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Sensi Magazine

Off the Road Again

Aug 30, 2019 08:44PM ● By Robyn Lawrence
Last year, after two years spent whittling my possessions down to what could fit in an Airstream, I cleared out of boulder, co, my home for the past 25 years. I’d done my time, I told everybody. I was trading pine trees for palm trees, and I wasn’t looking back. I hit the road and headed west, a digital nomad, living the dream.

My plan was to start out easy with an extended stay at the Chula Vista marina just south of San Diego, watching the sun spill orange into San Diego Bay from my dinner table every evening and waking up to swaying palm trees outside my bedroom window every morning. I’d spent the previous winter there, and I was counting on many more but that wasn’t meant to be.

Rock stars write songs about it. Even long-haul truckers can’t endure it forever. The road. It’s hard. And crowded. And lonely.

“WHEN IT GETS TOO FAMILIAR, I’LL BE GONE.”
—Fastball, “Airstream”

On February 1, the Chula Vista RV Resort was closed to make way for a billion-dollar mega-development. After a bittersweet month of reunions and goodbyes as long timers who had been wintering there for decades swung by one last time, I rode with the Chula Vista diaspora off into the sunset.

I made plans with my then-sweetheart (and driver) to spend a couple months exploring Baja, but I changed my mind at the last minute, and we parted ways. It probably wouldn’t have been the greatest trip, anyway. I had a lot of anxiety about hauling my one and only home through Mexico, where I’m sure it’s completely safe but some of my friends and most of my family members kept telling me it wasn’t.

That left me in southern California with a 27-foot-long Airstream I’d towed only once (on an empty state highway) and no parking reservations.

“DON’T LET THE SOUND OF YOUR OWN WHEELS DRIVE YOU CRAZY.”
—The Eagles, “Take It Easy”

With the help of friends I met in Chula Vista, I learned how to haul my own rig. I can’t say it’s something I love, and I still can’t back in, but towing is now something I do an accomplishment I’m proud of because I stepped through extreme fear. Hauling a 9,000-pound trailer down the kind of steep grades that have runaway truck ramps and signs warning truckers they’re not down yet is one of the scariest things I’ve ever done.

What I did not see coming was the parking situation for RVs in southern California, which is akin to, and probably worse than, the parking situation for cars in its major cities. As the economy has soared over the past decade, anyone and everyone who ever wanted an RV (myself included) bought one. RV parks are packed to capacity with shiny new Tiffins and Jaycos, a decent number of Airstreams, and a good smattering of Prevosts the rock star buses that can be had for well over a million. Most of the towering motorhomes are owned by baby boomers, some of whom traded in their homes (like I did) to live the dream on the road. A lot of the Winnebagos and Lances are driven by millennials, some of whom are living the dream because they can’t afford to buy houses.

All those folks living the dream need a place to park. And in southern California, at least, infrastructure isn’t keeping up with demand. Reservations for long-term parking (three months at most private resorts and two weeks at state and national parks) need to be made half a year in advance, and it’s damn near impossible to find a spot without reservations if you stay on the road past cocktail hour which pretty much kills the whole freedom of the road, drive-til-you’re-done vibe that was key to this dream for me. I spent too many nights in Motel 6 rooms (which are actually cheaper than the nicer RV parks).

Securing parking became a full-time job which was problematic, because I have a full time job, and promised my colleagues and clients everything would fl ow seamlessly while I was chasing the dream in my Airstream. They loved to hear about my adventures, but they didn’t love to hear that unhooking sewer and electric lines, packing up and securing an Airstream (and everything in it), hitching it to a truck, hauling it to a new spot, unhitching, plugging in and setting up a sewer line, then unpacking and unsecuring everything again took the better part of a day, leaving little time for their projects.

I learned why digital nomads steer clear of KOA Campgrounds, which cater to families, sometimes with groups so large you can’t imagine how or where everyone sleeps inside that Prowler. It’s great to see kids riding their bikes in the streets while their parents drink beers and listen to ’80s metal, until you have a conference call or a deadline.

I stopped making friends because I got tired of having to say goodbye a couple days later and I don’t have the capacity to follow even one more living the dream journey on YouTube and Instagram.

“WHAT A LONG, STRANGE TRIP IT’S BEEN.”
—The Grateful Dead, “Truckin’”

There were, of course, experiences that made the dream worth living. Walking on sand made from fish skeletons along the banks of the churning Salton Sea as low charcoal colored clouds moved over the Chocolate Mountains in February is one I’ll never forget. I finally got to see Slab City, an anarchist squatter RV community on a former military base that’s known as “the last free place on earth.” (The residents there aren’t actually all that thrilled with looky loos hanging around, but it’s worth a drive through.) I went on epic bike rides around Mission Bay and Coronado, and I never stopped appreciating palm trees.

I met new friends who let me park for a month behind their paddle board shop in Page, Arizona, on the banks of Lake Powell, one of the most spectacular places on earth. It rained a lot, but it didn’t matter. Settling into one place especially one so beautiful felt like the ultimate luxury.

I was happy and grounded in my one-and-only home for that month, and when it came time to think about traversing mountain passes and metro areas on the way to the next place wherever that might be I felt very tired. I dreaded the road. I wanted, maybe even needed, a soft spot to land in for a while.

And so it ended. I dragged my Airstream over the Rockies and back to Boulder, feeling my heart sink at the smell of pine trees, then soar with every welcoming hug from my kids and friends. I went to practice with my favorite yoga teacher and signed a lease with my bestie. I came home.

I lasted less than nine months on the road. I could easily consider my truncated journey a failure. But I don’t. I did something I didn’t think I could do and learned some big lessons about the road, about myself, and about life.

I know, without a doubt, that people matter more than palm trees.