February 09, 2004

May 1, 2003

T-minus One Year, and Counting.

Exactly one year from today, I will graduate from college. I will be 30 years old, this will be my first degree and it will have taken me seven-ish years of schooling to obtain said degree. I will have BA in Marketing, from Fort Lewis College Durango, Colorado, and then, in typical Colorado fashion, I will quit my relatively high paying job, pack up the house and hit the road. It will be just me, my husband Dan, and our Dodge Turbo Diesel 2500 Pickup, with a Lance 810 Light cab-over camper. Well that, and all of the toys we can fit in, on or behind our rig.

On June 15, 2004 we are hitting the open road. Our intended plan is to spend a year, and $15,000, driving across North America. Thus begins our journey. This book/blog will be the story of how we fulfilled our dream, complete with where to stay, how to budget, what meals are compatible with our camper oven and our limited budget, and where to go when money's running low and beer is a necessity.

My hope is that this book/ blog will make for an entertaining read, and that someone, somewhere will be inspired to follow a similar path. Or that you will read our account and realize that we were crazy people, and you'll learn from our experiences.

Really this story begins on October 30th, 2002. That is when Dan and I flew to the Oakland Airport with a cashiers check for $32, 800, in Dan's jacket, to purchase a truck and camper we had never seen in person. Living in a small town in Colorado for 12 years, has apparently removed all of the city savvy that I once valued so highly. In retrospect, meeting a stranger in a dark desolate airport parking lot, with what amounts to $33,000 in cash in our pockets, to purchase a truck we found on the Internet, is not smart. Kids don't try this at home! But apparently our karma was all in alignment and not only did the transaction go smoothly, but we fell instantly in love with this aluminum embodiment of our decade old dream.

Our first night with the camper was a rough one. We learned a few valuable lessons.
Lesson #1: when you live in a small town and are used to driving a Subaru Legacy, the change to a 3/4 ton long bed truck with a 3500 lb camper on the back and California's 101, is abrupt and truly frightening.
Lesson #2: when the rig is all loaded up, it is 11'4" tall and seems 50ft wide, clearance is an issue. It sways, it moves, it doesn't like to stop abruptly.
Lesson #3: it requires that you lock its rear door. This lesson was a hard one for us, since we never lock anything, not our house, not our cars, not our $1000+ Mountain bikes. But the trailer door likes to fly open at around 55 mph if you don't lock it.

The height issue became apparent once we reached our destination, Carmel, CA. If you have never been to Carmel, it is a charming beachside community about 2 hours south of San Francisco. The town is lush with hundred-year-old Cyprus trees. Apparently the townspeople of Carmel don't feel the need to put up height notices. As a result of this we manage to clip a tree and break our air conditioner, we have now owned this camper for 3 hours. Lesson 2: learned.

The next week was filled with many other lessons, lessons like, how to empty the black and gray water tanks, how to refill propane tanks, a camper oven cooks at a substantially higher temp than the dial says it does, how cold the desert can get at night in November, and how short some of the tunnels in Yosemite are.
Once we got her home though, life was great. We spent winter weekends camping in the parking lots of ski areas. Nothing beats getting up at 8:30 and walking to the ski lift, for first chair, and not having to pay hundreds of dollars for a ski-in-ski-out condo. Having the camper transformed normal weekend trips into real vacations. I would rather stay in my camper than in any hotel. And since our camper resides in the back of a four-wheel drive workhorse she can go virtually anywhere.

Now that we have procured the mode of transportation it is time to get the means. Dan and I have budgeted about $40 a day for our trip. This requires that we save $15,000 in just over a year and a half. In order to reach this we have to stow away $750.00 per month. I should interject here that we are not rich. Combined we earn around $75,000 per year; this is of course before taxes. Durango is a very expensive town to live in, and we have some pretty expensive hobbies. Fortunately Dan is a saver. He was able to pay cash for the truck; admittedly this was a big help. If we had a $600 per month truck payment we couldn't do this.

Here's how we do it. We put the money into savings with our first checks of the month. The remaining money gets divvied up in two ways. We give ourselves and allowance, around $100 each per week. This is ours to spend freely on meals out, clothes, gas, whatever, no questions asked. All remaining funds go into our mutual account from which we pay all of our bills. If we manage to save money in the mutual account we put it in savings, or put it towards my student loans. This doesn't happen often.

