Why a Yurt?

Good morning RGB fans!  Sorry we have been out of communication for four months, but we have been focused on building our yurt.  The next series of blogs will tell you the good and bad, hard and easy in developing 5 acres and building a yurt.  What we thought would be pretty easy became very complicated quickly. We hope this will help you in not making the same mistakes we made. 

The yurt building blog series will be the following, so you don’t have a book on your hands:

  • Why a yurt and selecting a company
  • Getting your property ready, pulling permits, finding contractors, wood platform or cement foundation
  • How to build a Weatherport 24’ yurt with a loft and getting a good yurt building team
  • The inside planning and execution
  • Lessons learned and what we would do differently

Why a Yurt?

As you all know, we sold our home in Bend back in April and had spent the last year and a half exploring the west trying to find the next mountain town we would call home.  In June, we were exploring Montana and were in Red Lodge enjoying the beautiful area and considering moving to there when we got a text from our real estate agent in Sandpoint, Idaho.  She let us know that the property we were looking at could be ours, before it went on the market, if we put in a full price offer that day.   We had thought we were getting priced out of Sandpoint with the crazy sales in a couple hours site unseen and decided at a minimum this would be a good investment. 

We were very excited that afternoon we had an accepted offer and would close on June 28, 2021.  This amazing 5-acre parcel was 1.5 miles out of city limits, next to a great mountain bike and cross-country ski area called Pine Street Woods, Sherwood Forest and Syringa Trails.  We could bike 1.5 miles to the library, 1.5 miles to the grocery store, 2 miles to downtown and the lake.  When we arrived, we did not realize all the down trees and the abundance of dead trees and limbing that needed to be done before we could put anything on the property.  It was the driest and hottest summer in Sandpoint history so we were worried about a fire starting on the property and we had no water or other utilities. 

We headed to Home Depot and got hand saws, loppers, pole saws, clippers and got to work on cleaning up the property and building massive slash piles to burn after the first snow and rainy Fall.

Prior to buying our Sandpoint property we had been talking with the agent for 8 months at possible properties.  We had learned that all the good builders were booked 2 years out and there were several big developments in progress that had most builders and contractors booked solid.  Greg and I always loved staying at yurts in campgrounds in the Pacific Northwest and thought it would be fun to live in a round home.  It just seems more environmentally friendly to have a smaller footprint.  We wanted to live in the minimum amount of square footage and enjoy more trees and wildlife on our property.  After living in less than 25 square feet for 18 months, 650 square feet sounded like a mansion!  After selling almost all our possessions in Bend, we really wanted to have a small footprint and own the minimum to be comfortable.  With Bode gone, it is just the two of us and after living with so little we had a good idea of what we really need to be happy.  So I began my research on yurt companies and the most durable yurts that last the longest in cold and snowy regions.  I joined several Facebook Yurt communities (these groups are awesome and people are super helpful, we even got to tour several yurts I n Sandpoint from the group communications) and in the end Pacific Yurts in Cottage Grove, Oregon and Shelter Design in Missoula, Montana came back as the most popular and satisfied customers.  The Mongolian Yurts looked really cool but the only person selling them was a lady in Portland and reports in the Facebook communities said it was months to get one.  The big issue in the Summer of 2021 was the crazy wood costs, shipping issues and both Pacific and Shelter yurt companies were in such a big demand they could not deliver a yurt to us until January or March 2022 and the costs of the yurt changed weekly due to the cost of wood (prices constantly going up!).  Building a yurt in Sandpoint, ID in the months of January, February or March is a big NO-NO with snow and freezing temperatures, we needed to have our yurt up by October. 

I went back to the drawing board.  I found a company in Delta, Colorado that made their yurts from steel beams and no lattice!  This company had been in business for 30 years!  These yurts could handle extreme wind and snowloads from all parts of Alaska, were Artic Research Yurts and ski resorts across Oregon and Colorado had successfully been used in harsh conditions.  They highlight being that many of their yurts in Alaska have been up 25 years before any vinyl being replaced.  The yurts even had insulation of R-20 (a regular home is R-19)!  I called the company and even got a customer to call and get their satisfaction of their yurt in winter conditions.  I was excited that this yurt could survive Sandpoint, Idaho.  Even better, they customize and build to your specifications and can delivered in around 8 weeks!  Strangely, steel was more affordable than wood.  Later on, I will discuss questions I should have asked but did not think to that would later become issues we will need to resolve. 

We went with Weatherport and decided to get all the bells and whistles.  We got a 24’ yurt with a loft and 8 real windows (later we will discuss why that many windows may not be a good idea).  We wanted it to blend in with the property so we got a green yurt with a grey roof.  With a signed contract and their team working on a design it was time for us to get to work prepping the property and getting all the utilizes, designing the platform, get the permits and get everything ready for an end of August delivery. 

In our next blog, I will discuss the complexities of preparing a property.  To be on or off the grid and why we made our choices.  All the permits and research you need to do and the benefits of living in a smaller community!

Here are links to recommended yurt companies and Facebook groups:

Importance of Meditation for Everyone

On the road daily, Greg and I take time to mediate each morning after breakfast. We read the book from Wim Hof , “Activate Your Full Human Potential.” The power of the Wim Hof Method is the combination of the three pillars. A committed, consistent practice including the breathing/mediation technique and cold exposure can help you unlock a host of benefits including: increased energy, better sleep, reduce stress levels, increase will power, stronger immune system. For those who struggle with mediation this 11 minute practice really is easy and great start for your day. I also like the sleep mediations you can get from your FitBit Premium membership if you are a FitBut user (I love my FitBit for this and for monitoring my sleep). Whenever I am at an amazing view, I take the time to center myself and mediate for at least 5 minutes. We can all take 5 minutes to enjoy the view, take time to calm our minds and mediate on our beautiful landscape. Just a mere 5 minutes can impact your day and positively effect your energy level! Whenever we get a little too busy and forget to center ourselves, I like to come back to this blog to remind me of different techniques and importance to have mediation in my life. I hope it is helpful for you.

Through this ordeal, I have learned a lot about concussions and traumatic brain injury. Every time I stress out and continue to blackout and hit my head, I could cause major neurologic and psychological problems. I finally took this seriously and decided I could not power on through.  In the next few paragraphs, I will give you a summary about stress, concussions and brain injury.  It’s a little dry taken from Mayo Clinic and a few other scientific publications but its helpful in your understanding why mediation is so important for those of us who are workaholics or survivors of traumatic brain injury.

Every year, 1.5 million Americans sustain traumatic brain injuries.  In a concussion, your neural cells are damaged and your brain must recover to rebuild these cells.  If you are always stressed your levels of cortisol will be high and the brain will take even more time to recover.  Cortisol is a corticosteroid hormone that is released by your adrenal gland during stressful situations. When your highly stressed then a large amount of cortisol remains in your brain. It generates more overproduction of myelin-producing cells and fewer neurons than normal. This can result in adverse effects that can impair important cognitive structures in your brain, like damage to your hippocampus (responsible for the processing and storage of short-term memory).  In addition, it affects the differences in the volume of gray matter versus white matter (creating more white matter and increasing atrophy in the white matter), as well as the and size and connectivity of the amygdala (is the integrative center for emotions, emotional behavior, and motivation).  The “gray matter” of the brain is densely packed with nerve cell bodies and is responsible for the brain’s higher functions, such as thinking, computing, and decision-making.

Multiple concussions reduce the amount of gray matter and decreases the number of stem cells that mature into neurons affecting learning, memory, decision making, multi-tasking and concentration. In post-concussion syndrome you can have symptoms like fatigue, sleep difficulties, irritability, balance and coordination problems, agitation, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, altered consciousness and difficulty processing information. I was suffering from all of these!  Studies and research have shown that Mindfulness meditation helps to reduce the symptoms and distress on the brain and helps increase gray matter in the insula, frontal cortex and sensory regions.  Researchers found that the frontal regions, anterior cingulate, limbic system and parietal lobes were affected during meditation and that there were different patterns of cerebral blood flow between the two meditation states i.e.“focused-based” practice and a “breath-based” practice.

Meditation increases regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) in the prefrontal cortex.  As reported by researchers the cerebral blood flow of long-term meditators was significantly higher compared to non-meditators in the prefrontal cortex, parietal cortex, thalamus, putamen, caudate, and midbrain. In brief body-scans of meditators show meditation practice improves somatosensory perceptual decision making.  Meditation enhances cortical remapping and brain functions while it also helps to uplift mental health and causes healthy changes in the brain. It was time to take my meditation practice seriously!

So, for ten years I was trying to learn how to meditate but never had truly made a practice.  I had read a number of books on meditation, mindfulness and how to radiate calmness.  I even went to mediation workshops but I never stuck to it.  Now I had to or I may never get better.  In the beginning, trying to calm my monkey mind was impossible.  I would start focusing on my breath and then the next minute I would be thinking about what I would knit next, go back to my breath and then think about a new recipe to try.  I could never sit there for more than 5 minutes without having to twitch or move or scratch.

If you are a crazy Type A person, whose mind is always thinking and nerving on something.  The best way to get into a mediation practice is to start with guided meditation for sleep, called Yoga Nidra.  I started with this one and then later I downloaded the Insight Timer App from the Google Store, it is amazing and I highly recommend it. My first few weeks I focused on mediating for 15 minutes lying down in bed before sleep during my afternoon nap and right before bed. Your brain can much more easily focus on the voice.   Like what my favorite Tibetan Buddhist Meditation master: Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche says, “You must give your monkey mind a part-time job to be able to meditate.”  As I did these guided meditations, I began to really focus on breathing meditation.

So, a couple times a week before I got up to start my day, I would switch off my audiobook and focus on my breath.   I would chant in my mind rising and falling with the rise and fall of my breath.  When my mind would wonder to something I could hear I would chant hearing, hearing.  Then when it would calm I would go back to my breath and chanting rising and falling.  When I would feel my mind wandering and want to scratch or move my leg, I would start chanting feeling and I would then not need to move and then go back to focusing on my breath.  Soon I was building mindfulness and awareness.  Once again, I was only doing this for 10-15 minutes.  I could feel my energy increase, my twitching and constant need to move to slow.

I am also now enjoying chanting mediation called Om mani padme hum.  I took this from the Tibetan Culture website “Om mani padme hum, which is an ancient mantra that is related to the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteshvara.  Every Tibetan child is taught the mantra by their parents, and they all use it very commonly in daily life, and especially if they make a prayer walk (kora) or go to the temple, or pray using a rosary (mala).  Basically, any mantra is “a sound, syllable, word, or group of words that is considered capable of ‘creating transformation.’”  There are great examples and guides on the Insight Timer App.

I then re-read all my meditation books, I highly recommend the following:

·         The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness, By Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche with Eric Swanson, Daniel Goleman

·         Joyful Wisdom: Embracing Change and Finding Freedom, By Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche with Eric Swanson

·         Turning Confusion into Clarity: A Guide to the Foundation Practices of Tibetan Buddhism, By Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche with Helen Tworkov, Matthieu Ricard      ranemediating

Rane mediating at our Beach House in Newport, Oregon

They now began to make more sense to me.  I now tried walking mediation when I went on my walks in Shevlin Park and around the golf course.  Trust me it’s not easy, I would have good weeks and have weeks in which I did no mediation and forgot about my practice.  But I wanted my brain to heal so I would then make sure even if it was only 5 minutes I did some type of mediation each day.  Then my friend Maribel taught me Hong Sau Mediation, which I love and can do for 30 minutes a day now.  I highly suggest this for beginners, here is a link to a great guide.

Today, I am focused on loving kindness and mindfulness mediation called Metta Bhavana.  In this practice, you start focusing on yourself and feelings of peace and calmness and then nurture your state of mind into strength and confidence while chanting ‘may I be well, may I be happy, may I be healthy and may I be free from suffering’ and cultivate the love within your heart.  The next stage you focus on a close friend.  Think about your connections, why you love this person, why you are encouraged by this person and begin chanting ‘may he/she be well and happy’ as you feel the love in your heart for that person grow.  Think of a person you are neutral with and have neither strong love or dislike for and think about this person’s humanity, what actions this person can make you feel encouraged and could make you love this person.  Begin chanting ‘may he/she be well and happy.’ Now think of someone you really dislike and have ill feelings toward (an enemy) and don’t concentrate on their negative actions but think about their positive actions, how can you think about the good intent he/she may have, how could you grow to love this person, how can you encourage this person and have good will towards this person.  Now chant ‘may he/she be well and happy.’ Lastly, in this practice you will think about all four people in positive light, now extend those thoughts to all the people you know, all the people in your neighborhood, all the people in your town, all the people in your region, all the people in your country, all the people and beings on earth.  Feel the love, encouragement, kindness you have for all these people.  Begin chanting ‘may all the people on earth be well and happy.  Slowly focus back on your heart and the love and kindness you are feeling and then step away from your practice.  This has grown into a 45-minute practice for me now.  Some great guides come from the buddhist centre.

My aspiration is for my experiences through mediation to help you in your desire to grow your meditation practice.  My greatest wish is this helps other Type A’s who feel: I really want to meditate but I just don’t have time or patience or the ability to focus their brain that way.  I am here to tell you, you can’t afford not to!  If you are a stress junkie like myself, you must start mediating ASAP you really want to repair the damage you are doing to your brain.   I am hopeful that this is helping my brain and in turn yours.  I am on twenty months of no blackouts and my migraines are diminishing.  I believe my memory is getting better.  I am also working much more on the right side of my brain with art, crafts, playing music but that was last week’s blog post.  Till next week, I hope you try a few of the practices above.

Packing for Overlanding Adventures

So many of my friends ask how to do know what to pack and how much to pack when living full-time tent camping? Then how to figure out what’s needed once you move from a van to a little truck camper. So this post is dedicated on how to pack, what to pack and how to downsize! I have learned, we typically pack more than needed to be comfortable. Here are my tips and tricks for packing and keeping it as minimalistic as possible! First, you need good weatherproof storage bins. I found these at home depot to be great and perfect for stacking and not too heavy if you pack them fully. You can also get them at Costco and Amazon. Four to Six should be plenty for two people, I suggest don’t go over four if you are trying to not have too many items to fit in your mid size truck camper. There is very little storage! Here is what we have decided to take with us to live for the next year.

