We started the year immediately after some major changes. Not only did we go through the very stressful event of having our truck engine replaced, but I also had my last day at a job that I had had for 15 years. We arrived at a volunteer job in the Humboldt State Redwood Forest a little battered, but excited to start the next phase of our adventure. We liked volunteering, and the trees were absolutely amazing, but after a few days it started raining…and it rained for 10 straight days. We talk quite a bit about how weather can impact the lifestyle, but this was really my first experience with weather that had a large impact on us. Living in the Redwoods is like living in a cloud and the lack of sunshine really got to me. We took some amazing day trips and sometimes we would just drive out of the forest and soak up some sun, but I truly was surprised by the impact, and since we had made a commitment we didn’t feel we could just move on. It was a close thing though. Here we were, finally living a life of freedom, and we felt stuck. It was a good lesson for both of us, but the timing of it was difficult.
In the grand scheme of things a month is not such a long time though, and we eventually moved on to Monterey to see our daughter Kay. We had built our travel plans around seeing her for the holidays. She was only 19 at the time, and not having a house for her to come back to bothered me. The next best thing we could give her was to come and visit and we had a great time meeting her teachers (she was learning Korean at the Defense Language Institute), meeting some of her friends, and enjoying the beautiful area around Monterey.
Simultaneously, I was looking for work kamping jobs for us in Alaska. Lee and I had never really worked together before, so interviewing as a couple was a new thing and required some conversations. Because I took a buyout we had paychecks coming in until March, but knew we needed to look ahead for employment. It was tough deciding whether or not to lock in the summer that early, because once you start filling your schedule your options start to decrease. By the way, making those decisions hasn’t really changed. We are once again in November and we are already looking ahead to next summer. As much as we would like to leave our options open, many of the “good jobs” get taken early, so this is the time when many folks start lining them up. You don’t have to do it that way of course. Depending on how necessary the revenue is, or more importantly how important being in a certain place is, you can wait. There is always work if you don’t care as much about where you are, but if you want to be in a particular place, you should start looking as soon as the previous season ends. Where this gets particularly complicated for me is how to fit consulting in. Consulting jobs are available a couple of months (or less) before the person is needed, but if we are locking in other types of work well in advance there are no holes in the schedule to fit in consulting work. This year we are definitely going to try to figure all that out and be a little more selective, but last year really was a “see a job, take a job” mentality.
So we locked in our summer job in Alaska, which we were both really excited about, and considering how little we actually understood at the time about what we were getting into, it went really well. I’m jumping ahead though. After Monterey we attended an Escapees HOP and the Rose Bowl Parade. Not only did I get to fulfill a lifelong dream of mine and work on a float, but we also got to take a “vacation.” It’s weird thinking you need a vacation, when your whole life is seeing beautiful places, but considering all the transition we were going through it was a good thing for us. I am not sure how often we will do something like that. It’s more expensive than day-to-day life for one thing, but more importantly, working our schedule around the events and work and family obligations is tough. For example, Lee really wanted to go to the Albuquerque balloon festival in 2017, but since it is in October we would have to give up time at Amazon. It’s definitely a balancing act. I’m just glad we were able to attend while we still had money coming in.
It was also good we had that week because next up was Quartzsite. Lee had wanted to go there ever since we learned about full timing, but I was pretty freaked out. I had never spent any time in the desert, I was worried about boon docking for extended periods of time, and the whole thing was waaaay outside my comfort zone. I thought I would hate it, I really did, but since it was so important to him (and a cheap place to stay) I tried to give it a fair chance. The biggest advantage we had was our friends Red and Pam were there and had been there before, so they helped us get organized. They met us at the entrance, took us under their wing, and showed us the ropes, and the generosity of that made the whole experience so much better. Other friends also showed up, and soon we all had our own little compound going. The situation was complicated by the fact that Lee picked up some work in Phoenix with a company he used to work for and I was actually on my own for several days. I’m still pretty proud of how I faced the challenge though and (with help) learned how to dump both the grey and black tanks, which is no small thing especially in that environment. Overall I really enjoyed the experience, so much so I would definitely go back, but like anything else it is not without its challenges. Quartzsite has it’s own vibe and it’s own unique society, and more than anything I had a bit of trouble adjusting to all that. You might picture it as being alone in the desert, but there was more social interaction there than we have ever seen anywhere else. That’s certainly a good thing, but with such a busy social schedule you can also get a little overwhelmed and it’s harder than you would think to find time to take care of other stuff. Again, it requires balance and since we were so new to the whole thing, I am not sure I did the best job at that. I’m definitely convinced we will do better the second time around though.
