2011 RUNNING & TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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   LIVING THE RV DREAM, PART 2:
DESCRIPTION OF OUR ALMOST
FULL-TIME RV LIFESTYLE

MONDAY, JANUARY 3

 
"The tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon, but that we wait so long to begin it."
~ W. M. Lewis
 
 

Continued from Part 1.

EVERYONE NEEDS A HOME BASE, RIGHT?

Wrong.

The "RV lifestyle" has been a big learning experience for us -- learning about ourselves, mostly, as we've gotten increasingly immersed in it.

Even though we frequently went out in our camper for weekend and one- to two-week trips to foot races while Jim was still working, the concept of full-time RVing wasn't even on our mental radar screen when he retired seven years ago. At the time we didn't personally know anyone who did it, nor did we know how much we'd enjoy traveling for extended periods of time.


Nice place to spend a bunch of time in the winter:  Mustang Island, Texas.
Jim and Cody play in the surf, January, 2009.

We were living in Montana then. One of our retirement goals was to find a warmer place to live, then sell our house.

However, we unexpectedly sold it in December when a golden opportunity presented itself. We had only one month to decide where to go and what to do. 

Yikes! That's when we really started learning about adaptability. What clothing should we take with us for an unknown period of time -- and locales? What documents and financial records might we need with us? How will we get our mail? What about internet connectivity? Medical appointments?

There were a million things to consider, and fast.

In addition, it wasn't much fun to pack the camper with the essentials and put our other belongings into storage during one of the coldest months on record. The snow drifts were so high around the camper that we almost didn't get it out of the back yard:

At least we already had a fairly new 5th-wheel HitchHiker II camper at the time in which we planned to do extended traveling, but we weren't prepared mentally to be completely without a home base. In fact, we hadn't even considered the possibility of living in the coach full time.

And although we'd done extensive research re: a warmer place to live, we hadn't decided where that home base would be.

Equally exhausted from all the work and decisions we had to make, and excited about our new adventure, we headed south in our rig to run some races.

Our focus should have been on having fun while we didn't have a house to worry about. But we were still in the frame of mind of needing a home base, so that became our focus: finding a good place to retire, hopefully our last house before needing a nursing home.


Our house in the spring when the bearded iris are in bloom.  (May, 2007)

Five months later we bought our house and twelve acres of wooded land near Roanoke, VA. We love it but it has become more of a burden than retreat. The point when we realized we'd be happier full-timing in an RV . . . about three years ago . . .  unfortunately coincided with the housing bust! 

We don't want to even try to sell that property until the housing market recovers, and that could be several more years.

Although we'd have less worry and more money without our house, we aren't going to forfeit the equity we have tied up in it. To help us live with that decision we rationalize that we have the best of both worlds: we are free to travel when and where we want, within reason, and we have a comfortable place in a beautiful location to visit when the weather is nice in the spring and fall.

Our current plan is to keep the house until we can recoup most or all of our financial investment in it and enjoy extended RV trips twice a year. Then we'll sell it and enjoy our lifestyle even more without having to worry about our property when we're on the other side of the country.


Cody leads the way on a path through our woods.  (November, 2010)

[NOTE:  In another entry I'll talk about the need for full-time RVers to either retain or establish a legal state residency, also known as a "home base." I used the term in this section in regards to having a house, condo, apartment, or other dwelling that is permanently attached to land, and venturing out from it in an RV.]

NOMADS BY CHOICE

I often joke about wondering where Jim and I got our "Gypsy genes."

No one else in our families seems to have the same sense of curiosity and adventure that we do regarding travel, with or without an RV. Granted, many of them are still working, raising families, or have other factors (medical, financial) that limit their freedom to roam.

The older ones with that freedom, however, are more firmly rooted in their communities than we are and don't have the same level of wanderlust that Jim and I do.


Home Sweet Home:  our Cameo sits near the lake at Huntsville State Park, TX.  (February, 2010)

We're not "from" Virginia and because we've been gone much more than we've been there since we bought our house seven years ago, we have only weak community ties. We also don't have any relatives within two states of there, let alone in the Roanoke area. Our family members are currently strung across the country from one coast to the other.

Retirees who have stronger ties to their community naturally have a harder time selling their house and traveling full-time in an RV. We have friends and relatives who are so involved with their friends, kids/grandkids, local activities, and/or volunteering that they won't go away for more than a week or two at a time.

We can understand that because it's a traditional, "conventional" lifestyle in our society. Many people still live in their hometowns after they retire. They are comfortable there and can't imagine leaving unless it's to move closer to their grandchildren.


