Stops Along the Way: Part 2

Five o’clock quickly arrived at my desk on my first night as a full-time RVer.  I left my office and walked into the dark parking lot knowing I would be home in less than 30 seconds.  No one from work knew it.  Since I land acting and print gigs on occasion, they believe my camper is to go on jobs out of town.  Half-truths go a long way.  I also made it a point for them to know that owning an RV has always been a dream of mine.  I considered letting my co-workers know of my new lifestyle, but I’ve grown less trusting with age.  My managers may feel less compelled to give me higher raises since I have fewer expenses.  My supervisor may look at me with scorn if I come in late on a snowy day. Co-workers may think I’m just plain kooky… and they would be right!  Yes, none of these things would be fair, but life isn’t fair and neither are people’s judgments and actions.  If the folks at work ever did find out (and some may already suspect), I guess it wouldn’t be a big deal.  However, why put myself out there if I don’t have to?

As I approached close to my camper, I visually took it all in.  “This is my home!”.  Realizing this felt odd, good… and a little scary.  I got in the van and drove to my RV friendly parking spot.  Like a dog, I instinctively circled the lot twice before parking.  There were two big rig trucks settled in for the night, so I parked next to them under a light post.

I climbed into the cabin, turned on the house lights and furnace then organized my things the best I could with the limited space I had.  It didn’t take long.  I went back up to the driving area and hung the camping drapes for the night that came with the van.   They expand along the front windows and windshield for insulation and privacy.  The down side to using these is that it becomes obvious to people that you are camping.  However, it’s not a concern in this particular parking space.  I sat on my couch bed and opened up my laptop to find there was no wifi (this retailer’s only flaw).  At that point, I was ready to retire for the evening.  I put on my jammies (with a thermal undershirt), made my bed, and quickly fell asleep.  The weather was mild and I rested soundly. My first night was anti-climactic… that’s a good thing.

I woke up early in the morning, headed to the gym for a workout and hot shower, and arrived at work without skipping a beat.  “I can do this.”, I thought to myself as I got settled at my desk.  My day went on, as usual.

I’m now well into my second month as a full-time RVer and going strong.  I’m all settled in and have my new place they way I want it.  My storage unit has been emptied.  Everything in it has been sold, given to charity, or put to use.  This means that all of my worldly possessions are in my camper!  I’d also like to point out that I made sure to have an alarm system with a kill switch installed.  I’ve finished “decorating”, mainly for my two most important concerns: warmth and privacy/safety.  The first thing I did before spending my first night was put up insulation curtains between the cabin and the cockpit.  This serves several important purposes: 1. It keeps my living space private while I’m driving or away from my vehicle.  I’ve had curious co-workers jokingly admit that they’ve tried to look into the back of my van during their cigarette break… Good luck with that!  2. It keeps light from escaping the outside of the curtain, leaving the front of the van dark for oncoming traffic and passersby, thus, allowing for stealthy camping. 3. Eliminates the need to hang conspicuous camping drapes when I’m boondocking.  4. It keeps the heat in and the cold out!

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Insulation curtain separating the two areas

The next important thing was insulating my house windows and roof vent.  I looked into different options like getting special plastic films or Styrofoam, but opted to get creative with what I already had.  I had four 2’x2’ purple acoustic panels that I used for home recording just taking up space in my cabin.   Using fabric scissors, I cut them to fit each window and entirely lined their backs with black Gorilla tape to make the foam impervious to wind and light (always think stealth!).  I then snapped them in place, over the windows using 3M Picture Hangers.  I had to use Gorilla Glue to keep the hangers on the plastic window frames because the hanger’s adhesive was not strong enough to hold on this surface long term.  Tip: do all of this during the day when the surface temperature is highest for the glue to work best.  I did the same with a grey 1’x1’ foam panel (minus the Gorilla Glue) for the roof vent.

In all, my insulation project was a success!  My cabin is toasty and just as importantly, retains more heat.  This was just in time for our first snowfall, which wasn’t much.  I managed to stay every bit as warm as when I lived in a land home.

