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In The News

On the Road Anew

Category: RV News
Source: Philly.com
Publish Date: Sunday, August 19, 2007
Summary: It's a whole different crowd these days pulling up stakes and climbing into RVs to see what lies ahead.

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By Dianna Marder

Kathy Mitton planned her escape for two years.

When the school year ended in June, she left her job, sold everything and hit the road. After 35 years with the Monroe Township School District, she was through with teaching, finished coaching field hockey, and tired of being tied to her Gloucester Township home.

At 56, Mitton gave it all up, much to the chagrin of her 77-year-old mother, in exchange for life in a 37-foot motor coach, towing a PT Cruiser.

Now she's a full-time RVer, registered to vote in South Dakota, where the taxes are lower and the paperwork simpler, and living wherever she pleases for as long as she wants. She even joined a club called Escapees.

Time was when the typical RVer was a middle-income, retired, white Christian couple with at least two dogs. But under the dual influence of baby boomers redefining retirement and the already-elderly who are enjoying increased life expectancy, more RVers than ever are solo women, people of color, and gay or lesbian couples. Many are working as they travel, since clubs such as Escapees, which serve RVers with mail-forwarding services, discounts and discussion forums, have special-interest subgroups with names like Stonewall and Jews on Wheels.

More retired couples are staying on the road as they age, and more women over 70 are staying on even after they become widows. For this group, manufacturers are designing units with no interior steps for enhanced wheelchair accessibility.

And Escapees started CARE, Continuing Assistance for Retired Escapees, a day and residency program that helps full-time RVers delay or eliminate the need for nursing home care. Located in Livingston, Texas, CARE has everything from a cottage where members can recover from surgery to an Alzheimer's unit.

It's the willingness to help one another, Mitton says, that distinguishes folks who have made a lifestyle of RVing from those who are vacationing on the road.

"I haven't been out here that long," Mitton said recently during a call from Utah's Zion National Park. "But the friendliness and helpfulness of other RVers is something you don't find in every segment of daily life. They're a bit of a different breed - very social, very helpful."

Dixie Crownover, 67, who took to the road in 1993, after teaching on Long Island, N.Y., and in South Brunswick, N.J., couldn't agree more.

She and her partner, Karen Popp, 69, were in Egg Harbor last month for a rally with other members of the support group RVing Women.

Founded in 1991, the Arizona-based nonprofit publishes a bimonthly magazine, offers toll-free phone support, and organizes rallies across the United States, Canada and Mexico for like-minded women.

During their four days in South Jersey, the group shared meals, played bocce, and went kayaking on the Mullica River. About five of the 80 or so attendees were newcomers, and as such, they became the lucky recipients of advice the long-timers learned the hard way.

Crownover and Popp, for example, are pros now at backing up, squaring turns, and emptying the wastewater tank of their rig. But Crownover says they owe their expertise, if not their very survival on the road, to the RVing Women club.

"RVing makes it possible for us to see the country and make friends," Crownover says. "And being members of RVing Women has changed our lives."

Crownover, who started RVing with a Volkswagen pop-up camper, now has a teal-and-pewter 40-foot Winnebago she shares with Popp and two dogs. It's equipped with two flat-screen television sets, a washer-dryer, and air conditioning, plus a cook's kitchen with microwave and convection ovens, a three-burner gas stove, double-door refrigerator and freezer, and pull-out pantry.

Units like this list for upward of $200,000 ($75,000 to $100,000 less if the unit doesn't have a diesel engine) and get just 7 or 8 miles to the gallon. Prices at the pump of $3 or more have strained their travel budget.

"We go less often," Crownover says, "and not as far."

They could always go "home" to Blairsville, Ga., where their 38-foot "park-model trailer" (the kind that isn't meant to move as much as an RV) sits in a gated, lakeside community.

But it's not all about the amenities.

Gina Casey, 51, lives and works in her 220-square-foot van. Casey ran a successful medical billing business from her Minneapolis home until last year, when her only son turned 20 and moved out.

"Then I gave away almost all of my earthly possessions," Casey says. "It felt fabulous. And the technology just totally rose to meet me."

With a laptop, cell phone, fax machine, satellite dish and roof antenna, Casey's still in business. She just doesn't stay still very long.

And Barbara Schow, a retired accountant from Orange County, Calif., is still on the road at age 74.

