Mile after mile, nearly every parcel of land in Texas is fenced off to the public. With the exception of the many open Gulf beaches, almost all waterways and lakefronts are privately owned and unavailable. A fisherman or photographer, and I am both, on foot is going to have a difficult time anywhere except when paying for State Park access, and much of that is crowded and very limited. Nearly all rural acreage is owned and fenced farmland or portions of vast ranches. If you want to bird watch or photograph a sunset without a road in the scene, you are forced to trespass or be limited to state parks.
According to Texas A&M's Natural Resources Institute, "Texas has a long history of private land ownership where 95 percent of the state is privately owned." That means that 255,166 of its 268,596 square miles is private property. The state leased a little over 1,500 square miles from landowners to allow, for a fee, hunting, fishing, photography and equestrian activities. That equates to about 1/2 of 1% of all Texas land, and can necessitate a guide to bring you to and through the proper acreage.
The fenced ranches in Texas are HUGE. According to wideopencountry.com, "the combined square footage of the 10 biggest Texas ranches reaches over four million acres or nearly 7,000 square miles." That's an average size of 700 square miles EACH. The majority of ranches in Texas range between small ranches of 2,000 acres to those of 20,000+ acres.
Alas, Texas is not unique in citizens successfully blocking public access to desirable land. In two hundred miles of New England coastline, we found only a dozen or so state beaches, all expensive and tourist-packed, and little other public access. If you want an iconic photo of waves crashing on a Maine cliff or of an eagle nesting in a seaside strand of trees, you have to own or rent a boat. Trying to find public beach or shore access on almost any lake in New York State is a fool's errand. In Florida, beach access proponents have sharply criticized a new state law as "privatizing the state’s most valuable resource and undermining the tourism-based economy."
This is not the case, at least not to the same extent, on the west coast. There are hundreds of miles of coastline on the Pacific where you can literally park on a shoulder or other parking area and walk down to the beach or over to a clifftop view of the Pacific. Almost all freshwater lakes are accessible, though some require local or state fees to enter, without lot upon lot of private lakeshore.
Thus far, on the East Coast or in the South, I've often had to park near bridges or overpasses and walk a ways to take photos of lake or ocean views. In the West, these opportunities are everywhere. As of this writing, we are staying in a campground on Lake Tawakoni, near Point, TX. Lake Tawakoni boasts 200 miles of shoreline covering 37,879-acres, but, in exploring all the roads around the lake multiple times, the only other access to the water we could find is the State Park.
So, what's the answer? Sadly, as long as the wealthy want to own the most desirable views and have unlimited access to water, there isn't much hope for change. Eastern and southern states could begin purchasing some of this scenic lands within their borders and convert them to public resources.
I hated beer. Maybe it was because my first taste was at a family gathering when I was eight and included a cigarette butt discarded into the bottle. Maybe it was because hops didn’t make anything taste good. Or maybe I didn’t drink to get drunk, so I was more discerning as a drinker than my wilder cohorts.
I didn’t have my first drink of alcohol until I was 35. That was purposeful because I came from an extended family of heavy drinkers and didn’t like what that did to them. Also, I wasn’t entirely sure I wouldn’t become an alcoholic with my first drink. When I finally decided to join mainstream society, not only did that turn out to be untrue, I found I had quite a tolerance for it. Out of all the shots I tried over the next several months, only tequila stood out as a favorite. Trouble is, blood alcohol levels rise quickly with such tequila, so I had to space them out over a long evening. I hated beer and wine, and also sweet drinks, so that left only iced tea and water all night, in between shots.
I lived in the midst of Washington’s wine country at the time, not far from the Yakima Valley Wine Region, so I had a unique opportunity to try a drink I could actually sip all evening. Surely with all the varieties, I surmised, I could find one I could learn to like. I started my quest and followed the footsteps of many a wine novice, finding only a couple of sweet white wines I could drink – Riesling and Gewurztraminer (but good luck finding Gewurzt in a bar or nightclub). White Zinfandel was also tasty. As with most wine neophytes, I visited many wineries and tried more and more varieties. Eventually, my tastes changed and I began preferring dryer wines like Chardonnay and Merlot. I became somewhat of a wine snob but loved to visit wineries and try different vintage years of varieties, sometimes even meeting and discussing oenology with winemakers or winery owners. It was fun.
