Chronicles of a First-Time Snowbird

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[Everyone in The Jungle has their own interpretation of what it means to retire. Silverback Ron and Silverbelle Pam are having their first try at going mobile. Their maiden voyage will take them from Muskegon, Michigan to Tucson, Arizona. Other SBs like Mike and Cyndy (Post Island SBs) are longtime veterans of the highway. SB SM]

Part 2. Preparations 

“Be prepared” is the Boy Scout motto and although I was never a scout, it sounds like great advice. There are so many things that need to be prepared for with our upcoming Snowbird migration. There are four areas that I identified. The first is our camper. In the previous post I mentioned that we bought our camper in 2017. Twenty years prior to that we owned a pop up camper. The pop up camper was crude compared to the little house on wheels we have now. There was no bathroom, no stove, no air conditioning and no furnace, absolutely barbaric. However, the simplicity of that pop up made one feel more confident and competent when working with it. Our camper now is complex and although we’ve owned it for 4 years, my confidence and competency levels are low. I’d like to go down a bit of a rabbit hole and talk about competency. Several years ago we had a guest speaker at our church. I don’t remember what the message was about but he spoke about the 4 levels of competency and has stuck with me since then and I find that insight valuable, hopefully you will too.

The real snowbirds | Boothbay Register

He used the illustration of tying your shoes. The first level of competency is an unconscious incompetence . Basically you don’t know what you don’t know. A child looks down and sees these things on his feet and strings coming out and he has no idea what they are or what they do. Next comes conscious incompetence. Now the child knows what shoes and shoelaces are, has been shown how to tie them but try as he might he has no success. Very frustrating. The third level is conscious competence. Now you now how to tie your shoelaces but you have to think about it, maybe repeat the little story that your mom or dad taught you to help you. The last level is unconscious competence. When you tie your shoes now you don’t even have to think about it or watch your hands do the work. It has become second nature.

My level of competency with the camper falls somewhere in the second and third levels and in some cases even in the first. Recognizing my limitations I brought the camper to a local RV sales and service business and asked them to go through all the systems and make sure everything was as ready as possible. After running through their checklists we got a clean bill of health and although there are always things that may go wrong, my confidence level is in a much more comfortable zone.

There are things that I could do to help in the preparation. Where to start? Full time RV’ing and tiny home living has been growing a following for a few years now. In order to glean from others I went to my favorite university, YouTube University (YTU). At YTU there are scores of people willing to share their knowledge and expertise. I found tips and tricks, hacks, the absolutely necessary accessories and the accessories that turned out to be a waste of time and money. Armed with all this knowledge we set about making, buying and installing everything we thought we would need to make this an enjoyable and successful adventure. I will share information on one accessory that we bought but I won’t spoil the opportunity for those venturing out like us of doing all the research and investigating on your own.

After watching many videos at YTU one item did pop up time after time. That item was a TPMS, tire pressure monitoring system. Most if not all modern vehicles are equipped with sensors on their wheels that monitor the air pressure in the tires. In both of our vehicles we can push a few buttons and we will get a live display of the pressure in each tire. If the pressure gets too low you’ll get a warning indication that will hopefully prevent a blowout and possible loss of control. There is no TPMS on our camper. I asked an older gentleman at the RV center who was about 15-20 years older and wiser than I what his thoughts were about TPMS. He didn’t like them. He said most of the people he knew ended up turning them off because they were annoying and inaccurate. He commented about how all these “smart devices” are making us dumber. He said all you need is a tire pressure gauge. Although I see his point I do appreciate the notion of real time monitoring of both tire pressure and temperature in hopes of preventing the nightmarish thought of a blowout while driving down the road at 65mph. I checked out reviews and prices. They can be as cheap as $20 or as much as $500. I went to the Besos Supercenter to see what was available and I settled on 2 models. Both looked very similar which is not surprising considering the country of origin. One was $100 and the other was $160. I opted for the $100 model with the wiser man’s words in the back of my mind. If this is a bust I’d rather be out 100 bucks instead of 160.

The TPMS arrived days after ordering, and I set about reading the 3 paragraph manual and install the 4 sensors on the valve stems of the camper. It works, well at least while sitting in my driveway. Hopefully it will continue to work and give me some level of security during the trip.

2015 Ford F-150 Review, Ratings, Specs, Prices, and Photos - The Car  Connection

The next item to prepare is the truck. It is a 2015 Ford F-150 with about 65,000 miles which is low for a 6 year old vehicle. That being said it still had 65,000 miles on the tires, brakes, transmission oil and coolant. Time to replace everything. I had the pros do everything except the brakes. I can see the eyes rolling as I write this. Why would I not put my truck’s brakes in the hand of a professional? Well there’s a couple reasons. Having the brakes done at the local auto repair place would get you a fine set of brakes and rotors but they would be similar to the original. I wasn’t satisfied with that. There are better brake components out there that are more suited to heavier hauling. Plus I have an ace up my sleeve. My son-in-law Mike knows a thing or two about cars and mechanics and was willing to help and by help I mean he did all the work and I stood by and handed him tools and such. So with that in mind it was back to YTU to research what brakes I wanted and then place the order. Everything went well and the truck is as ready as it will ever be.

Our house had to be prepared for our absence although it isn’t much different than the normal seasonal preparations of preparing for winter. Yard and garden maintenance, putting away deck furniture, storing the lawnmower and starting the snowblower so it would be ready for our return in December, etc. The usual fall to winter preparations. We would have to arrange a change of address for our mail, find someone to plow the driveway so it wouldn’t be too accumulated and have someone stop by the house from time to time to do a walk through to make sure everything is fine and to start the vehicle we left behind. The house is the least of my concerns. I hope those words don’t come back to haunt me.

Last but certainly not least is us. This is going to be different. We have gone away before on a 3 week trip to Texas where we stayed in a house rental. This time it’ll be 5 weeks on the first leg and 9-10 weeks on the second. We won’t have a spacious house. We will have 200 square feet. How do you prepare for something like that? We’ve spent 2 weeks camping before and survived, will 5-10 weeks be different? My wife is a quilter and she is bringing one, yes there are more, sewing machine and quilting supplies to keep herself busy. My hobbies are a bit more eclectic and cumbersome to travel with. I like woodworking, have built automata and cigar box guitars that I can’t play, chop and weld bikes together and built a wood fired pizza oven. When I first retired the first hobby I dove into was photography. I dabbled with that for 2 years getting my education from, you guessed it, YTU. It might be time to dust off my camera and enroll again at YTU for refresher classes. 

Neither my wife and I are socially outgoing. We have our small circle of friends and our family. I wonder if we will break out of our norm and make new friends, learn new things and grow to appreciate all that we have all the more. At the ripe old age of 67 I’m excited about what the next few months has for us. For now, it’s time to hook up, buckle up and head on down the road.

Former EPA employees sat around a campfire to tell scary stories about  Trump's EPA

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