Wednesday, March 9, 2016

My First Year On The Road

A year ago Friday on March 11, 2015, I left my 'stick-and-brick' home in Des Moines, IA and hit the road in my RV full-time with my two Yorkshire Terrier buddies, Whiskers and Roger Dodger.

My Best Friend,
Jan Robertson
Whiskers | Roger Dodger
My first stop was in Southern Illinois for a private memorial service for my recently deceased wife, Jan Robertson. Would that she could have joined me on this adventure!

But my life’s journey goes on. In the last year I’ve visited sixteen national parks or monuments - staying at some for extended periods.

I volunteered over 1,000 hours with the National Park Service at
Gates of Lodore and 400+ hours of labor to build new homes on seven Habitat For Humanity projects in three states. I enjoyed nine days whitewater rafting down the Green River in Colorado, snow skied at five resorts, and camped in a wide variety of federal, state, county, city, tribal, and private campgrounds, as well as, the de rigueur overnight in Walmart and casino parking lots.

What have I appreciated the most from the journey so far? Meeting people in campgrounds and at Habitat For Humanity builds. Some of the finest people I’ve ever met spend their free time building safe and secure homes for communities in need.  I’m also been discovering the subtle regional differences in the cultures of the southwestern states, the heritage of our National Parks, and the widely varied and beautiful landscapes of America.  Through it all I’ve rediscovered old friends online with whom I can share some of the mysteries and emotions of solo travel, and have crossed off a few of the items on My Constantly Evolving Bucket List.

What have been the negatives of the last year on the road? Oh, the usual: unexpected and expensive breakdowns of the RV and bearing witness to the increasing amount of land lost in our “national sacrifice zones” through reckless oil and gas development, mining, urban sprawl and five lane highways to nowhere. Actually the breakdowns have been minor considering the age of my RV (19 years).  Owners of new RVs often have far more complaints and downtime.  

Since departing Iowa I’ve traveled about 6,000 miles through eleven states, but I’ve stayed every single night on the road in my fully-paid-for RV with my forever buddies, Roger and Whiskers. I thought I’d drive more miles than 6,000 since that number is only 44% of what the average US citizen traveled in 2015. Connect the orange dots on this map yo understand where I've spent my time on the road in 2015.

Map of places visited in 2015
Stops Along My Journey in 2015

What’s remarkable is that I only had to pay out-of-pocket for a camping site on 77 out of the 365 nights (21%). On those paid nights I used memberships in RV clubs to reduce the nightly fees 10-50% off the normal rate.
My informal education to prepare for the journey consisted of reading a lot of books and articles on RV travel and RV mechanical systems: how to plan a journey, locate affordable campgrounds, repair things that break, and most importantly, embrace the unpredictable. That knowledge has proved handy more than once. 

My formal education during the year consisted of three days at a Sierra Club Outings leader conference and 80 hours in an online AARP’s defensive driver training course. In addition, I completed four FEMA disaster incident management courses and a 40 hour "Search And Rescue (SAR) Fundamentals" course from in NASAR. I’m scheduled to take the SARTECH II national certification test tomorrow in Arkadelphia, AR and attend eight more SAR presentations.
I’ve also been studying emergency medical books leading to an anticipated certification later this year as a Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician {WEMT}.Granted that I’ve renewed my Wilderness First Aid certification for many years, and previously qualified as an Urban First Responder when I lived in Carbondale, IL. but I really have wanted to be better prepared to deal with medical emergencies on the road, along remote wilderness trails, and down America's wild and scenic rivers. To that end I will need to complete a month long EMT course in April and then complete the wilderness EMT component in October. 

What luxuries did I have to give up on my RV journey? Very little. Well, I did effectively lose cell phone access for about five months while I was a National Park Service campground host in rural Colorado, but got it back temporarily whenever I drove into town on errands. This week I’m installing a cellular signal booster to improve signal availability and quality, but there are still large parts of the country that do not have cell phone access on any phone carrier. Other than that and perfect Internet access my RV contains all the creature comforts of home without the need to mow grass and shovel snow.

During my first year on the road I did not have much access to broad-cast television, but that was by choice. Although I have an automatic satellite dish and tuner I've I opted instead for watching classic DVD movie collections and reading books. They keep me occupied whenever volunteer work, social media, nature, and my dogs haven't been adequate entertainment

Is the RV experience what I imagined it would be before I began this journey? Pretty much so. There have been no major surprises or disappointments. I don’t travel with a lot of the “stuff” that once filled my large home. I downsized from a 3,500 square feet home to less than 300 square feet inside the RV and 75 cubic feet of storage space in the “basement” storage lockers. The downsizing was challenging and rewarding. I no longer feel so owned by my possessions.

But you can be owned by old loves and passions. I've owned and helped restore several old homes. On the 364 day of living full-time in an RV I toured the historic old Seaquist Mansion in Mason, TX that sadly needs of lots of TLC. I quickly realized how very much I still really love old buildings. I just wanted to make that building MINE and bring it back to its once elegant self. Not gonna happen with me. Too many items on that constantly evolving bucket list.

Isn't it lonely traveling by yourself on the road? Yea sometimes.
 I miss my late wife, Jan, who was so at the center of my former life. Being able to share travel with someone special makes an enormous difference in the quality of your life. But working with some really amazing Habitat volunteers and discovering new friends helps compensate. I've come to greatly value the value my friends that stay connected with me, especially those that read and comment on my blog. Thanks to the Internet which I helped grow in the 90's I now can chat daily with old and new friends.

What has been the most interesting phenomena of my travels so far? My answer centers around my experiences when meeting new people. They frequently ask “Where are you from?” It's an icebreaker kind of question, but I always hesitate when answering because I’m not quite sure what to honestly say. I could indicate that I've came from one of the eleven states where I’ve lived in the last year, or perhaps the place of my birth; or where I lived last, most often or most frequently; or where I last owned a home, or where I’ve declared a domicile, or where my heart feels most at home. Many full-time RV travelers simply the question with “Home is where I park my RV.” I’m increasingly more inclined to simply say my home is a fragile blue orb in space. That response is usually not what people are looking for in an answer.

Cassini Spacecraft View of Earth Taken Within the Shadow of Saturn on July 19, 2013
See the tiny blue orb in the bottom right quadrant? That's where I live.
What what do I have planned for year number two on the road?  I'm still excited at the uncertain prospects of the next year. Here is my planned itinerary from February of this year through October. I spent all of January in Livingston, TX ("B" on the map). The destination details are listed in the Itinerary Section of the blog and hereBeyond October my future is quite uncertain, but I'm getting better at living with uncertainty.

My Itinerary Map: February Through October, 2016

Before you cross the street take my hand.
Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans
. ~ John Lennon
~ ~ ~

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