2015 Year in Review: 3,872 Miles Traveled & 53 Books Read!

If I had to describe 2015 in one word, I’d probably call it busy. If you grant me two words, I’d say life-changing. Can I have two words please?

We kicked off 2015 as new residents of Asheville, North Carolina. Not long after settling in we experienced the Asheville Snowmageddon 2015. It was fun… at first. Much better after we got a snow shovel. Though, I have to say the Fall of 2014 was a lot more fun – especially for Frodo.

Asheville 2015 Pisgah National Forest

We experienced the joy of living in a National Forest, definitely an experience I’ll never forget. This also included fighting a little bit with the creatures that lived near our house. There were the birds, and the spiders. And Dave protecting our house from critter invasion…

Dave on a Mission

I finally had a chance to photograph our bedtime routine with Frodo. Yes, we still brush his teeth every night. He loves it, and so do his teeth! You can tell from the photos he has a good time.

In May, we watched a life-changing documentary, and have been vegans ever since. It’s been almost 8 months now and I only wish we had made the change sooner.

Early in July we decided to take our life on the road, and began the process of downsizing our belongings. In a few short months we sold most of our stuff, our house, our car, and purchased a truck and a travel-trailer. It was a whirlwind of activities.

We hit the road October 17th, officially house-less, beginning our journey as nomads. After leaving Asheville, we traveled very quickly to South Dakota to get our driver’s licenses. On the way, we stopped through some pretty areas I look forward to re-visiting. Columbia, Missouri was gorgeous! 

Stephens Lake Park_The Lake

Rock Port, MO had a lot of character. I wouldn’t mind going back for a few days, especially during warmer months.

We were only in Amarillo, Texas for a short time, but long enough to see some interesting things. Like a donkey. And an emu.

And then, we got crazy with it. It was at this point we further downsized and sold our truck and travel trailer, and switched to a van. Once comfortably settled in our new van, the race was on to get somewhere warm. We headed to Arizona, yet at the same time, experienced a month without hot water. Go figure.

Now we are wrapping up 2015, living in a van, living a vegan life-style, and currently chilling out in Lake Havasu City, Arizona – while we recover from the whirlwind that this year has been. And it’s been a doozy. With only traveling the last portion of the year, we still managed to cover 3,872 miles. The speed was purely insane and I hope to never need to travel that far at that pace ever again! But, we managed to get our domicile squared away, improve our travel setup, get our van repaired, and… rest in the quiet of the southwest. I’d say the travel part of this year was smashing, though speedy. But, it was worth it. Every crazy minute of it.

2015 - 3872 Miles Traveled

There’s still one aspect from 2015 I haven’t had a chance to address yet, and that’s my reading life. I set out to read 52 books, and did it (read 53 books actually), and though some were good, and some were great, many were fantastic. I figured I would highlight my favorites from this year and tried to narrow down my selection to a Top 5. I couldn’t.

Out of the 53 books I read this year, here are my Top 8 Favorites:

2015 was a great year, and 2016 will be even better. I wish everyone a happy, healthy new year!

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Lake Havasu City, Arizona is Nature’s Etch a Sketch…

Lake Havasu City in Arizona has to be one of the most beautiful places in this country. The appearance of the sky changes continuously all day long and is a bit like nature’s version of an Etch A Sketch.

The view of the clouds over the mountains in the distance, the color of the sky, the shape of the clouds – it just never stops. It’s drawn, and re-drawn, and re-drawn, over and over again. I stare at the sky often and just feel better when I do.

And sunrise? It’s breathtaking. And sunset? Even more-so.

Lake Havasu City Sunset 1

These photos are from tonight’s sunset.

Lake Havasu City Sunset 2

And yes, it’s like this every day.

Lake Havasu City Sunset 3

Every. Single. Day.

Lake Havasu City reminds me of the movie The Truman Show. The sky seems too beautiful to be real, as though we’re witnessing a staged production all day long.

Lake Havasu City Sunset 4

And of course, Lake Havasu has more than just sunsets, there are really cool cars. There are classic cars everywhere here, and though this car doesn’t fit that description, it caught my attention. It has character, oodles of it.

Lake Havasu City Cool Cars

Someday soon I hope to capture some of the amazing classic cars here, but until then, goodnight…

Lake Havasu City Sunset at Dusk

They Say it’s my Birthday…

Life Level Up!Do you know what the best part of any game is? Leveling Up!

As you play a game you get to learn what works best to achieve your goal, maybe learn some hacks along the way to make things easier, and all in all, have fun.