When I began playing in traveling pool leagues, I realized my original problem had returned. It only takes me around three glasses of wine over an evening to potentially become too impaired to drive. Sipping or not, drinking that amount of wine was a risk I wasn’t willing to take. Yet, some alcohol can be favorable for playing pool and being social. Enter beer. I realized that 12 oz. of beer had about the equivalent of alcohol content as 5 oz. of wine. I had learned to like wine, so I decided to learn to like beer, which also had the side benefit of lesser cost.
I tried a few common beers with little success, and light beers didn’t do it for me either. I was worried – perhaps beer really was the liver and onions of my beverage world. I talked to a liquor store owner and mentioned my problem. She asked if I had tried a particular brand of apple ale. I hadn't, so she hooked me up with a six pack and I tried it that night. That did the trick.
As with wine, I began visiting microbreweries while my tastes changed. Soon the apple ales began tasting more like Kool-Aid, and I graduated to light beer with lime, then without lime, then the world of varietals opened up. To this day I don’t like the hoppiness of IPA’s, but I’m slowly myself able to drink them. Now that we travel the country, I have been stopping at more and more breweries, enlarging my beer repertoire. I’ve found that draught beer is inherently better than bottled or canned, even with the same make and variety. My faves include stouts, bocks, Irish red ales, most European lagers and kolsches. However, I’ll drink just about any beer that isn’t a sour or too fruity.
Meanwhile, the pandemic put a kibosh on bars and breweries for an entire year. I had almost no draught beer during that time, so I’ve had to shop for interesting cans and bottles in supermarkets and liquor stores that carry them from a larger number of breweries. My pool playing and karaoke time also took a hit, so I’ve been drinking a variety of beers at home. I long for the day I can go to an establishment created for beer connoisseurs and try a half-dozen brands and varieties I may not have ever seen before. That will be soon, I hope.
Originally posted on 3/21/21
Whoever said that living in the past is bad only got it partially correct. True, it can prevent you from dealing with issues in the present or positive planning for the future. But, at my seemingly advanced age I have come to realize that thinking about the past is not exactly the same as clinging to it, and there are benefits in reminiscing.
They say that people relive the past because there are no surprises there. It's predictable. There is a comfort in knowing what transpired and what happened next. If you have an especially brilliant or exceptional success story, an acclaimed achievement, an unlikely victory or a bout of fame, it's fun to relive the moments, especially if you are unlikely to ever achieve them again.
I agree that dwelling on those events can prevent you from enjoying the present. However, I often find myself reliving some of my past achievements and have totally allowed myself to re-experience joy from them.
I once bowled an 808 three-game series in league, an accomplishment that few bowlers attain. There were nuances during the match that only very good bowlers would understand, like needing a 279 in Game 3 for my 800 series. That requires bowling a strike in 11 of the game's 12 frames and, on the one frame that wasn't a strike, an 8-count or lower would have ruined the pursuit. I had thrown a ton of strikes to give myself this once-in-a-lifetime chance, and I didn't need to throw a long string of strikes to do it. I had one opportunity for missing.
Except that I missed the very first frame, leaving a four-pin. I picked up the spare, but now the situation had changed. The 279 effort did not take into account a spare in the first frame -- anywhere else in the game would have worked. Now, I had to throw ten strikes in a row and any legal count in the twelfth and final frame. Finishing with 11 strikes would have given me a 290, but anything besides a strike in frames 2 through 11 would mean I couldn't realize my far-fetched goal. One ball at a time, one strike at a time, and I was able to get all ten of the necessary strikes, with my legs and arms shaking more and more as I approached the end of the game. I threw a seven count on my final ball for a 287, my best game ever, and an 808 total for the three games.
It is rare to throw an 800 series, more so without a 300 game, and I often relive those moments, not because I am avoiding anything in the present but to repeat some wonderful feelings about an extraordinary sports achievement. I could say the same about other things in my life I take pride in, from hitting a grand slam in a childhood pickup baseball game to running the table against a vastly superior opponent in pool, getting three straight 9-ball breaks in another match, each of the standing ovations I have received in karaoke, singing with my brother in a karaoke finals that took place in front a huge crowd in a county fair with well-known rock stars in the judge's panel, and more. Scenes like each of my kids' births, which I attended in person, my meeting Nadyne for the first time, my final day at work upon retirement, and other notable events in my life also invade my day at random.
But here's the thing -- reliving those moments helps extend my life's experiences. I feel like I allow them to live on rather than becoming the forgotten past. My memories are vivid, like how the bowling ball or cue stick felt in my hands, my nervousness before and during each, the trajectory of the bowling or billiard balls, the outcomes.
