The Great Blog Outage of 2021 – 2022

It dawned on me that I haven’t published on our blog in a really long time. Since the liveaboard dive trip, in Jan of 2021 and we’re now in Nov of 2022.

Man, a lot has happened in the last bunch of months, and a lot of it was blog-worthy, but for some reason, it never happened. The reality is writing takes time, and time has been in short supply over the last little while. I don’t do this for income or fame. I’m not trying to monetize this. The blog is more a family Journal than anything else.

Looking back, some of the highlights include:

I started Bee Keeping in the spring of 2021. I set the hives up in the fall of 2020 but didn’t have bees until late early May of 2021. There is so much I could write about Bee Keeping. While there’s no shortage of information on the Internet. I’m not an expert, but I have my own observations, which deserve a post. I started with 3 Hives in 2021, and expanded to 7 in 2022. [Future Post Placeholder].

We bought an RV. To be specific, a new to us, used 40-foot Deisel Pusher. a 2008 Damon Tuscany 4076 Model, in about May of 2021. This in itself is worthy of its own post, with lessons learned over the last 18 months. On our maiden voyage to the Florida Keys for Matthew (aka Alex), Open water diving certification. We broke down in Tifton, GA. Yeah, it was as exciting as you can imagine. No, we didn’t ever make it to Florida. Yes, we still own the RV. [Future Post Placeholder]

Summer of 2021 (Covid still in full swing)

Fall of 2021, I transitioned roles at Zscaler. Moving from Consulting Sales Engineer to Practice Build Architect in the channel. I realize most of the audience doesn’t know what that means. The first 3.5 years of my ZS career were spent working directly with customers and prospects. But if you actually want to buy what we’re selling, you have to buy it from a partner. That’s the Channel, the group of partners you can buy Zscaler from, as well as other vendors. Before 2021, Zscaler wasn’t super channel-friendly (my words, not my employers). We’re about to fix that. It was a good move for me; I was nearing burnout on the sales side.

In November of 2021, we did another Liveaboard dive trip. Specifically the Belize Aggressor Live Aboard (Aggressor IV). Long story short but I was awarded a President’s Club Trip in 2019 (to be taken in 2020), but since Covid was in full swing and nobody was doing company trips, Zscaler allowed us to choose from a multitude of rewards. Some folks got fancy watches; others took flights on historical WW2 Aircraft. There were lots of great options; including working with a travel team and booking the trip of a lifetime, which is what we did. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out as planned.

We leveraged our travel credit to book the Agressor Liveaboard in Grand Cayman. But Cayman was closed with some pretty significant quarantine requirements. Essentially they stayed closed to outsiders for almost two years forcing us to kick the liveaboard can down the road for a very long time. Eventually, we worked with the Aggressor team to transition our credit to the Belize liveaboard. So our first trip to Belize, a great liveaboard trip, plus a few days on a private island, that we seriously considered buying. That’s right; Matt wanted to buy an island. This trip also deserves its own post [Future Post Placeholder]

After returning from Belize, I got Covid. While I was certain I’d had it before, and know for a fact Claudine had had it, once if not twice. It hit us like a ton of bricks. We tested negative to get into Belize and negative to get out of Belize. So we likely picked it up at the airport.

Long story short, after just wicked flu-like symptoms, it finally got to my breathing. It was bad, really bad. So bad I was hallucinating, and furniture was talking to me. At this point, I told Claudine to take me to the hospital. When they checked me in, my Blood Oxygen was at 73%. It was not good. I spent ten days in the hospital at UC Medical Center in Mason, Ohio. That also deserves its own post [Future Post Placeholder].

Short Version: The treatment there was borderline barbaric. Their Covid Policies were atrocious. I did manage to avoid being intubated and put on a ventilator by listening to my wife and one of the nurses who cared more than the rest (you know who you are) and staying on the high-flow CPAP more than most folks.

While I appreciate some of the nurses that worked to keep me alive, I will never, ever go back to UC Medical Center. The Covid floor (floor 4) was overwhelmed and overworked. They had two patients per room, rooms that were designed for ONE person. Nurses had too many patients, and daily my breakfast tray would sit in the room all day. The room was unsanitary, the entire floor was unsanitary and, quite frankly, gross.

During my 10-day stay, I spent 5 of those days down on the step-down unit (floor 2). While there, I had my own room and more attentive care. The last four days were spent back on the Covid floor, where the biggest concern was literally the Mrsa infection which they were instrumental in giving me.

