I was here early and attended the complimentary continental breakfast, I lucked out. There were already people there from LOW handing out name tags and signing up rigs for 'visits' so I had my pick of when (and who) would visit by rig. So based solely on Bette‟s recommendation, sight unseen, I signed up for Steve Savage. The visit will be from 10:30 to 12:00 on Saturday. At 4:00 the whole group assembled in the clubhouse, introductions were made, and Steve gave the first of his three talks (this was officially on 'Component Identification'). Then the floor was thrown open for questions which typically dealt with technical problems various participants were having (or have had) with their current (or past) rigs. Now I had an opportunity to ask about something that could prove to be a very real problem once I get to Moscow and have to survive with only a 30 amp hook up (no water--except a shared hose that can be used to fill your fresh water tank). Although I have opted for full hookups all the way up here, I did try to run with no water once or twice (just to see how it would work). I had a relatively full tank from when they flushed my fresh water system and I thought it might be wise to try it out. Well once I disconnected the 72 park water hose ('city water supply') and turned on the pump water started spewing out of my hose connection hole. Apparently the pump was pumping water from the fresh water tank out the opening instead of into the couch. I went back to my 'walk through' DVDs and reviewed what the salesman said about this system and, yes, I had followed what I had been told! I tried variations of settings (everyone I could envision) but I couldn't get water from my fresh water tank into my coach. Now once in Moscow I figure that I could stock up on bottled water and, although my fellow attendees might object, could go a week without a shower but I draw the line at not being able to flush the toilet for a week! Now I thought that there were two possibilities: either I was doing something wrong (by now not likely) or something was wrong with the system. In answer to my question from the floor, Steve seemed certain that the problem was that inside the hose connection is a valve that responses to pressure. When water in coming into the connection (from a city water supply) the valve shuts out the fresh water tank (unless you have set the lever to fill it ) and feeds into the coach system but, if there is no incoming water supply--hence no pressure--and the demand pump is on (producing pressure from the fresh water tank) the valve is suppose to close the hose 'opening' and force that pressurized 'tank' water into the coach system. Apparently this 'valve' is stuck and not closing when the fresh water pump is turned on so the water from the tank is not 'diverted' into the coach. Steve indicates that you should be able to poke a finger (or maybe something slightly longer and narrower--like a pencil) inside the hose connection hole and dislodge the valve, which is apparently currently stuck in the open position. I intend to hold him to this during his visit. Between Steve and one of the other techs (a guy that runs a RV shop in Moscow) I intend to get this fixed before I leave this park. In any case, the techs (not Steve) will be available during the conference (but not the pre-conference) to 'work' on coaches--this could be the one and only time that a RV repairman will make a 'house call'. I inadvertently elicited a laugh from the crowd by saying something like "but this is a new coach"--apparently the 'bugs' that accompany any new rig are legendary. More evidence that there is some wisdom behind the oft given advice to always take your rig out for a shake down 'camp out' before embarking on your first 'big trip'. Anyway we finished the evening with pizza and Steve and the other techs visited their first three coaches. I visited downtown Clarkston during the day. I was told there was nothing there to see but found a charming Rexall Drug store complete with soda fountain (it's been years since I've seen one of those) and, like the emporiums of the past, it had a little bit of everything--it even had a surprising collection of hobby (back yard) telescopes for sale and if they didn‟t have what you needed they were willing to get it (not so with the Walgreens back home). I guess the locals just don't know what they would be missing if it were gone. Just a note to let you know all is well. After our breakfast seminar in Clarkston this morning I managed to back out my rig without hitting anyone or anything, hitch up the truck, and trundle up Lewiston hill and across to Moscow. I am now safely entrenched in a grassy field on the grounds of the University of Idaho-- plugged in, slides out, levelers/jacks down. I won't be moving again (except for 73 the driving lessons) until next Sunday when I head out to Missoula. I am sorry that I didn't get back to you yesterday. My 'visit' was in the late morning, Steve gave a lunch time seminar on „RV Maintenance‟, I had to run several errands which included buying 2 lb. each of several salads at Albertson's as my 'contribution' to the evening potluck--which turned out very nice. It turned out that the valve could not be fixed (unstuck) because it was damaged to the point of needing replacement instead of repair. Hence, one of the errands that I ran was to a True Value hardware store in Clarkston (another trip down memory lane--a real old-fashioned hardware store not anything like those warehouse size stores like Home Depot or Builder's Square). I decided that while I awaited a replacement of the internal pressure bypass valve, I would make my own external one. I picked up a dual sided male threaded connector (the type that is used to join two garden hoses both with female ends) and a threaded cap. I screwed one end into the water input opening on the RV and screwed the cap over the other end. This device can be used to 'close' the fresh water tank fill hole and force the water into the coach much as the internal pressure valve was supposed to. It works! Two of the techs at the pre- conference will be servicing coaches onsite in Moscow and I already have one of them scheduled to truly fix the valve problem and to fix the ice-maker (which currently does not make ice). How often can you expect to have RV repairmen make house calls? My opinion of Steve Savage is that I was very impressed. He seems to be very knowledgeable, has a great sense of humor, and genuinely seems to care about his students now and after the conference. His 'visit' was very thorough. He started at the drivers i nstrument panel, covered each appliance in the coach (including furnace and water heater which are not visible in the coach), the air conditioner filters, even the inverter panel. Then we went outside and peered and poked in each vent, compartment, or cha mber outside (i.e. engine, generator, propane tank, water/sewage compartment, batteries, even the fuse bin for the cockpit). Then he took the time to answer any questions I had. He tried to fix the water valve but, as I told you, it was beyond repair. As I indicated above, we ended the day with a very nice potluck. Then, this morning we had one more seminar at breakfast („RV Safety‟). Steve still had two more RV's to visit but everyone else was free to leave for Moscow. I manage my first solo decamp--I backed the rig out of the campsite and hitched up the toad. I stopped for diesel just outside of town, climbed Lewiston hill (a long --7 mile-- steep--7% grade--climb) and made it across to Moscow. I am now parked in Lot A not far from the „official‟ tents and concessionaire‟s trailer. I touched base with the people from the RV Driving School to confirm my Saturday and Sunday lessons and I found the RV weighing people and arranged to have my rig thoroughly weighted and the distribution of weight evaluated early Saturday morning. Then I hit the book/clothes tent and dropped a bundle on books and polo shirts with the LOW insignias. At 2:00 the solo's met at the arboretum followed by the ice cream social at 3:00 and the welcoming session at 4:00. Gaylord had to introduce fifty instructors so it took until almost 6:00 for that to end. I returned to my coach and have been sending e-mails every since. 74 To address your concerns: 1) You will find, once you have 'hit-the road', that many things that you took for granted while driving the 'common car' can no longer be ignored. Face it--the rig (a diesel motor home) is likely to weigh in at ten to sixteen tons (more if you include the weight of the toad). It is likely to be between fifty and sixty feet long (including toad), nine feet wide, and somewhere between thirteen and fourteen feet high. It is going to take longer to stop, longer to get to speed and it will require much wider turns. The driver will need to be much more conscience of the grade of inclines and declines, the height of overpasses, tunnels, and trees that overhang streets. They will need to be better informed about surrounding weather and road conditions and yes, even a motor home by itself is hard to backup--but with a toad it is impossible. You are going to find places where you will just have to park the rig elsewhere and return to in the toad. But I remember when I first started to drive a car and how 'overwhelming' that seemed. I believe (hope?) that just as all of those skills required to drive a car became second nature over time, so will driving our rigs. 2) Problems with our rigs. I have come to believe that all new rigs come with their share of 'bugs'. Face it--these things are extraordinarily complex pieces of equipment with dozens of systems that must function together. Add to this that all of them are routinely subject to severe vibrations as we travel down the road. Of course things are going to go wrong with their system--just as the chances of quality control catching every manufacturer's defect (considering the wide variety of manufacturers involved is supplying all of the various components) are very slight. From what I see, one of the biggest differences between a newbie and an experienced RVer is that the experienced ones have learned to expect these problems and to live with them, although it is probable that as we 'break in' a new rig we will iron out (fix) most of these 'bugs'--so after awhile they are fewer and further apart. I imagine that to us newcomers the number, size, and cost of these bugs can prove to be intimidating. First, after re-reading the last part of my message I realize that I may have come across as an individual who falsely thinks that they are now 'experienced' when in fact they are still very much wet-behind-the-ears. Believe me, I will be the first to admit that I am still an insecure 'newbie' but I find that with each day that I am on-the-road I grow just slightly more confident that yes, I can handle this and yes, I am enjoying the life style and all the friendly and helpful people I am meeting. So please take my advise with this in mind. Maybe, as you get 'out' in you rig you will find yourself undergoing the same slow metamorphosis. Second, yes I do have a Flying J card and I use it constantly! The above pictures are of Lot A (where I am parked--IMG_0013.JPG above is my rig in case you don't recognize it by now). The tents, of course, are party central--the closest (actually a small trailer) is a small (limited) mobile cafe, the middle is a meeting tent (this is where we 'solos' meet each morning at 7:00 a.m.) and the third tent is the book/sundry store and where we got our registration packets upon arrival and get and send our mail. I was parked relatively close to the tents so I pick up their Wi-Fi just fine and find it an easy walk to spend money in the book/sundry store. 75 I would appreciate any recipes that you might provide. I realize that the Potluck is very much central to the socialization process of many campgrounds, rallies, and conferences. I really enjoyed the one at Clarkston but felt a little guilty that I had to buy my contribution rather then making it. I haven't met Nick or Terri Russell yet but it is still early. I hear that Newmar makes a good coach but I am rather surprised at the variety of diesel 'pullers' out there--I thought all diesels were 'pushers' until you mentioned the Tiffany awhile back. I confessed previously to knowing little about the technology but have always heard that diesels are placed in the back to both reduce noise for the driver's compartment and to somehow improve torque. But that may just be part of the myth of 'pushers'. By all means talk to Steve and if you are going to buy ANY used coach be sure to ha ve a trusted and competent mechanic check it out first! By the way, my unit is 350 HP but can be changed to 400 HP with the addition of some kind of computer chip (at the limited loss of some fuel economy). So far I have found no reason to do so as I get plenty of power with the 350 (even going up steep hills). As promised this morning here's the lowdown on courses taken so far: !) 8:00 a.m. Monday--Learning Priorities for New RVers presented by Joe & Vicki Kieva. As the title implies, this course covered material that new RVers need to know--mail services, banking, campgrounds, etc. Joe and Vicki were nice and were entertaining. Unfortunately I had previously bought (and read) their books so much of what they talked about was not new. As I have told you, I have (and continue to) read extensively all of the literature, websites, pamphlets, etc. on RVing that I could/can find so I fear that much of what might be covered here (in these 'general' type of classes) is not going to be new--particularly since many of the authors of those very same books are acting as presenters. 2) 10:00 a.m. --2006 Campground/RV Discounts/Memberships presented by Dave & Sandy Baleria. So far this has proved the most disappointing presentation to date--for two reasons. First, I went hoping to get some insight into how to utilize combinations of membership camping organizations (i.e. Coast to Coast, AOR, RPI, etc.), 50% discount camping outfits (i.e. Passport America, Happy Camper, Camping USA, etc.) and 10% discount clubs (Good Sam, Escapees, KOA, etc.) on a consistent basis to save money. What I got was an organization by organization presentation on what each was and how it worked (and, I thought, a rather unrealistic view of how well distributed their camping choices were--for example they showed the coverage map for Thousand Trails whose campgrounds are almost all located on the east and west coasts and yet Dave said that they had campgrounds all over) and they repeated things over and over--I would bet that they told us a dozen times that if you were a member of Good Sam's you could get a 10% discount. Second they were just not people friendly --they intentionally ran the presentation to the end of the allotted time to avoid having to answer questions and afterwards, when I tried to talk to Sandy she was dismissive, told me to write it in the critique, turned her back to me, and walked away. Being in the middle of so many friendly and helpful individuals (fellow students as well as the staff), their unfriendly attitude really stood out! 76 Afterwards I checked my intended courses for the week, found two more hosted by these two that I had planned to attend, and scratched them out--I'll go to something (anything) else. 3) 1:00 p.m.--RV Driving--Motorhomes presented by Jerry Ray. This guy is one of the instructors for Dick Reed's RV Driving School. This was a very good course and even though it was all lecture (obviously no demonstrations), I still managed to go away with several practical ideas that will improve the driving of my RV. Of course remember that I have scheduled the driving lessons for Saturday and Sunday mornings--and I keep hearing (from their previous „clients‟) what a good idea that is! 4) 3:00 p.m.