How Not to Start Full Time RVing

Our friend Allen captured this beautiful photo of our RV while we were boondocking at Saddle Mountain, Arizona in January 2019.

“Don’t worry about potholes or detours on your journey. Take risks. Have Faith in your ability to handle changes. Look for serendipitous opportunities. – Kay Peterson, Escapees RV Club Co-Founder

I wrote a lot about the beginning stages of our journey into full-time RV life in 2017 and early 2018, but abruptly stopped in the middle of 2018 and haven’t written much at all since then. Partly because I focused on our Facebook and Instagram accounts, which are a lot easier to keep up with than blogging! Partly because we were extremely busy, and so many things happened in such a short period of time that it was hard to keep up. I also hesitated to write a long, sad story. It’s December 2021 and we’re now starting year 4 of our RV life! I think it’s finally time to recap everything that happened during our (rough!) first year and a half.

2018 started out pretty good with the purchase of our RV in February. We moved into the RV on our property in late April in preparation for cleaning out our house to sell. In May, we attended the Escapees RV Club annual Escapade in Sedalia, Missouri- only an hour from home! We met a bunch of new friends and learned a lot about the RV lifestyle! In June, we took a road trip to Ohio to buy our new tow rig, our Ford F350 dually truck. I wrote about all of those things and more, and you can read about them in the blog archives.

Following that trip to Ohio, we made multiple trips to Southwest Missouri to return several vehicles we had been storing for Bryan’s dad. We also visited my mom in Joplin, as well as Bryan’s mom Andrea in Carthage. Andrea was living in a memory care unit at a nursing home following several years of declining health due to dementia, and she had already been placed on hospice in April. Over the summer, her health began to decline more rapidly. On September 16th, she passed away. We made a few more trips to Joplin in the following weeks, and life went by as a blur for a while. Obviously, it was a very difficult time for Bryan, and for our whole family. By the end of October we knew we didn’t want to spend another winter in Missouri and we kicked into high gear to finish moving out of our house and get on the road. We set our launch date: 12/9/2018. I put in my notice at work, and my last day was November 30th. We had a busy and stressful month in November, which stretched into December as we wrapped up so many loose ends. We ran out of time before our “to do” list was finished, and ended up pushing our launch date back a few days. On 12/12/2018, we finally hitched up the RV and pulled out of our driveway for the last time.

Our first stop was Carthage, Missouri to spend time with family and friends for the holidays. We embarked on a whirlwind 2-day round trip to Livingston, Texas to establish domicile, register our vehicles, and get our Texas driver’s licenses. We went to the Wonders of Wildlife Aquarium and Museum in Springfield with my mom and Bryan’s dad, which was a lot of fun! We also spent time with my family at my grandma’s house on Table Rock Lake in southern Missouri for Christmas, and saw Bryan’s extended family in Joplin as well. An early New Year’s Eve celebration weekend was planned with our good friends in Bentonville, Arkansas and we were scheduled to hit the road and head west on Sunday, December 30th. My mom dog sat our 2 dogs in Joplin for us while we visited our friends in Bentonville. On Saturday night, she called to tell us that our seemingly healthy dog Ruthie had collapsed and died suddenly. Ruthie was my “first baby” that I adopted when she was a puppy in 2007, when I was going through a rough time after my dad had his last, worst stroke. After a rough night, we bid a teary-eyed farewell to our friends Sunday morning and returned to Joplin and took Ruthie to be cremated. We said more teary goodbyes to my mom and Bryan’s dad, and headed back to our RV in Carthage to load up and head west. I promptly locked our keys inside the RV. Both sets. Somehow I unlocked the door and opened it, but it was only partially unlocked, and when I exited and shut it again we were locked out. Our neighbor also had a Highland Ridge RV, so she tried her key and it actually worked! Not great news in general, but in that moment I was incredibly thankful for matching keys. We hitched up and hit the road around 5, many hours behind schedule. Neither of us felt tired, so we drove well into the night and finally stopped to rest around 2 in the morning, somewhere in Texas. We spent the next night (New Year’s Eve) in Roswell, New Mexico. On New Year’s Day, the weather forecast caused us to change our route, taking us through some crazy freezing fog in the Guadalupe Mountains in Texas, and then on through downtown El Paso. Nothing like driving through construction in downtown El Paso as a brand new full-time RVer with limited experience towing a huge RV! Luckily it was New Year’s Day so the traffic was light. We drove through New Mexico and stopped for the night in Bowie, Arizona. We ended up extending our stay there after getting 3-4” of snow overnight and through the next day! After a brief stop at Escapees North Ranch in Congress, Arizona, we made our way to our first boondocking Fulltime Families hangout north of Lake Havasu City. We met new friends and caught up with friends we had met in Sedalia at Escapade. It was at this hangout that someone left a copy of Kay Peterson’s book “Thoughts From the Road” on a swap table, where I eagerly picked it up. It felt like things were starting to look up, and I was loving being back in Arizona where I had lived briefly when I was younger. We already had a few interested buyers for our house, which also seemed promising. Welcome to full-time RV life!

