Sunday, July 23, 2017

Hot times in the south west; unexpected time spent sitting on the sidelines!

After spending weeks at multiple RV parks, including two very nice Colorado state parks, Boyd Lake and St Vrain, it was once again time to hit the highway. We had business that required us to spend a few days in southern California and we were really looking forward to seeing old friends and we knew there would be opportunities to see new sites. No two trips across the continental divide have ever been the same and no trip that takes us through Las Vegas has ever produced the same results. But how little did we know what would befall us this time.

We had been spending a lot of time checking progress on our new home that was still under construction. However, its completion was now well and truly in sight and just before we left Colorado, we did our first major walk-through where a punch list was produced and we knew it would keep the builders busy for a few more days. The transaction was to be completed while we were on the road and even as we had the financing all in place, the generation of the “certificate of occupancy” was still required and we were just a little anxious about this happening while we were out of town.

Leaving the Denver metropolis and heading up over the great divide on a Friday always means encountering heavy traffic. It wasn’t long before Interstate 70 out of Denver became a parking lot and it took several hours before we left the bulk of the traffic behind us. We were towing our trailer with the Mini roadster strapped down and we were really pleased to see that the recent work to repair the failed Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) system seemed to be working as there was no further repetition of power loss climbing the summits that take you west to Utah.

In fact, it was something we celebrated with a couple of high-fives when it came time to check the level of DEF in the tank to find I needed to add a gallon or two which we hadn’t done previously following the failure of the system as we began the drive to Dallas / Ft Worth. Having systems behaving as they ought really lifted our spirits and we began to finally relax. Again, how little did we know about what was to happen next!

Our first night on the road was spent at a gas station. On the outskirts of the city of Green River, Utah, there is a very large facility with a lot of room to spread out and after setting up camp on the very edge of the gas station’s property, it wasn’t long before we had attracted other campers to where we had parked. In some ways, this is reassuring to see as it means we didn’t park in the wrong place. On the other hand, enjoying isolation has always been a preference for Margo and me. The upside to where we parked was that we were far removed from the really big rigs so there was considerably more peace and quiet than otherwise would be expected camping at a truck stop!

There are rituals to be observed, of course, and once we had dropped the legs that stabilize the RV’s home and fired up the generator that powers the AC units, it was time to settle back and enjoy an adult beverage as the light of the day began to give way to evening. There was plenty of room to extend the slide-outs which isn’t always the case at truck stops and Margo was able to pull together a pretty good diner for us both. 

Our next stop would be Las Vegas and even as the temperature at Green River hovered around 100 degrees Fahrenheit, we expected it to be a lot hotter in Las Vegas. Nevertheless, the AC units were doing their job and in no time at all the motor home cooled enough not only to enjoy diner but to actually do work – and it is now an office environment where I am very comfortable working. No issues at all and Margo has done a good job of ensuring we always have strong connectivity with the outside world.

There is always a sense of excitement when we embark on a road trip in the RV. This is now our sixth summer and since that first foray south to Texas only a month or so ago, we have racked up some 4,000 miles since we left our former home in Niwot at the end of May. Do we miss our former home? Sure do, but no longer to the point where we are questioning the decision. Chapters close and new chapters begin and for Margo and me, it’s all about freedom and having the ability to go anywhere we want with only a minimal amount of lead time. Our new home will be big enough to hold our clothes, our artwork and our wine, not to mention our CDs and DVDs (yes, we still prefer these older media types) but small enough to manage without a team of contractors and that perhaps is the biggest benefit of all. Yes, we will be free to see the rest of North America and indeed, the world!

Leaving our Green River “camp site” we then stopped for diesel at a Loves truck stop, a few miles outside Las Vegas, and we were looking forward to setting up camp at our regular RV stopping point – the OASIS RV Resort just south of the Las Vegas strip. More to the point, we were looking forward to being able to drive up to Mastros for a steak dinner – something we had been talking about even before we left our last Colorado campsite. We were last in Las Vegas for the HPE big-tent marketing event in June, but what a difference just a few weeks can make.  As we pulled into our RV site, the temperature even at that late afternoon hour was 113 degrees F.

After setting up camp in Las Vegas it was only as I went to the trailer to unload the Mini that I first sighted potential trouble. A few dark drops of fluid tailed away from the trailer back up the road we had used to approach the camp site. I touched one of the drops and it was wet – in this temperature? Ummm … so I went to look at the RV and my jaw simply dropped. A pool of gear oil about three feet across and as much as a foot and a half wide had formed directly under the engine. At first, the lightness of the fluid made me think it was hydraulic fluid but no, later I would find out it was almost 2 gallons(out of 3.7 gallons) of gear oil draining out of the differential.

We immediately called the Freightliner 24 X 7 Direct line and had a mobile repair team dispatched. After they pulled into the site a quick inspection brought with it very bad news. Somehow we have managed to pick up debris from the highway that had worked its way onto the drive shaft where it had turned itself into a sort of “weed-whacker” – those household tools we use to trim lawn edges and cut down weeds – slicing through every line and hose that was close by the spinning shaft.

The first and most obvious damage was done to the air hoses that provided air to the air suspension and working from about 5:30 pm on through to 1:00 am the next morning the crew that had arrived worked hard to repair the damage – replacing shredded air hoses to ensure that the motor home body could be lifted off the axle and wheel to the point where the RV would be drivable. In those early morning hours, the consensus was that the RV was indeed drivable and that we should take it to a Freightliner repair shop where the drive shaft could be dropped and the seals (into the differential) could be checked.  In an unrelated, or perhaps related, event, we found we had a rear tire that simply wouldn’t hold air and that too we worked with the folks at Goodyear to find a replacement but more of that a little later in the post.

