This week on episode 249 the RV Podcast, we meet a couple who quit their nine to five jobs for a life on the road…chasing the stars in their RV
WHAT MIKE AND JENNIFER ARE UP TO THIS WEEK
MIKE Happy Fourth of July to all our U.S. listeners. This is a huge camping weekend – the biggest of the year – and we know many of you will be on the roads filling up campsites and boondocking way off the beaten path. Have a great time, drive carefully and be safe.
JENNIFER And a belated Canada Day to our friends north of the border, who just celebrated their long weekend last weekend.
MIKE We’re staying home this weekend. Since we travel up to ¾ of the year, we’ll stay off the roads and free up some camping space for those who can’t get away so much.
JENNIFER Besides, we’re gone so often that being at our sticks and bricks Michigan home is like a vacation for us, so we don’t mind at all. We’re expecting to be back in our RV on the road again next week making our way down to Nashville, Tennessee and the area for a week of activities.
MIKE Jennifer is spending a lot of time working outdoor on the landscaping and garden. I’m holed up in the studio furiously editing as much video as I can so when we’re on the road… I have time to shoot more!
JENNIFER Our next video will be released Thursday July 4 on the RV Lifestyle Channel on YouTube. It’s Part 2 of our trip to the Adirondack mountains and it also takes us to the Finger Lakes Region of New York and the beautiful Letchworth State Park south of Buffalo.
MIKE Hey everyone, I want to point out that we’re having an awesome sale on our ebook RV guides. If you buy either our Beginners Guide to Boondocking or our RV Buyer’s Guide, we’ll throw in whichever one of our various Seven Day Adventure guides you’d like…. plus a fun pack of our RV LifestyleRule 330 stickers. Head over to https://rvlifestyle.com/books and check them out and please share the link on social media with your friends. The special offer is only good through the 4th.
We also want to give a shoutout to our reviewer of the week…Downriver Brian who left us this wonderful five-star review on iTunes:
“This is the only travel related show I listen to regularly. I have never gone RVing…but would like to one day. Regardless of that fact, this show has all kinds of general camping-type of information that really gets you ready for spring during the winter months. Tip on campgrounds, and all the other stuff is great. Just love it.”
Thank you, Brian. We sp appreciated those kind words and your review. And we invite you dear listener, to do the same. Please leave us a review and a rating on iTunes or Sticker or whatever app you listen to us on. We so appreciate the feedback and we read every one!
RV LIFESTYLE NEWS OF THE WEEK
Newspaper report shows number of national park rangers down 20 percent since 2005 as visitors set records
We all know national parks are busier than ever, but an interesting story out last weekend also tracked how funding shortages have caused the number of park rangers to decline at the same time visitor numbers are setting records. Park superintendents are having to choose between hiring maintenance workers or park rangers often. The report in USA Today showed a 20 percent decline in rangers since 2005 as Congress cut funding while visitor numbers rose.
About $10 million in goods up for auction this month at former Erwin Hymer North America Group site
About $10 million worth of goods once belonging to the Erwin Hymer Norlth America Group (the maker of Roadtrek) will be sold to the highest bidders at a massive auction July 16-19. Everything from office furnishings and equipment to tools to new Hymer tow behind trailers will be sold in what liquidation firm Infinity Asset Solutions Inc. says is a rare sale because of its massive size. The maker of Roadtrek went into receivership in February owing more than 900 creditors nearly $275 million. About 850 people lost their jobs. French company Rapido bought the Roadtrek brand, vehicles in various stage of production, and other items. The auction is selling assets Rapido did not buy.
Beautiful South Dakota’s Custer State Park celebrating its 100 year anniversary
South Dakota’s Custer State Park is celebrating its centennial this year and I found a delightful story detailing how the park came to be. The park is holding a photo, coloring and even a selfie contest to celebrate, along with opening a time capsule and putting a new time capsule in the ground. Jennifer and I camped there several years ago and and found the park delightful with large, private campsites, along with bison, bighorn sheep, antelope and more. To see our report, click here.