Less than a month after we left our house, and a week after we arrived in Arizona, Bryan had a mandatory work call on 1/9/2019 and found out that the company he worked for was closing unexpectedly. He would be without a job in February. This was a full-time remote position with a company he had worked with for several years. It was our sole source of income, and it was the foundation of our initial plan to become full-time RVers. We were (stupidly) SO confident in the stability of this job and the company. Of all the things we had thought about and planned for, Bryan losing his job was probably the furthest thing from our minds.

On January 12th, we moved to the Lake Havasu Rodeo Grounds for the Xscapers Annual Bash. Bryan continued to work, and we had a weird, crazy, fun, busy week. We met more new friends and caught up with other friends we had met at Escapade, but we had the job loss hanging over us as well as all of the emotional stress we were still carrying from the previous few months. Simple questions like “Hey, how are you doing?!” were difficult to answer. We felt overwhelmed at times. I was trying to remain optimistic, and Bryan was already networking with other people in his field. We reasoned that we were in the best possible place to handle this, we were mobile, we could go wherever we needed to go, and we already had our house on the market with a full-price offer pending. Thank goodness we made the final push to leave when we did! But there was still a lot of uncertainty. The possibility that our journey that we had dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve may be ending before it had really started was a bitter pill to swallow.

In 2018, we had signed up and paid for a 3 week trip to Mexico with the Escapees Chapter 8 group scheduled for February, and at this point the trip was non-refundable. We would need to pay for fuel and food no matter where we were, so we decided to proceed with the trip as planned. Bryan was scheduled to finish his last work assignments around the same time the trip started, and we figured it would be a much-needed vacation. Sitting in a natural sand hot tub on a beach in Mexico with margaritas was sounding pretty freaking amazing by this point in time, and we didn’t know what the future held or when we’d have that opportunity again. We figured we’d return from Mexico and look for work wherever we could find it. Bryan was still networking, and it seemed reasonably promising that he would be able to find work doing the same job with another company. Our backup plan was for him to sign on with a healthcare travel agency to work hospital contracts around the country for 3 months at a time. We had a loose plan and I continued trying to be optimistic. Everything will work out somehow! We’re not giving up the dream this easily!

We went to Mexico and met a lot of wonderful people and had a great time, for the most part. Uncertainty still loomed over us and we had good days and not so good days. We decided to extend our trip and travel further south into Mexico to take a boat tour and see grey whales in the calving lagoon in Guerrero Negro, Baja California Sur. We were looking forward to spending time on the beach on the Sea of Cortez in Santispec. At the end of February, around my birthday and the time we were getting ready to leave Ensenada and head south, we found out that Bryan’s dad was going to be undergoing some tests because of the possibility he may have cancer. More bad news. The tests were scheduled and then it would be a waiting game for results and a plan. Things seemed even more uncertain now than they had been before. We headed south and ended up having a trailer tire blowout as well as damage to our leaf springs and an axle, about an hour north of Guerrero Negro. After a roadside repair and help from some kind strangers as well as our friends who we were traveling with, we limped the rest of the way to the RV park in Guerrero Negro. We received more help from some local people there, and were able to repair the damaged axle at a welding shop and replace the broken springs and tires. The whale watching tour was truly a bucket list experience! We spent around 2 hours interacting with mama whales and calves and watching them come up to our boat and stick their heads out of the water. Bryan, Katelyn and I were all able to touch a whale! It was pretty surreal. I didn’t want to leave Mexico. Unfortunately, while we were in Guerrero Negro we received the news that Bryan’s dad did, in fact, have cancer. We said goodbye to our new friends and parted ways as they headed further south to the Sea of Cortez and we began the long trip back home to Missouri. We stayed at our “happy place” at La Jolla Beach Camp in Ensenada on our way back to the US. Katelyn played on the beach, and we had one last round of baja fish tacos at our favorite taco place nearby. Driving back down the road along the coast after dinner, Crowded House “Don’t Dream It’s Over” came on the radio and it was all I could do not to completely lose it right then. After a final beach walk the next morning, we packed up and headed for the border at Tecate.

