The misadventures of Commander Merlin and the crew of RV-103
Friday December 19th 2014

Thar Be Gold In Them Thar Hills!

We did some dry panning in the BLM land next to our campsite. Though the streams were dry, we actually found some silver ore and then…WE FOUND GOLD!!! Our second day of dry panning we actually found some gold flakes, some imbedded in hardened mud balls that were nearly as hard as ordinary rocks.

We learned that across the river in the Bradshaw Mountains the gold was more prevalent. This area was open to the public to pan for gold. Though snow was on the ground there, we took a day and did some panning with wonderful results. We would dig up soil from under the rocks in the creek bed (the creek was mostly dry at the time), and could see the gold flakes in it. We would take the soil to a area in the creek that still had water pooled and would pan it. After about 6 hours of panning and digging, we walked out with about $100 in gold in my estimate.

You are never going to get rich doing this, but it was fun and good practice for our visit in California.

Suffering Technical Difficulties

Having some trouble posting.  Customer Service is working on the problem.  Until then, enjoy The Survival Podcast.

12-22-09 to 01-05-10 Black Canyon City

We spent 2 weeks at the Black Canyon City KOA about 45 minutes north of Phoneix AZ.  Typical KOA, but it had a jewel that the other KOA’s we visited did not have…70,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) public land.  Right outside of our front door.  We spent many days hiking the land and prospecting for gold and silver.  The land was beautiful in a primitive way since it was all desert.

Black Canyon City KOA with Bradshaw Mountains in the background

On the other side of the Aqua Fria River (which was dry as a bone) was the Bradshaw Mountains.  It was there that we found a “profitable” day.

Go Fever! 12-22-09

Go Fever is a an old NASA term that meant you were so focused on meeting a launch deadline that you would overlook or dismiss warning signs of a problem.  “What, the left wing of the Space Shuttle is falling off?  Not a problem!  The shuttle still has its right wing to fly on.  Go for Launch!”

It appears that I suffered from “Go Fever” for the rest of the day.  As noted before, when I was refueling in NM, I noticed the winds had picked up quite a bit but I pressed on.  My schedule was to be in Black Canyon City in AZ today and dammit, no little “breeze” was going to stop me from meeting my schedule!

I had never been to a desert before let alone drive in one.  That “breeze” became stronger and stronger, in time becoming gusts of 40-60 mph.  We were driving directly into the winds and it was pushing Discovery all over the place.  By the end of the day my arms hurt from fighting the wind trying to stay on the road.  It was such a strong headwind that I burned up over $116 worth of gasoline in less than 100 miles!

Tumbleweeds were flying across the road so often like a bad video game.  Some were the size of small cars unbelievably.  There were dust storms just off the road that completely blocked the view of the horizon with large brown clouds.  Occasionally a dust devil would cross our path swirling brown and moving fast.  Whenever we would pass through one, the RV would lurch from side to side and you would hear the gritty sand blast the windshield.

We were hearing on the CB radio about a large accident just south of Phoenix involving 35 cars with multiple injuries and deaths due to the dust storms cutting visibility to zero.  We started hearing reports of this about 4 hours before reaching the area.  Once we reached the area, the lane on our side of the highway was clear, but we could see the burned out tractor trailers and cars on the other side.  There were numerous vehicles still on the interstate and we heard on the radio at least 6 deaths.  What a shame with it being only 3 days before X-mas.

By the time we reached the Black Canyon City KOA campsite I had already violated my first rule by driving at night.  What was supposed to be a 4-6 hour trip that day had turned into a 10 hour day.  I was tired, grouchy, and anxious to get parked and down for the night.

The sign at arrival pointed us down some dark path to “check in.”  There was no moon and it was hard to tell where the road was and the desert.  I asked Gypsy to take the flashlight and walk ahead to scout out the direction where we were supposed to go.  She got as far as headlight range and came back informing me she wasn’t going to walk any further “out there.”  Cussing, I grabbed the flashlight and started to walk the road trying find out where it was going to take us.  Hmmm…she was right.  It sure was dark and spooky out here.  The night just seemed to swallow up the flashlight allowing only about 5 feet of visibility.  I walked apprehensively for about 50 yards until I came to the check in area for the campsite.  I found my way back to Discovery and drove her there always watching to ensure we didn’t leave the dirt road.  Once I picked up the check in papers (the office was closed) I had to walk to find the campsite.  After a bit of searching around in the dark I found the site, returned to Discovery, and took her to her new tempory home.

We had made it safely despite my stubbornness and stupidity.  But, fate has a way of rewarding fools such as myself with one final episode.  This is where I violated Rule #2: Dont’ set up camp in the dark.

There is a scene in the movie RV with Robin Williams (a parting gift from my co-workers) where Robin is going to make his first tank dump and gets advice from a bunch of morons and has a large audience sitting in lawn chairs to witness the event.  Though I had no advice from morons (my own actions were moronic enough), and a audience of only one (Gypsy), I still achieved Robin Williams greatness.

We have of course used the toilet and sink during our travel today and I always made a tank dump when we first hooked up at our campsite.  When I first got Discovery I had discovered the previous owner had always left a Phillips screwdriver on board within easy reach.  When you travel, the vehicle bounces and vibrates so much that screws are always coming undone and you are always screwing them back in.  And of course, I forgot to check the screws holding the dump tank hose.

I hooked one end of the hose into the receptacle (the other end is always hooked up to the tank), and pulled the handle to release the first tank.  You always dump the black water or sewage first, then flush the remainder down with the grey water (sink and shower water) next.  I pulled the sewage handle and that is when fate handed me my reward for having “Go Fever.”

