How much are services worth at RV parks

While drycamping at the Sigsbee campground on Key West Naval Air Station and adjusting to Serenity’s power, water and sewage limitations, I had been thinking a lot about the monetary value of each hook up or service offered at most RV parks.  There is no substitute for location, and we would not have traded our excellent drycamping time at Lake Amistad, Lake Mead, or the Salmon River for even a free full hook up spot in the nearby towns.  But what I am talking about here is an “all other things being equal” comparison of a (safe, legal, level) drycamping spot to the same site with services, and breaking down the value of each service.


Drycamping means monitoring your levels, and planning to fill, empty, or recharge as appropriate.

Now that we have moved over to the full hook up section of Sigsbee, we have an excellent opportunity to make that comparison.  The prices here are heavily subsidized by the Department of Defense: we paid $14/night for the dry camping, and now $24 for the full sites.  Equivalent private resorts here in Key West charge anywhere from $80 to $130 for something similar, so the military rate is not the best method of determining value, but its at least a couple of data points.  Another way to view it is that the military rate is about 75% subsidized, meaning the unsubsidized market rate should be $56 for dry and $96 for full service sites, another couple of data points.

Electrical, $5-$20 per day:   It’s common for publicly operated places (federal, state, county parks and the like) to offer sites with “all but sewage,” though they will usually have a centrally located dump station on premises.  We have even stayed at a couple of “hook up” campgrounds that did not even have water, such as the electrical loop on the South Rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison and the impossible to reach water connections at Oscar Scherer State Park.  But if you are paying for something more than a dry camping site, you expect at least 30 amp electrical service.


20, 30, and 50 amp electrical and water pedestal

One way to calculate this value would be the equivalent cost of operating your generators, for which we can come up with a range from minimum use to all day run times.  For instance, during several weeks here in Key West I calculated we spent $5/day on gas and propane during conservative but comfortable generator usage, with only a few days of hot weather leading to us use the big Onan genny for our air conditioners.  If we had to run the Onan all day, say 12 hours, to combat the heat, the cost would be closer to $13/day.

Of course, neither of these take into account wear and tear on, and thus replacement costs of, the generators.  Our Honda cost about $1,100, and with care, according to many other RVers, it should last 5 to 10 years at our expected 500 hours per year usage rate.  Let’s assume a minimum of $100 per year plus some parts, oil, and maintenance costs, so we might be looking at $10 per month, or $0.33 per day, roughly.  The big Onan will probably cost $4000 to replace if we ever do.  I have no idea of the expected lifespan, but conservatively we can quadruple the daily Honda costs, and call it $1.33/day, giving us an equipment usage value of more than a buck fifty per day.

Of course none of this addresses the hassle factor of having to manage the generators, such as going out in possibly inclement weather to pull start the Honda and the trips to the gas station for fuel.  Nor does it take into account the subjective value of not having to listen to the buzzing of the motors all day, and some people will find that aspect worth quite a bit.  So I figure the range of value for electrical services runs from about $5 (low generator use, minimum lifetime replacement cost) to $20 (high generator use, moderate replacement costs, high value on convenience and quite) per day depending on usage, weather conditions, specific equipment configuration, and subjective preferences.


Seven gallons should last me at least a week, hopefully ten days.

Those with a robust solar set up might avoid a great deal of generator use, sort of replacing the vast majority of our Honda costs, but they wont be able to operate an AC no matter how big their rooftop panels are, so a main generator like our Onan is probably still in their cost analysis, as are the installation costs of the solar panels, wiring, inverter/controller, and enhanced house battery pack.  If interested in a detailed look at RV solar, you can’t go wrong with Technomadia’s extensive collection of posts on the subject, or Wheeling It’s recent explanation of their in progress major solar upgrade.


If you have propane for cooking and refrigeration, then even a modest solar system can eliminate the need for much of your low power generator use.

Water and Sewage, $1-$5 per day:  We can carry 65 gallons of freshwater, which with conservative use will last us about nine days.  That’s means using it for toilet flushing, hand washing, cooking, and careful dish washing, but not for drinking or showers.  I’m sure we could stretch it to 14 if we used more paper plates and kept jugs of water in our bathroom for the toilet.


Its almost more of a pain in the rear to refill the water tanks through the one inch hose than empty the sewage through the three inch monster connection.

We have a 44 gallon gray water tank (showers and sinks) and a 54 gallon black water tank (toilet).  This 98 gallons of storage gives us a buffer beyond the fresh water tank capacity: we don’t have to worry about accidentally overfilling the waste tanks since our final indication of the need to fill and dump will come from the empty freshwater tank.  Since we rarely stay in one place for more than a week, the hassle of filling the freshwater tank can occur together during the “upon arrival and departure” trips to the dump stations we tend to do at many publicly operated campgrounds.


