Welcome to the first installment of our Winter 2023/24 Epic RV Adventure Blog! Steve and I are so happy to have you along for the ride!
In this blog post, I’ll be sharing our trip planning and Pack with Purpose processes for our current journey, which will be 164 consecutive nights on the road. I’ll also be introducing you to the pups who share our hearts and Irving (that's our RV). I'll also share one of the RV modifications we have made to overcome the challenge of living and traveling safely with two dogs who don't always see eye to eye. And - as always - I’ll be sharing some photos from our journey so you feel like you’re on the road with us. Remember to follow #PotterOnWheels for updates on social.
First, a map update. We've covered a lot of territory already!
Our first official stop was Huntington Beach State Park in Murrell’s Inlet, South Carolina, where we visited our grandson and his girlfriend, our son-in-law and his partner, and our son-in-law’s parents. It was - as always - great to spend time with them! I do believe I’ve started shrinking, though, as Nathan insists he hasn’t grown since our last visit in March.
A crazy thing happened at Murrell’s Inlet! My camera and I went for a walk late one afternoon to take wildlife photos. I glanced up as a couple passed me to discover myself face-to-face with glaze guru and master potter John Britt and his lovely wife, Cheryl.
I introduced myself and we chatted about camping, potting and birding on the pier for a bit before going our separate ways - but not before I got this selfie to share with you all (with John's permission, of course!)
After a whilrwind couple of days in Murrell's Inlet, we continued our journey to Fort Pickens National Seashore Park in Pensacola, FL for our second official stop. I love this campground for its proximity to the pristine Gulf of Mexico beach, and Steve loves it for its dedicated dishwashing station (Yep, I’m spoiled rotten!).
The weather turned a bit chillier and rainy, but we nevertheless enjoyed our short stay, making time to see sunsets on the beach, take long walks on the trails, and photograph my Christmas-themed jewelry and tree ornaments in this beautiful, natural setting. I was especially happy to be able to photograph pieces from the series inspired by our last trip to Pensacola Beach, where the vision for them began eight months ago. If you click through to the listings below, you can see photos of the moments that inspired the pieces.
As we celebrated Thanksgiving with a meal of fresh salad, homemade turkey noodle soup and homegrown sweet potatoes, we were visited by an armadillo who came foraging for food at Steve’s feet, prompting Steve to jump up onto the picnic table bench while shooing it away. I’m still laughing every time I think of it! As you might expect, we enjoyed the rest of our meal, including delicious cookies baked as a send-off by my good friend, Cathi, inside that evening. :-) We hope your Thanksgiving was rich with memorable moments, wholesome edibles, and a few good laughs as well!
On one of our walks, we saw another baby armadillo up close and personal in full daylight. I never realized that they have ears like a rabbit. Sort of cute, right?
On that same walk, we watched an eagle perched in a tree not far off the path for a while hoping it would take flight, but it was happy just hanging out so we left it to do its thing.
As we headed out of Pensacola, we stopped at Joe Patti’s Seafood to grab some fresh fish to cook for dinner, and after a blessedly short drive we arrived at our third stop, Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores, AL.
Our dinner of fresh caught flounder, the last of our garden tomatoes stuffed with feta and basil, and homegrown potatoes were delicious!
This is our first time at Gulf State Park, and we’re impressed! It’s one of only a few state parks that offer extended stays for snowbirds, and we were lucky enough to score two consecutive months here next winter. Access to the sand beach isn’t quite as easy as it is from the A Loop at Fort Pickens, but the campground offers 28 miles of walking/biking trails, wifi for my work, full hook-up sites, immaculate bathhouses, a heated pool, tennis and pickleball courts, laundry facilities, and an activities center among other amenities we’ve yet to discover. I think we’ll be incredibly happy here for two months next winter, and I’m glad we stopped to get a feel for the place. There's so much to explore here and we barely scratched the surface, but here's a quick sneak peak at some of the sights at our home away from home for our Winter 2024/25 trip.
Since we hope to be snowbirds for the foreseeable future, we’re working hard to improve our planning and packing processes. Thanks to our RV Life membership, the planning process has become significantly easier. We are able to access tons of campground information right from the trip planning dashboard, including reviews from other campers. We can plan our RV-safe route, see how long each commute will be based on our preferred driving speed, see points of interest and overnight parking options along our route, and so much more.
Next year’s trip is already roughly laid out, campgrounds (and back-up locations) are selected, and reservation dates are recorded in my calendar. The packing process is still a challenge, though. Ever the girl scout, I feel a need to be as prepared as possible. We don’t take a second vehicle and can’t run to a store without breaking down camp, so there are a lot of possibilities to plan for! With some practice and effort, we have found that we can stuff a whole heck of a lot of stuff into an RV, even if it’s only 24 feet long!
For our last trip, I made a detailed list of just about every item we brought with us and where we packed it in Irving. In the early stages of planning this trip, I updated our list by adding the things we wished we had taken, removing some of the things that we never used, and swapping locations of other items based on our travel experiences to date. When it was time for the gathering and packing to commence, items were sorted and stacked in groupings that translated directly to where they would be stored for our actual trip. It was organized chaos, but I still feel like we have improved ten-fold since our very first trip.
We are trying hard to embrace a Pack with Purpose philosophy. For us, that means packing less of what we may not need, and having systems in place so that everything we will need (and some things we hope to never need but should have anyway) are as easily accessible as possible.