Catastrophe! Not a whole lot more to say other than Margo and I felt completely shattered. And not just because we wouldn’t be able to dine at Mastros, but that we now faced a very uncertain couple of days. We waited the extra day to get the replacement tire which we paid dearly for both in financial terms as well as emotionally as we experienced first-hand what we could describe in no other way than having been fleeced by the mob! They brought the wrong size tire, claimed it was equivalent, mounted it poorly and then refused to rectify when clearly it was a much taller tire paired with an existing tire on the rear of the coach. 

The installer then blocked our coach until he was paid, wouldn’t contemplate returning the next day with the correct tire, and intimidated both of us to the point where we settled the bill only to find a day later that he changed the card amount by adding another $100+ after telling us that for each minute we argued, he would add another $25 to our bill. And we thought he was joking. When Margo appealed to Goodyear who had arranged the service for help, they disowned her and the transaction in a heartbeat – so much for your friendly roadside assistance! A tire that costs approximately $400 ended up costing us $900+ and we will simply have to throw it away at our first opportunity. 

Then again, when you consider the bigger picture, we had to complete our trip to southern California as in Oxnard there was a big Freightliner facility that we really needed and if we had tried crossing the desert with a failing tire and it suddenly blew – then the cost of a heavy duty tow truck would have been much higher. Oh well … life on the road, you ask? Pleasant one moment, even intoxicating in the beauty on hand! And then, you plumb the depths of despair. But we made the trip to southern California safely and the motor home is now in the shop. So, no real home to return to and no motor home as a backup; the best laid plans of mice and men!

Our good friends, the Kennys of Simi Valley, have opened their home to us for the duration. Our first night following our arrival was spent at Mastros in Thousand Oaks which went a long way to help restore some semblance of normality as we sipped on a martini before cutting into a ribeye steak. And that was just the beginning. That Wednesday they took us to an old world restaurant called The Tam O'Shanter before we went on up to the Greek amphitheater for a 2CELLOS concert. 

Any lingering thoughts about our current state of affairs was quickly put to one side as we enjoyed ourselves immensely – as for the 2CELLOS then what can I say. If you don’t know anything about them or heard any of their music, you have to check them out on YouTube and look for their interpretation of the AC/DC anthem, Thunderstruck. The next morning, jumping into our Mini, the dreaded Check Engine light came on – what more could possibly go wrong!

The weekend was fast approaching and we still didn’t have a clear picture of what had happened to our motor home but then we received an update. Apparently we picked up a fine wire that wrapped itself around the drive shaft – just as we had seen in Las Vegas. It wasn’t the hydraulic lines that were cut along with the air hoses but rather, lines to the chassis AC units. But far worse was the wire had chewed out the seal to the differential and the fluids we had seen were gear oil from the differential that in turn had been gradually chewed to bits. So, yes, a new differential had to be ordered out of the Freightliner depot in Memphis, Tennessee.

It may look completely innocent but a few wire strands are costing thousands of dollars in repair, but perhaps even worse, will delay our return to our new home in Windsor, Colorado, which we purchased and closed on just this past Friday, by more than a week – the ETA for the new transmission isn’t until next Friday. And yes, we have taken the opportunity to order up a new set of six Michelin tires to replace the six-year old set that is beginning to show its age. For the coming week, it will be a time where I will have lots of time to complete work assignments and for that I am grateful as my workload has now been increased and perhaps, it is all for the best but for now, it’s hard to see any silver linings whatsoever.

On the other hand we are in sunny southern California and Margo got to spend some time with her friend, Adrianne, we will have an opportunity to talk with her and her husband Jerri some more tonight. Always great to see them and we hope to see more of them later in the year in Colorado! The nearby beaches are beckoning and there truly isn’t anything quite like a California summer. This Saturday saw us having breakfast in Summerland, near to Santa Barbara, where time to walk the nearby beach couldn’t be ignored.

And ever so gradually, smiles are beginning to return to our faces but in all honesty, these have been a couple of days we sure would have liked not to have seen happen. On the other hand, it’s now behind us and receding further into our past with the passage of time and we are healthy and still very capable of enjoying the friendship and hospitality of our good friends. Many thanks, to Briand and Jan – we love you both!  

Thursday, July 13, 2017

A time for reflection as we look at the clouds!

For more than a month we have been the guests of the state of Colorado’s parks. Quite by accident we came across the program that provides access to members of the state park system to spend up to 14 nights in a park over any 45 day period and we have taken full advantage of the offering. One week at Boyd Lake then down to St Vrain for two weeks returning to Boyd Lake for one more week. While these facilities are close by to where we once lived in Boulder, we simply didn’t know of their existence. Yes, we have thoroughly enjoyed ourselves as both parks are very pretty or so says Margo.

We have experienced every type of weather condition with beautiful sunrises and evening sunsets even as we have hunkered down and endured some spectacular thunderstorms. One thing we can say with assurity is that no two days have been the same and it has been this variety, indeed oftentimes extremes, which have helped entertain us while we have been domicile in our RV. The company command center continues to serve dual purposes – it’s our daily office from which we are both working even as it is our temporary home.

Nature though can be temperamental at times! While the Colorado state parks are situated alongside lakes and ponds they are also in close proximity to dairy farms. Massive, industrial-scale, dairy farms and with just the right conditions the breezes bring with them reminders of why Margo and I never took to farming. Fragrances quite unfamiliar to us frequently waft into the RV and are almost impossible to mask. But ah, nature! What can you do but try to enjoy those bucolic moments when all is at peace and only the sound of birds and insects intrude on the solitude. 