--Inverters and Chargers presented by Greg Holder. Everything you really didn't want to know about these pesky devices that convert your 12 V DC battery power to 120 V AC power. This course had lots of useful information but I couldn‟t warm to the subject--I'm the sort who just wants it to work whenever I throw the switch. Monday Evening-- it seems like just about everybody went to a little dis- incorporated town about 30 miles east of Moscow called Helmer because Gaylord (and many others) recommended the 'Helmerburger'. I got there early but many LOW participants arrived as I was eating. It definitely was an experience. 5) 8:00 a.m. Tuesday--Generators presented by Al Cohoe. This was a very informative course about the care and feeding of generators. Mr. Cohoe is Canadian and often had an entertaining turn of phrase. Although he promised that the basic information he presented was generic all of the graphics and examples were based on Onan generators--which was great as my generator is an 8 kilowatt Onans! 6) 10:00 a.m.--Fulltiming Overview presented by Gaylord Maxwell. What can I say. I think that one of the first books I ever got on RVing was Gaylord's and I'm sure that 99% of his presentation repeated what was in his book but...81 years old and still so articulate and funny. It is a joy just to listen to him talk and I promise you he'll make you laugh often! 7) 1:00 p.m.--Satellite Television Systems presented by Mike Steffen. I know that you said that you attended a session on Satellite TV systems while you were in Kentucky and were very dissatisfied with it--well it certainly couldn't have been taught by this guy. He stayed on subject the entire time and pretty much covered everything that needed to be covered about Satellite TV. I thought it was well worth my time. 8) 3:00 p.m.--was going to be Solo Traveler's Connections but after getting there I found that they had moved the course across campus. Unlike Kentucky, this campus is really spread out, and they are holding various classes in numerous buildings all over the place. I (and other people who had gathered) lacked the energy to relocate that far away and we simply went back to our rigs. <Side 77 Note: I understand from fellow „solos‟ that did attend that this course was „taught‟ by Francis—the women who ran the pre-conference. The purpose was to present an overview of the various clubs and affiliates available for Rver‟s who travel alone. Apparently Francis, who is shacked up with Bob—a fellow solo‟er she met while presenting these „classes‟ some time ago, got off on a rampage against those solo clubs/organizations that forbid members from commingling. I previously mentioned that they provide a general get together each morning at 7:00 a.m. for the singles. Although many of us attend, for some reason we weren't connecting/communicating. Yesterday morning I mentioned the 'possibility' of getting together for dinner but no one seemed interested. But at lunch one of the singles came to my table and dragged me over to an area where several members of the group were sitting. Then last night at Helmer the same group showed up after I was already well into my meal. So this morning we made definite plans to sit together at lunch and to meet at the tent at 5:00 to go to dinner. We met and went to the Best Western Hotel down the street from the university to attend a happy hour they were hosting for LOW participants. I don't think they understand the concept of hosting--they charged $2.50 for well drinks and up to $8.00 for a serving of appetizers. In any case I met up with Steve there and mentioned your desire to seek is opinion of that Newmar 'puller'. He gave me the same bad news that he apparently e-mailed to you. Sorry. We ate at the hotel. I found out that the women of this group are C-H-E-A-P. Afterwards three of us headed back to campus. We dropped one lady back at her rig in Lot C but the other woman and I headed over to the evening presentation on Rving Alaska. The pictures were fantastic and the presentation was very polished. The whole thing started at 7:30 and was over by about 9:00. This morning we solos met at the tent at 7:00, discussed various courses we had taken on Tuesday, and made plans to meet back there at 4:45 to ride the bus to the BBQ that the Moscow Chamber of Commerce was throwing this evening for LOW participants. My first course for the day was a double session job, Extended RV Travel, which was presented by Joe and Vicki Kieva (who, you may remember, presented the first course I took Monday). I'll stand by what I said about the first course--it was enjoyable, but nothing covered in the course, hadn't been previously covered in their books. I met with the singles in the commons for lunch then headed across campus to the Albertson building for my afternoon sessions. The first afternoon session was 911 Where Am I which dealt with the problems of getting emergency assistance while you are on the road. Of course with a land line (such as you have at home), 911 operators can readily locate you even if you are incoherent and unable to tell them, since they have computer software that can swiftly indicate the ID and location of any caller but apparently with cell phones not only can they not 'locate' you but it turns out you may not even be talking to the locale 911 guys! Any way, the presenter talked about this and about what information and materials you should readily have available in case of an emergency. The last course was Driving With Air Brakes, and was taught by Dick Reed, himself (of the Dick Reed's RV Driving School). The course taught what air brakes are and how they work, the various components of an air 78 break system, the sundry tests that you are supposed to run on your air break system each time you drive your rig, and how you are supposed to utilize air breaks in conjunction with exhaust/'jake' breaks and service (foot) break to control your coaches speed. It was a very good presentation. By the way, one of the instructors was saying that if you want to buy a diesel you had better buy this years‟ model or a used one. Apparently EPA is imposing a lot of new rules and standards for Diesel engines that will take effect with the 2007 models. It is expected that said changes will produce several years of diesel engines that get poor(er) mileage, are missing power, and overheat easily. It is assumed that the industry will take several years to 'perfect' the 'new/modified' engines. So keep this in mind. <Side Note: Later—and elsewhere-- it was revealed that EPA is also dictating a change in diesel fuels— including the addition of solvents—which could adversely effect current/past diesel engines. It was suggested that within a year of the introduction of these „changes‟ diesel engine owners will need to have all of the engine hoses replaced.> As usual, nobody (in the solo group) seemed capable of following instructions. I was at the tent well before 4:45 and actually saw two other members but they wandered away saying that they were returning to their rigs to do a few things (as if I could stop the buses until they decided to wander back). I left without them. It was a pleasant get together and the food was great (but they charged $6.00 for a small plastic cup of one of their local wines). I ate and boarded the bus to return to the campus. Thursday started with our 7:00 a.m. solo meeting at 'the tent'. Arrangements were made to meet back there at 5:15 to go to dinner. I attended another double session (RVing Made Easy) again taught by Joe and Vicki Kieva. This course dealt will the practical aspects of RVing --What and how to pack, equipment for electrical, water, and sewage hookup (and how to do each), RV systems (i.e. electrical, propane, and water/sewage), situations that occur on-the-road and how to handle them, etc. This was a very good course. I skipped lunch and 3rd period session (1:00 to 2:30) and went out into the community to find Moscow RV Center. I wanted to find Tim, the tech from pre- conference, who has been doing repairs to my coach while I was attending classes here in Moscow. I wanted to pay the bill. I found the place but Tim wasn't there and the bill was still open. So I stopped at a place called Wings and had hot chicken wings for lunch and made it back to attend the last class of Fire Safety which was (nominally) scheduled for period 4 (3:00 to 4:30) but was actually scheduled to last until 5:00 and actually lasted (I understand--since I left at about 4:40) until 5:30 or so. You were right--it was definitely a 'must see' session. I (again unlike most of the other solos) showed up at the tent prior to 5:15. And, once again, there were those who tried to stall to wait for those who were not yet there. We did manage to get those of us who were on time off to dinner just slightly late. We went to a nearby Chinese restaurant with a not bad buffet and many others (the late ones) arrived after we had already started eating. I got back in plenty of time to attend the theater presentation for the night but on the 79 way to my coach I ran into a line at that 'fire safety guy's' coach. He was selling 'kits' that included all of the recommended number of fire extinguishers (of the proper type--foam) for a coach and toad. I joined in the (slow moving) line and purchased a 'kit' plus I purchased one of those diesel engine fire extinguishers that mounts in the engine compartment and works like a sprinkler system to automatically activate and extinguish engine fires should they occur. I didn't finish with all this until about 9:30 (so much for the theater--oh well maybe Saturday night). Friday morning (last day), last solo 7 o'clock meeting and plans were set to meet again at 5:15 (for those of us who had not left yet) and go to dinner. 8:00 session Alaska by RV once again by Joe and Vicki Kieva but rather then a travel log of an Alaskan trip this seminar dealt with how to prepare and perpetrate a RV trip to our 49th state. When to go, what to take with you, possible routes, the ferry system and how to utilize it to transport you and your rig one way and you drive your rig the other, etc. Then I stayed and attended the Kievas‟ last course, Working Your Way on the Road. This provided an overview of the various options available to full/extended timers to earn money on the road. It is fully my intention to NEVER have to work again once I retire. So I took this course for two reasons. First the other courses offered this period were less appealing and, second, although I really do intend to never HAVE TO WORK, I may find something like workcamping at a national park or campground appealing--just because it is a different experience! This was followed by lunch and then, for session 3 (1:00 to 3:00 or actually only 2:30), a choice of attending a panel discussion for tech issues or one for lifestyle issues. These panels were manned by those presenters whos‟ courses covered materials prone to that direction. For instance for the life style panel (the one I attended), you had Joe and Vicki Kieva, Nick and Terri Russell, the Churches, and the Balerias. The agenda was to start with each panel member expressing their opinions on standard issues (as put forth by a moderator) followed by a question and answer session with the audience. The last session (2:45 to whenever) was the closing session held all the way over at the arboretum where opening ceremonies had been held. I skipped this and instead went over to Moscow RV Center and paid my repair bill (which I had found slipped under my door yesterday) and stopped to look around a Hastings bookstore just off campus (this chain doesn‟t exist in El Paso) We managed to get off to dinner on time tonight but this crowd was in no mood to rush. I needed to get back so that I could take my solar screens down and otherwise get ready to move. Although I am sticking around until late Sunday morning, I'm scheduled to have my rig across town at 6:00 a.m. tomorrow morning to get it weighed and then at lot C at 8:00 a.m. to take my first (of two) driving lessons. Although we are free to stay here Saturday night (which I will do), it will be totally dry docking (not even electrical) which will prove to be the first time for me (i.e. I guess I'll finally find out how long the batteries will last). I figure that the lesson is probably two hours long <Side Note: the lessons actually last about three and one half hours> leaving much of Saturday free for me to do as I wish (I will once again try to get to the theater--last chance)--then, on Sunday morning, 8:00 a.m. my second lesson. Once that is completed, I will 80 hitch up Firefly and hit the road. Destination--a Jellystone Park campground in Missoula, Montana. The conference is over. It ended yesterday. I stayed over last night for two days of RV driving lessons (which are available at these types of shows but which I would be hard pressed to find in EL Paso). My second (of two) lessons is scheduled for tomorrow morning, approximately 7:30 to 11:00, (so I'm staying one more night in Moscow) and then I am out of here. I plan to spend Sunday night in Missoula, Montana, Monday night in Livingston, Monta na, Tuesday night in Buffalo, Wyoming, Wednesday night in Fort Collins, Colorado, Thursday night in Raton, New Mexico, and Friday night at home in El Paso. I will attach a copy of a list of the campgrounds I have made reservations at (and their telephone numbers--just in case). I will try to email you each night to let you know that everything is okay. This is depressing. The conference ended yesterday afternoon. By last night, you could walk around and notice a few new 'holes' where some rigs had already packed up and left, but for the most part, the place still seemed alive--lots of rigs and lots of people sitting on lounge chairs outside of their coaches visiting or walking their dogs (even walking some cats) or just strolling around. I prepared my rig (as best I could since I was still going to sleep in it Friday night) to move from it's current site since I had a 6:00 a.m. appointment to have the RV people weigh it and they were setting up shop across town. So by 5:30 a.m. this morning I was unplugged with jacks up and slides in-- ready to roll. I made it early to the abandoned parking lot where weights were being done and when I returned I didn't return to my previous space in lot A (a very pleasant grassy field) but instead went to the back portion of lot B (a semi- barren gravel lot where I will camp tonight) since this is where I was told that Dick Reed would start his driving lessons from. I then walked over to a parking lot close to were I had previously been set up and retrieved my toad. More holes had appeared, the merchandise from the tent was cleaned out (and the portable 'cafe' had pulled up stakes and left) and Gaylord was in the process of leaving when I got there--but the place still had a lot of rigs and people. I went on to my 'lesson' and we ended up driving the rig over to the same parking lot where the weights were being taken, setting up cones and practicing parking, backing up (and in), turns, etc. There was a long line of rigs waiting to be weighed. Apparently many individuals scheduled morning weigh-ins, stayed at their LOW sites Friday night and went by the weigh-in site on their way out of town. When my lesson was over and I returned to the LOW/University grounds it was like a ghost town--just a few rigs here and there in each lot, the tents (last I checked) are still standing but now look like abandoned shells. I took the toad and drove around Moscow (even went a little ways up US 95 north--the route I intend to take tomorrow) but every time a RV passed me all I could think is--there goes another conference participant--one more empty space. I think back to all the friendly people, the constant availability of activities, and the overwhelmingly enthusiastic atmosphere--all gone. As I stated earlier, it is really very depressing and all I can think about now is getting home. Oh well, I'm more determined then ever to go to the theater tonight (a comedy 81 which others seem to have enjoyed) and I think that once I hit the road headed for home tomorrow my spirits will rise, Went to Helmer‟s again for an early dinner. I thought that I would try one of their steaks since a couple of different individuals