Sewage connection on our neighbor’s RV.  If you don’t have this…

I guess what I am getting towards is that the worth of a water hook up is entirely subjective, depending solely on how much you value the convenience and flexibility of unlimited  water use, and is entangled with the availability of on site sewage connections. Stating that last bit differently: a water hook up does not allow unlimited use if you don’t also have connected sewage; one way or another you’re still going to have to break camp to take care of full or empty tanks.  Having water alone is better than nothing: we can use our little outside rinse station, don’t place any load on the noisy water pump, and can be slightly more liberal with usage, but I would only give it a value of a dollar or two per day without also having sewage.  If you combine the services though, being able to take hot showers in your own rig rather than shlepping to the shower house, giving those dishes a more thorough clean and rinse, and not having to worry at all about taking the rig for a fill and dump has got to be worth several bucks a day for the comfort, convenience, and peace of mind.


… then you’ll be visiting this regularly.  Campground dump station, one of the nicer ones we have used.

WiFi, $3-$7 per day: “Free”RV Park WiFi  is frequently sketchy to the point of unusable.  A service with which you can’t connect due to signal strength, or can’t effectively use due to bandwidth clogging, is not worth a penny.  Sometimes the service is available but limited, e.g., available during non-peak usage hours for basic internet functions short of video streaming.  And occasionally, rarely, you will find a park with actually full use “hotel quality” connections allowing robust download capability any time of day.  I’m trying to determine the value of WiFi on those two levels, limited and full service.


Fully usable WiFi via gowifi at the Key West Naval Air Station

One way to do this is to determine how it compensates for, our compliments, your monthly data service.  Operating our smart phones and Verizon MiFi Jet Pack hotspot (to which our laptops and tablet connect), we pay $100 for a robust 18GB data package.  You can get cheaper plans through the discount providers, but we spend a lot of time away from metropolitan areas, and thus place a premium on the industry leading geographic coverage that Verizon provides.  Despite this large date allowance we tend to blow through it: even with very little video streaming we will deplete all 18GB well before the end of the month if we don’t offset it with free WiFi at parks or libraries or friends/family houses.

So a working park WiFi, even limited, is worth at least what we pay per day through our data plan, $3.33,  and probably more since we have spent a lot of time finding and driving to public libraries in order to mitigate our Verizon use.  If we are talking about a robust, video stream supporting WiFi capability, then it might even be double that, allowing us to catch up on the lengthy list of television shows which we fall behind on every time we head off to places without cable TV, which is pretty much every place we go. I’m not saying I would pay $7 a day every day, or even frequently, but in certain circumstances, perhaps when we are particularly jonesing for some Walking Dead, I could see us splurging that much for a couple of days just to get our fix.


Campground shower and laundry facility with roof mounted WiFi antenna

Cable TV, $2-$4 per day: It’s not all that common for us to stay at a park with cable connections; maybe a handful of the 88 different places we stayed in 2015 had it. Considering how many dead ended cable connections I have seen at private parks, I suspect its getting even rarer, probably because of the ubiquitousness of RV satellite systems and the availability of digital over the air channels.  Look, some people are just not into TV.  We are not those people.  We are the opposite of those people.  So a cable connection, even just the basic service, is worth at least as much as the equivalent service we would have in a home. Let’s call it $2 a day, particularly in places like Key West were nearly all the available over the air stations are either in Spanish or are shopping channels/infomercials.


Portable “carry out” satellite antenna

Another way to figure it is to compare it to one of those previously mentioned RV satellite systems and the associated monthly plan costs through Direct TV or Dish Network.  I’m seeing basic plans for less than $2 per day, or $3 for the robust packages.  Just like in the electrical hook up valuation, its only fair to include the satellite system hardware and installation costs as well, but they can be negligible.  If you go with one of those Tailgater “carry out” antennas with a receiver for $350 on line, and assume a five to ten year lifespan , you’re only paying 10 to 20 cents per day.  Even the high end $2500 roof mounted system with an assumed several hundred dollar labor cost for running the wires and mounting it, we are still only talking a buck fifty per day over a conservative five year life span.


Roof mounted satellite antenna, most of which I see on modern RVs are enclosed in a dome, but they don’t photograph as well from the ground.

Amenities: pool, planned activities, lounge, community center, boat ramp & dock, gym, tennis courts, laundry, etc, $5 per day?:  I dunno, its almost too subjective for me to even guess at.  I can say that when they are available, we use almost all of them. Rosemarie attends free classes, from yoga to crafting, in the community center.  In any given week we might join in on a handful of group activities such as bingo, karaoke, cocktail social hours, pot lucks, or holiday events, and its nice to not have to organize or plan it ourselves.  If its hot and there’s a pool, we are probably in it every other day.  All that’s got to be worth at least $5/day on top of the actual hook ups, right?IMG_7204

Full service resort: $16-$42 per day:  So there you have it; at a beautiful drycamping location, all other things being equal, we can see the exact same site with full amenities being worth anywhere from $16 to $42 more, with a third to half of that just for the electrical connection.  At the top of the post I mentioned that here at the Navy’s Sigsbee RV Campground we pay $14 for the drycamping and $24 for the full hook up spot.  Both options include free high capacity WiFi, as well as most of the amenities listed in the previous paragraph, though neither includes cable connections.  That sort of means that the $10 delta between the Sigsbee site options is only accounting for somewhere between $6 and $25 of the above calculated total resort services.  Yeah, I’m really down in the weeds now.

