Saturday, June 25, 2016

High Anxiety

We split the trip to Canada into 3, stopping at the Walmart in State College again, then the Elks Lodge in Lockport NY. The Lodge was great and has 4 concrete pads with water and electric next to a big soccer field and across a nice country road from the Erie Canal.

One task my anxiety disorder has had me avoiding is the braking system that goes in the car to help slow the rig down, control fish-tailing on slippery roads and provide an emergency braking system should the car break away from the tow bar.

Various RV forums have chewed over the need/requirements for "Toad" braking systems but Canada insists that we have one so I have been slowly putting mine together over the past year!

At this point I have to diverge from the travel story I've been relating over the past year.

It's confession time I suppose and I have to get something off my chest.

A year or so before I retired, I worked myself up into a frenzy. I became really anxious about work. I was convinced that I was going to be left out in the cold, and if I was I would not be able to find another job.

Being the kind of person who keeps my worries to myself, I let it build and build until I broke down one evening at home. 

I was a wreck. I saw my doctor and she put me on drugs to calm my anxiety, then had me put on extended sick leave.

She recommended I seek psychiatric treatment, but I just couldn't force myself to do it. Eventually I got so bad that I had to admit to myself that I had to do it. I found a psychologist near home and nervously went for my first visit. (The difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist is basically a psychiatrist can write prescriptions and a psychologist can't.)

The psychologist turned out to be a very pleasant young lady who I immediately felt comfortable with. Having only seen TV and movie psychiatrists  in action, I imagined a couch to lie on and a bald guy with a notepad taking notes and asking me about my mother. This lady was not that guy on TV!

The reality was quite different. The questions she asked were about my life, my hobbies and interests, my work. It was like meeting a new friend, somebody who was interested in my life.
Gently she asked questions that touched on my anxiety and I began to explore the fears I had built up inside. I have to admit I was in tears on several occasions and felt like a wet rag afterwards.

I'm not a fan of any kind of drugs, prescription or not. The one I was already on was very mild but I really didn't want to be on it. I had some other things to take if I got really anxious again, but only resorted to them once thankfully.

My new friend the "Shrink" began to teach me ways to control my anxiety thru breathing and relaxation. She was a superb therapist, although sometimes I dreaded my weekly visits. She soon knew what my anxieties where and ever so gently had me facing them. Before I realized it she would tip me over the edge then show me how to recover.

Next she described how I could use meditation to control the anxiety attacks and I began twice daily sessions at home. In a quiet, darkened bedroom I would spend 15 minutes at a time calmly relaxing and trying to drive random thoughts from my mind. My little mantra became "I can control my anxiety, anxiety is part of me. Anxiety is natural. I can control my anxiety".

I was on sick leave for 3 months.

The meditation and counselling was so effective that I was able to stop the medication.
I still get anxious moments, and one of the symptoms of anxiety is an inability to finish projects I start.

Barbara has been just marvelous about the whole thing. She sees me getting wound up about something and recognizes what it is. She forgives me when I growl about some little thing that isn't really that big of a deal, and she watches me as I start prowling around the RV when it's getting close to leaving time. She knows I'm getting anxious, and she's so patient. She lets me do my thing and goes off and does hers knowing I'll be just fine once we hit the road.

Which brings me back to the braking system in the car.
I finally did some thinking about it and some meditation. Then faced with the possibility that we might not be allowed into Canada unless I finished the darned thing, I did it! I finished it and it worked.

That was a pretty big moment for me. Success is a great reward after a year of avoiding the issue.

Please understand that I'm not looking for sympathy here. I recognize now that I got myself into the whole mess by bottling up my feelings and not talking about things. I didn't get help for the same reason. Occasionally I've had the courage to tell a few close friends what happened.

I've never told our kids about it. (Maybe Barbara has? I don't ask). Please forgive me Sally and Fred.

This post then is my big step. By announcing that I've been ill and describing the steps I took to recover I feel that I'm getting another source of anxiety off my chest.

