Way *way* down upon the Suwannee River…

… we joined a Y2V (A Year To Volunteer) work crew for a 2-week service project at Stephen C Foster State Park.

It was so remote (audience: How remote was it?)… it was so remote that it took almost 25 minutes to drive to the nearest town with a store, and that one and only store was a Dollar General.

Cell service was about as reliable as a stoner delivering pizza, and wifi at the campground trading post was about as strong as rest stop toilet paper, so we did not spend a lot of time online.

But that was bearable. We were busy working, making new friends, spotting wildlife, and enjoying the solitude. Here it is in a nutshell.

How We Got Hooked (blame it on the a a a a a alcohol)

It started with a meet-up at a Harvest Hosts location, the Medina River Winery in Castroville, TX.
We invited two friends (Phil & Stacy of You, Me & The RV)
and they invited two friends (Phil & Shar of A Year to Volunteer),
and the more I heard about the Y2V mission, and the more I drank, the more ambitious I became.
My inner voice slurred, “We haf schkills. We haf thah kine o time. Lesssh do thish!”
And that is how we signed our asses up for not one, not two, but three Y2V projects — and have since added a fourth.
Would anybody else like to drink with me?
Wine clearly makes me believe I have superpowers.
(Photo credit: Medina River Winery)

The Worker Bees of Y2V

There were 30 of us, all RVers, mostly couples. Most stayed the entire duration of the project (Jan. 25 – Feb. 5, 2021), and a few came and went. Some already had Y2V experience under their tool belts, and some were newbies like us.

There were retirees from a wide variety of backgrounds, a sampling of which includes military veterans, nurses, teachers, a business owner, a contractor, and even a pair of NASA engineers.

I won’t even try to calculate the combined years of home improvement, building, and fix-it experience. Tim has about 40, and he was one of the younger men on the job, so there were several lifetimes worth of skills and knowledge in play every single day.

The Honey-Do’s? Honeys Did — And Then Some

We were given 5 projects by the park. Our team completed those + 20 more, and still finished a day early! A sampling of the tasks:

  • Parking lot striping
  • New AC/exhaust system in maintenance shop
  • 3 new camp host sites (timbers, leveling, graveling)
  • Sanding and painting metal cabin doors
  • Sanding and painting porch & walkway rails
  • Installing new flooring in guest cottages
  • Sanding and painting rocking chairs 
  • Cleaning AC drip stains & touch-up painting in guest cottages
  • Replacing fire rings in campground loops
Our first morning meeting included a hilarious recap of the COVID safety rules we’d all previously agreed via e-mail to uphold.
Because all of us were there in RVs, Shar’s summary was simple:
If the person you’re working next to is not someone who wakes up with you,
you should be wearing a mask.
In addition, we observed social distancing rules, agreed to no indoor socializing or RV tours, and we held only one communal dinner, which was served by masked & gloved helpers rather than the usual potluck buffet style.
The new camp host sites at the beginning…

… in the middle …
… and at the end.
Almost.
Tim & I weren’t on the gravel-spreading team, and I forgot to go back and take a pic of the completed sites.
Earned my stripes on the deck whitewashing crew.
And now I have a pair of painting tights for future projects!
And bonus: they draw the eye downward from this hot mess of an ensemble.
Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.
~flips dust-caked curls and clomps away~
Tim and Jeff on the Cabin 10 flooring team
Tim, Scott, Susan, Jeff and Phil holding the last piece, which we all signed on the underside before Scott installed it beneath the sink.
Meet Mike & Ginny.
Ginny had been retired for like 20 minutes, and was probably not expecting her retirement to include rocking chairs so soon.
But “Old Folks at Home” is one of Stephen C. Foster’s most famous songs, and we were at the state park named for him, so it kind of fit the theme.
Tim and I took on fire ring replacement.
The old rusted ones were anchored in cement, so we had to dig, wrestle, and swear all that out before installing the new ones.
By about the fourth one my shoulders were aching, but stepping on a fire ant hill distracted me from that rather quickly. Good times.
Less than a week after we all left, word came down from above: we rocked.

The park itself shouted out some love too.

Oh, And We Had Fun

“Have fun!” is in fact codified in Y2V’s core values, and we were nothing if not obedient. Even while we worked, we joked around and kept each other entertained, and also made lasting friendships.

But there was also ample time for campfires & cocktails, hiking & biking, wildlife spotting, boating, and more (yes, socially distanced or masked or both).