But seriously, what is it really like living a fulltime RV lifestyle? What compromises are there and what compensates for any of those compromises? It is now our sixth summer of RVing and it continues to be an evolving process. For almost three years, we were still trying to come to terms with operating the RV and we did a lot of damage along the way. Trees were knocked aside as paint was scraped from the side of the RV. Fuses kept blowing for what seemed to be no reason at all.

The steps down to the pavement kept failing and yes, have failed once again on our most recent drive down to Texas and most irritating of all, the slideouts kept damaging wood trim within the RV. Driving as many miles we have driven to date the almost constant flexing of the coach along its length,  the subsequent torque experienced by the chassis has resulted in cabinets’ doors coming off their hinges, catching the slideouts as they are being extended and frequently tearing apart the wooden trim . Over the years, again, lots of damage to the interior has been sustained. While it’s all been repaired, it’s something we now have to constantly monitor each time we extend the slideouts.

Compromises though haven’t been all that intrusive upon our lifestyle. Yes, we have to pay a lot more attention to every action we take with the home but then again, it is a complex piece of machinery. However, as for what compensates for these compromises well it is all about freedom. Being free to pick up and go anywhere. Free to set up camp alongside a lake, a field or even a Wal-Mart parking lot. And yes, free to camp out with any assortment of professional big rig drivers on a gas station apron parking lot anywhere, USA. And yes, to be bathed in morning sunlight after setting up camp late at night always sees the smiles returning fast. 

Since the last post we have been residing along Colorado’s front ranges at sites stretching from Boulder County to Laramie County – that is to say, between Boulder and the Wyoming state line. Cheyenne is only 30 miles up the road whereas Denver has to be 100 miles away, or thereabouts. Our locations have been determined by their closeness to the city of Windsor where our new home is being constructed and it is reaching a point where we can finally see the finish line.  But we are also closing on two months of fulltime RVing and while this really isn’t quite the duration most fulltime RVers enjoy in their coaches it’s still a pretty good indication as to what could be expected if we ever elected to take time out for perhaps a year on the road.

As could be expected, we have had a lot of time to read the musings of those RVers where residing in an RV, on a permanent basis, has becomea way of life. We also took time to read a wonderful book by a long-haul trucker called The Long Haul – a trucker’s tales of life on the road. Author Finn Murphy manages to capture so much of what we observe when out on the road and while it’s not up to the standard of say, Racing in the Rain: My life as a Dog, it still would make a good read for anyone about to jump on a plane. The observations about all those idiots on the road that you encounter proved to be a source of mirth as it continues to worry us as just today, on our drive back to the RV, our local interstate was closed temporarily following a three car wreck that clearly should have been avoidable – the vehicles involved were travelling too close together and had few options when things went south!

Milestones come and go. It’s no surprise to find that we are getting older and routine task around the RV are taking much longer to accomplish and are no longer entirely error free. The RV is and remains a complex piece of machinery and with as many moving parts as it has, it continues to amaze me that when I turn the ignition key, the engine fires up, the brakes release and the mighty coach moves forward. Wow! Doing a final check just today, I found tire pressures were down on two tires, the DEF fluid wasn’t being absorbed at the rate I expected and yes, once again, we had no hot water! But then again, the road beckons and we are off once again …

We have also reached another somewhat more dubious milestone this month. We haven’t been on an airplane all year. Last year we had to take a couple of flights with one of them my solo flight to London but not this year. Zero flights. Now there would be those among our friends who might find this indeed surprising – Margo has flown more than a million miles with United in her own right even as I close in on three million miles with United. Throw in the two decades of constant travel between Australia, the US and Europe in the seventies and eighties before there were frequent flyer programs and I think I would be up around five million as I did 300,000+ miles in one year with QANTAS.

All this is to note that when it comes to compromises and compensating events, the tradeoffs made when flying almost always proved less than what could have been and perhaps should have been than advertised. Ah, but with a car in tow or as has been the case of late simply driven behind the RV,  we set the agenda, leave whenever it suits us, pick and choose our destination and yes, get to see some terrific vistas along the way.

 Yes, tomorrow we will be pulling up stakes once again tackling the mountainous drive from Colorado to California but way of Las Vegas. We will count the many vapor trails we see overhead and worry little that we may be missing out on a glass of wine in first class (do they even do that anymore?) – as for mileage, well then yes, we have now racked up more than 50,000 miles on the coach as we have crisscrossed America. And it is just the start of our sixth summer. 

What can we now say – yes “I’ve have seen fire and we have seen rain. We have seen sunny days that I thought would never end.” Thanks James Taylor – always loved this song.  To this Margo and I can add how we have seen mountains, lakes and wildlife of every kind from the smallest turtle crossing our path as it meandered from one pond to another. We have seen a magnificent red deer standing tall by another lake that was only yards away from a busy interstate. And we have seen coyotes and foxes and raccoons everywhere. As for birdlife, well too many to name but watching a pair of white pelicans gliding over a mirror like lake never ceased to fill us both with awe. So peaceful …

This is what we have been enjoying for much of our time RVing. We never planned on spending a period fulltime RVing at this stage of our lives but having access to the coach for this extended period of time has certainly proved to be a godsend for us both. We are still sorting out issues with the hot water system and more often than not, it has gone cold while Margo is in the shower. There is too an ongoing issue with the steps. But these will all be addressed the next time we put the RV in for service and will all be sorted out. Could we do this full time for real? Could this become our only residence? At this stage, probably not, as having a home to return to still has its merits.