I lived about 17 hours in my 16 waking hours today, since several minutes were added from my reminiscing. Why wouldn't I want to do that?
Originally posted on 2/1/21
When we were in our sticks-and-bricks home, the view outside stayed the same, day after day, month after month, year after year. Not so in our fifth wheel.
Our RV bedroom has a slide-out, with the head of the bed sitting in a cubby that extends outward from the middle of the room. Each side of the cubby, next to our pillows, has its own small window. Our bedroom looks pretty much the same, day-to-day, at least since we remodeled it two years ago. Upon laying down in bed or waking up, it seems like home in our familiar room, just like in our stationary house did years ago. But look out the window and we are often amazed at our true location.
We move constantly, on average about every two weeks, so that's the longest we generally have any particular view. Whether we are in a forest, at the seashore or lakeside, in a crowded RV neighborhood or boondocking in an expanse of scrubland or desert, we almost always feel excitement when we glance though the curtains. We have even seen wildlife out those windows, including deer, wild hogs and a variety of birds. Once we thought we saw a bear, but we're still not sure that's what it was.
It's not always a delight. In one park we were bothered by black-crested titmice pecking on our bedroom windows almost our entire stay. That got old. Neighbors are not always diligent about turning off lights near our bedroom, and sometimes those lights are brilliant. Once Nadyne stayed awake late because she could see out her window that the neighbors had built a tall campfire in their site, then went to bed without putting it out.
All-in-all, though, we really enjoy having the comforts of home, our own bed and linens, and the familiarity of our bedroom, while enjoying the myriad of sights around the country. It's a dichotomy we treasure.
Originally posted 1/28/21
I've always been a photographer, at least since I was ten years old and my grandmother gave me a B&W Brownie camera that took 126-speed film. Even then my photos often looked like picture postcards. It was difficult to do enough chores to pay for film and developing. For those too young to remember, "developing" was the process of getting the photo from film to photo paper and cost money for each print. My photos spoke for themselves and I knew that it was a skill I possessed. In hindsight, perhaps I should have gone to school and become a photojournalist as soon as I could manage it. Getting married and having kids at a young age pretty much prevented any such career.
That being said, I've truly enjoyed this pursuit as a semi-professional over the decades with various 35mm cameras, first with film and eventually digital, and I estimate that I have taken about a quarter-million snapshots in my life. My current collection of higher-resolution photographs consists of over 30,000 pics, or about 3,000 photos per year for the last ten years. There is no better feeling of snapping a pic of an awe-inspiring scene, person, critter or event.
All is not all sunny and roses for a true photographer, with downsides that are all-too-common for us all. Here are a few of those drawbacks.
No "off" switch
I take my cameras with me nearly everywhere I go, ready for the spur-of-the-moment or once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity. But, since I'm married, I recognize that wearing my harness with both my Sony digital cameras (one has a long telephoto lens) doesn't always make me socially present. She's a real trooper about it but I feel guilty monopolizing our outings, so I'll sometimes leave the gear at home (in our case, home is a fifth-wheel RV).
Two things often happen while I'm trying to enjoy scenery or a function sans my gear. One is that my attention is always focused on the possible shots all around me, never to be taken. I'll see a flower or a bird and instead of just thinking about its beauty or uniqueness, I'm thinking that if I had my camera I might stoop down just so to get the correct angle or background, or move a little left to frame it between trees or buildings. Don't get me wrong, I do think about its beauty or uniqueness, but that is short-lived.
Second is that an awe-inspiring scene, person, critter or event appears before me and all I have is a smart-phone, which isn't even in camera mode when I want it. Wildlife photos, in particular, can be fleeting when you aren't ready for them.
No matter what I have invested in equipment, someone else has better, especially authentic professionals. I see photos published all the time that make me think about how I couldn't even get that shot with what I have.
You've seen the pros (or the wealthy wanna-be pros) walking among us with the telephoto lenses that are white, not black, two feet long, six inches wide. Some pros even mount their cams on anti-vibration, anti-shake gizmos that seem to hover in front of their faces. I estimate that the last pro I saw had equipment that cost over $50K, and that was just what was with him. I'll always envy that.
Always on the lookout for a shot can get you into trouble, like the time I passed a photo opportunity in the Colorado mountains, backed up on a cliffside road and nearly drove off the edge. I stopped in time, one wheel having dropped off the road, and my four-wheel drive pulled me back onto the dirt road. But this highlights what can happen.
