If you’re watching the 93rd Oscars awards tonight, you might take notice of the movie “Nomadland” with six nominations, including best picture, best director for Chloé Zhao, and best actress for Frances McDormand.
The film comes across like more of a documentary because it features “real” people in the majority of the roles and many of them are portraying themselves … or some reasonable facsimile thereof. And that’s what drove Leah and me to make a theater visit – our first in 406 days. Our primary concern was whether the film presents a realistic view of what we do as seasonal workers.
The answer: Yes and no.
We saw things that reminded us of ourselves and of many friends we’ve made on the road. The jobs they portrayed were often similar. The comradery that can build between fellow nomads or migrant workers or seasonal workers was dead on.
The difference was that most of those featured in the movie are in a more desperate situation. The storyline is Frances McDormand’s character was forced to live out of her van due to an economic collapse. Money was hard to come by. For example, when one had vehicle troubles, it might be difficult to get back on the road without financial help from someone else.
While we are living full time in our RV, it’s a choice we made in order to trade in a more traditional life for things we wanted to see and experience. And, to be sure, the characters in the movie pursued those rewards as well.
As a side note, they filmed quite a bit in Badlands National Park, which we visited several times during the seasons we worked at Mount Rushmore. That was cool.
Summation: Take in “Nomadland” if you want to get another glimpse of the lifestyle we often talk about on this site. We’re confident the stories are accurate enough portrayals of what many people go through, but our own experience is simply not as desperate.
As was mentioned in the last post, Leah and I have bought a new RV.
It’s at times difficult to believe that we lived in the previous trailer eight and a half years, longer than we ever lived anywhere else. Over the years, we thought about trading it in, but we really liked it. Plus, of course, it was long ago paid for. However, small problems began adding up and we decided to take a leap into a different experience.
We didn’t just trade it in for something similar, though.
What’s been a recurring theme in Dream Chasing 101? Well, maybe there have been several, but one is that we have been able to pursue our dreams partly by downsizing our lives.
It was a bit of a process, but we talked ourselves into going from a fifth-wheel trailer with abundant storage and three space-making slides to a shorter bumper-pull travel trailer with little storage and no slides.
And guess what. It’s working and we’re happy with it.
To address the issue of going from a sizable closet to two mini closets, each capable of holding maybe eight shirts, we picked out an RV with a bunk room. The extra room is approximately the size of a double bed mattress and that’s exactly what goes wall-to-wall. There’s one about two feet off the floor and another about three feet above that.
We bought each of us two large and two medium plastic storage bins. Those and other things convert each bed into a personal closet.
Elsewhere, we cut back on some of the things we carried in the old trailer. I’m keeping a few items in the back seat of the pickup, which is easy during COVID when we’re not going out with other people. In other words, we’re making it work and we’re happy with it.
Bumper-pull trailers also carry a lower price tag and take less fuel for the truck. We’ve also found it easier to heat and cool, partly because the slides couldn’t help but create some air leaks. After we get more experience with it, maybe we can offer up more insight into the question of fifth-wheel vs. bumper-pull.
This is among the articles filed under “Travel Stories.” Click here to see them all and check back as we continue to add stories.
RV travel serves well to introduce one to all kinds of people, but there are some things that can be found just about anywhere.
Leah described them as sharks.
On the first day of February, we made a short pull to Los Fresnos, Texas. After checking in at the office and waiting for some site preparation required by the recently departed trailer, I drove the truck and trailer to the site and started backing in.
The angle wasn’t horrible but wasn’t great. I was backing it in on my right side instead of the easier left side. More than anything, it was the first time I backed our new trailer – now a bumper pull instead of a fifth-wheel (more on that in a later post).
I wheeled up and started backing in the general direction of the site. Pulled up some and started back again and … soon … the sharks began circling.
In our booklet, “Is RV life for me?” I related the story of a fellow who came up and insisted I let him finish backing in our first trailer the first time I tried. He said it was too painful to watch.
In our most recent episode, the neighbors from either side came out to gesture and advise. The guy across the street simply offered to move his pickup if that would help. Then the most knowledgeable of them all came up to my window and gave me point-by-point instructions until I had it in straight enough that I could finish it off. Leah said there was another man and two women who also circled for a while, but they never got in my way.
Once the trailer was parked, set up and utilities connected, Leah and I had a laugh over the circling of the sharks.
At least during daylight, it’s extremely difficult to arrive at or leave from an RV park without doing so under watchful eyes. It’s also not at all uncommon for someone to at least make their presence known should you have questions or need help. Some, of course, will just outright volunteer their opinions.
But in a park like this, where almost all the residents are retired, where you have roaming packs of old men with a dearth of people to order around, where the most exciting thing of any day might be watching someone back a trailer … well, you might as well expect to encounter sharks.
Three weeks after the entire state of Texas went into a deep freeze, the above thorny tree halfway between San Antonio and Corpus Christi is staking a claim on spring by sending forth young green leaves.
And that makes this a perfect time to review our little winter experiment, where we’ve spent a month each in four different locations.
Altogether, it’s a big win. I mean, this is what an RV life is supposed to be about.
November was spent in the community of Sargent, a fishing town on the Gulf Coast. We enjoyed walks on the beach and down a dirt road neighboring the RV park. There was a national wildlife refuge nearby. It was quiet and Leah even harvested a good supply of pecans. We very much enjoyed it, but don’t foresee a strong probability of returning.
December was on the outskirts of Three Rivers, located halfway between San Antonio and Corpus Christi and where the above photo was taken today. Yes, that means we returned here for March, partially because it’s centrally located to judging jobs we have scheduled. Unlike the other three sites, this RV park hosts few winter escapees; most of the RVers here are who we refer to as worker bees, which generally translates into quiet neighbors. While this spot isn’t quite as dependable as some of the others in regard to avoiding cold weather, it’s not bad. It’s quite possible we’ll be here sometime in the future.