What we can attest to is that being from different countries and having both made decisions to move to the U.S. as adults, we missed the many family vacations in the station wagon that so many of our age group were subjected to in the ‘50s and ‘60s so, much of this country is new to us. Somehow, this seems to be a reminder that you can catch up to missed opportunities and equally surprisingly, enjoy them! There are still many more miles to be traveled and many more campsites to set up as our new home will not be habitable much before mid-August so there will be a couple more photos to be posted and a couple more observations to be made, but for now, it’s back to our daily routines even as we cast an eye out towards the mountains and trust the weather will be kind as we cross the great divide one more time! 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Road life – on and off, it all counts!

Wrapping up our fourth week of homelessness, or at least living without having a bricks and mortar home, all we can say at this point is that it has been an adventure, with perhaps just a tinge of regret. We sure do miss our former home, no doubt about it. And barely a day goes by without a reference or two to the only home Margo and I ever built together. On the other hand, these are such different times and each of us breathes a deep sigh of relief knowing full well that we had to end that chapter before we could begin another. Yes, it is pretty simplistic, but very real – we so much wanted to move on and try new things.

So, what has life been like working and living out of a coach? Have there been any dramatic changes to our lifestyle? When you read the commentaries of full-time RVers, and there are plenty of sites where you can find such stories, what you quickly realize is that these folks are passionate about the lives they now lead. It would be hard for many of them to come off the road even as it would be harder still to be confined to the walls of a permanent dwelling. Margo and I haven’t reached that stage yet, but after just a month living out of the coach, we can more readily identify with these full-time RVers even as we can see how seductive this lifestyle becomes.

We have covered almost 3,500 miles since we left our former home in Niwot. We have crossed numerous state lines and passed several checkpoints. In America there is always a need to pull you over for a chat whether it’s at agriculture and quarantine checkpoints, immigration checkpoints or even the state park ranger posts. Fortunately, we have had no need to pull over for failing to adhere to traffic regulations, although at times I wish we could have had the ability to pull over some of those we share the roads with – the amount of attention being paid to what’s happening around them seems to no longer be a priority for many drivers and we have seen some terrible efforts being made to simply keep a vehicle heading in a straight line.

We are now camped in the second Colorado state park St Vrain, having made a reservation months in advance to ensure we had a spot to park. At this time of the year all Colorado state parks are busy and you cannot simply show up at the gate and expect to find an open camp site. Previously we had been camped at Boyd Lake and when our two weeks are up at St Vrain we will be returning to Boyd Lake as you can only spend fourteen days at any one park over any forty five day period. It has been a big surprise for us to have “discovered” state parks so close to where we lived for nearly two decades that are as nice as these parks have turned out to be. St Vrain may be close to an interstate highway and Boyd may be a tad too close to a dairy farm, but all things considered, they have provided sanctuary at a time when we have no other place to go.

One of our requirements to stay close to the front ranges and in close proximity to the grandkids, has been our desire to be near to where our new home is being constructed. If the home we had up until very recent times could be registered on a scale of any kind then our new home would need to be registered at the opposite end of that scale. It’s not just a case of less square footage or being a smaller lot but rather, a complete change in style. From the striking appearance of a Tuscany villa to a quaint Craftsman cottage, the extremes couldn’t be more pronounced. 

And yet, as have watched our new home develop, we have grown to like it a lot – it may be Craftsman on the outside but it is most definitely urban-modern on the inside with wide open spaces radiating from a combination kitchen / bar. The interior is shades of gray with white trim including use of white quartz. The hardware is all brushed nickel that has not been embellished. And there are trey ceilings with dropped crown moldings that all feature rope lights in major rooms, including the master bedroom, kitchen / bar and dining rooms.

However, it is the “new” view that we like the most. It’s new for us as we have not lived alongside a golf course before and being situated almost pin-high at the seventeenth green, where approach shots are taken from the other side of the fairway, we are out of range of even the most errant of golf shots. With ample ceiling to floor windows and doors, we have a great view and one that even in winter with snow on the ground should prove to be the equal of the mountain views we had in the past. Well, at least we hope so as we don’t have any mountain views at all, save for a small sliver of a view from the room we are calling the office. 

Move-in date is still in flux as anyone building a home can relate to – there will be a two week period following closing with the builder still needing a little extra time to finish a couple of items. However, early to mid-August seems to be a reasonably expectation for this all to take place which means we face another five or six weeks of camping. But the road hasn’t been kind to us nor have the days been easy. Within the first hour of leaving our former home, the dreaded “Check Engine” light came on so our second morning on the road was spent at a truck maintenance facility.

The cause of the problem was traced to the Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) system – introduced in 2011 to help reduce pollutants pumped into the atmosphere by diesel engines – but as for the fix, they were unable to do much more than inspect and clean. So, for a month we drove with the check engine light on the whole time.

It wasn’t until we retraced our steps over the Rockies that we noticed two things – we hadn’t been using any of the DEF we had pumped into the tank even as we were way down on power climbing up to the summits. The engine wasn’t in “limp mode” but down on power all the same. Once we had returned to Colorado we booked the RV in for service with a shop that has looked after the chassis and engine since we purchased the RV – only to find that the problem had gone critical. The check engine light had been replaced with a new message; Stop Engine!

Three days later and having camped overnight on the parking lot at the shop, all has been repaired. A slow leak from the DEF tank had corroded the wiring harness, taken out a computer and destroyed a pump. Ouch! Basically, DEF is a highly corrosive acid but the leak was so small it hadn’t showed up previously in any diagnostics run against the powertrain. But all is good and the coach now pulls more strongly than I recall it ever did – it’s amazing what can be done when all it takes is money! As fortune would have it, the warranty on this part of the coach expired in January – missed by just “that much!”

