Prepping my RV for Winter Living

A lot of work with good results…so far.

It was October when I realized that I’d likely need to stay in Washington for the winter. Although I didn’t expect to have much work to do, other business in-state required me to stay for various meetings throughout the winter months.

And then I started getting flying jobs, out of the blue, giving me enough work to make it worth sticking around. I started thinking about enjoying a winter season for the first time in 15 years, of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing with friends. Of really enjoying all four seasons of a year.

Not only was I going to stay, but I was going to make the best of the situation and enjoy my stay.

The No-So-Tough Decision

But where to stay?

I had a few options for winter lodging:

  • I could rent a furnished apartment. There are some available in the area, including some that are normally rented out to skiers coming to nearby Mission Ridge. The monthly cost would likely be somewhere between $500 and $1,500 — if I could find one that allowed dogs.
  • I could rent an unfurnished apartment. This would likely be cheaper, but it would also require me to move some of my stored furniture to make myself a home. I had to figure in the cost and bother of the move. And again, I needed to find a place that allowed dogs.
  • I could “camp out” in my hangar at the airport. The hangar has two offices with baseboard heaters, as well as a full bathroom. My furniture is already there, so it’s just a matter of reorganizing it to meet my needs for the few months I’d need to live there. Unfortunately, I didn’t think my landlord — the folks who manage the airport — would like those arrangements.
  • I could live in my RV, either in my hangar — there’s plenty of room — or on my property where it was already parked and hooked up. The trouble with that was that my RV, the “mobile mansion” is not designed for cold weather living. To make matters worse, I had parked it 66 feet from my onsite water source and I knew the hose running in a makeshift conduit under my driveway was very likely to freeze.

Morning View
Here’s what I saw out my window the other morning, not long after dawn. I look forward to seeing the changing seasons in my view.

In the end, the decision was made easy by the amazing views out my window every day. From my perch high above the Columbia River and Wenatchee Valley, I could enjoy the ever-changing scenery, which varied throughout the day with changes in light and weather. I could watch low-level clouds form and dissipate over the river. I could see the shadows move and lengthen with the shifting of the sun. I would watch the moonlight play upon the hillsides and cliffs. And I could marvel at the lights down in the city, sparkling with color. Would I see all that cooped up in a tiny rental apartment? Or closed up in a cavernous hangar with just three windows? No.

And what of the work I could do on nice days? I was working on a pathway from my RV parking area to my beehives. I’d been planting wildflower seeds and bulbs. And I still hoped to begin construction on my building at the beginning of the new year; I wanted to be around to supervise and document the work.

Besides, since I’d been living in the mobile mansion full-time since the beginning of June, it had become my home, my space. Bought to house two people, a mid-sized dog, and a parrot, it was amazingly comfortable for one person and a tiny dog. After dealing with seemingly countless delays, I’d finally moved it to the piece of land I’d been dreaming about for over a year. I was in my home, on my home. I was loath to give that up, even for a few months.

Of course, to stay in the mobile mansion meant a lot of prep work. I needed to “winterize” it and its water connection to ensure that my water pipes — inside and out — didn’t freeze and that I could keep warm inside. And with frost appearing outside my door on some mornings, I knew I didn’t have much time.

PEX, the Miracle Pipe

Heat Tape
Heat tape comes in rolls. I bought this at Home Depot.

The first thing on my list of things to do was replace the standard RV drinking water hose that ran from my city water source across my driveway (in a makeshift conduit I’d created) to the mobile mansion. I needed to run some kind of water line that I could run heat tape along. Heat tape (or trace heating) uses electricity to apply a small amount of heat to pipes to prevent freezing. I had some experience with it from my Howard Mesa cabin, where we’d used it on a very short length of hose between a water tank and the building. But rather than a 6-foot length of the stuff, I’d need 66 feet of it. That meant two 30-foot lengths plus one 6-foot length.

Regular hose, however, was not recommended by the heat tape manufacturer, which clearly specified metal or plastic water pipe. A hose was not a water pipe. Perhaps it wouldn’t work as well. Or perhaps it would degrade the hose and cause problems. I could imagine being poisoned by the breakdown of chemicals in my hose. (Seriously: I have a pretty good imagination sometimes.)

PEX
PEX comes in colors; blue is usually used for cold water and my water was going to be cold! I bought this at Home Depot.

Enter PEX. My friend Mike, who’d done most of the interior work on his home in Wenatchee Heights, had raved about it. I did some research. PEX was more costly than PVC but less costly than copper. It didn’t require any welding — or whatever it is that people do to copper pipes to join them — and it was flexible. There were two kinds of fittings. One kind required special (costly) crimping tools. The other kind, known as PTC, let you literally snap pieces together, with no special tools at all. All I needed was a PVC pipe cutter (which I already had) and a very inexpensive tool I could use to separate joined pieces if I made a mistake. The snap fittings were a bit more costly than the crimp type, but I only needed a few. I bought a 100-foot roll of blue 3/4 inch PEX.

