Adventures in Kansas City

In Kansas City, Missouri, I slept in a real bed with a real bathroom in a fancy hotel! I know. Crazy. I was there to give a workshop at the Kauffman Center for the Knight Foundation. Also, we got to watch a drone fly around.

I hung out at the hotel’s roof deck and pool, which I highly recommend next time you’re in Kansas City.

Have you ever wanted rock star valet parking, normally reserved for really hot looking cars like Lamborghinis or Bentleys or for people with an extra $20? Do I have the solution for you! Just drive up in an RV!

Normally, valeted cars are housed in a parking garage, but my Roadtrek is too tall for that, so it stayed right in front of the fancy hotel my entire stay.

Valet Parking

Rock star parking came in very handy for the mobile RV repair service. I’d planned on staying at an RV park in Kansas City the night before I was due at the hotel but then something happened. I mentioned it’s been super super hot, right? Like over 100 degrees. They do public service announcements about not being in a parked car without air conditioning in this kind of weather.

I was at the RV park, all happy and relaxed and cool with my awesome air conditioning. I popped over to the park store to get some iced tea and when I came back – the air conditioning was gone. What? I checked the outside breaker (the electric hookup always has a dedicated breaker) and it was flipped, so I reset it. Then I reset all of the breakers on the box inside the RV. Still no air conditioning.

Well, what now? The fan + open windows only go so far in this kind of weather, which is to say, I’m pretty sure I would die. Or at least not be happy and cool. And I am really into being happy and cool.

So I headed over to the hotel a day early and spent the evening at the rooftop bar. (I know, my life is full of such tragic consequence.)

I had a mobile RV repair service come out and take a look while I was giving the workshop. The guy called after the visit. “It’s all fixed!”. OK, great, what was wrong though? Hilariously, he really only wanted to tell me that he’d fixed it, not how he’d fixed it.

Turns out, I had not quite reset the breaker enough. I needed to really flip the switch. I guess I only mostly flipped it. So he flipped it harder. Heh.

When I got back to the RV a few days later and got ready to set out again, I realized he’d done one more thing: turn off my battery. (Why?) With the battery off, the refrigerator is also off (even when it’s running on LP), so everything in the refrigerator had gone bad. And also didn’t smell awesome. So that part really was sort of tragic.

Crystal Bridges: The Secret Museum of American Art

Sometimes places, towns, states surprise you. Stereotypes are true and stereotypes are lies and it’s hard to find anything that’s not seen through a prism, trues colors shifting with the light.

And by that, I mean, how do you feel about Arkansas? I lived there twice, very briefly, as a kid. If I were to conjure up a list of the most affluent states, Arkansas likely would not be on my list. And yet, if I were judging states by their rest areas (and kind of, I am), Arkansas would be at the very top.

Arkansas rest areas are beautiful (actually, several states have beautiful rest areas; and several have awful scary rest areas that you worry stopping at will put you front and center as the star of your very own horror movie).

Arkansas is one of the states that lets you park overnight to get some sleep. (What is up with these states that don’t allow that? I get they don’t want you to camp there or live there. But isn’t a big part of the point to have a place to REST if you need it so that you don’t fall asleep on the road and crash into a school bus?)

I drove over the state line from Oklahoma (where I encountered zero rest areas, by the way) and drove into a Ozarks paradise at the first rest stop. Rolling hills, wooded picnic spots, flowered meadows. I walked into the welcome center,. The man behind the counter sprung into action. Can I fill that travel mug with coffee or water? Why yes, yes you can. I could have hung out in the welcome center all day. The man assured me that I did not want to miss Crystal Bridges in Bentonville. Have you heard of Crystal Bridges? I had not.

I drove on to Bentonville, home of Walmart. I don’t know what Bentonville is actually like, but my snap judgement based on only driving around is that it’s a lot like Redmond, WA, home of Microsoft. Lots of tax dollars available for great public spaces like parks and hiking trails. It’s beautiful and spacious and peaceful.

Onward to Walton Blvd and the original Walmart. You have never seen a Walmart so organized, so full of inventory, so brimming with helpful salespeople. It is a study in contrasts, truly.