Conversely, End Game is the most boring part of any game. You’ve finished the game – congratulations! Now what? Most people will start a new game and go through the same process all over, sometimes rushing through the leveling process again, forgetting that leveling is what it’s all about.

Just like life.

Life is a journey, not a destination. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Take your time. Enjoy the leveling up process. 

P.S. This photo was taken several months ago, by me, with a 35mm lens, camera held backwards. I’m having fun leveling up my Photography skills – no one said you had to do things just like everyone else!

This post is brought to you from Yuma, Arizona

Fun with Photography

Lately my camera has been resting much too often. It was time to take it out to play…

Because we chose to live in a 22′ van, we simply can’t have everything with us we want – like a tripod. This adds complexity to the fact that I really want more photos with BOTH of us in the actual photo. Challenge accepted.

I told Dave I could take a selfie with my 35mm lens, no problem at all. He had the nerve to doubt me.

Selfie of Sharon and Dave

Yes, I really did take this photo holding the camera backwards, composing it blindly.

Because I can’t just let things go, I wanted to further prove to Dave that I can focus where I want, such as in the foreground here:

Selfie Focus in Foreground

Or in the background here:

Selfie Focus in Background

For anyone curious, here is a behind the scenes photo taken by Dave (the boring way, with the camera facing frontwards).

Backwards Photography

And no photography outing is ever complete without a photo of Frodo. Though I think I prefer Arizona over California (so far), Frodo just can’t seem to hold still if there’s grass under his feet. He is really digging California for that reason. He must run and play!

Frodo likes to play like no one is watching… as he should!

Playtime

In all seriousness, it was great to get out today and play. I have my ups and downs with Gastroparesis and the last few days have been pretty rough and a bit painful. But today, today was a good day. And that makes me happy.

Today we are in San Dimas, California.

RV Water Heater Replacement – Girard vs. Truma, Tank vs. Tankless

For anyone else out there in RV-land stuck with a barely-working hot water heater, this post is for you!

Our hot water heater wasn’t functioning correctly from the very first day we had our Pleasure-Way Van. The first time we attempted to have it fixed we went back to our original dealer in Las Vegas where they replaced the Sail Switch. That got us by for a few days until it broke again, at which point we were in Lake Havasu City, Arizona.

At some point in this process we realized our existing hot water heater wasn’t going to work well for us, even once it worked as-designed.

Here’s the quick scoop…

The Girard GSWH-1M tankless hot water heater has several issues with it’s design. The Gas Modulation Control dial that adjusts the flame (and temperature of the water) must be adjusted constantly. It is recommended to set it “at the beginning of your camping trip” but when the temperature swings 20-40 degrees in a given day, in reality, it must be adjusted all day long throughout the day.

With the Girard, the water will only begin to heat once the water is turned completely to full blast, with hot water running completely open. Adding any cold water will make the emergency cut off switch turn the hot water heater off – and – it’s back to square one. The only way to use our water was to attempt to ONLY use the hot water faucet and adjust the temperature from the kitchen wall, without ever using the cold faucet (we learned this from reading forums).

Showers took a kitchen-assistant to attempt to keep water at a decent temperature by adjusting the Gas Modulation Control dial upon request of the person in the shower. Girard definitely wins the Rube Goldberg award for hot water systems…

Okay, enough about the Girard. Actually, one last thing – most people spend about a year trying to make it work before finally getting something else. We skipped right to the end of the line and decided to get the “something else” immediately.

Here’s the process we went through when we realized it was time to figure out what to do next… The 2016 Pleasure-Way Plateau TS has no ability to hold a 6 gallon water heater, or even a 4 gallon water heater anywhere on the chassis. There’s simply no room within the existing floor plan. We did want a working hot water heater, but we did not want to do any remodeling.

After extensive research, we discovered the Truma AquaGo (Basic) tankless water heater would fit in the same spot as the Girard, with limited surgery required to the van. The Truma also sounded like a better designed product.

Once we made the decision to go with the Truma AquaGo we searched their website for AquaGo dealers located across the region of the country we were in, or planned to be in (California, Nevada, Arizona, and Texas). We found several of interest, checked reviews online (Yelp was a huge help), and then called a few for estimates. Of the repair shops we contacted, only one was so familiar with the AquaGo that they were able to immediately give us a quote and talk knowledgeably about the product and installation required. They also provided the most reasonable quote!

McBride’s RV in Chino, California was our winner. And, they did a remarkable job!

