Let me start by saying this post is a followup to the repair post from a few days ago and was written in one sitting about 5am. When things are really bothering me I wake up early and the words just pour out and this was one of those posts. I should have titled this “What Happens if Lee Dies”, (Well that got dark pretty damn fast. – Lee) but I found that I couldn’t type those words in the top section of this post, because it’s hard to even say them out loud. It’s a serious question though, and one that despite our relative young ages and good health is one I carry around with me. I know from campfire conversations that I am not alone in wondering what this looks like without our partners, and personally before we started this lifestyle I really had to think through what that scenario would look like. Yes, every person in a long-term relationship has to face this issue eventually, but when you are living the full-time lifestyle there are some pretty distinct challenges that would not necessarily need to be faced if we still lived in a sticks and bricks.
I’ve talked about exit strategy before and how it’s not something I worry about very much which is absolutely true. If Lee and I were together and decided to get off the road, we would figure it out. There is not one doubt in my mind about that, because we have years of experience handling adversity and between the two of us have a really complementary skill set that allows us to tackle most of the things that have been thrown our way. Plus, we have each other to lean on. When one person has doubts, or is weaker for lack of a better word, the other person steps up and takes the lead. To me that is what a good marriage is all about, and there is truly little that really frightens me as long as we are together.
But in this scenario we aren’t together. In this scenario I am alone, and although I consider myself a pretty competent person, I don’t know if I could say that when it comes to this lifestyle. After 3+ years of being on the road I still have many things I am not comfortable doing. I have these blind spots when it comes to our day-to-day routine. Things that I still don’t know how to do or don’t feel I am strong enough to do, and they make me, I guess the right word is uneasy, when I trip across them. Let me give you an example. I drive all time. I am comfortable driving, except on extreme grades, and try to share the load on travel days as much as Lee needs me to. Generally when we fuel up we use Pilot or Flying J truck stops and pull into the truck lanes. We just prefer them and I have learned to pull in and out of them pretty confidently. But when I am driving, after we pull in, I always jump out and go into the bathroom and get a drink or snack while Lee fuels. Never really thought about it much, that’s just our routine. Recently I was trying to help out more and intentionally jumped out and started to fuel up.
To my surprise I didn’t know how to navigate through the screens on the fuel pump. It looks completely different than the car lanes. Right off the bat it asked if I needed tractor fuel or reefer fuel and I had no idea what reefer fuel was. Lee to his credit was standing right beside me observing, and I looked at him, not knowing what to do. He explained reefer fuel was for refrigerated trucks and was taxed differently (sort of like off-road fuel which I had seen before) so after I selected tractor fuel he had to talk me through the DEF selection and how that worked (separate nozzle in a box for that.) He was completely nice about it, but the entire incident made me extremely embarrassed. I mean seriously, that was ridiculous, that we had gotten gas in over a hundred truck stops and I had no idea how it worked. I didn’t know because Lee always took care of it, blind spot, and I call it that because if someone would have asked me if I could have gotten fuel at a truck stop I would have of course said yes. I didn’t even know I didn’t know, which I find extremely unsettling. (I don’t understand why this would embarrass someone. The first time I did this way back in 1996 driving a 26′ straight truck for work I stood there like a complete moron who had never seen a fuel pump before. How could she know these things the first time out? – Lee)
In addition to those types of things there is a much larger list of things Lee has shown me, but I have little confidence in doing. Since I am a fan of lists, here’s mine.
- Hooking up the hoses for dumping (dumping the tanks itself I have done, but I rarely hook the hoses up)
- Rinsing the tanks. Again, something I never do
- Hooking up the fresh water. Usually I have a hard time tightening or loosening the hoses. I understand the theory, I just rarely do it.
- Filling up the freshwater tank. It requires the opening of a release valve because it doesn’t automatically shut off and then monitoring that valve and turning it off manually. Plus you have to change the levers to match the diagram or the water doesn’t fill, which always makes me nervous for some reason.
- Driving on 6% (or greater) grades. I’m better at this since Alaska, but Lee still talks me through the various steps. Never done it alone.
- Backing up while parking. As nice as it is to think I could always get pull through sites that’s not realistic. I don’t even know how I could do this consistently as a solo.
