79 Months Full Time RVing: July 2021 Report

The Distance: 264 miles, all of it coastal Washington driving, as we finally got around to visiting the Olympic Peninsula and then returned to Whidbey Island. We piled in a bit more mileage with our trip off island for repairs. Though we will be stationary for most of August, we get back on the road “for realz” toward the end of that month. Our 2021 total so far: 5,355 miles.

The Places:  We left the Enumclaw Expo Center bound for Sequim and the Blue Hole, staying three days at an unofficial site in someone’s empty lot before shifting a few blocks to Dave and Rebecca’s street. We took the ferry to Whidbey Island, staying at Cliffside RV Park on the naval station for three weeks. We left the island to get our windshield replaced at Louis Glass in Mt Vernon, staying in their parking lot for two days. We returned to Whidbey Island, splitting time between Cliffside and Rhododendron Park, a wonderful and underutilized county property with a small, dry camping loop.

Fourth of July at Dave and Rebecca’s in Sequim.

We spent the bulk of our month, 23 days, at a military park, 2 days at municipal properties, and 6 at a private residence or business. We enjoyed full hook up services for 24 days, partial for 5, and dry camped 2.

Penn Cove mussels to go at Front Street in Coupeville.

The Money:  9% under budget, which is a much-needed change after the previous month’s financial challenge. We managed to get ourselves back on track primarily by getting back to vending at markets, starting out with a fantastic showing at the Kiwanis annual event in Oak Harbor, and followed up with two modest Saturday markets put on by the Lions Club. It also helped that we did not have any significant unexpected bills; Loki only required a modest $59 lug nut repair and PKM just needed her annual check up and vaccinations. Though our campground fees where a bit higher than we like, we did what we could to keep those in check by staying at free spots for three days and working the naval station’s system to qualify for the modest weekly discount. We averaged $33 a night for the month.

Kitty Meow Meow loved Cliffside Park’s many plants and edible wildlife as well

The Drama & Improvements:  Very little to report, and thankful for it. We continue to work through an annoying slow transmission seal leak on Loki, which I had repaired in California but continues to bedevil us, and we fixed a damaged lug nut as well. The cat is fully vaccinated again, so yay for that.

Next up: Our final two weeks on Whidbey Island before we resume our travels.

Geocaching in Rhododendron Park.

Back to Whidbey Island, Where Lack of Availability Drives Us to Find a New Place: Rhododendron Park

During our recently completed stay at Cliffside RV Park on Whidbey Island we had been quite fortunate to string together three full weeks at this popular spot on relatively late notice. We had done so by using our well tested “method” of checking for cancellation-based openings daily, which has brought us success at Bahia Honda, Wekiva Springs, Sigsbee Key West, Travis Air Force Base, and many other locations. It does not always yield an opening, of course, and this time luck was not with us; after our windshield repairs in Mt. Vernon were complete we headed back to Cliffside, but only for two days, unable to extend into the weekend during this, the summer high season.

Pad Kee Meow surveying her new woodland realm.

There are not a lot of RV park options on the island, and those that do exist are mostly full (and quite pricey) during the summer months. Though willing to rough it and only requiring a two day stay, we could not even avail ourselves of “parking lot camping” at a Walmart or Cracker Barrel: like many high population or touristy areas, the few “almost big box” stores on the island do not allow overnight parking. Fortunately, we had done our research during that previous three week stay and found a little discussed county park in the nearby town of Coupeville, already a favorite of ours due in no little part to the Penn Cove Mussels.

Yes, yes! More crafting supplies. Haha, exactly what we need. Yes.

Because of the dearth of information available online (RV and campground review sites had very limited and occasionally incorrect information) we had physically scoped out the place in our Geo Tracker earlier in the month. This reconnaissance revealed that Rhododendron Park, located on 37 wooded acres, has 15 sites along a bisected loop of sometimes narrow dirt roads. There is no onsite management, security, ranger, or camp host. All sites are “first come, first serv” and “unserviced” dry camping, i.e., no electrical, water, or sewage connections. The narrow roads and tree canopy likely act as a natural size limiter, but there is no posted official maximum RV length. Though not mentioned on the county website, signs in the park itself list a seven day stay limit. Finally, the website mentions that only three of the sites are suitable for an RV (versus a tent), and this probably refers to the three sites along the center paved strip, no signs in this unmanned park forbid an actual RV at any of the other sites, several of which were, in fact, occupied by various sized RVs during our scouting venture.