Texas Kayak

Out with our neighbor Jim in his “Texas Kayak” from one of the boat launch options.

So climbing out of the weed garden: Look, there are times when we don’t want anything resembling a full service resort because that implies there will be a bunch of other people around, and while we genuinely like the overwhelming majority of RVers we have met, sometimes you want the isolation and cost savings that only boondocking can provide.   But for the rest of the year, when we are in areas where there might very well be a range of service options at local campgrounds, its good to have thought hard about the value we place in such things.  So, how much do you value these services?  Any significant difference from our estimates?

Adjusting to Serenity’s generator and propane flexibility

When we began altering The Big Kahuna, one of our early changes was the removal of the aged and inoperative propane furnace system.  When the old Dometic refrigerator broke beyond economical repair, we elected to replace it with an affordable apartment style fridge rather than an RV model, which are very expensive, though they usually have the ability to run off either electricity or propane.  At that point we decided to just convert everything over to electric and remove the propane system entirely, which opened up an entire underbelly storage compartment and gave us a few bucks from the sale of the big tanks.

This meant that when drycamping in the old bus we pretty much lived off our little Honda generator, running it for most of the day if permitted by campground rules, and turning it off at night.  That process was complicated by the uncontrolled power draw from our inverter/house battery charging system, which, during our very first fulltime overnight stop, we had discovered demands up to 22 amps at initial charge.  In order to keep the Honda from overload tripping, I had to manually open all the circuit breakers on the bus other than the inverter, then turn on the Honda, wait for the initial inverter charging load to settle down, and only then flip the breakers back on for the electrical outlets, refrigerator, microwave, etc.


The best damn RV generator around.

Running without a propane fridge and a “nights only” generator also meant meant we bought a lot of ice.  As for air conditioning, the Honda 2000 can’t really handle that load, and Kahuna’s main diesel powered and poorly sound isolated Yakima generator was so loud under any significant load that we just never used it.

With our new rig, things are rather different, and so much more convenient.  We still have our Honda 2000, but now we also have a newer model and fully working Norcold RV fridge with automatic propane back up, a much lower power draw from our modern inverter, and a surprisingly quiet, hard wired main generator, an Onan 5500.  This means that whenever we turn off, disconnect, or otherwise loose electrical power, the refrigerator automatically shifts to propane and keeps things cold and frozen, even while we are driving down the road.


Norcold Refrigerator operating in propane mode.

It also means that we don’t have to run the Honda for the entire day.  Our routine is something like this: wake up, feed the cat, turn on the Honda, and make coffee and breakfast while also charging the house batteries, laptops, phones, cameras, and other electronic devices.  After a couple of hours, off goes the Honda.  As the day heats up we can consider turning on the Onan to run the ACs.  We haven’t had to do that often since the weather has been so cool for most of our Key West stay that the RV is quite comfortable with the windows open and the fresh sea breeze blowing through.  I think we have run the Onan about 20 hours during the two weeks we have been here so far, and some of that was while I was working out a contaminated fuel problem in the Honda.  As night falls we turn the Honda back on for a few hours to charge everything back up for our evening TV and lap top movie watching.

The process is very cost effective, largely because of how incredibly efficient the fridge is running on propane: for the roughly 18 to 20 hours a day we run it this way, we are only burning roughly one gallon of the LP every two days!  The Honda 2000 is the generator of choice among RVers, which a quick walk around any drycamping area will confirm for you. I just took a look at my ten nearest neighbors, and eight of them have the Honda 2000, one has a similar sized Ryobi, and the last doesn’t have his generator visible, but its probably a Honda.  The reason nearly every RVer has this model is that they are very reliable (3 year warranty!), extremely quiet (53 decibals), light weight (45 lbs), and fuel efficient as heck (8 hours per gallon at 1/4 load, which is what I figure I’m at for most of our 4 to 6 hours a day of run time).


Our surprisingly quiet and relatively fuel efficient main generator.

The Onan has the advantage of a push button start (as opposed to the Honda’s manual pull cord) and a huge gas tank (it draw from the RV’s main engine gas tank), and is not that bad for efficiency: a bit under 2 hours per gallon at 50% load, probably what we are demanding with one rooftop ACs running.)

It took us a couple of weeks to sort out our routine, but as of now I figure we are spending less than $5 a day running our electricity:

  • $2 for liquid propane (1/2 gal daily use from fridge and stove top at $4/gal in Key West)
  • $1.50 for the Honda 2000 gasoline (3/4 gal daily use at $2/gal at the Naval Station pump)
  • $2 for the Onan, averaged out over the long haul assuming that there will be periodic days when we just need the AC (1 gal daily use at $2/gal as above)
  • Up to $0.50 slop factor and for the cost of driving Loki to get the Honda’s gas and Serenity up the road to get propane once a month)


    Big ole propane tank takes up an entire storage compartment

Incidentally, the exercise of figuring this out has made us more efficient, i.e., knowing the specific costs of things means we are more conscious of them and are therefor less likely to run the generator, especially the Onan, willy nilly.  We can look around, or more appropriately, listen around, the RV campground and hear the gentle buzz of generators for the entire permitted run time (7 AM to 11 PM).  Some of our neighbors run them all day; perhaps they don’t have a propane option on their fridge, or they always want the option of turning on the TV or the microwave without having to step outside and start the genny, or maybe they just don’t have the cost concerns we do.  With The Big Kahuna, we would have been right there with them, Honda on from the time the cat woke us up demanding food, until we turned off the TV at night.  Not having to do this is yet another reason we are happy with Serenity and all her modern conveniences.

