Our sixth year anniversary on the road was an strange year by all accounts, because it happened in 2020, which was an extraordinary year all by itself. My initial thought when tackling this post was I would have little to write about because we stayed in place for five months, but I quickly realized that from an emotional standpoint whether we were traveling or standing still, one thing the sixth year did not lack was emotion. The year started out well. We were with our oldest daughter and new grandson in Charleston, SC and I was a month into my new corporate job. In November I got to take my first work trip and returned to Westminster, MA where I had worked for 13 years. The opportunity to see so many people that mattered to me and going back to roughly the same job I left when we became full timers felt like slipping on a comfortable old pair of jeans. It felt a little tight initially, but soon I was very comfortable. Here’s what I wrote at the time about returning to corporate work.
“This was the feeling that I had been missing. I know working isn’t always like this, and I still don’t like the politics but these moments are really important to me. I am so glad that I made the choice I did, and I am really happy to be back… For some reason when we started full timing I felt it was an either or decision. I know now that it is simply not the case. I do NOT regret taking a break and getting some outside perspective, because I grew as a person and I appreciate these moments so much more now. That being said I would encourage anyone thinking of quitting a job they love to become a full timer to really think that through. If you are like me hopefully you can find a way to have both. Yes, there are compromises, but there will always be compromises regardless of your situation. I do not know one person who travels without thought of care of other things. Whether it is family obligations, money restrictions, or personal preferences of your travel partner no one I know travels the country with no constraints. The trick is to balance those constraints with what you love and hopefully find a way to make it all work together.”
The next couple of months were largely great ones as we celebrated Oliver’s first Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas. The only thing that marred those events was Lee was having some pretty serious shoulder pain and after we couldn’t find a doctor to give him decent care in Charleston he ultimately drove to Columbus and went to see my brother. As painful as this was in the short-term, this solved a long-term issue for us as my brother became our primary care physician. Since he understands our lifestyle, we no longer have to deal with a variety of primary care doctors on the road and more importantly we have continuity in Lee’s care post heart attack. Healthcare for us has been a huge battle for the previous five years and having a permanent solution in place eased stress in me I didn’t realize I was constantly carrying. While we were in Charleston we also got to see our other two daughters, and we met Kat’s new partner Adrian. It was a lovely six weeks, and with mixed feelings we headed west to see Cori, Greg, Kelly, and Bill. (The mixed feelings weren’t because we were going to see those people, they’re awesome. It was because we had to leave our daughter and grandbaby. – Lee)
As I am sure every new grandparents with a grandchild in another state has, we had several long conversations about whether we should stay in Charleston. If there were reasonably priced campgrounds near my daughter that conversation might have gone differently, but despite our best efforts that is a difficult area for us to find a place to stay in long term. Plus Lee was ready to go, and I needed to see how travel was going to work with my new corporate job. So off we went with both sadness and happiness in our hearts. It helped that we were going to see some of our best friends and had a place to stay. Cori and Greg had done lots of work to their property in the last year and we couldn’t wait to see it. Lee was excited about helping them with some work around their new barndominium, and I was looking forward to being with my friends, including new grandma Kelly!
During the last six years the lives of Kelly and I have mirrored each other, with my time table being just a little bit behind. She sold her house four months before me, went on the road a few months before us, and became a grandmother a few months ahead of me as well. I knew how hard it was for her to leave her grand baby, but thought (as I often do) if Kelly could do it then so could I. To those who knew me from before it may come as a surprise that I was struggling so much with leaving my grandchild. I was always a working Mom and although I strove to be a good parent I was never a “baking cookies” kind of Mom. My intense feelings towards Oliver were a bit of a surprise to everyone and I found it surprisingly difficult to leave him. Yes, there was FaceTime and social media, but he was only four months old and I was afraid he wouldn’t remember me. Kelly understood my feelings perfectly and Cori understood the issues I was having with work. Things were still going very well, but getting back into the corporate mentality was a bit of an adjustment, and after the holidays the workload hit full force. There have been many times over the last six years I had heavily relied on my friendship with these two women and as always they were there for me in ways I cannot even express. Love you both and I am so incredibly grateful you are in my life. Bill and Greg you are pretty cool too!!
The next few weeks were pretty busy when Jo & Ben, Bridgette & Pat, Mikki, and Linda (Kelly’s long time best friend and new full timer) came to visit at we all affectionately refer to as the Center for Mental Wellness. It was particularly fun when Jack got to spend time with Peyton and Sammy (Jo & Ben’s dogs) and those connections helped me enjoy the life I was living, and miss Oliver less. Jack & Hobie also quickly established a routine where Jack annoyed the crap out of Hobie every day, and Hobie patiently let him. We had money, friends, and a great place to stay, and this lifestyle really doesn’t get much better than that. At this point in time, nobody had even heard of CoVid.