PTC Fitting
A typical PTC to female pipe fitting.

I also bought PTC fittings. I needed one to join the PEX to a male hose connection and another to join the PEX to a female hose connection. I had a tiny bit of trouble with that — PEX connections normally work with pipe threading, not hose threading. (The fact that the two threadings are different is something I learned back when I set up the irrigation system at my Wickenburg house years ago.) The Home Depot pipe guy helped me get what I needed.

Pipe Insulation
This rubber pipe insulation has adhesive on one side, making it easy to wrap pipe. I bought this at Home Depot.

But there was one more thing I needed: pipe insulation. I wanted to wrap the pipe with the heat tape on it to help keep it warm. I checked out my options and decided on an adhesive wrap. Although it came in 15-foot lengths, I wound up needing 7 rolls of it because it had to go around the pipe. (This, by the way, is also when I learned that when you buy stuff for a home project at a place like Home Depot, always buy more than you think you need. It really sucks to run out of something in the middle of a project and you can always return unused items later. Home Depot has an excellent return policy.)

I went back and got to work. The biggest chore was attaching the heat tape to the pipe and insulating it. The big challenge there was straightening the PEX. It does straighten, but it straightens easier when it’s warm and it does require muscle. (Needless to say, I was sore the next day.) I cut off about 70 feet of the stuff and ran it across my driveway from the water source to my RV’s water connection area. Then, with the sun shining full on me the next morning, I brought out a clean damp rag (to clean away dust on the PEX as I worked), set up a chair, and got to work.

You see, because the PEX was so long and relatively inflexible, I had to move along the length of the PEX to get the job done. I couldn’t stay in one place and move the PEX. Adding the heat tape and insulation also made the PEX heavier, so moving it later would not be a good option. That was okay.

I was very pleased with my choice of insulation. Normally, I’d have to tape the heat tape to the PEX every six inches with a piece of electric tape. (Heat tape is not adhesive, despite its name.) But the insulation tape was adhesive so I just used it to stick the heat tape to the PEX, wrapping it as I went along.

It took a long time. Three days of about four hours a day with a few breaks for phone calls, snacks, and to track down a tiny dog who thinks she can chase bighorn sheep up on the cliffs. But finally, I was done. One end had two cords (one for the 30-foot length and one for the 6-foot length) and the other end had one cord (for the other 30-foot length).

I attached the fitting on the RV end of the PEX. I could not believe how easily it snapped into place. Working with this stuff on my new home was going to be a breeze. I trimmed the water source end and attached the fittings there. So far, so good.

Finishing Up the Water Pipe

Of course, I couldn’t have the wrapped tape stretched out in the elements across my driveway, especially when the snow started falling. So I got out my shovel and I dug another trench just deep enough to lay a conduit that I could seal the wrapped PEX into to keep it dry and enable me to drive over it.

For the conduit, I used brown vinyl downspout pipe. That’s the stuff people usually use to go from the gutter on the edge of the roof to the ground. I bought six 12-foot lengths of the stuff and six connectors. I also bought a pair of matching flex elbows to use at either end. I ran the PEX in this pipe, making connections as I went along. Then I laid it in the trench, put the flex pipes on both ends, and connected the ends of the PEX to the water source and RV. When I was finished, the PEX was completely enclosed in the pipe.

I crossed my fingers as I turned on the water. This was the moment of truth. If any of my connections leaked, I’d have a bunch of disassembling to do to find and fix the problem.

Imagine my pleasant surprise when not a single drop of water leaked from either end of the PEX! I love this stuff!

I had a few more things to do:

  • I needed to insulate the water source pipe and any portion of the pipe that wasn’t covered with heat tape or adhesive insulation. I used regular foam pipe insulation for that.
  • I needed to cover the water source area with waterproof material to prevent water from getting into the flex elbows. I used a heavy duty plastic garbage bag with bungee balls to keep it in place.
  • I needed to cover the trench across my driveway. I shoveled the dirt back in and placed construction cones at either end where the pipe emerged from the ground.
  • I needed to plug in the heat tape. I plugged two of the three cords in at my power pole and ran an extension cord across the driveway for the third plug. (I didn’t want the heat tape using the same circuit as the RV for various reasons.)

Then I was done.

Testing the Water Setup

Just in time!

The next morning was cold. I turned on the faucet and nothing came out.