Almost all of these factors worked in our favor: the “first come first serve” basis and limited length of stay allowance meant that a few sites might still be available, while the dry camping, narrow roads, and heavy tree canopy would discourage a significant segment of the RV community, and thus limit our competition for a weekend spot. Which is pretty much how it worked out: though we arrived on a Saturday, there were still a handful of sites available, and we ended up with a fantastic, large, oddly shaped, heavily wooded, dreamland faerie site in a park next to a quaint seaside town on a fantastic island. Hard to ask for better than that. Oh right, it was only $15 a night.

Given the beauty, price, and availability of the park along with our tolerance and equipment for dry camping, we elected to stay for the maximum one week. This would temporarily eliminate the battle for a spot at the naval station, cost less than half as much, give us a bit of variation in our summer environment, and provide an esoteric, unusual benefit related to our newfound weekly Lions Club market as well: we could time our RV moves between campgrounds to coincide with the market, meaning one less painful haul of stuff in a cram packed little car to the market and back, and the convenience of our home on site for the duration of the event. As a comfort factor, this is not to be underestimated.

The previous Saturday we had participated in this relatively new and modest market to test the waters, and enjoyed just enough success to lure us back, particularly since we lacked any other options. I realize that sounds a bit negative, something south of “damned by faint praise,” but I don’t really mean it that way. It comes down to how much trouble are you willing to go through for limited and uncertain returns? In our early days the previous week’s earnings would have locked us in for a month of Saturdays, but the intervening years have taught us a lot about event selection and thus raised our expectations, though we are still adjusting those to the latest COVID reality. Which is a long way towards saying that the additional benefit of the RV move coordinated with market day made us more comfortable with the cost benefit calculation. Need a break? There’s our house. Want some coffee? Breakfast? A cat? Also in the house.

An example of one of the things available to us during a market if we bring our house.

Once settled in, we really took to this park and Coupeville. Though of modest size and close to town, the 37 wooded acres feels larger and further from full civilization than it truly is. The trees create a natural sound barrier, removing road and neighbor noise, particularly with only fifteen campsites and surprisingly limited day use. Partially market paths, some of them well-trod, others close to overgrown, meander through the property. A score of geocaches are hidden on or near the trails, with more along the nearby bike paths.

While most of these were along well marked trails, due to overgrowth a few of the loops were quite difficult to find, and we ended up doing some light bushwacking until we intersected a path or at least a game trail.

The proximity of Coupeville allowed us to explore it a bit beyond the two blocks of waterfront cafes and shops. We found wonderful chocolate croissants and other baked goodness at Little Red Hen, and craft brew with next door pizza at Penn Cove Brew. The big town of Oak Harbor was only half an hour down the road if we needed supplies, special shops, or annual check up and rabies vaccination, as one of us did. This was a great week on Whidbey Island, and we will happily include Rhododendron Park in our plans during future visits.

Next up: a monthly report and our two final weeks on Whidbey Island.

Heading Off Whidbey Island for Long Overdue Windshield Repairs

Two and a half years ago, shortly after picking up the motorhome following repairs made at Mr. Mobile RV in Florida, we took a rock from a passing semi to the windshield, leaving a noticeable divot in the passenger side. Knowing that Florida law requires insurance companies to cover all windshield repairs for vehicles registered in the state (with neither a deductible nor rate impact) we knew we could get it repaired, just as we had twice in the past, but that it might take some weeks to get the new glass, arrange the repair, and so forth.

Our damage.

We were not in a big hurry to do it, but when a couple of sales reps for a glass repair company talked to us at a weekly craft market and were willing to coordinate with our insurance company on the spot, we were convinced to proceed. What followed was a six-month odyssey of incompetence, mismanagement, and general delinquency by this unmentioned auto glass company. We had repair people come out only to realize they needed more tools, an extra person, or more parts. They rescheduled five times. It culminated months later when the third person from this company to come out for the same repair did some prep work on the seals, promised to return the next day for the full replacement, but then never showed or contacted us again.

I ran out of pics for this limited post, so enjoy this map of the eight geocaches we found while getting our windshield replaced in Mt. Vernon, Washington.

Once COVID hit we sort of forgot about the whole thing, particularly once we got back on the road for real travel. But come this last summer we contacted Progressive Insurance to finally get the repair done, expecting to get some push back because of the just discussed fiasco, but they took the info they needed and put us in contact with their recommended specialty glass company right away. We coordinated the windshield glass order, arranged for delivery at our anticipated July location, and worked with them to select the closest repair shop, which turned out to be Louis Glass in Mt Vernon, Washington, just off Whidbey Island to the northeast.

Our campground for two nights while Louis Glass replaced our windshield. Electrical hook up, wifi, and enough room to put out the slides. We are surely glamor camping now!

