Fill ‘Er up! No, wait! Don’t!

This morning I hiked out to Laurel Falls, and on the drive out to the trailhead I stopped for gas. As usual, I was going to fill the truck up, but as I was pumping gas I thought “No, wait. You’re not going to use a whole tank of gas before you leave here!” So heck, I’m less than a tank of gas away from leaving. I’ve got about half a tank of gas in the truck. No sense selling it with $50 worth of gas in it.

BTW, when I sold the AdventureMobile last year, it had a nearly full gas tank. At 80 gallons to a full tank, that was a couple of hundred dollars. And it’s not like I got more money from the sale because of it.

Anyway… Two weeks to go. Two weeks until I fly out of here, bound for the other side of the world. I’ve just about go the last few details lined up.

I leave early in the morning on Wednesday, October 25. On Monday, the 23rd, some folks will be coming to get all of the furniture and kitchen stuff in the apartment. I decided to just give everything away, rather than deal with the logistics of trying to sell everything, while also needing it all since I’m living here until the last minute. So it is all going to end up going to an international student at ETSU who apparently is living in a mostly empty apartment.

Tomorrow I’ll be heading over to the local Ford dealer to hopefully come to an agreement for them to buy the truck on Tuesday, the 24th.

The only other final detail left is to sell the washer and dryer. I’m going to try to make that happen on the 23rd as well, so I can leave here with all my laundry clean.

So on the 23rd all the furniture goes and the apartment will be empty. I have a hotel room reserved for two nights starting then.

On the morning of the 24th I do the walk-thru of the apartment with the management company, and they give me all the bullshit reasons why they won’t be returning the full security deposit.

That afternoon, I drop the truck off at the Ford dealer, and take an Uber back to my hotel.

And finally on the 25th, I get an Uber to the airport, and I’m off for the next insane adventure.

Adventurous Plans

I’ve been here at Big Bend for a bit over two months now, and have been enjoying my time. I’ve really gotten into some of the human history, and have moseyed around finding some of the sites. I’ve explored Robber’s Roost, some of the ruins and the cemetery at Glenn Springs, the same at La Noria, and I’ve revisited old San Vicente, TX. I’ve also trekked out to the ruins of Camp Neville Spring, which was manned by Black Seminole Buffalo Soldiers back in the 1890’s.

I’ve got a few weeks left here, but my mental attention has turned to what’s next. My last day working is scheduled to be April 29. I’ve got to turn in the park equipment and uniforms I have on the 30th, then I’ll be off on the trip back to Tennessee on May 1, hopefully arriving back in Johnson City on the 4th.

I won’t be there long, though. I have an appointment with my doctor on the 8th, then on the 10th I’ll fly up to Boston and stay at Jihad’s apartment in the Back Bay for a few days. It’ll be fun being back in Boston, and I’m looking forward to some good big city restaurants, which I’ve missed terribly since I left there back in 2017. We’ll also get to see some other folks I know in Boston, so I’m expecting a fun few days. Then come the 13th, we’ll be off to the Philippines via Istanbul, for two weeks exploring Iloilo City and the surrounding area.

And finally, once we’re back in Boston and I’ve flown back down to Tennessee, I’ll have a couple of weeks to get myself, the motorcycle, and my gear all ready to tackle the Mid-Atlantic BDR with my brother Dana in June.

Phew! I’m excited about it all. Stay tuned!

It’s 2023 Already?

Okay, this’ll be a short one. It’s 2023 already, what the heck happened to 2022? A lot happened in 2022. At the same time, not much happened in 2022.

I tried to settle down here in northeast Tennessee. I rented an apartment. I bought some furniture. I traded in the AdventureMobile on a travel trailer. I tried to hike with the local hiking club, but didn’t really click with them. I took some short trips with the new trailer.

And it doesn’t work for me. Settling down; ugh.