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Window above my sleeping area

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Windows by the galley

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The house lights are ON inside!

A note about catalytic heaters:  I’ve read on several blogs, boards, and videos that they are a must for winter RVing.  It’s mainly because they use propane more efficiently than the forced air heat from RV furnaces by using radiant heat.  Fearing a nasty winter, I bought one from Amazon for $250 and had it installed by a technician.  However, I ended up having it uninstalled and returned for a refund in a week!  First off, because of the size and layout of my camper, there was no graceful place to mount it without it being a fire hazard.  I had to have it stand freely with legs on top of my stove.  Secondly, because of its limited location, the radiant heat could only radiate in certain places, leaving the floor and corners cold… and since you have to leave a crack in your window (to avoid asphyxiation) you are left being even colder!  I ended up just using my furnace heat most of the time.   

Bottom line: It was not worth it for me.   I’d also like to point out that you wouldn’t save much money using these heaters in a class B RV.  Since the living space is tiny, it wouldn’t make much difference cost wise.  I only spend $15 a week on propane for my furnace.  How much more could I possibly save using this thing… maybe $2 a pop?  Catalytic heaters are only worth it with larger RVs, where you could see a big difference in your budget and have more location options for mounting.  I only wish that I were clever enough to do this math before I spent money on the purchase, shipping, installation, de-installation, and restocking fee… You live and you learn!

Within my first week, I carved out a comfortable routine that’s working out well for me.  I get up around 5:30AM and head to the gym to work out, shower, and use the sauna.  I then head off to work, which is conveniently right around the corner.  After work, I drive to the nearby Dunkin’ Donuts and use their wifi until they close.  I used to go inside to sit at a table, but I’ve found it’s easier on my money and waistline to just stay in their parking lot.   Afterwards, I head to my retail campsite for the night.  I usually work on random projects, “socialize” on Facebook, and watch a couple of my favorite shows on my laptop.  When I’m in the mood, I’ll listen to music.  There’s nothing sweeter than relaxing to some good classic rock in a camper… something about it just feels so right!  I’m usually out cold by midnight.

This changes up a bit on the weekends.  Saturday is my day of rest, no gym.  I get my propane tank filled for the week.   Most of the time, I enjoy something leisurely like going out to a buffet lunch and or see a film at the theater.   On Saturday night, I find myself usually venturing to boondock on the streets of Hartford’s West End.  I would camp in neighboring West Hartford, where I grew up, but they enforce a strict street parking ban after 2 AM.  I have one favorite spot in Hartford that I’ve been going to each week because it’s quite and safe with available wifi.  Sundays, I usually hit the gym again. My laundry gets done every two weeks by the wash, dry, fold service at my favorite 24 hour Laundromat.  As a single person, it’s only a few dollars more than doing the laundry myself.   They also have a strong wifi signal which I help myself to throughout the day as I wait for my clothes.  Sunday evening, I camp at a relative’s home to charge my house battery for the week, since I do not yet have a generator.

Since I’ve become a gypsy, I’ve noticed there have been little adjustments in my patterns of thinking.  For instance, when I’m about to leave somewhere (usually work) I no longer say, “I’m going home.” Instead, I find myself thinking along the lines of, “I’m going to set up camp…”.    My third day in, I had to return some beauty products to Target.  While I was in the customer service line, I realized I forgot an item.  I felt a rush of frustration with my forgetfulness and resigned to the situation, thinking to myself, “I’ll bring it back some other time, after I go home.”  Then I remembered home was in the parking lot!  All of my items were returned that very night in ten minutes flat!

I have to say that so far, I’m very happy with my lifestyle… and with the money I’m starting to save.   I’ve also noticed within me, a stronger feeling of independence and self-sufficiency.  Of course, living this way is not without it’s challenges.  I’ve blown fuses, been late to work due to dead batteries and endured a late night bathroom emergency or two (I’m dry camping, remember?) which was all due to my own occasional carelessness.  Of course, there will be challenges ahead that will be out of my control.  By the way, be sure to get your AAA RV coverage or Good Sam membership, kiddies!

