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Budget (Making Something Out of Nothing …)

Okay, so here’s the deal with the budget …

On my “About” page, I wrote that I wanted to to cover monthly living expenses using only my social security. At the time, I hadn’t firmed up plans for the first year on the road and quite frankly, I didn’t know if that was doable. Well, as of yesterday, I’ve completed my planning through mid-March. Let’s see how realistic a goal that was:

I broke the budget down into the following areas:

  • Campsite / motel fees
  • Auto expenses (gas and basic maintenance i.e. oil changes, wiper replacement, filters, washer fluid, etc)
  • Fuel and energy costs (heating, cooking, etc)
  • Connectivity (cell phone, Skype, Hulu, Office 365, etc)
  • Groceries
  • Subscriptions (motor club, Escapees, Costco, Amazon Prime, etc.)
  • Entertainment and miscellaneous

Here are how things are shaping up for the first 9 months of vagabonding:

Campsite / motel fees

Camping fees

Campsite fees are pretty good for 2015. 2016? Not so much.

I’ve got a good handle on these expenses through the middle of March 2016 since I’ve picked out all my spots and have made most of the reservations. The only things I haven’t booked yet are two campsites (which will be taken care of the beginning of next week) and a few motels where the trip between campsites is longer than I wanted to drive in one day. For the first nine months, the average cost per night will be about $16.50 or around $500 a month. That’s pretty good. I’ll have paid about $1,200 up front for deposits on the 2015 campsite visits, but will have to continue laying down deposits on future campsites as I go along. My budget assumes that after June, I’ll have to pay about $150 every month for deposits on future campsite visits. So from a cash standpoint, those two will wash out this year. (Next year? I’ll get to that.)

Auto expenses

I’ve calculated mileage from campsite to campsite and it comes to about 4,600 miles. I’ve added an average of 500 miles/month for other driving (weekly grocery shopping, the occasional “touristy” visit, etc) for a total of about 9,200 miles. I’m estimating the Azera’s gas mileage at 18 MPG in the flatlands and 16 MPG in mountainous areas and have used $2.75/gallon for pricing. That works out to about $160 / month. Add $100 for car insurance and $40 for basic maintenance – that’s $300 month for my car.

Fuel and energy costs

A mini-propane tank

This little tank stands 13 inches high and holds 2.5 gallons of propane

For the first nine months, I won’t have to use my generator. I’m still going to bring it along just in case there’s a problem somewhere down the road. The budget is based on using propane heat this winter even though the campsites provide electricity. I’m buying two small propane tanks (capacity 11 lbs – about 2.5 gallons of propane per tank). One tank is the equivalent of about 10 of the small camping canisters typically used on a Coleman stove and provides approximately 250,000 BTU’s.  That’ll be enough to cook two meals a day for two weeks. The propane heater will operate for about 60 hours per canister, too. I’ll use one tank for meals – the other tank will only be used during winter to power the heater.

Based on the above, I’m budgeting two fill-ups per month during the summer (for cooking) and an additional 2-4 fill-ups during the winter (for heat) at $12.50 per fillup.

Electric is included in the campsite costs except for two locations where I’ll be for a total of 2+ months and I’ve added $35/month average to cover that cost. It’ll be used to power the Foreman grill, the laptop and other miscellaneous gear … it’ll also be used for backup heat.

The other big cost is firewood. And that could get expensive. A $5 bundle of firewood might light a campfire for a couple of hours a night. I’m not going to be Grizzly Adams here, so I’ve budgeted 3 campfires / week, which is probably on the high side.

Based on all of the above, I’ve estimated that my fuel costs are going to run about $100/month during the summer, $150/month in the fall and $200/month during winter. Since I”ll have the electric heater, I think these are really conservative numbers. (Let me know if you’d like more info on how I ran the calculations … I’ll be glad to give them to you.)

Connectivity

I’m upping my cell phone plan to provide 3GB of data once I’m on the road. Most of the camps have Wifi, but I don’t know how good it’s going to be, so I might have to upload photos to the blog via phone. I’ll also keep my Skype number as well as my subscription to Office 365. Oh yeah, then there’s my low-tech connectivity … it’ll cost about $8/month for my mail forwarding service. That all adds up to $145/month.

Data usage is one area I’m going to have to look at once I get on the road. I’ve realized that I’m not going to be able to watch Red Sox games on the road (unless the camp I’m in is going to offer cable hookups and they happen to be on). So in order to get my Red Sox fix, I’ve decided to buy a SiriusXM boom box along with an annual “All Access” package that will let me listen to any MLB, NHL, NBA or NFL game. (See “Subscriptions” below).

Groceries

The Grizzly 40

The Grizzly 40 is even designed to withstand bear attacks!