In a couple of weeks I’ll be hooking up the trailer and making my way to West Texas, where I’ll be doing volunteer backcountry patrol at Big Bend National Park again, from February through April. That will put me back in Tennessee in early May. Come June, my brother Dana and I will be taking a motorcycle trip on the Mid-Atlantic Backcountry Discovery Route.

I have some nascent plans for after that, and if they work out the way I hope they will, I’ll be throwing a monkey wrench into my life once again, and starting over. Starting over is exciting. And scary. Stay tuned.

Coming Home

A quick update. I finally got a move-in date for my apartment in Johnson City. I was hoping for early April, but it won’t be available until May 11. That’s disappointing, but nothing to be done about it.

Right now I am in Louisiana, literally on the banks of the Mississippi with Natchez just across the river. I’ve decided that apartment or not, I’m moving to northeast Tennessee, so I spent several days contacting campgrounds and RV parks in the area, and finally found a place with a vacancy and a reasonable rate, so I’ll be in Erwin, Tennessee come April 1. Erwin is only about a half hour drive from Johnson City.

New Year, New Life?

In my last post, back in September, I talked about my yearning to settle down. As it turns out, that wasn’t just idle talk.  I’ve slowly come to realize my discontent with nomadic life comes from a pretty deep-seated loneliness. As a deeply introverted person, it takes me a very long time to make friends. The constant moving doesn’t allow for that. I think if I had a partner to travel with I would feel very differently about the nomad life, and would probably not give it up until I couldn’t see to drive anymore.

I’ve spent a lot of time since that last post researching options in my chosen area. I was really attracted to western North Carolina, but when push came to shove, rents there just proved too expensive for my modest income.

So I moved my search across the mountains to eastern Tennessee. As of a couple of days ago, I’ve committed to a small apartment, with a big garage for my motorcycle and my bicycle and all my outdoor gear, in Johnson City. It should be available for me to move in around April. There is tons of hiking in the area, and I’ll only be a half hour drive from the Appalachian Trail.

As always, big changes are both scary and exciting. My biggest fear is that my years of wandering have ruined me for being stationary, and it will turn out that I can’t be content with either life. I do plan to sell the AdventureMobile, but I also plan to buy a smaller RV, something I can tow with the pickup, so I can still travel when the urge strikes.

Now that I’ve settled on a course of action, I’m really anxious to execute it. I’ve never been good at patiently waiting. I’ve got another month here at Big Bend, then in February I’ll head back to East Texas to get the cracked windshield on the AdventureMobile replaced. I’ve got reservations to spend my birthday on the beach in far southeast Texas. Then I’ll slowly start moving east.

Happy New Year everybody!

Is It Time?

The basic theme of Monkeywrench Your Life is not being afraid to make big changes when you recognize the time has come to do so. That time may have come.

The AdventureMobile has been my only home for more than four years now. I’ve been all over the US, all over Mexico, and have explored a bit in Canada. And all the time, people have asked me questions like “What’s your favorite place” or “If you were to settle down, where would it be?” And I’ve always said that those questions miss the point entirely. I didn’t want to have one favorite place. I didn’t want to settle down. In fact, the whole idea used to make me shudder. Movement was the point.

But suddenly, I find myself yearning for exactly that. The idea of having a fixed address seems so simple and comforting. My mail wouldn’t have to chase me around the country. I could subscribe to a magazine or two. I wouldn’t have to plan doctor appointments a year in advance, for the next time I manage to be in the state. I could go backpacking for a week or a month, or load up some gear on the motorcycle and take off for a trip, and just lock the door and come back afterwards and everything would be just as I left it. The simplicity of it is very appealing.

Of course, the change didn’t actually happen suddenly. I’ve been struggling with discontent on several fronts for a good while. It’s the realization that this is what I want that was sudden.

But where? Where do I want to live, and perhaps more importantly, where can I afford to live? There are lots of affordable places all across the country, but I can’t imagine spending the rest of my life in most of them. I miss trees and green grass. I miss the mountains, easy access to lots of hiking, and hiking culture.

