Saturday, April 20, 2013

The journey Into RV living, as Snowbirds

Photo Credit: Aleshia Clarke

To the surprise of our friends and family, my husband and I packed a few belongings into an RV, and went south for the winter. People thought we were crazy. Few had believed we would actually follow through with our plan, but those who did were quite envious of us.

The Turning Point

After 10 years of hard country living, the joys of home ownership had lost its charm. My husband was planning to retire from his job of 30 years. I worried that he would hurt himself trying to fix the house up. I was also concerned about how he would deal with being home alone most of the time. My job was very demanding; a struggle for daily survival, and I was starting to feel burned out.

Our turning point came on the day of my first stress test, when I nearly died. It was a terrible morning at work. Management had various surprise assignments for me, and I dealt with a couple of angry clients. I sped along the highway to my appointment after escaping work…late again. My next memory involved taking two nitroglycerins and getting loaded into an ambulance. I nearly died again the following day, after transferring to a different hospital, where I proceeded to fail another type of stress test.

The director promised that things would change when I returned to work, but I knew better. I wanted out, and my husband agreed wholeheartedly. “Let’s go to Florida,” he said. My response was, “We could close the house up and live in a camper!” I gave my employer a full year notice in writing, and we purchased a small motor home. I had something to look forward to, and Jim started preparing for the trip.

Project Snowbird(s)

While we were closing up house, I brought some pantry items over to my sister. I will never forget her asking, “You guys will be back by Thanksgiving, right?” My employer finally hired a replacement 10 days before I left. During the interview, the Director assured her that I would provide my cell phone number to her before I left, should she need to ask any questions. I thought, “you must be kidding me!” I politely declined when the new employee asked for it, by telling her that I needed to focus on the road ahead of me.

Our daughter, a senior in high school, had applied to a college near her stepbrother’s residence. She was not accepted. We offered to bring her to Florida, but she wanted to be near her friends. Her words were, “Mom, what is the difference between a kid going to college out of state, or the parents going out of state to leave their kid at a local college.” She opted to attend a local college instead. In the end, the decision was entirely hers; still, people thought it was selfish of us to leave her behind.

The Journey Begins

My impatient husband, Jim, insisted that we leave on time - in the middle of a torrential downpour! We spent over 150 harrowing miles trying to keep the rig on the road, to keep Charlie (our dog) off Jim’s lap, and to keep Buddy (our cat) from having a stroke. I finally convinced Jim to pull into a Walmart parking lot until the tornado warnings ended. When they continued to active three hours later, we decided to spend the night in the Yogi at Shangri-la Jellystone Park Campground in Milton, Pennsylvania. Just our luck; it was adjacent to the Chillisquaque Creek, which had a long history of major flooding.

We managed to survive the night without incident, so we left the following morning for New Market, Virginia. Charlie had developed an attachment disorder, which became evident when we came out of a welcome center to find our 50 pound dog on the dashboard, nose pressed into the windshield. Shortly afterwards, the tire pressure monitor system alarm began sounding off. After we stopped to check it for the fifth time, Jim deduced that the left rear dually tire was overinflated. He also learned that going up and down a steep incline is a bad idea. Our rear hitch-mounted trailer, loaded with a 2-stroke Honda Zuma Scooter, scraped the pavement on the way up, and again on the way back down the Mobile Gas Station entrance ramp.

I drove for a bit to make amends for snapping at Jim over his carelessness. I came upon an extremely narrow bridge in heavy traffic, and made a hasty decision to drive right down the middle of both lanes to prevent passing traffic from sideswiping us. The terrifying maneuver worked like a charm. As Interstate 81 took us down through West Virginia into the Appalachian Mountains, we both began to relax while enjoying the breathtaking vistas. There were slightly unnerving emergency pull-offs for trucks with break failures, but driving deeper into the region’s beauty helped to melt our stress away.

We entered a garden of stone on the side of a deserted mountainside when we pulled into the Endless Cavern’s NASCAR RV resort. I finally had the chance to purchase souvenirs for our daughter at the camp store. With an entire section to ourselves, we enjoyed the solitude and natural geology of the resort. During the next two days, the pets calmed down, we caught-up on our laundry, and everyone had fun exploring the trails. Due to the nearby epicenter of a recent strong earthquake (the earthquake had cracked the National Monument in Washington D.C.), we avoided going down into the caverns.

The Halfway Mark

The next leg of our trip was mostly enjoyable and problem-free. There were no shortages of Walmart stores on Route 77, so there were no worries about low provisions. Our confidence pushed us all the way down to Fort Mill, South Carolina. By the time we arrived at the KOA camp, we were exhausted. To make matters worse, Buddy peed on our bed. This was a new behavior, but unfortunately, it became one of many future incidents. After washing the linens and taking a nap, we walked over to a local bar, had a couple drinks, and listened to the band play. The following morning held a surprise for us. It turns out that Jim’s nephew lives in Fort Mill. Finding us via my Facebook update, he and his wife brought us over a bottle of wine, and spent the day showing us around their town.

After the third day, we were back on the road again. The next destination was Edisto Island, where we planned to spend nearly a week camping at an oceanside state park. It was a beautiful, rustic, seaside jungle! We had to get jugs of drinking water from the public water tower, due the salty island water. Over the next several days, we zipped around on the scooter along the salt marshes and into town. The park has a breathtaking beach; it was barren, unspoiled, and loaded with seashells. The oceanfront village houses were up on stilts. Listening to the native folk accents made it felt like we were in Jamaica. Aside from the vicious mosquitoes, and a serious late-night car wreck on the remote road next to our camp, it was almost paradise.

The Final Stretch

The final part of our trip was underway. I was getting the sense that our daughter was having trouble at school, but she did not offer any information, and I did not ask for any. I could not afford to lose focus yet, because Jim had clearly lost it. Nearly four hours later, we made it off the island; the last five miles spent stuck in traffic, waiting for a huge piece of culvert to creep down the street. Thankfully, we did not run out of gas. Jim was upset over the delay, and over every other thing that he could not control, so I decided it was best to stop speaking to him!

Late that night, we pulled into a KOA camp in Kingsland, GA. Buddy was on our last nerve with his new habit of soiling our bedding. We also had our first experience with tiny lizards and weird bugs. We found the campground to be very charming; there were plenty of souvenirs to buy, and the reservations included a complimentary hot breakfast. After getting a good night’s sleep, we felt much calmer, as we eagerly pulled onto the highway to finish the journey.

Pure excitement made the hours go by quickly. When we finally arrived at the Nova Campground in Port Orange, Florida, it was a pleasant surprise for the manager to come out of the office and welcome us. Our site was very large, and pretty, with a variety of flowers and perennials all around it. As we started to unpack, we knew we would enjoy living here as snowbirds through the winter.

See Part II of The Journey:

RV Living: The Journey Continues

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