spoke highly of them and I didn‟t know if I would ever be in the neighborhood again to try them. I have learned in the past not to put too much stock in other people‟s opinion of what constitutes a „good steak‟ since many people have a pretty poor baseline to compare against and you just wouldn‟t know this up front. Helmer‟s steaks just verify this observation—definitely NOT worth the 30 some odd mile drive! After returning to the rig (again, at least symbolically, hearing the wind blowing through these now deserted conference grounds) I prepared for the theater. It was really very good. I suppose that there are a slew of „professional‟ actors/actresses who travel the country doing these local type theaters for the summer (i.e. these were definitely not students nor amateurs but certainly no one whom I have seen on television or in the movies). Maybe these are the present day versions of „summer stock‟. The name of the production was “You’re Perfect, Now Change” and it was a romantic comedy about the man/woman relationship through courtship, marriage, and old age. I noticed that there were several LOW conference participants in the audience—so I know that many are still out there. Sunday morning came and I took the toad out to get gas, ice, a cup of coffee, and a couple of bear claws. Dennis, my instructor from Dick Reed‟s school, showed up early—at 7:30 instead of 8:00--at my request (I told him that I wanted to hit the road as soon as the lesson was over and the earlier the better—without cutting the lesson short). We went back to yesterday‟s parking lot and practiced left and right turns and backing into 60 and 90 degree campsites. Another instructor showed up with his „students‟. We then drove north on US 95 (the road I will take this afternoon) to get some practice on hills (inclines and declines) near a small „town‟ called Viola. We returned to the ex-LOW‟s camping area and reviewed walk-a-rounds and Dennis watched as I hitched up Firefly. We checked lights and found that a parking light on the MH didn‟t work and we couldn‟t get the toad‟s brake lights to work when the brakes were activated in t he coach. Reluctantly, I saddled up and bid a final farewell to Dennis, LOW, and Moscow as I hit the road. I think I have finally figured out the GPS system. I programmed it for the Missoula address for the Jellystone RV Park and it got me there (in relative proximity) although finding the actual physical sight took a little effort. It was a nice park but I sensed that there was a very definite underlying profit motive. Everything seemed to be charged extra (even the Wi-Fi service). I took the toad into town for dinner and noticed that there seemed to be some kind of hesitation as I tried to drive at a constant speed (I really don‟t have the time or opportunity to have work done on the truck here and now—I certainly hope it isn‟t the transmission). I unhooked and hitched up early and hit the road heading from Missoula, MT to Livingston, MT. This will constitute my last Mountain Directory Advisory (I thought)—Home Stake pass just the other side of Butte. I stopped at an Exon travel plaza and filled up (about half a tank—after whatever driving I did since 82 leaving Clarkston/Lewiston and utilizing the generator for two days of boon docking. The good news is that since shortly after leaving Moscow (about 80 miles--where US 95 intersects I-90), I am now on four lane interstate highway for the remainder of my trip (where they aren‟t doing highway work, which seems often). I-90 until I reach Buffalo, WY, where I turn onto I-25, then I-25 all the way down through Las Cruces where I meet up with I-10 into El Paso. Now for the bad news: about an hour out of Missoula this morning, I developed brake problems on my towed vehicle (the truck not the RV). I was tooling down the road when these two guys, gesturing wildly and pointing to the rear of my coach, pulled along side my rig. I pulled off the road, they pulled off behind me and when I got out of the coach I saw a lot of smoke bellowing from the left front wheel of Firefly. The two guys retrieved water from their car while I got my fire extinguisher—the wheel was so hot that the grease had caught fire— and we extinguished the flames early. They finally left and shortly afterwards a fireman showed up and poured more water on it to cool it down (since it was still smoldering). So I called AAA and they sent a flatbed tow truck and took the vehicle to the GMC service center in Butte while I followed in my rig. I initially pulled my rig into a Walmart lot across the street—I figured that, totally unintentionally, I might end up with my first „Wally Wo rld‟ experience. The brake system had locked up—all four wheels—and much of the „stuff‟ at the wheel/axle interfaces had melted/fused. This is going to be an expensive repair. But even more disturbing is that I really need to know what caused it—was it something I did wrong in installing the „brake buddy‟ and if so what? Did the „brake buddy‟ misfire/malfunction and if so how can I ever depend on it again? Did something in the wiring between the MH and the toad malfunction (did the emergency break away plug lose contact on the truck end--triggering an emergency stop)? Why didn‟t I get some warning from my „brake buddy‟ monitor? I fear, however, that I may not get any immediate answers. I really can‟t afford to wait any longer then what is absolutely necessary to get the toad capable of being towed (and, hopefully, driven). I will probably be forced to hitch it up and tow it without supplemental braking since I certainly can‟t trust that system anymore. Apparently this (i.e. towing vehicles without s upplemental brakes—and, I confess from some of the readings I was getting from the monitor, I often wondered if my „brake buddy‟ was actually working) is not that uncommon among people hauling toads although it is illegal in most states. My only other option would be to have someone drive the toad separately and follow me to El Paso—not an easy task for a „solo‟ (although my brother Shayne had promised to fly out if I needed him). I suppose for couples this would not present a „big‟ problem. They will need to keep it until, as the GM service manager said, "maybe Wednesday, probably Thursday" <Side Note: this has since changed to late Friday>. So I am stuck in Butte until Friday (must likely so late that I will need to stay over and leave Saturday morning) and this pushes my entire itinerary back about five days. Currently. I have set up camp here in Butte at a KOA and, considering the uncertainty, have been paying one day at a time. I've attempted to adjust all of my campground reservations (two, maybe three, times already—depending on what the service manager says on any given day) accordingly. One thing 83 there—I have decided to cut my intended „last day‟ on the road (which was to be a long 480 mile trek from Raton, NM to El Paso) into two (as equally as possible—with an overnight in Belen, just south of Albuquerque). One thing I have learned is that it isn‟t worth the rush—keep each day‟s drive to below 300 miles (if possible). Meanwhile--any suggestions on what to see or do in Butte, Montana? I have driven the Home Stake pass—twice—in the rental/loaner I got from the GMC center--just to size up its‟ level of difficulty and I also checked out an alternative (Montana Highway 2/Pipestone pass). Home Stake is steeper— but not that bad, MT 2 is less steep but has some really wicked curves. I think that I‟ll take the former. By the way, I haven‟t seen so many casinos anywhere else outside of Las Vegas and Atlantic City. I started, this morning, to utilize this journal as a springboard for my thinking processes. When I realized how out of date it was (my last entry was over two weeks ago—before I even began this trip), I decided to first bring it up to date and then spill my guts (so to speak). I confess that I cheated in the former task. Between e-mails over the last two weeks (to Bette and Jim Wigginton and to my brother, Shayne), I had provided a fairly detailed description of what has been going on. So I basically went to the SENT box of my e-mail program and cut and pasted the contents of these various e-mails into my journal. I did spend some time editing what I had moved over and adding things that I hadn‟t included in the letters (often updating with actual results what I had mentioned as possibilities in the original messages—see the <Side Notes>). I also brought things completely up to date since it has been a few days since my last outgoing e-mails. Okay, I didn‟t include today since I did most of the entry this morning. So this morning, after working on this journal, I left the rig--stopping by the campground office to pay for two more nights (i.e. tonight and tomorrow night). I drove up to the Butte „historic downtown shopping district‟‟, parked, and walked around—not much there to see—mainly just a lot of old buildings with some (mostly tourist related) active business concerns—there was one ground floor renovation going on. I then drove to the Eastland shopping mall (on Harrison Ave.), just up the street from the GMC center and Walmart), to check out the Cineplex. Since I was at least an hour and a half early for the first showings (either „Superman Returns‟ or „Pirates of the Caribbean‟), I toured the mall (about five minutes—it‟s not that big a mall), sat and read in centrally located sofas they provided for shoppers, and had lunch at a Chinese restaurant (located, conveniently, in the mall). Shortly before show time (12:30), I moseyed over to the theater and purchased a ticket to the Superman movie. After the movie, I returned to the RV Park and continued polishing this journal entry. So, as to my thought processes/gut spilling, these fall into two categories: 1) Attitude Changes reached during my current trip a) Although I probably will never admit this to another soul, I should have chosen a different rig (either a much smaller Class A or some type of Class B). Don‟t get me wrong--Serenity, my Travel Supreme, is a great motor home—high quality and the price I paid couldn‟t be beat—but this is clearly a case of ego overpowering logic. The TS is more coach then is necessary for one person. I should have gotten a smaller unit more fitted 84 for one. It would be more maneuverable, have better fuel economy, and may just have eliminated the need for a separate towed vehicle. True, I would have lost the advantage of packing whatever I wanted (you can‟t beat the TS cargo carrying capacity or storage space) but, even there, I have come to understand that the requirement to purge oneself of much of your previous possessions, such that you can fit it all into your new home, is a rite of passage that just may aide in the metamorphosis to the full time lifestyle (i.e. a sort of forced break from the past). b) I have come to the decision to postpone my transition to full timing—full timing, not retirement. Don‟t get me wrong, I enjoyed the conference (and I would say in spite of the toad breakdown but in reality this decision was reached while I was still in Moscow—prior to Butte), but the loneliness and depression that overcame me--first once Shay left me in Clarkston, and then, once again, when people started clearing out after the conference— made me think. i) All of my fellow solo-ers had one thing in common—they were living a life that developed beyond their control (and presumably over time, allowing for personal adjustment). Their situations were due to death of a spouse or divorce, and children who grew up and moved away to live a life of their own. It was sometime after this that they decided to reinvent their own lives and continue with living by hitting the road. Many were really more „extended‟ timers rather then full timers—or were still just „wannabes‟. In other words, they had no choice—but I do. So here I was thinking—I still have someone to care about (mom) and pets that I truly believe love me and certainly depend on me. I have approached this whole „lifestyle‟ change by pushing the issues of mom and cats and dogs to the background—vaguely thinking that everything will work out. But the worries that Armida recently expressed about the future status of mom (plus the concerns about the same subject that Shay and Joyce voiced during their most recent visit) made me face the issues, which I confess, I was (and am) still reluctant to do. I glibly assumed/stated that mom would stay with Armida and her family at their home (which is apparently what Armida wants), that we would pay Armida accordingly (probably more then mom‟s monthly Social Security but considerably less then we now pay the Armida/Elena combination), and I would sell the house (probably to Elena). As for the pets (and this includes the stray cat whom we feed daily and who lives on the patio), I really hadn‟t thought that far ahead. But in reality, I can‟t desert mom. I may attempt to convince myself that leaving mom in an individual‟s, like Armida‟s, care is somehow better (more considerate and humane--on my part) then placing her in a home—particularly since Armida and her kin seem to really think of and treat mom as a member of their own family—but face it, this is just false rationalization on my part. Shay and I both know that once I leave, Chris won‟t even bother to visit her, much less keep tabs on her—so if there is a difference between doing this and those instances 85 where family members relegate an elder to rot in some nursing home, never visiting or checking on her circumstances, it is only a matter of nuances. I don‟t think that I could live with myself if I pursued my proposed avenue of future existence and someday, somewhere, received a phone call informing me that mom had passed away— alone--without the company of any family members. In other words, I have someone who means the world to me and I won‟t willingly give that up—even if mom is no longer capable of reciprocating the feelings. And, concerning the animals, I can‟t see saddling Armida with them (although I believe that out of devotion to us, she would accept the responsibility) and I know I could never find them new homes. Putting them down (or putting down the old dogs and abandoning the cats) is, of course, out of the question. Attempting to take them with me is also not an option as there are too many for the motor home and I believe that many, if not all, are too old to successfully adjust to the change in lifestyle. So there, having forced myself to face these issues, I can only reach the conclusion that come January--unless circumstances change dramatically between now and then--although I still definitely intend to proceed with the retirement, I will be sticking around and maybe just take short trips to rallies and events. Now what this does to the finances is another story! c) One of the things that I observed at both the (LOW) pre-conference and conference, were all of the pets (dogs and cats) that traveled along with their masters in their RVs. Seeing how happy and well adjusted the animals seemed, seeing the mutual love (bond) that existed between pets and owners, and seeing all of the joy that they brought each other, I know that when the time comes to hit the road full time, I am going to be traveling with companions (canine and feline). d) I need to do something different about a toad (and this is definitely based on my experience with Firefly and it‟s breaks). I either need to get some other type of towing method (one much more foolproof then the current one) for towing the truck (maybe a tow dolly or a flat trailer) or I need to get some other type of vehicle (like a motor bike) which can be hauled on the trailer hitch mount (if such a thing is possible). Now maybe I am overreacting, but unless I can determine beyond any doubt that the locked breaks were not due to the „break buddy‟ system or wiring (and would not re-occur), I don‟t see how I can ever trust the system again—I would always be worried while driving my rig that the episode is repeating itself. 