The obvious choice might be New England, as it has all of those things, and it’s where I spent most of my life. But I can’t afford to live in New England, and I can’t deal with the long, cold, dark winters there. The last decade or so that I lived there, I suffered terribly with SAD in the winter. I can’t do that again!

My first thought is the southern Appalachians. Eastern Tennessee or western North Carolina. Yes, they have winter there, but it’s relatively mild and short. But that’s just my first instinct. Someplace else might bring itself to my attention. In fact, if you have a suggestion I’d love to hear it.

Nothing is going to happen right away. I’ve got commitments for the next four months. I’ll be in Livingston tomorrow, and I’ve got doctor and ophthalmologist appointments lined up. I’ve got to get the truck inspected. The usual stuff I take care of every year while I’m there. Then in three weeks I’ll head west to Big Bend National Park, where I’ll be volunteering patrolling backcountry campsites for three months. When I leave there at the beginning of February, maybe I’ll head east and start checking out possible places to settle down. Or maybe I’ll change my mind entirely. Who knows? Only time will tell.

Oh give me land…

Something I’ve been thinking about on and off for the last couple of years is having some sort of home base that is mine, and that I can go to whenever I need or want without worrying about availability or reservations.

It’s taken a while to clarify the parameters of what I want. First up, there are few places where the climate is right for RVing year round. Most places are 3-season. It’s either good in spring, summer and fall, but too cold in winter; or it’s good for fall, winter and spring, but too hot in summer. So which 3 seasons did I want? Secondly, did I want some kind of RV park experience, or a boondocking spot where I could just park the RV out in the middle of nowhere?

In December of last year, on my way from Death Valley to the RGV down in Texas to meet up with the Mexican caravan I was joining, I spent a couple of nights at the Escapees Saguaro Co-op in Arizona. The co-op is quite nice, with large spacious lots and very well kept, and Escapees are always friendly and helpful. Before I left the park I added my name to the waiting list to be able to purchase a lot. It takes a couple of years to work your way up towards the top of the waiting list, and I am leaving my name on the list. At the end of the day, though, I’m not really an RV park guy.

I finally decided that I want a place I can go in the summer rather than the winter. Last winter I camp-hosted here at Death Valley, just as I am again this winter. Next winter I will be camp-hosting at Big Bend down in Texas. If I am not camp-hosting, there are plenty of places to boondock for free around the desert southwest. Summer, on the other hand, can be difficult. In the summer all of the weekend and vacation campers are out, and many places are full. I’ve always managed so far, but it’s not always been easy. I’ve even spent a holiday weekend parked in a casino parking lot!

So, as I said, I decided I wanted a place that would be comfortable spring, summer and fall. Further, I decided I wanted a piece of vacant land where I could park the motorhome whenever I liked. Now, there are lots of places where you can own vacant land, but you can’t necessarily park your RV there whenever you like. There are often zoning rules or HOA rules that limit how long you can “camp” on your property, or that require you to install a septic system and maybe drill a well. So it’s important to be sure you understand the limitations where you intend to buy.

In late October I made a quick trip out to eastern Arizona, up onto the Colorado Plateau, south of the Navajo Nation, to look at several properties. One of them I really liked, and after spending the night in town I went back out the next morning to spend more time wandering about and confirmed to myself that this was the one. I’ve got a contract on the property and will make the final payment after the first of the year.

The property is 40 acres; the southwest quarter of the southwest quarter of Section so-and-so. For those easterners like myself who have a hard time envisioning what 40 acres is, it’s a square 1/4 mile on a side. I’ve heard people refer to this area as high desert, and that feels appropriate to me, but it doesn’t technically qualify as desert. The area averages about 11″ of rain per year, and a few inches of snow.

