Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Boys are Recovering in the Little RV

We're hanging out in Bismarck, ND.  We are camped at General Sibley Park right in Bismarck.  
It's a huge park on the Missouri River. There are no other sites near us so it feels like we have the place all to ourselves.  

I noticed there is a water line on all the trees on this side of the park so I went looking and found the park was badly flooded in 2011 when the Missouri River topped its banks.

Now about those recovering boys. Since Rob had those two teeth pulled in 4 weeks ago in Missoula, MT he has had ongoing problems with the healing process.  We finally got him an appointment yesterday and they pulled out a small but very sharp sliver of bone or tooth that had created a huge sore on the side of his tongue.  It felt better right away but the dentist put him on some antibiotics as well.  We are hopeful this will be the end of the tooth extraction problems.  

Grant has been struggling with his tummy issues.  A couple of weeks ago he stole a couple of bites of dog food from the outside bowl of the doggie in the next site. Whatever was in the dog food had a really bad effect on him. I suspect it contained several foods that he is allergic to. Basically he started with some pretty loud rumbling in his tummy.  Like wake the dead loud.  He was reluctant to eat but would eat little bits of hamburger. The next day he was in pain.  I'm told food allergies can trigger an arthritis flare-up. Grant has arthritis in one shoulder and the opposite hip.  Poor guy, he's been pretty gimpy for the last week. I've been giving him some pain medication but that is the only thing we can give him because most medications contain items he is allergic to.  There is an ant-inflammatory for dogs we would like to try but the manufacturer won't disclose the inactive ingredients to my vet so we are afraid to give him the medication. 

Grant's tummy has been getting better slowly.  We've been feeding him plain ground beef and pumpkin and he's doing fine.  His arthritis is still pretty bad. 
Unfortunately, yesterday our little chow hound managed to pilfer about 1/3 of a blueberry muffin including the paper wrap, from Rob's end table when he wasn't looking. We are waiting to see what the results of that little snack will be.

I, on the other hand, am perfectly fine. I've been doing some crocheting and I went shopping today!  There is a Hobby Lobby here in Bismarck and I went up and down every single aisle.  I got some room darkening drapery liner and plan to make curtains for our living room windows to help keep the temperature down in our little home. I also may or may not have purchased a skein of yarn or two.
Then I topped it off with a trip to Target and Starbucks.  

Friday we leave for parts east!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Doing Things Differently in the Little RV

Our 10-month, 10,000 trip taken in 2012 and 2013

When we took our 10-month, 10,000 mile US tour in 2012 and 2013 we almost always stayed at full hook-up campgrounds.  

They are expensive, crowded and noisy. We have had sites where we could not extend our awning because the next RV was too close. The convenience of full hook-ups is great but sometimes the trade off is just not worth it.  

This trip we knew we wanted to do things differently. Our goals were to save on campground costs, stay in more rural areas with larger sites, take more back roads, and see places we have never seen and to do all of that slowly. Our experience has been those places seem to have mostly electric only or primitive sties with absolutely no hook-ups. The main reason we need electricity is because of the heat. There is just no point in being miserable if you don't have to.

When we arrived here on Saturday we dumped the gray tanks and took on about 80 gallons of fresh water.  We planned on staying four days.  

We use this handy little gadget so we know how much water we pump into our fresh tank each time. It counts the gallons as they run through the meter. It is called a RainWave flow meter.

We have decided to stay put here in the COE Downstream Campground for a few more days.  But we knew we would have to take the RV up to the dump station and dump the holding tanks and get more fresh water.  What we didn't know was we would have to do that last night at 7 pm when we realized our fresh water tank was completely empty.  

Going to the dump station is basically the same as moving to a whole new campground. Everything has to be put away, slides brought in, electric disconnected, appliances shut off, etc.  I think it was close to 9 pm when we finished at the dump station and returned to our site and got set-up again.  

This morning I am so glad it happened that way because I woke up to a fierce thunder storm and that would have made the whole process much more difficult.   

You may be asking yourself, what is the point of this story.  My theory is we are learning as we go.  If you are someone who is reading along and considering full-time RV travel, maybe you can learn along with us.  

