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Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Rudder of Life in Seas Less Traveled...Worry, But Be Happy


A couple of days after writing the previous cabin-fevered post, "Winds of Change and Challenge," I read a reassuring passage—as in, Maybe I'm not going crazy after all. It comes from the book, "Fresh Air Fiend," by travel writer Paul Theroux, a gift from a fellow blogger/writer that I've come to know via the BCB and email correspondence who thought my writing style similar to Theroux. Half way through the book's contents, I believe Theroux—and possibly all writers—to be kindred in spirit, a brooding, solitary lot who sees the world and its over populated masses as "material." The passage reads...

"Normal, happy, well-balanced individuals seldom become imaginative writers…a writer works alone, indoors, in a room, on a chair, with the door shut. Any…person who wonders what his or her chances are of becoming a writer ought to assess their ability to deal with solitude and, figuratively speaking, an entire working life thrashing around in inspissated darkness…a rat race in which you never get to meet the other rats. The writer is odd from  day one, and in the course of pursuing his maddening profession becomes distinctly odder. It is a commonplace to say that creative people tend to be irrational, manic-depressive, or hard to get along with…one you think of as full of sunshine, wisdom, and laughter—to spend great portions of his or her life in a state of fury, or hideously disappointed, or even raving mad…Writing a…book is a daunting task requiring time, silence, and space…summed up in the image of a two-pound chicken trying to lay a three-pound egg. It can be very irritating when writers are told how they might manage their lives better."

First a few obligatory disclaimers that will hopefully soften and  minimize offense taken by the ideas and thoughts I often revisit.

"I'm not going to change the way I look or the way I feel to conform to anything. I've always been a freak. So I've been a freak all my life and I have to live with that, you know. I'm one of those people." John Lennon 

"If we don't change, we don't grow. If we don't grow, we aren't really living." Gail Sheehy

"If there is no struggle, there is no progress." Frederick Douglass

"I have noticed even people who claim everything is predestined, and that we can do nothing to change it, look before they cross the road." Stephen Hawking

"We are small in our fleeting dance with Nature but loom large in our estimation of ourselves, as each of us strive to realize what we can imagine—push back boundaries that seem immovable. There are moments when we can see the magnitude of these achievements. There are moments when we can see the work of dreaming. And there are moments that place all others in humble perspective. I look at how we set out to shape Nature…and how it shapes us." Darin Johnson

Imagination is a unique and amazing nook amongst our cluttered rolodex minds. It allows us to slip the chains in a dungeon cell of solitary confinement any time we choose, to review the past, peek into the future, or simply go outside on a sunny day and walk about the garden. I spend a lot of time in my imagination. I dream of new and better ways to spend my reality—a finite commodity that is spent like currency, such that when it's gone, so are we. 

I have always tried to turn things imagined into reality and have met with some success…sometimes to my surprise, sometimes to my disappointment. "Intention" is a powerful force, but it often wanes into "whatever" as we get older. Not being a fan of letting go of the "rudder" and drifting to "whatever," I sometimes resist, which often requires me to tack against currents. Or, to use another analogy, we are like trees in that harsh "winds" makes us stronger.  

Judging from some of the responses to my "Winds of Change" post, I got the feeling that "retirement" is a time to coast, that, for some, it is a time to shrug off "goals/purpose/anything" that requires effort. Now I like a good "float trip" once in a while, but since "reality" is finite, well, I'd rather not use it all up on cruise control. I like the feel of a rudder or steering wheel in my hand; that I am going "someplace" and it is of my own "choosing." Retirement, to me, is a time to set new goals to replace others met…it's a stage in life when one finally has the time to try on some wild and crazy new outfits instead of the same old t-shirt and shorts. I realize that "RVing" counts as major "try on" for most—to sell out and hit The Road is a huge lifestyle change that involves "risk." I remember the newbie butterflies and excitement preceding departure and loved all the unknowns. 

But just like that new car smell, excitement eventually wears off, and while I still love going places, especially new places, I've reached a point where I need a new "drug" (avenue) that produces the same "high" (excitement) as my newbee RV adventures did. It was a long held dream realized for us to combine RVing with an active outdoor lifestyle. Now it's time to add another layer of purpose/complexity to it in order to make it new again.

