In my last post, back in September, I talked about my yearning to settle down. As it turns out, that wasn’t just idle talk. I’ve slowly come to realize my discontent with nomadic life comes from a pretty deep-seated loneliness. As a deeply introverted person, it takes me a very long time to make friends. The constant moving doesn’t allow for that. I think if I had a partner to travel with I would feel very differently about the nomad life, and would probably not give it up until I couldn’t see to drive anymore.
I’ve spent a lot of time since that last post researching options in my chosen area. I was really attracted to western North Carolina, but when push came to shove, rents there just proved too expensive for my modest income.
So I moved my search across the mountains to eastern Tennessee. As of a couple of days ago, I’ve committed to a small apartment, with a big garage for my motorcycle and my bicycle and all my outdoor gear, in Johnson City. It should be available for me to move in around April. There is tons of hiking in the area, and I’ll only be a half hour drive from the Appalachian Trail.
As always, big changes are both scary and exciting. My biggest fear is that my years of wandering have ruined me for being stationary, and it will turn out that I can’t be content with either life. I do plan to sell the AdventureMobile, but I also plan to buy a smaller RV, something I can tow with the pickup, so I can still travel when the urge strikes.
Now that I’ve settled on a course of action, I’m really anxious to execute it. I’ve never been good at patiently waiting. I’ve got another month here at Big Bend, then in February I’ll head back to East Texas to get the cracked windshield on the AdventureMobile replaced. I’ve got reservations to spend my birthday on the beach in far southeast Texas. Then I’ll slowly start moving east.
The basic theme of Monkeywrench Your Life is not being afraid to make big changes when you recognize the time has come to do so. That time may have come.
The AdventureMobile has been my only home for more than four years now. I’ve been all over the US, all over Mexico, and have explored a bit in Canada. And all the time, people have asked me questions like “What’s your favorite place” or “If you were to settle down, where would it be?” And I’ve always said that those questions miss the point entirely. I didn’t want to have one favorite place. I didn’t want to settle down. In fact, the whole idea used to make me shudder. Movement was the point.
But suddenly, I find myself yearning for exactly that. The idea of having a fixed address seems so simple and comforting. My mail wouldn’t have to chase me around the country. I could subscribe to a magazine or two. I wouldn’t have to plan doctor appointments a year in advance, for the next time I manage to be in the state. I could go backpacking for a week or a month, or load up some gear on the motorcycle and take off for a trip, and just lock the door and come back afterwards and everything would be just as I left it. The simplicity of it is very appealing.
Of course, the change didn’t actually happen suddenly. I’ve been struggling with discontent on several fronts for a good while. It’s the realization that this is what I want that was sudden.
But where? Where do I want to live, and perhaps more importantly, where can I afford to live? There are lots of affordable places all across the country, but I can’t imagine spending the rest of my life in most of them. I miss trees and green grass. I miss the mountains, easy access to lots of hiking, and hiking culture.
The obvious choice might be New England, as it has all of those things, and it’s where I spent most of my life. But I can’t afford to live in New England, and I can’t deal with the long, cold, dark winters there. The last decade or so that I lived there, I suffered terribly with SAD in the winter. I can’t do that again!
My first thought is the southern Appalachians. Eastern Tennessee or western North Carolina. Yes, they have winter there, but it’s relatively mild and short. But that’s just my first instinct. Someplace else might bring itself to my attention. In fact, if you have a suggestion I’d love to hear it.
Nothing is going to happen right away. I’ve got commitments for the next four months. I’ll be in Livingston tomorrow, and I’ve got doctor and ophthalmologist appointments lined up. I’ve got to get the truck inspected. The usual stuff I take care of every year while I’m there. Then in three weeks I’ll head west to Big Bend National Park, where I’ll be volunteering patrolling backcountry campsites for three months. When I leave there at the beginning of February, maybe I’ll head east and start checking out possible places to settle down. Or maybe I’ll change my mind entirely. Who knows? Only time will tell.
But whatever you call it, it’s a bargain! For $80, it covers the entrance fee to any federal recreation lands. National Parks and Monuments. National Forest and National Grasslands fee areas. COE. BLM. And I’m sure there are some I’m not thinking of at the moment.