While on the road, we have encountered just about every weather condition imaginable. We traversed flooded roads in Texas as torrential rains poured down on us. We have been the sole camper at a high dessert park where the temperatures passed 110 degrees, Fahrenheit. We have been hit with sever winds driving up Utah’s Interstate 15 and we have even encountered sleet up high on the Utah plateau. In June! However, we have to admit; we have never seen the countryside as green as it is in any previous journey through the southwest and the rivers are truly running at flood levels pretty much everywhere we turned. They are even above their banks here on the front ranges and the St Vrain River passing by us is no exception.

Perhaps the most dramatic of all weather changes happened only a few days ago when we were camped on the parking lot of the truck maintenance shop, which looked a tad like a gulag (see picture, right). As we retired for the night, what had been 90+ degrees all day had dropped suddenly to just 70+ degrees as a weather system moved through the area complete with thunder and lightning! That morning, we awoke to temperatures in the low 50s – a drop of 40 degrees in less than 24 hours. One unexpected consequence given that it is now summer, both Margo and I have succumbed to summer colds and while they aren’t serious, they are annoying and have just sapped the strength from us over the course of a couple of days.

With each passing day, the sense of adventure remains and the tinges of regret are lessening with time. We drove by our former home a few days ago and already it was clear that it was no longer our home and that we had moved on. We didn’t even stop to take a longer look at what had been our life for such a long period of time. Adventures will continue as business will take us back to Southern California in July and even as the word adventure can be so overused at times, there really isn’t any other way to describe the trip we began just a few short weeks ago. We aren’t fulltime RVers and we aren’t gypsies either, but life on and off the road? It’s all about the experience and the memories and for that, we have no regrets whatsoever!  

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Homeless … well, yes, but enjoying life on the road!

It has been two weeks since we left our former home in Niwot and started living out of our company command center where we have now taken up residence. It is proving quite the adventure. Surprised? Well, actually, it has had its moments and some issues are still being worked out, but overall, we could live this life if we had to. Wait a minute; we have embraced this lifestyle! And yes, we had to. But on the flip side, it’s an entry point into potentially a lifestyle we may embrace more fully in the years to come and reading of others who RV permanently it’s hard to ignore the upside.

And what exactly is the upside? It’s the carefree gypsy lifestyle, of course, something Toad of Wind in the Willows fame could relate to. We of course have spent a lot of time at Willow Springs, so perhaps a little of the mystique has finally rubbed off on us. However, in embracing this lifestyle as we have been doing for more than two weeks now, it’s still very much a compromise as we have been attending industry events while we work on our digital marketing programs, so it’s not all wine and roses. What about martinis? Well, true enough; there is wine in the fridge but the Vodka in the freezer has proved more appealing as the weather has simply turned very furnace like.

The Holen - Buckle family though isn’t suffering in any way. While a temporary downsizing from 10,000+ sq ft to approximately 400 sq ft may throw off some families, the adjustments we have made haven’t been too onerous on either Margo or me. Quite the contrary, in fact! If all we have packed away in storage should suddenly evaporate somehow, we wouldn’t be all that bothered. There aren’t any possessions we cannot replace.   

Our Tiffin Open Road 38’ RV is a bunkhouse coach, meaning that in addition to the bedroom suite at the back of the RV, we have bunk beds along one side. While we are travelling solo, these bunk spaces have proved to be ideal storage spaces and we have pretty much wedged into the space all those items we simply didn’t want to put into storage. Mostly company papers, it turns out, together with a couple of pieces of memorabilia we can’t part with. 

On the other hand, it’s kind of fun to have the run of the place all to ourselves and even as this is our sixth summer with the RV, it is a very private lifestyle that really isn’t sharable with others, unless of course, they bring their own RV with them. This has happened numerous times with our friends from Simi Valley, Southern California, who essentially helped push us into the lifestyle but this is more the exception then any rule we have adopted.

From Niwot, Colorado, we drove out east before turning south into Texas, where we overnighted in Amarillo. Our plans called for us to participate in an industry event in Grapevine, Texas, where we were spending a couple of nights at the Gaylord Resort hotel. Then it was a dash across west Texas and New Mexico before turning north and into Arizona and Nevada in order to make it to another, much longer, event in Las Vegas. The earlier reference to furnace-like conditions wasn’t accidental as for more than a week we lived with daytime temperatures pushing well past 100 degrees, but after spending time in Las Vegas before, we have now sorted out how to manage the various power systems in the RV whereby the evening temps inside the RV were reasonable. 

There’s one thing that high temperatures cannot detract from and that is the opportunity to grill outside. Fair enough, coming from Australia, there wasn’t a summer that passed where cooking outside on the BBQ didn’t mean sweltering in unearthly conditions, all for the sake of cooking that ultimate snag – a sausage to be held in a slice of white bread covered in tomato sauce. Turns out that this is an ideal training ground for eventual cookouts in the southwest of the US, as it’s hard to say which situation was worse, although the extra dash of humidity Sydney experiences in summer oftentimes pushes the pain level past the threshold of civility!

We have had the same Coleman grill now for all the summers we have spent on the road and it’s still lamb shoulder chops that I really enjoy grilling the most – yes, a ribeye or two have spent a short amount of time on the grill as have pork boneless spare ribs. Again, perhaps it’s an Australian thing to throw a couple of lamb chops on the grill before anything else but as they were from Australia, it seemed to be the right thing to do.  And of course, there was a martini nearby to help fend off the heat.

