Previously, I posted about our trip through the Great Midwest and back again to Georgia. But the sole purpose of this trip was to become residents of the great state of South Dakota – mecca to full-time RV-ers across this nation and a pretty cool state as well (as we came to find out).
Our destination was Rapid City, South Dakota – home of America's Mailbox. The folks there know all about handling mail issues on the road, because their owners (Don and Barb) are full-timers who travel the country enjoying life, and stopping occasionally at RV shows to set up their vendor booth in order to help inform people like us about how to best tackle mail while traveling. We spoke to them at the Hershey RV show 2 years ago, and again at Tampa the following January, and we were convinced they were the ones to use.
Don is a pleasant guy, but a no-nonsense guy who isn't afraid to tell you where he thinks you're going wrong when it comes to setting up residency, or using the various services his company provides. In fact, they have specialists that cover residency, auto licensing, driver's licensing, RV insurance and an online parts store to handle most of a full-timer's needs. In addition, he has a small campground onsite where RV-ers can stay for their required one night to establish residency, or a small 3 room hotel where we stayed since we don't have an RV yet. And without sounding too much like a commercial for them, their rooms are better appointed than most hotel chains, and about $30-$50 a night cheaper.
The key thing for us is that (like other mail services across the country) the folks at America's Mailbox establish a PMB (private mail box) for you instead of a PO Box. The most important thing about a PMB is that it is a physical address where mail and packages can be received, and for U.S. Government purposes, a legal address where a U.S. Passport can be sent. They do not recognize a PO Box in the same way.
When you check out, the folks at America's Mailbox make sure you have a receipt for each person establishing residency for the hotel stay and your mailbox rental receipt. Both will be needed later at the Pennington County Treasurer's Office for your plates, and at the Driver's Exam building for your licenses.
Now, a word to the wise: Don't stay overnight on a Sunday. This is because the Driver's Exam building is closed on Mondays; so unless you want to spend an extra day in the area (not a bad thing, as there are lots of things to do), make sure you stay overnight on Monday-Thursday, because the Treasurer's office is closed on Saturdays. If you time everything right, you can get to the Treasurer's office at 9 AM when they open, and be on your way to the Driver's Exam building for their 10 AM opening. The folks at America's Mailbox will walk you through all the paperwork you'll need to bring with you (originals – not copies) to make the process go flawlessly. And don't forget to download the Affidavit of Fulltime Travel from the SD DPS site so that you won't get called for jury duty while on the road!
At the Pennington County Treasurer's Office, we were helped by Nathan. Nathan has this rare quality, in that he speaks faster then most human beings on Planet Earth. As native New Englanders, Barbara and I tend to talk faster than most people, but Nathan is in a class by himself! The good news is he also works faster than most people on Planet Earth, and had everything done in about 10 minutes (even while handling two phone calls). He even let us borrow a screwdriver so that we could immediately change out our Georgia plate for our new South Dakota plate.
And the same pleasant, personable efficiency was enjoyed at the Drivers Exam building for our licenses. Waited all of about 10 minutes for Barbara to get called to a station, and I was about a minute after that.
“Do you have this document?” - “Yes, yes I do.”
“This document?” - “Yes, yes I do.”
“How about your DD-214 for Veterans purposes?” - “Here it is.”
“Stand back at the blue curtain and look at the middle circle.”
A quick flash and a minute later, a still-warm South Dakota drivers license was handed to us. Barbara had a slight delay when a guy next to her photo-bombed her first attempt at a picture when he left his station and walked in front of her just as her picture was being taken!
One of our more interesting stops heading towards Rapid City was at a rest area about halfway across I-90 which featured a sculpture called 'Dignity: of Earth and Sky'. Standing 50 feet tall, she is is, in a word, strikingly beautiful. You can read more about her origins here.
Needless to say, we'll be heading back to our new home state for some quality time, and sooner rather than later.
3203 miles round trip.
8 states. Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Minnesota.
10 billion bugs.
Why did we subject ourselves to this motor vehicle torture?
Setting up residency for full-time RVing, using South Dakota as our state of record, that's why.
As I may have explained before, South Dakota is one of three states that caters to full-time RV-ers as Barbara and I are going to be in 2 months and 17 days (Thanks for asking!). The other two are Florida and Texas. All have low or no income taxes for retirees, low sales taxes and registration fees on vehicles, and all have very limited laws in place to maintain residency and limit paperwork.
In short, there's very few requirements to keep pulling you back into their states on a regular basis, which is important for full-timers.
We chose South Dakota for a number of reasons, but primarily because the people who will be handling our mail while on the road (America's Mailbox) are full-time RV-ers themselves, so they understand what works and what doesn't for us travelers. South Dakota also has the least invasive registration and residency requirements of the three, and NO income taxes. There's a need to setup this residency BEFORE we buy our RV, so that the lower sales tax can be paid to the right state. Hence, the trip to South Dakota. (More on the Rapid City portion of our trip in the next blog post)
I've got to say, if you have to do 3203 miles in 4 days, doing it in a Mini Cooper convertible in late Spring is certainly the way to go! While nights were too cool to have the top down, days were comfortably warm without being too hot, and next to a huge front windshield on a Class A motor home, nothing beats the views of our Midwest and Great Plains states like having the top down and the cruise control on. And while there was really no extra time in this particular trip to stop and enjoy some local color, we were able to take note of some places we'd like to visit (and a couple we'd like to avoid) once we get on the road in the RV next year.
