Texas Hill Country (January 3 – March 3, 2016)

As we approached Kerrville, we could quickly see why this part of Texas is referred to as the Hill Country.  We had to climb a couple of long 7% grades to get there and contend with a very steep descent right before our exit.  The Ram chugged a bit trying to make it up the grades but managed to do the job.  The engine brakes were a big help on the way down the hill.

We stayed at the Buckhorn Lake Resort, a few miles past the Kerrville exits on I-10.  It was the nicest campground we’d stayed at so far.  The roads and campsites were paved and in good condition.  We stayed in the Adults Only section, although we really didn’t see any children in the other section.  The resort has a private lake that runs through the property.  We were told that it was stocked and that we could fish on a catch-and-release basis without a license.  Although we did see a few small fish, we had our doubts about how stocked the lake was.  We later learned that weed killer had washed into the lake last year and many of the surviving fish had to be relocated.

The weather was quite variable.  We had a couple of beautiful days the first week, sunny with temps in the 60s and low 70s, but the norm was highs in the 50s and low 60s.  The nighttime lows often got below freezing so we then had to disconnect our water line or run a trickle of water through our faucet overnight.  We had been hoping for warmer weather but, when compared to the weather in the Midwest, we knew we shouldn’t complain. Over the course of our stay, it got even warmer and nicer.


Kerrville is a town of 23,000 residents on the Guadalupe River.  The town, along with many of the neighboring towns, grew up along the route of cattle drives.  On one of our first days, we stopped in at the Kerrville Visitors Bureau.  The host was very friendly and loaded us down with all kinds of brochures on things to see and do in the Hill Country.  One of the brochures listed a number of scenic drives.  We took a couple of the recommended drives and, although they were not as scenic as they would have been in the Spring or Fall, we got to see a lot of the countryside.

One of these drives took us north to Fredericksburg, a historic town that was founded by German settlers.  The town has maintained a lot of its historic buildings and much of its German heritage.  We walked the length of the historic district, then bought sandwiches at a local shop called Opa’s Smoked Meats  and had a picnic lunch.

We made a side trip to Luckenbach, Texas.  Despite the reputation they’ve gotten from the country song of the same name, there is really very little there.  Luckenbach, Texas consists of a general store, saloon and dance hall.  It is quite small but colorful.  We imagine it is a happening place there on Saturday nights but we were there on a Thursday and it was quite dead.  There was no sign of Waylon, Willie nor the boys.




The continuation of our scenic drive took us on a 14-mile loop around Willow City.  We never saw any evidence of a city.  Instead, the road wound back and forth through numerous switchbacks as we drove past endless cattle ranches.


Phil finally got to take the road test for his class A non-CDL driver’s license.  When he went to schedule the test, he learned that the test includes backing up and parallel parking the fifth wheel.  Fortunately, after watching several You Tube videos on parallel parking a semi and then practicing in the mall parking lot an hour before the road test, Phil felt somewhat confident.  The road test lasted 30 minutes and, although Phil still got downgraded on his parallel parking attempt, he got a passing score and now has his Texas license. After the road test, we headed for home but made a wrong turn and ended up heading down a country road with no place to turn around.  We drove about 10 miles before we came to a picnic area that, although a little challenging, proved to be big enough to get us turned around.

On our first Saturday, the weather was too cool and blustery for outdoor activities so we decided to do another of the scenic drives.  This one first took us south of Kerrville to Medina.  The road to Medina was quite winding and hilly.  We were glad we were in the Nissan rather that towing a fifth wheel.  We stopped at a gas station in Medina that was definitely “old school” but charming.


Later on the drive, we picked up the Hill Country trail that took us along the Guadalupe River.  It was winding but very scenic.  We missed one of our turns and ended up in Ingram sooner than expected.  We visited Stonehenge II, a 2/3 scale copy of the original Stonehenge in England.  They also had a couple of replicas of Easter Island statues.




We had lunch at the Camp Verde general store.  Camp Verde was once a US Army post where the Army experimented with using camels instead of horses on the prairies.  The experiment is said to have been a success but was abandoned when the post was closed.


We took another scenic trip that included visits to Bandera (known as the Cowboy Capital of the World), Boerne and Comfort.  Since it was the day before Jarrod’s 30th birthday, Jan made a sign wishing Jarrod a happy birthday and we took numerous pictures of the sign in front of various landmarks throughout our trip.

