Well, we’ve done it.
Yes, we’re at a point where we’ve managed to take our new home out on the road for a weekend trip. And just for you all, finally, here is a video to show you a little of what it was like.
Keep reading for the rest of the blog….
So it has taken us just over a month to actually get to the point where we have completed enough work on Belle to consider her liveable in.
At least for a weekend.
We have a stocked RV with all of the comforts of a normal home – a living room with a reclining chair and rather uncomfortable sofa (that needs to be re-upholstered at some point in the future), a nice TV to watch (as long as you’re not parked under any trees and are south facing) and a kitchen fully stocked with food and appliances (as long as you don’t want too many frozen items or wanting to have clean clothes, the washing machine has yet to be plumbed – it just arrived yesterday).
We have a nice new bed and comfortable mattress (or so I think, Loops is not so convinced so I offered to put my sleeping pad under his side to soften it, a suggestion met with a withering glance), we have plenty of cupboard space for clothes and stuff (it might be slightly less after we actually put more than a couple shirts in it) and we should now be able to exit the RV in an emergency through the windows in case of a fire (after I spent a whole day cleaning out the tracks of the windows which were resoundingly refusing to budge as they were filled with 20 years of the previous owners skin cells *cue retching sounds*).
We have a full water system on board – I can turn on my tap and out comes clean water (well, after I remember to turn the water pump switch on) and when I flush the toilet, the water drains away into the depths of the fully working black tank (after I remember to turn the water pump switch on) and when I take a shower, I have nice hot water in which to bathe (yes, that’s right, after I remember to turn the water pump switch on).
As you can potentially guess, there are some minor adjustments that I need to make to my lifestyle in order to be able to live in perfect harmony with my new home.
However having said all that (and given we still need to have two new bathroom fans fitted, the washing machine plumbed, the electric dump valves to test and to have the brakes/air dryer and engine fan serviced), I had an absolutely fantastic time on our road trip and am totally in love with Belle and our future lifestyle.
So, let’s get down to the play by play shall we?
As I should know by now, with Loops and I, the best plans always go awry. Despite the general good fortune in our lives and in being able to try a mobile lifestyle like this, our actual level of day to day luck sucks. This generally means that anything we plan usually goes off course and even when we think we have covered all eventualities, something comes out of left field and blows apart our idea.
Which in this case is why we ended up on our first road trip over a week later than we planned.
The couple who invited us on the road trip in the first place, cancelled at the last minute. Ok, well, that’s not a huge problem so we decided to go on our own.
We began to get everything loaded up for our trip, and decided to give a final test on the water system that had been causing so many delays in the first place. Water test goes fine.
However, when we fire up the engine to drive Belle back into her housing spot, we hear a almighty roar from the back of the bus which causes both Loops and I to turn to each other and exclaim, “What the f**k was that??!!”
Cue three days of head scratching, phone calls, general testing and troubleshooting, replacing of minor but hideously expensive parts, only to discover that we really had no idea what the issue was, but that we think it has something to do with the fan that cools the engine down.
After further umming and ahhing, Loops made an executive decision that Belle was drivable, our engine wasn’t going to fall to pieces on the road, but on the whole it was a good thing we’d bought some breakdown insurance some months back. I obviously felt filled with confidence with this statement.
We voted on a 9am kick-off time the next day.
At 11.30am we finally rolled out of the storage unit, and I began a list of the things I would now have to remember when both living with Loops again as well as living in the RV.
Rule no. 1 – no matter how excited, eager, fervent, impatient, irritated and angry I get about getting on the road and moving, nothing will make Loops move any faster than he wants. I have to bow down to his superior knowledge of RV’s and admit he is in charge of Belle and when she moves. Having watched him methodically check each and every aspect before we travel an inch, deep in my heart I know I would end up driving off with us attached to a power outlet, the sewer dump, with an awning still extended or with the bay doors open and all of our supplies spilling onto the road.
Overall our two hour journey up to The Villages was rather uneventful, but incredibly enjoyable.
When we drive, because of Belle’s height, I now get to spend trips viewing everything you miss out on in a car.