Trying a new discount program: Active Advantage

Sometimes I tend to yammer on excessively, pushing the main points rather far down a multi-paragraph post.  One style of writing, Bottom Line Up Front, calls for inverting the traditional essay and placing the conclusions and recommendations at the very top.  So, BLUF: We are trying out the Active Advantage campground discount program at a cost of $65 for the year.  It is the only discount program associated with and providing discounts to Reserve America reservations.  We anticipate at least $100 in savings based on conservative use, though those discounts all require a bit of extra effort to receive.  We will let you know how it goes.  The long, detailed, and link heavy version follows.

In our 2015 In Review I included a paragraph and seven bullet points on our use of five discount/annual park and campground membership programs.  The big time RV bloggers at Wheeling It recently provided a much more comprehensive analysis of 15 or so programs.  Neither of us mentioned Active Advantage.  How about this for a pitch:  Pssst, he buddy, howdja like a discount club that has automatic recurring payments after a short free trial, and the discounts are paid by snail mail check 10 to 12 weeks after the event for which you qualify?

Yeah, sounds like a bad deal, but these things need to be viewed holistically: what is the full benefit vs cost for, in this case, 13 months of membership?  Like all discount clubs, the answer to that will largely depend on your actual use of the associated campgrounds. In this case you have the added calculation “is the trouble you go through to receive the discounts worth it?”  In this case, we are going to give Active Advantage a go for a year, and reassess along the way.

Active Advantage appears to have the same parent company as Reserve America, the organization contracted to provide online and telephone reservation services for federal camping areas and most of the state parks as well. We have made scores of reservations through them.  During the online RA check out and payment process for our first reservation at Oscar Scherer State Park, I was offered a 30 day trial membership with Active Advantage.  I only vaguely recalled running across them previously; they appear to have a more robust presence in the outdoorsy race oriented world compared to the RV or camping community.  In the former they offer a membership option that provides discounts and free entry to running, biking, triathlon, etc type events, along with a hodge-podge of discounts on equipment and athletic magazine subscriptions.

Signing up for the trial is supposed to provide two $10 rebates on Reserve America reservations made during the next 12 months, regardless of if you continue in the program beyond the 30 day trial period.  Since this offer came directly through RA rather than an unsolicited email or pop-up, it seemed legit, and in Googling I didn’t run across any red flags.  Free trial periods with an automatic and recurring payment at the end can be a tricky proposition; if the $20 in rebates were the only expected usable benefit, I would have taken a pass on it in fear of missing the cancellation dead line and getting hit with the $64.95 annual fee.

But the camping version of the Active Advantage program offers two benefits which I firmly believe will end up paying for more than that $65 fee:  Your fourth RA reservation is free (up to an $80 value), and you get a $10 discount on all California and Virginia state park reservations.  In order to string together five consecutive days at Oscar Scherer we had to make three different reservations in three different sites (something that should be avoided if at all possible not merely because of the headache of moving, but also because of the administrative fee assigned to each separate FL State Park reservation.)  We also made a one day stay at Bahia Honda and a four day stay at Curry Hammock State Park here in the Fl Keys.  So we have already qualified for the two $10 rebates and the fourth reservation up to $80 rebate, and since our 2016 plans call for at least a week in Virginia I am pretty sure we will significantly exceed the $65 annual fee.

There are some downsides which, frankly, were not quite clear in my mind before I starting researching to write this post.  Accordingly, this program will require careful review in advance of the 2017 renewal date.  Specific concerns:

  • The fourth reservation is free, but not every fourth reservation.  I.e., the 8th, 12th etc reservation receive no special discount.  So if that fourth reservation is less than the $80 cap, you essentially lose out on the difference.
  • The discounts are not automatically applied simply for using the Reserve America system.  They require positive action in the form of emailing or mailing in the request with reservation confirmations.
  • The discounts are provided by physical check, sent via regular mail, and are advertised as taking 10 to 12 weeks to receive.
  • The website is atrocious, dominated by the form of the program designed for racers and the like, not for campers.  Finding specific information on the camping reservation discounts required googling rather than navigation of the actual home site.

More to follow on this program, particularly once the 10 to 12 weeks have passed and I start looking for our first three checks.   We would love to hear from anyone who has tried this Active Advantage and what you thought of it.