The Spring and Summer of 2023 (after Covid) were good for me. My employer handled my Covid episode extremely well (Thank You, Zscaler).

I didn’t waste any time recovering from Covid. I started walking immediately every day to get off the Oxygen and eventually started swimming laps at the gym to build stamina.

I got my PADI Rescue Diver Certification during the summer (thank you, Scuba Unlimited), harvested a bunch of honey, worked on the RV after it suffered a lightning strike, took a spring motorcycle trip to Murphy, North Carolina, and won another Presidents Club Trip. This time to Curacao.

Over the summer Matthew (aka Alex) decided he wanted to play football for the first time. So we signed him up for some summer mini-camps, and he was added to the Cincinnati Landmark Eagles Varsity team. So our summer/fall was consumed by football. Football may deserve its own post, to be determined.

Curacao | Presidents Club for FY22. We really enjoyed this island and were able to turn our 5-day adventure into a mini dive trip. Diving 7 times (6 boat dives, 1 shore) while we were there. Zscaler really did an amazing job putting this trip/event together at the Marriott Beach Resort. I’d go back.

Before winning the trip (not knowing I was a winner), we had booked a two-week vacation/dive trip to Mexico. Complete with hotel reservations, flights, etc. Only to learn that Cayman was reopening. So we scrapped all of that and rebooked in Cayman.

Grand Cayman 2022. 2 weeks, on 7-mile beach, in a condo, on the ocean, diving and snorkeling at every opportunity. We’ll be diving with Epic again, the same company we used in 2018. Spending week one with my parents and week two with the same couples we did the Saba trip with. It’s going to be amazing. [Future Post Placeholder]

2021 January Liveaboard (Caribbean Explorer II)

This January’s trip was supposed to be a week on the Aggressor Liveaboard in the Cayman Islands. Sadly, COVID restrictions in Grand Cayman, requiring you to quarantine for 14 days before doing anything, basically take that off the table. We were informed by Aggressor that our trip was canceled about 45 days prior to departure. We sort of saw this coming when we booked so everything (outside of the liveaboard itself) was refundable. So we pivoted to search for an alternative.

After some research, it appeared St. Maarten was open and doable. We had previously considered Turks and Caicos, but liveaboards weren’t operating during our time windows. They shift to snorkeling with the humpback whales in the Silver bank, off the Dominican Republic.

Entry into St. Maarten only required a negative COVID test 120 hours prior to entry so that, we could do. Next, we started looking for either a Condo to live in on the island to day-dive from but ultimately found the Explorer Ventures Liveaboard aboard the Caribbean Explorer II. This seemed to fit our needs perfectly.

Unfortunately, our trip time (Jan 30th – Feb 6th) had (0) Reservations. Fortunately, the trip was on sale. So I reached out to them to figure out the minimum required to sail and was informed it was 4 people at the regular price or 6 people at the sale price. So we went to work and started inviting friends. Kim and Frank just so happened to be talking about needing a dive trip in January so it worked out. We now had 4 and agreed we’d go full fare if need be. Shortly thereafter Charles and Michelle agreed so it was game on.

We all did our research and made our reservations. We agreed to head in a day early “just in case” we ran into any issues, weather or covid. Charles and Michelle decided to rent a car and tour the French side of the island. We decided to keep a low profile and hang at a hotel near the marina. After some research, we settled on the Holland House Hotel on the boardwalk.

The hotel itself was great, right on the beach and boardwalk in Philipsburg. The place was a ghost town, we might have been the only actual overnight guests that evening. There were a handful of people in the bar and restaurant, but I didn’t see anyone else checking in on Saturday. If we weren’t the only ones there weren’t more than a few other people. It was pretty sad considering this is really part of their high season. Because of Covid, there are no cruises or cruise ships, and the island was eerily quiet. We have absolutely no problem keeping away from others “social distancing”. I won’t spend a lot of time on the hotel, it was more than adequate. I could stay there for a few days. Wouldn’t really want to be there if the island was hopping. We just don’t like crowds that much.

Saturday morning came pretty quickly, we had a late checkout and couldn’t board the boat until 3pm. Claudine and I walked about town, saddened by the closures and lingering devastation still apparent from Hurricane Irma in 2017. We had previously visited St. Maarten twice both from cruise ships. It was really moving to overhear conversations of the economic devastation that Covid has, and continues to have to the island without cruise and ease of regular travel. They make nothing there, there are no exports, travel is the economy.

