RV Experiments

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is posted after we returned from our first RV weekend. I decided to write as we learned, so to speak. It is the history of our first weekend in an RV. At this point, Virginia wants to buy one, I’m trying to determine how to use it enough to justify the costs, and Rocky just wants to know where his bed is.

RV Time At Last

It is decided. Again. Maybe. For now.

Labor Day weekend, we will be taking our first RV trip. It is more of an experiment than a trip, since we’re only going about sixty miles from home – which is hardly justification for an RV. However, we wanted to see what RVing was like, we wanted to see if Rocky the Chihuahua would survive a trip that did not involve visiting a veterinarian, and we wanted to actually visit an RV park.

Our original plan was to visit Palo Duro Canyon in West Texas – a worthy follow-up to our trip to the Big Bend. This is another drive across Texas. A possibly long drive. After having broken up the Big Bend drive into two days – in an SUV that can do 75 or 80 if the speed limit allowed – we assumed we would do the same in an RV, but we would be going slower. Much slower. On the bright side, we would use much more gas.

So, that plan has two to four days just in driving back and forth. Then, we have to actually visit the park. This is probably more than a week’s vacation and I don’t have that much time left this year. So, we were looking at 2023, at the earliest, and we already have some vacation plans for next year.

On the bright side, that means we have a lot of time to plan the whole trip. However, we tend to overthink things if we have too much time to plan, and then just end up going in the SUV and finding hotels along the way. “Finding hotels along the way” means spending a couple of days searching for Hampton Inns along the various possible routes and then matching the mileage to the hotels’ locations and planning the drive based on hotel location. So for our previous almost-RV trips, we were taking an RV to Big Bend (nope!), we were going to take an RV to Amarillo (pending), we were going to take an RV to see the kids in Ohio (nope!)

Then, Virginia said, “Let’s just go somewhere for Labor Day.” Labor Day is a three-day weekend, but with only one day off, that limits the distance covered. Even with a half-day Friday (to pick up the RV, get the basic training, and head out), we’re really not getting that far.

Plus, it’s the last major travel weekend of the summer, so it’s not like anyone else had the same idea – and if they did, they had it months ago, so they luckily had all their reservations nailed down already.

The challenge with renting an RV is that, much like a hotel, there are pre-defined check-in and check-out times, but unlike a hotel, many of the RV rental outlets aren’t open on weekends. There was no time to pick up the RV on Saturday, so it had to be picked up on Friday. Both drivers had to be present (the helpful clerk did check both of our licenses, so it wasn’t a waste of time for me to be there.)

I finally decided to just take a half-day of vacation Friday to manage the pickup and paperwork, since the reservation was in my name, anyway. Also, that meant we could pack up and be at the campground Friday evening because even if we missed closing time at 5pm, the manager would leave our campsite assignment and a map in a envelope with our name on it, taped to the door of the office. I suppose some evil person could have stolen our campsite, since there are no keys, but we would have called and mentioned our envelope was missing, and the campsite stealer would be caught easily.

Even with the last-minute planning, we managed to get a large RV reserved with CruiseAmerica (a 30-foot Class C that sleeps seven), which should fit both of us and a Chihuahua. It was possibly overkill, but it was last-minute. Actually, I’m surprised they didn’t just have little ones available.

A Class C is an RV built on a truck chassis – in our case, the CruiseAmerica large class C is built on a Ford F-450 truck frame. So, it’s a pickup with a house on the back instead of a bed. A Class A is an RV that looks like a bus. A Class B is built on a van chassis so I really don’t know who could stay in one, unless you were alone and liked sleeping on a couch.

Once we had the RV nailed down, we just needed a place to camp, close to home (i.e. close to a major city on a three-day weekend at the end of summer, with two weeks’ notice.) Yes, I can hear the snickers. Stop it.

A popular place to stay for a night or two would be any of the multitude of State Parks in Texas. Of course, all of the ones near us were booked by people that had the same idea more than two weeks before the actual date. The only one left was Cedar Hill State Park.

Cedar Hill State Park is about thirty miles from us on Joe Pool Lake. We have never been to Joe Pool Lake. So, that’s a good reason to go. The park is famous for being an oasis near the big city. That’s another good reason to go. After we booked it, we found out the park is also famous for ants. Ants. Lovely.

Virginia is not in favor of ants.

So, while we had barely had time for Plan A, now it was time for Plan B.

If you only had one State Park option, and it has ants, it is either time for a private RV park or a wife that doesn’t mind ants. A new park is slightly easier to find.

Here’s an issue I discovered (I think) – most of the RV parks close to a large city expect long-term campers, not overnighters. So, they are not much on family fun or excitement – they are a place to park long-term while you drive your tow vehicle (if your RV is a trailer or fifth-wheel) or car you are towing (a TOAD) in and out of the city to get stuff and visit places.

If you get further out of Dallas, you start getting more elaborate parks – but then you have to have the time to drive to them. That really shouldn’t be much of an issue, but we booked the RV and set the mileage based on Cedar Hill, so now we have to watch how much driving we will do.

Yes, you pay per mile to rent an RV. There’s no unlimited mileage.

The mileage charge was one of the Ohio RV trip issues. If we could find a family of four to share the costs, we would have done it years ago, but then, we would have been sleeping in our kids’ front yard with a family of strangers.

My concern was finding a place that would work – it had all the services, it was well-run – really, I wanted to make sure the campground would not be the reason that the trip failed. If the trip fails, I want it to be because we hate driving or sleeping in the RV, not because we get ants or can’t use the toilet without finding a dump station.

So, we settled for less exciting, more services.

Sanger / Denton North KOA Journey is in Sanger, north of Denton – right next door to an RV dealer (in case we are in love or have problems), sixty miles or so from home, outside the city enough to be a trip, close enough where we could actually Uber home in a pinch.

Not that this KOA camp is boring – there’s horseshoes, tether ball, a pool, a catch and release fish pond, two dog parks, a pavilion with BBQ grills and other various items. It just doesn’t have a monster slide, a tattoo parlor, a race car track, live Italian cooking demonstrations and whatever else Virginia thinks are at her mythical RV parks in the sky.

Now, we get to find the back way to Sanger – or just decide we can drive on an Interstate as first-timers.

