In August 2021, Diane and I completed a three-month recreational vehicle, RV, trip. We twice crossed North America . We traveled from Florida to Washington State, then from Washington State to Maine and then from Maine back to Florida. We are now back in our beloved hometown, The Villages, Florida. Between our motor home which we lived in and our tow car which we used to explore, we logged over 10,000 miles.
Three months, 10,000+ miles, for us this was the trip of a lifetime. It’s not that a trip like this has never been done. It’s that completing a trip of this kind is a major challenge whenever it is successfully undertaken. For a trip of this kind is not just a physical journey, it’s a spiritual one too. Seeing all of the different people, places, and ways of life that you encounter inevitably leads you to consider your own life and life choices – what your existence is about and what is important to you.
If you followed our progress through our website, GoodLife, you know all about us and our journey. If you have not, though, this introduction is intended to explain who we are, why we took this trip, and hopefully convey what we took away from this trip. At the very end there is a story about sailing. It’s a metaphor. It’s intended to hopefully answer the question: “Would you, will you, ever do anything like this again?”
As you read our blogs and journals of where we were and what we did you are reliving and sharing the experiences we had on this trip. The earliest blogs talk about the logistics of preparing and getting underway. Quickly though, especially as we get out into the West with its geological grandeur, you will experience along with us the transformative power of better understanding the place of humankind in the greater universe. Be careful, this insight could forever change your perspective on who we are and maybe your life. It did for us.
So, thank you for being interested in our journey and taking the time to browse our website. Thanks for riding with us!
Frank and Diane Lancione – August 2021
I. Why Did We Undertake This Journey?
December 2020 was a dark time. The world was in the grip of the COVID pandemic. There were no vaccines, virtually no treatment protocols. It was thought at the time that you could catch COVID by touching surfaces others had touched in addition to breathing air others had breathed. Diane and I had not seen our daughter and grandkids in Washington state for a year and a half. We didn’t know when, or even if, we would see them again.
We did not want our futures and fate decided by politicians or viruses. We decided that maybe buying a recreational vehicle, an RV, and traveling across country under conditions we could better control was our best chance to be in charge of the decision on when we would see our family again. We knew little to nothing about RV’s at the time and they were becoming increasingly scare in the marketplace. Despite the obstacles and uncertainties, we decided to go for it. On December 30,2020, literally the last sales day of 2020, we signed the papers and bought our first RV.
We targeted getting to Washington state from our home in Florida in early July. This window of time was after our grandkids would be out of school and before August when our daughter and her family had other obligations. Quick calculations showed that we would need to travel at least 3,500 miles to get to our daughter’s place and at least the same amount to return. That meant planning and executing a 7,000-mile cross-country round trip. At that time, in early January 2021, the longest RV trip we had ever made was the supervised three-mile test drive we took with our salesman when we were evaluating whether or not to buy an RV. We had a lot to master and prepare for in the six months leading up to our trip.
As we progressed in our planning and preparation, we added stops along the way to our itinerary. Diane and I had no way of knowing if we would love this experience or hate it. If we loved it, it might be the beginning of a new family tradition. If we hated it, I had been fortunate enough to get a good deal on the price of our coach. Given the shortage of units for sale, we were confident we could sell it for a good price and close the book on our RV life.
If there was a chance that we would never do a trip of this kind again, we thought we should take advantage of this possibly one-time opportunity. We added stops at National Parks to our itinerary as well as visits to family and friends. About two months before we were supposed to leave, friends of ours invited us to add a visit to spend time with them in New England to our plan. Doing so would also add the possibility of seeing friends and relatives in the Northeast that we would otherwise have missed. We accepted their offer and our trip ballooned to covering 10,000 miles in 90 days. Whether or not we ever took another trip of this kind again, this was going to be “the trip of a lifetime.”
II. Why Did We Document Our Experience in Our GoodLife Website?
Looking back on an experience like this, one question looms larger than all the rest: “Was it worth it?” To answer that question requires also answering the question: ”How do you measure success?” Do you count the total mileage covered or number of National Parks visited as success? Do you evaluate success based on the number of pictures you took, or people visited? These are things that can be objectively measured, but qualitatively, they seem hollow. Harder to measure, but more relevant is assessing: “What did this trip mean in terms of your life?” That sounds squishy and abstract, but fortunately, in this case there is a way to measure the meaning of this trip. It is captured in GoodLife, this trip website that you are currently on. You can access it at: https://frankalancione.com.