After Quartzsite we did some traveling with our friends Cori and Greg and then Kelly and Bill. When we envisioned the lifestyle it was traveling either alone or with friends and seeing cool stuff, so we spent part of February and most of March doing just that. Again, we were able to afford that because I still had money coming in, so we explored Tuscon, Benson, and some of New Mexico. By this time we knew more about traveling with other people, but I really should take a moment and talk about this here. Everyone travels differently, and when you put people together it can get complicated. Nothing that can’t be worked out if you acknowledge people are different and plan accordingly, but it’s important you know that going in. Something as simple as getting from point A to point B can cause conflict, or you can do what we do and pick the destination and let people meet up there. That way you bypass differences in what time people get up, how fast they travel, when they like to stop for breaks, etc. People can and do caravan, but for us it’s easier to just bypass all that and say we will meet you there. You also have to talk about meals. Are you eating on your own, doing groups meals, what time do you want to eat, what are we eating etc. I think these conversations are tougher because more than any other time in our lives we are doing whatever we want when we want. You are out there doing your own thing and when you come together with other people, you need to modify that. It’s totally worth it to see people, but there are limits. By now most of us have figured out how long we can travel/stay with other folks and understand we all have limits. Year One we spent a ton of time with friends for comfort and support along with friendship, but in Year Two most people seemed more independent. There are exceptions of course. Some people have found their “perfect” traveling partners and are with them frequently, but most of us are out doing our own routes and then see each other for brief times when we are close and then go our own way.
In our case traveling with people requires scheduling ahead and it became clear in Year Two this would be difficult with the amount we needed to work. Every couple we know has some sort of income resource, but everyone has restrictions on travel for family obligations, work obligations, or finances. The first year that was less of an issue (part of the reason we spent the most money in year one), but by year two people seemed to settle in and really take travel costs into account. We still get to see people though and way more frequently than I ever thought we would. It’s a huge country, and you would think these occurrences would be rare, but they really aren’t. For example, as we were traveling back east in April we saw Jim & Diana, Bridget & Pat, Dave & Sharon, Sue & Guy, and Jo & Craig. And all that was relatively easy. I just keep track of where people are, and if we are anywhere in the vicinity we reach out and see if we can meet up. Conversely, when we are in an area, people will do the same thing for us, and we had visits from Rick, Jim & Barb, Kelly & Bill, Bob & Lindy, Les & Sue, and of course Jo & Ben this way. It’s nice, and my mental picture is that we are all fireflies in the great meadow that is the USA. We are all twinkling around out there, and occasionally we bump into each other. Really, that’s how I picture it in my head!
But back to the emotions. One, if not the biggest change for me last year was living a life with less fear. I knew I was afraid a lot, but until that fear was lessened I had no idea how omnipresent it was in my life. I thought leaving my job would increase my fear, but it had the complete opposite affect. It was freeing. And over the course of Year Two, I proved to myself that everything was going to be OK. I had my friend (from RV-Dreams) Linda’s voice in my head a lot during Year Two. She had told me how I would feel once I no longer “had a foot in both worlds”, but I didn’t really believe it. She’s a pretty smart lady, and it all unfolded pretty much the way she said it would. I was calmer, happier, and more self-confident, and I was so happy that we were able to attend an RV-Dreams rally and share our experiences with others. Everything felt like it had come full circle. Don’t get me wrong, I still had my moments. The day the last paycheck came was a tough one, and our first major RV repair that necessitated a change to our travel plans wasn’t pleasant, but I could feel myself growing as a person and it was a pretty wonderful feeling. About the time I really started to feel good about myself though, we jumped into the deep end of the pool and went to Alaska.
