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Leaving the place better than we found it
Seeing with my eyes closed
Thomas Jefferson on gun control
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Our hardy heartland
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Leveraging the internet to build our walls
Twitters from the past
And the invincibility of youth
Without ego projection
Yet another gift of the road
The charming side of obstinance
The creative part of photography
A movie critic looks in the mirror
We are not alone
As part of the system
Defecting from the rear guard
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Running out of dirt
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The Bay of Fundy, where the sea breathes
How to photograph them with anything, even your cellphone
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We may be failing to fail
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Becoming a hero in one's own life story
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Hick humor
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Experiencing life with God
A radical thought about our radicals
Redemption with style
Hidden heroes among us
Resetting our parallel processor
A village with heart
A lesson from the road
The bullet dodged
A soul sparkles
Isolation in style
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Your First RV
Painless ways to lose your virginity

No, this is not written by an RV salesman. These are the hands-on lessons learned by an engineer who just completed his first RV purchase.

Easing into an RV is the way to go, that is, borrowing dad's, but what if you have to make the leap all on your lonesome? Here are my tips, starting with strategies that were not that effective and ending with the ones that worked, the ones to remember.

Wandering RV dealer lots places the virgin RV buyer in front of the veteran RV salesperson. Talk about bringing a knife to a gunfight. And lots of time lost driving since RV dealers tend to be far from metropolitan areas where lot acreage is cheaper.

Reading, research, and wandering the web are standard ways to get smart, but we're not talking about a few choices to sort out, but thousands. Only a few RV categories (called classes), each with a few engine/frame manufacturers, but hundreds of floorplans, each with dozens of choices for refrigerators, water pumps, air conditioners, gazillion accessories, etc.

Better is to begin at your local campsite. Wander among the RVs on a Sunday afternoon, and walk right up to their owners with a blushing smile. "Hi, I'm looking to buy an RV, and yours looks like the kind I had in mind."

Your first surprise will be the warm reception. RV drivers are uncommonly friendly, tickled to interrupt their lazy vacation to rattle on about their baby, their big baby. They remember being virgins themselves, and will inundate with horror stories that somehow always work out OK in the end. Bring a notebook.

Among your many questions, include, "Have you ever heard of anyone selling half of their RV to someone who will use it half the time?" Your odds of finding the right RV with an owner interested in that are slim, but in the emerging sharing economy, it's more than possible. And if it works out, you can ease into it with a veteran showing you the ropes.

Since I needed an RV to live in full time, I couldn't go down that road, but part-timers should consider it. Half the purchase price, half the fixed maintenance expenses, and all the current owner's experience.

Lastly comes the RV rental dealers. Not to rent since the rates are exorbitant, but to buy. Rental dealers sell rental units after they pass 100K miles, which is a fraction of the design life of the truck engine and frame below the RV. An RV will go through several refrigerators, batteries, generators, air conditioners, etc. during its life, so a rental will be a mix of used and new accessories.

What they do come with from a rental outfit is a detailed maintenance log showing meticulous care. Remember the exorbitant rental rates? That's how much the dealer loses if any significant part of the RV fails during a rental. Much better care than a private owner whose RV often suffers from non-use and neglect.

The rental dealer has also done the research to get the best floorplan, and best collection & configuration of accessories for the novice user, the system most resilient to abuse.

The main disadvantage of a rental dealer may be post-sale support. Before signing on the dotted line, ask all your questions about the maintenance log, where to get parts, have manuals in your hand for all appliances and subsystems, and take notes like crazy. Make a video of the walk-through. There's too much to remember, and the rental dealer will forget your phone# after they get your dough..

Lastly, approach all this with one mantra to keep repeating to yourself, "I will not try to buy the best RV." Virgins don't know how to buy the best RV, especially since they don't yet know what is best for them. Trying to buy the best is a prescription for failure that plays right into the RV dealer's mantra, "You get what you pay for", which is another way of saying that you will pay a lot. And when something goes wrong, that means you didn't pay enough. Focus on the least bad RV with which to gain the experience to buy the "best" RV a year or two afterward. The drop in stress with that one attitude shift will be remarkable.

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