We used two bins for food garlic, onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, shallots (I put all these in a plastic bag with holes I got from a farmers market potatoes bag-I have reused this for 15 months and it is still going strong), storage spices (I buy spices in bulk and use little ziplock bags for each spice and one large ziplock to hold all of them makes it easy for storage in small space), tin foil, one pot and two cast iron pans, 6 cup espresso maker, coffee beans holder and grinder, collapsible Tupperware, utensils, plates, bowls, cups, canned foods (coconut milk, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, cream of mushroom, artichoke hearts, canned tuna, pastas, noodles and rice. One bin for camp chairs, hammock, backpacks, yoga mat, headlamps, walkie talkies, duct tape, first aid kit, hiking poles, bug spray, bear spray and candles. The last bin is full of our clothes packed in compression bags. I suggest using these from Amazon and REI . Do not pack too many clothes you really will only wear a couple of shorts, 2-3 t-shirts, 1-2 tanks, 2 long sleeve shirts, one nice pair of pants, convertible hiking pants, a capri leggings and a long leggings, swim suit, couple of underwear, 1 set of long underwear and one nice set of clothes to go out on the town (I have a nice sun dress and Greg has a nice short and long sleeve button down shirt to wear with shorts or jeans). We have a couple of sleeping bags, sleeping pads and pillows that all fit in this great REI duffle bag. Reusing old duvet and sheet bags to store your shoes, sandals, hiking boots and extra jackets (we have puffy down jacket, rain shell, a fleece, beanie hat and gloves). We also use an old sheets bag for games like travel scrabble, Farkle (aka 10,000 a fun dice game), chess, and rummy. These bags are great to ensure things stay clean, organized easy to find and compact!

When living in a very tight space, organization is critical. When we got our new Overland Explorer Camp M and started unpacking our items and repacking, we learned we needed to get rid of our big plastic bins that could fit in the truck bed to small plastic organizers that could fit in the small storage spaces. Don’t forget to bring a small pack with sundry items, (I cut our hair so we have an electric razor), we use Dr. Bronner’s for shampoo, body wash, hand wash, clothes wash and washing dishes as it is biodegradable and doesn’t hurt the environment and won’t make you sick if you eat on accident from not rinsing off your plates well enough. This way we could stack and have dry items, canned items in one area, snacks in another, breakfast items in another, cooking utensils in another. Below is our new organization.

People ask what items are your favorite must haves, here are our top 5:

  1. Berkey Water System (this is great when you are boondocking and have a near-by stream to get water or to ensure you always have good water out of your water tank).
  2. Having a nice durable outdoor rug to sit on, exercise, save your camp spot, or take a shower when its dirt all around you. This mat has lasted more than 1.5 years for us so far.
  3. Comfortable, collapsible and easy to store camp chairs and camp table.
  4. Small portable axe, shovel, bucket and always have extra water containers we like these rotopax that can be added to our molle carrier.
  5. Weboost cell booster, we find this increases our coverage by 50%.
  6. Okay, I’m adding a six item- we do laundry everyday or other day and just a few items then we don’t have to go to the laundromat. We love the scrubba, works great and really helps to pack less clothes!

We hope this is helpful. Next blog, we will discuss our new Overland Explorer Camp M truck camper and our experiences with it so far in Montana visiting Bozeman, Red Lodge, the Beartooth Highway and Northeast and Northwest Yellowstone.

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The Joy of Art, Crafting to Heal a Type A Mind

On the road, I find solace in taking time to mediate every day and a few times a week to do charcoal drawing, water color painting, working on my book or journaling to exercise my mind in a different way. Below is a repost of my blog discussing the importance of art, crafting and meditation. So much of our days are jammed pack with every minute scheduled, we forget the importance to rest our mind or give it time for creativity. Taking this time actually makes our brains more effective, efficient and productive. For us to be healthy, we can’t spend all our time working or being on a computer or being high under stress. We can’t afford to not make time each week for arts and mediation. Research shows that mediation reduces anxiety and stress by 60% and those with insomnia it reduces your wake time by 50%. Studies show people who write about their experiences daily actually have stronger immune system function and creativity reduces mental health issues.

After my seventh concussion and being diagnosed with Traumatic Brain Injury, as stated in my last blog, I began to take my injury more seriously and knew I needed to make a change in my life.  My emotions were on a roller coaster ride.  One minute I would be happy, then next my husband would say something and I was ready to pummel him in rage and then the next I would be crying hysterically like a toddler having a temper tantrum. Not only were my emotions wreaking havoc in my life but my memory, word searching, attention span, reasoning and problem-solving skills were like a child.

Since I had been told by my neurologist to not read, go online or watch TV, I needed to do something to occupy my time and get healthy.  To go from having 15 hours scheduled by the minute to no schedule was utter maddening.  You can only spend so much of your day meditating, doing yoga, going for hikes/walks and cooking. I was still struggling to occupy my days and I wasn’t ready to see very many people other than my closest of friends.  My godfather and mother came over for a visit and she taught me to knit. I became a knitting fool.  Making scarves, hats, shawls for everyone I knew.

My sister-in-law gave me a nail art kit for my birthday and soon I was making everyone wood nail art deer, owls, ravens and landscape pieces.  I also thought it was time to do something with the bags and bags of wine corks I had collected and made these wooden and cork hot pot holders for dining room tables and cork boards. That Christmas everyone got a Rane original creation!  I was becoming a crafting aficionado and enjoying the smiles on people’s faces as they got something made by me.  I was getting a little over zealous with my knitting and I think I made everyone I knew something, that my husband suggested isn’t there other art therapies or maybe even music therapies I could try?


One of the many shawls I created for friends.

I then remembered with the work I was doing before I went on medical leave from Microsoft regarding helping military veterans reskill and get jobs in technology. There was research on art and music therapy helping military veterans with traumatic brain injury.  I thought if it could work for them, it may possibly work for me.  I couldn’t read the research reports to understand the details and unfortunately scholarly reviewed publications are not on digital audio yet, (perhaps, someone should really look into that.)  So, I went to my psychologist and asked what types of art and music therapy I should try. This would occupy more of my day, give my monkey mind a part-time job and hopefully start helping my cognitive impairments. He suggested I start first with the adult coloring books and listening to classical music.

Once, I was able to read again I began to learn what art and music therapy can really do for you.  In the last ten years, there has been significant progress in the study of TBI and art/music therapies.” Biomedical researchers have found that music is a highly structured auditory language involving complex perception, cognition, and motor control in the brain, and thus it can effectively be used to retrain and reeducate the injured brain.”

I also learned that listening to “polyphonic music has shown to engage neural circuits underlying multiple forms of working memory, attention, semantic processing, target detection, and motor imagery, in turn indicating that music listening engages brain areas that are involved in general functions rather than music-specific areas.”  A good example of polyphonic music is this old Sting classic, I love this YouTube rendition.

In addition to listening to music, I took it a step further and have been teaching myself to play the acoustic guitar. Through other books, I learned the importance of dancing and singing every day to my favorite song and how that help grow the strength in my vagus nerve (As my earlier blog stated, I learned my vagus nerve was having issues and was the reason for my blacking out and causing all my concussions and traumatic brain injury).

My poor husband would have to listen to me belt out at the top of my lungs ‘Dancing Queen’ by ABBA or ‘It’s a Beautiful Day’ by U2 or ‘Brown Eyed Girl by Van Morrison and the list goes on and on.  I started rubbing off on my friends and they would text me their dance out song of the day.  You should try it; your whole body get a rush of endorphins and total jubilation once your done with a grin a mile long and your spouse laughing hysterically at you.

IMG_20170504_142904 (2)

My first set of paintings on display at Chow Restaurant in Bend, Oregon.

I was starting to get bored with my adult coloring books from Costco.  When I was at the Newport Visual Arts Center, looking at the latest show there was a bunch of people painting with watercolors on the second floor.  As I walked in, I found out they had received a grant that allowed them to give free art classes every day for the community and I was invited in to try.  So for the rest of the Summer, every week I attended the water color class, pottery class, pastel class, coloring pencil class, and acrylic painting class. Soon, I was able to read again, I learned through Psychology Today that art therapists, “McGuinness and Schnur worked with TBI patients and they explain the salient roles of art therapy in addressing various parts of the brain with clients in a user-friendly way.”

They also state that, “art therapy can help with organization, problem solving, and memory when the frontal lobes have been affected by TBI.”  I then started concentrating on acrylic painting as my favorite form of painting.  And thanks to my friends Lisa and Amy, who one day said, “Hey Rane, you are actually getting good- you should sell your art!”  To my utter amazement, a local restaurant wanted me to show my art and by January 2018 I had sold 12 pieces.

Filling my days with painting, listening and playing music my energy, emotions and memory were improving. The hardest part of my TBI has been moving from a super positive always happy demeanor that rarely ever got mad to this uncontrollable rage that pops up from just a little comment could set me off.  If anything can calm this new emotion, I am happy to do it.  I am lucky my husband is understanding and can deal with these moments that happen several times a month.  My days are now packed with art, music, yoga, mediation and the outdoors. I highly encourage everyone, even those who may not have traumatic brain injury the power of adding more art, music or crafting in your life.  A lot of the research highlights how it can help slow and possibly stop Alzheimer.  Here are a few of my favorite beginner Youtube videos to get you started with music, art and knitting, I hope you try-  I promise you will have fun!

Back to Changing the World, NOT…

The old saying, “If I knew then what I know now”, echoes in my mind.

When I look back at this post, I see I still haven’t learned and how hard it is for Type A’s to learn. I thought after this post I had changed but in January of 2018, I started my own business to help small businesses with Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice issues as there were very few consultants looking to help small businesses. I started off slow and only working with a few companies, non-profits, counties and cities but then there I was again taking on too much and pushing myself too hard. I came close to having three more concussions and so I sold my business and officially retired. I had to admit I had mental disabilities and had to go on disability. Every time I think about over doing it again, I read this blog and I hope it can help you as much as it helps me when I want to get too involved again.

I would have not gone to the Hackathon in LA back in 2013 and when my doctor said I must rest. I would have had my husband hide my cellphone, laptop and taken it easy.  Instead, for the next six months, I still went online on my phone doing emails and answering what I thought were crucial emails and calling colleagues on how to execute important projects.

Of-course looking back none of it was more crucial than my health, I wasn’t saving lives, things could have waited.  Others within Microsoft would’ve taken the slack.  However, my ego was hard to reign in.  I thought what I was doing was so critical and no one else had the expertise and needed my coaching for things to be completed exactly the way I thopught they needed to be done.

Many of us think we can just ‘tough it out’ and work through cold, illness, etc.  What ‘toughing it out’ did do was postpone my recovery. Failure to heed my body’s warning signs caused dizziness, migraines, memory loss, executive function and slowed my multi-tasking abilities.  I now had to do eye therapy and my ability to focus  (switching from looking close and away) diminished to the ability of an eight-year-old and required me to relearn my focus and get glasses for the first time in my life.

So, after six months of eye therapy, no driving (Five years later, I still lack the confidence to drive and am only slowly adding in daytime driving for short distances.  But last month I did do my first long 200 mile drive from Bend to Newport, Oregon ), no television, no computer, no reading, no alcohol, no caffeine, no high intensity exercise, constant migraine headaches, dizziness, nausea, word searching, memory loss, six more black out concussions and lack of balance.  Then one day I awoke with a clearing in my head I had not felt in 6 months.  I went to the neurologist, she did some tests and said I think you are okay to go back to work but you must take it slow!  Do not jump fully in and do not take too much on you have been resting your brain for 6 months you need a slow transition back to work.

I did not realize her definition of slow was very different from mine.  Compared to the way I used to work, 12-18 hour days, I was only working 10 now.  Instead of traveling 3 weeks a month, I started with just a few days a month.  But as the months drove on, I was feeling more and more like myself again.

There was so much work to be done in diversity in computer science, combating human trafficking, committees for the White House Office of Technology Policy on computer science education for underrepresented groups and technology implications of human trafficking, hackathons, hacks for good, conferences, keynotes, panels, guest lectures, publications, projects with UN Women, NCWIT, ABI, CRA-W, ACM-W and the making of Dream Big (movie featuring young women in computer science changing the world), that I started back to my 16 hour days, and my crazy travel of three weeks a month.

Rane moderating Big Dream Panel at the Napa Valley Film Festival

Taking on diversity and Computer Science efforts at top universities around the country heading to India, Korea, UK, Brazil, Singapore, and across the United States.  In a previous blog post, you saw our film was featured at the Napa Valley Film Festival and was being shown all over the world.  I was so excited about the progress!  Also, the fact that Microsoft and Microsoft Research’s efforts were highlighted in many of the top publications (i.e. Slate, NPR, Huffington Post), I couldn’t but help agreeing to serve on nonprofit boards needing our help and expertise, at one point I was on thirteen boards.  My hubris and type A drive which had carried me so far was a hindrance to my healing.

At every free moment, I was working on some project with one of the many non-profits (as you know I am a get shit done person and not just a sit and advise type person).  In my spare time, I was at home trying to transform my local community (Bend, Oregon) by supporting more STEM efforts, starting a scholarship for under-represented groups in computer science and engineering at OSU-Cascades, helping entrepreneurs, volunteering with the tech community and local youth, mentoring and teaching a course called ‘Ethics and Computer Science’ at OSU-Cascades. I could feel the exhaustion coming on but I thought to myself “just one more conference and then I will take two weeks off and be fine.”

I am here to tell you, we are not robots and you can continue to ignore the signs your body gives off but if you don’t listen it will force you to listen.  As Type A workaholics, passionate and ready to take on the world are bodies are resilient but not that resilient!  You cannot ‘tough it out’ you must pause when your body needs a pause even if it is just a mental health day from work.

So, on May 232015, while attending a conference on behalf of Microsoft I had just finished several sessions and presentations at Day one of the NCWIT Conference in Hilton Head.  I had a dinner meeting with Mayim Bialik (Big Bang Theory-that was so cool!) discussing our film and her possible support and how Microsoft could possibly support a new Girls in STEM TV series she was going to kick off.  We returned to the hotel and I saw several of the researchers I was working with on a number of projects at the bar talking asking me to come join them.

