West Ginny

1011319_4745883535406_1532815183_n[1] I made it to the mountains of West Virginia mid afternoon. There were short bursts of light rain that gave way to warm rays of sunlight which made the lush green hills surrounding me more vibrant. Though the scenery was strikingly beautiful, I have never driven on a road quite like this one. The highway felt like it was touching the sky and it was long and winding. Before every turn, it was hard to predict if I would be going on a steep incline or steep decline. I managed to keep my fear in check. Glancing at the fine mist rising over the hills reminded me to relax and focus. 1010019_4746722476379_1707135852_n[1] 8661_4745881695360_367800864_n[1] . 1016040_4746726076469_1623456976_n[1] After a few hours of driving, the hills finally gave way to a small town. I parked Eunice and took a look around. There were several mom & pop stores on the main road, modest homes scattered in the hills, off in the distance and a train going through the center of it all… slowly carrying heaps of coal! I stopped to look at at the endless piles of black rocks.  That’s the stuff that has built our country. It’s something I don’t get to see everyday. 1006255_4746733596657_730470140_n[1] I saw a billboard miles back advertising a Shoney’s Restaurant. I’ve always been curious about that chain so I decided to have an early dinner there. It was located by the tracks like everything else. Maybe, I’ll bump into an interesting coal miner to talk to. I walked into Shoneys and was promptly seated. Like many places I’ve been to before, it was a homogeneous crowd. The people were blue-collar and “down home”, what you would expect from a coal mining town. Even though I stuck out, I didn’t feel any eyes on me beyond a passing glance. The people seemed to be just minding their own business and enjoying their meals with friends and loved ones. My waitress quickly came to the table to take my order. I opted for the buffet and got right back up again. When I got to the buffet to fill up a plate, I was pleased with the country-styled selections offered. It was similar to Home Town Buffet, so, I was happy!

As I was piling up with fried chicken and mashed potatoes, one of the young, aproned attendants came out from the kitchen to replace a few entrees that were running low. He was slender, attractive, and mildly effeminate in his bearing. He looked at me with a warm smile and I politely reciprocated before looking at other savory dishes to cover my plate. I saw out of the corner of my eye that he was still looking at me. “How often do you retwist your dreadlocks?” he asked. Puzzled, I stopped what I was doing to take a good look at him. “Once a month” I replied. “They look really pretty!” By this time, he was wiping down the counters. I asked him how did he know about my kind of hair. “I know about dreadlocks, braids, relaxers… I go to cosmetology school when I’m not here.” he said with a hint of pride in his voice. I was impressed… I told him how awesome it was that I came to the middle of West Virginia and bumped into a random white guy who has an interest in black hair care. I could only assume that he will not be staying in this town forever.

After my meal, I hopped back in Eunice and drove to the other side of the state to reach my destination, Point Pleasant… home of the legendary Mothman. It was late in the evening when I got there. Tired from a full day of driving, I checked my navigation system and opted to set up camp in Gallipolis, Ohio, right on the other side of the Ohio river, where they had a Walmart.

When I woke up the next morning, I took out my phone and searched for gyms with a shower that I could grift. There was not a one! I couldn’t say that I was surprised, because though Gallipolis and Point Pleasant were both nice and quaint, they were out of many things that other places have spoiled me with, like free hygiene. I started to search for creative alternatives and found that there was a community pool with showers that would only cost me five dollars for a daily pass.

When I got there, I found that the showers had no stalls or dividers, just clusters of plain, energy efficient shower heads like my old middle school locker room. There was a campground with showers, but the manager wasn’t home, only her killer Chihuahua who growled and followed me around the grounds. Three strikes! I didn’t think I would have to go back to taking sponge baths in my van again, but it would have to do. My only consolation was taking perverse humor in being a naked lady on Main Street in the middle of the day… and nobody knew!

Spot the naked lady!

Spot the naked lady!