Enough about the sadness. Onto the boat.

Boarding was simple, the crew took our luggage and fogged them following COVID protocol. We were shown to our cabin, then unloaded our dive gear into our dive spots. Since we were first to the boat we got to choose the spots closest to the entry points.

Frank and Kim followed shortly afterwards and received the same welcoming treatment.

The crew did their jobs both following COVID protocols as well as the safety briefings and tour of the boat, so we were all aware of at least two exits at any given time.

Let’s talk about the boat for a minute.

The boat specifications are listed on the Explorer Ventures Website here. It’s certainly an older boat but it’s well maintained and overall great condition. While this was our first dive liveaboard it’s certainly not our first boat trip.

The layout and rooms.

It’s a dive boat, the main deck is devoted to diving, with 4 cabin rooms. We arrived first and took cabin 1, which had a double bed but no bunk. All rooms had their own bathrooms and showers. The showers were surprisingly larger than expected, but still phone booth sized.

The other couples were in room 2 & 3, both with queen beds and an twin bunk. Frank and Kim used the upper bunk for storage (luggage). There was plenty of room under our bed for our luggage.

The lower deck… Rooms 5 and 6 were certainly larger and if I had it to do over again might choose one of those. The downside is that the stairs up/down from the main and lower deck were more of a ladder than stairs. I didn’t want to deal with that. If you’re not in your room or on the dive deck, all other time is spent up top in the dining room or sun deck. I honestly cannot imagine how busy that is with 18 guests. Having only 6 on board it was awesome and roomy.

The reality with up to 5 dives a day it is literally diving, eat, sleep, repeat. We only had one down day where visibility was so bad that diving wasn’t really possible so we played cards. No other entertainment was required for the rest of the week. During surface intervals, there’s still plenty of time to get some sun, read a book or take a nap in your room. Again, with 18 guests, I probably would have spent more time in my room as I’m ultimately an introvert.

The dive deck was clean and organized. You didn’t swap tanks, they simply refilled your tanks where they sat which was cool. The boat also had their own Nitrox generator. You need Nitrox on a liveaboard with 5 dives a day. The Nitrox routine was simple. Check your percentages (yourself with a meter they provided), log your percentages and tank fill before each dive. To be prepared I bought a Nitrox gauge prior to the trip. I didn’t know how many people would be on board but couldn’t imagine trying to share a meter with 18 people and we’ve all been on those boats where the DM says “We checked it for you this morning it’s 32”. I prefer to check and verify myself, thanks. That wasn’t the case here, they made you do it yourself which I appreciated.

COVID of course changes things, the only community rinse tanks were for camera gear. Again, with only 6 on board, rinsing with the hose was fine when we returned. With 18? not so sure. They were also picky about where you charged your gear (cameras and cell phones, etc.) and had a designated charging area with fire suppression just for it. You could charge in your cabin, only if you were in your cabin. Again, attention to safety and detail was top notch.

The weather...

Claudine and I don’t get sea sick, the other couples used countermeasures. We had some pretty rough weather at times (sea wise), with 10-12 foot swells which really can move a boat like this around. Captain Nelson did a fabulous job hiding us from the weather when possible but during the crossing and some of the movement from dive site to dive site the motion was significant. Not significant from a sea sickness perspective, but significant from a “You better be holding on to something as you move around the boat” perspective. Hence the ladder/stairway of doom to the lower level would have potentially been unpleasant.

The weather also kept us out of a number of dive sites where a larger boat like this cannot use the smaller mooring lines. We ended up executing a few live drops which were ideal vs getting beaten up on the granny line to the mooring line on top of the water. As much as we didn’t like swimming to the front in rough seas, we get it. It’s all about safety.

The crew was Outstanding:
– Captain Nelson A+
– Purser Sarah A+ (also dove with us)
– Chef Julian A+ (Food was amazing)
– Engineer Terrance A+
– Dive Staff: Kirsten, Gabe, and Dale A++

The staff overall was amazing. We were very fortunate there were only 6 guests on a boat that can house or service 18 so we had extra attention. It was really great to eat with the crew, talk to them and get to know them. You don’t get that same opportunity if there are 18 guests.

