How I Became a Snowbird

It only took eleven years.

I’m halfway through my first full week in Arizona, the place so many mostly retired Americans go in the winter to escape the cold at their northern latitude homes. With my second winter season in a warmer climate now under way, I think it’s safe to say that I’m officially a snowbird.

I also realized that I’ve been doing some form of snowbirding for the past eleven years now, although I didn’t do it the usual way.

And I think I prefer it the way I do it now.

He’s the scoop. Be advised: this blog post includes the airing of some dirty laundry, which, unfortunately, is an integral part of the story and explains what took me so long to get here.

The Reverse Snowbird

For the eight or so years leading up to my eventual divorce and move to Washington state, I was a sort of reverse snowbird. Instead of migrating south for the winter, I migrated north for the summer.

2004 was the first year I did this. That’s when I got a job as a seasonal tour pilot at the Grand Canyon. A week in the significantly cooler Grand Canyon area followed by a week at home in Wickenburg. It was a busy summer. I was just another tour pilot at the Canyon, flying over “the big ditch” up to 13 times a day, but in my home office, I cranked out the fifth (or sixth?) edition of my best-selling Quicken Official Guide and got started on an Excel book. When I wasn’t home, I dealt with the relative discomfort of life in a horse trailer’s cramped living quarters, parked on 40 acres of property I owned with my future wasband five miles from pavement. I’d leave at 6 AM to get to work by 6:45. And yes, sometimes I did fly to work; I had a R22 parked beside my Jeep at the trailer. That’s the summer I decided to “go for broke” on my struggling helicopter charter business and order an R44.

Howard Mesa Cabin
Our Howard Mesa cabin was a nice place to escape from the heat.

In 2005, I had a brand new R44 helicopter but virtually no summer flying work. (Seriously: who wants to fly when it’s 110°F out?) When the Quicken book revision was done at the end of June, I headed back to the northern Arizona property with my horse trailer and horses. In a compromise with my future wasband, we’d had a prefabricated custom wooden shed delivered to the property. While he worked at one of the many jobs he bounced between in the Phoenix area, I spent all of July at the “cabin,” fitting its walls with hard foam insulation and building an interior wall to divide the main room from the future bathroom. On weekends, my future wasband would join me, handling tasks I couldn’t do then (but can certainly do now): wiring, plumbing, cutting lumber, fitting large sheets of T111 (think plywood paneling) on walls and ceilings. Together, we turned that shed into a very cozy four-season escape in a place where the Grand Canyon was our local park. But when the work was done, it was still too hot to hang out at home. So I hopped into my 2003 Honda S2000 (which I still own), and headed out on a 19-day road trip by myself to explore points north. I visited places (and friends) in Arizona, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and Utah, getting a real feel for a lot of the off-the-beaten-path places. I came back with a lead on a hangar home in Cascade, ID — perfect for a summer home — and even flew my future wasband up there with me to see it after I got home. (What a waste of time and money that was.)

In 2006, I made the mistake of marrying the man who would, six years later, leave me for a desperate old whore he met online. (Yes, I do realize now that the marriage was his attempt to “lock in” on the considerable financial, real estate, and business asset investments I’d been making since I had my first best-seller in 1998. But back then, I couldn’t imagine anyone I loved plotting to use family law to try to screw me over. Silly me.) I had some surgery in May and then went on a road trip with my wasband in that Honda to Napa Valley. That trip, which was the closest I’d get to a honeymoon, was probably the last fun trip we took together. Then it was back home to Wickenburg for the summer, with occasional trips to the cabin. That was also the first summer I heard about cherry drying, but my contact couldn’t guarantee me any work and I wasn’t willing to take the helicopter to Washington without some sort of guarantee of revenue.

