Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Family Road Trip!

For the past 9 years, my stepsister Carol has worked many long nights and weekends, invested a substantial amount of income from her full-time day job, and used all of her vacation days to travel to Lexington, Kentucky a few times a year to slowly and steadily complete her Seminary studies at Asbury Theological Seminary.  This past weekend she finally reached the finish (starting?) line to earn her M.Div. degree!  There was no way we in the family were going to let this occasion go unrecognized…so we decided to take a family road trip to accompany Carol down to Kentucky for the graduation ceremonies!

As it was Memorial Day weekend, Millie’s favorite kennel was sold-out, so she would have to come with us too.  So, Carol, Millie and I drove down in the View, while my other stepsister Holley, her husband, and mother drove ahead of us in their car.

It had been awhile since I’d driven the View without a tow car and what a difference in how “peppy” the View performed!  It also clocked in much better gas mileage than I had thought--- a respectable 16 mpg fully-loaded driving at 65 mph!  But I did have one unfortunate mishap….

As I was leaving a BP gas station after filling up (and successfully remembering to NOT use their green handled pumps for diesel!), I was not paying as close attention to my turns as I normal do when towing the Tracker, and I managed to scrape and dent some of my lower panels on the View.  Fortunately, the panels stayed attached and didn’t crack, but one of the metal support brackets is now totally mangled, so it looks like BP’s curse on unsuspecting View/Navions is still going strong!

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We stayed at a hotel in Lexington about 10 miles from campus.  Since the hotel did not allow dogs, I decided to sleep out in the parking lot with Millie in the View (the weather was absolutely perfect all weekend, so no need for A/C or heat).  It was nice to still enjoy the hotel’s free Wi-Fi and breakfasts, but still have all the comforts of our little rolling home!

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Saturday was Carol’s big day and filled with graduation events all day long.  There was first a chapel service for the graduates and their families..

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followed by a wonderful picnic lunch out on the quadrangle provided by the college.  We found a nice shady spot, and brought camp chairs and a patio mat from the Winnie to enjoy our feast.  Even Millie got to join us!

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After lunch, the graduates started putting on their robes for picture-taking around the beautiful campus.  An especially popular spot was at the “life-sized” statue of theologian John Wesley.  The young seminarians loved hamming it up next to poor little John!

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But there were plenty of traditional graduation portraits too—our newest family minister!

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Carol with her mom and sister--

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and poses with me, and her mom’s friend Barb who lives in Lexington (and housed Carol during many of her trips down to campus).

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By mid-afternoon, it was time to make our way over to the gymnasium for the formal graduation ceremony.  The skies were quite “heavenly” for this event!

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The day ended with Carol’s friend from Indonesia, Dame, taking us all out for a celebratory dinner.  Dame is finishing up work on her PhD at Asbury, so looks like her graduation will be next!

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On Sunday, Holley’s husband begged for a “man day” to watch the Indy 500 at the hotel, so we girls headed off to tour Shaker Village south of Lexington.  It was a beautiful day for a drive along the twisty roads across the Kentucky river.

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The Shaker Village grounds were peaceful to walk around.  Most of the buildings date from the early 1800’s.

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The inside of the building now used for the hotel and restaurant was particularly impressive with it’s dual spiral wooden staircases and oval skylight.  Just spectacular!

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After posing for a few more portraits, it was time to leave Shaker Village and conclude our weekend festivities.

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The horse farms surrounding Lexington were brilliantly green at this time of year.  We really hated to leave on Monday to drive back to Chicago, but hopefully we’ll all be back someday to soak up more of Kentucky’s special charm and beauty!

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Monday, May 19, 2014

What I Like About My New View

As long-time readers know, a couple of years ago I started a very popular series of posts called “A Girl’s Guide to RVing”.  Many of those posts have continued to be the most-visited posts on this blog, (such as the How To Dump Your Tanks, and How To Hitch Up Your Toad).  But surprisingly, the most popular post (with almost twice as many hits as the rest) is the one I did on my thought-process of selecting a motorhome called:  What I Like About My View (and What I Wish I Had) 

Now that I’ve had my 2007 J-model View for 8 months, have spent a Winter snowbird season in it, and am now preparing to go full-time RVing in it, I thought it’d be a good time to update my most-popular post with my thoughts on this current model View.