You are my sounding board, so when I wonder "out loud" on the BCB, questioning my choices, life-course, and, yes, "accomplishments," it's helpful. Sometimes I use your feedback and "trim my sail," sometimes I don't. After 15 years of RVing—three stints of selling out to go full-time and in-between a blend of on and off, come and go from The Road, I do indeed praise the lifestyle. But I also question it from time to time—share my doubts and concerns—so that those waiting in line get the whole truth, as opposed to just the "cheerleaders" and glossy RV magazines versions that by in large suggest you can tracks through the mud and grass, roll right up to the shore of a pristine lake and have it all to yourself—that the weather is always warm and sunny with blue skies, there's trout in the lake, and that you will never, ever tire or become disenchanted or want to do anything else but roam the earth in your wheeled cocoon. Our road struggles might be relevant to the wannabes, that, unless you are pretty darn rich (which has a way of solving most problems beyond health), you might want to have an Exit Plan. 

Not to be a downer, but from time to time someone needs to to pee on the RV sacred "Cow" lest it become the "neighborhood" we tried to leave behind. I question the mass seduction, the Rah Rah RV Blog mentality that The Road Life is wonderful, wonderful, wonderful all the time and forever. There seems to be a lack of honesty in the RV blogosphere—few who can put their "pom poms" down long enough to show the whole picture—that if you sell out and head off into the sunset without a "realistic" plan and/or enough money, you had better be prepared to live out your life—your 70's, 80's, and 90's—when disease and lifestyle catch up—in a worn out, broken-down, and likely, a stationary rig at the Escapees nursing home for destitute RV'ers. Or, the possibility that at some point after the RV "shine" has lost its luster, a husband may miss his shop and tools and buddies, or a wife may miss her "nest" and hearth and girlfriends, that one or both may have health issues not suited to the RV life. Just say'in, you might want to consider holding back enough money to at least have the option of returning to a sticks and bricks or at least a park model before bungie jumping into "Freedom Canyon.

It takes a lot of money to stay on the road in an aging rig. And the Boondocking rules are likely to get more restricted as more and more financially unprepared retirees turn to RVs and boondocking as an exciting and cheap way to get around a mortgage or rent. In this economy more and more young people are particularly vulnerable to the temptation of living on the cheap, of "dropping out" into a life of freedom on the misassumption that it's free and easy. We stumble across more and more young kids who plunged in and are winging it, some with a covey of kids, three dogs and a cat, all in an old school bus. At least the young have time to recoup if and when they need to. We don't. 

With the economy stalled or in reverse, it's going to get crowded and noisy in formerly "secret spots." And as the "rich gets richer," let's not forget all the Motorheads who will roll in to our private "boondocks" for the weekend, with three rigs, extended family, 20 cases of beer, generators running to the wee hours, and noisy motorcycles and Quad Runners going round de round from dawn to dusk. Govie will tolerate the come-and-go rich with their obnoxious noise-toys, but the rest of us will be considered squatters and not be well tolerated. The rules are going to change as "overuse" gives Govie the ammunition needed to legislate limitations on free camping and "the least among us" will be hoarded to the bleakest plots of wasteland and charged for the privilege to occupy it for two weeks max.  

Even if money is not a consideration, some RV'ers eventually become dis-infatuated with The Road, especially if they brought their sticks and bricks lifestyle with them to a brand new quad-slide dollhouse...their satellite TV, happy hours, barbecue grills, Wally World trips, and crowded neighborhoods with barking dogs (now on all four sides). They live in walled fortresses in the "City" with security cams and walk Loop A instead of the block. The outdoor life is a drive through the "pretties," taking pictures from the seat of their four wheel drive SUV that has yet to go off road. Eventually most find "the perfect little town" and bail; I see it all the time in places like St George, Utah, a cute little casita on a golf course with view of red rocks…the "beastly RV" with a For Sale sign in the window. I don't worry about them… they can afford the five year, 100 grand depreciation on a Motorhome. 

Even with our penchant to hike, bike, and explore every nook and cranny, after a year and a half we looked at each other one day and wondered out loud if we could afford it. The savings was dropping twice as fast as our worst case scenario. Sometimes tomorrows need to be considered no matter how much fun your having in the Now. Beyond that, we had been coast to coast, Jasper to Nogales, and realized a life long RV travel goal. Now what, do it again? Would continuation meet expectations and minimal "challenge" and "purpose" requirements the second and third times around? People preach "Balance," Lloyd comes to mind here. We balanced our decades of working life with a few years of freedom and travel in our RV; two extremes…all of one, then all of the other, back and forth. For us, True Balance came to mean a little of one and a little of the other, a little Home, a little Road, friends and community in both places, and the Ultimate Freedom to choose between the extremes. I hated it then, but in hindsight I'm glad we came off the road and went back to work those several times instead of spending down to a place where we didn't have as many choices. I guess I thought I'd never get "old," and that I was immune to health issues. It would be even more difficult to sit out my current medical situation of restricted play in a small box.     