Friday

First Drive

Driving a Class C is interesting – after we did the walk-around at the rental center and saw all the basics (it was a review of the Watch This First video, but still helpful), it was off for home to pack. I took the long way home, down a wider major street (Northwest Highway) than the more direct easy street (Mockingbird), which was a good first lesson in RV driving. Bumps are bumpier, turns are slower and wider, starts at a light are much slower (which means slick streets will make you slide), and stops require more distance, but we survived.

Driving to the house really shouldn’t count as a first drive, but we had to get home to load up all the equipment for the real first drive, and it was on Northwest Highway, which is a busy road but not really a highway.

First Service Call

Just as we pulled around the corner to go down our street, the Tire Pressure light came on. Joy. First call to the Traveler Assistance hot line. (CruiseAmerica RVs have a spare, but no jack. If you have a flat, you call for help.) The cheerful lady didn’t seem to think it was an issue, and we were two hours behind my original schedule (which apparently was not Virginia’s schedule), so I decided to take her word for it. The helpful lady also mentioned that on a dual rear wheel RV (a dually) like ours, if the inside tires were flat, it would still drive normally. Then, why do you have them?

Just ignore it

I was concerned about driving on “low” tires when I didn’t know what low really meant and I didn’t know how to fill the inner tires, but I figured:

  1. I didn’t want to seem sexist just because a helpful lady told me a vehicle fact I thought was wildly wrong
  2. I was told it was fine on what was probably a recorded line
  3. It’s not really that far to Sanger
  4. It’s a rental
  5. We’re parking next door to a RV sales and service center
  6. We’re two hours behind my original schedule, let’s get moving.

First Real Drive

My original route to Sanger (worked out over hours with Google Maps, Roadtrippers (for RV support) and personal experience) was the long way – drive up Central Expressway to US-380 in McKinney and then over to I-35 where we could get to the campground using the access road. It was simple, avoided Dallas’ major Interstates and all toll roads, but still stuck to highways and not city streets. I knew it was the long way, but it was longer than I had anticipated.

Somewhere in Prosper on US-380, the traffic was so bad, we decided to pull over near a Chick-Fil-A and have dinner. We just parked in the massive parking lot next door in two parking spots, since nobody going to Chick-Fil-A or the Home Depot on the other side were going to park out that far. Rocky had his first road meal. (He also took a dump for the ages in the parking lot.)

Virginia turned on the generator to use the microwave for Rocky’s dinner and to run the A/C in the living area of the RV. This was a lesson in RVisms – there is an air conditioner in the front because it’s a Ford F-450 truck, but it will cool the driver’s and passenger’s seats and a little of the living area. It also only works while the engine is running. If you want to cool the actual RV, you need power in the back and that means shore power (like at an RV park) or running the generator (which is loud, uses gas from the engine’s gas tank, and CruiseAmerica charges you per hour to use it.) However, if you are in a parking lot, you use the generator. This was as close as we will ever come to dry camping.

After a lovely sit-down, fast-food meal at our dinette table, Virginia decided to let Siri provide directions. Siri does not know about RVs or apparently about many roads. First, Siri took us down a dead end road (which was enough for me to give up on her, but not Virginia, because she is more of an Apple fanboy than I. I had already inquired what Google Maps suggested, but was ignored.) Then, Siri lead us down a Farm to Market road to another Farm to Market road, then we went down a couple of country lanes to US-377. Finally, another country lane to I-35. Now, I will say, one of the Farm to Market roads was apparently over the dam for Ray Roberts Lake (there was dry land on one side of an elevated road and lots of water on the other side, plus at the end of the water was The “Dam” Store.) The dam road was impressive. Some of the other damn roads were not.

At The Campground

We arrived late at the campground, and the office was already closed, but we knew that was a good possibility. I was planning to arrive before 5pm to actually check in and meet the staff, but once Virginia heard “self-check-in”, she stopped worrying about arrival times. If you arrive after the staff leave, you pull up to the office, and find the envelope with your name on it. Inside the envelope, you will find a map of the campground, a note with your campsite, and helpful arrows to show you how to find it. I had booked a 90-foot pull-through campsite on a concrete pad. I really didn’t want to back up a 30-foot RV on my first night as darkness fell if I could avoid it. With a pull-through, you just have to line up your connections on the RV with the power, water and sewer connections on the campsite. (I missed the sewer connection by a bit since our sewer hose wasn’t that long, so Virginia pulled us forward in the morning.)

Most critical issue – the free WiFi worked.

We arrived after it was starting to get dark, but I did manage to get the water and power hooked up. A/C and running water – the basics of life. I remembered to flip the breaker for the power outlet and I remembered to check that we were plugged into the proper outlet. (I have never plugged in a house before.) Success!

It’s interesting the standard terminology across travel – ships, planes and RVs all have shore power. Shore power means no onboard generator usage, you’re plugged into an outlet on a pole near your campground. Ships have berths and probably much larger outlets. (Rental companies charge for generator usage.)

It’s also interesting to think that for the price of the campground rental, you have unlimited water and power. I wonder how much power it takes to cool a 30-foot RV while charging all our devices and how much water two shower and washing dishes takes.

First Night

Downgrading from a king-sized bed at home to a RV “queen” is definitely the definition of “close quarters.” Add in a Chihuahua and it’s a wee bit tight. However, my greatest fear was unfounded – my CPAP works fine with the power supply, with all devices charging and the A/C blasting. Electricity. Don’t leave home without it.

Parked for the night

Saturday

First Morning

The skylight in the bedroom makes late sleeping virtually impossible, so we were all up by 7:30am or so. Considering Rocky usually sleeps until 10am, this was early.

The toilet is on a pedestal so it is designed for sitting or really tall guys with good aim. It is flushed with a foot pedal which I can never find. A flush doesn’t sound like much water is used. We’ll see when we check the dump tank levels. We will return to the pedal saga later.

Rocky wasn’t really interested in looking out the windows until a woman walked her Goldendoodle on the grass by the side of our RV. Then, it was time to guard the RV.

