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A year on the road

"Well, the day has finally arrived. It's Friday, June 10th, 2005, late in the evening. I've been a fulltime RVer for twelve hours: since 10:48 this morning, when I locked the door of my condo, climbed into Gertie and drove away for the last time. The day was gray, gloomy, hot and disgustingly muggy, and despite a cool shower just before leaving, I was sweating copiously as I loaded Marie's litter pan and food dishes into Gertie. Then I carried Marie herself out to the rig and pulled out of Twin Rivers without even looking back. Swinging onto the New Jersey Turnpike, I headed north for Cape Cod. The past couple of days have been a blur of exhaustion... "

June 10, 2006—One year ago today I wrote those words, before falling into an exhausted sleep on my first night of fulltime RVing. How different things are now!

I sit here at Storrie Lake State Park, watching the weekend boaters crisscross the lake whose shore is just a few feet from my rear window. A cool breeze ruffles the water, making it sparkle like a million gems in the late afternoon sun. A lone kiteboarder skims across the lake, using wind power to match the speeds of the jet skis. I reach for my camera and photograph him without even leaving my seat here in Gertie's comfortable lounge.

Windsurfer

The sun pours down on my eight solar panels, and the little Xantrex Battery Monitor on my table tells me that even with my power-hungry computer, my high-speed satellite internet connection and my fans running, I'm good for another sixteen hours—in other words, I could run all night if I wanted to.

Xantrex battery monitor

But of course I don't want to. My life has slowed down to a pace that suits me well. I'm very rarely in a hurry to get anywhere. If I like where I am, I can and do change my mind and stay another week or two. This is completely different from vacationing, where everything is planned out in advance, you try to pack as much as you can into your two or three weeks, and you're exhausted when you get done.

I don't do much planning these days. Oh, I'm supposed to be in Cheyenne at the end of this month for the big Lazy Daze 50th anniversary celebration—the "Golden Caravan"—but aside from that, there really isn't much on my calendar, other than friends' birthdays. Truth is, I rarely even look at the calendar, and I often forget what day it is... until an influx of vacationers reminds me that it must be a weekend. And I gave up wearing a watch about six months ago.

Calendar

So how has the last year been? In a word, wonderful! Fulltiming has worked out better than I dreamed possible. I've been to such amazingly beautiful places—not just "been" there, but lived there, with spectacular scenery right outside my windows, all day, every day. And I've met wonderful people. I'm not a very outgoing guy, so I feared that in my travels I might not make many social contacts. Boy, was I wrong! Thanks to the Lazy Daze discussion group I moderate, the Quiltart discussion group I belong to, and of course this website, I've made more new friends than I could have imagined in my wildest dreams.

How am I doing financially? Well, in a nutshell, I have almost $7,000 more in the bank than when I started this trip a year ago. That means my income, small as it is, exceeds my expenditures by about $500 a month on the average. That tells me my plans are working!

My pension is tiny, as I knew it would be, but my freelance graphics business is bringing in about $1,000 a month, just as I'd hoped. I've spent more on vehicle repairs than I'd expected to, and bought a new digital camera and a new iPod—not strictly necessary expenses. Even so, I'm $7,000 ahead of the game, and that's very good news. I don't know the specifics yet, because I've only been collecting detailed data for six months and haven't yet settled on how to analyze what I've got. I did write a little program of my own, "MoneyWatch," but it's pretty simpleminded. On the other hand, I looked at Quicken but recoiled in horror from its Microsoft-like feature bloat. I'll find or create something suitable sooner or later.

One thing that helps is that I'm using less fuel than I used to when I was driving a Honda Accord, even though Gertie is a gas hog. (For details, see my recent article "Saving the Earth at 8 mpg.") And my camping expenses have been dropping steadily as I've learned to take advantage of free places like Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management areas. Recently I've been using my New Mexico annual camping pass, which lets me "dry camp" in any state park for free, and camp with water and electric hookups for $4 a night. Since Gertie can easily go without hookups for a week or more—and the dry-camping sites are always the most scenic ones—this arrangement is ideal. My lodging costs average about $175 a month... compared to more than $1,200 a month when I was living in a condo in New Jersey!

In looking back on the past year, the question many of my non-RVing acquaintances ask is "What do you miss most, now that you've given up your home?" (Yes, some of them still think of it in those terms, unfortunately.) A year ago I predicted in my "Regrets" article what I'd miss most, and those predictions were pretty much on the nose—except that I find I don't really miss long showers. But I think it's much more interesting to turn the question around and ask instead "What would I miss most if I gave up my RVing life?"

Well, I'd miss the gorgeous views out my big windows. In the past year I've lived in the mountains, I've lived by the seashore, I've lived in the desert, in the deep forest and beside a lake. I'd miss the magnificent and ever-changing scenery, and I'd miss the wonderful photo opportunities that come with it.

Coronado National Forest

I'd miss the peace and quiet in these places: the bird songs, the waves lapping at the shore, the sound of the wind in the trees, and the complete absence of crowds. I'd miss the adobe buildings—we didn't have those in New Jersey, and I love the rounded, organic-looking architectural style of the southwest.

I'd miss the almost complete freedom from housework (it just doesn't take that long to vacuum 60 square feet of carpet) and yardwork. I'd miss not having to shovel snow or scrape ice off my car.

Friends

But most of all I'd miss the new friends I've made. These aren't just casual acquaintances met in some campground; they are dear friends with whom I share common interests and emotional bonds.

When someone needs help, friends are there. When I was sick in Patagonia, a local friend took me to the emergency room and waited while the doctors thumped and poked me. When Gertie broke down in Raton, friends online told me how to get her going again. And I've helped my friends too—mostly with projects like building a new pantry closet or installing more 12V outlets (that was this morning's task). It's a rich web of relationships we RVers have, richer than I had imagined. The internet and our cell phones keep us in close touch with each other, and our paths cross and recross as we follow the seasons north and south.

For all these reasons, the past year has been one of the best of my life. I hope to go on living this way for many years to come. Frankly, I can't imagine going back to a "stick house."

The sun is almost gone now... only the highest clouds are still brilliantly illuminated. Tomorrow my artist friend Cynthia is coming to visit, and then on Monday I'll be heading up to Sugarite Canyon State Park. I have the Pacific Northwest to look forward to this summer, and the Southwest for next winter. Heck, I might even visit New Jersey next year! Life is good. Now I understand why every fulltimer I've met has expressed the same feeling: "I wish I had done this years ago!" Me too.

Relaxing
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