So that's it. I'm not nuts, I just don't speak out when I should sometimes. Seeking psychiatric help doesn't mean you are insane or out of control. The Councillor just understands the way a mind works and can help you to understand what it is that your particular mind is struggling with.

I'd like to say that I suddenly feel a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders. It has, but this particular post has anxiety to it too. My heart says send it and my mind is resisting. If you get to read this my heart won!


Maryland

We called Maryland home for 25 years before we moved to California, so we had a lot of friends and relatives to see there.
Let me start by apologizing to all the ones we DIDN'T get to see! Time just flew by, but we'll be back thru again in November and we'll try to catch up with you then.

We stayed at the Washington DC KOA, which is actually not in Washington DC but around the corner from where we used to live in Maryland. It's one of the few campgrounds in Maryland and the only one within reasonable distance of DC.

That being said it's EXPENSIVE at $70+ dollars a night, which makes it worth while to buy a KOA membership to get the 10% discount. It's not that nice of a campground either with few pull thru sites and the back in sites being very tight and not very level. I had to stop leveling when the back wheels started coming off the ground!

So if it's so expensive why did we stay there? Well we still have a rental house very close, our son lives nearby, our daughter was flying in from UK and we still have friends and neighbors nearby. So we took it on the chin and paid up. We'll have to camp at more Walmarts to bring us back to our $25 a night average camping cost target!

First people we dropped by to see where our old friends and neighbors Doug and Lyn and their son Daniel. Lyn's a Brit so we get along great and Doug is a sweetheart too. Dan provides the entertainment by rolling his eyes and passing comments about running an old peoples home, but is a great and a funny young man. A night out at the Irish Pub gave us time to catch up on the news.

Our son Fred and his wife Cori came over to visit and we had a night out at the Indian Restaurant to catch up on their news, our daughter Sally arrived with her friend Rita and her 3 kids so many tours of the RV were made. Jenna was fascinated by the bathroom and was really disappointed when her Mom wouldn't let her take a shower in it!

Barbara and Sally had a "Girls Day" going shopping followed by a day at the spa, enjoying massages and the things girls do. I headed for Dulles Airport and spent the day wandering around the Smithsonian Institute Air and Space Museum out there. Lots of cool airplanes but surprising packed tight for a new facility. I didn't think it was as well laid out as the US Air Force Museum in Dayton OH.


Enola Gay probably the most famous airplane in the world

The B26 "Flak Bait" flew 200 missions in WW2 now being restored for display


We all went up to Baltimore's Inner Harbor for lunch at the Cheese Cake Factory and a stroll around the harbor to see the Constitution. I must say that the Inner Harbor seemed pretty run down at one time but it was extremely clean and well maintained when we visited this time.


Baltimore's Inner Harbor

The Constitution one of the original 6 frigates that began the US Navy
Built in Baltimore

Dragon pedal boats

Eating lunch with Barbara, Sally and Cori while Fred and I hid from the camera!

While we were here we went out to lunch with old colleagues from work in Alexandria VA. My great friend and ex boss Mike Maloney and I caught up with family and work news while Ish, Chito, Harry, Jason and Guiseppi told me about their latest shipchecks in far away places or griped about the recent takeover of the company. I miss the travel sometimes but not the politics of working!

Our great friends from the motorcycle community Chapter J of the Goldwing Road Riders quickly claimed us back into the fold and we had dinner with them one evening, breakfast on Sunday. 
Dinner with Chapter J
Breakfast with J

We all met up for a Pig Roast with Chapter C on Saturday. The Pig Roast was superb and thank you Dave and Gloria Pumphrey for doing such a wonderful job and letting a whole slew of happy Goldwingers take over your house for the day. Chapter C as always throws a great party.  
Lots of Goldwings

A cool Goldwing Trike

Lunch with Chapter C at the Pig Roast

Jackie and Al came over for dinner one evening and they are planning on trying the "Full Time" lifestyle soon so we spent the whole evening talking travelling and RV'ing with them. It's kind of funny to be passing along all the stuff we've learned and just doesn't seem like we've been on the road for almost a year now.