I bought my current pass in October of 2018. After spending the first half of October in Connecticut I was heading south down the east coast and decided to spend a few days in Shenandoah National Park. The pass I had at the time had expired over the summer, so when I entered the park I purchased a new one.
This afternoon I went back through my calendar and tried to note all of the parks I’ve visited since that purchase, along with a couple I expect to visit in the next few weeks. Here’s the list, in chronological order:
This is a recurring topic in my thoughts. Not that I think about it a lot or that it bothers me, just that I find it interesting to sort of watch how my thinking and feeling about it is evolving.
For me, for the most part, the AdventureMobile is home. Even in casual conversation I’ll say “when I get home” and I mean when I get back to the RV. So wherever the RV is parked is home. Whether I’m parked in one of the western deserts or the forests of New England or along the Carolina shore or beside a Louisiana bayou, when I step inside the motorhome I’m home. All my stuff is there. I sit in my favorite spot on the couch. I sleep in my bed with my head on my pillow. It is totally familiar and I can walk around in the dark and never stub a toe. It’s all comfortable and familiar and mine. Though sometimes when I wake up in the morning and open the shade I get momentarily disoriented. Wasn’t there a tree outside my window yesterday? Why is it a lake today? It’s always the same house but the view changes frequently.
But in another sense I do have a geographic home. My mailing address is in Livingston, Texas. True, it’s just a Private Mail Box (PMB) number in a building where they accept and sort and forward thousands of pieces of mail every day. The USPS actually sends a tractor trailer there every day to drop off and pick up mail. When I first joined Escapees and signed up for their Mail Forwarding Service, that’s all it was to me.
I buy my health insurance via the ACA exchange. On the exchange the choice of insurance you get depends on where you live. I believe it’s organized by county. And the only plans available in Polk County, Texas are HMO’s, so I only have access to doctors (other than emergencies) in that area. I also, of course, have my vehicles registered in Texas.
I left Texas mid-January in 2018 and wasn’t back in the state until November. Both of my registrations expire in November. I hadn’t had a physical in 2018 as that got lost in the shuffle when Jodi and I split up and I lost my home and my job and my Dad died and life was just a bit turbulent for a while. So I figured I better see my doctor in Livingston and get that physical, and at the same time I’d get both vehicles inspected and renew the registrations.
All this is just a rather long way of saying that I now have certain ties to Livingston. It’s the place I go back to when I need to take care of certain things. I’ve been there 4 times now, for a total of probably 8 or 9 weeks. Three of those times I stayed at Rainbow’s End RV Park, which is where the headquarters for the Escapees RV Club is located. The other time I couldn’t get a reservation there and stayed at Lake Livingston State Park instead.
I’ve been in Livingston enough now that I’ve started to learn my way around the town. I have a favorite barber there. I even know the layout of the grocery store reasonably well! These things help make it feel like home.
And then there are the Escapees. Not so much the club organization, but the people who belong to the club. RVers in general tend to be a friendly and helpful lot, and Escapees seem to take that to the next level. For a painfully introverted person it’s a really good thing to have people strike up random conversations with me, though I’ll admit that it doesn’t always feel that way at the time.
Last week I had a minor out-patient surgery. One of those procedures you have done in the doctor’s office. But when I first saw the doctor for the initial consultation a few weeks ago he was adamant that I had to have someone to drive me home after the procedure. Now this was a dilemma. The doctor doing the surgery is located an hour+ from Livingston. An Uber would be something like $80 each way, assuming I could even get one. There are only a few in the area and they won’t always go out of town like that. And getting one back afterwards was not a sure thing. So what to do?
That night I posted on the Escapees Facebook group explaining my dilemma and within a few hours I had an offer from someone to drive me to my appointment (thanks Steve!) and back, and a backup offer from someone else not even staying at Rainbow’s End who said they’d come and drive me if for any reason the first offer fell through. Phew! That solved that logistical problem.