We have a 100 gallon fresh water tank. I mentioned earlier that we took on 80 gallons of fresh water when we arrived. We ran out of water 4 and 1/4 days later. That tells me we used about 20 gallons of water each day.  That water use includes 2 navy showers a day, washing dishes, flushing and brushing teeth.  We use gallon jugs of water for cooking and drinking. We were cautious but not miserly.  Before yesterday, I had no clue how much water we used daily.  

Our two gray tanks each hold 45 gallons. One holds the water from the kitchen and bathroom sinks.  The other holds the water from the shower and the washing machine, this one always fills up first.  I don't use the washing machine when we don't have a sewer hook-up. *Gasp* I have been to a laundromat twice in the past two weeks.  I can use our dryer when we have 50 amp electric service so it's a quick trip when you just wash two or three loads and bring them home to dry. 

While chatting with another full time RV couple yesterday at the local laundromat they mentioned they are at the campground for two weeks and use a large water bladder to refill the fresh water tank and they use a portable holding tank to empty their black and gray tanks.  

This is an example of the water bladder. This one holds 45 gallons and uses gravity to move the water from the bladder into the holding tank. They fold and take very little storage space.  

The portable waste tank looks like this.  Barker (30844) 4-Wheeler Tote Tank - 42 Gallon capacity
This one holds 42 gallons and you can fill it and loop the handle over your trailer hitch and tow it to the dump station without moving your RV.  This takes quite a lot of space for storage but I sure wish we had one yesterday.  

We knew about both of these items but never had a need for them, until now.  I know if we purchase these they will see a lot of use this winter when we are in the Southwest because we plan to do a lot of dry camping and boondocking.  

Monday, July 21, 2014

We Interrupt this Trip for a Brief Vacation

We're taking a mini break from our travels to rest for a while.  Saturday we left New Town with another Corps of Engineers (COE) park in mind.  We traveled about 100 miles on remote roads lined with beautiful farmland.  Since we have been camping with only electric hook-ups we stopped at the dump station just inside the park to dump our holding tanks and take on fresh water before we set up for our stay here. 

The campground is located along the Missouri River in Central North Dakota. If you look through the trees in the photo above you can see the bank along the other side of the river.   

When we arrived the campground was almost completely full with the exception of two accessible spaces that are first come, first served. We were able to get one of them and it's a beauty!
Today is Monday and with the exception of two other campers the place is empty. There were even deer grazing on the lush grass across the way this morning.  I do love an empty campground. 
We are really loving these COE parks. The spaces are huge, they are well cared for and normally have electricity at the sites. The best part is the price.  With Rob's Access Pass we only pay $9 a night.  That is a 50% discount.  I paid for 4 nights when we arrived and it was about the same amount as one night in a private campground.  We will probably stay longer but we are still learning how long we can go without dumping the tanks or adding fresh water.  Since this is a walk-up site we can stay up to 14 days.  

Grant was quite sick yesterday when we got up. The other morning when we were camped at the marina I turned my back for about 30 seconds and he was gone.  I found him behind the camper next door nibbling the neighbor dog's kibble. When he spotted me he quickly spit it out and we went inside. Unfortunately it was too late.  

Yesterday we woke up to the incredibly loud sounds of Grant's tummy and we knew the storm was on the way.  He was sick and in pain all day but today he is much better.  

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Little RV Visits North Dakota and the Oil Boom

Wow!  It's like a whole different world here in North Dakota. We were completely unable to take any photos yesterday because there were no places to pull over on the small, country road we were driving on. Today's photos are not ours but some I borrowed from the internet.

Just over the Montana/North Dakota border we started seeing signs of the oil boom that has taken over Northwest North Dakota.  This image shows the area where the greatest concentration of oil is located.
We saw dozens of oil wells and drilling rigs scattered across the horizon.  
The wells were accompanied by holding tanks and often an open flame burning from a large pipe nearby. 

The smell of burning oil was heavy in the air.  We also noticed large lots holding hundreds of housing units for the oil workers.  Here they are called "man camps".
We drove into Williston to find a tremendous amount of housing, business and road construction.  The traffic is far beyond what the current infrastructure can support.
We had hoped to camp somewhere in the area of Williston but there were no sites to be had.  
We tried Lewis and Clark State Park but it was completely full due to a Christmas in July event.  Really?  