Lots of folks are out buying or trading RVs this time of year, so I hope my detailed comparisons might provide some food for thought on the myriad of little things to consider when selecting an RV.  Like I said in my original post, the common refrain is still quite true—there is no perfect RV!  There will always be compromises to consider!

Overall Size:

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I will be starting to full-time RV later this summer, and for the longest time I assumed I would move up to a larger RV when I did that.  But I just can’t seem to pry myself loose from these short Sprinter-based RVs!  I love driving them, love the way they can go just about anywhere, and I feel most “at home” and cozy when I’m living in one.  

But that said, if I were traveling as a couple rather than solo, I’d be looking at bigger Class A’s or Fifth-Wheels pronto (two people have more stuff and really often do need more space)!  One of these bigger rigs still might be in my future someday too when I slow down travels and wish to stay “parked” for longer time periods.  For now though (with plans to visit the far corners of the Americas in my first few years of full-timing), nothing beats the fuel economy-to-comfort-ratio of the View!  The narrow width, and short wheelbase will be perfect for navigating mountain curves and ferry rides to Alaska, Newfoundland, Baja, and beyond!

Engine/Chassis:

When I bought my 2005 Sprinter Cargo Van last year, I was immediately impressed by the first generation Sprinter T1N chassis compared to my 2008 View’s 2nd generation NCV3 chassis.  Yes, the older T1N is an odd 5-cylinder rather than a V6, and has less overall cargo capacity, but it’s still a winner for my needs:

  • The 5 cyl gets slightly better fuel efficiency (1 to 3 MPG), whereas the newer Sprinters have more HP and torque.  When I drive the RV, I’m in no hurry, so I’m fine trading the extra HP for more MPGs!
  • The T1N has no ULSD requirement and fewer emissions sensors, filters, and parts to worry about.  While there’s still some debate as to whether the newer US Sprinters (or any newer US diesel vehicle) is o.k. using the non-ultra low sulfur diesel in Mexico, it’s a moot point with the T1N.
  • While I miss the extra storage cubbies around the dash and visors and extra cupholders of the newer Views, I love the older version’s bigger analog gauges on the dash (including a nice big water temperature gauge—so critical when towing a toad up mountain passes!). 
  • The T1N has a fixed, non-tilt steering wheel and very Euro (non-intuitive at first) seat adjustments.  I always thought these would be big negatives until I actually began driving one.  For my 5’7” body, this combo fits me better and is more comfortable for long-distance driving.
  • I love the protruding carpeted floor box on the Winnebago T1N.  It’s a perfect place to hide small valuables and travel documents when traveling in Mexico, and the electrical compartment (containing the solenoid and wiring to connect the RV house to the cab chassis) is much easier to access (in newer Views, the passenger seat and swivel must be removed to get to this).
  • Speaking of seats—the deluxe soft leatherette seats in this J are much more comfortable than my previous H, and the swivels are much more robust as well.  When combined with my super-duper folding ottoman, I’m more comfortable than with a living room recliner at home!
  • All these benefits do come with a couple of big negatives though—the T1N chassis has about 500 lbs less gross weight rating than the newer Sprinters.  With variations in RV options, the real weight difference for my ‘07 vs ‘08 View is only about 200-300 pounds, but that’s still a considerable 25% loss of capacity (especially critical for full-timing).  My rig has some suspension upgrades and new Michelin tires, so that will help being overloaded a bit, but limited cargo capacity will likely be the biggest reason for trading this RV in the future.
  • The newer Sprinters have a 5,000 lb towing capacity whereas this one is  just 3,500.  This too may be a reason I’ll need trade this RV someday, as there are currently no lightweight 4WD vehicles (like my Chevy Tracker) being sold in the US that are flat-towable.

Exterior:

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I’m loving the much larger external cargo bay of the J model!  This winter, I carried my (3) 60-watt solar panels, a few bag chairs, an awning mat, patio lights, LP grill, and a few plastic tubs of miscellaneous gear in this space.

While this model featured a split mattress where the outer half could be slid on top of the inner half to accommodate taller items in the bay (such as a bike or golf clubs),  the reality is that those bigger, heavier items are more wisely carried in the toad to conserve the View’s precious cargo capacity for more living essentials. 

Living Area:

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I love still having a skylight in this View.  That was one of my most-favorite features of the last one!  It’s great on a colder day to let the sunshine warm up the rig.

