The Year Of the Dumpster Fire

As my friend Denise would say, “Jimbo, This blog ain’t gonna write itself!”…..So, here goes:

2020 Stats

  • Stayed at 37 Campgrounds In 16 States
  • Total Campground Expenses Of $15,735 (Average Night @ $42.99)
  • 77 Nights (21% of Year) Of Free Camping
  • 62 Of 77 Free Nights Were At Newmar’s Service Center’s Parking Lot
  • Drove 6,059 Miles & Consumed 819 Gallons Of Diesel @ Total Fuel Cost Of $1,842
  • Attained 7.5 MPG (3% Increase Over 2019)
  • Shortest Distance Between Campgrounds – 6.6 Miles
  • Longest Distance Driven Between Campgrounds- 427.9 Miles

Lynn and I rang in the 2020 New Year in Quartzite, Arizona with around three hundred other RV’ers. This event was called Xscapers New Years Eve and it was our first time boondocking, meaning we were camping without a source of water, electric or sewer. Our fulltime RV friends Carole and Scott helped us drink the Xscapers Kool-Aid, over-serving us a few months earlier in Georgia. While some Xscapers gatherings include educational and other above board events, this was a straight up party. I shall never forget the moment my hands turned Julie off a paved road for the first time and into the actual desert. Scott was right there on his e-bike and as all 46,000 pounds of us rumbled over the desert rocks, he lead the way towards the grouping of rigs. “Where do I park?”, I asked Scott and Carole. “Anywhere you’d like” was the reply. Every other campground arrival featured clearly designated parking spots. Here it was a free-for-all. Wendy, another Xscaper, heard my question and said, “Park next to me!”, so in the absence of any superseding logic, I did just that.

On went the air brake…off went the engine…out went the slides…down went the leveling jacks…out came the bourbon.

New Years Eve gang
The ceremonial sewer hose drops at midnight!

After killing a few weeks wandering around Arizona, I was the one almost killed in Lake Havasu City, during the Xscapers Annual Bash, their signature event of the year. My blog titled “Trippin In The Desert” illustrates the ordeal of surviving septic shock in all of it’s repugnant detail. All I’d like to add is that I’ll never forget the two days of severe hallucinations and Liz, my angel of a nurse. I hope that I never set foot in that mismanaged dump that has the gall to calls itself a hospital. The night before I crashed with a 106.7 fever, I summoned the energy to walk solo from the rig to catch a few songs by The Status Crowes. The last song I heard before walking home was Michelle singing one of my favorites – Landslide, by Stevie Nicks. I was shivering and soaked with sweat, but I’ll never forget how wonderful it sounded. Seven days later, Michelle and her husband Chuck were kind enough to drive our motorhome to our next campground while I was still in the hospital.

Julie in the desert
Partying in Lake Havasu City at Xscapers Annual Bash – The calm before the septic storm
There are photos that Lynn took that I still can’t bring myself to look at.
Photo taken moments after getting home to the rig. Septic Shock – Hell of a way to drop 15 pounds in 7 days.

A month after getting out of the hospital, Xscapers held their next event in Casa Grande, Arizona where I gained “fame” as being the guy that almost died at Bash. The outpouring of support to myself and especially Lynn from relative strangers is something I’ll never forget. A high point of this event was hearing Chuck and Michelle’s music without an infection gaining control of my body. Awesome times!!

The Status Crowes doing their thing

Along the way in Arizona, we enjoyed some solo boondocking and the utter silence of the desert and the 180+ degree angle sunsets were like nothing I’ve ever encountered. We purchased Rad Mini folding electric bikes, visited a decommissioned intercontinental ballistic missile site and some other fun day trips. Back when fun day trips were “a thing” pre-pandemic.

Boondocking just off Plomosa Road in Quartzite, Arizona
Karen, this one is for you
Wish I had the drone back then!
Aviation boneyard near Tucson, Arizona
Boeing 787 engine
Tombstone, Arizona
Shoot out at the OK Corral
Titan Missile Museum – Tucson, Arizona

At this point, it was mid-February and it became apparent that the “China Virus” was headed our way. With our first annual motorhome services scheduled for mid April in Michigan and Indiana, it was time to point Julie East. As you can see in the map at the top of the page, we traveled through New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Illinois. State campgrounds began closing, followed by private campgrounds. It was like footsteps behind us – closing in. We’d go on scavenger hunts for toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizer and those elusive disinfectant wipes. We wondered how long the world would be like this. We are still wondering. We managed to reconnect with a few friends, as well as meeting some new ones along the way. Perhaps even an lorikeet or two.