MIKE Glacier National Park is overcrowded and plagued by gridlock
It’s quite the congested mess at Glacier National Park this year. Gridlock and 40-minute traffic jams have been frustrating tens of thousands so far this season, and the peak tourist time has just begun. Yet Going to the Sun Road at the foot of Lake McDonald has been closed several times since Father’s Day because of excessive traffic and the parking lot at Logan’s Pass is so filled that the park employees traffic monitors to shoo away those who want to stop there to take photos or do some hiking.
Group calls for greater RV safety after tragic death of Canadian man when his RV had mechanical failure and smashed into ferry
The need for greater RV safety checks was an issue in the news last week after a Canadian man died, and his passenger critically injured, following a mechanical error in their RV. The driver of the RV was described by witnesses as a hero for trying to avoid hitting others as he lost control of his vehicle. The RV ended up jumping off a dock, landing on a ferry that had just taken off, and smashing into tiny bits.
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LISTENER QUESTIONS OF THE WEEK
From Tena, via our RV Lifestyle Facebook Page: I’ve been following you two for awhile. My husband and I, and out two dogs, will be traveling from Washington State down to the Grand Canyon. Then, we will be driving to Chattanooga, Tn. We are estimating that we will drive about 600 miles a day. Do you have any tips for us? We will be pulling our camping trailer.
From John, via our RV Lifestyle Facebook Group : Planning our 7+ day Michigan UP adventure for late summer and have a question. Does the dreaded UP black fly have a season or are they thick until they freeze? Will going in late September or October avoid the bulk of them?
Besides Facebook and YouTube, we are also on Instagram. Follow us at #rvlifestylemike. Or go to https://instagram.com/rvlifestylemike
Do you have a question you’d like us to answer, or a comment on the things we’re discussing. If so, we invite you to leave us that question or comment on the special voicemail number we have for the podcast – it’s 586-372-6990. If you are driving and can’t write it down right now, just go to the RV Lifestyle travel blog at rvlifestyle.com and scroll down the page. You’ll see that number prominently posted on the blog.
This part of the RV Podcast is brought to you by Battle Born Batteries, maker of quality, safe and reliable lithium batteries that can be installed in just about every RV. Get in touch with Battle Born to find out what lithium batteries and an upgraded energy management system can add to your RV Lifestyle. Check them out at https://rvlifestyle.com/lithium
RV INTERVIEW OF THE WEEK
Ever dreamed quitting your job, selling your sticks and bricks home and heading for the wide open spaces? That’s what our guests today did. They are John and Brenda Nejedlo and John quit his job as a police officer in Wisconsin, Brenda left her job with the Green Bay Symphony Orchestra and today, you’ll find them touring America in a Class A motorhome and towing the largest solar panel array I have ever heard of.
They did so because they wanted to literally chase the stars. Astronomy is a passion for this couple and so, you’ll find them most every night camped out in a national park and putting on free night skies seminars.
When we heard about this couple, we just knew we had to invite them on the podcast. Stay tuned because you’ll also want to learn about the massive soar panel trailer John tows.
Meet John and Brenda Nejedlo, known on the Internet as geoastrorv.com
Here’s a transcript of the interview:
Mike Wendland: Well, joining us right now from Montana is John and Brenda. And welcome, you guys, to the podcast. It’s a pleasure to have you on.
Brenda Nejedlo: Thank you very much.
Mike Wendland: Now we need to talk a little bit about you guys. I did a little bit in the intro to you, but tell everybody how long you’ve been full-timing, what your background was before, and what you’re pursuing as you do your full-timing. We talked about the dark sky adventures, but you guys are doing a lot more than that too. Okay.
John Nejedlo: Well sure. We’ve been full-time now for two years, and we’ve really enjoyed those two years, a lot of learning. Before that we were from northeast Wisconsin. I had been a police officer, and then a middle school and a high school science teacher. Brenda had worked at the Green Bay Symphony, and then a place called Club Scrap Incorporated before we took off. And we basically were in a position where we could go full-time.