I’m also loving the front cabinets (rather than an overhead bed).  I’m able to stow large plastic tubs to keep all kinds of miscellaneous gear well-organized and easily accessible.  While I could have still done this with a bed, it just seems a bit more secure (and visually pleasing) to have these things behind solid wood doors.

I thought I would dearly miss the H-model’s sofa (where I now have a dinette), but it was so uncomfortable to sit or lay on, that I’ve really not missed that sofa at all!  When I want to sit, the 2 swivel reclining cab seats are more comfortable.  If I want to stretch out and read, either propping up in the rear bed, or sitting width-wise on one of the dinette benches works just great.

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Now that I’ve decided to use an arm-mounted monitor for TV watching (rather than the J’s TV over the door), the J will be just as comfortable as the H in that regard.

Kitchen:

For a long time, I praised the virtues of having an RV pantry and swore I’d never buy an RV without one…that was, until I bought this RV without one!  But, I’ve discovered that the J’s dinette storage has proven to be bigger and more usable than the H’s tall/narrow/deep pantry. 

Beneath each dinette bench are doors that flip down.  The dinette storage bays are carpeted, so I keep a plastic “under the bed” storage tub in each bin.  These easily slide in and out, and are great for storing larger items (like Millie’s dog food, or bulk foods).

In the overhead dinette cabinets, I store everyday cooking items—spices, grains, cans and bags of prepared foods, etc.

While the J’s kitchen cabinets are a bit smaller than the H’s, I’ve found that most of my kitchen stuff continues to fit into it just fine.

Bath:

I do miss having the nice rear window of the H’s bath and also really miss the “disappearing” pocket door (the J’s curved door can get in the way at times), but otherwise, the slightly smaller shower of the J has worked out just fine and I like the soap tray and shampoo bottle trays being together and above the faucet (rather than on opposite ends of the H’s shower).  I also love, love, LOVE my Oxygenics showerhead with it’s separate on/off switch (mounted right below the faucet knobs).

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I never really liked the clothes closet of the H being in the bathroom (and half of it being difficult to access in a corner space).  The J’s closet is taller and very accessible across from the fridge. 

Some folks might initially think to use the J’s closet as a pantry and store their hanging clothes on the removable pole in the shower.  But I would caution this approach!  My used J came with a sizeable U-shaped crack in the shower wall around one of the pole holders (it’s currently caulked, but it’s a very visual reminder that the shower pole is not meant to be as “load-bearing” as the closet pole!).   I currently have a lightweight hanging organizer on my shower pole that carries only my super-lightweight stuff (like spare rolls of TP and paper towels, extra bath towels, etc).

Bed:

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Perhaps my biggest complaint about my H-model View was the lack of a permanent bed (that didn’t require climbing a ladder to get to!).   So it’s little wonder that the bed is my favorite feature of my new J-model View!

I always used to think that a permanent bed was such a space-waster in an RV.  You only use it at night, so why have it taking up so much space during the day?  Well, now that I have one—it gets used day and night!

On one long driving day this past winter, it was cold, sunny, and extremely windy.  By mid-afternoon, I was getting tired of wrestling the steering wheel and squinting into the sun ahead of me on the road.  When I stopped at a little rest area, I noticed the sun was now bathing the rear bed with comforting warmth, so what the heck, I just jumped up there and took a lovely little nap for 20 minutes!   No bed-making, or slide-outs to fool with—everything was just ready and instantly waiting for me!  Millie takes full advantage of this feature too and is never without a nice place to rest her lazy bones as we drive.

Another benefit of this bed is the very large hidden internal storage (beneath a flip-up top hatch at the front curve portion of the bed).  I stored a Winter’s worth of Millie’s dog food in here, as well as other big bulky stuff for our Mexico travels.  The RV was inspected 4 times by Customs agents and not once did any of them check (or know of) this space!   In the US, I can use it to hide camera and computer gear if parking somewhere where the potential for theft might be an issue (i.e. at a popular tourist attraction).

Other Comforts of Home:

In my original post, besides the bed, I had wished for an onboard washer/dryer.  That problem is now solved with my handy-dandy portable system

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I also wished for more comfortable dinette seats.  That’s not totally solved, but it’s been improved greatly with the J’s wider seats, and also my cool little Backjoy if I’m needing to sit at the dinette and work on the computer for a while.

I still don’t have an internal fireplace in this new J, nor do I have a piano.  So I guess those are a few things to still wish for.  But those are rather minor in the whole scheme of thing.

