First Roadtrip with Julia

You may remember that I made some changes inside Voyager before my first solo road trip last year. To be totally honest, although I had good intentions to get out and about using my electric bike it never actually happened. Consequently it was an easy decision to revert back.

Julia had never been away in a motorhome but was very up for giving it a try. She enjoyed our day trip to Weston Super Mare in late April so had tested the Thetford facilities. Something that seems to make novices very apprehensive.

She had expressed an interest in visiting the New Forest so after phoning around several I eventually found a suitable CL site on the edge of the forest near New Milton.

A bit of a drive (about 75 miles) but we stopped halfway for lunch arriving at site mid-afternoon. We spent a lovely couple of days at Valesmoor Farm.

There is an equestrian centre next to the CL field so not only did we see some wild New Forest ponies while walking on the open moorland over the road but also saw some friendly ‘tame’ horses in the training area as well.

Long term readers will remember Mary and I had enjoyed quite a few Camping Club Rallies during 2019 and I wanted to show Julia what they were like. Now rallies are not happening at the moment (Covid rules) but some of the groups are organising Temporary Camp Sites (TCS) over long weekends at locations previously used for rallies. So after leaving our New Forest site we drove to the Beehive field in Bradford on Avon (BoA) for a couple of days. Although not a rally the setup of this TCS was the same just lacking the usual organised social events like BBQ’s or afternoon teas.

We both enjoyed being parked up in the field and having occasional socially distanced chats with our neighbours.  We even explored the nearby canal towpath for a few hundred meters before my knees and Julia’s hips forced our return to Voyager.

The weather forecast for the entire time we were away was for heavy showers. We did have them but for the most part they were overnight. In fact on the last full day in BoA the sky was blue, the sun shone brightly and I rolled out the awning so we could sit in the shade enjoying our afternoon cup of tea alfresco.

I was surprised when the ice cream man arrived, but not surprised he did a roaring trade that hot day. A lovely whippy cone with sauce and flake went down very well.

On our last morning we were set up ready to leave by 11.00 with just a bit of apprehension in my mind. We had again had a considerable amount of rain overnight and I was so concerned about the likely state of the field I dug out the traction mats I have carried for some time.

I needn’t have worried, when I let Voyager down off the levelling rams and reversed into the traffic lane using the drier undervan ground for traction everything was fine. The well-worn line between vans was obviously compacted enough to cope with our 4½ tonnes.

So all that remained was to collect Julia’s cat Pandora from the cattery she had stayed in while we were away. We are hoping to get her trained to enjoy vanlife with us but she is rather old so it won’t be easy. Hopefully next time you will get to meet her.

I never expected this

It is now one year since my wife Mary passed away. She was the light of my life and I will miss her forever.

This last year has been difficult for everyone but on a personal level I must tell you that it is only now I am starting to realise the effect it has had on me.

All my working life I had been a fixer but the one thing I most wanted to fix I couldn’t. That was the hardest to accept. Even though I knew it was coming it was still a shock when it happened.

I did what I had to while still in shock.

Throughout the whole of this I kept myself busy with garden and house maintenance chores that have to be done regardless. I was having regular video/audio calls with my sister Melanie and Mary’s younger sister Lynn. I felt grateful for the support they offered me.

Apart from the first few weeks when my head was all over the place (I had some very strange ideas at one point) I tried hard to appear ‘normal’, answering the ‘How are you’ questions positively, but looking back I see the true place my head was at. Nobody saw and I didn’t share the dark thoughts I had in the quiet times when alone at night.

I’d always enjoyed a glass or two of wine but two became three, then four until a bottle a night became normal. It did stop me thinking too much though.

Mary and I had shared everything. She cared for me when I had my knee op and I cared for her as her health failed at the end. We had planned for so much more.

I had lost my wife, my partner, the one I had cared about the most. More than that I had lost my purpose and all the plans we had made together.

I tried to come up with replacement ideas. Mary had helped with the cricket book. It worked for a while – I enjoyed my holiday in Voyager. Meeting family on the trip was good but on reflection visiting cricket grounds around the country on your own is not exciting. I managed three on one day but essentially I was taking pictures of empty fields.  I’m sure continuing posts on Instagram and Facebook would have been of limited appeal.

After my holiday things began to change with the pandemic. Varying degrees of lockdown for a long time. Calls with family decreased as everyone has their own lives and problems to worry about.

I hadn’t been looking forward to Christmas or the New Year. The pandemic meant no family gatherings anyway but even if they were allowed I wouldn’t have joined in. I was in my dark place with my smiling mask showing to the world.

But then something happened in mid-December that changed everything.

Julia, a friend of ours messaged me, asking me to tell Mary that she had lost her husband Richard to Covid.

It was hard telling her that Mary had passed as well. I felt really bad having to add to her grief and she felt the same for me. We continued chatting over the coming weeks, each of us understanding how the other felt. Neither of us accepting the ‘doing OK’ ‘feeling fine’ comments we were so used to using. We both knew the same black hole.

Our text chats soon became video chats and over the coming weeks we dug each other out of that hole. We found lots of things in common with similar likes and dislikes.

I have never been a believer in the afterlife but I have felt some things since Mary’s passing that make me believe she is helping me from afar, sometimes by stopping me make mistakes and recently by steering Julia and me together.

No one can know how things will turn out but, in a much better place than I have been in for months, I feel I have a chance at being happy again.

Voyager Solar Upgrade

Sorry I’ve been away for a while but a few update blogs coming over the next few days.

While away in September I thought the solar system wasn’t working as well as it should be. Luckily the weather was very good and I didn’t have any power issues.

Investigation during October proved that the flexi-panels I fitted over the cab had both failed. I had read before fitting them that they were not as reliable so was not that surprised. I had bonded them very well with Sikaflex so there was no way I was going to get them off so I just clipped the wires off them and left them there.

I managed to find a large 300W rigid panel. Fitting it did require a bit of planning and some aluminium fabricating but with the help of a couple of friends I managed to get it secured to the roof.

The Frame for the new panel
The panel all fitted

At the same time I decided to upgrade the charge controller to a Victron MPPT 100|30 for increased efficiency and its ability to handle the increased voltage from the new panel. Its Bluetooth app on my phone meant I could monitor the performance of the system whenever I was in range.

The Controller fitted into the Tech Cupboard (also known as the wardrobe)