We spent this past week in our RV, at a campground in Little Tallapoosa Park in Carrollton, Georgia. It’s only about 40 minutes from our house and 30-35 from Brian’s shop, so we got more of a taste of real life than a vacation.
This is the first trip we’ve taken, and the first time we’ve spent more than a few hours at a time in our Dutch Star. Before this week, we planned, worried, theorized, speculated and wondered. Although we didn’t go far or stay long, actually living in the RV provided a much-needed reality check and a few surprises.
Here’s what we learned.
Minuscule counter space isn’t a big issue.
Like many RVs, our Dutch Star’s counters have integrated covers for the sink and stove, so we gain counter space when those things aren’t in use. I don’t like stovetop cooking, so that space is almost always available.
There’s also a pull-out cutting board, as well as a flip-up extension that adds a couple of square feet. I put up the extension as soon as we were parked and level, and it remained up throughout our trip. The cutting board is less useful to me because it sits at too low a height to be comfortable for me to use.
Both sinks see frequent use since we’re hand washing dishes, so they’re not covered much. But it’s nice to be able to use one side as a prep surface and the other to rinse veggies.
We use waaayyyy too much water.
Our washer/dryer combo, RV toilet and water-saving shower head and faucets all use less water than their counterparts in our house. But the Dutch Star’s 65-gallon grey tank fills up fast – especially when I do laundry.
At the house our gray water disappears down the drain and that’s the end of the story. In the RV, by halfway through our week-long trip we’d already dumped the grey tank three times.
That works out to about four tanks of fresh water in a week – an unsustainable consumption rate for wanna-be boondockers.
It’s true that water use presents less of an issue if we’re at a campground with hookups. Since that’s not where we want to spend our days, though, we’ll need to do better. Much better.
Glamping with our Greyhounds is even more difficult than we expected.
I’ve written at least a couple of times about worries over how RVing would go with our old girl Laurie and her neurotic adopted brother, John Lee. You would think since we prepared for the worst at most we’d get what we expected. But it was worse in almost every respect.
I’m not going to sugar coat our experience RVing with our dogs. It was tough. If you’re serious about RVing and camping or glamping with an elderly pet – especially a large one, this is something you need to think about.
We got a soft crate for the trip (and eventually for the road), to keep Laurie safe while traveling and keep her from wandering at night and peeing in the RV. Despite taking her out at 10 or 11 at night, and waking up between 3 and 5 in the morning, most nights she hasn’t been able to hold her bladder. Or her bowels.
We’ve tried to make crating a positive experience, but Laurie ain’t having it. At best she goes in reluctantly, attempts escape unless we’re super quick, and pants the entire time she’s in her cozy little pen. She doesn’t need to be confined much when we’re at the house, because most of the time someone’s around to watch her. I wonder if infrequent crating only irks her more, but whaddaya do?
Not surprisingly, Laurie has also decided that she does *not* like being carried through the narrow RV doorway and down its steps, which have a disconcerting bit of give to them. She’s a crafty girl, though, and decided if she was super quick she could shoot past me, down the steep steps, and out to do her business.
Except she hasn’t accepted that her brain is way ahead of her body (I can relate). Twice she surprised me by barreling down the steps and crashing to the ground. Once she landed completely on her side in the gravel. She’s tried that move again, but I am wise to her self-destructive ways.
Then there’s my shadow, John Lee, who can’t be without me. We should all have somebody so loyal in our lives. Except it’s getting like that neurotic boyfriend who falls in love way too quick and won’t let you alone. If he could text he’d do it every. single. time I step outside the RV.
IRL dogs can’t text. So John Lee does the next best thing.
OMG it is like having a toddler in the RV. I am a prisoner. When Brian is around it is slightly better. Instead of barking John Lee only paces and pants the ENTIRE TIME I AM NOT IN HIS SIGHT.
Both dogs are messy drinkers, which gets kind of gross in a small space. Poor Laurie doesn’t have enough teeth to effectively keep her food and water in her mouth at meal times, so her dining area is extra gross. All good reasons why we decided before our trip that we’d feed the dogs outside.
But no, that did not work for Laurie. She refused to eat outside. We were worried about her stress level on this trip, as well as her bony body, so we caved pretty much immediately.
We love our dogs. As long as they’re with us we will muddle along as best we can, attempting to keep both humans and hounds as sane as possible.
But when their time on this earth is through, we will not easily become dog parents again.
The overwhelming stench of dog shit isn’t permanent.
Having dealt with all manner of bodily excretions – both human and hound – since I was a big sister toting dirty diapers for mom, I know from experience there’s little that soap and water can’t fix. Add in a pair of gloves and I can fearlessly tackle nearly any mess with only minimal retching.
As a big brother and a long-time single dad of three, Brian didn’t escape dealing with a fair amount of disgusting disasters. Still, he feared that after a couple of accidents the RV might smell like a dog pound.