Heading further south we were already being warned that the conditions were likely to deteriorate around the time we departed the Dallas / Fort Worth area and headed for Las Vegas, but we have experienced pretty much everything Mother Nature can throw at us so we weren’t too concerned. There were little signs that anything much out of the ordinary would happen so we simply kept on driving. After all we were homeless, right? Where else could we go?

Readers of the posts to this blog may recall our trip last year out to Virginia and the Carolinas and how the drive through West Virginia to the Outer Banks was spent ducking heavy rain showers. At times, the rain was coming down so hard that we had to cut our speed considerably and just when the worst appeared to be behind us and we were a mere half mile from our destination alongside the Atlantic Ocean, one last storm flooded the area and we had to be directed to an alternate campsite. Well, it happened once again. 

Pulling out of Fort Worth on Interstate 20, we hit rain and it stayed with us all the way to Abilene. As we pulled into our campsite for the night we were met with an all too familiar sight – water everywhere. No grilling tonight, it turned out, just a little extra chilling of the martinis, but we were fine. Nothing we hadn’t experienced before, but hearing the furnace kick in early in the morning reminded us that even with daytime temperatures pushing the limits, night time can still be chilly. However, this was only a small foretaste of what was yet to come as the thermometer was going to break new ground at the top and the bottom!

Driving the company command center also meant towing the trailer where we had stashed the Mini Cooper S roadster. It is proving the ideal vehicle to tour areas where we spend more than a couple of nights. Getting it on and off the trailer is an easy assignment but the combined length of our big rig is about 60 feet so navigating tight spaces still has its challenges. Our stay in Grapevine at the Gaylord Resort meant we had to park it in the offsite secure truck and bus site, but we missed the turn off and drove right into the compound.

Easy enough to do, all right! Getting out? Well we had to call security and work with escorts even as they had to stop the traffic while I reversed the rig and then executed a very tight u-turn. Point is that this was just a training exercise as we found many of the campsites along our route had even less space to maneuver and if badges were being handed out for “most improved reverse parking efforts” I would happily raise my hand.

Throw into the mix an uncertain water depth and you can only begin to imagine the angst coming from my only passenger. What happened next couldn’t have been more extreme had we planned it from the outset. Now to throw a little salt into the wound, so as to speak, Margo had left our Niwot home totally spent! After six or more weeks packing boxes – some 70 plus at last count – allowing me time to continue to meet customer’s critical timelines, there was no way she was in shape to tackle driving the rig and as we have both observed in all previous trips, it really does take us a full week before we truly begin to relax. All of which is to say, the driving duties fell to me exclusively so the 3,000 mile round trip was definitely going to be a test for both of us. 

Not to worry, we quickly put the wet conditions behind us, but as they say, be careful what you wish for in case it comes true. Inching our way around the construction sites dominating the highways in and out of El Paso, we continued into New Mexico only to witness much dryer conditions with temperatures already past 100 degrees. Of interest, we passed a Border Patrol checkpoint that had been set up on the Interstate. More curious though was a second bank of five cameras we encountered after having passed by literally dozens of regular looking cameras and sensors.

With Margo and I both being of a technical inclination, our curiosity heightened when we reached the checkpoint only to be given big smiles, no fifth degree and an almost “how was Dallas?” greeting. To us, it looked a lot like facial recognition is now in play along our southern border as cars all around us were stopped and interrogated. But not the Holen - Buckle family from Niwot! Perhaps, as Margo speculated, it had nothing to do with checking our identity as it did with us being as old as we are and as harmless-looking as we have become.  Get out of here, you two! And, yes, have a nice day …

Stepping outside to fire up the grill were now well and truly behind us. With the climbing temperatures it became a case of nights spent eating cold pizza. And yes, an appletini or two! The good news was that any previous misadventures running the dual air conditioners appear to be well and truly behind us as we have really come to terms with managing the power on hand and with this accomplished, we have been pretty good at keeping the temperatures inside the RV bearable. Las Vegas soon appeared on the horizon, shimmering under the dessert heatwave that is ever present at this time of year, and it was time to set up camp for the longest period of time of the trip – almost a full week.

The blessings of Las Vegas are few and far between, but the one thing they have sorted out is the air conditioning. There are a couple of malls we always like to spend time in, if for no other reason than it allows us to walk the lengthy corridors in relatively cool conditions. We stop by the shops, we talk to the sales folks and we oohhh and aaahh at the really cool stuff on offer. I have always been drawn to upscale watches – you know, the ones that just can’t keep accurate time – whereas Margo loves accessories. Shoes, handbags, whatever! 

Still in awe of all the work Margo did in the six or so weeks before we left and watching carefully as she experiences pain from stretched and worn muscles, it wasn’t all that hard to watch Margo do some serious shopping this time around. Margo loves fine shoes with Prada and Christian Louboutin already in the closet but now she has added a pair of shoes by Jimmy Choo. More or less completing her shoe “bucket list” these shoes brought her considerable pleasure and it’s been a while since I have seen her as happy as she was as she walked out of the store carrying a bag with a pair of Diamond 65s. But wait there’s more …

Arriving earlier than we had expected at the mall that connects Crystals at City Center, where there is a Mastro Steakhouse with the Aria Hotel, we walked the upscale shops that dominate the center. In very short order we found ourselves inside Prada – its biggest store in North America as it turns out. Almost instantly, Margo was drawn to a small handbag she really liked. To be honest, Margo has been looking for such a bag for goodness knows how long and has rejected everything she had come across to date. So it was obvious, this was the handbag she wanted but first we had to have dinner at Mastros. After dinner it was straight to Prada where she bought the bag, one of only three brought to North America, and as simple and elegant as it is, you would never guess what it is and perhaps ultimately, that is the main reason why Margo likes it. No one will ever know what she is carrying when she steps out for the evening. 