This is where I’ve not been very scientific in the budget. I’m going with $400/month to cover food, miscellaneous paper products, ice and other sundry items. Oh yeah, chew sticks. Frank reminded me not to forget the chew sticks!

I’m investing in a high-end cooler- the Grizzly 40, which should help quite a bit. It’ll keep ice for over 6 days. (I think I said in another post that it would keep 9-10 days but that’s not right. I’ve looked at a number of coolers and got mixed up on which one was chosen.) Its inside dimensions are 18″x11″x12″. Get out your tape measure – that’s a big cooler! Even with ice, it should hold 4-5 chicken breasts, 4-5 pounds of meat, a carton of eggs, some milk and butter … certainly enough space to cool a week’s worth of food.. I wanted something like this so that I only had to go shopping once a week and avoid paying “convenience store prices”.

Can I take care of Frank and my needs on $100/week? I’m pretty sure we can. It’ll take some planning (and me doing a better job with my diet), but that’s what I’m going to go with right now.

Annual Subscriptions

These include memberships to Costco, Amazon Prime, AARP, and AAA auto club. It also includes a membership in Escapees RV club, the company that’s allowing me to use their address to set up domicile in Texas. I’m going to buy a subscription to SiriusXM Radio, too.  This will provide entertainment *cough* (Red Sox radio) *cough* without using up bandwidth. The Amazon Prime membership will enable me to stream any of their “Prime” videos at no additional charge. I don’t know how well that’s going to work, but I’ll figure that out within the first month or so. The total for all of these is $575 / year.

Miscellaneous

I’ve thrown in a baseline of $100/month for miscellaneous stuff. It’s not a lot, but then, I’m not planning on spending a lot. A new box of AA batteries from Costco here and there. Bait. Frank may find a collie and want to treat her to a bowl of Alpo or something. He’s going to need his rabies shots, too. Oh yeah, I’ve upped that monthly allotment by $200/month for the summer as well. Maybe Frank and I will visit a place with an entrance fee, or I might see a package of fishing flies I’d like to try out. And since I’ll be in Colorado, I plan on buying a few “edibles” here and there (you know what they say … “When in Colorado, do as the Coloradans do!”).

Total

$ 4,775 – campsite / motel fees
$ 2,725 – auto expenses
$ 1,375 – fuel and energy costs
$ 1,300 – connectivity
$ 3,600 – groceries
$    575 – subscriptions
$ 1,450 – entertainment and miscellaneous

$15,800 – grand total … which compares to ….

$15,800 – Monthly social security benefits at $1,760/month.  That wasn’t a plug.  Just a REALLY good guess!

So, that does it. Assuming I keep to this budget, I’ve reached my goal … except …

Medical

Healthcare!

Healthcare costs – Yuck!

I’ve not included anything in here for insurance or medical expenses. Right now, monthly health insurance is running $175, but it’s a South Carolina plan. I’ll have to convert it to a Texas plan once I set up domicile there. And even so, most of the plans available through the healthcare.gov website are HMO’s and PPO’s which won’t give me much benefit when I’m on the road. So I’ve decided that I won’t buy health insurance for the last half of 2015 and instead pay the $800 tax penalty I’ll incur as a result. However, that will change for 2016.

In 2016, my only income will be from Social Security and whatever I take out of my IRA. Based on that, I’ll qualify for a hefty premium reduction.

I did some research and discovered that Blue Cross … the company providing insurance through the Texas Healthcare exchange … offers a multi-state plan which includes $40 copays across the country (so long as I go to a doctor that is part of the national Blue Cross network). It has a $4,750 deductible but after that’s used up, the plan would pay 100% of my medical expenses.

The cost? $4,200 / year, which would have to come out of my nest egg. Unless I come up with some other income, that alone will exhaust my savings in about 12 years. In all honesty, I don’t plan on living that long, but who knows? So, I’m going to have to figure out how to make some money on the road.

I have some fantasy scenarios. They include being able to somehow make money off this blog at some point, whether it’s commissions from camping equipment sales via links to Amazon, discounts for campsite reviews, or figuring out some premium content I could offer for a small subscription price. I’ve even fantasized about being able to sell some of my photography, whether it’s at flea markets I go to or some other means. But I’ll have to figure out something for the long haul.

After February 2016 …

It gets even bleaker … at least for 2016. If I go through with my plans to head back through the northeast and back down south to Florida for the winter, I’m going to see my campground fees go up, probably by as much as $350/month! Those costs won’t be offset by penny-pinching in other areas of the budget, and my Social Security COLA adjustment will only cover about 10% of the increase! So that just puts added pressure on figuring out some way to make money on the road.

