I ran into my friend Donna Thomas in a Hannaford supermarket parking lot last September. She and her husband, George, were about to begin an eight-month expedition accompanied by Captain, their golden retriever, for their first winter of recreational vehicle life. I asked her if I could check in with them after a few months and get a report.
In January 2010, George and Donna made the decision that they would retire in December of the following year. They had two years to figure out what they wanted to do with the next chapter of their lives. One thing was a given: they would continue to spend summers at their beloved camp on Cold Stream Pond. But what about those colder months?
“We were fairly convinced we wanted to spend our winters in a warmer climate, but where? That’s when we started to look at the RV concept.”
George and Donna had done a bit of camping, but neither had any experience in an RV. There were several places they wanted to consider as winter homes, but they weren’t ready to lock into any of them. In an RV, they could explore multiple warm weather locales from one movable “home.” After some research, they decided to purchase a fifth wheel, a type of trailer that hitches into the bed of a full-size pickup truck.
In early 2012 they went to Florida for a dry run.
“But that was like an extended vacation,” Donna said that day in the parking lot. “This will be eight months, more like a new life.”
So — how is that new life going? Based on some email exchanges and Donna’s travel journal, which she generously shared with me, it looks like two thumbs up. After traveling from Maine to southern California, north to Idaho and back to Arizona, they marvel at the landscapes they have encountered.
“We have seen some extraordinary scenery that you would never see from an airplane at 30,000 feet.”
In her journal, Donna writes about some of that scenery: “Northern Arizona between Utah and Nevada. Mountain scenery is blowing our minds. UNBELIEVABLE!!! You gotta drive it to believe it. It was so narrow at one point we actually folded in the mirrors on the truck.”
I asked about how the two travelers were getting along in such close quarters, but they corrected my assumptions about space.
“We are getting along great. You really have to get inside one of these RVs to realize how comfortable and spacious they are. We have a king bed, a 42-inch flat screen HD TV that sits over our fireplace, solid hickory cabinets and Corian counter tops.”
Another part of the fun for Donna and George is the interesting people they have met in the various RV parks all over the country. Everyone has a unique story about how they chose RV life, and many full-timers have been across the country and back multiple times.
“You have to make friends on the road fast,” George and Donna said, and they are quite adept at doing so. “When the weather was warmer in Tucson, we sat under our awning and watched our outside TV. When football is on you are sure to attract a few neighbors over. Of course, having a routine cocktail hour outside was pretty much a magnet, as well.”
Even Captain has adjusted to the vagabond life.
“Everywhere we go, we hunt for doggie daycare facilities so that he can get some physical activity and socialize with other dogs. This also gives us an opportunity to do things where dogs are not allowed.”
Before leaving Maine, several people said to Donna, “you’re living my dream!” But, she says, it is a big decision and a challenging life in some ways. First, it is costly. Nice RVs can cost as much as a house, so it is not an investment to make lightly. It is also tricky to drive, park, and maintain such a large vehicle.
“If you choose this lifestyle, you need to know how to use a toolbox,” they said. And inevitably, there will be times when you have to deal with bigger repairs than you can handle on your own.
George and Donna miss their friends and family, especially grandchildren. They miss the ocean, they miss Maine, and make it very clear that their Maine ties are for keeps.
“There is no place on the planet that we would rather be in the summer than Cold Stream Pond. We will probably summer there indefinitely.”
As for the continuation of their RV winters, George said, “The jury is still out. Eight months on the road is probably too long, but we are already plotting next year’s adventure.”
Robin Clifford Wood welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.