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Monday, June 4, 2012

RV Evolution: The "Perfect Rig—Perfect LIfe" Paradox

A friend dies at 49. "Life is Short" ricochets about the confused confines of your itty bitty brain. It's now or never, fool. 
"You'll end up a Walmart Greeter!" whispers the Imp. 
"I don't care!" bellows your voice, loud enough to be heard by colleagues at a mind numbing conference on "Organics: Precursors Of Trihalomethane Formation In Drinking Water.
"You don't care about what, Mr Johnson?" asks the somewhat perturbed presenter. 

In thirty odd years of camping, RVing, and on-and-off full-timing, the above photo is about as close as we've come to the "Perfect Rig—Perfect Life" fantasy. It is a "fantasy," you know, if you are perfectly honest to the bone. The photo speaks for itself and, perhaps, for the owners of the rig... a statement, of sorts, that it's going to take a pretty big "bump" in the road to deny the exceptional boondock, privacy and solitude some require in order to offset "Modern Life," what it did to you, what it does to you, and how it often ends early, whilst in your prime... like my aforementioned friend... or late, when your chair has wheels, eyes are vacant, and your heart doesn't have the decency to stop beating. But I digress... 

Possibilities become obvious as one studies the above photo, just go till you can't go no more. Then unhitch Arctic Fox, put Petroleous Rex in four wheel low and go some more... to alpine hinterlands that settles restless souls. You do it now, if for no other reason than you still can. Hindsight being 20-20, the only thing missing from that photo is a winch (not wench... a first edition Freudian slip that slipped by the author) with a hundred feet of emboldening cable.

I guess I'm a tinkerer, always thinking... tweaking... screwing with un-broke "perfection," eyeing, then coveting my neighbors "wife," until next thing you know I'm committing RV adultery and there's a two-slide Fiver setting in my driveway. Just call me the "Don Juan darling repeat RV customer," never satisfied. There seems to be a bullseye on my forehead that only salesmen can see.  

Males mock and berate Women's Shopping Syndrome, this in spite of it being recently revised upward to number 2 on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (a posthumous indignity that rolled old Mas over in his tomb). But when it comes to our quest for the "Perfect Rig," we turn right around on a hypocritical dime and engage the same, if not faultier, shopping logic... using the most nit-picky and absurd reasoning imaginable. I traded Arctic Fox because the pipes froze a couple of times.

In my defense, I have yet to committed the ultimate sin, which is to throw down a couple of hundred G's or more on a gaudy motorhome with more whiz-bang things to go wrong than you can shake an empty wallet at. But that's only because I don't have a couple hundred G's. 

We started small like poor folk should, with a two-person starter tent. It leaked, and was too small for necessities like my size 14 Chippewa Minus 40 hiking boots. Tired of being sopping wet, we upgraded to a two wheel drive Toyota pickup with a topper... high and dry now, but you can't go anyplace cool in Colorado with two wheel drive. So we upgraded to a Jeep Cherokee Wagon with a fold down back seat. It turned out to be too short for someone six foot four and I ended up back in the tent. Two steps forward; one step back. 

Then on to an old FWD '79 Chevy short bed pickup. I found a used Four Wheel Pop Up slide-in, cab-over camper and thought I'd struck gold. We could go anywhere, and did... staying dry and warm and cooking meals on a real stovetop at 12,000 feet. So what if we had to solar shower and poop outdoors. I loved its popped down low profile for driving and skittering around in tight woods. And when popped up, I had almost an inch to spare between my bald spot and the ceiling. 

Long story longer... we bought a new Chevy due to reliability issues with the '79. That move precipitated a new pop up camper because the old one looked like shit on a brand new truck. We upgraded to a larger pop up camper that had an outdoor shower, hot water heater, larger water tank and a portable potty. But that camper, along with all of our gear, bikes and toys, proved too heavy for a half ton Chevy. Arrrggg! So we adopted a new GMC three quarter ton pickup, but kept the same camper. 