I turned on the RV’s water pump. My internal tanks were full and functioned fine. But I had to troubleshoot the problem with the new pipe.

It turned out to be pretty simple: the heat tape was plugged into a socket that had tripped its GFCI. I reset the GFCI and tested the outlet. It worked.

Of course, it didn’t get cold again for quite a while. Three weeks, in fact. This morning, the temperatures dropped down in to the 20s. I turned on the water and it flowed.

All that work — and the approximately $150 I’d spent on parts — had paid off.

Basement Pipes

The mobile mansion has what I call a basement. It’s a huge storage area in the front under the bathroom and part of the bedroom. Most of the pipes that supply water to the bathroom fixtures run exposed in the basement ceiling.

The basement is not heated. When temperatures in the basement dropped down to freezing, the pipes could freeze, too.

My first thought was to insulate them with regular foam pipe insulation. I even got started doing that. But then I realized that a better solution would be to simply put a space heater in the basement and make sure it ran when it was cold out.

The trouble was, the basement was full of stuff. I’d have to move all the stuff out. I couldn’t fit all the stuff inside the mobile mansion. That meant having to store it in my hangar with the rest of my things.

I was bummed. There was some stuff there that I wanted to keep handy. Still, protecting the pipes was more important than convenience so I resigned myself to moving it all out.

Radiator Dog
Every morning, Penny lounges by the radiator in the living room.

That’s when I happened upon a gently used 6 x 8 shed for sale at an amazing price. I moved almost everything in the basement into the shed. Storage problem solved. The basement was now empty enough to put in a heater and not have to worry about things catching on fire.

Inside the RV, I had been using one of those oil-filled radiator style electric heaters for years. I kept it in the living room. In the bedroom, I had a small tabletop electric heater with a fan to push the warm air. Trouble was, I don’t like listening to a fan while I sleep so I never used it at night.

The radiator heaters are silent. I bought a second one, which had a fancy thermostat, and put the original in the bedroom. That freed up the little tabletop heater for basement duty and ensured a warm, quiet sleeping environment.

I placed it in the middle of the basement floor. Then I connected it to a temperature-sensitive outlet called a Thermocube at the end of the extension cord I was already using for the heat tape. The Thermocube supplies power to its outlets when temperatures dip to 35°F and turns off power when temperatures rise to 45°F. I turned the heater on to the lower of its two settings, figuring that would be enough to keep the area from freezing.

Basement Insulation
In this shot you can see the basement insulation panel as well as the connection for the water into the RV. The orange wire is for the heat tape; the red is the extension cord. Both are run into the basement where the heater is also plugged in. The blue coiled hose is the RV’s “outdoor shower” which I can’t seem to disconnect so I left it there.

Of course, like the rest of the RV, the basement isn’t very well insulated, either. Fortunately, I had four foam insulation panels I’d bought for another purpose. I did some trimming and made two insulation panels for just inside each basement door. Although it wasn’t a perfect solution for insulating the space, it was better than nothing.

Over the next few weeks, I’d open the basement doors to check the temperature in there. Although I never saw the heater on, it was always considerably warmer in that space than outside. I assumed the heater was getting the job done.

The Straw Skirt

The reason I had the foam insulation panels in the first place was because I had a crazy idea about possibly using them to build a skirt around the base of the RV. Many people had advised closing this space off to help keep the RV warm. But the mobile mansion is about 35 feet long. Foam was neither practical nor cost-effective.

I consulted with several friends. My friend Bob sketched out a frame that I could build with 2x4s and plywood. It would take a lot of wood and a lot of work. He gave me some wood for the frame to get me started.

But then my friend Tom, who lives in Vermont, suggest straw bales. I felt like slapping myself on the side of the head. Like duh. Not only were they good for insulation, but I’d be able to use them in the spring in my garden.

Straw in Truck
My first load of straw bales in the back of my truck.

So I went to get straw bales. I started with six. They loaded them in the back of my truck. It reminded me of the old days, when I’d get hay for my horses. I even bought a hay hook to make it easier to move them around.

I backed the truck up near the mobile mansion. The guy who loaded them told me they weighed around 80 pounds each. I don’t think they were that heavy. After all, I was able to get them into position easily by myself. They made a nice thick skirt against the sides of the RV.

Straw Skirt
The first six bales of straw in position around the mobile mansion. It took 22 bales to get the job done.

But six wasn’t nearly enough. I went back later in the day and bought another eight. This time, the loader put a palette in the back of the truck. It just fit. I strapped the straw down to prevent it from tipping off and brought them home. When I finished moving them around, I realized that another eight bales should do the job.

I got them two days later and put them in place. Although it wasn’t perfect, it was better than nothing. I’d fiddle with them and with spare pieces of wood and cardboard throughout the coming weeks.