In 2007, I worked on books, including that Quicken book again. Cherry drying was an option but again, without a guarantee of work, I wasn’t prepared to go north. But I was prepping for a seasonal lifestyle. Financially and mentally, I was ready for it. My wasband promised to join me on the road during the summer when he turned 55. In 2007, he was 51. My goal was to have enough work lined up by the time he was ready to join me to support both of us, so we could work together in the summer. Then we’d return to Arizona in the winter and he could do what he wanted to do — he’d talked about a bike shop, solar power consulting, being a flight instructor, and a few other things that interested him. Since we’d also need a place to live on the road, bought my first RV, a hybrid pull trailer that turned out to be a less than satisfactory choice. We used it at a rides event in Kingman, AZ and may have taken it on one or two other trips. In the meantime, he started learning how to fly helicopters so he wouldn’t be stuck driving the trailer all the time; when we traveled, he could reposition the helicopter and I could do the commercial flying at destinations. That was the plan. (Or at least I thought it was.)

In 2008, everything changed. My wasband bought a condo in Phoenix, closer to his job, where he began living four or five days a week. My office was in our Wickenburg home and due to the amount of computer equipment I needed to write, I stayed there with it. Between my wasband’s weekday life in Phoenix and his numerous trips to the New York area to visit his family, I didn’t spend much time with him at all. And then I got a contract for seven weeks of cherry drying work in Washington state. I left in June, making two trips to get the helicopter and RV up there by myself. I worked on my Quicken book in the trailer. My wasband joined me for a week in July. We stayed at a lakeside motel with the helicopter parked on the lawn and toured a lot of central Washington while I waited for a call out. Then he went home and I finished the season alone, making two trips to get the helicopter and RV back by myself.

Life fell into a routine from that point on, with me becoming a sort of reverse snowbird. I’d live in Wickenburg from September through May, mostly by myself, while my wasband lived in his Phoenix condo with a roommate and spent just about all of his vacation time visiting family in New York. Because his roommate was openly hostile toward me and I was still writing several books a year, I didn’t visit very often. In early June through August, I’d head to Washington alone — making two trips each way every year — for cherry drying work. I was building up a good client base, extending my season, and my flying business was finally making a decent profit. I even added winery tours and a profitable annual rides gig. In early 2010, I replaced the pull trailer with a very large and comfortable fifth wheel trailer — again, with the goal of living on the road every summer with my wasband. But in 2011, when he turned 55 and was in yet another dead-end job, he said he “wasn’t ready” to join me on the road. (It wasn’t until much later that I realized he never intended to join me, that it was just another empty promise.) That winter, I lived with him in his dark and dreary Phoenix condo, even moving my office there when he finally kicked his roommate out. Silly me: I was trying to bring us closer together. I even went to the marriage counsellor he wanted us to see.

I had my hopes up in the spring of 2012 — my fifth cherry drying season — when my wasband got what looked like might be his “dream job.” He said he could work from anywhere and that he’d join me in Washington for the summer. Finally! I began prepping the RV for his arrival with our dog. But then he called me on my birthday in June to tell me he wanted a divorce. He wanted to stay friends, he told me, as he was secretly giving my investment statements and tax returns to a lawyer to estimate his take.

What followed was the beginning of four years of insanity, with him calling friends and family members to tell them that he still loved me, changing the locks on my house and hangar, trying to lay claim to half of everything I owned, harassing me at home, sending a private investigator to spy on my future neighbors in Washington, lying and making absurd statements under oath in court, making false accusations about me trashing the house, claiming I’d hid property and money from the court, losing in the divorce decision, appealing the divorce decision, putting the house on the market without informing me or getting approval from the court, hacking into one of my old investment accounts, losing the appeal, begging the appeal judges to reconsider, and then doing everything he could to delay paying me what he owed me for the Wickenburg house that he wanted and got in the divorce. Along the way, he went through three lawyers — one of whom he neglected to pay who then put a lien on the house — drove a court-appointed Realtor and a title company person nuts, and sent me a ridiculous email threatening me with legal action that I knew would fail.

In the span of four years, he made so many often comical errors in strategy and judgement that I find it hard to believe I could ever love someone so unimaginably stupid.

Yeah, there’s definitely enough material for a book.

Anyway, the winter of 2012/2013 was the last one I spent in my Wickenburg home. When I didn’t have house guests, I was alone — at least while I was there; I traveled a lot that winter — but it really didn’t feel that different. After all, I’d been living mostly alone there since my wasband bought his condo in 2008. I spent the winter packing my belongings and discarding the things I didn’t want, waiting for the divorce trial. When the court stuff was done at the end of May 2013, I left my Wickenburg home for what I thought would be the last time, and headed north.