So Livingston. It’s where I go when I have to take care of stuff. It’s where my mail gets forwarded from. It’s where I vote. It’s where I find people to help me out when I need it. It’s where I know my way around and don’t have to use GPS every time I drive anywhere.
I still consider home to be wherever the motorhome is parked. But Livingston is also starting to feel like home to me. It’s interesting how this is all evolving. I am not a person that feels a need for roots. That’s not what it’s all about. But it’s home in the sense that I think things like “I’ll have to get back to Livingston to take care of that.”
When people ask me where I’m from I have several answers I might give depending on the context, and sometimes just my mood. I might say “Wherever I am, that’s where I’m from,” which is my I’m-a-full-time-vagabond-free-from-the-confines-of-everyday-life answer. Or I might say “I spent most of my life in New England,” which is my I’m-a-proud-New-Englander answer. Or sometimes if I just want to end this conversation I’ll say “Texas,” as Livingston, Texas is now my official residence.
For the most part I do still think of myself as an Easterner, and more specifically as a New Englander. I remember telling someone last year that while I loved being in the desert it was not my native habitat and to feel really at home I needed mountains and trees. I enjoyed my time in the Rockies of Colorado last summer, but of course those are different mountains and trees than those I grew up with in New England. In the West, everything is on a much grander scale.
When I left Colorado bound for Connecticut last September, I was quite excited about heading “home.” And I do remember the excitement I felt when I hit Pennsylvania and things started to feel like home. Even the heavy northeast traffic, and tolls, and constantly watching for low clearances, felt like home. For a while.
I spent three weeks in Connecticut. It rained. A lot. I enjoyed seeing family. I enjoyed showing Aoife around the places I grew up. And then I headed south. Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania. Four states in one day! The next day; Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia. Holy crap, it takes me four days to drive across Texas.
I spent a few days in Shenandoah National Park, and a few more at Carolina Beach down in North Carolina, then I headed west to Livingston, Texas. After a week or so there, I headed back east to Louisiana where I spent nearly three months at Black Bayou Lake NWR. It was all nice, but it started to feel so small and cramped.
I left Louisiana a couple of weeks ago. After stopping back in Livingston for a few days to take care of some medical appointments, I finally struck out for the West again. It took four full days of driving to cross Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and get just across the border into southern California. Big, wide open spaces. Desert sunsets. It feels good. It feels like home!
When I first chose Texas as my domicile and “moved” there, it felt pretty far west to me. But now Livingston, which is in the Piney Woods Region of eastern Texas, feels like the East to me. I want to be farther west. Maybe I should move my home base to Arizona. Well, that’s something to think about for a while.
There’s nothing quite like the anticipation, waiting for the big brown truck to arrive with a new toy!
I know. I know. My birthday isn’t for a couple more weeks, but I ordered my present to myself a bit early while I was in a place where it could be delivered.
One of the volunteer tasks I took on here at Black Bayou Lake NWR was to help with the guided canoe/kayak tours out to the eagles’ nest at the far end of the lake.
I’m too tall for the kayaks they have available here so on my first trip I was going to use the one solo canoe. Luckily for me one of the locals that came on the trip with his own kayak also brought an extra kayak that was big enough for me and he was kind enough to let me use it. This was the first time I had ever been in a kayak. And at the end of the trip Dean was kind enough to offer to leave his kayak with me for the three months I’ve been here, so I had several chances to get out on the water and I really enjoyed kayaking.
So I ordered a Sea Eagle 393rl for myself. This is an inflatable kayak, so it folds up and goes into a backpack/storage bag that I can store in one of the basement storage compartments of the AdventureMobile.
Unfortunately it’s turned quite cold for the rest of the week so I may not get a chance to actually get it out on the water before I leave here on Saturday. Isn’t that just how life goes?
I thought I had the general outline of 2019 all figured out; or at least the summer. I was going to spend the season working as a campground host again. The only question in my mind was whether I wanted to stay east this summer or head west again. Well, I had also applied for a volunteer position in Yosemite, and if I had gotten that I would have foregone earning money this summer for the chance to spend the season in Yosemite. But I’m sure they get lots and lots of applicants so I didn’t expect that to happen, and it didn’t.