The hose popped off and I was immediately bathed in raw sewage.  I saw things that I haven’t seen since I flushed them down the toilet and was not happy at the reunion.  I stood there in stunned amazement while my lower legs and feet indulged in their aromatic shower.  A few seconds later I overcame my surprise and shut the valve.  Gypsy by that time was in a sitting position upwind from me laughing hysterically.  I swear I could hear Commander Merlin laughing from inside the RV.

I reattached the hose, dumped what was left in the tanks, and closed the hatch.  I finished hooking up the power and water to Discovery and then proceeded to strip outside the door before entering and taking a long hot shower.  Gypsy got over her hysterical laughter long enough to bag my clothes, and left them outside so I could wash them the next day.

I think I would have rather have flown on a one winged shuttle.

12-22-09 New Mexico

We started our day early and left at dawn.  This was the last big run before we would get to our campsite in AZ north of Phoenix that we planned on staying for a few days.

The trip started out pretty good.  Traffic was light on I-10 until we got to El Paso on the TX/NM border.  It also shared a border with Mexico.  El Paso was much larger than I expected and traffic was heavy with last minute X-mas shoppers going to the various malls and strip malls along the interstate.  The nice thing about driving something as big as RV-103, you just pick a middle lane and drive the speed your most comfortable with.  If the folks behind you don’t like it they can pass you on either side.  When driving something this big, I don’t let anyone rush me.

We could see the border fence you always see on TV newscasts.  It was big, ugly, and made of steel I-beams.  We could also see the towns on the other side.  What a difference!  The US side was full of commerce and affluence, while on the Mexico side were third world country slums.

We were in Mexico once during a cruise and had traveled inland to view some Mayan ruins.  The poverty was unreal and you realize that poor people on our welfare system live far much better.  I wonder when the government of Mexico will get their act together and actually take care of their citizens instead of leaving it up to us to do it for them?

A bit further down the road in the desert we came across a checkpoint being run by the border patrol.  It was a perfect spot for a checkpoint since there were no other roads around, just desert.  Though I know they were looking for illegal aliens,  it bothered me that American citizens had to go through checkpoints like this.  The men were armed to the teeth and all business.  We passed through the checkpoint after being questioned by the border patrol and continued our journey.  I stopped for fuel and noticed the weather was getting pretty windy.   As I found out, our day held more misadventures ahead.

Next up: Go Fever!

12-20 to 12-21-09 Making good time

We got up that morning and gingerly made our way out of the campsite.  It was a pretty site, but man it was tight!  After navigating around the trees, avoiding sliding into the lake, and making the tight turns, we were on our way.

We flew through Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana through the day.  By evening we were approaching the TX border and were ready to settle down for the night.

We stayed at Hidden Lake RV Resort in Beaumont TX just across the state line.  It was getting dark and Gypsy kept wondering where they hid the lake at.  We finally saw the “hidden lake” as we left the next day.

If you think FL is big try driving across TX.  By nightfall we still had not made it out of the state though we made good time.  We ended up at some Wal-Mart near the interstate and boon-docked for the night.

One word about Wal-Mart.  They are very friendly to RV’ers and will allow you to boon-dock free for the night.  It is polite to call ahead and ask the store manager if it’s ok to stay the night in the back parking light and to do a little shopping.  Wal-mart carries a pretty good selection of RV accessories.

I use a iPhone application called Truck Stops developed by Leigh Gagnon.  It lists all the truck stops, rest stops, and Wal-marts along the interstates with full descriptions of what is there and GPS directions.  That program has been extremely useful throughout our travels.  You can access it for your iPhone at the iTunes store in the apps section.

Next Stop….NM and AZ!

12-19-09 Launch day for Mission #2

As we were closing out the condo, we discovered Commander Merlin hiding under…errrr…doing a final walk down under the bed.  It took both crew members to coax her out so she could report for duty on the bridge of RV-103.  We loaded her up in her own little special astrovan called a pet carrier, and proceeded to the launch pad.  Shortly afterwards, we launched on our 2nd mission for RV-103.  Commander Merlin reported to the bridge after launch and stayed there during most of the ride.

Our mission is to go to CA and spend about 3 months there doing research and exploring the area.  We hope to do some real panning for gold where the 1849 gold rush occurred, tour a gold mine, fisherman’s wharf in San Francisco, and the wine country.  Since we would be near Lake Tahoe we also wanted to take a trip up there for a day or two.

When you live in FL, you seem to forget just how large and long the state is until you try to drive out of it.  We are in Central FL and therefore have to drive halfway up the state and then across the state’s east/west panhandle.  When it came time to find a campsite for the evening, we had driven over 400 miles and we were not even out of FL!

We ended up at a campsite near Defuniak Springs FL called Bass Haven Campground.  (Sorry, they don’t have a website)  It’s a nice little private campsite on a small lake that took our Passport America discount.  The camp was a bit small for such a large vehicle like ours, but the staff directed us in without any mishap and we ended up with a nice site right on the lakeshore.

So ends our first night.

Comtemplation

Commander Merlin contemplates her next mission.

11-29 to 12-19-2009 Back in the RV Processing Facility

RV-103 is back and being readied for her next mission.  This is the time to go over “lessons learned” from the shakedown, take off supplies we realized we didn’t need and take on supplies we found we did need.

We also needed to get routine maintenance done.  Up to this time we have had all of our maintenance requiring a garage done at Camping World.  Overall the work they have done has rated a grade of “C” in my opinion considering the money we have spent.  One of our goals this time was to find a garage that did better work and at a more reasonable price.  We checked into various RV dealers around the area, but found that many times they didn’t even know how to return phone calls or were quite brusque in their conversation, and their prices were not reasonable.