After grooming, I decided to step out and check out the little shops of Point Pleasant. Main Street had an all-American look and feel, like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting. It was lined with prewar brick buildings that housed antique shops and discount boutique stores with walk up apartments on the top floor. I even saw an American flag or two hung outside… and it wasn’t even July! Then I came upon my main attraction, the Mothman Museum. 1003996_4755260049813_1841364084_n[1]   480910_4755263409897_1960542977_n[1] 944179_4755531856608_1531632162_n[1] 1010695_4755533416647_807112829_n[1] The Mothman, by local accounts, is a creepy, supernatural creature with a tall, menacing moth-like body and large, glowing red eyes who haunts the area from time to time. People have seen him flying and making high pitched screeches, striking terror in those he chooses to encounter. The Mothman has been linked to several bizarre happenings; most notably, the Silver Bridge collapse in 1967 where 46 people lost their lives. I first learned of the Mothman upon the release of The Mothman Prophecies film in 2002, starring Richard Gere and Laura Linney. Of course, as with any Hollywood movie based on true events, there was a flood of articles, cable shows, and entertainment news segments saturating the media to pique people’s interest in the film and the folklore. Mission accomplished.

When I went into the museum, I was pleasantly surprised that it was like walking into a cool, hole-in-the-wall memorabilia store on Newbury Street in Boston. The atmosphere was quirky, fun and casual just like the patrons who took time from their travels to make the visit. The museum didn’t take itself too seriously and there was a statue of the Mothman hanging overhead to greet all who entered.

All around, there were countless of eerie artifacts, drawings, newspaper clippings, and even props and costumes from the movie. In the back, there was a dark room where you could sit down and watch an hour-long documentary about the Mothman that played on a continuous loop. And of course, tee-shirts were available to buy as a souvenir. By the front counter, there were two maps displayed that encouraged patrons to pincushion where they traveled from… I was amused to see that people people had come from ALL OVER the world! Weird stories reach far. 942349_4755272170116_624564377_n[1] 1016181_4755275490199_657750767_n[1] 1013728_4755299890809_819151960_n[1] 942341_4755278930285_823713071_n[1] 1017388_4755291290594_1925425861_n[1]

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Film costumes and props

Backroom documentary screenings

Backroom documentary screenings

Questions will always linger about who or what the Mothman is. There are several paranormal theories. Could he be an extraterrestrial, a ghost, a demon, or something that simply materialized because enough people started believing in him? Does it matter? Since there’s a sizable body count attributed to this entity, I say it’s best to leave it behind as a mystery and simply pray for God’s protection from things such as this!

I spent the next few days darting back and forth between Point Pleasant and Gallipollis. Apart from hanging out at McDonalds to people watch and go online, there really wasn’t that much to do. My only source of excitement was the uneasy feeling I’d get from driving over the Ohio River bridge and then making it safely to the other side. For the first time in my travels, I started to feel restless and bored and decided it was time to quickly move on. It was a bright Sunday afternoon and I figured a dash to the nearest city was what I needed. I couldn’t get on the highway to Dayton fast enough! My impulse was to floor the gas pedal, but I stuck to my rule of never going over 55-65 mph with Eunice. And it was a good thing, too.

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Over the Ohio

  Five minutes into my drive, I smelled a very foul odor in the air and wondered if there was a sewage treatment plant nearby. Seconds later, I heard a loud POP and my van suddenly dropped and tilted to one side. My tire blew out. I was able to maintain control and quickly pulled over to the emergency lane. I got out and took a look around my camper. My left, rear tire was half way stripped and the flapping rubber violently cracked my sewer valve and hit the sewer cap clean off. Not that you could call it clean. The sewer I had smelled was my own… and it trailed all down the highway!

I couldn’t believe my luck. It was like something in this town was keeping me from leaving. Of all the tires to blow out, it had to be that one! Of all the times during my travels that this could have happened, it had to be now! Seriously?!

Sidenote: I learned from experts that tires can blow out at any time even ones that are in good condition!  I had mine inspected before hitting the road and it still happened to me.  Never speed with your camper van or RV because it’s heavy and you need to be able to keep control if something unpredictable happens.  Never risk an accident.  For the other person involved, it will be just his car that’s out of commission; for you, it will be your home!  Be safe fellow gypsies!

Stops Along the Way: Part 1

Forgive me all, it has been two months since my last confession!  Much has transpired which is the reason of my hiatus.  Time goes by fast and even faster when you have much to do by a deadline.   My energies have been scattered between organizing my belongings, moving into my home on wheels, and being hit with the first Nor’easter of the season!