We wanted to share our experience of this trip with our friends and family while we were underway. However, we didn’t want to advertise to the world that our home in The Villages would be unoccupied for three months while we were traveling. Thus, was born the idea for creating a trip website. We constructed it as a by invitation only private website. To get access, we needed to send you an invitation e-mail. Then, you would respond with your e-mail and a password. Once that process was complete, you were able to use your e-mail ID and your password to access the site any time you wanted in order to follow our trip.
We posted our itinerary and our pictures on GoodLife. More importantly, we described how we felt about what we were seeing and doing. In addition to the pictures and write ups on our activities, there are over 20 blog post essays about the trip. Each of these is a reflection on what were learning about America and about ourselves as the trip progressed. The final assessment of the philosophic impact of our trip is brought to a head in the blog post, Epilogue. The bottom line is that this trip and the experiences we had through it have changed us.
III. What Did We Learn From This Trip?
Every generation of Americans has to confront the challenges of their time. This was true of the people who lived in our country and had to confront widespread physical challenges like the Dust Bowl, earthquakes, wildfires, and major storms. It’s also true about social disruptions like the Depression, World Wars I and II, and the social upheavals of the 1960’s.
The America of our time, America 2021, is a deeply ideologically divided country. The people who currently fill nearly all the seats of power and influence in our country believe that America’s past failings are its defining characteristic. They say we are a systemically racist country that has done more harm than good in the world over time and needs to be totally torn down and transformed in order to be reformed into a more equitable and humane society. They are our country’s elites in the sense that they control the majority of our political institutions, mainstream media outlets, academic institutions, professional sports organizations, social media companies, even many of our largest private corporations. They have the biggest megaphone in our society, thus theirs is the dominant storyline broadcast to our people and the world about our country.
Diane and I grew up small town, blue collar, middle class. We have always believed that America has faults and past failings, but these are vastly outweighed by the many positive things that our country has done not only for our own people, but for people in other countries around the world. Like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and the millions of immigrants who come to our country each year seeking a better life, we see America as a special place where you can and should be judged by the “content of your character, not the color of your skin,” or your social class, or your identity group. This is the very thing that our elites seek to destroy. In doing so, we feel they would destroy the traits that are the most noble and most truly defining characteristics of our country and our American way of life.
A very important goal of our journey was to see if the everyday people of our country, the middle class “flyover country” people in National Parks, Walmarts, grocery stores, gas stations, RV parks, and other everyday, middle class settings believed what America’s elites do - that America is irredeemable and needs to be torn down and completely reimagined. We encountered hundreds of people over the course of this trip. Our experience was that they do not see America as our elites do. The people we met - everyday Americans - love their country. They believe that, in spite of America's past and present flaws, it is a privilege to live in our great country.
What we did not foresee in this trip was the awe inspiring, transformative power the vast landscapes of the Western United States would have on us. What we learned from this trip is a reverence for America, not the humankind created political structure we call America, but the unimaginable physical grandeur of the American landscape itself. America, the physical land we are privileged to occupy is great. We, humankind, and the other species living here in this place, are small in comparison. With that insight comes a true understanding that we are not the center of the universe.
Our lives are not the destiny of the planet. You, me, we are not all that important in the broader scheme of things. Therefore, all the problems, concerns, setbacks and worries of our lives are not all that big a deal as well. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to stop the bad things the elites are trying to do to our country. It means you should vote and be unafraid to tell the truth about what you believe to be right even if it is not politically correct according to our elites. You should also encourage and support other Americans who love our country to be open and brave about their patriotism as well.
What you shouldn’t do is fret and stew and become depressed about what is happening. Someone will prevail in the culture wars currently tearing humankind’s American culture 2021 apart. However, the reality is that the outcome of our culture wars is not likely to matter all that much to America’s mountains, deserts, and prairies. Maybe it shouldn’t matter all that much to us as well.
The second major insight for us from this trip was the importance of the people we care about and who care about us. We literally crossed the North American continent twice in order to spend a week with our daughter and grandkids. Did we do the right thing? We think so. Skype and Zoom calls are no substitute for the warmth of a loving hug. There is an electricity to being together face to face with someone you care deeply about that doesn’t come through the computer screen and into your heart.
We are in our seventies. Our grandkids and our daughter will live out most of their lives with only the memory of us. If this trip imprinted on them a loving memory of good times together, a positive image of who we were, then we judge it was the right thing to do even though it was a major undertaking. The same is true for our friends. We were able to see many, many people who are precious to us through this trip. Our time together reinforced and strengthened our friendship bonds. Our relationships have been reknit stronger through the new experiences we shared together. Being together, in person, sharing new adventures made us more real to them, them more real to us, and both of us a more important part of each others’ lives.