It’s not going to stop me from moving forward, but it means I’m going to have to start thinking about what I can do to bring in about $700/month beginning next year. Either that, or I’ll have to curtail my travel plans and/or confine them to a smaller region of the country. I’m not ready to do that just yet.

I guess that’s progress, though. A month ago, I was planning on spending my nest egg and then walking into the ocean when I ran out of money. Now I’m talking about living for a while. Who knows … maybe I’ll get out on the road, start feeling better and then decide to take on some small consulting gigs here and there again. But first things first.

I don’t know what I’m going to write about tomorrow. I’m about done with the planning and I’ve made pretty much all my reservations. But I’ll figure something out!

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Posted by on January 28, 2015 in Planning

 

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Itinerary – October 2015 to December 2015 (and Beyond)

Good news!. A couple of days ago, when I wrote about having trouble with planning the packing, my brother suggested that I look into Space Bags, another infomercial legend on late night TV. They’re the large bags you can put soft items in (i.e. clothes, pillows, blankets, etc.) and then suck all the air out using a vacuum cleaner. At that point, your stuff takes up a fraction of the space it might otherwise use. Great idea, except … how would I find a vacuum cleaner out on the road? I sure wasn’t planning on bringing one with me!

New and improved Space Bags

New and improved, no less! :o)

The people at Ziploc (the Space Bag creator) weren’t any help … they had no idea what I could use! All they said was that it was designed for a standard vacuum cleaner hose. The people at Coleman weren’t any help either. Neither answered the email inquiry I had sent in two days earlier, by the way – I had to call them.

Nevertheless, I found my answer after going back onto Amazon and doing a search for “mini vacuum cleaners”. I found the Shop-Vac Micro Wet/Dry Vac. It weighs only 6lbs and stands 11″ tall, with a 10″ diameter. And it has a standard-size vacuum hose. Even better, one of the reviews made mention of the fact that they had used this model on Space Bags with success! I might even be able to ditch the bucket I was planning on bringing and use the canister for dishwashing instead. I’ve ordered both the vacuum and some Space Bags and will test it out when they arrive.

I figure I can not only use the bags on the blankets and such, I might even be able to ditch one of the suitcases since I can pack down my shirts, sweaters and sweat pants as well! Andy, thanks for the suggestion … much appreciated!

Now, on to the remainder of my 2015 itinerary. I’m not yet going to post in the detail I’ve done the last couple of days since I need to firm up reservations, but here’s the plan so far:

October 2015

As mentioned yesterday, I extended my stay at the Circle Your Wagons campground in La Veta, Co for an extra two weeks, which meant I had to drop a visit to Taos, NM from my plans. The next campground, near Tucumcari, NM, doesn’t open up reservations for October camping until mid-April, either. Based on that, I’ve decided to scrap New Mexico from my 2015 plans.

Instead, I plan on spending two weeks at Lake Corpus Christi State Park. They have campsites with both electricity and water and are far enough south where I won’t have to worry about snow, the way I would have in New Mexico. Its a little over 900 miles from La Veta, so I’ll take three days to get there, with planned stops in Amarillo and San Angelo.

November 2015

South Padre Island

South Padre Island is only 90 minutes away!

From there, I’ll head due south to Mission, with plans to stay at Oleander Acres, an upscale RV Park and campgrounds. I spoke with them on the phone last week. A one month stay … with water and electric … will be only $250! I plan on staying there through mid-December. Frank liked this because they have some very nice dog parks in the area: I like it because we’ll be able to take some day trips over to South Padre Island and do some beachcombing. It’ll be a bit of a trek, but it won’t be as far as going to Atlantic City from where I was living in New Jersey!  That’s doable … and it’s worth it to spend a day near the water!

December 2015 – February 2016

In mid-December, I plan on heading 200 miles north along the Gulf to Port Aransas, TX. I.B. Magee County Park offers camping right off the beach. Their sites, with water and electric, are $20 / night and I plan on another month-long stay. This will be a perfect spot for more fishing and beachcombing. Hopefully the weather will hold up and we won’t have to deal with too much rain.

I’d have stayed there a little longer, except I’m already planning on the 1-month maximum stay. Instead, I’ll go a couple miles down the beach to another county park, Padre Belli for a two-week stay. They offer the same $20/night rate for water and electric campsites. Both are located on the north part of Padre Island. These two stays will take me to the end of January.

I plan on travelling further up the coast from there, to the Matagorda area. Lighthouse RV Park in Bay City is located about 10 miles from the Gulf. I plan on a month-long stay at their quoted rate of only $300.