Second Service Call

Both the outlets by the stove were non-functional. I didn’t care since my iPhone and watch were plugged in by the bed, but apparently, Virginia didn’t want to use the electric kettle or the Ninja grill in the bedroom. So, she called Traveler Assistance for help. It turns out the night light I had noticed in the toilet was the reset button for all the plugs. The night light was yellow because there was a problem, not because it was a soothing night light. (I never said I was an electrician.) Press the button to reset the circuit, everything works. This was a call to Traveler Assistance that actually fixed the issue. Considering most of the help lines I’ve called over the years, they should receive an award.

I should also note this representative said that if the tire pressure warning light was on, we should probably only drive it to the RV dealer and service center next door to have it checked.

Dumping the Tanks

After we remembered to turn on the hot water heater, we waited for hot water – about an hour. Do not travel in an RV if you are in a hurry, because there are so many things where you have to plan ahead. I was rewarded with almost scalding water in a shower where there was no escape from the spray. It was also the hardest shower knob I have ever turned – I was looking for a lock to release. The shower head also made me feel tall – I had to duck to wash my hair.

I took what I thought was a relatively brief shower and got out while I was still alive and upright. I tried to leave hot water for Virginia but I don’t know how to check the hot water levels.

When I finished showering, Virginia washed out the coffee pot and the sink started backing up. WTF? We checked and the grey water tank was full. I take short showers, so a Virginia shower would probably flood the unit or possibly the campground.

Virginia got the sewage line attached (we had a full hookup, but I had just connected water and electric in the dusk of arrival) and dumped the grey tank. Since she had to move the RV a couple of feet forward to have the line reach, that was technically the first time she drove an RV. We left the grey water line open so she can take a shower without filling it up. I’m still going to watch the sink while she’s in there.

More on black and grey water later. You have been warned.

Shower Notes

“City water” which in this case is probably water right out of Ray Roberts Lake, filtered through a screen door, does not rinse well. It does not dry off well. However, it counts as a shower, and it can get boiling hot in the hot water heater, after you remember to turn the water heater on and wait an hour or so for it to fill the hot water tank.

After my shower, I wondered if there is such a thing as a handicapped RV because there are no grab bars in the shower. So, when you use water that just sheds soap, the floor gets slick. Something to grab onto would be helpful. You do have a curtain and a door, so you can lock yourself in and just have a small area to fall, but a grab bar would be nice so the EMTs have something to hold while they are pulling your lifeless body out after you fall and are scalded to death.

I haven’t have balance issues for most of my life but after falling and breaking my foot and ankle in 2020, I’m a bit risk averse. Plus, I’m getting old and tentative. I would really like a shower I didn’t have to step up into although I’m sure it’s designed that way to make sure the floor isn’t flooded (and because there is a storage compartment outside.)

Interlude

Our progress so far –

  • First RV drive – complete
  • First RV crisis – complete (tire warning light – was told it was probably fine)
  • First RV meal – complete (OK, it was Chick-Fil-A, but we were in a parking lot on the generator with the A/C on, and we sat at the dinette.)
  • First RV cooking – complete (Rocky needed his food warmed and there is a microwave.)
  • First RV campsite set-up – complete (Water and Electric as we arrived, Sewage the next morning)
  • First RV sleep – complete (close quarters but everyone got some sleep)
  • Second RV crisis – complete (no power in the outlets, support told us how to reset the breaker)
  • First RV shower – complete
  • First RV tank dump – complete (after one short shower filled the grey tank)

Third Service Call

I hate hair dryers. I haven’t used one since high school, and that’s a long, long time. There’s an old-school technology called “towels” that is very good at drying hair and body parts. However, Virginia requires her hair dryer and even takes it on trips where one is provided.

So, the usual problem with hair dryers is they draw enormous amounts of power. Why? I don’t know. So, just before we wander out for the day, we had another crisis. A/C on full? No problem. All devices charging? No problem. Microwave? No problem. Electric kettle? No problem. Hair dryer? Boom. No power.

I reset everything in the breaker box and it didn’t fix anything. I looked and all the fuses looked like fuses (I am still not an electrician.)

Traveler Assistance asked if we had checked the breaker at the pole – for shore power. This is the breaker I had to turn on yesterday to get power started. In my defense, I have not had much caffeine this morning, and I still am not an electrician. So, I went outside, and the breaker was flipped. Turned it back and the A/C is back.

Lesson learned – if you have something that makes your head really, really hot, you have to turn off the A/C before you use it.

Afternoon Plans

I think we will go to the dealer next door and see if they will check the tires for us. Then, we have to go into town to see if the pharmacy can get Virginia some more test strips for her glucose meter. We may have to visit the Ray Roberts Lake Park after that.

The pharmacy in Sanger closes at noon on Saturday. Ah, small towns. We’re going to have to go to Denton. Walgreens on W. University Drive has the strips and it’s open 24 hours. If we hadn’t followed Siri’s wander through the Texas wilderness, we would have driven past it last night.

I will say that it is not a vacation until there is a pharmacy or clinic involved, so now this is a vacation.

Virginia Drove the RV

After we got organized, we headed out to get air in the tires and test strips. Virginia decided to face her fears and drive. It wasn’t as bad as she thought. Actually, I wonder if she will let me drive again.

McClain’s service department was extremely helpful and filled all the tires (the back tires were all low.) The mechanic showed us where the tire level label is (on the driver’s door), filled all the tires to the proper levels and showed me how to check the oil. It turns out the reason the outer rear wheels have holes in them is not to look cool or put streamers in – it’s so you can reach the inner tires and fill them up.

The mechanic (whom I trust more than a Traveler Assistance lady – I’m not being sexist, he just agreed with my assessment) said you can drive on low pressure but you shouldn’t. He said you can drive with the inside tires low but it is not a good idea. Having destroyed a couple of wheels (not tires, wheels) in my early days of driving, I was surprised Traveler Assistance lady said it was fine to drive on them. (The woman Virginia talked to this morning when her hair dryer blew the fuse said that we could drive to the service station to check, but not drive on them. That made more sense.)

He also explained to Virginia which picnic table was ours. There are picnic tables on each side of our campground and electric, water and sewer on both sides, but the electric pole has a number on it that matches the number of your campsite. Our mechanic said that if you pull in so you have the water, electric and sewer match the RV (the outlets are on the driver’s side), then your picnic table is the one by your door (the opposite side.) So, you have stuff on either side of your RV, but you are sharing two strips of grass.

This also explains why you are warned about black water and keeping smells under control, since it may be near your neighbor’s picnic table.

