June 17th…

…is the day we leave Clearwater!  We’re getting really excited and have way too much to do!

So, come June 17th, what will be doing, exactly?

We will be following David’s gigs in our motorhome, as that’s our purpose for going on the road.  But I plan to make a list of things I really want us to do and see on the way so we can plan the tour to allow for those things, which will include but not be limited to:

  • visiting Jamestown and Colonial Williamsburg
  • exploring some caverns complete with stalagmites and stalactites
  • day trip to NYC
  • day trip to Washington DC
  • going through the Athens/Princeton WV area
  • visiting a whole bunch of precious people who are scattered along our general route

We have a museum membership that has an excellent reciprocal program around the nation, meaning that we get in free to kids museums and science museums in all the states we’re traveling through.

We also plan to spend our days learning about the unique culture of the different states, cities and towns we traverse, visiting their tourist highlights, participating in their festivals and events, and finding examples of their industry (such as fishing piers or maple syrup taps). I’m also very interested in taking Ada (my 6 year old) to sites of historical significance, such as Gettysburg.

We plan to spend most of our time outside of the RV when we’re not driving or sleeping. We’ll cook meals ourselves, but that can be done outside, or else one of us can take the kids outside while the other does food prep. Nights spent at Walmart may find us parked at a public playground while dinner is made, retiring to the parking lot only at bed time. I could even make dinner while David and the kids buy groceries, and then we could eat in Benny in the parking lot… Other than cooking, our days will be split up by periods of driving as well as errands in new towns and fun explorations. I anticipate keeping very busy.

We plan to visit family and friends all along our route and we plan to make new friends, too!

Yes, between waking up, eating breakfast, driving, doing errands/exploring the town, having lunch, driving, doing a fun thing (museum/hike/playground/farm/statue of liberty), having dinner, playing music, working (blogging/customer correspondence/booking gigs/playing gigs/logging sales/facebook), and daily chores (dishes/laundry/bathing everyone), I expect us to have busy days and fall into bed with loud plops each night.

Planning: the Drive

We’ll drive 2 – 4 hours per day, but probably not in longer than a 2 hour block. I think this is realistic with the kids. We can drive for a couple of hours in the morning and a couple in the afternoon without anyone feeling like they’ve been in the car all day. In between we’ll go to the park, the library, the grocery store, the laundromat, the zoo, the museum, or Monticello, and any one of those will be an adventure because it’ll never be the same grocery store twice.

We plan to move every day, not staying anywhere more than one night, but because we might move only two hours down the road, I hope that we will still find ourselves feeling unhurried and getting a good feel for the places we pass through.  This maiden voyage will last just a few months, after which we will undoubtedly have learned a lot about:

  • whether we like living in an RV
  • how far we’re comfortable moving at a time
  • how often we want to move
  • what kind of roads we’re interested in traveling on
  • what kind of campgrounds we prefer
  • how to find campgrounds
  • how to find vegetable oil
  • what kind of foods/style of cooking lend themselves to our lifestyle

After learning all those things, we will be able to plan our next trip accordingly!

Driving the MotorHome Around Town

*I wrote this on 26 January, but it didn’t get posted until now–documents my first driving experiences with Benny*

mirror view

It’s true, we plan to fulltime in the motorhome without a toad, or pulled (towed) car.  That means that we will use our motorhome for all of our errands, grocery shopping, and any other getting around.

I’m getting plenty of practice.  We transferred the registration from my car, to Benny the Brave, which means Benny is now my only means of transportation.  I learned to drive it this weekend.

Monday I drove to the health food store.  I drove around the parking lot until I found two empty spots, back to back.  Benny fits in the width of one parking space but is just a couple of feet too long.  So I usually center the vehicle with the front in one spot and the back in another.  Also saves me from having to back up when I leave, which would not be safe in a busy parking lot without someone to guide me.