For some, traveling to Alaska is the Holy Grail of RVing experiences, but for us it was pretty challenging. Again, super glad I did it, but in retrospect maybe waiting another year would have been better. Just getting there was difficult, and it was exacerbated by the fact that we had no cell coverage at all as we traveled through Canada. We tackled 10% grades pulling the RV for the first time, the high fuel prices (and relatively limited number of stations), and because of work scheduling pressure drove way too many long days in a row. It was very intense and culminated in our first ever paying work kamping job. Not only that, but this was the first new job I had had in 15 years. Eventually all that pressure caused me to wonder what I was doing with my life. The type of work, the amount of pay, and the VERY remote location were all new to me and I felt pretty overwhelmed. Lee was doing great, I really hate that about him, but I was floundering. The incredible scenery helped, but what really made me turn the corner was when we started to see friends. They reminded me that this was temporary, and I had a whole life outside of this one particular job and place. Jim & Barb (who visited first) really put me back on the right track, because we had last seen them in Quartzsite and something about knowing we had good friends and support whether we were in the desert or in Alaska really helped me.
After that things got better. Lee and I both got a better handle on the jobs and we started doing some really amazing stuff. Things we never could have experienced anywhere else. Then we saw Kelly & Bill and then Jo & Ben (people we had known since Day 1 in the lifestyle) and things were definitely OK. So much so that I wrote about what freedom looked like. It was clear that our lives going forward would not be the same as others. We met many people, friends included, who got to travel Alaska and not have to work. That is simply not our reality. But, we also saw that everyone has restrictions of some kind. Whether it is family obligations, financial concerns, personal limitations, or differences in desire between the two people in a couple, no one is out there doing whatever they want whenever they want. That’s just not realistic. It may look that way from the outside, it may even feel that way sometimes, but it’s not the reality. I think Lee had a harder time coming to grips with that than I did. He’s always been the dreamer in our relationship, whereas I was always super pragmatic. The lifestyle was allowing us to meet in the middle, for perhaps the first time, and that is a good thing. I am becoming more of a dreamer and he has become more pragmatic. That’s healthy.
Oh, and did I mention I turned 50 in the middle of all of this? Actually that worked out really well. We had good friends with us, and we did a really fun thing, but I will say the birthday hit me kind of hard. I love my birthday and never had I had one I wanted to ignore, but this one I kind of felt that way about. I felt out of sorts about the whole thing, but thankfully my friends were super cool about it and kept everything low key. I am just really grateful I was with them and extremely grateful to Jo & Ben for going to extraordinary lengths to be with me for that day.
As our time came to a close I started to get anxious about going to the Beet Harvest. Talk about jumping from the fire pan into the fire! Once again we had a very tight travel schedule, but thankfully we ended up with a few days to recover before really starting the job. We had a slow start to the season because of rain, but I was glad. I needed time to ease into it, and ultimately it helped us make more money. When it completely ramped up though it was the most intense job I have ever had in my life. We worked 16 straight twelve-hour days in less than optimal weather conditions. Most of you have read the detailed account of how that experience went, so I won’t belabor it here, but it was tough. It also improved my self confidence. I had no idea I could do something like that and more than anything else I walked away realizing I was stronger than I thought I was, both physically and mentally. More importantly, it answered a long time question I had for myself. I often had said I could do anything to feed my family, but the closer I got to the Beet Harvest the more I doubted that was actually true. I really didn’t think I would be able to hack it long-term. And yet I did. Better than that, I was good at it, and at times even enjoyed it. This was not an uncommon reaction by the way. My friends there Marie (who was a preschool teacher) and Judy (who was a homemaker) both felt the same way. None of us had any idea we had that in us. That was very cool.
But then, once again, we had a very tight travel schedule and 5 long days to get here to sell Christmas trees. Are you starting to notice a pattern here? We honestly don’t plan it that way, it just happens. We always have a week to 10 days extra time built into the schedule but every time something changes that eats away at the buffer. Truck problems, weather delays, changes to schedules from employers are all real things and this year at least really seemed to conspire against us. So we are left at this point very, very tired. Both of us are tired of the pace, tired of the emotional toll it takes starting yet another, completely different, new job, and tired frankly of working so hard. Our bank account thanks us, but despite all that work we haven’t built it up to the point where we are comfortable taking a few months off, not even in Quartzsite where living is cheap. We also haven’t had the time or energy to see much in the last few months. If you look at the year in aggregate, we more than saw our fair share, but I am hoping with this new work pattern we still get to see and do the things that are important to us. That’s what Year 3 will be about, by the way. Finding the balance between work, family, and the lifestyle. Of course we have no idea how it will all turn out, but I hope you all follow along with us.
And thank you once again for being a reader. This blog matters to me. Your support matters to me. More than I can say. So with that I will leave you with some of my favorite pictures from Year 2. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I think these will show Year Two in a far better way than I could ever express.
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