There was no charge for the air or the lesson. I tipped heavily, as I learned a lot in twenty minutes. We may have to go see what RVs they have for sale. (I may be getting ahead of myself.)

RVers are a lot like cruise people – the mechanic said we will fall in love and then we will want one (he pointed next door to the showroom.) The people on RVillage have been very helpful and encouraging. We may have found another possible addiction.

Walgreens

This should have been in and out – which was good, since the RV took up about five parking spaces – but it was Walgreens. There was a college girl (based on her t-shirt and the fact UT North Texas is down the street) who was having insurance problems with her birth control (this is why I don’t speak loudly in a pharmacy – not that I need birth control), and then an older gentleman who had Medicare and supplemental insurance from Cigna (there are a lot of loud speakers in Denton) and was arguing about his copay, which he thought was “none”. Apparently, his doctor found a medication that wasn’t covered. Perhaps he should visit the lady in the RV in the parking lot and discuss drug coverage horror stories. Then a woman who wanted decongestant and was struggling with a whole handful of Tresomme products (but not enough for a cart or basket). Then, there was a hidden college student, because there was another set of chairs for the register but she went quickly (and quietly.)

Finally, I got the test strips and fled.

Taking up space(s)

Chicken Express

Virginia suggested chicken for lunch and managed to find a truck parking spot at Chicken Express (or they just have really big cars in Sanger.) The RV didn’t really block traffic while I went inside to get lunch. “Express” may have been a marketing term – I think they ran out of chicken in the middle of making my order, because it was pretty slow fast food.

So, we enjoyed another meal in the RV with the generator running the A/C. I have to remember where to check the generator hours on the status display.

This was the first place where we had to back up to get out of the space. So, I got to direct Virginia backing up, while people desperate for chicken weaved around me to get to the drive through. We escaped safely.

I can never remember if it is Chicken Express or Golden Chick where I love the chicken but it gives me, uh, gastric issues. That reminds me to check the levels on the black water tank.

Afternoon

Well, it’s Texas on Labor Day weekend, so it’s four thousand degrees, but the A/C is starting to cool the unit off. $60 per night for electric and water is starting to look reasonable. Virginia wants to visit the pool but I don’t like the idea of becoming soup.

We’re supposed to have our weekly Zoom happy hour in a while, so we will see if the WiFi works for streaming. Virginia asked about premium WiFi but it’s not available at the moment. I did stream a couple minutes from Netflix last night just to see what would happen.

I also put the address of the RV park into UberEats and it looks like we could get food. We just have to tell them what street and campground we are in (I think). Also, we would need a porch to leave it on. I guess they could leave it on the picnic table, assuming they knew which was ours.

Virginia is complaining that it is 83 degrees inside the RV and she is hot while she is also complaining that she wants to go sit outside where it is 95 degrees and no shade. I’m suspecting heat stroke or she was dropped as a child.

Zooming from the Couch

We’ve had a weekly Zoom happy hour with our friends from New Mexico (we met on the Norwegian Jade in 2017) since the early days of the pandemic. Usually, only sickness or travel cancels the meeting. So, since we had a laptop and WiFi and a fairly stable location, we decided to try it. I figured we would just bail if the WiFi couldn’t handle the bandwidth.

It worked. Well, each side froze once or twice, but we’ve frozen at home before, so I consider it a major success. Plus, it worked without the Premium WiFi package. This bodes well for working from the road, just in case.

Flush With Victory

The black water gauge got stuck on 2/3rds full – as in, it was reading 2/3, Virginia dumped the tank and it was then reading 2/3. This probably means (according to Dr YouTube) that something is stuck on the sensor, which was my guess. “Something” came from the toilet, so there are only a couple of choices, and you are free to use your imagination. The only way to clear the sensor (short of taking the tank apart) is to float the blockage off the sensor.

The challenge I saw was that if the gauge always says 2/3, you would have to fill the tank beyond that to dump it and see if the sensor clears. You also have to stop filing before it overflows. I did find a hilarious video of a couple filling their tank and rocking the RV repeatedly to loosen the stuck substance (I had considered filling the tank and driving a bumpy road), and that finally worked for them. I also found an RV repair video (more professional, less humorous) that mentioned you need to fill the toilet before you flush it – which has never been a requirement at home. It turns out that if you push the foot pedal half-way down, it fills the bowl with water. If you push it all the way down, it flushes. If you keep holding it down after you flush, it keeps running water down the pipe. This may explain why there is a foot pedal and it is virtually impossible to flush from a sitting position (or it is a yoga position I have not learned.) It also means you should observe your output while you fill the bowl with more water before you flush. I am a bit afraid that if I am staring at poop in the toilet, trying to determine the water quantity required to float it, my Mom will show up behind me and say, “What a big boy! Good for you! Poo-poo in the toilet!” Yes, I still have childhood scars.

So, Virginia dumped the tank again this morning, and I had Furosemide and coffee, and after a few full flushes, the tank now reads 1/3 instead of 2/3. If adding liquids made the sensor go down, the foreign matter has been displaced from the sensor or something is eating our poop water, which would be a really cheesy horror movie (“The RV Poop Blob”.)

This whole tank saga is another way that RVs are similar to cruises – the plumbing and waste removal is a huge issue. When we had a backstage tour of one of the Norwegian ships, we spent a lot of time on black water, grey water and trash recycling and removal. It’s a big task and it’s the same with an RV.

On an RV, you dump the black water first, then the grey water so the grey water (including soapy water from the shower and sink) can rinse the dump hose. It turns out you can just leave the grey water line open if you are at a full-hookup site, because it can just drain. Since the black water tank has enzyme tablets in it to break up the solids (you drop a new tablet in the toilet and flush every time you dump the tank), you can’t leave the black water line open – the enzymes won’t work and it can get stinky. Plus, the solids may end up on the bottom, never leaving the tank.

The Great Cooking Experiment

Virginia planned to cook all our meals because we were never going to leave the campground. This is despite the fact she doesn’t like cooking at home and UberEats actually listed places that would deliver to the RV park. Also, we had to leave the campground to get her glucose test strips.

The RV has a folding table which was filthy. I wiped it down with Clorox wipes, so now it is disinfected filthy. Virginia doesn’t have a grill and we couldn’t rent one (and the county may still be under a burn ban), so she is using her Ninja Foodi grill… outdoors.