Southern Arizona deserts are popular places for RV snowbirds in the winter.
(McDowell Mtn. Park near Phoenix)

It's also common in our country for some northern U.S. retirees to become full- or part-time "snowbirds," relocating to warmer climes during the winter months just like some of our feathered friends migrate south for the winter. You've heard the jokes about all the Yankees invading Florida over the winter, for example. Same thing happens in southern Texas, Arizona, and other Sunbelt states, too. More of these folks are living in apartments, condos, or houses than in RVs, however. (Ironically, the older couple whose house we bought in Virginia lives in a condo in Florida at least six months of the year.)

Jim and I are part of the growing subculture of retirees who aren't wired like either one of these more traditional groups.

Many people don't understand how people like us can go away in an RV for months at a time, let alone aspire to do it full time. Folks who require familiar surroundings and more consistency in their lives than we do tend to fall into two camps: those who think we're unstable and/or irresponsible, and those who secretly wish to emulate our lifestyle!

We hear from more in the latter category than the former.

DO WE MISS ANYTHING AT "HOME" WHEN WE'RE TRAVELING?

We've gotten this question several times from running friends and other people who are toying with the idea of selling their houses to become full-time or extended-travel RVers. This is how I've generally  responded:

I think the only thing Jim misses is his comfy leather lounge chair! Our house mostly represents work to us and we're literally ready to be gone within about two days of returning there. It will need painting, a new roof, and some other costly or work-intensive improvements as it ages.


November, 2010:  the leaves are gorgeous, but they can't stay in the gutters or on the grass all winter.

Yard work is also very time-consuming when we're there, much harder than if we could do it on a daily or weekly basis.

An older neighbor keeps an eye on our house while we're gone and mows the yard during the summer, but we can't expect him to weed the large perennial beds all summer or deal with all the leaves in the fall. Those are chores Jim and I dread every September or October when we go back to Virginia. I deal with the weeding, he deals with the leaves.

We also have to deal with fallen trees and limbs after the frequent storms our area gets. The only benefit is the firewood they provide.

Even though the truck and camper require maintenance and repairs on a regular basis, fixing them is easier than all the things that we have to do with the house and yard. The Cameo is spacious as RVs go, but it is much smaller to keep clean than a house and much less expensive if it ever needs a new roof!


Early April, 2010:  pretty redbud tree in side yard

I have more ambivalent feelings about the house than Jim does, mostly because I enjoy gardening and the peacefulness of our secluded forest full of beautiful hardwood trees near the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Appalachian Trail.

But I can find that peace many other places -- and not have the burdens of ownership. I crave adventure, traveling to new places, and revisiting my old favorite haunts more than this house or acreage.


Picturesque camping spot -- in our own back yard!

It will be less stressful for both of us when we sell the house and put all of our "keeper possessions" in storage -- the things that are meaningful/useful that we can't haul around with us in the camper but want to keep for when we "settle down" again, which I'm pretty sure we will do.

Selling the house will probably be sort of like having to stop running because of my bad knees. Instead of feeling like I lost something very important, I soon realized not having the stress of training for and competing in races was actually quite liberating!

So it can be when you whittle your belongings down to only the things you really need.

WHERE/WHEN WE LIKE TO ROAM

Although we usually have a vague plan in mind about various destinations, we often change those plans during our trips. We seldom regret those decisions. We call it "being flexible," adapting to changing circumstances and our whims.

For that reason I've pretty much stopped putting our tentative plans on this website. People think we're less flaky if I just write in the past tense about where we've been and what we've done than if they see an intended destination or race and then we don't go there!

One of the big advantages of extended and full-time RVing is getting to choose where to hang out various times of the year.


Late August in the high Tetons:  a dandelion in bloom!

After living in Illinois and Montana for 55 years Jim became a total snow-phobe. I still like snow when I don't have to shovel it or drive in it. We both prefer a moderate temperature range from the 40s to the 70s F. all year long. We try to live as much as possible in what I call the "Dandelion Time Warp" because it's like eternal spring.

Seeking that zone the past few years gives us a general travel time frame that looks like this:

* Spring and fall are beautiful in the Roanoke area and the temps are pretty moderate then, so we're usually there for about four weeks at a time in April-May and October-November.

* In early May we head for the high mountains out West, where we hunker down under flannel sheets on chilly nights and it usually doesn't exceed 60-70 F. in the afternoon.


RVers enjoy a double rainbow while boondocking on National Forest Service Land
along South Mineral Creek near Silverton, CO, a "cool" place to camp at 9,000 feet in the summer.

* In the winter we like to head back out West, far enough south in Arizona and Texas to avoid any snow and enjoy those same 60-70 temperatures that are the envy of most folks above the 32nd parallel. 