Worlds Biggest Chili Pepper – Las Cruces, New Mexico
Restaurant featured in Breaking Bad – Albuquerque, New Mexicodxc
Hello Mr. Lorikeet
Cadillac Ranch – Amarillo, Texas
One of the single most important places I wanted to visit with the RV
Large Empty Chairs = Adult / Small Empty Chairs = Child
Worlds Largest Fork – Springfield, Missouri
KOA East St. Louis
Around the point I started being called Mr. Claus

A funny thing happened less than a week before we were to arrive in Nappanee, Indiana at Newmar’s Service Facility. Their governor closed all non-essential businesses including campgrounds. I learned that Newmar was closing for two (became three) weeks and our April 15 appointment was moved back to May 25th. Scrambling with no place to stay, I asked Newmar to allow us to hunker down in their parking lot – what Newmar owners affectionately call “Camp Newmar” for five LONG weeks. Their sites are full hookups, but due to freezing temperatures, the water was not turned on. We can go 5 days but not 5 weeks without a fresh water source. Newmar was nice enough to turn on a spigot at their building , so every three or four days, we and the other half dozen stranded coach owners would take turns on-boarding water. During our 5 weeks waiting for our rescheduled appointment plus the additional 10 days of service, we saw half a foot of snow fall, corn planted and by the time we left, the corn was almost knee high. I love Nappanee, but those almost 7 weeks was pushing it.

Getting chassis service from Spartan Motors – Charlotte, Michigan They assemble the undercarriage before Newmar builds the “house” on top.
During COVID, customers were not allowed into the awesome service center – Over 70 service bays here!
Seven long weeks here….
The “Amish Crack” negated some of the 38 pounds that I lost between October 2019 and February 2020

One noteworthy thing I did while at Newmar was to get rid of some excess baggage. That baggage was hundreds of Hilton hotel keys. I’d been saving them for years with the plan of putting them into a goldfish bowl as a reminder of so many nights spent away from Lynn. I finally and importantly let them go.

Every card was another night away from Lynn

While marooned in Nappanee, we had to determine where we’d spend our Summer. After much analysis from Lynn, she found that the lowest infection rates were in Northern Michigan. So, despite their overbearing governor and the fact that we’d already spent time there, we pointed Julie due North. We stayed at Petoskey RV Resort from June 5th to August 16. There, we were fortunate to reconnect with Bob and Stephanie, folks that are seasonal residents of the park. We also had three other RV couples come and visit us and we met new friends as well. All year, I struggled with depression. While fun, we never knew who’d pull next to us. One day its a family with seven kids all living in a travel trailer. The next day its a million dollar coach, then people partying day and night (perhaps more than us). We took advantage of local breweries, an amazing bike trail and we really enjoyed ourselves, social distancing with a small group of friends. There I bought a drone and started practicing flying skills….I’m still practicing….

Typical late sunset at Petoskey RV Resort
First take-off of the Mavic drone
Lake Michigan, across the street from our campground

Since the Fall of 2019, I have struggled with anger, grief and depression. Just typing that statement is bizarre, given my outgoing, extroverted personality throughout my whole life. While its nothing I am proud of, equally it is not anything that I am ashamed of either. Doctors suggested that there was likely a link between trauma, PTSD, depression and getting septic shock. In another three weeks (Lynn’s Birthday), I’ll be fully tapered off of my antidepressants and I am excited about the reclamation of some of my old personality traits. During this year, I’ve accepted and to a degree embraced mindfulness exercises and they too have been very helpful. Admittedly, I was always skeptical about mental health diagnoses and associated therapies. Mid-year, I was gob-smacked by my psychologist’s single question to me and my answer to that question. It was literally as if I had just learned that the world was round, rather than flat. I have learned a lot about myself this year and the most important book I was introduced to was called “The Body Keeps The Score”. I have listened to it twice and will likely do so multiple times again. During this year, I’ve been far more distant to people, but I’ve grown closer than ever to my parents, which has simply been wonderful.

I had an important solo drink of my special scotch in my most special glass. Can’t share more, but suffice to say, this cocktail and hearing a KLAX tower controller say “Contact Ground on Point Nine” was a crucial step in the right direction of my mental health wellness.

Wheels Almost Down
Saved the last 4-5 fingers for this moment

As Summertime in Northern Michigan waned, Julie pointed South. We attended Spartan Academy, a three day class for motorhome owners on Spartan chassis’s. We learned a lot about our motor, transmission and other components and even got to go down in the pit below our motorhome.

Our next major destination was Charleston, South Carolina for annual medical appointments. Along the way, we combined the silliness of Other World in Columbus, Ohio, the sanctity of the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania and serenity of visiting our friends Wayne and (sometimes therapist) Elizabeth at Paradise Stables in Mount Airy, Maryland. We tried Skyline Chili (meh) and received a First Class guided tour of the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson by a USAF Colonel / C17A pilot. Thank you for our tour and your service and your families continuing sacrifices, John.