After discussing theories, projects, new opportunities and changing the world of computer science it was reaching midnight and time for me to head for bed.  I was tired and started to feel a pain in my side (later I would figure out that would be a sign that I would blackout soon) but I ignored it and kept on.  As I walked away from the bar area to the elevators, the next minute I know I awoke in someone’s arms, with so many people surrounding me, all dazed and confused as I try to get up.  There was shouting, “Rane don’t move you’re bleeding and bleeding a  lot.”

Suddenly, EMTs are walking briskly toward me as my eye sight slowly comes back from a fog of gray and blurs.  “Ma’am you blacked out and hit your head, you have a good side gash on your head, can you just lay back we are going to put you in a neck brace and start an IV?” said the nice EMT gentleman.  One of my research friends from Harvey Mudd University began telling the EMT what had happened and he had her and a staffer from NCWIT follow the ambulance to the Emergency Room (thanks Catherine & Colleen).

Rane in emergency room sending selfie to her husband to calm him down, trying to make it look not so bad.

I had thrown up a few times in the ambulance (sorry Mr. EMT guy- all over him) and still could not comprehend what was going on. While waiting for the doctor, my colleagues called my husband and tried not to scare him with me being in the emergency room again and blacking out after hitting my head.  Once they were done, then I was taken for MRI, CT Scan, stitches and forced to stay awake for a few hours to ensure I wasn’t going to go to sleep and never wake up again.  I finally got back to the hotel at 4AM looking like a semi-truck hit me, it took me an hour to wash all the coagulated blood out of my hair. I went to sleep and at 10am I awoke to call the airline and get a flight back to Bend, Oregon to go to my neurologist.  I flew out with frustration, here we go again.  With a horrible migraine, nausea and dizziness, I headed to the airport to what would be a multi leg eight-hour (the take offs and landings were excruciating with another concussion) flight before I finally got back to Bend and into the arms of my husband. It was also so humiliating for an extremely independent person to be whisked on and off the planes on a wheel chair as people looked at me like oh that poor young woman. Talk about a humbling experience.  I was beaten down.

This resulted in the next several years of trying to figure out why I was blacking out, thirteen more concussions resulting in me having traumatic brain injury and fighting the insurance company for my long-term disability.  Who would know the benefit you pay into hoping you will never have to use would be so difficult to obtain.  Once you need this benefit, how difficult it is to get it, even harder to keep it and then battling their doctors, lawyers, appeals and lawsuits to get the money and benefits you need, deserve and have earned. No one explains how you need to fill out all these forms and one little error can make your benefits never happen.  Having to go on unpaid medical leave due to this (I will have an entire blog dedicated to this subject later in my blog series to help those dealing with long-term and short-term disability claims, so you know what to do to get the benefits you deserve).  I would move from one doctor visit a year with my primary care for annual physical and flu shot to multiple visits a week with the following healthcare providers: Neurologist, Vasovagal Specialist, Optometrist, Vestibular Therapist, Occupational Therapist, Neurofeedback Psychologist, Psychologist, Acupuncturist and Chiropractor.

I didn’t realize how life threatening it could be for you if you tried to just push through the pain.  I plead with you if you have a concussion to please take the needed time off and screen time off! I learned the hard way and trust me you don’t want to go through this.  During this process, I had to get character letters from friends and colleagues about the Rane before and the Rane after all these concussions for the lawyers and it was painful to read the new person I had become.  As I researched what was wrong with me, I realized we still don’t know much about the brain and especially concussions. I read and listened to everything I could on TBI and concussions.   I will spare you with the peer review scholarly research publications (they are quite dry, interesting but will put you to sleep) but here are my top three books for you to read if you or a family member is dealing with this issue.  Next week, my blog will be on lessons learned on how Type A’s can rest your brain.

  1. Super Better by Jane McGonigal
  2. Mindstorms: The Complete Guide for Families Living with Traumatic Brain Injury by John W Cassidy
  3. Coping with Concussion and Mild Traumatic Brain Injury: A Guide to Living with the Challenges Associated with Post Concussion Syndrome and Brain Trauma by Barbara Albers Hill and Diane Roberts Stoler

Traumatic Brain Injury Repost

As we have been traveling the country many people have asked I repost my story on Traumatic Brain Injury. There are so many workaholics who just ignore their body communications like I did, that they requested I share my story and push people to listen to their bodies and take more breaks. Maybe you even want to consider what Greg forced me to do, sell our home and hit the road and leave the working and volunteering world for an extended break. So the next 3 blogs will be about my TBI and how we got to become full-time Nomads. I will do a few revisions to make it more relevant to those on the road and how my life has changed since these posts were a few years ago. Then we will return to our road trip stories and pictures. We will post about how to pack most efficiently, great campgrounds in Montana and the amazing Beartooth Highway! Below, is from Greg and what it is like for a spouse living with a loved one with TBI who won’t accept their disability.

Hi folks, you may have been wondering where I’ve been the last few years since I’ve fallen off the map and social media world.  Unfortunately, at the NCWIT Conference in May 2015, I had a Vasovagal Syncope episode (My husband will describe this later) which resulted in a concussion and an ambulance ride to the ER in Hilton Head, North Carolina.  I’d like to thank all the thoughtful researchers, professors and NCWIT staff who helped me at the Emergency Room and back at the hotel.  This was my 7th concussion since February 2013 and my body was telling me to slow down in a not so gentle way.  The slow down required me to go on medical leave to the present and my future blogs will describe the 13 concussions and resulting Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and the fight to move from a ‘Type A’, left brained person trying to change the world to someone who needs to slow down, become more right-brained and focus on selfcare.  The blogs I hope will illustrate our frustration with the lack of understanding regarding concussions and TBI by medical professionals and insurance companies.  How the recovery process works for workaholic, outgoing, overachievers.  As well as the hardship for spouses who have to try and take care of a TBI loved one.  I’ll also try to include some words of advice so this doesn’t happen to others, but let’s start at the beginning… 

My husband Greg helps in describing the events from February 2013 that led to my current health conditions that I have been struggling with for the last four years.  Greg describes what he encountered: 

I woke up at about 2am to the sound of a large thud/crash.  I was startled and immediately thought that an intruder had kicked in our sliding door downstairs.  I leaned over to tell Rane that someone was breaking in and that I was going to check on it.  I was shocked she wasn’t there and my heart sank.  I knew something was wrong.  I hurried downstairs and found a large pool of blood next to the refrigerator and no Rane.  I freaked out and started to look for her, I found her in a daze trying to clean herself up in the bathroom.  She had hit her head and had a laceration on her chin where she had fallen on the floor.  We cleaned up the blood and tried to get Rane settled down back in bed after she insisted she didn’t need to go to the hospital right away (Even though she had a headache, blurred vision, was feeling nauseous and vomited, which we later learned are all signs of a concussion.)  In hindsight, I still feel regret for listening to her and not taking her immediately to the hospital.   

All I could think of was that she should not go back to sleep because a concussion could lead to complications, like going to sleep and not waking up-ever.  I had little to no experience in my life with concussions and did not know what to do next.  I seemed to recall that if someone hit their head and is that they should not go to sleep, I helped Rane into the shower.  I had her shower, sit up in bed and not go to sleep for a few hours until she seemed somewhat stable before I let her finally go to sleep.  This was the start of our experience with concussions and the complications from this little understood medical condition. 

It was a Sunday morning, a few hours after her fall, when I took Rane to the Bend Memorial Clinic Emergency Room in Bend, Oregon.  For some background, we had just moved from Seattle about 2 weeks prior to the incident.  We were just getting used to our new home.  The doctor we saw gave Rane some stitches and asked her some medical questions.  He said she probably had a concussion and she should be wary of the onset of concussion symptoms.  He suggested she go home and rest but Rane asked the doctor if she could fly later that morning for a Hackathon she was leading in Los Angeles, CA for work.   

For those of you who don’t know, Rane was a Principal Researcher for Microsoft who was leading Diversity Outreach and growing the next generation of computer scientists–especially women and underrepresented groups—at the time her concussions began.  It was to be the first International Women’s Hackathon* focused on hacking for good and helping non-profits with applications to uniquely help their causes.  Rane, as the leader, was worried.  She was expected to be there leading around 800 women from the world over who were counting on her.  Additionally, this event was her chance to bring the topic of Women in Tech and Women in Computer Science strongly into the media forefront.  Interviews were set up with the New York Times, LA Times, Huffington Post and NPR.  

The ER doctor gave her ‘permission’ to go on that Microsoft business trip and was rather nonchalant about the incident.  He did however tell her if she had a particular list of symptoms, to go to the emergency room.  Rane being the driven and dependable person she was ignored them all.   In hindsight, this decision for Rane to ‘tough it out’ and push through the concussion symptoms was a mistake. I wish I had forced her to stay home and take care of the concussion.   As it turns out this decision likely worsened her condition and greatly extended the duration and severity of its symptoms.  Her issues had a medical name we were later to find out from her Neurologist.  It is called Post-Concussion Syndrome. 

Some small consolation was the good Rane was able to do while on her work trip in LA.  The Hackathon reached women from seven countries and nearly 800 students from colleges and universities.  If you read her blog from February 2013, you will remember her focus was to help victims of human trafficking and work with the top NGOs in the United States to tackle this complex and horrendous issue. They focused on solving the following questions: given that internet technology is being used for exploitation and trafficking, how might the tools and opportunities of the internet also be used for the protection and defense of victims? How might a victim of trafficking be able to access the Internet to find her freedom?   

The home base for the Hackathon was University of Southern California (USC), with in-person and Skyped-in participants facilitating connection with women from eight countries around the world.  The Hackathon was able to show women they may only be small in number at their university but there are many of them around the world and they can collaborate and support each other.  The young women brought up how this was so different from other hackathons where they were mostly surrounded by men and most of the time ignored, not able to program but were instead relegated to project management or the final presentation.  There was fierce competition but everyone was supportive in giving suggestions, helping debug issues and wanting each other to be successful in helping the NGOs.  Several women discussed the fact that it was so cool to go on Skype and talk to women from countries outside of the United States like Columbia in South America and Australia.  It was exciting to discuss their applications and approaches.  The best quote Rane brought up to me was “It’s like competing locally but collaborating globally, it’s awesome to see I’m not so all alone and there are many women like me around the world!”   

After the hackathon, Rane was headed to Redmond for business meetings and her quarterly business review presentation.  I was surprised to hear from Rane that she was coming home early and needed to go to the hospital and get a MRI and CT Scan.  She had blacked-out and fell again at work, she had migraines and was very dizzy and nauseous.  I picked her up at the airport and I have never seen her so pale and suffering from a lack of energy.  She told me that she had been dizzy, nauseous and vomited several times during the hackathon.  I was so mad to hear she stayed up 38 hours straight and helped the ladies with their applications. Thank goodness, she was staying with a good Microsoft friend Kristin Tolle whose husband is a doctor.  After Rane was feeling weak and fell into Kristin’s arms, her husband told Rane she needed to go home immediately and see a neurologist.    

Rane had made an appointment while at Microsoft, and we went straight to the neurologist.  After a number of tests, we were lucky Rane did not appear to have any major brain issues besides post concussive syndrome and was ordered to take two weeks with no screen time and complete bed rest.  The doctor then let us know she should not have done the hackathon or worked.  Hindsight is 20/20.  As Rane’s supporters and friends you know she did not consider her cellphone as screen time and continued to answer emails and take calls.  This we would later find postponed her recovery.  Her eyesight and focusing abilities diminished to that of an eight-year-old, that after having 20/20 vision all her life prior to the head injuries.  Rane had to get glasses and go to eye therapy with an ophthalmologist to train her eyes to help her brain so she could finally get back to work.   

Rane continued to experience a lot of nausea, migraines, inability to focus, word searching, memory issues and continued to get worse and not better.  After two weeks off, she went back to work and traveled to Michigan to be a keynote speaker at the Women In Computing Conference.  While on the plane she got very sick and had to call the conference organizer to ask them to pick her up from the airport as she could not drive.  The organizer was very nice and picked Rane up and had her stay the weekend at her home.  Of course, she did her keynote and additional talks and meetings at the University.   

When she got home, she was an absolute disaster.  She was then forced to take 6 months off by her doctor and that’s when we first encountered the challenges with insurance companies and concussions.  Instead of granting Rane her short-term disability after four doctors had said she cannot work, the Insurance Company doctors said she was fine and did not have enough cognitive impairment to warrant short term disability.  She was forced to take unpaid medical leave.  It was a very stressful situation and did not help in Rane’s recovery.  We had no idea how bad concussions were and as soon as Rane felt almost 100% she hurried back to work.  She continued her crazy schedule and was off to Universities and Conferences around the world.  Never slowing down.   

If I knew then what I know now, I would have hidden her computers and cellphone and not let her return to work so quickly and especially fly all over the world.  

So, this leads Rane and I to describe what we’ve learned going through this process and hopefully some of the lessons that may help other people in similar situations.  This has been a five-year ordeal.  Here are three actions spouse’s supporting concussion/TBI survivors should consider: 

  1. For many caregivers, the hardest thing is finding some time and space to take care of their own health and needs. You will feel you can never leave your spouse alone and always worried about what if… It is okay to get away!  At first it may only be 30 minutes, then half a day, then you’ll feel okay finding a friend to stay with your spouse so you can get away for a few days and clear your head, you need this for your sanity!  If you are not healthy, you can’t take care of your loved one. 
  2. It is hard to get use to the emotional rollercoaster your spouse will have—one minute they are happy, the next easily hurt and upset, the next angry and ready to explode.  It will be hard, the anger will be overwhelming at times.  You will want to yell back, “What did I do this time?  You are really over reacting!”  Trust me that doesn’t help.  Learn to walk away, let it go and go meditate for 15 minutes.  BREATHE.  Remember, their brain can no longer control their emotions.
  3. Possessiveness and controlling behavior becomes instinct as you are caring for your spouse, it is hard to let go as they are getting better you are worried the worse can happen.  In the beginning this is a must, your spouse will get frustrated and mad at you often but don’t stop.  There will become a time in the healing process when you do need to let go.  Ultimately, you must trust they know their body and allow them to be the adult they are and make decisions on their own.   

This is the first of 3 part series, keep coming back to learn how to manage life with TBI or what not to do so you don’t get TBI. 

*Hackathon definition from Google- an event, typically lasting several days, in which a large number of people meet to engage in collaborative computer programming. 

