June 12, 2014

Plans for the Start of a New Life

After Tim’s last day at work on March 21, 2014, we had just over two weeks to finish getting the house ready to sell so we could leave Estes Park and begin our new life as full-time RVers.  Yes, we would still own the house, but we had no plans to live there again.

Those last two weeks were crazy, and exhausting.  I’ve sold several properties in the past and do not remember it being so hard.  We still had to finish downsizing.  We also wanted to leave the house beautifully staged so potential buyers could easily envision themselves living there.  After many late nights of packing boxes, many more runs to thrift shops and many trips to the storage unit, we were ready to place the house in the hands of our realtor.  We were also able to squeeze in a wonderful farewell lunch with Tim’s siblings and nieces who lived nearby.

Shall We Pack the Cat?

Saying "Good-Bye" to Family

Before we could list the house, however, we had a little ceremony to attend to.  My friend Jane had sent us little statues of St. Joseph and St. Jude.  According to tradition, sellers are supposed to bury St. Joseph upside down near the property line and place St. Jude near the “For Sale” sign.  Although neither Tim nor I really believed, we figured it couldn’t hurt, and we did as we were instructed.  We were open to anything that might help with the sale of the house.

When we turned the key in the lock one last time, we were very proud of what we had accomplished.  The house looked great, and we hoped that it wouldn’t be on the market too long.

The House Is Finally "For Sale"

A Few of the Listing Photographs

During this time we also had to finish preparing and loading the RV.  Luckily, it was pretty well-equipped from our Road Trip Ramble, so we didn’t have to start from scratch.  A trip or two to the Container Store, and we were mostly done.  We also had a few minor repairs and upgrades that we wanted to complete, which I’ll write about in a future post.  De-winterizing the RV had to wait until the last minute, since April temperatures in Estes Park remained below freezing.

On April 8, 2014, we finally left Estes Park to begin our new life.  We didn’t go far – just 33 miles down the road to Boyd Lake State Park in Loveland.  That was far enough.  I was so tired that I doubt I could have driven another mile.  But all of the work and effort was worth it.  I could finally begin to relax.

Our First Night as Full-Timers

We left the next morning and dropped the Subaru in Fort Morgan at Tim’s sister’s house.  We were headed to Rapid City, South Dakota, where we would establish our new domicile, get new drivers licenses, register the two vehicles and officially become residents of South Dakota.  Why South Dakota, you might ask?  It’s simple really.

South Dakota is one of three states (Texas and Florida are the others) that are particularly friendly to full-time RVers.  These states have no state income taxes, and obtaining residency is very simple.  We had already joined Americas Mailbox, a mail forwarding service that provided us with our “home” address.  That was where we were headed.

Our plan was to make a quick run to South Dakota, return to Colorado to pick up the car and head towards Texas.  Tim had been in contact with the staff at Big Thicket National Preserve in southeast Texas and was going there to prepare the park’s annual reports

We had several weeks to get to Texas and had mapped out a tentative route to visit interesting sights on the way.  Tim planned to spend two weeks at Big Thicket.  After that, we looked at slowly meandering our way back to Colorado.  We had a wedding to attend in Estes Park on June 21, and Tim’s high school reunion in Fort Morgan the following weekend.  We knew that there would be a lot of driving to make all of this happen, but we were excited that we would finally be on the road.

We also had a contingency plan in place if the house were to sell before we returned to Colorado in June.  I would simply leave Tim and the cat in the RV and drive back to Estes Park.  I could then pack up what was left in the house and meet Tim somewhere, or wait for him to arrive in Colorado.  It seemed like a plan that would work.

Well, you know what they say about those best-laid plans.  I’ll tell you in the next post.

June 11, 2014

Tim's Thoughts on Retiring

[Today’s post is by Tim.]

How would you go about the process of closing out your career?  

Ask yourself:  Why are you retiring?  When will this happen?  When should you inform your boss?  How much notice should you give your boss?  Which projects should you complete with the time you have left? What are the most important sets of information you need to transfer to the person who comes after you?  Whom do you need to consider for appreciation for getting you through a successful career?  What did they contribute?  Where do you go from here?