Our 2016 plans: Counter clockwise around the eastern half of the US and a bit of Canada

So in 2015, despite our numerous mechanical delays, we generally followed the plan we had laid out a year in advance of our start: Head to Key West, and then begin a clockwise circuit of the US, following the season, with forays, dips, and zags into the interior states along the way.  Our bus problems cut our RVing down to eight months or so, and we had eliminate New England and the upper midwest from that original plan.  If you looked at our Where Are We Now page near the end of the year, then you know the eventual route and stopping points looked like this:

This year we will try a variation on the same theme of a grand circle following the seasons, but going in the other direction.  Meaning this spring we work our way out of Florida and up the east coast all the way to Maine, and perhaps parts of Canada.  In the summer we will meander west at least as far as Wisconsin if not further, probably cutting across southern Ontario from New York to Michigan.  In the fall we will work our way back southeast to once again winter in Florida.  Following the sequenced points from “A” in red to “g” in violet, it might look something like this:

The other significant change we are making from last year’s planning method is that we will go slower, making fewer stops but spending longer in each one.  The 91 different places in the course of 244 days of RVing in 2015 became rather tiring.  So this year, rather than that less than three day average per stop, we are aiming for closer to a week. The math works out something like this:  Once we leave Key West it will take us six or seven weeks to visit all of our family and friends in the state as we head north, but if we leave Florida in early May and return in late November, that gives us 27 weeks.  During that time we plan to hit 23 states, give or take, with four or so repeated due to geography and the circular nature of our route.  That works out to exactly one week per state stop. Perfect!


I’m in full on route planning mode, with a little help from my friends Cheap Scotch and Expensive Cat.

Now, I have not even accounted for Canada in that, so like I said, things will flex and shift and change and alter and etc, but in very loose terms, we think it will go something like this:

  • February: Florida (Key West)
  • March: Florida (Key West, Middle Keys, Miami, Coral Springs, Venice)
  • April: Florida (Inverness, Mount Dora, Cedar Key, Gainesville, Gamble Rogers)
  • May: Georgia (Savannah, Statesboro), South Carolina, North Carolina (Wilmington), Virginia (Norfolk, Shenandoah), Maryland (Annapolis)
  • June: Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York (NYC), New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island
  • July: Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Canada (southern New Brunswick, perhaps Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia)
  • August: Vermont, Canada (southern Quebec) New York (Finger Lakes, Up State, Niagara Falls), Canada (southern Ontario)
  • September: Michigan (Lower, Upper Peninsula), Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois
  • October: Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, North Carolina (Asheville), Georgia (Atlanta)
  • November: Alabama (Gulf Shores), Florida (Panhandle, Central, Coral Springs, Venice)

The big wild cards are those Canada side trips in italics.  Maybe we end up dropping some of that, or shortening stays in some of the states, or skipping others entirely.  But for now we are enjoying even the idea of all this; the planning is part of the fun.

We are putting out this concept, rather more detailed than what we started with in 2015, in the hopes that some of our family, friends, and online RV acquaintances might consider meeting up with us along the way.  As a minimum, this will hopefully give some of you a heads up as to when we will be pulling into your driveways.  And as always, we are always open to suggestions, especially those off the beaten path sites, food and beverage must taste places, and bargains.

13 Months Fulltiming, January 2016 Report

We are into our second year living in an RV full time!  Catch our 2015 in review here.  And after a flurry of posts over the last ten days we are officially caught up on this blog.  After this report we will be able to start posting some less time critical things, such as our plans for the rest of 2016, an analysis of the value of individual services at full hook up campgrounds, discussion of generator use options and how that relates to the decision to install solar power or not, and our experimentation with a new campground membership program.

The Distance: 442 miles, which is in keeping with our plan to slow things down this year. Last year we averaged 1,244 miles per month, or 1,835 if you only count the just over eight months we actually lived lived in the motorhomes.  This year we doubt there will be many months with over a thousand miles, and the year will probably have less than 10K.

The Places:  After a night at Bill & Momma Bayba’s to start the new year, we stopped by a new (for us) state park in Laurel, FL: Oscar Scherer State Park for a five day stay.  Back to the Bayba’s driveway for a couple of nights, then it was another week at Periwinkle RV on Sanibel Island, before cutting across the state to stay with Xavier and Joy for twelve days. Finally, we made the run to the Sigsbee Campground on the Naval Air Facility at Key West where we will spend February and part of March.  The Big Kahuna remains in North Charleston for his transmission rebuild.  We stayed with family for three days, in private parks for six, in public (state in this case) parks for five, driveway parking for twelve, and on a military campground for five.  So for the 28 days we lived in our RV this month we had full hook ups for six, partial (at least 30 amp power or power and water) for five, and drycamped for seventeen.

The Budget:  We started the new year off right by staying 11% under budget.  As mentioned in our 2015 Review, we have shifted to a daily accounting of all expenditures, and purchase of nice to have items must wait until we have built up enough reserve.  So our 11% under was despite having made a couple of mildly expensive purchases that took up roughly 15% of the monthly allotment.  Fifteen days staying with relatives or in their driveways for free helped quite a lot, allowing us to keep our campground expense below $19 per day, averaged.  February will be a tougher challenge; we are paying a motorhome loan now, and a couple of unexpected medical bills from our various appointments last fall caught up with us and will need to be paid now.