IV. Would We Ever Decide to RV Full Time or At Least Do A Long Trip Like This Again?
In our short test run camping trips to get ready for this journey and over the course of our trip itself, we encountered many people who live in RV’s year-round. For these people, their RV is their home and being on a permanent RV vacation is their preferred way of life. They tended to fall into two groups.
The first group was mostly young families who were home schooling their kids and had one or both spouses working remotely or traveling to places in the country where work opportunities were the best. In Vero Beach Florida, we met a wonderful young couple with three small children. They lived in a huge 5th wheel trailer and had two vehicles. The wife home schooled their kids and provided music lessons to the children of other full time RVing couples online.
The husband was a union electrician. Instead of only having work 8-9 months a year as he did when they lived in N.J., he was able to easily move his family to whatever part of the country had major construction projects. Their living expenses were less than when they owned a fixed house while his work opportunities and income were substantially higher. The kids loved traveling and seeing new things. It was a win for this family all around. There are many organizations which connect couples like this with each other online so that these families have a nationwide virtual hometown community to collaborate with and be a part of. It is a new way of life.
The second major group of people we met who loved the full time RV life were retired couples. Many of the big rigs you see in campgrounds belong to retirees who have traded their homes for huge, beautifully appointed, RV’s costing many hundreds of thousands of dollars. These mega model vehicles can run forty or fifty feet long, have huge slide outs, large square foot floorplans, and every conceivable convenience of a conventional home.
Retirees in this group told us that their new way of life enabled them to finally travel the way they had always dreamed of but could never do when they were working. Others said that RVing allowed them to be close to their kids in different parts of the country. They might stay in a park close to a son and grandkids in Michigan for three months, move to a place near another child who lived in California for a couple of months, and then visit a child or other family members in Florida or one of the other southern states for the winter. They said the freedom of RVing allowed them to be a part of the lives of these geographically dispersed family members in ways that would never be possible when they used to live in a fixed house at a single location.
This trip was a tremendous experience, but, we’ve decided that full-time RVing is not for us. Diane and I loved this trip and had a wonderful time living in our Winnebago Navion RV over the summer. However, we love the unique lifestyle of our hometown, The Villages, FL more. We miss our hometown neighbors and friends. We miss our clubs and activities. We miss our beautiful home. We would not trade our life in The Villages for a full time RV life on the road.
That brings us to the second question in this section: Would we ever do a long trip like this again? When we set out on our summer 2021 journey across the country, we hoped that meeting somewhere and vacationing together with our daughter and her family would become a family tradition. Our daughter and her family said that they really enjoyed the experience of vacationing together this year and want to continue doing it going forward.
We are already talking about meeting up for another joint vacation. This time though instead of us going all the way the West, they would come East and we would meet in Nashville TN. They would like to show their kids more of the central and eastern parts of the US as well as making it easier on us to get together. This casts a whole new light on things. It means that we wouldn’t have to travel all the way across the country to see them unless we really wanted to. After much consideration, we’ve decided that, given that option, we would rather focus our RV trips on the Center and Eastern parts of the country rather than having to travel all the way across the country and back each summer.
So, are long trips like the one we’ve just completed absolutely off the table? That door is not completely closed. The reason has nothing to do with RVing. It has to do with us. This trip taught us a lot about who we are. We met people who tour the country in their RV’s as a way of life. But, we also met people who live in towns as small as Interior, South Dakota, population 94, who rarely travel outside their local area.
Full time RVing is not us. However, being totally confined to a single place and way of life is not us either. What are we? We’ve found out that we are explorers. The longest we ever stayed in one place on this trip was four nights. Most of the time we were on the move or actively touring the area we had just arrived at. It was an exhausting but exhilarating experience.
We loved the very diverse environments both humankind made and natural that we encountered on this trip as well as all the different types of people. We also loved the challenge of this trip. We loved overcoming all of the obstacles it took to go from knowing virtually nothing about RVing to six months later embarking on a journey that would have us crossing the North American continent twice and mastering deserts, plains, the Rocky Mountains and everything else fortune, fate and Mother Nature could throw into our way.
There is something exciting about getting up early, starting the coach, and then embarking on the next step in a journey like this. Each piece of the trip is its own mini-journey, its own mini-adventure. You don’t know good or bad what you will next encounter. Whatever it is, though, you are unlikely to feel like your life is dead-ended or that you are stuck in a rut. You are facing the unknown every time you leave camp and start the drive to the next location. It keeps you and your life fresh, vital, feeling fulfilled and alive.