John Nejedlo: We had seen someone else in our close circle doing that, working from the road, going full-time. And we realized, “Let’s go do this. Let’s go see the national parks. Let’s go see the geology and astronomy.” But our twist is that I didn’t want to give up our telescopes. We really enjoyed our telescopes and doing presentations. So also we realized, “Wait a minute. We could go do this and slowly see North America by giving free day and night astronomy presentations as we go.”
Mike Wendland: So you don’t get any income from doing the astronomy presentations. That’s just a gift.
John Nejedlo: It is. I’ll let you talk about that for …
Brenda Nejedlo: We just felt that we were very blessed that we are able to do this, and we just felt that we needed to give back, that Karma would get us if we didn’t give back our love and our knowledge. And we just firmly believe that everybody should have an opportunity to look up in the night sky and see the awe that is there. And we’re fortunate enough to be able to go around and offer that to people.
Mike Wendland: Wow. So tell us a little bit about a typical day and night, how you do that. You’re on your way to one of our favorite places, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, which never gets the credit that that park deserves, I think. Everybody’s on their way to somewhere else, but that is such an awesome park. How long are you going to stay there, and what will you be doing?
John Nejedlo: We’ll be staying there for two and a half months this year, and that’s probably going to be what we do for a number of years to come, July through mid September. And every day we will go out, and we’ll do daytime presentations and nighttime presentations for them. And we get to actually stay in the national park. We get to stay at a historic site with bison all around us, and we get to go share the stars with people. So we look at ourselves and we’re like, “We’re volunteers in the park.” And I just feel we’re so lucky to do that.
Brenda Nejedlo: And this year, on top of the day and night time presentations, we’re also going to be doing some outreach at the Dickinson Public Library. They are having a summer worth of reading for basically space is their theme. And they’re also holding a 50 anniversary for the moon landing. So we’re going to be doing some things with the public library also.
Mike Wendland: Wow. Now talk a little bit, you guys are not typical retirement age. You’re still young enough that you’ve got to have some kind of income. How do you earn an income, or what do you do on the road?
Brenda Nejedlo: As I said, my mom and dad have both passed away, and they were very, very smart with how they invested. And being an only child, I’m very fortunate with what I have been left.
Mike Wendland: So you’re basically living on an inheritance. And did you sell your house back in Wisconsin?
Brenda Nejedlo: Yeah. Sold everything. We have no cubicles, no storage unit. We sold it all.
Mike Wendland: Now, if people are going to the show notes for this episode, they will see some images of what you have, and you don’t need a storage unit because you’ve got … Tell us about your RV, and then what you tow with it. And I think that people will be amazed at this part of the story.
Brenda Nejedlo: We actually have a Thor Aria 3401, so it’s technically 34 foot, 8 inches.
Mike Wendland: A Class A.
Brenda Nejedlo: Class A diesel pusher, and I tend to drive that. And then John drives our Ford F-250, which pulls our 17 foot solar trailer. So we drive separately on drive days.
Mike Wendland: How far do you usually go a day?
John Nejedlo: [crosstalk 00:04:51]. We believe in that while I think you guys have heard of the 330 rule. So …
Mike Wendland: Yeah, we’ve heard of it.
John Nejedlo: We like to travel under 300 miles, for sure. And a lot of times, we’re not taking off till 10:00 in the morning, 10:30 in the morning, and we’d like to arrive before 3:30 to our next location where we’re staying overnight so we can enjoy the area a little bit more. And it’s just better on us and the dogs and everything.
Mike Wendland: Well, I certainly say that all the time. Now, I want to go back. You said you pull this solar trailer. This is a work of art. This is unlike anything I have ever seen in our seven years of RVing. It is massive. Tell us about what’s in that solar trailer that you pull and how you use it.
John Nejedlo: Sure. Right before we decided to do this, I had finally picked up the Dobsonian Telescope that I really wanted. And that’s 8 foot tall is the eyepiece, so you’ve got to climb up a ladder. So it breaks down into sections, but I’m like, “I’m taking that with me.”
Brenda Nejedlo: And it won’t fit under the RV.
John Nejedlo: Where do you put it?
Brenda Nejedlo: Where do you put it?