Of course $15,000 is not a lot. Forty dollars a day is tight, especially when you consider that as of today diesel is 1.89 a gallon. Also we do enjoy the occasional (read as daily) frosty malted beverages and those can add up, but fortunately for us, this is why God made Mexico. We intend to eat simply, cooking most meals in the camper, and buying whatever local products are most economical. However, I will not eat SPAM, anything “hashed”, parts of animals that were able to express themselves, lima beans, or anything claiming to be a “seafood special”. Also one particularly bad night in1993 left me unable to even look at chicken wings and angel food cake. Aside from these stipulations, anything goes.

Our hope is to find free camping. This is know to RV-er’s as “Boondocking”, or camping in primitive areas. “Primitive” to the average RV-er is any place that does not have electric, water, sewage, telephone, Internet, and cable hookups. Since we will not be bringing a television I think we can live without the cable. We have a small generator, which is enough to power the all important stereo and coffee maker, and to re-charge our batteries. I imagine that once a week we will stay in an established campground to handle the various pumping requirements. We intend to bring an international cell-phone, purely for emergencies, and so that our families can contact us. Most of our correspondence will be through email, we have a laptop computer and plan to find net-cafes or libraries on a weekly basis.

We are planning to do a fair amount of mooching along the way as well. Especially while in the U.S., we will be parking in friends’ driveways, begging family members for meals and beers, and otherwise ensuring that we are never welcome in their homes again.

February 07, 2004

Moab, Utah- May 2003

Once a month Dan and I have a weekend off together. Last weekend was one of these rare occasions, to celebrate we loaded our camper and headed off for Moab, Utah.

This was a test run of sorts. Soon after purchasing the camper we realized that our hobbies would require the addition of a rack system to the roof of the camper. We called around but it seemed no one was in the business of installing racks onto campers such as ours. Not to be dismayed we decided we would do it ourselves. We called Lance and asked if they could send us instructions, we were informed that they did not recommend the addition of a rack to our particular model, seems they hadn't thought of the need for roof top storage until the 2001 models. My resourceful husband asked them to send us the schematics, and off to non-recommended camper additions we go.

Installing the rack system was a very stressful undertaking. It required our drilling multiple holes into the roof of the camper and four holes THROUGH the camper. The measurements for these four lag-bolt holes required an advanced engineering degree, unfortunately Dan's degree is in Biology, and my business studies went out the window after I couldn't hire anyone to do it for me.

We managed to drill all of the holes so that they came through to the interior inside of the cabinets. Only one time did we have to re-drill, which wasn't too bad given all of the obstacles in our way, namely the air-conditioning unit, duct work, wiring, and the refrigerator vent. With our new rack system installed we loaded up our kayaks on one side and a rocket box filled with kayaking gear on the other. Then we were off. As if to provide us with the ultimate testing grounds for our new rack, the winds started to kick up, soon reaching 50 mph. The rack passed this brutal test with flying colors.

Moab, for those of you who have never been, is located in eastern Utah. Moab is in the desert and is a mountain bikers Mecca. We spent two days riding and one day kayaking the Moab Daily section of the Colorado River. I cannot recommend Moab enough. It is a town of friendly helpful people, who happen to live in one big playground.

Traveling to Moab: Try and go in the spring or fall, Moab is hotter than the surface of the sun in the summer, which makes strenuous outdoor activity a bit rough. The winters are lovely, and sort of a hidden secret since the warmer months are definitely busier. Camping in and around the town is plentiful, if you get there early enough you can score a spot in one of the BLM spots for $5-$10 a night. We spent a night on the river in a free BLM campground near Fisher Towers, (no fee = no toilets). There are many private campgrounds too, for those of you who like a pool or a square dance.

This trip was our first to a warm climate and thus the first time we'd really been able to have running water in the camper.
Lesson #4: the holding tanks. Our camper can carry 33 gallons of fresh water. The black water tank (read as the crapper) holds 10 gallons. The all important gray water tank (all used water except for crapper water) holds 11 gallons, or roughly 1/3 less water than a really short shower requires, after you have washed the night's dishes. This lesson was learned the hard way. Resolution: use the outside shower and covet the gray water space as if it was the only thing between you and a septic system back-up. Oh wait it is. Lesson #4 learned.

February 05, 2004

So you know who we are and what we like to do.

Dan and Rachel Summer 2003

Dan going to kayak the surf in California 2002

Dan is a Champion Skijorer

Overlooking Canyonlands

Diving in Boniare, N.A.

