In our first couple of months on the road as full-time RVers back in 2005, we had the pleasure of meeting Mike & Gerri. They hopped in their car and traveled from LaGrange, GA over to a state park where we were staying south of Birmingham, AL.
It was one of our first encounters with folks that started checking out our website. And it was just the start of meeting so many wonderful people, and the beginning of a new friendship.
We contacted them again in April 2006 as we passed through western Georgia. They were working toward a full-time RVing life, but there were some struggles. We listened and provided encouragement the best we knew how. Eventually, they made it out on the road and we've been in contact from time to time.
So, when we landed here in western Georgia again, we wanted to see if they happened to be in the area where they still have family and community ties. It just so happens that many things have changed in their lives, and though they enjoyed full-timing for a year and a half, they have recently bought a small house where they have a homebase and will be able to continue to "part-time" it in their RV.
I won't get into the personal details of their decision, but many of you follow their blog - The RV Life of Mike & Gerri. And many of our Forum members know them on the Forum as "Happytrails".
Anyway, we made arrangements to meet them at one of their favorite local Mexican restaurants in Pine Mountain, and then we were going to take an afternoon tour of Callaway Gardens.
We met and had a nice lunch where it was more about getting caught up than eating. We talked for a couple of hours.
I was very curious about their decision to get another house, their feelings about their full-timing experience, and whether or not they had any regrets. We get so many questions about the "what ifs" of becoming full-time RVers: "What if something happens healthwise?" "What if we've sold our house and decide later we need a homebase?" "What happens if gas prices and inflation get too high, and we can't travel like we want to?"
Our answers often aren't very satisfying to those asking the questions. :)
Our answers tend to go something like this. "We have met so many people of every type of background you can imagine in this lifestyle, and several have had to deal with unexpected hurdles and challenges. Some have planned for contingencies, but many have not. Yet everyone is very resilient, and they figure out how to work their way through in a manner that is best for them."
We've heard absolutely unbelievable stories, stories of events we certainly hope we never have to deal with. But people manage. People find an inner strength they didn't know they had. They relate their stories to us casually with sort of a "Yeah, it was rough there for awhile, but we made it and are better for it" attitude. And all the while we're trying to keep our jaws from hitting the table, trying not to look shocked, or trying not to tear up.
Again, we'll say "The full-timing RV lifestyle isn't for everyone". But the hard part is, as much as we say that and as much as we try to provide information to assist in making a good decision, you may not really know for sure until you try it.
Many people have tried it and gotten off the road. Some didn't like it. Some liked it, but they prefer something more traditional. Some had no intention of doing it indefinitely. Some were forced off the road by circumstances. Some burned themselves out with too much travel. Some, like Mike & Gerri, loved it, but feel their situation is more suited to having a homebase and traveling for extended periods on a part-time basis.
Mike & Gerri are the type of people that can counsel folks in a way that we can't. In our conversation, they said they never expected five years ago to sell the house they loved, buy a big motorhome, and then full-time for only a year and a half before buying another house. But they have determined that is the best approach for them.
Here's the beauty. They say that the RV lifestyle has changed them. Their needs have changed, and their views of what happiness is has changed. They still think of themselves as RVers more than not and, though they will be selling their "full-timing rig", they will be getting a smaller motorhome. They thought the RV lifestyle was mostly about the travel, but learned that, for them, it's more about the people. As her eyes welled up, Gerri said "I've never been touched by people more than those we've met on the road".
She was considering ending her blog, but she has been encouraged to keep it going. RVers they've met plan travels to come by and see them if they are home. Their adventures aren't over by any means.
When asked about regrets, they have none. They don't feel like failures because they determined having a homebase fits their circumstances better. They don't feel dumb because they sold a house and then things changed and they bought another one, a much smaller one. It's all part of the life experience, and they feel blessed to be living it on their terms. And we whole-heartedly applaud them. :)
We had such a great conversation, and I asked if they would be willing to talk to those that may not be satisfied with our "Things just work out" answers. Of course they are willing. So, if you'd like to know more about their decision processes or the emotional aspects of what they've gone through or how the RV lifestyle "changed" them, contact them through their blog - The RV Life of Mike & Gerri. :)
After lunch, we joined them on a tour of Callaway Gardens.
We were fortunate that the heavy rains from the night before last had ended, and the dreary, gray clouds from yesterday and this morning moved out. It was an unexpected, cool, sunny, low humidity afternoon.
When we visited Callaway back in April 2006 while staying at the FDR State Park, we did some bike riding, went to the Butterfly Center, watched the Birds of Prey show, and I played a round of golf one day. But, unfortunately, it was past the blooming time for most of the flowers.
Today, though we might be a week or so before peak time, the azaleas and dogwoods were beautiful.
We started out at the Callaway Brothers Azalea Bowl which is a 40-acre garden around a cove on one of the many lakes.
The trees and many varieties of azaleas had signs for identification - way too many to remember. :)
It was opened in 1999, so it is still a relatively new garden. We strolled the paved path just enjoying the scenery.
A view back across the lake.
From there, we drove to the Overlook Garden, the original azalea garden where the plants are much older, larger, and thicker.
There are over 700 varieties of cultivated azaleas in this huge garden.
A close-up of our hosts with a red azalea background.
Pink and purple tulips bloomed in the foreground as Gerri and Linda crossed this bridge.
This is a view from the road as you round a curve on the scenic drive.
Linda & I with a pink azalea background.
As we walked back through the garden, Linda did a minute and a half video.
It was a magical way to share an afternoon with friends. :)
Before we left Callaway, we made one last stop at the Vegetable Garden. It is home to the southern location of the PBS show "The Victory Garden".
As we toured Callaway Gardens, my thoughts returned to my parents again and again.
My Mom would most certainly need a tent and a sleeping bag as it would be tough to drag her away. She could spend hours upon hours inspecting the thousands of varieties of plants, watching the birds, and visiting the Discovery Center, the Horticultural Center, and the Butterfly Center.
My Dad, who nurtures vegetable plants in a basement greenhouse, would be figuring out where he could get seeds for every plant in the Vegetable Garden. This photo of the early spring vegetables is for him. :)
After we left Callaway, Linda suggested a stop for ice cream. So, we finished our visit with a few scoops before we parted with hugs. Thank you Mike & Gerri for a perfect afternoon. :)
On our way back to our campground, we drove through the Holiday COE Campground at the end of the road past the entrance to Whitetail Ridge. There are numerous waterfront, lovely sites and we'd be happy in most of them. Sunsets at Holiday would be better than at Whitetail Ridge. But, we never really saw a site that we liked better than the one we have - Site 18 at Whitetail Ridge with this view out our picture window. :)
Before we settled in, I took the truck to fuel up with diesel before the weekend prices increased. But before that, I walked down to our shoreline and took one last photo for the day.
Ah, the face of tranquility.
So long for now. :)