One thing that really helps optimize our Pack with Purpose philosophy is a hitch-mounted cargo carrier, which we can use because we don’t have a tow vehicle. It holds containers organized and labeled for electrical, water hook-up, extra clothes and linens, housewares, hardware, clay making supplies, etc. It also stores our camp tables, supplies for doing laundry on-site when necessary (and only when necessary!), and our hammock stand. Almost everything can be packed and organized into their respective containers in our house as departure day approaches, then loaded onto the cargo carrier the day before we leave. The unit came with a heavy-duty, weatherproof bag that keeps the contents dry and protected. It served us well and still looked brand new after our first 64-day trip, and we’re expecting it will hold up well through this trip as well.
Irving offers several other storage compartments both inside and out, and we max out every one of them. These outside compartments are lockable, and we have two compartments that are the entire width of Irving. The "basement" compartment runs under our bed in the rear, and in there we store items that we want to lock up (like Steve's tools) and things that might attract unwanted company of the four-legged variety (like our root crops and extra dog food). We also use these compartments to store physically large items (like a ladder and our screen room) that won't fit elsewhere.
At the beginning of this trip, we are a little tight for space because we’ve got two crates full of produce from the garden. As we eat our way through root crops, we can hand the crates off to another camper for repurposing. At that point, we have two additional air-tight containers waiting in the wings, currently nested beneath in-use containers, and we can put them into service to spread things out a bit and give us a little more breathing room.
We also have an added challenge of playing musical “stuff” with some of my clay materials that have to travel inside until we are out of danger of freezing temperatures, when we switch a few things up.
As organized as I try to be, I can’t say that we don’t forget things, or that we don’t find ourselves randomly stashing stuff during the last stages of packing. Nor do we always remember where those random things landed when we arrive at our destination. On this trip, it took us more than a week to find the charger for Steve’s laptop!
Since I’ll be working from the road as a maker, I had to think about what type of work I could do while traveling and the supplies I’d need for that work. I also had to consider what inventory I could take on the road so I can fulfill orders and keep some sort of income flow rolling in while we’re away, as well as the supplies I will need for shipping, printing labels, etc. For this trip, I opted to prioritize jewelry making with my ceramic beads and pattern design / building with my colored porcelain. Since we’ll be gone for so long and I don’t want to rely solely on photographs for references, I also brought some watercolor paints to help me document the color palettes in nature that will find their way into my future ceramic creations.
As we started considering all of these things in the early stages of our trip planning, we thought about how we might pack and Steve (now retired) went about making several RV modifications to make our life on the road as comfortable as possible within our space and budget limitations. I’ll be sharing one or more of these modifications, alongside updates on our journey, in upcoming issues of my blog. Today, I thought I’d share the most impactful upgrade Steve has made to foster our harmonious life on the road - not between Steve and I because we’re pretty harmonious without assistance - but between our dogs.
Meet our dogs, Bandit and Oakley, the very best pups in the entire universe. They were constant playmates for about 2.5 years after we rescued Oakley, until one horrible day when they were not. Despite our very best efforts and the efforts of several trainers, a reiki practitioner who works with animals as a specialty, a shamanic animal communicator, and medications to counter Oakley's anxiety and her reactive nature, our dogs still live on opposite sides of a gate in our home. We’ve adapted over the past six years, but living on the road in a small space presented a challenge. And, let’s face it, harmony between your pets is critically important when traveling at 65 MPH on a highway!
At first, we installed a single baby gate in Irving and attempted to play “switcheroo” using Irving’s bathroom as the go-between, but Bandit refused to go into the bathroom and we found ourselves dependent on an out-of-camper “switcheroo” process. This was less than ideal, particularly in bad weather, and it required two active human participants (so no sleeping in for either of us!).
We also learned (from experience) that Bandit freaks out if he isn’t sitting between us as we drive, and Oakley gets carsick if she’s in the rear of the RV where the ride is bumpier. So, before our last trip, Steve designed, built and installed a pressure-mounted PVC gate system to keep Bandit and Oakley safely separated but still close by as we travel. While we are stationary, this PVC gate and the traditional baby gate at the back of our living room give each dog their own space and allow us to safely play “switcharoo” whenever needed. It works so well, in fact, that we decided to keep it up in Irving permanently.
We did find that the original gate was wider than necessary and therefore quite heavy, which in turn stressed the pressure mounting system at inopportune times. The old gate and the fencing components on either side were also significantly taller on our first version, and it felt as if we had the dogs in a prison transport vehicle rather than in their home away from home. So this summer, Steve reconfigured the system to allow for a more narrow gate, and also shortened all of the components. Now, our gate is effective, less prone to inopportune collapse, and more aesthetically pleasing, to boot! And - most importantly - it maintains harmony in our space, keeps our pups safe, and allows Steve and me the opportunity to go for the occasional walk without our pups (after they’ve been sufficiently tuckered, of course).
If you’re a fellow camper who has devised a workaround in your RV, please share it below in the comments. And if you’re a dog whisperer and have thoughts on how we might help our pups become best buds again, we’d love to hear from you! Of course, if you have any questions about Steve’s PVC gate system, please just ask.
I’ll be gathering memories and photos to share with you as we make our way West in the coming weeks. Until then, I need to send a huge shout-out to our wonderful house sitters (Thank you, Adam, Patti & Hannah!), without whom we couldn’t do this crazy thing we love.
And thanks to you for coming along with us for the journey; it’s great to have you along for the ride! See you in the next post…
Susan & Steve
(Just before sunset at Pensacola Beach. It is even prettier than the photo!)