Are You Coming Back?

“Are you coming back?”

I’ve been asked that question several times now. And yes, we are definitely coming back to the U.S. in the fall. We are booked into Myakka River Motorcoach Resort for the season.

The question we are being asked is a bit more specific: are we coming back to Desert Shores?

This is a beautiful spot. It is one of the nicest places we have visited with our coach. A true oasis in the desert.

We won’t be coming back to Desert Shores next year.

There are a few reasons. The devalued Canadian dollar being one of them. If we were to return here year after year, we would have to purchase as the lease rates are too high for a seasonal stay. And purchasing anything major in the States right now with the current value of the Canadian dollar would really hurt the bank account.

Although difficult to time highs and lows, it is not difficult to see highs and lows. U.S. real estate values: high. Canadian dollar: low.

Another reason is community. We really connected with the community at Myakka and at our church in Port Charlotte. It isn’t that people are less friendly at Desert Shores, it was an entirely different experience for us in Florida. I suspect part of that difference is with the owners of Myakka, Ralf and Amber. They are very active with their property and they have created a special place at Myakka and we truly miss it.

We also need to see if a seasonal stay is something we would enjoy. Our initial vision was that we would do a lot of travelling in our coach. We did that this year but in a really compressed timeframe. It felt like we were rushing to get down to Florida and rushing to get across to California.

We might find a seasonal stay to be too long to remain in one place. We’ll find out soon enough.

It has been wonderful to connect with family and friends in Florida and California. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed both areas.

We will come back to California again.

Just not next year.

Unless I do something silly and buy a site here.

Anything To Declare?

Borders. Governments. Taxes.

So much bureaucracy.

We will soon be heading back to Canada. We leave Desert Shores Motorcoach Resort on April 14th, two weeks from now. We’ve enjoyed our time here. The Palm Springs area is stunningly beautiful.

As retired Canadians, we need to be very mindful of the duration of our stay in the United States. We have to cross the border back into Canada before the end of April.

Most of my American friends seem surprised to learn about the length of stay restrictions for retired Canadians.

Let’s deal with being a Canadian first, eh?

If you plan to be outside Canada for more than seven months in any 12-month period you can keep your medical insurance coverage for up to two years if you:

  • have a valid health card
  • make Ontario your primary home
  • will be in Ontario for at least 153 days a year in each of the two years immediately before you leave the country

Okay. So, if we want to continue to have our health care, we need to spend at least 153 days in each of the two years prior to leaving the country. But we can only do that once.

After that:

To be entitled to continuous OHIP coverage during your first of these absences, you must have been physically present in Ontario for at least 153 days in the 12-month periods for 2 consecutive years before the absence. Further absences of this nature will be permitted provided you are physically present in Ontario for at least 153 days in the 12-month periods for 5 consecutive years before each subsequent absence.

Simply put, to keep our health care, we need to be in Ontario, nowhere else but in Ontario, for 153 consecutive days while maintaining some form of residency in the province (rental or owned). Other provinces in Canada have similar restrictions.

While in the U.S. we have to watch out for the substantial presence test. This test may render a retired Canadian snowbird a U.S. resident for tax purposes.

How many days can we spend in the U.S. before we are considered a U.S. resident for tax purposes?

A three-year total of 183 days which includes all the days spent in the current year, one-third of the days spent in the preceding year and one-sixth of the days spent in the year prior.

That means we can only spend 120 days, or four months, a year in the U.S. before being taxed in both countries. To gain an exemption and to stay in the U.S. for up to 182 days a year without being considered a U.S. resident for tax purposes requires filing an 8840 form with the IRS.

To qualify for this exemption, you have to be in the U.S. for less than 183 days in the current year, demonstrate a home in Canada in the current year (owner or renter) and establish a closer connection to Canada than the U.S. The latter can be demonstrated in terms of where you bank, pay taxes, keep your belongings, and where your drivers license was issued amongst other things.

And then there is the crossing of borders, in a motorcoach.

Entering the U.S. was very straightforward. Returning to Canada? Well, we shall soon find out.

We carry a lot of stuff in our coach. And we have to document everything that we brought with us into the United States, including sales receipts, to prove that we purchased them in Canada. We have to document everything that we purchased in the U.S. and declare those goods at the border. We get to declare up to $800 CAD. Anything above that gets charged duties and taxes at the conversion rate in effect on the day we cross. In other words, an item that cost $1,000 USD would be converted to $1,334 CAD and charged a 13% HST ($1,507.42 CAD) plus any other applicable duties.

Every item we have brought into the U.S. is documented in Evernote along with the corresponding sales receipts. If we do get pulled over and searched we can easily prove that these items were already taxed by the Canadian government.

We now have to build a list of items that we purchased during our time in the U.S. to declare at the border.

So much paperwork.

The fun part of being a cross-border RVing Canadian snowbird.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

“Are you here for the wildflowers?” the nice lady behind the counter at the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park asked. We were. Along with what seemed to be Disney-sized crowds at the visitor’s center.

We expect hiking in the desert to be a bit of an isolated experience. The wildflowers clearly draw in much larger crowds.

We bravely faced the mob and raced them out to Hellhole Canyon Trail. Lost them in our dust the poor things.

I pressed a bit too hard today. I have been battling a bad left foot. And, after a pretty ambitious hike, my foot not only lost the battle, but lost the war. I am in a lot of pain as I write this post.

However, I did limp out with some wonderful shots of the Anza-Borrego Desert.

