The First of Many Posts About Coffee

I’m staying at the Aspen Meadows Resort as part of the Aspen Institute’s Forum on Communications and Society. The resort is pretty fancy. I pulled up in the RV and no one was sure what to do with me. But there was plenty of room for the RV between the tennis courts.

The night before I got to the Aspen Institute, I stayed the night in the parking lot of the Walmart down the road.  So it’s just been one fancy night after another. Walmart famously lets RVers stay the night in their parking lots and the bed is just as comfortable as the most luxurious RV park at a fraction of the cost. Since you bring your bed with you. And staying in a parking lot is free.

Walmart view

If you just need a place to park your RV overnight so you can sleep, a Walmart parking lot isn’t a bad option. The trickiest part is coffee in the morning. Coffee for me is like air. If I don’t have it the moment I wake up, I just collapse in a heap, unable to move. Forever.

And while I’m a fan of good coffee, in the morning I just need any coffee.

Before I left Seattle, I thought I had the perfect solution: a compact Nespresso machine. Easy, no mess, consistent coffee. But once I was on the road, I learned about battery power. And how it’s not the same as being plugged into electricity. The maximum draw is about 700 watts. And even the tiniest Nespresso machine needs about 1500. Sure, I can use the generator for more power, but it’s loud. And I’m still worried about those RV message boards and how the experienced RVers are going to gossip about me waking everyone in the Walmart parking lot up just so I can make some coffee.

I had this realization my first morning out (in the amazing mall parking lot). Fortunately, I had stocked up on Starbucks Via and had enough presence of mind (which is more impressive than you think for me first thing in the morning without coffee) to boil water on my (propane) stove.

I then began an exhaustive hunt for electric kettles that were under 700 watts. Mostly they don’t exist. I finally found one at 600 watts, but as soon as I plugged it in, it surged through the system and drained all the power. Then I tried an electric kettle that plugs into the car’s cigarette lighter (I found it at a truck stop, the magical land of everything car powered your imagination can summon) but it took about 20 minutes to heat up the water.

Finally, I bought an old-fashioned kettle that heats up water on the stove. If I’m plugged in, I use the Nespresso. If I’m not, I heat up water in the kettle. Although if I’m in a Walmart parking lot, there’s probably a McDonald’s nearby. And I have just enough energy when I wake up to walk about 25 feet and speak the number of words required to order coffee.

Except at the Aspen Institute, I was talking to someone I know who is really only into the coffee that’s good. And he had brought an Aeropress with him (as he does everywhere he travels).

So each morning we meet out at my RV (er, after I’ve had enough coffee from the room to walk outside), I heat up some water, and he makes us the most delicious coffee you ever would hope to drink. He has to bring his own coffee cup, obviously.

(Don’t tell him about the McDonald’s coffee arrangement. He might stop making me the good stuff.)


Zion Looks A Lot Like Black Out Curtains

Yeah, yeah. Zion National Park is beautiful and amazing and proof of God, etc.

But let’s talk about what’s really important. Temperature control.

It’s August. In the desert. It’s hot. My RV is a transformer version of a Chevy Express van. So basically a car. If it’s parked in the sun in 100+ degree heat, it can get a tiny bit warm inside.

Not like, nice and toasty in front of fire drinking hot chocolate warm. More like, wow, I would be super embarrassed if I set out on this RV adventure and then died of being hot.

The internet is full of RV hacks and a large number of them are focused on temperature control. How to keep the RV cool (or warm, but I’ve had no need to warm things up at any point yet). I’ve been reading up, plus watch what the experienced RVers do (I’m sure they all think I’m a crazy stalker).

First, if you read a lot of RV campground reviews (and I do), you’ll sometimes see people giving mad props to the parks with lots of shady spots. And you might think (like I did), oh how lovely. That park sounds pretty and wooded and peaceful. I can totally get why this reviewer would add stars for shade trees. But you would be naive.

You know sometimes it’s super hot and let’s say you’re going to the mall and maybe you’re in college so you have kind of a crappy car with vinyl seats. And so when you get to the mall you see this awesome parking spot under a tree and you think, yay, shady spot! Because you’re wearing these great shorts and you know that if you leave your car parked in the sun, when you get back into your car after browsing the Pacific Sun store and getting an Orange Julius (did I mention, it’s also 1992), you’ll sit down and all of your skin will instantly be burned from your body and you’ll have to spend the rest of the summer wearing the that one maxi dress you have.

My point is that the sites at most RV parks are not shaded in any way. So when you find a park with shade, you give it as many stars as will allow.