We had dives led by Capt. Nelson, Sarah, Kirsten, Dale, and Gabe. All were awesome in their attention to detail and safety. All covered the site, navigation, flow, and wildlife we were likely to see. Gabe went the extra mile with “Science with Gabe” where he talked to us about Fish, mating, feeding, coral, colors, symbiosis, etc, etc. He was outstanding. Terrance and Chef Julian didn’t get in the water with us. Diving’s not for Terrance, and Julian was busy cooking 😉 though was an accomplished captain and diver in former careers. It was really great to get to know the staff.

Mad props to Explorer Ventures for dealing with COVID rules, regulations, and travel restrictions. One of our biggest fears became reality when, with less than 10 days from our trip, the US declared you must have a negative COVID test before being allowed to return. This sent everyone scrambling. How or where do you get a test? How much is it? St. Maarten is on island time which means people get to it when they get to it. Punctuality isn’t in their vocabulary. Venture Explorers stepped up and coordinated exit tests that met the criteria for us. We weren’t that concerned about a positive test, we all were negative 120 hours prior to travel, the boat was clean the crew was clean and they kept us safe. Not to mention we were living in saltwater for 5 hours a day. But you never know. Turning up positive would have meant quarantining in St. Maarten for 10 to 14 days prior to coming home. While not devastating for us, could be for other people. Getting stuck was certainly something to be concerned about and they did everything they could to minimize that.

The Diving…

As much as we love diving, we’re still somewhat new to it with around 100 dives behind us. We started with our PADI Open Water certification but added Advanced Open Water on our last trip. Advanced means we don’t really need to be ushered around by a divemaster. We should be able to complete these dives on our own and make it back to the boat without assistance (ability to navigate underwater). We can also go deeper (100ft vs the Open water 60ft floor). But we all know how that goes.

Our favorite place to dive is still Cayman Islands. For us visibility has always been outstanding, with little current overall. That caribbean blue dive water, makes it like diving in an aquarium. We were told all caribbean diving is well, caribbean diving. That hasn’t been our experience but OK. We were told diving St. Maarten, Saba, St. Kitts would be very similar to Cayman. In some ways it was, other ways not-so-much.

The weather played the biggest factor so certainly you could say, the same can happen in Cayman. We just haven’t experience that, and/or with 200+ dive sites to choose from there’s always one that’s ‘open’. Not the same around Saba. Again, our choices of sites were kind of limited by where the boat could moore.

Traditionally this trip is a one-way from either St. Maarten to Saba to St. Kitts or the reverse. At this time St. Kitts was closed to tourists and to diving off or around the island. So we had to dive Saba for 6 days. That, mixed with the weather made it challenging at times both from a visibility perspective (more on that in a minute) to the weather and currents blowing around the island. Saba is a SMALL island with many great sites, but it’s not the smorgasbord of sites we’re accustomed to in Cayman. Details here at seasaba.com.

Because of the weather, currents, swells, we were forced to stick to the western side of the island. The weather also kicked up the ‘Cloud of Doom’ which instantly dropped visibility to almost 0. Our first dive day Sunday was a complete wash out because of it. The first two dives were 20 minutes total, out and down the mooring line where we couldn’t see farther than 3-6 feet, then back up the line and back on the boat. You can’t control the weather so you just have to deal with it.

Captain Nelson spent the rest of the week searching for sites with visibility and navigable currents to get us in the water. It was frustrating at first, but it all worked out.

The Cloud of Doom

Saba is basically an ancient volcano. I’m sure I’m not explaining this properly as we heard multiple explanations. But basically, the island is surrounded by volcanic silt, and as the currents and wind shifts, it stirs up these clouds, clouds of doom. When this happens, visibility goes from unbelievable to zero or near zero in no time. Charles, who’s been all over the world, has never seen anything like it and neither had we. We’d be on a dive with good visibility (60+ feet) and you could see it coming, in minutes, you could barely seen your hand in front of your face. Time to huddle up with the divemaster and head back to the mooring line. This happened on a few dives. Nothing to be afraid of but be aware. The boats is still right where you left it and worst case, ascend and find it.