The Drama:  A couple of minor problems: I bent one of the awning arms when I brushed a tree limb that turned out to be way thicker than I expected, and the microwave stopped microwaving (it still makes noise and rotates the plate, but no actual heating occurs. Damn science oven.) Since the awning arm still works and microwaves are pretty cheap, we are not particularly worried about either issue, confident we can get them taken care of at a reasonable cost.

Sure, The Big Kahuna transmission rebuild and eventual sale continues to hang over us, but assuming we can at least get him fixed, in a safe storage area, and advertised for sale before we start moving north this spring, then at least we will know things are moving in the right direction.

The Improvements:  Again, minor stuff:  We made a series of updates and overhauls to our various blog tabs (Geocaching, Where Are We Now, About Us & Our Rigs), found a better way to stow the bikes behind the RV, and we finally got around to purchasing a compact wireless printer.  The old Canon printed just fine, but only from Rosemarie’s old MacBook; we couldn’t break the code to get it to connect wirelessly to our other devices, and it took up so much space.  Our criteria for a new printer were pretty simple: basic black & white and color printing of regular sized paper, easily connectable to a wireless network, and most importantly, it must take up but a little space.  The last requirement basically triples the price, but we now have a fantastic little Canon Pixma IP110.  It only takes up about 1/8th of a cubic foot, so it is ideal for RVers.

So that’s it for our thirteenth month.  If interested you can read the twelve reports from 2015 via the links at the bottom of the 2015 in Review post.   Next up, our plans for the rest of the year.

First Week in Key West: Showing at a craft show, attending another, and getting used to drycamping in Serenity

We have just completed our first week at Sigsbee Campground on NAS Key West, and it has been a fantastic time and a great learning experience.  After a couple of days of rainy weather, things have settled down into beautiful days and peaceful nights, allowing us to take full advantage of our incredible luck in our specific site assignment on the ocean front.


Borrowing our neighbors kayak on one of the calmer afternoons

Aside from taking dips in the ocean right in front of our RV, biking the base, and generally enjoying being in Key West during the winter, Rosemarie attended her first craft show as a seller since we started RVing.  The naval station hosts a monthly mixed craft/garage sale event that only costs $3 to rent a sale space.  Attending had several positive aspects: it forced us to take inventory of Rosemarie’s finished, in progress,  and imagined jewelry items and her excess supplies, then sort them, assign revised prices, and prepare a display method.  I even cleaned up to sell the now excess portable O-Grill we have been using and abusing for the last year now that Gloria bought us a brand new Weber Q-1000 (the overwhelming favorite among RVers).  We did a dry run on Friday, then loaded up Loki bright and early, and set up at the base recreation center parking lot by 0730.IMG_6958

They had a pretty good turn out, about 25 sellers and a constant flow of buyers. Rosemarie received a lot of positive feedback, but the nature of the show, combined as it was with a “garage sale” element, seemed to result in people really looking for the very inexpensive $1 or $2 items.  We were there for the experience, and enjoyed meeting the other sellers, most of whom are also residing in the RV campground, so we were not disappointed at having sold only a limited amount.   Besides, once home I posted the grill on Craig’s List and sold it within 24 hours for even more than I had asked at the craft show.

The next day we attended an off base Key West artisan market, also held monthly, and were very impressed with the offerings, particularly the food and wine.  Aside from buying a a delicious Shepard’s Pie for our dinner, a to-die-for tiramisu for desert, and some awesome goat cheese, there were also three different wine tasting tables offering 15 different samples between them.  We ended up with a couple of bottles of reasonably priced vino to help build back our mysteriously diminishing rack.

As if that amount of craft oriented stuff was not enough, Rosemarie also started attending the twice a week craft gatherings at the community center.  Featuring jewelry making, knitting, crocheting, wood carving, and others, this free gathering allows for novices and the experienced alike to gather together and enjoy their hobbies.

IMG_7024On Monday we took Pad Kee Meow in for a vet check, having received a somewhat urgent call from the adoption service that she might have been exposed to Feline HIV.  They paid for the exam and test (negative, thankfully,) but the vet suggested that our one year old, 12.5 pound kitty was already a touch pudgy (big boned!)  I have no idea what causes this sort of thing, but we will need to address it somehow.IMG_7001

We completed our first week with a dump and resupply run: we did not show up at Key West in the best situation, having partially full grey and black water tanks, partially empty propane, and 2/3 of a tank of gasoline (which supplies our large generator as well as the Ford Triton engine.)  So we remedied that on day seven with a trip to the waste dump station, the fresh water fill station, and the gas station on the next key to the north for propane and gasoline.  Fully prepped, this will allow us to assess how Serenity handles drycamping.  We grew pretty knowledgeable about The Big Kahuna’s main limitations under various conditions, but we are still learning the new rig, so this next couple of weeks will really give us a handle on how to dry camp efficiently, hopefully allowing us to stay in one place for two weeks without having to refill or empty.