The work schedule was not strict — roughly 9-4 each weekday, with a lunch break — and we were advised to take time off as needed for things like ouchy muscles or injuries, personal errands, and especially for any symptoms of illness.

Having the weekend off allowed us time to explore the park ourselves, and also kept our tools, paint, dust, and noise from creating mayhem for park guests during peak visitation days.

‘Twas a gator-spottin’ bike ride along the Suwannee Sill. We saw some!
The park treated us to ranger guided boat rides along the river.
We saw lots of birds, a few more alligators, and two otters (or it might have been the same otter twice).
Finally!
At the end of Week 2, we watched one of the park’s resident black bears investigate the yard of one of the park residences.
Girls, when they’re not busy using the tools and fixing the things, just want to have fun.
So we did.
There were also… ummm… dance lessons?
Kind of hard to tell who’s the instructor and who’s the student here.

UPDATE, 02/17/21: Now that the footage is live, I can divulge that yes, those were dance lessons, and here’s why we needed them! That’s me in the yellow safety vest; Tim’s behind me in the back row, wearing a red flannel shirt. If you make it all the way to the 4:30 mark, you’ll see how I live to be an embarrassment to our sons and any future generations.


Tomorrow we head to Tennessee for the next Y2V project, at Fall Creek Falls State Park. The to-do list includes building bridges, clearing and re-routing trails, and painting maintenance buildings.

Can’t wait to see some of our friends again, meet new members of the crew, and knock that list right out of the park. Hahaha! Out of the park. Get it? I crack myself up.


To learn more about A Year to Volunteer and their upcoming projects, visit them on


Our Pandemic Caveat
We are traveling a lot less than we normally would, and as often as possible we choose destinations that offer ample outdoor opportunities, and are unlikely to be crowded.
When we gather with friends or family, we keep our numbers small, and we request honest communication beforehand about their comfort level.
We continue to wear masks in public and wash/sanitize hands frequently, and we limit our outings.
~ The rrrrOHHHHRRRerrrrs, March 2020 – ?

WheRVe we been? Our travels, 4th quarter 2020

For a period of travel predominantly dictated by where we had to be, rather than where we wanted to go, there were many more hidden gems in the mix than we expected to find. Come examine them with us? 

The very short version of the story is that attempts to fix my left shoulder kept us in Texas. Attempts to fix the RV sent us to Indiana.

The same description applies to both situations: we’re not exactly sure what’s wrong, but something definitely isn’t right. Both are being examined and treated by experts; we just don’t want to publicize details on either until we can include the end of the story — or at least see it from where we stand. Stay tuned.

We went from TX to KS to IN to TN to FL, and added our 41st RV state with that 5-day stop in Kansas.
RV miles traveled this quarter: about 3143 
(Map does not reflect exact routing.)

Texas

Our home base for most of October and November really was a base, namely Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. The RV park there is safe and spacious, convenient to our doctors and my family, and easy on the budget. Tim served for 25 years, so military bases feel like home to us no matter where they are.

And it felt even more like home on Thanksgiving, when we got one of our boys and his girl, who drove down from Austin for the big meal.

That said, the noise level at Fort Sam is a little high (frequent trains, occasional choppers) and the scenery really isn’t… scenic. So when we had longish breaks between appointments, we went AWOL with a few side trips.

Side Trip 1: our site at Hickory Creek Park, near Dallas, offered one of the best yards we’ve ever had.
We liked it so much we’ve booked a return stay in May, for a Dallas-area wedding.
Sunrises were definitely worth the wake-up.
Side Trip 2: The friends whose land we stayed on in Wyoming are working as camp hosts just south of Dallas for the winter, so we stopped for an overnight visit, and were treated to the usual photo opportunity with their littlest doggo, Henley.
We’ve got history, as you can see in this collage from August.

Side Trip 3: Crane’s Mill Park, Canyon Lake

Side Trip 4: An overnight at the little known but very delightful Museum of Texas Handmade Furniture, a Harvest Hosts location in New Braunfels
Side Trip 5: We spent the night at another Harvest Hosts location, the Medina River Winery in Castroville. As it turned out, our friends, Phil & Stacy of You, Me & the RV, were parked nearby, and they brought their friends, Phil & Shar of A Year to Volunteer over for an evening of wine tasting and plan hatching.
More on that below, in the “Where to next?” section.
(Photo credit: Medina River Winery)

Finally, on December 1, we were bound for somewhere outside Texas.