Total cost of the straw skirt: around $200. Time and effort: minimal.

About the Physical Activity

I want to take a moment to comment about the physical activity needed to get all this work done.

First was dealing with the coiled PEX. I really needed to put some muscle into it to straighten it out. And that needed to be done about 3 feet at a time.

Next was digging the trench across my driveway. Although I’m fortunate that there are very few rocks in my primary building site — which also made the septic system guy pretty happy — the driveway did have a layer of gravel over it. I had to dig through that gravel and into the softer dirt beneath it. Later, I had to shovel all that gravel back. Hard work!

Finally, I had to deal with moving 22 straw bales from the back of my pickup into position all around the RV. I don’t really know what they weighed, but they were pretty heavy. I did a lot of dragging, mostly because I couldn’t do much lifting.

The days after doing each of these things, I really felt it in my muscles: shoulders, arms, abdomen, etc. But the soreness felt good. I can’t really explain what I mean by that. I think it has something to do with finally being back in shape after so many years of living in limbo. I’d let myself go physically (and mentally) while my future was delayed, waiting for a partner to fulfill promises he never meant to keep. Losing weight last year, getting back into outdoor activities, feeling good about myself again — that’s only part of my reward. The other part is the ability to do hard work again, to get a job done without waiting for someone to do it for me. (Not to mention the ability to make decisions without having to debate them with someone who seems to prefer arguing over getting things done.) The aches and pains were a reminder of how good independence really is and how great it feels to be physically fit and healthy. I love it!

The End Result

Last night, the temperatures dipped into the 20s. I know because I bought a thermometer with three wireless sensors — the one I fastened at my water source read 22°F this morning. In the basement, the temperature stayed in the high 30s. When I turned on my taps, the water flowed.

Inside, the RV is cool but not cold. Both radiators are on, although the one in the bedroom is set to low. I have an electric blanket on my bed so I’m never cold at night. The RV’s gas heater with its loud fan supplements the heat in the living room in the morning. I know I could keep it warmer if I’d just close the blinds, but I’d rather put on a sweater than miss out on the views outside my windows.

It’s unseasonably cold this week so I’ll have a good chance to test my setup. I’m not too concerned. The other day, one of my neighbors, who is going away for the winter, kindly offered me his home. I’ll talk to him later today; that might make a Plan B for nights that are just too cold to stick around. But it shouldn’t get much colder than it is this week, so there’s a good chance I’ll be living in my own space all winter long.

We’ll see. I’ve done my part; let’s see what Mother Nature challenges me with.

Another Moving Day

It is, after all, a mobile mansion.

Yesterday, I repositioned my fifth wheel RV, the “mobile mansion,” from an RV park at the Colockum Ridge Golf Course in Quincy, WA to a residential construction site high on a hill on the east side of Squilchuck Valley. The site is across the street from an 86-acre orchard I’m responsible for drying with my helicopter after it rains for the next few weeks.

The Move

Moving an RV you’ve been living in for two months isn’t as easy as just hooking up and rolling out. The first step is to put away all the loose objects you’ve been living with for that time — loose objects will get tossed around in transit. I had to stow my desktop computer in its box to protect it, clear my desk and table and kitchen countertops, stow shelf items — the list goes on and on. Even the small tabletop lamp beside my La-Z-Boy rocker needed to be stowed.

Of course, since I was putting things away, I felt compelled to dust and vacuum. The benefit is that when I arrive at my new parking spot, my home will be clean.

Then comes strapping down the items that can’t be stowed: my swing-arm mounted 36-inch HDTV, the La-Z-Boy, and Alex the Bird’s cage. The RV comes with straps for all of these things. (Alex’s cage sits where the second La-Z-Boy would be.)

Outside, I needed to take down my windsock and its 14-foot pole. (I had to use pipe wrenches to get the three pipe segments separated.) Stow the bird feeder and grill. Take down the outside sun shades, hose them off, and hang them to dry — then stow them when dry. Roll up the awning. Dump the gray and black water. Wash and stow the sewer hose. Disconnect the water and power and stow the hoses and cables.

Use the remote to slide in the RV’s four slides, raise the stabilizer legs, and lower the landing gear. Back the pickup into position — by myself, mind you — and raise the landing gear to drop the hitch on top of the ball. (Yes, this is a fifth wheel trailer, but we put a gooseneck adapter on it since we already had a gooseneck hitch in the bed of the pickup.) Fasten the pin, chains, and power cord.