Sally went off for a couple of days to meet up with High School, Girl Scout and College friends and for a night in Ocean City on the Atlantic Coast. Then suddenly she was leaving to go back to the UK and her 2 kids. 

After all the hectic rushing around and especially the horrendous traffic in the DC area we were glad to be on the road again! In case you missed it we ate and ate and ate the whole time we were there. The time in Canada coming up sounds like more of the same!!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Delaware

We managed to squeeze in a couple of visits to the Elks Lodge, a drive along the shore of Lake Erie, a tour of some of the covered bridges nearby and side trips to Ashtabula and Conneaut in our spare time.

Pennsylvania was a blur as we broke our guiding principles and got on the INTERSTATES! AARRGH!!

Well we had a reason.

The Mid Atlantic area (Delaware, Pennsylvania. Maryland, Virginia) was our stomping ground for 25 years before we moved to San Diego back in 2006 and we have lots of good friends to catch up with.

That being said most of them are still working for a living and we have to fit in with their busy schedules.

A quick night in State College PA at the Walmart split the 400+  mile hop from Ohio into 2 manageable chunks. We found on our RV Parky app that the Delaware Park Casino near Wilmington DE has free dry camping in the parking lot and we headed there, calling our friends Lance and Jenifer along the way.

Lance has been a friend since I first discovered that the hate I had for BMW motorcycles was totally misplaced! Turns out it wasn’t the motorcycles I disliked, it was a sector of the owners of those motorcycles! There is a group called the “Airheads” who love and maintain vintage BMW’s and they are a totally different breed than the owners of modern BMW’s who sometimes have an attitude.

My first Airhead Club meeting had me sitting next to a really nice guy with a sense of humor that matched mine, before we knew it we were fast friends so naturally we had to hook up when we passed by.

Newcastle Delaware Courthouse

Lance and Jenifer like motorcycles, good beer, pubs with character and travel. They quickly dragged us screaming (Yeah Right) to old Newcastle DE which we never in our wildest dreams imagined existed in this area. Delaware to me has always been a blur on I95 while going to jobs in New Jersey. It’s the beginning of toll roads, traffic and the site of endless chemical plants (Think Du Pont) and oil refineries.

The man himself William Penn

Immanuel Episcopal Church

Our surprise was total when we found winding country roads, pretty farms and historical buildings going back to the beginnings of modern USA (Delaware was after all the FIRST state). A walk around the cemetery at the Immanuel Episcopal Church with so many of it’s old headstones engraved with “Born in England” “From Yorkshire England” etc., brought us closer to the early residents of the area.

Lovely well cared for Newcastle historic district.

Lance had arranged dinner at “The Whip”. A neat English Pub out in the country run by – An Englishman – of course. I’m not sure it wasn’t the food and beer that had Dave and Lisa join us for dinner rather than the thrill of meting us again, but they too are good friends for the Airheads BMW club so that might have influenced them a little too. (I like to think so anyway). A supremely pleasant evening was had, followed by another the next night at an Irish bar they like.

Just the first of several taverns we visited. This one possibly the oldest in Delaware.

Lance and Barbara at "The Whip"

The terrible twins 

I guess Dave was operating the camera.
L to R Lance, Barbara, Me, Jennifer, Lisa
Confusion reigned but at least Dave got in this one!

Almost in self-defense from over indulgence, we took the opportunity to go shopping for tires for the Fiesta while everyone was busy during the day on Sunday. After all there is NO SALES TAX in Delaware and we took advantage of it.


Monday came all too soon and the plan was now to fit in with Charlie and Debbie’s schedule just 20 miles up the road for dinner with them and friends from the Vintage Japanese Motorcycle/ Classic Goldwing motorcycle group. Charlie runs a motorcycle accessory business DC Cycle (dccycleparts@verizon.com) from an Industrial Park and we planned to park the rig in the parking lot and camp there for a couple of nights before heading south for Maryland. Then Debbie said “Why not just park it and stay in our spare bedroom?” and we were living in a house for the first time since last July!!