While in Guerrero Negro, I had been looking at Workamper News and saw a position with the Army Corps of Engineers for day-use cleaning attendants at Beaver Lake in Rogers, Arkansas. It was a paid contract position, only about an hour away from Bryan’s dad (and my mom) in Joplin. It was minutes away from our friends in Bentonville. It included a full hookup RV site. They wanted a couple for the contract, but only one person was required to be available on duty during day use hours. I contacted the hiring park ranger while we were still in Mexico, and he walked me through everything we needed to do to submit our bid to secure the contract. He was incredibly helpful! We were outside Amarillo at the Cadillac Ranch when I got the call letting us know we had (unofficially) been awarded the contract! Okay, so 3 problems solved, we had some steady income lined up, we had a great RV spot at the lake for the next 7 months, and Bryan would be able to be near Joplin to help with whatever his dad needed. We moved to our new “lake house” and attended training at the end of March, and started work on April 1st. Bryan’s dad had many appointments, as well as major surgery in Kansas City in April, which went well except for being more extensive than originally planned due to the fast-growing nature of his tumor. Also in April, our contract on our house fell through when our buyers backed out at the last minute after being under contract for 3 months.

Overall, we had a decent summer at Beaver Lake. Bryan was able to take his dad to Kansas City for surgery and stay with our good friends there for the week his dad was in the hospital. He spent a lot of time in Joplin helping his dad, who was not only recovering from major surgery but also ended up having to go through chemotherapy and radiation treatments. He found a remote, part-time temporary job that supposedly had the potential to turn into a full-time permanent position (it didn’t, and the job ended in August). Our house went under contract again and FINALLY closed on July 31st. It didn’t sell for what we wanted to get for it, but after 7 months we were more than ready to finally be done worrying about it. I landed a part-time remote job as a medical scribe in August, but the pay was extremely low and the work was tedious. It was difficult to juggle park attendant duties with Bryan’s trips to Joplin and my part-time remote work, but every bit of money helped and we made it work, mostly due to the fact the park wasn’t usually too busy during the week. Bryan’s temporary remote job had also ended, so he took on more of the park attendant duties while I worked at my remote job. Katelyn and I used our kayak and paddleboard a lot throughout the summer. We were exactly where we needed to be, and it was perfect for what we needed at the time. But, it wasn’t the summer we had planned or wanted. We worked 6 days a week for 7 months, cleaning toilets and picking up trash at a very busy and popular lake in the sweltering Arkansas heat and humidity because it was what we needed to do at the time. I’m not perfect, and I have to admit that I had to temporarily unfollow several RVing groups and friends on social media. There were days when it was just too hard watching everyone else traveling out west and seeing all the places we had planned to see, and doing the things we wanted to be doing. Visiting friends and socializing and having a good time! Exploring the National Parks! Boondocking in beautiful places! We were supposed to be there doing the same thing too! But life had other plans, as life often does. I’m incredibly thankful we had the flexibility to be there for Bryan’s dad, and that I found the workamping opportunity that I found. Ultimately though, it just plain sucked that Bryan’s dad was battling cancer barely 6 months after his mom had passed away after years of declining health, and it made me angry and sad.

In late October, a tornado went through Rogers and our park at Beaver Lake. Multiple trees and limbs were down all over the park, and the marina sustained significant damage. I was not home at the time because I was working as a videographer at the Arabian National horse show in Tulsa that week. Bryan and Katelyn were in the RV, it was the middle of the night and I think there was a tornado watch but a warning was never issued. A tree fell on our neighbors’ RV (they were fellow park attendants). Thankfully they weren’t hurt, but their RV was totaled. Our enormous, roughly 12,000 pound RV was lifted up enough that the jack pads blew out from under the tongue jack. Our Clam shelter was damaged, but everything was fine other than that. We were happy that our long 7-month contract was finally coming to an end. Bryan’s dad was still recovering, but he was continuing to improve slowly. We were more than ready to get back on the road.