On average, two to three deaths per year in the Grand Canyon are from falls over the rim, and similar accidents happen all over the country from photographers, pros and amateurs. It's so simple to lose sight of where you are, how precarious your position, and your focus firmly staying on the subject at hand.
I can't tell you how many times traffic on country or farm roads has prevented what looked like great shots. Once, in Georgia, I slowed down when I saw a picture-perfect ranch house at the end of an incredibly long driveway. Unfortunately, like much of the South and Midwest, there was no shoulder to pull off onto, and the six cars behind me weren't exactly thrilled that I slowed, let alone stop. I continued down the narrow road and looked for a place to turn around. After about two miles I ended up giving up on the shot, but convinced that I would have an opportunity for a similar pic on my drive. That didn't happen.
Likewise, I had to pass on a stunning farmhouse that had crumbled to the ground in Alabama and a century-old ranch entrance sign in Texas. Wildlife isn't usually cooperative, either, and I often miss by mere fractions of a second near-perfect views of birds, elk, moose, bighorn sheep, wolves and others, but especially birds, which can be frustratingly quick and skittish.
When I miss those opportune moments, they sometimes haunt me.
Photography doesn't pay
Everyone with a smartphone is a photographer these days. Give a monkey an iPhone 12 and look through its camera shots at the end of the day and you'll probably find at least one really good photo. Likewise people who turn their phones briefly away from their selfies in time to get a great pic, then plaster it all over social media like they've been doing it all their lives. Sorry, do I sound bitter? I'm not.
Professional and experienced amateur photographers have a difficult time selling their work. Writers are experiencing the same issue, with over a million titles being self-published every year from authors of various skill levels. It's difficult to complete with the sheer volume of it all.
At one time an average person seeing a splendid landscape print would consider buying it to frame and hang in their homes. I have bought many prints in my lifetime, even though I consider myself an excellent photographer. Now, that person may believe that they can do as well themselves, taking note of the aspects of the shot so they can try to duplicate them in the future. Of course, average people haven't invested the same money in equipment and haven't spent long hours, sometimes hundreds of hours, trying to be in the right place at the right time. But, somehow, they believe they can easily take a shot to hang on their walls.
Photographers that make a living from their passion are fortunate indeed, and those few career positions are scarce. Many popular magazines and websites, such as nature, science, news, fashion, leisure, travel and entertainment periodicals, use in-house photojournalists and accept outside work. There are just too few opportunities for the number of talented shutterbugs, let alone the masses with smartphones.
Originally posted 12/28/20
You may be aware that we are on the waiting list at an Escapees Co-Op in Texas. But, why winter in one place?
You may have read my article, My Top 9 Trepidations of Full-Time RVing, in which I describe several anxieties upon moving to and setting up in an RV park. Some of these are the availability and status of full hookup sites, cell and Internet access, parking and setup difficulties, weather on the road, satellite reception, road hazards, pet friendliness, and others. Consider the fact that we change campgrounds approximately every two weeks, so I experience these emotions more than two dozen times a year.
But, it's more than these apprehensions. Driving takes a toll, especially as we get older, and fuel is a big expense when you are constantly on the move. The cold of winter leaves little of the country available for visiting in anything other than frigid climates. The usual RV snowbird regions, i.e. Florida, Texas, Arizona and Southern California, are rife with more large rigs than small, leaving space, convenience, solitude and privacy all wanting.
Even with RVillage, a virtual RV community with over 350,000 members nationwide, telling us which other members are camping in a specific park we arrive to, RVers in a park are strangers. RVers are people, meaning that they include all types of personalities, social acumen and political persuasions, and not everyone is open to meeting newcomers.
I guess I'm saying that we miss friends and social circles in which to gather to share moments, stories and laughs. A two-week stay in an RV resort may afford us an acquaintance or two, but the process of our getting to know each other typically starts from scratch each time. Sure, there are stories from the RV lifestyle all RVers can relate to, such as many of the anecdotes I share in my book, "RV Life Happens," but there are only so many black tank tales or RV park complaints you can tell. By spending four of five months in one community, we can begin building some longer-term relationships.
One quick mention: We have made several valuable personal connections in RVillage and on the road, and some will become lifelong friendships. We don't diminish this possibility and always leave ourselves open to making new friends wherever we go.
