Our Rapid Changes as Full-time RVers During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Much like other people, we were rapidly faced with a conundrum during the week of March 9, 2020. We had been following the COVID-19 Pandemic outbreak with watchful eyes as much as we could. Unfortunately, inTonto National Forest and at Kartchner Caverns State Park, we had little to no TV reception for the better part of three weeks and cell service was challenged except for texting.

March 2: We had arrived at Kartchner Caverns State Park, near Benson, Arizona for a two-week stay. Friends from Texas were due to arrive on the 4th and stay not far from us. There were reports of a couple of COVID-19 cases in Phoenix at that time. We tucked that information aside. Family texted us from Los Alamos, New Mexico that when they grocery shopped, some shelves were depleted of products and that there were long lines at check-out. We thought it odd that this was happening in a smaller city in New Mexico. And, there were no reported cases in New Mexico as far as we knew.

Thank you Kartchner Caverns for a second fabulous stay!
Arriving at Kartchner Caverns State Park, the early March semi-desert grassland with mesquite trees welcomed us.

March 3: With company coming, Diane headed to Benson’s Safeway supermarket to purchase some additional food. It struck her as odd that when she pulled into the parking lot, it was 80% full in early afternoon on a Tuesday. Once inside, she noticed grocery carts piled high with toilet paper, paper towels, Gatorade, Chlorox bleach, cereal, meat, baking ingredients, bread, etc. She thought, “Gosh, could this be in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic?” After shopping for what she needed on the usual list and a bit extra for our company, she joined the ranks of being prepared by also selecting pain relievers, Muscinex, cough drops, Saltine crackers, and Jello just in case either of us contracted the virus. Once in line at the cashier, it was perplexing the number of people waiting in line with grocery carts brimming with groceries. It was spring break time, which may have explained the number of people, yet the types of purchases didn’t look like spring break items.

March 4-7: To our delight, our company arrived. We enjoyed day trips together. One day to Tombstone with its overflowing Big Nose Kate’s Saloon crowd for lunch. Another to the bustling town of Bisbee with retirees and spring breakers crowding into little shops and outdoor cafes. We treated our friends to a cave tour at Kartchner Caverns, which included 25 other visitors. 

Our friends, Kaila, Steve, and sweet dog Stan visited us from Texas.

March 8: Our friends left to return to Texas. Our day was spent hiking and then preparing for a concert venue later that evening in Sahuarita. At the concert, we sat next to two cousins in a lovely auditorium with 1,000 other concertgoers. We soaked up the music of the concert band, which included two other cousins playing in the band. Afterwards the six of us went out for dessert and coffee at Denny’s restaurant. It was very enjoyable. Although we flinched at any coughing that we heard in the audience or at the restaurant.

Cousins: Paul, Luci, Lorna, Mike, Diane, and Steve. We are blessed!

March 9: The news headlines on our New York Times apps indicated COVID-19 cases in Washington state, namely in the Seattle area, were mounting. Having been away from the news the past few days, we were wondering where this pandemic was headed. Additionally, we received news that a family member in Iowa was critically ill and hospitalized, thankfully not with COVID-19, yet of great concern. It reinforced the challenges of our full-time RV lifestyle including the distance from family and our not being in a position to quickly be there to lend support, if needed. To relax before turning in for the night, we took an evening stroll of the campground with the full moon adding some extra light.

The March 9th full moon while at Kartchner Caverns State Park was veiled with a thin layering of clouds.

March 10: We took a six-mile hike into Coronado National Forest on the Guindani Trail. It gave us time to explore a canyon, enjoy the sound of a narrow stream, witness the beauty of early wildflowers, and experience the scent of blooms. There’s nothing like stimulating one’s senses in nature! Additionally, we began considering what COVID-19 might mean for us, our family, and friends.

Hiking along the Guindani Trail we crossed the mountain stream 23 times. This stream originates in the Whetstone Mountain Range of Arizona.

March 11: We needed a town day to do laundry and find reliable Wi-Fi. We opted for Sierra Vista. One laundromat was packed with people plus all washers and dryers were taken. Luckily, there was another laundromat with only two other patrons. Two hours later we were at Livia’s coffee shop, which was a welcomed and familiar refuge, having spent two afternoons there last February (2019), while staying at Kartchner Caverns. At Livia’s we continued making reservations for our March 2020-March 2021 Extended Trip through the Midwest, New England, East Coast, and Gulf Coast. It felt great to have nearly all 50 stays booked or arranged for 12 months!