Real Snowbirding

The day after the divorce decree came down from the judge and I was finally free, I bought 10 acres of land in Malaga, WA, at the heart of the area where I did my cherry drying work. Over the following two years, I designed and built a home there and moved in. Ironically, my new home has all the features my wasband would have liked, from the wrap around deck with endless views to the huge garage and shop area to the limitless space for gardening. It’s perfect for me and I don’t need (or really want) to share it with anyone.

And the weather? No, it doesn’t rain all the time like it does in Seattle. Malaga (and the nearby “big city” of Wenatchee) is on the dry side of the Cascades. Annual rainfall is less than 10 inches. The weather is very similar to Prescott or Flagstaff, AZ: dry, but with four seasons. Warm and dry in the summer, sometimes reaching the low 100s for a few days with low humidity. Cold with snow in the winter, sometimes dipping into the teens at night for a few days but usually warming to the 30s or 40s during the day.

Summer is perfect, as far as I’m concerned. And that’s when I do my work there. But winter? Sure, my home is cozy and warm and the views out to the valley can be magnificent when the snow falls and the sky clears just enough to offer glimpses of brilliant blue between the clouds. But the days are short and sunlight is limited. It gets cold in December and January. And 15 years of living in Arizona taught me one thing: I like sun and warmth in the winter.

My Home with Snow
Here’s my home as it looked in late November 2015. It sure is pretty on a nice day with snow on the ground.

Late winter is not an issue. In 2013, I began doing frost work with the helicopter in central California. So I’d head south with the helicopter and RV — remember that big fifth wheel? — in late February and could stay until late April.

But early winter? The way I saw it, the winter’s “dark days” were during December and January. That’s when I really needed to head south.

It took a few years, but I finally got a routine figured out.

In January 2015, when my home was partially built, I accepted an invitation to house/dog sit for a friend in Wickenburg. That gave me an excuse to head south for two weeks in the coldest part of winter. I stayed in my friends’ comfortable guest house with my dog Penny and cared for two very large golden retrievers.

Much later that same year, as the days shortened and the air chilled, I realized that I had exactly what I needed to be a real snowbird: that big fifth wheel. Although my home was done and I was moved in, the short days were getting me down. After my annual Christmas cross-country ski trip to the Methow Valley, I packed up my rig and headed south to join some friends camped along the Colorado River south of I-10. The trip itself was a bit of an adventure — requiring me to buy a new truck along the way — but my first full-time snowbirding season was a real win. You can read about it starting here.

On the Steps of the Mobile Mansion
Here I am with Penny, on the steps of my old fifth wheel, the Mobile Mansion, last winter in Quartzsite, AZ.

I spent all of January and half of February in Arizona, in my fifth wheel and in my friends’ Wickenburg guest house. Then I moved my helicopter to the Sacramento area for frost season and made my way there with my fifth wheel by way of Valley of Fire and Death Valley. Because of engine problems, my truck and RV never quite made it to Sacramento, though — at least not in February. While the truck’s engine was replaced with a new one (under warranty, fortunately) in California, I returned home in March, prepared to fly down to Sacramento when called out. In April, I made the two trips to get the truck with RV and helicopter home.

That was last year. This year, I’ve made some equipment changes, got a reliable house sitter, and set out early on my snowbirding trip.

The big fifth wheel is gone, replaced with a slide in truck camper, the Turtleback. I’m absolutely loving the flexibility this new rig offers; learn more here. I left home the day before Thanksgiving and, after stopping at a Yakima Lance camper dealer to get a part replaced on the Turtleback’s huge sunroof, took a leisurely drive south on back roads through Oregon and Nevada. Another stop for two shows in Las Vegas and then more leisurely travel to my eventual destination: more house/dog sitting for my Wickenburg friends.

Poolside in Wickenburg
Poolside in Wickenburg where I’m house/dog sitting for some friends. I’ve got no complaints at all.