Then there is the convenience of staying in a place long enough to see doctors and dentists, and to get RV repairs or maintenance performed. Although we have been returning to Denver each year for a couple of weeks to get medical and dental treatment, two weeks isn't always long enough. Last year I had to forgo one appointment when they couldn't make space within our travel window in Colorado. RV upgrades and repairs can be especially difficult around the country when parts and materials can take longer to arrive than we are camping in an area.
One of the reasons we decided not to spend considerable time in any one park when we started this adventure is that we both had many, many items on our go-to-visit lists and we were anxious to experience them all and cross them off. We have circumnavigated the country three times in three years and are about to embark on another grand circle, this time checking Yellowstone and Nova Scotia off our destinations lists. We have camped in 32 states and driven in 42, with more in our upcoming itinerary.
Now that we have seen so much of the country, we can afford to take time to relax in a single community for the winter. The Escapees Co-Ops make this affordable but some have waiting lists with hundreds of names on them. The sites have space and hookups for an RV of nearly any size and for one or more sheds or casitas. Fortunately, in our Texas choice, we started at #42 on the waiting list and, since were are now only #15, we will probably get a property either this winter or next. At that point we can make plans to move our stored stuff from Denver to the new site and move in when most convenient.
Lastly, it would have been nice this year during the pandemic to have had a permanent spot to hunker down in rather than having to worry about whether any or all of the RV parks we had booked would decline our reservations when we arrived. During national emergencies, we'd rather have a home base to go to.
So, why Texas? Several reasons:
All told, we have many reasons for being stationary in the winter, but that doesn't mean we plan to give up traveling the country. We'll still have eight months a year to continue our adventures.
I could have posted this in my Travel Blog, but it really is more about our lifestyle than travel. We spend, on average, two weeks in each campground or resort we stay, meaning that about twice a month we have a travel day, moving our house to the next stop, sometimes taking three of four days to arrive (while boondocking at Walmarts or Cracker Barrels on those nights in between destinations). Often during these commutes, I have anxieties about our next stay. Here are some things I think about, in no particular order.
1. Availability and status of full hookup site
We belong to Thousand Trails so that we don't have out-of-pocket resort fees to worry about, but most of them are first-come, first-served, for full hookups, meaning that we may or may not find sewer or 50 amp electric hookups. This is important because without sewer, we can't shower more than once or use our toilet more than one week during our stay. It takes a couple hours to set up or break down camp, so even if there is a dump station on-site, it takes several hours and a lot of hassle to make use of it.
Last month we called ahead to confirm we could easily get a full-hookup site with at least some cell signal for Internet, which they assured us was the case. When we arrived, however, neither was available. We ended up passing up the resort and paying out of pocket for a private campground.
Often water pressure is an issue as well. We always keep our fresh water tank full in case there is little or no water from the park spigot.
2. Availability of cell coverage and Internet
Speaking of confirming Internet availability, both Nadyne and I work on the road, Nadyne remotely doing insurance agency accounting and me writing and marketing. Both of us require Internet and Nadyne must be able to speak to clients across the country, so early on we purchased a cell booster to give us a stronger cell signal and more reliable Internet, along with utilizing cell coverage from Verizon, AT&T and Sprint. Among the three service providers, we almost always have something we can use, but every once in a while, we don't. This was the case in the resort I mentioned earlier, where we only found two bars of coverage in one parking lot on one end of the park. You can't boost zero signal, so this was unacceptable and we had to move to another campground.
3. Parking difficulties
We don't have a massive RV, a 31' fifth wheel, but backing into some spaces requires time, energy and nerves of steel. Only once have I not been able to, eventually, get parked, but because of narrow sites, trees at the corners of the site entrance, narrow paths between rows of sites and close proximity to immovable park models, parking can be harrowing. In the case of the Palm Springs RV Resort, all four were problems. Add to that the situation where a truck or toad is partially blocking your path, whose owner can't be found, or the off-level nature of a site, There is a lot to dread about parking, even if we've been to a resort before.
4. Weather on the road
We are mobile and can move our fifth wheel when we know severe weather or flooding is imminent, but it's not always foreseeable. Since we are usually traveling hundreds of miles in any particular leg of a trip, forecasting isn't often reliable. My biggest concern is wind, which can greatly affect gas mileage at best and cause an accident at worst, not to mention risking expensive hail damage. We have been extremely fortunate to not have any serious weather issues in our first three years on the road, but it's something I actively worry about.
