Charlie and Landra's Transition Into the RV Lifestyle
March of 2004 brought changes to our lives which made us reconsider our near-term future. As much as we enjoyed living in the Dallas area for fourteen years, we have been yearning for a change in landscape from the flat plains of north Texas.
The Idea is Born
It all started as a job change. Charlie has been working for many years as a computer consultant and Landra as the administrator of a 62 room assisted living facility. Our jobs were rewarding and stressful, and we were ready for a slower pace. Still in our early and mid thirties, the prospect of starting brand new careers was exciting.
Once we decided that career changes were in order, the next question was what would that look like. We had a long term goal to eventually move from the Dallas area to a place with cool mountains, clear lakes, and proximity to the ocean. The most obvious choice was to change careers in Dallas and leave the scenery for later. Over the span of a few days as we were considering our options, Landra suggested that we choose the scenery sooner than later—she proposed that we sell our house and most of our belongings and see the country in an RV. In short order we clenched this option as the one to pursue and started making plans.
Making a Living
Both of us being planners, the spreadsheets and checklists started flowing. In short order our transition from city dwellers to RV roamers was planned with great detail, except the part about making a living. Since we were decades from retirement, finding work in our new RV lifestyle was essential for paying the bills. In addition to being good planners, both of us are good budgeters and savers. Our savings took some pressure off from having jobs already lined up and we left that part of the plan loosely defined and to God's provision.
Charlie planned to stay in the computer field, but in a less stressful capacity than his previous position in a global company, preferably something that could be accomplished from the RV. Landra needed a break from management and wanted something with much less responsibilities, at least for now.
The need for making a living made it necessary to arrange our new RV lifestyle to include an extended stay in one place for six to nine months each year. During this time we would find local employment and get to know the surrounding nature on the weekends. We would make a major re-location about once per year. Based on this plan, we had to select our first major destination. After fourteen years in the humid Texas heat, mountains were the prime destination. Taking a large number of variables into account, we narrowed our choices down to Colorado and southern Oregon. Both have the mountains we were seeking, but in the end Oregon won out because it also has the ocean and a milder winter. The Colorado winter concerned us because we did not want to set ourselves up for failure in our first year. Don't worry Colorado—we'll come to see you soon enough.
Nine Month Transition
Anxious as we were to start our new life, nothing was pressing us to leave Dallas in a hurry. On the other hand we had a large number of things to accomplish to make our plans a reality, such as: learn all about RV's (we never owned or traveled in one), buy an RV, sell most of our possessions, put house in shape for sale, move out of house, store some of our belongings, sell house, and sell the cars.
That is a long list of major tasks while working full time. To allow us plenty of time to accomplish them without adding extra stress on ourselves, we chose December 18-th as the date to shove off from Texas, giving ourselves nine months.
Perhaps we reversed the ideal sequence by first choosing the RV lifestyle and then learning about it. Nevertheless, a stop at the book store and resources on the Internet started our RV education. With so much information to digest, we split our research duties. Landra was primarily responsible for the lifestyle research and Charlie for the technical aspects of all things RV. We briefed each other about our findings and shared the research duties for important aspects such as what type of RV to buy and the features it should contain. One of the "must" features on Landra's list was a washer and dryer. She felt that doing laundry outside our home would greatly diminish the enjoyment of our new life. This feature alone played a major role in the size and layout of the RV.
Selecting RV Type
Armed with good advice from the RV Consumer Group resources, we knew to choose the RV type first. It was clear early on that our fulltime RV lifestyle would need a spacious RV design, narrowing the field down to either a class A motor home or a fifth wheel trailer. At the end we decided that the fifth wheel would be the ideal choice for our needs. This decision required one more to be made: What type of truck do we need to pull it?
Our desire was to stay within the manufacturers' weight limits of the RV and the tow truck. Toward this effort more research was required to get an idea of how heavy the fifth wheel trailer will be. To arrive at this answer, we narrowed the RV manufacturer choices down to three and chose one or two models from each. This exercise provided an approximate weight of the trailer in the 15 to 18 thousand pound range.
Buying the Truck
In 2004 the only trucks rated to tow such weight were the medium duty trucks, starting with the one and a half tons. Most trucks in this range were diesel with a few gas engine models available. Not knowing anything about diesel engines, Charlie set out to learn all he could from the experts. In the end we felt that a diesel engine was the best choice for towing a heavy trailer and we settled on the Ford F-450 or F-550 models.
Large diesel trucks carry a hefty price tag. Fortunately, diesel trucks are known to have a long life and buying used was our best choice. As it turned out, few F-450/550's were available with low miles and in good shape. Most models on sale within driving distance from Dallas were beat up work trucks.
Ford F-550 Super Duty with 7.3L diesel Power Stroke engine and Herrin Hauler back.
eBay is a familiar place for us to buy smaller, less expensive items, but would have not considered buying a vehicle there until now. eBay gave us a much wider view of the available trucks outside of our immediate area. The weeks dragged on with few selections to choose from. At one point Charlie considered flying as far as Washington state to look at a nice truck being offered on eBay, but decided to wait for something closer.
One day a nice looking F-550 with low miles from Arkansas was put on auction and we immediately fell in love with it. It looked nice inside and out, it was already configured with a hauler back to tow trailers, and Arkansas was only a few hours away. With great anticipation we counted the days for the auction to end and placed our bid at the last minute. Winning the bid on eBay was one of the most exciting moments of our transition so far! By the following weekend we were the happy owners of a 2000 Ford F-550 Super Duty with the 7.3L diesel Power Stroke engine.
