Who knew that a learn-to-live-in-the-moment trip of a lifetime requires so much hurry-up-plan-ahead-freneticism?
Up until recently, our prep had been calm and deliberate. We started with updates to our 11-year-old Casita travel trailer and our nine-year-old Nissan Xterra tow vehicle.
By the time I was winding down the last few months of my career at The Dallas Morning News, my husband had already added solar panels to extend our ability to boondock without electricity, found a way to mount a second spare tire for the Casita without impinging on premium packing space and installed special shock absorbers on the single-axle trailer to reduce the jiggle of our bikes on the back bumper rack.
He even found a space-saving way to carry our fishing poles and to keep the toilet paper dry in the Casita’s bathroom-that-doubles-as-a-shower.
We’d decided some time ago that it would be a perimeter trip and that we’d go counter-clockwise. (We prefer to make right-hand turns to the border and beach, rather than deal with the complexity of across-traffic left-hand turns.) We mapped out a few specific overnights, but planned to leave the majority of the trip to serendipity. After all, the whole goal of our Year on the Edges of America is to learn to live in the moment, to be spontaneous, to experience life without a schedule.
That’s how we settled on the Gulf Coast in March and April, the Atlantic seaboard in May and June, Maine-Quebec in July, Great Lakes-Glacier National Park in August, Seattle-Vancouver in September and the Pacific coast October-November. We expect to spend the holidays in Arizona and return home to Dallas via Big Bend state and national parks after the first of the year.
This sort of planning was fun and easy.
Little did I know when I walked out of the Morning News for the last time on Feb. 2 what a steep climb the rest of the prep would be.
My husband and I just celebrated decade-ending birthdays. In his case, this required us to experience the paperwork labyrinth that is Social Security, Medicare Part B and the myriad alphabet-soup supplement plans. Don’t get me started on the wonders of Part D prescription-drug options.
I’m fortunate to qualify for up to 18 months of extended group health insurance. The monthly premiums nearly double, however, and figuring out the best way to pay these and the Medicare bills while on the road for a year proved more complicated than just assigning a credit card number.
These tasks took not hours but weeks – literally. At times, we felt like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, trapped in an ever-repeating time warp we couldn’t break out of. So much for fantasizing about the simplicity of economic travel, afternoons in a hammock or the romance of moonlit skies.
Plus, we still have a year’s worth of doctor appointments to make, car tires to purchase, maps to study, new iPads to learn. My husband is busy transferring his start-up business to his brother in Belgium, and we still need to haul a bunch of furniture either up to the attic or out to Goodwill to create comfortable living quarters for our Beloved Housesitter.
I’m not sure I’ll have time now to organize the nearly 1,000 place-specific books readers have recommended about the places we’ll visit. (See blog post below from November 2017.) And I still have to figure out how to pack for a year in a space smaller than the oven in my kitchen.
Who said retirement would be leisurely and relaxing?
The level of stress was totally unexpected. So was the shingles. I decided to make a To Do list to calm my nerves and organize my thoughts. But 10 minutes into it my list had over 100 items on it. Where to start?
I broke it into four shorter lists — one for this week, another for next week, still another for the week after, etc. Still a steep climb but perhaps a bit more manageable.
Or not. At the end of the first week, we had to roll 15 of the 20 items onto the second week’s list, which caused that week’s list of things to balloon to 50.
So much for marital bliss. Now that I’m spending more time at home I’ve become better acquainted with my husband’s system of organization. I find his filing system discombobulating; he finds my impulse for file reorganization impertinent.
I take awhile to make decisions and then rarely look back. Georges constantly reassesses. Why does that feel like he’s second guessing?
He thinks two pairs of pants, one pair of shorts, four shirts and two pairs of shoes should about do it with regard to packing for the year. I’m busy looking for cubbyholes in the car and trailer where I can secretly stash a few extra sweaters and shoes beyond the constraints of my oven-sized cabinet.
Cycling has long been one of our shared passions, but now even that’s a source of frustration. I think the bikes would be most stable on top of the car; Georges worries that we’ll forget they’re there and rip the top off the car by pulling into a garage or tunnel somewhere. He wants them on a reinforced bike rack on the back of the trailer.
For a short time, we thought we had the perfect compromise. Georges spent a whole day installing a special-order bike rack on the front of the car — a more stable placement than the back of the trailer — only to discover that when the bikes are mounted and covered they impair visibility.
I made another play for the rooftop; the bikes remain on the back of the trailer.
So here’s the good news: Less than two weeks to lift off, we’ve finally begun to find our rhythm.
With most of the insurance-related decisions behind us, I was able to craft both a fact sheet about our townhome for our Beloved Housesitter and a comprehensive Who to Contact memo for my 90-year-old mother to rely on between her visits to us on the road.
That made me feel grounded.
Physical, check. Mammogram, check. Dentist, check. Schedule dermatologist, haircut and lawyer appointments; check, check and check.
We took a four-hour CPR and first-aid course at the Y.
That prompted me to spend the next afternoon emptying all our medicine cabinets to cull the best bandages, antiseptics, antacids and allergy pills for the road. A snake-bite kit from REI rounded out the Traveling Medical Box.
The end of our To Do lists isn’t in sight yet. But we’re working steadily toward it. What keeps us going?
We’re eager to hit the road. We look forward to growing our birding life list, visiting relatives on both sides of the Great Lakes, exploring the San Juan Islands.
We dream of long beach walks, scenic bike rides, gourmet campsite dinners.
We look forward to meeting new people, visiting old friends, experiencing new adventures. We expect to lose ourselves in good books, fun movies and FaceTime with the grandkids.
Once I figure out how to pack for a year in an oven.