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“Sea Trials” in the RV

June 20, 2011

Our rig is on the left; the kids are on the right.

The very first outing in the motorhome was a tremendous learning experience.  We were meeting our oldest daughter and her family on Friday at Ray Roberts State Park, north of Dallas.  They were passing through, returning from a two week trip from Houston to Seattle, Washington, in their 32 foot travel trailer.

Lesson Number One could have been expensive.  We stopped at a gas station to top off the tank, and while watching very closely to make sure I cleared the pumps, I committed a cardinal sin:  I forgot to have Nell watch the rear end on her side.  I apparently clipped the mirror on a fellow’s truck.  By the time he came over and told us, he and his friends had pushed the mirror back in place.  Nothing was broken, he was satisfied no harm was done, and everybody went on their way.  Lesson learned: look everywhere… all the time.

Our daughter had made reservations for two campsites.  We arrived first and checked in around 1:30 on a very hot Friday afternoon.  We bought a Texas State Parks Pass for $60.  The pass gave us a discount on the campsite fee, and paid the $5 per person entrance fee.  It’s good for a year, and will give us discounts on campsite fees three more times and will cover the per person fees on every visit for the next 12 months.  If my calculation is right, it paid for roughly one-third of itself this very first weekend.  Passes like this one, along with ones like our Good Sam’s Club membership will save us a lot on our living costs.

Next stop was the dump station.  Our first dump station experience wasn’t bad, but then we were just trying to dewinterize by flushing the antifreeze out of the water system.  We learned a lot more on the way out on Sunday.

This gives a pretty good idea of the size of the rig.

We found our campsite and backed in successfully.  Next time, I’ll know enough to leave a little more space between the RV and the hookup connection posts.   Life is a lot easier when one leaves enough space for the basement cargo doors to open all the way.   We got the water hooked up and running, which made the kitchen and bathroom functional.  We connected the electrical and turned on the air conditioning.  (Hey, the temperature this weekend was above 100 degrees, okay?)  Unfortunately, the A/C ran, but not fast and not cool at all.  We were getting really not, really fast.

I discovered that I had forgotten exactly how to operate the hydraulic leveling jacks, and couldn’t get the RV leveled.  We did get the outside awning up, which was good since the sun was moving around to the “outdoor living” side of the RV.  By this time, all I wanted to do was sit in the shade and drink water, while wiping my face with a towel.  Did I mention that it was really, really hot?  By the time our daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter arrived, we were a bit frustrated, and I was feeling kind of stupid.

The initial "bare bones" setup.

The big mistake we made over the last few months was not using the motorhome early while much of the original coaching from the dealer was still fresh in our minds.  The beauty of this weekend was that along with spending campground time with the kids, they were coming prepared to help us figure all this stuff out

Our son-in-law, a big burly guy with a heart of gold, got their trailer set up, then walked over to see what we needed.   Over the course of the next couple of hours at least, using a combination of experience, guesswork, and a process of elimination, he got the air conditioner blowing cold air, and the leveling jacks operating (you just have to have your foot on the brake while operating the levers… that little step isn’t in the owner’s manual, by the way).   Hopefully, we will retain what we’ve learned while we continue to learn while doing.

Our granddaughter was glad to see Hemi. It appeared to be mutual.

So, with water and plumbing, electricity, air conditioning, outdoor shade, and a semi-level motorhome, we called it a day.  Our daughter had burgers cooking and Nell made home fries.  It was getting dark, so we washed up, sat down at a picnic table and had a good dinner.  By the time we finished eating, it was almost 10pm, and about all anyone cared about was a shower and a good night’s sleep.


Sat right there under the awning on Saturday morning with my coffee, and did a pencil and watercolor sketch of part of a nearby tree. As an artist, this is part of what it’s all about.

The day started slowly, with a big leisurely breakfast.  We  worked on the onboard generator for a while, because it wasn’t starting.  Didn’t need it this trip, but we do need to get it operational.  It worked perfectly in the beginning, so again, I suspect not using it enough is the culprit.  Since it wasn’t critical to this weekend, we called off the work in order to just enjoy the rest of the weekend.  A trip to the beach was on the agenda.

