Author Archives: jswilk

Broken Ankle Update

I had a follow-up ortho appointment this morning for my ankle injury from MN. It’s healing nicely and I was given doctor approval to quit using crutches although I still need to wear that damn boot for another 4 weeks. While I was there, I asked the doctor if I should be doing some type of exercise at home since the ankle has been immobile for so long. He looks at me like I’d just grown a third eye and was amazed that nobody has addressed physical rehab yet. So, he writes a scrip for the nurse case manager to find me a physical therapist. The actual order was for range of motion, general strengthening, and proprioceptive exercises. Huh? I looked up proprioceptive at home and it means balance. This must be why our health care system is so expensive, all that time spent in a thesaurus looking for $5 words.

On the brighter side, I’m actually doing better financially because of the injury. Since I had another job lined up immediately following the harvest, Express Employment agreed to pay me lost wages. Not knowing how that worked exactly, I sent a spreadsheet of my Amazon wages from last year to the claims management company. Well, it turns out they didn’t need that. They need to base my payments on my average weekly wage where the accident occurred. Since my hourly wage was significantly higher at the sugar beet harvest, I’ll actually receive more in temporary total disability than if I’d been picking on schedule for Amazon. And it’s tax free! So, I certainly would NOT have chosen a broken ankle to get out of work but it seems to have worked out well.


Traveling Days – October 2013

Due to my foot injury I left Stephen MN sooner than planned, but not by much. As I was prepping the RV on 10/17 I got a phone call from the city manager saying that they would be shutting off water in the campground sometime on 10/18 due to low temperatures. So, even without the broken foot, I would have only lasted a few more days in the campground with my freshwater tank. Due to the injury, the biggest change in my traveling plans was final destination. Instead of heading due south to Kansas to work for Amazon, I drove southeast to Florida.

Departure on the morning of 10/18 was predictably cold, temps in the low 30s. I really should have put away the sewer and water hoses the night before but just couldn’t stand limping down to the bath house the night before. Other than that, the final preparations went smoothly, got the RV hitched up and headed out about 8 AM for my 2100 mile trip. I expected it would take a full 4 days but my main concern was getting into warmer weather as soon as possible since I would be boondocking in rest areas or truck stops at night.

I stopped in Grand Forks ND just long enough to finish some paperwork with Express Employment Professionals for my worker’s comp claim. Then it was back on the road heading south. Surprisingly, I didn’t have to fight headwinds getting out of the state and made it as far as Sioux City Iowa that first day. I can’t even remember if I boondocked at a rest area or Flying J that first night so I must have been tired. I do remember that it was still very cold. Between the cold, my foot, and Dakota craving attention, it was not a very good night for sleeping. I was back on the road before 5 AM.

My next planned stop was in southern Illinois. That meant I would have to finish crossing Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and part of Illinois. Traveling on a Saturday made it easy to get through Kansas City and St. Louis although there seemed to be a college football game in Missouri that contributed to traffic on the interstate. I had already checked out a rest area in southern Illinois in The Next Exit book. Just a few miles north of that rest area I noticed a lot of bright lights off to the side and thought it might be a sports stadium or industrial complex. Not even close. It was a prison, complete with lots of shiny concertina wire, and only 2 miles north of my rest area. I started reconsidering spending the night there but the decision was taken out of my hands. The rest area was closed and had a barricade across the entrance. No problem, my backup location was a Pilot truck stop a few miles further down the road.

I get to that exit well after dark and find a construction zone. Fortunately, I made it to the truck stop without getting lost or stuck on a 1 lane road. Unfortunately, the truck stop was totally full. 18 wheelers were packed in there like sardines. Even if there was an empty spot I might have still passed due to my inability to back into a tight spot, in the dark, after a long day driving. So, back on the interstate heading south to the next rest area. What a surprise! All the truck and RV spots full there also. But, trucks were parking on the shoulder in the rest area so I figured it was OK for me also. I drove head first into a large spot between trucks but the end of the 5er was still very close to the roadway. The trucker parked just ahead of me offered his advice and assistance. I pulled forward into the road again and parallel parked that RV! Many thanks to that trucker for spotting me so I could get a decent nights sleep.