Also, I have discovered that the pull strap on our awning, a nylon strip cord attached to the center top of the spring loaded extension roller that can slide from one end of the long awning to the other, works great as a cat lead when tied to Pad Kee Meow’s harness.  She can explore without getting tangled nearly as much as a rope tied to a ground level object. A time lapse example:

Getting lucky in Key West

Sometimes things just work out.  We arrived in Key West, got the last dry camping spot available for our sized rig, and it happens to be one of the limited and highly desirable ocean front sites.  This is our front window view:


After leaving Coral Springs we made the 191 mile drive south to the Sigsbee Annex Campground on the Key West Naval Air Station.  This is our third time using the NASKW RV facilities, but our first long term stay.  Once again the experience has driven home what a fantastic deal it is for anyone with access to military bases.  Nothing in the region can compete with the price:  There are three private RV resorts on Key West itself, and they run from $75/night (for a questionable quality interior campground with no water access) up to $130 (for a waterfront site at the higher end coastal place.)  Add to that a 12.5%(!) tax, and then take into account that it is hard to get reservations there; at least one of resorts reported that they are completely full for the rest of the season, and just like Periwinkle, they offer existing guests priority reservations for the next season.

Now, if you can get in to one of the private campgrounds, perhaps even taking advantage of their monthly discounted rates that sort of compensate for the high tax rate, you will get a couple of amenities not offered on base, specifically free wifi (though I’m guessing it’s the shaky “RV campground typical” type) and cable TV.  But compare that to the $24/night for hook up spots on the Naval Station that include access to the water, low cost boat rentals, activities, affordable untaxed sunset bar/diner/lounges, an exchange, commissary, a guarded gate, etc etc etc.


There are some catches, and kind of big ones.  First: for retirees the sites are not reservable; in the winter high season the places is very popular, and thus availability might be an issue.  It is possible to show up and have no spot available at all, requiring you to drive back up the road to one the very expensive private resorts, assuming they have short term openings, and then come back the next morning.  The managing office told me they have turned away 23 RVs this season, though many of them were able to get in the next day.


For some, this uncertainty may be a deal breaker.  If you are considering a winter stay here, try to arrive in December or early January before things really get packed in.  If that is not feasible, then consider making at least a one night reservation in the upper or middle keys, and then getting up at the crack of dawn to continue the drive down to NASKW and be one of the first in line at the office.  The people that got turned away were usually late arrivals.   A somewhat riskier tactic is to arrive very late, near dusk, well after the front office has closed.  Contact the on duty camp host via the phone number posted on the office door to see about a spot.  One of three things happens: he has an opening, he doesn’t have an opening, or he says its too late, they don’t allow negotiation of the narrow roads and maneuvering into the sites after dark.  In the case of the latter two, they seem to have an unofficial policy of not making you drive away in the dark, instead letting RVs stay one night (and one night only) in the parking lot.  Then you are basically first in line the next morning.


Second possible deal breaker:  The drycamping requirement for the majority of one’s high season stay.  The annex has 92 hook up sites, and over 400 drycamping spots split between Sigsbee and the Trumbo Point Coast Guard station down the road.  Even in the low season those hook up spots can get filled, and during the winter they are filled completely.  To ensure fairness the base enforces a strict rotation schedule: when you arrive you will go to a dry site and be put on a First In First Out list for rotation to a hook up spot.  Meanwhile all the campers in those hook up sites are on a two week timer: the morning of day 15 they have to rotate back to the dry side.  Whatever the number of these rotaters, that’s how many from the dry side FIFO list move to a hook up spot.  IMG_6949

Upon arrival we were told it would be a month or more before our number came up to move, but given the great luck we had being placed right on the water, we are perfectly fine with that.  Between our batteries and propane driven refrigerator, and the campground’s nearby water refill and dump stations, shower facilities, and liberal generator policy, we have not found it to be a problem.  I am sure after a month we will welcome full hookups, but for now we are happier here overlooking the ocean.




Overstaying our welcome, 12 days driveway camping in Coral Springs

Some full time RVers maintain a brick and mortar home, allowing them a place to which to return, store stuff, and generally regroup after long journeys.  We do not: we simply could not justify the added expense of continuing a mortgage, property taxes, insurance, repairs, etc, and we did not want to deal with the hassle and risk of renting out our beach condo as absentee landlords.  Besides, its not like you can park a motorhome in a Miami Beach condo lot.


Pad Kee Meow meets Bella, Uncle Carlos and Aunt Joan’s granddaughter.

So we rely on our storage unit, our My RV Mail forwarding service, and most importantly, our family and friends who provide us with occasional respite from the road.  Usually we stay in their house while the rig is parked in the street or driveway, as we did for a few days each with Uncle Bob and Aunt Terri in central Florida, Bill & Momma Gloria in Venice, Cousin Robb & Colleen in Gainesville, and Mom & Tim in Wilmington, NC.


And then meets Xavier and Joy’s dog Happy.  Hard to tell who is less thrilled.

Occasionally it works better for all concerned if we sleep in the RV while visiting, as we did with Rich and Jenny in Portland, OR.   The addition of Pad Kee Meow to our family has changed the calculus, and with respect for different people’s allergies or cat fondness, we are now likely to flip the ratio, spending more driveway camping actually in the rig rather than in our hosts’ homes.