We are now back in Colorado, parked alongside Boyd Lake, just a little south of Ft. Collins and only a couple of miles from where our new home is being built. The weather here is as unstable as it has been everywhere else, with a tornado warning issued the day after we arrived. But it is a pretty place and being near the water is proving to be an unexpected pleasure. We have fully settled into the RV life even as we enjoy the time we have spent together. Looking further ahead it will likely be another two months living in the company command center before we have the chance to move into our new home. Until that day arrives, however, it’s going to be several weeks of changing campsites, new experiences and yes, more grills, more martinis and even more shoes and handbags I expect!  

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Our last days living in Niwot …

Not in our house! So the expression goes; often times, within the context of one sporting event or another as the home team is about to enter the field of play! It’s a cry to colleagues not to let the other side intimidate or indeed embarrass the home team in front of their fans! But it’s also a reminder that it is our home that we hold most dear to our hearts – a place of refuge and cheer. A place where we are at ease! A place we can retreat to whenever the weather worsens or the worries of the day look are overwhelming us.

The house was built on an acre plus of land purchased towards the end of 1998. Margo and I were to marry in January, 1999, and we had separate homes at the time, with Margo living in a townhouse in Saratoga, California, while I had a cottage up in the foothills of Boulder, Colorado. Both homes were ideal for us each as they were close to where we were working at the time and yet, simply moving into existing premises didn’t seem to be what we should do. As a couple in the process of being married, we wanted our own house. A house that in time we could turn into our home!

Squeezed in between the days Margo spent planning the wedding, we worked with an architect and came up with a design we really liked and, shortly after we were married, they broke ground and construction began. Margo had kept her corsage from the wedding and following the drilling of numerous caissons, that wedding corsage found its way to the bottom of the easternmost caisson. And so the emotional connection between Margo and me and the house that would be built began to develop. 

The size and scale of the house didn’t really strike home until we saw the foundations after they had been poured. According to our architect, Steve, they looked like they were “Etruscan Ruins” or so he thought and that image stayed with us throughout the building process and ended up influencing many of the design decisions we were to make. No one had ever told us that moderation is a good thing but rather, we went for elegance and classical lines to the point whenever Steve roughed out a sketch of what something might look like, Margo always responded with “make sure you classify it!” Eventually, Steve caught on to what Margo really meant.

There were two major influences too on how we went about designing the house. The first influence of decisions we took had to do with when this all took place. A quick look at the calendar will tell you that between 1998 and early 2000 we all experienced the tech boom – what we all referred to as the boom. Having sold both of our houses and in the process of participating in the sale of the company we both worked for, we found ourselves in a position where we had cash to invest. And invest we did until early 2000 when Margo suggested, prior to a lengthy business trip to Europe, we should convert all of our stock into cash. Timing is often everything and while we were attending a conference in Vienna, the market completely tanked while we had move to an all-cash position at the time. The second influence was that after we were married we took every opportunity we had to spend time in the south of France and nearby northern Italy spending most of our time in Provence and Tuscany.
We loved the homes of Tuscany but we weren’t big fans of the small windows most Tuscany homes seemed to have. On the other hand, the homes of Provence, all featured beautiful windows that towered over the rooms that they graced. These homes too featured great rooms and more often than not, deployed massive three window sets that gave their owners a view across their backyards that just as often featured pools. Anyone who has visited the Villa & Jardins Ephrussi de Rothschild (open to the public) in St Jean Cap Ferret, Provence, will see some of the elements we eventually incorporated into the house.

This really was a first for Margo and me as we had never participated in a project to build a house. Yes, we were new to the whole process and while we had friends and colleagues that had built houses in the past, we really wanted to put our own stamp on the house we envisioned emerging from the blueprints. Once the foundations had been poured and the framing started, we were struck by the magnitude of what we had initiated. And yes, intimidated – what were we thinking? Our neighbors homes were of the same size but as we had excavated under the four car garage (to house our offices), there was more than one neighbor left scratching their heads. What was this house going to look like? Certainly didn’t look very much like what the locals expected to see as  typical example of Colorado architecture!

One decision made early that was a key part of pursuing classical architectural lines was to ensure that the great room became a piece of art. Dramatic in its execution even as it projected a level of elegance we wanted to create. The centerpiece soon became the tear-drop, three-story staircase that ascended to the second floor even as it descended to the lower. The wrought iron handrail capped in mahogany had to provide a delicate, lace-like, accent that hid very little of the great room – it had to be a part of the great room but essentially be transparent.

In other words, it had to be over-the-top beautiful. And we succeeded even if it took months to execute and was among the last details to be completed in the house. Oh yes, when we finally priced the completed structure we could have bought a condo in downtown Palo Alto. It turned out that the staircase was just the beginning.  No chance of backing down – the theme of the home was becoming evident and drove all of the remaining decisions.

Perhaps the first place guests walk into as they leave the great room is the kitchen. At a time when so many protagonists were lobbying for completely open floor plans, the scale of our home leant itself to having some boundaries. This certainly was the case with the kitchen that became the heart of the home and being the size of my first condo could afford to have walls. Entering though through double doors that were frequently left wide open, the centerpiece was a 72” Viking Professional range. In blue, mind you, and trimmed in quality brass – the blue and yellow one could expect to see in any French kitchen. 