Also, the very second you park, you have to instantly spring into action, put up your reflective window shade, and close all of your curtains. You might think, but Zion is so beautiful! I came here to bask in the beauty of it all. Doesn’t matter. The beauty means nothing if you’ve collapsed from a heat stroke. Because your eyes will be closed at that point anyway.

I now have reflective shades for both the front and back windows and my curtains go all around (I also have covers for the little windows in the roof). A lot of people custom make reflective covers for the rest of the windows, but I keep waiting for someone to sell them on Etsy as that seems like a lot of work.

Of course, in addition to shade and reflective shades and curtains, you’ll want air conditioning. My Roadtrek has basically a wall air conditioner in the back (above the living room/bedroom). The air conditioner is not a battery-operated appliance. It’s electricity or generator powered only.

This means that when it’s over 90 degrees or so, I’m unlikely to be doing any free/dry camping in parking lots. A cheap and crappy RV site with electrical hookups is like paradise since it facilitates air conditioning.

But the RV air conditioner is only going to cool things down maybe 15 degrees or so. So if it’s 107 outside, it’s still pretty hot in the RV.

When I got to Zion, I had tons of work to do, so I found an RV park with wifi (and electricity) and I spent most of the time working in the communal game/media room. Everyone else was hiking around, so I mostly had the place to myself.

Here’s something you may not know about Zion National Park: There’s this mile long tunnel in the middle of it! Most RVs are so tall they only fit in the middle, so they have to pay an extra $15 to drive through and the rangers close the tunnel to traffic so they can drive through while straddling both lanes. Fortunately, my RV, at just under 9 feet tall fits fine. It seems a little stressful to have to worry that if you veer a little too much to the left or right, you’ll crash into the side of the mountain.

Zion tunnel

Inside the Zion tunnel

You’ll be happy to know I made it through the tunnel.

zion and roadtrek

RV Service

Driving in Circles

When I was in high school, I went through a series of cars that shouldn’t have been driven by anyone, least of all a teenage girl in a world before cell phones. Said cars included: a 1974 Plymouth Duster, a 1965 Ford Falcon, a 1980 Mazda GLC, and several non-descript Datsuns and Pintos. I drove the Duster my junior year of high school and in the winter, I’d have to let it warm up for about twenty minutes before I could drive it to school.

The glass half full view is that I learned A LOT about cars. Or at least, a lot of what can go wrong with cars. I know what it sounds like when a car runs out of oil, when the mechanic doesn’t tighten the spark plugs when replacing them and one pops off, when the brake pads are gone, when the CV joint needs to be replaced. What happens when your clutch goes out. How to pop a clutch to get a dead car started.

I’ve learned that even though I technically know how to change a tire, I’m not strong enough to get the lug nut off so why even try. I’ve changed my own oil (you don’t actually save any money, so that ends up being a lot of time and energy for no good reason), been stranded in the middle of nowhere on the freeway at 1am and been picked up by a trucker (the insides of those cabs are crazy!), and scammed a scamming mechanic with his own scam (he sold 16 year old me a used car that he’d claimed was inspected (it was not) and in top shape (it was not), but actually had a cracked engine block (although he did not know that because he had not done the inspection he claimed he did); once I broke down and the truth was revealed, I conspired with a tow truck driver who towed it a block from the dealership and I drove it up (the engine didn’t overheat and reveal its true nature until several miles of driving) and sold it back to the guy, who thought he was scamming me twice by paying me less than I bought it for).

I suppose all of that breaking down and being stranded and realizing a mechanic left a wrench in your engine and that’s what the rattling sound is prepared me for driving an RV around the country. I generally know what to watch out for (oil levels, tire pressure, water temperature and the like) and know that if something were to happen (I would rather nothing happens though thank you), I will be OK.

As I was driving through California, I noticed my tire pressure was wildly fluctuating. Like the tires would all get together in a huddle and say, hey, let’s be super low right now! Oh wait – I know! Let’s be super high! I can monitor the tire pressure from a display on the dashboard and I had read that correct tire pressure was pretty important since the RV is so heavy. The factory settings are 50 in front and 80 in back, but I had read that 60/80 is better (plus I talked to another Roadtrek owner in Carpenteria who said he kept his tires at 60/80. And everyone knows that one anecdotal validation of something one reads on the internet means it’s doubly true).

I kept stopping to put air in the tires, and it was nearly impossible to fill them evenly. Plus the whole irritating issue of the tires being low, so I’d fill them with air, only to have them shoot up high an hour later. Exhausting.

Heat can make tire pressure go up and I was about to embark on the no services trek across the desert. It was 105 degrees outside and so the asphalt road was probably about 1250 degrees. When I got the tires replaced, I was talking to the mechanic and he said, “oh yeah. I have a boat trailer and every time I do that drive I blow a tire.” Well, that was something to look forward to.

