Travel trials, tribulations and tidbits

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This is the final segment to wrap up the first chapter of our RV travels.  The previous segment with our statistics is here.

As we reviewed the 422 posts that we published along the way, we recalled many fond memories and also came up with some fun tidbits that we thought were unforgettable, surprising, scary, stressful or fascinating experiences.  Compiling this collection made us pause and reflect on how many wonderful experiences we’ve had while on the road.

We faced our first major challenge just as we started the journey at Pleasanton, CA.  A hydraulic failure left our jacks and slides extended, and we learned a lot about that system during the next 3 weeks that it took to get it fixed (under warranty, fortunately).  Since that time we’ve dealt with many minor water leaks, a dead video camera, an intermittent engine cooling issue, refrigerator problems and other things that we consider part of the joy of moving around in a big complicated box.

Here’s some upper-body exercise – over 300 turns to manually retract our hydraulic rams, then the same thing on the other side!

Most exasperating experience – Intense itching and a month of discomfort due to chigger bites.  I had never heard of chiggers until they attacked me as I sat in the grass for a picture in Peru, Indiana.  Here are the details of that nightmare.

Chigger Bites

Just part of one area – itch, itch, itch

Scariest moment – When I slipped and fell, hurting my knee – not while hiking, but just walking on level ground!  No hiking for a month!

Lowes Travels


Most stressful incident – We got locked out of our RV during a tornado watch while camped at La Grange, GA.  Surprisingly, this particular post has more hits than any other we’ve written.  Maybe the bad guys want to know how Steve broke into the RV?

Holiday Campground

Only one other camper was there that day at Holiday Campground, La Grange, GA

Most frightening night – Hunkering down at Gulf Shores State Park in Alabama provided a sleepless night, as a long line of violent thunderstorms passed over us and dumped a record-breaking 15 inches of rain and over 7,000 lightning strikes per hour in the area.  We’ll never forget that night.

Gulf Shores State Park

The morning after the storm.  The water had risen from 50′ away from Betsy to 10′ away

Most nerve-wracking drives Due to bad GPS data and heavy traffic on the I-10 causeway approaching New Orleans, we missed our exit and got lost.  Then panic set in as we had a close call with a locomotive while crossing train tracks.  Not a fun drive!

Another hellish drive was on I-95 S coming  from Connecticut and passing thru the Bronx, New York to the New Jersey turnpike.  Here‘s that story.

Atchafalaya Basin Bridge

This hours-long jam at the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge was the beginning of a bad day near New Orleans

Then there was the time when Steve heard a loud hissing noise coming from the back of Betsy as we drive into Halifax, Nova Scotia.  We couldn’t find the source of the problem and had to have our first repair in a foreign country.

Checking the cooling system

What the heck is making that noise?

Another scary drive occurred near our last stop in Kansas, at Sabetha.  We very nearly got stuck in mud as we approached the campground, then the owner directed us into a site where we got totally stuck.  Fortunately, the owner pulled Betsy out of the mud with one of his tractors when we left.


This guy owned a bunch of tractors and just had to pick the right one for the job

One of our most stressful drives was the stretch between Salem and Bend, Oregon.  Not only was it a narrow and mountainous road, but a huge storm hit as we drove, sending rivers of water down the road as high winds tried to push us over.  And nowhere to pull off the road.  It was intense!

Bend, Oregon

A leak in the windshield required a towel during this nerve-wracking drive toward Bend, OR

Most spectacular drive – This one has to go to the Icefields Parkway between Jasper and Banff, Canada.  None of the 14 All-American roads we’ve driven can quite stack up against this one, and it should be on every traveler’s bucket list.

Ice fields Parkway

Its a wow driving on Ice fields Parkway

Proudest moment – Steve is quite the handyman, doing not only all of our coach repairs but also making changes and upgrades to improve our life on the road.  I was very proud of him when he completed the installation of our residential refrigerator, by himself, during our stay in Bonita Springs, Florida.

installing a residential refrigerator

Out with the old, in with the new

Most fascinating underground tour – Who knew there’s a huge salt mine 650′ beneath the plains of Kansas?

Strataca, Kansas

Most sobering historical guided tour – Having learned the Gettysburg address in school many years ago, we were amazed to actually be where Abraham Lincoln delivered the speech. Here’s a glimpse of our 24-mile, two-hour tour of the historic fields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Most distinctive waterfront – There is no other colorful waterfront town that we’ve seen like Old Town Lunenburg, Nova Scotia .

Old Town Lunenberg

The “I’ll never do this again” experience – I learned that one while Halibut fishing in Ninilchik, Alaska.

Halibut Fishing

Deep-sea fishing with the other tourists/anglers.  Do I look like I’m having fun?