Benny also takes up the full width of the parking spots, so squeezing in between two parked cars would not be easy, nor appreciated by the owners of those cars when they returned.  So I look for two spots front to back, and space on both sides.  Grocery stores usually have plenty of wide open spots in the back of the lot.  Maybe I won’t go to the mall on Black Friday, though.

The drive was so easy and comfortable that on the way home from the health food store we stopped at the Salvation Army to look for wooden plates and metal cups (I want our dishes to be not-delicate, and not-plastic).  Most of the parking is only one space deep (we wouldn’t fit) but behind the building are several unused spots and I just pulled into them horizontally, making sure I had room to pull forward when we were ready to leave.  No problem!

Tuesday we stopped to mail a wrap to a customer at our tiny corner gift-store/post office.  They definitely don’t have parking to accommodate Benny, but across the tiny residential street is an unused storage building with plenty of open paved space.  I just pulled right onto the paved space which is sort of like the shoulder of the road.  Trotted across the street to the post office, then back to Benny where I could have pulled forward to leave, but because I wanted to head in the opposite direction, I did a tight little U-turn that Benny is remarkably good at.

Benny parked
Parked at vacant business across from Post Office.

Then we headed for Goodwill, hoping to find what we hadn’t found at the Salvation Army the day before.  Goodwill is in a shopping center and it was easy to find a pull through spot (2 spots, really) near the rear of the parking lot.

Today (Wednesday), I drove to my weekly Moms Group which takes place at a church.  I almost parked in the corner, where I felt we would be out of the way, and then remembered the no-backing-out-if-possible rule.  I circled around and found a double spot near the back where I’d be able to pull forward and out when it was time to go.

After Moms Circle, I headed to the bank to deposit some cash.  Totally forgot I wouldn’t fit in the drive through.  I circled the building optimistically hoping to use the ATM for my deposit but it had a little roof too.  I realize now I could have just parked a yard out from the ATM and hopped out the drivers door to do my business, but at the time it didn’t occur to me, so instead I parked at the grocery store next door.  I was planning to go there next, anyway.  Then I trotted across to the bank and made my deposit inside at the counter, then went over to the grocery store.

What I didn’t think about when parking at the grocery store was that pulling through the two front to back spaces had me facing the wrong way when I pulled forward to leave.  This parking lot had the diagonal spaces where each row is supposed to be one way traffic.  Of course, it’s not a big deal when you’re in a sedan to go down the wrong way, but with Benny’s bulk I didn’t want to block up the passage.  However, there were no cars parked on either side of me and this made it easy to pull out and turn back in the correct direction (a partial u-turn) to leave.  I’ll remember to be more careful with diagonal spots, and park where there are very few cars around to give myself plenty of maneuvering room.

Next learning experience, when leaving the grocery store’s parking lot, I drove around a bank in the same lot, as it looked like the way around the smaller building would be more straightforward and clear of traffic on my way out to the street.  Unfortunately, the far side of the bank was a drive-through with a roof, and no way to go around it.  I had to back into a parking spot to turn around and go another way.  Luckily, the parking lot was not full or busy!  From this I resolved not to go around buildings that I didn’t have to, if I didn’t know for sure what was on the other side!

So, learning more every day, but so far nothing nerve-wracking has come up.  Benny isn’t so hard to drive.  In fact, he’s a really fun drive, with a great view.  And it feels nice to have so much space (our whole house!) around us in the “car” instead of walls and ceilings so close together.

I drove on veggie power!


Today I drove on veggie power for the first time!  I’ve been driving on diesel for a couple of reasons:

1) learning curve was slightly curvier than expected and we had to iron out a few kinks in our use of the vegetable oil system (which David could only do on the weekend because he’s still tied to his job, unfortunately).

2) several of my daily errands are so close to the house that I don’t get a chance to switch the engine to vegetable oil.