RV CheckI use an app on my iPad to list and check off the things I need to do. It’s called RV Checklist and although its not as slick looking as a typical iOS app, it does give me the ability to create and use custom checklists. The benefit: I can include items like “Take down windsock” and “Secure bird cage,” which are not likely to appear on any standard check list. I can also remove items I don’t need, such as “Disconnect satellite dish” and “Hook up towed vehicle.”

On the Road

My RigOnce the trailer was hooked up and the chocks were collected and stowed, I loaded my potted tomato plant and Alex the Bird into the truck and headed out.

Driving a 3/4 ton pickup with a 34-foot fifth wheel trailer behind it isn’t something to be taken lightly. Every turn needs to be considered. Every downhill slope needs to be approached with care. And driving in city traffic can really pump up stress levels.

My drive wasn’t long — only about 50 miles. The first 35 miles was two-lane state highway with little traffic, 60 miles per hour speed limit, and passing lanes every 5 to 10 miles. Easy going. The next 5 or so miles, however, was city driving through East Wenatchee, over the Columbia River, and into Wenatchee. This is tense stuff for me because, with my load, driving defensively is not much of an option. I have to keep to my lane and hope no one around me drives like a jerk. Then the final 10 or so miles was up windy canyon roads. Yesterday was a special challenge — a detour onto a narrower, windier road. Fortunately, traffic wasn’t an issue.

After two turns, I climbed up the last road to my destination. The pavement turned to fine gravel. A quarter mile later, was the circle of a former cul-de-sac, now with a narrow dirt road leading farther up the side of the valley. My parking spot was a sharp right turn down a steep dirt hill. Since I’d be backing into it, I pulled up into the far side of the cul-de-sac and got out to set my cones.

Parking

I have a trick I use to back up the RV by myself. I have four small orange traffic cones. I set them out as guides to where I want to park the RV. I can clearly see them in my side view mirrors. All I have to do is line up the side of the RV with the cones and I can get it into position.

Of course, this site required quite a lengthy roll back. As a result, I had to set the cones out once, back almost all the way to the last one, and then get out of the truck and set the cones again. The last little bit was particularly challenging, since I’d be positioning the RV between the edge of a cliff and the home under construction. I managed to get it in place without too much difficulty — this surprised me because, by that point, I was completely exhausted. I’d been on the move all day and it was about 6:30 PM.

Before disconnecting, I needed to make sure the RV was level. After consulting the level right inside the RV’s door, I decided that three leveling blocks would do the job. I positioned them and rolled the RV back on top of them. Although I probably could have been a bit more level with just two blocks, this was good enough. Besides, I knew from experience that if it rained, the blocks would sink a bit into the ground beneath them. That would likely make me perfectly level.

Then lower the landing gear, disconnect the hitch and its chains/cable, and pull the truck out. Raise the landing gear to level the RV. Slide out the slides. Good to go. I’d pull out the things I needed as I needed them over the next few days.

Later, after a shower to wash away the day’s dirt and sweat, I ran a power cord to the 110 volt outlet on the homesite’s electric box. This power connection is a far cry from the 50 amp power supply at the campground. I know I won’t be able to run certain appliances at the same time — for example, the microwave and air conditioner. But at least I won’t have to rely on the RV’s solar panel or run the generator for power.

My Campsite

I stayed here last year for the first time. Back then, the only sign of construction was a building foundation and the concrete pouring forms that had been used to make it. This year, there’s a small, two story vacation home framed out and roofed. The siding should go on this week; the windows, which have been delivered, will go up soon, too. Then construction will stop for the season. The owner of the property is paying for construction as it is completed and he says he’s out of money.

A time-lapse movie I shot last year from this spot.

My parking spot is literally on the edge of a cliff — the ground drops off about 10 feet past my door. The views out the side and back window are spectacular. Across the valley are scattered pine trees, granite rock outcroppings, and orchards. Sunrise is amazing; golden light creeping down the hillside. And back toward Wenatchee, I can see the Columbia River and Rocky Reach Dam, which are all lit up at night.

Helicopter in OrchardMy helicopter is parked down in the orchard. I tried to park it near my campsite, but I couldn’t find a piece of ground level enough to make me comfortable leaving it there. I might try moving it again later today — I really don’t like it being out of sight. Wish I could get my hands on a Bobcat for a few hours to level out a piece of this hilly homesite.

I wonder what will happen next year. Will the house be done? Will the owner tell me that there’s no room for an RV in his side yard? Will I be parked down in the orchard beside my helicopter and the scummy pond, hauling fresh water and running a generator every day? I hope not. But I won’t worry about that now. I’ll just enjoy this year’s hillside campsite.

Today, I’ll hook up the water connection and set up the gray water to drain away from the RV. (I’ve already switched to biodegradable soaps to minimize impact.) Then I’ll head down to Wenatchee and do some shopping.