2) Depression. I am not a big believer in all of that psycho-babble crap--but I do recognize the existence of a mental condition called „depression‟. Although I can‟t attest to the chronic form of it—the type that Lifetime Channel movies are made about and that a whole slew of pharmaceuticals are manufactured and marketed to counteract, I can admit to occasionally suffering the everyday variety (as in „everyone has their ups and downs‟). Overall I consider myself practical a perpetually „up‟ person. Occasionally, however, I succumb to what seems to be an abundance of concerns—financial, 86 personal, and/or work related--and I develop a „down‟ attitude. The first thing to be affected is my sleep patterns. I find myself unable to go to sleep (or I wake up in the middle of the night and am unable to go back to sleep) because my mind is spinning--listing things that I have to do or problems that I must face. If the condition is severe I also suffer a loss of appetite. I find myself currently going in and out of the more severe form, although at night I can usually pep up my spirits such that I find getting to sleep no problem (but very early in the twilight hours I once again suffer dark thoughts). I am stuck in Butte Montana awaiting the repair of my truck, this is the fifth (and I hope last) day—it just seems to keep getting moved back. Under my original itinerary, I would be about half way through New Mexico headed for a late arrival home this afternoon/early evening. As it stands now and, God willing, all goes well, I will be taking off tomorrow morning and won‟t see home until mid-afternoon Wednesday. I worry about mom, the women caring for her, and all the dogs and cats. I can‟t tow the truck utilizing the supplemental breaking system since I can‟t trust it not to malfunction again and yet it is illegal (but probably still safe) to tow without such a system and I must get my rig, my truck, and myself home. My debt is rising. I knew, going in, that I would be charging a lot on my credit cards (diesel fuel, camping fees, food, souvenirs, etc.) and that contrary to my typical nature of completely paying off my balances at the end of each month, I would be forced to carry over debt and incur service charges (i.e. interest). But I figured that by beginning my second distribution of funds from another one of my annuities this month (July), I could increase my income this year (beyond any anticipated pay raises and step increases at work) by about $8,400.00 and that this would allow me to pay off all of the cards by the end of the year. But now I figure that this service on my towed vehicle will most probably add about $5,000.00 <Side Note: the final bill was $5,133> of additional debt to the cards (and that, plus all other card debts, will definitely surpass $8,400.00). Now here is my current plan: 1. Upon returning home, put my Chase Visa and both the MBNA Visa and MasterCard away—no more charges on any of these (they are the ones which I have been utilizing on the trip). 2. Use, exclusively, my Discover card (for Sam‟s Club) and my new Merrill Lynch Visa Debit card for all future charges. I have already changed over the automatic billing by Dish Network and Verizon Wireless to the ML card. I will need to catch any other auto charges and likewise transfer them over (or cancel whatever service is involved). 3. Go to the Teacher‟s Credit Union and change the automatic loan payments (for the truck) over to the same Merrill Lynch account I use to repay the loan for the RV. Make this account exclusively for loan repayments—no other expenses will be paid from this account. 4. Economize. Stop ordering stuff off the internet (and this includes Amazon.com), don‟t visit the bookstore or renew subscriptions or go to Camping World, or otherwise spend or commit funds on non-essentials (like DVD‟s). 87 5. All non-Discover Card charges will be on my Merrill Lynch credit card and will be paid out of my Merrill Lynch Beyond Banking account. 6. From my Teacher‟s Credit Union account I will execute the following priorities a. Pay all household bills (water, gas, electricity) and my RV storage fee, first. b. Pay (completely) my total monthly balance for my Discover card. c. From what remains, pay--in equal amounts—on the balances due for each of the three remaining credit cards (Chase Visa, MBNA Visa, and MBNA MasterCard). d. All of this should better organize and simplify my financial dealings (all with an eye towards the time when my ML accounts will be my sole banking resource and all credit card charges will be either on the Discover card or the Merrill Lynch ATM/Debit card). I will then chose one of the other cards to keep for use in case of extreme emergencies (like I am having here and now in Butte with truck repairs)--remember, the MBNA MasterCard has a limit of over $25,000 and the MBNA Visa has a limit of over $22,000. I am hoping that with the additional annuity income, all of the possible economizing I can manage, and any/all pay increases once school starts (or, more accurately, as of September 15 th, when the new contract kicks in) I can devote up to or beyond $2,000 per month to debit repayment (this would amount to over $12,000 by January instead of just $8,400 and should still allow me to clear my debts by the time I retire. The short of it is that I have been stuck in Butte, Montana for the last week. Have you ever been so frustrated and 'bummed out' you just don't want to talk about it? That has been me! The weigh-in went well. My rig is in complete compliance: the overall weight is acceptable as is each axle and wheel weight, the Travel Supreme has an amazing Cargo Carrying Capacity (CCC) of about 5,600 pounds--much better then most. They did suggest that I shift some cargo in the basement from the passenger's side to the driver's side (remember that the passenger side includes the galley which must add considerably more weight to that side then the sofa and dining table do to the driver‟s side). I'll fill you in better once I get home and review the computer analysis, which they mail out to each 'customer'. To bring you up-to-date, I need to go back to last Sunday. I completed my second driving lesson by about 11:30. In this lesson we covered right and left turns, backing in to 60 degree and 90 degree campsites, and mountain driving. We also reviewed walk-a-rounds and towing (at least we determined the swing (turn ratio) of the truck end as I turn rig & tow in combo. YES, I would very much recommend the driving lessons--you learn a lot, but more importantly you gain a lot of confidence in the driving of such a big vehicle. Even as my 'instructor' was walking back to his rig, I was already pulling out to hit the road. All went well and I entered Missoula in the late afternoon, found the Jellystone RV Park, and nestled in for the night. It was day two when everything 88 went to hell (or at least Butte). About one hundred miles outside of Missoula, heading towards Livingston, two guys in a passing car flagged me down by gesturing wildly towards the back of my rig. We both pulled off and lo and behold my front driver's side wheel was bent at a weird angle and smoke was pouring out of it. We doused it with water and a fire extinguisher. I had to call AAA and have them send a flatbed tow truck to haul my toad to the GMC service center in Butte, Montana (I followed along in the motor home). Since the service center was across the street from the Butte Walmart, I pulled my rig into that parking lot (at first it appeared that I was going to experience my first 'Wally world' overnighter totally against my will). But as they delved into the problem, it became apparent that they were not likely to repair it by the next day (Tuesday). Over the course of events the time frame kept expanding outwards (i.e. it went from 'maybe Tuesday, probably Wednesday' to 'maybe Thursday' and finally 'we hope by closing time Friday'). I got directions to a local KOA, went there, and settled in for what ended up to be 5 nights. I rented a car from the GMC center-- there really wasn't much to see in Butte (and believe me, I saw everything-- three or four times) but I couldn't stay penned up in my rig all of that time. Basically, while I can't determine the cause, the breaks on all four wheels of the truck 'locked up' but my 'break buddy' monitor did not warn me so I kept driving. The breaks got so hot they, the axles, and sundry other garbage located in the wheel wells (at least in front) melted and fused. In the front left (driver's side) wheel the grease actually set on fire (hence the smoke)! Whether the 'break buddy' supplemental breaking system malfunctioned, the 'break a way' cable somehow became disengaged, the wiring between the rig and the truck in faulty, or something in the truck itself went wonkers, I will probably never know. In any case a heck of a lot of parts had to be replaced. Even by Friday afternoon things looked bleak (two sets of parts--break hoses and break „booties‟) hadn't arrived. It looked like they wouldn't get in until Monday (July 24th). I was desperate (read the second sentence of this letter again)--I was trapped, I couldn't leave but I didn't want to stay and I have responsibilities back home that I couldn't keep ignoring. I literally pleaded with the service manager to do whatever he could to finish the job Friday afternoon. Bless his soul, the man went out and took the parts off of a brand new 2006 model on their sales floor and placed them in my vehicle. I still didn't get out of there until after 6 p.m. (I think they stayed late just to see that I got out of there that evening). Bright and early this morning, I packed up the rig, hitched up the truck, and left Butte for Livingston. I am not utilizing the supplemental breaking system since I can‟t trust that the same thing won't happen again to the truck's breaks. I know that this is illegal but I don't have any choice (were I not traveling solo, my 'partner' could drive the truck separately and follow me home) and I have been assured that it is still safe (considering how much bigger/heavier my RV is compared to the truck). From early on, I decided to try to continue to follow my 'original' itinerary once I got back on the road. All week I have been calling and recalling and re-recalling those RV parks that I had made reservations at and moving the dates back. The camp owners were all very understanding and willing to work with me (one even made reservations at another campground 89 close by when they found that they would be unable to „meet my rig‟s needs‟ on the new date). The one exception is the last day. Originally I had planned to drive all of the way across New Mexico (top-to-bottom not side-to-side) from Raton to El Paso (approximately 480 miles) but I just can't push it that much anymore (at least this trip). For my return trip I had tried to limit each day to less then 300 miles. So on that day I have decided to stop and camp for the night just south of Albuquerque (in a town called Belen). This will mean arriving home in the early afternoon, Thursday instead of late Wednesday but it breaks the drives from one 480 mile bout into two 200 plus mile days. So as I sit nestled by the Yellowstone River (in Yellowstone Edge RV Park), I will close this letter. My spirits are somewhat uplifted by 'being on the road' once again and God willing and all goes well, I should be home by early Thursday afternoon. First, I keep in mind that I must separate the rest of my trip (i.e. the time spent with my brother on the way up here and all the wonderful memories I get to take with me from the LOW pre-conference and conference and the memories I generate as I once again commence my interrupted trip home) from the situation and circumstances which surround my time in Butte. Second, I remind myself that a lot of the stress and frustration that I feel (felt?) is due to my current non-full-timer status. In other words, I am still functioning under a schedule--a need to be somewhere by a certain time. Don't get me wrong--car trouble anywhere/anytime is a pain and the expense for repair would sour anyone but...the way I see it is that once I retire and hit the road full time, I won't be nearly as susceptible to the aggravation of 'not making it' somewhere on time. In any case, as the above Subject line of this e -mail implies, I finished the second day of my journey home (or is it my eighth day) when and where I intended to be (Buffalo, WY) so I am on schedule (or, I should say, on revised schedule). If you include the first night in Missoula, this is actually my third night on the road home (does that make sense) so--I am half way there! If all continues well, tomorrow will find me in a KOA in Colorado, the next night in another KOA in northern most New Mexico, and the last night in a campground in mid-New Mexico--then home! Let me say a few words about the campgrounds so far. Since leaving Moscow they have been nice--not as immaculate as the campground in Clarkson but certainly not as desolate as the one in Aztec. The Jellystone park in Missoula, was, as you would expect, family oriented. It seems (at least for this one) that it failed to have as many amenities as most of the KOA's I've seen plus I got the distinct impression that this campground was being run strictly as a business (i.e. everything--like Wi-Fi--was an extra charge and the management was very matter of fact). I have found that many KOA's are family businesses, with mom, pop, and kids all pitching in to perform needed duties and that they truly seem to care that you have a good time. The Yellowstone Edge Park was all about location--the park sat on the bank of the Yellowstone River (you could walk but a few yards and fish, raft, swim, etc.). The sites were nice but the park had no amenities beyond showers and laundry facilities. This was definitely a 90 water-sportsman haven. Tonight's (Deer Park Campground) has amenities like a swimming pool, an all you can eat ice cream social, etc. My site is huge (and all sites have plenty of trees. I spotted two young deer roaming around the campground on separate occasions. Allow me an observation from both my nights at Yellowstone Edge Park and Deer Park. At Yellowstone I unhitched Firefly and drove both into Livingston and--in the opposite direction—Granger, and the next night I likewise took the toad and visited Buffalo. Now here are three examples of small, quaint, little towns normally much too unobtrusive to warrant outside attention. At a cursory glance, they all three qualify as those All American small towns that we all wish we had been brought up in (i.e. Mayberry). And yet, as I drove through each, I saw how they were teaming with slews of gawking tourists. I bet each town sees their populations swell a hundred fold during this time of year. Maybe the nature of vacationing has changed since the days when my family packed up the station wagon and hit the road. Back then the objective was something big (i.e. big city—New York or Los Angeles—or big attractions—Disney Land or the World‟s Fair). So I thought my affinity for small towns and their quaint, old downtown shops and structures was a quirk of my nature but maybe this is the new trend— a search for a taste of the simpler life in this day and age of stress and tension, crowds and too much modern society. Now allow me to return to the present. This morning I left Deer Park Campground at about 7:00 a.m. I quickly got on I-25 South and stayed there all day (in fact almost the entire remainder of my trip revolves around this freeway— I only switch over to I-10 in Las Cruces, about forty miles before arriving home). I tried to stop about every 2 hours, stretch, walk around, take care of the necessaries, and check the rig and toad. Unfortunately, Wyoming doesn‟t seem to like the simple in-and-out rest areas and all seem some distance off of the interstate. I hesitate to take my rig & toad anywhere where I can‟t see ahead of time what the layout is. So I passed up several rest stops and ended up using chain-up areas and these strange „parking‟ pull offs they have in this neck of the woods (thank God that our units have self contained bathroom