The change from any factory-installed item to an aftermarket will likely cause a few snags here and there. For us, the main issue was the hot water heater door on the outside of the van that was designed for the Girard would not work with the Truma. We knew that was a possibility and we all hoped for the best, but – no luck. The venting needed by the Truma was in a different spot and it simply wasn’t going to work.

The downside of needing a new door meant a few new complications. The Truma door is white (our van is silver) and it has a frame around the door that if used, would stick out from the body of our van. It was unsightly at best, and possibly problematic.

Truma AquaGo

McBride’s tried several options beginning with altering the door we had, then adjusting the Truma door to be frame-less (after calling Truma to make sure that would not void our warranty). The frameless door turned out to be the best bet. If you look closely at the photo to the left, you can see the frame.

McBride’s included us every step of the way once there was a snag, giving us a choice and letting us participate actively in the outcome rather than be surprised or suffer from sticker-shock at the end.  Once everyone decided on a plan, the door needed some cosmetic adjustments. Namely, it needed to not be white!

McBride’s gave us a head’s up on the added cost of painting the door (got our approval), then got their onsite paint-matching guy to match the body paint we have. The added task of painting meant a little more time before we were ready to roll – but McBride’s had us covered. The let us stay on their lot (with water and electric hookups!) until the next day when the freshly painting door could be installed. They even gave us a walking tour of the shop and made sure we were totally comfortable before they departed for the night.

The next day, the newly-painted door was ready to be installed, and with that, we were ready to roll!

BEFORE Girard Water Heater

The photo on the left is the BEFORE picture from the body of the van, with our factory-installed Girard water heater.

It’s now been a few days and our water still gets hot when we turn the faucet to hot – something that feels like magic after a month without hot water.

For anyone in need of switching to a Truma AquaGo, though it’s only been a few days for us, I think I can safely recommend it. In a word, it works. You turn the water to hot, it heats the water. You can adjust the flow of water to be barely on and still get warm or hot water as desired (great for boondocking and those conserving water), and McBride’s is definitely a shop to consider. I’d happily have them do more work for using the future, it was definitely a 5-star repair experience!

AFTER Truma AquaGo Water HeaterThe photo on the right is the AFTER picture, with the Truma AquaGo, minus the frame – and – painted to match our van. McBride’s spent time giving attention to detail to make this work for us, and they did a great job.

And, now we have hot water. It’s very strange I tell you, strange indeed.

Chino California

Catching up in Cali

Sometimes when you travel, you just never know what you’re going to see. For example, you could just happen to look to your side and see a Dinosaur. True Story. Photo location: Cabazon, California

Roadside America Dinosaur

We’ve been in Chino, California for about a week now. The day we arrived I had planned to blog about our trip, knowing if I don’t write immediately – it won’t happen. Well, obviously, it didn’t happen. I took photos the moment we arrived, but the park where we were staying was, well… horrible. Sure, it looks pretty, but looks aren’t everything.

This is where we’ve been for the last few days, Prado Regional Park in Chino.

Prado Regional Park

What you can’t see in the photo is the experience, photos don’t tell you the whole story. The park is about a mile away from an outdoor olympic shooting range, and gunshots are heard from just prior to sunrise and continue past sunset every day. Three days a week the range is open for 12 hours and we were treated to gunfire sounds for more than 12 hours during those days. It was lovely. Frodo was usually able to be outside just long enough to do his business but he was quite the unhappy dog while we were there. Walks barely happened, he would get too freaked out (understandably so)!

In addition to the sounds, there was the smell. Have you ever been near a dairy farm? There are several in Chino, quite a few right near the Prado Regional Park. For most of the day the smell was so bad we were unable to use our fan or open our windows. In fact, you can smell cow manure as you drive around Chino. Feel free to knock this city right off your to-visit list.

Oh, but of course, we weren’t in Chino to sightsee, we were there to have our hot water heater system replaced – which we did. We have working hot water now! It’s a miracle! I have another RV Repair shop to recommend, thoughts to share about our experience of going a full month without any hot water, and tips about how to go about having your hot water system replaced – all… coming soon.

For a few more days we are kicking around near the shop where had our hot water system replaced, just to continue testing and make sure all is well before we depart. Currently we are in San Dimas, California and though the current place is well above our budget, it is well worth the change in venue. Even Frodo approves!

Frodo Living it Up

Hopefully the lack of gunshot sounds throughout the day will get me back into a writing mood so I can write more about the last week, and month.

San Dimas California

Until next time…