Eventually I decided I wanted to go to Oregon, so I applied to the company I worked for in Colorado last summer and told them I wanted to work one of their campgrounds in Oregon. After a phone conversation it basically came down to me picking which campground I wanted and letting them know.
And then I woke up the next morning and saw an email from WINs talking about the circuits they’re running in 2019 and one of them caught my eye. I’m going to spend my summer traveling the country with the WINs and cycling on a bunch of the best cycling paths we have.
So the adventure continues. Sometimes on 10 wheels. Sometimes on 4. Sometimes on 2.
It’s been a good while since my last blog post. I left Colorado the middle of September and since then I’ve traveled nearly 5,000 miles. Since leaving New England on November 14 of last year, I’ve driven the motorhome with the car in tow almost 15,000 miles. And all of that driving has been solo.
The motorhome is 35′ 2″ long, 8′ 6″ wide, and 12′ 3″ +/- 3″ tall. With the car on behind the total length is just about 55′. The GVWR of the motorhome is 22,000 lbs, or 11 tons. The GCWR — the maximum weight of motorhome plus anything towed — is 26,000 lbs.
The two specific things I need to be aware of when driving are low clearances under bridges or in tunnels, and weight ratings on bridges.
I long ago trained myself to always see and read clearance signs, and anything less than 13′ sets off mental alarm bells in my head. I never want to be featured on YouTube smashing into the 11′ 8″ bridge!
In practice the weight limits only come into play on the most minor roads, and have only been an issue once. I’ll get to that later.
So what does all this have to do with navigation? Well, with the motorhome navigation is more than just finding the quickest way or the shortest way or the most scenic way from Point A to Point B. It’s also finding the route where the roads are comfortable driving a large vehicle and where I won’t be stopped by any low clearances or weight restrictions.
Then there are special situations like tunnels I am not allowed through because I have propane on board. There’s the Baltimore Harbor tunnel on I-95, all of the Boston tunnels, and the lower level of the George Washington Bridge in New York. And on the east coast there are parkways that are open to passenger cars only and from which I am excluded. In Connecticut there’s the Merritt Parkway. In New York I am allowed on thruways but not on parkways. Then there’s the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey, where there are weight restrictions on vehicles north of Exit 105.
And on the east coast I also think about tolls. If I were to cross the George Washington Bridge without an EZ-Pass, the toll would be $84. With my EZ-Pass, at off-peak hours it’s only $68.
And finally, one more thing to think about: where am I going to get gas along the way? My motorhome is a “gasser,” as it has a gas engine. So I need to pull up to the gas pumps, not the diesel pumps designed for large trucks. And I can’t use just any gas station I see along the way. There needs to be enough room for me to maneuver, which involves the orientation of the pumps as well as the approach to and exit from them. One of my rules for driving this thing is never to pull into any place where I can’t see how I am going to exit out.
Fortunately, we live in a high tech world. Google Maps and in particular satellite view makes it possible for me to locate a gas station and look at the approach to and exit from the pumps. And sometimes if I can’t figure out the pump orientation because they are under a canopy, Street View will give me a look. So I will note exactly how I will enter the station and which pump lane I need to use, all while still hundreds of miles away.
My default while traveling the interstates is to look for a Flying J or Pilot with RV lanes. They are easy to find using the MyPilot app on my phone, and I get a 3 cent discount on the gas price using my loyalty card. I can also usually get my propane tank refilled if needed, and they often have free fresh water so I can refill my fresh tank.
Whew! All of this and we haven’t really got to navigating yet! So you might have realized by now that there’s more to getting my rolling house from here to there than searching for the destination on Google Maps and clicking START. Google doesn’t know what I’m driving and will happily route me on roads where I can’t go. So I have an RV specific GPS made by Garmin. This GPS allows me to make a profile that includes the height, width, length and weight of the RV, and attempts to route me in a way that avoids any clearance or weight rating issues. It’s not perfect by any means. Not every bridge and overpass is in its database, and if it doesn’t know about something, it can’t route me around it. And as you might imagine, it has a very strong preference for the interstate highways. So much so that it sometimes comes up with some really crazy routing. I remember being 7 miles from a state park campground I was heading to just off the Natchez Trace Parkway and the Garmin was giving me a route that was 35 miles long. And last month when I was heading for Big Meadows Campground in Shenandoah National Park, it simply refused to route me onto Skyline Drive, even though that is the only way to get to the campground.
