Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Our first RV Adventure... Learn from our mistakes!!! Part Two

To understand the mistakes we made on the first day was please read Part One of this adventure.

Lesson 5: Walmart is your friend!!!

We spent an unlevel but warm first night in the new RV. When we woke up, we knew we would have to make a trip to Walmart. We were close to Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin which has a Walmart. We made sure the dogs were comfortable in the RV, jumped in the truck, and headed to town to get some more items for the RV. But first, breakfast!!!

I consulted Yelp which recommended Huckleberry's Restaurant in Prairie du Chien, WI. We were not disappointed. It was one of the best breakfasts that we have ever had! I don't remember what we ate but we highly recommend Huckleberry's if you are in the area!

Now that we were full we headed to Walmart which is only a mile away. So far, we were only 12 miles from our campsite. The main thing we wanted at Walmart was a 30 amp extension cord black tank deodorizer. We found those items and some other essentials, picked up some firewood at a local Kwik Trip, and headed back to the RV.

Note to self: Walmart has almost all of the items that you will need on Day 1 with your RV. Many local places also carry RV products. We found out later that our local True Value had a very good selection of RV products. But when you are on the road or in an unfamiliar area and you don't know the local stores, find a Walmart along the highway. But if you can, I recommend shopping local. 

Lesson 6: Choose your site well and be patient when leveling. 

Let's face it, for those of us who are not fortunate enough to have automatic leveling, leveling is a pain in the ass! It's easier if you have two people but it's still a pain! When Matt and I level, I am usually outside setting up the blocks, and Matt drives and checks how level we are. If we aren't level he pulls forward and I adjust the blocks.

Source. RVillage.com
Since this was our first trip, I only had one set of ten blocks. That wasn't enough considering we have six tires this particular site was far from level. Of course, arguments issued. I was tired of being outside in the cold and Matt was frustrated because we couldn't get level (something he is MUCH pickier about than I am).

There were very few campers in the campground, and the one next to us looked like it was more level. When we spotted a Ranger driving by we flagged him down and asked if it would be okay if we move to the next site. He said it was fine and we did. Leveling in this new site was much easier AND we could reach the electrical box! We were winning!

We fired up the refrigerator and finished unloading the truck. It was finally time to camp!

Note to self: Leveling the RV is stressful for all parties involved. If you are a couple and you have been through this, you know that tempers get heated and people say things they don't mean. Please be patient and understand that everyone is ready to be done setting up and do some relaxing! Also, make sure you have enough blocks for all tires. For the last couple of years, we have been carrying four sets of blocks and that has worked out. This year we will be using Andersen levelers and a Levelmate Pro for the first time. More on those in a later blog post. 

Lesson 6: Find enjoyment wherever you are. 
Our campsite at Pike's Peake State Park in McGregor, IA. This
is after we FINALLY got set up!

Since we were finally set up, and the dogs needed some exercise, we went for a walk around the campground. At 2pm the temperature reached the mid-40s F. While we walked, we looked for sites that we would want to stay in if/when we return. This is something that we always do when walking the dogs through campgrounds. We decided that we would stay in sites 28, 44, or 45 in the future because they appear more level and the electrical box is more accessible.

We avoided the many hiking trails because it was muddy, but as we stayed on the road we found an amazing public/day-use area. There were gazebos with grills for parties and one huge stone pavilion that can be reserved online.
Lindsay with dogs Tallie and Indy in the stone pavilion at
Pike's Peak State Park near McGregor, IA.

We also found some lookout areas with beautiful views of the Mississippi River. The dogs enjoyed our cool, crisp walk and we did as well.
Photo Credit: Pikes Peak State Park

Note to self: Traveling will have many bumps in the road and I mean that literally and metaphorically. Sometimes the things that we think of as bad at the time, make for the best stories. If we learn from our mistakes as newbies, we will be able to share what we have learned with future newbs. Anyone who has been RVing for any length of time had to start somewhere. We were all new once. 
Photo Credit: Pikes Peak State Park
All in all, our first weekend in our RV was a success. We learned a ton and we had a great time! We make a hobo packet over the fire the second night (recipe later), enjoyed a few adult beverages around the fire, and spent time with each other and our dogs. We now have a set-up and tear down system that works well for us. After four summers of RVing and over 10,000 miles of travel, we are far from experts. But every trip has taught us something new and we continue to learn from our mistakes, FaceBook groups, and YouTube videos. The RV community is extremely friendly and helpful. If you're new or thinking about buying an RV, take advantage of the knowledge that experienced RVers can share with you.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Our first RV adventure... Learn from our mistakes!!! Part One.

Matt and I bought our 1998 Georgie Boy Maverick in early May of 2016. When we were approved for financing we were over the moon. This was a dream come true for us. We were so excited that we booked several RV sites for the summer before we were approved. We figured we could cancel if things went wrong.

I took a personal day on a Friday and Matt had a three day weekend making it possible to drive the four-hour drive from SE Minnesota to Atkinson, IL which is near the Quad Cities. We had reserved a campsite at Pike's Peak State Park near McGregor, IA.

1998 Georgie Boy Maverick the day we picked
 her up from the dealership. 
The evening before I loaded up the back of the truck with everything I thought we would need to camp in our "new-to-us" RV for the weekend on the way home. I remember the back of the truck was crammed full with bedding, towels, dishes, new sewer hose, clothes, Coleman RoadTrip grill, food, cooler, drinks, beer, utensils, rugs for the RV, water hose, leveling blocks, and anything else we might need to camp for the weekend.