So: after three weeks at NAS Whidbey Island’s Cliffside RV Park, we pulled chocks and headed north across Deception Pass and then onto the mainland. Though focused predominantly on car windshields, Louis Glass was well prepared for bigger vehicles; they had a section of their parking lot set up for oversized rigs, and even provided us an electrical connection and wifi during our stay. Since we arrived the night before, a tech was able to start on our rig first thing in the morning. The deed was done within perhaps two hours, though we stayed overnight to allows the glue to fully cure.

Repairs in progress. Look, this guy has his own ladder!

The ease and speed with which our Louis Glass man accomplished the removal and replacement rendered the months long clown show provided by the previous repair company even more bewildering. The contrast reminded me of an old AAMCO commercial where a frustrated car owner encounters ridiculous service headaches, culminating in a slack jawed dimwit exclaiming that he “always wanted to work on a transmission.” Lest you think this comparison a stretch, consider some of the comments and actions of the first company’s techs that came out for our repair:

  • “Oh man, I’m gonna need a ladder for this one. Do you have one I can use?” Because, you see, each half of the windshield is four feet tall, nearly five feet long, and extends up over ten feet in height on our rig, something that was apparently completely unknown to this tech before arriving on scene.
  • “I think we’ll need to reschedule until I can bring another person.” Again, because the size of the windshield being a complete mystery to this second tech before arrival.
  • “I’ve never seen one that was glued in place.” Referring to the aforementioned giant windshield.
  • I don’t have a quote for this, just imagine it starting with “Darlin’ ” or “Sweetie Pie” or some other vaguely southern, faux suave, caricature of office sexism, and proceeding for 20 minutes as this third tech flirted, on speaker phone, with his dispatcher/office person, seemingly for my benefit and amusement, which I safely assume based on the number of knowing winks he gave me during this painful-to-witness conversation.
During my google search I found several of their ads from that era, but only this screen cap from the specific AAMCO commercial in question. Y’all remember it though, hopefully.

Incidentally, a few asides originating from my casual research of the aforementioned AAMCO commercial, which, because I harbor no illusions about the reader demographics of this retired RVer couple’s blog, I believe most of you are certainly old enough to remember (even if, because of your ages, you don’t actually remember.)

  • It was from 1984, the end of what some high-profile automotive writers refer to as the “malaise era” of US car production (i.e., a rough decade of crappy cars made by The Big Three, who were ever so slow to catch on to the new era of gas prices and foreign, quality-based competition.)
  • Apparently, there was some sort of James Brolin connection to AAMCO that was casually ridiculed by late night comedians, particularly after his wedding to Barbara Streisand, which of course sent me down another google rabbit hole to figure out why.
  • The Brolin-Streisand nuptials (and subsequent comedian references) occurred in 1998, yet I remember far better the AAMCO commercials from more than a decade previous, which says something, though I am not sure what, about memory, advertising, and celebrity. 6
Everyone remembers James Brolin, but not all of you have heard of Barbra Streisand, apparently a minor player in Broadway musical theater and film. A rigorous internet search turned up this photo of “Babs” pictured in her childhood bedroom surrounded by local talent contest trophies earned during her youth.

Next up: Back to Whidbey Island, where we explore a new campground, Rhododendron Park.

Happy New Year to All, and Happy 7th Nomadic Anniversary to Us

On December 30th of 2014 Rosemarie and I took our 1963 GM Bus down to Key West Florida to symbolically start our full time RV adventure at the southeastern most point of the continental US. A few weeks later we left the Keys to start a 15,000-mile circuit of the US, visiting 27 state and 88 RV parks. In the subsequent years we have made six more journeys around the county, now having been to all 48 CONUS states, 5 Canadian provinces, and two in Mexico.

The Big Kahuna in front of The Southernmost Point.

We originally committed to two full years of RVing, after which we just kept going; we found we loved the lifestyle and there was so much more to see. As we begin our eighth year of this journey, we look forward to our winter in the US Southwest, more western exploration during the spring and summer, and then beginning a casual, meandering return to Florida in the fall.

Pad Kee Meow joined us almost a year into our journey.

Though we are starting another year on the road, we have started to miss having a fixed place to call our own. Not necessarily a house even; perhaps just a piece of property (in the woods, with full hook ups, on the water, near a cool town, not too close to neighbors, with temperate weather, and affordable…) to park our RV and build upon.

Serenity, pictured shortly after we moved in, and now in her seventh year on the road with us.

But not yet! So Happy New Year from the road, and we look forward to seeing as many of you as we can in the coming year.