As you can see, I can’t rely on just Google Maps. And I can’t rely just on my Garmin. So I use both. And neither of them tell me about things like propane restrictions or which gas stations I can get in and out of, so there’s always a bit of research I need to do before hitting the road.
Here’s what the cockpit of the AdventureMobile looks like going down the road. To the left are the two GPS’s, and to the right is the backup camera and the tablet that monitors the brake system in the towed car — AKA “the toad” — as well as monitoring the tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS).
Google Maps usually comes up with a shorter route, and often I’ll follow it. Usually it pays off, but not always. When I was heading to Lake Fausse Pointe State Park in Louisiana the Google Maps route was 30 miles shorter than the Garmin route. Just after crossing the Atchafalaya River it took me off the highway and onto a parish route following the levee south. As soon as I got on this road I had a bad feeling. The road was really narrow with no shoulder. But there was no place to turn around. Some of the side roads were nothing more than tire tracks through the grass. So I pushed on. I continued on for a number of miles until the road made a 90 degree turn and there was a sign warning of a bridge ahead with a 5 ton weight limit and 9′ 6″ clearance. Well I’m more than twice the weight limit and 3 feet taller than the clearance. Crap! Fortunately there was a gravel lot right on this corner and I managed to get turned around in there and retraced those miles back to the interstate where I followed the longer Garmin route the rest of the way to the park.
I have been working on this post since the end of July. It’s a topic I felt like I had to write about, yet it’s been very difficult to get down in words. It’s been quite a struggle and I think it’s a bit disjointed and awkward, but I hope you will be patient and can manage to get my meaning. So here goes:
I became both a full-time RVer and single all at once when my ex and I split up. While I had envisioned full-time RV living for a good while, I had always assumed it would be as a couple and I had always assumed we’d make an orderly transition to the lifestyle. Instead, for all intents and purposes I became both single and without a sticks and bricks abode quite suddenly in one phone call on a Friday evening.
I’ve read posts on RVing internet forums and on RVing Facebook groups from singles discussing how difficult it is to travel alone. Well, I love traveling alone! I’ve always loved traveling; moving from here to there and seeing new landscapes unfold before me. I’ve traveled on foot, by bicycle, in a car, by plane, and in the motorhome. I enjoy them all, and I’ve done them all both alone and with a partner.
Traveling alone is certainly different than traveling with someone else. Since this is primarily an RVing blog I’ll limit my comments to that realm, but in general they apply to whatever travel mode I’m in.
Moving down the road with the car behind the motorhome, I am about 55′ long, 12 1/2′ high, and 8 1/2′ wide. It’s rarely possible to just pull over to the curb and figure out where I’m supposed to be going, and I don’t have a co-pilot who can look things up and help me figure things out, so when I hit the road in the morning I try to make sure I know where I’m heading and how I’m going to get there. This includes where I am going to stop for gas or to fill up on fresh water or to dump the waste tanks if needed.
I usually travel with two GPS units; my RV-specific Garmin and Google Maps on my phone. Most of the time this is completely redundant and unnecessary, but I remember well the day I came over the pass from Boulder City into Henderson , NV heading through Las Vegas. The highway was being worked on and that work included a re-alignment of some on-ramps, and that threw off the Garmin and caused it to just quit navigating. Now one does *not* pilot this motorhome through heavy traffic and play with the GPS at the same time. Fortunately, Google maps was still working and that kept me on course through the city until I could finally stop somewhere — I don’t recall, but probably a highway rest area — and get the Garmin back on track.
Okay, I’ve wandered a bit off-topic here. Let me try to get back on track; social life for the introvert single RVer.
