They say that time flies when you are having fun. After our first couple months of full time RV living, I'd have to agree with them.
I will often say to Tabitha that I feel that events that happened just last week occurred months ago because in between then and now we've had so many notable adventures and trials. Contrasting this consistent flow of new experiences (both good and bad) with my life before and it almost feels like years have gone by and not just months. I guess when you are actually trying to “live life to it's fullest”, or “make every moment count” or any of those other motivational phrases it's amazing what you can pack into a couple months. The camera's memory card fills up and so does your biological one. And so, for this post, with two aspects of Ditching Suburbia's mantra being Closer Family and Uncommon Adventures, I will sum up our first two months with a glimpse of the uncommon adventures we have had that brought us closer as a family.
Because I know inquiring minds will want to know, here's the route we took (see the map picture below that shows the route):
• Departed from Salt Lake County, UT
• Sand Hollow State Park, UT
• Valley Of Fire, NV
• Death Valley, CA
• San Mateo State Park, CA
• Lake Morena, CA
• Yuma, AZ
• Mesa, AZ
• Quintana County Park, TX
• Abbevale, LA
• Natchez, MS
• Lake Guntersville State Park, AL.
Seeing Animal Life
In our many road trips during our married life, we haven't seen much wildlife that we couldn't see from within an hours drive of our home near Salt Lake City. We have grown somewhat accustomed to seeing moose, deer, an occasional elk, and bison. The crowning animal sighting of our pre-RV road trips was in Glacier NP where we saw black bears in the wild for the first (and so-far only) time. This was our before life, now we are seeing new and unusual animals all the time.
January at Sand Hollow State Park in Utah is home to migrating Bald Eagles. I had never before seen a bald eagle outside of the forests of Yellowstone, yet at Sand Hollow State Park, they fly majestically around the sandstone desert beaches. The kids were the first to notice them. One said “look, a bald eagle” to which I scoffed inside. “No, that's just a duck” I said, but wanting it to be a teaching moment I looked up birds of Sand Hollow on my phone. It was a teaching moment – for me. I was wrong it wasn't a duck and apparently bald eagles enjoy snow birding in southern Utah like lots of retired people do. Leaving suburbia and now being free to own our days, we found it fitting that we began our trip with a bald eagle sighting – a national symbol of freedom. We didn't see another bald eagle until Guntersville State Park in Alabama wherein the truck's conversation lit up about the one we had already seen. Bald eagle sightings will now remind us of the time we saw our first one as a family.
In south Texas and Louisiana we saw lots of picture book worthy animals. Pelicans swooping back and forth across the coast. Crabs crawling on the beach looking for food. In the swamps of Louisiana we saw many animals that you have to go to a zoo to see where we are from. Roseate Spoonbills (a beautiful tall pink bird that we initially thought were flamingos) flew in pairs above the swamps. Alligators swimming and harassing the fisherman by stealing fish off their lines. On boardwalks through swamps, we saw turtles resting on logs. Oliver, our 10 year old, has a friend back in Utah who loves turtles and Oliver loved telling the family all about how great turtles are.
Visiting family and friends
We have made a point to see many family and friends along the way. Though it's been nice to “get away from it all” as a family and see sights, we always have in the back of our mind the people who live close by our route and if it's possible we will stop and see them. Early on, we've had a chance to meet up with friends in Death Valley and Mesa, AZ.
Visiting with extended family has been particularly rewarding and we've shared meals with some and cousin play time with others. From Utah, to California, to Arizona, to Louisiana, it's been an opportunity to develop closer relationships with those family members we rarely see. The crowning family moment for me was going to a crawfish restaurant with a cousin I had never met before (because their family lived in Louisiana and mine in Utah). My grandparents had always spoken of my cousins Erich and Mark so fondly, but to me they were almost like fictional characters. I called my cousin Erich out of the blue and we planned to go get some local cuisine. Since our truck has 10 seats and there are only 9 of us, we picked him up and went for crawfish. We had a great visit and as we sat at the table he told me of his memories of my grandparents. It was so strange to me that this fictional character in my head was actually real – and he knew my grandparents too.
I wish I had good photos of all our visits. Some photos turned out better than others, so here are four of them.
Black Tank issues in Death Valley
An uncommon adventure indeed is when your toilet doesn't flush and you are far away from any real stores where you could hope to buy something to fix it. We were in Death Valley having a great old time when we experienced one of the more unpleasant aspects of RVing. Though we had full hookups (meaning we were connected to sewer access right at our camp site), the pipes got clogged somewhere along the way and the toilet backed up. Of course, this is a “Matt Job” but I enlisted the help of the kids to try to trouble shoot it. Climbing on the roof and inspecting the vent, lifting and dropping the sewer hose to act as a reverse plunger, checking tank levels and trying not to breath too deeply – we worked together. All this problem solving brought the family closer. The kids were excited to help dad and I was glad I wasn't trying to fix it alone. In the end we got it fixed enough to travel and eventually got it completely fixed.