facilities). I did take the plunge about 50 miles outside of Cheyenne and tried a „rest area‟. I had to exit the freeway (on the left), pass under the North bound lanes, and then make a left turn into the rest stop (and reverse the process in order to return to I- 25). It was a nice, clean, new facility and they had pull-through parking slots for rvs and trucks (and—surprisingly--they were separated—the truck‟s slots were away from the building while the rv‟s slots were next to the car slots right by the building. Just outside (south) of Cheyenne, I stopped at a Flying J to fill up (I was down to half a tank of Diesel). The place was crawling with trucks and rvs and you had to wait in line (luckily as a diesel pusher I could utilize the truck pumps— 5 or six--rather then the RV pumps—2). By the end of today‟s journey, I had traversed the state of Wyoming and entered Colorado. I arrived at the Heron Lake RV Park at about 2:00 p.m. The sites have concrete pads and the facility is thoroughly modern. They have all of the amenities including a spa, hot tubs, a n exercise room, and a man made lake. Unfortunately, because of the newness of the park, most of the trees are too immature to provide much scenery or shade 91 but in a few years this will be one beautiful park. Tomorrow I intend to repeat today‟s feat and travel the width (height?) of the state of Colorado, setting up camp for the night in the northern most reaches of New Mexico. This is just a quick note letting you know that I am safely encamped at the KOA in Raton, New Mexico. I arrived at about 1:30 just ahead of a nasty weather front. Seeing the extensive cloud coverage this morning as I prepared to leave Fort Collins, I checked the weather channel and saw that severe thunderstorms were forecasted this p.m. for all of Colorado and most of New Mexico. As it happened I managed to get through with only a short bout of rain as I passed through Denver. This made me realize just how lucky I have been during this trip. The weather was great during our trip up here, during the pre - conference and conference in Idaho, and during my return trip home (so far). As is, shortly after setting up camp here in Raton, it started raining. The day started early (don‟t they all). I bummed around the campground. Used the campground restroom for „number 2‟ to conserve black water tank capacity (I want to postpone my last „dump‟ until just before leaving camp on Thursday morning). I bundled up my trash and took it to the dumpster. I roamed around. I de-camped and watched the Weather Channel. Since quiet time extended until 7:00 a.m., I felt that I couldn‟t start my motor home engine to leave until then even though I was ready to do so at six. Once underway, I tried to take a recommended short cut back to I-24, got lost and took an hour before I could find a place suitable to turn around, retraced my steps and finally made it back to the freeway. May I make two observations? First, for the entire stretch of I-24 through Colorado—it was crowded (and much of it in poor repair). I am used to freeways having a lot of cars in and around population centers but, in the long stretches in-between, to be relatively empty. Not in Colorado where it was crowded everywhere. Second, the major cities (i.e. Denver, Colorado Springs, and Pueblo), where the freeway seems to be perpetually torn up and under repair, stretch on forever—I would swear that I spent an hour traversing Denver from north end to south end. Also Raton Pass wasn‟t a big deal. I just got off the phone with my auto insurance agent (GEICO), and this was the second call from them today. A week ago yesterday--the day of the truck incident--I called them to file a claim. At the time they indicated that my RV insurer was the primary insurer (since the truck was being towed) and that they were the secondary and would only pay if my RV insurer refused to. Because of this attitude on their part, I saw little use in pursuing the issue since I certainly wasn't going to contact my RV insurer (this because I strongly felt that this claim was squarely GEICO's responsibility as the insurer of the truck--which included comprehensive coverage and reimbursement for a rental vehicle). Well the agent has tried since then to call me and get a 'cause' of the break failure-- something that I don't think I will ever know. <SIDE NOTE: Since returning home I have been in contact with the manufacturers of the Brake-Pro –in their best judgment, and based on both the fact that 1) the tires did not wear as if dragged once the brakes locked and 2) that the unit gave no appearance that it activated, the unit was placed too snugly in the foot well—causing a slight, constant depression of the brake pedal even though the unit was not activated. 92 This would be the equivalent of ‘riding-your –brakes’ which produced a constant friction which caused a build up in heat which caused an expansion of the brake pads which caused more friction, etc., etc.—something tells me from both the speed and certainty of reaching this conclusion that they are familiar with this ‘problem’>. I didn't have the time or patience to deal with him (I had bigger things on my mind, plus, as I said, I really didn't have an answer). Well today I was sitting here in the coach and he called again so I decided to have it out. I informed him that repairs would soon be completed, that I didn't know the cause and couldn't spend the time in Butte while they (GMC) analyzed the truck and some Butte RV company analyzed the 'break buddy' and RV wiring (and, ultimately you can bet both would blame the other or throw up their hands with a flat 'donno'), and that frankly, since they (GEICO) had already decided that they wouldn't pay, I didn't see the point in wasting my time. I told him that after 17 years as a GEICO customer, who had NEVER once filed a claim, I found it extremely troubling that the first time I tried they pulled the old 'finger pointing' game. He kept saying that he (and GEICO) were just following standard insurance practices and I finally said that that is precisely why insurance companies (and their employees) have such a low standing in most peoples opinion (right down there with lawyers and used car salesmen). He finished by telling me he was closing the claim but that I was welcome to have it reopened in the future if I wished to pursue it. I insisted that he indicate on the file that it was closed in spite of my dissatisfaction and that I was strongly disposed to seek out a different insurance company for my future business (I pay them $1,200 a year for my truck and mom's car—in total, I figure over the years I have paid GEICO over $20,000 in premiums). About five minutes later he called back and indicated that his 'superiors' had looked at the file and decided that GEICO should cover the break failure under my comprehensive coverage regardless of rather I was driving it or towing it. So now began the game of 'can we require you to provide something that you don't have, so that we can still disallow the claim'. They needed the bill (I have the invoice with a comprehensive list of parts, labor, and even the charge for the rental car), they needed proof of payment (I held on to the MasterCard customer receipt), and could I provide pictures of the vehicle before repairs were done (well, no I can't and besides there was little outward sign of damage--but I do have a couple of heavy boxes filled with the original parts sliding around in the back of the truck, will they pay the postage?). I guess when I get home I'll open the boxes and take some pictures of the broken, melted, and fused parts. So it looks like I may get by on this one by just having to pay the $500 deductible. Maybe sometimes it pays to be an A__HOLE. I am told that Santa Fe is 160 miles from here and that Albuquerque is 224 miles away (Belen is just south of Albuquerque). So tomorrow‟s trip should consist of just over 4 hours of drive time (but add another hour for „rest stops‟ and anticipated delays in driving through Santa Fe and Albuquerque). I also seem to remember some areas of road between these two cities with extreme inclines and declines. In any case there is no way that I can leave here and reach either city before morning traffic kicks in! 93 I reached Belen (just south of Albuquerque) at about 11:30 (I left Raton at 6:30 this morning). I am only about 230 miles from home and was tempted but knew that a good nights rest was more important (and safer) then attempting to do 480 miles in the RV with toad all in one day. I'll call once I get in. I arrived home yesterday at about 10:30 a.m. I parked the rig at American RV (the place we started from several weeks ago) and moved all of the 'stuff' that I'm not going to leave in the motor home back to the house. This morning I'll go and dump the black and gray water tanks in their sewer and move the rig to the storage facility I usually use (I may get it washed on the way but since it is raining that may not be a good idea). I had a slew of mail (much of which was bills) that I made my way through but I did (as I promised) try to call you (twice). You cellular provider (ALLTEL?) kept telling me you weren't available. All is well here except that two of the cats--the ones that hid whenever strangers show up--are in hiding (I guess that they either think I'm a stranger or they are mad at me for being gone for so long). The white one has started to thaw out (as of this morning) and has decided to 'let' me scratch her, but I haven't seen hide or hair of the black and white one. Since school starts August 7th, I have several last minute tasks I feel I need to complete. I have done nothing to prepare for teaching this year. I don't know what my class load will be but since they decided not to offer the course I usually teach anymore, it will be something new, which I will have to prepare for from scratch. At the end of the year I went out of my way to make each and every administrator aware that I would only be teaching for the fall semester and that, come spring, I'm out of there! I did this in hopes that in determining course assignment, they would NOT give me core courses because we all know that when a teacher leaves during the year their classes are often taken over by a string of subs. This would not be fair to the students. Since being reminded that I am certified to teach BOTH science and math, the principal seemed interested in placing me in an area of 'individual' study with students who need one of many science or math credits. If I understand the concept, this would be ideal as the position is more one of monitoring and documenting then of preparation. Unfortunately, school districts (and this one in particular) are extremely CHEAP when it actually comes down to educating the student--they want the maximum 'bang for the buck'. This is why many classes are overloaded with students--they don't want to hire more teachers. In any case, for the first time since I started teaching, I will be going in on the 8th (first day) completely cold. I am sorry that it has taken me a while to reply to your last message but I have been on the go every since I got home. First I had four weeks worth of mail to plow through--including several bills (and these all seemed to come in right after I left so they were overdue by the time I got home). Then, since as you pointed out, school (i.e. work) is starting up soon, I felt compelled to attempt to handle all of those items (mainly retirement related) that remained to be completed--mostly this relates to combining and simplifying finances so I was calling and visiting banks, my financial advisor (at Merrill Lynch), and TRS via phone in Austin. I am also trying to get the stuff together to send to my insurance company in hopes of recovering some of the cost incurred in repairing my truck in Butte --I have a 94 detailed bill for repairs (including an itemized list of parts and even the cost for a rental car) and I have the credit card receipt for proof of payment but they also want pictures. The service center in Butte loaded all of the replaced parts into boxes which they placed in the back of my truck so now I will have to ha ul the boxes out, lay all of the old parts out on the ground and take pictures of them. In addition to all of this, I am trying to figure out what to do with the rig. Upon returning to town Thursday, I parked the MH at the American RV campground where I left it Friday also. I removed all of those items that I didn't intend to leave permanently in the rig (i.e. food, sundries, clothes, some electronics, etc. --not much, about the car load--front and back seats). I also did my 'final' dump of the season (black and gray water tank). I need to plan, assuming that once I move the rig to the storage yard, it will remain there until January when I retire. I needed to dump the remaining water from my fresh tank and the ten gallons in my water heater before putting it in storage. This is easier said then done. Although the water involved is 'clean', the stigma of the black and gray water tanks remain. Not too many places want you to drain this at their locale but it most be done before I can store the unit. I also want to get some diesel (so that I can 'exercise' the generator while it is in storage) and get it washed (get rid of all those bugs I hit while driving). Whatever I am going to do, I need to do it today as I am paying $25 a night to leave it at the campground. There are also several things that I need to get fixed. Some like the ice-maker and the second feed from the satellite dish are technically under warranty, some like installing the engine compartment fire extinguisher and doing whatever I will be doing about my supplemental braking system are 'new' items, and, unfortunately, the unit will need body work as the driver's side has suffered some damage as I learned the hard lesson on making WIDE right turns. In any case I have made a list so that when the time comes I won't forget anything. Since I have neither the time, nor the money, to affect these repairs NOW I figure on waiting until January to have them done and just storing the unit AS IS for now. I would like, however, to make this clear HERE AND NOW--although I had my troubles with the toad during this trip, Sernity performed without a hitch--not one single problem in handling it on the road. For us (the teachers/staff) school here starts August 7th with three days of 'in- service'. The students start back on August 10 th <SIDE NOTE: this has since been moved to Monday, August 14 th>. This, of course, is ridiculously early. Many years ago, the state tried to stop this increasingly earlier and earlier start of school terms (since the travel/tourist industry depends a lot of August vacations) and put into law the edict that no school district could start the term earlier then the week containing August 22nd. Unfortunately, they included a provision for districts to obtain 'waivers' which have become so commonplace as to make the original law meaningless. Last spring, during a special session on school financing, the state legislature put in effect a new law forbidding school districts in Texas from starting the fall term before Labor Day with ABSOLUTELY NO WAIVERS but this law will not take effect until the fall of 2007 (next year). This is probably fortunate, as I probably could not qualify for a year's service (and hence retirement by the end of this calendar year) if school had not started in 95 August and the fall semester been scheduled to end before Christmas break. As you implied in your last e-mail, I approach the start of this school year with mixed feelings. Particularly since I just got back from my trip, I do not feel that I will have had enough 'down time' to be ready to return to work in just over a week's time. In addition, for the first time in my career as an educator, I am entering the school year totally unprepared. Typically I spend some portion of each summer preparing and/or updating lessons, making lesson plans, gathering new materials, etc. I usually have dittos and assignments prepared and ready to go for the first two weeks for all of my classes. This time I have done nothing. I don't know what courses I will be teaching (I only know that it won't be the course I mainly have always taught as they decided not to offer that any more). At the end of last semester there was some talk of my doing some 'special assignments' since I let it be known that I would be leaving mid-school year and since I am certified to teach math as well as science. This could prove to be good for me but school districts--administrators--often seem to live in absolute fear that a teacher may not be utilized to the fullest (i.e. may actually have a moment here or there to think about what they need to do for their classes) which is why must classrooms are over crowded since they don't hire enough teachers. I guess I'll find out a week from Monday. Then again, I realize that each day of work will take me one step closer to retirement so that is a plus and I am the type that, when faced with a pending task, feel an overpowering urge to get on with it. I do know that I intend to try my hardest to take a more laid back approach to work this year (half year?)