Drum Roll…. As of February 18th, 2017, we have been living in our much loved rolling home, a 41 foot fifth wheel that we call “Exodus”, for exactly one year. Can you believe it?!?!?! In some ways it went by incredibly fast, yet in other ways it feels as if we’ve been doing this for years. This past year has been filled with much good, some bad, and a wee little bit of ugly, but I honestly cannot even imagine going back and not living this lifestyle. This nomadic journey and tiny home fits us all, especially me, better than we could have dreamed or imagined.
I have been ruminating for weeks about what I want to write in this momentous post, but the daily reality of my life these days has simply not provided me with the time or the clarity of mind to even take notes of my ruminations, much less actually sit down and write. So it is with much reflection that I sit here (under the awning of my Reflection, pardon the pun) on this beautiful, warm, sunny day in the high desert of Arizona, feeling physically healthy even though it’s the middle of February, and try to make the time to pen at least a few words while Saylor plays inside and I soak up some precious vitamin D.
I haven’t written anything in over a month so I am sitting here with my mind (and my iPhone) filled up with a whole boatload of pictures I want to post, tons of insights on full-timing that I would really love to share, gobs of amazing moments that I am having a hard time holding in, and unfortunately more woes and tough days than I can even count. Since it would be impossible and impractical for me to overwhelm you with all of the above, I am going to try my best to write what I can and leave the rest for another time… or not.
First of all, one of the primary reasons we began this journey is so that I myself would not have to endure (and suffer physically from) another cold, humid winter. I have two conditions that are greatly affected by the weather. Multiple sclerosis is one and the cold winters send my body reeling which always results in me having a M.S. flare-up. The other condition is spinal arthritis. I had back surgery at age 16 for scoliosis and have had rods in my back ever since. The rods have shifted over the years resulting not only in spinal arthritis and some disc degeneration, but also in two incomplete spinal cord injuries. One of my spinal cord injuries is quite precarious and came about after being thrown from my horse back in 2002. Blah, blah, blah… all that to explain why cold, humid weather is truly my nemesis. I hate it and it hates me! Winters have been more and more difficult for me as the years pass, and typically by February I am in excruciating pain 24/7, which then causes my M.S. to flare up as well resulting in absolutely everything being close to unbearable. For years, it has been right about now that I am miserable and vowing to move far, far away to somewhere perpetually warm and dry! That was not only one of the reasons we chose this lifestyle, but a HUGE reason! Here I sit, in an Arizona desert climate in the middle of February, warm and dry. Wow. I am almost in awe at the fact that we did it. We actually did it!
We spent the first half of our winter in Southern California and are now spending the remainder of it in the dry desert (PERFECT) climate of Arizona. Although other circumstances (which I’ll go into later) have left me emotionally and mentally exhausted, I am happy to report that physically I am holding up better than I can even explain. I haven’t had any issues with my spinal arthritis, nor have I had a single M.S. flare up this entire winter! Every time I begin to get discouraged, overwhelmed, or want to give in to the exhaustion (which occurs more often than I care to admit lately), I remind myself of this amazing reality. I am physically healthier than I have been since I was in my mid 20’s! I am so very thankful for the ability to “go where the weather suits my soul” and my body! This blessing alone is reason enough to endure the tough times. There is no perfect life on this earth, and I am very thankful for this imperfect life that I’ve been blessed with. The good far outweighs the bad.