Day trip to Mexico
We were driving a beautiful scenic highway in southern California on the way to Lake Morena when we saw a car with a flat tire hobbling up a hill. It was a young mother from the mountain town of Tecate, Mexico. A nurse at a retirement home in San Diego, she was driving home after her shift when her tire blew. She had a spare but didn't know how to swap it in and was going to drive the remaining 30 miles on a flat. I pulled the rig over and changed her tire. She spoke of her home in Tecate and my interest was sparked. After another conversation with a ranger who said that Tecate isn't crime filled like Tijuana (I assume because it's way up in the mountains), we decided to take a day trip.
We didn't know it at the time, but the US side of the border is far scarier than the Mexico side. The tiny town on the US side was run down and had a sketchy feel, but cars lined the streets and the parking lots were all nearly full with other international park-and-walkers so that helped ease our nerves. We parked and walked to the border. Crossing was as simple as walking through a tiny building with doors on each end with a metal detector in the middle for Tabitha's purse. When we walked out on the other end we stood on a brick paved road and one of our kids asked, “when will we be in Mexico?” They were very surprised that we already were and crossing into Mexico was that easy. We had heard of a good taco restaurant just a short walk from the border. We took some photos along the way and found the 3 walled restaurant with a side that was open to the street. As we sat at the table waiting for the best taco's I have ever had, a couple of military men in full fatigue and M16s (I think) wandered in. They didn't order and just hung around us and posed for a photo. Looking back, I suspect a huge white family like ours walking around the streets might have drawn some curious eyes and these two young soldiers were hanging around just to ensure that we were safe.
After the tacos we went to a recommended ice cream shop (this time without the armed escort) and everyone got a cone. I don't recall the price, but it was extremely cheap! Eating out as a family our size can get very costly, so we loved being in Mexico where the food was great and the prices were shockingly low. We then headed back to the border. Crossing back to the US was fun for the kids too as after the passport agents checked us all out they said to us, “Welcome Home” - it felt nice to hear that. If Mexico ever becomes a safer country we will definitely go back and maybe even drive the RV to some of it's great coastal towns. However, if this winds up being our one and only time there as a family, then we will all share a great memory.
West Texas and Beyond
West Texas along Interstate 10 is a long barren wasteland. We were not able to cross it in one day. After sleeping at a rest stop on the Arizona/ New Mexico border, we drove and drove and drove and we still had to sleep at a rest stop in the middle of the desert. The bunk room of our 5th wheel is completely inaccessible when our slide outs are in. As such, we had to make due at the rest stops by the kids sleeping on the couch and on the floors. It wasn't too bad and I think having to solve the problem of where to sleep was a challenge the kids all enjoyed. Sleeping at a rest stop in an unusually cold winter wasn't ideal, but we look at it as an adventure and I am sure the kids will remember it for a long time. Waking up among the many semi trucks and running through freezing wind to the restrooms made the experience particularly memorable.
We were on our way to Quintana County Park just outside of Lake Jackson, Texas. Gavin (our then 8 year old) had said he wanted to spend his 9th birthday at some water (river, waterfall, lake, ocean – he didn't care). We found this great coastal county park that had free wifi (an added bonus for RVers) and was right next to the Gulf of Mexico. The amenities around indicate that it's a hot spot during the on-season, but we were there at the tail end of the off-season and therefore we had the beach mostly to ourselves. Tabitha made cake in the RV's oven and we spent Gavin's birthday doing what he loves best – playing in the water among waves. It was a great family location and we stayed there a handful of days. Though we had been to beaches in southern California a few weeks before and a few years before that, this experience in southern Texas stands out to me as one of the most peaceful beach experiences of my life and I'm glad we were able to share it with our children.
Two months down!
We've wet our whistle and have discovered a life that enables us to explore incredible places with our children. Some day we will be empty nesters like so many of the RVers that we meet, but for now, we are making memories that I expect will last a lifetime (except the baby, I don't expect he'll remember any of it).
Thanks for reading and we'll see you on the journey! (is this "catch phrase" worthy?)
… on the next Ditching Suburbia blog post: The kids are working on some blog posts of their own. Tabitha and I will continue to make regular posts, but the kids want to create a whole new section of the site called "Kids Shuttle" where they will have their own blogs and their own podcast. They want to interview other full time kids and give their perspective on things. I assume it will get pretty silly at times. We are working through how it will all fit together and hopefully can get something uploaded sometime next week. Meanwhile, I am working on a guest post right now about Death Valley, so that's coming too.