Then one fine spring day, the kind where love is in the air and camping juices flows like Texas oil, we saw a short-bed pickup with a brand new Hallmark Camper resting in a parking lot. The proud owners were more than happy to show us inside. The camper overhung the bed by about 16 inches, allowing room for a real shower/toilet closet. The overhang was designed so it wouldn't drag ground no matter the Jeep road. We bit on that bullet. Of course with another holding tank for black water, and a larger water tank to supply the shower... a longer/heavier camper... you get where I'm going; it exceed the three quarter ton load limit of our pickup. A new truck was out of the question, so I installed booster airbags on the rear axle to get headlights back on the ground where they belonged. 

Then it occurred to me that all this upgrading and tweaking was nothing but a chain linking me to a treadmill. One fine spring day you wake up, love is in the air and camping juices are flowing like the almighty Colorado River. You realize to the point of resignation that you loathe your job and your unappreciative boss, too. Blue highways suddenly become nymphs, begging to be explored... wilderness boondocks beckon your presence... freedom takes on the aroma of bacon, sizzling over an open fire. I finally reached critical mass, the Countdown to Meltdown was at T minus Five and counting. 

Like I said, a friend died at 49. "Life is Short" ricocheted the empty and confused confines of my brain. "Mark, you are in pain; if not now, when?" I took off running.
"You'll end up a Walmart Greeter!" re-whispers the Imp. 
"I don't care!"

I'll bare down and try to conclude this essay in the next post. I have a few tough questions... ones that I struggle with... one's I'd like your opinions on: like, what is the long range "true cost" of adopting a full time lifestyle as measured in dollars and sense? Do you worry about ending up living out your years in an aging RV? Is "freedom" just another word for "nothing left to lose?" Where does "purpose" fit into the RV-till-I-die-equation? Will there be regrets for "burning bridges" when we get old and the nest egg is gone? Is it morally right, or fair to our children, to sell our sticks and bricks and spend all the money on RV's and travel, then throw ourselves on Govie's back and expect to be taken care of... fed, housed and medically attended to in our declining, unproductive years? and a few more. 

Feel free to chime in here and now if you have thoughts/opinions/solutions/arguments/examples.

North Padre Island on The Artful RV Adventure... Our first full-time breakaway. Is this the Perfect Rig?

Bobbie deals with the winter maintenance issues found in Colorado. Is this the Perfect Rig?

Is this the Perfect Rig?




  1. If plan on sharing close accommodations with Bobbi, I highly recommend that you revise the sentence, "...the only thing missing from that photo is a wEnch..."

  2. Boonie,
    Ah, a Freudian Slip if there ever was one :))
    Thanks for your astute and timely proof read, pal.

  3. Mark, I have been studying the various stories of about 5 longtime fulltimers for about a year now, including yours, to see how I can make this life work for me.

    Thought: I would have to remain a single solitary silverback. At least in this town, the single ladies are not exactly lining up to go boondocking with me.

    Opinion: In my opinion, I cannot see how I can make repairs, live frugually, travel home occasionally for weddings and funerals, stay in National Parks occasionally, drink IPA’s more than occasionally, without an income of ~ $20K.

    Solution: I hope I die before I get old. Being a burden is not an option.

    Argument: As that is your strong point, I will leave that to you.

    Example: Andy Baird does a great reflexion, and I paraphrase here, at the time of the death of his father, about how his lifestyle almost guarantees that he will be found 4 days after his death, alone in the aging Lazy Daze, collapsed on the floor.

    Everybody feel better now?


  5. My husband and I owned 3 motorhomes, the last a BIG beautiful "house" with all the bells and whistles and we towed a Jeep. We made some great memories traveling for the summers in that rig and exploring in the Jeep. I wouldn't give up a moment of those timesIt was perfect.