Going over a bridge and the view of the water is blocked by a wall? Not for us. Wondering what someone’s back garden might look like and what they’re doing in it? I can peer into any garden I want. Wish you could see over the horizon at what’s coming up? Let me tell you, because I can view it.
Yes, it’s true, I do have an overwhelming sense of power and control while sitting in my co-pilot seat. From here, I can rule the world! *cue manic laughter*
Sadly what I don’t have control over is the radio, it’s on Loops’ side.
Luckily we managed to find an appropriate station that suited us both and played plenty of 90’s power ballads and a number of Elton John songs, which kept me happy for the whole trip. Please, keep your fingers crossed every excursion is as easy on the ears.
Apart from a slight disagreement over the directions (and for the record I was totally in the right and gave perfectly clear instruction on how to get to the 301) we had no other issues and, this is a source of pride for me, nothing in the bus shifted out of place, fell or otherwise created havoc by being improperly stored. Awesome.
So we arrived at Three Flags RV campground for our first taste of RV living. We presented ourselves for check in to a lady who looked like she hadn’t had a single happy day in her life. She also obviously thought no one else in the world deserved to be happy either. Just saying.
Miss Sunshine, as we shall call her, enquired what size bus we were in, whether we required 50 amp power and if we had satellite TV, so she could appropriately provide us with a suitable spot. Loops politely enquired if there were any hook-ups on a concrete base and got a brash ‘No’ with an accompanying scowl to go with it. I think this is what tipped her over the edge and resulted in us discovering as we drove around to our spot, we had been allotted a space under the trees with no ability for our TV dish to pick up a signal. No matter how hard Loops tried (and he really tried), there was no way he was going to be watching the latest episode of The Voice (much to my relief).
Loops excelled in parking up Belle. I can see very few instances where I’m going to need to be outside waving my arms about like I’m directing aircraft for landing like most other co-pilots. That’s right; my man knows how to drive!
After deciding I was more of a hindrance than help, I left Loops to hook up the power and sewer line and I went to inform my grandparents we’d finally arrived so we could make plans for them to come visit us.
While hanging around waiting for my family to arrive, I take some time to peruse the latest edition of National Geographic (I would recommend you all buy the April edition, it has some fabulous content on an Animal Photo Ark, interesting stories of death cultures around the world and an article about the troubles between Turkey and Armenia).
It’s while I am daydreaming about becoming a world famous animal photographer that I briefly note Loops making a steady dash out of the bathroom and through the front door. It’s only after about 5 minutes that my brain starts to wonder where he’s actually gone and I poke my head outside to find a steady stream of water running out from under the bus and Loops using the wet vacuum on the water bay.
“Problem?” I helpfully enquire.
It appears we’ve sprung a leak already, half an hour into our camping. I am starting to believe there might be something to the advice that seasoned RVer’s give when they tell you to expect something to break pretty much every day.
Luckily, this is a simple fix, and ten minutes later, everything works again. But it’s at this point I learn:
Rule no. 2 – If you hear running water anywhere in the bus, alert Loops. Running water is a bad noise. Water running from a tap is ok if you’re using it, but if you hear running water and can’t see it, that is bad. It means there is a LEAK.
It’s not long after this my grandparents turn up to visit. Having spent a number of years living the RV lifestyle themselves, they are especially interested in taking a look at the bus. It’s actually lucky they found us in the first place because, despite sending them a postcard with a big picture of Belle on it, they somehow thought she was black in colour, not green, and apparently had already made a couple rounds of the park before they realised the mistake.
Still, they made it and I was extremely happy to see them as this is the first time in four years that we’ve spent any time together, and that’s too long a gap as I’ve realised.
My grandfather loves the bus. He thinks she’s beautiful looking. Loops gives them a tour of the outside and my grandfather stops at each bay to make a comment, ask a question or tell a story. And boy does he have a lot of stories to tell. Most of them go like this “You’ll like this one, let me tell you about this one time we broke down in *enter any state name here*”. Yes, over the course of the weekend I must have heard at least 35 breakdown stories and even a couple that featured hitchhikers who just jumped in their car uninvited. The good news is all of their stories feature character building moments – learning not to sweat the small stuff, developing patience with each other, and not to judge a person by the way they look – as well as information about all of the amazing places they have visited and the people they met.
