What one couple did after quarantine hell
JC, my social media wizard, and his beloved, Lisa, just got back this week from a four-day whirlwind "we deserve this" trip to Spokane. Having driven from Austin back to Boise just recently, having survived the awful ice storm that did so much damage in Texas, the couple expects a grandchild very soon. Before that, though, with the funds they'd put aside, this RV-life couple decided to splurge.
Their story probably contains elements that bring up truth for many of us, which is why I have their permission to share it.
Before I tell you what they did and the lessons I got from that conversation with JC yesterday morning during our weekly conversation, let me put this into context.
JC, Lisa and their lovely Labradoodle Ollie have been living in an RV for a good long time. Last year after moving to Eugene, I visited them in Portland, where they were on extended stay at Jantzen Beach. Jantzen is on the Columbia River just this side of the bridge into Vancouver.
JC is just shy of forty; Lisa's just on the other side of it. So, Millennials.
Last year, Lisa got Covid. As a couple living in such an intimate space, JC was exposed to the virus 24-7, as well as terrified of what it was doing to his love. She survived, but JC went through his own asymptomatic version as a result. This was during a time when both of them were still, as were many of us, working to redefine their work lives and incomes. While choosing to live an RV life has been a lot of things for them, easy isn't one of them. JC's brilliant, but he's also struggled to find that perfect niche for his considerable skills in the social media world. The pandemic put that struggle on steroids.
Lisa's got family in Boise, where JC spent much of his life. They decided to head through Boise to near Austin where JC's parents live, to spend the winter. The plan was rest, recuperate, enjoy being in the safe bosom of family love.
First, though, they had to get there.
The first week of December, on a route they had chosen specifically to avoid the worst of the early winter storms, JC and Lisa found themselves outside Salt Lake City at a rest stop. It was 15 degrees...inside the RV. There was no juice in the batteries whatsoever. JC woke up to the bitter cold wondering if Ollie was alive, until he realized that the dog's shivering form was under the covers between Lisa's and his body.
Thank god for USAA insurance, he said, although the early winter ice, inches of snow, the constant salt crews were no fun. It took four hours for them to get on their way again, heading to what they believed would be a warm southern oasis.
It took them four days to get to Texas, but not without a stop in Kingman, Arizona, where the RV alarm decided to go off for hours on end. That of course killed the battery, which meant that JC had to hoof it into town to get a replacement.
Then, through my old haunting grounds of the Southwest to Albuquerque, where despite their best planning, they were walloped with another serious snowstorm.
Seriously? They had spent eight hours on the road, had chosen the route through New Mexico because of "better weather."
Even if you're a climate change denier, there's no denying that our climate has changed. You and I can't plan on average any more, so all bets are off, as JC and Lisa found out. There is no longer any such thing as unseasonable weather. It's just weather.
Which means, if you're heading for van life, the only thing you can count on is weather you can't count on.
The Great Hope for the Texas-based parental oasis over the holidays, intended to be a recuperative experience in the safe embrace of family, turned out to be anything but, albeit not without valuable lessons learned.
Not only were JC's parents in a terrible state of anxiety, his mother had slipped into morbid obesity in part due to the pandemic. Her need for attention nearly sucked the life out of Lisa, and his father's general anxiety about how his life had turned out (not as he'd expected) ended up causing the kids even more difficulty, if that were possible, with job and income insecurity dogging them along with the obscene cost from the RV trip just to get to the Austin area.
As JC put it, they got food, water and shelter over the holidays, but the tradeoff was perhaps, not what they might have wanted. The hope to recharge in preparation for this spring was about as successful as his RV's batteries: dead on arrival. This wasn't his parents' fault any more than it was JC's, or for that matter, any of the rest of us who ended up holing up at home for a while.
Another lesson on why you can never go back home, not really
In this way, sometimes we as children, for we are forever children to our parents, return to them hoping they are still parents, in that way we most desperately need them to be: great, tall, strong, all-powerful and wise. Especially Mom, who for so long could, with a Kleenex and a bit of motherly spit, somehow wash away everything bad.
In times like this, we may find out that our folks are at their wits end in precisely the same way we are. In some ways this is a gift, for it ultimately frees our parents of our expectations that they be super people in some way, but it also forces us to accept that they are, after all, humans.
It is at once a magnificent gift, and in other ways, perhaps, a disappointment. For JC, his parents showed JC and Lisa great love and kindness. Their challenges were the challenges of all of us under quarantine, getting older, and realizing that perhaps life had taken a few unplanned dog legs. As JC shared, the dramas and experiences they experienced at his parents' house were likely no more and no less than another family under the pandemic, forced to stay inside, options removed, and having to face life's realities in unexpected ways.
Adult children who came home, but some of us, in some deep way, perhaps hoping to be parented as though we were still very young. This isn't a bad thing. It's just a family thing, and many families walked this path this past year.
Enter the Texas storm.
The good news was that by this time, JC's and Lisa's RV was rejuvenated. Secure inside with a working generator, new batteries and a much happier Doodle, they waited out the storm. Meanwhile, JC launched into upgrades on the RV. Most times when we spoke he was wearing multiple layers of sawdust and breathing in the fumes of close-quarters drill work. By the time he was done, the inside of the RV was vastly improved, which, given their recent journey, was saying something.