    After my husband died, I sold the motorhome. I bought a Chalet to give my two big dogs the life he wanted for them. It was great for getting away to meet friends to camp with and to find trails for the dogs to run on and places for them to swim in. A long weekend or two weeks. It was perfect.

    I bought a used 3500 Ram Diesel and a light weight 21 ft trailer. Didn't know I was even climbing the high passes in the Rockies. Had a bathroom and plenty of room for my pup and me. Great storage in the truck bed. It was perfect.

    I guess perfect is different for everyone and different for the same people at different stages in life.

  6. The Desert ScruffJune 4, 2012 at 7:48 PM

    Here's the Catch 22 to me: What happens when illness or age ends going down life's full-timing highway and there is no bank account set aside to finance another lifestyle? Worry about it when you get there--if you do? I'm sorry, I can't do that to my partner. Like you say, do we end up living in a broken-down RV park in a broken-down RV? I seldom, if ever, hear this end-of-the-road scenario talked about.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Been living full-time in an RV for almost 20 years. Started out in a cabover camper, then a small trailer, followed by a bus convertion which was impossible to insure so bought an old motorhome which I eventually traded for an old 5th-wheel and I had another cabover, and now a 34' with three slides which I had to buy a bigger truck to tow. Would I trade all this? NO WAY! It's perfect. And when I get really old and maybe can't do this anymore will it matter if I own a stick built home or not. I have no kids to move in with and don't believe that Uncle Sam will take care of me either. Do I care? Hell NO! Just take me out in the desert and leave me for the buzzards to fine. That's just perfect.

  9. I have some savings, but I am workamping so that I don't deplete my savings. I look at other RV's, but I think mine is perfect for me, so I won't be using my savings to get another one. I have one daughter, I have a life insurance policy, I don't think I need to leave anything else to her. My parents stopped providing for me when I was 16. Why should I save money for someone else, I should live my life my way. My husband died when he was 55, and I was 51, now I am starting all over, I was 16 when I met him, 18 when we were married. I'm starting all over again. I've learned to be frugal and not wasteful with resources or money. I choose this way of living, it gives me the opportunity to explore and travel. I'm hoping to head up to Alaska for one or two years.

  10. Mark, until you find the secret of fulfillment in your life no amount of changing up rigs and ongoing adventure quests will satisfy you, so you might as well save your money and stick with what you have. You seem to be blind to what is so apparent to outsiders. Right now you should be asking if at the end you will have squandered all your money on depreciating assets that basically aren’t worth a damn after 15 or 20 years or if you can find a way to age gracefully into what your future holds without a merry-go-round of material possessions which you seem to think will make all the difference and provide the answer. Your quest is a spiritual not a material one my friend. Find yourself and become more at peace with yourself and you will have the answer.

    None of us can really provide any meaningful answers for you. I know for me personally, despite being born to be an RVer, at the end I don’t want to be at someone else’s mercy so I prefer to know that I own my own spot of this earth’s dirt—and that doesn’t have to mean it has to be a stick built house either. If you live long enough, there will come a time when the physical requirements of RVing will become beyond what your body can do, beyond what your eyesight can handle, beyond what your driving skills will safely allow. In our society, life is not pretty for the very old who have little resources in the way of funds to secure their comfort and see to their health needs. You’ve been running from and denying this but it will be waiting for you my friend; like I say, if you live long enough. Living for the now is a much overrated bandwagon in my opinion because as my dad used to tell me, there is always a piper to pay. In the “now” you may not think the cost is much and that it is easily afforded but I can guarantee you fifteen years from now you will think differently if you spend away the future for you and Bobbie.

  11. An example of a positive end game would be almost 75 year old blogger Tioga George. He has narrowed it down to the highlands of Tequisquiapan in the summer and the Pacific Beach at Aticama in the winter.