It comes time for us to go inside and due to my grandfather’s limited mobility, it takes the four of us a little time to brainstorm as to how to negotiate the steep steps into the bus. I borrow a step stool from the nice gentleman camping next to us and mentally note to buy one.
Once inside, the praise for Belle continues, the workmanship of the bus is obviously highly regarded by them both. We take the time to sit a while, each supping a root beer and listen to some more stories of travels in times past.
We decide to take a trip over to a pizza buffet and spend the night talking about this and that, and I sit and feel pleased to have spent the time with my grandparents. We make plans for me to spend the day hanging out with them tomorrow and then make our way back to the bus for our first night inside.
There is something very peaceful sitting inside our new home. Maybe because it feels like she has a personality, calm and reassuring. Maybe it’s because she is the first home that Loops and I have had to ourselves, ours and not someone else’s. Maybe it’s because the outside world can easily be shut away and the inside offers the opportunity to go wherever we want, to see whatever we like, whenever we like. Maybe it’s because here I feel fully removed from the mundane aspects of life and can dream about adventures to come and possibilities for my future.
Once I come to from my thoughts, I realise it’s time for the next big test – the shower. I am designated as guinea pig, to see what the water temperature and pressure are like.
It is here that the next rule applies:
Rule no. 3 – Before you use any appliance that needs water (taps, shower, toilet) you must remember to turn the water pump on. Without it, water will not gush forth. Likewise, when you are finished, you must remember to turn off the switch, as this limits the likelihood of flooding should a pipe burst.
No doubt this will be one of the hardest of the rules to remember. I’ve already been using the water in the RV for a week and not once have I pre-emptively remembered this rule, as is demonstrated by the fact I got in the shower, only to then remember the stupid switch.
The good news is the water pressure is bearable (it does not dribble or drip) and the water was lovely and hot.
For the first three minutes.
It is as I am trying to rinse shampoo from my hair that I notice a slight drop in temperate from nice and hot to pleasantly warm. Ok. Well, maybe I didn’t quite hit the right level on the heat gauge. I turn the handle a little and am presented with hot water once again. Great.
It’s as I am applying my conditioner that I realise I may have a slight issue. The temperature has once again dropped and no amount of upping the heat level will increase the warmth of the water. Crap.
Now I’m moving as swiftly as I can to get the conditioner out of my hair before I am forced to do so in ice cold water.
Less than five minutes and my shower is over. Not quite the normal relaxing experience I’m used to.
But my troubles don’t end there. As I’m exiting the shower I fail to notice the rather high rim around the edge and am only alerted to it as I hear the resounding crack of my toe and the subsequent shooting pain through my foot. It’s the pain that at some point we are all familiar with. The “Oh my god I’ve broken my toe and no doubt it’s bleeding everywhere and probably half hanging off” feeling, but when you look at it you are astounded to realise in fact your toe looks perfectly normal and actually you’re incredibly disappointed that it’s not looking like some gruesome war wound for all of the agony it is causing.
I’m doubled up on the floor for about ten minutes until I feel I can walk again, at which point I discover I am thoroughly shattered from the whole experience of the day.
I make my way into the cosy sanctuary that is bedroom cubbyhole and promptly fall asleep.
For the first time since I got here to the US, I wake up feeling refreshed.
I do not feel tired. I do not ache. I do not have a stuffed up nose from having a fan blow on me all night. I have not woken up a dozen times during the night to shift about uncomfortably.
I decide I love my new bed.
What makes this waking up experience even better is that when I look to the left or right of me, the windows are at such a height that I can see clearly, without moving, the park like surroundings in which we have camped. I can see birds flitting and fluttering and trees with their leaves wavering in the wind.
How very peaceful and relaxing.
There is no noise from outside, just the hum indoors from the air conditioner, as I sit and eat my breakfast continuing to read my National Geographic. Yes, this is nice.
I spend the day once again with my grandparents while Loops stayed at the bus to continue on with his never-ending quest to ‘fix’ things. I left him to it while I spent time talking, meeting one of my grandparents friend’s, having a rather splendid chicken salad for lunch at a place called PDQ and touring The Villages (if you haven’t heard of it, google the place, and if you’re over 55 you should very seriously consider living here, it’s amazing, even if it is in Florida!).