On the Road Again…

It’s nice to have the stress of the last two months behind us and to be back on the road again. It’s a little different from life in the Boldt. After a long day of driving you can’t just turn your seats around and relax. There are a few more steps such as one must put up the tent and set up camp. We do miss some of the Boldt creature comforts but now we can off road and go where there are fewer people just coyotes, owls, hawks, bunnies and road runners. This week we are going to share with you a few of our favorite affordable and free campgrounds!

Our first stop was Fall River Campground outside Sunriver, OR. Greg still had his 2nd vaccination in Bend to receive so we stayed a few days at this campground which is only $14/$7 a night. There are 12 camp spots on the Fall River with picnic tables, fire pits, and a pit toilet. We were surprised that almost all the spots were open and only three other spots were taken when we were there. If you have a Berkey filter this is a great spot for unlimited water, the river water is super clear and cold! There is a hiking trail up and down the Fall River that is a few miles long and if you are a fly fisherman this is your paradise! Our neighbor caught two rainbow trout and were super nice and offered us one but with the 30 mph winds we couldn’t get our stove to stay lit, so we had to pass (boo-hoo)! After two days of beautiful weather, the weather changed on our last night to 24 degrees Fahrenheit, and the next day was forecast to have snow and sleet, we decided it was time to head South!

We were planning on staying, at one of our favorite spots, at the Lava Bed National Monument Indian Wells Campground which is awesome and only $10/$5 a night but the weather stated snow, so we went further South to Eagle Lake Campground in California. This is a great boondocking location but make sure you have plenty of water and you are packing in and packing out, there are no amenities during the off season. It is a beautiful location at Rocky Point and free. During the Summer and Fall the North Eagle Lake Campground is open $14/$7 but this time of year it is still closed. We had planned to stay here for three days but the wind was 25-40mph and was impossible to keep our Eureka Camp Stove lit. We highly recommend do not get this camp stove at REI, we are returning it and sticking with the Camp Chef it has better sides and back to keep the wind out. In addition, you can use a converter and use a real propane tank and not ruin the environment with the tiny unrecyclable propane bottles the Eureka uses. After one night, we headed out to go further South to Walker Lake in Nevada where the wind was supposed to be only 15 mph. But of course, we got to Walker Lake and visited the 6 different camping areas where prices range from free to $6/$3 a night. Once again we ran into crazy wind, we tried to put up the tent at 7pm when the wind was supposed to calm down but it kept blowing over the tent poles and we gave up and slept in the truck for the night.

As a result, instead of a couple days at Walker Lake we bolted’ to our good old standby Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge, that is a beautiful location and free. We enjoy watching and hearing hummingbirds, hawks, owls, flickers, cranes, ducks, geese and great blue herons. The Campground host is wonderful! He is super friendly and cleans every camp spot by clearing the firepit, rakes the camp area and even cleans the picnic table with disinfectant. He maintains the cleanest vault toilets I have ever seen or smelled! We were able to get our tent up before the 50 mph wind gusts. We had the tent poles hit my head a few times during the night. The next day, we got to enjoy a 4 mile walk around the lake and have a few hours of sunshine and a fire before the winds came back in with a thunder and rainstorm for good measure. It rained all night, and coming from Oregon we know rain.

We woke up to seeing our breath and snow on the nearby hills. We decided we had enough, packed-up our wet gear and raced to Marana and a nice queen bed at Greg’s parents. We would have stopped at Burro Creek Campground (only $14/$7) near Wickieup, AZ but it was pouring down rain and you all know how fun it is to put up a tent in the rain. It has potable water, flush toilets, picnic tables with covers and firepits. There is a group camp area if you are coming with a group. We believe with climate change all the meteorology algorithms must be off as none of the weather predictions were correct. That is one thing we do miss from our van is pulling up and relaxing inside and not having to set-up camp. Only a few more months and our Overland Explorer Camp-M will be ready and we’ll be back in business.

One last addition, last night we went to Madera Canyon in Arizona. The Bog Springs Campground is an excellent stop for only $20/$10 a night with water at each camp spot, picnic tables, fire rings, bear box and a vault toilet. It was very quiet and very few other campers. From the campground there are a number of trails up the Madera Canyon. The area is known for its birding and did we see lots of birds: wild turkeys, hummingbirds, acorn woodpecker, warblers, trogons, flycatchers, Mexican blue jays, eagles and bats. In the evening we were infiltrated by a gang of 5 wild turkeys, two squirrels, 4 blue jays and 2 deer. They stared me down and were like–“hey woman give us food or else!” It was quite the sight to see them all together.

In our next post, we will share suggestions in organizing your toys in a cargo trailer and how to pack for overlanding adventures as we head to California, Nevada, Idaho and Montana for our next road trip. Thanks Mom and Dad for letting us crash for 10 days!

A Fresh Start

Sorry we have been very quiet for the last several weeks. There have been a lot of changes for us. First off, after 15 months on the road we have learned that we enjoy life on the road, even with its challenges. We have really enjoyed the Van Life and traveling all over the USA exploring mother nature’s great outdoor spaces, so we decided it’s time to go all the way in. We returned to Bend, Oregon on February 25th to sell our home and all our possessions and become full-time Nomads! If you haven’t seen the news Bend is the number one remote working city on the West Coast and is growing like crazy! There is more demand than there are homes for sale. So in less than 8 days we decluttered, staged and sold our house. Then in another 8 days, we sold all our possession and packed- up a few items to store at our vacation rental. Thanks to my brother, David who did a few truck load round trips to help us move the few things we decided to keep. Of course, no sale is easy and to make a long story short we did a hurry up and wait and after 35 days it finally closed.

If that wasn’t enough work, we got the bright idea we are ready to try overlanding. For those who do not know what overlanding is, Wikipedia has a great definition (I typically am not a huge Wikipedia fan but will give this exception…) “Overlanding is self-reliant overland travel to remote destinations where the journey is the principal goal. Typically, but not exclusively, it is accomplished with mechanized off-road-capable transport (from bicycles to trucks) where the principal form of lodging is camping, often lasting for extended lengths of time (months to years) and spanning international boundaries.” Overlanding has been around since the 1900s where it started in Australia traveling across their continent delivering live stock. In the 1940’s it became more of an outdoorsmen activity. usually involves long-distance travel to remote locations that are under-documented and where little prior exploration has occurred. Other characteristics that define overlanding include, but are not limited to, self-reliance, adventure, survival, and discovery. Overlanding can involve a variety of elements such as crawling on massive boulders, wading in deep waters, slogging through mud, driving through sand and sprinting across a dry lakebed. It is minimalistic living and also with a focus of leaving no trace! Making sure we keep mother nature as is as much as possible for future generations to explore!

We loved our Boldt but even though it is 4X4 it is a very heavy vehicle, making it difficult to venture into sand or roads that are super rutted with lots of big rocks. What we loved the most this last year was exploring BLM and Forest Service roads that are off the beaten path and staying in places where there was no one around but coyotes, eagles and owls. Per our many stories, we were disappointed with the Mercedes Chasis, it just isn’t the quality you are paying for and after having it at the Mercedes dealer 8 times and unable to use our vehicle for about 2 months while living full-time (very inconvenient). We placed Our Boldt on Vanviewer, Facebook Marketplace, and a reached out to a few dealers. At the same time, Greg loves his YouTube Research and we spent a few days watching the most reliable off-roading vehicles and truck toppers that are durable, 4-season and as light as possible but with enough amenities we could live full-time (since we no longer have a full time home). So we then took the next 5 days to sell our Boldt! We bought a Toyota Tacoma Double Cab 6′ bed. Note to those who may want to copy us, the Tacoma is in high demand and we spent 6 hours talking to 8 dealerships across Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana to find one. It will take time, many dealerships told us we would have a month wait or longer! So we decided on the Overland Explorer Camp-M truck topper! It was a close back in forth between the Four Wheel Camper Fleet Model (most people have heard of the Hawk but its made for full size trucks and not mid-size) and the Scout Yoho, Kimbo and Carbou Lite 6.5 all not available until January 2022. Since we no longer have a home we were hoping for a truck topper we could get right away, we were surprised it was pretty impossible to find a used one from one of these companies available anywhere in this country. So we decided to go back old school tent camp until end of June when we could get at 2021 Camp M from Big Sky RV in Montana. Note, I have no idea how they sell tent so cheap and make any money but Costco sells a huge 6 person tent with a sunscreen room (great to avoid the mosquitoes this time of year) for only $129.00!

Images below of what our new set-up will look like in a few months and us at our campground as we wait for Greg’s second Covid19 shot. So I took all of our Van life possession and cut them in half to fit in our new truck topper setup. It is amazing how little we really need to live very comfortably! I was able to get everything into 4- 14 gallon bins that will be stored in the double cab once we have the topper. We are going to toughen up and no longer enjoy a wet bath but an outdoor shower and our little 2.5 gallon Thetford Porta Potty. Now I will know how Bode feels! Good thing Greg and I have gotten into the Wim Hof Method! It is a breathing technique and cold showers that change your body’s biochemistry and help strength your immune system, better your energy and sleep.

So of course nothing goes as planned. As we were selling our home and preparing to hit the road again, our little buddy Bode started deteriating at a rapid pace. After 12 fun and crazy years we had to let Bode go.

So our next post will be about our old school camping on the Oregon Coast, Sunriver then on to Arizona and San Diego. Then if all goes well we will report on our new Overlanding adventures across the USA, and why we purchased which overlanding stove, awning and cooler/refrigerator and all the cool gear to choose from. All I can say I love the Tacoma Crawl feature and the smooth ride is so much quieter and nicer than the Mercedes. Come back for more crazy adventures. We will end this post with our last shot with our crazy doodle Bode.

Winnebago Boldt BL Review

Overall the Boldt has been a good vehicle after a few fixes!  At first, we thought the BL may stand for bad logic but it has grown on us to become better life!  You know what they say about don’t buy the first model year of a car?  Oh well, when life gives you lemons… make lemonade!  For starters, this review is going to skip items that you can find from other reviewers that cover other items.  I recommend reviews from Ultramobility and the FitRV about the Boldt (we hyperlinked the videos for you to review if interested).  Keep in mind we are not receiving any consideration from Winnebago for this review, which should be self-evident once you see it.

First off, the Mercedes chassis.  Looks good, we like the styling, get lots of compliments on the Cobalt Blue stealthy color, so far the auto dim headlights work awesome.  I love the cruise control that adjusts based on traffic speed.  Although, it will become disabled if it gets dirty or covered with ice.  It’s fairly easy to park and change lanes with the vehicle’s sensors.  I love that you don’t have to break and turn off cruise control when someone cuts you off or slows down in front of you, it automatically does that for you.  

Cons, the Hey Mercedes ‘hands free’ navigation system must be either deaf or based on tech from 20 years ago.  It seems to never ‘hear’ or understand your voice commands.  My hunch is that the cabin is too noisy when driving??? We still haven’t figured out how to input geo coordinates even after reading the manual and searching Google.  We asked a Mercedes Dealer in Reno, NV about it and got no help so far.  We found out after our fourth visit to Mercedes we needed  a system software update and the GPS works.  You do need to be exact with your coordinate input what is West, what is East you can’t just put the negative digital coordinates.  

The mileage on our 4×4 diesel version is about 14 mpg after 6,000 miles of driving.  By comparison, I hear that the 2-wheel version is averaging around 17 mpg.  The automatic sliding door works great until it doesn’t.  Our 2-month-old van door stopped working as I was trying to exit the van with my dog Bode (he can only easily exit that way) at 5 am when it was 19 degrees.  It opened about 6 inches then gave up.  Some people in the users groups have said that this may be a low battery issue, the Mercedes rep I spoke to said it’s a known issue with no work around and that we are only supposed to open the door when the engine is running.  So, there’s got to be some fix for this or customer education on proper uses.  We have had times parked on an angle when with the engine on it still won’t shut you either need to shut it manually or have someone on the outside help push it shut as it is closing.  

One of my other pet peeves is that in order to disengage the instrument panel after turning off the engine you must open and close the driver door otherwise everything on the chassis will stay on- draining the battery until the system reaches low battery mode and automatically shuts itself down.  We have also learned from the Boldt forum that you can also turn the engine off if you remove the key from the holder and push the lock button on the key fob.  Also, because of emission controls you are not supposed to idle the diesel engine, which defeats the effectiveness of using the alternator to charge the Volta system.  

The house part of the Boldt designed by Winnebago also has some good stuff and some poorly thought through stuff.  We would think after years of building the Travato they would have fixed items on their high-end Boldt, but these beasts are very complicated and so far Winnebago has fixed all our issues via the warranty at no cost to us but time and days off the road.  So I guess we can’t complain.

Let’s look at the good: We’re cooking and eating nearly every meal in the RV so the dinette comes in handy and is useful.  I’m going to revisit the fold out single bed that’s under the dinette in the bad section, but could be good if you have a younger more agile dog that can jump to use as a bed or a smaller child.  The toilet/shower combo is good if you are skinny and not too large.  Keep in mind I’m just under 6 feet tall and 160 pounds and Rane is 5 feet 4 inches and 112 pounds, it would be comedy genius (or horror show) to see the average (large) size American in the bathroom, but it’s working ok for us, it sure reminds you the importance of staying flexible and fit.  The beds are okay and can be made from side by side full to a little bigger than Queen size.  We have slept both ways and find it very comfortable to do twins in the Summer and the queen in Winter!  We have added twin bed covers with additional padding which has made the beds more comfortable.   I like the smart design of the pull-down racks above the sleeping quarters.  We like the cassette style blinds-especially now that we had the Winnebago factory service center remove them and put a foam gasket around the edges to prevent light bleeding through, added insulation and reduce rattling.

The kitchenette is serviceable, would have been nice to have a convection microwave like on the KL.  I would have preferred a kitchen faucet with a removable spray wand and more of a U shape for easier hand and dish washing.  But its great to be able to have your refrigerator always running,  be able to grind coffee with the grinder, run the espresso machine on the induction cooktop and microwave all at the same time while your boondocking! 