On our second dive on day one, heading down the mooring line, Claudine lost a weight pocket knocked loose from the swells and the mooring line, which prevented her from making it down. The divemaster told me to stay put, while she took Claudine back to the boat. Visibility was not good (maybe 7 feet). I found a coral head near the bottom of the mooring line and just watched the wildlife. I looked over to my right and could see Frank. Looked back over a minute later and he wasn’t there. I was told to stay put so I did and just hung out for about ten minutes. Just me, a small coral head, and some fish. After about 10 minutes it was time to ascend, I didn’t have a buddy, and it was time to go. I ascended to my safety stop. Kirsten found me there, chilling at ~15 or so feet, checked on me, and directed me back to the boat. The rest of the day was a wash.

Of course, I would have loved better visibility, and the option to dive St. Kitts but it wasn’t in the cards. I would take the trip again, under the same conditions and visibility.

I dove 22 of the 23 opportunities to dive. I only sat out of one night dive because I wanted a glass of wine more than I wanted a low visibility night dive on Wednesday.

Charles put together a highlight video you can can watch here:

Overall most of the dives were great, well worth it. Some were challenging either due to surge or visibility. Tammy has always said “You learn something on every dive” and that was very clear on this trip. We learned about low visibility, we learned about some crappy conditions. We learned swimming against the current back to the boat when the current changes, sucks, a lot. Just relax, take care of business, enjoy what you can enjoy. I’d leave tomorrow for the same boat, same conditions, including limited visibility.

The night dives were amazing. “The freaks come out at night”. We got to see some amazing stuff. Turtles and Sharks on Every Dive! We got to see a shark hunt and eat Dorry with the help of Charles’s big ass dive lights. “Chip” was Charles’s personal nurse shark for the week. He was everywhere Charles was. It was impressive the area that the shark covered, we spent a lot of time with him.

More Photos

The Food…

We never went hungry and the food was outstanding. Something new every day. Breakfast was great, from the omelets to the pancakes and french toast. Lunch and dinner were even better… Ribs, Lasagna, Burgers, Steak, and always a Salad for no reason. The deserts too. I have no idea how chef Julian did it on an often rocky boat. The ribs were really, really good and I know my ribs. He claims he’s converted more than a few vegetarians and I don’t doubt him for a second.

This was our first liveaboard but certainly won’t be our last.

2020 COVID RV Trip Out West

2020, the year of COVID. So much has changed at this point. Our vacation plans for 2020 certainly didn’t include renting a big ass RV and driving it across the country and back. But as COVID swooped in and crushed the cruise industry, canceled our cruise, and ruined the majority of dive destinations by way of limited inter-country travel, that’s exactly what happened.

Out west is amazing. I’ve seen parts of it on two previous motorcycle trips. Both times I’ve been in awe of the beauty and magnificence of it all. I lack the vocabulary to properly describe what’s out there. You just have to see it for yourself and photos simply do not do it justice. Claudine experienced this on our trips to Europe. You can describe the Alps, you can take photos of the Alps but until you’re there, breathing the air and looking up (or down) across them you just don’t “Get It”. That was the motivation for this trip. To share that awe with her and Matthew. Doing it by motorcycle was out of the question. We had talked about flying out, renting a car, and driving around but COVID made that problematic. While I understand travel isn’t horrible and there are hotel rooms are available, we wanted to be 100% self-sufficient. What better way to do that than with a big Class A RV that can support you self-contained for days at a time?

At this point, I will focus on our trip, how I planned it, where we visited, and share some stunning photos. I’ll put together another post on the RV we used for the job, how I came to that decision, where I found it, what worked, and what didn’t.

I had 11 workdays of vacation (two weeks and a day) to maximize. I picked up the RV on Friday, August 7th, drove it to our house where we packed it for an early departure on Saturday the 8th of August, traveling out west in a southern to northern loop (more on that later) returning home on Saturday the 22nd to unpack before returning the RV on Sunday the 23rd. 17 days, 16 nights with the RV and/or traveling provided us with the sampling of “Out West”.

Having done it twice on the motorcycle there were places I knew we wanted to see. Pikes Peak and Beartooth Pass speak to me so they were must-haves. Sadly the latter wouldn’t make it on the trip since we weren’t going to be close enough with a rental car at hand and I wasn’t sure I wanted to take a 36 foot RV over Beartooth. Not that it can’t be done, but it’s not my RV.

I had started to plan the trip north to south but realized that would put us in the Black Hills during the 2020 Sturgis Rally. I don’t have anything against Sturgis or my fellow bikers who choose to ride Harleys, but where masses like that are gathered, well, that’s just not for me. Plus the point of this trip was not to mingle with millions of people amid COVID. So I planned it backward (to me).