The next day I hoped to make it at least to south Georgia, maybe north Florida. It was good weather and clear sailing through Nashville, Chattanooga and Atlanta. Knock on wood, I’d only had one small problem with my brake controller and was trying not to think about any more mechanical problems. The exhaust brake worked just great in the mountains as I cruised by the truck runaway lanes. That Sunday evening I pulled into the Florida welcome center on I-75, looking forward to a shower and a good nights sleep. I found a level spot so using the water pump on my freshwater tank was not a problem.

I turned on the water heater (on propane) for the shower, made a phone call, then reached in the freezer for a Klondike bar. After taking the first bite and seeing liquid ice cream run out, I realized I had a problem. In north Georgia, I had a propane cylinder refilled. Apparently, I left both propane cylinders turned off when departing the Flying J so the refrigerator/freezer couldn’t run at all the entire day. My water heater also wasn’t heating any water for my shower. Oh well, I stepped outside to open one of the cylinders, came back inside and verified the water heater and frig were working again. Made another phone call while waiting for hot water. Finally got my shower and slept with one vent open since the temps were very comfortable.

Got another early start on Monday morning. After some quick calculations, I figured I would be in Malabar FL by lunchtime. Turns out my biggest ‘big city’ hassle of the entire trip would be Jacksonville FL. I hit it right at morning rush hour and even though I took the bypass, there were several spots when all traffic came to a complete halt on the interstate. After that I stopped at the Flying J outside St Augustine. Wasn’t sure if I had enough diesel to finish the trip, so better safe than sorry. You’ve heard about ‘the ugly American’ overseas? Well, I saw ‘the ugly RVer’ in that parking lot. Someone in a 5th wheel had pulled in, taking up 2 RV spaces, had all 4 slides out and a spare gas tank under the 5er feeding the generator. It’s folks like these that give RVers a bad name. Anyway, I got in line to fill my tank and waited, and waited, and waited. The RVer ahead of me in line was attempting to get a propane cylinder filled but they were obviously having problems. When I questioned them they had no idea how long it would take so I asked the RVer to spot me in back so I could back up and take the other (empty) lane. Mission accomplished and back on the road.

I had called the RV park while waiting for diesel to let them know I would be there early. The manager advised that she would call me back only if my spot was NOT available. No callback, so life was good. I’d stayed at this park before so I knew exactly where I was going. Unfortunately, she didn’t tell me that it was lawn care day. That means that people park their cars and trucks in the street so the lawn mowers have access to the grass. After weaving through parked cars, I get to my spot and check it out. On the street in front of my spot, in my planned maneuvering area, is a pickup truck. The local manager cruises up in a golf cart, then a workamper, and they determine that the owner is off the premises. So, I look very closely and figure I can still make it in. With the workamper spotting my blindside I had the RV positioned in under 5 minutes. Get the electric hooked up and life is good. Temps are in the 80s so everything else can wait until I rest up some more.

Chinese Buffets in Grand Forks ND

Since I added the tagline “Seeing the country 1 Chinese buffet at a time” to this blog, I should probably mention the buffets I’ve visited periodically. For my stints at the sugar beet harvest in Stephen MN, the nearest decent buffets are in Grand Forks ND. For the first 2 years, our ‘go to’ spot was Great Wall Buffet on Gateway Dr. Yes, I said ‘our’. There are several of us who really enjoy buffets and almost always combine a lunch with a regular shopping trip. Anyway, Great Wall is a decent buffet. Rather limited selection of dishes but we weren’t really expecting much here. At one point, I checked YELP and found another buffet in town but it had even worse reviews.

Well, this year we decided to check out the other place, Panda Buffet on south Columbia Rd. What a welcome surprise. Much greater selection of standard buffet items, Mongolian grill, and dessert. (There’s a reason I didn’t mention salad bar – what a waste when you’re paying for a buffet!) They had chocolate cream pie in a dessert case. This place was actually crowded! We even noted numerous Asians paying to eat there. Is it the perfect Chinese buffet? No. Here are a few things I noticed. This is the first Chinese buffet I’ve visited that does NOT have chicken on a stick. If you want to eat something off a stick they have decent shishkebab with beef, onion and green bell pepper. There is one waitress who isn’t very attentive. If you need a drink refill or plates cleared, don’t be bashful. Flag her down. The hard floor areas can get very slick after a few spills. I saw one lady go from carpet to hard floor and land flat on her ass.

