It’s been freezing – but fun…
It’s been frustrating – but worth it…
Just over two weeks ago, Courtney, Milli, and I set out on our new RV adventure. Our goal was to make our way to Baltimore and have our RV wrapped inside these first two weeks.
Good news? We are in Baltimore – and alive.
Bad news? The RV isn’t yet wrapped – and it looks like it will still be several days (likely weeks) before it’s 100% done.
Oh well – we’ve had a blast making our way out here so far. Here’s what we’ve been up to!
Note: For those of you that are new, when Courtney, Milli, and I are traveling I provide bi-monthly (usually) updates of our adventures. Rather than post many smaller posts frequently, I condense all the juicy stuff and share it every couple of weeks. I hope you enjoy the occasional photos, videos, and stories.
The Psychology of Launching the Trip…
We’ve spent months planning this segment of our life. Budgeting, plotting, buying, accessorizing, selling, packing, and studying.
But all that time – the trip still didn’t feel “real”. It was just another event in our life – the magnitude simply wasn’t captured.
It didn’t really happen for me until we cleaned out the last few items of our temporary apartment.
Seeing the apartment – completely bare and exposed – was the first time I realized that our life now existed within the walls of the humongous vehicle sitting in the parking spot outside.
We turned back over the keys, canceled out utility bills, and pulled the RV across the alley to our first night’s destination.
That’s right – the first stop of our trip was 10 feet away.
We spent the night in Courtney’s mother’s driveway – across the alley from our temporary apartment. We figured if anything exploded the first night – we’d only have a short walk to a familiar heated shelter.
I’d love to tell you about how we woke the morning with an undeniable glow. I’d love to detail how we sprang out of bed with excitement. But the honest truth was – even in the first few moments of that first morning – things felt normal.
Sure, there was a bit of excitement over taking the first few hours of the trip – but the actual RV… the bed… the kitchen… and the process of waking up – it all felt like home.
I guess that’s actually a good thing. It felt comfortable. It felt right.
There weren’t any fireworks or supercharged emotions. We simply woke up, ate some breakfast, said goodbye to Courtney’s family, and got ready to drive east towards Cincinnati.
Again, some may view this as a disappointment. Or maybe a lack of living in the moment. Others may see it as a natural evolution of our traveling experiences.
I’m not sure which it is – and I’m not too concerned about trying to find out. I don’t mind that this new life has felt natural since the beginning.
Cincinnati, Acorn Squash, and Carcassonne…
The first two-hour drive was interesting. Not because of the RV itself – I was already used to driving it by now – but because it was the first time we’d actually pulled the Jeep behind the RV for any distance.
It’s a weird feeling really – every pothole or bump you can feel the pull of the Jeep, but because of the size of the RV – I can’t actually see it in the side mirrors.
For at least the first few hours, I kept worrying that our new tow bar, hitch, and safety cables were going to snap at anytime. I kept checking the mirrors to see if I could find the shadow of the Jeep trailing off to the side of the road.
I realize this is fairly silly, but it honestly consumed my mind for the first two hours. Luckily, as we pulled off the exit just Northeast of Cincinnati, our Jeep was still safely in tow. Whew.
Our first stop was to visit a good friend of mine, Matt Gartland of the new blog – Modern Audacity. We knew we wouldn’t have a long time to spend, but didn’t want to pass through Cincy without at least grabbing lunch.
Matt had us over to his bachelor pad and cooked a fantastic – yet simple – lunch of carved out acorn squash, filled with tuna and chili. While the combination may sound awkward at first – trust me – it isn’t. It was a huge hit!
Matt intentionally picked a recipe that we’d be able to easily make in the RV on the go – and even went as far as to buy extra of each ingredient so that we could take them with us! Little did he know we’d soon steal his recipe and take credit with several other families along the way!
After lunch, Matt joined us in the RV to learn one of Courtney and my favorite board games – Carcassonne. Matt’s a quick learner, but not quite quick enough to knock off the master himself (me, of course).
After a visit that seemed way to short, we had to say goodbye and continue onto Wilmington, Ohio before darkness overtook the land.
Week with the Ren Men: 4 Hour Body, Charades, and $15,000 bets…
It’s incredibly hard to describe our week in Wilmington, Ohio with the Peelle and Ledford families.
I’ll start by saying this… we were only suppose to stay 1.5 days (two nights) and then move onto Baltimore. Because of delays – and such an amazing experience – we ended up staying a complete week. We’re so happy we did.
Somehow, we’ve only known Grant and Alan (and their beautiful families) for less than a year (we met around this time last year) – but it genuinely feels like we’ve known them for a decade. Courtney and I view them as such great friends – a fact that I find testament to the raw power of connecting with like-minded people and families online.