We finally found a garage, Preventive Maintenance Service of Florida, nearly in our backyard that had made a good impression on us on the phone.  They focus on only RV Maintenance and not sales.  The man said they felt you were there to get your RV worked on not to have something sold to you by pushy commission only sales people.

I took the RV down to have the oil changed on the RV and on the Onan generator, tires replaced, a small roof leak fixed, a brake gasket replaced, and the serpentine belt replaced.  We were very satisfied with the work and the price.  They are now our garage of choice for major maintenance.

Next up: Launch and the second mission of RV-103 Discovery!

11-14 to 11-29-09 Completion of Mission #1 Shakedown

We stayed at the Philadelphia West Chester KOA while doing our research work at Drexal University Library Special Collections.  This was our first time staying at a KOA and it appeared well run.  Nothing special about it as we learned about all the KOA’s we ended up staying at, but no complaints either.

Drexal University is in downtown Philadelphia.  I finally got to sample my first philly cheesesteak sandwich and I found it tasted the same as the ones I ate in Florida.  I guess I expected something different since we are in the sandwiches hometown.

After our research was complete at Drexell (outstanding and helpful staff!), we broke camp and headed for Washington PA on 11-20-09.

Commander Merlin has grown into her role as commander.  She now comes up front while we are in motion and even will sit on the dash watching the traffic.  It’s nice to see the Commander on the Bridge overseeing the voyage.

We stayed at the Washington/Pittsburgh SW KOA and spent some time with my family including my oldest daughter.  It was a good time and we had much fun playing Wii on the HD TV.  This was our first time in having our propane tank filled.  It went without a hitch and was relatively cheap considering the propane heated our water tank, ran our furnace, ran our fridge, and oven.  We have learned that propane is a cheap, long lasting,  and a versatile fuel source.  Since we had bought the RV, we have only used 11 gallons of propane up to this point.

We left Washington PA on 11-22-09 and headed south.  Our next stop was at the KOA in Statesville NC for the night.

The next day we continued our journey and headed for GA.  We stayed at Heritage Mobile Home & RV Park in Augusta GA.  This RV park had the best and largest selection of cable TV channels including HD broadcasts.  Over 120 channels!

We spent the next day visiting my youngest brother who is in the Army.  He is an Iraqi War veteran and currently teaches classes for the Army.  We had a wonderful visit with him and enjoyed the latest Star Trek movie on our blu-ray player along with dinner.

After our visit in GA, we continued south and spent our next night at the King George RV Resort in Woodbine GA.

The next day we finished our journey and landed back in the Clearwater/Tampa Bay area on 11-29-09.  Mission #1 of RV-103 successfully completed.

Now we will spend the next 2-3 weeks resupplying and preparing for RV-103’s next mission, traveling to that distant planet called California.

Stay tuned!

11-14-2009 Houston We Have A Problem The Sequel

It was a Saturday and we prepared to leave NY for Philadelphia to continue our research work.  The previous Monday I had gone to Camping World and bought a Master Tow Dolly for $1,400.  Camping World said they would have to have one brought in from another store and assured me it would be there and ready for us to use on Saturday.

We broke camp and thanked Mark of Evergreen Trails Campground for all his help and headed to Camping World to pick up our Master Tow Dolly.  Upon our arrival we found the tow dolly there, but not ready for our use.  The ramps had not been widened yet to accommodate our SUV and the wiring for the tail lights were not even hooked up.  They turned the dolly over to us and appeared to expect us to get the dolly ready.  That was not the agreement I had made with them and Gypsy had a long discussion with the manager about it while I was inspecting the dolly.  It wasn’t long before we had their only two technicians pulled off their jobs to take care of our dolly.  Considering what I paid for the dolly pretty much covered their payroll for the day, it was prudent of them to attend to it.

Three hours later it was ready and we off to Philadelphia.  Five miles down the road I stopped at a rest stop to do my safety check on the dolly straps.  When we started back on the interstate I discovered that my rear view camera had stopped working.  By the time we got to the Philadelphia area my tail lights, back up lights, dashboard lights, and turn signals would not work.

It was now dark and I was quite worried that the headlights would fail.  We were still trying to find our campground when we encountered a low bridge of only 12 ft that we had to pass under.  The clearance for RV-103 was 12 ft and we instinctively ducked when we went under the bridge wondering if we would come out intact on the other side.  (Backing up was not an option due to the road and traffic behind us.)  As we heard the CB and radio antennas scrape on the underbelly of the bridge, we somehow emerged unscathed.  Our next obstacle we encountered on these back country roads was a major detour due to a bridge being out.  Around mid-night we finally arrived at the KOA campsite in the boonies outside of Philadelphia.  Exhausted, we set up camp and went to bed.

The next day I got out the multi-meter and tried to track down the electrical problem.  I was having no luck and finally had to call in a repairman.  He showed up the next day and though he was expensive, he was good.

The gentleman worked for Quality Matters RV Repair Company and they pretty much brought the whole shop with them to your site.  The problem turned out to be multiple problems or a perfect storm of problems so to speak.  I watched over his work and was impressed at his trouble shooting skills.

Two fuses had burned out.  The power wire for one of the fuse panels had came out.  A cotter pin holding a wiring harness next to the steering column had been installed upside down causing the sharp end to cut into the harness causing a short.  Also, the wiring for the tow dolly on the RV side was wired incorrectly.  He corrected all the problems and we have not had any wiring problems since then.  As I said, they are expensive, but they are good.