The beach at Ray Roberts Lake State Park

Ray Roberts Lake State Park has a great sandy beach that is beautifully maintained, and obviously draws a big weekend crowd.  The nice thing about it is that we never knew all those people were in the park until we drove to the beach in son-in-law’s truck. 

Nell and I sat on a rock wall with our feet in the water while the kids enjoyed some swimming and floating time.

Some sketches of Nell and Hemi

After some time under a very hot sun, Nell and I spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in the air conditioning. She did some reading and dozed and I did a little sketching with pen and ink.

Our granddaughter hung out with us for awhile, and found Hemi was willing to be a pillow.

Saturday evening, taking it easy...

Everyone congregated at our place for dinner and some good conversation.  Around 10pm, son-in-law headed out to the lake to do some night fishing.  Daughter and granddaughter headed next door to turn in for the night. That’s when we  learned  how important it is to keep a close watch on the levels in the holding tanks.  Gray water backed up in the shower and created some wet carpet.  Fortunately, we discovered it before going to bed and got it resolved.  (Gray water is what comes from the sinks and showers, not the toilet.)

On Sunday morning, we had some trouble getting the awning raised and stowed.  Again, Son-in-Law figured out a couple of steps  and buttons we weren’t using properly.  We got that up and locked in place, and while they got their trailer ready to travel, we did the same.  I got the leveling jacks raised, finished disconnecting from shore power and water, and Nell stowed things inside and vacuumed with the new little Dirt Devil.

The last stop on the way out was the dump station.  With the kids coaching us, we dumped and flushed the holding tanks, and made sure the system was clean and ready for its next use.  Farewell hugs followed and we hit the road, going our separate ways.

With the kids next door, this was a very successful weekend.  Without them, it would have been a miserable disaster.  We are very grateful they decided to buy their travel trailer and get started ahead of us.

* * * * * * *

And now, a special report on Hemingway the Schnauzer…

Hemi's Personal Space

We had gotten Hemi acquainted with the crate during the preceding week.  In the motorhome, it’s wedged between the back of the driver’s seat and the couch.  With absolutely no coaching from us, he quickly decided it was the best place for him while the RV was in motion.   He also preferred curling up in it when there were just too many feet to contend with.

"Just don't make me go out in the heat..."

It also appears that his “no bark” training is working.  Only once was he too loud, but the two cute little terriers that pranced past our site were just too much for the little guy to ignore.  Other than that, he was extremely well-behaved and made us proud.  He will need to be kept clipped short, though.  When we got home, I found his mustache and beard filled with grass burrs.  I think he’s going to travel well.

* * * * *

The weekend had some very frustrating moments.  The heat didn’t help, of course.  But it served its purpose.  We learned, re-learned and practiced.  We found that this is a livable space.  The bed is comfortable.  Weekends like this will teach us the best place to store things… what we need and what we can live without.  We need to get some good, comfortable outdoor chairs, a couple of heavy duty tubs to keep things organized in the outside compartments, and more small plastic containers to do the same in drawers and overhead cabinets.

Chalking it all up as preparation for the bigger picture, this was one happy camper.

But it’s all good…   And we would go at it fulltime tomorrow if we could.


17 Comments leave one →
  1. June 20, 2011 5:39 pm

    Awesome Ralph…….. enjoy 🙂

  2. June 20, 2011 8:12 pm

    Hi Ralph, Boy did I relate to your first camping experience – we started camping 7 years ago in our 32′
    5th wheel and there should be a book giving the little tips that aren’t written anywhere. You will find,
    however, that campers are very helpful and friendly folks and always willing to share information and
    help. One thing that we always look for in a campsite that makes things enormously easier is to find
    one that offers pull throughs so that you don’t have to back into the site and estimate the distances to
    the water/electric/sewage connections. The other is that if you can have a site where the sewage is
    always hooked up, you don’t ever have to worry about how much grey water is in your holding tanks –
    otherwise you are constantly trying to preserve your waste water and that’s no fun. Unfortunately a
    lot of state parks do not have the sewage hookups. For Nell, I would advise a slow cooker and a one
    pot meal recipe book then you can always make a salad or have a rice on the side and enough to eat
    on for a couple of meals. We have a little Yorkie too and he loves his rolling house and we do have to
    keep in clipped short because otherwise he brings in pine needles, burrs and once even fire ants!