That was his escape from his parents, who were so needy, so exhausting that they nearly bled the life out of their kids, who were just as much in need of a respite. Still, in its own way, as I would imagine for many who had to sequester as extended families, they parted with love, and with a different, if not greater, appreciation both for the people they had become as well as the limitations which defined them under quarantine, and, in all fairness, as adults.
JC had been putting yeoman's hours into various business ventures, and the trip sacrificed that momentum. Like many of us, he and Lisa were facing a new year without the much-need rejuvenation they had hoped to engender with holiday time with family.
JC and Lisa fought. Usually over stupid shit. Retreated from each other, which is damned hard to do in a small RV space with two generously-sized adults (JC is 6'4" and well over 250, you get my meaning).
Because JC is supremely self-aware, he is also dedicated to being present, which means that those difficult conversations also forced discussions about renewal. Where to go from here. And how. And why.
We had stayed in touch sporadically during this time, and I heard the stress. But I also heard the tendrils of hope. JC is no stranger to difficulty, and he is also a deeply dedicated person. Once he commits, that's it. And that is what allowed them to move through the last year and the intensely rough times with the RV and family without shredding their love for each other.
JC and Lisa packed the RV back up for the road and returned to Boise, where Lisa is about to become a gramma. They are planning to stay there for six months, then return to Jantzen Beach, which is where they are both happiest.
And I will be very happy to have them just up the road from me, but that's another story.
Meanwhile, as with so many of us, JC has begun to focus on a particular lane, and it's begun to pay off. Lisa's also working, and as with so many of us, there is the beginning of light as spring has also gifted the Northwest with its dewdropped leaves and rising morning fogs.
Then there was this past weekend.
JC told me that he and Lisa would be disappearing for an R&R. I didn't hear about it until he got back. What they did and how that renewed them both is what I want to share here, along with his message about why this is so important.
JC and Lisa set their sights on Spokane, my old haunting ground. Google Maps now has a default setting which allows you to take the "least emissions" route, which means first, you spend less time idling on a highway, and second, for JC and Lisa, that mean one of the prettiest drives they had ever taken. Highway 95 north through Idaho to Spokane is breathtaking.
By using the Google directions instead of the traditional straight Interstate route, they slowed the trip, were treated to breathtaking vistas, and were guided through my old haunts to see the Spokane Valley in all its spring-green glory.
But that was just the beginning. They chose a tribal casino, and rooms which had the kinds of niceties that most of us dream about. Huge beds, multiple-head showers, fine food, all in an atmosphere of Covid-respectful conditions which not only made them both feel much safer but allowed them to luxuriate in place.
Anyone who has ever vanlifed for a while, especially if you're a large person, you can appreciate two things: supersized beds, AND a supersized shower with many spray nozzles. For my vacay dollar those alone would have been worth it.
JC said that for once they didn't have the constant "existential threat" of Covid invading every thought, every space.
He said, "When you're under this kind of fear all the time, the tendency is to sip. We were able to drink deeply, not only of our surroundings but also each other."
They took a sunset cruise on Lake Coeur d'Alene (highly recommended) and spent two gorgeous days in some of the Northwest's prettiest country. If Spokane, where I lived for three years, didn't share the occasional sub zero winter with its Montana neighbor, I'd likely have chosen to live there instead of Eugene. It's that pretty.
And here's the key: JC put his phone and email on vacay. There were no distractions, no demands, no nothing. This was WE time of the highest quality.
When JC and I spoke yesterday morning, now that he's back in Boise and the kid countdown is on for Lisa, I could hear the energy in his voice. The drive up and back was just as fabulous as the two-day splurge at the casino. To my mind, that is how to do it right. Decide to splurge, ensure that the journey is just as fine as the place, and don't skimp, if you can possibly afford to do it.
These Millennials, both of them hovering right around forty or so, planned to spend time, and some real dime on themselves. It wasn't an earth-shattering amount of money, but for folks living on relative fumes this past year and with a massively expensive RV repair job ahead of them, it was significant.
Another close couple to me did precisely the same thing, driving from Denver to Santa Fe for a badly-needed rest. That drive is also lovely, calm and gorgeous, the food down there is to die for, and the scenery incomparable. They returned to Denver transformed.
JC said, and I fully agree, that if it is at all within your budget, take some time to take care of yourself. It's not just that it's spring. It's not just that the world is still struggling to renew itself after a most difficult year, and it's not over yet.
It is in every way a statement of self-care, for we still face challenges ahead. You and I, if we are to find our way forward, also need to find our way deeply inward, and by doing that, renew our resources. JC's story likely parallels many of us, with all the fears and doubts and pressures of this past year pushing upon us and robbing us of so much joy.
It might be time to tap into a source of joy for you, too. If you do, my recommendation is to follow JC's lead on this:
put the phone and email on vacay.
Really, truly, get away.
Drink deeply, don't sip.
This is you time. Invest in that, whatever it takes. For if we have learned a thing this year it is that time is not guaranteed us. Taking time, making time for self-love, to love others, and to be reminded of what joy feels like, is a statement of pure power.
For my dollar, that is how you renew.