Our route looked like this.

I used a couple of very useful apps to plan. The first of which was RVParky.com and you can see the entire itinerary here including addresses for parks and where we stayed. RV Parky is particularly useful to call out places you can stay in an RV, even if that stay is a Walmart parking lot that permits overnight parking. Since we were in a self-contained Class A, we assumed we’d probably spend one or two nights on the cheap this way. Turns out we didn’t need too. As I was planning our trip, I made only one reservation and that was night number 1. The entire trip was tentative and subject to change based upon weather, or if we decided we just wanted to stay somewhere longer.

RVparky has both a website and an app (which really only loads the website). But it was extremely handy. The reviews were often dated, and links to websites for a lot of parks were bad. But you could generally find them without too much trouble.

The other application that I stumbled on thanks to brilliant google adwords targeted marketing. You know, when you start looking for cars or RV’s on the internet and then all you see on the internet are RV and Car ads. Yeah that. Was:

HarvestHosts.com

All it took to hook me was a 15% off coupon code. For $79 you’re a member and can request to park or stay overnight at any of their hosts. These are generally wineries, breweries, museums, or farms. The idea is that in exchange for letting you park there you’ll patronize their wares (wine/beer/farm). You’re supposed to be self-contained, no hookups, but we found that some did offer electric hookups for a fee.

On our first night (1 on the map), we stayed at Arcadian Moon Winery just east of Kansas City. We got there early enough to order pizza and a bottle of wine. We’re wine snobs and prefer big bold Cabs and Reds Blends. Most midwestern wineries focus on sweet wines which are not our thing. I bought a bottle of their darkest red and it was OK, but it wasn’t awesome (for our tastes). Their pizza was amazing though and I’d definitely go back or stop again if I was in the area.

Free parking (with purchase of wine and food), but we would have had to eat anyway. 🙂

Continue reading “2020 COVID RV Trip Out West”

16 Days and 14 Nights in a Class A RV

This post/article is a piggy back to my article on our two week RV trip out west which you can read about here if you didn’t already. This article will focus on the RV itself, how well it worked for the task at hand, and what I would change if I could do it all over again.

2015 Fleetwood Southwind 36L

The RV we used was a 2015 Fleetwood Southwind 36L stats here via rvusa.com.

MSRP: $144,549
Fuel Type: Gas
Ford F53 Chassis / Ford Triton V10 (Gas) 362-hp and 457 lb-ft of torque, with fords dependable TorqShift five-speed automatic transmission with overdrive, plus Tow/Haul capability.
140 cubic feet of inside storage (cabinets. cupboards, closets, under-seat/bed, etc.)
118 cubic feet of outside storage. The brochures mention pass-through storage, but I didn’t see that, although there were some full length ‘slots’ in the rearmost and middlemost slots.

The 36L has the following floorplan:

That’s right 1 and a half baths!

I’ll talk more about what was awesome about this and what was less awesome about this later.

Finding a rental and executing it.

When we were planning for our epic vacation, I talked to numerous folks about what type of RV we should take. Everyone pushed us towards a Class A over a Class C for comfort, a step up in build quality, and most importantly noise level, especially for mountain travel. Apparently, the doghouses (the area between the driver/passenger seat that covers the engine) aren’t as quiet, especially when you’re grinding up a mountain, or holding the engine back in low gear. I’ve driven many vans, so I knew what they were talking about. Ideally, a diesel pusher with the engine and all associated noise in the back is best.

I started my rental search on rvshare.com as well as outdoorsy.com about 2 and a half months before the trip. Kind of last-minute, actually. Both are great owner rental sites. I didn’t want to drive an RV USA billboard across the country and back. I wanted to look and feel like an owner and rent an RV that was *hopefully* cleaner and likely more cared for than a fleet rental RV. More than the vanity that that sounds like, I wanted an RV that the owner knew about and could tell me, it does this well, that well, doesn’t do this well. Over someone who would just hand me the keys. and say, “Good Luck, Have Fun!”.

