A Rough Patch

Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later, but I think it would have been nice to have happened when my lovely house-on-wheels wasn’t so brand-spankin’ new.  Less than 4,000 miles on it and the electrical system went haywire this week.  Dashboard indicator lights flashing on and off and the engine would not start.  Headlights and turn signals were on, even though they were turned off.  In fact, if you turned the headlight switch to “on,” they would go off.  Gremlins have invaded my house!

Had a tow truck take it to a local RV repair shop, and the tow truck broke down on the way.  Talk about adding insult to injury.  Once we finally got it to the repair shop, they took a look at it and then decided they couldn’t get me out of there fast enough.  Said they were not equipped to deal with the problem.  They actually got it started, but only by disconnecting half of the fuse panel, which meant driving without lights or turn signals.  Tried to talk me into driving it to a Ford dealership to have Ford deal with the problem.  Without turn signals, lights, and who knows what else that had been disconnected.  Hardly legal, and even less wise.

Today my sweet little house is being towed to a Ford dealership about 20 miles south of where I am, who cannot even look at it for a week.  I sure hope the tow-truck doesn’t break down again and that it makes the trip safely.  If I didn’t know that it would do no good, I would worry about it terribly.

So, what are Dawny and I doing without our house?  Well, thankfully this all took place while we were visiting a good friend (actually an ex-husband hahaha).  And thankfully he lives on his own and actually welcomes having company for a stretch of time, even if it’s me!  So I unloaded all of the most critical items from my little house before sending it on its way, entrusting it to Ford’s care.  May that trust be well warranted… and may the work be totally warrantied!

Meanwhile, Dawny is enjoying chasing lizards in a fenced-in back yard.  She still gets lovely morning and evening walks, and she now has an extra person to beg food scraps from.

As for me, I am enjoying showering without striving to do so with under 2.5 gallons of water, having unlimited internet access, and watching lots of movies and sharing much laughter with an old, dear friend.

I suppose for a patch of bad luck, we sure are lucky!

Lone Star

It’s official.  I am now a member of the Lone Star State.  How cool is that!  Despite my misfortune in  picking the heat of the Summer to come down here and establish residency, I really like this place.  (You know it is hot when, after a nice, refreshing, cool shower, you break into a sweat just drying off.)  Dealing with reps in the County Courthouse, Tax Office, and Motor Vehicles Department went beyond smoothly.  It was actually a pleasant experience.  People here seem to start from a premise of being nice, unless they have reason otherwise.

Before even arriving in Texas, I had a magical introduction to my new home state via a book recommended by my dear friend and Texas native, Greg.  “Goodbye to a River,” written by John Graves and published in 1960, recounts one man’s personal memories and the cultural memories of countless others handed down largely through oral tradition.  The book’s premise is exceedingly simple:  travel by canoe down a North Texas river soon to be dammed–which would drastically alter the surrounding landscape and literally drown some of the places where these memories took root–and recount personal stories mingled with tales from the surrounding land.  It gives a priceless accounting of some of the struggles of that land, including those between settlers and indians, and is an archetypical example of the significance of the spoken and written word and the power of personal stories in shaping who and what comes after.  As Greg astutely pointed out, the book reads like a blog from 1960.

Speaking of powerful stories, I have met many lovely people at the Escapees Campground, including a number of ladies who give me great solace, encouragement, and confidence that, although I am traveling solo, I am far from alone:

  • Marsha, who left a nice, secure government job to become a full-time RV’er 17 years ago.  She is her nephew’s heroine (and a great hugger).  He must think she is the coolest thing since the iPad.  He helps her keep up with such technological trends, partly so that he can keep track of his beloved Auntie!
  • Hazel, who left Kentucky after the death of her husband to see what was “around the next corner and beyond the next hill… and kept on going.”  Sometimes solo, sometimes with a friend, she saw everything from Alaska to Mexico, California to Maine over the course of 27 years.  At 91 years old, Hazel is now a participant of the Escapees CARE program that assists members who need to come off the road for medical reasons (see previous post).
  • Dottie, who after she lost her husband, downsized from their huge Class A diesel pusher to a tiny (in comparison) Class B van and continued to travel on her own.  She is part of the original group of Escapees that helped to build the organization, the campgrounds, and the CARE center, and currently volunteers much of her time at Habitat for Humanity.
  • Dena, like me, refers to her “previous lifetimes,” which in her case includes seven children and careers ranging from nursing to trucking.  She has been solo’ing in her RV for 15 years, 127,000 miles, and counting.
  • Judi (another great hugger!) who has been full-timing since 1985, but RV’ing much longer than that.  A lengthy career as a long-haul truck driver did nothing to dampen her love for the open road as she moved seamlessly from trucking to full-time RV’ing, currently with her spouse, both of whom devote many hours volunteering at the CARE center.