And that’s where I am now: sitting in their poolside guest house with a fresh cup of coffee beside me and three dogs snoozing after their breakfast. At 8 AM, a new friend will come by with her dogs and we’ll go for our twice-daily mile-long walk in the wash out behind the house. I’ve visited my disassembled helicopter in Chandler, seen numerous friends in the area, and even got an invitation to a pilot party on Saturday where a lot of people will be very surprised to see me.

This is only a stopping point, though. When my friends return later this month, I’m not quite sure what I’ll do. They’ve already told me I can stay as long as I want, but I’m thinking about a trip to Tucson and Tubac, which I haven’t been to in some time. And another friend was recently at White Sands in New Mexico — how far is that? Can I take a few days to visit? I’ve never been there. I’m already booked for New Years Eve at La Posada in Winslow and have a chore to attend to on the Hopi Reservation near there. And I’m definitely going to spend a good part of January along the Colorado River with my friends; I bought a new fishing pole just the other day and my kayak is ready to be offloaded when I reach our campsite. After that? Who knows?

All I know is this: my helicopter needs to be in the Sacramento area by the third week in February. So eventually I’ll be there. There’s a campground nearby on Puntah Creek where I look forward to paddling in again. And lots of wineries to explore in the nearby Napa and Sonoma Valleys. And the California coast. And San Francisco. I really do love late winter in central California.

The lack of definite plans doesn’t bother me one bit. I like making things up as I go along. And if you ask me, that’s the best part of being single: being able to make decisions for yourself without having to consult or rely on what someone else tells you they want or plan to do. I don’t have to worry about anyone letting me down again.

And when the winter is over, I’ll go home. That’s what snowbirds do.

How ironic: the lifestyle I planned for all those years ago with my wasband is basically the lifestyle I have now without him. And I’m loving it even more than I thought I would.

Traveling with a Truck Camper

The nuts and bolts of snowbirding with my new(ish) home away from home.

Camper at Home
Here’s the Turtleback, parked on my truck in front of my RV garage. I usually stage it for a trip here, where I have easy access to water, power, and sewer connections.

Back in April of this year, I bought a 2005 Lance slide-in truck camper that I’ve dubbed the Turtleback. This was a huge step down in size from the fifth wheel I bought back in 2010, the Mobile Mansion, which I sold in September of this year. I wanted something more convenient to travel with and I got it. My 2012 Ford F350 SuperDuty Diesel carries the Turtleback like it’s nothing, making it easy to drive and park nearly anywhere I like. I tested it out on an overnight trip in the Leavenworth area not long after getting it and then again on a week-long foray in the North Cascades of Washington state and southern British Columbia. It’s the perfect rig for any spur-of-the moment trip; I can have it on the truck in about 30 minutes and put it away in my cavernous RV garage even quicker.

But how would it do on a very long trip? Like a 3-month trip?

That’s what I’m learning this snowbirding season. So far, so good. Although most of my traveling has involved overnight stops in a variety of locations ranging from a gravel side road overlooking a relatively remote Nevada lake to a partial-hookup campsite on the Columbia River, I’ve also parked it for two of more nights and disconnected it from my truck so I could drive while leaving it behind. My “postcards” that allude to this have generated a few questions and I thought I’d answer them here.

Hooking Up the Camper

Setting a slide-in truck camper atop a truck isn’t difficult to do, but it does require care and patience.

The most difficult part is getting the truck tailgate off. Due to the weight, I can’t do it by myself. I usually grab a visiting friend and enlist his or her help. First unplug the cable for the backup camera in the tailgate, then disconnect the cables that hold it up when it’s dropped, then angle it out of its pin hinges. I have a cart roughly the same height as the truck bed that I’ve covered with an old saddle blanket and we lay the tailgate on that. This makes it possible for me to move it around the garage without help. I use the same cart to store the hardware needed to secure the camper to the truck.

Sometime before putting the camper on, I visit the local Discount Tire shop and have them inspect the tires. They’re relatively new — I bought them last February while traveling and have been getting them rotated on schedule. I ask the guy to inflate them to the maximum pressure. We usually do 70 pounds for the front tires and 80 for the rear ones. Of course, I could do this at home — I have a good compressor in my shop — but I like the idea of having the tires looked at, especially before a long trip.