So, we just kept moving west. We finally found a spot for two nights at a marina just outside New Town.  We have a 30 amp electric hook-up and are on such a steep incline we could not get the Little RV level.  On the bright side, it's much easier to go up the stairs.  They just don't seem so steep this way.

I plan to spend some time locating and securing a campsite before we leave here.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Little RV Visits Fort Peck Lake and DamFort, Montana

See the lake in the Northeast corner?
We are in Northeast Montana at the Fort Peck Lake Corps of Engineers (COE) complex. I made reservations in advance here because the place is fairly busy.  

Fort Peck Lake is huge.  There are more than 1500 miles of shoreline around the lake along with many places to camp. 

COE campgrounds are Federal and we can use Rob's Access Pass here so we get 50% off the campground rate.  Our campsite has electricity but no other hookups and we are paying $9 a night. We are happy with just electricity because we have ample water and waste tanks but it's really hot here so AC is essential.  

Our campsite is enormous and there is a lot of green space between the rows. Rob shot a couple of photos after we arrived yesterday.
We took a drive near sunset and saw the power plant from an overlook. 
I noticed all the bugs squished on the truck's grill and took a photo but got some great reflections of the overview information boards. 

Here's Grant checking out the view and all the smells.

Fort Peck Lake at sunset

Walking trail at Fort Peck Lake

We are actually fairly far away from any water but the mosquitoes are plentiful no matter what time of day. My pale Irish skin seems to attract those nasty bugs. We'll just have to break out the bug repellent today.  

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Smokin' Time in the Little RV

We spent two days in North Central Montana in the town of Conrad. This trip we have been conscious to travel shorter distances on travel days and to stay over at least two nights because it is much less stressful on the mind and body.  
When we pulled over to take this photo 
Grant barked at the fake pig.

We camped at Pondera Campground.  We chose it because it was the ONLY campground around the area.  The reviews said the camp hosts were wonderful people and they are. The campground, not so much.

We pulled out of the campground around 10 am yesterday.  Just a few feet out the truck chimed and a warning message popped up saying something about a trailer wiring failure.  I got out and double checked the hookups and the warning went away so we took off.  We had never gotten that message before but it seemed to have been resolved.  

About two miles up the interstate a car passed us with the passenger frantically pointing to the 5th wheel.  One look in our side mirror and I could see black smoke coming from the wheel area. We pulled over quickly and jumped out to see what was happening.  

It was clear that the brakes on the trailer had locked up and where incredibly hot but we had no idea why or how to fix the problem.  We checked the wiring harness on the hitch, the plug and socket where the trailer plugs into the truck, Rob even crawled under the RV to see if he could find the problem.  NOTHING!  

So I called my dad because dad knows everything. He gave us some ideas for things to check but nothing panned out. Finally I called AAA for roadside assistance.  

After making that call I called an RV place back in Conrad to see if we had it towed there they might be able to take a look.  I explained what happened and he suggested we check the breakaway cable. 
Breakaway Cable - A steel cable which is permanently fixed to the lower end of the hitch and which has a clip on the other end which you attach to your towbar. This cable would apply the trailer brakes if, for instance, the trailer became unattached from the tow vehicle.
Rob went back to take a look and once he jiggled the cable the dash screen said "Trailer Connected" and we knew that was the problem.  Somehow the breakaway cable had been pulled and was telling the truck there was no trailer connected and telling the trailer to apply the brakes.  So we drug the poor Little RV for a couple of miles with the brakes applied.  That can't be good. 

We carefully tested the brakes several times along the side of the freeway and then drove a couple of miles and tested them again.  They seemed to be functioning properly so we continued on with out trip.  I cancelled our AAA roadside assistance call and called dad to let him know we were OK and on our way again. We didn't have any further problems and made it to our destination.
The rest of our drive looked like this. It sure stinks inside the Little RV!  

We are now in Havre, Montana at a lovely little family owned campground, Evergreen Campground.  The spaces are huge, on the grass and shaded.  We have the whole place to ourselves except for two tents.  