They’re the only people we’ve met so far that make us contemplate ditching the R.V. and moving next door in the same town. And that’s a powerful feeling – especially inside the first week!
Grant, Carrie, Alan, and Emily have very open homes and friendships. I don’t remember a dinner that had less than 9 adults at the table – the 5 kids between the three families running wild throughout the house most of the time.
We took turns cooking (although Carrie and Grant took multiple turns) feasts of meat, beans, and green vegetables – as the far majority of adults were on the “4 Hour Body” eating regiment. Family members and friends regularly swung by to join in games and/or food. It was great.
Midway through the week – when we weren’t sure it could get much better – fellow blogger and entrepreneur, Annie Sorensen, flew in from Kansas City to visit. Annie and I have bumped paths a view times, but it was an added pleasure to get to spend several days getting to know her.
Later in the week, Grant, Alan, Annie, and I joined forces to record a New Year’s edition of the Ren Men show (Grant and Alan’s fantastic webshow). We talked about our goals for the new year, shared a few laughs, and put our money where our mouths were during the last bit of the segment.
For those of you that can’t view the video above, each of us placed a $15,000 bet (to charity) on achieving our fitness goals for the year. My goal for this challenge is to go from 30.5% bodyfat to 17.5% bodyfat. It’ll take consistent commitment – but is definitely doable!
If you have time, definitely check out the video – it’s well worth a watch – and you’ll quickly realize why we have so much fun together.
Another highlight of the week – at least for Courtney – was her own mini-adventure down to a unique grocery store called Jungle Jims.
That’s right – I said one of her highlights was a grocery store. And no I’m not being sexist – you should have heard the males in the area talk about this store. It’s a genuine celebrity in the parts around Cincinnati – known for its size, diversity, and uniqueness.
If you want a specific type of food, spice, or rare treat – you know the one you can never find – it’s here.
It has ethnic food sections that were larger and more diverse than some small grocery stores themselves. Courtney sent back random picture after random picture of bizzarre meats, dishes, and other edibles.
They even sold live fish in tanks, that they’d filet on the spot. “I want *that* one!”
I never thought I would say this – but I seriously regret missing the hour long trip down to the grocery store. At least Jungle Jim’s in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Bloggers Vs. Charades…
To give you an example of some of the fun that was had nightly at the Peelle residence, Courtney put together a fun video clip of the highlights from one of our cutthroat charades competitions.
I didn’t even know Courtney was filming this – and certainly didn’t know she would edit it down into a fun video. But after seeing the results, I must admit that I’m impressed!
There were many friends, family, and bloggers who played in our sessions – the video above just features five that I know won’t be embarrassed by public humiliation (including myself). Alan Ledford playing charades may be one of my favorite experiences of the trip so far!
Thanks Courtney for sneaking this footage and putting together some of the highlights!
Wilmington, Ohio Meetup…
Before we left, we decided to have our first “official” road trip meetup – co-hosted by the Ren Men at The General Denver in Wilmington.
We had just under 20 people show up for the meetup and spent several hours chatting, laughing, and strategizing about our world domination plans!
A super-special shout-out to Lou Mindar who jumped over to Ohio on his way down from Wisconsin to Tennessee (note: Ohio is *not* on the way). I joked with Lou that he’s set a tough record to break for “longest drive to attend a meetup” at the very first stop!
I also enjoyed spending time and chatting with Ryan Guina (CashMoneyLife), Matt Gartland (Modern Audacity), James Clear (Passive Panda), and Colleen McCulla (Modern Crunch), and MCE (ReelBearMedia) – who all made long drives.
Toss in a dozen family, friends, and new faces and you have one heck of a fun night! Thanks to everyone who made it out!
Onto Pennsylvania: Our First Campground Stop
All good things come to an end – and after a great week of fun, it was time for us to move further east (closer to Baltimore). Our next stop was a small campground around 4 hours away, just outside of Pittsburgh.
And that’s when the problems started.
Our first problem came about 3 hours into our trip, when we pulled over to get gas for the first time. Before I got out I jogged down the odometer to see how many miles we had made it on about 3/4 a tank.
I spent the next 10 minutes pumping gas into the mammoth vehicle – having to stop and restart every $75.00 increment (thanks Visa). I added up the gallons pumped into the RV on spread across the 3 receipts and divided the total into the mileage we had traveled.
I did it again.
6.8… 6.8 miles per gallon!?!?!?
Oh shit. We are in big, big trouble.
We had done our research and had prepared to get around 10 miles per gallon while towing the Jeep behind the RV. But 6.8? That seems like a small difference, but is a LARGE change when it comes to budgeting.