Next stop: Crystal Bridges – the museum that Walmart built. I’m not even kidding a little bit. The first thing you see as you walk up to the entrance is the sign that says “admission to Crystal Bridges is sponsored by Walmart. There is no cost to view the  collection”.

Serious money is behind this museum. They are, for instance, moving an entire house here.

Crystal BridgesCrystal Bridges

 

The grounds alone are amazing: hiking trails, streams, ponds, art all around. And inside is American art from all the artists you know.
2014-08-23 14.10.37

Here was one of my favorite pieces, by Georgia O’Keeffe:

Georgia O'Keeffe

And then I headed north towards Missouri, where the sun is hot, but the beer is cold, and the river is just down the road.

This One is About the Septic System, In Case You Want to Skip It

I know what you’re thinking. What about the septic system? You’re driving around with an entire plumbing system, including a toilet, in your car. And at some point, the tanks fill up. No. Surely there’s a way to outsource taking care of that?

I wondered about that too. Before I set out, I read all kinds of warnings about keeping a box of latex gloves handy and the chemicals needed and the indignity of it all. Also that it’s a two person process, which seemed problematic for me as a one person team.

Turns out, like nearly everything else, I’ve discovered that it’s easier than I expected. (Also, when you’re traveling around the country, it’s sort of awesome to always have a bathroom with you.)

The Roadtrek (like all RVs) has two tanks: the grey tank (for the sink and shower) and the black or holding tank (for the toilet). Since I have the littlest Roadtrek, I also have the littlest tanks, but since I’m only one person, I only need to find a dump station about once a week or so (a very unreliable status indicator keeps track of when the tanks are full).

This is one time I can’t steal ideas from watching RVers around me. Many RV septic systems operate by way of gravity. You put the hose in the right place and open the tanks, and as long as gravity is on your site, everything empties as it should. There’s all kinds of little feet you can buy that make the sewer hoses look like oversized millipedes to get the hose to just the right angle.

See? Millipede feet!

RV sewer hose feet

This set up means that when most RVs pull into a site with full hookups, they just hook up the sewer hose and leave it open the whole time they’re stopped.

My Roadtrek has a macerator, which is like a garbage disposal for the septic system. So the tanks only empty when the macerator is on (and it’s only on when I’m pressing the button). Which means I never really need a site with full hookups. Lots of times I get one, just because it’s easy or because that’s what’s available, but a site with only electric and water works just as well for me. I can use the park’s dump station on my way out just as easily as I could a hookup at my site.

septic hookupDump stations are everywhere. Rest areas, truck stops, RV service shops. You can stop by a campground or RV park you aren’t staying at and use their dump station for a fee.

I had read about long wait times at dump stations (which I can definitely see happening since it’s a 10-15 minute process), but so far, I’ve never encountered anyone else at one.

See that little square on the left with the black cap (in the photo on the right)? That’s the septic hookup.

The process goes like this:

  1. Pull out the long sewer hose and open the nozzle.Roadtrek sewer hose
  2. Unscrew the cap to the hole in the ground and push the end of the hose into the hole. There’s a rubber end that keeps a tight fit. If the rubber end is too small, add the rubber donut adapter. Here’s what that looks like:septic hookup
  3. Open the hose by turning the black knob/handle near the hose opening.
  4. Pull out the black water valve.
  5. Press the red button and just keep pressing it until you don’t see anything going through the little see through part of the nozzle.
  6. Pull out the grey water valve. (Controversy alert! Some people say to close the black water valve first to avoid contamination. Some people say not to close it so that the soapy water helps clean out the black water. Do what feels right in your heart.)
  7. Press the red button again and repeat. Supposedly the macerator noise changes when the tanks are empty. I don’t know anyone who has found this to be the case.
  8. Close both valves and close the nozzle. Put everything away. This is the hardest part because the hose barely fits and even though it’s likely all still dry, no one likes the idea of getting too close to the sewer hose.
  9. Grab a septic chemical pod, which looks exactly like those Tide laundry pods, and drop it into the toilet. Pour or run some water into the toilet (the tank should never be totally dry).
  10. The end.

I mean, yes, you might want to wear the gloves just in case. And probably you want to wash your hands now. But honestly the worst part is holding down that red button for ten minutes. You’re like, really? I have to keep pressing this very inconveniently located button? And yes, yes you do. I guess I could put some duct tape over it instead of pressing it? I’ll try that out and let you know how it goes.

