The Longest Year

May 16, 2022
the longest year

At this moment I am sitting on a perfect beach in Destin, Florida. The waves are calm today, unwilling to roll more than a foot of turquoise swell. The gulf is waist deep for a hundred yards, alternating light blue and medium blue with the sandbars.

Our campground is beachfront property. Two weeks ago I stepped out of the motorhome and began my first of many walks to the beach. Within the first dozen steps the sweet sensation of relief washed over me — that vacation had arrived — and the longest year of our lives had finally come to a close.

It’s more like the longest 16 months, but who’s counting?

the longest year
This dude catches a fish in 3, 2, 1…

Toward the end of 2020 Monica felt prompted we should buy a motorhome larger than the one we owned, and that we should spend all of our savings on it. I rejected the notion for awhile because it sounded highly illogical and I had grown close with our savings account. It took a few months for the spirit to work on me, but eventually I caught the vision. In February of 2021 we purchased a 2013, 40 foot, Class-A Newmar house on wheels in Poquoson, Virginia. We couldn’t have found one much further from Seattle. Mapquest it and see. Because it was winter the mountain passes in Washington and Utah were sketchy, so I routed along the I-40 through Arkansas, New Mexico, and eventually SoCal. It was a five-day, 3700 mile, musical odyssey you can read all about if you’re bored.

We knew our lives were about to change, but we weren’t quite sure how it would all play out. During the month of March we began to pack our belongings in anticipation. Room by room we boxed up anything that wasn’t necessary and stowed everything away in part of the garage.

A few weeks later I was prompted by the spirit to apply for a position we’d been considering with the VA Travel Corps. We gathered the paperwork on a Friday to submit on Monday morning. Monday afternoon they called to scheduled an interview. A week later we had the job. It was early April.

the longest year

By early May the firm offer arrived while we were on a boat in Hawaii. We accepted the job and 30 minutes later we were swimming with dolphins. We cackled like mad idiots as excitement washed over us. We were going to live on the road and see the country. What a crazy life!

By that night the stress arrived. We had six to eight weeks to sell our old motorhome (like gypsies we had two RVs parked in the driveway), fix up our house for rent, and get our affairs in order to live full-time away from a permanent address. The tonnage of tasks were overwhelming. We found ourselves making a lengthy to-do list while on vacation, which is hardly a relaxing activity. Honestly, it ruined the rest of the trip (but the Big Island of Hawaii didn’t help — there are better islands).

My life quickly became a list of chores built around a full time job with an hour commute. I painted the house, barked the massive flowerbeds, graveled around the garage, battled the worst weed problem the world has ever known — seriously — pressured washed the driveway and patio (no small task), had the boards in the patio replaced, had new windows installed, had a new heating system installed, pruned the six thousand rhododendrons in the yard, cleared the woods of fallen branches, packed our workshop with everything we owned, and hauled eight full-truckloads to the dump. Oh, and I had knee surgery to repair a wicked meniscus tear (from yard work, not kidding).

It was a nutty time; a fine beginning to the longest year of our lives.

the longest year

We didn’t know where the VA would send us first. They threatened downtown Chicago, then mercifully changed their minds — there are no RV parks within 45 minutes of Chicago.

We learned that Hot Springs, South Dakota was our first destination. Hot Springs sits at the base of the Black Hills, so this seemed like a terrific summertime destination. However, everyone else in America thought so also, and there were no campsites available. We eventually found a brand new RV park that was still in development. It was a dirt field with no bathrooms, but there was power/water/sewer, so it was livable.

the longest year

In January our two dogs had a singleton puppy named Guster.

We gave him away to family. Then we gave away our older chihuahua because she’s a rabid little beast that barks at everything. Our affable pug, Franklin, was now the only family pet.

Good intentions, right? Well, Guster was given back to us right before we hit the road. Then a month into our South Dakota assignment we learned our chihuahua wasn’t a good fit for the family with whom we’d placed her, so I flew to Seattle and brought her on the road with us. Bada-bing, we were back up to three dogs, only now in a motorhome instead of a 3,000 sq. ft. house.

Commence to life sucking.

the longest year

The damn shame of three dogs on the road is your life becomes three dogs on the road. Walking dogs and watching dogs destroy your motorhome is a terrible way to live, and sleeping with three dogs is a terrible way to rest. By the end of August we were distraught. It was 100 degrees every day, we were living in a red dirt mess, church was weird, sleep was in short supply, we got covid, online school was a challenge, and the dogs were sucking our time with their endless needs.

Everyone was struggling and Monica started contemplating a move back to San Antonio.

Money was better than ever, and we considered scrapping the whole affair. Mountains and lakes and caves and bison were all just up the road, but life was too hard to relax and enjoy it. We had a brand new dream job lifestyle, and had worked so hard to make it happen — God had put so many things in place for it to happen, clearly it was His plan — yet our routine was so arduous that Monica was desperate to escape.