Who The Hell Knows?
Sure, why not?
I Think We Are Alone Now
Lots of silly fun
National Museum Of The United States Air Force – Dayton, Ohio
Annual USDA Dosage Of Cheese – aka chili spaghetti
The morning view of Paradise Stables out our kitchen window
Driveway surfing at the stables. And yes, it has FULL hookups!
Lynn and Tom
Berry and I – The grinning hides the fear he’ll bite my head off
Just beautiful….

Shortly after leaving Paradise Stables, we had to say goodbye to Spangler, our beloved cat who succumbed to cancer at 17 years old. She lead a wonderful life in Charleston and kept Lynn company for all the years that I traveled extensively. When she was not sunning herself on our porch, she laid by my desk when I was home. We will always cherish her acclimation into full time traveling at almost 16 years old. We love you, monkey.

Between doctors visits in South Carolina, I managed to work on a few much needed hobbies.

I’m now making Eastern Bluebird houses!
Drone view from James Island County Park

While in Charleston, a simple visit to a local brewery lead to unimagined joy. It was there that a 3 pound stray and scruffy kitten wandered into our hearts. I was adamant that Spangler’s loss was too recent and intense to consider a new pet, but five minutes after meeting this kitten, I was at Publix picking up cat food and a litter box. The Mount Pleasant brewery is Indigo Reef. Ironically, Lynn’s travel agency business is Indigo Travel, we lived in the Indigo On The Ashley subdivision in Charleston and GetOutZMap is a take on an Indigo Girls song. So it is…

Our first moments with Bella – 3 months old and 3 pounds in weight. She needed TLC and a bath
That look!
Merry Christmas, Bella! Thanks for the stocking Ruth!
After just two weeks with us, she’s filling in and looking less raggedy

So, Lynn, Bella and I put our old CHS turf in the rear view mirror and headed further South. We enjoyed staying at a campground in St. Mary’s, Georgia, and took a ferry to Cumberland Island where we spent the day biking this pristine private island.

Biking at Cumberland Island, Georgia

From here, we visited St. Augustine, Port Charlotte, and Crystal River, Florida. Here, we enjoyed exploring lesser-known parts of Florida. After two decades of work assignments in Orlando, Miami, Tampa and Jacksonville, these towns really opened our eyes to the beauty that can be found in Florida!

View out our windsheild at Myakka River Motorcoach Resort – Port Charlotte, Florida
Morean Arts Center – Hot Glass School – St. Petersburg, Florida
Morean Arts Center – Chihuly Collection in St. Petersburg, Florida
Emerald Coast of the Panhandle – Florida

To close out 2020, we returned to Bella Terra Motorcoach Resort in Foley Alabama. We remain here at our favorite RV resort to date through January at which time we point Julie West to Galveston, Texas.

I had hoped to do a better job blogging consistently in 2020, but it is what it is. Between leaving the workforce, leaving friends in Charleston, not being able to see my parents due to the pandemic, losing Spangler, unpacking a childhood trauma, a life threatening illness, and dealing with some other issues….2020 has been my most difficult year ever. I was however able to end the year with a beautiful surprise…the re-connection with Donald, my childhood best friend. In 6th grade, Donald’s family moved to Europe and it really shook me up. I was able to find him via Linkedin and while we’ve been out of touch since we were 12 years old, it was a wonderfully positive bookend to a horrific year.

It’s my intention in 2021 to blog more, blog better and act more like my more recognizable old-self. Thanks for coming along for the ride!

Lynn’s 5 cents – What a wild year it has been for all of us. We certainly learned to be more flexible when our plans had to be cancelled and changed several times. This included the cancellation of 3 cruises in 2020 and one in 2021 that has already been cancelled. But when I look back on 2020 we certainly made the best of it. We still got the opportunity to travel and visit new places. And that is what this life we have created for ourselves is all about!

13 Comments on “The Year Of the Dumpster Fire

  1. It was great catching up with both of you at WOB in Naples. I hope you find a good use for the Christmas gift. “Aim small, miss small”

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    • Been far too long since we saw each other. Was less fun at 3M after you retired. We’ll be back your way next December. Pew Pew

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  2. We loved being a part of your 2020 journey….what a ride. From Michigan to our farm in MD, we have enjoyed our time together! Hopefully we will see you in a few weeks! Xoxo
    Elizabeth & Wayne (Ted & Camo)

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  3. Enjoyed your blog, as always. Still scares the holy hell out of me that we almost lost you. Jesus, I still get a sick feeling thinking about it.

    We love you guys and are anxiously awaiting our reunion coming up.

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  4. Great journey Jim and Lynn. Guess I could rename that an Adventure!! hope to see you two next visit to Florida…East coast next time please….New Smyrna??? Happy 2021!!

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  5. Wow, what an unbelievable trip. I learned about some places that I had not heard of before. Thanks for taking us along via your photos and write-up.

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