Those of us who are Boomers are exploring our options as we retire. My husband and I recently moved away from the chill of the North and into the warmth of Florida. My long-time friends, Marcia and Kurt Spence, have a lovely home in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, a beautiful condo in Florida, and a Class A RV. I was curious about their travels in an RV, so I decided to interview them, thinking that there are many who are approaching retirement and the chosen lifestyles are varied. These are some insights about RV travel with my dear friends, the Spence’s:
Cher: How long have you been RVing across the country and how did you decide that an RV was your choice of travel?
Kurt: We have been traveling across America since 1990. Our two boys, David and Matthew, were teenagers and we had a goal of visiting every state in the nation to give them a better understanding of our county. I am a Boy Scout and it probably went back to when I was a teenager and my parents would take our family, Mom and Dad and 5 kids, to a state park in Pennsylvania. Back to 1989, Marcia and I traded in our small tow behind trailer for a 27 foot class-C motorhome for our adventures. I should also interject that I always enjoyed watching “On the Road” with Charles Kuralt on CBS. So with Marcia being a teacher and having summers off, I shut down my remodeling business for a couple of months and we headed out for a two month journey from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. We wanted to visit as many states as possible and visit with friends and relatives along the way.
One of our concerns 23 years ago, was how would we get cash. I went to our local bank and they gave me one little book with every ATM in the nation. The ATM’s were always at the main branch of the bank located in the middle of town. So, we would get off the interstate, drive into the center of a town to find the lone ATM machine to get cash. Now ATM’s are ubiquitous, we can get cash anywhere and most of our banking is done online.
Back in 1990, we had a cell phone but it could only place outgoing calls if we could get a cell tower connection. The technology to find us had not been developed. A couple of years later, while in our motorhome out in the woods, the phone rang. It startled us and we were amazed that they knew where we were. Now, reliable cell service is available everywhere. We even have fast internet service most of places we stop. We are able to video chat with our two sons, who now have families of their own. We enjoy RVing because we can take our home with us. No suitcases. Everything we need and want we carry with us. Cooking our own meals keeps the cost down also. We try to stay in state park campgrounds, Army Corps of Engineer campgrounds, and National Parks or Bureau of Land Management campgrounds. They are usually located near water and have large sites. Usually cheaper, also.
Back to when we traveled with the boys. Over the course of three summers, 1990, 1992 and 1994, our family was able to visit 45 states and most Canadian provinces. We did, not of course, visit Alaska or Hawaii and were able to visit Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. We still have not visited those southern states. One day soon.
In about 2002 we traded in the old class-C Ford motorhome and purchased a 36 foot class-A Holiday Rambler Endeavor diesel-pusher motorhome. We tow our Camry behind us. Since our retirement in 2005, we usually spend between 2 to 3 months each summer and fall traveling the concrete ribbons across America. Our son, Matthew, and his family live in Sun Valley, ID, which is 2,500 miles from Doylestown, so each summer we head out West to visit them in Idaho. We take various different routes but travel about 8,000 miles each year.
Marcia: When Kurt and I were first married we went camping using a tent that Kurt and his grandfather, “Pop,” had made. Once we had the boys, we outgrew that tent and moved on to a bigger one. Our next step up was our Sunliner trailer that we pulled with Kurt’s van. We had always talked about getting a motorhome and finally purchased our Tioga Arrow in 1989. When we left on our 1990 trip, we had only done weekend camping and were not at all sure how it would work with all 4 of us for two months. We figured we would either hate each other when we got home or it would make us an even closer family. Thank goodness it was the latter.
Kurt mentioned being concerned about money. Another concern is always how to handle our mail! We now have a system of forwarding mail to ID (and FL in the winter) that works pretty well! Another issue is laundry. We try to have enough clothes for two weeks so that we do not have to spend time in Laundromats. If we are lucky we can get to ID without needing to do wash. Grocery shopping is also something that eats up time. Because of the size of our refrigerator we cannot stock up on things so we are stopping for milk, ice or produce every couple of days.
Cher: Please describe your RV for us.
