Wednesday, February 27, 2008

January 14-30, 2008 – At Home

After the holidays and the cruise, our lives finally slowed down to something closer to the laid-back retirement life advertised for Florida RVers. Units came and went in the rental spots around us, neighbors kibitzed about gardening ideas, we started making some of the park social events, we caught dinners-out and movies with friends, and I settled into a regular yoga class in town with some new lady friends here in the park.

The weather this year in Crystal River has been colder and wetter than we remember it, forcing us to repeatedly drape the lot in white sheets to protect new planting. It has also curtailed our Harley riding a bit. The cold is not so much an issue, but the wetness is! Still it's hard to complain about the rain when the area so clearly needs it.

Perhaps it is because retired folks don't have enough to occupy themselves, but it seems like the bug to acquire something new is making the rounds of the park, despite the economy. Our biking buddies Chuck and Sandy from Vermont exchanged their Newmar coach for a Holiday Rambler fifth wheel exemplifying a trend to staying put. In fact, every unit I can see from where I sit this morning is a fifth wheel. Because they are not self-propelled, fifth wheels are less expensive per unit than motorhomes with more flexible interior layouts. Of course, if you actually want to move them, then you have to add in a costly diesel truck.

Other neighbors have bought houses. Our next-door neighbors Dale and Shawn, motivated by some health issues, surprised everyone by buying a new home back up in Missouri and putting their lot here up for sale. My gardening mentor Tom and his wife Mari stunned us the other day with the news of their new purchase of a house in the big Sugarmill Woods development in Homossassa. Thanks to the abrupt popping of Florida's real estate balloon, there seems to be a sense of opportunity among the people already here, despite the headlines about Florida's high taxes and crushing insurance costs.

We have not been totally immune. We continue to give real estate a thought. But we have no idea of what or where. When every line of thought we follow ends up with us fixed in one spot, we panic. For us, a more likely change may be upgrading the RV. We have owned ours now three years. The warranty is out, and worse, our manufacturer – National RV – recently went out of business! A bigger diesel RV would give us more living space and storage, plus a beefier machine to handle adding the motorcycle to our entourage when traveling. Plus, it would also automatically take care of upgrading our TV to a bigger HD unit! (You laugh, but I suspect the HD flat-screens have driven more recent trade-ins than any other factor!)

January, of course, is the time of the big Tampa RV show. We spent a day there and saw some very interesting units, but came away having spent on nothing more than a couple of burgers and a sign for the yard with our names on it (which says "If we're not here, were sailing." )

Although the fantasies continue, we have actually gone another way to solve the entourage issue. We have bought a truck, a 2005 Dodge Dakota Quad Cab 4x4. The Quad cab (four-doors) means not only will we have an enclosed vehicle for ourselves, but we can take passengers and stuff in a full-sized back seat; and the 4x4 (4-wheel drive) means we can tow the automatic truck four wheels down. The idea is the motorcycle will load into the bed of the truck (with the tailgate down), and we will then tow the truck behind the coach. Several of our neighbors with motorcycles have chosen this exact setup, so we benefited from their research and experience.

The search for a pre-owned truck took up a great deal of the month. Apparently, this is a popular model, and we found very few available on Car-Max, Ebay or in the classifieds. It seemed like all the trucks we were finding were fire-engine red or white. What we really wanted was a dark grey or khaki. We ended up buying 2005-midnight blue truck from the Dodge dealer in Ocala. It is a surprisingly handsome color with a very nice interior, and although it doesn't match the coach, at least it doesn't clash. I guess our next coach will have to have some blue in it!

After buying the truck, it then had to be fitted with a tow bar and a brake assist system. Our old car – the 1999 Saturn wagon we fondly call "the go-kart" – was so light it wasn't required. We chose the SMI Active Brake system which responds to an electronic signal from the coach as well as an independent surge brake. I must say on our test drives with the new set up that the brake system is very comforting on those quick stops!

Everything about driving the new truck is nice except for its gas consumption, which is mid-range (18-22mpg). Ecologically speaking, we always felt like the Saturn's 30 mpg helped balance out the coach's horrid 8 mpg, We considered keeping the Saturn as a second car, and would have for sure if we were stateside full time, but it made no sense for us to pay for two tags and two insurances. That's on top of the coach and motorcycle! As good fortune would have it, the kids had a neighbor inquire about buying their old gas-guzzling Ford Explorer right at the same time, so instead of trading the Saturn in, we sold it to the kids for what they got for the Explorer.

Our motivation for all this effort is a road trip we have conceived for the month of March. After all, we didn't buy the coach just to sit in a park! Although we are content with this area for what it is, we're not ready to settle down. Since the time of year we are able to be back in the US precludes our dream trips out west, our plan is to take the "entourage" to the hills and mountains of northern Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina and explore the areas by motorcycle from our RV base.

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