So, I sat in a lawn chair and watched a Ninja Foodi grill cook. Not exactly outdoor cooking at its finest.

Outdoor Grilling

The pork chops were very tasty. No fuses were hurt in the grilling of these chops.

A Walk Around The Campground

After dinner, we went to dump the trash in the dumpster (before I read you could leave your trash behind the RV before 9am for pick-up), and took Rocky for an introduction to an RV park walking tour, because he hasn’t gotten out much. He sniffed a lot of smells, barked at a couple of neighbors, marked a lot of territory, and passed out cold when we got back to the RV.

Night Time

Sunday

Lazy Morning

Virginia made microwave bacon. Who knew there was such a thing? It’s almost like it was made for RVs with no ovens. So, we had bacon sandwiches for breakfast. She had brought the kettle and a French press for coffee. I suppose if you wanted to rough it, you would boil a pot of water on the stove. Pus, I had to look up the amps for an electric kettle before using it. Rocky ate and after I walked him, he decided it was time to explore the RV.

We have been in the RV since Friday and today (Sunday) is the first day Rocky is trying to explore. He tried to get into the bunk over the driver’s seat, he’s walking on top of the couch, he’s going into the bedroom and he’s jumped from the dinette to the couch and back. A major advantage for a puppy in an RV is that there are more curtains than doors, and curtains just slow you down – doors can stop you.

One of the issues with Rocky is that he is an escape artist – that’s how we ended up adopting him. So, Virginia is afraid he will escape. She brought his travel crate but it turns out that the seat-belt safety cord keeps him in place. It attaches to the seat belt and his collar and it gives him a limited amount of freedom while keeping him in the RV while we’re going in and out of the door, flipping fuses and dumping tanks.

Plotting his escape

Tempting Fate

Virginia made hamburgers for lunch on the Ninja Foodi grill. Inside the RV. We were about to determine if you can grill inside, even if you have to have wet hair.

Boom! No, you cannot.

The A/C just stopped and the lights are out. Back outside to reset the breaker. If nothing else, we’ve learned that maneuver this weekend.

So, now we can grill inside if the A/C is off. So, you get the heat (and possible smoke) of grilling outside under the comfort of a roof. Since it looks like rain, the roof may be worthwhile.

Cheeseburgers. Worth It.

None of this would have happened except that I noticed the campground brochure had a table with amperages for various appliances and a warning to make sure you paid attention to how many you had plugged in at once. I assume without that prior knowledge, all of this would have worked. I haven’t seen a table like that since the days of hooking up modems and overloading your phone line.

Update: the Smoke Detector works. Well. Very well. It is a very loud smoke alarm. (I’m thinking Willie’s bus does not have a smoke alarm.) Another great reason to just use the damn stove and microwave that are in the RV.

We now have most of the windows open, oven vent open. Problem resolved. For now. There is a screen door for absolute smoke emergencies, even though the sliding screen over the handle is missing, so it is a screen door that would allow bugs, small birds and small mammals inside.

Side lesson learned: Opening the windows does provide a lovely breeze, before the raindrops start coming in. It also shows how loud the A/C unit is. It’s not as bad as the generator, but it’s loud.

Power Issues

Here are some of the amperage values borrowed from the campground brochure:

  • Air Conditioner 12.5 amps
  • Water Heater 12.5 amps
  • Hair Dryer 14,983,947 amps (I mean 10)
  • Microwave Oven 15 amps
  • I looked up the Ninja and I think it was 14 amps

So, when Virginia tried to cook burgers indoors, it wasn’t ever going to work because the A/C was on (12.5 amps) and I had left the water heater on because Virginia hadn’t taken her shower (12.5 amps.) We were at 25 amps on a 30 amp line before anything else was plugged in.

Speaking of power issues, we lost electricity at home about 3:25pm, according to my text from Oncor. Apparently, the rain we had here was much worse in Dallas. Either that, or an Oncor employee tried to dry her hair at work. I’m waiting to get a note from Oncor that it’s fixed.

Quiet Afternoon

After the power was restored and smoke alarms silenced, it was a pretty good lunch. If Virginia makes dinner tonight, it will be the first time in a long time that she has cooked three meals for me in one day. (Mainly because I usually have a protein shake for breakfast and I make something quick for lunch to get to my next meeting.) There’s a part of me that wants to use UberEats just to watch the driver try to find site 52, but home cooking is better, once you learn what breakers and alarms are involved, and whether or not you can have the A/C on.

We just left the windows open and the A/C off during lunch. It is very quiet without the A/C running. With the windows open, you can hear the birds, the kids three streets over, and then Rocky barking at those kids. You can hear trains and thunder. It is nice to just stand still for once, even if the breeze rocks the RV now and then.

I don’t think we’re going to get much accomplished today, and I think that’s a good thing. Rain is probably not a good time to visit a State park, even if it is a lake, so it’s already wet. To me, with the amount of time spent at work in meetings lately, that is actually an accomplishment. Plus, if Virginia ever takes a shower (“as soon as I dump the tanks”, “as soon as I make breakfast”, “as soon as I clean up from breakfast”, “as soon as I make lunch”, “as soon as I clean up from lunch”, “after I relax a bit”), we can turn the hot water heater off, and get 12.5 precious amps back.

This is also the first day that Virginia or I have been out of sight (in the bathroom, in the shower) and Rocky hasn’t panicked. It may be because he’s asleep. I think he’s slowly acclimating. It will be interesting to see what happens when we get back home.

Oncor just texted me that the power is still out at the house. If they don’t get it back on by tomorrow, we have an RV to sleep in. That’s pretty expensive insurance but Oncor is not known for meeting estimates of having the lights back on.

The people across the way are setting up a TV outside. (I think they’re in site 55 but there’s nobody between us.) It must be football season. I hope the rain is over or it’s an outdoor TV. It looks like they have a dorm fridge in one of their storage areas. I have to say that watching a guy fart around with his TV while the rest of the group wanders in and out is a pretty interesting show. The truck that pulls the RV just arrived with fast food. (Note to Virginia – if you get a trailer or a fifth-wheel, you don’t have to cook, because you can send someone out for food!) The woman driving the truck must be Virginia’s age because she’s the first one that thought about cleaning off the table and wiping it down with Clorox.

