For years, my wife and I had talked about spending our first retirement year traveling the country. We’d set aside our beloved teardrop trailer and invest in an RV. Something big enough to keep us and the dog from trampling each other and small enough that we don’t feel like we’re driving a combine. We’d hit the back roads and see what happens. Sort of a retiree penny hike, where you let the flip of a coin decide your fate.
The Great American timeline is to work until you’re 65, then retire with a comfortable nest egg or pension and try to remember what your hobbies are. I was getting close at 59, and Kate was three years behind me. But here’s the thing: we just didn’t want to wait.
I’m a technical writer and web designer. I could keep plunking away on my keyboard indefinitely and not shave off too many years from my lifespan. But Kate’s a psychiatric social worker. She worked in a hospital psych unit with mentally ill patients and their families. It’s the kind of work that pulls you down slowly. Especially when you’re a full-hearted social worker like her. The kind who coaxes a devastated mother back from the edge after learning her son has schizophrenia, or uses her own money to buy a journal for the young manic patient who wants to write. Her days were always interesting, but after a hard one, she’d come home looking like she’d been ripped apart and put back together with glue. After 15 years, if she didn’t get out, she was going to have to check herself in.
After one of those glued-together days, I finally said, “I’d rather us be poor and happy. Just quit.” Well, we’re not poor. We have retirement accounts, and our mothers both left us a little money when they died. This crazy idea was within our reach. Our funds wouldn’t last forever, but if a renter covered our mortgage and we were frugal, we could live like nomads for a year, then come home and rejoin the workforce for a few more.
Some of our friends thought we’ve finally lost it. More of our friends were jealously happy for us and cheered us forward. “Do it while you can!” they’d say, which I knew was supposed to be encouraging, but it was also a backhanded reminder. Oh, right. I’m getting old. And although I didn’t think of myself as old, some days my body felt it. “Anything can happen!” means something entirely different at 60 than it did at 20.
It took a year to bring our fantasy to life. We had to shed or pack belongings, purchase an RV, prepare the house for renting, find a renter… Finally, on March 6, 2015, we hit the road. We had no route or agenda, other than plans to meet friends at the Grand Canyon in April. We planned to see as much of the country as we could, but after decades of being tied to jobs and schedules, we wanted our journey to be wide open and spontaneous. We would let our whims and weather point us in the next direction.
Over the next 15 months, we traveled 30,000 miles and visited 47 states and three Canadian provinces. We had so many incredible experiences. For a few examples, we:
- Sheltered from tornadoes in Texas, Michigan and Minnesota.
- Dodged floods in Texas and Louisiana.
- Saw Bernie Sanders in Savannah, Georgia.
- Rescued and adopted a newborn kitten in Missouri.
- Met up with friends at the Celtic Colours Festival in Nova Scotia.
- Went to the Ohio Lesbian Festival.
- Rode in an Amish buggy in Intercourse, Pennsylvania.
- Visited a Shaker village in Kentucky.
- Went to “Women’s Week” in Provincetown.
- Spent two weeks at a lesbian village in the Florida Keys.
- Dug for diamonds in Arkansas.
- Waited out a snowstorm with a herd of elk in the Rocky Mountains.
With each mile, we shed layers of stress and found ourselves greeting the days with enthusiasm and gratitude. Not that life in an RV doesn’t have its own stressors. Like finding yourself in 5:00 traffic in NYC, or fielding a rock on the windshield you just had replaced. Having to find dentists in four different states for a recurring tooth infection. We had plenty of challenges along the way, but none of them traumatic, and all of them eased by the comfort of the cozy cocoon we traveled in, because wherever we were, we were home.
We are back in our big home now. The RV is sold, and we’re doing the 9-5. We’ll have to retire a couple years later than we might have, but we don’t feel one iota of regret. Taking that year-plus trip was one of the best decisions we ever made. And whenever I feel weighted down with the drudgery of work life, I come back to this blog and lose myself for a bit.
We hope our experience inspires others take a risk and veer off course when it feels right. This world is so full of adventures to be had!
“The purpose of life, after all, is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” — Eleanor Roosevelt