When I get home, I use my own compressor to inflate the air bags under the truck bed. There are two of them and I inflate each to about 50 pounds. This cranks up the back of the truck a bit, but the weight of the camper will bring it back to level once installed.

Next, I need to install the four support bars on the truck. They’re marked with their positions: passenger front, driver, rear, etc. They slip into slots I had installed on the truck and are secured in place with pins. This takes about five minutes. Once I put these on, they stay on until the camper is put away after a trip.

When I’m ready to put the camper on the truck, I begin by using a remote control to crank up the camper so that its bottom is higher than the truck bed. This utilizes the four camper “legs,” which have electric jacks on them. The control can raise or lower them all together or individually. Obviously, it’s a lot quicker to extend the legs (thus raising the camper) all at once, but I do have to be careful that all four legs are on the ground. Occasionally I’ll have to extend one a bit more by itself to keep them all grounded.

Then I slowly and carefully back the truck under the camper. The truck has to go straight back with the camper centered over the bed. There’s only about two inches of clearance on each side. I watch my progress through the back window — I have to put down the rear seat to see clearly. Sometimes I get out and check my progress; rushing is never a good idea. When I’m about 3/4 finished, I get out, climb on one of those support bars, and reach into the truck bed to plug in the camper’s power cable. This not only keeps the camper’s battery charged while I’m driving, but it also powers and controls the camper’s running lights and brake lights. Then I get back in the truck and back the rest of the way in.

Spacer
Here’s the spacer, made with 2x4s, that the camper’s previous owner gave me when I bought it. It prevents the camper from damaging the taillight lenses.

Normally, you’d back up until the front of the camper bumps the lip of the truck bed right behind the cab. But because my truck has somewhat bulging taillights, if I backed up that far, the camper’s overhang would rub on my taillight lenses, scratching or breaking them. The previous owner’s truck was a 2013 Ford F350 nearly identical to mine. He’d taken short lengths of 2×4 lumber and had built a rectangle spacer that sits upright against the cab. He gave it to me when I bought the camper. So when I back up, the front of the camper bumps this 2×4 spacer, thus keeping the camper at least 2 inches back from where it would otherwise be. This makes it impossible for the camper to damage the taillight lenses.

Once the camper is in position, I shut down the truck, get out again, and use the remote to retract the camper’s legs. Little by little, the truck takes the full weight of the camper. The back end of the truck comes down. And then the legs of the camper start rising off the ground. I keep retracting them until they’re all within 4 inches from their stops. Again, sometimes this requires me to raise them individually. When I’m done, I can put the remote away in a little pocket I installed inside the camper door.

The last step is to use four spring-loaded screw tie-downs to attach the camper to the bars I installed earlier on the truck. This is the most time-consuming part because they always need to be adjusted. To adjust them, I use two 3/4 inch wrenches that I keep in a special bin with other tools related to the tie-downs in a compartment on the outside of the camper. I use the wrenches to loosen a bolt, then twist the spring up or down on the screw. When the screw’s length is long enough to keep the tie-down tight but not too tight, I tighten the bolt back up to keep it in place. I figure it takes me about 10 to 15 minutes to install all four tie-downs.

Tie-Downs
Here’s what the tie-downs on the driver’s side look like when installed. I leave the handle attached to the front driver’s side tie-down so it’s easy to disconnect when I refuel.

At this point, everything is done and I’m ready to roll. I figure that the active loading time (not including removing the tailgate or tending to the tire/airbag pressure) is about 30 minutes.

Prepping the Camper for Travel

Like any other RV, you need to prep the interior for travel. That means making sure all cabinets are securely latched, all loose items are secured, all windows and vents are closed, the antenna is cranked down, and the slide has been slid in. If there’s food in the fridge, I need to make sure it’s set to Auto mode so it automatically switches to propane when it’s not plugged in.

On the outside, I obviously need to make sure all water, sewer, and power is disconnected and all hoses and cables are stowed. Then I walk around and make sure all outside storage spaces are latched, the back door is securely closed, and the back step is up.