Luckily for us, we had some experience camping. Both of us served in the Army and had camped as kids. We were tired of "roughing it" in tents and desired amenities like a bathroom and power. For the 9 previous years, we camped with our horses and had a makeshift camper in our horse trailer. We were pretty experienced campers. But nothing could prepare us for what we would learn on that first camping trip.

Matt behind the wheel
for the first time
Lesson 1: Know your dimensions!

We picked up our motorhome at the dealership where the dealer gave us a walkaround and showed us how everything worked. Matt drove the RV and I was behind him driving the truck and navigating. Matt had both of the dogs with him. It was probably around 16:00 when we set out.

We had about two and a half hours to reach our state park. To get there, we had to drive through the Quad Cities which is not exactly Washington, DC traffic but when you're driving a 30' RV for the first time, it feels like it. `

We got stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on I-74. The sign up ahead said the road narrowed to 8' wide. Since we were following the directions given by Google maps I didn't think very much of this. It turns out our RV is only 8' wide. Uh oh!!! While we were stopped in traffic I Googled the dimensions of a Class C motorhome.

Note to self: Know your RV's dimensions before hitting the road!!! Measure the width and height (to the highest point), write them on a label and stick it somewhere the driver can see it easily.

Lesson 2: Semi-trucks are your friends

What really struck me about this road construction traffic was that as I looked around, I noticed there were no semi-trucks ahead or behind us. This was the red flag in my brain that we were in a bad place. I called Matt on his cell so that we could get off the interstate at the next exit. I was hoping to find a place that we could pull over and re-evaluate our route.

We ended up in downtown Davenport, IA, which was the last place Matt wanted to be driving the RV for the first time. It was about this time that it started to pour down rain. It was very stressful, but we were able to find a church parking lot to pull into and discuss our options. The best route to get us to our destination was to keep driving the bustling road we were already on which had a ton of traffic lights. And it was rush hour!

Note to self: If you are driving or towing your RV and you are coming up on construction, look around. If there are semi's on the road you will fit. If all the semis are exiting, follow them, and find an alternate route.

Lesson 3: Never pull into your campsite after dark

We finally got back on the highway. It was still raining as we headed north on US 61 and we were determined to get to our campsite. We knew we had another 1 1/2 to 2 hours before arriving. It was getting later in the day and would soon be dark. Here is where we screwed up.

We passed at least three city RV parks on our way that were wide open with sites. What we should have done was stop at one of those. It was raining, cold, and getting dark but we hoped to beat the darkness.
Source: Iowa State Parks Reservations

Finally, we made it to the park. since it was late there were was no one in the registration center but they had a self-check-in system. I had already paid online. luckily there were maps of the park and the campground so we grabbed one and headed off to find our site.

It was dusk when we finally arrived at our reserved site. There were a few other campers in the campground but it was nowhere near full. Matt did a nice job of backing into the site for the first time (we use army ground guide arm movements) but this site was so unlevel!! The back of the RV was much lower than the front and we didn't want our heads below our feet when sleeping.

We tried the leveling blocks first. I had watched YouTube videos and blog entries on Pinterest and felt that we were up to this challenge. We weren't! I had not ordered enough leveling blocks. By this time it was dark, we were arguing (who doesn't when parking the camper, right?), and we were cold as the temperature had dropped below freezing. To get the camper to a somewhat level spot in the site, which was very long, we had to pull the RV to the very front of the site, near the road. Yay! We thought we were good for the night and we would sort the rest out in the morning. No such luck! The 30 amp power cable wouldn't reach the pedestal! So we had to back up until the cable would plugin. Which made us unlevel. We said screw it and dealt with it.

Note to self: You have your home with you. If inclement weather or bad traffic means you will arrive at your RV site after dark, stop somewhere else while it is still daylight! You have time. Make some phone calls on the road to change your reservations. Rving is about taking your time and enjoying the journey. 

Lesson 4: Plan meals in advance. 

After deciding to sleep unlevel, it was not time to unload the truck as much as possible. We brought in the essentials like bedding, some food and cooking essentials, and dog supplies.

This was one thing that DID NOT go wrong for us but something we have been doing for years when camping. Freeze leftover meals in Foodsaver Bags.

We do not get paid by Foodsaver but absolutely love ours. I have no idea how much money we have saved by freezing leftovers and fresh veggies but I'm thinking it's a bunch!
Our Foodsaver and meatballs
that we froze back in December.
They make great subs
while on the road. 

Leftovers are tasty and easy while camping and on the road in your RV. We vacuum seal meals like spaghetti, chili, taco meat, any kind of pasta, and then we have an almost instant meal with very little cleanup. Here's the trick: boil the meal in the bag. This can be done when the meal is frozen or thawed. When it's hot, cut the bag open and serve the meal right out of the bag. Throw it away when you are done, or put a bag clip on the bag and put it back in the fridge. Easy peasy! Great for travel days and late arrivals.
(Above)Frozen meatballs
 leftover from a NYE
 potluck. Cover bag
with water and boil until
heated through (below).

Once we got the furnace running (easier than we thought), and the water boiling, we had a hot home-cooked meal in our bellies and had forgotten all about our "leveling the camper arguments."

Note to self: If you are freezing a meal in vacuum-seal bags to boil later, double seal each end of the bag. Sometimes a single seal breaks while the food is boiling. We got our Foodsaver a few years on Amazon for about $85.00. This exact one is no longer available but you can order a similar model here.

This isn't the end of our first RV weekend. More newbie Rv mistakes and how not to repeat them coming in part two.

Our first RV Adventure... Learn from our mistakes!!! Part Two

To understand the mistakes we made on the first day was please read Part One  of this adventure. Lesson 5: Walmart is your friend!!! We...