This blog has been a couple of days in the making, but as I write, we are staying at Verde Valley RV Resort and Campground (a Thousand Trails park) in Cottonwood, Arizona. Cottonwood is about 20 minutes west of Sedona, and about 45 minutes east of Prescott. Although I have absolutely no intention of settling down anytime soon, if I did have to settle down, this is where it would be. This is the only place so far that I’ve seriously said to myself, “I could live here.” Just today, Greg said the exact same thing today during our hike in the Red Rocks of Sedona. (Pictures below) Neither one of us has felt that way about any other place we have visited yet. Cottonwood is a gorgeous high desert community with an elevation just under 3,500 ft. Its location and elevation provides for a mild, dry climate year-round. The coldest month of the year here is January with an average high of 58 degrees and average low of 28 (during the night). In February, the average Highs/Lows are 63/32. This is perfect hiking weather! The only months that the temps get up into the 90’s are June-August. Even then, it rarely reaches 100 degrees. Although that may seem too hot for some, remember it doesn’t feel as hot as it sounds because it’s dry heat! I love and thrive in dry heat, so for me those are awesome temps that I could live in and thrive on year round. This campground, Verde Valley, is beautiful as well with large shaded sites and views of the surrounding mountains. Since they have annual sites here, we may even settle down right here some day! But again, I can’t imagine settling down anytime soon. We still have lots of traveling to do, first by land and then by sea! We are still in Phase 1. Phase 2 in sailboat. Maybe Phase 3 will be to settle down here… who knows. For now life is too short to even think about settling down. Here are some pictures of this awesome campground:
The town of Cottonwood itself only has a population of 12,000 yet it offers a comprehensive array of shopping, restaurants, and even community services. There are two nice, large grocery stores: Safeway and Fry’s, both of which have a comprehensive selection of organic and gluten free options. There is also a Wal-Mart, a Home Depot, CVS, O’Reilly’s Auto Parts, a couple of nice large pet stores, and more. They have quite a few restaurants with gluten free options not only in Cottonwood, but also in neighboring towns. Finally, their community services are amazing for such a small town. Their library is huge and offers screaming Wi-Fi and lots of areas for seating as well as a large separate children’s/youth area. They have several nice parks and there are more hiking trails and outdoor things to do here than we have the time to get in during our mere three week visit. We are on a waiting list to return here to Verde Valley after 4 weeks in the Tucson area, but I’m not sure if we’ll be able to get back in because this is the peak of their season and the campground is booked full. I’m praying that they will have some cancellations and we get back in! As you can tell, I really do love this area. The T-Mobile isn’t great here, but that’s par for the course in Arizona. With Greg’s recent installation of the weboost cell signal booster and between our T-Mobile, Cricket/AT&T, and Verizon plans, our connectivity has not been too big of an issue.
While we are the topic of Cottonwood, I absolutely must give a major shout out to Cork and Catch Restaurant. I don’t normally do restaurant reviews in my blogs, but this is a necessary exception. Greg and I discovered them on my GF Finder app and we had Elijah babysit Saylor so we could go out on a dinner date. We were told upon arrival that many of their items are marked GF for gluten free and they have GF buns and pasta as well. Furthermore, our waitress said if there was anything on the menu I wanted that wasn’t marked GF to let her know because they can probably make it gluten free. They even have GF panko and a dedicated GF fryer! We ordered two appetizers: Bangkok Shrimp and Bourbon Glazed Chicken Skewers as well as one entree, The Pinot Bleu. Greg and I split everything between us and it was AMAZING! Everything was excellent, but the Bangkok Shrimp was unbelievably good. It was honestly one of the most, if not THE most flavorful meals I have ever had. If you are ever close to Cottonwood, you MUST pay a visit to the Cork and Catch. You will be glad you did!
Back to our nomadiversary. Although many stressful/tough things have happened during this past year that we neither planned for nor predicted, this has still proven to have been an amazing year full of adventure and new experiences around every corner. Even with the unforeseen events that I will tell you about below, we have truly found our happy place in this lifestyle more than we could have imagined. Or at least I have. I can’t honestly speak for Greg or Elijah, but I simply can’t imagine going back to life as it was before we embarked on this journey. I would be bored out of my mind! This lifestyle is many things, but it is NEVER boring!