To avoid trouble, I always have to be aware of things.  I have to be aware of the amount of power I’m using in order for my rig to remain self-sufficient and running. I have to be aware of my surroundings to remain safe.  I have to be aware of my schedule to get important things done regularly, such as keeping my house batteries charged (it powers everything in my home), keeping my propane tank filled (I don’t want to risk running out of heat in the middle of the freezing night when fueling stations are closed!) and keeping a sufficient amount of gas in the tank that will last me until next payday.  Being a gypsy is an adventurous, leisurely, fun way of life, but I would not recommend it for the mentally or physically lazy!  I was a little of both before the day I moved into my camper.

The simplicity of my life is starting to grant me a certain feeling of peace.  This past Saturday, I parked in the West End of Hartford, as I usually do.  It’s mainly an upper middle class /upper class enclave with beautiful stately Victorian homes belonging to a very diverse mix of people; artists, businessmen, educators, social activists and the like.  Since I was a very young woman, I dreamed of one day living in one of these lovely, solidly built homes and becoming part of their vibrant, socially active community.   I’d often wish that I had a half million or so to plunk down to buy my way into that life.  Now there I was, ironically, driving down these roads looking for a place to camp for the night, leading a life that is completely different.  As I drove past these proud dwellings, beautifully decorated with Christmas lights, a quiet voice within me rose up, “Is the dream dead?” to which I replied, “No, it simply is no longer my dream.”  For the first time in my life, I feel free.

Side note: I heard this song on the classic rock station one night when I was driving.  I think I may have a new theme song!

Stops Along the Way: Part 1

Forgive me all, it has been two months since my last confession!  Much has transpired which is the reason of my hiatus.  Time goes by fast and even faster when you have much to do by a deadline.   My energies have been scattered between organizing my belongings, moving into my home on wheels, and being hit with the first Nor’easter of the season!

I’m happy to announce that I am now a full time RVer!  I intended to write a climactic entry the night before my big move (the last day of October), but a hurricane Sandy came along and knocked out my Internet connection.  I will not complain too harshly since compared to many others in my region, I got off easy.  It’s somewhat strange for me to think about how I had an idea to change my life only a few months ago and now I’m writing this entry from the inside of my new home.  I guess life really is that simple.  It’s only the stops we take along the way in our journey that makes change seem so complicated.

The morning after I gave my landlord notice, I woke up in sheer panic.  I originally planned to move out in the spring when the weather was warm.  That way, I would only have to focus on learning the basics of RV living.  However, I quickly grew impatient.  I didn’t want to put off tomorrow what could be done by the end of the rent month!  This would entail diving head-first into the world of RVing in the harsh New England winter… a winter that is forecasted to be one of the nastiest!

“What was I thinking?”, “I’m in over my head”, “Oh, My God. I’m going to DIE!” were just a few of the loops on repeat rattling about in my mind.   I was ready to tell my landlord that I had changed my mind, but a friend, thankfully, deterred me.  He said, “Second thoughts seed regret.  Roughing the winter will only make you enjoy the warm seasons that much more.”  Deep down, I knew he was right.  If I backed down from this, I wouldn’t have the same amount of respect for myself.  I decided to accept this challenge and moved forward with my plans.

I sorted through my belongings.  I used the time-tested method of dividing my things in three piles: stuff to keep, stuff to sell or give away, and stuff to trash.  And boy, was I ruthless! I even gave away my beautiful crimson prom dress from Lord and Taylors that I held on to for so many years.  Goodwill was my place of choice because they employ the disabled.  I managed to whittle down my possessions to only what I needed and used.  I’m still not done.  As time goes on, I’m sure I’ll shed a couple more items out of my camper van.  Mind you, I still have a small storage unit with some stuff from my previous apartment that has to be out in two weeks.  That’s right, I gave the storage people notice, too!

