A Traveling Settler

What is a traveling settler?  Me!  I see it as someone who travels from one location to another, stops in one spot for a few weeks or months–maybe longer–then travels to the next destination, settles for a spell, and moves on again.  If I lived in America a couple of hundred years ago, I would have had a horse, a teepee, and a feather in my hat.

But this is the 21st century, so my home has an engine and six wheels.  My four legged companion is the best doggie in the world, Dawny Virgil Prewash Sassy Generous . . . (like all good Native Americans, her names carry great significance).  And we are at home whether traveling or settled.

We have logged 30 thousand miles in our two and a half years on the road.  That’s not really all that much, if you think about it.  The first 10 thousand miles were clocked during our first six months, traveling from Indiana to Texas to Nevada, then all the way east to Virginia by way of South Dakota, Ohio, and other northern states, finally swinging down to Florida where we stayed at our winter campground for a three-month stretch.

That is when I realized that, at the rate we were going, we could wear out our sweet little house-on-wheels in under ten years.  It was time to slow down.  And it was past time to make a budget and stick to it.  (If interested, you can see more on budgeting in my November 16, 2015 post, “Budgeting for Fun.”)

The greatest assist to both the budget and the slower pace has been workamping.  That is where you get a free campsite in exchange for hours worked at the campground.  In 2015 I workamped three jobs over five months.  Last year, it was three jobs over seven months.  The savings while workamping has been terrific.  Not only is there no camping fee, I save money on gas since I am only taking the house/wheels out once or twice a week to do errands or for local sightseeing trips (I don’t tow a horse so the whole house goes with us).

The beauty of staying in one place for a while is the opportunity it grants to connect with other travelers, to get acquainted with local neighbors and local culture, and to grow some lasting friendships.  Heck, one of my jobs is close to where I lived for 30 years and I get to see many old friends and family.  That is a sweet, sweet time.

Dawny likes our settled-in times very much, especially at our winter camping grounds in Florida and Texas.  She is a master of making friends-for-cookies.  Fellow campers and workers at both of these campgrounds are perfectly willing to spoil her.  As we speak, she is totally smitten with Mr. Mike and Uncle Joe.  Both express their adoration of her by showering her with cookies and love.  Perhaps that has contributed to her being less apt to go on the warpath when we come upon other doggies lately.  The girl is mellowing.

Traveling between jobs or on the way to where we will sit for the winter is our “vacation” time.  That is when I get to map out different routes (yay! maps!), explore fresh countryside, and visit new campgrounds, usually staying just a night or two at each one. If we aren’t pressed for time, we may spend quite a few days at one that is especially nice.  This is also a great way to scope out places for future workamping jobs.

Every traveler has their own rhythm.  This is simply the pace and style that suits me and my girl, our situation and our needs.  Many wanderers retain a home base with a solid house on it, venturing out when the season becomes harsh and returning when the weather welcomes (picture the classic snowbird).  The most hardy souls aim for wide open lands out west where they can boon-dock for days or weeks at a time, their nearest neighbors nowhere in sight.

When I lived in my home that was unequivocally planted in one spot, I loved it.  I loved being so firmly settled.  It felt safe.  Secure.  To an extent, it was also isolating, but that was by my own choice.  It sometimes surprises me that I feel so secure in this nomadic, freewheeling lifestyle.  Sure, our home moves around an awful lot but, with our workamping jobs and winter campgrounds, we also spend plenty of time settled.

I think what I love the most is that our world, our home, our level of comfort (and confidence) has expanded.  Dawny and I are both more relaxed.  Leaving our insular, brick-walled bubble behind, we struck out into the wilds.  Along the way, we have been gathering blessings like precious, smooth-faced stones, with the face of a new friend etched upon each one.  Our tribe has grown.

Wicked

Texas weather sure can be wicked.  Dawny and I awoke to near constant thunder and lightning coming our way early this morning.  My iPhone sounded a warning about an approaching line of severe storms, complete with loads of lightning, heavy rains, and possible heavy winds and hail.  Opening up the Storm app, I felt somewhat reassured as the tornado watch was to the east of us.

Before the sky started to toss giant buckets of rain on our heads, I disconnected our shore power at the box and threw a couple of towels on the windshield to maybe-possibly-hopefully help against hail.  I didn’t even need my flashlight as the nearly constant lightning strikes provided more than enough light, thank you very much.  I have a built-in surge protector that protects my rig’s electronics in case of a power surge coming through the electric box, but I prefer to disconnect when there is lightning.  Gotta protect my surge protector, ya know.

I fed Dawny and settled down with a bowl of cereal in front of local TV news to catch up on their take on the weather.  It looked like we would have just enough time for a good dog walk after the first line of storms swept through and another, angrier line marched in.

* * *

It’s times like this that I really appreciate the self-sufficiency offered by RV living.  After disconnecting from the campground’s electrical system, I still have power.  Two “house” batteries power my lights and ceiling vent fans.  An inverter converts that 12-volt battery power into 110-volts so that I can also use the TV and a couple of electrical outlets connected to the inverter.  My stovetop is propane and the refrigerator and water heater can be switched to operate on propane (although it is prudent to turn the propane tank off in cases of severe weather).