Of course, the weather and fate haven't always cooperated.

The last two autumns we had to remain in Roanoke a month longer than planned and didn't get out until the snow was already flying:


Oops; waited too long.  Early December, 2010 snowfall

Last January we endured 9 F. temps in southern Texas; all of our winter trips have had some sub-freezing nights and rainy, miserable days, even in Phoenix's Sun Valley. In the summer we sometimes  find 90 temps when we temporarily dip under 8,000 or 9,000 feet elevation in transit to our next high-altitude destination.

Mother Nature can be very fickle. There is no perfect weather venue in the continental United States so we just go with the flow. We've got air conditioning and three different heating options in the camper, several blankets, and clothing for a wide temperature range.

If we become full-timers we won't need to go back East twice a year to attend to the house and yard. That will not only save on fuel costs, it will also give us even more freedom to roam in search of eternal spring weather.

THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY

In my web entries I tend to highlight mostly the positive things about our RV lifestyle -- sunny photos of scenic places, fabulous trails to run and hike, interesting people we meet, spacious campgrounds, our comfortable little home on wheels . . .


The campground at Brazos Bend State Park south of Houston, TX
is very popular with RVers during spring break.  (March, 2010)

That's because I'm basically an optimist. I'm one of those lemonade-from-lemons kind of people. And since I retired I have conscientiously tried to become less of a perfectionist Type A personality and more of a laid-back Type B.

It's working.

Negative stuff rolls off my back more easily now than it used to. If the weather's crappy and I don't feel like going outside, I enjoy spending more time writing or reading inside. When I get behind on this website, I don't obsess about it. If something goes wrong with the truck or camper, I figure Jim-the-mechanic-extraordinaire will soon have it fixed -- or we'll find someone who can. When we can't get a reservation at a particular campground when we want it, I know we can find viable alternatives.


Jim installed these solar panels on our last two campers and rigged up the generator, inverter,
    charger, controller, and wiring in the front basement.  He took this photo from the roof of
our house last spring. Click here for a web entry he wrote about the entire system.

You get the idea. I can attribute much of my change in reactions to life's annoyances to our more relaxed RV lifestyle. We have few deadlines and little structure. Unless there's a genuine emergency, I respond more calmly now than I would have five or ten years ago.

Jim's still mostly Type A and worries more about things than I do. Sometimes he gets frustrated with my mellow responses to Things That Go Wrong and my lack of desire to plan out every detail like I used to do. For example, he is more comfortable with a definite itinerary than I am and likes to make campground reservations as soon as we have a tentative plan, even if we end up canceling or modifying them later on. (I'm fine with having a Plan B and C, though.)


Jim cleans the roof of the Cameo at our house in VA last fall.

Jim also feels more pressure because he's the one with the skills to do the repairs and maintenance on the vehicles, not me. He gets stuck with more of that work than I do.

Consequently, he periodically reminds me to tell people that RVing isn't all fun and games.

Too often for our liking, Stuff Happens. When you travel or live in a house on wheels it's inevitable that there will be weather and traffic problems, blown tires, camper slides that won't slide back in, wayward GPS directions that send you on RV-unfriendly roads, campground reservation gotchas, obnoxious campground neighbors, and many other things that can and do go wrong.


One of the latest repairs Jim made was putting in a new valve to stop a leak from
the fresh water tank. Carriage is good about sending us parts under warranty. That's
easier than taking it to an authorized repair center when Jim can do the work himself.

Despite all the downsides of traveling and living in a camper, however, we both agree that our life is much simpler in the Cameo than in the house. No, it's not always glamorous or exciting but it's less stressful and usually less expensive than owning a house -- especially one that sits empty, thousands of miles away, for nine or ten months of the year.

PREVIOUS RV-RELATED ENTRIES

Over the past six years this journal has been both a how-to manual and a how-NOT-to manual (those cautionary tales, remember?) for both running and RV traveling. We aren't running or RV experts but we generously share ideas that have worked for us, warn you about some that didn't, and occasionally address questions from readers in various entries.


Tire pressure monitoring system:  A Good Thing to Have to avoid blown RV tires.

You'll find lots of travel and RVing information in our previous journals. Just go to the home page, click on the various years, and scan the topics pages for each year.

Many folks aspire to a lifestyle like this when they retire, just as we dreamed of it for many years. In the next series of entries I'll focus on some things to consider if you dream about traveling most or all of the time in an RV. There are many variations of this lifestyle in addition to what I've described about our own unique MO. I'll include examples of how some of our equally-nomadic RVing friends and acquaintances live.

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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2011 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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