March 12: The news brought additional COVID-19 statistics and growing concern. Our thoughts shifted to questioning whether we needed to consider and execute a Plan B. To have a lower-key day seemed to match our general mood. Over lunch at Benson’s Horseshoe Cafe & Bakery, we considered the “what-ifs” of our full-time RV lifestyle in the midst of a growing pandemic. Most importantly was not to contract the virus, nor spread it. Our “What-ifs” took several explorations of thought in conversations throughout afternoon and evening. We were definitely “seeking wisdom between a rock and hard place.”

What-If, perhaps we stay the course and finish the next four weeks of stays in Arizona and the one week in New Mexico, since we already have reservations. 

What-If, we really should consider heading to Colorado because that’s where Diane’s health insurance is tied geographically; unlike Steve’s insurance which is Medicare and a Medicare Supplement that can be used throughout the country. 

What-If, we keep saying that we should change our domicile state/residency while we are full-time RVers rather than keeping our Denver residency with its higher vehicle registration fees and vehicle insurance rates. 

What-If, maybe we need to take a year off, cancel our extended trip, change our state of residency, find a place to stay with the trailer for several months, and then resume full-time RVing.

Our late afternoon walk with the clouds portrayed the mood of uncertainty that we were having in the midst of the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic.

March 13: It was Friday the 13th. (Just noted it, don’t believe in it having ill-will.) We learned that friends, who were camping at a New Mexico state park, had a knock on their camper door from the ranger. The ranger said that the state park was closing the campground and everyone needed to leave that morning. Receiving this news really drove home our decision. Off we returned to Livia’s Coffee Shop for Wi-Fi to explore Plan B, for time was of the essence with our stay at Kartchner Caverns concluding on Monday the 16th. Our next two-week stay was Patagonia Lake State Park in Arizona. 

On the Friday the 13th, we spent a few hours at Livia’s Coffee in Sierra Vista further discerning Plan B.

Our Plan B After considering the What-Ifs, we came to the conclusion that none were an option. Instead, we decided that it was time to return to the Denver area where Diane would be near medical providers tied to her health insurance, should care be necessary. A call to our dear friend, Barb, had us asking if we could stay at her unoccupied home in a Denver suburb. “Yes,” she said. “You are welcome anytime.” (Thank you, Barb! We also stayed at her home for a month in November-December last year.) A call to the RV storage that we used in 2018 had us asking if they had a space open for an open-ended time beginning on Wednesday, March 18. “Yes, they did have a space.” Clarity arose from the What-Ifs. We decided that not only was it time to strive for a new state of residency, we were ready to embrace having a home base that didn’t depend on family or friends to provide. As much as we appreciate having stays in their homes or on their driveways, we really could see ourselves with a solid place to hang our hats in between travels. At some point during the summer, our goal is to rent a house in Pullman, Washington where we’ll be near our son and daughter-in-love.

We had phone calls with our family, Jeremy & Michelle and Stephanie & Shane to gain their input as to our plan. Given the COVID-19 situation and our not having a home base, they were quite supportive. Needing to pinch ourselves seemed appropriate as our world tilted.

March 14: Steve called and canceled our upcoming reservations at Patagonia Lake State Park. It felt odd that we were concluding our winter stay abruptly. We took advantage of the gorgeous weather and beauty of Kartchner for a last big hike and picnic that took us to the overlook and beauty of the San Pedro River Valley surrounded by several mountain ranges. We were grateful, yet feeling a bit emotional that plans changed so quickly. Yet, we knew in our guts, this was what needed to be our Plan B.

From the overlook on the Foothills Trail, we had a PB&J lunch with views of the San Pedro River Valley and the mountain ranges.
Steve practices Social Distancing in these times of the COVID-19 pandemic.

March 15: We began shifting gears by breaking down camp as much as we could and canceling other reservations for our Fool’s Lake State Park and Gilbert Ray Campground stays. To decompress from the day, we took a short hike near dusk to enjoy the desert landscape and a stroll around the campground one more time. After dinner when the crowds might be less, we went to the Walmart in Benson to pick up additional items for our pantry, not knowing what grocery stores would be like in the Denver area. Walmart looked like a giant warehouse with pallets down larger aisles, Walmart employees were working at break-neck speed to restock shelves that were depleted. We couldn’t believe our eyes! We thanked every employee we saw for their efforts. One said, “Our truck from the warehouse arrived several hours late so we are actually behind in restocking overnight.” Bless them all.

Our faithful full-timing duo as we began breaking camp: Tranquility the Trailer and AZ IF the truck.

March 16: Denver was 850 miles away, meaning two long days and one very short day of driving. It was of no surprise to us the number of vehicles that passed us with Canadian license plates or those from the Midwest or Colorado. Many people who were “snowbirds” in the south leaving their winter stays early or perhaps spring breakers heading home. Our goal was to overnight park at a rest area south of Santa Fe. Once we arrived, we found ample space for trailers and truckers. Santa Fe was near enough that we could see the city lights. 