It’s about 2 miles from the nearest paved road, along unmaintained county roads, to the property. There’s a road that goes through the property, roughly from the northeast corner to the southwest corner. Above the road the property is dead flat. South of the road the property rises somewhat, with a couple of big level spots up on top, and at the southeast corner it drops into a ravine.

I have no immediate plans for the land, other than to spend time there in the motorhome whenever I feel like it. As for what might happen in the future, I guess time will tell.

This is the flat section north of the road

As an added bonus, there’s even a decent Verizon signal!

There are more photos here:

So… 2020

I’ve tried to write this blog post several times. In fact, there are a number of posts I’ve started and not managed to finish. So I’m just going to write this stream of consciousness style, and not even try to write an organized essay. I hope it’s not too painful to read.

2020 has been a real messed up year, in so many ways. Of course, it affects different people in different ways. I know millions of people have gotten sick, and hundreds of thousands have died. I’m incredibly lucky in that that hasn’t happened to myself or those close to me. I know that’s so.

But it is human nature that the things that affect us directly are the things that have the most importance to us. And what affects me the most?

  • Worrying about my daughter getting sick, who lives in a fairly large city and has to depend on mass transit to get around. And if she did get sick, what would I do? How would I get back across the country, and where would I stay when I got there?
  • Being separated from the woman I’m in a relationship with. She lives in the UK, and there is no tourist travel between the US and the UK. The last time I saw her was when she came to Death Valley last December. We had planned to see each other back in April after I got back from the Mexican caravan I was with last winter. So it’s been 10 months now, and it may very well be another 10 months before we are free to travel.
  • Closely related to that is worrying about her getting sick. The UK is experiencing yet another spike in infections, just as we are in the States. She works for the NHS, lives in a large city, and uses the bus to get back and forth to work. There have been infections in her office. Her younger sister has contracted the virus, and fortunately recovered quite quickly.
  • I lost a summer’s worth of income. I was supposed to work at an amusement park in upstate New York this summer, but for obvious reasons that didn’t happen.
  • I have avoided traveling frequently. Rather than moving every week or two, as I usually would, I spent almost 3 months in Texas after returning from Mexico early. When I left Texas I traveled to Vermont for a couple of months, which gave me an opportunity to see my daughter and both of my brothers and their wives. When I left there I went to Colorado where I volunteered at Colorado National Monument for a couple of months, and then I came here to Death Valley where I am spending 3 months camp hosting. And during my travels between one destination and the next, I avoided all unnecessary interactions. My only purchases were buying gas for the RV, and those were all self-serve.

So I guess I’ve worked out a way I am comfortable being in a covid world, in the day to day things I do. Yet it’s deeply disturbing. I feel a constant sense of unease and uncertainty. I find it hard to concentrate on one thing for very long. Thus my slap-dash way of getting this post down. I also find myself constantly putting things off. There are really no future plans; everything is just marking time until we know what the future is going to bring. So why bother doing this or that task today? Tomorrow will do just as well.

It’s not that I haven’t done anything at all this year. There have been a few changes that are worthy of mention. In fact, I’ve tried to write about them but haven’t managed to finish any of the posts. so I will do my best to actually get some of those out at some point in the near future.

Okay, this is pretty rough and raw, and I’m sure there are things I totally forgot to mention. But I’m going to publish this the way it is right now, because if I save it with the intention of getting back to it later and polishing it up, it will never happen.

So Now What?

Those who know me know that I am a planner. Always have been.

Once I had started to settle into this RV lifestyle, I thought I had gotten over this penchant for planning, at least to some extent. I think I’ve even mentioned that in one or another of these blog posts. I have on a number of occasions woken up in the morning and just decided that I’m going to go somewhere. I remember waking up one Saturday morning at Telephone Cove in Nevada and deciding I was going to Oregon, and the next morning I was on my way.

And then 2020 happened.