A few weeks before I moved, I researched winter RVing on the Internet and scanned message boards.  The most important thing I gathered was that winter RVing was possible.  I picked up some very useful information, such as getting a propane efficient catalytic heater instead of relying on my RV’s furnace and the joys of windows insulation.  I still felt a little shaky and I decided to get up from behind my laptop to find a real person to speak to about this matter.  I did a Google search for RV places in my area and I found Long View RV in Windsor Locks and decided to pay them a visit.  I’m glad I did!

When I walked in, I felt a good vibe about the place.  If I didn’t, I would’ve walked right out.  The shop was clean and inviting with rows of RVing equipment and bottles and bottles of different RV stuff displayed on the selves.  I was greeted by Marie who was sitting behind the check out counter.  She was warm, friendly and easy to talk to.  Marie enthusiastically showed me around the store even though she was new and wasn’t able to answer any of my weird winter camping questions.

She noticed that I pulled up in a Coachmen and told me of a salesman with the company by the name of Jake who has sold Coachmens throughout his career since the 1960’s.  She sent for him and he came from his office to meet me.  Jake is an overall attractive gentleman, charming, and with a glint in his eye.  Call it a Cloud Atlas moment, but I immediately sensed something special about this man.  Marie told Jake of my intention of becoming a full time RVer this winter… in Connecticut.  “No, you’re not!” he said in a dry, humorous fashion.  I couldn’t help but laugh because we both knew that what I’m trying to do is a little bit crazy.  He saw that I was all in, and proceeded to coach me.  I was advised on the harshness of our weather and the challenges it would pose to comfortable mobile living.

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 J.C. and Jake

There were a few options I could take, but Jake’s top recommendation was winterizing and dry camping (living in your rig without using running water or plumbing). I first recoiled at the idea, but it seem much more favorable than insulating and constantly monitoring my tanks and pipes to make sure they don’t burst on me.  I felt relieved that I finally had a course of action to follow.  On my way out, Marie handed me an accessory catalog and recommend I attend their upcoming  free RV winterizing class.  Jake followed me out to the parking lot to tell me something. He smiled and said that I had more “cojones” than he did.  I was charmed, but since he knows his stuff and I don’t, I didn’t know weather to be flattered or a be little scared for myself!

I attended Longview’s winterizing class that was held in a large room above the store.  Free donuts were provided, so already, I was excited to be there!   Not surprisingly, most of the attendees were in their 50’s and up.  Joe, the shop’s Service Manager led the class.  He started off by emphasizing that there is more to winterizing an RV than just loading up your tanks and pipes full of antifreeze.  He then proceeded to cover how to use all the cogs and sprockets needed to get the job done right.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was waaay over my head.  I decided to cut out of class early and headed down stairs to schedule an appointment with JC, the service adviser.

The night before my big move,  I organized my belongings (more or less), and moved them in the RV under the cloak of night.   Change was in the air.  I was nearly overcome by a strange combination of stress and excitement… sort of the same feeling I got when I was about to get married, but unlike then, I knew that I was making the right decision.

In the morning, I took pictures of my empty place (a habit before leaving any rental to protect myself), dropped off my keys and headed off to work.  My day was like any other before then, but somewhat surreal.  I felt lighter but with a feeling of uncertainty since I wasn’t sure where I would sleep for the night.  I have options and since my camper van could fit into regular parking spaces that bigger RVs can’t, I could easily boondock.  However, I didn’t want to deal with the nuances of stealth parking right out the gate.

During my lunch break, I did some research and it turns out there are other retailers besides Walmart that allows RV parking overnight.  I found a store that is very RV friendly, safe (well lit with cameras everywhere) and super convenient in location.  I called up the store’s manager and asked if campers could stay for a few days.  “Stay as long as you need!” he said.  I was happy and relieved; it was one less thing to worry about.  For the winter, I was planning on renting a space in the parking lot of a multifamily house converted into an office building, but why spend the money?  I decided no more rent… period.

The work day came to a close and my first night was coming upon me.

To be continued…