Destination: the DRV Factory Service Center, in northern Indiana. I know. Everyone’s favorite winter vacation spot. Don’t be jealous. It was the opening they had, and we needed it, so we took it.

But first, we stopped in… Texas. Big state. And if we’re heading north or west from San Antonio to get out of it, we end up stopping for the night within its borders.

Eisenhower State Park is not in Oklahoma…
… but you can see it from there.
A short walk down the embankment behind our site yielded this view of the dam along Hwy 91, just north of the Texas border.

Kansas

When Tim was evaluating various routes to Indiana, he discovered that we could stay in yet another Eisenhower State Park. And since liking Ike that much would allow us to add another RVisited state to our list, we made a reservation at the Kansas version.

Our back-in site on the tip of a peninsula offered 180 degrees of lake views.
December sunset — with a visitor

Indiana

After a stop at MORryde in Elkhart for a suspension check, we then had 3 nights available before our service appointment at DRV in Howe the following week. We could have split the stay between the two parking lots and paid nothing, but we seized the opportunity to go somewhere quieter and prettier.

Hello, Indiana Dunes State Park.
We found lots of RV sites available in December, there on the southern shores of Lake Michigan. Surprise?
The trails were nearly deserted, and the weather was chilly, but sunny enough for hiking on our first couple of days.
And since the state park is enclosed within Indiana Dunes National Park, we explored a fair amount of those trails too. So starkly beautiful at that time of year.
But then more typical weather arrived, and as soon the RV was done, we aimed our nose southward again.

Tennessee

We realized when we crossed into Tennessee, that we hadn’t been back since we left after our Amazon CamperForce gig three years ago.
Our 3-night stay at Harrison Bay State Park was far more enjoyable.

Florida

For the holidays, we’re moochdocking in a friend’s driveway near Pensacola. We’ve stayed here before, and we were greeted by the same cat, who just happens to bear the same name as our late canine companion, Lola.

She’s a vocal one.
Plus, there are foster puppies here this year, and I’ve been getting lots of snuggles.

Where to next?

After a quick run back to San Antonio in January, we plan to spend a significant part of early 2021 in Georgia and Tennessee, doing service work with A Year To Volunteer. When we met founders Phil & Shar in November, we knew right away that their mission meshed well with our own values, so we registered for three of their upcoming projects. After so many rewarding stays in state parks over the years, we are excited by this opportunity to give back — with what sounds like a lot of sweat equity.

I’ll try my best to blog about each project individually, and as ever, you can follow us on Facebook, Instagram and/or Twitter for updates as we go.

Our Pandemic Caveat
We are traveling a lot less than we normally would, and as often as possible we choose destinations that offer ample outdoor opportunities, and are unlikely to be crowded.
When we gather with friends or family, we keep our numbers small, and we request honest communication beforehand about their comfort level.
We continue to wear masks in public and wash/sanitize hands frequently, and we limit our outings.
~ The rrrrOHHHHRRRerrrrs, March 2020 – ?

We started full-timing in August of 2015, but I didn’t think to do an annual review until the end of 2016, and it was just a listing on Facebook of places we’d visited. After that, I started using a quarterly format.

WheRVe we been? Our travels, 3rd quarter 2020

We put some miles on, y’all!

And thanks to friends in remote places, we were able to feel safe about where we stayed — a fair trade for making a big diamond around CO instead of spending time exploring it as we’d originally hoped to do this summer.

Just in time for fall, we drew you a leaf!
We went from TX to AZ to UT to MT to WY, and added our 40th RV state by spending a night in NB on our way back to TX.
RV miles traveled this quarter: about 4338
(Map does not reflect exact routing.)

1st major stop: 45 miles outside Kanab, UT, on private land belonging to friends of friends, who are now our friends

When I wrote last quarter that we’d planned to head northward to cool off, but didn’t really have a specific itinerary, our friends, David & Cheryl Goldstein of Landmark Adventures said, “Well, if you don’t know where you’re going, why not stay with us on the way?”

It was impossible to argue with that kind of logic.

They’d set up housekeeping in southern UT, on land belonging to fellow Escapees, Cindi & Roger, who we’d somehow managed not to meet at the Escapees Baja Mexico Hangout that we all attended in February, but we quickly made up for that lost opportunity during our very private, 12-day “Socially Distanced Unofficial Hangout Limited to 6 Escapees.”