Man, was this thing big! Charlie found parts of the truck to use as markers to determine how far the wheels and bumper were from other objects. After a few days of driving the truck, he turned into our driveway with a bit too much confidence and promptly took out a few slats from the fence.
Buying the RV
Now that we had something to tow with, our attention turned to finding and buying an RV. New RV prices being high and depreciation steep, buying used was our goal again. Based on quality rankings, we narrowed the fifth wheel manufacturers down to New Horizons, King of the Road, and Travel Supreme. Next, we narrowed down the models to three or less from each brand and watched the classifieds.
This process also turned into weeks without finding anything satisfactory for sale. Then one morning as Charlie was searching for RV's on the Internet, he stumbled onto the web site of a consignment dealer in Houston. They had our preferred King of the Road model listed for sale. It was a bit suspicious to us because their asking price was slightly under comparable trailers and it had "never been sold". We called to see what that meant and they explained that they cannot advertise something as "new" because they were a consignment store, but in fact this unit was new. It has been sitting on dealer lots for about a year and a half, but no one had ever lived in it.
Our King of the Road R35BW fifth wheel trailer in Melissa, Texas.
You've heard the advice that if something sounds too good to be true then it probably is. Well, this was certainly sounding too good to be true—new unit with an asking price below similar models that have been lived in for a couple of years. Approaching the dealer with great suspicion and even more excitement, we asked for lots and lots of photos. The only thing we could see wrong was a slight scratch on one of the decorative stripes and a very dirty roof.
Having received a written guarantee from the dealer that we were not obligated to take the unit if it was not to our satisfaction, we signed the papers over the fax, paid the earnest money, and put a hold on the unit until we could make a trip to Houston. The following weekend was the big day for us. Charlie crammed a manila folder full of checklists and information on what to look for when buying an RV, and we headed to Houston. We arrived shortly after noon on a busy Saturday. The receptionist pointed us to our unit and we could hardly wait to see it. A sold sign with our name on it kept the other RV buyers at bay as we went to work inspecting every inch of this too-good-to-be-true deal. Charlie started by crawling under the entire bottom of the unit and looking at everything else outside. On the inside Landra was going through all she could get her hands on. A few hours later we compared notes and both of us looked over the entire unit once more.
Our inspection confirmed that this was a brand new unit with full factory warranty. We found only a few minor issues which were easily corrected under warranty. Realizing that this was our new RV, we could hardly contain our excitement as we went to the office to seal the deal.
Papers signed, our 36 foot R35BW King of the Road hitched to the truck, a few basic instructions from the staff, and off we were to learn how to tow in Houston traffic. That's right—neither one of us had ever towed anything. Shortly after pulling out of the parking lot, we had a close call as Charlie turned too tightly and the trailer went up on a curb. With an extra sense of caution, we slowly wound our way through some freeways, but mostly smaller city streets, until we reached the less congested highways toward Dallas.
Despite our best efforts, the sun had set by the time we arrived at the RV park in Melissa, just north of the Dallas suburbs. At this point all of our RV knowledge was from reading and had absolutely no practical experience. Leaving the RV setup learning for daylight, we left the trailer in our assigned slot and went to spend the last night in our home of ten years.
Charlie, Landra and Sam camping in Eisenhower State Park, Texas.
Next day was July 4-th and our first day as full-time RV dwellers. Together we learned how to position the RV so all three slides can be moved out, connected all facilities, and brought over all necessities from the house. Sam, our miniature Schnauzer, was unhappy with the cramped quarters. His favorite game of chasing Charlie from room to room and then Charlie chasing him was no longer possible. He must have been hoping that this was only a temporary accommodation for a short vacation. Getting in and out of the steep doorway was also a terrifying challenge for Sam, which he finally mastered after a couple of weeks.
Five and a half months remained in Dallas. During that time we lived in the RV and kept very busy with the remaining tasks: deciding what to put in the trailer, what to sell, what to donate, and what to store; establishing services such as mail forwarding and wireless Internet; selling most of the house contents; painting the house and doing other minor repairs; selling the house; and finally selling both of our cars. In the mean time we both commuted to work and counted the days until December.
People have different challenges getting used to RV living. Charlie's was the sharp corners! The limited space in 375 square feet did not bother either one of us, even though we kept bumping into things and each other for weeks, but the corners were annoying. It seems that almost daily we were scraped by something sharp—these were generally not metal corners but plastic and wood. The corners were not sharp enough to draw blood, just sharp enough to cause annoying pain. In fact, this was our only complaint to King of the Road on the feedback survey; hopefully they will make future models with rounded corners.
By the time December rolled around, we had already taken the RV for several trips to nearby parks. Towing became more comfortable and we were ready for our first major trip across the country. We chose December 18 as our departure date from Texas to leave time for Christmas and New Years with family, before heading out to the West Coast. Since our families are spread out from coast to coast, this trip was to take us across the width of the country one and a half times.
We traveled from Dallas to southern Illinois and Indiana, Maryland's eastern shore, Arkansas, back to Texas for a brief stop-over in El Paso, southern California, and our final destination to Ashland in southern Oregon by February 4, 2005. The entire trip was 5,444 miles long, lasted 48 days, and required $1,511 of diesel fuel. We had no truck breakdowns, but had a couple of minor tire problems with the trailer. Overall an exciting beginning to what we hope to be a long adventure.
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