You need to work with your family to make it happen so that their concerns, goals and expectations are met, or at least considered.

In my case, these questions were all answered through what became a haphazard shoot-from-the-hip process that in the end worked itself out. I do not recommend this process.

My career in the National Park Service was 20 years long.  I was an archeologist and museum curator during that time.  Previous to my time in the NPS, I worked as an archeologist for universities and private companies throughout the Intermountain and Southwest United States for 15 years.  I acquired a B.A. and M.A. in Anthropology during that time.

Why did I retire from the NPS?  Here is some detail.  That portion of my life provided me with a certain amount of financial security for the future and for retirement.  My wife also contributes greatly to that (our) security.  So those goals are met.  I no longer need the security that this job provided. 

The most important goal during this time in our lives is to see more and do more and go more places, so the idea of full-timing in the RV was the most natural solution.  To make this a reality we knew that we would have to sell the house in Estes Park and live without a home base for some unknown time to come.  Selling the house in the spring made more sense than in the winter.  We knew we would need five to six months to downsize our possessions and get the house ready to sell.  I also wanted this long to give my supervisor time to consider hiring behind me to fill my position.  And I liked the idea of having this much time to finish projects I had started and to get the job into a position that could be taken over by my successor.

Another issue for me was (and is) my health.  I have survived two different cancers over the last six years.  And the stress at work was sometimes doubled when I did more than I needed to.  My skill set includes museum management and cultural resources.  Sometimes I was asked to do both at the same time.  And I just didn’t have enough patience to do both at the same time anymore.  So it was better to move on.

On October 22, 2013, I informed my supervisor of my intentions to retire, and that I would be choosing a date soon.  That date became March 21, 2014.  This gave him more than enough time to fill the position.

The next step was to determine which projects to prioritize for completion.  These were special projects that I had started which might not receive consideration by my successor.  These included a photograph database copyright protocol for the park, the museum collections emergency operations plan and a survey of the backlogged park research permit program.  I was able to complete these projects.

The program I managed needed to be streamlined, documented and consolidated for my successor.  Protocols for ongoing program operations had to be written.  Up to that point, I had not taken the time, or had the time, to attempt this.  Now it became a priority.

During my final week of employment, Rocky Mountain National Park held a retirement party for me and for another employee who was retiring at the same time.  This is a time when your supervisor and fellow employees get up to roast you so that you are embarrassed.  This only helped to verify that it was a good decision to retire and move on.  After all, you can’t go back.

Let's Celebrate

The park has a tradition of gifting to the retiree some kind of meaningful remembrance. Knowing this was going to happen, I suggested to my supervisor that since we were downsizing and would be living in the RV, something that would fit into my back pocket would be great, as opposed to the typical gift that fits on a wall.  So he came up with a Retirement Gift Booklet.

What a Wonderful and Thoughtful Gift

Thank You Rich

As you can see, it comes complete with two mugs to enjoy good coffee, a gift card to fuel the RV and another gift card to eat really good food.  A small manageable-sized landscape print was also included as part of the gift package.  Thanks to all, and to Rich and Sheri.

The park has a quilting club.  The club created this work of art for me and presented it during the retirement party.  The NPS also presents you with a carved arrowhead for your service. 

Thank You Kris

Closing Out a Great Career

During this whole long process it occurred to me from time to time that there were many people to be thankful to for getting me into this position, for being able to retire with such a bright future still ahead.  Many teachers and professors, fellow workers throughout three different careers, family, friends, my most recent co-workers who made the experiences at Rocky Mountain National Park so meaningful and wonderful, and my wife, Sarah (I love you).

What Great Co-Workers I Had

Well, I am retired.  The house is sold.  Sarah and I are on the road full-time with our cat.  We are thinking about going to Alaska next summer.  In the meantime, we are visiting national parks and sleeping late.  Looking for farmers markets.  Drinking coffee.  Reading.  Much more.

I have started to do some consulting work with other national parks.  Stay tuned for more on that one.

June 1, 2014

Is Bigger Really Better?