Kurt: It is a 1998 36 foot class-A Holiday Rambler Endeavor diesel-pusher. We have one slide out, a full kitchen, full bath, a shower with sky-light, and a bedroom with a queen size bed. We carry 80 gallons of fuel, 100 gallons of fresh water and 30 gallons of propane. Electric service is 50 amps. We consistently average 10 miles per gallon of diesel fuel.
Marcia: Our coach has tons of storage for everything that we need along the way. I pack many kitchen staples when we leave home, so it’s just like having my pantry in PA. We have dishes, silverware, pots and pans – all the things I need to cook – that stay in the RV. We do not want to have to pack and unpack all of that! In fact, Kurt keeps a whole set of clothes in here. I have not gone that far as much as he tries to convince me that I should.
Cher: Do you visit the same states each year and the same places and what determines your decisions?
Kurt: No, we try to vary the routes out West each year. But basically we follow Interstate 90, 80, 70 or 40 depending on the weather and time of year. For instance, this year we left in early August and traveled a more northern route to try and avoid the heat. Several years ago we were in places like Oklahoma City, OH and Wichita, KS and temperatures were 115 degrees and humid. Not fun.
Marcia: Even though we travel the same routes back and forth we try to put some variety into the trips. Each year we discover places and things we did not know about. This summer we just discovered that the Army Corps of Engineers has many wonderful campgrounds along the Mississippi River. We will definitely come back to them! Kurt is quite efficient about planning our travels. We like to travel no more than 4 hours a day, less if possible. This year we have been staying a couple of nights in each place.
Cher: What are your divisions of duties?
Kurt: I do all the driving, fixing and repairing and figuring out where we are going and where to camp. Marcia cooks and cleans. We both usually do laundry at a Laundromat along the way.
Marcia: My life on board is a little more exciting than cooking and cleaning. I am the official map reader and navigator! My map is always handy. I also keep a journal for every trip. The summer I turned 16 I had the wonderful experience of traveling cross-country with my Grandfather and Grandmother Babcock and my great-aunt, Bab. We went to California and back. My grandmother kept a journal and at some time after the trip, it was given to me. It was simple – just pages torn out of a small spiral notebook and held together with a paper clip. She wrote down where we stayed and notes of each day’s journey. She kept track of gas, meals and lodging. I loved reading it and having the trip come alive to me again so many years later so I decided on our 90 trip to do the same thing. We now have quite a collection of books to refer back to when a question comes up. It is fun to just grab one once in a while and just read about what we did. I also have made scrap books for both of our boys of our trips.
Cher: What are your favorite places to stay?
Kurt: I like to stay any place that is on the water or has a water view. Utah is a favorite state and northern Idaho. Montana is also a pretty neat state. Favorite national parks are Grand Tetons NP in Wyoming, Glacier NP in Montana, and Yosemite in California. The vast, large mountains and vistas are what I enjoy. The sheer largeness and vast landscapes are so different from our home in Doylestown and condo in Florida. We are trying to visit all the presidential libraries in America. We still need to go the Texas to visit the three down there. Just this summer, we visited the Rutherford B. Hayes presidential library in Fremont, OH. Pretty neat. The two most impressive libraries for me were Ronald Reagan in Simi Valley, CA and Bill Clinton in Little Rock, AR.
Marcia: Kurt and I agree on where we like to camp and what kind of campsite we like, the bigger and more open the better. We do not like camping “resorts.” They are usually quite expensive and crowded. We prefer place like where we are now, almost empty, wide-open sites, water view from all sides, and it only cost us $9 a night. Being a senior citizen makes that happen – half price in national parks and recreation areas! I also agree about the presidential libraries. We have been to the Reagan one twice and each one is unique on its own. We hope to plan a winter RV trip to fit in the Texas ones and to hit Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama. Need to go there when it is not summer.
Cher: Other than your family, who has left an indelible impression?
Kurt: One summer I met a grizzled old guy in Capital Reef NP in southern Utah. He was single, retired and living off the grid. He had about half a dozen solar panels on top of his motorhome and leaning against it. He had retired from the Nevada department of transportation and had dumpster dived for old solar panels being thrown out when the state acquired new ones for rest stops along the highway in the Nevada desert where there was no electricity. The old codger had them all hooked to batteries and controlled by various instruments. He never had to pay for electric hook ups. He was a full-time RVer, spending the winters along the Rio Grande in Texas and moving north as the weather got hotter. One year, he moved north too soon and got caught in an April snowstorm in Idaho and had to head back south until the thaw. This guy was just a free spirit, moving with the weather and living cheaply. My kinda lifestyle.