Lighthouse RV Park

LIghthouse RV Park in Bay City, TX (not sure why it’s called “Lighthouse” when they’re 10 miles from the Gulf …)

Beyond February 2016

That takes me to the end of February 2016. From there? Who knows. At this point, I’ve put about 8,000 miles on my car … not bad, but I would like to cut it down a bit. This means a bit more focus in my locales. My initial thought for 2016 is to head back up to Dallas in order to see friends again). From there, go across the Tennessee Valley to the East Coast, head north again (with a stop in New Jersey to see some more friends) to spend the summer in New England and upstate New York. As summer ends, I would head back down south, with the goal of spending New Year’s in the Florida keys.

That’s it for now. As things firm up, I’ll expand a bit on each of the places I’ve outlined in this post.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk a bit about some of the resources I’ve been using to plan out this journey. I’ve found some very helpful websites that would be of use to anyone planning a road trip …whether it’s for a couple of weeks or the rest of their lives!

 
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Posted by on January 21, 2015 in 2015, 2016

 

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The Crockpot (And My First Potential Endorsement Deal)

My famous crockpot stew

MMMM… Good stew. GOOD stew!

I really like my crockpot (I’d say I “love” it, but I’m pretty short on love these days.  I’ve been damaged enough by life where I don’t toss that word around much anymore – Frank is pretty much the only recipient at his point. But I digress …)

So I am a bit chagrined that after spending about 5 hours yesterday on detailed space planning, I’ve come down to not having a place for it … unless Frank wants to use it as a car seat!  My brother has made a great suggestion via a comment to Friday’s blog entry about using the “Space Bag” vacuum storage system for my clothes, blankets and other compressible items I’m packing. But how do I re-pack them on the road? The portable deflators listed in the “other users who bought this item also bought …” section on Amazon’s Space Bag page all got mixed reviews.  I’ve contacted Ziploc (who makes the Space Bag) asking for suggestions. I’ve also contact Coleman about one of their products to see if it’s Space Bag compatible. But I need something small … it would defeat the purpose if the bags only create enough room to carry the pump, right?  And by the way, the air mattress I’ve chosen has a built-in pump, so I wasn’t needing one. Until now.

But on to other things …

That particular air mattress is on sale this weekend – marked down from $110 to $80. I contacted the Amazon dealer who’s selling it because they didn’t list its dimensions when deflated.  To my surprise, his storefront had a phone listing (which you know is rare if you’ve done much shopping on Amazon).  As an aside, this guy has great reviews for customer service, which went hand-in-hand with his willingness to post his phone number.

I called, thinking I was going to get a recording, but it was picked up by a live person. And not just any live person … Patrick, who happened to be the guy who owned the company.  And he wasn’t just the retailer – he was the one who came up with the design! (I’m sure he sweeps up at the end of the day, too – your typical small business entrepreneur.)  Patrick was still at home, getting ready to go in to work in his Los Angeles store.  We struck up a conversation during which I told him of my plans (at this point, I’m telling people I’m retiring and taking an extended camping tour of the U.S.- no need to go into what got me there, I suppose).  I told him of my intent to do the blog, how I had a number of folks on Facebook that I hoped would follow me and that I was trying to turn the blog into a bit more.  Perhaps doing reviews of campsites and camping gear and the like.

He flipped! He loved it! We had a 20 minute conversation about pretty much everything EXCEPT the mattress (but he did give me the specs).  Another aside – I’ve not shared this idea with a lot of people, but I’m amazed at the number of them who actually like the idea and have expressed a certain amount of envy about my journey. That stuns me! You actually want to be driven into homelessness by a life of bad decisions that has left me short of money and paralyzed to the point of not being able to work?  If there’s any envy here, it’s me being envious of “normal” people who’ve been able to save for an easy retirement and have a loving family situation.  But again, I digress.  I do that a lot!

Anyhow, Patrick wished me luck and I thanked him. I then started thinking about whether the $30 savings was worth buying the mattress now since I’m short of cash and have to put down deposits on campsites and the like.

It’s been about 15 minutes.  The ADD element of my PTSD had taken over and my mind had moved on to about 10 other non-related things when the phone rang.  It was Patrick calling me back:  “Jeff, I was thinking about this while I was taking a shower.  We have a new product that I’m hoping will be ready by the time you set off on your trip.  It’s the same as this air mattress except it’s going to have inner coils.”  He explained that the coils would also be air-filled, which would provide more support than discrete air pockets but would still deflate down to the same size as the mattress I was going to buy. “It’d be cool to be able to post on my Website that our first customer was taking it on a cross-country camping trip. We could have photos of it in your tent at various places, whatever. It would be a pretty good advertising!”

My need to shell out the money this weekend was alleviated by his next comment. “Hold off buying your mattress this weekend. I’m not sure the new model is going to be ready by the time you leave, but if it’s not, I’ll still let you have the current mattress at the sale price.”

I need to get over this!

