The Washington Post Sunday
In her 90s, she found a love for RVs
Recreational vehicles are not particularly welcome at my Florida condominium complex, but there I was in mid-April, eagerly waiting for the Minnie Winnie to round the corner into my parking lot. I had not seen my loved ones in many months, and my daughter, Harriet, and son-in-law, Adam, had just called to let me know they were close. With their arrival, I would be on my way home.
I never expected to find myself, at age 94, looking forward to an RV road trip.
My introduction to RV travel was quite a surprise. In June 2020, when I was the only resident left on my condo floor, travel plans took on an unusual sense of urgency. My family thought it was dangerous for me and my companion to fly on an airplane because of both my age and an underlying health condition. So they improvised.
On a mission dubbed “Operation Rescue Grandma,” Harriet and Adam drove to Naples, Fla., from Bethesda to collect me in a rented RV that slept seven. I had never been in one and was not enthusiastic about the impending trip. Moreover, I am fiercely independent. If I were a witch, I told my daughter, I would have flown home on a broomstick — by myself.
But now I am an RV convert, an RV girl. Even today, after having been vaccinated, I regard it as the best mode of travel for a nonagenarian. There are so many advantages: no suitcases to carry, no planes to run for, no exposure to other people, plenty of room for me and all my stuff. If I get tired, I just close my eyes and stretch out my legs instead of being stuck in the middle seat on a cramped airplane. It also appeals to my Depression-era sense of frugality: Most of the contents of my Naples refrigerator went straight into the RV fridge. Of course, RV travel takes time; luckily, I’ve got plenty of that.
Adam and Harriet paid $179 per night for the 30-foot Class C RV from Cruise America in Manassas and drove the 1,100 miles to Naples over three days. Before our journey back to Maryland, we had a family meeting to plan the menus, then made one last run to the grocery store. The meals were simple and tasty, with minimal prep time, which was good, because we were hungry upon arrival at each campground. (During the height of the pandemic, restaurants were out of the question.)
We began our trip on a Saturday morning and drove six hours the first day to the Pecan Park RV Resort in Jacksonville, Fla. We had eaten lunch while driving up Interstate 95, which saved time. The only stops made were to use the onboard toilet — it seemed safer that way — and buy gas. No rest stops were necessary, because the RV had roomy seating, which enabled the non-drivers to stretch out, relax and enjoy the scenery. Traffic was light, and the weather was good.
Once we stopped for the night, we had chores to do. A “full hookup” at an RV campground includes water, sewer and electricity. My son-in-law connected the water and installed a water filter so we could cook dinner. After we ate, the rest of us converted the table and seats into beds, which were surprisingly comfortable. Once the electricity was plugged into the campsite outlet, we could run the air conditioner as needed. Adam emptied our waste tanks, filled the water tanks daily and placed tablets in the toilet to keep it odor-free.
My favorite part of that first trip was our second stop at Huntington Beach State Park in South Carolina. Our assigned spot was a green space under a large tree, which seemed like an oasis compared with the cement pad in Jacksonville. I chose to use the empty bathhouse to shower, because I had discovered the night before that our RV shower was essentially a tiny closet. We were even able to take a stroll on the beach — only five minutes away — and breathe in salt air before we left the next morning.
The final night on our 2020 trip was spent at the Americamps RV Resort in Ashland, located about an hour and a half from Cruise America in Manassas. Along the way, we stopped at a Pilot gas station that had a dump station. This allowed us to empty the sewage tanks again and drop off the vehicle in clean condition, avoiding a dump fee. By Tuesday afternoon, I was home.
I thought that 2020 road trip was a one-shot deal. But as the days grew shorter and the nights cooler, Florida beckoned again. In January, my daughter and son-in-law bought a 2002 Minnie Winnie 31C Winnebago RV, which took me back to Naples. That return trip felt almost like a reunion with a different old friend. We felt like pros.
Come April, there I was, waiting for the RV to carry me home again. Unfortunately, that return trip was another story. Several hours after our departure from Naples, I heard what sounded like a passing motorcycle. But it was not a Harley-Davidson; it was our motor home. We drifted to a safe spot on the shoulder about 20 miles south of Ocala, Fla. The RV, which had been checked from top to bottom before we left, decided it was not going any farther.
My son-in-law called his insurance company, and we waited for help to arrive. There was actually an upside to the breakdown: I had time to do my daily exercises as we waited for the tow truck to arrive from Gainesville, almost 50 miles away. It got warm in the RV, so we went outside to sit among the wildflowers and grasses that grew by the side of the road — a safe distance from the traffic whizzing by at about 70 mph.
The gods must have been watching over us that day, because the tow truck arrived within two hours and took us to an
Ocala garage that does RV work. We called ahead to let the workers know we were coming, but we arrived after they had closed. Fortunately, we got the go-ahead to hook up to the water and electric on the outside of the garage, so that was where we set up camp for the night. Dinner was eaten in the parking lot between a school bus and another RV. After the long day and all the excitement, we were tired and went to sleep with the windows open.
I awoke the next morning in the garage parking lot feeling a little like E.T. But I wanted to do more than phone home; I wanted to be home. I was comforted by the fact that my son-in-law didn’t get ruffled. Our mechanic diagnosed the problem immediately. A spark plug had blown out of our engine, stripping the threads. The repair kit supplies were quickly obtained from the parts store nearby, and we were back on the road by noon.
The Cartersville Country Winery in Timmonsville, S.C., was our next destination. Because of the breakdown, we lost a night and had to forgo our reservation at the Pelican Roost RV Park at Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville. (My late husband, Bob, was a Navy vet.) We drove all day through the rest of Florida, into Georgia, then South Carolina. I was excited about sleeping in a vineyard, which brought back childhood memories of Peabody, Mass., where my grandmother had a few grapevines in the backyard. Back then, she made wine from the grapes left over after the neighborhood kids had picked them and thrown them at each other.
We had better luck. At the winery, we had a full hookup for the RV on a gravel lot next to the grapevines. The next morning, owner Tom Langston and his wife, Dawn, gave us a private tasting of several of their wines. We bought a mix-and-match case to take with us and were on our way north again.
As we drove through North Carolina and Virginia, I took note of the pine and redbud trees, forsythia, dogwoods and wisteria that were beginning to bloom. I wondered what would be blossoming at my house.
I have turned into an RV Grandma, Queen of the Road. To be an elderly RV traveler, all you need is a competent driver (I was fortunate to have family members who were both willing and able to facilitate my trips) and the flexibility to roll with any changes that arise on the road. My backand-forths between Florida and Maryland were exciting adventures — and were very different from the one camping trip I went on as a Girl Scout troop leader many decades ago. They made me feel brave and emboldened.
But I have to admit: It really felt good to get home.