The original plan called for a large island, naturally enough. But as we set about embellishing the kitchen further the island became a “continent” even as a secondary island was added. This secondary island became a bar and on nearly every occasion when we entertained, guests would station themselves at the bar to watch as Margo and I continued with the preparation and cooking of the meal. Yes, both Margo and I liked to cook and there was more than enough room to accommodate us both. Apart from the ranges pair of gas ovens we added another two electric wall ovens and for major events, we had them all fired up and fully operational.

The main floor as well as the floor above continued the theme of elegance and what Margo often referred to as “the whiteness of being!” Yes, for the most part the walls were painted galley white and became the perfect backdrop to the paintings we hung around the rooms. Where the great room and kitchen projected a contrast in colors even as they continued with the same theme, we went to great pains to ensure light flowed in everywhere – one afternoon during construction we noticed that the center of the kitchen wasn’t well illuminated so, we added a substantial skylight / light well that opened above the kitchen, two stories up! 

In our house there would always be a wine cooler nearby, a wet bar adjacent to where guests might congregate and a minibar or two in the bedroom suites. For the most part these housed bottled water and sports drinks, but when requested there would be a bottle of wine or two present as well. As we worked through the details with the architect it became almost standard practice for all the bedrooms – en-suite bathrooms, a bar and storage area, and yes, somewhere to sit and relax.

At the time, we were anticipating looking after two sets of parents – one set coming up from Sydney each year, the other, Margo’s Mom, possibly staying for extended periods of time. While my Mon and Dad did frequent the house and became known to many of our business colleagues, Margo’s Mom took one look at the finished house and dismissed it immediately as being way too far from any bus line – she did not drive, macular degeneration preventing her from this activity. But perhaps more importantly, “Richard doesn’t even dream in Polish!” 

When it came to the master bedroom suite, a return to elegance dominated the conversations with the architect. Yes, there would be a television that would rise from the foot of the bed. There would be more than one seating area. And yes, there would be a wet bar and a fireplace. There would be electronics to manage it all modeled, as it turned out, on suites we had stayed at in hotels in Singapore. Deep into the project the master bedroom become one of only two places where we contracted with an interior decorator and she understood all too well our intentions and it became our home within a home.  

If the style of the house combined both elements from Provence and Tuscany, the lower level of the home was all Italy. Having excavated under the garages, we had a hundred feet of space to work with so we turned it into an Italian village. We broke perfectly good slate and embedded it into the walls over which we troweled mortar. We then hired an artist who treated the entire wall with acids and other fluids to age it all. And then we had the same artist paint vines rich with grapes over the tops of the wall. Entrance to the wine cellar was through a set of custom, squeaky iron gates that lent the scene with just the right amount of atmosphere.

On the other hand, all the artwork was of Australia. Whether it was scenes from the Australian outback, promotional posters for late 1970s and early 1980s Americas Cup sailing events, or paintings of Sydney harbor, the lower level of the house may have been Italian but it was Sydney Italian which didn’t surprise any of my family and friends from Sydney. After all, Sydney had become the destination for many immigrants from Italy in the 1950s. Margo perhaps summed it up best when she christened the area as “the bar down under!” Across from the bar we had built the only indoor / outdoor BBQ our architect had ever constructed. While we had an outdoor kitchen next to the pool, many months are spent inside during Colorado’s winter so we wanted to have a place where we continued to grill and it worked out really well.

As for the other room where our interior decorator leant a hand, it was the theater in the home. Far removed from a home theater, it really became the place to retreat to whenever an escape was in order. Housed in a separate concrete pour as part of the original foundations, it was a perfect 24’ x 18’ room designed for no other purpose than to serve as a theatre. In time, movies gave way to concerts and theater and many evenings ended quietly watching the Eagles or Fleetwood Mac or even Talking Heads depending on the tastes of those present. 

The house we built was a first for us but once we moved in, there were several other firsts that took place. No other house in North America entertained both the volunteer boards of HPE and IBM as both ITUG and SHARE board members celebrated one occasion or another. Another first? At a time when Insession Technologies and comForte were competing in the HPE NonStop marketplace with terminal emulation, there were functions for both Insession and comForte held and as it turned out, separated by just a few years didn’t mean that there weren’t some familiar faces attending both.

Unfortunately, this week marked another first that regrettably is also an end. The moving company arrived and in just a day, packed up many of our possessions into a moving van and departed early in the evening. The house we built and turned into our home, where so much was celebrated over nearly two decades, is no longer ours. The house has been sold. Shortly we will be following our possessions as we pack ourselves into our RV and await the completion of our next house. Will we be able to turn our new house into a home? Will we still enjoy as many features as we have in the house we are leaving? Here’s the rub and, in a significant way, the answer – houses are just houses until you do make them into a home and Margo and I have no regrets whatsoever about the home we created all those years ago.

These past few weeks as the reality has set in that we are finally leaving and that this will no longer be our home, we have both been overtaken with a 
sense of melancholy. Watching a team of lads from the moving company close the doors at the back of that truck and drive away was very hard to watch. And yet, Margo and I have never truly been about things or objects as much as we have been about people and relationships. Turning that page as it were and starting afresh is now something we are really looking forward to seeing unfold.     

As many of our friends remind us we are simply embarking on yet another chapter in our lives. The home we are leaving marked the beginning of our journey together and the new home will simply be a continuation of that journey as we begin to slow down. We have grandchildren. We have an RV. And yes, we have a track car – did I say, slow down? When we socialized these words with our friends all we heard was laughter. The good kind of laughter so no, perhaps it is not a complete slow down and yet, with this new chapter, much of what has always brought us joy will continue. A home, a good bottle of wine, a couple of nice cars and, most important of all, some really good friends! But no, no longer will any of this be in this house!