While I was working and seeing friends, Lee decided to tackle some RV projects he had been putting off. With a stable environment, Bill and Greg to help, and access to all the stores, he replaced the carpet in the front and back of the RV and added carpet in the middle, and a bunch of other smaller stuff that alone didn’t amount to much but in aggregate was a major improvement. That is Lee’s happy place, and with great weather and money he was able to get lots done. Our RV was holding up very well, but a refresh was definitely needed and I was grateful he was tackling some of the bigger jobs. Despite the temporary upheaval in the house, I loved the look of our new carpet.
I know I keep mentioning money, but it did matter, because instead of us working in an oil field we were able to stay with our friends and do some much needed repairs. I was also able to send lots of gifts to Oliver and that combined with lots of FaceTime, made me feel a little better about the separation. Things were going well as we prepped to go north for Lee’s summer work-kamping gig in the Black Hills, and it wasn’t until March 16th that I first wrote about COVID. It wasn’t like we weren’t aware that it was out there, but it seemed pretty far away from rural Texas and initially it didn’t have much impact on any of us personally. As I am writing about this I find myself incredibly glad that I write this blog. I have the advantage of knowing exactly what I was thinking over the next several months and will use that perspective to talk about that time without it being colored by everything that I know now but didn’t know then. Of course in hindsight we all know much more now than we did then, but at the time we took it both more seriously and less seriously than we should have. Please keep in mind the information coming to us all was contradictory and sporadic. When COVID initially hit many of us full timers were scrambling to figure out where to stay long term. Almost everyone I know without a permanent address was concerned, and we were so much luckier than many. At the time there was discussion of travel between states being possibly restricted and many public campgrounds were shut down initially. Folks with reservations found themselves scrambling and others who were traveling had to find a place to stop. A hardy few kept going but almost everyone I knew eventually found a place to hunker down for awhile. As I said we were incredibly lucky because we were with Cori & Greg. On numerous occasions they said we could stay indefinitely and since we were safe and with people we loved we gratefully accepted. We had access to all kinds of extras (like a freezer) while we stayed with them and we all pooled our resources and bought as many groceries as we could to minimize our trips even just for curbside pickup. Again, having money was a huge plus, especially as we saw many gate guards lose their positions as wells shut down. Our conversations were all about listing the people we knew and whether they were safe and even in our little bubble anxiety was rising.
On March 25th I posted the following, “Just like with our Instant Pots that pressure has to go somewhere and it is interesting how different people are when they are letting it go. Some spend hours on the internet dissecting every scrap of information and others bury their head in the sand and pretend its not really happening. Those are the two ends of the spectrum of course and most people fall somewhere in between. Even day to day I find myself careening between those two extremes and it has been hard to find a balance. I want and need information, but it is disappointing how difficult it has been to find credible information. That gets a little easier every day, but even sources I trusted in the past I am not so sure about in today’s world. I find myself missing the news casters of my childhood. Where is today’s Peter Jennings?” “…Yesterday I ran out of conditioner. It was a stupid little thing and something I had just overlooked in the stock up runs, but for me it was a big deal. In order to avoid going out I looked online but saw they were charging $15 on Amazon for a $4 bottle of conditioner. That enraged me, so I jumped in our truck and went to Dollar General where I found it for $4. The problem was while I was at Dollar General I was exposed. There is no way to go into any store without running the risk of being contaminated and my competing desires of not getting financially fleeced, not wanting to expose myself, and wanting my conditioner right damn now were raging in my head.” “These are complicated times and people’s true characters come out under stress. I want to be a person who lifts people up instead of placing blame. I want to be a person who is selfless rather than selfish. But it is hard. Because it is scary. Everyday I see the death count grow and although I intellectually understand that people die every day this is different. Not just because of the risks to us individually, but because of the risks to us as a species. Will we survive this, of course. Will we remain unchanged I hope not. Personally I believe our larger society was in need of a wake up call. It is a harsh lesson to be sure, but when history looks back I believe this will be a pivotal moment in our cultural development. One day we woke up and the world had changed and it happened very fast. How will we respond to those changes? What will be the long lasting impacts especially for the next generations? Will this further tear us apart of bring us together? As an optimist, I am hopeful that long term those changes will be a good thing, but the cost is so very high. As of this moment 19,725 people have died from Covid-19. Those are the ones we know about. Many of them would have died soon anyway from other causes, but what is one day worth to a person? One week, one month? They aren’t anyone I know personally, but they could be. The longer this goes on they probably will be. I can’t stop it from happening, but I will do what I can to slow it down. I will stay in place, be selfless instead of selfish as best I can, and be ready to help pick up the pieces when this is all over.”