The Buckhorn Lake Resort has a rather full activity calendar.  Our initial attempt to participate in these activities was somewhat disappointing.  We went to movie night at the 39-seat theater to see a John Wayne movie and were the only two people in the theater.  However, after that, we were quite sociable.  We attended the weekly Friday afternoon social hours, played card bingo on Monday nights and attended a couple of dinners (including a “Meat & Greet” in which we brought our own meat to grill as well as a side dish for sharing).  We took a bus trip to Bandara for the cowboy Mardi Gras parade and managed to collect a few beads.

We even learned to play pickleball and enjoyed it so much that we bought our own paddles.  Pickleball is somewhat of a blend of tennis, ping pong and racquetball.  The resort has four pickleball courts and there is a large group that shows up to play each morning (weather permitting).  Phil played 2+ hours of pickleball almost every morning.


One Friday night we headed to Tonya’s Our House BBQ in Ingram, TX.  Tonya’s is essentially a food truck with a number of picnic tables in a screened-in area.  They generally only serve BBQ but, on Friday nights from 6-8 pm, they serve fried catfish and have live music.  This is definitely a “down home” kind of place but we really enjoyed the food and the music.  The music was provided by a number of good old country boys who would just show up to perform a few songs, either by themselves or with a couple of the other guys.  Some were better than others but they were all good.  We ended up staying for almost the full two hours.

One of the recurrent problems that challenged us over the first few months was that many of the 3” LED lights kept going bad.  Within the first week of getting our fifth wheel, one of these lights over the TV went out.  Then, over the next couple of months, seven of the 10 lights in our door-side slide-out either died, dimmed, or began flashing like a strobe light.  DRV was good about sending us replacement light fixtures whenever we called.  However, because so many lights were failing, we ended up having them send us three shipments of replacements.  The other bad news was that the replacement lights needed to be hard-wired and we discovered that the original wire connectors were all crimped.  We originally planned to take our rig to a dealer and have them do the warranty work but, after evaluating the hassle involved with getting this done at a dealer, we decided to do the repairs ourselves.  We invested in a square recess screwdriver (square recess screws heads are used throughout the RV), a crimping tool and a box of wire connectors.  Because of the crimped connectors, we had to cut and strip the original wires, then connect, re-crimp and reinstall the new light fixtures.  Although it was time-consuming, we were happy with the results since the replacement lights were much brighter than the originals.  Unfortunately, we had two more lights in our door-side slide-out fail within a couple of days of replacing the eight lights so we had to do a second repair job.  We still have a couple of replacement lights in the likely event that we have future failures.

Although we had originally only planned to be in Kerrville for one month, we extended our stay for another month to enable Jan to see her new doctor.  (See our post on “Health Insurance in the Age of Obamacare.”) Phil took advantage of the extended stay to have a couple of crowns done by the local dentist.  Although the extended stay in Texas will delay our trip to the west coast, it should actually work to our advantage in terms of having warmer weather for our trip.

On February 13th, we drove two hours to Austin.  We first stopped at the state capitol and arrived just in time for the start of a guided tour that was very informative.

Then we strolled down to 6th Street, the entertainment district of Austin, and got a reminder of our former home with some Chicago-style deep-dish pizza at Gino’s East.

Next we visited the Baylor Street Art Wall, a living art project that allows visitors to spray paint graffiti on the many walls.

Our next stop was Mount Bonnell, a scenic overlook of downtown Austin and the river.  The actual ascent to Mount Bonnell Park requires climbing 100 steps but we made the trek even more challenging.  We parked at the bottom of Mount Bonnell Road where we saw other cars parked and walked about ½ mile up the very steep road, only to discover that there were parking spots available at the top of the road.

After that strenuous workout, we drove to Round Rock, TX where we met Colin Meier, one of Phil’s former colleagues from Cargill and Mosaic, for some outstanding Texas barbeque at The Salt Lick.


On February 18th, we took the BLR bus to attend the San Antonio Rodeo.  After wandering around the grounds for a few hours, we went inside to watch the rodeo.  The venue was really outstanding and the competitors were impressive.