We’ve hiked so many trails that at this point we can’t really pick favorites, but we agreed these stand out:

Most challenging – Among the many trails we followed around the country, our climb to the top of Picacho Peak in Arizona may have been the most challenging.

Longest – Sometimes we get in over our heads when hiking or walking, and the one to Hoover Dam in Nevada from our campground at Lake Mead clocked in at 14.1 miles.

Most exhausting – Hiking on a rainy day is never in our plans, but when we’re halfway through our trek and the clouds open up we just have to grin and bear it.  Our hike on the Flat Top Summit Trail at Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina was one of those.  We looked like a couple of drowned rats when we got back to the car.

Extreme points we’ve reached in North America

Farthest north – Arctic Circle, Alaska.  To get here we endured a 19-hour guided bus tour, and what an adventure is was during our many hours on Alaska’s Dalton Highway.

Pose at the Arctic circle sign. We made it!

Farthest south – Key West, Florida, lots to do here and what a party town it is!

Southernmost Point of USA

Farthest East – Louisbourg, Nova Scotia  and we happened to be there on its 300th anniversary of its founding in 1713.

 Fortress of Louisbourg

French guard at the Fortress of Louisbourg

Farthest West Anchor Point, Alaska, what a great time we had here on the Kenai Peninsula.

Anchor Point, AK

Northwestern-most point in the contiguous U.S. – Cape Flattery, Washington.

Cape Flattery

Highest point in North America – we landed on the flanks of 20,320′ Denali Mountain on skis, a totally thrilling trip not to be missed!

Glacier landing

Steve chats with the pilot after a glacier landing on Mount Denali

Lowest point in North America – One of the lowest places in the world at 282′ below sea level, Badwater Basin at Death Valley National Park was fascinating.

Death Valley National Park

Largest National Park in the U.S. – At more than 13,000 square miles, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park requires a plane ride just to get to the middle of the park in a reasonable amount of time.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Yukon Alaska

We flew into Wrangell-St. Elias NP, it could take a lifetime to explore it all

Largest lake in the U.S. – Lake Superior made us feel like we were on the shoreline of an ocean!

Most awesome gondola ride – We took a thrilling ride aboard the Peak2peak Gondola in Whistler, Canada, which holds two records; the longest free span between ropeway towers at 1.88 miles, and the gondola with the highest point above ground, 1,430′.

Peak2peak Gondola

The 1.8 mile gondola is the only one in the world that connects two mountain peaks

Just for the heck of it fun tidbits – Mile zero’s

Ice field Parkway

Mile 0 of Highway 93 – Jasper, Canada to Wickenburg, AZ


Mile 0 of US 1

Mile 0 of US-1 in Key West, Florida

And the beginning and end of Alaska Highway.

And that wraps up almost five years of our RV travels!

What’s next?

We’re opening a new chapter in our RV life in 2017.  After visiting all of the states, our goal will now be to narrow our search to one or more places where we’d like to stop and park Betsy for long periods of time.  Our travels will be more laid back and less structured, likely focusing more on the western states.  At least that’s the plan as of today, but who knows?  Our blogging will taper off somewhat, and we’re pondering a format change or something for our site.

As we look forward to another year of adventures, we want to THANK YOU for “jamming on down the road” with us!


Betsy gets a refrigerator transplant

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installing a residential refrigerator

We arrived at Bonita Springs, FL on the first of the year, planning to stay here for a full month – the longest stop of our adventure so far.  Steve had a list of minor “Betsy” maintenance and fix-up to-do’s, and we thought this would be a good place to complete them.

One item that was not on the list – replace our refrigerator.  We have never been comfortable with the complexity or performance of our absorption unit, and Steve had been studying the feasibility of replacing it with a residential refrigerator for several months.  But now the issue had become a high priority, as our current fridge was obviously getting warmer and likely to fail soon.  After adding extra fans and defrosting the thing multiple times, we had two experts check it out and they advised us that we would need a new cooling unit – at close to $2,000 for the CU (either Norcold or an Amish unit) and labor.  Decision time!

Refrigerator Temps

Internal temps of the old fridge and freezer – with it cranked all the way up!

Although we haven’t boondocked a lot so far, we didn’t want to lose the ability to do so. And that was really our only opposition to moving to a residential fridge.  Since we have a good inverter and 3 coach batteries, plus our trusty generator, we think we’ll be able to make it work.

Being the handyman he is, Steve decided to take on the job himself.  He would have tackled this without hesitation before we started full timing, but now he was limited by a lack of tools and wondering whether the RV park would allow it.  As luck would have it, we are at Imperial Bonita Estates RV Resort, where construction within sites is allowed and the resort workers even haul away any debris left by the street once a week.  There’s also a Home Depot right up the street for needed parts and tools.  Let’s get to work!