Lessons on traveling North America

When we began planning this trip we had no idea how distinct the borders in North America truly were. We foolishly assumed that since our destinations were all on the same continent that it would be easy to visit these places. Not even NAFTA can help you find a one-size-fits-all plan for cell phones coverage, Internet coverage or insurance. Even our satellite radio dies at the borders.

First obstacle cell phone: I have spent MANY hours surfing and calling for cellular phone coverage and rate plan information; here is what I have learned.

·Nobody offers a reasonably priced plan that considers North America you home area. In other words, no matter how extensive the coverage map looks, you will be charged roaming, and most likely international roaming, for all calls made outside of your home country.

·Solution: get a plan with a company that allows you to change your plan options for free, (it helps if your husband is partial to the comany's spokeswoman). We are getting a plan that gives us 600 minutes for $39.99/ month. This will work well for us while we are in the U.S. This company will allow us to drop down to the base plan when we don’t need all 600 minutes. So when we are in Mexico or Canada, we call and drop the plan to the $19.99/ month 150 minutes level, and use the phone only in emergencies, but we keep our all important voice mail account.

oWhen in Mexico and Canada, we rely on country specific calling cards to check our voice mail every few days, and then email replies or use the cards to telephone friends and family. Our phone will work in many parts of Canada (good for emergencies), but carries about an .85/ minute fee.
oWe are also getting an unlimited data option for our U.S. travels, this is an additional $4.99/ month. (The phone we are getting is a web phone and we can surf limtied web sites from it). Add in picture mail, and our estimated monthly bill will be 49.97 (T-Mobile)
Cost of phone $200.00

For Internet connection we have purchased an aircard (cost around $250.00, but you can find deals from time to time), and T-Mobile's unlimited wireless access plan. This will allow us to surf the net from our laptop anywhere T-Mobile offers service- basically if our cell phone works, the aircard works. In smaller areas and across the borders we will rely on net cafes and libraries. Fee: 29.99/ month. When we are out of the U.S. we can suspend our Internet service and pay only $10/ month.

*Verizon offers a similar service and their connection speed is faster, but the monthly fee is $79.99.

Second obstacle Health Insurance: ahh yes the joys of individual health insurance. Well since this isn’t the most interesting of topics I’ll cut right to the chase:

·We are getting a catastrophic plan that has a high deductible, $5100.00, however it covers all costs at 100% after the deductible, and most importantly for us, it is not an HMO or PPO, so we can see any doctor anywhere. Most other plans that are in this price range are PPO plans and you run into big problems when you are out-of-network, coinsurance goes from 80/20 to 60/40. So unless we could drag our injured bodies back into the U.S. we’d be looking at tons out-of-pocket. Price $1720 for both of us. (Fortis)

oAnother benefit of this plan for us… It is offered through State Farm our auto insurer, and gets us a multiple policy discount on our auto insurance.

·Additionally we are getting a travel insurance plan. This plan costs around $300 it covers the first $10,000 of medical expenses while on “vacation”, read as our entire year. This will reimburse us for the deductible on our health insurance plan. (Travel Guard)

·Health Insurance Total. $2020.00 for the year.

Third Obstacle Auto Insurance: yawn, I know. The reason this is problematic for us is because our RV is both an auto and an RV. Our policy therefore must cover both. And of course Mexico has it’s own ideas on auto insurance so you have to buy a separate policy for down there.

·If you are going to be in Mexico for more than a few weeks then often the most economical method is to buy a policy for the entire year. In most cases a 3-month policy costs more than a year’s. Some U.S. policies will cover you in Canada, but you’ll need to ask, and obtain a Canadian Ins. Card from you insurance company.

·We can drop our policy down to a very basic collision plan during the months we are in Mexico. This will cut our premiums down to a very reasonable amount for the period of time we are not using it, while allowing us to have uninterrupted coverage. This is very important, since many companies penalize you if you go any period of time without a U.S. policy.

·Costs: Annual full-coverage U.S. plan approximately $1200.00
·Annual full-coverage Mexico plan approximately $350.00

·Auto Insurance Total. $1550.00 for the year.

·Note: auto insurance does not cover the contents of our camper, we must carry renter’s or home owner’s insurance in order to protect our personal belongings.

So sorry to have subjected you all to this, but really if you ever plan a trip similar to ours, you will find this information helpful, i swear.