January took us deep south, to the bayside community of Port Mansfield. We were already familiar with this area due to flipping a house here some 14 years ago. The park is nice and far enough from the water to somewhat diminish salt concerns, but there’s not much going on. Plus, it’s at least 23 miles to anything else. We’ve been here enough that it appears unlikely we’ll feel the need to return, especially not for an entire month. But we could.
February was our greatest experiment, staying in a full-fledged Winter Texan (read “Snowbird”) haven in Los Fresnos, near Brownsville, the state’s southernmost city. This was a vastly different setting, but COVID-19 restrictions kept us from experiencing most of it. Almost everyone in the nearly full 200-space park was retired and many were fleeing winter weather, which was one of our objectives, too. Even with the constraints of the pandemic, people met to play cards and shuffleboard, partake in pool exercises, go out to eat, etc. Leah and I continued to stay pretty much to ourselves, mostly getting to meet a few folks while taking walks around the park. So, yes, we’re planning to return here, even making reservations for next January and February. It’s not really the RV park that interests us (though having freedom to interact with others should make it more fun). There are some good hiking areas that we hope to explore further, but the main thing is being able to enjoy the area, including traveling into Mexico.
Our biggest takeaway is how nice it is to have an extended stay. The easy reason is financial because most RV parks offer monthly rates much lower than the daily rate. Not pulling the trailer every few days also reduces cost.
A prolonged stay means not having to rush to do things. We can recover from traveling, wait for better weather, and choose to do things we wouldn’t likely get around to during a shorter stay.
The ultimate use of this line of thought would be to spend the entire season, like three to six months. Many people do just that and even more thoroughly become part of their winter community. That may be down the road for us, but not yet.
We’re even more sold on the concept than when we started. It looks likely we’ll be able to work summer jobs this year, returning to the theme park in western New York where we’ve worked in the past. We’ll probably spend a month or so at a spot on the way home next fall and then head south again before the heart of winter.
Speaking of winter, the reason for heading toward the Rio Grande Valley was to hedge our bets on avoiding winter weather. That certainly worked. Temperatures where we spent last winter in central Texas got as low as 5 degrees and stayed below freezing for days … something difficult to deal with in an RV. In the Valley, we dipped to about 24 degrees for two nights but got above freezing in between. We were lucky, too. There were places in the area that lost electricity, but we never did. Yes, we felt a little guilty about getting through the winter storm so easily.
Check back the next day or two for a new Travel Story.
OK, we’ve been silent for a while. Let’s ease back into it with photos of cute kittens.
Whoa … no kittens here. Nope, this is an alligator family we spotted while strolling through San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge south of Lake Jackson, Texas.
You did see the whole family, didn’t you?
Here’s a keyed photo. Everyone saw the daddy gator (my guess as to gender) here in the blue circle. Many probably looked closely enough to recognize the baby gators in the yellow circle. More difficult to spot in a still photo is the mama gator, noted here within the red circle.
As mentioned in the previous post, we’ve had a thing for beaches. That means understanding not all beaches are like those featured in television commercials.
By my teen years, I had been on one beach. It was a single day in Galveston, a beautiful sandy shore that stretched on forever with a gentle slope into the waves. The summer before my senior year in high school, I spent a week in Santa Barbara, Calif., on the university campus a short walk from the Pacific Ocean. That walk took me to the top of a high cliff that looked down on maybe a small, rocky beach. Not how I had pictured it.
Leah and I spent the month of November in Sargent, Texas, at a small RV park some six miles from the Gulf of Mexico. More than 35 years ago, we lived in Matagorda County and visited Sargent beach two or three times, so we knew it isn’t a picture card beach. Regardless, if you’re willing to look, you can find goodies such as the large shell Leah’s showing off in the top photo.
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Oh, hello there. Yes, we’re more than a week into our next little adventure. Sorry to be so late checking in, but … well, let me explain.
Briefly, as Leah put it, we’ve rediscovered the power of change.
Due to the pandemic, we spent an entire year living in the same place. It was made worse – as every one of you should understand, if you’ve been respecting your fellow human beings by doing what you can to restrict the spread of the virus – by the fact we could do little other than hang out at home.
We’re not complaining … too much … because we recognize the value of swapping good times to increase the odds of living disease-free and, besides, we enjoy each other’s company. However, as good-natured as one might be, it does begin to drain one’s enthusiasm, particularly in light of hard-headed Americans bucking good advice and dragging things out longer than other countries.
Power of change
Monday of last week, I pulled the RV to Caney Creek RV Park in Sargent, Texas, a spot just five miles up the road from the Gulf of Mexico. Leah followed in our gas-friendly Chevy Spark.
After having our RV sit in the same spot some 362 days, Leah and I hooked it to the pickup last Wednesday and pulled out of the park that, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, stretched from serving as our winter home to our year-round home.
We then drove some 900 yards, according to Google maps, to get its state safety inspection. We then returned the trailer to its same spot – actually, about six inches farther back and two inches more toward the starboard side.
Someone brought up the topic of facing a pandemic while living an RV life, referencing an article from last spring that made it sound somewhat horrific.
It sounded to me as though the writer was trying to milk readers for pity. The fact is we’re all affected by COVID-19 and most experiences are different.
However, there are ways the virus might have an effect on full-time RVers.
* It may curtail your travel plans. This was particularly true early as restrictions were put into place to minimize movement in hopes it would slow the spread. Sure, they affected all travelers, but people whose life is moving town-to-town in an RV felt it more acutely. RV parks now, like other businesses, have adopted procedures and techniques to make it safer for travelers.