Some may read this and wonder why bother with an RV.  The purpose of this shakedown cruise was for us to get the experience learning and using the various systems of the RV and to discover any problems an used RV would have prior to making a 3,000 mile journey.  RV’s are not cheap and nor is maintaining them.  They have multiple and complex systems that require you to learn and understand.  But, if you take care of it and fix any issues that come up in a timely and efficient manner, the return you get is well worth it.  It is not just a vehicle, but a home and a home requires care and maintenance.  Same goes with Space Shuttles.  There is a reason they call it “Rocket Science.”

11-09-2009 Commander Merlin Orders The Crew To Stand Down

We had a free day today thanks to Commander Merlin.  She had decided we all needed a down day and of course led by example by laying in bed all day watching TV.

Commander Merlin Leading by Example

The crew decided to try out their new gold panning kit in the local creek.  Though New York is not known for gold deposits, it was felt this would be good practice for the upcoming real thing once Discovery went out west.

Gold fever is known for making people irrational.  The crew of Discovery is of no exception.  We spent a couple hours scouting out possible deposit sites in the stream and panning.  Afterwards we spent a couple more hours playing in the creek like kids.

The results of our gold panning operation:

2 live crawfish.

1 dead raccoon.

Numerous fossils of the some type of shell or clam.

No gold

Overall, it was a good day and typical of our days off when we weren’t entertaining guests or working on research.

10-30-09 New York New York!

Evergreen Trails Campground does not accept any club discounts, but with it being off season, the campground manager Mark did give us a nice discount.  The weather up here was already cold with temps getting down into the 20’s at night and they had already had some snow this month.

Because of the cold weather, the water had been shut off.  The pipes feeding the campsites were too close to the surface and tended to freeze.  That was not a problem for we still had electricity and sewage we could hook up too.  We have a 75 gallon fresh water tank on RV-103 and that could take care of our needs for 4-5 days.  Mark was kind enough to allow us to bring Discovery up to his home to refill our water tank as needed.

The campground was beautiful with deer all over the place.  It’s been awhile since I’ve seen northern deer and I enjoyed how graceful they were.  Commander Merlin had never seen deer and the first few nights ran from window to window to watch the deer.  That wasn’t too bad except there were several times she just had to run over our heads while we slept to look outside the bedroom window.  There was nearly a mutiny by the crew over her enthusiastic deer watching.

Gypsy’s son and his wife lived nearby and we got to spend many wonderful days visiting with them.  There were two ponds on the campsite and we did some fishing.  We also got to do some hiking on the various trails and see some snowfall a few times.

Gypsy

At night we would have a large campfire and do the smores thing.  We were far enough away from civilization that the sky was clear and we could see the Milky Way quite clearly.  One night, when Gypsy’s son and his wife were over, we were blessed to view a falling star and the International Space Station fly overhead.

During the week days we spent our time doing research for a project we are working on at Syracuse University Special Collections, Oswego Historical Society, and the Rome Historical Society.  The assistance we received from the staff at all three places was exemplary and appreciated.

Next up:  Commander Merlin calls for a stand down day.

10-29-09 Houston, We Have A Problem!

Prior to leaving we needed a tow dolly to tow the SUV.  I had searched in the local paper and on Craig’s List.  Most tow dollys I found were $1000 or more that were capable of towing our vehicle.  I eventually found a used dolly on Craig’s List for $700 and went to see it.  It was owned by an engineer that just moved from CA to FL.  It was baby blue and a homemade dolly, but very solid construction.  The welds were good, no corrosion, tires had good tread, and had some nice stylish hub caps on the tires.  The engineer had bought it used in CA and said he had no problems during his 3,000 mile trip.  The straps were worn out from the trip and I got him to take $100 off the price.

When we left on our first mission, I stopped every two hours to stretch and do a full walk around of RV-103.  That included checking the straps on the dolly and inspecting the tires.

By the afternoon of the 29th, I could hear a screeching noise coming from the rear view camera/microphone.  Every time I stopped I checked the dolly, but could find nothing wrong with it.  We stopped at a rest stop in PA and I noticed my stylish hub cap on the left wheel of the dolly was melting.  I pulled the hub cap and discovered that the bearings were burning up.  It appears the engineer had not greased the wheels and I did not think to check them.  I had Gypsy take the SUV off the dolly and follow me while I drove to find a place that could fix the bearings and re-grease them.

We didn’t get far.  Gypsy called me on the cell phone and told me to pull over because the wheel was on fire.  I pulled over and got the fire extinguisher and rushed to the dolly.  The fire was already out, but the wheel had separated and was untowable.  I tried to push it further off the side of the road, but it wouldn’t move.  There wasn’t really anything else I could do but collect the wheel straps which were still in good condition and abandon the dolly on the side of the road.

We continued on with Gypsy following me in the SUV.  We continued on into the night and finally arrived at our destination in NY.  We set up camp at Evergreen Trails Campground just outside of Angelica NY.

10-28-09 There Is A Reason For Rules

We had established two rules and have found during our travels if we broke them, life became more difficult.

Rule #1  Never drive at night if you can avoid it.

Rule #2  Never set up your campsite at night.

By the evening of Oct 28th we were in Virginia and it was already dark.  It was getting tough to see due to the rain and we were getting tired.  I spotted a small RV park under the interstate bridge and on impulse took the next exit to stay there for the night.  We pulled in and I went inside to find out if they had an open site and how much it would be.  Fortunately, they accepted the Passport America discount.

Unfortunately, the RV park was extremely small especially for a 37 ft long RV towing a car.  It was dark and raining.  I failed in my first attempt to get the RV in the campsite and started to back up.  I jackknifed the dolly and backed the RV into the SUV thankfully with no damage, but one very upset Gypsy.  I finally got up in the site and then proceeded to hook up the water, sewage, and electric in the driving rain and mud under flashlight.

We settled in for the night listening to the rain outside and the cars/trucks going “thump thump” over the bridge above us.  Neither one of us slept well that night.