—and not to get so uptight and not to take things so seriously. To complicate the issue of beginning work so soon, I start jury duty on August 1st (Tuesday) FOR A MONTH. This is federal jury duty (not your run of the mill municipal/state jury duty) and you serve it for an entire month. Having never before been assigned to federal jury duty, I understand little about how it works (except that they pay better, don’t provide parking, and they don‟t allow you to bring cell phones). I do know that I am juror number 11 on jury panel P-39-3. I also understand that some time Monday night (July 31 st) after 5:00 p.m. I am supposed to call the district court office number and listen to recorded instructions regarding a possible jury selection on Tuesday, August 1st (since this message with be for all jurors and all panels, I will need to wade through the whole thing and listen carefully for my panel name and my juror number). The message will also instruct me on when to call again for my next „possible‟ jury selection. From the way I read the letter, unless something on the recording instructs me otherwise, I am supposed to report to the US Courthouse at 7:30 Tuesday morning regardless of whether I have a jury selection or not. You won't know from call-to-call whether you will be going to work or jury duty the next day. I suspect that another way this system varies from „local‟ jury duty is that in all likelihood even if you are chosen for and serve as a juror for a trial, you are still considered „in the jury pool‟ for the duration of the month. Not only will this make the first month of work problematic (the first few weeks of school constitute the best time to bond with your classes and to establish your rules and expectations), it should also pretty much put a damper on my last week of 96 summer vacation. Today (Saturday, July 29 th) started with my rush to the pharmacy to pick up prescriptions for mom and myself and Sam‟s club to get gas in the truck. Upon return home, I had Armida load mom into the Lincoln and follow me to the storage lot in Santa Teresa that I use to park my RV. There we left my truck and took the Lincoln to where my motor home is parked at American RV. I stayed and let Armida and mom return home. After having received permission from the park yesterday, I had opened my fresh water drain cock and left it to drain—by this morning it had finished. I removed the anode rod from the water heater and let that drain and I locked the refrigerator doors slightly open. Then I unhitched the power, retracted the slides, lifted up the jacks, and left. My first stop was the Flying J to get $75.00 worth of diesel (giving me over 3/4 of a tank) and then I stopped at the truck wash and had the rig washed and waxed. I then proceeded to the storage lot. I positioned the rig such that all four sets of tires are off the ground and sitting on rubber floor mats, I put up the solar panels and closed the curtains, and I dug out the tire covers and covered all four sets of wheels. Although I suspect that I am not ready to consider the unit „put up‟ for the winter, I am at least in a position wherein I am not required to return to it to perform some unfinished „winterizing‟ task. Two objectives for tomorrow are to do the non- Sam‟s club grocery shopping (Albertson‟s) and to remove the boxes of „replaced‟ truck parts from my truck bed, lay them out on the carport, take pictures of them, and replace them in the boxes (I will need to print the pictures—here or at Walgreen‟s). Bright and early Monday, I want to take my envelope with all of the necessary information (i.e. invoice, credit card receipt, and pictures) to the post office and mail it to GEICO. Let‟s get that insurance claim processing. I also made an appointment at the vet‟s to get the dogs (and maybe the cats) their shots. I just need to figure out how I can transport all four animals at the same time. There have occurred two things that have me rethinking my budget. The first concerns camping fees. I originally budgeted $16 per night (365 nights a year) or $5,840 per year. This had no basis in experience but rather was arrived at by reviewing figures I gleaned from surfing the web or reading magazines and books. Now I have recently noted that the couple that put o ut the RV-Dreams website/daily logs are reporting an average nightly camping fee of $23 to $25 per night, $9000 per year (and, at least in this area, they appear to be very cost conscience). This will mean a yearly deficit of (-)$3,160 in my budget. Now add to this the fact that my first experience on the road roughly showed camping cost varying from $25 to $35 per night. I am aware that in all cases the figures listed ($16, $23, or what have you) represent a broad average, which includes all kinds of camping (i.e. staying at resort RV parks, at no frills parks, using discounts where possible, staying in state or federal parks, and even dry camping for free) whereas my experience involved a very „monochromatic‟ selection of camping facilities—not fancy but what I would call average. I did experience one night of „boondocking‟—the Saturday after the LOW conference ended—but although I survived it unscathed, I don‟t anticipate doing this type of camping as a rule (although I am no longer as reluctant to do so as I once was). I worry that my 97 original budget of $16 per night is only half the necessary funding. In considering this there are several factors that I need to keep in mind (some of which follow). 1. As implied above, I do not anticipate that my experience(s) in Rving to date will constitute the norm. For my first „trip‟ I had a definitive time frame (i.e. a place I had to be at a specific time and a limited amount of time to get there and back). As such I planned my trip like any past vacation—I determined the best route and then I chose nightly stops (i.e. campgrounds) based on what I could find that appeared to be along the route. I realize that this approach to trip planning, beyond necessity, is a conditioned response based on years of vacations that involve a limited time frame (i.e. the classic „two week‟ vacations). It may take a very real conscience effort to start with but, once I retire, I must „retrain‟ myself to get over this mindset! Future trips should involve picking a direction or final destination which I will aim to reach „at some time‟ in the future, routes will be plotted because of their scenic beauty and not because they are fastest or straightest, and campgrounds will be chosen based on beauty, amenities, and/or costs. Given what I learned from this experience, the one and only thing I would have changed is that I should have established one nonnegotiable rule—NO DAYS OF DRIVING OF GREATER DURATION THEN 300 MILES. 2. To date I have treated campgrounds as „over night‟ stops when, in reality, they are as much the „experience‟ of the trip as is the final destinations. From the beginning, I have envisioned the concept that I would target a region to „visit‟, set up a „base‟ there for my RV and then fan out in all directions with my toad to take in the sights. This could entail camping in one site for weeks. By selecting these facilities on criteria other then proximity to the freeway/route (i.e. facilities wanted/needed, natural attributes, or cost) and staying to enjoy them, I can save money two ways: a. First, by staying awhile, I can take advantage of reduced rates available if you reserve by the week (or month). b. Second, if I am staying in one place I am not consuming diesel to operate the coach. The savings in fuel cost will more then offset the cost of camping (i.e. a one night stay at a $30 a night camp ground equals one days‟ drive of 300 miles—10 gallons of diesel at $3.00 per gallon with a mileage average of 10 miles per gallon). 3. For those occasions when, due to circumstances, I am forced to make a „one night stand‟, I can select the cheaper, no-frills parks (or even dry camp occasionally). 4. So far I have only availed myself of the 10% discount for some campgrounds (i.e. KOA, Good Sam‟s, FMCA, and AAA). I need to start utilizing my memberships in half price clubs (i.e. Passport America, Happy Camper, Camping Club USA) and the „$8-$10-$12 hookup‟ organizations (i.e. Coast-to-Coast, RPI, AOR). I also have memberships in two campgrounds (one in Montana and one in Arizona) that entitle me to a couple of weeks of „free‟ camping each year. 5. Another thing that I have learned from the couple on RV-DREAMS is that 98 there are an amazing array of state camping facilities out there that are absolutely beautiful (and roomy), that even offer electric and water hook- ups and are very reasonably priced. To some degree this may also be true of federal facilities. These (plus county/city, if they exist) offer a whole new avenue of camping options to explore. In addition, the Escapee‟s club offers parks with very reasonable rates ($13 to $15 per night). The other facet of my budget that I feel I should reconsider is the philosophy behind both the emergency fund and day-to-day funding. After returning from the LOW conference, I find that I have accrued over $10,000 in credit card debt (not including the $5,000 plus charge for fixing the truck). Now several thousands of those dollars represent either pre-trip or one-time only expenses and I expect that my insurance company will reimburse me most of the cost for repairing the truck but that still leaves a lot of money that I had to „borrow‟ in order to make the trip. I hope that I have arranged to repay this (plus interest) completely in about five or six months—first by the addition of a $1,400 distribution from one of my annuities, which I had already started in July, and by a determination to curtail my spending and by economizing for the period of repayment, and with whatever help the $4,000 plus step salary increase we have received from the state/district will provide (as long as I continue to receive a salary). Now add to this debt the fact that there remains substantial „damage‟ that my rig underwent while on the road that still must be repaired. A close encounter with a pole while attempting to pull into a campsite at the Butte KOA has left me with both a severely damaged and minimally damaged basement door (2) (plus a nonfunctioning latch on the door to the shore power compartment) on the drivers‟ side of the coach and an equally brief encounter—occurring in a remarkably similar fashion—with a low- lying tree limb at the Jerome/Twin Falls KOA has resulted in some damage to the main awning cover on the passengers‟ side. I expect these to cost several thousand dollars to fix—WHEN I can afford to fix them. I do not like living „month-to-month‟, hoping that each month‟s income meets or exceeds that month‟s expenses and I hate being in debt and I really hate being in major debt. I have often given thought to what I should do with my income once the house and land is sold (approximately $120,000--fingers crossed). My current attitude is that I may choose to pay off whatever remains of the loan for the truck (this, in turn, will add about $500 per month--$6,000 per year--to my disposable income) and use the remainder (placed in an interest bearing account) as both a monthly „buffer‟ against expenses and as an „emergency‟ fund. This will only work if I faithfully „repay‟ the fund whenever I suffer a monthly „overrun‟ (short term) or a major „emergency‟ (long term). It will not work (for very long) if I just start spending more money or if I do not replenish it. The following advise on travel/campgrounds/etc. was provided by Howard of RV-DREAMS: 1. We hate making reservations because we kind of fly by the seat of our pants. But as soon as we know for sure where we are going, we will call and make a reservation - maybe a week or two in advance. These are our road rules: 1) Travel only Monday - Thursday, 2) Travel only between 10:00 am and 3:00 pm, 3) Travel no more than 200 miles, and 4) Stay 99 at least three days at each stop. Because of these rules, the state park campgrounds tend to have lots of space during the week and we have never been turned away. Almost all campgrounds hold a certain number of spots off the reservation list for walk-ins. 2) We understand that holiday weekends are going to be booked in advance, summer weekends are going to be more crowded with kids out of school, and campgrounds far south are going to be booked in the winter. The shoulder seasons are the best times to visit, but because most people that come to state park campgrounds work, they are not nearly as crowded during the week, even in peak season. The weekenders will tend to be a little loud sometimes, but that's no big deal to us. 3) Very often, state parks have very old campgrounds. Many were not built with big rigs in mind. But that's why we always call someone at the campground first. They will honestly tell us whether or not we can fit and what our likelihood of getting satellite might be. A couple of times, we have had to change directions because we could not fit in a state park - according to our phone call - but we have never just shown up and not found a space. Many of the park campgrounds only have 30 Amp electric, but that's not a problem at all. With our adapter, we can use 30 Amp hook-ups and run the air conditioner, tvs, and computers at the same time. We turn off the air to run the microwave, blow dryer, etc. But we get by just fine on 30 Amps. 4) Almost all of these parks have published a fourteen (14) days limit on stays. But that is more to give them the option of making bad campers leave. If they are not extremely busy, they will almost allow you to stay a little longer. 