I’m glad I’m up here. Although this location is lonely and remote at night, there’s activity during the day on the house construction nearby and on the orchard. And I can’t imagine a more pleasant place to park.

Travel Insanity

Too many miles, too little time.

I’m just recovering from a crazy week with too much travel in too short a time span.

Our Flight Path

Our flight path, recorded on my iPad with GPSTrack. Can you tell where we did some scud running?

It all started last Saturday, when I flew with two companions from Phoenix, AZ to Wenatchee, WA by helicopter in one day. It was almost 11 hours of flight time with mostly very brief stops for fuel. Although I had very little stick time — one of my companions did almost all the flying — I was still alert and able to fly at a moment’s notice.

It got a little tense when we had to do some scud-running in Oregon that lasted far longer than I like to be spending scud running — as if I like it at all. It never got dangerous, but more than a few times, I began scouting the remote hillsides around us, looking for a place to set down and wait it out. I was very glad when the terrain finally descended, dumping us in an area where we could get back on course.

We spent the night in Wenatchee and I parted company with my travel companions, leaving them to catch an early flight to Seattle while I took care of other things locally.

Sunday was relatively restful. I needed to reposition the helicopter to Quincy, WA, where I’d be spending part of my summer. That was just a 15-minute flight. Then I spent some time socializing at Ferguson Flying Services, where my helicopter is parked in Quincy, and the Colockum Ridge Golf Course, where my RV would be parked soon. Then a friend/client picked me up and drove me the 5 miles to his winery in town, where I spent the afternoon socializing with him, his family, and the folks who came for wine tasting. A nice, mellow afternoon.

But at 4:15, the craziness started again. I got a lift to Wenatchee Airport, where I caught a flight to Seattle with a connecting flight to Phoenix. My husband picked me up there at about 10:30 PM. Overnight at our Phoenix condo.

Monday morning, bright and early, we were on our way back up to Wickenburg. I spent the day finishing up some work on a chapter of my book and then packing. It wasn’t until nearly 9 PM that night that we were done and pulling the RV out of the hangar where it lives most of the year. We left it parked in front for the night.

Welcome to NevadaAt 6:45 AM, I was in the driver seat of the truck with Alex the Bird in the seat beside mine. We were starting a 1,295-mile drive from Wickenburg, AZ to Quincy, WA. My goal was to make Jackpot, NV that first day — a distance of 725 miles. I spent most of those miles on Route 93, a two-lane road with speed limits up to 70 miles per hour. There was no traffic and certain stretches of the road were straight and flat as far as the eye could see. We made Jackpot before nightfall. After dinner n the casino, I spent the night in the RV with Alex in comfort — in the casino parking lot.

My Rig, in Jackpot, NVThe next morning, I woke at 6:15, which is late for me. Anxious to get on the road, I rushed around making my coffee and Alex’s breakfast and then buttoning up the RV for another day on the road. It wasn’t until after I topped off the fuel tank across the street from the casino that I realized it was an hour earlier; that part of Nevada is on Mountain Daylight Time. So I got a very early start. I left Route 93 behind in Twin Falls, ID, and hopped on I-84. The route was mountainous and the truck sucked diesel at an alarming rate as I struggled to maintain speed up hills. I left the interstate just past Pendleton and got back on smaller, traffic-free back roads to head north. After 10 miles on I-70 and the last five miles through familiar farmland, I rolled into the parking lot at the Colockum Ridge Golf Course RV Park just after 3 PM.

My Route

My route, as captured by GPSTrack on my iPhone.

I was fortunate to have had good weather all the way. Towing 13,000 pounds of fifth wheel RV on wet pavement is no fun — as I learned last year. It was just starting to rain when I finished hooking up my utilities at 4 PM.

Do I need to say how exhausted I was? I’d snacked my way from Wickenburg to Quincy, eating only snacks on my low-carb diet: jerky, almonds, and cheese sticks. The only real meal I’d had was at the casino in Jackpot. My digestive system was a mess for the next two days.

And of course, I developed a bad cold, which I think I’m just coming out of now.

But on the bright side of this, I managed to get all my assets in position for the first half of the cherry drying season. I set up my RV office and yesterday I managed to knock off another chapter of the book I’m working on. I’m also in the area early enough to set up helicopter tours and wine tasting trips with the local wineries.

It’s been a rough week, but now I’m settled in. It feels good to be at my home away from home.

The Long Drive with the Long Trailer

I move my mobile mansion from Wenatchee to Lake Powell.

I’ve been traveling for the past week or so, starting in Wenatchee Heights, WA and ending in Phoenix, AZ.