I was in Mexico with the caravan I had been traveling with since early January when the news about the Coronavirus was ramping up. It’s a bit of a story, but by the end of March we had basically abandoned our itinerary and were heading north for the border as quickly as was reasonable.

If you think back, there was a lot of uncertainty and a lot of unknowns about the whole situation. States were starting to shut down non-essential businesses, and in a lot of states that included state park and private campgrounds. For full-timers, where to go became a huge question.

I already had a reservation at Rainbow’s End in Livingston for 2 weeks in April, as I had made appointments with my GP and with my ophthalmologist, and I needed to get the annual inspection on both vehicles done. So I emailed them and moved my reservation up, and extended it to one month. So I was lucky enough to have a place to go, and for the time being I had a plan; get back to the States and make my way east to Livingston.

So I did that, and I got to Livingston. And I settled in here and my doctors both canceled all routine appointments with no idea when they would be able to reschedule. And more and more of the world shut down. The end of my month was up and I extended another month. And I had no idea how long I was going to be here, or where I was going to go when I left.

And holy crap, all the not knowing drove me crazy! I had trouble sleeping. I’d think about things I had to do, and then I’d think “Nah, tomorrow is just as good as today.” I discovered that while I am perfectly happy changing my plans on the fly, I really need to have a plan to change. I need to have activities and deadlines on my calendar.

The original plan for this summer had me in upstate New York in early May and working at Six Flags Darien Lake until the end of September or maybe into October. They still haven’t opened yet, and even if/when they do, working with thousands of random people every day doesn’t seem the smartest thing to do in The Age of Covid, so that’s not going to happen for me.

So I’ve spent many hours staring at maps and thinking of this or that possibility of what to do with the rest of the year. The first thing I nailed down is my return to Death Valley for the end of the year. I will be a volunteer camphost again for the mid-October to mid-January season, at Furnace Creek Campground.

After considering and discarding a number of possibilities for the summer, I settled on heading to Vermont. It’s been a while since I’ve been back in New England. Vermont is close enough that I’ll be able to visit my daughter Anju and my brothers and their families in Connecticut. There’s tons of hiking and cycling. The biggest hurdle is how expensive campgrounds and RV parks are in the Northeast, but I found a small campground with a reasonable monthly rate, so that was settled. The only question was exactly how long I’d stay in Vermont.

As of now I have a likely, but not definitely confirmed, stint as a volunteer camphost at Colorado National Monument which would start at the end of August and finish when I need to leave to head to Death Valley. So if that does work out, I’ll spend 2 months in Vermont and leave there mid-August to head for Colorado.

I think that makes a good balance. I’m avoiding frequent travel around the country, but still getting to experience a variety of locations.

I haven’t been completely idle here. I’ve had both of my doctor appointments. I’ve gotten both vehicles inspected. I’ve had a number of repairs done to the RV. I bought a motorcycle. I took the MSF course, and once DPS opened up again by appointment, I got the motorcycle endorsement on my license. And right now I’m working hard on getting out of here. Today is Sunday, June 7. My plan is to leave here on Wednesday, the 10th. The last RV repairs should be done, hopefully, tomorrow. When I took the motorhome to get the annual inspection done I noticed the check engine light is on. So I’m trying to find a place to check that out for me without having to wait weeks for an appointment.

And then… I’ll be back on the road at last!

Getting Myself Into Hot Water

Some days ago I suddenly lost hot water. I turned the hot water faucet on and nothing happened. I don’t mean that there was water but it wasn’t hot. I mean that nothing happened. No water at all.

After indulging in a moment of WTF, I did a bit of troubleshooting. Is it the faucet? Nope, it’s the same at all of the hot water faucets, yet all of the cold taps work. So, the problem is somewhere in the hot water supply, after it separates from the cold water input. That happens at the water heater. (An aside, I really, really, really hate when people say “hot water heater”. You don’t heat hot water. You heat cold water to make it hot.)