Battery life, we arrived at Eagle Lake at about 2pm with full Volta lithium battery capacity.  We dry camped 2 nights with warm sunny days (63 degrees) and cool nights (25 degrees) and cooked all our meals in the van.  We ran the Truma heating system on gas only mode at about 60 (and 68 or so when we woke up) degrees setting during the night.  We ran the tank heaters both nights.  Using all these amenities with 2 people and a dog we were left with about 10% percent Volta state of charge by the second morning.  No alternator was used and my guess is that the solar adds about 5 to 10 percent capacity per day.  Oh, I also tested the Truma water heater on the EL2 Hot setting to test out the outside shower after a bike ride.  That alone burned 5-10 of the battery and my shower was luke warm after waiting 10 minutes for it to heat up.  I should have waited 20 minutes but lost patience.  After boondocking a bunch we have learned to use the propane mode to heat the water if we aren’t going to do a big drive, keep the inverter off and only turn it on when you need to cook.  The JBL sound bar is awesome and sounds great!  We like to boondock and stay off the grid and find  having to turn on the inverter and use power for the sound bar and TV is a waste of electricity.  We have decided to take the TV down and leave it at home to not waste battery and just use a Fire Tablet since most of our viewing is Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube and we have a USB chargeable outdoor speaker we use for our music and video viewing pleasure that works great and takes significantly less power.  This way we can charge on the USB and our 90 pound doodle has a lot more room to lay down and not hit his head on the TV.  

Tank capacities:

  • Fresh water 21
  • Gray sink 10
  • Gray Shower 26
  • Black: 24 gallons
  • Propane: 16 gallons

So far, we are on day four after dumping and filling up our fresh water tanks on Sunday.  The black tank is at 1/3 full, the sink tank is over 2/3 full and + shower tank is still empty.  We still have about half a tank of fresh water but we opportunity filled with the gravity method about 6 gallons at the Lava Beds National Monument campsite.  We do appreciate that the GVRW is 1973lbs allowing you to add a lot of cargo. The side and rear Rolef screens are a great addition and we’ve already used them this winter.

So, the limiting factor for us seems to be the kitchen sink tank and then fresh water.  Winnebago are you listening… We need a bigger fresh and sink tank, sacrifice some of the shower tank if needed or possible just switch the tanks.

Oh, I forgot, the other trouble that we have had with the van started on about day 3 after picking up the van in Forest City, Iowa.  Our sink gray tank macerator pump stopped working, which means you can no longer use your sink?!  Lame!  So for 2 weeks we washed our hands and dishes inside of our Instapot. Back then we were still asking Lichtsinn for service advice and their only idea was to stop at the nearest authorized service center. 

They didn’t mention the trouble shooting tips I later found deep within the owner’s manual.  Anyway, La Mesa RV Tuscon was sort of on our way, so we made an appointment and spent half a day waiting around for them to decide that the pump was bad(which ended up being an incorrect diagnosis).  They didn’t have one in stock, so we soldiered on towards our house in Oregon to try and resolve it there.  Then we went to our local shop in Bend, All Seasons RV spent the whole day on the pump issue that turned out to be a bad fuse.  Well, long story long, turns out Winnebago poorly designed the fuse panel and the tank heaters and pump to the gray tank were on the same 12-volt fuse.  This apparently was a design flaw and the fuse was overloaded.  So apparently, it’s thanks to our product testing that the Boldt will now have a service campaign to correct that issue, but it was quite a headache for us and ended with a week’s worth of fixes at the factory service center.  In the end, we also got them to add a bypass value so if the pump goes out we can still manually empty the sink tank.   

We find the black tank size is fine we have gone five days without needing to dump.  We find ourselves needing to dump because of the sink grey tank being full and the black tank is still at ½.  One thing is Winnebago puts in a very simple sewer house that you must hold that doesn’t lock or have an elbow.  We found a more durable one on Amazon that has  a clear elbow, which really helps in knowing when you are done and not having to hold it in place and step in the sewer dump area.

Truma is great, but control knob not wasn’t installed correctly.  It is a tiny screw and if the installer drops it, Truma says many times they just take another screw and use it.  If it isn’t the flat head screw then it won’t work properly, which is what happened to us.  Truma sent us a new screw and we are back in business.  So if yours isn’t working this is your issue.  

Locking cabinets perform well and a good amount of storage for the items you need to live in the van for the size of the van. Con, cabinets veneer is paper thin and not durable be careful ladies that your nails don’t scratch them .  Expect more for the money.  Also, the sharp end of the cabinet above the driver side bed, get ready to have your shin banged and scratched several times.  We have suggested to Winnebago in the next edition to make it a more curved corner.  

The fold out bed under dinette is a waste of space.  We’re considering removing it and opting for more storage-if possible.  It could fit a child that is under 5 foot well or a younger dog but no one else.  It also slips and slides and needs Velcro to keep the cushions it in place.  We added Velcro and now it works well, Bode has slept on it once but its too high for him to jump now that he is 12 years old, he likes to sleep onto of Rane instead.  

We don’t like the fact that you have to turn on a pump to suck out the water from the shower drain and it’s got to be cleaned after every shower. Only tiny fingers can do this- poor Rane is designated to this ‘fun’ job.  We have found after 10 showers you then have to open up the cabinet under the driver bed and clean out the screen in the pump.  Another fun job for poor Rane.  We have done a video on this and you can find it on our YouTube Channel, be careful not to wrench on the pump to hard in taking off the screen. Another reason to opt for the KL shower which simply uses a gravity drain.  Also, the BL had no toilet paper holder, we had one (Dometic) installed at the factory service center.  Check the height of the shower wand-the installed height for ours was installed below factory specifications and had to be relocated higher.  Once done it is a good height for those 6 feet tall.

Bed storage access is poorly thought out.  If my 5-foot-tall 112-pound wife can accidentally rip off the aluminum leg that props up the bed, Winnebago needs to revisit their durability testing.  The Service Center put a new one on and added a new Velcro to hold it in place.  I still think there could be a better design like a notch in the wood but it works now.

Nova Kool Fridge- works decent except for the door fell off day three after we picked up the van.  We called the manufacturer and they sent us new door hinges.  It’s been 2 months and it seems that the hinges are going to be a constant source of failure and poor design.  The bolt that holds the door on only is designed with a 1/16 of an inch of thread. I’ve had to fix it already on our current trip and we are only on day four. We finally had them add locktight and now we haven’t had any issues.  We do like the refrigerator size and we go grocery shopping about once every 7-10 days.  We have a full level for sparkling water and beer, one level for all the veggies and one level for cheese, meats, eggs, tofu, etc.  Condiments, yogurt, butter, half and half fit well in the door.

It would have been nice to have one Master control panel instead of 6 different gauges and systems.  Multiplex wiring and touchpad controls would eliminate the need for so many controllers and are commonly found on vans at much lower price points like the Coachmen Beyond, Pleasureway Ascent, etc.

As you have probably read on your research, Winnebago isn’t known for their quality control or warranty protection.  Unfortunately, our rig was finished on Friday the 13th, so the team must have been anxious to leave the factory.  Not only did we have the issues above, our counter wasn’t installed properly and there was a large gap against the wall and trim where a lot of food and debris could fall down and looked very cheaply done.  Also, there was no backsplash so it allowed food to fall behind the counter.

We were happy that at the factory service center they added one for us.  It looks really nice and no food debris behind our kitchen to attract rodents.  The Rolef screen was installed improperly and had a significant hole in the corner where mosquitoes and flies could easily fly in.  The bathroom shower had the hot and cold flipped, resulting in 5 super cold showers for us, until we figured it out not to mention the fact that the shower drain screen was installed backwards.  The shower was installed 1.5 inches below specification, making it difficult to use for a 6 foot man. The outlet next to the sink was poorly aligned and didn’t sit flush.  A couple of our drawers weren’t installed properly and had to be reinstalled.

In the end, the VP of Winnebago called us and made it right and had all our issues fixed (at that time, we now have a few more), taking a full week at the factory service center in Junction City, Oregon.  We are going back to have the next set of items fixed.  We highly recommend if you have issues with your Boldt take it there- the team is professional, knowledgeable and detailed oriented.   He also sent a product engineer from Winnebago, Chris Bienert, out to meet with us(you may recognize Chris from several FitRV videos) and for us to share the items that need to be fixed for the next models that get built.  We enjoy our BL now, but it should have been this way when we purchased it and hope people who purchase it no longer have all of these production issues.  If we had to do it over again, we probably would have purchased the KL.  Live and learn.  😊  We are really enjoying full-time living and surprisingly comfortable for two people and a large doodle.  

Western Arizona RV Trip

For the month of November, we explored Arizona and had several amazing trips!  This week I am going to share our Western Arizona Route and great places to boondock or camp that are affordable and fun! 

One question we get is living in a van how do you manage all your toys of all the different seasons?  We purchased a 6×12 cargo trailer that we leave in Tucson, AZ (Greg’s parents live in Tucson so we can visit them while we drop off or pick-up items).  The name of the RV Park that we store it at is Diamond J’s, its very affordable and located next to some great hiking and mountain biking at the Tucson Mountain Park.  We store all of our gear so we can transition from Summer and Fall activities to Winter and Spring.

For our Western Arizona trip, we wanted to paddleboard, bike, hike and run as we adventured to different areas.  November was a very pleasant temperature, with lows in the 50s and highs in the 80s.  We like to travel about 100-175 miles a day or every few days.  Here is our last trip- the good and bad of each location and if we would go back.  

  1. Picacho Peak Campground ($30- no water)
  2. Lost Horse Tank BLM Sonoran Desert National Monument (free 14 days)
  3. Painted Rocks Petroglyphs BLM Campground ($8/$4 w/Access Pass)
  4. Dome Rock Mountain, Quartzsite (free 14 days) recommend Cholla Road instead
  5. Buckskin Mountain Campground ($35 electrical)
  6. Craggy Wash Lake Havasu (free 14 days)
  7. Katherine Landing ($20/$10)
  8. Temple Bar ($20/$10)
  9. Cerbat Foothillls Recreational Area (free 14 days)
  10. Burro Creek Campground ($14/$7)
  11. Chandler Cracker Barrel (free)
  12. Gilbert Ray Campground Tucson Mountain Park, Tucson, AZ ($20)

Picacho Peak State Park is about 49 miles west of Tucson.  Be aware there is no water in the park even though there is electrical spots and water for showers.  You need to bring your water or fill your 5-gallon water jug with a 64 oz water bottle in the ‘wash your dishes sink’ and do gravity fill.  For $30 a night, we feel it’s a little over priced and suggest just do a day trip to do Sunset Vista and Hunter Trails.  I really enjoyed the hikes make sure you bring walking sticks, gloves and wear hiking shoes as it gets rocky and steep and you will use a steel cable to climb up a rocky steep area.  There is an RV dump here, no potable water.  We were under whelmed and won’t be coming back for the price.

Our next stop off old Highway 84, about 60 miles from Picacho, is Lost Horse Tank BLM area (GPS 32.8411, -112.3244) that is in the Sonoran Desert National Monument. There is decent Verizon cell coverage between 2 to 3 bars. You need to be careful where you camp if you go too far South you are in the drug and human trafficking route.  Don’t stay right at the entrance of the area as several people came there to shoot guns, we recommend going down the road and to the right.  We found a great spot away from the freeway and away from the trafficking route with no nearby neighbors.  You can stay here for free for 14 days, were stayed here two days and did a few bike rides and runs through the desert.

From here, you have 51 miles to Painted Rock Petroglyphs (GPS 33.02437, -113.04543).  Since I have an Access pass this is an awesome stop for $4.  They have fire rings, picnic tables, trash cans and ancient petroglyphs.   There are good trails for mountain biking and trail running.  No water, no hook-ups, no RV dump but it’s a great spot.  We love this spot, so few people its like having a campground to yourself.  We have returned to this spot 4 times now.

Next, we headed about 158 miles to the famous Quartzsite.   You need to check in with the Dome Rock Campground host at the entrance to get your 14-day free permit on Dome Rock Road, then head to Cholla Road GPS: 33.6493, -114.28, there are a lot less people staying off Cholla Road.  You head around the bend and you will see dirt road to the right.  I suggest staying away from the wash area so you don’t get stuck.  It was great in November, there were very few people the camp host said they get busy in January. We did several mountain bike rides, and trail runs, there are so many trails everywhere.  There is Verizon 3 bars on Dome Rock but the cell coverage is pretty limited on Cholla Road.  For us it was worth it to get away from people and generators and we just biked or ran to more cell coverage couple times during the day.  If you want to stay longer than 14 days you can head over to RoadRunner and stay there for a few days then head back to Dome Mountain (we haven’t stayed here but drove by it.  It didn’t look bad and we would consider staying there.  We stayed here for 3 days.  We will be back in off-season.

From Quartszite, we headed fifty miles to Lake Havasu and stopped at Buckskin Mountain Campground to fill up with water and to dump.  There is free WiFi and good cell coverage here.   It’s a beautiful location and great stop for paddle boarding and great hikes and trail runs right from the campground. There are 68 campsites, 30 with electric, all with picnic tables and fire pit/grills and you must reserve online ahead of time. We really liked this spot and will come back, it is spendy at $35 but coming from Quartzsite you need to dump and refill water and it is a good middle point before Lake Havasu and less people than the state park in Lake Havasu.  You will also find since there is a drought there are no free water fill areas in Lake Havasu, many of the grocery stores have the water fill stations you pay for potable filtered water but will need to fill 5–6-gallon containers and do gravity fill. We stayed here one night and would be willing to come back here.  Since we prefer non-campgrounds that is why we only stayed 1 night. 

Next, we traveled 36 miles to Craggy Wash (GPS: 34.5863, -114.364586) in Lake Havasu.  There are several areas you can boondock for 14 days.  Craggy Wash used to be one of our favorite free spots but it has become over run with homeless and people pretty down and out.  Depending on the time of year there is great trail running and mountain biking but in November it is pretty deep sand making mountain biking difficult.  Also, with a lot of the homeless, mentally ill, not the most-friendly dogs off leash and folks sporting side arms on their hips as a woman I did not feel too comfortable running by myself.  We used to love this spot but I don’t think we will be back, we only stayed 2 days. 

We were excited to explore the Lake Mead National Recreational Area, our first stop was Katherine Landing which is about 66 miles from Craggy Wash.  There is WiFi and cell coverage and with an Access Pass it was only $10 a night.  There is first come first serve spots and only two of the loops are open during COVIOD19 and winter.  Each spot has a picnic table and firepit.  There is water and a RV dump no electrical. There are several hikes and you can head down to the marina to paddleboard or rent water equipment like kayaks, paddleboards fishing boats, etc.  When we were there it was way too windy, we just did a few hikes.  We spent 2 days here and will come back. 