The last step is to tug on each of the tie-downs to make sure they’re still tight. As I drive, the camper shifts and one or more of the tie-downs can loosen up. That’s why I keep the wrenches handy. It takes about 5 minutes to adjust them before starting out for the day.

On the Road

The truck is definitely top heavy when I drive with the camper on board. I drive at the speed limit — never have to worry about getting a ticket! — and take curves and corners slowly.

I have to watch headspace. I’m not sure exactly how tall the rig is, but I figure 12 feet maximum to the top of the air conditioner. That means no drive-throughs or parking garages.

As for width, the rig is definitely wider than my truck, but its no wider than any other road-legal RV (8-1/2 feet). That means there’s no problems on any roads or going through any gates.

As for length, the camper adds about 2 feet to the back of my truck. That makes my already long truck even longer. Still, I can usually fit it in a parking space. This is a real joy when I make stops along the way for hikes or visiting other places of interest. With the Mobile Mansion, I was kept out of far too many places because I wouldn’t be able to fit in, park, or even turn around.

Trailhead parking
Want to go for a hike? No problem. My rig fits into trailhead parking spots, just like any other full-sized pickup.

And since the truck has high clearance and four wheel drive, I can drive it just about anywhere I like without worrying about getting stuck or bottoming out.

Another benefit of the setup is having easy access to my living space any time I’m stopped. Although it has a slide that must be closed in transit, I can still get into the camper to use any of its features while the slide is in. More than once, I’ve stopped for a hike or a rest and used the bathroom or made a meal in the kitchen. I recently reheated some leftovers in the microwave while at a scenic view area; prep the food on a plate, stick it in the microwave, push a button to start the onboard generator, run the microwave, turn off the generator, pull the plate out of the microwave. Can’t get any easier than that.

Overnight Parking

When I stop for the night, I can pull into a site any way I like. I usually park with the best view out the back. It easy enough to back up or park on any sort of angle in relation to a parking spot or campsite. (You can find a blog post about my “poor man’s backup camera” here.)

Level
Two levels like this help me keep the camper level, whether it’s on the truck or on its own. This indicates the front end is high.

Legos
In this photo, I’ve used my leveling blocks to make a ramp that I’ve driven up to raise the driver’s side back wheel. I left it parked that way overnight.

My mail concern is getting the camper relatively level. This helps the refrigerator work more efficiently, but it also makes it more comfortable for my stay. No one likes to live in a space that’s slanted. If I can’t find a level spot to park on, I have Lego-like blocks I can use under one or more truck tires to help level it out.

If I’m parking for the night and plan to leave in the morning, I don’t need to offload the camper. I just shut off and lock the truck and move into the camper. Opening the slide is as easy as turning a key. If my overnight parking space has utility hookups, I can connect water, power, and even sewer with the camper still on the truck. If I don’t have a hookup, I can use battery power, propane, and the onboard generator (if needed) to operate the refrigerator, stove, water heater, furnace, etc. Only the microwave and air conditioner require more power than the batteries can provide; the generator can run either one. The camper holds 30 gallons of fresh water; a battery-powered pump delivers it to any faucet or the toilet. There’s even a solar panel on the roof to help keep the batteries fully charged during daylight hours.

Overnight Parking
Here’s my rig parked for the night in the desert near Wickenburg, AZ.

Off-Loading the Camper

If I plan to park for more than just one night, I’ll likely want to be able to drive the truck without the camper loaded. This means off-loading the camper. Again, this isn’t very difficult to do.

Once I’ve got it parked where I want it, I remove the tie-downs. In most cases, this means removing the securing pin and using a detachable handle to loosen it. I must remove them from the truck but can leave them dangling from the camper if I like. I usually completely remove them, however, and stow them in a safe place where they’ll stay clean and dry.

Then I use the remote to extend the legs so the camper is completely raised at least two inches off the truck. I get in the truck, pull forward a few feet, get out, unplug the camper’s power from the truck, get back in, and pull out the rest of the way. I must be completely clear of the camper.