Sharing the information with Courtney, we brainstormed options. We *did* have the heater on since it was freezing – that may be using a bit of gas mileage. We also had the generator on – does that use gas? Neither of us know!
We vowed only to use the actual furnace and not the cab heater for the next test. Also, I’ve stopped using cruise control – which is usually great for gas mileage – but in the RV it *floors* it every time we go up a hill to try and maintain speed. I’ve been manually accelerating up hills and coasting down the other side.
We haven’t filled up since – but we’ve already had better results judging by the odometer. Not 10 mpg at this point, but I know it’s already a bit up from 6.8.
We are going to have to learn some advance driving techniques – and learn them quick!
Problem #2: No Water Pump
Upon arriving at our first campground, we set about the process of hooking up the electric, sewer (to test our dump valves), and fill up our water tanks. All seemed good when hooking it up – that is until we went to use some of that fresh water we just filled up on.
Turned on the faucet. Nothing.
Oh, no problem – the water pump switch must be off. Flip. Nothing.
Flip. Flip. Flip. Nothing.
Oh shit, again. This is worse than 6.8 mpg. No water!
Did we blow a fuse? Not sure – I don’t even know how to tell.
Did the motor blow up? Not sure – don’t know how to determine that.
Are the pipes just frozen up? I have no idea how to test that – or how to best thaw them.
See a pattern?
My solution of choice was to do something else and hope it fixes itself.
Moving on – the “something else” for me was going to dump the Black tank (poop and pee) and the Grey tank (sink, dishwater, etc…). I install the new sewer piping, get everything set up and plugged into the dump piping in the ground.
Next step, pull the release valve on Black first (that way Grey washes out Black when you are done).
Pull… stuck. Pull harder… still stuck.
Get mad and pull as hard as you can… stuck!
Fine, screw Black. I’ll do the Grey tank first.
Pull… stuck. Turn the handle in circles… Pull harder… stuck.
Spend 20 minutes looking for a switch and/or the manual for the tanks. Ponder about what step you could be missing.
Pull one last time as hard as you can… stuck!
Give up all hope. Return to RV and open up computer – where you are safe – and you know how the world works. Tweet something witty.
Alright, so we have no running water and can’t dump the sewer or dirty water from our full tanks. No biggie. Tomorrow, we are planning to drive the Jeep into Pittsburgh. Maybe it’ll fix itself overnight.
Pittsburgh: Bridges, Inclines, Lost Wedding Rings, and “The Strip”
None of our problems fixed themselves overnight. Oh well, it couldn’t get worse could it?
Anyway, back to driving into Pittsburgh – which both Courtney and I recognize as a pleasant surprise. I guess I didn’t have much expectation for Pittsburgh – no offense locals – so I was really pretty impressed.
We entered in through several rolling hills and tunnels on what was a refreshingly non-flat drive. We didn’t have a big agenda – our first stop was a region of the city called “The Strip” where Primanti Brothers, a famous restaurant, was located.
When I asked the Man Vs. Debt Facebook page about things to do in Pittsburgh, Primanti Brothers was recommended by multiple people. It was a charming restaurant that you could easily see why it had it’s reputation.
Each sandwich came topped with french fries, onions, and tomatoes (I think) – that’s right – it had french fries on top of the burgers like a condiment.
Unfortunately, Courtney and I are both on the 4 Hour Body eating regiment (no white carb, dairy, fruit essentially) and decided against cheating, despite the pull to do so. We took in the atmosphere of the famous stop and ordered 3 bowls of their “famous” chili.
After our light lunch, we continued to explore “The Strip” section of town, which was a gritty – but appealing – stretch of old building along what seemed to be an outdated, but once popular indoor market.
About half the building and stores seemed abandoned, but the other half had trendy stores, cafes, and shops littered among them. An area that seems definitely on the rise – at least from an out-of-town tourist perspective.
We grabbed some chicken-on-a-stick from an outdoor stand (even though it was freezing – there were still a few street vendors), before stepping into a small, but diverse coffee shop.
Upon walking up to the counter, I experience a extremely weird feeling I hadn’t felt in almost 4 years.
A naked left hand.
Shit times three!… My wedding ring is missing!
Just gone. Bare.
Not once in the last four years has my ring accidentally fallen off my finger – especially without me noticing it slipping.
I honestly had zero idea where it could possibly be. Apologizing to the owner of the coffee store (who was just about to help me) my eyes shifted to the floor as I slowly exited the store and walked back down the street towards Primanti Brothers.
Searching the table where we sat, turned up nothing. Waitress? Never saw it.
My only shot is back around the outside of the RV where I was working on the damn water pump and our non-functioning dump valves.
