20 November 2009

Getting started

So what do you do with a 37' trailer when you don't know squat? No problem: ignorance is bliss!

We left TravelTown on a Friday afternoon just before they locked the front gate. Which means we set up camp for the first time as the sun disappeared in the western sky, laughing all the way down below the horizon. I think we came close to getting it right since nothing blew up, burned out or leaked. Reading a book, and we read several, just isn't do the same as touchy-feely when connecting sewer, water & electrical yourself.

Lesson #1: pretty much level is not the same as level! I thought I was close, but when I stepped into the toilet compartment, the door would slap my ass as a reminder that closies don't count. That was a little annoying, but the coup de grace was the corner of the cupboard door that silently swung open and found my head every time I got out of my chair. Oh... and another cupboard door that swung in front of the TV screen during the best part of a movie.

By our 2nd night at Santa Fe Skies the weather had turned cold in Santa Fe. But the propane furnace made life comfy during the now-freezing nights. Lesson #2: the furnace sucks up 10#-15# of propane every 24 hours when you use it as the only heat source. We were going through a 30# tank every 2-3 days. Since the park hadn't renewed their propane filling station license in time and couldn't refill the tanks, I hauled the empty 30# tanks to Ferrell Gas in Santa Fe to get them refilled.

Corollary A to Lesson #2: why on earth would a sane person want to use propane to heat their trailer when they can use electric heaters that use electricity you're paying for anyway as part of the nightly fee? Duh! So off we went to Home Depot for a couple 1500 Watt heaters.

Celia, who by now had restored herself to her former rank of Admiral, let me know that hauling dirty laundry to the on-site laundromat was no better than when we were cruising and that we needed a change. Normally I, as the Captain, would have responded with authority and installed the needed equipment to keep the Admiral happy. However I have come to realize that staying an enlisted puke has its benefits. When something doesn't work out right I can just shrug and say "but that's what you told me to do, sir! Ummm, ma'am."

That's not quite how it went down. I did Google a neat ventless combo washer/dryer at Camping World, then confirmed they had one in stock in their Albuquerque store, and scheduled the installation.

By this point we had things livable enough that we thought it was time to suck it up and get the Dog House on the road. This time it was a big adventure as we pulled out of Santa Fe and headed south for the parking lot at Camping World. All of 65 miles and a chance to see what the fuel economy of this big truck really is like. We hit all of 10 mpg. Uh-oh. And since Albuquerque is at 5,000' elevation compared to 7,000' at Santa Fe, it was essentially downhill the whole way there. Double-uh-oh. Reality checks really suck.

For the benefit of those who don't already know, Camping World is a specialized retail facility created to remove all available $$$ from the pockets of RV owners. Lots of tantalizing toys that often diminish in utility once removed from the plastic bubble wrap. If you've ever played boats, it's akin to West Marine but with a giant service department.

Even though it was mostly just a chance to get things figured out on the RV, our time at Santa Fe Skies was actually very enjoyable. The setting is gorgeous with expansive views across the city to the Jemez and Sangre de Cristo mountains; off to the south we could see the Ortiz mountains. These views are possible because the park is located on a low mesa south of town.

The park is very 'rural' and is actually located on a small portion of what is named Brown Castle Ranch. The owners (the Brown family) have added a 3/4 mile walking trail around the park which was ideal for getting us and our dogs out for some exercise. And they still have a lot of the old ranch equipment that was left behind by previous owners.

Being away from most of the evening lights of Santa Fe (street lights, buildings, parking lots) gave us the clearest view of the night sky I could have ever imagined. I would like to have been there when it was warmer so I could have stayed out and enjoyed it. A person would have to be hardier than Mrs. Bowman's little boy to enjoy it during the fall as the temps dropped into the high 20s, but a late spring or summer stop here should be well worth the above-average cost.

Next stop Albuquerque.

15 November 2009

So how do 2 old toots travel with 2 big dogs?

Frustration is what did it. We have a very old house in Santa Fe, NM, 2 wonderful Bernese Mountain Dogs... and between the 2 (or is it 3?!) there seemed no hope of traveling. You'd think that a couple who cruised on water in a sailboat for several years would have realized cruising on dirt in an RV is a logical next step. Nope. Took 5 or 6 years to connect the dots.

During the summer of 2009 we had sequential visits with 2 different couples who came to visit us in their RVs (they both had motorhomes). "Hmmm... we could do this. And we can take the dogs!" Or words to that effect.

Once the seed was planted it didn't take long. We started by looking for a motorhome but quickly realized what we could afford to spend on what was clearly an experiment was far short of what a sufficiently large motorhome would cost. A local dealer, TravelTown of Santa Fe, had a 2003 Montana 5th wheel trailer (6 years old at the time) at what seemed a bargain price and we already had a truck. What could be simpler?! 'Hold it dude. You just bought a 15,000# trailer and you want to pull it with what?! Let's talk this over.' We will be forever grateful to Wayne for his early guidance. We knew Wayne was a really cool guy cuz his dog Farley is about the nicest Chocolate Lab you could ever imagine!

So off we went to surf the CarMax site in search of a truck that could handle the load. We bought a 2004 Ford F-350 long bed diesel dually, probably paying a few thousand too much. Then on the trip home from Albuquerque to Santa Fe the truck decided to change lanes without asking first. Scared the crap out of me and we returned the truck a couple days later.

The nice thing about CarMax is that if you get the wrong vehicle you have 5 days to do something about it without additional charges. Just a few button presses by the sales manager to return the first truck and get a different truck on its way. So now we have a 2008 Ford F-350 long bed diesel dually and it seems willing to follow instead of lead.

Once the dealer had the new B&W Companion hitch installed (our truck came with a B&W gooseneck hitch from the factory, so the choice was a no-brainer), we moved our 37' 5th wheel trailer a whole 1.7 miles from TravelTown to Santa Fe Skies RV Park. That was a convenient location to move our "stuff" aboard without having to guess what we needed. With apologies to George Carlin, here's a little about "stuff".

In 2000 we bought our Gemini catamaran Goosebumps. Before we took delivery we had to decide what to bring with us from California to Maryland. We bought equipment cautiously, weighed everything to make sure we were under the manufacturer's 1,500# load limit. It included things like navigation "stuff", anchoring "stuff", dinghy "stuff", cooking "stuff", clothing "stuff". We tossed it into a rented van and off we went to Annapolis. At the other end we packed all the "stuff" aboard only to discover some of our choices were wide of the mark. So, with all our "stuff" aboard, we started buying the things we really needed with no way to get the unneeded "stuff" back to California. We ended up at about double the designer's load limit and as a result our speedy catamaran sailed like a pig.

We did much better this time. The Dog House was parked less than 10 miles from home. We stayed on board and only added what we needed to be able to live, stay warm and keep the dogs happy. No wild guess what would work.

The result was we needed far fewer extras than on the boat. We did add an Onan generator (a winner) and a combo washer/dryer (the jury's still out). We also replaced the old analog TV with a new flat panel digital TV. We're trying a VIZIO we bought at Sam's Club which so far is great. DirecTV again which we used on the boat. And a Winegard CarryOut antenna which simplifies finding a satellite each time we move the Doghouse.

Enough for now. I'll update with entries as we get underway.