Next, I use the remote to retract the legs so the camper is lowered back down. The lower it is, the more stable it is for moving around inside. The only thing I need to be careful of is the pipe for the generator’s muffler. Normally, I stop lowering when that’s at least a foot off the ground. I then consult the level indicators on the side and back of the camper and use the remote to raise or lower legs individually to get the camper level, again being careful to ensure that all four legs are solidly on the ground.

Parked at KOA
Here’s the camper and truck parked side by side at the KOA in Las Vegas. Note that I had a full hookup so I had all my hoses and 30 amp cable out. I’ve since bought a much shorter hose.

Sawhorses
Here are the saw horses I bought at Home Depot. They collapse down into a small package and have handles to move them around.

If the camper will be parked for more than just a few days — as it is now and will be again at least a few times later in my travels — I help stabilize it by placing three collapsable saw horses under it. I bought these at Home Depot for about $50 each. Each one can (supposedly) support 1300 pounds. Since the camper (supposedly) weighs about 3500 pounds, I figure three should support it comfortably. The trick is to position them properly and adjust them to the proper height on ground that might not be level. Then I lower the camper onto them to the point where the sawhorses are taking about half the weight. All the legs are still within contact of the ground and (hopefully) supporting some of the weight. This prevents the camper from rocking when I move around inside, thus preventing damage to the legs. (I should mention here that I built a wheeled platform that performs the same function in my garage at home. That can actually take all of the camper’s weight.)

Sawhorses add stability
Here’s the camper on its sawhorses while parked in my friend’s backyard. It’ll be set up like this for at least two weeks and I’ll be in and out to clean and unpack/repack it. I have to confess that I lowered it onto one of the sawhorses before the others could share the weight and two of the sawhorse legs bent; I exchanged it for a new one at Home Depot yesterday and will be more careful in the future.

I figure that it takes about 15 minutes to offload the camper. Add about 10 minutes for the sawhorses, when used.

Why this Works for Me

As you can see, it’s pretty convenient for traveling. On the road, it’s like driving a big (but not huge) truck. When parked long term, it’s like living in a small trailer.

While towing a trailer might be easier for hooking up or unhooking when parked, having a pull trailer has two drawbacks. First, it isn’t as easy to get into tight parking lots or into campsites. Second, you can’t really tow something behind a pull trailer.

Although I’m not towing anything on this trip, I do have the ability to tow if I want to. I debated for months on whether I should bring my boat with me on this trip. In the end, I decided against it, mostly because I didn’t want the bother of having a difficult to park rig. But if I were going on a trip up to Roosevelt Lake or Lake Powell or anyplace else where it would be nice to have both an RV and a boat, I’m all set to do it. All I need is a tow bar extender, which is widely available online and in RV stores. My truck definitely has the power to pull it all.

So far, I’m very pleased with the way this has been working for me. But let’s see how I feel in three months after another 2,000 miles. I’ll have to report an update then.

Snowbirding 2017 Postcards: Camping at Walker Lake

After a very long day of some very boring driving through the high deserts of Oregon and Nevada, I finally approached my overnight destination of Hawthorne, NV. I had only a vague idea of where to stay so I was quite pleased to see the sign for BLM “dispersed camping” on the shore of Walker Lake. I pulled right in. Five minutes later, I was parked on a level (!) spot on a little hill overlooking the lake. Managed to take a few last light photos from my back door. Note the blowing dust — it’s windy here!

Dispersed camping, if you’re not familiar with the term, refers to an open camping area where you can pretty much camp anywhere you like. This is common in the area around Quartzsite, AZ, where I usually spend most of January. Camping like this is usually free and there usually aren’t any services, although this one appears to have pit toilets and a garbage dumpster.

The wind has died down with the disappearance of the sun. One good thing about this spot is that when the sun rises, there’s nothing blocking its warmth from reaching the Turtleback at dawn. 

Snowbirding 2017 Postcards: Page Springs Campground

A wonderful BLM campground with at least 30 sites along Blitzen River in the Malheur Wildlife Refuge (yes, that one). Deer roam freely at sunrise and sunset. Very few fellow campers. Pit toilets, water, campfire rings, and picnic tables. Incredibly dark skies. And quiet. What else could you want for $8/night?