Now that I’m preparing to full-time in the J, I really do wish that my clothes closet were bigger than a postage stamp, and that I had some giant big basement storage areas on this rig (rather than having to carry so many of the big items in the toad such as kayak and bike).  But for now, I’m happy to make those sacrifices in order to get the improved mobility and fuel economy for my long-distance travels.

Will I ever yearn again for real furniture, a real bathtub, and a living space larger than 200 square feet?  I’m sure I will at some point.  But for now, I’m extremely happy with my little J home and am looking forward to the next few years of travel and adventure!

 

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Friday, May 16, 2014

Cold, Cloudy & GREEN!

It’s been unseasonably cold here in Chicago this week.  So cold that a few big, fat snowflakes got mixed in with the rain today!  But, fear not.  Spring has sprung, and the April showers continuing into May have delivered some exceptional green all around. 

There’s no better way to capture vibrant Spring greens than on cloudy, wet days, so I’ve been making the most of them!

Yesterday, I attended an all-day seminar at the Morton Arboretum (part of my Master Naturalist continuing education), and took a few, quick “drive-by” photos around the park before heading to class. 

The redbuds were in full bloom, and I even found a few Virginia bluebells too!

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Feeling inspired, today I decided to head out to my favorite nearby nature oasis today, Bluff Spring Fen, to see how Spring was progressing.  As I expected, the cold and rain kept other visitors away and I had the whole Fen to myself!

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The plants are most definitely a few weeks behind schedule this year, but overall the Fen is greening up nicely.  The Mayapples are lush and growing…

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The Lilies of the Valley were abundant beneath the giant Bur Oak trees.

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The Fen is also starting to show a few wildflowers.  Love these shooting stars!

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and these marsh marigolds..

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Thankfully, the rain paused just long enough to keep my camera dry while snapping these photos! 

I don’t know how this little bitty 95-acre Fen manages to do it, but every time I visit this place I leave feeling rejuvenated and energized. 

I didn’t realize how much I had been missing my nature walks these past six weeks until today.  So, I vow to make time at least once or twice a week for a hike-- no matter what the weather is like (or how many house tasks I still have left to do!).

Have you been out for a hike lately?  Where to?

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Saturday, May 10, 2014

What a surprise in my mailbox today!

A little over a month ago, as I was going through all of my Big Bend National Park photos, I happened to get a promo email from RVParking.com to enter their Favorite Places contest.  All you had to do was submit a campground review and attach a few photos to it, and boom, you were entered!

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I enjoyed and used RVParking.com a few years ago when the site first launched, but admittedly, I had gotten rather lazy about continuing to post campground reviews there (or even on their competitor’s site, the old-school, mobile app-less RVParkReviews.com).

But I was immediately impressed when I logged back in to RVParking.com.  They’ve made a number of website and iOS mobile app improvements lately, and the site is much more engaging and fun to use.  Best of all, it allows users to add photos to their reviews, and provides this outstanding user profile view to easily see all of a reviewer’s past photos and reviews on a neat map view.  Cool!

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So, I uploaded a few of my photos from my visit to Big Bend’s Rio Grande Village campground, and didn’t give it a further thought.

To my complete amazement, two weeks ago,  I got an email from RVParking.com saying that one of my photos had been chosen as the Runner Up winner to their Favorite Places contest!  Wow, I never win anything!!!  There had not been any prizes announced for the runners up (that I was aware of), but they mentioned an America The Beautiful one-year National Parks Pass, and that sounded like an absolutely fabulous gift for this photo-bug RVer!

Today, I received my prize package, and was delightfully surprised at the extra goodies they included-- besides the Parks pass, they also included a $50 Shell gift card and a “Top Reviewer” magnetic bumper sticker!   I was also really touched and impressed by the care and personalized way in which it was presented.  Thanks Beth, and thanks RVParking.com!

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Browsing reviews on the RVParking.com site is available to anyone, and they also have free mobile iPhone and iPad apps for iOS that you can download from the Apple AppStore as well.

But joining the site (it’s free) allows you to go one step further and create your own profile to publish reviews and photos. Beth mentioned that they’ll be running periodic contests like this in the future, so I encourage you all to sign up and start adding your reviews and photos!  

What a fun way for us all to share useful campground information and inspirational photos with each other!

 

 

 

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