Day 1I left Wenatchee Heights with my 5th wheel RV hooked up behind my husband’s Chevy pickup. The first day’s drive was relatively short: from Wenatchee Heights to Walla Walla, a distance of only 190 miles. Only a small portion of the drive was on a freeway (I-90); the rest was on back roads through farmland.

It rained for part of the drive, but never enough to make the road slick. I took my time. The trailer weighs in at 15,000 pounds and although it tows well, I can never really forget that it’s back there.

At Walla WallaIn Walla Walla, I stayed at the Blue Valley RV Park. It was a relatively pleasant place, with average sized RV spots, full hookups, picnic tables and grass. The trees were too young to give shade, but I bet they’ll be nice in about 5 years. The main building had a pool table, laundry room, and restrooms. Everything was clean and the place was quiet. I got some laundry done, wrote an article for AircraftOwner Online, and relaxed.

I had dinner at two excellent local restaurants: T. Maccarone’s and Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen. It was nice to have a change of scenery. I was there for four nights. The wine with my dinner at T.Maccarone’s is what sent me to Dusted Valley Winery for a tasting, where I bought four bottles of wine.

Day 2 of the DriveOn Friday night, I got the trailer hooked up again and mostly ready to go. I needed to be on the road early for the next leg of my trip: from Walla Walla, WA to Draper, UT (south of Salt Lake City), a distance of 606 miles. I was on the road not long after dawn. The route took me south almost to Pendleton, OR, then onto I-84 through Oregon and Idaho and down into Utah, where I picked up I-15. The landscape started with farmland, then mountains, then more flat farmland, then more mountains, and then finally into the Salt Lake basin. I’d driven the route before with my underpowered Ford F150 pickup towing my old 22-foot Starcraft. It wasn’t fun then; Saturday’s drive was much more tolerable. I stopped three times for fuel and twice for food. It was very unlike me to make so many stops; I usually try to get food and fuel on the same stop, but the situation made that tough. I rolled into Draper, UT’s Camping World parking lot at 6:15 PM local time, just 15 minutes after the store closed. I’d called the week before and knew I could park out back, so I did. I even got to hook up 50 amp power.

Ann TorrenceOn Sunday, @AnnTorrence picked me up for a drive to Ft. Bridger, WY. There was a Mountain Man Rendezvous there with hundreds of people in period clothes set up with period campsites. The “period” was apparently mid 1800s. Ann was there to take photos and research a possibly future book project. I was there to take pictures and look around and have a day off from driving. I didn’t take a single photo, although I carried my camera bag around all day. Well, that’s not true. I did use my BlackBerry to take this shot of Ann. She, in turn, used her iPhone to take a shot of me with my only purchase: a genuine raccoon skin, which I hope to turn into a hat.

After a very pleasant lunch at Cafe Trio in Salt Lake City with Ann and her husband, Robert, I went back to their house to relax on the front porch. @BWJones showed up and I finally got to meet him in person. After a tour of the garden, Ann and Robert returned me to Draper for the evening. Again, Camping World had just closed for the day. No one had left any notes on the RV or truck (which was still attached) and the power was still connected. Alex the Bird entertained us for a while.

Day 3Monday — Labor Day — was my last drive day. I drove from Draper, UT to Page, AZ, a distance of 370 miles. I got a very early start, pulling out of the parking lot at 6:30 AM local time. By the time I stopped for fuel two hours later, I’d already gone more than 100 miles. (I parked with the big rig trucks and discovered that my rig was about as long as theirs.) This part of the drive was mostly on I-15, but started east on route 20 to Highway 89, which took us all the way to Page. The roads were mountainous and there was a lot of climbing and descending. There were also a lot more vehicles on the road, making driving a bit more of a chore.

Thunderbird RestaurantThe only food stop I made along the way was at the Thunderbird Restaurant at Mount Carmel Junction. The place is a bit of a tourist trap, but it does have good “ho-made” pies (whatever that means). Odd thing happened when I tried to leave. They couldn’t give me a bill because the computer was down. Apparently no one knows how to do basic math. All I had was a piece of pie with ice cream and an iced tea. They apparently expected me to wait until the computers came back online. With Alex the Bird in the front seat of the car, that was not an option. Finally, my waitress disappeared into the kitchen where she may have used her “lifeline” to get help with this difficult math problem. The verdict was $7.79. I was afraid to count my change.

I arrived at the Lake Powell Resort just west of Page, AZ at around 11:30 local time. I’d been on the road for 7 hours.