Getting to our secluded enclave involved a 45-minute drive out a dirt road, from a point that was a 30-minute drive from the nearest town. Now that’s remote!

Getting into our designated site was a challenge that required navigating tight turns, narrow pathways, tree branches, and the other two RVs.
Tim likes to call this video “How I performed a 187-point turn into a tight spot in only two minutes.”
(We were aiming for that yellow square.)
I like to call it, “Keep your eye on your wife, and you might get a fun little dance at the end.”
The view from the property was well worth the parking hassle.
Got a little warm inside the RV, though.
Usually means it’s time to head north when I shout, “Honey, the coconut oil has liquified!”
We did some hiking through mystical rock formations…
(Location: Lick Wash Trail)
Location: Peek-a-boo Slot Canyon
… and rented one of these so that all 6 of us could go on a “motor assisted hike”
(Cindi & Roger drove their own).
Seriously, though. Who wouldn’t have a good time with a group like this?

2nd major stop: Thompson Falls, MT, for a birthday celebration that was worth the travel

We’d decided months and months before we’d even heard the word “Coronavirus,” that one way or another, Tim was going to find a way to be with his parents for his father’s 80th birthday in August.

You think we’re moving targets? You should try keeping track of my in-laws!

As it turned out, we were able to meet in Montana to celebrate about two weeks early, with the added bonus of doing so with one of Tim’s sisters and her husband.

So many of us missed multiple milestone events with our families this year. We are exceptionally thankful that this one happened.

Tim and the Birthday Dad at Kootenai Falls
Tim, his mom, dad, brother-in-law, and sister shaking things up on the swinging bridge,
just downriver from the falls
We climbed all over Thompson Falls, and let the record show that Tim’s folks
went up even higher than I did.
Pretty little riverside town.
Visit Thompson Falls
From Thompson Falls, we made a long day trip to Glacier National Park.
The marmot wanted Tim’s dad to put down the camera and just let him into the rental car.
He clearly knew that cars and humans mean food, and he was not wrong.
We did indeed have a whole day’s worth of snacks onboard.
Now if this guy had asked?
I think we’d have let him have all the snacks, and probably the car too.
“Just take the keys, Mr. Grizzly, sir. It’s allllll yours.”

3rd major stop: Meeteetse, WY, on private land belonging to friends we’d met in January

Hey, remember when we helped clean Carlsbad Caverns by picking lint with teensy little paintbrushes? That’s where we met Debra & Larry, and learned that they own 20 acres of property about 30 miles south of Cody. But when we parted with, “Hey, we’ll let you know if we come your way in our travels,” we didn’t really know it would be so soon.

But summer safety this year meant avoiding crowds, and Wyoming makes it really easy to do that (population of the state of WY = 1/3 population of the city of San Antonio).

We thought we’d boondock on Debra & Larry’s little piece of paradise for about a week, but it turned into a whole month!

Not only is Meeteetse small, but our location was on a gravel ranch road, about
4 miles from the heart of town.
A typical experience: evening drinks and shared dinners at the pole barn
The lifestyle common to our friends, both Wyoming natives, was not typical at all for us.
What a gift that they shared so many of their experiences with us.
These included a 7-mile hike with two humans on foot, two on horseback (I took this photo from the saddle, y’all!), three doggies, and a random herd of cows…
… fishing for our supper …
… canine assisted kayaking …
… stand-up paddle boarding …
… making chili using ground elk instead of ground beef or turkey …
… and making judicious use of an outhouse, which allowed us to save enough space in our black tank that we didn’t have to find a dump station until we were ready to leave,
which was 3 weeks later than planned…
… but was also just in time.
Debra texted us this pic of our “yard” just a few hours after we left on Labor Day.
We knew the storm was coming, and we made it eastward to Casper in time.
We woke up to about 4″ of snow there the next morning.
Debra & Larry got 4-6 feet, and couldn’t open their RV door!

Where to next?

Wellllllll, we’ve got medical appointments keeping us in San Antonio through the first week of November.

After that, we’re not sure. We’ve talked about moochdocking with friends in Pensacola, FL, for part of the winter, or boondocking in the southwest. The latter would put us in better position for a springtime run up to WA to visit family there, as we missed our older boy & his girl this year, along with Tim’s other sister and her family.

We’ll figure it out, and as ever, you can follow us on Facebook, Instagram and/or Twitter for updates as we go.