  12. Mark, you are way over thinking this RV question. BuT that's what I enjoy about your blog.  
    I had a neighborhood grade school friend and he always wanted to do these crazy things (jumping off roof's, throwing apples at moving cars, firecrackers in mail boxes, etc).  Instead of talking him off the roof I usually followed right behind.  Instead of talking him out of throwing apples at cars, I invented an apple throwing stick that would actually launch the apple even further. But I did talk him out of blowing up the mail boxes.

      Like you, I took the early retirement, bought the trailer but please don't blow up the mail box.

  13. Claudia-- Living for the now is overrated------- could not disagree more--of course plan for the future--but to ignore living for the NOW-that is all we have for sure-I really believe Mark enjoys his journey- in all forms-He will not sit around and spend all his time on how to live at the end of his life- live now!

  14. Oh- John Q-- as a retired rural letter carrier - thanks for curbing mail box bombing!!

  15. Chef Ted,
    I had to dig your comments out of my spam folder, so they are regretfully belated:

    20 k is doable, but difficult, Ted. One can you do without if The Dream burns hot like a branding iron. If you are burning your employment "bridges" in order to full time, be sure you are ready for an austere lifestyle... lest that micro brew IPA change into Coors Light (gag).

    It is a dilemma... you've obviously been contemplating this for years, your finger is literally "on the trigger," I can sense it... to the point of being willing to die younger, the ultimate money solving solution.

    All I can tell you is that I jumped and lived to tell about it, because I'm willing to go back and forth between work and total freedom.... a compromise, but don't tell CowBoy Brian that, he wants his freedom straight up, 100%. I don't have his balls... I can live in the NOW, but not to the point of putting my head in the sand regarding tomorrows. I'm not saying it can't be done, it's just good business to be prudent... line up your duckies. Tomorrow doesn't always take care of itself unless you take really good care of today. That might mean work camping, Pool Boying, camp hosting, Walmarting... what ever you can tolerate part time. Or, it might mean postponing pleasure a couple more years. A lot of people doing that nowadays. Good luck Ted, I hope to meet you at a boondock and share an IPA... yours, of course. :))

    John Q.
    your early, funded, retirement is most people's dream. Thank your God every day... not that you didn't work hard and earn every penny of it, It's just that those kinds of careers are going away lately. Good for you.

    Walden Steve,
    Thanks for coming to my defense :)) I'll buy you dinner next time you come to the mountains. :))

  16. To all commenters;
    thanks for your participation... let's see where your experiences and stories lead the flock.

  17. That's the beauty of having an RV. You can do whatever you want, whenever you want. I like how you said "just go till you can't go no more" -- This is basically the meaning of life. Perseverance and hard work, after that, good things will surely come. You just have to enjoy life along and persevere. "Life is short", so you have to do the best you can to be successful.

  18. Like, what is the long range "true cost" of adopting a full time lifestyle as measured in dollars and sense?
    The same as I would spend in a sticks-n-bricks, we tend to spend what we have.

    Do you worry about ending up living out your years in an aging RV?
    NO, the aging RV will probably outlive me.

    Is "freedom" just another word for "nothing left to lose?"
    Full time RVing offers mobility freedom but changes very little else in my life.

    Where does "purpose" fit into the RV-till-I-die-equation?
    I don't think 'purpose' has much to do with where I happen to live.

    Will there be regrets for "burning bridges" when we get old and the nest egg is gone?
    The nest egg was gone long before I started Fulltiming. No regrets.

    Is it morally right, or fair to our children, to sell our sticks and bricks and spend all the money on RV's and travel, then throw ourselves on Govie's back and expect to be taken care of... fed, housed and medically attended to in our declining, unproductive years?
    Yes, no children. Yes, my being on the road Fulltime does not increase the possibility that I'll become a burden on society.

  19. Life is an adventure, we should seize every moment! Carpe diem! An RV is a good companion for adventurers out there. It can provide you with the wheels, to take you places, and at the same time a home, a travelling home, where you can rest and sleep. I want to have an RV too!

    -Rosalinda Rudloff


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