I’m happy to announce that I am now a full time RVer!  I intended to write a climactic entry the night before my big move (the last day of October), but a hurricane Sandy came along and knocked out my Internet connection.  I will not complain too harshly since compared to many others in my region, I got off easy.  It’s somewhat strange for me to think about how I had an idea to change my life only a few months ago and now I’m writing this entry from the inside of my new home.  I guess life really is that simple.  It’s only the stops we take along the way in our journey that makes change seem so complicated.

The morning after I gave my landlord notice, I woke up in sheer panic.  I originally planned to move out in the spring when the weather was warm.  That way, I would only have to focus on learning the basics of RV living.  However, I quickly grew impatient.  I didn’t want to put off tomorrow what could be done by the end of the rent month!  This would entail diving head-first into the world of RVing in the harsh New England winter… a winter that is forecasted to be one of the nastiest!

“What was I thinking?”, “I’m in over my head”, “Oh, My God. I’m going to DIE!” were just a few of the loops on repeat rattling about in my mind.   I was ready to tell my landlord that I had changed my mind, but a friend, thankfully, deterred me.  He said, “Second thoughts seed regret.  Roughing the winter will only make you enjoy the warm seasons that much more.”  Deep down, I knew he was right.  If I backed down from this, I wouldn’t have the same amount of respect for myself.  I decided to accept this challenge and moved forward with my plans.

I sorted through my belongings.  I used the time-tested method of dividing my things in three piles: stuff to keep, stuff to sell or give away, and stuff to trash.  And boy, was I ruthless! I even gave away my beautiful crimson prom dress from Lord and Taylors that I held on to for so many years.  Goodwill was my place of choice because they employ the disabled.  I managed to whittle down my possessions to only what I needed and used.  I’m still not done.  As time goes on, I’m sure I’ll shed a couple more items out of my camper van.  Mind you, I still have a small storage unit with some stuff from my previous apartment that has to be out in two weeks.  That’s right, I gave the storage people notice, too!

A few weeks before I moved, I researched winter RVing on the Internet and scanned message boards.  The most important thing I gathered was that winter RVing was possible.  I picked up some very useful information, such as getting a propane efficient catalytic heater instead of relying on my RV’s furnace and the joys of windows insulation.  I still felt a little shaky and I decided to get up from behind my laptop to find a real person to speak to about this matter.  I did a Google search for RV places in my area and I found Long View RV in Windsor Locks and decided to pay them a visit.  I’m glad I did!

When I walked in, I felt a good vibe about the place.  If I didn’t, I would’ve walked right out.  The shop was clean and inviting with rows of RVing equipment and bottles and bottles of different RV stuff displayed on the selves.  I was greeted by Marie who was sitting behind the check out counter.  She was warm, friendly and easy to talk to.  Marie enthusiastically showed me around the store even though she was new and wasn’t able to answer any of my weird winter camping questions.

She noticed that I pulled up in a Coachmen and told me of a salesman with the company by the name of Jake who has sold Coachmens throughout his career since the 1960’s.  She sent for him and he came from his office to meet me.  Jake is an overall attractive gentleman, charming, and with a glint in his eye.  Call it a Cloud Atlas moment, but I immediately sensed something special about this man.  Marie told Jake of my intention of becoming a full time RVer this winter… in Connecticut.  “No, you’re not!” he said in a dry, humorous fashion.  I couldn’t help but laugh because we both knew that what I’m trying to do is a little bit crazy.  He saw that I was all in, and proceeded to coach me.  I was advised on the harshness of our weather and the challenges it would pose to comfortable mobile living.

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 J.C. and Jake

There were a few options I could take, but Jake’s top recommendation was winterizing and dry camping (living in your rig without using running water or plumbing). I first recoiled at the idea, but it seem much more favorable than insulating and constantly monitoring my tanks and pipes to make sure they don’t burst on me.  I felt relieved that I finally had a course of action to follow.  On my way out, Marie handed me an accessory catalog and recommend I attend their upcoming  free RV winterizing class.  Jake followed me out to the parking lot to tell me something. He smiled and said that I had more “cojones” than he did.  I was charmed, but since he knows his stuff and I don’t, I didn’t know weather to be flattered or a be little scared for myself!

