Tolkien wrote: “not all those who wander are lost.” Ed and Rachel Barnhart are this sentiment sprung to vivid life. When they retired in 2004, the intrepid RVers hooked up their Alfa Gold fifth wheel on a mission to see all that God created and man constructed…and find the best pizza in the USA. From the beaches of Seattle, Ed and Rachel set their sights on Maine. From there they would turn south toward the sunshine, only to be greeted by the worst Mother Nature had unleashed in decades. Undaunted, the Barnharts headed off into the sunset, through the southwest and across the Rio Grande to the shores of Mexico’s Sea of Cortez. From sea to shining sea and back again, all in their first year as explorers in the “Land of Awes.” In Chapter 10 Ed and Rachel take a moment to reflect not on where they’ve been, but how they got there. Okay, here’s something anyone thinking about RVing full time should know. The lifestyle is a wonderfully freeing adventure…but it is not a vacation. We still have to clean the house, do laundry, shop for groceries, service the truck, make repairs – all the normal domestic stuff. Naturally, cleaning house takes much less time … inside. Most folks don’t have to worry about road grime, mud and bugs plastered on their house. RVers do.
Ed in the Tucson Saguaro Forest
Something else you don’t really think about until you are out on the road is grocery shopping. Sure, you realize you will need to buy food from time to time, but you don’t really think about where you will be buying it. Different state? Different stores. Before you can go pick up some steaks for the grill, you have to learn which stores will sell them to you. Sure, we have run across familiar names: Safeway, Albertsons or Top Foods, for instance. But more often we have ended up at Hannaford, Farmer Jacks, Osco-Jewel or Price Chopper. And, of course, with each new region, there are more novel options. Expect grocery shopping to feel like an Easter egg hunt and you will do just fine.
We wash all our dishes by hand, so we try to keep the dirties to a minimum. Our periodic meals out in
search of the Ultimate Pizza also help to ward off dishpan hands. Sure, scrubbing plates, hauling a load to the park Laundromat or running a squeegee over the windows may not be activities that make the cover of a travel magazine; but after a season on the road, we are still loving every minute of it!
Ed and Rachel Barnhart
For us, one of the secrets of establishing a comfortable routine in this series of small, medium and large adventures we call RVing is to spend at least two nights wherever we stop along the way. Longer if we can. This allows us one day to relax, stretch our legs and get to know our surroundings and another to get out and really explore the area.
They say that getting there is half the fun, and we can’t even begin to count how many interesting detours life “on the road” has allowed us to take, but even the “getting there” requires some preparation. We are, of course, equipped with our trusty GPS, but we still take the time to chart our course the old-fashioned way before we leave each campsite. The night before, I study the map and put together a stack of summary cards listing the highways we will take, the turns we will make and the distances between. Then, armed with the cards and the GPS, Rachel – who has become quite a hand at map reading along the way – navigates for us. This extra little pre-trip precaution may seem like overkill to some folks in the age of Google Maps right on your Smartphone; but turn-by-turn directions don’t reveal the little towns and villages just off the highway like Rand McNally does.
That’s not to say we don’t love the GPS. It often helps us get back on track after chasing a curious detour or two. But it also wants to send us on the shortest route between two points. For example, we quickly vetoed the GPS’ innocent attempt to take us through downtown Detroit on surface streets. Bottom line, I would not want to travel without the GPS and Navigator Rachel. I’ll take both, thanks…even though only one has an “off” switch.
Kidding aside, you may only need one person to drive this rig, but it definitely takes two to safely guide 55 feet of truck and trailer down the highway. In addition to Navigator, Rachel also wears the “Spotter” and “Co-pilot” hats. If we recorded the conversation in the cab, it would frequently sound something like this: “Clear on the right. Go ahead and move over… There’s a car stopped on the shoulder ahead… Better get over, you will be exiting left in one mile…”
Expect good and bad roads and adjust your driving accordingly. It’s not uncommon to pass someone who did not respect the conditions in a ditch on the roadside. That type of very bad day can happen in an instant – even if you are paying attention. And, of course, you will always run across road construction. There you are, tooling along over hundreds of miles of wide open road when, suddenly, traffic just stops and you are funneled from three wide open lanes to one that resembles a driver’s ed course. It’s more nerve-wracking your first few days on the road, of course. Eventually, the white knuckles and sweaty palms are reserved for the steeper downhill curves coming in and out of the mountains.
Camping World CrewAlong the way, we’ve had to make a few adjustments to our “Dream Home.” Battery problems, beginning in North Dakota, were solved – after some trial and error – by replacing a 300-amp fuse in one of the battery banks. Another time, as we were setting up camp in Schenectady, we noticed a loose shock absorber. A quick check under the RV revealed that ALL FOUR shocks were hanging loose! We had been on some rough roads, but had no idea the damage they could do. We photographed the four tie plates and shocks and headed over to a nearby Camping World. Three of the four plates could be welded, but the last assembly would have to be replaced. We opted to replace all three and had them overnighted. The terrific crew of mechanics had us ready to go in about three hours. But, as we were pulling out, a gunshot-loud bang stopped us cold. Broken equalizer bar. So, the Alpha went back in the service bay. The crew got right back to work.
Where we spent our day
The moral of that story is this: “Stuff breaks. It goes with the territory, so there’s no reason to panic.” Thankful for the extended warranty, we just paid the deductible and arranged the repairs.
One of the most rewarding aspects of RVing is those moments when you suddenly realize you are standing in a place, which, previously, you had only seen in pictures or on a map. You feel a little bit like Steinbeck when he was preparing for his “Travels With Charley.” Sure, you had meticulously planned each and every detail of the trip, but sometimes you don’t really believe it will happen. RVing literally turns dreams into reality. Though, there are days when we stand, arm-in-arm in disbelief, realizing again how unbelievably blessed we are.
Read previous chapters by selecting one of the links below:
Chapter 9 - Picturesque Settings & Police Surveillance
Chapter 8 - Erie Museums and Niagara Mist
Chapter 7 – The Amish and Edison
Chapter 6 – Dutch Treats and Bavarian Festivals
Chapter 5 – Two American Icons – Miller Beer and Chicago Pizza
Chapter 4 – Touring the Twin Cities
Chapter 3 – Discovering Middle America
Chapter 2 – A Trip Around the Sun
Chapter 1 – Pacific in the Rearview, We Wave Goodbye
Subscribe to receive updates on this series