Nick, my barber, said his parents were looking into buying an RV. Like many people confined by the pandemic, they were eager to break out and feel free again. RV sales and rentals set all-time records this year. His father suggested they might take three years to see the country and then sell the RV. Which is an interesting concept. With rigorous research and planning, you might be able to plot a course that would take you to all the places you ever wanted to go in only three years.
It was not clear to Nick if his father meant full-timing for three years or if he felt that he could make a series of trips that would eventually take him everywhere—whatever that means. He was also not clear on how his father decided three years was enough. A three-year plan implies specific goals and objectives. We want to see this. We don’t care about that. But there are marvelous places totally unknown to 99% of the population that would never make it into anybody’s plans. One of the benefits of RVing is that people tell you about these places you never heard of.
Conversely, you might choose to avoid places that many people find appealing. Shirley and I have been to Lake Mead and Hoover Dam several times on our way to and from Yosemite, Death Valley, and the national parks in Arizona and Utah. We restock our pantry at the Las Vegas Costco and Trader Joe’s. Have never once gone to any of the famous casinos to see the shows and bright lights. Some people find this totally incomprehensible.
The decision to travel in a motorhome creates its own set of advantages and limitations depending upon the kind of vehicle you choose—as many new owners are soon to find out. We have a Roadtrek (Class B campervan) because we want something small and agile enough to handle narrow, steep, winding gravel roads way back into national forests where the trout streams run cold and clear and the serenity is complete. It is also easy to visit our favorite city, Savannah, and park right on the street as we walk the Historic District and river front. Likewise, in New Orleans we park across the street from the golden statue of St. Joan of Arc and stroll through the French Quarter. In Charleston, we park at the Battery for easy access to the historic neighborhood south of Broad St. and along the Rainbow Row section of East Bay St.
But there are tradeoffs. Owners of big Class A motor homes cannot park on the street or even in commercial parking lots so they usually have towed vehicles (“toads”) to reach places their rigs just can’t go. Some travel trailer and pickup truck combinations are as long as an 18-wheeler with all the lack of maneuverability that implies. Friends who own such a rig can’t bring it home from storage to load up before a trip because it won’t make the turns into the neighborhood. Obviously, they feel it is worth hauling all of their supplies to the rig in exchange for more living space and quite literally all the comforts of an actual home.
At Mammoth Campground in Yellowstone, an Asian couple asked our friends Russ and Susan if they could have a peek inside their Class A motor coach. The Asians were impressed because, with several slide outs, it is bigger than their apartment back home and they were further amazed that only two people live in it.
Speaking of living in it, Shirley and I have met quite a number of full-time RVers. Some were professionals who, thanks to technology, found that they could work from anywhere and did not need to report to a 25-square-foot cubicle every day. This point was further emphasized by the Great Plague when both work and the schooling of children were often done remotely. Even before the pandemic, RVers were “home schooling” their kids on the road. Probably doing it more effectively as well because it was a deliberate choice they prepared for rather than a responsibility suddenly forced on them.
Most of the million or so full-timers are retirees who just want to see the country while they are still vertical. Some sold their homes and used the proceeds to buy luxurious RVs so they could travel in style and comfort. An even smaller subset are people with zero prior experience camping and/or RVing. But that’s like learning to swim by diving into the deep end of the pool.
One such couple we met along the Natchez Trace. They sold their home in Buffalo and, like two drifters, were off to see the world. There’s such a lot of world to see. They spent the first winter near Brownsville at the southern tip of Texas where they enjoyed the weather, especially compared to Buffalo, and socializing with fellow RVers. In the spring, they headed to Yosemite. What they overlooked was that “spring” at the tip of Texas means something altogether different from spring high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Nick’s father evidently thinks of travel as a way to check things off a bucket list—stuff you gotta do before you kick the bucket. I met an elderly gentleman like that on the deck of the Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge. He was in a wheelchair. He said his daughter brought him there because he had always wanted to see the Canyon. Too bad, I thought, you waited until you were in a wheelchair.
A bucket list also implies a certain attitude about the visit. OK, I saw the Grand Canyon so what’s next? Shirley and I know two couples traveling together who went through Yellowstone National Park. In one side, out the other. Didn’t stop. Claimed they didn’t see any animals. (Which is really, really hard to believe.) They couldn’t understand why people think Yellowstone is such a big deal. Even so, they are forever entitled to say they have been to Yellowstone. Check that off the list.