Number 2 is still true.  When I just go from home to the grocery store, I won’t be using vegetable oil.  Because vegetable oil is thicker than diesel, it needs to be heated to run through the lines (just like when you heat oil in your frying pan it becomes thinner).  So Benny must always be started on diesel, and switched to veggie only once the engine has warmed up.  Then, a few minutes before arrival, we switch back to diesel so that no vegetable oil is left to congeal in the lines for the next time we need to start er up.  A five minute trip just doesn’t allow the time for all that waiting and switching.  On the up side, a five minute trip doesn’t use up a great deal of diesel.

And of course, once we’re on the big adventure, there will be fewer five minute trips and a whole lot more hours and hours of burning vegetable oil.

This weekend David tested the engine to make sure that the veggie oil glitch was truly solved (it was) and filled up the veggie oil tank so this week I am veggie powered and loving it!

veggie oil system
Tweaking the Veggie Oil System

Driving on Veggie Oil

WVO fuel
David pumping waste vegetable oil into the tank.

David and I strongly believe in the importance of taking actions that support our personal survival as individuals, as a  family, as part of our various groups, through the survival of mankind, living things, and the material universe, as well as spiritually, because we are intimately connected with each of these dynamics and our survival is linked to each of them.

So when we first thought of living a traveling life in an RV, we immediately thought of the ecological impact.  Sure, we’d be doing less consuming, adding less to landfills, and at least the meaningless and repetitive drives to and from work and errands would be replaced with more meaningful commutes so that the gas used would at least be better justified.  But for a family that always thought we’d like to discover a lifestyle that was not dependent on cars and gas, it would be awfully nice to find someway to mitigate the crude oil factor of our plan.

Enter vegetable oil, able to fuel a diesel engine in place of gas.  Benny the Brave had a veggie oil conversion performed by his previous family that makes it easy and reliable to run him on used oil from restaurants–recycling an already used up commodity and greatly reducing carbon emissions as well as many other nasty side effects of gas/diesel.

There are other significant perks to running on vegetable oil, most significantly 1) it can be found free around the world and 2) my family will not be smelling and breathing diesel fumes.

Vegetable Oil was an integral part of our plan, and when we saw Benny for sale, we couldn’t resist.  Benny fleshed out our motorhome dream perfectly, and it is a worthwhile bonus to know that he has spent the last year with a family who shares our values and whose lives have been filling up this little motorhome with love and laughter rather than . . . anything else!

In fact, Benny came customized with both “vegpower” and unschooling bumper stickers.  That’s right, the previous family is a family of unschoolers as well!

Learning to Drive the MotorHome

windshield view

The first weekend I spent 20 minutes driving around a parking lot and parking in the spaces.  This weekend I drove us to the library, and later to the health food store and Grammy’s house.  Today I drove the girls to the health food store by myself.  On the way home we stopped at the Salvation Army.

Benny seemed impossibly huge that first day.  When I started on a real street, I could barely watch the road, I was so busy studying my mirrors to make sure I was inside the lines.  Because Benny JUST fits inside the lines!

But it’s not taken long to come a lot easier.  It takes a lot more of my attention, but I can put my singing-to-Annabelle-so-she-won’t-cry on autopilot and still have all my attention on the road.  I was really happy with my self sufficiency, driving the girls around without David to babysit me today.

I’m also becoming comfortable with backing up using only the mirrors (and without turning to look over my shoulder, because it’s pointless).

I wanted to stop by where David’s working today and bring him warm-from-the-oven chocolate cookies but he wasn’t answering his cell and without his confirmation, I was leery of driving down the tiny neighborhood street.  What if parked cars made the street too narrow for me to proceed?  I’d have to back down the whole street, and for that I would need someone guiding me, and what if David wasn’t there because he had made a run to Home Depot?  Nope, couldn’t risk it!

So, I’m still tentative.  But I love driving this thing.  It feels so good!  And people like waving at us.  And we made a friend of the security guard at the Health Food Store because he liked the looks of Benny.  I’ve heard so much about RV people being the friendliest people, but now I’m wondering if RVs don’t just bring out the friendliest in all kinds of people.