5) The further north you go, the more likely you are to find campgrounds that are not open year round. They don't like to deal with issues such as frozen pipes, so they just shut down for the winter. Some states have lower off-season rates and some have flat rates year round. We like those shoulder seasons between peak and off-season when things are less crowded and we might get a break on price. For us, we will not be hanging out in areas that are cold enough to shut down for the winter. :) 6) Every state had an official tourism website. We have links to all of them at http://www.rv-dreams.com/official-state-travel.html I think all of those websites have links to their state park websites. If not just Google "xxxxxx state parks" and you will find them easily. The federal public campgrounds are a little trickier to find. ReserveAmerica at http://ra1.reserveamerica.com/ manages the reservation systems for several federal campgrounds and also for many state park systems. We always do a "Browse Maps" on ReserveAmerica.com to see what is available in the area we are looking at. If we find nothing through ReserveAmerica.com or on the particular state park website, I'll do a Google search on "federal campgrounds" or "corps of engineers campgrounds" for the state we are visiting. Once we find a campground online that looks interesting, I'll call the campground 100 and talk to the staff about site size, road width in the campground and getting to the campground, satellite options, etc. They will usually give me suggestions on particular sites and how busy they are so I can determine whether or not I want to make reservations. I will also check out some of the guidebooks on the campground and I may even do an RV Forum search to get feedback on the campground. But usually we go with out gut feelings and we haven't been too disappointed yet. I went ahead and ordered a weather radio from Radio Shack and purchased a new Good Govner , a 15-20 Amp to 30 amp converter plug, and a 30 Amp to 50 Amp „dog bone‟ to replace those items taken at the Butte KOA (but I only replaced those I actually will use ). What are our top ten places we have visited? Stephen C. Foster State Park - Okefenokee Swamp, southeastern Georgia Myakka River State Park, south central Florida Bird Banding, Fort Morgan, southern Alabama Lovers Key State Park, southwestern Florida Cloudland Canyon State Park & Lula Falls Land Trust, northwestern Georgia Weeki Watchee River, west central Florida Natural Bridge State Resort Park & Red River Gorge (Daniel Boone National Forest), east central Kentucky Shark Valley, Everglades National Park, southern Florida Corinth Recreation Area, Bankhead National Forest, northwestern Alabama Cherokee National Forest, southeastern Tennessee 101 What are our top ten campgrounds? Looking at the campground and nothing else, here are our top ten for nature, beauty, spaciousness, and privacy. These are the places that had great sites and where we could just sit outside and enjoy without going anywhere else. Bankhead National Forest, Corinth Recreation Area Campground Isaac Creek Corps of Engineers Campground F.D. Roosevelt State Park Campground Foscue Creek Corps of Engineers Campground Cloudland Canyon State Park Campground Falling Waters State Park Campground Stephen C. Foster State Park Campground Taylorsville Lake State Park Campground Paintsville Lake State Park Campground Tellico Plains KOA What are our top five campgrounds for social atmosphere? Lake San Marino RV Resort Sumter Oaks RV Park (An Escapees Rainbow Park) 102 SKP Resort Kelly's RV Park Kathryn Abby Hanna Park Campground I have come to think of that gecko on the GEICO commercial is actually a lounge lizard—slick and untrustworthy. The saga continues. As you may remember from my earlier entry in this journal, I have been trying to recover some portion of the $5,133 cost to repair my truck by filing a claim with my insurance company. I filed said claim the very same day that the ‗event‘ occurred! As I also related, I had arguments with the claim agent as to whom (i.e. which insurance company—truck or RV) was responsible for the claim. By the end of my stay in Butte (by sticking to my guns and threatening to drop GEIKO as my carrier) the insurance rep (and his supervisor) agreed that GEICO would cover it—all I had to do was provide various pieces of evidence, which I did by priority mail, the first thing Monday morning after I returned home. I waited almost two weeks and, having not heard back from GEICO, I e-mailed them asking what the problem was. I swiftly received a phone call ‗apologizing‘ for the unfortunate fact that the claim had ‗fallen through the cracks‘ and promising immediate action. I waited another week and heard nothing so once again I e-mailed them. This time when they called back they wanted the name of my RV insurance company and my policy number—they had ‗changed their minds‘ and decided to revert to the origin concept that the damage to the truck should be covered by my RV insurance since it was being towed. I was, to say the least, upset—not just because of this about face but that they lacked the balls to call and tell me. I think this whole thing has been an attempt to avoid paying the claim—first by ignoring it and hoping that I will forget about it (or dragging their heels when I don‘t). Now, all along, everybod y I have spoken to at GEIKO has ‗claimed‘ that they, as ‗secondary‘ insurers, will cover the claim if the RV insurer doesn‘t. Well last Thursday GEICO contacted National Interstate Insurance (the company that covers my RV) and filed a claim for the truck. National contacted me and I gave them the details of what happened and what I found out probably caused it to the best of my understanding. I also explained that I maintain that the claim belonged at GEICO and was not theirs‘. Later that day, National called GEICO back and declined to ‗cover‘ the towed vehicle (i.e. my truck). On Friday, GEICO called me (and left a message) relating that National wasn‘t covering the ‗event‘ and that once they (GEICO) received an ‗official‘ letter from National stating this, they would have an adjustor review the material I sent and determine a ‗value‘ 103 to pay for the claim. Now this leaves me with several additional reasons to distrust GEICO. They have had this ‗material‘ for several weeks during which an adjustor was supposedly looking at it—but now it turns out no one did anything with it. And why do they have to wait for an ‗official‘ letter to determine the value of the claim—they can do that now but wait for the letter before paying the claim? This is just another GEICO stall tactic (what do you want to bet that I will end up having to contact them again after waiting to ‗hear‘ from them). I suspect that I will also see additional attempts on their part to avoid paying and would not be surprised if the final payment (if I ever see one) will be substantially less then what I laid out! The way I see it, each year that we pay an insurance premium, and don‘t file a claim, that ‗premium‘ is pure profit to the insurance company. So even if they paid out the entire sum of my claim (or at least $4,633 which is minus my $500 deductible) they would still have ‗profited‘ by more the $15,000 over the years that I have paid premiums. Additionally, I think of insurance somewhat like those ‗medical savings accounts‘—that is, some place where you bank money each year to cover those overwhelming expenses that sometimes suddenly arise. I also have ABSOLUTELY NO DOUBT that if I had been towing a travel trailer or fifth wheel with my truck and something had happened to the towed vehicle, GEICO would not hesitate in refusing to cover the trailer or fifth wheel. Isn‘t this why we buy separate insurance for both vehicles? So the ‗GEICO‘ saga continues (but I promise you a happy ending). Later the same day as I received the message from GEICO concerning my RV insurance, I received another voice message from them informing me that they (i.e. ‗the adjuster‘) had decided to ‗turn down‘ my claim because the damage was caused by a device (the brake pro) that hadn‘t been ‗approved‘ by GEICO. So much for the repeated assurances that ―as the secondary insurer, GEICO will cover the damages if the primary insurer (i.e. the RV insurer) won‘t‖ which turned out to be just so much more BS. The GEICO ‗rep‘ (a chap named Ryan) had no extensi on and left me with no way to contact him (apparently each time you call them you get a random draw of reps/agents—typically a new one each time—who claim to be capable of ‗helping‘ you—as long as you are willing to relate to them everything that had gone on to date). I kept being directed to the ‗adjuster‘ (and a couple of times--the wrong one), I even tried calling the claims supervisor who had previously been so apologetic about GEICO‘s delays— he was now definitely less ‗friendly‘ then before. I was fuming all weekend. I final gave in and, after ascertaining whose the actual adjuster was, called her (a young woman named Debra). She was the first person there that I felt was sincere in her concerns for my problem. After explaining what had actually occurred with the truck, Debra decided to reverse her original 104 decision and to recommend that my claim be paid. She and her supervisor would talk to the claims‘ supervisor, immediately. She suggested that I call him later if he didn‘t call me first. I decided to wait for the remainder of the day and if I did not hear from him, I would call him the next day. To make a long story short, I ended up calling Debra back on Wednesday (twice) and was told that a check would be cut for $4,633.33 and placed in the mail. This made me feel better but I didn‘t really totally ‗chill out‘ until I had the check in my hands (which didn‘t occur until the next Monday) and deposited in my bank (where I rushed it early Tuesday morning). Here is another subject that I haven‘t seen on the RV forums—insurance for ‗dual‘ vehicle arrangements. Do most RV owners utilize the same insurance/insurer for the RV and the tow/towed vehicle and is this decision peculiar to the type of RV (i.e. do most motor home owners utilize two different insurers—one for the motor home and another for the toad while most fifth wheelers/travel trailer folk insure both the tow vehicle and the rig as one unit) and do fifth wheeler‘s and trailerite‘s who owned the tow vehicle first even think about consolidating their insurance when they buy the trailer? You would assume that, since fifth wheels and travel trailers are by nature towed, their owners would not have to worry about coverage while towing the RV but what if some damage occurs to their truck while towing and it was due to the act of towing—would they suffer the same evasiveness of insurers? I once again find myself with mixed emotions. As the time until full retirement shortens, the call of the open road and the full time lifestyle beckons. The always upbeat daily journal entries from RV-Dreams don‘t help--nor does the impending ‗graduation‘ party in Quartzsite scheduled for late January or the need to schedule a factory ‗visit‘ to Travel Supreme! I also feel the pressure from Shay, with his mandated house and land appraisal (and his comments about slowing down and possible future income stream reductions), and Elena, with her constant inquiries about selling the house to her. In a way I feel that factors are almost conspiring to force my move to full timing. Once the appraisal is in, Elena will step up her push for the house (claiming that the appraisal is only ‗good‘ for ninety days). Once the house is sold, I will be forced to face the decision of what to do with mom and the cats and dogs and will have to decide whether to move into my rig full time or do something else with my own living arrangements! Most of these things seem beyond my control—and rushing towards a final conclusion at the end of this year! Another factor that is weighing heavily on my mind is finances. Even without the truck repair bill (which the insurance company covered all but $500 of), I racked up a sizable debt preparing for and executing this summer ‗trip‘. As I previously indicated, I had hoped that by frugal living I could pay off all three credit cards by the end of the year. Then along comes a leaking roof and a 105 replacement for the air conditioner and a complete yard job to remove the weeds that sprung up due to the horrendous rains (plus that I only had f ive months, August to December, instead of six, to pay things back) so it appears I will end the year (and start my retirement) with a debt. Of course, once I retire, my salary will drop and I will pick up the payment for my health insurance so I don‘t anticipate spare funds for debt relief. I can hope for a sizable tax refund but that won‘t be until April or May! In addition there are numerous pending expenses I must undertake before I can hit the road. I am looking at a multi-thousand dollar repair job to fix the basement doors that I damaged at the KOA in Butte. I also need to get the ice maker fixed and my ‗dual‘ satellite feed working and I want to replace the ‗Brake Pro‘ with this air powered job that will be easier to put on or take off and should avoid any repeat of what probably caused my brake problem in Montana. I need an outside ‗patio rug‘. I also want to install the engine compartment fire extinguisher and the tire monitoring system. Then there--as always-- remains a long list of ‗wish list‘ items: the side mounted collision avoidance system, a roof mounted satellite system that combines satellite TV and internet services, a TIVO/DVR setup, a cellular phone ‗booster‘, a collapsible boat, a sofa that actually folds out into a ‗real‘ bed, a ‗bra‘/cover for the front end of my coach, and a GPS/XM radio setup for my toad/truck. Now how this all figures into my pending retirement is twofold. On the negative side it tends to discourage my plans because I don‘t want to incur additional debt or postpone paying off my existing debt--so future expenses (see above) must be postponed and all things settled before I hit the road full time. On the positive side—and again this seems to add into all of those things that are spiraling towards forcing my final decision—if I sell the house/land, I would assume that the money for the house would be put aside to (along with her social security) defer mom‘s remaining living expenses, but due to my intervention a few years ago (to ‗buy back‘ the back four acres), the money for the land would be mine. Knock on wood but I anticipate about $90,000 (tax free). What my thinking would be here is this: 1) pay off all credit card debts--maybe about $7,000, 2) pay off remaining loan for truck (I really don‘t want to hassle with making monthly loan payments to the Teacher‘s Credit Union while I am on the road for the next four years, plus I could sure use that almost $500 a month money stream to cover ongoing expenses)—maybe about $15,000, and 3) get all necessary repairs done to the RV—maybe $10,000 (I think that the ice maker should be covered with that CVP insurance I have from Good Sam). For the remaining $57,000 or so, I am sure there will exist a whole lot of pressure to start hitting my ‗wish list‘, but all I know for sure is that I want to set up a ‗resource‘ account such that from now on my monthly expenses are covered from the ‗account‘ and my income will go to replenishing/repaying the ‗account‘—NO MORE DEBT 106 except to MYSELF! In addition to all ‗ongoing‘ expenses, I want to have emergency accounts for RV/vehicle repairs and one for the $3,000 ‗out-of- pocket‘ medical expenses that I would need to pay out before my insurance kicks in with 100% coverage (instead of 80%). Mixed into all of this, I must confess that I still have faint memories of the loneliness/depression I felt during my summer ‗trip‘. First this was due to the departure of Shayne at Clarkston and then by the ‗de-population‘ of the conference site after the L-O-W event ended! And I still have grave misgiving about leaving mom (see page 84 above). There is nothing that my physical presence adds to her well being nor do I feel she is even cognizant of my presence (or, at least, my identity) most of the time. And yet, I know that when the time comes for her to pass on—I would never forgive myself were I not at her side! Friday (September 15t h ) brought a few pleasant surprises. First the long missing appraiser called. Shay and Elena have both been bugging me for quite a while about the appraisal and even I was beginning to wonder, and worry, about it. Anyway he called to inquire as to rather to prepare one appraisal for everything or two—one for the house, and the acre of land it sits on, and a separate one for the back four acres. If he does the latter I would have a ready guide as to how much of the sales income should be used to repay me. Then our first paycheck under the new school year contract came and it was over four hundred dollars more then last year (and you should remember that this is for half a month only). I was hoping for a good size increase due to salary hikes from both the state and the district but I never expected this much. From the enclosed paperwork it is apparent that payroll calculated my pay on an eight -month contract instead of the normal twelve months. Another bit of good news—the last pay check will be January 31st instead of December 31st —which, since I hear that I won‘t be getting my first retirement check until early February, means I won‘t have to go through the month of January without income as I feared I would. Add to this the hope that this will make it possible to stick to my $2,000 credit card debt repayment schedule (and if I can continue through January that would mean $12,000 repaid). Saturday, after grocery shopping, I managed to force myself to visit my RV. Among other things I checked the water in the batteries—they were surprisingly low and I had to use all of the distilled water I had taken with me to fill them. Also unusual—the steps deployed when I opened the door (usually there isn‘t enough power) and I was able to start the generator without starting the engine (I depressed the battery boast button). While running the generator (and air conditioners) for an hour, I checked the interior, returned some linen I had washed, and plugged in a solar panel to charge the engine battery. Everything seems to be going fine and I even got the chance to watch about an hour of ―Date Movie‖. 