On March 16 we awoke to sunshine in our faces! We were all loaded and hitched, ready to leave Arizona and Colorado bound. It was an emotional day as we considered the pandemic unfolding and some level of uncertainty as to our long-range plans.
Thankfully the rest stop closest to Santa Fe, New Mexico was open and there was ample room to park overnight. It was somewhat comforting to see the twinkling lights of Santa Fe in the distance.

March 17: We waved from Interstate 25 towards our siblings and their families in Los Alamos and Santa Fe, as we passed their exits. We were greatly disappointed that the change of plans had us unable to visit this time. Thankfully we visited them in January as part of our Vehicle Registration Escapade! By late afternoon, we pulled into the KOA in Fountain, Colorado, where we’ve stayed before. Once we knew our Plan B, we made reservations ahead as we weren’t sure of the demand for campground stays in the midst of the COVID-19 exodus. This placed us a couple of hours to RV storage so we could time our arrival the next day without hitting Denver metro traffic.

The morning of March 17, we waved at the Los Alamos and Eldorado exits, which would have been the routes to visit two of our sisters and their families. But…not this time!
Thankfully we could reserve ahead at the Colorado Springs South KOA in Fountain, Colorado.

March 18: We finished packing items that would be difficult to access with the slide retracted. Off to RV storage we went. Because snow and cold temps were forecasted, we packed up anything liquid or aerosol that could freeze. Steve winterized the trailer while Diane thawed the freezer and packed up the frig and freezer contents. While unloading Tranquility the Trailer once at RV storage, we had a few tears and feelings of sadness. We couldn’t believe how quickly life had changed in less than a week. We shifted items from the truck bed to the trailer and vice versa. We knew that we’d return the next day for more clothes and other items needed for what could be an extended stay at Barb’s.

Up early on March 18, we finished packing up liquids, aerosols, food from the pantry, frig, and freezer.
A few hours later we were checked into RV storage east of Denver. Steve winterized the trailer’s water system due to projected freezing temps.
The great shifting took place, moving items from trailer to truck and vice versa.
The moment has come to say, “See you later Tranquility!” There’s a level of uncertainty as to when we’ll load up our belongings and head north, but likely in early May.

April 8: Fast forward and it’s been three weeks ago that we flipped the battery kill switch on Tranquility and left it nestled quietly in storage next to other seemingly lonely rigs. In these three weeks, it’s been gut-wrenching and heart-breaking to watch the numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths rise around the globe and in the U.S. Equally concerning is the rise in unemployment and businesses closing. Like many other states and communities, we have been living under a Stay at Home order in Colorado since late March. For the meantime, we stay hunkered down in Barb’s beautiful home that is 10 times larger than the trailer AND with a view of two lakes, cottonwood trees, and a hawk perched like clockwork on a high branch. Geese and ducks, herons and magpies, even a solo pelican keep us entertained with their honks or quacks and evening glides on the lakes or walking among the cattails. 

And….in due time we were unloading our belongings at Barb’s home, 20 miles west of RV storage.

We drive to Whole Foods once a week for groceries during the 7-8 a.m. 60+ age shopping hour. Thankfully being just 25 minutes from Steve’s Mom, we’ve been able to deliver groceries to her twice. And, Steve’s made a run to Walgreen’s once. Otherwise, we adhere to Stay at Home measures to protect ourselves and others. 

From Barb’s front door, we have a 2-3 mile route by sidewalk in lieu of hikes. We wave, smile, and say hello to others on the same trek. This is our temporary community! Many we now recognize because we’re all striving to get fresh air and exercise. Colorado’s ample sunsine and bluebird skies bring healing warmth to our souls. Daffodils are blooming and flowering trees are bursting with sweet blossoms. As a way to be in community much like the Italians on their balconies singing, some of our evenings include stepping onto the deck and howling with others in the community as part of the Howl at 8PM effort. Our Colorado governor likens the effort as to a pack, all in this together, plus providing a way to acknowledge the sacrifices of medical first responders in the line of fire with COVID-19, the many patients, their families, and the essential businesses and employees that continue to provide for everyone.

Colorado Governor Polis issued a “Stay at Home” order that originally was due to expire on March 26, but as of now extends to April 26. We know taking measures saves lives. We took this photo on one of our first walks in Barb’s neighborhood.

