May 10, 2022 – The Unexpected are Reliable

Our RV travels, which began in 2018, are about discovery and learning. And what we discovered quickly is that you can expect the unexpected. We also learned that we can prepare for those unexpected events, but more importantly, we learned to keep all challenges in perspective. During our first year of RV travel, we met a woman at a campground whose husband had fallen seriously ill with a heart condition the previous year. He became sick on the road days after starting their full time RV lifestyle. They got as far as northern Florida and that is where we met her, at a campground close enough to where her husband could receive medical treatment. That was 2018.

Within the first five miles of our maiden voyage in 2018, the fifth wheel’s brakes had burned out and this piece of knowledge was unknown to us until we arrived at the Grand Design rally in Indiana, 1600 miles later. Somehow, we got to Indiana safely thanks to a very powerful diesel engine truck. You can read all about that adventure here.
That moment you realize you made the wrong turn – on our way to Lake Guntersville State Park in Alabama in 2018. Read all about THAT adventure here.

By the time Vivian broke her ankle in northern Arkansas, we had been traveling for three months during the summer of 2019, our second year on the road. A few weeks after her break, we were back in northern Florida and as Vivian was out of commission, I had laundry duty. Which brought me to a campground laundry room where I met a man whose wife was physically debilitated. They too were fulltime RV traveling and had to stop in their tracks due to her sudden illness. Their last stop was now their permanent home.

Fortunately, many of the circumstances following Vivian’s bimalleolar break made the temporary inconveniences less painful. You can read all about that here.
Traveling in a 5th wheel has its unique challenges and each one is accentuated when one of you is unable to walk. A broken ankle didn’t keep us from traveling in 2019, it just made it more interesting. You can read all about that experience here.
Following the ankle break incident in northern Arkansas, we were on the road for several weeks. When we arrived at the final campground 250 miles north of Chokoloskee, we discovered this – a broken hanger bracket. Read about that here.

Three’s a charm. So there we were at the end of our 2019 travels with a broken ankle and a broken hanger bracket (in case you don’t know, hanger brackets hold up the RV’s suspension) – what more can we pile on that? While we did get a new hanger bracket welded onto the RV at our campsite, the job performed seemed dubious. Meanwhile, we had a slideout issue that needed to be addressed. We drove gingerly back to Chokoloskee for the winter and awaited the next year when major repairs to the RV could be performed in Indiana.

During our 2019 travels, this started happening. The tears in the vinyl floor don’t look like much but they were a sign of a serious problem that needed to be addressed.

Vivian recovered fully from her accident, so we came into 2020 ready to rumble. Prior to that, we had barely traveled west of the Mississippi River, so our plans for year three included many western states and the Continental Divide. But then, along came COVID, altering our travel itinerary drastically. And we had a slideout and suspension repair scheduled in Indiana, which meant we had to get there as carefully as possible.

Our 2019 travels ended knowing our 2020 travels would not begin until two major repairs, one at the Grand Design factory were completed. Consequently, we spent several weeks (longer than expected) in Indiana before heading out west. Read about that here.
Behold, the entire suspension laid out on the floor at Lippert Service, Inc. The result, an upgraded and improved suspension.

The repairs went well and our travels to the Great Plains commenced. A nail in the truck tire at a KOA campground in Topeka, Kansas was the rudest interruption to our travel itinerary (other than “closed to covid” signs). Our travels through the Great Plains was to end in the south, beginning with Arkansas – but that all changed.

More than anything, Vivian wanted to return to Arkansas to pick up where she left off. But along came Hurricane Laura. Risk of tornadoes and flooding forced us to leave Arkansas prematurely & go north on short notice. Consequently, our unexpected detour brought us to Illinois & Indiana. Read about that here.

2021 was to be an epic travel year out west and would be our longest stint on the road. So much more defines that trip beyond the amazing places we visited – some good, some bad. We lost loved ones that year. This resulted in Vivian’s sister unexpectedly traveling two months with us out west. It was her dream to see the national parks and the mountains, but it came with the loss of her husband. And we learned to live and travel as three – all women no less!

Vivian’s sister enjoys precious shade at our dry campsite at Goblin Valley State Park, Utah.
There was a foreboding sense of urgency while visiting Glacier National Park that caused us to shorten the time during our easterly travels to Michigan. We arrived in Michigan’s lower peninsula two weeks earlier than planned to be with my mom.
But not before this happened! Along side the road and about 30 miles before crossing the Mackinac Bridge.
It was not all good times while in Michigan, but we had this view every morning at the campground, which luckily, accommodated us for an additional two weeks. Read more about it here.