Watching these people set up for what must be the game of the week made me think it must be interesting trying to have parties in an RV park. The campground here says the rate covers two persons, two cars, and an RV. I suppose you could tow one car, and have one person drive the RV and the other drive the extra car. Extra people and vehicles have to register at the office, which is closed on Saturday. So much for tailgating parties.

We actually watched some streaming shows on my laptop this evening and it worked, with programs on both Discovery+ and YouTube TV. Unlike football viewers, we weren’t going to freak out when the screen froze, but we managed to get a couple of hours of mindless entertainment in before calling it a night.

Virginia brought headlamps, which was lucky because unlike home, when it’s dark, it’s really dark in the campsite. Unfortunately, you can’t walk Rocky at sunset and hope for the best until morning. A headlamp helps you see his progress, his output and also helps you see the ant mounds he is leading you over.

We either use much more water than “normal” people or the tanks are really small. We decided to close the grey tank so it would have water to rinse the hose after draining the black tank in the morning, but after Virginia did the dishes, the grey tank was reading Full. Now, she cleans dishes more carefully than I do, but I don’t think she uses that much water.

I’m wondering if it is not the same issue as the showers on the train where I was told to turn on the water, wet down, turn off the water, soap up, turn on the water, rinse, turn off the water and get out. If the water would actually rinse the soap off, it would take less time, as well.

We never had a problem with enough water coming in since we were connected to street water, and we didn’t have a problem until now with grey water because we just left the drain open, so it didn’t stay in the tank. It’s just once the grey water is stored in the tank, it fills quickly. Really quickly.

I have found estimates online from various random sources on how long the black and grey water tanks will last, and I get the feeling those people are using paper plates and following the old camper’s adage, “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.”

Planning Ahead

Tomorrow, we head home (check-out is at noon) and now that both of us have driven on Interstates, we can just go on I-35 to I-35E to LBJ or Northwest Highway and home. It will save ten to twenty miles but I’m not sure how much time it will save since I-35 has been under construction since my childhood.

We avoided the toll road, just because I’m not sure what happens when you take a rented vehicle with California plates through a truck toll booth. Where does the bill go? More importantly, how long will it take CruiseAmerica to find me and what will the upcharge be?

There are a bunch of lists at the end of this which are growing – problems we had, features we need and quotable quotes. We’ll see how useful it is in the long run.

Let’s say we bought an RV tomorrow (Virginia would probably buy one on the way home.) First, we need… money. Then, insurance. Then, a place to keep it. Then, time to use it. Then, gas to run it. It is not a cheap hobby. However, it is fun. It has only been three nights, but I understand the attraction.

Since the WiFi worked for our Zoom call and streaming, I suppose I could work on the road, as long as I had decent WiFi during the workweek. Virginia had said we could just travel Fridays, but that means all the places we go have to be very close together.

Monday

Overnight

Every night (home or away), I go to the bathroom in the middle of the night which is much more of a production than at home. In the RV, I had to remove my CPAP mask, slide down half the bed to get past the dresser and shelf (there was a larger, wider shelf on my side, probably because the power outlets were on my side, and I needed outlets for the CPAP) without crushing Rocky, get out of bed, step around the wooden triangle on the floor (which covers something on the outside), and shimmy out of the room. Then, before I actually leave the room, open the bathroom door, step down and then step up to reach the toilet, try to remember why I came here in the first place, pee, and repeat the process in reverse to go back to bed.

Somewhere during this production, I will bump into Rocky, who will get up and shake. His tags jingling will wake Virginia who will demand to know what’s wrong. I will have to calm everyone down, slide back into bed, replace my mask, recover the extra sheets and covers Rocky and Virginia have acquired in my short absence, and try to go to sleep before I have to pee again.

Last Morning

Wake me at home

We woke up early – again. In terms of sleep, this has not been much of a vacation, but Virginia’s back was bothering her, so she was having a hard time getting comfortable. I actually liked the bed, and Rocky liked being able to sleep under the covers, slammed up against me and away from Mom’s evil leg wedge (he doesn’t mind the one at home, but he hates the inflatable travel one.)

It looks like the power has been restored at the house because we can check all the video cameras and everything seems to be standing.

I remembered to turn on the hot water heater when I passed it heading out of the bedroom, so we can take showers earlier than usual. We have to check the grey tank levels or see if we left the valve open before we both shower.

Interesting note – if you flush the toilet, the shower stops. “A” fresh water supply means one fresh water supply for everything in the RV. (They label the toilet as a fresh water toilet, and I thought the only other option was salt water, but that’s for rivers and fish tanks.)

I saw Virginia heading for the bathroom with a portable fan, and managed to get the A/C off before she tried to blow-dry her hair. Small victories.

We ran out of bottled iced green tea last night – we had 12 bottles, I think. We’re almost out of bottled water, we have six bottles left of 23. Virginia was planning to grab some soda on the way out of the house and didn’t. So, I am dying for a Coke Zero right now. There is a bit of ice still left in the Igloo cooler I got from the Amazon Treasure Truck, so that was a good purchase. The ice is from Friday.

It seems like we have a long way to go home, but it’s really an hour or so. We seem a lot further away than we are. We were far enough away that a gentle rain here was a major storm in Dallas.

Heading Home

The refrigerator will be on propane on the way home – once we disconnect from shore power – but we really haven’t used that much, and the gauge is still showing full. We used it to run the fridge from Dallas to Sanger, and our trip to the pharmacy, and that’s about it. The last time I checked, the gauge was still Full, so we probably don’t need to find a place that sells propane.

We used the generator to run the A/C and fridge during our meal stops (and to unload at home) but it uses gas, so it just comes out of the tank. This means you could run out of gas trying to keep cool at a stop, and then be unable to drive to the next stop.

Rocky has lost interest in photos

We did not drive 250 miles, so we will see how much of a refund we get. We also left a $300 damage deposit, which should be refunded, unless they need to clean the vehicle. Since most of Rocky’s deposited hair came with our clothes and sheets, it should’t be too bad.

The tire pressure warning came on again on the Interstate. We took the first lady’s advice and ignored it. It’s getting returned tomorrow, and then it’s their problem.