10-27-2009 3…2…1…LAUNCH!!!!!

3...2...1...LAUNCH!!!

“The clock is running!  We have cleared the tower!”  Sorry, I had to quote Commander Lovell in Apollo 13.

Yes folks, after all this time, we are finally on our way.  Mission #1 of Discovery RV-103 is a shakedown cruise for the ship and the crew.  With our fearful leader Commander Merlin cowering….errrrr…commanding from her hiding place in the back room, we launched from Cape Canaveral Florida heading north to our destination in upstate NY.

First stop for the night was Golden Isles RV Park in Brunswick GA.  We arrive just prior to dark and used our Passport America for a 50% discount again.  I told the staff that I was still quite new to driving the RV and asked for a pull through site.  They set me up right away with a good pull through site and we settled in for the evening.  The next morning we set off again.

10-25-2009 Moving to the Launch Pad!

Today is the day!  We packed up RV-103, closed out the condo, and proceeded to our “launch pad” for the shakedown mission of Discovery.  We traveled from our home in the Clearwater/Tampa Bay area to the Port Canaveral Campground in Cape Canaveral FL.   There we got to use our first club discount. The Passport America membership got us a 50% discount for our stay.

The purpose of the trip to Cape Canaveral was a chance to say goodbye to some of my family and friends from work and show off the RV.  We spent the next day entertaining guests and having a relaxing day.

The Ares I-X was on the launch pad at KSC for its inaugural launch scheduled for the 26th.   The weather was poor with low clouds and rain and they had to postpone the launch 24 hrs.  Both days I went down to the beach to watch the launch, but the weather did not clear well enough to meet launch safety requirements until the 28th.  By that time we were already on our shakedown mission and missed the launch.  I am pleased to report that all the naysayers saying the rocket couldn’t fly were soundly proven wrong with the success of Ares I-X.  Well done United Space Alliance and NASA!

Go Ares I-X!!! Taken 10-22-09

Next up, launch of RV-103!

Satellite TV: Dish Network or Direct TV?

RV-103 is blessed with a satellite dish and had an old Dish Network receiver.  It took me awhile, but eventually I learned how to manually point the dish in the right direction and choose the correct azimuth.  Once I was able to lock into a satellite, that’s when we found out the receiver was too old and Dish Network required a new one.

I called Dish Network to inquire on how to get a new receiver and establish our satellite TV.  After 45 minutes or so of being on hold, pushing buttons on the phone navigating the endless menus, etc I finally got a human being.  The conversation went something like this…

“Ummmm….we don’t do RV’s.” was the first response from the customer service representative.

“Ummm….yes you do since I already have a dish installed on the roof and your old receiver in my RV.” I replied.

“No, I’m sure we don’t do RV’s, but we can have a technician come to your home and install a new dish and receiver.” was the reply from the customer service representative.

“Well I’m not home.” I replied, “Can’t your guy just come to the storage yard where our RV is located and give us a receiver if we sign up for one of your package deals?”

“No, we have to come to a physical address and you have to not only take our receiver, but our dish too.” said the all knowing customer service representative.

“I believe my RV is an actual physical object occupying an actual physical address at this storage yard and  I can provide you our GPS coordinates if that would help.  I also don’t need a dish, I already have one installed on my roof.” I said.

Silence….more silence….a clearing of the throat…and then more silence.

“Ummm….let me get my manager on the phone.” said the customer service representative.

I agreed that it might be a good idea to involve a manager.  The manager came on the phone and I gave him my initial request for his business from his company.  We pretty much went through the same conversation that I had with his underling.  But, he seemed to want my money and business pretty badly and was willing to work with me on the problem.

“Well Sir, we can’t get past the requirement that we have to send a technician to your home.  Tell you what I’m going to do for you Sir.  We will send the technician to your home, set up the dish and receiver, and then you can just disconnect the receiver and take it with you on the RV and leave the spare dish home.” said the manager.

“But, I don’t want the spare dish nor do I want it stuck standing in my front yard like some perverted looking scarecrow, and why would I want him to set up the receiver in my home?  I’m not going to use it at home.  I just want to sign up for a package and get a new receiver for the RV.” I politely replied.

“Hmmm….well we can’t do that Sir, I’m sorry.” said the manager.

“Why?” I asked.

“Well, we can’t.  Rules you know.” said the manager.

“You mean to tell me that after offering to sign a yearlong contract, pay you a guaranteed amount of money, you can’t just drop off a receiver at our RV?  I can even install the receiver myself.  Doesn’t that require less work and time on your company’s part and still make you money?” I reasoned.

“No Sir, we can’t.” he replied.

The manager wasn’t quite willing to let go of my promised money just yet though.

“Sir, since you already had an old receiver of ours, what we can do is sell you a new receiver.” he said.

“I thought receivers came free if you sign up for a package deal.  How much is this receiver?” I asked.

“Well Sir, depending on what you want such as HD TV, DVR, etc….it’s going to run you about $250 give or take a few dollars.” he said.

“So let me get this straight, you cannot deliver a receiver to my RV that I would be entitled to free of charge if I sign up for a package deal, but you can charge me for a receiver and deliver it to my RV?  Is that right?” I asked through clenched teeth.

“Yes Sir, it’s a pretty good offer I think.” he said.

I thanked him for his time and hung up.  I then called Direct TV and pretty much went through the entire tortured experience again.  I think the people I talked with there are blood relatives of the ones at Dish Network.

So, at this time we have chosen not to have satellite TV until one of the companies decide to start hiring college educated people with some common sense.  We have found we can use our money for other things such as pocketing it.  In the meantime, we are using the satellite dish on the RV to try to listen for ET. I am pretty optimistic that we can succeed at that task far better than finding someone with an education and common sense at Dish Network or Direct TV.