Our RV travels have taught us much, about the United States & the people that live and travel in it, RV maintenance and troubleshooting, the good side and bad side of planning ahead, and mostly about our resilience and resolve to travel with our home. But of all the things we have learned, the one that sticks out most is that the unexpected are quite reliable.

IMPROVISE: You never know what you are in for at a campsite. A little ingenuity, a trip to Lowe’s for some old fashioned rain gutters and voila’, gravity is ready to do its job.
MITIGATE: Leak avoidance is the name of the game in RV living. We replaced several soft hoses with sturdier pex hoses, like these running to and from the water heater.
NO FEAR: Be careful where you go poking your nose. Folding back a part of the plastic sheet that covers the underbelly of the RV reveals things you may not want to see, including the black tank valve.
LEARN: We recently discovered a steady leak in the water pump due to a worn check valve and diaphragm. We had to wait a few days to get a new pump. Meanwhile, we had two choices, shut of our water or plug the city water hose that connects to the pump. From this, we learned of the water pump’s necessity to water access even when not in use.

Back home in Chokoloskee last year and after getting everything cleaned from an accumulation of travel dust and setting up for a long winter season on the island, I begin eagerly to plan our 2022 trip as I always do. In the world of RV traveling, you must plan, especially now that everyone and their grandmother has purchased an RV. Acquiring reservations in sought after locations was necessary in my mind. So much so that by the end of February 2022, we were booked solid from May 8 to October 17.

I’ve learned that reserving a coveted campsite way in advance is a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” kind of thing some times. As you can see here, I reserved 2 nights within Custer State Park, not an easy thing to do. Unfortunately, I had to cancel it and lose the price of one night stay.

Oh, I had a great trip planned, elegantly designed by western mountains and midwestern trout streams & great lakes and bookended with southern and Appalachian culture and wilderness. Three National Parks, three National Lake Shores, four Great lakes, and at least four State Capitals were on our list of things to experience. There were no COVID restrictions to look forward to, all doors were open. AND – we could add four state stickers to our map.

A large part of our 2022 travels had to be scrapped. That included Oklahoma, Colorado, Wyoming & South Dakota.

“Plans are only good intentions…”. And then suddenly, circumstances caused us to change our 2022 travel plans. The insane price of diesel weighed us down as we approached our May departure date, so we made the executive decision to cut our trip in half and delay our departure by seven weeks. That cost us $178 in reservation cancellation fees.

Anticipating our maiden voyage in 2018, the excitement was palpable as I filled the truck’s tank. Ahhh, the good old days.

It had been three years since we stayed on Chokoloskee Island beyond the month of May. Anticipating seven more weeks, our moods faltered, and the sweltering heat and humidity of south Florida contributed generously to that. Unacclimated and unaccustomed to seeing all our snowbird neighbors leave one by one, we find ourselves at this moment nearly alone on our paradise island, struggling to put our gears back in neutral.

As they say on Chokoloskee Island “It is what it is”.

But you know what? We may be giving something up, but we’re not giving up that much. We may not hike the Rocky Mountains, but we’ll hike the Appalachians. We may not rack up four new states on our sticker map, but we’ll add one. We may not see a bison this year, but we will cross the Mississippi. We’ll spend quality time along the shores of four Great Lakes, visit four State Capitals and more interesting cities to boot, we’ll paddle, photograph and fish some beautiful waters and we’ll visit two National Parks and three National Lake Shores while we’re at it.

Our revised 2022 itinerary, which includes another slide repair in Indiana. Overall, not to shabby!

There are large swaths of territory that will remain stickerless on our U.S. map this year. One way or the other, we’ll eventually get to the Pacific coast, visit many more National Parks, and work our way up to Maine. And we’ll travel Canada and as my mother would say “God Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise”, north to Alaska. At least that’s the plan.

So with that, unexpected changes and events are reliable and very much a part of RV traveling. Vivian and I can deal with it and most importantly, we’ll count our blessings while we’re at it.

Stayed tuned as we take you on our next adventure that if all goes as planned will, among many things include visits to a couple river cities while heading north along the Mississippi, a Presidential Library, the driftless area of Wisconsin, the rugged north country along Lakes Superior, Huron and Michigan, the Appalachian Mountains and the New River Gorge, and more Florida State parks. And plenty of beautiful things to photograph and plenty of rivers, streams and lakes to fish and paddle on!

Meanwhile, we will enjoy our piece of heaven right here on Chokoloskee Island, despite the heat and humidity.