Friday Sunday as I write, and during our trip we’ve cleaned up three five shitty dog crate messes. Thanks to onboard laundry and a washable crate pad and travel bed, we dealt with the dookie in short order. As we cleaned, a scented candle and a few shots of Febreze masked the fecal fragrance.
Crossing my fingers that there’ll be no incidents involving urine and RV carpet. I know from experience that’s a “gift” that keeps on giving.
I thought we were glamping. Then Mother Nature showed up.
Dirt. Gravel. Blood-sucking insects. Sweltering heat. Rain. You’ll get at least three out of five on any given day in a Georgia summer, camping or not. That I hoped a location 40 minutes from our house might be any different tells you how optimistic I am. Or perhaps how delusional I might be.
Georgia summers are a hot, humid, uncomfortable mess. Water – being on it or in it – is the only bearable way to be outdoors during summer in the South.
The campground we’re at has a small splash pad that’d do the trick. But since we can’t take the dogs and leaving them alone in the RV invites disaster, I stayed inside unless the dogs needed to go out. We never meant for this to be a vacation, but it kind of sucked to spend so little time outdoors.
As soon as we pulled into the campground we got the dogs out for a potty walk. Fire ants were everywhere. Despite doing a crazy stomping dance as I walked, several were undeterred and managed to bite me. Before they died.
The following morning, Brian returned from a walk.
“I found where all the mosquitoes live,” he told me. I took note so I could avoid the place unless I’d coated myself in insect repellant.
Mosquitoes usually ignore Brian, but he came back from that walk with bites that developed a blistery head. I applied insect repellent when I went out. Buggers didn’t care. Bit me through two layers in places – including one right on my ass crack and the other on the immediately opposite location.
On our last night in the campground, yellow jackets that had buzzed around our campsite all week suddenly decided they didn’t like Brian’s blue shirt. Or maybe they were pissed because up until that night they had the area to themselves because it was so miserable out, then suddenly there were four humans invading their territory.
Our daughter Amanda and son-in-law Josh came to visit, and as we finished dinner a yellow jacket zapped Brian’s forehead. We backed away from the crosstie berm where the beastly bugs made their home. Apparently that wasna’t good enough, because a few minutes later the angry assholes were back.
They stung Brian in at least a dozen places. He later began feeling queasy. He usually refuses medication but, fearing a worse reaction, he agreed to take the Benadryl Amanda offered.
It knocked him out cold. But he finally got an entire night’s sleep!
In his drug-induced state, Brian never heard the pocket doors clunking as I closed off the bedroom, the heavy RV door slamming with each dog-poop-related in and out, or the washer as I loaded Laurie’s crap-covered travel bed and started the cycle.
Too bad it took yellow jackets and drugs, but is it okay to appreciate this silver lining after months of sleep deprivation?
It really is wonderful to have an RV that offers all the comforts of home in the middle of the outdoors. But as beautiful and calming as it is to spend time communing with Mother Nature, sometimes she’s a real bitch.
The queen bed is big enough.
We’re not giants, but we’re not that small, either. We have a king bed at the house, but when when RV shopping time we put a king on the “nice to have” list rather than labeling it a must-have. They’re just not that common among the RVs that met our other criteria.
Maybe a queen size bed would have been enough regardless, but the fact that Brian’s snoring has significantly diminished makes a queen work a whole lot better. Thank goodness, because there’s no room to build a wall of pillows to block the noise.
One toilet is enough.
We have three bathrooms at the house for just the two of us. That is damn ridiculous. But it does come in handy when the need is urgent and el baño es ocupado.
Maybe it’s that our intestinal systems are on different-enough schedules, but we never had a conflict over the toilet. Other typical bathroom uses are split up (extra sink in the bedroom, separate shower) so we don’t need to use the lav unless we “gotta go.”
We should buy Mutt Mitts by the case.
At the house we have a rake/pan combo that makes quick work of keeping our yard poop-free, without having to stoop over. We didn’t bring it with us because it’d mean reserving space for two large-ish crap-coated items. Impractical and unsanitary, so nope. Since we’re (mostly) responsible pet owners, we needed a more-portable shit-scooping strategy.
Mutt Mitts are the least worst poop-pickup bags we’ve tried. They’re thicker than the average bag, and the bottom section – where you place your hand to grab the poop – is two-ply and gussetted. While the additional layer might provide only another mil between my hand and my pet’s poo, it’s nice to have insurance.
The bags’ gussets, density and large size mean they’ll hold a lot of poop. While we’ve practiced our pickup game enough that we use only a single bag per walk, that’s 3-4 bags per day. More than 100 bags per month. That’s a lot of bags.
The water tasted so bad even the dogs didn’t want to drink it.
Before our trip I only had the occasional glass of RV water while working in the rig. It tasted like plastic, and I wondered if that was just something we’d have to deal with since the fresh water holding tank is made of plastic.