We didn’t all make the choice to stay in place. After much soul searching Kelly and Bill made a beeline to Pennsylvania where they had booked a seasonal site and would be close to their kids and grandchild. We were sorry to see them go but understood why they would take that risk. We ended up staying largely because Lee was concerned about his health. As long term smokers we were both higher risk, but adding Lee’s heart attack to the equation made him truly believe if he caught it he might die. I wanted to be closer to Kyrston of course but they were both working in restaurants and were running the risk of getting the disease themselves. There were no good choices back then, so everyone just made the best decisions they could with the information they had. Things were complicated by the fact that for the first time in my life I was put on furlough and although I was grateful to still have a job the pressure of doing five days of work in a three day week was very intense. After monitoring the situation closely, and considering it every day for several weeks, Lee finally decided to not go to his summer gig. There was no way he could avoid the public in the job he was given and after talking to Cori and Greg we decided to stay. It’s worth saying again that Cori and Greg were amazing. It can’t be easy having guests for five months, but they were more than gracious and treated us like family. After that experience they are my family, but my Midwestern sensibility never let me stop worrying about making sure were weren’t taking advantage. I know its silly, but those of you from the Midwest will understand. The absolute worst part of that time was Greg and Cori lost Hobie and although I was glad we were able to be with them at such a difficult time it had a deep impact on all of us. Hobie was a larger than life little figure in many of our lives, and watching him pass, even with dignity and love, was heart wrenching for all of us. Greg in particular took it hard and seeing his pain was so very difficult. Jack was also very upset for several days and kept looking for his friend which was also very sad to watch. Brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it. It was strange that in a world with so many people dying we would all be impacted by a dog, but anyone who is a dog person will certainly understand. Finally in July we headed north, making a conscious decision to try and take our life back. There was no end in site with Covid but since by this time there was no safe place in the US we decided we would pick up our plans and head north to see our second daughter, Kat. Our original travel plans had us seeing her at the end of the summer, but we reversed the trip and decided to see her instead. We haven’t spent much time with Kat during the last six years and took this opportunity to spend a month with her and her partner Adrian. Just getting there was pretty challenging, but thankfully we found a nice place to stay with a decent monthly rate and over the next few weeks really got to know our daughter as an adult in her own environment. Coincidentally she lives very close to where the George Floyd murder happened, and the impact of that event was very strong for her. The entire world was shaken by the event, but she was involved in the protests and her immediate neighborhood was affected being right in the middle of it all. Together we had an opportunity to see the memorial on the site where it happened and seeing it in person had a deep impact on me. I was truly grateful I could be with my daughter after this occurred. As with most other people the stress of the pandemic, racial tensions, and work furlough was really getting to me. Lee and I have been struggling in our marriage since his heart attack and one positive that came out of all of this was we decided to get serious about some therapy. Finding a counselor on the road is incredibly difficult but COVID actually opened some doors. Many therapists were trying therapy in a virtual environment for the first time and we were able to find a therapist from Florida who was willing to take us on virtually. Her home state mattered because therapists are only licensed in certain states and since our home address is Florida we started there. Thing were so challenging that we initially we were talking to her twice a week, but eventually we went down to one. When you have been married for over 30 years there is a ton of stuff to unpack and like many couples we had multiple issues that we had never addressed. We started working through them one by one and although the process has definitely helped us both it has often been painful. I am not going to go into details but I will say it took some time for our therapist to really understand the unique conditions of our lifestyle. Context matters, and we often had to stop and explain why our situation was a little different than that of other couples. One great example of that was when we decided to try a different way of traveling. For years we had wanted to try moving more frequently, but jobs and family have largely stopped that from happening. Now we had money and time and wanted to see what it looked like to make shorter hops and move every week or so. For me, at least, it has been a mixed bag. I do enjoy being closer to places I want to see and getting so many of my state stickers by staying in different states, but the stress of moving and finding campgrounds has not been fun. Part of that is I always need strong cell signal, and many more people are camping locally than they usually do because of COVID. Campground availability (with strong AT&T signal) has been challenging and Lee and I spent hours upon hours planning our routes. Those conversations were not always fun, but we hung in there and learned along the way. We are also spending a lot more money with this travel style because we are largely unable to take advantage of the cheaper long-term rates. I won’t rehash all of that here, but I did write a couple of post on trying a new way to travel with the details. It is interesting though that our opinions about traveling are so different than the beginning of the year. A huge part of that is COVID is everywhere and since the risk exists no matter where you are why not travel. For us we have tried to stay in rural areas as much as possible and we take everyday measures to keep ourselves as safe as possible. The riskiest we have been has been when we visited friends and family because it is extremely difficult to maintain physical distance when you are seeing people you haven’t seen for a long time. So far we have been extremely lucky, although we have had a couple of scares along the way but thankfully our tests came back negative. Lastly, I would like to say to some extent I judge our years based on the people we see and the pictures I get to take. Despite COVID we have managed to be with people we love and see some pretty incredible things. I am incredibly thankful for that, and six years of this lifestyle for allowing those moments. I’ll end by sharing with you a few of my favorite moments in pictures.
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