He suggested nitrogen. Which apparently is used to fill the tires of the space shuttle. And NASCAR cars. So you know it’s super bad ass. Of course I had to have it. Also, nitrogen isn’t as sensitive to temperature so once you fill the tires, they basically stay put even when you’re driving across asphalt that could double as the surface of the sun.

I stopped by a tire place that swapped out my air for nitrogen. When I drove away, my RV told me this:


So I drove in circles.

I made it across the desert with zero blow outs, which is exactly the number I was hoping for. And my tire pressure has been pretty constant so no more messing with gas station air nozzles (which is fortunate, since I don’t think you can drop a quarter in and choose nitrogen in any case).

My friend lives way out in the middle of nowhere, and the drive to her place was like a video game where all of your past levels come back in a complicated maze of obstacles. Washed out roads from the flooding: check. Steep downhill grades: check. Dirt and gravel surfaces not ideally suited for balding tires: double check.

Like Mario or Donkey Kong before me, I persevered. And was soon rewarded with homemade applejack moonshine.


Flash Flood

I made it through the night of a million ants. And the million imaginary spiders. I was starting to get behind on work (all those spiders and ants can take up a lot of valuable work time), so I looked for an RV park with wifi that was next up along the route.

My plan was to get set up, get a bunch of work done, get a good night’s (ant-free) sleep, and then head onward towards Vegas to meet up with a friend from high school.

The RV park that best fit my criteria was in a random town in the middle of nowhere next to an abandoned strip mall. All that was around was a closed-down restaurant. As it was Sunday, the RV park itself was also closed.

RV parks often leave notes about available spots with information on the gate code to get in (one wonders about the true value of a gate code at that point, but I don’t really have a better solution). I grabbed the code, drove in, and picked an empty space. The park was about 80% full. I saw 0 people the entire time I was there. Possibly I actually was staying in a zombie town, but I didn’t see any zombies either, so I felt pretty safe.

Until I ventured outside.

I decided to walk to the nearest non-abandoned strip mall (about 6 blocks away) to have dinner and get a few things at the grocery store. It was a fine, non-eventful walk on a sidewalk, across an overpass, past a gas station, and to a little cluster of businesses around a parking lot.

While I was at the store, my phone began sounding an alarm. Flash flood warning!

flash flood

I looked outside and it was like a monsoon. I waited a bit but it didn’t seem like the rain was going to let up any time soon. So, whatever, a romantic walk in the rain it is!

It was warm out, I was soaking wet, it was fine.

A guy pulled over and asked if I wanted a ride. Which was super sweet! I said I was fine. Because the rain didn’t really bother me. Also, he didn’t look like a serial killer who waits for women walking during flash flood warnings, but you just never know.

I walked one more block and then had to cross the street. But the gutters were totally flooded with rushing, rushing water. Like a miniature version of those rapids you raft down if you’re hard core. Way too wide to step over. Over jump over.

What can you do, right? It was at most 6 inches deep. It’s not like I’m going to drown! So I took as big of a step as I could right into the rushing gutter water. When I lifted up my foot, the water tore my shoe right off my foot! And I watched as it was whisked out onto the freeway.

So then I had one shoe.

It seemed kind of stupid to walk the rest of the way with one shoe. I could take the shoe off but then I’d be walking barefoot in the rain down the sidewalk. Which sounds like a Taylor Swift video but maybe would actually be a super bad idea?

I was near the gas station so I thought maybe they would sell flip flops there? (Unlikely, but I was sort of desperate.) I walked by a cop who was getting gas. I said, “oh, I just lost one shoe in in the gutter! I probably shouldn’t keep walking barefoot, haha!”

He said, “you could get electrocuted that way” in a super serious voice. I dunno about that, but OK.

He said he would give me a ride. First though I had to wait for him to go buy a Big Gulp. He did not offer to get me one.

Then I had to sit in the back where the door handles had been ripped out. I realized the car said “public safety” not “police”, so I was thinking, is he actually a cop or is he a security guard? Because if he’s a security guard, he’s likely to just kill me and store my body somewhere.

I started strategizing what I would do if I started getting murdered. It would be hard to escape without door handles and also his gun likely trumped by makeshift RV keys/knife.

I had to wait while he used his Galaxy tablet to take a picture of his receipt and upload it to his expense report program (of the Big Gulp or just the gas?). He started telling me about how they had replaced the in-car computers with these Galaxy tablets and were so great. I thought it would be weird to do an expense report right before killing me, right?

Well, I know you are in suspense, but I am not murdered!

But I am totally bummed that I lost my favorite sandals I got in Brazil! Well, one sandal.