The events of our journey towards the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Northwest Coast have really stirred our mettle. Though the tire blowouts in Tennessee and Iowa had been anticipated, they were not expected. The technical issues that Clifford has struggled with had also been foreseen but were not really expected to become a problem. They were just a few of the many, many “what-ifs” we considered in our planning.
Since leaving ST Augustine, Florida May 18th, 2013, we have experienced a really wide scope of emotions and situations that have upped our game of presence and purpose.
We found our extended time spent with close family in Florida had given us irreplaceable joy and contentment so the personal power it has taken for us to leave that comfort zone to venture west to flesh out a life long dream has both surprised and empowered us to continue.
It all began in the early 1990s in our growing awareness that economically, our retirement years could never fulfill the expectations being promised for decades by economic prognosticators and pundits. Our chances of living the promised life were less likely than our winning a lottery.
The short story is that as we studied this and sought solutions it became clear that there was no scenario that would let us stay in the home we had bought to raise a family and live out our years.
The inescapable conclusion was that we would not even be able to afford to live anywhere near Raleigh, NC after retirement. We realized that downsizing was inevitable and to do it without financial and emotional whiplash was going to take a lot of time and planning. Eventually, it was obvious that we needed a means of transitioning between a work a day family life and our end stage lifestyle.
We both had always loved to travel in the western US and wanted to see a lot of the Pacific Northwest and east to the Rocky Mountains.
Clearly, our transition solution was going to be a lifestyle of living in an RV of some sort and using it as a home to search out our Shangri-La.
We formally engaged this plan in 1998 to transition from a full family middle life existence through a rescaling lifestyle of travel and eventually find a suitable end-life settlement. Through that process, we expected to live an extended self contained life in a recreational vehicle and to that end we began the search for a suitable RV and vehicle to tow it with.
In November 2003 we found our prize, a 40’ King of the Road Crown Marquis fifth wheel trailer in Stillwater, OK. We eventually named it DaKotR because we got tired of saying “I’m going out to the King of the Road” ( aka Da-KOTR.)
That purchase decision took nearly 6 years of studying everything we could find on full time life in an RV and which vehicles were more compatible to that lifestyle. Much of that time was spent virtually “living” in any RV we could find at RV shows, on RV dealer’s lots and online. The hours and days we spent paid off and we have been very pleased with DaKotR and we have been very comfortable living in it for the past 6 years.
Now, our Steel Steed, the 1999 Volvo truck (Clifford) was also the result of a number of years of studying forums, websites and dealers. I even spent 8 weeks in July/August 2004 in the North Carolina Truck Driver Training School in Smithfield, NC to become a Certified Professional Driver. I wanted to develop the skillset, knowledge and muscle memory necessary to safely and confidently handle whatever vehicle we would find necessary to tow DaKotR.
Believing the used truck salesmen motto, “A 1 ton dually can pull any RV on earth” we bought a 1999 Ford F350 CrewCab 4x4 dually. It was a great truck but after pulling a half a dozen different 5th wheel trailers weighing 10,000 to 16,000 lbs it was a no brainer when we dropped DakotR onto it in Tunica, MS to pull it back to Raleigh, that this just was not enough truck, period.
But, a year later it was a love fest when we found Clifford in West Memphis, AR in November 2004. He is a handsome brute with only 562,000 miles on him and all the recommended maintenance and parts replacements had already been done to him. He was definitely a gem to score.
Our original expectations in 1998 had included using the truck as a daily driver but as the costs of diesel fuel kept rising that became a fading hope. We had to have something to run around in wherever we stopped that would be comfortable, cost effective and not too large to wander small byways and trails.
At that time, quite a few Full Time RVers were double towing (pulling a small car or Jeep behind their 5th wheel trailer). This seemed to be an efficient solution but it was always a very risky scenario to me. The previous owner of DaKotR had done it so I was sure that DaKotR could handle it. We seriously considered it for along time, but this never developed into a palatable solution for us.
Finally, along came Smart cars! They were only 98” long which was short enough fit crosswise on a bed between the cab of the truck and the front of the towed 5th wheel Trailer. I just had to find a way get it up and down from there.
A few other RVers also caught this idea and built a variety of mechanical platforms to ease the process of winching a Smart car up onto the bed. However, we chose to design a bed and a system using a couple of ramps that would allow loading and unloading from either side without winches, extraneous mechanics or hydraulic lifts.
Finishing this bed in 2009 gave us this solution and it completed the construction of our caravan. All that was left to do the logistics of planning and initiating the start of our quest.
The obvious similarities of our efforts to those of many of the pioneers and settlers of the western United States are clear. They had to think about what they wanted to do. Think about what they would have to be prepared for and plan their journeys with a strong focus on contingencies for the unexpected. Making the end goal for their journeys set a direction for their travels but their contingency planning is what defined their benchmarks and way stations along the way.
Today, as I sit and relate life to this point, the parallels that pop out at me are even more personal. Each time one of these unexpected events have happened, there has been a small sense of very old déjà vu as though somewhere, sometime in the past this same event happened but just involved different technologies. Instead of a horse throwing a shoe our cargo carrier on the back of the trailer fell apart. Instead of a broken wagon wheel, we blew a tire… and then another.
Instead of a horse coming up lame or with colic, Clifford had a loose pin on a connector to his engine computer. For some of the pioneers, their events could have been show stoppers They certainly felt like they might be to me as they happened to us along the way.
Last Sunday as we limped the excruciatingly long slow 2 miles to the Sioux Falls KOA in a broken Clifford, I was suddenly starkly aware of the similarity to events our ancestors may have experienced in this same place many decades ago. On impulse I proposed this similarity to Merrily with the question; “I wonder what the settlers would have said if their team of horses suddenly died here?” She shot right back with, “We’re HOME!”
So now, Emery, South Dakota is officially our home base… for now…