I’m NOT a scammer. I’m NOT, I’m NOT, I’m NOT!

Once I got past the weird feeling I had after he told me he was thinking of me while showering, I said I loved the idea and thanked him for making the offer.  We exchanged email addresses (we’ve already sent each other a test email), and I promised to be back in touch as I got closer to launch.

So now, I have to figure out how to do something I’m not good at – asking him to simply give me the mattress in exchange for doing the  “promotional tour” for him … or perhaps even provide a small stipend to cover some of my blog costs.  I’ve never been good at selling. So between now and then, I have to figure out how to do that. I know at a head level that this would be worth it for him, i.e. cheap advertising that would probably result in a few sales. But at a visceral level, I feel like I’m scamming him.  I’ll have to work that out, I suppose.

That’s it for today. I’m going to hold off writing about packing the car until I hear back from Ziploc and/or Coleman.  Tomorrow, I think I’ll go over where I’m at with my campsite reservations.

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2015 in Planning

 

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All the Comforts of Home

Yesterday, I went over my kitchen supplies.  Today, I’ll round out what’s in my supply box, and what I’m doing to turn my tent into “home” …

General Supplies

There’s not a lot in here that you wouldn’t find in preparation for a weekend camping trip.

  • A tool box:  a screwdriver and wrench set; pliers; a hammer; a staple gun; nails / fasteners; and a rubber mallet for setting the stakes
  • My trusty Swiss army knife
  • A gas adapter, in case I run into a situation where I can refill one of the small propane cans from a larger one, like the ones you typically use on your outdoor barbecue set
  • Rope
  • Zipper locks, to add a bit of security to the tent
  • Laundry and dish soap, scrub brushes and Brillo pads
  • Two flashlights
  • An assortment of A, AA, AAA, C and D batteries (still trying to decide if I go with rechargables and a charger or if I use standard batteries.  Right now I’m leaning to the throw-away ones.)
  • Work gloves
  • Two 20-liter drybags, to store electronics and any other gear that can’t get wet. (Are any of you readers outdoorsy / kayaky / canoeing folks?  I found a very highly rated drybag on Amazon from Adventure Lion … check it out.)  On the road, I’ll use one of them to pack my towels, washcloths and toiletries kit.
  • Duct tape (I’m quite convinced there’s a way to solve the current terrorist threat with duct tape … we just haven’t figured out how to do it yet!)
  • Microtowels … the super-absorbent ones.  If you have insomnia,you’ve seen these advertised on TV by the guy with the Australian accent (have you noticed how all these guys have some sort of British / Aussie / Kiwi accent? Why is that?  Do we think they’re more trustworthy because they call us “mate”?)
  • A vinyl repair kit
  • A first aid kit, complete with snakebite kit, hydrogen peroxide, Qtips and a survival straw for water purification
  • A spade
  • A small electric heater I found on the Camping World website with an automatic turn-off if it tips over
  • Two small propane heaters for those times when I’m without electricity
  • Two small battery powered fans
  • An assortment of tiedowns and bungee cords
  • A hatchet
  • Bug sprays for both me (mosquito) and Frank (mosquito, tick and flea)
  • A 75-foot 12 gauge extension cord and adapters that take 50 amp power down to 30 amp and then to 15 amp
  • A 2.5 gallon gas can
  • A portable radio, hand crank
  • A nifty LED Coleman lantern with detachable lights that can be used as flashlights, along with a recharging base
  • Fresh and saltwater fishing rods and tackle box
  • Firestarter nuggets

Pretty good list, right?  Anything I left out?  Leave a comment and I’ll check it out (and see if there’s any more room in my Azera.)

Creature Comforts

Air Mattress (Chick not included)

Air Mattress (Chick not included)

So how do you turn a tent into a home?  As I was contemplating my plan, what movie should come on HBO but “Hidaldgo,” the Viggo Mortensen flick where he’s a cowboy that goes over to Arabia to compete in a long-distance horse race.  (Another bit of serendipity.)  It was a great opportunity to see a tent (albeit 100 times bigger than mine) that was an actual home for Omar Sharif!  I got a lot of ideas from that:

  • Extra blankets to use as rugs
  • I’ll use my Gear Box, Camp Box and Tool Box as tables – one in the bedroom for my c-pap and the other two in the living room as needed for fans, heaters, lanterns, etc.  The boxes are about 2 ft x 1.25 ft x 14 inches in height.  (The Food box and cooler will have to be kept in the car overnight … coyotes and bobcats and bears, oh my!)
  • Two blow-up airline pillows to lean against (and they won’t take up much room in the car when deflated)
  • A heavy duty air mattress … with emphasis on “heavy”.  After reading the reviews, I decided on the Quick Luxe ® Queen Size Raised Air Bed Mattress, with a 500-lb weight capacity.
  • Two comforters and a pillow … at this point, I’m not planning on a sleeping bag.  If experience dictates that I need one once I’m on the road, I’ll pick one up.
  • I have a great beach / camping chair that I bought from the “X/L Direct” website when I moved to Charleston.  It’s a great chair, but Frank isn’t going to be happy because he likes to spend evenings sitting on the arm of my recliner while I watch TV and he won’ be able to do that on this chair … but it’s really not useable inside the tent as the legs would do damage to the floor.  I’ll be on top of a blanket, leaning against the airline pillows. Hopefully he’s okay with that!
  • A number of camps I’m going to offer free cable TV to meet the needs of the RV crowd.  I found a USB adapter with a coax input that would allow me to hookup my laptop and watch TV if I felt the need.  I don’t see that happening much though … if I’m in the mood to watch something, I will take advantage of the free movies and TV shows I can watch via my Amazon Prime and Hulu subscriptions over WiFi.  I’ll also sign up for MLB.tv so I can continue to watch my Red Sox on the road – I consider that my one true “indulgence” on this journey.
  • I found an inexpensive, compact generator on Amazon .. a very small footprint and will be enough to power my c-pap machine at night and my coffeemaker in the morning when I’m away from electricity.  It’ll run 10 hours at half power on a tank of gas.  (Okay, my coffeemaker might be my other indulgence!)
  • I’ll be bringing my guitar, of course.  That’ll ride in the back seat, on top of all the other gear, pushed back into the rear window well as much as it can (I finally have a use for that automatic window shade).

What About Frank?

Frank is my navigator, compadre, caregiver dinner mate and friend.  He instinctively knows when I’m having an “episode” of blackness, because he’s right there, asking to get up in my lap.  His comfort is as important to me as my own.  His supplies include his food and bowls (he’s definitely a chowhound and will benefit from getting back into long walks as much as I will). I found a “cave” bed that will give him extra warmth and I’ll bring along another blanket for him, too.

He’s going to have two issues with this journey.  First off, he’s going to have to be on a leash almost all the time.  Most campgrounds require him to be on a leash or tether no longer than 6 foot.  I’m going to bring along his retractable leash for walks and a screw-in tether for when we’re at our campsite.  I’ll have both 6′ and 10′ tethers. I’ll be upfront with you – I’m going to give him as much rope (pun intended) as I can to start off with and if anyone complains, I’ll put him on the shorter one.  In deference to him, I’ve booked us at a number of campsites that have “free run” areas for dogs, and we’ll be visiting quite a few dog parks during our journey.  I’m buying a reflective dog collar for him to wear. He really does like to impress the chicks … wait until he gets to be my age and could care less!

True Love

There’s NO WAY that duck will stay behind!

He’ll be free in the tent of course, but that brings us to the second issue:  I’m bringing his crate along.  When he arrived, I bought a collapsible crate and it’s never been unpacked.  I feel I should bring it just in case – there are going to be times (like my showers and morning constitutionals) when he’s going to have to be alone and I don’t think it would be a good idea for him to be free to chew at the tent in order to find me.  I’m also going to bring a muzzle, again just in case he decides he wants to “call” me when I’m gone.  Sorry, Frank … it’s for your own good.

The other issue is protection on our hikes (the ones I hope to work us back into).  Depending on the park, he’s allowed on a few trails.  Remember the “coyotes and bobcats and bears, oh my” remark?  I didn’t mention the gators we may run into along the gulf., either  I’m going to pack a tomahawk I found and plan on carrying that with me on our hikes.  I’m also going to get a nicely weighted walking stick that I can use if the need arises, which I pray to God won’t happen!

Duck is coming too, of course.  He loves that ugly thing!

Clothing

This is easy.  I have two weekender bags. One will be for winter (and inclement weather) and the other for everything else.  I live in stretch shorts and t-shirts and that won’t change.  I haven’t worn jeans or regular pants in over 8 months.  And in the “too much information” category, I’ve gone commando for years … that’s not going to change, either.  One suitcase will carry those along with some socks.  I’m going to buy some hiking boots and those will probably go in there, too.

The other bag will hold sweatpants (light and heavy), a poncho, a couple of sweaters and sweatshirts.  I haven’t worn a heavy coat in a long while and will have to buy one – I have one of those fleece jackets that’s been fine for me so far.

Summary

I think I’ve covered about everything. Like I said earlier, if there’s anything you think I’ve missed, let me know via comment.  Which brings me to …

H O W   T H E   H E L L  I S   A L L   T H I S   S H I T   G O I N G   T O   F I T   I N   MY   C A R ?????

I’ll go over that tomorrow.