John Nejedlo: And so I started researching. I need to keep it air conditioned or climate controlled and keep it safe. And I started looking on the internet, and I found this company, Mobile Solar, and they make these trailers that are … And they had never really added an air conditioner to it, and they had never really put insulation all around it. So we did a custom install with it, and we absolutely love it. It’s got a 3000 lb. lead acid battery, forklift battery that rides over the axles, and it’s got 3.7 kilowatts of solar on top.
Mike Wendland: So wait, wait. Let’s let that sink in. 3.7 kilowatts. A kilowatt is 100 watts. No, is it 1000 watts?
John Nejedlo: 1000.
Mike Wendland: A thousand watts. 3.7 kilowatts, and each kilowatt’s 1000 watts. Normal-
John Nejedlo: 3,700 watts.
Mike Wendland: 3,700. Most solar arrays, if you have a lot, maybe 1100-1200 is the most you see on an RV. This is like three times that. That’s just fantastic. Amazing. So this is the trailer that you pull. What does it power besides, I would imagine, everything when you’re out boondocking?
John Nejedlo: Yeah, it really serves as … Its number one focus is to be … Well, we can place that anywhere. So if we’re doing a middle school presentation, a high school presentation, UU Church, state park, anywhere that we go, Xscaper or FMCA Convergences, and meetings, we can go and drop that wherever we want. We’ve got a composting toilet in it, and it can power itself and keep all of our equipment the way it needs to be. And everything is inside of that very self. But then on top of that, we can also park it right next to our trailer, plug a 30 amp cord into it, and it helps keep us off grid the same way.
Mike Wendland: Now, I have to ask this because I will be asked this question a lot. And I don’t know how you want to answer it, but how much does something like that cost? They’re all going to ask us that. You know that. Yeah.
John Nejedlo: Yeah. You can go to Mobile Solar on the internet and see all the different sized trailers they have, but you’re talking … If you were to take a comparable trailer, this is customized, but one of their comparable trailers, you’re talking under $35,000. And on top of it, you get a ton of money back at the end of the year. Heck, for us it was two years worth on our taxes, because it’s solar and you’re adding it, and it technically it’s our house. So we had a ton of tax breaks that came at us for two years.
Mike Wendland: That’s a pretty neat reason right there to do it. But for the boondocking stuff, it’s just incredible. Now, we’re going to put pictures of all of this up in the show notes. But what I’d like you to do is to talk about these dark sky adventures, and how many places that we can now go to that have truly dark sky, the dark sky preserves, and why those are so important, and so incredibly inspiring to people, that they all need to go visit one.
John Nejedlo: Sure. We’ve been to a number of them now. You’ll notice that our travels have mostly been to the west. We went one time down to Florida for the first winter, where we got an RV certification training to be a tech. But then after that we’ve been out west. And whether you’re in lower Texas, or Colorado, or Arizona, or all these states, all the way up through there, you have opportunities. And in fact, your state as well, upper Michigan, there’s some great opportunities up there as well. But a chance to go out, and actually …
John Nejedlo: This is so important, and we’re following in the footsteps of John Dobson, because I just feel people need to have that opportunity to get under skies that they don’t normally see, and to see the stars in ways that most people don’t have an opportunity to see. So if we can meet people at dark sky locations wherever they want, and boondock right alongside of them, and take two or three nights and look at the stars at a night … And we really believe that, not just look through an eyepiece, but learn how to operate the telescopes, to choose what they want to look at. And we do that well with groups of like 8-12 people at a time, I think.
Brenda Nejedlo: Yeah. It’s a very intimate experience. Instead of going to, say, a star party where there’s, like Yellow Stone or Grand Canyon, there’s thousands of people. They get to look through a telescope for three seconds, and you have to move on. That is not what we think it should be.
John Nejedlo: So we really enjoy it. Like right now, our time at Theodore Roosevelt, it is smaller. Like you had said, it’s a very nice, hidden park. And it’s just, we can go with smaller groups of people and craft the presentation to what they want. And for us, the enjoyment that we get watching their faces when they get to see something that they’ve never seen, wow. That and the bison all around us, that makes our experience.