Marcia: We met a family from Regina, Saskatchewan in 1992 while we were in Boise, Idaho. Their family goal was to visit all the US state capitals. We spent an evening with them and told them we were going to Canada. They invited us to park our RV in their driveway and spend the night with them, so we did! Other than that I do not recall one particular person, but I must say that with all of our RV troubles along the way over the years that people have been wonderful wherever we have traveled. We have been treated fairly and honestly. It gives you faith in human nature when that happens.
Another person I must mention is almost like family is our friend, Susan Shoch. Susan has traveled with us for about two weeks on four different trips. We have toured Utah, Glacier NP, the Calgary Stampede, the Canadian Rockies, Montana, Northern Idaho and this trip various truck stops and a harried trip up Mount Rushmore. She is a great companion and besides, she does all the cooking when she is with us! She is effusive about everything she sees and experiences and makes us look at things from a different point of view. We look forward to our next trip with her along.
Cher: Food, we all love it. If you could name your favorite restaurant in all your travels, what would it be?
Kurt: We don’t eat out much and you know me about food. Restaurants are not one of my favorites.
Marcia: When Susan is with us we plan meals together and then as I said, she does the cooking. I really do not have a specific restaurant; it is more about the atmosphere. I guess my favorite would be when we get to eat where we see wonderful scenery or some quirky little place in some off the beaten path town. When we were in the Canadian Rockies with Susan we had lunch outside at Chateau Lake Louise and the Banff Lodge and cocktails at the Jasper Lodge, all with spectacular views, and our meals were wonderful too. Doesn’t get much better than that
Cher: Is there one story you can share with us that highlights the hazards of RVing and one story demonstrates why you love this lifestyle?
Kurt: The reason I love it is that I get to explore new places, learn about history, meet interesting characters, and enjoy the wonders of America. It is a big county and somebody has explore it! The hazards and troubles of RVing, are breaking down. Mechanical problems are costly and time-consuming. In the past we have had a broken exhaust manifold in Rapid City, SD, destroyed V-belt that runs the fan and water coolant outside of Hayes, KS, canvas awning ripped by 50 MPH winds in St. Mary, MT, cracked oil pan on I-80, and loss of air brakes because the air compressor malfunctioned in Wisconsin. This summer was the costliest when the high pressure fuel pump died just outside of Mitchell, SD. We had to limp back to Sioux Falls, SD and spent two and a half days hanging around a dirty garage while mechanics replaced a $2,000 fuel pump that was over-nighted from Kansas City. But we finally got on our way and things seem to be working fine, now. You just never know. This summer the fan belt destroyed itself again, but this time I was carrying a spare and replaced it myself along the roadside outside of Idaho Falls, ID.
Marcia: Kurt really highlighted the mechanical issues that we have had. Sometimes it is weather that affects us. We have had to change plans because it is so hot that we need to be able to run both AC units. That means no state park or national park, as they typically do not have 50 amp service. We occasionally get tight with water and sometimes our holding tanks get too full but we usually stay on top of that.
I love doing this because like Kurt, I like to see new places and learn new things. This year we went to a new place called Pipe Stone National Monument. Amazing! It is where the Native Americans quarry the stone for their peace pipes. It is a smooth, soft, red stone. The land is considered to be sacred to them. I also am in awe of beauty of the west. The mountains take my breath away each and every time I look at them. I think that was what called our son Matt to live out in Montana and Idaho. When we were first in the Teton Mountains he said, “Mom, I am going to live out here someday!” There is just something about those mountains that makes me feel so warm.
Cher: My heartfelt thanks to you both, Marcia and Kurt, for taking time to share your experiences about traveling in an RV. And you did this while “on the road!” You are the best. Remember when you visited us last year in Pittsburgh and thought your RV would fit in our driveway? That was a day to remember, but it worked out well once the police got involved! Traveling like this may be an option for many who want to see our country. You have certainly given us a lot to think about. Options, it’s all about options, isn’t it. And you, dear friends, have the best of all worlds.