May the light from these strong, independent, beautiful women–and countless like them–shine forever through their  stories, shared through family and friends, giving confidence, inspiration, and perspective to those who follow their trail as well as to those who forge their own.

(Photograph complements of my brother, Ross, a lover of kayaking and nature photography.)

Home with a Heart

Six months ago, when I started researching how to pull off this full-time RV dream, one of the (many) important steps was to decide which state was best for establishing residency.  You can travel around all you want, but you have to have an address somewhere for official purposes (IRS dealings, for example) and a place to handle your mail if you do not have other arrangements.

There are so many factors that go into this decision that there is no one right answer.  For me, the thing that convinced me to go with Texas and The Escapees RV Club/Mail Service was one very special and unique feature that showed this group of people has tremendous heart.

This feature is the Escapees CARE program (website:  www.escapeescare.org) that they have established adjacent to their campground property at Rainbow’s End near Livingston, Texas.  CARE stands for Continuing Assistance for Retired Escapees.  This is the first (and apparently only) center designed by and for RV’ers to assist members who need that extra level of care.  In addition to a wonderful staff, the program is served by a multitude of member volunteers and funded by donations.  I was extraordinarily touched by this community who has devoted such time, energy, and resources to help their fellow travelers when the road becomes too rough to continue and respite and assistance are needed.

Anyone who has worked in a field related to senior services or who has walked the path of declining health with a loved one is likely familiar with the types of care available as people age, including facilities that range from independent living, assisted living, and nursing home.  A CCRC (continuing care retirement community) has all of these levels within one large campus.  In my work with seniors, I often found tremendous resistance to moving into any of these situations, and a deep desire to stay in one’s own home as long as possible.  Indeed, the Aging in Place movement that is spreading throughout our country helps people to achieve this goal.

The beauty of the Escapees CARE program is that it is like a melding of Aging in Place with Assisted Living.  The member’s home (their RV) gets a site near the CARE building.  A wheelchair ramp and a small storage shed is on their site pad.  Staff is available to help them in their home with things like housekeeping, laundry, and waste-tank management.  The large CARE building (shown in the photo above) houses the dining room (supplying three meals a day, seven days a week), activity center, library, nurse’s station, and other rooms.  Several vans are available to drive people to doctor appointments, shopping trips, and other outings.

In addition to serving the residents, CARE also has an adult care program (ADC).  Participants can come to the main building Monday through Friday for just the day.  CNA’s (certified nurse assistants) are on staff to help them with activities of daily living, including hygiene, eating, exercise, and entertainment.  Some of the people who benefit from the ADC program are the spouses of those who participate.  By having a safe place for their loved one to spend the day, they are given respite from caregiving responsibilities and can regenerate their own energy.  Their loved one comes home at the end of the day.  Caregiver support groups exist so that experiences can be shared and burdens eased.

Home, with a heart.  The Escapees who built CARE are a loose assortment of people from all walks of life who have delighted in years, sometimes decades of independence and widespread travel.  Many were full-time RV’ers, and their homes were wherever they happened to be parked that night.  Their network of friendships were woven from chance encounters and often maintained over great distances, with perhaps only occasional face-to-face meetings.  But their bonds, their hearts, and their love was and continues to be strong, strong enough to have built something like CARE.

I feel honored and blessed to be able to be a part of such a community.

(This post was edited on 6/27/15 after my first week of volunteering at CARE.  After learning about it in more depth, I felt it was important to correct some of the previous details.)