Mike Wendland: Now, this is pretty funny. John, you were a police officer. This is quite a change of pace for you. And your experience in middle school, that’s even probably harder work than being a cop. They’re a little more unmanageable. But that’s quite a change of pace for you.
John Nejedlo: As a police officer. I was fortunate to have an opportunity in the schools to be a liaison officer. And that changed, really changed, my look at what it takes to really raise kids in a community, and to get them along the way. So it changed who I was. And then to have an opportunity to go back and to be a middle school teacher, science teacher, and then a high school science teacher, well, that was … We were ready settle down at a community in Shawano County, Wisconsin. And that was where we were going to finish off our last few years of working. This opportunity came up. Yeah. And I still, I love working with kids and working with people. It’s a joy.
Mike Wendland: Now Brenda, you were with the Symphony Orchestra in Green Bay.
Brenda Nejedlo: Yeah. I originally started out at the Green Bay Symphony, and actually I was also a private voice and piano teacher. So I did that for a while, but realized you can’t really make a full-time job and earn money at that. So I had another job at Club Scrap Inc, which is a scrapbooking company. And then on the side I taught voice and piano, did a ton of accompanying and judging for vocal competitions. So that was mine.
Mike Wendland: So how do you get your music fix when you’re on the road?
Brenda Nejedlo: Well, luckily we have-
Mike Wendland: Because you don’t get that out of your system. That never leaves.
Brenda Nejedlo: No, I still have it. Oh, don’t you worry.
Mike Wendland: Yeah.
Brenda Nejedlo: We actually have a pull-down bunk bed that sits above where the driver’s seat and stuff is. So I have my full 88 electronic keyboard up there. I have a guitar, which I really am awful at, and I have five or six [inaudible 00:13:11]. That’s how I get music.
John Nejedlo: We had last year gone to an FMCA rally in Texas and enjoyed our time. And Brenda had a chance to work with them. And so she’s on a constant basis pulling down the keyboard, practicing, and gets her fix of performing for people. And every once in a while something odd like that happens where she gets a chance to take it out and perform.
Brenda Nejedlo: Right.
John Nejedlo: And it helps.
Brenda Nejedlo: I gave dinner music to the FMCA.
John Nejedlo: A-ha.
Brenda Nejedlo: So that was fun. I had a great time.
Mike Wendland: Well, now that brings up my next … one of my last questions here, and that is, you’re at Theodore Roosevelt for the next two and a half months. Any other places around the country people should be looking for you guys?
Brenda Nejedlo: Right now, Theodore is our big one. We did do Homestead National Monument in Beatrice. The weather was just simply not cooperative when we were there. We were able to assist them with some education opportunities of not looking through a telescope, but that was sort of disappointing, but we had a wonderful time there. And we are actually in talks with a couple of other parks that we’re going to be visiting when we’re done with Theodore to see if we can add them to our list starting next year.
John Nejedlo: We know we’re going to winter in that lower Arizona, partly into California-
Brenda Nejedlo: New Mexico, California-
John Nejedlo: New Mexico. We’re going to spend a lot of time down there and keep it pretty flowing. If we just happen to run across people from your show that want to meet up with us and go to our itinerary page and send us a message, yeah, we’ll meet up with people at some dark sky location if it’s agreeable on both sides, and just enjoy. So Dinosaur National Monument and Craters of the Moon are the two parks that we’re just starting to talk with right now, just getting our feet wet. And part of it is we sort of love wandering right now. We get to watch a lot of our friends that have been up in Idaho and Montana, and seeing the pictures they take of themselves boondocking. And we’re like, “Okay, this year-”
Brenda Nejedlo: “That’s where we want to go.”
John Nejedlo: ” … we want to go and boondock out that way.”
Mike Wendland: We did the same thing. Last year and the year before, we had an event we had to be at every single month. And we really had no time just to go out and explore. And we’ve done that this year, and we’re now turning it into into books. And it’s just so different when you can wander. But I do think it would be really fun. I am toying around sometime in the next year or so, to maybe put together just an RV lifestyle gathering somewhere, and you guys would be wonderful to have at that. And we could-
Brenda Nejedlo: Oh, my gosh. Yeah.
