It has been 5 months since we started our hiatus so I figure it is time to share a few funny stories and answer some questions we are commonly asked. The last post was pretty serious so hopefully this post will lighten things up a bit. First, I will address the first two questions I asked myself starting out. My questions might not be what you think.
“What sort of idiot quits his job, spends ‘that kind’ of money on a ‘camper’, and plans to subsist for a whole year in it, but has never done this kind of camping ever before?”
Followed by, “What the hell do I do now?”
Not the questions you expected? It was precisely what I was thinking.
We originally bought our sprinter van in late October and immediately had it winterized by an expert and put into storage. Our plan was to start our travels on April 15th, but we didn’t even retrieve the van until the end of the 1st week of April. We were leaving for a whole year and hadn’t even figured out the basic workings of our vehicle. Vickie worked until 5:30 pm on April 15th and I picked her up at work in the sprinter.
Nice planning. We just left.
I said to Vickie, “We’ll just figure it out as we go. How hard can it be?”
I have never really RV camped in my life. Now, I am not completely ignorant, or so I like to think. I have accumulated months of nights camping in a nylon tent on various canoeing, hiking, hunting or fishing trips over my lifetime. Nylon tent camping is what I consider ‘basic’ camping. This brand of camping is straightforward and common sense prevails.
The main questions for consideration to basic camp, are ‘What am I doing? And, ‘Am I willing to the haul the weight of these items around with me for the whole trip?’ If I plan to fish, I need to remember the fishing pole, reel, lures, and a license. If plan to hunt, I need a gun, shells and license. Canoeing? I need a life jacket, paddle, and canoe. You get the picture. It is reasonably simple. Because I will be hauling these items around for up to a week, I don’t take any unnecessary, heavy, or potentially complicated items. The most complicated item I ever needed to master was my tent.
RV camping is much more complicated. ‘What will be doing for over the next year?’ and, ‘How the hell do I fit it all into this tiny space?’ The agenda is the Lifelist, but there is no real itinerary, and no specific timeline. All the modern conveniences of home appear in complicated miniature version in the camper. There are ovens, microwaves, stoves, refrigerators, sinks, showers, hoses and plumbing. They are powered by generators, or propane, or batteries, or AC or DC or any or possibly all of the above. I have hook ups, water, cable, electrical (30 amp?, 50 amp? 110 volt?)
When we got to our 1st real RV site in Destin Florida I didn’t even know which way I should pull into the RV site, forwards or backwards. I figured I had a 50/50 chance of getting it right and I am a glass full kind of guy so I was destined to guess correctly, right? Wrong. Okay, one lesson learned.
Once parked, I decided to start by hooking up the electrical. All I needed to do was find the correct outlet to plug my cord into. The 30 amp plug in had only one way to attach. I couldn’t screw that up. Good, a success.
Next task, hook up the water. Seems easy enough it’s just a garden hose that runs from a spigot to the fresh water inlet on the van. I connected it and turned on the water. Almost immediately water came cascading out of the side of the van about 3 feet off the ground.
What the hell is going on here?
I cranked the spigot shut and pulled the cover panel off the side of the van to take a look. Everything inside the panel is wet and I can’t determine why. So, I just turned the water on again to identify the source of problem. Yep, I see approximately where the flow is coming from, now the question is why?
I decided to pull out the reference manual, a 7 lb. 4 oz pouch filled with instructions, specifications, warnings and troubleshooting advice. After some studious reading, and a little head scratching, I surmised the leak was coming from the missing drain plug of the hot water tank. The ‘expert’ had removed it in the winterization process and I had no idea where it was put. It was time to make a trip to Camper World.