“It certainly was not the summer we had planned, but it was the summer we needed.”
~ that wise friend mentioned above, David Goldstein

We started full-timing in August of 2015, but I didn’t think to do an annual review until the end of 2016, and it was just a listing on Facebook of places we’d visited. After that, I started using a quarterly format.

Volunteering during the pandemic: our month at Escapees CARE

At a time when the world is quite literally ailing, we were able to experience a little healing by occupying our minds, hands and hearts in service to others.

The mental and emotional balm was invaluable, and that alone would have been compensation enough for our work, but we gained so. much. more.

Wait. Escapees what?

There’s this quite remarkable place in Livingston, TX, called the Escapees CARE Center, and if you’ve attended an Escapees or Xscapers event, you’ve probably heard of it, and maybe even thrown some money toward a fundraiser for it.

It’s not where old RV’ers go to die.

It’s where they go to live better, longer — in the comfort of their own RVs.

So maybe before I explain to you what we did at CARE, I should explain to you what CARE is.

It stands for Continuing Assistance for Retired Escapees, and its mission, straight out of the employee/volunteer handbook, is “to provide a home for Escapees members who are no longer able to travel due to their age or disabilities. The purpose is to allow them to remain in their own RV home while receiving support services that will enable them to continue to live independently.”

And from the web site, “CARE is a place where you will receive professional help for the things you may no longer be able to do. It is not a nursing home. Its goal is to delay or eliminate the need for a nursing home, or assisted living.”

It’s a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that includes both residential and adult day care (ADC) programs, and it’s been in operation since 1995. (More FAQs)

During our time there, there were 52 residents in 40 RV sites (of an available 60), and although the ADC was closed during our first 3 weeks, we were able to help welcome back about 8 clients as quarantine restrictions eased.

How’d you get into it?

I must have seen a plea for volunteers in one of our RVing Facebook groups.

We were attracted by the opportunity to give back to the Escapees community (y’all, we get far more value out of our annual membership fee than the $40.00 we put in), as well as by the volunteer requirements and benefits.

Volunteer Row at CARE
We were provided a 50-amp full hookup RV site, three meals a day, and access to a free washer & dryer.

We knew we’d be serving on a team of about 8 volunteers, each putting in 24-32 hours a week, to help provide some of the benefits CARE offers its clients: assistance with daily tasks, meals, errands, and appointments.

We completed our applications in July 2019, and got on the roster for the month of May 2020, knowing that we could zip over to Livingston after our usual annual visit to San Antonio in April.

Little did we know then how unusual the spring of 2020 would be!

Were you worried about COVID-19?

Yes, for a few reasons.

  1. CARE residents are an at-risk population due to both advanced age and to underlying health issues. Contracting or inadvertently transmitting the virus were real concerns.
  2. Group activities and outings had been all but eliminated at CARE because of social distancing and sanitary protocols, and no visitors were allowed. This made us wonder if we’d even have enough to do to make it worth the risk of Item 1.
  3. What if the virus resurged while we were there, and quarantine orders were extended? Would we be able to shelter in place beyond our month-long commitment?

After lengthy email and phone discussions with the volunteer coordinator, we were assured that reasonable precautions were being taken to keep residents, staff, and volunteers safe.

We were also assured that although volunteer duties had been minimized, our assistance was indeed still needed and that there’d be space for us should we have to extend our stay.

Benefits outweighed risk, so we went.

How was your first week?

A little lonely.

We abided by the staff nurse’s request to self-quarantine for 7 days upon arrival.

On the 8th day, we were ready for training, and after that, it was daily temperature checks, social distancing, and judicious use of masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer for all.

A few crafty CARE residents had their own mask production line cranking away, and we were issued a set.
Yeah, mine’s on upside down. It was just for a quick selfie, OK?
(Top R photo credit: Escapees CARE, Inc.)

So what kinds of things did you do?

We rotated on a 4-team, 4-day roster that included Driver/Honey-Do Day, Backup Driver Day, On-Call Day (24 hours), and a day off.

Most of our duties revolved around meals. The dining hall was open only for a sparsely attended continental breakfast for our first ten days, so we helped take orders and deliver lunch and dinner to residents’ RVs.

When the facility reopened for noon and evening meals, at reduced capacity to enforce social distancing, we volunteers then juggled jobs as order takers, servers, deliverers (for those who weren’t yet comfortable dining in), and cleaner-uppers.

