The season that almost ended this story
This season was starting off great! We were going to a new ski resort and we would be staying at an RV park that Ben had work camped at previously. And to top it off we were going to caravan there with friends Travis and Tina for their maiden voyage in their brand new class c motorhome. Wait, wait, wait… Wasn’t it just two seasons ago that we had traveled with them on their maiden voyage in their brand new travel trailer? But, that’s besides the point. Things seemed to be going our way. Lauren had to start work at the ski resort right away when we got there. She would be managing the children’s snow sports school and had a lot to learn before the start of the season. Ben had a few days before he would start at the school district driving busses and was able to hang out with our friends and take in the local sights.
The town we were living in had a historic district that was horse and buggy traffic only. The businesses in town though modern in some ways were run by proprietors that would dress in period correct clothing for the town that looked like it had been frozen in time (gold rush era).
We had gone to get Lauren’s car out of storage for the season so that we each would be able to get back and forth from work. Lauren was driving a tangerine colored Subaru Crosstrek named Tangelo. So it was much to our surprise when she was on her way to work one morning and was rear ended. Luckily the car was fixed quickly and we did not have to pay anything out of pocket. On the other hand Lauren was a little worse for wear. She suffered some whiplash and we were unsure if there would be lasting effects that would compromise her career in the ski industry. Having an office job for the early part of the season was fortunate because she had the opportunity to heal before her job became more physically demanding.
The RV park we were in this season was not supplied by our employer. We had simply gone out and found a monthly site to stay in. It was a few weeks into the season when another RV was moving into the site next to us. And a couple of days later Ben was outside and had an opportunity to meet the new neighbor. With the weather being so nice, unfortunately, for winter the windows and doors were open and Lauren was sitting at the table when she heard that oh so familiar phrase, “Hi!, I’m Ben!” As he and the new neighbor began talking, it wasn’t even a few minutes later that they realized they had met before and knew each other, although briefly. Ben and Dominick quickly became friends over the course of the season. They would have long conversations outside about the RV lifestyle, modifications to RVs or customizations. They also did their first major solar install together on Dominick’s RV. Lauren grew used to Ben disappearing and being able o find him at Dominick and Carrie’s RV site.
Ben also got hired at the ski resort to work as a mountain host on weekends. Everything was starting to fall into place and we had gotten into a routine. And then the weather stayed warm and it did not snow. And we waited and waited for the ski resort to open.
With some extra time on our hands we took apart the frame for our bed. The same thing we had done from the inside while we were in Michigan. On the trip back to California we hit some very rough road going through Salt Lake City and we were afraid something was seriously wrong. When we took the bed apart we found that the board we had put in in Michigan was no longer properly attached and the screws we had used to fasten it were broken and bent. When we removed it and used the inspection camera to inspect the frame we found that the frame had cracked. We were devastated. We were not in a place we could work on it and our financial situation was bleak. We felt trapped. We didn’t know if we could safely move and even if we could we didn’t have the money.
Lauren’s hours had been cut back because of the delayed opening and then finally at the end of January the ski resort opened. It felt like we could breath. We were getting to the point that we may have been forced to leave because of the lack of work and income flowing in. And then it happened. The snow was not enough to keep the resort open. So it was put on hold until there was enough snow to resume operations. One of the interesting things that came of this is that Lauren was sent to another ski resort to help coach the all mountain ski team. She got to know another ski area by doing this and kept working. This went on every weekend for a little over a month until a big snow storm came through the area and it was announced that the resort would be able to resume operations. And boy did they. The rest of the season was fantastic. It was busy and there was some great snow for skiing and riding. We worked hard and made up for a slow start to the season. Ben even took on a third job in ticket sales. When we left it felt like we had made it out by the skin of our teeth. But before we left, we were both offered full time year round jobs. Ben with the school district and Lauren at the ski resort. Amongst ourselves after such a tough year financially we had made the decision to take the jobs but had not officially accepted them. We even started looking at options for more permanent housing. This went on for a couple of weeks and then it dawned on us that we were both miserable and we were picking fights with each other. We stepped back and reevaluated our decision. We both came to the conclusion that we were not ready to give up on travelling. When we declined the jobs a weight was lifted off of us and everything was good again. Ben likes to say we panicked and hitched up the trailer and left town. It was becoming more and more clear that we had to make this nomadic lifestyle work.