Nobody wants to blog the downsides. I don't like it either, but it needs to be brought up once in a while. If some of the Rah Rah folks had a "financial status" page on their blogs we'd see that they might have a substantial corporate/Govie pension, savings out the wazoo, and/or free lifetime health insurance. That might give a few wannabes pause, maybe reconsider if they can afford to cross a "bridge" that might go up in flames behind them. Some RV'ers of limited means have found a way to make it work by WORKING on the road…writing books, tele-computing, or simply cutting back to live within their means. My hat is off to the self sufficient RV roamers who can carve a living on the road. It is not Easy Street and maybe it's not perfect, but it beats a boss breathing down your neck in a windowless cube.

To each their own—take the rudder in hand and steer your course as you wish. Just go "informed" and have an Exit Plan in case there is a "fire." Don't let "cheerleaders" rob you of your common sense.

Bobbie and I have escaped to the Red Rock surrounding Village of Oak Creek in an attempt to shake Cabin Fever. I'm happy to report that it's working. It always does…

From this: 

To this:


  1. Everyone's different. Some enjoy their nice houses and all that goes with them. Some like the RV life. Some like the hybrid of both. And some can only do what they can do and try to make the best of it. But some need challenges, and I think you fall into that category. The trick is knowing what's genuinely from within you or whether or not you're being driven by someone else's agenda, especially that of society and/or parents (even if they're now gone). I think we're too often the victims of childhood conditioning in terms of what we feel we need to do.

    Another problem is that if you wait until you have all your ducks in a row, you're likely to never do anything that's risky. And of course, when you're young and invincible, things are easier than when you start to slow down. I used to do stupid things I would never do now, but I'm glad I did them because now I know what that was like (climbing alone in the winter, walking over arches, stupid stuff like that) and I now have lots of material for bad dreams (and writing). :)

    I'm thinking of buying an inexpensive property to serve as a base camp and then trying the hybrid life. A refuge for when you need one, but not anything so expensive you have to worry about it. I think people like you and me will never get the adventurer out of their blood, so might as well go with it.

    Great post and glad you guys are enjoying the sunshine. I'm currently back in northern Utah and enjoying watching the hawks (I'm in an area that's a wintering ground) but looking forward to being in the redrock as soon as possible.

  2. Once again you have hit a proverbial nail on the head. Whim versus reality. Reality remains whether we acknowledge it or not and reality is incredibly patient. We must all face our own mortality and all the twists and turns that accompany the winding down portion of our life. Making each portion meaningful is up to us. Thanks once again for a thought provoking post!!

  3. Well a poignant post, as always. I'm sure many folks see me as one of those Rah-type RVers despite the fact that we have our challenges and certainly don't live off a guaranteed income, but you're absolutely right that I rarely write about the dark side (bar a few instances). Then again I've always been an optimist, or rather have trained myself to be one and prefer to share the positive aspects of life believing ultimately that things will work out for the better. Many have called me naive for this fact and pointed out that one day "I'll see the truth". A more balanced individual would probably be seek more caution which I guess just reinforces your comment that writers are generally unbalanced....I guess I qualify! Anyway I think I'm rambling, but you give good food for thought.

  4. One of my goals when starting out on the RV path was to find a little piece of heaven, a homebase. And I think I will always work or volunteer. Its how I meet people. RVing solo is totally different than as a couple. You have written a lot of good points for the dreamers to consider. I am a dreamer and a planner. So I have notebooks and spreadsheets to go along with the dreaming.

  5. We have no exit plan as of yet. Guess that helps to keep life interesting. When and if something forces us to get off the road, we will figure it out then. Risky, maybe? Like Nina said, things alway seem to just work out. Until then we are very happy with our full time RV life.
    Glad you've found red rocks and sunshine.

  6. Nice post Mark. Boonie can piss on the wildflowers and you can piss on the fulltime RV dream. :-)

    We need more posts like this one. I cringe when I read RV blogs where someone has managed to save $80,000 and is asking people if they should finance their rig at low rates and save their capital to spend while they "retire" and go fulltime....It's sad that people spend more time planning their vacations than planning their finances. There's no magic to it. Set a goal to retire early (say age 50). Start saving when you're a teenager, Spend your whole working career getting a bigger kick out of saving money rather than spending it. Invest logically, often, and well. Find a partner who shares your goals. Don't mortgage your future to support children. Don't get divorced. Then you can retire at 47 instead of 50, even if you don't have a government pension, handout, subsidy, etc. Retirement is really only being able to live the way you want to, not just a dollar amount in an account. It's the people who take the shortcuts to "retirement" who end up in trouble.