I attended Longview’s winterizing class that was held in a large room above the store.  Free donuts were provided, so already, I was excited to be there!   Not surprisingly, most of the attendees were in their 50’s and up.  Joe, the shop’s Service Manager led the class.  He started off by emphasizing that there is more to winterizing an RV than just loading up your tanks and pipes full of antifreeze.  He then proceeded to cover how to use all the cogs and sprockets needed to get the job done right.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was waaay over my head.  I decided to cut out of class early and headed down stairs to schedule an appointment with JC, the service adviser.

The night before my big move,  I organized my belongings (more or less), and moved them in the RV under the cloak of night.   Change was in the air.  I was nearly overcome by a strange combination of stress and excitement… sort of the same feeling I got when I was about to get married, but unlike then, I knew that I was making the right decision.

In the morning, I took pictures of my empty place (a habit before leaving any rental to protect myself), dropped off my keys and headed off to work.  My day was like any other before then, but somewhat surreal.  I felt lighter but with a feeling of uncertainty since I wasn’t sure where I would sleep for the night.  I have options and since my camper van could fit into regular parking spaces that bigger RVs can’t, I could easily boondock.  However, I didn’t want to deal with the nuances of stealth parking right out the gate.

During my lunch break, I did some research and it turns out there are other retailers besides Walmart that allows RV parking overnight.  I found a store that is very RV friendly, safe (well lit with cameras everywhere) and super convenient in location.  I called up the store’s manager and asked if campers could stay for a few days.  “Stay as long as you need!” he said.  I was happy and relieved; it was one less thing to worry about.  For the winter, I was planning on renting a space in the parking lot of a multifamily house converted into an office building, but why spend the money?  I decided no more rent… period.

The work day came to a close and my first night was coming upon me.

To be continued…

Home Sweet Home

I’m excited to say that I have bought my new home!  This beauty is a 1994 Ford Coachmen… her name is Eunice.  She’s a fully self-contained camper van with a teal interior, my favorite color!  When I went to put down a deposit, it was not a moment too soon!  A retiree and his friends pulled up to the curb where my van was displayed for sale, ready to buy… just as the previous owner, Rich, was writing up my receipt!  I listened to my gut that this RV would get snatched up by someone else that weekend if I didn’t act and luckily, it paid off.

The owner was asking for $8,000 and my mechanic (who kicked in negotiation services for free) talked him down to $6,800.  It was worth every penny.  Rich took very good care of Eunice and used a storage facility every winter, thus allowing her to retain a relatively youthful appearance despite her maturity.  She rides smooth!

I picked up my RV a week ago before heading in to work.  I bought locally (what I now strongly recommend) so it wasn’t a big deal, time-wise, to meet Rich at my bank, transfer the title, and go to the DMV that morning.  I pulled into my company’s parking lot as if I were riding in on a chariot!

My coworkers were a little surprised that I didn’t have much fear or difficulty transitioning from a small Yaris to a large van.  Before I picked it up, it was a concern of mine, too.  I reminded myself that I first learned how to drive using a 1988 Toyota van.  However, that was a long time ago.  I also did a few visualization exercises of me driving on the road with my RV while being at ease and in complete control.

When I  first sat in the driver’s seat, I made a decision to deliberately force myself to do everything that intimidated me while driving my RV.  I did this more out of laziness than brazen determination.  It’s just too much work to avoid scary situations rather than simply overcoming them.  I saw a nice parking space between two cars at work, but the side of the building across from the cars were really close; going in and out of this space with a big vehicle would be very awkward.  I tried to pull in anyway and, of course, I had to reverse and pull forward about ten times as people watched, but darn it… I made it in!

Highways were not a problem, because I took my honey sweet time driving.  My approach to being behind the wheel had changed overnight! Instead of zipping  and ducking out of people’s way (as I had with my Yaris) I joyfully take my time on the road at a leisurely pace.  Staying around 55 to 65 mph is the sweet spot for me.  I noticed that people gave me my space on the road.  I made my first lengthy trip, an hour and half  to New York, near the city.  I took the tree-canopied lanes of the Merrit Parkway … it was a beautiful drive.