Steve measured all dimensions of the old fridge, the compartment that held it and our door opening (the only window large enough to get a fridge through is the emergency exit in the bedroom – not an option).  We located a unit at Home Depot that looked good, a Frigidaire model# FFHT1817PS.  It was slightly narrower in width at 30″, but taller at 66.5″ – meaning we would lose the drawer that was under the old unit – darn!  The depth of 30″ meant it would stick out of the wall slightly, but not too bad.  The weight was about the same, around 200 lbs.  We ordered the new fridge, ate everything in the freezer as fast as we could, emptied all of the remaining goodies into ice chests (thanks Joe and Judy for loaning us yours!), and Steve got busy.

After removing the doors and hinges, disconnecting the propane, ice maker line, 12V and AC power, and removing everything that looked like a retaining screw at the front/back/top/bottom, he happily yanked the old unit out:

Residential Refrigerator in an RV

A triumphant moment – now let’s get this thing out of here!

Residential Refrigerator in RV

What in the world have I gotten myself into?

The next step was to get rid of the old bracing and other stuff in the fridge compartment to prepare it for the new unit.  Steve plugged the end of the propane hose, since there was no access to the metal gas line under the coach where he would have preferred to plug it.  He moved the electrical outlet from the rear of the compartment to a brace on the side wall to give us a little more depth – the new unit needs only one inch at the rear for ventilation. Fortunately, the outlet was already connected through the inverter so no additional wiring was required.

The new fridge was tall enough that even though we lost our drawer at the bottom, a base had to be built to get it at the correct height in the opening.

Steve knew we wouldn’t need both outside vents, so he sealed the top one from the inside with sheet metal attached with sealant and screws.  We’re not sure whether we want to seal the bottom vent or not and will decide later.  On hot days we think it might be good to have some outside air flow, but the new fridge has a vent on the bottom which is open to the inside of the coach.  That will allow some outside air into the coach, but we will monitor it for a while to see if it’s too much.  If we find the bottom vent isn’t needed, we’ll fill it with spray foam and close it back up to seal it.

Delivery day arrived, and it was time for Steve to “clear the runway” for the landing of our brand new baby.  He removed the passenger’s seat but left the base in, since he wanted to avoid pulling up the carpet to remove it and he thought the delivery folks could work around it.  Next, he removed the grip handles on both sides of the door to make the opening as big as possible.  Finally, he unscrewed the door stop at the top to allow the door and screen to swing completely out of the way.  Now we had a 28″ door opening to get the 27″ deep fridge through, once the doors were removed – no problem!

Residential Refrigerator in an RV

Delivery dudes removing the doors and installing the ice maker, project dude taking a break.

Steve was horrified when the delivery guys told him they were not allowed to deliver appliances into motorhomes or boats.  We pretty much begged them to help us out – these old people in the RV park can’t help us move a refrigerator!  By a stroke of luck, Steve happened to have some $10 bills in his hand as they were getting ready to leave and the guy saw them.  That did the trick!  Those guys had the old unit out of Betsy and the new one sitting in the galley in no time flat!  They told us they weren’t supposed to do it, so we carefully disguised their faces in the above image 😉

Back to our story, we slid the unit into its new home and Steve took careful measurements for the upcoming trim project.  Then he installed the doors and I put the shelves where I liked them.  We plugged our new refrigerator in, put a box of baking soda inside, and waited in anticipation.

Figuring out how to secure the fridge took some thinking, since there was very little access to the back and we didn’t want to put any screws into the unit – which would likely void the warranty if we have any future problems.  Steve decided to install the trim around the fridge with a strip of super-strong double-sided tape, then screw the trim into the cabinetry.  The guy at the hardware store thought it would work, and wow did it ever – this thing doesn’t budge a millimeter!

After two days of work and about $850 for the refrigerator and other parts, it’s just about done:

We love all of the space in this fridge, and we’re in the process of putting various storage trays inside to keep things from falling as we travel. Steve still has to devise retainers to keep the doors closed on the road, but he’s found some ideas using velcro that look simple and unobtrusive.  He’s filling the screw heads with wood putty now, and after a final coat of stain on the trim it looks like we’ll call this one a success!

Residential Refrigerator in an RV

OK, now that’s more like it! Honey, can I have a cold beer now?

Before starting this project, we talked with several people who had either performed a similar transplant, or who owned newer coaches that came with residential refrigerators. One couple who had done the transplant were John and Pam of Oh the Places.  Since they were staying nearby, we were able to visit them to pick their brains prior to starting our project.  Once we were done, they were nice enough to come over and do a “final inspection”.  I think we passed!

Residential refrigerator in RV

John and Pam came over for COLD drinks!

Now, back to that to-do list…