Bryan had been applying for more jobs in the fall, but nothing was panning out until early November when he was hired for a part-time job doing remote EEG monitoring. It was better than nothing, but we really needed more income and his hours were variable and not guaranteed every week. In December, he interviewed for a job that he had been eyeing for months, waiting for an opening to come up so he could apply. He thought the interview went really well, and we were optimistic that he would be hired.

We had slowly worked our way through Arkansas and Texas in November and December, and spent Christmas in El Paso with my family. My mom and grandma drove down from Missouri and we enjoyed seeing everyone again. After Christmas, Bryan found out that he didn’t get the job he had interviewed for. He continued to work his part-time job, but his hours were nowhere near what we needed. I was also still working my remote job, but the pay was so low it didn’t amount to much. We were living mostly on our ever-dwindling savings by that point. We were both emotionally exhausted and feeling pretty pessimistic about everything for a few days. We weren’t sure what our next steps were. It felt like coming full circle from the previous year, without as much optimism this time around.

In January 2020, we attended our second Xscapers Annual Bash in Lake Havasu and also boondocked with friends in the area. We were feeling pretty down and thought about cancelling the trip because we needed to save money, and we weren’t feeling particularly happy or social at the time. Several of our friends and fellow
Xscapers reached out and pulled us in and helped convince us that we should still attend! It was great to see our friends again, and it definitely improved my mood. Katelyn was happy to see her friends again and play with other kids, which she didn’t get to do much during our 7 months in Arkansas. Still, things were uncertain and we were considering returning to Arkansas to work at Beaver Lake for a second season, even though we really didn’t want to do that for many reasons. Our workamping experience is a topic for another day! Bryan looked into jobs in hospital settings, including traditional full-time permanent jobs as well as temporary travel assignments, but he wasn’t having much luck. Despite having 20+ years experience in his field, he found that most places didn’t want to work with him because he hadn’t worked with patients in a hospital setting for several years. I considered going back to work as a pharmacy technician, but I’ve been out of the field for many years and most of the work I looked at paid only slightly more than what I was already making at my remote job. In late February, Bryan applied for a job similar to the one he had interviewed for in December, with a different company- the parent company of the one that was closed in 2019 when he lost his job. He was in contact with people he had worked with previously, and things were looking really good. He had a phone interview and they wanted to schedule an in-person interview, but it sounded like they were planning to hire him and the in-person interview was a formality. We decided not to return for a second season at Beaver Lake. Then in March, Covid-19 began to blow up. The job was put on hold. Both of us had our hours drastically reduced at our part-time remote jobs, and by the end of March we were bringing in hardly any income. Things were starting to look worrisome for the RVing community, with many campgrounds and RV parks around the country closing due to the pandemic. We also found out that the Army Corps of Engineers parks nationwide weren’t opening for the season as scheduled.

We had minimized our expenses in January, February, and March by doing a lot of boondocking and traveling short distances. We also used our Thousand Trails membership to camp for several weeks in Southern California for the cost of our membership, which was $49 a month. In late March we decided we needed to head to Escapees North Ranch in Congress, Arizona and we made reservations starting April 1st. We were already nearby, and we were confident that given Escapees’ long history of advocacy for RVers, as well as the fact they were only offering monthly site rentals during the pandemic, that we wouldn’t have to worry as much about them being closed down. It also felt like a “safe place” to be during an uncertain time, and many other Xscapers were there as well. At the end of March when we were preparing to move to North Ranch, Bryan was contacted by human resources at Nihon Kohden, the company he had interviewed with in December. They were tentatively offering him the job! Apparently, hiring for the position had been put on hold back in December, but for whatever reason the notification he received back then was simply that he “hadn’t been selected”. He went through a few more informational phone calls and received an official job offer in early April. He participated in online training, and in May he headed out to his first assignment and in-person training as a Neurology Clinical Applications Specialist with Nihon Kohden America. His job is to install equipment for hospitals and clinics and provide training to staff members.

**This is our story through May 2020.

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