So, what was the deal with YELP? Well, I looked at the reviews again and spotted a link to view ‘filtered’ reviews. Apparently they employ some type of algorithm to keep pumpers and bashers off the main page. I couldn’t see any indication in the filtered reviews that they were bogus. So, I’ll know to look a little harder the next time.

A Much Needed Break

While the title of this post is entirely accurate, it’s also an unintentional pun. I’ve been working very hard here at the sugar beet harvest in Stephen MN. Right now it looks like the harvest is paused all through the Red River Valley of the North due to high daytime temperatures. There’s supposed to be an update today at noon but the weather forecast is now calling for thunderstorms (at least in my area) so the restart may be delayed another day or 2.

So, these days off would normally be unwelcome but the circumstances are a little different for me right now. 2 days ago I twisted my ankle and fell in some pretty nasty muck. I kept thinking it was just a bad sprain but some inner voice convinced me to go to the hospital a few hours after the fact. Well, the X-Rays showed a broken fibula, just above the ankle. I got a quick education in the bones of the lower leg and a walking boot. I can still hobble around with the boot but the big problem is driving my manual transmission truck. That boot is so big and clunky that it’s difficult to fully depress the clutch and still have access to the brake pedal. I’m thinking about a temporary modification to the clutch pedal to fix that problem. I tried driving without the boot and it’s just too painful. (Note to self: next truck should be an automatic transmission.)

In the meantime, the company has been very understanding and supportive. I obviously can’t perform my normal duties so they’ve offered me light duties so I can still qualify for the season bonus and stay in the campground. The current weather situation is giving me another day or 2 to let the healing process work its magic.

Full recovery will take 4-6 weeks so my next planned job, picker at Amazon warehouse, will not happen. Instead, I’ll head back down to Florida early and maybe find another job before Christmas.

Late edit on 10/13. 2 things have come to mind the last few days. First, this is only my second broken bone ever. The first was a toe. So, 2 possibilities come to mind. Am I working my way up the body for broken bones? Sure hope not! And I still haven’t required a cast for either bone. The toe was just taped, the fibula required a walking boot. Hmmmm.

The Intricacies of Medical Care on the Road

Many RVers, whether full-time, most-time, or part-time, have a home base where they return on a regular basis to recharge, update legal documents and take care of routine medical or dental care. They have doctors and dentists who maintain their records and are familiar with their history.  And then there are the full-timers with no home base. I’m in that last category. I always considered myself lucky in this regard for a couple of reasons.

First, I earned very low cost health insurance by serving in the Air Force for 20 years. Everywhere I’ve traveled in my RV, I’ve been able to find a doctor or hospital who accepted my Tricare insurance when necessary. Second, despite some very bad habits during my younger years, I’m still pretty healthy. At the ripe old age of 57 I don’t take any prescription medications. When I remember, I’ll take a multivitamin in the morning. According to the health professionals I’ve talked to, that’s uncommon. So, on the medical side, I’m pretty lucky.

On the dental side, not so much. I’ve had periodontal disease for a number of years. There’s really no cure for it. I follow a very strict home heath care regimen but that’s not enough. My last ‘regular’ dentists strongly advised that I should also get professional cleanings 4 times a year. Great! Again, because of my military service, I qualify for low cost dental insurance. Unfortunately, it’s like most other insurances. They’d rather pay after a problem occurs rather than spend a little more on preventative measures. They’ll only pay for 2 cleanings a year despite the diagnosis of periodontal disease.

That leaves 2 hurdles while traveling. The first is finding a dentist who accepts my insurance and is willing to take a new, one-time patient. That task is made a lot easier because of the Internet and Delta Dental’s website where I can look up the nearest dentist. The second problem is actually scheduling the appointment. Some offices schedule their cleaning appointments 6 months or more in advance. Others require you to make an initial exam appointment before they’ll do a cleaning. I carry my own X-rays with me so each office doesn’t have to shoot new images (which would come out of my pocket).