- Hitching and unhitching. I’ve really tried to get more comfortable with this, but my major issues are lining the truck up so the pin goes into the hitch, and completing the “bump test”. I’ve done all of the steps in this but find the entire process really intimidating, especially because I have seen firsthand what can happen if you screw it up.
If you have been reading the blog you know these are not new problems. I made a concerted effort to learn these things starting in 2015, but have been hampered by the fact that usually when we do them we are traveling, and are under a time crunch to get on the road and moving, so taking an extra 45 minutes for me to do something myself usually doesn’t make sense. Even when I do try them what I am missing is repetition. Like most people I gain competency by doing a task over and over again, and since we generally are only traveling a few days at a time and then stop for a while, even if we spent the extra 45 minutes every drive day that would still be only 5 times and then a long stretch before we did it again.
I could of course take some time when we are stopped and just do the activities over and over again until I was comfortable. That would make the most sense, and have the added benefit of allowing me to do it without travel pressure. And I need to do that because those things would be a necessary skill set for me to continue alone. For the record, I have no concerns that if something happened I could get to a place and park it there. We have really good friends who would come and help me or I could rely on the kindness of the RVing community in the short-term. But you can’t live your life like that indefinitely, so all of those things I mentioned would become necessary skills.
The bigger question is: Would I want to do all of that? I’ve met several bad-ass solo women who are completely competent and do these tasks every day, and while I admire them tremendously I don’t know if I fit in that category. I couldn’t really know until I gave it a fair try, and I am sure once you learn how to do them those things aren’t that big of a deal, but something in me is very resistant to the whole thing. Obviously, or I would have done it already. And I have to wonder where that resistance comes from. In general I am a person who likes knowledge for knowledge’s sake, and is pretty resolute about tackling new challenges. But these things I have gone to pretty great lengths to not learn how to do. The Why’s of that are buried pretty deep in my psyche and shines a pretty unflattering light on my self image, so it’s hard to get at the root cause. The reasons matter though, because they really go to the heart of a solo exit strategy for me. so I should really try to at least be honest about them, hence this 5am post.
So in no particular order, here are my feelings about it all. I like not having to worry about it. I find it scary and intimidating and a large part of me just doesn’t want to deal with it. It also makes me feel cared for. The fact that Lee takes care of all these things is a demonstration of him loving me, and despite being a strong and independent woman I like it when he takes care of me. OK let’s go a little deeper; I hate that it’s in my life. In my old world, I flushed a toilet, turned on a faucet, flipped a switch, and these things just worked. If I had an issue I called a repair man (or Lee) and never really had to think that much about any of it. Intellectually I understand that it is part of the deal, but it turns out I am somewhat fastidious and I find the whole thing distasteful. That’s tougher to say. It’s not like I think I am too good to handle any of this, but given the choice, why would I want to? The immediate answer of course is that is the price you pay to travel from place to place, which leads me to the larger issue. (I agree with this completely. I have replaced about every part in a car at one point or another in my life, and never enjoyed any of it. It just had to be done because we were young, and broke, and cars need repair, so I learned to do it. But I didn’t like doing it, so as soon as we could safely afford it, we started buying new cars. – Lee)
Because my solo strategy wouldn’t just be about doing those sorts of things alone. Those are the most obvious and in some ways the easiest to think through, but it would be lots of other things as well. Repairs would become my sole responsibility, and I have no illusions that I would be the kind of person who would fix her own rig. Which means more repair techs and repair shops and of course more expense. The financial strategy of course would be completely different. I could absolutely live on a lot less if I was alone, but I would also make a lot less. (She could live on about $50 a month. All she eats is toast and bologna sandwiches. – Lee) I might be able to make enough to make it work financially, but it would require some big changes. Costs like campground fees and diesel, with a similar style of travel, would be the same, but I would only have one income to cover them. I could of course completely change how I traveled, and probably would need to. It’s hard to imagine what that would even look like, but I am sure with some trial and error I could figure that out.
