Wednesday, May 16, 2007

We get mail (and visitors!)

We are at Sunset Bay State Park, west of Coos Bay, Oregon (map). It's a nice, quiet park, in a deeply shaded stand of trees. A trail leads to the beach at a shallow, protected cove. We're here, in part, because there is electric power here, and our fuel level dropped below the bottom of the dip tubes for both the generator and the Webasto heater during our drive yesterday. So our choices were to put in 40 gallons or so of diesel at sky-high coastal prices, or find hookups to get heat and hot water until we cross back over the ridge to the land of more reasonable prices.

We're glad we came here, because this little stretch of coast is one we have not visited before, and it is quite beautiful. There are a couple of state parks and a county park along this stretch, providing plenty of rustic camping opportunities. The only down side was that getting the satellite on-line was a challenge. We had to choose our spot carefully, then I had to jiggle Odyssey back and forth in the space until I could get a shot to the bird through a narrow gap in the trees. So narrow that we are on the internet, but the TV signal is blocked.

And now, some reader mail:

Reader "his-self", who professes to be an "almost-retired" guy from Colorado, inquires whether one needs to be a member to use BPOE (Elks) campgrounds. While some people do try to slip in under the radar, the official answer is a resounding "yes." Elks facilities are available only to members of the order in good standing. In fact, we had a bit of difficulty ourselves in Brookings: the lodge fiscal year has just started, and, while our dues our paid up and we are in good standing, we paid, uncharacteristically, at the last possible moment this year, owing to having been out of the country when the bill arrived. So my new and current membership card has not yet caught up to us in the mail. When I went inside to register, they asked for my card, and all I could show was last year's (now expired) card. I had to convince them verbally that I was paid up and that my new card had simply not yet caught up to me.

The good news is that becoming an Elk is easy: make friends with an Elk in your home town, and ask him or her to sponsor you into the lodge. Dues vary by lodge -- we pay around $100 per year to belong. I encourage you to do this before you hit the road, as it becomes more difficult to find a sponsor and be present for the initiation ceremony when you are on the move full time.

One final note about Elks (and other fraternal order) "camping": In many cases the lodge has no license or permit to operate an overnight facility. This is why it is so critical that they restrict access to members of the order -- if the facility is open to the public, then they are running a public accommodation and must have an inn-keepers license (or similar), collect taxes, and comply with all those pesky laws. If the facility is there for the enjoyment of members only, then it falls in a different category. This is why the lodges "request" a "donation" from visiting members using the facility, rather than "charging" a "fee."

Loyal reader Spyderman, whom we met briefly, asks, along the same lines, whether we have looked into Thousand Trails and similar programs. Yes, we did, but we rejected them. In fact, we belonged to Passport America for a year, and never once used it. This is because we seldom stay in developed campgrounds, and we even less seldom go out of our way to stay at a particular place. Elks lodges are particularly convenient for us because they are usually located in town, and we happen to be visiting or passing through the town anyway. For example, we usually end up walking (or riding transit) to dinner when we stay at a lodge.

By contrast, Thousand Trails locations tend to be far away from anything. If we are going to be out in the boonies, so to speak, then we would rather be boondocking, which is generally free. I haven't done the math, but a rough guess is that we actually pay real money for overnight parking perhaps one night in every ten. And, usually, those paid nights are because we want to be someplace specific, such as downtown San Jose, or inside the park gates at Disney World, where pre-paid programs such as Thousand Trails would be no help whatsoever. They are great programs, though, for people who typically stay in RV parks, either because they need the hookups, or they prefer the social environment of parking with other rigs.

In addition to mail, we get: Visitors!

Yesterday, while stopped for lunch at a state wayside overlooking the ocean, we had a knock on the door. Readers Kelly and Rocket (and dog Mojo, an American Eskimo like Opal) were passing the wayside in their Itasca and happened to notice Odyssey, and so circled back to say hello. We had a nice chat. I have to say that we are still sometimes surprised by the number of people reading this blog, many of whom we've never met.

I say that because we never intended to develop an audience for this blog. Now that it has worked out that way, I find myself adjusting my writing accordingly, at least to some extent. Some day I hope to post an introductory page to this blog, so that visitors surfing by have some context for it. Until I get around to it, I'll post it here:

We started this blog mostly to keep our three sets of parents, numerous aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews, and a number of pre-Odyssey friends informed as to our whereabouts and what was happening in our lives. The alternatives were writing or phoning everyone individually, which is really daunting when you consider that, as full-timers, that means everyone (in contrast to living in a fixed place, where you end up running into or getting together with a huge percentage of those people on a regular basis), or sending out updates in a mass-email sort of way. A blog, we reasoned, was something they could check in with on their own schedule as they saw fit, plus the web format allowed us to include features not available in email, such as direct links to maps.

Because of the intended audience, the writing tends to be a little dry. (And then we did the laundry, and afterwards, we had dinner.) Parents, after all, want the full detail. As it has turned out, the parents are pretty much the only subset of the original audience that actually read this on a regular basis. The rest of our readers tend to fall into three groups:
  1. Bus nuts. These are folks who are converting their own buses, or own a converted bus, or who met us at a bus rally. They tend to be most interested in the bus-specific aspects of our travels: where did the bus fit (or not fit), what roads were un-traversable, where did we get the engine rebuilt, and how did all those specific features we included when we built Odyssey work out in the long run? What would we do over again, and what would we do differently?
  2. Full-timing wannabes or newbies. These are people who are contemplating moving on to a rig full-time or actively working towards that goal, and they want to learn from our (and others') experiences. What works well and what doesn't work well for full-timers? How do we control expenses? What do we miss, and what don't we miss?
  3. Other RV'ers, full time or not. These folks are here to get insight into the places we've stayed and the things that we've done which they, themselves, might want to include on their own itineraries. Many, many people in this group, for example, followed our Mexican adventure with great interest.
Of course there is overlap among these groups, and, perhaps, some regular readers who don't fall into any of them. But I find myself writing to all these audiences, at the risk of losing the attention of readers with more narrow interests. People already full-timing in a fifth wheel, for example, are not likely to be interested in the details of converting a bus; people who are looking for good BLM dispersed camping spots probably don't want to hear about Beaudry RV resort. I hope you will forgive me when I delve into details that do not interest you.

The blog turns out to have yet another purpose that we did not anticipate when we started it. We have both developed an age-related disease, CRS. (This stands for, politely, Can't Remember Stuff. It is an early-onset form of the related disease, CRAFT -- Can't Remember a Flippin' Thing). We find ourselves saying things like "Didn't we stay someplace in Amarillo where we could walk to the Olive Garden -- where was that?" And so, the blog has also become our own reference guide -- we find ourselves referring back to it constantly. I had to go to it, for example, when our CPA asked us how much time we each spent in California last year. Honestly, I have started including things explicitly because I know I will be looking for them later, like links to parks, and details of what was good and bad about each spot. I am also religious about the map links for the same reason.

So thanks, everyone, for sticking with us, even when my verbiage goes off on wild tangents. And do keep the emails (and visits) coming!

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