(temple bar pictures)Surprisingly, there are very few people at Temple Bar which is 97 miles from Katherine Landing.  The park ranger said since its off the main highway not many people head this way.  We really enjoyed the peace and tranquility of this spot (and lack of wind!).  There were nice views of the Lake and other than the camp host there was only one other camper at this 71 campground site.  There is Wi-Fi and great cell coverage and a nice walk down to the marina and beaches.  We liked this spot better than Katherine Landing.  I paddle boarded and did several runs.  Similar to Katherine Landing it is $20/$10 a night with picnic tables and firepits and some sites also had grills, water and RV dump station.  We stayed here two nights and we’ll be back. 

From Temple Bar we headed back to Tucson as we had an appointment at La Mesa RV to get some items fixed.  We had planned to take the old Route 66 near Kingman but we ran out of time.  Kingman is a great spot to get gas, groceries and get your Starbucks. On freecampsites.net you can get several free spots to stay on Route 66 and if you are a Harvest Host Member there are two spots on Route 66.  For us, we headed down the hwy 93 to the Cerbat Foothills Recreational Area about 76 miles from Temple Bar. Its convenient, right off the freeway so we only stayed one night.  It’s a true boondocking spot with nothing but just a gravel parking lot but there are lots of cool mountain biking and hiking/running trails.  The landscape was beautiful you have a mixture of one-night campers and a few long-term homeless campers.

A nice quiet spot that is right off the freeway is Burro Creek Campground that is 75 miles South.  (Top 4 pictures below) For only $7 a night it is great to get water and have an RV dump.  Its right on the river and a few nice spots with views.  We stayed here only one night there was a little too much generators for peace and quiet.  I had a nice run in the area but there are a lot of cattle and the trails are over grown.  There is BLM booondocking spot above before you get to the campground that we would most likely stay next time.  We left super early so we could get through Phoenix before rush hour traffic.

(We needed to stock up on groceries and there is inexpensive Costco Gas in Chandler, so we drove 139 miles to the Cracker Barrel in Chandler for the night.  There are three RV spots and its pretty calm place.  Early the next morning we headed out to bypass any traffic and headed to Gilbert Ray Campground in the Tucson Mountain Park which is about 98 miles.  We really enjoy all the trails you can mountain bike and hike.  For Arizona $20 a night is the most inexpensive campground you will find outside the forest service and there is an RV dump, water, picnic tables and firepits.  Its quiet and there is a first come first serve loop.  We will be back! 

We hope you enjoy these spots as much as we did!  Enjoy!

New Year’s Resolution: I can’t do everything and that is okay!

Welcome 2021!  As we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day today, I feel his quote is particularly fitting for this blog: ” Even though we face difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.”

This week I am going to deviate slightly from van life travel.  After one year of retirement, touring the country– living in a van and experiencing life during a pandemic, I decided my New Year’s resolution would be that of being fully honest on my capabilities and accept I can’t do everything. 

Being a Type A overachiever, who believed and spent the last 40+ years if you put enough effort and determination you can do anything you want to try, it’s hard for me to now admit I am prohibited in doing everything.  Living with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), now makes it no matter how hard I try there are things I just can’t do anymore well.  TBI is a hidden or invisible disability I have been living with the last seven years.  Many people don’t realize what is an invisible disability, a physical, mental or neurological condition that is not visible to others because they can occur in life but the person does not outwardly appear to have a problem since there is no need for a wheel chair, walker or crutches.  After spending years multi-tasking, sitting on multiple global projects, advisory boards, commissions, tasks forces and doing it all successfully, empathetically, and professionally it’s hard for  people who have interacted with me, that I just can’t do those things well anymore.  When you have TBI your Amygdala and occipital lobe can be damaged.  Your Amygdala is responsible for many important brain functions like, memory, learning, executive function and emotions while the occipital lobe controls your visual processing, distance and depth perception, object and facial recognition and memory formation.  Due to my damaged Amygdala and occipital lobe:

  • I now forget a lot of things and need lists
  • If I am told something in confidence I may forget and discuss it
  • I no longer have a filter and say things I should know not to say that may hurt someone’s feelings (lack of executive function)
  • My emotions are constantly on over load,
    • I get overly upset if I hurt someone and can’t stop worrying about it
    • I anger easily over silly things
    • I am quick to cry
    • I am quick to yelling and raising my voice
    • I feel like I need to apologize to my husband multiple times a day for my behavior
  • It’s difficult when I drive, I must concentrate really hard due to my challenge with depth perception and reaction time has decreased significantly
  • I get migraines often, feel woozy and need to nap daily

Because of this, I sold my business at the end of 2019 and retired.  I finally learned I couldn’t work anymore when I needed to nap daily, I’d get frustrated and set-off so easily, and if I had a hard day, I would be dizzy, nauseous and have a migraine.  So, Greg made the executive decision for us to hit the road and enjoy the vanlife and start RGBAdventures to document our adventures.  When you visit our blog, our YouTube, Facebook and Instagram it looks like all fun but you don’t see the tough days dealing with TBI.  In a social media world, we see all the positives and don’t share the challenges. It’s hard to be vulnerable when we live in a society that must show competence and achievement. 

I write this post for four reasons:

  1. To remind us that many people have disabilities and challenges that are hidden and we don’t realize and that we need to be more patient and understanding, especially in a time of COVID-19
  2. Don’t let social media get you depressed and feel like I wish I had that life, as that person probably feeling same challenges and difficulties as you but can’t really show it and wants to create positive influence in your day.
  3. If I personally hurt you by my actions, I am so sorry it wasn’t my intent and I can’t make TBI an excuse but hope it gives you some understanding to forgive me eventually.  And if you know someone who may have TBI please understand they may look normal but if they do something that upsets you try to understand that they may not have full ‘control’ of their brain anymore. 
  4. To remind myself and others that we can’t do everything and that it is okay to lean on friends, family and loved ones and admit when we need help.  I hope this also allows you to ask for help.

During this pandemic, we need to give ourselves and our community a break and be more understanding.  It’s okay for us to have a little more self-care and do a little less.  It is a great time to enjoy the outdoors and what mother nature can bring us to relieve anxiety and stress.  When I can’t control my brain, the one thing I appreciate the most living in a van right now and being able to control is being able to run, hike, bike, ski, paddleboard, swim and focus on my physical health.   It’s okay to be vulnerable, not be perfect at everything and let people help you.  If you want to learn more about TBI here is a great article.  Hoping for a positive and wonderful 2021 for everyone! 

Favorite Vanlife Recipes

When we set out for our one year + travels on the road I had huge grandiose plans to put our Bend home for rent for a year and our beach house on Airbnb vacation rental for a year and not come back.  We were going to head North then East then South and not look back but COVID-19 hit and all plans changed.  Finding reliable and dependable help during this time, was quite difficult so when things break at our two homes it ended up being us needing to travel back and fix.  The idea of only staying in the great outdoors disappear when you need to get a lot of miles in and you are just too tired to go exploring down dirt roads. Those are the times that a Cracker Barrel parking lot doesn’t look too bad.  The idea of visiting James Beard award winning restaurants all over the country has ended and I cook all our meals.  So, my recommendation is be flexible, be ready to make course corrections and Cracker Barrel parking lots are a lot quieter than highway rest areas (except for the tweeker that we parked next to one unfortunate night in Rialto, CA, who decided to fire up his generator at 2am and run his grinder)! 

Now that we have been van-lifing it for 10 months now, I have honed in some easy recipes to make on the road.  With COVID-19, as I stated previously my idea of visiting James Beard award winning restaurants across the country is out the door and we pretty much never go out to eat.  I make about 95% of all our meals in the van.  A lot of our subscribers and other RVers ask how do we enjoy real meals on the road and eat healthy?  I have to thank Greg on the wise purchase of the InstantPot!  ( Disclosure: we are Amazon Associates, so we earn from qualifying purchases). I pretty much use it every other day.  The 6-quart size makes about 2-3 meals for us per use.  We eat very healthy and love the one pot clean-up!  It really makes it easy to cook great dishes in our tiny kitchen. 

Greg’s favorite meals are my coconut curry lentil soup, split pea and pancetta soup, boneless spareribs, vegetables, potatoes & brown rice, chicken sundried tomato sausage & vegetable pasta and last but not least for dessert lemon cheesecake.  When you are on the road and don’t have an oven, dessert can get very tricky.  I have mastered fruit cobblers, banana nut bread and chocolate peanut butter cake in the microwave.  These could be helpful when you need to quench that sweet tooth. 

Coconut Curry Lentil Soup
1 ½ cup lentil
1 ½ cup brown rice
1 zucchini chopped
1 onion chopped
Handful of baby carrots cut in half
Handful of chopped kale
4 purple potatoes diced
1 sweet potato diced
1 can diced tomatoes
1 shallot diced
1 yellow or green bell pepper diced
4 cloves of garlic diced
8 baby portabella mushrooms chopped
1 tablespoon ginger paste
4 cups of water with 1 vegetable bouillon cube soaking
1 can coconut milk
8 oz Greek coconut yogurt
2 teaspoons of following spices: grand masala, thyme, smoked paprika, turmeric
Salt and pepper to taste
2 table spoons of coconut oil

Cooking instructions:
1. Turn instant pot on sauté and sauté for 5 minutes- coconut oil, ginger, garlic, onions, zucchini, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, shallot, mushrooms, bell pepper and add spices
2. Once onions are translucent pour in coconut milk, coconut yogurt, water, diced tomato, chopped kale, 1 ½ cup lentils and 1 ½ cup brown rice
3. Turn off sauté, put on instant pot lid, make sure its on seal, then select pressure cook for 24 minutes.
4. Let it release steam on its own for 15 minutes then select unseal a little steam may come out.  Once all steam is released you are ready to enjoy.  

Split Pea and Pancetta Soup
1 ½ cup brown rice
1 ½ cup split peas
1 zucchini chopped
1 onion chopped
1 package of pancetta (I like the diced pancetta at Trader Joes)
Handful of baby carrots cut in half
Handful of chopped kale
4 small golden potatoes diced
1 shallot diced
4 cloves of garlic diced
1 tablespoon ginger paste
6 cups of water with 1 vegetable bouyon cube soaking
1 can coconut milk
8 oz Greek coconut yogurt
2 teaspoons of following spices: thyme, dill, parsley, basil
Salt and pepper to taste
2 table spoons olive oil
Cooking instructions:
1. Turn instant pot on sauté and sauté for 5 minutes olive oil, ginger, garlic, onions, zucchini, carrots, potatoes, shallot, pancetta and add spices
2. Once onions are translucent pour in coconut milk, water, diced tomato, chopped kale, 1 ½ cup split peas and 1 ½ cup brown rice
3. Turn off sauté, put on instant pot lid, make sure it’s on seal, then select pressure cook for 20 minutes.
4. Let it release steam on its own for 15 minutes then select unseal a little steam may come out.  Once all steam is released you are ready to enjoy.  
Boneless spareribs, vegetables, potatoes & brown rice
1 ½ cup jasmine rice
4 boneless spareribs chopped in 1-inch cubes (I like to get a package from Costco, they are long and 1 inch thick and then I put 4 in a Ziplock bag-usually you can get about 4 meals in one package)
1 onion chopped
½ bag of baby carrots cut in half
½ bag of broccoli crowns
8 baby portabella mushrooms chopped
6 small golden potatoes chopped in 4s
2 shallots diced
1 bell pepper Julianne
4 cloves of garlic diced
1 tablespoon ginger paste
1 ½ cups of water with 1 vegetable bouyon cube soaking
2 teaspoons of following spices: soy sauce, hoisin sauce, Worcestershire sauce, garlic salt, onion salt, smoked paprika, basil, coriander, rosemary  
Salt and pepper to taste
2 table spoons sesame oil
Cooking instructions:
1. Turn instant pot on sauté and sauté for 5 minutes sesame, ginger, spare ribs, garlic, onions, carrots, potatoes, shallot, bell pepper, mushrooms and add spices
2. Once onions are translucent pour in 1 ½ cups of water, 1 ½ cup jasmine rice
3. Turn off sauté, put on instant pot lid, make sure it’s on seal, then select pressure cook for 15 minutes or rice function
4. Let it release steam on its own for 15 minutes then select unseal a little steam may come out.  While it is releasing put ½ bag of broccoli crowns in microwave for 2 ½ minutes.  Once all steam is released add broccoli crowns and mix up and you are ready to enjoy.  
Chicken sundried tomato sausage & vegetable pasta
1 zucchini chopped
1 onion chopped
8 baby portabella mushrooms chopped
Couple Handfuls of chopped kale
1 can diced tomatoes
2 cans tomato sauce
5 sundried tomatoes diced
1 can sliced black olives
1 shallot diced
1 green bell pepper diced
4 cloves of garlic diced
4 cups of water with 1 vegetable bouyon cube soaking
2 cups red wine
2 teaspoons of following spices: parsley, Italian spice, rosemary, thyme, smoked paprika
1 box of penne pasta
Salt and pepper to taste
2 table spoons of olive oil
Cooking instructions:
1. Turn instant pot on sauté and sauté for 5 minutes olive oil, garlic, onions, zucchini, mushroom, shallot, bell pepper and add spices
2. Once onions are translucent mix all items and make sure nothing is sticking to bottom you may need to add more olive oil and ensure nothing is sticking to bottom of the pot.  Turn off sauté.  Then pour in water, add pasta do not mix (this is important so you don’t burn your pasta) add, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, chopped kale, red wine-make sure pasta is fully covered.
3. Put on lid, make sure it’s on seal, then select pressure cook for 10 minutes.
4. Let it release steam on its own for 15 minutes then select unseal a little steam may come out.  Once all steam is released you are ready to enjoy.  
Beef Stroganoff
1 rib eye steak or beef loin or beef roast (Trader Joes Balsamic Rosemary Roast is perfect) sliced in bitable pieces (marinate beef with 2 tablespoons: Worcestershire sauce & soy sauce, 1 teaspoon: garlic salt, onion salt, thyme, rosemary, black pepper, smoked paprika)
1 onion diced
4 cloves of garlic diced
5-8 baby portabella mushrooms sliced
1 shallot diced
1 can of cream of mushroom soup
8 oz of sour cream
1 bag penne pasta or tagliatelle pasta
4 cups of water with a beef bullion
2 tablespoons of butter
Cooling Instructions:
1. Turn instant pot on sauté and sauté for 5 minutes butter, garlic, onions, mushroom, shallot, steak and spices
2. Once onions are translucent mix all items and make sure nothing is sticking to bottom you may need to add more butter or olive oil and ensure nothing is sticking to bottom of the pot.  Turn off sauté.  Then pour in water, add pasta do not mix (this is important so you don’t burn your pasta) add cream of mushroom soup, sour cream and ensure all pasta is fully covered if not add a little more water.
3. Put on lid, make sure it’s on seal, then select pressure cook for 10 minutes.
4. I like to steam broccoli crowns in the microwave for 2.5 minutes to have with my stroganoff.
4. Let it release steam on its own for 15 minutes then select unseal a little steam may come out.  Once all steam is released you are ready to enjoy.  
Lemon cheesecake
You’ll need a 6” cheesecake pan I like this one from Amazon
1 ½ cups of grounded graham crackers (I make a bag of grounded up graham crackers and bring a ziplock bag full)
3 tablespoons of salted butter
12 oz of cream cheese
1 egg
½ lemon juice
¼ cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon and cardamon
¼ cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons of pure vanilla (I like to use powder in the van)
Coconut oil spray
Cooking Instructions:
1.  Spray pan with coconut oil.
2.  Melt 2 ½ tablespoons of butter and then mix graham crackers then make crust in pan.  I use a spoon to press the crumbs to bottom of pan and up the sides one inch.  Put in refrigerator when done.
3.  Mix ½ tablespoon of melted butter and cream cheese beat till smooth.  Then add egg, brown sugar, honey, salt, cream, vanilla, lemon juice and flour until creamy. Then pour into cake pan. Sprinkle top with cinnamon and cardamon. 
4. Cover the top of the pan with a piece of aluminum foil.
Pour 1 1/2 cups of water into the Instant Pot and place the trivet in the bottom of the pot.
5. Create a “foil sling” by folding a 20-inch long piece of foil in half lengthwise two times. This “sling” will allow you place and remove the springform pan with ease.
6. Place the cheesecake pan in the center of the sling and carefully lower the pan into the Instant Pot. Fold down the excess foil from the sling to ensure the pot closes properly.
7. Lock the lid into place and make sure the vent is closed “sealing”. Press the “Manual” button and cook on high pressure for 35 minutes.
8. Let it manually release for 15 minutes. 