The last point is not so much a problem as an interesting side note. You just never know what kind of dentist/hygienist you’ll get until you actually show up. Every place I’ve been has fallen into the ‘satisfactory’ to ‘excellent’ category. I just needed to relate my latest visit since it was so out of the ordinary. I visited a dentist in Drayton ND today, maybe the only dentist in the town. The office was only open 3 days a week. OK. I’ve seen a lot of offices that only worked 4 days. I drove through the town about a week before my appointment just to see where it was. I didn’t have the exact address written down but knew it was on Main St so it couldn’t be too hard to find, right? Wrong! Drayton is a very small town and driving the entire length of Main St only takes about 2 minutes.

So, the next time I was in the RV, I checked the exact address, went back to Drayton and looked again. I found the addresses on either side of the office but in between those was a door and window with absolutely no numbering or signage. Hmmm. The receptionist called me 2 days before the appointment and she confirmed that I should indeed come to the unmarked door. The practice was so small they didn’t have a hygienist. The dentist cleaned my teeth, which was a first for me. After the procedure, I mentioned to him that it was the first time I’d seen a stealth dentist’s office. He explained that he’d been there forever and everybody knew where he was. Since he was getting ready to retire, he had no desire to spend money putting his name on the window.

Exercising on the Road

This subject comes up occasionally on various internet forums, especially for fulltime travelers. It can be difficult to maintain a physical exercise routine. Two of the most popular exercises among RVers are walking and bicycling. I really had to think twice before that last sentence because I’m not really sure that it counts as exercise if you’re just strolling during your walk or peddling your bicycle at walking speed. OK, it’s better than sitting on the couch but probably doesn’t do much for weight loss.

If you need to exercise for weight loss or building muscle tone, your options can be tricky. Personally, I’ve always been a big believer in jogging for weight loss. But as I get older (and maybe lazier) I can’t run far enough or fast enough to make a difference. I also have to consider deteriorating knee joints and foot problems. I certainly don’t want to carry my own home gym with me due to space and weight requirements.

Finally, a light bulb lit up over my head. I’ve heard about the benefits of yoga and decided that it fit the bill for an RV. No equipment other than a mat. No jumping up and down or other high impact moves. So the last time I was in town I went into Best Buy looking for a yoga DVD. The only 1 they had on the shelf was by Jillian Michaels of The Biggest Loser. Naturally I had misgivings but decided to buy it since it had 2 different level workouts. After playing the DVD, I found out that even Level 1 had 2 different levels within it for beginners and advanced. My biggest concerns were balance and flexibility. The next morning I gave it a try. She started out with a short warmup of yoga poses and that had me breathing hard. The entire workout is supposed to be about 30 minutes. I think I lasted about 5 minutes after the warmup. The next day I made it 15 minutes.

So, something that looked very easy was turning out to be very difficult, at least for me. Maybe I should’ve looked online for ‘Yoga for Seniors’ or something similar :-) Anyway, I’ll keep trying and hopefully I’ll be able to finish the full 30 minutes without calling 911.

Travel days are never the same!

So, yesterday I left the campground I’d been working at in Wisconsin. But I almost didn’t. The entrance to the campground is a dirt road on an incline. During the few months I was there, I would routinely go up that hill in my truck idling in 2nd or 3rd gear with no problem. Now I knew I couldn’t get away with that once I hooked up the 5er to leave so I got a running start at it but didn’t want to overdo it because of the slight curve at the bottom of the hill. So, I get almost to the top of the hill and the engine starts lugging. Couldn’t drop to second quick enough and started spinning the wheels. (Note to self: next time get a 4WD automatic!) Had to back all the way down the hill and almost screwed the pooch on that one. Overcorrected at one point and had to stop to remove a post before I hit it.

I had no intention of failing on the second attempt so I just barreled through that curve and made the top with plenty of room to spare. The rest of the drive was pretty boring, thankfully. Still a lot of construction around Minneapolis/St. Paul. Ran into headwinds again starting in the western half of MN. I knew when the winds picked up because I could see my computer-generated MPG dropping. But it never got as bad as it did the first time I drove to Stephen.

Got to the campground with plenty of daylight left, backed in, got leveled, hooked up electric, cable and water and started to relax. There’s something strange about my television because the first time I hook up to new cable many of the stations come in fuzzy. It always clears up within a day or 2 but last night I got to watch reruns of The Big Bang Theory (just a little on the fuzzy side).

