What is retirement? What do we want out of this season of our life? We have climbed a hill outside of Camp Verde, AZ, to explore cavates used by the Sinaqua culture 800 to 1,000 years ago. We have learned about the birds and vegetation of the Rio Grande Valley and given presentations several times a week for three months. I have painted the interior of a couple of state park restrooms and John has cut down lots and lots of Russian olive trees.
We had the opportunity to live and hike in Bryce Canyon National Park for three months. We cleaned trails in the Oregon rain forest and operated a fork lift and back hoe in eastern Oregon. We did trail maintenance in southern Utah and learned all about bath houses in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
We have driven our RV along the St. Lawrence River and eaten food common in the 1700s at an old French fort in northern Nova Scotia. On that trip to the Maritime Provinces of Canada, we watched a demonstration outside the Ontario provincial capital, observed the tidal bore near Truro, New Brunswick, visited Grand Manan Island off New Brunswick, attended a Celtic music concert in Baddeck and crossed paths with another American couple in four different RV parks.
We saw some of the first booms put out to protect the Gulf Coast after the BP oil spill. We’ve been to Charleston and Savannah, Boston, Detroit, New Orleans and New York City. We have taken our RV on ferries through the Alaskan Inside Passage twice, to and from Prince Edward Island and from Nova Scotia to Maine.
We’ve driven to Alaska in our RV twice, seeing caribou and Mt. McKinley and a newborn elk in our front yard and so many salmon running upstream at Valdez that you could almost have walked across the river on them. We have hiked and biked and met new friends. And not spent over 6 months at a time anywhere.
Retirement is often seen today as an opportunity to reinvent one’s self. We have done that. No more 10-12 hour days, 6 days a week at work. We have traveled and volunteered and learned so many new skills. After a lifetime in white collar/professional jobs, we have learned the joys of working with tools and our hands. And we have developed new hobbies.
Ten years ago this month, we both stopped working for pay and retired. John worked as associate priest at the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration in Evergreen, CO, through Easter. I finished up at H & R Block at the end of the tax season. We were 60 years old and John could begin drawing his Church Pension Fund retirement. Our goal was to travel as much as possible. These have been 10 great years and we look forward to the next decade of retirement. We had owned an RV for 15 years, first a pop-up tent trailer, then 5th wheel trailers. That first year of retirement we spent 157 days RVing between Easter and November 6.
We have now spent the night (our criteria for counting a visit to a state) in 45 states and 8
Canadian provinces. In the US, we have only missed Connecticut, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and Hawaii. I doubt we will ever RV in Hawaii.
Before retiring, we had been to Canada once, Mexico once and Europe two times. With plenty of time for travel and an RV in which we loved living, exploring more of the wonderful country was high on our list.
We watched canoeists and kayakers start a 444-mile race on the Yukon River from Whitehorse to Dawson City. We have observed first-hand the hard work of US Border Patrol fighting drugs along the Rio Grande River in Texas. Poppies covered vast hillsides in California when we were there in 2008. We watched up close and personal the wheat harvest in Montana and cauliflower harvest in Texas. We have seen cotton harvested and processed in gin mills; and observed primitive wheat harvest equipment used at the Threshing Bee in Dufur, Oregon. We’ve seen Native American Indians and Alaskan residents harvest salmon using dip nets. We have learned about birds and plants and fought ticks while hiking in Arkansas.
While parked along the Mississippi River in Illinois to do genealogy research on my Longley relatives, and we were surprised to find a couple parked next to our RV had a welcome sign in front of their trailer with the name Longley attached. Within minutes we discovered we were cousins who’d never met. We know we are related and how, thanks to research, and we have met again in Texas and Alaska.
Neither of us was ever interested in Native American history, at least not until we accepted a volunteer position at Casa Grande National Monument that preserves a 3-story caliche building abandoned over 700 years ago. In the process, we learned a lot about early Spanish exploration of our southwest as well as local vegetation and modern Native American music. And we ended up serving as volunteer interpreters
In addition to playing tourist and researching our genealogy, we have spent nearly 6,000 hours volunteering for state and national parks, fish and wildlife agencies and one commercial campground. In our second year of retirement, we spent nearly 5 months on a trip to Alaska in our RV. We discovered we really enjoy living in our small metal box. However, we had to find a way to make it less expensive. We found that lots of agencies will provide a free campsite in return for 15 to 24 hours of work each a week. The next year, we volunteered first at a state park in Texas, then at Bryce Canyon National Park.
During our retirement, John has been able to continue functioning as an Episcopal priest in the two communities we have spent the most time, Mesa and Coolidge in Arizona. We also have found some great congregations to worship with in other communities where we volunteered. I have been able to continue using my writing skills, first developed in journalism school, by keeping a blog of our activities for seven years, so far.
We love our nomadic RV life. Our son Eric made a stained glass window for us that reads, “home.” Our home is wherever we park it and we hang that above the dining room table to remind us and tell others we are always at home. We love the freedom. We love the chance to explore this wonderful continent.