Photo credit: Escapees CARE, Inc.
When I say we “took orders,” what that really means is that we checked in with each resident every morning to find out whether they wanted the daily lunch and dinner offerings — or not.
The big meal of the day was served at noon; a light supper in the evening.
I did not cook all month.
Dessert twice a day? I’m in!
Oh, and one of our volunteers brought in dozens of fresh doughnuts at least once a week, and all this is my way of telling you that I am dieting now.

On driving days, we made use of the CARE minivan fleet to take residents to necessary appointments. Some days, because of quarantine closures and/or cautious residents, there were no outings at all. This was a big change from usual operations*, when we’re told all four minivans were in and out all day long.

*One of the residents, Ms. R, referred to the time before the pandemic as “back when things were cool.” Can’t begrudge her that! It was cool when we could get together at will with our friends for movies, shopping, potlucks, and game nights. Make no mistake that the aged among us feel the isolation deeply, and in ways we “whippersnappers” can’t even appreciate.

That big bus is for the center’s weekly group trip to Walmart, which was reinstated while we were there, but limited to half the usual number of residents.
Tim and one of the other volunteers had to spend some time convincing the chair lift to get its butt back in action, and I’m proud to say they were successful.

As for honey-do’s, those were tasks that tended to fall outside the realm of usual volunteer duties, and we were welcome to tackle them if we felt comfortable and/or skilled enough to do so.

After nearly 6 years of dealing with our own RV issues, Tim the Tool Man can — and did — tackle a wide range of repairs. Let’s see… he attacked roof damage, a window leak, a dead coach battery, a water hose leak, and a floor register clean-out, among other things.
This wobbly dining table didn’t stand a chance.
And now it stands firmly!

What about other memorable happenings?

Mother’s Day fell on our first weekend on duty.
There were flowers, hand made cards, enthusiastic chalk decorations, and a special lunch of barbecued ribs.
Since we were the couple on call (read: in charge) that day, and I wanted the residents to get to know us better, I put up photos of each of us with our mothers, plus the two boys who made me a mom.
Two of our volunteers brought karaoke (CARE-aoke?) to our Friday afternoons.
I sang!
I normally don’t.
But ummm… my audience included folks who don’t see well, hear well, or remember well, and that struck me as a pretty safe combination for my lack of talent.

So. Much. Gratitude.
They thanked us every day for our service to them — in person, in writing, and even in a couple of ginormous steaks (Tim wouldn’t accept money, and Mr. L wouldn’t accept that Tim wouldn’t accept money, so he gifted us with porterhouse steaks in appreciation for a roof patch-up).
And no, I have not left Tim for someone named Kevin.
There was a mix-up at the beginning of the month with another volunteer couple, Kevin stuck, and in a population that neither hears nor remembers terribly well, it was easier just to roll with it.
She Who Must Be Obeyed?
Look.
All I said was, “Maybe the volunteer in charge for the day should wear a special hat.”
I was thinking CARE ball cap.
But a fellow volunteer grabbed two pieces of scrap paper and fashioned me a crown in about 12 seconds.
It’s like she knew me or something.
This.
This is what it’s all about at CARE: the relationships.

We learned so much. We listened, we gave comfort, we cried, and we laughed. We made friends and shared stories. We were given a sense of purpose at a time when we needed to feel needed.

And we’ll do it again.

We haven’t chosen a month to commit yet, but we really want to go back and see how it feels during non-pandemic conditions — when things are cool again. (Hat tip to you, Ms. R!)


Interested in furthering CARE’s mission?

¡Vámonos! Our RV caravan to Mexico

What was our biggest fear about taking our RV across the border for the Escapees Baja Mexico Hangout in San Felipe in February?

(screen cap: Apple Maps)

Welp, as two people who quite happily roll by the seats of our pants, often departing for the day’s drive rather giddy with the notion that we have no idea where we’ll be sleeping that night, it was the massive level of planning required.

Dios mío, the paperwork! Some was new, and some we just had to ensure was accurate and up-to-date, but the list was impressive: passports, Mexican tourism cards, Mexican liability insurance, driver’s licenses, registration, and US insurance.

Our group members also had to figure out what to do about weapons, alcohol, and other items that are prohibited/restricted in Mexico; about drinking water; about pets; about cell service, fuel, and groceries. As with any type of foreign travel, the more you prepare, the fewer unpleasant surprises you may have to deal with in a country whose customs and language are not your own.