Phase One of my gypsy plan has been accomplished.  Next on the horizon (Phase Two) is to break from the nine to five, and then (Phase Three)… live the dream!

Yesterday, I gave my landlord notice that I’ll be moving out at the end of the month.  Wait… I have a lot of stuff to get rid of!

Side Note: About a month ago, I was having lunch  at a restaurant with *Candie, a good friend of mine. I think one of the reasons why our friendship is so interesting is because she’s the exact opposite of me: conventional, prudent, and steadfast in temperament.  When I told her my plans of going nomad, a peculiar look washed over her face that I had not seen before.  Her brows furrowed, mouth slightly down turned, yet no hostility in her eyes.  She had questions and I answered them the best I could.  I pride myself on being able to read people very well, but in this case, I was stumped!  Afterwards, I couldn’t help but think of this poignant scene from Pulp Fiction.

*Name changed to protect the innocent and infamous

Baby Steps, Big Leaps Part: 2

“This man lives full-time in his RV, has no rent, no car payment, and can live wherever he damn well pleases?”, my mind raced as I read through the article.  I was pleasantly surprised by the photo of Glenn Morrissette’s home on wheels.  It was a 19 foot, fully self-contained camper van.  I never knew RVs came in that size… I thought they were all large and imposing.  With a motor home that small, he really could drive and (most importantly) park wherever he wanted!

I felt a sense of relief and validation.  Here is someone who is free, self-sufficient, and enjoying life on his own terms.  I felt a rush of inspiration… This is how I want to live!  Wait, could I do that?  It couldn’t possibly be that easy to have an idea to completely change your lifestyle and then simply do it.  I felt that it was best to bounce this off of someone whose opinions I respect.

I casually mentioned the idea to my closest friend, *Mae over the phone during one of our lengthy conversations.  She is much older than myself, a wise maternal figure who has helped me navigate through a lot of rough spots in my life.  “Ugh… You’ll have to empty the poop!  When I had my camper 30 years ago, I absolutely hated it.” she said.   Of course… the poop! I hadn’t even considered that and became equally disgusted at the notion of opening up a camper’s sewer line.  I also found this process, of which I knew nothing about, intimidating.  And that was that, I was deterred.

That was over a year ago.  Looking back, I regret not pushing forward with my idea despite my little hang-ups.  I couldn’t blame Mae for being discouraging because her intent was to save me from unpleasantries that make grown men gag.  Remember what I said about listening to your gut at every turn?  Do that.  If you listen to other people over what you feel tugging at you inside, you will be setting yourself up for a very sad and miserable life.  Friends and family (for most people) mean well, but they’re only capable of giving you advice from their point of view, slanting towards what would be important to themselves.  It is almost impossible for them to deeply understand what would be truly important to you. You must always keep that in mind, doubly so if you’re considering doing something that’s off the beaten path and unconventional.

Also, don’t wait… take action as soon possible!  Never leave a life decision on the shelf.  The thought came to you when it did for a reason.  I’ve found that whenever I waited to execute a decision,  the task only became more difficult to pull off down the road.  When I worked in real estate, I waited to pursue a Broker’s License and the state raised the class hour requirements.  I waited six months to divorce my ex husband and the economy tanked.  I waited to shop for an RV, and now must sell my car first instead of after because my savings account just ain’t what it used to be.  Whether you have to take baby steps or big leaps… Don’t wait!

Thankfully, I managed to land on my feet.  Things are good… but they could’ve been better.  I was hired for a job eight months ago that allows me to use some of my creative talents.   For the first time in my life, I go to a 9-5 that doesn’t make me feel a sense of dread on Sunday nights!  It’s a nice place to be, but two months ago, I felt something familiar tugging at me.  My thoughts went back to Glenn Morrissette.  This time, I dug deeper and started following his blog.  Though content with my current situation, I knew in my soul that I have to move on.  FIRST GOAL: Replace car with an awesome camper van.  Baby steps…

Side note – I saw this movie when I was fresh out of college and loved it!  Hmmm… Perhaps it had planted a seed in me?  Lost In America

*Fictitious name to protect the innocent and infamous.