When Tim and I made the decision to become full-time RVers, we faced numerous decisions. One of the most important was selecting the RV that would be our home.  We already owned an RV, a 2009 Free Spirit, a Class B motorhome manufactured by Leisure Travel Vans of Canada.  The Free Spirit is built on a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis and has a 3 liter V6 diesel engine.  It is 23’9” in length, 7’2” in width and 9’6” in height and weighs 8,500 pounds fully loaded.

We had purchased the RV new in September 2010 for our nine-month Road Trip Ramble.  You can read more about our RV here.  However, we weren’t sure it was suitable for full-timing.  Was it too small?  Would we be comfortable and be able to carry all our stuff?

Conventional wisdom says that full-timing requires a much larger RV, typically either a motorhome or fifth-wheel.  It is extremely rare for a Class B RV like ours to be used by a couple on a full-time basis.  

So, in order to explore all possibilities, we began to look at larger RVs – first online and then at an RV show in Denver.  We still didn’t want a large RV – 30’ was about our limit – and we saw one or two that had possibilities.  In order to complete our research, we flew to the Florida RV SuperShow in January 2014.  This is one of the largest RV shows in the country, and we knew we could look at almost every possible RV there.

Tim Is Ready to Find an RV for Us

We arrived at the show with notebook and camera in hand.  We had narrowed our choices down and had mapped out a route to navigate through the thousands of RVs on display.  We carefully looked at each one on our list, made notes on what we liked and disliked and took photos to help us remember one from the other.  At the end of day one, we were exhausted, but we were able to whittle our list down to a more manageable number.

What Do We Like About this One?

Hopefully, A Photo Will Help Us Remember This One

We arrived back at the show the next morning to view the RVs that remained in contention. Surprisingly, there were just two or three that we could really see ourselves living in.  We had ruled out some because of the poor quality of finishes, a few because of the floor plans and others because of the ghastly décor.  I really wish more RV manufacturers would work with interior designers who have a more modern aesthetic.

So Many RVs, So Little Time

Although we spent a considerable amount of time in two Winnebago/Itasca models, we could never quite bring ourselves to pull out the checkbook.  No one model seemed to have our name on it. Instead, we walked through the vendor booths and consoled ourselves with a few small purchases that would make our lives in any RV easier. So we didn’t leave Florida empty-handed.

None of the RVs Seemed Just Right for Us

We arrived back in Estes Park more confused than ever.  Should we continue looking?  Could a small RV like ours work out after all?  Although the extra space would be nice, our own RV seemed to be the right one for us.  Besides, it was paid for – a factor that we couldn’t overlook.  We decided that smaller might be better.  If it didn’t work out, we could always trade ours in for a larger RV sometime down the road.  

If we ever decide to trade up, we will be much better prepared to make a decision. Researching and visiting RV shows proved to be an incredible learning experience, and we feel much more knowledgeable about the types of RVs that might suit our needs.   So, decision made.  Let’s move on.

After much thought, we also decided to bring along our car, a 2007 Subaru Outback.  Although we had happily traveled for nine months with just the RV, we knew that this new full-time lifestyle would be somewhat different.  We would be doing less touring (moving every day or so) and more staying in one spot for a week or more at a time.

Although we know that some people will question the wisdom of traveling with two vehicles, we knew it would be a good choice for us.  Our car was paid for, and you can purchase a lot of fuel for the price of a new, or even used, car.  Having a separate vehicle would make it convenient to make a quick run to the grocery store or go out to eat.  More importantly, we would be able to leave the cat behind in the RV with the air conditioning on and not worry about her overheating, even if we were away for the entire day.  An added bonus would be having a bit more space to store chairs, extra supplies, etc.

Towing the Subaru behind the RV was not an option.  Although the Free Spirit is rated for towing, I would be hesitant to try it.  As a matter of fact, I had never seen a Class B Sprinter like ours towing a car.  Besides, the Subaru cannot be towed with all four wheels down.  A tow dolly would be required, which was not appealing to us.  Again, we decided to see how it might go and reevaluate later if necessary.

Our Free Spirit and Subaru - A Perfect Pair for Us