If there is a power outage and I have to rely on the house batteries for a while, then when they get low, I can fire up my onboard generator to recharge them.  The microwave draws too much power for the house batteries, but I can use it when the generator is on (same with the air conditioning and A/C heat strip).  The generator operates off of gas from the gas tank as long as it is at least 1/4 full.  This is one reason why I like to fill up before I drop much below half a tank of gas and I try never to let the propane get too low, either.

Excuse me while I take Dawny on her morning constitutional before the next batch of storms rolls through.

* * *

Back from our dog walk and listening to distant thunder from the next line of storms, I check my Storm app.  It shows a cell with a “tornadic signature” heading in our direction.  In case of tornado, the laundry rooms are the storm shelters for this campground.  Given Dawny’s disdain (to put it mildly) of other dogs, I would not be able to bring her with me in case there was another dog in there.  So I have made plans to “shelter in place” in the RV.  I would put our pillows and blankets under the dinette table then plop the mattress on top of the table and benches.  Hopefully we never need that, but it’s good to have a plan.  After all, this is Texas.

* * *

The storms are passing.  The TV newscasters babble on about sports, shopping, and movies . . . weight loss, local murders, and promises of a sunny afternoon. As usual, I find them annoying.  But comforting, too.  Life goes on.  Or not.  As for me and my doggy, I think it is time to snuggle up for a nap in the comfort of our little home.

Weather Ops and the Road to Oz

Thanksgiving has passed, winter looms, and I prepare for the next leg of our journey.  It is time to pull out the maps, the computer, and my trusty yellow legal pad.  In addition to researching campgrounds along our route, an important part of planning a long trip is to have an eye on the sky, especially when traveling at a dicey time of the year.

Even when I lived in a traditional house that was firmly planted on solid ground while the weather swirled all around it, I was very attracted to keeping up with weather reporting.  Regularly developing crushes on some of the local weathermen, I found a certain red-haired fellow named Bob Ryan to be charmingly goofy.  Reliable or not, he was my fave.

Bob has since retired, I moved into the full-time RV lifestyle, and now I have many more options (vis-a-vis the weather, not weathermen).  Lots and lots of options.  First and foremost, when bad weather starts swirling, I can pick up my house and scoot off in search of more pleasant conditions.  Picture Dorothy’s house navigating the tornado with Dorothy (and Toto, too!) at the helm, aiming for the lovely land of Oz.  This is an attractive thought as I sit here bundled up in layers.  Nighttime temperatures have been dipping below freezing, a sure sign that it is time to seek Oz . . . or perhaps Texas.

I remember previous years when planning to leave Virginia to head southward, Atlanta had a crazy early winter ice-snow storm that snarled up traffic for hours.  Tennessee had an entire stretch of interstate highway populated with motorists stranded for days by a freak snow storm.  It is wise to be particularly watchful and careful at those times when seasons are shifting feet, one to another, restless and capricious, unreliable to the core, like a flying monkey on crack.  Even the marvelous Bob Ryan could be forgiven for having a hard time predicting what the skies would bring ‘twixt the seasons.  (Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!!!)

Therefore, I have taken matters firmly into my own hands.  I have two travel options to Texas, one through Tennessee and Arkansas, and the other further south, through the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana.  I will decide which road to take after checking my weather sources a day or two before setting out.

Below are three of my favorite weather websites and apps.  There are many, many more out there.  Some are probably better than the ones I use.  My point is simply to show what kind of meteorological info is within easy reach of our mere mortal fingertips nowadays.  No weather-wizards needed!

The Weather Channel’s website at www.weather.com:  Easy to pull up daily, hourly, and 10-day forecasts for any city of your choice.  It automatically saves the 10 most recent locations you have checked.  I use this every day to check not only my own weather, but what is happening where friends and family live.  The driving hazard map shows where ice/snow/etc. is on the roads.  The hourly feature is particularly helpful when you need to figure out how much time you have left to walk the dog before the weather turns.

The website www.accuweather.com:  From severe weather to satellite to simple radar maps, this site is a blast if you enjoy maps.  I also like the feature where it will pull up the weather for a specified location for an entire month, showing the historical average highs and lows for each day.  This is helpful when I am trying to determine if someplace is likely to be a good place to feather our nest for the winter or, alternately, if Dawny and I will be able to survive the summer there.  I can look at many days at a stretch and see how things historically shift there during that month.  Oh, and yes, you can easily use the daily forecast radar map to see how much time you still have to walk the dog before that storm hits.

Weather Underground:  Many people swear by this website (www.wunderground.com), although I haven’t used it much.  What I do really like is their smart phone Storm app.  Its real-time radar display is critical when bad weather is heading your way, showing the speed and direction of bad-weather cells. The cells are color coded and show what time they might hit certain cities in their paths. If you see that you are in the path of a red cell, for example, you and that dog better head for the storm cellar.  (Auntie Em!  Auntie Em!  Let us in!)

As an aside, when I camp-hosted in Tennessee, it was a comfort to have the Storm App always in my pocket.  I often used it to show tent campers that they really should consider moving to the pavilion to ride out the storm rather than staying under that big dead tree limb with nothing but a layer of nylon over their heads.

Ding-dong!  It’s time to walk the dog.  Come along Toto… er, Dawny.   Bring your brain, open your heart, and gather your courage.  Another yellow brick road awaits.