My initial selection was a diesel pusher in Cincinnati. I think I interviewed the owners more than they interviewed me. We talked about the trip, and our desire/need to be 100% self-sufficient for boon-docking (the act of parking an RV anywhere legal without hookups). He totally got that. We talked about the route, mountain passes, roads, etc. We agreed on the deal, but his RV was in the shop getting a ride enhancement kit, plus he was headed out-west 2 weeks before us, and we’d be cutting it close. Then it happened, when he picked up his RV from the suspension work, other things weren’t working, and he wasn’t comfortable I’d have a trouble-free trip. So I started looking again. (We’ve kept in touch, and I will rent that RV next).

I talked to a number of Class A owners, and asking to take their $100k+ RV across the country and back over two weeks is a big ask. Mileage is what kills the value in RV’s and I’m asking some of these folks who have less than 20k miles on their RV in some cases to let me put 25% of the mileage on the vehicle. I’m paying for that, of course, but If they could rent it to someone for 7 days, that’s simply going to drive it 300 miles (150 miles to a campground, park it for a week, and drive it back), that seems more lucrative and simply a better rental strategy.

Surprisingly, most folks weren’t really all that concerned with our ability to drive one. While I’ve driven some big things in my life, including a 40-foot UHaul, and a box truck back in the day, I had no REAL RV experience, and I was clearly jumping into the deep end. It looks very intimidating, mostly because you’re driving something that potentially costs more than our house to replace, but at the end of the day, it just wasn’t that bad (more on that later).

Renting from rvshare/outdoorsy…

Continue reading “16 Days and 14 Nights in a Class A RV”

Tuft and Needle–Mattress Review Update @ 5 Years

Almost 5 years to the day I wrote the original Tuft and Needle mattress review here: Tuft and Needle–Mattress Review and it’s time for an update.

Perhaps that original review was prophetic. At the bottom of the review I called out their 10 year warranty and if I had any issues in 5 years I’d shoot them an email and they’ll replace it. That’s basically what just happened.

Let’s rewind a little bit first. I would say the first 2 years with our Original Tuft and Needle Mattress was perfect. About that time, I started to feel like my side was sagging a bit. But that’s not supposed to happen so I blamed it on the the original box springs we used from the old bed frame. I purchased two sheets of 3/4 inch plywood and put a platform between the box springs and the mattress. This helped for a while and to be honest I forgot about it, for the next two years.

At around the 4 year mark, I really started to realize that as I rolled to the center toward my wife, if felt like I was rolling up hill. That’s no good. Standing back I didn’t see any clear visible indentation but clearly I felt like I was sinking or my side was softer.

About 3 months ago we got rid of the big traditional wooden bed frame and opted for a newer platform bed. This took the box springs and the plywood completely out of the picture. It didn’t take long until I was hating life. Yes, something was wrong, I was clearly sinking and my side was softer than my wife’s.

So I reviewed the warranty:

Quoted here in case it changes later: ‘We offer a 10-year limited warranty that covers manufacturing and workmanship defects in the product. It includes things like sagging, or body impressions that are greater than 3/4 of an inch. It’s also going to cover any material breakdown of the foam that causes it to split, crack, or deteriorate in any other way. The cover is also included in the warranty. So if you notice any undone stitching or if the zipper breaks, we’re here to help you out.”

That was the rub, 3/4 of an inch, when I looked at the mattress, I didn’t see that. So I reached out. They replied almost immediately with suggestions for checking the bed. You could place two similar weighted objects on the bed, one in the impression, one in the area not depressed, lay a straight edge across the bed and it should be obvious. It just so happened that I had ordered a waterrower and had 4 gallons of water just sitting around waiting for it to arrive. So we took their suggestions and took the required pictures.

For reference the difference in the labels showing was right at 3/4 of an inch.

They immediately replied, “No Question”, we’ll send you another mattress and make arrangements to pick that one up.

I took the opportunity to ask about upgrading to their new MINT Mattress and awesomely they have a policy for that. Just pay the difference in price. Lucky for us it was Black Friday week and they were on sale so the difference was right in line with what I was willing to pay.

*Boom* 3 days later we have a new mattress. Here’s the best part, we get a 100 night free trial on the new mattress since we upgraded. If we decide we don’t like the MINT, they will pick it up, refund our money and send another Original. I’ll update this post in a few weeks when we make our final decision but as of right this moment I think we’ll be in love with it as we were the Original when we first got it.

So if this one lasts 5 years we’re golden 😉 and I’ll buy another. (The replacement doesn’t restart your warranty, which makes sense).

This was one of the smoothest customer service experiences I’ve had in the last 10 years. They stood behind the product and have earned a fan for life.