Bob, Renee, Tom and Dawn came round and we sat catching up on what we’ve been missing for the last 10 years, eating Charlie’s great grilled offerings and sipping beer and wine. Time flew, the past 10 years slipped away and it felt like we’d never been away.




Better still, Bob and Renee are “Most of the timers” in that they are retired and spend a lot of time travelling with their 5th wheel trailer, and we found that we’re both planning on being in the Florida Keys in November so we might get to camp together for a week or so.




With all this pleasantness came the hard reminder of how much traffic there is in this part of the country, how impatient the drivers can get and how tight some of the smaller roads are. Even though we planned on driving a total of 40 miles on Monday to dump tanks, fill up the rig and get to Charlie’s, we ended up driving 70+ and running around manically when the dump station at a state park was closed, the gas station we had scouted out for access in the rig was jammed with cars and delivery vans and I95 as like madhouse full of suicidal drivers. But all’s well that ends well apparently, once we found a big cheap gas station in the countryside and a new Cabella’s outdoor store that offers free dump station use with an in-store purchase.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Camping for $25 a night

We set out on our adventure with a budget.

We made the budget well before we even bought the RV as part of our planning, because let’s face it, if we couldn’t afford to go, there was no point selling the house and buying an RV!

I did some research on camping costs. Initially I was thinking $30 to $40 dollars a night based on our experiences to date in commercial RV parks and in State parks.

Our favorite RV club https://www.escapees.com/ has a great forum and I discovered a previous thread about budgets. The majority of people responding had a budget of $25 a night OR LESS!

At first I thought I was misreading it, where can you camp for $25 a night every night?

Well it turns out I was misreading it, what it means is an AVERAGE of $25 a night over the course of a year.

That didn’t suddenly reveal the secret but it did help us in appreciating how to achieve the mythical $25 number.

I expect you want me to tell you the secret too huh?

Firstly you need to consider what kinds of camping there are.
Commercial Parks
State Parks
National Parks
Camping Clubs
Dry Camping (Also called Boondocking)

Commercial Parks are pretty obvious, there’s a great free cellphone app called “RV Parky” that will locate parks near you anywhere you happen to be or you can search an area you might be heading for. The app tells you what parks are around, what they might charge per night (It’s not always up to date), what facilities they have, the contact information and sometimes reviews of the park. A very handy tool.

One thing you need to know about Commercial Parks is that they give discounts to members of certain RV clubs. In addition there is something called Passport America, to whom you pay about $40 a year and they have negotiated discounts at parks all over the country usually around 10% but sometimes as much as 50%. Be aware though that they may restrict what days they give discounts on.

Good Sam’s Club, Family Motor Coach Association and Escapees also get discounts at some parks.

In our experience we get the best discounts at the most parks with Passport America, Escapees and Good Sam in that order.

Another thing to consider also is that most parks offer discounts for weekly and monthly stays. They can be very beneficial especially if you are going to spend the winter somewhere. Our favorite winter spot in Casa Grande AZ has amazing facilities and is under $25 a night based on the monthly rate.

So if you get 3 – 4 months a year under $25 a night it really helps the AVERAGE for the rest of the year. Those peak period, tourist area parks that may cost $70 a night OR MORE! Get averaged out nicely thank you.

State Parks in our experience are NOT the bargain most people assume them to be. They seem to be charging around $35 a night in the places we’ve been to and they usually don’t have full hookups either. Sometimes you can get a discount if you camp in your home state and they have a senior citizen pass. We did get a Passport America discount at a State Park in Ohio but only for 1 night.

National Parks have campgrounds too, although some are difficult to get into due to demand. (For instance Yellowstone has a 1 year waiting list). Some of their campgrounds also have a size limit for RV’s and most have limited hookups or none at all. The great thing for senior citizens is the “Golden Age Pass” or whatever it’s called lately. For a one-time payment of $10 you get into ALL National Parks free and get up to 50% off camping there.