Florida’s campground reservation policies suck!

Florida’s campground reservation policies suck!

Update … yesterday, I mentioned how Florida requires payment in full for a campground when you make the reservation and offers no discounts unless you’re a disabled or 65-year-old resident.  Well, screw you, Florida!I just booked my reservation for that time period – at Meaher State Park, near Mobile, Alabama!  It’s right on Mobile Bay (the reviews I read said the sunsets are incredible) and I have a campsite right on the bay with electricity and water.  But that’s not all.  The base rate is a dollar less than Florida’s Gulf Shores State Park, but they offer a 15% discount for each night except Friday and Saturday (Florida offered no discount for out-of-state visitors).  And the ranger who took my reservation said they don’t even hit my debit card until I arrive … they just keep the number on file and if the person doesn’t show up, they’ll hit the card for one night.

I’ll only be adding 20 minutes onto my drive time that day, which is good, since Frank and I were already going to be in the car about 5 hours, excluding stops.

Very cool.  This worked out nicely.

 
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Posted by on January 16, 2015 in Planning

 

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What’s For Dinner?

Continuing on with where I left off yesterday on my prep-work for the vagabond lifestyle …

Cooking

Anyone who knows me, knows that I like to eat. Too much! So I’m hoping that along this journey, I’ll be more active … that I’ll spend more time out in the world and less in front of the table! That said, I’m not ready to make a full transition to PB&J sandwiches, hobo stew and hot dogs over an open campfire!

I’ve made a decision to focus primarly on campgrounds that offer electrical hookups. Yeah, I know that means I won’t be spending much time on BLM property, or touring the real rugged parts of the west, but that’s okay. I’m not doing this to emulate Jeremiah Johnson! I can live with the limitation. I’m doing this a bit different from what another vagabond might do.

I’m going to bring along the standard 2-burner propane grill … I’ll need that for whatever cooking I do with pots and pans. Coleman also offers a camp “oven”: an inexpensive metal box that sits over the burners to make biscuits or rolls, and collapses flat when not in use. (I wonder how it would do with english muffin pizzas?)

Depending on how things go with the packing, I would like to bring along my crockpot. I’ve been using it a lot lately, for stew, chili, chicken casseroles, etc, and I think it would make for some good meals (while again being able to cut down on the cost of fuel). If I bring this, I’m going to axe the Coleman dutch oven I have on my Amazon “wish list”. For those occassional 2-week stints where I don’t have electrical hookups (I’ll address standby electricity later), I won’t be craving something that can only be fixed in a dutch oven! I’ll simply wait until I’m back at a site with power!

I’m all set on pots and pans … I called the company that manufactured my current set and found out they’re suitable for use over either a propane stove or an open fire so long as I’m setting them on a grill over the fire! I won’t take all of them … just a couple of pots and the small frying pan. The rest (along with eveything else in my home that isn’t sold off on craigslist) will go to Goodwill.

This is a great grill!

This is a great grill!

When I moved to Charleston, I bought a Coleman stand-up grill … looks sort of like a Weber. I even kept the box it came in (maybe subconsciously I knew I wasn’t going to be here for long). That’ll cut down a bit on the propane, firewood or other fuel I’ll need to buy.

Aside from that, the only other luxury I’m going to bring is my coffeemaker. I’ll also buy one of those filter things that you use for individual cups of coffee (for those non-electric campsites), but I hope not to have to use it too much … if that’s not a reason for making electricity a priority, then I don’t know what is!

The remaining items are all pretty much on hand … utensils, hand-crank can opener, bottle opener, potholders, cutting plastic (which I’ve always liked in place of a board), kebab skewers, etc. About the only thing I plan on picking up are a couple of melmac plates. Other than that, I think I’m all set for cooking.

Next topic of discussion – what other campsite needs am I going to have to pack for? And what about Frank? And how am I going to carry all this shit? I’ll continue tomorrow.


Oh yeah, a couple of other things before I close for the day. I spoke to the attorney this morning about setting up “domicile” in Texas. It’ll be easy to “do”. What won’t be easy is addressing any potential legal challenge that might come up. “So who’s going to challenge you, Jeff?” you might ask. Well, think of who the biggest assholes in your life might be (aside from me). You guessed it – the auto and health insurance companies, concerned about liability and jurisdiction for claims; and state governments, wanting to have me pay state income taxes on my measly 401(k) withdrawals (or estate taxes on my measly assets when I die).

Texas is a great state to be "from" ...

Texas is a great state to be “from” …

The attorney gave me a list of things I need to be able to put together that “tell a story,” which basically comes down to this:

  • I have roots in Texas.  That’s somewhat easy. I do – lived there for 10 years and have a number of old high-school chums there.
  • I’ve established roots in my community (okay, I can transfer my parish records to one in Texas and say that my attorney is there).
  • When I can’t be a nomad anymore because of physical limitations and have to light somewhere, I plan on going back to Texas and spend my last days there.