At first it seemed easy and convenient to have a toilet readily available in the camper In case I am overwhelmed by a sudden compulsion to defecate. This sentiment was before I tried to use it for the 1st time. When I pulled the door shut behind me and tried to sit down is when I realized how tiny the space is. My shoulders touch the wall and the door at the same time even though I am hunching forward. I unbuckle my belt, unbutton my loose-fit 505’s and shake myself until the jeans fall to the floor. I can’t even turn to sight in the seat before I drop. I just have to go for it. I begin the squat and continue on my descent a good deal lower that I think should be necessary before I make finally make contact with the plastic rim. My knees are in pressing into the winter insulation I carry with me all year forcing the air of off my lungs. I think to myself, this space must have been designed by civilized pygmies. I draw in as deep of a breath as my cramped quarters will allow and try to relax to begin the smooth muscle movement. Ah…success!
Almost instantly the wave hits me. Now, I am trapped in this ultra restricted space until I finish the task. I am trapped, confined to stew in a brew of my own making. I knew I shouldn’t have eaten that bean burrito.
Once finished, I stand there hunched over to wash my hands. I am terrified to even open the door for fear of contaminating the whole camper. I hold my breath and close my eyes. I am sure once I open the door, I will have to perform CPR on my wife Vickie. I can visualize it now. She is sitting in the comfortable reclining chair reading the latest John Sanford novel as the door cracks open. The visible wave of toxic gas envelops her and she flops to the floor convulsing. Oh shit! I need to act fast. CPR? My certificate expired long ago when I still feathered my ‘hockey hair’ and actually was a lifeguard.
I remember something about the ABC’s……“Annie, Annie, are you okay?”
I open the door and exhale. Vickie cries out, “Good lord, turn on the fan!”
When basic camping and ‘the urge’ stirs in my bowels, I take a gentle stroll through the primal forest to find a private peaceful spot. I simply dig a hole where I intend to leave my deposit. Then, squat over the freshly tilled earth, hum a few lines from “Friends in Low Places” as a gentle breeze cools my privates and enjoy total and complete relaxation. When the deed is done, all I need to do is bury the evidence. I have just fertilized mother earth and quite possibly supplied the life giving nutrients for a white pine sapling to beginning its quest to become an ancient forest giant.
Once the toilet has been used, the waste collects in a holding tank. This ultimately leads to a full tank. This means I have to pull out the 7 lb 4 oz. encyclopedia pouch to educate myself about how to actually get rid of it. To this day the thing I hate to deal with most is wastewater; specifically human waste water; more specifically my own human waste water. A full tank is how I ended up in line at the dump station for the 1st time in the Smoky Mountain National Park. I had read how it should be done, but was about to put it into practice for the 1st time.
While waiting for my turn I was thinking how much I would prefer the privacy of tent camping. I would be in an uninhabited area and the nearest neighbors would be not within eye site. Even if had been a long while since the last time I set up my complicated tent, and I was scratching my head thinking, ‘How they hell do I set this thing up again?’ There is no one around to see me struggle to remember. In line at the dump station I knew I was going to be under the scrutiny of experienced campers and have to perform this task quickly and efficiently to avoid the scorn of the crowd.
I pulled up to the dump site (the correct way) to take my turn. I tried to act like I knew what I was doing. I opened the side compartment. I fumbled with the hose. I was on my hands and knees reading the valves, buttons and other miscellaneous switches on the outside of the van trying to determine which one held the magic that would rid me of my own waste. I made a quick run back inside the van to verify my setup with the 7 lb. 4 oz. instruction manual.
Meanwhile, a redneck pulled up behind me, got out of his truck, made a few preliminary preparations for his turn to dump, and was now leaning against the driver’s door with his arms crossed watching me. Just the size of his rig intimidated me. He had a jacked up dually diesel 4 x 4 with a monstrous 5th wheel trailer in tow. I looked at him and read his mind, ‘what the hell is this idiot doing?’