After we settled in and had dinner we drove into town to take a look around. There are some historic sites in and around Havre.  We stopped to see the buffalo jump.
buffalo jump
buffalo jump is a cliff formation which North American Indians historically used in order to hunt and kill plains bison in mass quantities.
View from above the Buffalo Jump

Monday, July 7, 2014

A Hot Mess in the Little RV

Yesterday we left Missoula heading Northeast.  Our destination was Canyon Ferry Lake which is a part of the BLM Chain of Lakes Complex near Helena, Montana and along the Missouri River.  

We've been dreaming of boondocking near the water, all alone for a very long time. In my imagination I saw visions of a lovely outcropping large enough to park the Little RV.  There would be a lovely breeze and some trees for shade and not another human for miles.  

Realistically we knew we'd have to overnight somewhere and search out a campsite for the next day.  

Rob drove for a while and then we traded spots.  Almost immediately I hit road construction complete with detour signs. Fortunately our exit came up quickly and we got off that road.  

We had full fuel tanks and a full fresh water tank so there was a lot of extra weight for the truck to pull or to hold back depending on the slope.  I drove over a mountain pass giving me the opportunity to learn how to control the speed of the truck on a long 8% downhill grade using the manual shift. We continued on driving toward our destination, through Helena and onto some back roads.  My real challenge came when we arrived at the lake area and our route took us on some very twisty, narrow roads.  The worst was the dam.
Technically the dam is wide enough for two vehicles but it has a 90 degree turn at each end with no extra space so I had to stop and wait for the other cars before I could turn onto and off of the bridge.  

After the dam Rob and I traded places again.  I was getting a bit stressed out. Before we had gone another mile or two I saw one of the BLM campgrounds we thought we might try for the night.  We pulled in and got a nice pull-through space with a great view of the lake.  
Taken on the way out of the campground this morning.

I think we were both so tired and hot that we didn't pay much attention to our surroundings. There we so many more campers than we expected.  Our thinking was the holiday weekend was over so "they" would all be gone.  Wrong! So many children combined with lots of dogs off leash and a lake make for one noisy campground. 

The campground is all dry camping so there are no hookups at all. That was exactly what we expected.  We got unhitched and leveled and went inside.  

It was hot, really hot!  We opened all of the windows and turned on the bathroom vent to pull some of the hot air out of the Little RV but it didn't help.  Did I mention it was really hot? Rob even went across the street to the lake and took a quick dip to get cooled off but it just didn't last. 

By 8 PM it was 96 degrees both inside and out. We both finally decided we are just too wimpy for that kind of heat and turned on the generator for a couple of hours so we could run the air conditioner in the bedroom.  It was certainly a learning experience.  This morning we moved to a quiet little RV Park just outside Helena, with full hook-ups.  

We still dream of that perfect boondock on the water but part of that perfection will include cooler temperatures. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Little RV Visits the National Bison Range

Replica of old wooden entrance sign to National Bison Range.  Photo by USFWSOver the years we have tried and failed to visit the National Bison Range several times.  The first time we tried was when the girls were teenagers and we were pulling a rented tent trailer.  They do not allow anything to be towed through the park so we had to skip the bison that year.  The next time we tried the park was closed due to wild fires.  There was a third time we tried to visit but, for the life of me, I cannot remember what happened to keep us away that time. 

Yesterday Rob was feeling well enough to want to get out of the house for a while so we thought we'd try to see it again. The Bison Range is a national wildlife refuge about 40 miles north of where we are camped where you can see bison, whitetail deer, elk, pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, golden eagle and black bear.  

We actually got in this time!  We did see some of the critters along the drive but it was mid-afternoon and hot so it wasn't the best time to see them.  Early morning and late evening are always best for critter viewing. The views were gorgeous. Enjoy the photos.

Jocko River

View from the highest part of the refuge.
Mission Mountain Range
Bighorn Sheep
Bighorn Sheep
Bighorn Sheep
Deer near Mission Creek
Deer overlooking Mission Creek
Finally!  A Bison
...and another bison...
... and another.
Pronghorn antelope
Pronghorn antelope
St Ignatius Mission built in 1891