Such was the case for our return to Xavier & Joy’s, who had already hosted us for quite some time in the fall, sans bus and cat, when we returned to Florida awaiting The Big Kahuna’s first transmission rebuild.  This time, we stayed slept in the motorhome for 12 days of semi-drycamping, occasionally hooking up a power cord to the 110V or a water hose to our tank.  This lengthy stay in an area with a high density of friends and family as well as near our storage unit allowed us to get a lot of necessary organizational things done while having several great days and nights with the various Tio’s and Tia’s and godparents and friends.  Our first full day after arrival, our friend Johnnie and his girlfriend drove up to catch up with us, pick our brain regarding RVing since he is making plans to join the club, and to drop off a much appreciated bottle of scotch (appropriately, Johnnie Walker).

The highlight of the stay was our “Thanksgiving in January,” a feast in which I cooked my third brined and spatchcocked turkey within a three month period, and Rosemarie prepared a pernil (traditional Puerto Rican roasted pork shoulder picnic cut).  All three of the uncles (each one a godfather to Rosemarie and her sisters) in the region were able to attend, so insert your own joke, in your best Brando voice, about gathering the heads of all the families.  The nine person feast was reminiscent of the half dozen years or so that we hosted Thanksgiving before having to give it up last year in favor of our RV travels. After dinner we had our traditional five card draw, deuces wild, nickel-dime-quarter poker event.


Poker night with the Godfathers.

As mentioned above, we also tried to be as productive as possible.  We visited our storage unit to check the status, retrieve an item or two, and see about putting some more things inside.  I also got Serenity properly registered, titled, and tagged with Kuhana’s old “Que Vida” plate.  We also managed to get our tires properly inflated; in one clear design failure for this model, it is nearly impossible to inflate the rear tires using the standard gas station or mechanic shop compressor connection.  I had to purchase a six inch flexible valve stem extension, and even then it required flexible arms and fingers grip strength of the young man at the Cypress Mobil station go get it affixed sufficient to take air pressure.


Cutting the lock on our storage since we managed to leave the keys with The Big Kahuna.

I also made repairs to our damaged toad umbilical cable: the wiring harness that connects the motorhome to our Geo Tracker and operates the brake, warning, and turn signal lights from the console on the motorhome.  During a previous tow I had allowed to much slack in the cable and it dragged along the road, damaging almost all of the wires.  I had previously jury rigged it, but this stop, after Xavier pointed out the tiny removable set screws, I was able to completely repair it, cutting off the one foot of damaged cable and rewiring the freshly cut six wires to the connection plug.

Since we are back in Florida, and we allow Pad Kee Meow outside on a leash or lead, we need to worry about fleas and ticks.  I purchased some Frontline Plus for Cats off Amazon at about half the price offered in the local Pet Supermarket, but before administering, we gave the cat her first bath, at least since we have had her.  This was not actually that bad of a process, a case where the idiosyncracies of an RV shower almost worked better than what you might normally have in a home.  I put on long sleeve pants and a shirt, warmed up our shower water with our onboard propane heater, contained the cat in our small bathroom and then inside the glass walled shower, the door small enough for me to be able to block it pretty well, and used the low pressure detachable shower handle and flexible hose to give her a gentle washing, using Dawn dish washing liquid for the lather. She loved it, as is obvious from the pictures.


Few things more pathetic looking than a completely soaked cat.

We did some supply restocking, a bit of geocaching, and caught up on a few TV shows from our growing list of series we are missing.  You have probably heard the joke about house guests being like fish: great for a few days, but they starts to stink after a week.  So having taken advantage for too long, we gathered up our stuff and finally continued south towards our long term winter stopping point, Sigsbee RV Campground, Naval Air Station Key West.



Geocaching Sanibel Island

Warning: this is a geocaching post with esoteric language and explanations that may seem like Greek to the uninitiated.  Don’t feel up to googling it?  Then check out the short explanation at our newly organized Geocaching tab.

During one of our earlier trips to Perwinkle RV Park on Sanibel Island, right at the beginning our fulltime RV adventure, I made note of the incredible density of geocaches there:

The density of Geocaches on Sanibel Island is absurd! Granted, we don’t have a lot of geocache experience, but in the few places we have hunted we encountered nothing like the sheer number of readily accessible caches such as what we encountered on Sanibel.

By way of comparison, I count 115 caches on this 17 square mile island; nearly 7 caches per square mile.  Contrast that with, say, Miami Beach, which has all of 11 caches in 7 square miles, or less than 2 per square mile.  Keeping with Sanibel’s very bicycle friendly infrastructure, many of the caches are specifically designed to be approached on two wheels, located as they are on the island’s many bike trails.  Trying to get to these via car entails either illegally parking or a long walk to each one.

During our two subsequent trips to the island we have added to our Sanibel Geocache total: We’ve now found 77, almost exactly 2/3 of the total there.  A couple more trips and we should clear the place entirely, though the non-traditional caches (multi-stage/way point caches, mystery/puzzle caches, earth caches with questions rather than a physical container) will be far more time consuming.   Here’s a screenshot of our current caching in Sanibel.  The yellow smiley faces are the ones we found, all the other symbols represent those yet to be found.Geocache Sanibel Jan 2016