Blast From the Past

Rocketboy in the center with his beloved Mickey Mouse Ears at age nine.

Yeah that’s me when I was Rocketboy.  I’m the one in the center with the Mickey Mouse ears.  That was in 1973 when my now deceased grandparents took me and my two older cousins to Kennedy Space Center.  I was nine years old at the time.  At that time you could park right outside of the VAB and go on guided tours inside.  I got to see Skylab in its final preparations before it was sent out to the launch pad.  I would have never dreamed at that time that 31 years later I would be starting work there as a TPS technician on Space Shuttle Discovery.  I wish my grandfather had lived long enough to see that come to fruition.

Fall 2009 To Present Let’s Go Clubbing!

We have found with our research, if you are going to do any serious RVing, then you should have a club membership to get discounts at the RV parks.  There appear to be many RV clubs, both big and small, and many of them require some sort of yearly dues.  We ended up selecting four clubs to try out and paid our yearly dues.

The first club we signed up for was the largest one, Good Sams Club. Before we even received our membership card in the mail, they were already sending us letters asking us to “renew” our membership.  We have only used the membership discount once during our travels so far and that RV park wasn’t even affiliated with Good Sams but was willing to give us a 10% discount for our stay.  We also tried using their map routing service, but it only directed us to Good Sams parks, many far out of our way during out travels.  In fact, the map routing, if we had followed it and not have checked it against our GPS and paper maps, would have lengthened our trip by 200 + miles.  The one advantage I have found with Good Sams is the web site.  There are many resources there posted by other RV’ers that we found useful in the beginning.  We have decided that we will not renew our membership with them.

The second club we signed up for was Passport America. This has probably been the most useful club we have found during our travels when it comes to a discount.  Passport America is good for those one or two night stays.  They get us a 50% discount at RV parks that honor their card, and many times we stayed at parks for $12-15 dollars per night.  For longer term stays, the discount does not apply at these parks, but we have found it our club of choice while traveling from point A to point B.  We also found that the camping directory sent by Passport America does have errors ranging from campsites that have not taken their discount for over a year to being listed incorrectly in the directory for location and prices.  We will be renewing our membership with them.

The third club we signed up with was the Coachmen Owners Association. They send you a nice packet with a card and full of advertisements.  Membership is free, but we have found it is a pure marketing club.  There are no RV park discounts and many sales pitches.  It has not been useful to us at all.  We will not be renewing our membership with them.

The fourth and last club we signed up for was KOA. We have used it as frequently as Passport America, but for longer stays.  With membership you get a 10% discount at their parks.  KOA campsites are like McDonalds restaurants; they are pretty much the same nationwide in their setups and the amenities offered.  They pack you in like sardines, but you know what to expect when you go to one.  We think they are a bit pricey even with the discount, but we always know what we are getting when we stay at one.  They are our second choice for one or two night stays, and our first choice for stays lasting 2-3 weeks.  We will be renewing our membership with them.

What we have found, is if you are staying at a RV park for a month or longer, it is best just to contact a park directly and negotiate the price.  We have achieved 30-40% discounts for the longer stays through simple negotiation.  That is our preferred method for the longer stays.

If anyone knows of a better club/discount, feel free to email and let us know.

10-16-2009 But Can You Color Inside The Lines?

The last major item that needed to be taken cared of was the carpet.  RV-103 used to have a light brown/golden colored carpet that really didn’t match the rest of the décor very well.  It appears that sometime in the past, someone had tried to clean the carpet with a cleaning solution that didn’t do too well.  You know those instructions that come with detergents/cleaning solutions that tell you to test it first in a hidden area?  Well, it wasn’t tested in very well hidden areas.  There were these strange orange blotches in different corners that we could not get out.

Gypsy and I started contacting carpet places to have the carpet replaced.  Talk about sticker shock!  The prices ranged from $2,000 to $5,000.  One place wanted to go all out and removed our slideouts saying it was the only way it could be done.  We even contacted an auto detailer that specialized in carpets for cars.  He was the cheapest at 2 grand, but the price was still unacceptable.  We were only talking about 100 or less square feet.

Gypsy got the idea that maybe we should look into getting the carpet dyed.  (She is the smartest one of the crew but don’t tell Commander Merlin that.)  She started calling around and was not having much luck.  Most places told her they didn’t do RV’s or that the job couldn’t be done.  One older gentleman spent nearly an hour on the phone with her explaining why the carpet couldn’t be dyed because of the fibers, texture, etc.  It was getting a bit discouraging and was starting to look like we would have to pay the money quoted before for replacement.

But, Gypsy has one great quality about her; persistence.  After much searching on the web, she came across www.carpetdyers.com owned by a Mr. Rich Randall.  He was puzzled why people were telling us it couldn’t be done.  He said that he had done hundreds of RV’s and never had a problem.  After checking his references and sleeping on it, we decided to hire him for the job.  The cost was to be a few hundred dollars instead of thousands.  We agreed to meet him at the Elite Resorts at Citrus Valley RV Park in Clermont FL the next week.

This was going to be our first outing in the RV.  A sort of mini shakedown/test cruise that would last for two days and three nights.  We eagerly packed up and got on our way a few days later.

After reaching the RV park, we checked in and an elderly couple escorted us to our pull through site.  It was a beautiful and well run park that catered to the upscale crowd.  A great place for our first trip.  The couple stuck around to see if I needed assistance setting up the RV.  As I connected the sewage line and did my very first tank dump under their eagle eye, I couldn’t help but remember the scene in the movie RV where Robin Williams did the same thing in front of a large audience with hilarious/disastrous results.  I waited for the explosion of waste water and other nasty stuff, but fortunately I did just fine and we got the jacks, slide-outs, and awnings deployed without any problems.