For over a year before we began this journey, we researched and read story after story of others’ experiences of this lifestyle. According to all accounts, we were led to expect to have tire blow-outs, rv repairs/mishaps, and maintenance issues on a regular basis. All of these issues and more were supposedly a “given” in this lifestyle. To our delight, this has not been the case, at least not yet. We have not even had to take Exodus, our Reflection 367BHS 5th wheel by Grand Design, back to the dealer a single time since we drove it off the lot and moved aboard one year ago. Even after a year of heavy use, living and traveling full time in our Exodus, we are still impressed with the quality, reliability, and lack of issues with our 5th wheel. We are so very glad we chose this exact brand and model for this journey. It fits our needs and wants perfectly and has felt like “home” since day one. The fact that we ended up getting this particular rig was a major God thing and thanks to Him, we can honestly say that we chose wisely. (More like He chose wisely!) Moses, our Ford F350 Turbo Diesel dually has proven to be very reliable as well. Although Exodus was brand new when we bought it, Moses is a 2008, so he has a few more white hairs and has required some more extensive (aka expensive) repairs and as is the case with all diesel trucks, maintenance is costly on these beasts. That said, the one time he broke down (not while towing, thank God!) the repairs (just over $2k) were made quickly and efficiently and he was back up and running in no time. He has continued to be a reliable work horse, pulling Exodus for thousands of miles without complaint. We bought him a wife in January so she could run errands and serve as our daily driver to allow Moses to spend more time resting. We named her Zipporah (After Moses’ wife in the Bible) and we call her Zippy. She is a 2013 Fiat 500c convertible and I think I love her even more than Moses does! Isn’t she cute? My favorite color is red and her interior as well as her convertible top are red. The best part is, she gets great gas milage! Our last relocation (aka Scenery Swap Day) she averaged 43 mpg on the highway! Check her out…
The unforeseen things that I keep referring to above were twofold. Let me explain,
- Due to the delay and complications of our house not selling which resulted in us changing tactics and leasing it out the end of July, we ended up financially carrying both of our homes for the first 5 months of our travels. That entire process was expensive and stressful. Now that we have good tenants leasing the house, our expenses are nominal. Our old sticks and bricks house is now an investment for us and is (mostly) paying for itself as it continues to build equity. There are still some ongoing expenses associated with owning it, but the investment is well worth it. We anticipated being able to save money by living this lifestyle, but that has not been the case. Now that all the kinks are worked out and the house is in an annual lease (that hopefully our tenants will renew!) we are hoping that the saving money part will kick in next year. We’ll see…
- All of our plans and research invested into the daily reality of living, working, and homeschooling while traveling full-time and living in 410 square feet was all based on the three of us. Greg (my hubby who is a self-employed software engineer who must put in the hours regardless of where we are to keep this whole ship afloat), Elijah (our 15 year old son, whom I am homeschooling), and myself (the homeschooling teacher, trip planner, cook, etc. who also does the bookkeeping for our business & our home.) So our plans were all based on two adults and one near adult. Due to some other unforeseen circumstances (I know I keep using that word “unforeseen” but it just fits!) we have unexpectedly had Saylor, our 6 year old granddaughter, for 5½ months of our first year. That’s almost half! We had her for 1½ months during the summer, and then we have had her again for 4 more months thus far, since October 2016. Although we love her more than words and have had a blast being able to show her so much of the country, adding a 4th person to the mix, especially an energetic 6 year old girl, has been very challenging and not something we planned for. Kudos to those many families I see out there traveling with young kids. It’s harder than it looks! Most of them have siblings as built in friends, and that’s a major plus. We have no such luxury. Young kids require not only more of a time and energy investment to homeschool, but they tend to get bored easily and get loud often. Neither of which makes a good environment for Greg to get work done in, or for Elijah to get his high school homeschool work done for that matter. Another funny thing is, even though she’s just a tiny little thing, our space has shrunk considerably with her living with us. Honestly, if we had known we would have her for so long we probably would have delayed our journey, as this isn’t an easy lifestyle for her or for us. I sure am glad that we didn’t know ahead of time! I have learned the hard way that 6 year old girls thrive best when they have friends their own age to play with, ongoing activities, lots of space for making tents and crafts, lots of “stuff” to do (toys, books, games, etc.), and an energetic person to entertain them and keep them happy and occupied 24/7. I am the person for the job, unfortunately the energetic part is waning lately. The other thing they need is stability. We have stability with the same home everywhere we go, but I didn’t anticipate the fact that the stability is lacking when it comes to her having friends, activities, same park to play in, etc. In this lifestyle everything changes regularly, even the stores where you do your shopping. Not a big deal for a grown up, but it can be a bit unsettling for a 6 year old. I’m not a spring chicken anymore and when you combine all that I “have” to do and then add in the responsibility of taking her somewhere almost every weekday afternoon to provide Greg some much needed quiet time to focus and be productive with his work, it is exhausting and is proving to be almost too much for me. Almost… we have been working it all out day by day, every day, with the grace of God. We also know that having her here living with us is only temporary. This too shall pass. Saylor has become very anxious just the past couple of weeks to go back to her mom. She seems to be a bit more antsy and impatient to go home every day. I think the small space and lack of friends and other things I mentioned above is starting to get to her. Although we will all miss her greatly, Greg, Elijah, and I are also anxious to be able to slow down and return to our family dynamic of the three of us, spending time together as a family. That may sound strange, but this is not something we can do easily at this point since most outside activities we have to do in small groups of two or at most three at a time, or it’s just too stressful. I am also looking forward to getting caught up on the many things I have fallen behind on and then maybe even being able to enjoy the relaxing aspects of this lifestyle once again.