I had my hotel moment on I-35E south of Lewisville, when I realized I hadn’t packed my CPAP. I can’t sleep without it. I have to work tomorrow. We may have to go back and … oh, wait. It’s in the bedroom in the back. We haven’t really packed anything yet. Crisis averted.

Check-out time is at noon. The staff have until 2pm until check-in for tonight’s campers. That’s two hours to prepare a strip of concrete. The joy of managing an RV park is that your customers take their dirty rooms and linens with them when they leave.

Postscript

We actually had a bonus night – not that we used the RV, we were at home – because the rental agency was closed on Monday for the holiday. I was at work, so Virginia had the pleasure of returning the RV and seeing the final invoice, just before I received an emailed copy.

It’s interesting to see the final costs in numbers. I’m not surprised (Virginia might be), but there are still some rather large numbers.

DescriptionAmountComments
Freedom Rate$860.00Base rate for the RV
Mileage$70.30185 miles @ 0.38
Generator$3.501 hour (less than I thought)
Propane$60.00Half-tank used (9.5 gallon tank) (more than I thought)
Environmental Fee$9.95WTF is this?
Sales Tax$100.3810% (seems high)
Charges$1104.13
Deposit$300.00Paid at online reservation
Paid at Rental$1261.45Paid at pickup
Payments$1561.45Total paid
Refund-$457.32From Payments
Total$1104.13CruiseAmerica
Fuel$77.75From 7-11
Grand Total$1181.88not including food
Renting an RV

Virginia filled up on the way to return the RV because while fuel at 7-Eleven is not cheap, CruiseAmerica charges $8.00 per gallon to refuel. This makes some of the rental companies refueling rates look reasonable.

Ouch

This is refueling after about 185 miles driven (more or less.) This also means we got between seven and eight miles per gallon. So, traveling about 2,000 miles round-trip to visit the grandkids would take 250 gallons of gas, or at $3.099 per gallon, about $774.75. While that seems expensive, it’s about the cost of a plane ticket on a bad travel day.

Closing Notes

About the RV – CruiseAmerica Large Class C (Class C30)

It’s a Rental (Issues Found)

  • The rear tires needed air. (Thank you, McClain’s RV for the assist.)
  • The lamp above the left side of the bed doesn’t have a cover.
  • We needed to reset the breakers for the outlets by the stove before first usage.
  • The front banquette bench is closer to the table than the back bench (not a maintenance issue, just an observation.)
  • The microwave drips if there is a lot of steam from cooking (say, a package of microwave bacon.)
  • The screen door has a sliding section by the door handle, but it’s missing. So, we have a screen door that allows bugs in.
  • The bathroom wall seems bowed in. (I wonder if someone fell.)
  • The shower wall seems like someone fell into it (not us!)
  • The storage containers in the rear had standing water in them.

Major Rental Issues

The tire pressure issue is a major issue. Tires should be able to survive a long weekend, especially when there wasn’t much driving involved. I think the tires have a slow leak or one or more of the rims are bent and that causes the issue.

Virginia said when she returned the RV and mentioned the issue, the agent (who is also a mechanic) said it’s probably a faulty monitor. I would accept this since we were using the dashboard display rather than actually measuring with a tire gauge, but when we were at McClain’s, the dashboard display matched the manual measurements, so I have some faith in the dashboard display.

This is another major issue for me, which is not just CruiseAmerica, it’s every company that uses paid agents who are doing that business as a side gig. We picked up the RV from Love Field Auto, which is an auto repair shop, and a good one, according to the articles posted on their wall. They also have a number of CruiseAmerica vehicles parked at the back of their lot, and one of their mechanics can do a walk-through of an RV to show the basic functions. However, RV rentals are not their primary business. So, I don’t think they have as much invested in having perfectly running, fully functional RVs as a CruiseAmerica employee would.

Minor Rental Issues

The RV seemed a bit beaten up. I’m used to rental cars, but I haven’t had many rental cars that have shown as much use and possible abuse as this RV. It’s interesting that considering how much a new one costs, you would think a rental company would keep the fleet in relatively good shape.

You can purchase (rent) linens and kitchen items from CruiseAmerica with your rental. Virginia refused to pay the money when we had the items – even though I wanted to just pay the fees. So, she packed pots, pans, cutlery, appliances, towels and bed lines (plus food and ingredients to cook) and then we had to load them into the RV.

This is standard RV behavior, but the rental RV didn’t have anything but bare shelves. An experienced RVer will know to have a way to keep things from sliding around in the shelves while on the road – I thought about it, but was at a loss. I was a little disappointed that CruiseAmerica didn’t have shelf liners or dividers or something to help keep items from sliding around.

The bed is almost but not quite a queen bed (I don’t remember if it is longer or wider). Our king sheets fit with extra room, but I’m not sure queen sheets would have fit.

CruiseAmerica has offices everywhere because they aren’t really offices – they’re agents. We picked up our RV at a auto repair shop. The people there showed us the basics, mentioned they had turned the refrigerator on that morning (it takes hours to chill), but they didn’t notice the tires were low or that two of the outlets had popped. So, very helpful but not very observant – or it’s not really their job to check out the RVs, but then who does?

Pros

  • Easy to drive
  • Can actually do 65mph easily on highways
  • All shore connections were simple and marked
  • Refrigerator works well
  • Stove works well (a bit small)
  • Decent-sized shower
  • Reasonably-sized bed
  • Comfortable bed on average (I liked it, Virginia didn’t)
  • Lots of seating
  • Decent amount of outlets
  • Toilet and Shower are separated
  • Plenty of hot water with a one-hour delay

Cons

  • No obvious pre-check (fuses blown, tire issue)
  • No oven
  • Needs more shelf space in kitchen
  • No levelers
  • Has seen some heavy use (dents, scrapes)
  • Dinette was a bit tight
  • Outlets only on one side of the bed
  • Don’t flush if someone is showering
  • Hot water in shower can remove skin

RVs in General

Pros

  • No hotel required
  • RV parks can be cheaper than hotels
  • Can sleep “anywhere” (with generator)
  • Plenty of room
  • Pets allowed
  • Self-sufficient with proper packing
  • Fun to drive
  • Used regular gasoline, so can fill up anywhere (without an awning)

Cons

  • Best to find an RV park with connections
  • RV parks are usually out of town
  • It’s not a car (obvious but needs to be noted)
  • Have to keep height in mind (or pre-plan route for RVs)
  • 30 amps doesn’t go very far
  • Renting can be expensive (but cheaper than buyer’s remorse)
  • Drinks gasoline (We got about 7-8 mpg)

Random Notes

This was hardly a destination vacation since the campground is designed as a stopping place on a longer trip, and it was only sixty miles from home. However, it was still a very successful trip.