The next day Mr. Randall arrived with his assistant.  Two hours later he was done and it was beautiful!  The carpet was a deep dark teal color and the work was impeccable.  The color extended all the way down and was dry enough to walk on within an hour.  He left no nook or cranny un-dyed.  The work was neat and there were no stains or spills in the wrong places.  To this day the color is still as vibrant as it was the day he did it.  You could tell he knew how to color inside the lines when he was a child.

We returned home much happier and ready to finish the final preparations before launch of our first mission.  Next up, clubs and our experiences with them so far.

Are We Having Fun Yet? September – October 2009

As with any home, wheels or no wheels, when you purchase it used, you end up spending a lot of money and time “making it your own.”  The same goes for us and RV-103.  Though the RV was in great shape overall, much work had to be done to turn her into our home.

Systems had to be learned, the interior designed to fit our needs, and all those little “honey do’s” that come with any home required our attention.  It turned out it required our attention nearly every day.  I was still living across the state finishing up my job and spending every weekend driving across the state to tend to RV-103.  Gypsy, who lived just down the road from where we stored the RV, was busy every day tending to the design.  It got to point that our running joke every time we faced a new expense, problem, etc was to ask each other, “Are we having fun yet?”

The TV’s were a good example of the “fun” we were having.  There were two old TV’s in the RV that we wanted to replace with HD TV’s.  Sounds simple enough doesn’t it?  Well, first you got to find the right TV’s that you want for the right price and that takes time scouring the stores, internet, etc.  My eyes were bigger than the RV could accommodate and I bought a 42” HD TV thinking I could make it fit.  I ended up returning it and buying a 37” HD TV after Gypsy beat some common sense in me by having me hold that monster up for an extending time proving to me it was just too big for the RV.

Then, there was the expense.  No matter how good of a deal you find on a quality HD TV, “cheap” is a relative term.  Good quality HD TV’s are damn expensive no matter the deal.

Then you also have to find the proper mounting brackets that will work for a moving and shaking RV.  Most brackets manufacturers assume that the wall in your house isn’t going to move except during an unlikely earthquake.  They didn’t think anyone would be fool enough to want to use their brackets to mount an ungodly expensive TV inside a moving vehicle.  I bought and returned at least 3 brackets before I found one I was comfortable enough with to entrust my TV’s fate.

The TV’s then needed to be mounted.  For the bedroom, we just removed the old 19” TV without too much trouble and installed a 27” TV in its place.  Not too much trouble.  Some modifications to the cabinet had to be done and Gypsy took over that project.  Once she was done, you would have thought the TV and associated trim had originally come with the RV.  It was seamless and well done.

The living room TV was another story.  First of all, we wanted to mount the new TV in a different location directly across from the couch instead of the old place over top of the front seats.  That required drilling holes for the wiring and modifying the cabinet across the couch to accept the brackets.  I am not a carpenter, but I have to admit it did come out pretty good.  I had thought the worst of the work was over.  Little did I know.

The old TV still needed to be removed.  It was a heavy monster that had been strapped down, glued down, and screwed down every which way till Sunday.  Gypsy and I worked for nearly 3 hours to get that thing out.  Towards the end I cussed so much Gypsy thought I had joined the Navy.

The old TV’s were still in good working order so we took them to a thrift store.  At least they could be of use to some unfortunate family.

Other work we did involved replacing the dining table, adding a beverage cart, etc.  Next up, the carpet!

09-10/2009 Closing Out Old Lives.

One of the tasks that is always required when starting a new life is the sometimes messy business of closing out the old lives.  Accounts need paid off, closed, notices given, moving and storage done, etc.

I know there is a poor economy, but I was surprised at how some of the utilities reacted when I closed my accounts.  Take Brighthouse Cable for example.  The only account I had with them was for my cable internet.  A yearly expense of around $600.  Chump change for a multi-million dollar company, but you thought I had just canceled a $600,000 account judging by their reaction.  I received no more than three phone calls from the company within a week after I scheduled my account to be closed asking if they could find any way to keep me as their customer and wanting to know why I would leave them.  It seems leaving their service area is not good enough considering the phone calls pleading me to stay, let alone the emails I still get to this day.  My worst breakups during my dating days were easier!  They even had the repairman make a last ditch plea when he came to pick up the cable modem.

When Gypsy turned in her notice, the employees made sure to give her a great send off.  Since they all work rotating shifts independent of each other, Gypsy enjoyed/endured no less than 5 “goodbye” parties in her honor.

Little AstronautMy co-workers gave me a such a sendoff that I think it may become legendary at KSC.  From little astronaut balloons to lead all of us to the party location, to the feast fit for a king, to all the gifts and good wishes.  To ensure they didn’t miss me too much, they made a “twin” of me to hang around the space center.  My “twin” made so many appearances that upper management was inclined to warn my co-workers that it best not show up inside any of the Shuttles.  I’m not sure what they would do if it did…fire it or arrest it?

Twin with gifts

The local squirrels gave Merlin a hearty send off.  She chased one off the lanai and it brought back 6 of its brothers to tell her “goodbye.”  Our fearful leader was trying to get through the patio door meowing so loud it sounded like a tortured soul in hell.  That was the last time she saw them before we left.

09-20-09 Picking up RV-103

Gypsy found a 2004 Coachman Santara 37 ft long for sale in TN.  She found it through the RV Dreams site which connects you with private sellers.  The price was right, the downpayment was right, and the terms right.  What was left was knowing if the RV was right or not.  It was and is.