Yep, everything seems okay. I pulled the valve and hit the drain pump switch. I could hear the pump working but I didn’t hear anything dumping into the waste drain. The hose was bloated and weighed down with waste. I had a bad feeling that something was wrong. I must have missed something, but what? Right then the hose sprung a leak. A 4 foot high stream of piss came sprouting from near the nozzle. I had to dive out the way to not be covered in my own urine. I needed to think fast. Obviously I had done something wrong. Then it dawned on me, I had simply forgotten to open the valve on the end of the hose.
I jumped up and lunged to turn off the pump switch. The fountain of piss gradually petered out as the hose lost pressure. I walked to end of the hose and casually opened the valve, then looked around like ‘yeah, I meant to do that’. The redneck with the stained confederate flag trucker’s hat and the faded black Lynyrd Skynyrd T-shirt was just looking at me with a smirk on his face. I read his mind again, ‘yep, that simple Yankee has no F’n clue of what he is doing.’
So the answer to my question, “What sort of idiot would spend that kind of money on a ‘camper’ and never have RV camped before?”, a ‘glass half full’ sort of idiot.
And the answer to, “What the hell do I do now?” is, figure it out as you go.
What made you decide to take a year off (aka. a hiatus)?
We dreamed about the possibility of someday visiting all the places and experience the many things on our Lifelist. It was just a matter of having enough time and money. By changing lifestyle, moving into the city, and renting, we were able to save money. With this new lifestyle we were unencumbered by ‘stuff’. Stuff we needed to buy, stuff we needed to protect, stuff we needed to store, and most importantly, stuff we needed to pay for. This new found freedom gave us the opportunity to actually consider a hiatus as a possibility. As we ‘got ahead’ of debt and accumulated some excess cash over a couple of years the time came to make a decision, jump back into home ownership or really take a hiatus. The decision wasn’t ultimately made until we actually committed to buying the sprinter van. That was when we knew the hiatus was our choice.
How do you afford to take a hiatus?
It’s simple. Just sell everything you own and save all of your money for about 2-1/2 years. We decided to downsize to save time and money. We sold our dream lake house and moved into the city to be closer to work and rented a townhouse in St. Paul near Grand avenue to save money. Our lake home was a 40 mile journey for each of us to get to work, and we spent an average of 2 hours a every day in the car commuting. The cost of home ownership by the lake was high with the mortgage payment, lake taxes, insurance, along with all the other miscellaneous ownership expenses. Our new location was only 3 miles from Vickie’s workplace and 12 miles from mine. The rent payment was much less than just the mortgage payment. We drove older high mileage vehicles that were paid for. We sold all of our furniture and all the excess stuff accumulated over 20 years of home ownership. We changed our lifestyle, eliminated unnecessary expenses, and paid off debt.
“Why did you choose that type of camper?”
The camper we bought is a 2014 used Mercedes sprinter van with a Winnebago conversion. It comes with a built in 2-burner stove, a kitchen sink, a toilet/shower combination, a refrigerator, TV, DVD, and a microwave/convection oven combo, storage, and of course, a bed. The ultimate reason we (when I say we, I really mean Vickie) bought a sprinter van is she felt comfortable driving it. It is really just a large van that handles like a dream. The most common complaint I hear from the other types of RV’ers when I ask them the same question in return is, “It’s too big/hard to handle so she won’t drive it, so I do all the driving.”
The most common question I get at RV parks is “What kind of gas mileage do you get?”
We get average 20 MPG as long as we keep the speed under 71 MPH. It seems no matter what the conditions are, uphill, downhill, wind, or rain, we get around 20. The best we have ever had on a tank is 22 MPG and the worst 18 MPG. When I ask the same question in return I get the answer of 8 to 12 MPG depending on the size of the trailer they are pulling and the age of their pickup trucks. The retired couples who drive the monster pusher diesel buses only get 6-10 MPG .
How much did you pay for the sprinter van?
You’ll have to guess that one on your own.
I hope you got a chuckle from my experiences and I hope this answers some of the basic questions. If you have any other questions feel free to comment to me on this blog and I will respond to them.