107 The next Saturday I returned briefly to the rig. I checked the batteries again but they were all full. I checked the basement bins (on the passenger side) and found a couple of DVD‘s and VHS tapes that I wasn‘t sure I hadn‘t misplaced. I did not venture inside the unit. I have now made two payments (August and September) of $2,000 each ($4,000 total) on my credit card debts. I may be imagining things but it doesn‘t seem to be making much of a dent on the debts! I think that I have finally succeeded in changing over all of my auto-pay billings (Dish network, Verizon phone, Humana, etc.) to my Merrill Lynch card. I will still need to do something about my truck loan payments as I was unsuccessful at switching that over from my credit union checking account and come January I want to close that account. I have made several lists of what I want worked on in the RV before hitting the road again—none too serious although I suspect that the ice maker problem will necessitate ordering a replacement unit and then coming back to have it installed once it arrives. I still dread the cost of getting the body work done on the driver‘s side basement doors. I have been pleasantly surprised at the operation of my Merrill Lynch Beyond Banking account. After all of the auto-pays and the credit card purchased I ended August with over $200 in the account and September with another $400 (over $600 so far). I had been concerned that all of the ‗unsupervised‘ activity on the account would result in being overdrawn. So it is possible that once I start direct deposits of my retirement checks, the account will be capable of handling my Discover card too. I still look forward to an infusion of cash (land/house sale) which will allow me to pay off my debts, pay off the loan on the truck, do the needed body work on the rig, and still have a considerable buffer to place in the account. Meanwhile, last Sunday, October 1st , I emailed 49 of the fifty state tourism offices (I saw no point in including Hawaii) and requested campground guides –with particular emphasis on state/municipal parks with RV camping facilities. I figure this may be the only way that I can get a definitive listing of state parks to camp in since most commercial directories do not list them and the books I have found that specifically address these facilities seem to only cover a couple in each state. As of today (October 3r d ) I still await the property appraisals that Shay paid for. I realize that I may, at times, be a little over critical but this appraisal outfit is really the pits. They have bungled everything from day one, taken way too long, and seem to be fiscally irresponsible. I keep getting calls from them and it always seems to reveal how ‗unprofessional‘ and inept they are. I will be glad when (if?) it is over and I don‘t have to deal with them any more! It is now Sunday, October 22, and this entry is more philosophical than practical in nature. First there is an update on the appraisal. Sometime 108 earlier in the week, Shay finally received the e-mail, which contained the house appraisal in .pdf form, and he sent a copy on to me. The document is extremely difficult to read--but to the best of my understanding the comparable market value of the house is $228,000 but then there is a list of required repairs which totals about $17,000. So the value of the house would presumably be about $211,000. I don‘t know if or when we will ever receive the appraisal on the land (I have my doubts that we ever will) but I have no reason to believe that it would vary much from the central appraisal district‘s value (i.e. $91,520). So this would make the total value about $302,000. I passed all of this along to Elena, who has long been pressing me about buying the property. I don‘t know for sure but I thought I sensed a sudden reluctance on her part once the appraisal was in her hands. Once again I feel pulled in two directions—one part of me wants to rid myself of all of this as soon as possible (in relation to my retirement) but the practical side of me really wants to avoid even thinking about what I will have to do to provide for the care of mom and the dogs and cats! Another factor weighing in is Shay‘s contribution to mom‘s care. He wrote a sizable check in the summer, which should last until early next year, but he is becoming increasingly concerned/hesitant about the cost (and this next check would be on top of the $4,000 property tax bill). I am fairly confident that I can arrange for Armida to keep and care for mom (full time). She would receive individual attention and I truly believe that Armida and her family genuinely care for her! I also think that the cost would be comparable to what we now pay Armida to keep house—so Mom‘s social security would about cover it—but of course we would have over $200,000 from the ‗sale‘ of the house to buffer that cost (plus to cover her medical insurance). But what about the animals—even if I can provide for them I ‗m not sure that I could ever get Junior and Cotton out of the house and then there‘s the cat out on the patio! So here we are eight (school) weeks from the end—nine calendar weeks! These are evenly divided—four weeks until Thanksgiving holiday week, then four weeks after that until Christmas break (and retirement). That Friday, the teacher‘s workday before Christmas break, will constitute my last day of work. I find myself increasingly thinking in more detail about ‗what comes afterwards‘. Because the period immediately following my retirement is a long established holiday from work anyway (two weeks for Christmas break), I will probably not really ‗experience‘ (maybe the proper term is ‗internalize‘) my new status until after New Years when everybody else returns to work. I know me—my biggest temptation will be to try to do everything as soon as possible—so my biggest challenge will be to force myself to pace my activities because I will no longer have a limited time frame in which to do them. Having said that, I do have some constraints— primarily that ‗graduation‘ party at Quartzsite in late January. I have 109 already scheduled the installation of the BrakeMaster in the truck for the Monday of Thanksgiving week. Said installation also involves some modification to the coach--but that can wait until after Christmas, when I plan to bring the rig in for all of those ‗minor‘ repairs and installations. The bodywork will just have to wait until I have (1) the money and (2) the time. Sometime during this period (Thanksgiving?, Christmas?, ?) I will need to get to Livingston to see about the Escapee Mail service and a change of address. Other then this, my only certain destination (someday) is the Travel Supreme factory. My current thinking is that for the remainder of the winter (and early spring) I will travel easterly --roughly the mason-dixon line—sort of the northern-South. Then (late spring/summer/early fall) northerly along the east coast to upstate New York, Maine, and eastern Canada and westerly passing back and forth between southern Canada and the (extremely) northern United States. Another week has passed (7 weeks, 35 days, of school remaining). During the week the administration announced the inclusion of several here-to-fore unscheduled inservice days in our school calendar. One is in early November (I believe the 6 th ) and another is in early December (the 4th ) while the others are in the spring (in January and May, I think), which will be of no concern to me as I will no longer be there. In any case, this means two fewer classroom days for me (i.e. instead of 34 teaching days there will be only 32). I am sure these are HSTW (High Schools That Work) related. Apparently, in order to continue to be eligible for the sizable grant that the district finagled under HSTW, our fearless leaders have to commit to several inservices a year wherein HSTW ‗experts‘ come in and bore the teaching staff for a day. Of course the extra work/effort this places on the staff and the loss of school days for the students never seems to bother the administration. Being as how I am a ‗short timer‘, I really don‘t pay much attention to the ‗crap‘ these so called experts push and experience increasingly less tolerance for being forced to waste time being ‗enlightened‘ by them. In one sense you are hard pressed to criticize attempts to ‗improve‘ what is obviously a deeply flawed educational system. But over 95% of these ‗improvements‘ are superficial fluff and although the remaining 5% (which usually involves forcing students to exercise/expand reading and writing skills in the classroom) could actually result in learning improvements, they lack a realistic view of student behavior! How do you get a bunch of students who won‘t answer essay questions requiring two complete sentences on a test in order to pass the course to write full page compositions ‗for fun‘. The implied (and sometimes stated) answer is to give grades (and, as follows, zeros if it is not done). What everyone pretends to ignore are those dressing down sessions where staff is criticized for high failure rates. I have learned to dismiss any and all educational reforms that do not recognize the somewhat painfully obvious need to 110 modify student behavior instead of catering to it. Although the teacher and the parent have some role/responsibility in whether a student learns/succeeds/passes, any attempt to reverse the decline in education that modern society faces must place primary responsibility where it belongs—with the student! I have never witnessed any ‗reform‘ that recognizes this! Well enough about my thoughts on the decline of today‘s youth. Late in the week I ordered a digital tire gage and a patio rug from Camping World for the RV. I must confess that I am getting antsy about getting this ‗work‘ thing over and done with. I have started to give serious thought to my pending trips to Quartzsite and Livingston even to the point of thinking about stops/campgrounds. I even went online to that trip planner I subscribed to and requested itineraries for both trips. I devour my daily RV-dreams journal updates and ache to find others that I can ‗get into‘. Meanwhile, Elena has indicated that she still intends to buy the house and land but plans on waiting until December--which is just as well as any earlier might entail a need to handle everything before I retire. Today is Friday, November 10t h --five actual weeks of school left (six calendar weeks). Much has transpired since my last entry. I ordered (and received) a ‗super-bag‘ sleeping bag for my RV bed as I also ordered books on Corp of Engineering and National Park campgrounds (and, from the same source—but not yet delivered—a book on ‗America‘s Hidden Treasures‘—little known places worth visiting). I registered a domain name for my future internet website—www.serenityadventure.com—and ordered a web building program (iweb) for my Mac. Once I have received the software and ‗played around‘ with it, I‘ll contact godaddy about arrangements for them to be my host server. I think that I will start up the web page before retirement—probably by Thanksgiving! Shay has returned from his vacation. He is aware of the property tax bill I sent and knows the status of mom‘s finances (about eleven weeks worth of salaries remain). He also checked to be sure that the appraisal check had never been cashed. Once he returns home from California, he intends to write a new check and send it to me. He agrees with me—once I receive the check I shall call the appraisers and inform them that they can pick it up once they have completed the appraisal (i.e. provide the land portion of the appraisal) and I think that this time I will also require a signed receipt. An odd thing happened on Tuesday, November 7 t h . A person from central office (Human Resources—a fancy name for ‗personnel‘) called and informed me that my teaching certification had been expired since the end of September. Now I have been teaching for many years and most of my certificates are ‗for life‘ but several years ago I was required to get an additional certification to teach chemistry. This was totally ‗after-the-fact‘, a requirement since I had utilized an emergency certification to teach a 111 one-time only chemistry class during the 2000-2001 school year. So I took the Ex-Cet exam in the summer of 2001 and received this additional certification. Well every since the year 2000 the state has eliminated ‗lif e time‘ certifications and instigated ‗five year‘ certificates—so I ended up with one of those! The state now requires that, every five years, those teachers holding ‗term‘ certificates must complete an ungodly amount of ‗continuing education‘ hours—at their own expense and on their own time—and submit $20.00 to the state to ‗reapply‘ for their certificates. Well, out of a combination of poor memory and anticipation of pending retirement I did not submit a reapplication (and twenty bucks) by my birth date (September 27 th ) and my chemistry certification expired at the end of that month—but, apparently news of this fact didn‘t catch up with personnel until now! So I was informed that I needed to renew it by Friday. I briefly played with the idea of not doi ng anything (after all, in a few weeks I‘m out of here) but half way into the first six weeks I was straddled with a chemistry class to teach and I guess there could be some ramifications if the class was ‗technically‘ taught by an ‗uncertified‘ teacher—even though there is a good chance (since it is common practice) that once I leave—mid-term--the class will be taken over by a long term substitute. So just to keep my current status legit, I immediately logged on to the SBEC website and reapplied (and paid $30 because there was a ten dollar late fee—but the state accepts credit cards). They do not require submission of proof of the ‗continuing education‘ hours but advise that you keep said proof in your own personal files in case of an audit—frankly, come December 22 n d , I intend to purge all ‗teacher‘ related stuff from my life, period! By Saturday morning, I had received a confirmation of my certification renewal, which I will forward to personnel when I return to work Monday. Isn‘t it always something? I also received an e-mail from Shay forwarding an e-mail from Jim Tolbert, a buddy who was one year behind me at Austin High School. We hooked up again at Texas Tech and had some good times while there. He had recently returned to El Paso and was trying to contact me. He e- mailed Shay because he saw his name on a school alumni page. Since Shay also provided Tolbert with my e-mail address, I soon received a short communique from Jim himself. After some reflection, I replied in typical longwinded fashion—filling Jim in on all that had transpired since our college days. A couple of days ago I received a reply wherein he filled me in on his life since college. He wants to meet for lunch or dinner sometime/someplace. I have yet to reply, but am thinking that I might suggest Capetto‘s in five points sometime during the Thanksgiving-break.