"If you don't like the weather, you move," says Schow, who lives in a 27-foot RV and belongs to Loners on Wheels, the oldest of the RV clubs, founded in 1969.

With a membership of 60 percent women and 40 percent men, Loners functions as an extended family.

"Otherwise, when you're in an RV park, you may have a couple on each side who are friendly, but they don't ask you to dinner if you're single."

Schow, who has 14 years on the road, teaches Maintenance 101 to men and women her own age and younger. She keeps her medical records with her and crosses into Mexico to buy prescription drugs and get dental work done. Her only worry is having to hang up her keys.

"I have many friends who have quit driving recently," Schow says. "Another friend plans to hang up her keys this year. The peripheral vision goes.

"Then you get an apartment and turn on the boob tube and sit in your rocking chair and count your pills."

She understands why some women wouldn't want to give up their homes for life on the road, but she's hanging on.

"Many don't want to give up their gardens or their china. To me, that wasn't important.

"I've been around the U.S. three times and I still find there are still people to meet, places to go."

Mitton, the Gloucester County native, says she doesn't know how long she'll live on the road.

"When I was teaching and coaching, I found I could tell when it was time to quit, and I think the same will happen with this RVing. I think I will do it as long as it is comfortable and I want to do it."

King (and Queen) of the Road

Clubs offer full-time, part-time, or wannabe RVers services such as mail forwarding, e-mail, discounts at RV parks, newsletters, get-togethers, and access to advice from seasoned members. Here are a few:

Good Sam Club: More of an auto club, Good Sam offers discounts on RV parts and repairs, group rates on RV and auto insurance, and emergency road service. www.goodsamclub.com

Escapees RV Club: http://escapees.com or 1-888-757-2582. CARE is Escapees' Continuing Assistance for Retired Escapees in Texas, careinc@escapees.com, www.escapeescare.org, 1-936-327-4256

RVing Women: www.RVingwomen.com

Loners on Wheels: www.lonersonwheels.com

Gypsy Journal: A bimonthly newsletter with articles on working, road repair, state and federal taxes, new products and more. Printed in hard copy with a shorter version online. Information at www.gypsyjournal.net

Life on Wheels: Sponsors conferences with instruction for beginners as well as advanced RVers on technical topics. http://rvlifeonwheels.com

Working: www.workamper.com and www.workersonwheels.com are two Web sites for RVers who want to work along the way in resorts, campgrounds, theme parks and other venues.

NAARVA: National African-American RVers Association, sponsors trips, rallies for part-timers or full-timers. http://naarva.com.

- Dianna Marder

Sitting keeps them moving

Former Californians Bill and Susie Davidson are on the road full time without even an RV to call home.

When they sold their suburban San Diego home five years ago, Susie Davidson says, "Our intention was to become homeless and unemployed. . . . And we've succeeded beyond our wildest dreams."

Bill, now 60 and a retired electrician, and Susie, 56 and a former high school secretary, live out of their 2003 GMC Yukon, which is filled with clear plastic containers of winter and summer clothes, and roam the country working as unpaid house-and-pet sitters.

From small towns (DuBois, Pa., in Jefferson County) to mid-size cities (Syracuse and Rochester, N.Y.) and on up to Boston, the Davidsons sign on for long-term house-sits of three months or more. They don't charge for their services, and they love animals so much that they won't take a "sit" unless pets are involved.

They didn't set out to become house sitters.

"We'd never heard of house-sitting," she says. "Our first idea was to rent long-term, and we did that in Alaska."

Then a distant relative in Boston called about needing a house sitter - and the Davidsons were on the road in quite a different fashion than Jack Kerouac described.

They use their son's home in Orlando, Fla., for voting, tax and driver's registration purposes, and they do all their banking online. Susie Davidson, who is a cancer survivor, keeps in shape by working out at various Curves locations.

The couple still have a small storage unit back in California with some of the stuff they were initially reluctant to get rid off.

"But in five years we haven't touched it," Susie Davidson says.

Early on, when the Davidsons were between house-sitting jobs, they stayed in hotels. Now they've racked up enough frequent-flier miles and bonus points to fill their in-between times with trips to Europe and the Caribbean.

Like many RVers, the Davidsons also work along the way. In Maryland, Susie Davidson worked in a toy store, and her husband's skills as an electrician put him in frequent demand.

"I don't know how we would do it," she says, "without our global positioning system."

- Dianna Marder

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