5. Satellite access
We are often in rural campgrounds without cable or over-the-air TV coverage so we invested in a Tailgater satellite dish and Dish TV service, along with a DVR. This has worked out great except that satellite dishes and trees don't play well together. The dish needs fairly unfettered access to the southern sky and the farther north you go, the more towards the true horizon it needs to see. In our current site in which we are parked beneath and among trees. I tried about fifteen locations around the rig until I found a spot in which the dish could see two out of the three satellites it normally uses. The only reason I was successful to that extent was because we're in Texas, where the dish must point in a fairly vertical direction in the sky. If we had been in Ohio, where it would point farther down for the signal, we wouldn't have any satellite TV at all.
6. Road hazards and clearances
We were in downtown Binghamton, NY, having no worries about our height and underpass clearance, since we utilize three different resources (including a trucker's guide) to check our route for low clearance bridges, etc., without any cautions. However, I turned left to enter an underpass and found myself face-to-face with a bright yellow sign warning of a 10' 11" bridge height. Our rig is 13' 4.5" tall, so that would have left a mark. Nadyne had to get out and stop traffic so that I could back out of the underpass entrance and turn around. We now have a brilliant yellow vest for her to wear in case that happens again.
I mentioned that we use three resources to check for clearance and my in-dash navigation system utilizes an app on my phone via Bluetooth to check for traffic and hazards, but no resource is foolproof, as we have found the hard way. East of the Mississippi, especially in New England, there are far more of these low bridges than out west, but really it's a national concern.
The road age and condition is itself a major concern, from coast to coast. The last time we were on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the long duration of significant bumps actually broke one of the springs on the fifth wheel. Any rough road is bad for an RV's interior and joints. Prolonged travel on such highways can be like riding out a continuous earthquake, but even a single big bump can rearrange our contents.
7. Breakdowns and blowouts
Logging over 20,000 miles so far in 2020 means that the odds are against us. Eventually we will have a major breakdown or tire blowout on the road. To help mitigate this we installed a TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System), which has saved us a major tire issue twice since we starting using it. The first time a tire went flat after picking up a screw while traveling 60 mph, allowing us to pull over before a blowout ensued, and the other a slow leak developed in a brand new tire on a dirt and gravel road and we were able to get it repaired before a serious issue occurred. In both cases a disaster may have resulted and I worry about that happening, even with a commitment to the technology.
8. Being pet friendly and having unfortunate park rules
We have seen some overly aggressive park rules against pets and other uses of a campsite. We installed a doggie door flap in our rig's screen door. By setting up a small fence around our steps and giving our dogs both shaded and sunny areas on a mat and on dirt or grass, they can come and go and potty as needed. We never leave them in the pen without us being home and are always diligent about their barking while outside. Despite this, some parks forbid outdoor pens and even having pets on leashes without the owner's full participation and attention. While I understand the purpose of such an edict, it makes our lives difficult, as does restricting clothes lines under our awning, restricting noise at 7 pm, a 3 mph speed limit and other rules that some bad apples have forced into park codes.
9. Access to grocery shopping and gas stations
Having a refrigerator only one-third the size of a house fridge means having to shop for groceries more often, at least once per week. Staying in the boonies doesn't make this an easy chore and we have camped up to 50 miles from the nearest Walmart. Small local supermarkets (with "super" being a bit facetious) often have a much smaller stock and higher prices than a big chain store. Sometimes the rural market has fresh, locally-grown or raised food or delicious baked items, but usually it's just missing several items we're looking for. Not having gas stations nearby can also be an issue and requires a more thoughtful plan to stay filled up.
We don't experience these difficulties often, but enough to cause us trepidation, No matter how much advance research we do, some things just cannot be known until you are present, and that is a cause for concern every time we begin our travel day. If you have other worries, please feel free to post them in comments below.
Over the past several years, starting when we lived in Wichita and continuing now on the road, we've been putting out bird feeders. I thought this would be a good time to look back at some of the interesting photos I've taken at or near my feeders in a few locations. The first set is from our back yard in Wichita, Kansas. The next is from our front yard in Federal Heights, north of Denver, Colorado. The last two sets of photos are from campgrounds in Columbus and Lakehills, Texas, and Oregon House, California. It's great to think that we've been able to continue this really fun activity and I'm looking forward to seeing more and more varieties of birds as we explore the country.