John Nejedlo: [crosstalk 00:15:50].
Mike Wendland: Wouldn’t that be fun?
Brenda Nejedlo: That’s the sort of stuff we love doing.
Mike Wendland: Yeah.
John Nejedlo: There’s something about RVers. We just love to sit and talk to people, share a meal together, share an experience together. RVers are just … It’s an amazing group of people.
Mike Wendland: They are. Well, let’s try and make that happen. I’ll be in touch. We will put links to your website, and people can see all of the photos. But what an opportunity to enjoy your passion, to serve other people, and to really give other people a glimpse at what an incredible world we have out there, up there, and around us. So I’m delighted to tell this story, and I’m delighted to meet you guys. Thank you so much for being a guest on the podcast.
John Nejedlo: Thank you.
Brenda Nejedlo: Thank you very much.
The interview of the week is brought to you by SunshinestateRVs.com, where every new motorhome is delivered to the customer free, anywhere in the country
OFF THE BEATEN PATH REPORT
By Tom and Patty Burkett
We recently saw “Rocketman,” the Elton John biopic, and in one of the grand scenes he’s sitting at the the piano on a rotating stage playing Pinball Wizard. Bells were dinging and that characteristic sound of metal balls bouncing off electric bumpers was everywhere when we stepped into the Pinball Museum in Asheville, NC. The Wizard would have felt right at home here, where the machines ranged from vintage 1950s tops to electronic marvels from much more recent years.
We stepped up to the counter and paid our admission, which then entitled us to unlimited play on all the machines save two. Why did we have to pay an extra 25¢ to play those machines, I wanted to know. “No clue,” said the man behind the counter, “maybe just in case you want the experience of dropping a quarter down the slot?” Regardless, there were dozens of machines to play without the quarter tariff, and we must have played them all. One of my favorites was a baseball game I remember from the bowling alley when I was a kid. Pitch, hit, maybe score some runs.
There’s a hall of honor, with a row of retired machines, mostly from the 1940s and 1950s. Tom’s grandfather was an itinerant electrician, and for a while ran a string of pinball machines in the Texas oil fields. Back then they were called marble tables, and beating the high score won you not only bragging rights but a cash prize. The prizes were strictly illegal, and the fact that the machines were used for gambling caused many localities to outlaw them. Up until the early 1970s they were illegal in many towns, and so grew their own anti-establishment subculture.
Stuck in a back room, like the cousins nobody wants you to know about, are two dozen classic video arcade games. These might awaken some long-forgotten muscle memory if you ever spent time playing Frogger, Centipede, Galaga, or Pong. Like the pinball, you get unlimited play on these, and it’s easy to lose an hour or two hunched over the joysticks, trying to get that danged amphibian across the road. Add a beer and it would have seemed an awful lot like our college days.
We wanted to know how the machines are kept operational. Surely pinball machine technicians are not easy to find. “Well,” said the desk man, “everybody who works here knows how to fix one particular problem or one particular machine. So we have a fair amount of skill among the staff. Then on Tuesdays (they’re closed on Tuesdays) the owner comes up from downstate. He can fix almost anything.” “How did he learn?” we asked. “Just taking them apart in his garage, I think. He has some serious skills, and man can he play.”
Though we’d never encountered one, it turns out this sort of pinball emporium isn’t all that uncommon, although the play-all-you-like feature is unusual. Atlas Obscura offers a map for a pinball themed trip around the USA, with stops from Florida to Minnesota and New York City to Tucson. Get good and you can sign up for a pinball tournament, or just shop around and find a machine to put in the bak of your RV. You’ll be a hit on rainy days at the campground!
Asheville is a beautiful city, home to a vibrant arts and crafts community. You can find trendy and delicious restaurants excellent craft beer, and almost any kind of outdoor adventure outfitter here in town. Also here is the Mast General Store, one of the oldest in the country. Park your rig and spend a day wandering around the town. You’re sure to find something that tickles your fancy. Maybe you’ll find us, Patti and Tom Burkett, toughening up our crazy flipper fingers out here off the beaten path.