For almost four years now, we’ve been living in our home on wheels. No house. No street address. No consistent neighbors. Just us, out on the road, making home wherever we happened to be and finding friends along the way.
At no time has this rootless existence bothered us. We’ve never felt alone or on our own. We figured we could solve whatever problem life sent our way by being flexible, patient, and creative. And, we assumed, if things went really haywire, we could always just jump on a plane, or drive the rig cross country, to get where we needed to be.
Never in a million years did it occur to us – or anyone else – that life as we knew it could stop, and strand us wherever we happened to be.
And wouldn’t you know? “Now” happens to be the one time in almost four years that we find ourselves sitting in a real house. With a real address. With regular neighbors. All of whom are nice enough to wave but whom will remain strangers because, well, that’s the way it has to be.
We’ve felt far away before. Disconnected. Aware of our exposure. There have been plenty of times we’ve driven for hours and not seen a soul, or taken a wrong turn and realized we had no cell signal to help us find our way back. Those instances were unquestionably disconcerting, but they were just moments in time.
Alas, here we are in a city full of people, in a neighborhood that has become familiar, in a house that boasts Google Fiber internet, and it is now that we find ourselves isolated and distinctly aware of our vulnerability.
We’re fine, of course. No one’s crying in the corner. There’s just an unmistakable irony to our current situation.
The truth is, as nomads, some version of “social distancing” is a normal part of our life. There’s no expectation that on any given day or week, we’ll have anyone else to interact with, and we realize we will miss out on many important events with our families and friends. However, we’ve found that when we want to be social, we usually can be, and when we need to be somewhere, with enough planning, we can usually make it happen.
Additionally, and importantly, we’ve come to find that many of the people we’ve met on the road are exactly the type of folks you want on your side when you find yourself in a bind. Now, to be clear, I don’t subscribe to the notion that all RVers (or all of any type of group) are some magical breed of people who are better than anyone else. But our experience has shown that, by and large, our fellow fulltime travelers are happy to help. It might simply be that we can all appreciate the unique challenges we face while living on the road and we all know that sooner or later, it will be us who needs a hand.
The point is, in normal times, we are never lonely nor are we worried about being out here by ourselves. Someone is always close by and, chances are, they are awesome.
And, don’t you know, right this very minute, there are people we “know” through social media who are parked in Austin. And if the situation were different, we would reach out and ask if they wanted to grab a beer and I have little doubt we’d all become fast friends. Further, if a week later we found ourselves in need of assistance, or vice versa, I am sure help would be on the way.
But, right now, none of that is happening.
Honestly, the only person we could call on if we found ourselves in a bind is our Air BnB landlord. He happens to be a very nice person and we get along well, but… it would be a little weird to text him and be like “Yo dawg, we’re at the hospital, can you walk and feed Thor?”
I mean, I would totally send him that message, but, objectively, it would be weird.
So, suddenly, we find ourselves feeling like nomads.
Genuinely rootless, homeless, community-less, vagabonds.
Does that concern us? Not really…as long as we don’t let our minds wander too far to the hypothetical.
I think the real issue is that no one has a timeline for how long this is going to go on. Our sense is: quite a while. And that’s what gets a bit unsettling. A month or two of being strangers in a strange town doesn’t seem so problematic. We’ve gone that long without seeing a familiar face plenty of times. Six months of it starts to feel significant.
In the meantime, this crisis has laid bare the downsides of living a nomadic life. We are pretty OK, but a lot of our friends have been cast into the unknown this month.
In my last post, I linked to this Campendium page which contains a running list of all the park and campground closures. If you’d clicked on the link when I first posted it, you would have found a handful of closures. Today, that number has ballooned into the hundreds. In fact, according to the page’s statistics, over 25% of all available campsites are not available right now.
Some states have closed all their state parks, while others have permitted individual parks to decide for themselves whether or not to close. Many national parks and national forests have closed, and, most surprising to us, certain areas of BLM managed land are now off limits to campers. In the meantime, private campgrounds around the country have either closed on their own or been forced to close by their resident localities, and some of the places that have historically welcomed RVers have suddenly rolled up the welcome mat (for a short period of time Pennsylvania even closed its highway rest stops.) For the campgrounds that have remained open, many are only allowing long term stays (they don’t want people coming in for a night or two and then moving on), and many have limited access to their facilities – things like bathrooms, showers, and laundry rooms.
All of this is a disappointing inconvenience for people who vacation in their RVs or travel part time. But for the million of us who have no home base to go back to, it can be much worse.