Federal Heights, Colorado
Columbus and Lakehills, Texas
Oregon House, California
Nadyne and I have been living in our fifth wheel on the road for over two years now and the pandemic lockdown affected us almost immediately when it began in late March. With our Thousand Trails membership, we typically spend 2-3 weeks in a single park, the limit for the program, before moving on to the next resort. We were in the Brownsville, Texas, area when the stay-at-home orders began and were able to move as planned to Lakehills, Texas, near San Antonio.
Before our 2-week stay there was complete in mid-April, multiple states in the south and west shut down new arrivals in campgrounds and we were forced to stay in our park for a total of five weeks. By then Arizona, our next destination, had made campgrounds “essential businesses” and we packed up and left the park on April 30th.
We boondocked at a Walmart overnight in El Paso on our way to the Sedona, AZ, area, common for us on an extra-long drive between parks. That night we received a notification from Thousand Trails that our reservation had been cancelled and all of their parks in Arizona would not be accepting new reservations. They suggested we continue to stay in place in Lakehills, but of course we were now nine hours from that park.
To show the confusion at the time, all of the ten or so RV campgrounds in Arizona told us we could come there and stay, and that there were no restrictions in Arizona for new reservations. Another call to Thousand Trails resulting in their reaffirming their decision, which I have since been told that it was due to a confusion of what counties had been telling them.
We decided on a high-elevation park in Williams, the “Gateway to the Grand Canyon,” where at least it was cooler than in other Arizona towns. Nadyne grew up in Arizona and we had been hoping to visit many of her old stomping grounds, friends and family. With most businesses and public lands closed down, we had to be content to stay in the campground without visiting anyone or doing anything.
Thousand Trails relaxed the restrictions during our two expensive weeks in Williams (at Thousand Trails parks we pay no out of pocket fees), and we were able to basically continue a revamped itinerary. We normally have our schedule planned 9 to 12 months ahead, and when the pandemic hit, we scrapped everything and started over with a short time-frame, up to a couple of months in advance.
There is basically no safer place to travel in a pandemic than in an RV. It is fully contained and once parked, social distancing is pretty much built in. Almost all campgrounds have closed their public areas, such as pavilions, clubhouses, snack bars, etc., and unless you visit people in their campsites, you aren’t liable to be within six feet of anyone. Since most RV’ers are strangers to each other, this is a fairly normal lifestyle for us.
One way we have been meeting people is through an online social community called RVillage with over 250,000 members of RV and nomadic lifestyle enthusiasts. All last year we arranged meetups among us RVillagers that happen to be in close proximity, starting about once per month at a brewery, pub or restaurant, and we enjoyed hosting them so much, by the end of the year we were having them every other week. We were still doing them in March when the pandemic restrictions began and have been making the best of it by using Zoom to host virtual dinner and cocktail parties instead.
I asked Curtis Coleman, founder and CEO of RVillage, to express how the pandemic has affected his community and how RVillage has been able to operate during these difficult times. He sent me the following:
Curtis and his excellent staff have become an even greater resource since the lockdown began, even arranging with a large venue in Florida to make sites available to any member having trouble making reservations in states that have not been RV-friendly.
This led me to wonder what the effect those state-mandated restrictions and social distancing might be on popular RV-based YouTube channels. I reached out to a couple we have been following for quite a while, Tom and Cheri from EnjoyTheJourney.life, and asked what effect, if any, the pandemic has had on their travel and YouTube activities. Tom replied:
My own writing has both improved and taken a hit. It has been emotionally draining to be self-quarantined for so long, over three months now, in 300 square feet of living space and nowhere to visit except from the cab of my pickup. Those sightseeing trips have been our saving grace, exploring vast areas of the eastern Arizona mountains, the eastern Sierra Nevadas and even a now-open Lassen Volcanic National Park. But many historic towns like Jerome, AZ, or Virginia City, NV, either have been crowded with mask-less tourists and not worth the risk or mostly closed down.
My latest Pat Ruger novel has only been getting written in small spurts, still not half complete, and it is difficult to get some quality writing accomplished amid the pandemic, protests and politics happening seemingly around the clock right now. I have rewritten several chapters as I’m still struggling with focus on this longer-term project. Conversely, my blogs and photography have been coming along fairly well, and I’ve even begun to make and post videos for my website.