Spending the time sitting and talking with my grandparents really gave me the time to appreciate them, from an adult’s point of view. When I was younger we would visit them once a year mostly, when time and money allowed my parents to make the trip. I enjoyed playing in their house, swimming in the pool and of course all of the Christmas presents they used to provide. But I don’t really ever remembering sitting down and talking with them, not really. So to listen to their tales of travel, to hear my grandfather reminisce about his days in business, the life choices he’s made, well, it was just all really rather special for me.
It also made me realise how much of this opportunity I missed out on with my dad. I wish I’d taken the time to ask him more questions, to have the patience to have listened to him more.
I’m glad, at least for two days, I had this chance with my grandparents.
It wasn’t long before another day and night was over, the four of us had dinner at a local restaurant, I had a more successful shower and another peaceful night’s sleep.
It was soon time to up sticks and drive back towards Tampa.
In silent agreement, Loops went about the outside mechanical chores to get us underway and I tidied away everything inside. I felt a little sad to know we were headed back to the storage unit instead of making exciting plans as to where to head next. But we still have a little more work left to do before our home is completely ready to be lived in full time. Just another two weeks to go.
It’s as we are leaving the park that we hear a clattering in the back of the bus. Oh no. What now?
We both spin around in our seats and look toward the rear only to discover…
Rule no. 4 – You must always make sure that EVERYTHING is secure before travel. This means put things away in cupboards safely, leave nothing on the countertops and, in this particular case, make sure the internal sliding bathroom/hallway doors (which are conveniently hidden away so you completely forget about them) are latched in the open position before moving off. Apparently this is Button’s job which she has failed to do (In my defence – I had totally not even thought about them and also, Loops was the last person to use them and didn’t lock them back in place – I rest my case).
So we brake for a moment while I lock the offending door back in place, grumbling (as I do) and blaming Loops for the mishap (as I do). We set off again turning onto the main road and yet again, another clattering from the back. It seems while I was grumbling and being angst-like about the first door, I didn’t bother to check the second one properly, which also wasn’t latched. More grumbling from me ensues.
This is why I’m not allowed to be in charge of the bus.
Another thoroughly enjoyable ride through the scenic countryside is interrupted only by a Skype call from Loops’ dad, at which point we had a fabulously fun time showing him where we were going through the windscreen – the joys of modern technology.
As we continue to pootle along, I’m struck again by not really wanting to head back right away and ask Loops if we can stop off and hang out somewhere. I reason that it would also be a great time for me to cook some dinner, as we have yet to try out the stovetop.
We head over to the Skyway Bridge which has a fishing pier and rest stop at its base, and a beautiful view out overlooking Tampa Bay – sparkling blue water, bright yellow sunshine glinting off of the ripples and birds galore.
We wander over the shore, there is a wonderful breeze cooling the air and the sun is beginning to sink. There are birds- egrets, herons, a spoonbill and pelicans – wading through the shallows and I take the time to watch and film them, in no rush at all.
I head back to the bus and pull out the pots and pans, vegetables and meat, ready to make some beef stroganoff.
Usually cooking is the very last thing I want to do, always tired and fed up after work, I’m most likely to sling something in the microwave rather than chop, boil or bake. However, today it feels a treat. I take my time, steadily preparing my items before testing out my new cookware. I find I’m rather enjoying myself. Apart from the stove being slightly slower than at home (note to self, add 15 minutes to any cooking time) I have no problems preparing our meal.
We eat at our little dining room table, with a view out of the window, and lost in our own thoughts.
As the sun sets, we make the final short leg back to the storage shed. As it’s my first trip in the bus in the dark, I get a lovely surprise by finding out the dashboard lights up in a beautiful luminescent blue colour, making it look even more like the inner workings of a rather large plane.
It’s a rather bittersweet feeling to watch Belle back into her space at the end of the night. However, this weekend has really given me a taste for things to come, and it’s got the sweetest flavour.
Two weeks and counting and Loops, Belle and I shall be hitting the road full time for our next adventures – I can’t wait!