Brian flushed and filled the fresh water tank soon after we got the RV. No telling how long it sat with the same water in it since Gordon, the previous owner, only used it for occasional trips. Gordon also mentioned disliking the ice produced by the ice maker, so much so that he turned it off and used ice cube trays to make his own.
The fresh water tank is only one potential cause of lousy water. When flushing and filling it didn’t do the trick, Brian flushed and filled it again – this time with a sanitizing solution. Yet the water was still off enough that it even affected our coffee. Two other factors affecting taste are the water source and the filter on the RV.
Since our house water tastes pretty good straight out of the tap, but did not when we ran it through the RV system, we’ll probably change the filter and see if that helps. John Lee turned up his nose at a bowl of water drawn straight from the spigot, though, and this is a dog who’ll drink out of a muddy puddle. So the source is a definite possibility as well.
Lousy water is simply one of those things we’ll encounter from time to time as we travel. We decided that since we already have an expensive Berkey water filter/dispenser, we’d try to find a place for it or buy a smaller Berkey. Brian went back to the house to retrieve our Berkey, we figured out where to set it up, and we’ve had great water – and coffee – in the RV ever since.
The sinks are plastic and break relatively easily 😦
I fucked up. Big time, money-wise.
Since the water (and the ice made with it) tasted like crap, Brian got a bag of ice. I slammed the bag of ice into the kitchen sink to break up a large chunk that had melted and refrozen together.
“Don’t do that!” Brian shouted. “The sinks are acrylic. They can’t handle that kind of force.”
Oops. OK. I won’t do that again. No harm done, though. But I was wrong.
The next day I discovered water all over the kitchen floor. Further investigation revealed the source: a crack in the kitchen sink – probably right where I’d dumped the ice.
The sink is integral to the countertop, so it’s not like you can just pop it out and plunk in another one. Even if you could, the size is weird and there is almost no extra room to try to shoehorn in a normal sink. Or really, any sink.
I had no idea. I assumed the sinks were crafted of the same materials and had the same strength as the countertops
We found a guy here near Atlanta that repairs all manner of solid surface sinks and countertops. I sent him photos and videos from over and underneath the sink, and he thinks he can probably cut a hole in the countertop and fit in the sink that Brian miraculously discovered.
Brian has crazy Google-fu. I don’t even know how he found this sink. It’s got oddball dimensions. Covers are available for it, which is totally weird for a stainless steel sink but completely awesome for a sink going (hopefully…please God) into an RV with limited counter space. The price was actually fairly reasonable.
If this works it will be even better than the sink I broke. Well, except for the $400+ we’ll have to shell out to pay for the sink and its installation, and the hours Brian will spend disconnecting and reconnecting the plumbing he reworked only last month
Dumping the black tank was (thankfully) nothing like the infamous RV movie scene.
Day three of our trip marked a memorable first: we dumped our black tank – a 45-gallon repository for whatever goes down our RV’s toilet.
I say “we” dumped it, but I’m sure you all know who donned the thick rubber gloves and pulled the levers.
I did have Brian explain everything he did so I could do it at some point in the future (maybe) without ending up covered in sewage. We watched through a clear elbow in the sewer hose as watery brown waste rushed through the hose and into the designated hole in the ground. In a disgusting sort of way, it was fascinating.
Brian’s tank-dumping lesson stuck enough that the following day I dumped the grey tank all by myself.
I wonder if there’s a Girl Scout badge for that?
Message from the universe
It’s been a busy, stressful week. All I had to do work-wise was one client call. That plus dealing with some household business and the fallout from my sink screw-up are all I’ve had on my official to-do list. Well, and this post, which I have been writing off and on since a couple of days after arriving at the campground and am trying to furiously finish as Brian begins breaking camp.
This trip was an experiment. A preview. It wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops (though we did get a rainbow or two). RV life is our future day-to-day – not some limited-time vacation where we simply throw money at problems to make them go away.
Yesterday new campers arrived in the spot across the road from our site. A woman, perhaps in her mid-sixties, jumped out and began setting up camp. Or trying, anyway. Brian helped her, and learned that she was traveling with her husband who had Alzheimer’s.
She said they had just pulled the RV out of storage for the trip, after four years. Brian speculated from the woman’s struggle to set up the RV that her husband had taken care of these tasks in the past. While she was inside her husband needed to use the bathroom, but apparently it wasn’t yet ready.
Other family members had taken up a site down the road a bit. The woman told her husband to use their bathroom. Instead, he took his walking cane and made his way across the road to us. I didn’t realize he had Alzheimer’s. It didn’t matter in that moment, anyway. He was a nice old man who’d asked to use the bathroom.
When he was through he apologized because he couldn’t figure out how to flush the toilet. I just figured their Monaco was different – not that he had dementia.
“This is a real nice coach,” he said on his way out. And then, “It sure is a lot of fun.”
A few minutes later I had to carry Laurie outside again. Looking at the Monaco parked in the campsite across the road, neither our parallels nor contrasts were lost on me.