It was make it or break it
This season was spent at the tip of the mitt, Michigan. Neither of us had been to Michigan and we wanted to see as much as we could while we were there. There was a slight problem though. We were broke… This season we were going to have to decide if this lifestyle of seasonal work and travel was going to be feasible long term. While we pondered this and saved and scrimped we found we were still able to have some pretty amazing adventures without spending any money at all.
By working in local tourism we were given the perk of free admission to a number of area attractions. In fact there was a whole list of them. They called it an ambassador program and all we had to do to gain free entrance into the attractions was show one of our recent pay stubs to prove we were working at one of the participating vendors. Which we chuckled about because after receiving our paychecks, this was all we had left to our names. That summer we toured lighthouses, an ice breaker, two different historical forts, an old mill, and went on an excursion to the upper peninsula where we rode a trolley to a river boat which brought us to a hiking trail that led to an amazing viewpoint of Tahquamenon Falls.
When Lauren’s parents came to visit we took the ferry to Mackinac Island. We took in the sights around the Island by riding our bikes around the perimeter. There are no motorized vehicles allowed on the island and it was like taking a step back in time with horse drawn buggies, bikes, and foot traffic. We sampled some fudge like any fudgie (the locals name for the tourists) would do; explored the historic Mackinac Island Fort and witnessed the canon being discharged. One of the sights we had been looking forward to all season was seeing the Grand Hotel. We could see the lights of the Grand Hotel lit up at night from where we were working. In fact we could see it from our RV in the evenings. Ben would look every night by awkwardly standing on his tip toes, and pressing his face just right up against the window. Lauren however was too short to view it from that vantage point. Finally getting to see it up close was amazing. We were able to tour the lobby and the grounds which were both stunningly beautiful and reminiscent of time gone by. Made even more poignant by the dress code both visitors and guests alike had to adhere to in order to engage in activities at the hotel.
While in Michigan we suspected there was something wrong with the trailer structure under the bed which was just above the hitch pin. Some research suggested that there was a wooden frame under the bed that would crack and people were replacing it with a thicker board to reinforce the structure. We found that we had the same issue and went down to the local lumber yard where they cut a board to size for us. We took apart the structure from the inside and installed the new board. It felt satisfying to have fixed the problem.
During this season we kept careful track of our spending and came up with a budget. It was very difficult to adhere to as we wanted to go out and have fun with our co-workers and friends. The reality of our situation and uncertainty of our future continuing to travel really set in when we would cash our paychecks and figure out what we could spend on fuel, food, and basic necessities. It was terrifying when some weeks we came back from the store and literally had pennies left over. Our spending records, budget, and knowledge of what we would make on average at these seasonal jobs made one thing very clear. If we wanted to continue this lifestyle we were going to need to make some drastic changes.
At the end of the season we decided to go to Lauren’s family’s house in RI. This was a trip we had not initially anticipated and when we arrived in Michigan we certainly did not have the money to go. In the end it was decided that this trip was a necessity. It would allow Lauren to get rid of her storage unit and down size her belongings so that we could eliminate expenses and commit more fully to this nomadic lifestyle. Without making this happen we would be unable to afford to travel or work seasonally. This was a huge turning point. If we didn’t start to change our financial situation we would be forced to stop traveling and end this adventure. While we were in Rhode Island Ben was able to meet more of Lauren’s family. And, the night before our departure there was a traditional lobster bake/ clam boil.
With our bellies full from a wonderful send off we got on the road and headed for Pennsylvania. Our first destination was the World’s Largest Cabela’s which is located in Hamburg, Pennsylvania. When we turned into the parking lot the truck made a noise and we knew something was wrong. We got on the phone with the local Chevy dealer and made an appointment for it to be looked at the next day. In the mean time we had plenty of entertainment walking around Cabela’s and we had lobster left overs for dinner. That is when we found out that you can boondock in the Cabela’s parking lot and we would stay there for the night. As far as breakdowns go this was turning out to be pretty relaxing. When we went to the dealer the next day they said we could park the trailer in the back of the lot. After dropping the truck off and finding out that it was the other bearings in the driveline that we didn’t replace the previous season we went back out to the trailer and had coffee and brunch. This breakdown wasn’t turning out to be so bad after all. The dealership got us back on the road by early afternoon and we headed towards West Virginia.
Trying to find the campground we were looking for turned into a bit of a boondoggle. We exited the highway and followed the GPS and signage towards the campground. When we got to what we thought was the entrance we found the grass overgrown and an abandoned semi trailer. We turned around and started to look for another campground when we saw another sign for the campground and decided we must have gone the wrong way. We followed the signs down a winding dirt road until it became clear to us that we were headed towards the same place we had just been. We were on the same road as earlier, we had just entered from the opposite end. In hind sight we should have taken note that the signage was overgrown with weeds and dilapidated. We did eventually find a campground for the night and were able to continue our journey the next day.
This was going to be a big travel day, covering over 500 miles. What we didn’t know was that this would be the longest travel day we had done yet. We would travel over 700 miles that day. We mentioned we were broke at the beginning of this season and that had not improved very much. We were going to boondock at a Walmart in Illinois but when we got there, there were low clearance bars across the entrances to the parking lot. We tried to find another option for the night but to no avail. In truth, at the time we were not very savvy RVers. That day we traveled from West Virginia all the way to Missouri where we would spend a few hours sleeping in a rest area and then we would get up and drive a few more hours to another rest area in Missouri where we would get a little more rest. We had to get to Missouri because it was the first place that we could legally sleep in RV at a rest area. The next night we had plans to stay at Crow’s Creek Campground in Smithville, Missouri so that we could visit Ben’s friends Jordan and Heather who lived in the Kansas City area. The site we stayed in was beautiful and the company of friends was much enjoyed.
The rest of our trip was filled with the company of family and friends. In Colorado we stopped in for a visit with Ben’s Mom and Step Dad as well as his cousin Shawnett and her family. We enjoyed BBQ with Ben’s Grandmother at an excellent BBQ place in Carson City, Nevada. And, made it all the way to the coast of California where we had a cookout at Ben’s Dad’s house, visited with Ben’s friends AJ and Janelle and got to meet their new baby boy, Hudson.
We felt so lucky to live such a blessed life with wonderful and supportive family and friends. It gave us strength to keep moving forward and continue our adventures. As well as plenty of driveways to stay in as we were on an extremely tight budget. Our lifestyle was worth the struggles because of all the joy it brought us and with some discipline, patience, and a sense of humor we could make anything possible.