On the bright side, in the past year we have stayed in 23 campgrounds, visited 11 states, and have visited more state and national parks and monuments than I have been able to keep track of. We’ve been from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean and many points in between. I can’t even begin to list all of the beautiful and fun places that we’ve visited, but if you go back and read my previous posts there are pictures of most of them. Some of our favorite places, in no particular order, were: The Grand Canyon, Lobos Point, Monterey Bay & Monterey Bay Aquarium, Palm Springs, Joshua Tree N.P., Vasquez Rock Park, Myrtle Beach, Lake Tahoe, Sequoia N.P., Sedona, Prescott, Little Painted Desert, Painted Desert N.P., Walnut Canyon N.P., Sunset Crater Volcano N.P., Homolovi S.P., The corner in Winslow, Arizona, Meteor Crater, Wupatiki N.P., Bearizona, Henry Cowell Redwoods S.P., Santa Cruz Wharf, Lake Bruin S.P., Natchez Parkway, Carson City, Sandia Peak Tram, Albuquerque, Amarillo, Sadler’s Creek S.P., Paris Mountain S.P., Lee S.P., Margaritaville, Montezuma Castle N.P., and last but not least Palo Duro Canyon in Texas. (S.P. = State Park and N.P. = National Park. ) There are quite a few more but I’d be here all day if I try to list them all, these are just our favorites. We have also seen quite a bit of wildlife, especially in Arizona, and I’m talking true wildlife, not what we’ve seen in the many zoos we’ve visited. Some of which are elk (Elijah’s personal favorite), bear, pronghorn antelope, porcupine, deer, big horn sheep, jack rabbits, wild donkeys, wild horses, alligators, an incredible variety of birds including eagles and hawks, and I’m sure there are more that I can’t seem to recall at the moment. As you can see, it’s been a year full of adventure!
As I mentioned above, we are going to be staying in Arizona for the rest of this winter. We are leaving this campground on Sunday to head further south, staying just east of Tucson, for another 4 weeks. We are then on a waiting list to return here. If we are unable to get a space here, we have a backup reservation in Salome, Arizona for another couple of weeks. Either way we will be in Arizona through the beginning of April. Our goal for the winter has been “going (or rather staying) where the weather suits our soul.” As I said above, my soul, as well as my body, is best suited for warm temperatures, so we don’t want to head north too soon.
In April, we have reservations at the Las Vegas Thousand Trails Resort, then we are heading up to Utah, to spend some time there, then Idaho, and from Idaho we plan to be in Oregon sometime in June. We want to spend time exploring Oregon and then up to also explore Washington during the summer months. We plan on heading to Colorado for the fall, and most likely back down to Arizona or maybe Texas next winter. That’s the general plan as it currently stands. Man makes his plan, but God directs his steps, so we always keep our plans loose to allow for his intervention.
I have way too many photos I want to share with you, but this post it already ridiculously long. Here are just a few of the highlights from around this area.
We loved the little town of Jerome, which is know primarily as a ghost town. It is only about 20 minutes or so from our campground and is a fun day trip. Elijah and I went there once, then Greg and Elijah went back a couple of times after. We didn’t take Saylor into the Gold King Mine Ghost Town itself as it was just too dangerous for a 6 year old, and she had no desire to go there anyway. Here are some pictures…
Sedona is one of the most beautiful places on earth. We spent quite a bit of time here last summer as well, but due to the high temperatures we were unable to do any hiking around the area. Hiking here in the winter is PERFECTION! We found one trail, which I am showing you below, that is easily one of our top 3 hikes EVER! Greg and Elijah found this trail first, which is one of the Red Rock SW Trails. It’s called “Scorpion” and it is just past Red Rock State Park. Greg took me back to it so he and I could do some hiking on it as well. Gorgeous beyond words.
So there you have it. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Life is full of it all, regardless of where you are. This past year has been one I wouldn’t trade for anything and the good has far exceeded the bad and the ugly combined!
Thanks for hanging in there all the way to the end of this long post. I am not even going to promise to blog again soon, because it’s a weak promise which I’ve failed to fulfill lately. I strongly desire to write more soon about some of the things I love most about full-timing. I’d love to do a pros and cons list as well. I still have some pictures and places to share that I haven’t even posted about. I really want to go back to blogging every 2 weeks as I was doing initially, but that’s easier said than done. I guess I’ll just have to leave you with, I’ll see ya when I see ya and not a minute before.
Happy Trails and Sunny Sails