NOTE! As of Jan 1 2017 the price of the senior pass will be $80.

BUT the pass also covers parks administered by the US Corps of Engineers (COE). Never heard of them running campgrounds I’ll bet? Well they have some really nice parks, on lakes usually where they are in charge of the dams. 50% off can mean $10 a night. Great for that budget.

I’m also throwing in another government agency here. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM). They administer huge swaths of the US and have areas you can camp at really cheaply and in some places FREE. Even better for the budget, BUT it’s usually dry camping often out in the wilderness with no facilities at all (More on this later)

Camping Clubs. We once were given membership to a camping “Resort” in Virginia which was nice for free. Except you had to pay annual “Maintenance” of $300 and they weren’t associated with any other campgrounds so you were stuck in the same place. Luckily we were able to give it away and get the dues off our backs.

Another camping club we bought into just for our full time trip is Thousand Trails (TT). They have campgrounds on the West, East and Gulf coasts but not anywhere else. You have to BUY a membership then pay annual dues, for that you get 30 days a year free camping and $3 a night after that. They usually have pretty good facilities and mostly full hookups. Some parks are pretty run down and some are small, but generally we like them. 

BUT don’t buy a membership at one of their parks, they’ll charge you thousands of dollars. Look on Craigs List or E-Bay and buy a USED membership for around $1000. Bear in mind that (TT) will charge a transfer fee of $750. Try and get one that has it’s annual membership fee paid up and still has the 30 days free for the year you buy it. Even with the fees etc we AVERAGE $15 a night in TT parks.

The Escapees have “Coop Parks” that are owned by the people who stay there. There are several on the West Coast and in the “Snowbird” winter spots. If you are a member of Escapees you can get good overnight rates in these parks and they also have dry camping spots for $5 a night. They have great facilities with pools and rec halls etc.

Some “Clubs” aren’t camping clubs at all but you can camp at their facilities. Who? Try Elks Lodges, VFW, American Legion, Moose Lodges. You have to be a member, and not all lodges allow camping so you have to research it. We’re in the ELKS and have camped at Lodges all around the country for between $5 a night dry camping and $25 a night full hookups. And the lodges have a warm welcome, cheap drinks and excellent food too!

Dry Camping (Boondocking).There is a whole subculture dedicated to boondocking which people take to the extreme. By using solar energy and blackwater systems with macerators or even composting toilets enthusiasts are able to camp without any hookups at all for months on end. Staying on BLM land that has no camping fees or property that is perhaps for all intents and purposes abandoned they live off the grid and extremely cheaply. More power to them!

We limit our boondocking to what is sometimes called “Blacktop Boondocking”. That means we stay at places like Walmart where we have permission from the manager and it’s legal to do so. Other opportunities are Cracker Barrel restaurants, Lowe's home improvement stores, casinos, and maybe friends driveways.

Usually these are FREE!! So if your camping budget is getting too close to exceeding the target of $25 a night you can do some free boondocking and get it under control again!

To be honest if you’re only stopping the night to break a 400 mile trip into 2 - 200 mile days then stopping in a commercial park, setting up, eating getting to bed, waking up, dumping tanks and packing up again seems like a big waste of time compared to pulling into Walmart, finding a restaurant, going to sleep and hitting the road again the next morning.

So can it work for you? SURE IT CAN. 

Looking at a couple of months of our budget tracking shows February, March and April of this year averaging $20, $10 and $19 per month respectively using the techniques I’ve described.

UPDATE!
We just completed out first full year (Jan 2016 to Jan 2017) and I pulled all our numbers together off the cost spreadsheet I run.
During the year we stayed at campgrounds that cost $75 a night for over a week and one month we averaged $35 dollars a night.
BUT the final average for the whole year was $24.30!!!
So it is certainly possible without spending every night at Walmart.


Now get out and camp!!