Luckily, our Escapees Hangouts directors rose to the occasion as they have for prior gatherings, and made sure — via social media, email, an event web page, and even a live webinar Q&A — that very little was left to chance.

I won’t fill this post with all the decisions we made and actions we took for every little aspect of the trip. It’ll take forfreakineverrr, and I’d rather get to the good part: the pictures.

However, if you’re considering an RV trip to Mexico, and you’ve got specific questions, first read the FAQ on our event’s web page, and then feel free to ask how we personally handled that issue by posting a comment below. If I’ve got an answer, I’ll tell ya. If I don’t, I’ll shout, “Hey look at that giant margarita over there!” to distract you, and then we’ll laugh and laugh because I am so hilarious.

And now, the photos. ¡Ándale!

We gathered in a mall parking lot in El Centro, CA, on the day before our border crossing, for a brief orientation with our directors, a radio check, and decal distribution. All of us dry camped in the mall lot that night (by previous arrangement with management) to be ready for our 0800 departure the next morning.
We used the radios to relay messages along our 46-rig caravan during the 140-mile trip, and the decals were used to keep us in numerical order for parking in the right spots at our destination, Victor’s RV Park in San Felipe. Tim and I brought up the rear, hence the ULTIMO decal. It also helped our police escorts in Mexicali and San Felipe tell when our group was done passing through the intersections they’d kindly blocked off to ease our passage through their congested cities (another pre-arranged perk).
And that fourth shot is our view from the tail end, as everyone waited along the Mexico side of the border wall for the last of us to pass through customs and immigration, a process that took about 2 1/2 hours from primero to ultimo.
Like the other Hangouts we’ve attended (Maine and Carlsbad Caverns), this one offered scheduled group events.
1. Day trip to Valle de Los Gigantes, home to a forest of cardón, the tallest growing cactus in the world.
2. Service project planting 30 trees our group donated to our host town as a gesture of goodwill.
3. Margarita Throwdown, a $1/vote contest that served as a fundraiser for Escapees CARE.
4. Guacamole Throwdown, a $1/vote contest that raised all the money for those trees. (photo by V. Fillmore)
We also took a trip to the San Felipe Brewing Company, where one of our members was sporting the best RVing shirt ever, and I drank a hibiscus ale and a couple of other varieties that I no longer recall, but it was enough to make me kick off my sandals and dance to the live band. A lot. Looks like I also threw my arms up and shouted “wooooo” maybe a little more often than usual.
Ahem.
The great part of it all is that we went by bus, so none of us had to drive home.
And the hilarious part of that, given our tipsy-chummy state, was that they were school buses. Ha!
Unlike our other two Hangouts, this one offered several large blocks of unscheduled time so that we could get out and explore on our own.
Which we did!
We carpooled with a small group to these natural seaside hot springs
(photo by D. Lupton)
… we rode our bikes to the lighthouse…
… walked into town for tacos several times, because at these prices, it was cheaper to eat out than cook at home (70 pesos = about $3.70 USD, for not one, but four fish tacos)…
… and I spent some time in a bathing suit, with my ass in the sand and my margarita green toesies in the Sea of Cortez.

It was easy to love the colors of our little town on the Baja. Check these out:

I know at least a few of you are wondering if there were any “incidents”?

Ugh. Yeahhhhh, unfortunately there were two, and I didn’t want to mention them at all, because they did not detract from our fun, nor have they turned us off from future visits to Mexico.

But not mentioning them feels dishonest. So…

At a Mexican military checkpoint on our way back to the US, two members of our caravan had items stolen from their RVs during the inspection. And a few of the trees we planted were vandalized after we left, but later replaced by the volunteer organization we’d been working with.

We don’t blame Mexican culture for these incidences any more than we blame Boston culture for the time my friends had cash stolen from their hotel room, or San Antonio culture for the time my brother had the contents of his car stolen, or Austin culture for the three times our son has had his bike stolen.

Crimes of opportunity happen everywhere. If you already harbor fears of foreign travel, and assumptions about certain peoples, I know I’ve done nothing to dispel them. But hiding this part of the trip would feel like a crime on my part. So take reasonable precautions when you travel outside our borders, yes? Just like you would on more familiar soil.

This.
This is what we’ll remember about our trip to San Felipe: that we felt so welcomed by its people, and most especially by its small businesses and restaurants.
We were the third and final large group of Escapees RV Club members to stay in this seaside town over the course of a month, and it was clear that our presence was very much appreciated.

We’d go back!