RVLove is a couple, Marc and Julie Bennett, whose travel-related business has expanded from their YouTube channel and writing a successful RV-travel guide to hosting online training and other virtual get-togethers. They had this to say:
It certainly sounds like the RV industry is handling COVID-19 well. When self-quarantining and non-essential businesses were shut down in March, RV manufacturers stopped building new units, and now that the country has realized that RV travel can be a reprieve in the pandemic, sales of existing stock have increased substantially. I have heard of new RV inventory on sales lots being very low and prices have skyrocketed as demand has risen. Per MSN this week:
As I wrote in my first blog post about the pandemic, “Pandemic Difficulties for Full-Time RV'ers”:
Now that we’ve been experiencing it for a few months, our biggest problem on the road during the pandemic has been our lack of proximity to grocery stores and, therefore, the absence of delivery services available. We have been no closer than 30 miles to a Walmart Superstore or other national grocery chain since the self-quarantine orders began.
Regardless of whether you like or believe in wearing masks for helping control the spread of COVID-19, for people who are high-risk for serious symptoms if infected, such as myself with asthma, it is frightening to walk up to a Walmart or Home Depot filled with people without masks. Also, our RV refrigerator is 10 cu. Ft., including the freezer, so we can’t physically store two weeks’ worth of groceries. That means shortages can affect us more and we have to risk infection more often than most.
Still, we’re getting through it, washing our hands between shopping trips and gassing up, socially distancing at all times, wearing masks in public areas, and using drive-thru’s and thinly-attended outdoor spaces when eating out. We are preparing for a second wave in the fall, as some scientists are predicting, and looking forward to the pandemic being behind us. With the RV-related YouTubers and communities providing an occasional respite from the reality of life on the road during these times, the future seems bright in the long run.
We were already in Texas when the pandemic hit the point of social distancing and sheltering in place. Fortunately we made it out of Louisiana before Texas closed the border to travelers from that neighboring state. We were able to extend our stay in our present campground, bringing the length of stay to 33 days from our normal of 14-21. So, we're safe and sound until the first of May.
There are over one million full-time RV'ers and a great percentage of us live only in our RV, with no sticks-and-bricks house or land to call our home base. This makes the closing statewide of all campgrounds a real concern, as Iowa, Maine and other clueless states have done. They either see RV camping as strictly recreational or a source for contaminated out-of-state visitors. Congrats to Alabama, Delaware and other states that have designated private RV parks as essential businesses so they can stay open.
The truth is that RV's are made for quarantines. They are self-contained, and with proper hook-ups, people can remain isolated in them for long periods of time, and are less likely than the general population in concentrated cities of being infected. Regardless of whether they are coming from out-of-state, full-timers are considered safe travelers, especially since social distancing rules have been in effect.
What could we do if the majority of states were to close all public and private campgrounds? RV's in the states that have closed were made to leave their parks. With no regular home to go, where would they go if no other campgrounds were open? I can only imagine what parking lots and vacant lots would look like, let alone what would happen to their waste tanks. It could be quite unsanitary. States need to wake up and consider full-timers as equal citizens in this open country and make allowances. Closing parks does not reduce risk from spreading infection, it increases the risk of unsanitary conditions on a widespread scale.
There's a private toll on us full-timers, though. Without friends and family nearby, life on the road can be lonely during the best of times. We strive to combat these feelings by meeting up with fellow RV'ers, participating in RV resort activities, trying local cuisine and enjoying the nightlife that changes so vividly from town to town. These have all been taken away with non-essential businesses closed and social distancing in place. Activities, restaurants and sports bars have all been closed and although Skype or Zoom gatherings happen, they are often lacking in the one-on-one interaction that is so satisfying.
One of the reasons we booked our stay in the Corpus Christie and Brownsville areas was so that we could explore and I could take photos throughout Padre Island. When we showed up during a drive a couple of weeks ago (after spring break was over) all beach access was barricaded. Now, I understand, the road to the beaches has been closed.
Lack of groceries is another huge issue for full-time RV'ers. We don't have the storage space for stockpiling TP and paper towels. We don't have room in the freezer to stock up on meat or in the refrigerator for perishables. If we can't find something in the store, it's a problem that's not easily solved. We just don't have the reserves.
Nadyne and I are fortunate to have been best friends before we married and there hasn't been much strain to our relationship. But that's not true for everyone. Most RV's have between 150 and 400 square feet of living space. Normally the outdoors provides enough extra expanse so that cramped quarters isn't an issue. But force everyone indoors... well, it might not be pretty.
So far, the pandemic seems to be nearing its peak and hopefully we will be allowed to travel to our next destination in Arizona when April ends.
If you have specific issues I didn't discuss here, by all means please add your comment below.
Author, poet, photographer, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, sportsman,