Until you experience it, you don't really get an idea of the vastness of the middle part of our great country. It's HUGE! For instance, on the way back home, we drove on I-90 from Rapid City, SD to Albert Lea, MN for more than a third of our return trip time. One road, 2 partial states, and almost 8 hours with stops. And maybe for about an hour outside of Rapid City, it's flat as a pancake.
And the bugs! We ended up using more than a gallon of windshield washer fluid on the trip up and back, with much of it used in South Dakota and Minnesota, with an honorable mention to Iowa. Don't know if it's the time of year for that area, but the Mini needed a good scrubbin' once we got home, and every gas stop featured yours truly using a ton of elbow grease just to keep seeing safely between fill-ups.
One of the rare detours we made along the way was in Sac City, Iowa. Now, Sac City, Iowa isn't known for very much, but they do have themselves the World's Largest Popcorn Ball sitting just 3 miles west of State Route 20. Having nothing else better to do at the time (State Route 20 is notable for it's lack of turns and elevation changes), when a sign popped up saying 'World's Largest Popcorn Ball' next left, by God we were going to take that left! I guess there's a lot of leftover corn in the great State of Iowa each year, so popping a couple of tons of the stuff isn't too much extra work, because they had themselves quite a large popcorn ball just off of the Sac City downtown area. It literally is a must see! Frankly, it came as a welcome relief to the torture of State Route 20's mind-numbing sameness for mile after interminable mile.
On a sad note, the floods that have devastated communities along the Mississippi, Missouri and Arkansas rivers are simply unbelievable in scope and severity. To drive past vast acreages of fields that should have been planted by now that are still underwater, to have to take detours of dozens, if not hundreds of miles due to road and bridge closures; well, the devastation is simply epic. The cost to livelihood and property is too large to wrap your hands around.
On a positive note, Barbara and I were both impressed with the use of wind power in the states we traveled through. Huge wind farms are the norm in these states, and given the topography you can see why. We saw as little as one solitary wind turbine to what looked like hundreds clustered as far as the eye could see. It's clean, quiet, and allows the land to still be used for farming. A win-win for everyone. They ARE a bit disconcerting to see at nighttime, when their red anti-collision lights blink on and off in orchestrated unison. With very few other lights around, and just a darkened roadway sitting in front of you, you're not sure if your going to be driving into these things down the road!
All-in-all, a great trip, a productive trip, but an exhausting trip. What we did in 4 days in the Mini would have been a much more relaxing 10-12 day trip in the motor home, but that's for sometime next year (maybe).
Next post: Welcome to The Mount Rushmore State!
No, not the motorhome . . . our new Big Berkey water filtration system!
Water on the road can be of a questionable nature. Out West, it can be very hard with lots of minerals and heavy metals in it. Down South, there's lots of iron in our water. Up North? Who knows what lurks in the older campground water systems.
So one nice thing about the Tiffin 36LA we've ordered; there's a whole house water filter built right into our "wet bay" - the area where all your liquids come in and go out while on the road. Many RVer's also attach a secondary filter to their fresh water hose to double filter the water going into the coach in an effort to protect the plumbing and keep the various bathroom and kitchen areas cleaner. Some folks also install filtration systems under their sinks for better drinking water, or install whole house reverse osmosis systems in their wet bay, and while these work great at purifying the water coming into the coach, they also waste fresh water performing their task.
Barbara and I have been drinking filtered water for the past 5 or more years through a small Aquasana system installed in our kitchen tap, but that system cannot be used in the RV. We hate the waste of bottled water with all that disposable plastic, but we also hate the taste of chlorine in our drinking and cooking water. And given the fact that I am NOT going to be drilling a hole in our brand new countertop to install a filtered water faucet, we were forced to look elsewhere for our filtration needs.
Enter the Big Berkey. It's about as easy to use as it gets. As you can see from the picture, it's a filling reservoir on the top half and a filtered reservoir on the bottom. You simply take the sprayer attachment on the kitchen sink and fill the top, and in less than a hour, 2 1/2 gallons of great tasting water has filled the bottom. For travel days, the two sections can be separated and sit in the galley sink wrapped in towels. It's just that simple. We've had it for a couple of weeks and we couldn't be happier with it.
You can get bigger versions or smaller ones at Amazon.com, but this one seems to be just the right size for two (or the occasional four) people. Another great addition to our future 36LA.
We're Dave and Barbara Richard, and we're living the ultimate retirement experience - traveling the U.S. and Canada in style in a Tiffin Open Road 36LA Class A motor home, playing golf and stopping at every weird and wacky roadside attraction we can find.