An elderly couple were the sole owners of the RV and had kept good care of it.  He is 80 and she is 75 and the “bus” was starting to be too much for them to handle.  They were eager to sell and we were eager to buy.

After a few email inquiries, we decided to take the chance and make an offer.  They accepted and the deal was shortly sealed.  On 09-20-09, my brother Tristan and I left to pick up the RV.

It was a trip run by the keystone cops.  We flew out of Tampa to Atlanta and was to make a connection to Chattanooga.  We got off a hour late due to weather up north.  Once we arrived, we found out that US airways had overbooked the connecting flight.  Why airlines would do such an asinine thing is beyond me, but they sure ticked off a lot of customers that would never use them again.  Many of us got “bumped” off the connecting flight including a young couple with a baby.  The attendant was rude and felt it was “ok” to bump people and not assist them.  All she would give us was the US Airway number to call for refunds or to reschedule.  Since the rescheduled flight was not flying until the next day and was already overbooked, we were forced to find another way to complete the journey.

Thankfully, there as an attendant from a rival airline that tipped us off to a van service that would transport us to TN.  We boarded the van for the nearly 3 hour trip crammed in so tight that we nearly were sitting on each other laps.  Upon arrival to the van home base in TN, we had to hire a cab to complete the journey.

Upon seeing the RV, I can’t describe how beautiful it was.  The seller spent evening in the pouring rain showing us the systems onboard.  He and his wife then took us out for dinner.  We found them to be wonderful hosts and enjoyed their company very much.  To be alive and so vibrant at that age is something we would all envy and they had it in spades.  Good people and good hosts.

We were going to find a hotel to stay in for the night, but they insisted we stay in the RV.  We watched TV and later fell asleep to the sound of rain on the rooftop.

In the morning they treated us to a home cooked breakfast with home canned jams that beat anything you ever find in a store.  We then took the RV down to the bank, completed the paperwork, and parted ways.

My brother and I started the long 9 hr drive back to Clearwater in the pouring rain.  It had been raining buckets for over 24 hours and local flooding has caused schools to be cancelled.  As we got closer to Atlanta, the rain was coming down as hard as what you would experience in a hurricane without the wind.   Interstate traffic was slowed down to about 20 mph for over 30 miles due to the rain.  The amazing thing was that the GA state troopers were out in this vertical flood still writing tickets.  Now that is job dedication!

This trip was my first occasion to fill the 75 gallon gas tank.  As I watched the numbers on the pump whiz by at light speed, I felt my bottom lip quiver uncontrollably and tears start to well up as the price quickly passed $150.  Safety tip:  Have tissues handy when you fill up or you will find yourself sobbing into the shirt of some poor schmuck next to you trying to fill up the family car.

We arrived in Clearwater late that evening and picked up Gypsy on our way to the storage yard.  We had a bottle of champaign and christened her RV-103 Discovery.  Now the real work would begin….making her our home.

Coachman Santara
Coachman Santara

Finding the right RV: July – August 2009

When I first decided to take an early retirement from KSC, Gypsy and I quickly realized we had an opportunity to follow our dream of traveling the country in an RV.  Neither one of us had ever done something like that before and had many questions.

Determining what type of RV we wanted is like following a Preliminary Design Review for a spacecraft.  What do you want to use it for?  How large?  What features do you need?  Want?  What are your limits?  How much do you want to spend?  Many questions requiring much research and honest soul searching.

Since we had this dream for a couple years now, we already had a good idea of what we wanted.  We knew we wanted to travel full time in comfort and ease.  We knew what our budget was.  But, that was pretty much it.  Many decisions had yet to be made but without the information of what is available, we couldn’t even come up with the proper questions to ask.

So, we plunged into research.  Gypsy had at least been on board large RV’s before, but I had not.  I had no clue as to the size or capabilities.  So, one of our first jobs was to visit some RV dealers so I could walk in them and test drive.  Our “tours” were beneficial for both of us for we got to see many types of RV’s and the varied ways they could be laid out.

It wasn’t long before we knew for certain we wanted a Class A motorhome between 35-40 ft long.  We knew how we wanted the inside laid out, and a better idea of the options we wanted.  The more research we did, the more firm the picture of our ideal RV came into focus.

The next step was to start searching for the RV that met our criteria.  Emails and links flew back and forth between Gypsy and I at lightening speed each day and night as we learned and searched for the “perfect” RV.  Many times we thought we had found one, but they would end up being discarded for a myrid of reasons upon closer inspection.  Too much money, wrong layout, missing a feature we wanted or had too many features we didn’t need, too old, etc.  At times I got discouraged, but Gypsy never lost hope or gave up.  After many false leads, Gypsy finally struck gold in Tennessee.

Welcome to RV-103 Discovery!

The commander and crew of Discovery welcome you to the Missions of RV-103!

Gypsy is a professional of 20+ years and a very tolerant and patient woman when it comes to me.

Our fearful leader, Commander Merlin, is our cat and she is neither patient nor tolerant.  Sometimes I am not sure as to why she continues to claim ownership of us; though it might be due to the fact that we buy her food and clean her litter box.

Rocketman, that is me,  recently took an early retirement from Kennedy Space Center.  I worked on the thermal protection system of the Space Shuttle Fleet.  Shuttle Discovery was the first ship I worked on and it has always had a special place in my heart.  The official NASA designation for Discovery is Orbiter Vehicle 103 or OV-103, hence the name RV-103 when it came time to name our RV.

The purpose of this little blog is to chronicle our adventures and mis-adventures as we start our new life as full-time RV’ers over the next 2-3 years traveling the country.  The crew of Discovery hopes that you will join us in our explorations.

Be safe and well,

Commander Merlin, Gypsy, and Rocketman

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