Dakota was initially leery of heading for the open door, probably since I haven’t let her out in a long time, but eventually she got the idea and she spent the night outside last night. She didn’t do any hunting cuz she headed straight for the food bowl when I let her in this morning. We’ll see what happens tonight.

Waiting for literary fame!

I’ve recently decided to exercise my mind as well as my body. Since I can claim some experience and knowledge of this lifestyle now, I wrote an ebook titled “Home is Where the Wheels Stop”. It should prove very useful for those who want to become RVers or those who’ve recently become RVers. Right now, it’s available on Amazon for Kindle readers here.

Traveling Days – May 2013

Yep, it’s that time of year again. Getting hot and sticky in Florida and a campground job was waiting in Wisconsin. I wasn’t getting any warm fuzzies by watching the weather channel just before leaving Patrick AFB. There was supposed to be heavy rain along most of my route through FL, GA, TN and KY. Well, we all know weather guessers can be wrong frequently so I was hoping that would be the case here.

I left on a Saturday morning with overcast skies but no rain. That was good for a couple of reasons. First, it kept the temps down on my engine and tires. Second, there were no love bugs in the air so the front cap of the 5th wheel stayed clean. My good luck with the weather lasted until partway through GA. Then the rain started, not real heavy but steady. I made it around Atlanta without any trouble and spent the night in a truck stop north of there.

The next day was more of the same, lots of steady rain all the way into Indiana. The interstate in IN also left a lot to be desired. I went over a small bridge south of Indianapolis and thought for sure that something was going to break since the front of the RV was bouncing like a bucking bronco. About 30 miles up the road I decided to exit and during my mirror check I noticed something strange on the driver’s side. I’d been watching water get thrown off my tires for the last 2 days but this looked different. After a second I realized that there was a tremendous amount of smoke coming off one of my RV tires. I quickly pulled to the shoulder and stopped. Fortunately, this was at the exit ramp so I had plenty of room to walk around. Damn, looked like an axle problem. It had skewed so that one of the tires was rubbing against a suspension component. The tire still had air in it so I turned on the hazard flashers and limped into the Flying J truck stop. I went directly to the truck parking in the back and it’s a good thing there were plenty of open spaces since maneuvering the RV was a  little challenging with one of the axles off center.

It was still raining so I didn’t even try to crawl underneath the rig for further inspection. Instead, I started looking for a local RV dealer for repairs and posted some inquiries on Then I headed into the restaurant for all you can eat spaghetti.

The next morning I called an RV dealer just across the interstate. He showed up in about 10 minutes, took a quick look at the problem, and gave me a card with the number of a tire shop on it. Then he gave me a ride to the shop, which was directly across the street from the truck stop. Talk about lucky! They had a mechanic available. He drove across the street with some tools and got the axle straightened out enough for me to drive it to the shop. After further inspection, they just needed to replace a pin in the leaf spring assemble and replace the tire that got smoked. I was back on the road about lunchtime.

I spent a few more days in IN visiting family, then continued my trip to WI. The rest of the trip was uneventful. Arrived at the campground and got set up  fairly quickly. Just in time to experience low temperatures below freezing at night. Hopefully, that’s the last I’ll see of those temps until the sugar beet harvest.

The Black River is running high and strong right now, a little too much for my kayak, but it should settle down soon and let me get some playtime in.

Here are the Lost Falls, the campground namesake.


3/19/13 Update from Patrick AFB

Sometimes things just work out right. I took the 3G Stepper out for a ride this evening. It was a little windy but otherwise very nice weather – sunny and low 70s. On the way back I decided to use the exercise trail that runs along the Banana River. This brackish river is home to a multitude of sea life, including the Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin. I used the full, formal name just so nobody gets it confused with the delicious dolphin (mahi-mahi) that you get in restaurants. Just past the halfway point my phone rang with a call that I was half expecting – the billing department for the hospital where I had my knee surgery last summer. After hanging up, I continued on my ride and spotted a dolphin swimming very close in. I slowed down a little to see what he would do and the next time his dorsal fin broke the surface he was still behind me. I stopped completely and noticed a large moving shadow right next to the seawall. The dolphin was almost directly below me. Not knowing what else to do, I leaned over and slapped the seawall a few times. Well, Mr. Dolphin rolled over on his side and eyeballed me for a few seconds before continuing on his swim. How neat is that?