Either there is no water coming out of the water heater, or there is a block in the line after the water heater but before it splits to feed the various sinks. That split is actually right after the hot water exits the water heater, where there is a split with one side feeding the kitchen sink and another going to the rear of the AdventureMobile to feed the bathroom sinks and shower.

The back side of the water heater. It looks really busy but if we study it for a minute it starts to make sense.
– First, you can see that there are two openings into the water heater tank. The bottom one is where cold water goes into the tank. The top one is where hot water comes out. Hot water rises so the hottest water is at the top.
– Those two black hoses come from and return to the engine cooling system. While driving down the road hot water circulates from the engine and passes through that little heat exchanger where it warms the water in the tank, so I have hot water for washing my hands and such while traveling. My ex even tried taking a shower while we were going down the road once.
– That vertical piece of pex in the center is the water heater bypass. You can see the handle for the ball valve where it joins the cold water feed at the bottom. There is no ball valve at the top because there is a check valve screwed into the hot water outlet to prevent water flowing into the water heater. Water can only flow out. Unfortunately, I didn’t know this when this all started.

In an RV, there is a way to isolate and bypass the water heater. This is mainly used when winterizing the water system for storage. So I turned the bypass valve and sure enough, I had cold water at all the hot water taps. This confirmed that the issue was at the water heater. The only thing I could think of is that somehow the outlet of the water heater was being blocked with sediment.

Now folks with experience dealing with RV water systems are all screaming at their computer screens right now. “No! No! It’s the…” But at the time, that’s all I could think of.

So I shut off the water heater, let it cool down, and went outside where I removed the plug and flushed the water heater out. And I did indeed remove a lot of sediment. A surprising amount of sediment, since I had last flushed it last summer. And sure enough, once I reinstalled the plug and refilled the water heater, I had water at all of the hot water faucets. Pleased with myself for this demonstration of troubleshooting prowess and repair abilities, I went about my day.

Some of the sediment I flushed from the water heater

But of course that wasn’t the end of it. A few days later I turned the hot water on to fill the sink to do dishes and… nothing! Really? Another WTF moment. I heated water on the stove to do the dishes, and while doing that chore I thought about what was going on. There is a ball valve to divert the cold water going into the water heater to go around it instead, but there is no ball valve on the output from the water heater. Well, there has to be something to prevent water from simply filling the water heater from the outlet, so there must be a check valve.

After finishing the dishes I did quick search on — a great resource for RVers — and sure enough there is a check valve, aka a back-flow preventer, on the output of the water heater, and these valves are apparently a frequent failure point. By this time the hot water was working again, so obviously this check valve is sticking sometimes and working other times. I ordered 2 new valves from Amazon, since it’s always good to have a spare, and they’re cheap.

The next day I got to work. After shutting off the water heater and letting it cool, again I went outside and removed the drain plug to drain the water heater. Then I removed the fitting that attaches the pex to the water heater output, and that left me facing the check valve. This is the part I was worried about, as I had read several tales of these being really difficult to break loose. Somebody even said they broke one trying to remove it and had to pull the entire water heater out in order to work on it and remove the broken piece. But I was lucky. I put a long wrench on it and gave it a couple of good tugs and it broke loose. Soon I had it out. And then I had my first set-back. The replacement valves I had ordered were male/female thread, and the one I had just removed was male/male. Oh crap!

My replacement valve is threaded wrong

The water in the RV was completely shut off, so I needed a solution. So I looked at the valve I had just removed. Sticking my finger inside, the little plastic valve popped right out and left me with a straight through piece. Sorted!

So, I put some teflon tape on the threads and reinstalled the old valve, reconnected the water line, reinstalled the outside drain plug, and refilled the water heater. After checking for leaks, I buttoned everything back up.

I’ve ordered the correct replacement valve and at some point I’ll have to do the job again to have a correctly functioning check valve in place, but for now it’s all working and I once again have hot water.

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