  7. mark-- I try to remember how many years reading BCB--- 2- 3 -4 -- then wild flower fun celebration-- I am east of Mississippi- Wisc chesehead- of course a beach guy- but thanks to you and Bobbie- understand the west thing! Your post -- hard to get along with? - part of a writer trait-- NO you do not fit that part!! but your all your remarks about rv life style I find interesting- As you you know my feelings- ---mix the beach life - west USA - with fun family-- is what I choose- mix in a lot of golf -tennis - biking - sailing -guitars and tiki bars- each person has to find what works- thanks mark ! and FINALLY GOOD PICTURES!! Walden Creek RV Steve

  8. I hope you are sick of me quoting you, Mark. As in this particularly important sentence in your particularly important post:

    "For us, True Balance came to mean a little of one and a little of the other, a little Home, a little Road, friends and community in both places, and the Ultimate Freedom to choose between the extremes."

    I too, wonder about that rah rah thing, and have consciously chosen to be a part timer for all the reasons you talk about. But take Nina, I do imagine that there are some out there that are really as good at the full time lifestyle as she is (and Paul of course).

    How many truly creative people do you know who are "on the road" full time. Not just writers, but artists of all kinds? Just sayin...if that art in in you ready to burst...watercolor, writing, whatever...it is hard to imagine that "the road" is a place where it will flourish. The road takes energy. My only art when traveling is an attempt to take a few photos and write a bit of what I am doing. I miss gardening, and painting, and quilting, and knitting....yah, I know I could do that on the road as well...but the road doesn't lend itself to those kinds of quiet pursuits. I am too busy kayaking or biking or hiking or readjusting to the next gorgeous campsite. You know of course that I am a hopeless "Mark Groupie" so hopefully will forgive me when I keep quoting you.

  9. deep thoughts in a somewhat dark post... many a great point though, hope the sunshine brightens up your outlook! Everyone either needs an exit plan or must be very adaptable, still not sure where I am fit in that mix...

  10. I enjoyed your post. Deep thoughts, of which I think about a lot, but don't have the courage to put into writing. I portray myself as a bright optimist, but I truly believe that is a facade to cover the constant worry of "am I doing the right thing?". I work on that all the time, and our personal rv lifestyle is still evolving after three years. How it will end, I don't know for sure. Being a planner, its an adjustment to converting to a "jello" frame of mind. I guess I'm not a true "full-time" as we did buy a house in Florida to use as homebase in the winter, but it is working for us, family is close, the community elder-friendly so I feel as if i have set myself up for a viable "exit plan". I had joked, before hitting the road, that our exit plan was "Thema and Louise off the grand canyon", but I think this is better ;-). We all must find our own paths, and what is right for one is not for another. I hope we continue to find our ways!

  11. Mark you need to sit down and have a talk with Barbara Spencer, she'll get you whistling Dixie. Yes 8 months of Winter & 4 months of company ain't easy for the restless SOB your coming across as. Forget everything and get a copy of Many Lives Many Masters and learn to meditate and your problems will be solved.
    When I see those pictures of Ouray dressed in white and then the contrast of Oak Creek Canyon I am thinking this guy must be nuts. (see I've finally got you figured out).
    Oh, ye'll, get some carpet on those hardwood floors and you'll enjoy being indoors a hell of a lot more.
    Wouldn't mind having breakfast at the El Portal Sunday morning and a steak at the Silver Saddle tomorrow night ....however Im enjoying being in by the fire listening to the wonderful sound of rain falling on Sonoma County at long last.
    You are right where you belong, now fall in love with it all and just Be Mark Johnson.
    Sonoma Co Guy

  12. Meh. We could all be killed by de-orbiting space junk tomorrow. Our plan is to do this until we can't. Hopefully at that point we'll be old enough to go directly to the "home". I spent enough of my life having to schedule projects, schedule people, schedule myself - so I'm done with all of that planning. I have no goals and plans other than to maintain my bone density, muscle mass and cardiac fitness. Tempus fugit, carpe diem and etc.

  13. Invaluable post Mark. I follow BCB as much for your insights on life as for the postcard adventures. Appreciate you describing the conflicts, tradeoffs and learning's. Wisdom gained through experience.
    Glad you're down south while you mend.

  14. When you cross the cynical realism of a writer like Theroux with a dreamer and self-proclaimed “View Snob,” it’s like grains of sand in the oyster…You can get some really good pearls.

    Thanks for asking the tough questions that those of us “ostriches” have not yet explored, and for sharing your beautiful scenes of “red rock relief.”