On February 24th, we took the BLR bus to Bandara to eat at the 11th Street Cowboy Bar.  We took our own steak and Phil grilled it outside on one of the large grills.  We purchased sides of salad and baked potatoes to accompany our steak.  A western band played throughout the evening and there were lots of outstanding country dancers out on the dancefloor.


On our final Saturday, we drove north of Fredericksburg to the Enchanted Rock State Park.  In hindsight, we should not have done this attraction on a Saturday as we ended up sitting for 45 minutes in a line of cars waiting to get into the park.  The wait was worth it.  We got quite a workout climbing the scenic trail to the summit.  The climb was quite steep and the wind was intense, especially near the top.

On March 3rd, it was time to leave Buckhorn Lake Resort and head west.  We left with mixed emotions.  We were anxious to continue on our trip but we’d had a great time at BLR and had met some great people.  It’s going to be difficult to find another resort as nice as Buckhorn.  Before we left, we made reservations for February and March 2017.


Health Insurance in the Age of Obamacare

We selected Texas as our new state of domicile in large part due to low taxes and RV-friendly legislation.  Escapees, a large organization of mostly fulltime RVers, is headquartered in Livingston, TX and works closely with the Texas legislature to ensure that the needs of full-time RVers are addressed.  By utilizing Escapees as our mail forwarding service, we were able to get both a reliable means of getting our mail forwarded to us but also a physical address that we could use to establish residency in Livingston, TX.

Since we are both quite a few years away from being eligible for Medicare (Jan more than Phil), one of the issues we had to address when we started our full-time RV life was health insurance.  Phil’s employer insurance plan ended in November and, although we could have continued our High Deductible plan under COBRA for another 18 months, the premium for 2016 was going to be over $1,600 per month.

Being now semi-retired, our relatively low income made the Obamacare marketplace seemed like an attractive option.  Through 2015, Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) offered PPO plans through the marketplace that provided insurance coverage throughout the US.  However, prior to the 2016 enrollment period, BCBS announced that it was no longer going to offer PPO plans in the Texas marketplace.

When the time came for us to enroll for insurance for 2016, we learned the good news and bad news of the Obamacare marketplace.  The good news was that we received a large subsidy due to our low income. The bad news was that the only available options in our county were seven HMO plans.  We were tied to a Primary Care Physician (PCP) in Livingston, TX. The only coverage outside of Texas would be for emergency room treatment in the event of a life-threatening medical emergency.  If we needed hospitalization or any other medical treatment outside of Texas, it would all be out-of-pocket.  This would make it very risky for us to travel outside the state, hardly the scenario we were counting on when we decided to RV full-time.

As untenable as this was, our new reality became even worse as we learned more of the details.  Jan needed a prescription filled in early January but, by then, we were five hours away from our assigned PCP.  She called the PCP’s office to see if she could be referred to a local physician from within the HMO network.  Jan was told that the PCP wouldn’t do a referral since he’d never seen her before.  The other option was to switch our PCP to a local physician.  Jan managed to find a local physician in the HMO network that was accepting new patients.  However, she was told by the new doctor’s assistant that they limit the appointments of patients with our kind of insurance.  Initially Jan was told that the first available appointment for patients with our insurance was more than two months out, although there was an outside chance they could get her in earlier.  With few alternatives, we both filled out tons of new patient forms and got BCBS approval to change our PCP to the doctor in Kerrville.  Jan managed to sweet-talk her doctor in Illinois to give her a prescription for another month and the new PCP agreed to see her on February 18th.  At that point, we decided we had no choice but to stay in Kerrville for another month.

Phil decided he should schedule an initial appointment with the PCP so the doctor would have seen him if Phil ever needed to be referred to another doctor in the HMO network in Texas.  He called the PCP’s office on Feb. 5th and was told that the earliest appointment was April 29th.  Since we expect to be in California in April, Phil didn’t schedule the appointment.

We are now faced with a dilemma due to this insurance issue.  We could switch to an insurance plan outside the marketplace but this would require us to lose the Obamacare subsidy as well as incurring a high deductible.  Instead, we’ve decided to roll the dice and hope we can stay healthy for 2016.  We also may need to spend more time in Texas than we would have preferred.  We plan to explore other options in November 2016 when we know what insurance plans will be offered for 2017 and the impact of the elections on the future of Obamacare.

In the meantime, we’re going to try our best to keep safe and healthy.