Photos from this morning — the first day with blue skies since I left Wenatchee on Wednesday. 

Wintering in an RV

Some answers for a reader.

It’s that time of year again: the time of year when my blog post titled “Prepping My RV for Winter Living” get a bunch of hits every day.

One of the readers — I’ll call her C — went the next step and emailed me. Here’s her message:

Hello! Write me back or don’t. Its ok. I understand being busy. It won’t ruin my day if you don’t.

I stumbled upon your blog when I was looking for advice RE: living in an RV in winter. I am thinking about purchasing one to live in while I try to save my family’s 3rd generation ranch house. It could take a while!

I found all your info quite helpful and was tickled to see that you had a small dog (me too) and a parrot (me too).

I did wonder about gas appliances in an RV and the risk to my cockatoo. Since I got her in 1992 I have avoided rentals with a gas stove, etc.

I don’t know if you have any gas/propane appliances in the RV or if you felt this was a legitimate worry.

Also, I wondered where you placed your parrot in the RV. Have you ever thought about hanging the cage?

Do you feel it stays warm enough in the winter for your parrot? That was another worry. Molly is not the hot house flower some birds are, but I would hate for her to be uncomfortable.

Great Blog! We must encourage other women to be do it yourselfers. As you wrote it is fulfilling and empowering in so many ways!

That first paragraph is likely in response to me saying, on my contact form, that I don’t always respond to email from readers. Why don’t I? Well, I really do prefer blog comments so we can get a conversation going. I will send C a link to this blog post as my response. I hope she uses the comment form for any follow-up questions. (Hint, hint.)

Living in an RV while working on a home is a great solution to a problem. You can be there every day to work or supervise and you can really get a feel for the property. I did it when I worked on a cabin I once owned in Northern Arizona and, of course, I lived in my big fifth wheel while building my home here in Washington State.

RVs, in general, have really poor insulation. The walls are thin and it’s sometimes impossible to keep the heat in. I found that with my Montana Mountaineer — a high mid-range model by Keystone — once the temperature got below 20°F, I could run heaters full blast all night and not get the temperature above 50°F. For that reason, I don’t recommend living in a typical RV outdoors in an area where temperatures get much lower than freezing.

I was fortunate. The first winter I was on the property, before my home was built, I got a housesitting gig about 2 miles away. That lasted until I headed down to California with the RV for my late winter work. The second winter, although my building was built, my living space was barely started. I was able to bring the RV into the building’s garage and live in there. Not ideal, but the “outside” temperature in the building never got lower than about 35 so I had no trouble keeping the RV warm.

Of course, not all RVs are like this. Some are set up with great insulation because they’re designed for winter use. If C’s RV is like one of these, she’s in good shape to stay warm.

I no longer have a parrot. Alex the Bird went a new home in early 2013. I do still have a dog. I never did worry about propane appliances. My RV — which I sold just last week — had carbon monoxide detectors. Make sure yours has one and that it’s working! In addition to that, I always left one or two windows cracked open when using the propane heater. I actually preferred electric heaters in my RV because they’re quieter and electricity is cheap here. I used the ones that look like radiators and had one in the living room and one in the bedroom.

Alex the Bird had a large corner cage. My RV was spacious and I removed one of the La-Z-Boy recliners to accommodate the cage. It was on the far end of the RV, away from the kitchen. I’d be careful about hanging anything from an RV’s ceiling. You’d likely be better off putting the cage on a small table or stool. Or cage stand. Alex was never in the RV over the winter, which is a good thing. I don’t think I could have kept it warm enough for her.

In summary, I should say this: Some RVs are better than others for winter living. If the temperature gets below freezing, you need to take steps to keep your water source and interior pipes ice-free. That can be a challenge in itself; my prepping blog post explained how I did it. Think about the possibilities and prepare for them. Good luck!

As for encouraging women to do it themselves, I’m all for that. Actually, I’m all for encouraging everyone to do it themselves. There’s no better feeling of satisfaction than tackling a task you weren’t sure you could do and getting the job done.