Monday, November 05, 2007

We’re Not Really Tourists: It’s a Shake Down Cruise

Traveling through New York and Canada may seem at to be an extended RV vacation. Ed quickly dismisses this notion. “We’re not really tourists,” he explains. Several reasons come to mind.

First, this trip constitutes a “shake down cruise” according to Ed. Our Prevost coach may be new to us, but we are the fourth owners of this previously loved RV. And, since our future intent is to ship the coach to South America next spring, all mechanical functions must be reliable. Throughout our trip, Ed constantly monitored fluids, tires, brakes, engine, and transmission. He made notes on concerns and created a list of questions to ask the experts. Second, the trip took the coach to the experts.

The first set of experts was the mechanics and technicians at the Prevost service center in St. Nicolas, Quebec. For four days and then another two on our return from the Gaspe, these men installed new brakes, replaced a differential joint, and inspected the coach from engine to axel. Another set of experts at Trans Arctic in Longueuil, Quebec needed two days to repair the three Espar heaters that would warm the coach interior when temperatures drop.

These many days on the road also gave me the opportunity to acclimate to living in the RV in the friendly environment of the USA and Canada. There are many things to learn that Ed has already mastered by travelling in our old MCI that I did not experience. Energy management is one big factor. For example, with the generator running, we have all the power of Niagara Falls. That’s when I run everything – the range, microwave, refrigerator, printer, lights…When we’re running off the inverter, we have to watch the amperage used by monitoring the breaker panel above the coach windshield. Water and waste levels are another factor. Conserving water means no long showers with the water constantly running. The manual on-off toggle managers the flow of water to get wet, soap-up, and rinse. All water eventually goes into a holding tank so as water is used, it drains into the black water tank. I have become mindful of monitoring the levels of the fresh water and black water.

We are also testing our skill of driving. Ed can handle the coach in any circumstance. He’ll navigate steep grades, switchback curves, and narrow streets with tight turns. I am still a novice having taken the wheel only one time on the four-lane Trans-Canadian Highway 20 for a very short time. Ed is learning the capabilities of the coach. I am still trying to drive without using both feet.

The road trip has answered questions about what we need and don’t need onboard. We need a crock pot; we don’t need the bread maker. We need long sleeve shirts and fleece jackets; we don’t need high heels or dress shoes. We need bungee cords to button-up some closet doors and the refrigerator for when Ed takes a curve too hot; we don’t need Sam’s Club size bottles of Dawn.

The “shake down cruise” tests our navigation skills. Rand McNally’s The Road Atlas ’07 including the Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club Store Directory for the U.S., Canada, and Mexico rarely leaves my hand. When they are available, I like to spend the $4 - $5 for a local map that details a region like the Gaspè for easy navigation of streets and finding attractions. We also have a satellite program called DeLorme Street Atlas USA that runs off the laptop. It works great until we decide to take a different route than we originally program. That’s when the voice navigation system urgently tells us how to get back on course. Supposedly, we could alter the course if one of us would just take time to read the manual.

Technology is fabulous if you just read the manual. I am studying my camera manual and learning to use the photo program Picasa2. I am halfway through the ACT manual and have entered nearly 60 business contacts for Ed’s company Private Motor Coach, Inc. with just the basic understanding. And, I am learning to use my new Dell Latitude D630 Laptop.
We’re exploring communications technology during this trip too. Ed has a Black Berry; my cell phone is in the Verizon network. Both work great in the U.S.; but the roaming charges in Canada, we have been warned, will feel like bank robbery. We’ve managed by using a calling card for 8-cents a minute for calls to the U.S. and 5-cents a minute for calls within Canada. Skype is an affordable option when we have access to the Internet if you can manage the voice delay in transmission.

We had access to the Internet in the U.S. through Verizon’s Broadband Network. In Canada, we found Internet access through the customer lounges at Prevost and Trans Arctik. Once, we used the coin operated Internet in a Youth Hostel at the rate of 20 minutes for $2. This became costly due to the dial-up connection in the remote Gaspè. Email has been the best way to connect with family and friends who are interested in knowing our whereabouts. And, of course, this blog is the more detailed chronology of our experiences.

Connecting via the mail is one-way. I send postcards weekly to my three-year-old Grand-daughter Brianna and on occasion to the children Chris and Suzie. When I find something like a special salmon fly for Chris and a Chinese good luck charm with a horse on it for Suzie, I drop these in the mail. We have a contract with mail forwarding service through Escapees, an RV club for full time RVer’s, but they do not ship mail outside the U.S. So our mail waits in Livingston, Texas until we come back to the States. Some mail has gone to my Mom’s house in Greensburg, Pennsylvania where she opens the mail and weekly, she and I decide over the phone what needs attention and what can wait for our return or be tossed out.

We have made some headway with bill paying online or by phone, but there are still a few things that still require a physical mailing location. For example, I renewed my Texas driver’s license online but it had to be mailed to a specific location. Orders for new business cards and letterhead for our new company Global Tourism Solutions, Inc. we made online, but the shipment is going to Suzie college address in Missouri where we expect to be once the printing is completed and shipped.

As we travel on this “shake down” cruise, we’re getting better at living aboard our coach. And we are building confidence in our abilities to adapt what we learn today as we advance to tomorrow’s next part of our journey – RV travel in South America.

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