    Keep having fun and painting too! I always enjoy your emails. Regards, Pam Stephens

    • June 22, 2011 8:01 pm

      Almost missed your comment, Pam. For some reason, it was in the spam box. Thanks for the comments and the advice!

  3. Looks like you are a great planner and that this trip was a wonderful learning experience. permalink
    June 20, 2011 9:47 pm

    Sounds like this was a great learning experience. I am impressed with how organized you are.

    • June 20, 2011 10:42 pm

      Thanks Mary. I just have occasional flashes of organization. Inside my head it’s total chaos.

  4. June 20, 2011 10:50 pm

    Thanks for sharing. I’m going to enjoy watching your adventures unfold!

    • June 21, 2011 1:12 am

      Hi Minji. Nice to hear from you again. It will start slowly, but we’re looking forward to it.

  5. Bev Vance permalink
    June 21, 2011 7:17 pm

    You both look like you are enjoying the outing very much, U cannot beat the great outdoors, looks like you had a good spot to kick back and let it come to you. Looking forward to seeing you guys when you get up this way.

    Bev — one of the older brothers.

    • June 22, 2011 7:53 pm

      Bev, once we worked out some of the kinks, we loved it & are looking forward to the next outing.

  6. Scott (AKA: The big burly guy with a heart of gold) permalink
    June 22, 2011 2:04 pm

    It was nice to RVing with you.

  7. June 24, 2011 4:57 pm

    I am so glad I discovered your Blog Ralph! I will be reading regularly 🙂 My husband & I want to do the same – declutter, simplify and travel in an RV – It’s agreed, I’ll paint, he fishes 🙂 Anyway, I am so happy for you!

  8. August 1, 2011 2:52 am

    Hi Ralph,
    Wonderful read. Funny all of the little things ( well, little later on but big when you’re out there going through them) you go through owning a motorhome. Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s We had a 22 ft Class C. One of the first lessens we learned was to watch the grey water usage….ours back up into the shower too. After that I always looked for places that had the sewer hookup and then you’re living like a king. I watched a guy backing up a large Class A motorhome up into his spot early one morning and he back over the low guard rail for parking and completely broke off his pipe to the grey water tank…so watch backing into anywhere with those low guard rails in camp sites. A good thing to have are those handheld walkie talkies you can recharge…then someone gets out and keeps an eye on the back in any sticky situations. And….if you are parking the rv for any length of time manually shut off the fuel line from the tank to the carb on the generator and run the gen until it dies….this way you don’t gunk up the needle valves or float in the carb and have a heck of a time starting it later. The fuel line is usually gravity fed and once you open the valve the gas rushes back to the carb and you’re ready for an easy start. I do this with our portable generator here…works like a charm.

  9. August 1, 2011 3:01 am

    ….oh yeah, buy “deer horns” at a truck stop. These put out a sound to alarm deer ahead of you but watch for them guys, they will run out in front of you anyways…major damage to fiberglass (as steel bumpers). While you’re there…pick up a small thermometer to mount on your (outside) drivers-side mirror. Mounts with sticky tape that comes with it. Keep an eye on that when it’s raining in the mountains and stop before you end up in freezing rain. I had one on my truck and it was raining leaving west out of Albuquergue NM. Temp kept dropping to just about freezing so I pulled off at the next exit…it turned to freezing rain by the time I pulled into a parking lot to grab some coffee. When I came out it was back to just rain, temps going up, and there must have been 30 accidents back on I40…trucks and cars in the median too. $3 lifesaver that little thermometer.

  10. August 11, 2011 7:11 pm

    I love reading posts like this one. I’ve been getting ready for a motorhome near on 2 years now, and now it is down to counting down the days…I should finally have and be moving into my motorhome late September or early October. It’ll be me and my cats living in it full-time. I plan to spend 2012 “getting to know” the rig and living in it in the yard and at local campgrounds until I get the hang of everything, than in 2013, we are off to Alaska (a 5,000 mile trip for us!) and plan to use the return trip to visit every state (the return trip is planned to take about 5 years too LOL!)

    But anyways, I’ve been looking for blog posts to read about others just getting started and that’s how I found your post here. Thanks for sharing!

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