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.)

Lively Clouds

I made it a week out on my own!  And only one call back to Phoenix USA with a question about the emergency brake (which I won’t even tell you what it was because it was so basic that you’d fall over flat imagining someone as green as me out here with this beautiful RV).  I’m exceptionally proud tonight because I screwed something up with the water pump when filling my fresh water tank this morning, and I was able to figure out the remedy along with the help of good-fellow-Google.  What did we ever do before Google?

I am finding that I have to concentrate very hard to do all the steps of even the simplest things correctly.  Like when I arrive at a campground with electrical hookups, I need to plug-in first and make sure my surge protector approves of the power source.  At one perfectly lovely campground in Illinois, I had to try four posts before I found one that satisfied my surge guard monitor.  Boy was I sweaty when I finally found a good one, and it didn’t help that at the first one I had already started unpacking and setting things up before realizing the power source was no good and had to move.  Again and again and again.

I am excruciatingly careful with the propane, from the stove to the tank itself (faithfully turning it off when I fuel up), and mentally following all these steps that are so foreign to me.  I am becoming attuned to the finer points of balancing how quickly my gray and black tanks fill up and how fast my fresh water gets used.  I am becoming a gourmet cook (at least my hungry tummy thinks so) using the simplest and most basic ingredients.  I am listening to my body’s timetable for important events (sleep, wake, potty breaks) rather than dictating to my body.

I have discovered that sweat is not a dirty word.  Nor is wearing a shirt for more than a day or pants until they cross the line on their own two legs.  I have found that I can dry myself off after a shower with a simple washcloth, and that big pink towel I brought (and forgot to bring to the campground shower facility) was superfluous.  (So much for any friends/family who read this inviting me to stay with them for a spell!)

Most wonderfully, I have been introduced to the most lively clouds I have ever seen.  For two days now, while driving through Arkansas, I have enjoyed a magnificent display of white on blue as far as the eye can see.  Ever-changing shapes bring back memories of children’s games of I-Spy in the clouds…  Turtle-gator!  Pikachu!  Armadillo!  Tasmanian-devil-twirling-with-Caspar-the-friendly-ghost!

As for Dawny, she is looking happier each day.  She is starting to relax and sleep when we are on a long-drive day.  Her campground leash allows her movement within our campsite without being tethered to me.  We have had campsites where she can sit and just stare into the forest, study the little creek that runs behind our site, and dream of who-knows-what.

Perhaps she is concentrating on her own steps that are so new to her, like not barking at or chasing any animal, stopping and quietly appreciating the deer we often see on our morning walks, walking at a reasonable pace so that we make it back, and stopping to ponder those shifting shapes up in the sky…   Doggie cookies!  Chipmunk-Squirrel running up a tree!  More doggie cookies!  Buster flying through the air after a tennis ball!

Who would ever have guessed the sky was that big?

(Above photo taken at Ferne Clyffe State Park in Southern Illinois.)