The end of a work contract meant it was time for maintenance and repairs. We headed to Ben’s Dad’s house so that we could take care of a few things. The project we were pretty excited about was the install of a new five stage water filtration system. This is something we had been discussing and crunching the numbers on all season. What we figured out is the amount of money we were spending in bottled water was about ten percent of our weekly grocery budget. At that expense compared to the the buy in cost, it didn’t make sense financially or environmentally to continue to purchase bottled water.
The other major project we had on the docket was to take apart the front cap of the fifth wheel to inspect the frame and repair the wood wall that we had tried to repair from the inside of the trailer earlier in the season. When we opened it up we found that it was not just going to be a matter of reconstructing and reinforcing the wooden wall. The metal frame was cracked as we had discovered earlier in the season and it would need to be welded back together and reinforced. What we didn’t know was that there were five cracked welds in total. This was a huge project and we were going to need some help. Ben’s friend Travis came over and Ben’s Dad helped us with the repair. Luckily we had access to a welding machine and Ben’s background was in metal fabrication. One of the important pieces to getting a strong weld bead without imperfections and contamination, which can compromise the integrity of the weld is that there is no oxygen and environmental contaminants exposed to the molten metal puddle. Being on the coast there was almost always a breeze at Ben’s Dad’s house. In order to get the weld right Lauren and Travis had to hold blankets up around the front of the fifth wheel so that Ben could complete the necessary welds. In that moment the fix that we came up with was going to have to work. But we feared it was not the final solution and we would have to take the front apart one more time for a more permanent fix.
Once we had everything fixed it was time to make our way to the next job. And, we were going to get to caravan with our friends Tony and Terri. We had stopped to visit Ben’s grandmother in Nevada and were going to meet up with Tony and Terri somewhere along I-80. We had pulled off of the highway outside of Reno to check that everything was secure on the RV and truck. When we were pulling back onto the highway we saw Tony and Terri’s motorhome in our mirrors and heard the sound of their air horn. They had caught up with us, and a few hours later we all pulled over at a rest area to commiserate on where were going to stay for the night and also to say hello. We hadn’t seen each other in over a year. That night we stayed in a free campground (Water Canyon Recreation Area) just outside of Winnemucca, Nevada. The campground was pretty cool. We found a spot big enough for both rigs and we decided to stay a couple of nights. There were off-roading trails and we decided to take Lauren’s car to check it out. We also went into the town of Winnemucca for supplies and to check out the Buckaroo Museum.
Via a stop in Boise, Idaho (Riverside RV Park) so that we could recharge our batteries and get some chores done we headed north towards Craters of the Moon National Monument . We would stay in the campground at the entrance of the park. This was very convenient for exploring. We drove the one-way loop around the park, hiked to the top of a cinder cone, and hiked out on lava beds as well as down into a cave. It was very early season and there was ice down in the cave which made it tricky to get in and out of. One of the trails we hiked ended back in the campground. We were having a great time however, we only had two 6V golf cart batteries and were running low on power with no way of recharging. We were going to have to find a campground were we could recharge our batteries. This is when Tony proposed that we plug our RV into his RV so that his generator could power both our RVs as long as we didn’t run everything. This is when Ben thought of our Progressive Dynamics converter. The converter was not hard wired into the RV and had a dedicated 15amp plug that could be plugged in directly, bypassing the 30amp cord. Ben and Tony ran an extension cord from the converter to Tony’s generator. We had a hundred feet of extension cord running between the two RVs. We only needed the power to recharge our batteries and this would ensure that we would not be demanding any unnecessary power while their generator was running. When they would turn on their generator our batteries would recharge and we learned that through this method we would only be drawing 3-5amps of power. With a way to recharge our batteries now, this would be the longest boondocking trip we had been on to date and we could continue to camp with our friends. We found out that not too far from the park there was the first power plant to produce electricity using atomic energy which was now a museum. We decided to go check it out but when we got there it was closed for the off season. Not wanting to waste the trip we found a system of off-roading trails that would take you to the top of a butte. So, instead of the museum we decided to go off-roading. In hind sight this may not have been the best plan. We did not have water, food, or tools with us. We got pretty far out when we met some people on a UTV. They asked where we were headed and chuckled when we told them. They said, “good luck making it up there in that” (referring to Lauren’s Crosstrek). We eventually made it to the base of the butte and decided it would be wise to end the excursion there and head back to the campground. We would be saying our goodbyes very soon as both we and Tony and Terri needed to move on to our work camping jobs for the summer season.