Apple or Peach or Blueberry Crisp
For crumble on top:
½ cup flour
½ cup rolled oats
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 table spoons of butter chopped into smaller pieces
½ teaspoon cinnamon & cardamon & nutmeg
1 teaspoon a vanilla powder
¼ teaspoon salt
For Filling:
2 apples chopped or 2 peaches or ¼ cup of blueberries
2 tablespoons of butter
Honey for your desired taste, I use none as I feel the fruit is sweet enough
Cooking Instructions:
1.       Get a microwave safe mug and melt 3 table spoons of butter
2.       Pour in fruit add a little honey if you have a sweet tooth
3.       In a measuring cup or bowl mix all crumble ingredients then pour onto the filling, mix well
4.       Microwave for 90 seconds, mix and then microwave another 90 seconds.  If you are at high elevations you may need to microwave for another 30-90 seconds.
Banana Nut Bread

1 teaspoon baking powder
5 tablespoons of flour
2 tablespoons of milk or half and half or coconut milk
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 table spoons of butter chopped into smaller pieces
½ teaspoon cinnamon & cardamon & nutmeg
1 teaspoon a vanilla powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 banana mashed
Cooking instructions:
1.       Get a microwave safe mug and melt 2 tablespoons of butter
2.       Add milk and all dry ingredients and mix thoroughly
3.       Mash in banana and mix thoroughly
4.       Microwave for 90 seconds, mix and then microwave another 90 seconds.  If you are at high elevations you may need to microwave for another 30-90 seconds.
5.       Be careful to not overcook but you don’t want it raw in places.
Peanut Butter Chocolate Cake
1 teaspoon baking powder
5 tablespoons of flour
2 tablespoons of milk or half and half or coconut milk
1 egg white
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons of peanut butter or cashew butter
2 table spoons of butter chopped into smaller pieces
½ teaspoon cinnamon & cardamon & nutmeg
2 teaspoons of cocoa powder
1 teaspoon a vanilla powder
½ a dark chocolate bar broken into pieces or handful of chocolate chips
Handful of cashews or pecans broken into small pieces
¼ teaspoon salt
Cooking instructions:
1.       Get a microwave safe mug and melt 2 tablespoons of butter
2.       Add milk, egg white, peanut butter mix thoroughly and smooth
3.       Add all dry ingredients and mix thoroughly
4.       Add chocolate bar or chips and nuts
5.       Microwave for 90 seconds, mix and then microwave another 90 seconds.  If you are at high elevations you may need to microwave for another 30-90 seconds.
6.       Be careful to not overcook, it can dry out easily but you don’t want it raw in places.

We hope you enjoy these recipes as much as we do! With the holidays coming up, next week we will post our top 25 gift ideas for the RVer or vanlifer you have in your life! Cheers!

Top 25 Gift Ideas for the RVer/Vanlifer in Your Life

Living full-time in your van/RV you end up purchasing several items thinking it will make your life so much better!  After 10 months and living in about 25 square feet, we now know what is helpful in tight spaces.  We have made a list of items ranging in price from a few bucks to a several hundred to meet people’s varying holiday budgets. We decided to share with you items we use either weekly or daily.  Here are our top 25 holiday gift ideas before Black Friday!   First, we’ll just list and hyperlink the items.  Below the list is an explanation why we like the items so much and are recommending them. Happy Holidays!

  1. Instant Pot $79
  2. Outdoor Mat $36.99
  3. Compact Camping Chair $119 camping stool $19
  4. Trasharoo $54.90
  5. Scrubba $55 or Easy Go Portable Washer $52
  6. Berkey Water Filter $337
  7. Weboost Cell and Internet Booster $499
  8. HydroFlask Coffee Mugs $29.95, Wine Glasses $29.95 or Water bottles $45
  9. cbdMD Sleep Tincture and cbdMD dog treats and cbdMD Hip and Joint Chews for Dogs
  10. Electric Kettle $18.69
  11. Induction Italian Espresso Maker $41.39 Coffee Grinder $15
  12. XL Camp Towel $17.99 and Camp Towel Set $11.99
  13. Compression Clothes Travel Bags $25.47
  14. Back Roller $26 and Yoga Set $29
  15. Duel Bike Cover $75
  16. Set of collapsible containers $19.99 and steamer  $21 and dog bowl $3
  17. Chaco’s Men Sandal $65 and Chaco’s Women’s Sandal $68 and walking sticks $22
  18. LMNT Recharge $45
  19. Zinc Spray $25.99 and Airborne Vitamin C Chewable $22
  20. Paper Towel Holder $14.99
  21. Walkie Talkies Long Range Waterproof $69.99
  22. Atlas $22
  23. Dr. Bonner’s Liquid Lavender Soap $31
  24. Kindle paper white e-reader $89.99 or Amazon Fire Stick $39.99 or Apple HDMI Dongle $62 or Apple Airpods $99 or Costco Lenovo Touchscreen IdeaPad $499
  25. Healthy Protein Bars $18

So why these items?  We find these items help us with everyday living.  We try to find items that take up as little space as possible, are the most affordable and durable (as everyone who knows me, I am the Samsonite Gorilla when it comes to using items-if it can break, I will find a way to break it). First item on the list, is the Instant Pot!  Being able to cook a full meal in one pot and typically in less than 30 minutes makes life easy and efficient!  Plus, when you are doing the dishes it makes clean-up so much easier in a tiny space.  When it comes to cooking, we use these items every day. The Instant Pot usually makes about 2-3 meals for a couple so these collapsible containers are great for storing leftovers and pack away nicely.  I also like to steam my vegetables instead of them overcooking in the instant pot, this steamer does the trick in the microwave. We love our Espresso and our cooktop is induction so you must have a special induction coffee maker.  This Induction Italian Espresso Maker makes the perfect espresso to fit in our Hydroflask Coffee Mugs (keeps your coffee nice and hot and spill proof, especially good for me as a clutz I am in the morning).  We like to grind fresh coffee beans each morning, makes a wonderful scent throughout the van, this Coffee Grinder is durable and small to store.  I also love the Hydroflask Wine Glasses, this way you don’t have to worry about glass breaking in your van and it keeps your wine the perfect temperature. There are so many recipes that require boiled water and if you are a tea lover, having boiling water in a couple minutes is great.  We use this electric kettle every day. Getting your paper towels out of the way but in easy reach is important.  I am surprised many RVs don’t come with a paper towel holder, we like the modern look of this paper towel holder  and its durability.  When you are living in less than 25 square feet if something can be used in multiple ways it is especially beneficial.  We love Dr. Bronner’s Soap as it can be used as hand soap, dish soap, shower body soap and washing clothes soap.  It is biodegradable and won’t hurt the environment and if you have dry skin we find it doesn’t dry you out.  My favorite is the Dr. Bonner’s Liquid Lavender Soap.  A lot of RVers worry about the fresh water in their water tanks and if its clean and how often to clean the tanks and how to clean the tanks. We solved this by getting a Berkey Water Filter.  We love this, the water taste fantastic and we use it every day! If you have a hard time falling asleep like Greg and I do, we are huge fans of cbdMD Sleep Tincture.  Bode is almost 11 years old and is a big fan of their cbdMD dog treats (really calms him down and he thinks they are super tasty) and the cbdMD Hip and Joint Soft Chews really helps his hips if he goes on too long of a walk or hike with us. 

When we roll into a new camp spot either at a campground or boondocking.  I usually have the ritual of putting the awning out, laying out the outdoor mat, setting up the compact camping chair and I love this camping stool if a friend comes by to sit or we typically used it as a table for drinks or electronic devices. After a long drive Greg and I love to roll out our backs with this back roller and stretch out with this yoga set.  We also find there are many times you will get to a spot where there is no cell reception so having good walkie talkies that are long range and waterproof are helpful for communication when you are trying to find a camp spot, go out for a hike or bike ride alone or helping your spouse backup and avoid smacking into a tree or rock!  People ask us what type of shoes do you use as you can’t bring too many pairs on the road?  For the Spring, Summer and Fall we love these Chaco’s men sandals and Chaco’s women’s sandals they are super comfortable, great support and we can walk/hike for miles.  One thing that is super important if you are walking in areas there are snakes is to have good walking sticks.  Make sure you bring plenty of water on your hikes, we really like these water bottles from Hydroflask and this collapsible dog bowl for Bode.  I also find after having two reconstructive knee surgeries, these walking sticks are great going downhill and in rocky areas.  Don’t forget to bring your protein bars, we like these healthy protein bars as they are super healthy and have no added sugar but only the natural sugar from dates. I have low blood pressure so I need to take salt tablets, I find LMNT Recharge gives me the salt I need and flavors the water with a yummy citrus taste, so you get the rehydration benefits and a tasty drink!  I have said multiple times in our blogs I have gone over a year without a cold and I live by this Zinc Spray.  I take it when I feel run down, especially when I am out and around sick people.  When I feel a possible cold coming on I take 3 sprays every 4 hours and Airborne vitamin C chewable and, so far no cold!

There are some important items you need for your RV to make life easier.  If you are carrying bikes and are off roaders- like us, you go down a lot of dirt roads, hit the elements: like rain and snow.  If you want your bikes to stay in good shape we love this duel bike cover from Formosa, it’s also big enough for electric bikes.  They also stand behind their product; the zipper broke after 3 months and they sent us a new one when we contacted them!  It’s nice to get the trash out of your van, we really like the Trasharoo that fits on our spare tire to put trash, our shovel, and some of our dumping supplies.  Depending on the size of your RV you will want one or both of these options for doing laundry.  When I am on the road, I use the Scrubba when I am at a campground and can easily hang a line. It rolls up so small and can store in any cabinet in our RV.  If I am at our RV stop at Caballo Loco Ranch, where we have a storage trailer and more room, I use the Easy Go Portable Washer where I can do almost a full small load of laundry!  They both work amazingly well and I use Dr. Bronner’s soap so I can dump the soap water and not damage any vegetation. When you are in limited space of a camper van there is not many places you can hang towels.  We have found these XL Camp Towel great for drying off after a shower and can hang off the AC vent.  We use these set of three Camp Towel Set (one for hand drying, one for dish drying and one for our feet when we step out of the shower and to dry off the shower)  and all of these can easily hang off the AC unit with the snapping leash. GPS is great but sometimes you want that paper map!  We love our Atlas where it shows rest stops, camp grounds and more details on national parks.  When we hit the road we had no idea, how limited cell coverage is in a lot of the rural areas in this country the Weboost Cell and Internet Booster works great and usually doubles our reception coverage! We wouldn’t be able to enjoy Netflix, Amazon Prime, Pandora, AppleTV or maintain this blog without it!  Living in a small camper van, you are limited on space and these Compression Clothes Travel Bags make it so we can take a lot more clothes in our small cabinet.  

Last, but not least folks asks us what types of tech items we use often.  I love to read and I love the Libby app where I can download 15 books from my library to my Kindle paper white e-reader.  When we watch TV we like to use our Amazon Fire Stick  or Apple HDMI Dongle .  It is important you get the apple dongle and not one of the cheaper knock off brands as Amazon and Netflix will not let you stream with the knock off brand while with the Apple it works!  If you are on the road and need a good affordable laptop, I can’t believe how inexpensive the Costco Lenovo Touchscreen IdeaPad for only $499 can do everything you need!  It is a great product, dependable, I use it to make all my videos, maintain my blog and do everything else you need to do online.  Also, Costco has great customer tech support.  My laptop stopped working and I just sent it in and 4 days later it came back repaired or replaced.  Last but not least is good Bluetooth ear buds.  I loved these Apple Airpods that are currently on discount for Black Friday as they are super comfortable and they don’t light up and wake up Greg when I am listening to a book in the middle of the night to fall asleep. 