Wildflowers are the big draw. And they were impressive.

Yes, there were a few cacti here and there. I was not attached to any. Thankfully.

Some areas of the desert showed a bit of yellow.

Other areas had a carpet of yellow.

We took the trail most of the way to Maidenhair Falls. Roughly 5 miles with an elevation gain of 970 feet. Towards the end of the trail, we were literally clambering on and over boulders through a very narrow crevice in the canyon.

It was as advertised: a hellhole.

It did not look that way as we started the hike. Indeed, it seemed very friendly and inviting.

We came across several buried bodies on our way. Good thing we had brought along enough water.

Then came another, rather ominous sign.

I will spare you the gory details of what happened next. Too unpleasant to mention.

Back to wildflowers. Bright, beautiful and happy wildflowers.

The wildflowers really did blanket the desert floor creating a sharp counterpoint to the mountains in the background.

The temperatures in Southern California are still on the cool side. The relatively moderate weather coupled with the recent rains really made for some impressive desert blooms.

Look at all those wildflowers! In a desert setting no less.

Homeward Bound

Four more weeks. And then we make our way back to Canada. I cannot believe how quickly our time south has passed.

We have stayed in some wonderful properties and we have enjoyed some wonderful experiences. Of course, the sun and palm trees do help to make all of this time a memorable experience.

Trip planning is a big part of the RV lifestyle. Lorraine and I spent the weekend pulling together our plans for the long drive home — 2,800 miles and 44 driving hours not including breaks and fuel stops. We also had help from some of our friends.

Here is the bird’s eye view of the trip:

We will leave Desert Shores Motorcoach Resort on April 14th and we will drive 5 hours to Distant Drums RV Resort in Camp Verde, Arizona. We will spend two nights at Distant Drums partly because of its proximity to Sedona. We love to hike in the Sedona area.

From there we will drive 8 hours to Ruidoso Motorcoach Ranch in Alto, New Mexico. This Class A restricted park was recommended to us and we are going to spend two nights at Ruidoso. It looks like a beautiful spot.

Then a relatively short drive to Oasis RV Resort in Amarillo, Texas. 5 hours. One night only.

Another short drive. This one for just under 4 hours. And another park recommendation from a friend, Mustang Run RV Park, located in Yukon, Oklahoma. One night only.

A 5 hour drive will take us to Ozarks RV Resort on Table Rock Lake, Oak Grove, Arkansas. A stunning resort property and we will spend two nights there.

The next stop will be an overnight stay at Sundermeier RV Park in St. Charles, Missouri. It will take us less than 5 hours to reach Sundermeier from Ozarks.

We will make a 6 hour drive to reach the Newmar Factory in Nappanee, Indiana. We will arrive the afternoon of April 23rd. Our coach will be in service for three days and we will leave Nappanee either on the Saturday, April 27th, or possibly on the Sunday, April 28th. The only reason for delaying the trip by one day is timing the border crossing. Saturdays can be much heavier days to cross the U.S. Canada border.

We will cross the border in Port Huron and, after about 7 hours or so, we will reach the Niagara KOA and stay there for a few nights before our final stop in Barrie, Ontario.

It does take a surprising amount of time to plan all of the details for a trip like this one including planning all of the fuel stops.

Bittersweet to be planning the trip back to Canada. We have really enjoyed our first year as Snowbirds and we are so looking forward to returning south in November.

And, yes, we have already made our bookings for our next trip south and our next stay in Florida. Important to plan ahead.

Joshua Tree National Park

Warren Peak. Elevation? 5,103 feet. It is the most western peak to exceed 5,000 feet in Joshua Tree National Park. Our hike was about 6 miles and we had over 1,000 feet of gain, most of it as we ascended the mountain.

This was our first visit to Joshua Tree National Park. There are several entrances into this park and, given that it spans over 790,000 acres, it does require a bit of planning before you go.

We had decided that we wanted to hike to Warren Peak and we entered through the western side of the park.

Joshua trees dominated the landscape for most of the hike. The name of the Joshua tree is said to have been given by the Mormons as they were crossing the Mojave desert. In the bible, there is a story about Joshua keeping his hands reached out for long periods of time to guide the Israelites. The Joshua tree has a very unique shape.

Most of the Joshua trees were flowering. You can see the light coloured panicles at the end of the branches.

Here, Lorraine stands in the middle of a forest of Joshua trees. This was about as dense a forest as we found on our hike.

There were cacti and, fortunately, we did not stick to any as we walked about the area. They were always nearby. I remained cautious as I wandered about taking pictures.

After a few hours on the trail, we came to a fork in the road. One arrow pointed to Warren’s Vista and the other to the peak.

Lorraine asked me if we were going to be ascending to the very peak of the mountain. My response was no way. It would not be safe.

We decided on the path to the peak. How far would the trail go? How far would we go? To the very top of course.

We began our ascent. And, as we increased our elevation, we began to see the vast expanse of mountains at eye level.

The ascent at this point in the hike does get challenging. The path becomes steeper and narrower and we took a number of breaks before reaching the very top of this mountain.

My favourite shot of the day shows Lorraine posting our successful ascent on Facebook. Yes, even here, we could connect to social media. When I joined Lorraine at the peak, my daughter called to wish me a happy birthday. We sent her some photos directly from the peak.

What does the view look like from up here? Absolutely stunning. Here are a few shots from the peak.

We enjoyed our lunch on top of the world and, reluctantly, made our way back to the trailhead.

Another perfect day.