  • Renting an RV is not cheap but it was worth it to actually experience RV travel.
  • I can drive a Class C.
  • Virginia can drive a Class C.
  • Both of us parked in parking lots not designed for RVs.
  • Both of us parked in a pull-through campsite.
  • We successfully connected water, sewer and electric at the campsite.
  • We successfully disconnected (no hoses were damaged as we drove away.)
  • We slept in an RV queen bed with a Chihuahua.
  • We didn’t lose the Chihuahua.
  • Virginia cooked a majority of the meals and only blew the power twice.
  • Virginia learned (quickly) how to turn off the smoke alarm.
  • Our Igloo cooler from the Amazon Treasure Truck still had ice in it on the last evening.
  • We are still speaking to each other.
  • Rocky still seems to like us.
  • RVs are fun.

Pet Issues

This was our first vacation with a pet. We had flown with our first dog, Bubba, when we received him as a wedding gift, but that was just to take him home. Every other trip since then, our dogs have been watched by a family member or a pet sitter in their own house. (The pets often get better treatment than we do, even if some of my in-laws are “cheap with the treats”.) So, Rocky was our first dog to go on vacation.

Having a Chihuahua along is probably like having a baby in tow – you can’t really just leave him alone, even if the RV is on shore power and the A/C is on. If he is going to be with you all the time, it limits where you can go. This is more an observation than a complaint. It also assumes you don’t have a Chihuahua who has not been around a lot of people outside his household, and tends to think everyone is a potential threat and any dog larger than he is needs to be challenged and fought to the death. (He’s never realized it would probably be his death.)

The lack of training is on us – he’s never really left the house since we adopted him, he likes the pet sitters, he loves his vet, that’s fine, and it’s all he needs to be a good dog for us. However, if he is going to start traveling with us, we are going to have to get him to learn some manners.

Rocky did not adapt very quickly to the RV. I think he is much more used to home than we are – I think the close quarters confused him, being tethered to a seat while the RV was in motion or we were moving in and out of the RV (to dump tanks, set up camp chairs or opening and closing the doors frequently) was a new experience. At home, he goes in his crate (his “condo”), and he may bitch at first, but he buries himself in the covers with his toys, and he’s fine. I’m not sure he ever got used to his confinement in an RV.

He is asleep in Virginia’s lap in her recliner as I write this. When she’s driving (or even riding shotgun), that’s not an option. I think for longer trips, someone would have to ride in the dinette or on the couch, next to him. That way, the dog and the human could both be seat-belted but still in close proximity.

Cruising vs Land Cruising

As mentioned before, there are some terms in common – shore power, for one. RV rentals are a lot like cruises – you get transportation and a room. (RVs don’t provide food, but they do provide a kitchen.) CruiseAmerica reminded me of Carnival – dominant, not necessarily because of excellence, but because they are available in more places than their competitors, they seem cheap (although they can nickel and dime you), they have lots of units, so lots of capacity, and they cater to families – the unit we rented would sleep seven. The “sleep seven” reminded me of putting four adults in an inside cabin on a ship – it can be done, it’s legal, but I don’t think it would be very comfortable. People do it, and more power to them, but I would rather have the space for something else. (The bed over the cab did make a good storage area for us.)

Virginia and I were originally planning to rent from El Monte, but their only location in the Metroplex was in McKinney and we were planning to go west of Dallas to the State Park (before that changed.) CruiseAmerica had an office near Love Field, less than ten miles from us. If you’re paying for mileage, you will rent from a closer place first.

If we rent again, we will drive to McKinney. I wonder if we tried El Monte first if we ever would have bothered with CruiseAmerica. (The only reason we sail on Carnival is because we can sail from Galveston, not Miami.)

RV Quotes

  • Did you fill the toilet before you flushed it?
  • Are you going to bed? No, I just have to go into the bedroom to get the bathroom door open.
  • Did you turn the hot water heater on? I was going to take a shower.
  • (From the shower) The water just stopped. (From the hall) I just flushed.
  • What was that crash? (while driving)
  • I wonder which fuse we blew this time.

Lessons Learned

  • If the tires are low, it is actually an issue.
  • A Ninja Foodi produces enough smoke to trip the smoke alarm.
  • If you want hot water and A/C, you better not need anything else plugged in.
  • If you want dry hair and A/C, go home.
  • Don’t forget to check the breaker outside.
  • Find out where the GFCI switch is inside.
  • Get a truck window screen – blocked windows help with temperature management.
  • Take ant spray – they are everywhere. They are even at campgrounds that are not famous for them.
  • RVs are not that difficult to drive (A 30-foot Class C, anyway.)
  • Two chubby people and a chubby Chihuahua can fit in an RV queen bed. It’s just nobody can sneak out.
  • Chihuahuas will find how to open the curtains so they can bark at “intruders.”
  • You have to lock the car and the house at night. (After our walk, we found we had left the driver’s door unlocked after carefully locking the RV door.)
  • A good breeze can rock an RV. (If the RV’s a rockin’, it may just be windy.)

Requirements for Our Perfect RV

  • 50 amp power
  • An awning
  • Larger dump tanks
  • LED lighting around the top (for walking Rocky after dark)
  • A grab bar for the shower
  • A shower you don’t step into (if possible)
  • A vent in the shower area for steam
  • A more modern truck would be useful – I miss our GPS, phone integration, Siri commands even if her directions suck – there is limited integration but we didn’t use it
  • Bedroom and toilet / shower on the same level
  • As few steps as possible
  • Handrails
  • Folding stairs for the door
  • More dinette clearance – RVs are not just for skinny people
  • Closets and dressers away from the bed – my perfect design would be an RV with a bedroom that just had a bed and a TV, and place a large closet with shelves and drawers where bunk beds generally are located
  • Better ventilation in the toilet and shower
  • Two A/C units
  • Oven
  • Dishwasher

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