All of those things I mentioned, the entire outer shell of the issue doesn’t deal with the really hard part, living without him. And that truly at it’s core is the crux of the matter. Like many other people who start this lifestyle, prior to this we were living largely separate lives. We had jobs and friends apart from each other, to the point where we at least chose this life in no small part because we wanted to reconnect. And we have. Our lives are completely entangled in each other now, in a good way, but what I never really thought about was how vulnerable that would make me. I spent years working myself into a position of independence. Not because I didn’t love Lee, but because I needed to know I could stand on my own two feet. Over the last three years I have intentionally given most of that away. On balance that has been a very good thing for me. I have rediscovered parts of myself in this new life and grown tremendously as a person. I have let go of all kinds of things that were restricting me and basically created a new life, and a good one.
The reality for me, is that I may not want that new life alone. And I am very sure that at this point I wouldn’t just step back into my old one. Which leaves me with creating a whole new one again. And in all fairness everyone who goes through divorce or the death of a spouse faces this very same thing, but I truly believe having this lifestyle would make that more complicated. Not so much if the illness gives you time. Cancer sucks, no doubt about it, but you generally have time to work together to put together a plan for the spouse. Fatal heart attacks or strokes though, no time. (Why do I get the feeling at the end of this I’ll be eating more salad than I’m comfortable with, and less pie than I require? – Lee) This is not an idle concern. I personally know two people who have had heart attacks on the road in the last year and although thankfully both were OK, they were also not that much older than me, and both lived a healthier lifestyle. And yes this is the point where you get to say “Lose weight and stop smoking”, which is totally fair, but that doesn’t change the fact that people with no risk factors die all of the time. The possibility of being left alone exists regardless of minimal risk factors, and should be thought through regardless, so I’m not going to avoid dealing with this by putting pressure on Lee to change his behavior so he lives longer. We don’t have that kind of marriage. (Whew. That was a close call. Barely cooked ribeye and giant pie for dinner, yay!!!! – Lee)
Anyway, I may not want to live this lifestyle alone, and frankly that wasn’t an issue before we went on the road. I could and would have lived that life alone. I had a job where I could support myself and although I definitely would have sold my house and moved, I had the flexibility to live in almost any major city. It would have sucked, but I would have figured it out. And yes, on occasion I thought those scenarios through. I am a risk planner, that’s how I work. But now I have no idea. My initial gut reaction would be to ditch all of this and go back to what was “easier.” You have to work for this lifestyle and it feels overwhelming. Then instantly the next picture in my mind is missing out on those beautiful views. But in that picture I turn to say something to my best friend, and he’s not there. Sharing that view with someone I love is a major part of it for me.
That’s where I stop, because I don’t know that I would want to do this without him. I have kids who theoretically would need/want me around, and I have dreams of traveling internationally that never made much sense for us as a couple with children. In times of crisis I have always found comfort in work, so I suppose that would appeal to me if nothing else, to keep my mind occupied. I have parents who would like to see more of me, and I may eventually have grandchildren that I want to spend time with. I honestly don’t know which way I would land, but I think it’s very unlikely my life would look like it does now. Which frankly just pisses me off. To work so hard to achieve something and then have it taken away really sucks. It would have sucked in my old life too, but I wouldn’t have lost both my husband and my lifestyle. Like I said, I worked really hard to put myself in a position where that wouldn’t happen to me, and then I gave it away to start this.
I wouldn’t do it any differently. Missing out on the last three years because I was afraid of losing it would have been tragic. I could never regret the time we have had, in fact I would be more grateful that we got to experience it before I was alone. I can feel that way and still hate feeling so vulnerable. I wanted to add to anyone who has lost a spouse and reading this that I hope I didn’t offend you. I have no illusions that I can even grasp the enormity of change that brings to a person’s life regardless of what kind of lifestyle they live. I intentionally was looking at it from a very narrow view , partly because that is all my mind can handle, and partly because this blog is mainly about the full timing lifestyle. It is flippant to say that we would be better off if I died first, but practically we would, because I have no doubt that Lee would be able to figure out a way to continue alone.
Update: I posted this and my Mom, who lost her husband last year, left me some wonderful advice on Facebook. Since she has never steered me wrong and has been through this herself, I thought I would share her thoughts here. “Life is a journey, and creating a new life at different times is part of passing through stages of life (marriage, the birth of children, empty nest, loss of a parent, etc) You can plan what you might do at these turning points to ease the anxiety of the unknown, or you can relax in who you are becoming and enjoy the journey you are on knowing you will be able to make the right choice for you at the time it needs to be made.” Love you, Mom.
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