  15. Hey, just read this..... we are on the other side of Sedona....we'll send up some smoke signals.
    Oh.... and we have yet to figure out our life.... it changes weekly.

  16. Some very interesting points you make here. In this small island that’s the UK and not having the different climate zones you have, most RV / motor home owners opt for the hybrid life. Although there are some who take the ferry to Europe and head to southern Spain for the winter months and some warmth. I think if I lived in the States I would still opt for the hybrid life as it’s all very well living the dream, but what happens when you become very old and infirm, do you still want to be moving around then? And for me there is a lot to be said for being part of a settled community. But if you can do it have the best of both worlds. I love the RV adventure blogs because for me it’s a dream, and reading of the places visited and the scenic pictures is pure enjoyment. Thanks.

  17. Off-topic but did you know you're infamous: http://www.floridaoutdoorsrv.com/top-50-rv-lifestyle-blogs/

  18. We contemplate the exit strategy, then procrastinate, as settling down after all these years will be hard. But we know it's just a matter of time. After years in real estate, I no longer feel the need to own, so would probably rent for awhile in one or two of our favorite locations, with traveling when we could. Very thought provoking... thank you.

  19. Don't understand it, but I quit getting emails when you posted. Tried to resubmit, but it says I'm already signed on. Strange! Hate to think of all the gorgeousness I've missed.

    1. Gunta,
      Others have had the same problem. Clear your browser's history cache and reset and reboot should fix it.

  20. If you were old, bald and fat going for your only hike of the year into the "wilderness" you might feel the need to "be prepared". Son has rock cairns in one hand and provisions in the other. I resemble those guys :(

    At a lean 6'4" w/steel blue eyes you've likely never felt intimidated...until now. Don't think you need to worry about those guys though.

    "A gun is the great equalizer. An armed society is a polite society." Though pro-gun, open carry seems a brash display that tends to "frighten the horses" (and me); even though it shouldn't.

    Nice pictures.

  21. Reading your blog posts/essays I am envious of your skill with writing. This post is another of the well said about living aboard an RV.

    This from a guy who has written lots of drivel over the past 13 years. This guy has also exited the full time RV living to a sticks (and no bricks) home in Tucson. After 12 plus years of full timing, for me it was time for a change. It was a great 12 years meeting people (including you), gathering stories, photos of a scenic world and experiences I could never repeat. There are no regrets. I am still alive. I am still active. I am still curious.

    Either we live our own lives and dreams or we live the expectations and unfulfilled lives of others. You were able to live your dream.

    Living a full time life in an RV wasn't my dream. Thanks to some nameless owner of a Class A home identifying his coach as his home, I was able to "retire to" full time RVing rather than "retiring from" a job.

    Mark, you will adapt to life whatever happens. You are a survivor. You will manage to find stories and share experiences where ever you are: Arizona; Ouray; Golden, CO; Wash DC; New York and all your travels across the west.

  22. My state of mind tends to run like Nina's does..I do think of the darker side and worry about finances just a little, but of course it's all just theoretical at this point. I've already said often to Wayne that most likely we'll travel like mad a few years, find a few places we really love, and then rotate. We're lucky in that we will have a pension that will be a little more than adequate not to mention medical insurance at a reasonable cost through Wayne's employer as well. Most people do not have this luxury anymore. The reality of injury and illness is always on my mind with the problems we've had the last few years, not to mention two of Wayne's brothers dying from heart disease and cancer before they turned sixty. I'm catching up on a week's worth of blog reading today because I had that esophageal ablation treatment today to pre-empt esophageal cancer. I'm so glad they have that as an option now, ten years ago it would have just been "watch and wait". While outwardly I tend toward Nina's outlook, deep inside I have a little of your self-questioning as well. I was the girl who wrote as a kid....we tend to always be questioning ourselves and the world in general. I like it, but the frustration with other people whose minds don't run the same way gets old. Sometimes I look at those who can "cruise" with a little bit of envy!

  23. [Just say'in, you might want to consider holding back enough money to at least have the option of returning to a sticks and bricks or at least a park model before bungie jumping into "Freedom Canyon".]

    If I had held back enough money to have the option of returning to a sticks-n-bricks I would not have been able to by my "home" that I drive from place to place year around.

    [It takes a lot of money to stay on the road in an aging rig.]

    So far I have been able to live on the road for less than what it was costing me to stay in a 'homebase'. I don't see that changing in the near term. As for my exit plan, it is the same as it was when I livede in a sticks-n-bricks. I'll live the best that I can until I become a burden on society and then society will kill me. Where I happen to be living at the time means nothing to me nor to society!

    It takes a lot of money to stay on the road in an aging rig.


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