We hope these are helpful and know they will make the RVer in your life super happy to get one of these items! Cheers, next week’s blog will bring my favorite recipes on the road- none take more than 30 minutes and some only 10 minutes.

(We are Amazon Associates & cbdMD Influencers, so we may earn from qualified purchases.)

Importance of Leave No Trace Ethic When Camping and RVing

Now that we have been on the road for 8 months and have visited over 40 national parks, monuments, historic sites and stayed in Bureau of Land Management, National Forest, National Recreation Area disperse camping areas in 17 states. We have found some of our public areas in poor condition.  We are not sure if it is new people camping and RVing that aren’t aware of the rules or people being lazy.  I am hoping the previous and not the latter.  This week’s blog we would like to refresh folk’s memory on what we should do to ensure we keep our lands pristine for the wildlife and next generation to continue to enjoy. We hope this helps new RVers & campers and serves as a good reminder for those long-time veterans in the outdoors.

  • LEAVE NO TRACE: This means the spot you stayed at looks like you never stayed there.  That means you should pick up all your trash.  Yes, that means cigarette butts.  You should dig a hole around 6” deep and bury your ashes and leave the firepit empty.  Please don’t leave trash even items that can burn in the firepit as critters will still get into the firepit and you don’t know when the next camper who comes will make a fire or if there may be fire restrictions in place later.  Please don’t dump your grey water at the campsite.  Take the time to pick up trash of other’s who left it behind.

Unfortunately, there are more public lands than employees who can come and clean-up.  You should assume there is no one coming to clean up areas.  If you are lucky and you discover a place that does have trash disposal, do not overfill trash cans or lay your trash next to the full trash can.  This encourages wildlife to eat things they should not be eating or the wind to blow it all over the place.  Consider getting a trasharoo if you don’t want trash inside your vehicle.  There are trash cans at every gas station and most city parks and rest areas that you can drop off at the next place. 

  • DON’T FEED THE WILDLIFE: Yes, its cute that the chipmunks, squirrels and birds will come up to you and even on to your hand but don’t feed them!  There will not be people at that spot all year around to continue to feed them and we don’t want them dependent on humans and human food.  Second, many of these cute animals’ harbor diseases (such as Hanta Virus), you don’t want your kids to get bitten or cut by one of these cute animals.  These cute animals will also ruin your vehicle.  As you continue to feed them, they would like to be stow-a-ways and will eat your wires and other items in your RV, car or truck.  If they are scared of humans, like they should be, then they will stay away.  We have had a few field mice and ground squirrels enter our vehicle-not fun!
  • DISPOSING OF TRASH:  It has been so sad to go to rest areas, historical pull outs and viewpoints to see trash all over the parking lot, in the river, streams and banks.  These beautiful places are beginning to look like junk yards.  Please take the time to throw your trash in trash cans.  If trash cans are full or there are not at the stop please just hold them until the next gas station or other appropriate location.  If you have junk to dispose of, please use the dump where it is supposed to go and not these beautiful places.  Also, please take the time to bag up and throw away your dog poo.  If you don’t have a bag then take the time to dig a hole and bury your dog poo.  No one wants to step in it, see it, smell it and it drives wildlife out of the area.  I know its not fun but that is why we carry this great portable shovel from Amazon or leave the dog poo bag in the trashroo until we find a trash can. 
  • RELIEVING YOURSELF IN THE OUTDOORS:  Unfortunately, many places in the outdoors do not have bathrooms or vault toilets.  If that is the case, the rule of thumb is to dig a hole at least 6” deep.  Your hole should be 6 inches deep so you can bury your feces and toilet paper so critters do not dig it up and people don’t step on it.  The last thing you want is your dog eating human waste, sorry gross has happened to us before.  When you need to go or a child needs to go, its understandable but please take the time to bury it and do not leave diapers-they do not degrade away.  We were in Glacier National Park hiking up to a water fall and someone left human waste and toilet paper and a diaper right next to the trail.  Not only was it gross but animals were going after it and kids not paying attention were stepping in it and dragging it down the trail.  Please don’t be the person who does this!
  • BEING CONSIDERATE: Not everyone wants to interact with other people.  If you are boondocking and there is an empty area don’t park next to the people.  Try to park as far away as possible, give people space.  If you are boondocking and you see an area that already has a vehicle but a second vehicle could fit, take the time to knock on the other RV and ask if they would mind if you parked near them.  They found the spot first, many will say that is fine but some people may prefer you not to be there and if they do, it’s fair for them to ask you to find another spot.  Many people go to the outdoors to enjoy peace and tranquility.  You may want to listen to music but others may not.  Feel free to enjoy your music but consider doing it at a quieter level so others don’t hear you rocking out and consider turning it off at a reasonable hour.  We were camping and a group of ladies having a bachelorette party decided to play their techno dance music blaring from their SUV until 3AM.  It really was not enjoyable.  As much as I want all ladies to have a fabulous bachelorette party please be considerate of others.  If your RV has a generator, those are loud and some very stinky!  Many campgrounds require them to only be used from 8am-8pm.  Consider that a standard even if its not specified at a campground or if you are boondocking.  People go to sleep at different times and it’s a considerate rule to go by to be a good neighbor. 
  • COVID-19: I know this topic has lots of controversy and people can believe whatever they want to believe, but we can all be respectful.  Even if you don’t like masks, we should be considerate of others.  Considering we are in middle of a pandemic, not everyone wants to interact with others.  Please wear a mask or give people 6 feet if you want to ask them questions.  We are happy to talk to people about our rig and our adventures but I don’t appreciate when people touch my vehicle, come up next to me or continue to walk closer and closer to me, when I am backing up.  Don’t be a ‘Space Invader’.  I have been a year ‘sick free’ for a reason and I’d like to stay that way.  People may look really healthy but you don’t know if they have any health issues that put them in a high-risk bracket.  If you are hiking trails or biking, bring a mask or at least a buff or bandana.  You don’t need to wear it the whole time but when you are passing other people you should.  When we are walking we wear our masks on our chin so we can easily put it on when people are approaching. If you are hiking with friends don’t take up the entire path, walk single file.  Many people don’t want to have to be pushed to the side or walk right next to you.  Its very considerate to even stand to the side and let people pass by, especially if they are struggling. If you are taking a rest break by yourself or with a group, please stand to the side and wear your mask so people don’t have to go around you or have you and your group breathing on them.  Many campgrounds are closed or at half capacity, make sure to check before you show up at national parks and monuments.  Some require reservations while others have first come first serve spots, I suggest calling the park and talking to a ranger before just showing up. 

We hope this helps as you enjoy the great outdoors!  If we all follow these simple rules then we can ensure our parks and monuments and public lands stay open.  If we continue with the trash, human waste and destruction, many of these lands will close and then we won’t be able to get out and enjoy the outdoors. 

Traversing the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

After Rocky Mountain National Park, we headed to the Curecanti National Recreation Area and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.  Taking highway 50 from the Boulder Area to Curecanti and Gunnison is a beautiful drive.  In 1965 the Park Service established Curecanti National Recreation Area, that would encompass all three reservoirs (Blue Mesa ReservoirMorrow Point Reservoir and Crystal Reservoir), as well as short sections of the upper Gunnison River.  It built campgrounds, marinas, lake access points while trying to protect, research and interpret the natural environment and local history.  The area really is a mecca for those who love to boat and fish.  If you are not a big boater or fisherman then there is not much to do here, as there are only a couple of hiking trails and none at Elk Creek Campground, which is the largest campground with over 160 sites, but for our purposes it served as a nice entry point to the nearby National Park. As of September, when we visited here are the campgrounds that are open and closed:

Elk Creek: OPEN, reservations highly recommended; limited self-registration sites available
Lake Fork: OPEN reservations required; same day reservations may be available
Stevens Creek: OPEN, reservations required
Ponderosa: OPEN – self registration – credit cards preferred

We started at the Elk Creek Campground, which has a few first come first serve spots on the reservoir.  You have to drive around and find them; the campground station is closed and you need to go to the visitor center.  They are not much help; they tell you either go on reservation.gov to reserve or drive around and if you find and open spot then come back to them and pay. There is no cell coverage at the campground and the first come and first serve sites change daily.  I asked, ‘can you help and tell us for tomorrow which sites are available?’  The park ranger said no and advised us to drive back to Gunnison and get internet access to find available spot on reservations.gov and then come back to them at the visitor center to purchase since you can’t make a same day purchase on reservation.gov website.  The last thing you really want to do is drive again after driving 100 miles.  WOW, is all I could think!  This day and age with technology this is how you manage a large campground?  But if you need RV electric hookups it is the only campground with hook-ups.  So we decided we would just stay one night and head off to the Black Canyons of the Gunnison National Park.   Our luck we also had a huge bachelorette party right next to us that blasted loud techno pop music part of the night out of their SUVs.  The campsite wasn’t bad but we prefer boondocking with a lot less people. 

The next day we headed out early, it was very tempting to blast a little AC/DC at 5:30am for the hungover revellers, but we didn’t.  We got into the Black Canyon of the Gunnison at 830am and went straight to the South Rim Campground.  We have found if you get to campgrounds between 830am-10am before the 11am checkout there is a good chance to get a spot in September.  We were pleasantly surprised to find there is a full loop that is first come first serve (why doesn’t every park do this?).  With the huge rain storm the night before there were several available camp spots, so we scored a great spot.  There is a wonderful hike from the campground to the visitor center that allows dogs and has an amazing view of the canyon.  Here is a link to the park map.  At the visitor center we signed up for the evening ranger talk- Symphony of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.  It was an entertaining talk but geared much more towards kids, but it was nice to have ranger talk organized.  Most of the national parks we visited all talks were cancelled.  They did a good job sitting people 6 feet apart and everyone had masks on in the amphitheater. 

Day two we woke up early and took turns (someone had to watch our dog, AKA King Bode) from riding from South Rim Campground to High Point, which is a 20-mile round trip bike ride.  We checked out Pulpit Rock (at 2pm there is a ranger talk there), Cross Fissures View, Rock Point, Devil’s Lookout, Chasm View (1/3 mile hike), Painted Wall View, Cedar Point (2/3 mile hike), Dragon Point, Sunset View and then High Point which is 8289 feet.  At High Point you can do a hike to Warner Point (1.5 mile hike) where you can see to the South the San Juan Mountain Range, Uncompahgre Valley, and Bostwick Park and to the north look for the West Elk Mountains, and at the end of the trail enjoy the views of the Gunnison River and the Black Canyon.  I attended the astronomy evening ranger talk since Black Canyon has an International Dark Sky designation, so I was excited to see and hear about the area.  Once again interesting information but really geared toward children, very basic astronomy and takes a while before the ranger gets to it.  I did not realize that all ages are welcome to become junior rangers and their workbooks are interesting even if they are geared toward children.  The Black Canyon of the Gunnison has a really cool wooden junior ranger badge that they were giving out to those interested.  I was disappointed though that many people took 3-6 badges instead of just one, as the ranger stressed they only have so many to go around. 

We woke up early and headed down the Rim Trail again to see the sunrise over the Canyon, it was amazing! The last day we ventured and did three round trip hikes from the campground the Rim Nature Trail to the Uplands Trail to the Oak Flats Trail.  I really enjoyed the Oak Flats Trail it has amazing views and had you going half way down the canyon with a different perspective that wasn’t too difficult or too steep.  I would highly recommend bringing a walking stick.  We were surprised that the state of Colorado had a fire ban but the national park allowed everyone to have fires at their campsite?  We really enjoyed this national park, the campground, the ability to go for hikes and bike rides from the campground and the lack of people!  It was really enjoyable, people who were there were super considerate and all wore masks! 

The next morning, we got up early, filled our water before heading out and drove to Grand Junction, CO.  First, we stopped by the Montrose Fairgrounds to the free RV dump, got gas and refilled our groceries from Walmart.  At Grand Junction we visited Colorado National Monument, we had never heard of it but the Canyons and rock formations were awesome and there were so few people, but it was hot (90s).  There is also a large mountain biking area before the park entrance on monument road.  Note, RVs that are higher than 12 feet you must go through the Fruita entrance instead of Grand Junction was there is a tunnel you must go through this way and only has a 12-foot clearance at the highest point and on the side only 10’7”.  We did the Serpents Trail that goes from the tunnel to the Devil’s Kitchen picnic area (3.5 mile round trip hike).  We stopped at Cold Shivers Point, Red Canyon Overlook, Ute Canyon View, Fallen rock Overlook, Upper Ute Canyon Overlook, and Highland View.  By midafternoon, we were so hot and ready to head to our Harvest Host for the rest of the day.  We headed to Palisade, the wine country of Colorado.  It’s not like Oregon, Washington or California wine country but its cute and there is also a lot of fruit farms. This time of year, there was a lot of peaches and sweet corn.  We stayed at Grande River Vineyard.  They are super friendly, and it being Labor Day weekend they allowed us to stay 2 nights so we did not have to figure out where to stay as all campgrounds were full in the area.  Their landscaping was well done, they had a large level gravel parking lot and during the heat their covered picnic area was perfect to relax, look at the rocks and have a cool place to stay.  It was nice we were the only RV the first night and the second night there was just one other.  I highly recommend their location and their Reserve Cab Franc. The second day, Greg did a bike ride along the Colorado River from Palisade to Grand Junction, I took Bode for a walk to the City Park on the Colorado River (he had a nice cool down swim) and visited a fruit stand to get a fresh peach & peach butter to make peach crisp.  Before heading out of town we thought we would do a hike on the Corkscrew Connector Trail if you are a campervan or RV bigger than 15 feet, I recommend do not go down Wildwood drive to the trails.  It is in a residential neighborhood who really don’t want you there and the trailhead parking lot is small, if you aren’t a Revel, truck topper, or small camper van you will probably not fit. 

Our next stop would be Great Sand Dunes National Park but a huge snow storm was heading our way, so we decided to take Highway 550 via Durango to get lower elevation than take the faster route Highway 50 back through the Gunnison Area.  I highly recommend taking Highway 550 its beautiful through Ouray.  More about that in our next post!  Thanks for reading!

Learn more about:

  1. Curecanti National Recreation Area
  2. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
  3. Colorado National Monument
  4. Get a 15% discount for Harvest Host Membership
  5. Grande River Vineyard and Palisade Wine Country
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