Our prayers and warm thoughts go out to everyone. May you and your families and friends have good health, escaping COVID-19. May those in the biomedical field collaborate to find an immunization for COVID-19 as well as a therapeutic measure that will reduce the severity and length of COVID-19 for those who contract it. May our economy bounce back with rigor. And, may all of humanity reflect on the fragility of life and the interconnectedness that binds around the globe despite the distance. “Together. All for one, one for all.”

We anticipate heading to Washington in early May. Until we meet again….happy trails to you, separated by at least 6 feet!

Love,
Diane & Steve
Trying to embrace life at the Speed of Sanity!

Family & Friends Tour Concludes: Part Two of Two

This Part Two recap of the Family & Friends Tour provides statistics and other details of our trek across the miles.

Diverse Landscapes
We certainly experienced diverse landscapes these past 8 1/2 months. Miles of vastness met us over the Great Plains of the Midwest, across the windy flats between volcanic remnants in New Mexico, and throughout the high desert of western Texas. Crashing waves along Oregon’s coastline were thunderous and persistent, whereas the surf along the Gulf Coast in Alabama and Florida was much smaller and quieter in comparison. The many ranges of the Rocky Mountains with jagged and rocky precipices were stark in contrast to the more rolling and gentle Great Smoky Mountains. The hub-bub and traffic of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex was a night and day difference to the much quieter and sensible pace of my hometown of Belle Plaine, Iowa.

Pacific Coast, Brookings, Oregon, November 2018
Hiking at Kartchner Caverns State Park, Benson, Arizona, February 2019

Dotting the Map
From July 29, 2018 through April 15, 2019, we stayed at 59 different locations. This includes private/national park/state park/city/county campgrounds, boondocking on BLM/National Forest Lands, overnight drycamping/parking in casino or rest area parking lots, parking the trailer on the driveways of family or friends thereby staying in their comfy homes, and several hotel stays with the truck/trailer combo taking up parking lot space overnight.

Welcome to California! November 2018

We have camped in 23 states, yet been in 25 states. The two states where we didn’t camp were South Carolina and Florida for day-trips without the trailer. The 23 states in which we’ve camped (listed in order) include: Kansas, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia. In 14 of these states, we stayed in State Park campgrounds. In several states we have  12-month State Park passes to enjoy discounts. Our National Park Senior Passes save us roughly 50% on national park campground fees. In our future slower pace, we look forward to more national park, BLM, or National Forest stays to support a more budget-friendly retirement!

Kartchner Caverns State Park, Benson, Arizona, February 2019

Travel Highlights
Some of our favorite travel highlights includes places and cuisines. Favorite places include Mesa Verde National Park (Colorado), Craters of the Moon National Monument (Idaho), Redwoods National and State Parks (Oregon/California), Death Valley National Park (California), Brazos Bend State Park (Texas), San Antonio Missions National Park (Texas), Gulf Islands National Seashore (Florida), Bandolier National Monument (New Mexico), and adding South Carolina to our list of states visited. [Steve’s up to 49 states and I’m up to 44.] It’s of no surprise that we visited numerous national or state parks, since it’s part of our retirement goal.

An American Alligator in Brazos Bend State Park, near Needville, Texas, February 2019

Another highlight was the more regional cuisines across the United States with a virtual bushel-load and bakery-case of tasty, local flavors. Clam chowder along the Oregon coast, a Friendsgiving feast in Reno, Nevada, Tex-Mex fare in New Mexico and Texas, barbecue across the southern tier of states, and fish (fresh and fried) in Texas, Louisiana, and Alabama. Hands-down, one of the most festive food stops was at the Elberta Sausage Festival in Elberta, Alabama (rich in German heritage).  Family and friends often prepared delicous home-cooked meals. Suffice it to say, the abundant caloric intake from both of us now has us on a journey to decrease our mid-sections!

Elberta Sausage Festival, Elberta, Alabama, March 2019
German Sausage with Sauerkraut

Mileage to Date
As of May 22, 2019, we have covered 27,967 miles in the truck and 16,215 of those miles towing the trailer. Perhaps not so surprisingly, we have acquired many additional truck miles in instances when we’re visiting several different family members or friends in a general locale or making the most as tourists or outdoor enthusiasts. We also put the trailer in storage for three weeks in Tucson for most of January 2019 in order to make just a road trip to and from Denver with the truck.

Concluding our Family & Friends Tour, Virginia, April 15, 2019

More Details to Come
We have been asked what our full-time RVing costs look like. We are currently in the process of calculating diesel, DEF fluid, truck & trailer servicing, campground fees, etc. Once we have reviewed these costs, we will share them.

I hope that you enjoyed this two-part recap of our Family & Friends Tour.

“Living Life at the Speed of Sanity”

– Diane (and Steve)