Mike and PlaneMy husband, who’d flown up in his plane and spent a few hours swimming in the lake, met me at the lodge restaurant for lunch. Afterwards, we put fuel in the truck and parked it (temporarily) at Page Municipal Airport. I gathered my belongings — forgetting only two things, one of which was vital — and we loaded into Mike’s plane. Then we started the long (90 minutes), hot (90°F+), and bumpy (I almost got sick) flight to Wickenburg. The only sights of interest along the way — keeping in mind that I make that flight about 1000 feet lower at least a dozen times a year — were a handful of forest fires east of our Howard Mesa place and a heavy rain shower coming out of a remarkably small cloud near Granite Mountain.

Back in Wickenburg, we put the plane away and went straight home. Hot and sweaty, it was good to take a shower in a real bathroom.

I was asleep by 8:30 PM.

Planning the Big Move

I make plans to move my “rolling mansion” and helicopter from Wenatchee to Page, AZ.

My last cherry drying contract for the season ends on Wednesday, August 25. I need to be in Page, AZ with my trailer and helicopter by the middle of September. I’m just starting to plan for the move.

This is an exercise in logistics that I go through twice a year. Every time it’s slightly different.

The fun starts on Thursday, when my husband arrives on a late flight into Wenatchee. We’ll spend a few days in the area on a mini vacation. It’ll be the first time I’ve seen him since May 15. He goes home on Monday morning.

The move starts on Sunday, August 29 (weather permitting) with a flight over the Cascades with the helicopter to Boeing Field (BFI). With perfect weather, the flight should take less than an hour. But I’ve only had perfect weather once in the ten or so times I’ve made the flight. The last time I did it, it took about 4 hours because I had to fly all the way down to the Columbia River at Hood River to get under the clouds.

Planned Routes

Two different routes to get from Wenatchee to Seattle by helicopter. The red route includes a stop at my friend Don’s house.

Moitek Mount

My new Moitek Video Mount, pictured in my friend Erik’s helicopter.

At BFI, I’ll take possession of my new Moitek Video Mount, which I bought from the estate of a helicopter friend who passed away last year. A videographer who used the mount with my friend will be meeting with us to show us how to set it up. He’ll bring along a camera and get some footage on a flight down to Longview, where we’ll meet with the mount’s designer and maker to ask questions and get other tips. I’m hoping my friends Don and Jim, each R44 owners, will accompany us for this little trip. I’d love to get some air-to-air video for a project I’ve been working on for some time.

Back at BFI, I’ll drop off the helicopter for some maintenance. It needs its blades painted (again) and since I’m coming up on my 100-hour inspection, I figured I’d have it taken care of then. It’ll stay at the maintenance shop until I return in September to pick it up.

I’ll get back over the mountains by plane or helicopter (piloted by a friend) on Monday morning. I’ll spend the rest of the day and most of the next prepping the RV for the long drive. I’ll need to put away all loose items and clean up as well as I can.

RV Route

The RV Route

On Wednesday, September 1, I’ll hook up and roll out of here. The plan (so far) is to go to Walla Walla, where I’ll spend a few days at an RV park I know. Walla Walla has some great restaurants and wineries. It’ll be like my own little vacation on the way home.

On Saturday or Sunday, I’ll get an early start and hit the freeway for the 10-hour drive to Salt Lake City. If some friends are available to meet me, I’ll go in on Saturday; otherwise, I’ll do it on Sunday. I’m planning on parking overnight at the Draper Camping World, which should be affordable and convenient. I probably won’t even bother unhooking my truck.

On Monday morning, I head out early for Page. I hope to get there early in the afternoon and find a place to park my rig for about a week. Weather permitting, Mike will fly up to Page in his plane and pick up me and Alex the Bird to take us home. The truck and RV will remain at Page until I return with the helicopter.

On Tuesday or Friday, I’ll head up to Seattle by commercial airliner. Then, on Wednesday or Saturday, I’ll start the long flight to Page. It’ll take 8 to 10 hours, so I’m likely to do it over two days. I might have a passenger; I’ll know more this week. If I do, we’ll be doing the flight on Saturday/Sunday to Las Vegas, possibly with part of the flight along the California Coast, and I’ll be going on to Page alone. If not, I’ll do the flight on Wednesday, making the best time possible to Page by flying through Oregon, Idaho, and Utah on pretty much the same route I followed to get here before the start of the season.

In Page, I’ll set up camp — probably in the campground I lived in for two months two years ago — and offer aerial photo flights over Lake Powell. I have clients meeting with me starting on September 20, so there’s definite business for at least 5 days. On September 25, I fly the helicopter home, hopefully with a passenger (if she hasn’t forgotten). I’m not sure when I’ll retrieve the truck and RV; it depends on whether I have a training video shoot the following week in California.

So if you were wondering what I’ll be doing for the next month or so of my life, you now know.

I’ll be interesting to see how closely I can follow these plans in the weeks to come.