Folks we know have had to scramble at the last minute while competing with hundreds of other RVers in the same position to find somewhere – anywhere – to go. That problem I talked about a couple months ago – too many RVers, not enough campsites – that problem doesn’t get any better when thousands of campsites are suddenly taken offline.
And now, with each passing day, there is talk of new travel restrictions. Right now, restrictions are mostly focused on residents of New York and Louisiana, but it’s not hard to imagine a situation where travelers originating from other states will also be treated suspiciously, if not downright hostilely, by other states. Just last week, the governor of Rhode Island ordered the state’s law enforcement officers to stop vehicles that displayed New York license plates in order to enforce the state’s quarantine laws, and when those provisions were contested, she extended the rule to all out of state travelers. In the meantime, the governor of Florida ordered checkpoints be set up on I-10 and I-95 to stop drivers coming in from Louisiana and New York, notify them of the quarantine rules, and take their contact information.
In a time when things are, by all objective measures, getting a little crazy, this stuff is seriously jaw dropping.
Not only are nomads facing the deep uncertainty everyone else is facing – jobs, money, health – but they’re doing so while worrying that a sudden knock on the door may mean they’re being evicted from their campsite, or that less than welcoming treatment might be the result of their vehicle’s state registration.
For those of us used to going where we want, when we want, and taking our houses with us, it is alarming, to say the least. Of course, none of this is to say these governors are wrong to take whatever precautions they think are appropriate. Their job is to protect their residents. We get it, and we will respect the rules wherever we are. But we can’t help but be somewhat concerned when, day after day, the things no one thought would ever happen (e.g.: lockdowns, border closings, checkpoints), keep happening.
It’s unnerving, to say the least.
When it comes to these issues, at least for the time being, Kevin and I are lucky. We have a roof over our heads, our neighbors are friendly, and we have what we need. Our most pressing question has been what to do when our current Air BnB reservation ends. Should we try to get closer to friends and family, or should we just stay put? And if we are going to stay put, where should we hunker down?
We spent a good part of last week trying to figure that out.
Our first option was to extend our stay in the rental. Right now, we’re here through April, but we could book this place for the next several months if we wanted to. That certainly held some appeal – we’re comfortable here, we like our landlord, and all our stuff is here. But, along with all the bad health news is a lot of bad economic news, so, suddenly, the idea of spending additional money to live in a house in the city when we’re just sitting inside not taking advantage of the city, doesn’t make much sense. If we’re going to sit around reading and watching TV, we might as well do it in the RV, and if we’re going to sit around in the RV, we might as well park in a cheap monthly site to slash our spending as much as possible.
But how cheap? We could find something really inexpensive – a couple hundred bucks – way out in the country, but then we’d be in the middle of nowhere. There’s a reason campgrounds in the middle of nowhere are cheap… if anything happens, you may be a long way from help. We don’t like being stuck in the middle of nowhere on a good day, and this is not a good day. We need civilization, we need supplies, we need access to good medical care.
Furthermore, with campgrounds closing left and right, we needed a location with multiple campgrounds as well as non-RV options, just in case the local government suddenly ordered all campgrounds to close.
Now, the big question: Should we try to get closer to friends and/or family? Our family is on the east coast, our friends are both east of us and west of us. Should we pack up the rig and head toward familiar faces?
After much discussion, we decided the answer was no.
First, even if we headed elsewhere, we still couldn’t actually spend time with folks because of the social distancing rules. As much as we’d like to be there, it’s just not a good idea right now. Second, the places we’d be looking at going have their own downsides and obstacles – in terms of weather, closures, and the likelihood of other complications related to the pandemic. Third, and particularly concerning, we’d have to drive hundreds of miles when life as we know it is in flux. Would we be able to find campgrounds to stay along the way? Would services be available as usual? What if we needed roadside assistance? Really, should we be driving anywhere at all when individual cities and towns were locking down and asking people to just stay home?
The answer was no.
The safest, smartest, and most responsible thing to do was to stay put in Austin.
So, that’s what we’re going to do.
I found a campground that offers reasonably priced monthly sites that we can stay at for as long as we need to. The campground is part of a big national chain, so we’re reasonably confident it will stay open. And, if it does close, there are plenty of Air BnB’s to choose from in Austin. In the meantime, we’re doing what we can to keep our risks low, we’re remaining close to the city, and we’re staying in the middle of the country – allowing us to drive in any direction that makes sense when necessary or possible. (“Necessary” may come in June when average temps in Texas head into the 90’s, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.)
While it would certainly be nice to get closer to the people and places we know, the nature of this beast means – unfortunately – we are all on our own for a bit. Being flexible and patient has never been more important.
Stay safe, everyone.