The last one is the toughest.  As far as I’m concerned, a more apropos statement would be, “if I can no longer live the vagabond lifestyle and have to go somewhere … and Texas is where it has to be … then I’ll go there and put a gun in my mouth on a beach overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, so technically, if I have to spend my last days in Texas, I will!”

Does that count?

Seriously though, I have an out. I have to state my intentions. Intentions change. So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. (*cough*cough*)

Lastly, I’ve made reservations at four of the twelve campsites I’ve lined up to get me through February 2016. It would have been more, but I had a wrinkle thrown in when I discovered that there are NO Federal or state campgroounds available in one of the windows I had initially scoped out in August, so I’m having to scramble a bit on that (here it is the middle of January, and all theiir campsites have been booked – good to know for future travels). And oh yeah – freaking Florida requires that payment be made in full when you make a reservation to camp at one of their state parks. Everywhere else has been accommodating so far. Florida knows it’s a tourist mecca and feels they’ve got you by the balls. I may look for a place along the Alabama gulf coast just to spite them. Asshats!

This plan of mine is becoming reality.

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2015 in Planning

 

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More Prep Work

Yesterday, I promised to share some of the other prep work I’ve done for my odyssey. Here’s just a little bit of it …

Gear

Shelter

The Coleman Instant Cabin 10 Tent

The Coleman Instant Cabin 10 Tent

My tent is going to be “home” for quite a while, so I’m not going to skimp on quality or room … I’m a big guy and don’t want to feel cramped.  I’ve looked at a variety of tents and have decided on a Coleman Cabin Instant 10-man tent. Two rooms, 10′ x 14′, lots of ventilation. (If you have a measuring tape, go lay out 10′ x 14′.  It’s bigger than my in-home office, where I spend about 80% of my waking life right now.)  Aside from the size of this tent though, the two features I liked the most on it are the seam construction and the “instant” setup.

First the seams – they’re part of what Coleman calls its “Weathertec” system that improves water and wind resistance. I could go into a lot of detail, but this YouTube video sealed the deal for me. If this family’s stuff didn’t get wet after what they went through, I felt pretty sure Frank and I are going to be okay.

Why an “instant tent”? Face it, as much as Frank thinks he’s human, the lack of opposable thumbs means he’s not going to be much help in making shelter! I wanted something that would give me spacious comfort, but wouldn’t leave me huffing and puffing for the next 3 days after setting it up. Again, after watching some YouTube videos of people doing setup (and in a number of cases, seeing some of the mistakes they made which made it more difficult), I feel pretty confident this will do the trick.

Here’s a video of a guy putting it up in his backyard for the first time (and as an aside, I think Frank would be a bigger help than the kid with him)!  There were other videos that showed the wrong way to do it … one of which was a guy trying to set it up at the campsite … without reading directions … while his wife videotaped him as she kept reminding him of how much time he was taking.  What I learned from it (aside from “don’t spend your life with a bitch”) was that you need to fully extend the top supports before you extend the legs.  You basically want to make a “midget” tent and then extend the vertical legs to their full height.

The only issue I might have is getting the rainfly on, but I’m going to try some stuff in the dry runs where I add it during the overall tent setup and see if that works. My plan is to lay the fly over the tent while it’s in “midget” mode … fasten it if I can … and then extend the vertical legs. I’m sure I’ll figure something out once the tent arrives and I go through a few practice runs. And for those of you that don’t know, a rainfly is an additional piece of material that you put over the tent to deflect water off the roof (which in this tent is essential, because the main roof is mesh)! It also adds additional support through its separate guy-lines.

Per some of the reviews on Amazon, I’m going to buy better stakes than the ones that come with the tent. I’ll also buy more of them to use on the tarp I’ll lay down before doing the tent setup … since there’s only going to be one of me, I don’t want the tarp to move during setup.

I’ll also purchase some silicone water repellent and apply it to the tent and rainfly to improve their water resistance. Based on the reviews, I’m going to try out the “Kiwi Camp Dry, Heavy Duty Water Repellent” that comes in 12 oz cans.

For the groundcloth, I’m going to get two Grizzly 10′ x 14′ foot tarps … one for under the tent and another to lay down as a floor inside the tent to protect it from Frank’s toenails.

I’m going to end here … tomorrow I’ll continue on the with prep work – I’ll get into what I’m doing for cooking (and perhaps a bit more).

Frank wants his own tent.  I don't think so ...

Frank wants his own tent. I don’t think so …

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2015 in Planning

 

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