Nonetheless we survived. Monica had a random conversation with a woman in the RV park from which she received pointers and some hope. We landed another terrific assignment in Charleston, SC, and managed to score the last long-term RV parking spot in town. The ward family at church was super friendly and supportive and we fit right in. The weather was fantastic. Blessings were abundant.

But those dang dogs kept everything hard. Monica was driving me to work 30 minutes each way, then taking Apollo to seminary for an hour. Aside from all her car travel she helped everyone with their online school — which was three hours time difference because were were on the east coast and the school was on the west coast. Her life was even more chaotic than before. The longest year continued.

We re-upped our contract and decided to stay another 3 months, and then the workplace drama started (mental health is hard enough when the staff are getting along). A new manager started scheduling me to work every Sunday, which meant I couldn’t take the sacrament at church, and my church calling began to suffer as a result. I always feel like a chump when I don’t perform well in my calling, and that guilt crept in hard over the next two months.

Then our son arrived home from his mission.

We added another large human into our tiny living quarters. It was wonderful to see him and have him home, but things absolutely got harder. The kids sleeping arrangement got tighter, the food budget went up, a new perspective was introduced to the mix, a new set of needs to meet.

In a rare moment of logic and nerve we decided to re-home Guster, which instantly offloaded stress. He was terribly cute and as soft as they come, but we just couldn’t handle his energy. We found him a great home and wish him well in South Carolina.

Then we put Parker on his own food plan that involved him learning how to grocery shop and cook for himself. This increased our work, but it was for a good cause. Parker turns 18 next year.

So things were going well enough, but then the motorhome started having mechanical issues. The bathroom fan failed, the jack system struggled, the battery died, and the toilet broke. We paid a mobile RV guy $700 to do something we could have done ourselves. Two days later we realized the supposed toilet repair caused a massive leak in our toilet that was flooding the under compartments of the motorhome.

BTW, there is no greater stress in RV life than an active leak. Well, maybe there is, but this is the worst for us so far. Monica was brave and tore into the insulation, and I fixed the toilet (and leak) myself.

Charleston was amazing, but the stressors never came to an end. The longest year continued.

Even after we completed the six-month Charleston work assignment I had to fly to Seattle with three of the kids to handle the kids’ testing for school, doctor appointments, car tabs, storage belongings, visit with parents and in-laws, and re-engage with the worst weed problem the world has ever known. My truck wouldn’t start and it was carpeted with moss inside.

Eight days were like eight years. My father watched me buzz in and out until I was an absentminded mess. As quickly as we arrived in town we blew out right back out, back to Charleston to pack the motorhome.

Two days later we commenced a ten-hour-drive drive across Georgia to the panhandle of Florida and slept sweaty in a Walmart parking lot. The next morning we attended church unwashed.

Two hours later we parked the motorhome at the campground, set up the campsite — exhaled — then walked to the beach for the first time. Vacation had finally arrived.

We just found a gigantic sea turtle at the beach.

It was easily the largest I’ve ever seen, maybe 100 years old. It has a huge barnacles on it, and a crowd of black and white striped fish were hanging out near his face.

A small group of lucky folks crowded around it for a moment and watched it dawdle along in perfectly clear waist-high water. After taking some photos we threw a purple football around for awhile and then sat under our little Tommy Bahama umbrella where the kids buried each other in the sand and I wrote this post.

Twelve days on a beach is good start, but not nearly enough to shake off the past sixteen months. Today is May 12th, and our next work contract begins on July 5th. Over the next eight weeks we’ll tour the Great Lakes region: Ohio, Michigan, Chicago, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Monica would prefer to stay on the beach all spring long, but the country is much too big for that kind of behavior.

We will visit the best roller coaster park in the country, the biggest water park in the country, four national parks, three major US cities, the Henry Ford Museum, the Rock n Roll HOF, three of the Great Lakes, the Great River Road, Chicago Waterfront, Belle Isle Park, Frank Lloyd Wright’s home, the biggest video arcade in the USA, and we’ll kayak through the caves in the Apostle Islands. At the end of it all we’ll drag ourselves out west to spend the summer working in Salt Lake City.

I’ve never been fond of the saying, “You can sleep when you’re dead,” but after the past year I get it.

I have no idea if this will ever be less stressful. Sitting on a beach in Florida isn’t the best way to figure how things will go. Besides, only the Lord knows what is coming down the path.

Ultimately our faith is in the Lord. He’s brought us all the way out here to do His work, whatever that may be. If He needs us to share the gospel, we’ll do it. If our kiddos need this experience for whatever their lives will include, we’ll make it happen for them. If showing people there is a better way is part of the plan, we’re on it.

We are so thankful that we can rely on Him to help us figure all of these things out while traveling around this incredible country. We are thankful even if it’s hard. We are thankful even if we grow weary and murmur from time to time. We are thankful even if the actual longest year is right around the corner. Hopefully that’s not the case (but we fear it is the exact case).

Mostly we’re thankful the Lord has a plan for us. In a world where we can rely on so little, we can put our trust in Him always and be happy.

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