The best metaphor we could think of to explain how this trip has made us feel was the life of ancient sailors. Before the time of 20th century technology and connectivity, sailors would be away for months at a time with no contact with their families or home. They longed to return. But, they also craved the adventure of the sea. Once you have stretched the boundaries of a stationary life and tasted the thrill and challenge of exploring, it is hard to put out that flame inside you, to go back to life safe but stationary, constricted, confined.
As you read the final section below, think of us, in our coach, rolling down the road, marveling at the plains, deserts, mountains we are traversing, smiling, loving each other, caught in the moment, full of the joy of making this trip. Hopefully, the images, ideas, and words of our website will create that feeling in you too.
THE LIFE OF THE EXPLORER
The sails of the large 19th century merchant ship creaked and flapped as the crew turned the ship into the wind. The maneuver worked. The sails filled and the ship picked up speed. They had visited ports in distant lands and sailed open water for months on end. After what seemed like an eternity of exotic places, after countless trials and adventures, they were ready to go home.
Little John, up in the Crow’s Nest was the first to see it. He let out a frantic yell: “Land Ho! Land Ho!” The cry sent a ripple of excitement through the whole ship. Men started running up to the main deck from every corner. The officers didn’t try to stop them because they were running up too. Every man, every heart had yearned for this moment. Now it was here.
“I see it!” called out Mark, the Captain’s mate. “I see it!” Soon other men started yelling too. There, at the farthest reaches of the horizon, they could just begin to see the outline of the shore coming into view. There were cheers and jubilation as the men excitedly hugged each other and bragged about what they would do when their journey was over and they finally went ashore.
The Captain yelled to his officers to restore order. There was still a long way to go and much to do before the ship docked and the work of inventorying, unloading, and releasing the cargo and the men was completed. Secretly though, his heart was beating fast too. Home - it seemed like forever since he had seen it. Home - a chance to lay down the never-ending responsibility of guiding his ship and crew and finally once again just live a common everyday life like other men. Home - he too could not wait to get there.
The officers got the men back to their assigned tasks and normalcy was restored. Yes, they had had their first glimpse of their homeland, but they were still far, far away. There was much left to do before their work was over, their journey was ended. In the next few days that it would take to reach shore, their initial jubilation would become slightly tinged with sadness. For as much as they loved their home and dry land, they were still sailors, still adventurers.
Now, their journey and this chapter of their explorer life was coming to an end. Were there new adventures behind this one? Maybe, probably, not right now though. Now the focus was on finishing this trip, reestablishing their shore lives and relationships, and getting back to what was considered “normal” for those who knew only dry land. Each man knew in his heart though, that their normal was not that of other men. A part of them understood that they thrived on both the beauty and the challenges of the sailing life. They had been tested by their journey but rewarded by it too. They were not farmers plowing the same fields day after day. Their life was filled with sights, sounds, smells, stories, and experiences those who chose only the safety and comfort of the shore would never see.
The ship finally docked. The dispersal of cargo and crew was at last completed. The time had come for final goodbyes. They flocked to the pubs to celebrate their successful voyage. There was much drinking, laughing, and telling of stories, promises to stay in touch, and heart felt goodbyes. Then, each man, took his sea bag and found transportation to their dry land homes.
Days, weeks, months would pass as they rejoined their families and reintegrated into their land lives. You could never tell exactly when it would happen, but you could be certain that it would. One by one these land locked sailors would look into the stars and remember what it was like to see that sky from the deck of a traveling ship. They would feel the hollowness in their chests, a longing, a kind of physical need to test themselves against the rigors of life and survival on the sea.
Their friends and spouses would recognize the signs and begin to steel themselves for what they knew would come next. It would start innocuously enough. It might be a casual mention of upcoming sailing trips looking for men. It might be a visit from another sailor telling all about the voyage they had just signed up for. Finally, eventually, it would come to a moment when the decision would be discussed and then agreed to. In reality, though, it had always already been made. They were sailors not farmers. Those who loved them understood this, understood that these men’s longing for living a life of adventure was who they were. It was never a question of if they would seek the adventure of the sailing life again, only how and when.
Thanks for riding with us
The water you see in the background is the view from the lanai of our home in The Villages. The whole back of our home is windows and faces out onto a pond. We missed this view and our life here in The Villages so much that we couldn't end our return day without taking this picture to celebrate. We have seen mountains, deserts, hoodoos, canyons, black hill, badlands, the Devil's tower, even a road to the sun. Many of these marvels are world famous. But, tonight, they are no match for the view from our own back yard. Dorothy had it right in The Wizard of Oz. There's no place like home! There's no place like home!
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