I enjoy traveling alone. I like that I can decide on a Saturday evening that I want to go to Oregon, and get up on Sunday morning and go. I like that I can decide whether I want to drive 100 miles today, or 500 miles. I like that if I just want to stay in and watch Netflix all day I can do that, or if I want to go out and hike 15 miles through desert heat, I can do that. Heck, I once made an all-day field trip to see a creosote bush!
One of the downsides is that I have gone literally weeks without interacting with another person other than transactional conversations like checking into a campground. As an introvert it is way too easy to slip into this pattern, and eventually it takes a toll even on me. I remember having this thought conversation with myself back at the end of last year, and one of the things I did to combat this was to sign up for the Xscapers Convergence in Quartzsite last January. There are lots of great people who belong to Xscapers, but that’s the problem for a single introvert; there are just too many people. I ended up actually hiding out in the RV a couple of days during the week-long Convergence, as it was simply overwhelming. And when I left there I parked out in the middle of nowhere in the Mojave National Preserve for 10 days by myself, just to recover.
That proved to be a sub-optimal idea, but I didn’t give up. Eventually I came across the Wandering Individuals Network (WIN). An awkward name, but an organization that proved to suit me well. For one thing, as the name implies, it is made up entirely of singles so I’m not stuck trying to fit in with large groups of couples. For another, while most members are retired they are very active, with lots of hiking and cycling and paddling. Just my type of folks. And the WINs run multiple “circuits” so they end up broken up into smaller groups that suit me better.
This summer I spent 4 months working as a campground host at a Forest Service campground in Colorado. To my surprise, I came to really enjoy chatting with the campers. I met lots of really nice people. It did get a bit overwhelming on the holiday weekends, especially at the end of the summer when I was taking care of 3 campgrounds and there were so many people that needed attention, but I managed it. It helps that I never had to deal with any real jerks.
And of course I am not totally alone in the world. I have a relationship with Aoife. It’s mostly a long distance relationship as she lives in the UK, but she’s spent a total of about 7 weeks with me in various locations so far this year, and we have a blast traveling and exploring together. She’ll be flying in again in a couple of weeks while I am in Connecticut.
So what does all this mean? Is there some kind of conclusion to be drawn? Umm, yeah, I think so. For me, I have to put in a bit of effort to put myself in situations where I interact with other people. I need that. But not too much. I need my alone time as well. And if you ever find yourself parked next to me somewhere, say hi to your shy introvert neighbor. I’ll appreciate it.
I finish my summer job on Saturday, and come Sunday morning I’ll be on the road again. And if Willie wants to come along and sing while I drive, he’s most welcome!
I have been busily attending to a seemingly never-ending list of chores, some large and some small, needed to get the rig ready to roll again after sitting still for 4 months. It’s been a wonderful summer but I am incredibly excited to be moving again. It feels like what I’m meant to do.
When I leave here I’ll head to Denver (actually, Auroroa) where I have an appointment to get six new tires on the motorhome on Monday morning. They’ll also be putting on new metal valve stems to support the sensors of the TPMS system I bought recently.
On Tuesday I’ll leave there and start making my way to Forest City, Iowa where I have an appointment at the Winnebago Factory Service Center to get a number of things worked on. My appointment isn’t until the 24th so I expect to have a few days to chill in Forest City beforehand.
From Iowa I’m heading for Connecticut; hopefully in time for Anju’s birthday on September 30th. I’ll be in Connecticut for a few weeks enjoying the fall weather, visiting family, doing some hiking, and generally getting back in touch with my New England roots. And Aoife will be flying in for a week while I’m there, so my family will get to meet her and I’ll get to show her around the places where I grew up.
Eventually I have to leave Connecticut and head “home” to Livingston, Texas where Ill see my doctor for my annual physical and get the vehicles inspected and the registrations renewed. Those stops in the Carolinas on the way are just one idea. I’ve not actually decided which route I’ll take to Texas. I may go via Memphis and visit my cousin there instead of going down the coast.
And finally, I’ll leave Livingston and backtrack a day into Louisiana where I will spend the winter volunteering at a National Wildlife Refuge in exchange for a free RV site and utilities.
As for next spring and summer, I have multiple ideas but none of them have coalesced yet. We’ll just have to wait and see.