Oh well, there was nothing I could do about it now. It was clearly not in any portion of our stop inside of Pittsburgh (or if it was – it’s gone now). I’d have to finish out our day and do my best to search when we got home!
I had a couple hours of calls and interviews scheduled – so I had to scurry off to find an internet connection at a different cafe. This is the often-overlooked downside to working and traveling at the same time, but a truth we’ve grown used to. Courtney and Milligan bundled up and headed to the old indoor market to browse some of the small shops that were selling various random items.
After finishing up the calls, we headed across the river on the south side of the city towards the Duquesne Incline – a nineteenth century lift that transports a rail car of sorts up a hillside that overlooks the Pittsburgh skyline.
It was actually a really fun experience – which led up to a spectacular view of the city. Courtney snapped several great photos and I was smart enough to bring the video camera (although not smart enough to point it at my face correctly). Here’s the short video of the view:
After the beautiful Pittsburgh incline above, we drove an hour back for what we hoped would be an uneventful night at our campground site.
Flight 93 National Memorial…
As we woke the next day, we went outside to search the ground for the mysterious missing wedding ring. Unfortunately, even with the help of daylight – there was none to be found amongst the dirt, grass, and snow.
Surprisingly – or maybe not so – I don’t really miss the ring much. Sure, I’d rather have it than not. And I hate the fact that I lost it without knowing where (it would have been more awesome to lose it at the bottom of the ocean or something).
But as far as sentimental value is concerned – I found out first hand that I really do have very little. Even on my wedding ring.
It’s just a ring – an overpriced piece of metal at its best. Heck, the RV itself is a better symbol or our marriage… I just can’t wear that on my finger.
So, now we are left with creative ways to replace it. We haven’t decided how or what – but Courtney may actually store her ring in our safe and do something similar with her own replacement.
Any creative ideas?
We couldn’t stop for too long as we had another long drive into Maryland, with a quick stop by the Flight 93 National Memorial.
I’m sure I don’t have to remind everyone what happened on September 11th, 2001 – but many may forget exactly where Flight 93 crashed in rural Pennsylvania (I didn’t know exact where until I looked it up).
Turns out it was only about 30-45 minutes out of the way – and neither of us wanted to miss the chance to swing by.
When they said “rural” Pennsylvania – they were right. The road we steep and winding – at times barely large enough for the RV itself to fit in both lanes. There were hills I had to take at 20-25 mph even when essentially floored and others I had to ride the brakes all the way down.
Nevertheless, we eventually did make our way out to what is considered the “temporary memorial” which is a converted shack that the FBI and officials had used as a operations base nearly a decade ago.
The temporary memorial is set on a hill which overlooks the crash site itself. To this day, the actual site is still off limits to everyone but the immediate family of victims.
There is an official and permanent memorial in the process of being built, which is slated to be finished this summer and dedicated on the 10-year anniversary of the attacks.
All I can say is that it’s about time. The temporary memorial is actually kind of sad to visit – not because of the events of that day – but because of its size, feel, and set-up. I’m not trying to be critical, but I’m sure families and friends of people whose lives were changed will finally appreciate a permanent structure and memorial.
Over the years, visitors to the site have left tens of thousands of small trinkets behind as a token of their appreciation. They range from children’s toys to purple hearts left by military veterans. A portion of these are on display and the far majority our housed in a collection in Pittsburgh.
In addition to a portion of the trinkets, there is a wall designated for visitors to leave messages (their thoughts, feelings, or words) for the families, friends, and victims of the crash. I thought this was a neat feature and we could read and view the people who had most recently came before us (including an Italian family who had just been there an hour before us).
A single park ranger (I think he was a ranger), stood in the freezing cold memorial and help answer our questions on how that day has radically changed the lives of the small towns in the area.
He then walked us out 70 yards to the hilltop which overlooks the actual crash site itself. Despite howling wind and freezing temperatures – I snapped this quick video:
I really enjoyed that we took the time to stop by and pay our respects to the events of that day and the heroes that emerged during them. We asked Milligan if she wanted to leave a toy behind to be added to the collection. To our surprise, she volunteered her glowworm to be left at the site.
To Maryland and Beyond…
We packed our frozen bodies back into the RV to drive the rest of the way towards Baltimore.
Once again, I was amazed at the drive through the rest of eastern Pennsylvania. I hadn’t expected that it would be the first time we really enjoyed the scenery of the drive – but it was.
To all of you that live in eastern Pennsylvania – I’m sorry I underrated you.
For now, we’ll leave our adventures until next time. Hopefully, I’ll be reporting back on our time in Baltimore (and maybe Washington DC) and showing off our new sponsor and RV wrap.
If not, it’s going to be a very disgruntled and cold post!
photos by Courtney Baker