Another problem? Sometimes you can’t see the clear part of the hose so you can see if the tank is still emptying (I guess this is where the second person comes in handy.

hidden rv septic

I really thought I had gotten the hang of things. And then I got to Tenkiller Lake. I pulled up to the dump station. And had no idea what to do next. I saw this big square metal hole. And a sign telling me to turn on the water. I looked around. What now? The guy in the RV behind the dump station noticed the perplexed look on my face. Just put your hose into the hole and turn the water on, he told me. What?

So I did. If you look closely (which I realize perhaps you don’t want to do), you’ll see that water is pouring from the sides of the square hole, filling it with water and wooshing everything out into the unknown. No, I don’t know what the barrel is for either.

tenkiller lake rv dump station

So I guess sometimes that’s how an RV dump station works, but so far only that one time.

Tenkiller Lake: A Study in Mud Dauber Avoidance

I don’t remember it being this hot, but I remember being this sticky. I’m drenched the minute I walk outside. I watch the water skiers and the speed boats and the jet skis. I can almost taste the cheap 3.2 beer.

I was last here, at Cherokee Landing at Tenkiller Lake, just outside of Tahlequah, Oklahoma (capitol of the Cherokee Nation), the summer after my junior year of high school. The summer after my sophomore year, my friends and I worked at a fireworks stand just outside the convenience store here:

fireworks

(That’s me in the shadows, far right. My grandma is in front.)

Four of us worked there, so we’d trade off working the stand and drinking beer at the lake.

Illinois RiverI could have also picked a campground at the Illinois River. It’s funny how you forget things and then something reminds you and it all comes rushing back. The Tulsa hairdresser intent on making me blonde mentioned she’d been to Tahlequah the previous weekend to “float the river”. Ah yes. Floating the river. It all came back. Ice coolers of beer floating with you. Just floating. All day long.

She also mentioned how if you float the river, you have to expect that everyone around you is going to be loud and rowdy. Ah yes. I remembered that too.  Maybe the river wouldn’t be the best peaceful spot for me to camp out.

This other photo, by the way, is my sister and me floating the river in a canoe (you can also make the trip via inner tube). This was a tamer trip, with my parents and grandparents. Yes I have a perm. Everyone had a perm. Everyone.

So I’m here. At Cherokee Landing. It wasn’t even on purpose. I was driving towards an RV park and drove right by the stop where the fireworks stand used to be. I backed up and drove down towards the lake. It was peaceful and pretty and quiet, so I decided to stay.

Tenkiller Lake

I pulled up to the ranger station. He told me to just pick a spot and they’d come by eventually to collect payment. (Which they did, two nights later with a loud knock on my door in the dark. A ranger in his 60s was standing there. I was not happy. “You don’t do this at night. You come by during the day. I’m a woman alone and I don’t open my door to strangers in the dark!” He was startled. “And you shouldn’t! I wouldn’t either!”.)

It’s beautiful, sure. But here’s the problem. Mud daubers. For those not familiar, mud daubers are big black wasps that build nests out of mud. And they’re part of nature in this part of Oklahoma. They’re not aggressive and generally won’t sting you, although Wikipedia, after calmly explaining how non-dangerous they are, casually drops in that they’ve caused several plane crashes that have killed everyone on board (one with 189 people). Wait, what? Now I have to be afraid of that too?

Anyway, my immediate concern is not flying. It’s showering.

The bathroom is where the nests are. And I really can’t step foot in the building with the swooping, buzzing wasps, much less shower in there.

Which is awesome because finally I have a chance to check out my RV shower!

The first step is to get hot water. The way this works is I press the “on” toggle for the hot water heater. The pilot light ignites itself, the propane kicks in, and in about 15 minutes — like magic — hot water!

Next, I turn my hallway into a shower. I do this by removing a panel from the floor to expose the drain, opening the bathroom door, then pulling the shower curtain around the track.

I had read some reports of water getting everywhere, but that’s not my experience. The water stays in the shower area, the pressure is great, and it’s as fine a shower as I’ve taken so far!

Another achievement unlocked!

I take a walk while I enjoy my morning coffee, before opening my laptop for another day of work.

cherokee landing campground