Which reminds me of the question a tourist supposedly asked a park ranger. “What would you do if you had only one day to spend in Yellowstone?” Response: “I would just sit down and cry!”
If you were planning on three years to see the country, does that mean you are willing to settle for one day at the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone because you have lots of other places on your list? (If it’s Tuesday, this must be Zion.) For some people, that is the case.
Some people ain’t us.
Unlike the keepers of lists for one-time visits, there are numerous places we love and have returned to repeatedly. So, if we spend all our time going back to the same old places, how do we manage to visit any new places?
The trick is to plan every trip as a loop so you get to see something different returning than you did going. By now you understand that I am not qualified to tell you how to visit Las Vegas. I will, however, suggest starting relatively close to home. That is, be sure that you enjoy the process before you sell your house and head for Brownsville. But you should still go far enough to get a feel for the wonders of America beyond the flatlands of NW Ohio—awe-inspiring though they may be.
One of our favorite trips of a couple weeks or so is down I-75 to Great Smoky Mountains NP, then north on the 469 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway to Shenandoah NP in Virginia and back home from there. This loop is especially pleasant when the spring wildflowers are in bloom and in the fall color season. Both the Parkway and the connecting Skyline Drive in Shenandoah NP run along the crest of the ridge. There are glorious views of mountain ridges stretching to the western horizon and the rolling Piedmont with scattered farms to the east. Commercial traffic is forbidden, and the highest speed limit is 45 mph on the Parkway and 35 on Skyline. The purpose of the road is to promote sightseeing and outdoor recreation. There are 280 scenic overlooks on the Parkway and another 105 on Skyline.
Along the way are preserved and restored pioneer homes and farms, waterfalls, access to the Appalachian Trail and hundreds of miles of other trails, the Blue Ridge Music Center for concerts and informal jam sessions, and the Appalachian Craft Center with ordinary pioneer household goods raised to the level of fine art. Shirley and I always stop at the picturesque Mabry Mill where volunteers demonstrate how to turn corn and wheat into meal and flour. The restaurant across the mill pond is a great place for down-home country fare.
You may think the entire loop is rather long and way too much. We do not. Even so, most Blue Ridge travelers choose a convenient portion of the route rather than the whole thing. You might just dip a toe in the water instead of plunging in headfirst. You are not even required to own an RV to do any of this. Before our RVing days, Shirley and I enjoyed late October trips to Shenandoah where we stayed in the park lodges at Skyland and Big Meadows. Though we had tent camped during the warmer months, fall at 5,000 feet can get a little nippy. There are B&Bs and motels all along the Parkway, so you can sample only as much as you think is enough.
If you find that you actually enjoy the experience, next time expand on it. Visit the Oconaluftee Indian Village in Cherokee, NC. The Biltmore Estate in Asheville is marvelous during the spring flower season and at the Michaelmas Harvest Festival in the fall. Virginia has enough to keep you busy for all three years—especially if you are a history buff. Try Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown and Yorktown, the homes of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe. Maybe the Civil War battlefield parks at Manassas (site of two battles) or Fredericksburg or Appomattox where Lee surrendered. Visit some Colonial era mansions along the Charles River. (We are especially fond of Shirley Plantation.)
You don’t like history? You might change your mind if you actually went to some of these places. Perhaps you do like wine. Tour some vineyards that now stand side-by-side all along the Piedmont side of the Blue Ridge. Go to Virginia Beach. Better yet, go to the much less crowded beach at Assateague on the Delmarva Peninsula where the wild ponies hang out.
Now, Shirley and I are accustomed to traveling about three months in winter and summer plus occasional short trips in spring and fall. Since 2012, we have been going to Arizona. Our friends Sandy and Bill board Southwest and arrive at their Phoenix winter home in a few hours. It takes us about six weeks to get there because we pause several times along the way for a couple days to a week or more. We would never consider driving straight through. Sandy and Bill look forward to golf and pickle ball and swimming and restaurants. Shirley and I look forward to magnificent scenery, wildlife, and serenity. It is difficult to experience much of that from 40,000 feet. Different people have different priorities.
You might be interested in what we find to see and do along the way to Arizona. Next month, this column will describe how we make those six weeks on the road just a walk in the park.
LeMoyne Mercer is the travel editor for Healthy Living News. There is limited space here for LeMoyne’s photos. You might want to see more at anotherwalkinthepark.blogspot.com. Please leave comments on the site.