2011 was an exceptionally eventful year for Susan and me.
The theme of the year was set in December 2010 when Susan and I decided that I would retire and that we would sell the house and hit the road in a RV full-time. There have been a lot of speed bumps along the way and we’ve spent the entire year trying to fulfill that goal.
In early January, Susan and I went to the first RV show of the year in downtown Boston. I had been researching RV’s extensively and had come to the conclusion that because of Susan’s mobility problems a motor home was a better idea than a trailer, and that a Class-A diesel pusher was best in terms of quality and durability. At the show Susan had a chance to get into several Class-A motor homes and get an idea of what they were like inside.
In mid-January I gave notice to my administrator, Courtney, and to my medical advisers, David and Doug that after working there for twenty-one years I would be leaving Beth Israel Deaconess hospital. I said that I would be staying until the beginning of June to help with the transition. They were surprised but gracious. I offered to continue performing PFT interpretations on-line, which they happily accepted. I spent a lot of my time in my last months there finishing the PFT Technician training manual I had started a year before. Christy, my lead technician, applied for my job and got the position.
In February, Susan fell on the ice while outside cleaning snow off her car, and was unable to get up. I found her when I got home. She almost died of hypothermia and the first night in the emergency room the doctors were not hopeful about her outcome. She decided to be obstinate about sticking around and has made a surprisingly good recovery since then. She was in Metrowest Medical Center for almost a week and then transferred to Whittier Rehab hospital in Westborough where she stayed until mid-March.
While Susan was recovering I went out and looked at used motor homes. When I researched motor homes, Winnebago and Tiffin kept coming up as the best quality and most reliable Class-A’s, at least in the price range we could afford. I found a used Tiffin Phaeton nearby and went to take a close look at it. It was in immaculate condition and if I hadn’t known it was a 2008 with 25,000 miles on the odometer I would have thought it was brand new. At 40 feet long it was a bit bigger than I had thought we would go for, but it had everything in it we wanted. I brought back photos for Susan to look at and we decided this was the motor home for us.
While Susan was undergoing her last week or so of rehab, I put a down payment on the motor home and arranged financing for it. I was able to get the financing fairly quickly, but had a bigger problem with our insurance agency. The first couple of people I talked to didn’t have a clue about motor homes and didn’t follow up properly either. After almost two weeks of getting nowhere I finally left a message with the office manager to either figure it out or I would go somewhere else. I heard from her in less than an hour and she immediately put me in touch with somebody in the agency that knew what I needed.
About mid-April, I finally got all of the paperwork straightened out, we got the motor home registered and we took it back to our house in Ashland and immediately moved into it. The bed was a lot more comfortable than our old bed but we continued to take showers and cook our meals in our old house.
During May I started to clean out our house, but that only meant a couple of extra bags of trash put out on the curb each week. I had the local 1-800-Junk people to come in and clean out the extra stuff in the basement, garage and back yard. I also had our landscaper come and do a complete Spring clean up of the yard. We traded in Susan’s old Rav4 for a new Ford Transit Connect. Because the Transit is not flat-towable I ordered a trailer dolly for it which arrived in parts. The web site said it was easy to put together, but unless you had a shop with a power lift and power tools and an extra pair of hands, this was definitely not the case. I arranged for a local garage which was also the local U-haul dealer to pick it up and assemble it for us.
My last day at work was June 7th. The last months I spent at work dragged but the last week went by in a flash. Part of me was sad about leaving, but the other part said it was past time to move on. The following week we took our first shakedown cruise in our motor home to Eastport, Maine. It was really good to get away. The weeks before this had been fairly frantic and Eastport was very quiet. We had no real problems, but it was a good learning experience. When we got home in late June, I started cleaning out our house in earnest. We also moved into our motor home full time, doing everything there instead of in our old house.
Through the first part of July I kept filling up a dozen trash bags a week, but was making no real progress. We took a week off from cleaning and went to the Berkshires in western Massachusetts this time, which is where we had our first significant problem with the motor home. When we arrived at our campsite the refrigerator failed, so we had to leave and go back home. It was either that or lose all the food in the refrigerator. The next day, a Saturday, I tried calling around to see if it could be fixed and got lucky. I found an RV repair shop that was open and willing to take us right then. They were able to find the problem (a factory recall update that hadn’t been properly installed) and had the part to get it fixed (the RVer’s in the audience will realize how miraculous all this was). We went back to the campground that afternoon and spent a quiet week there.
After we got back from western Massachusetts, I again took up the task of cleaning out the house. In mid-July I finally got the house cleaned out enough for us to have a real estate agent see it. We had several agents in, selected one, and he put our house on the market about the end of July.
In mid-July Susan fell and hurt her lower back. I ended up taking her to the emergency room because she was in so much pain, but fortunately the X-rays and MRI showed no broken bones, just deep bruising. Because of the pain, however, Susan was pretty much bed- and house-bound for almost three weeks. This made it clear that we needed a handicap lift in the motor home for the times when she was not feeling strong enough to get up and down the stairs by herself.
In early August I contacted the CoachLift company, a manufacturer of handicap lifts for motor homes and they recommended RideAway, a local handicap transportation specialist to install their lift. We made an appointment to have measurements made but when we went to go there, we had our second, and far more serious problem with the motor home. One of our leveling jacks had failed and we could not leave our driveway.
I called our motor home’s equivalent of AAA, CoachNet, and they sent an enormous tow truck. The tow truck driver and I were able to get the motor home up onto a set of blocks, which let him get under our motor home and take a closer look at what was wrong. He was able to remove the leveling jack, which let us move again, and we were able to get to RideAway the next day for measurements and they said they would order the lift.
Despite all the work I had done trying to empty the house there was still a lot of stuff inside. Susan’s sisters and brothers had taken a lot of things, but after 27 years we had accumulated an enormous amount of junk. I finally hired a clean-out specialist. He had a dumpster delivered to the house, and then he and a crew of four men took and threw out everything that was left in the house. It took two days for them to do this, and I found it a frustrating experience. I am unhappy that so many useable things were thrown out, but the reality was that all the good things in the house had already taken and what was left wasn’t expensive to begin with, and because they were used, nobody else wanted them. I am even more unhappy that we accumulated so many useless things during the years we were there. Nevertheless, once they were done we finally had an empty house. I got a house-cleaning crew and a carpet cleaner to clean the inside of the house, and a power-washing crew to clean the outside and our house was finally ready to be shown to prospective buyers.
We stayed “camping” in our driveway for a week or so after that, but in early September took another trip to Eastport, Maine in time for the Salmon Festival there. When we came back we decided it was too depressing to stay in our driveway in Ashland and started camping at different campgrounds around Massachusetts instead. The parts for Susan’s handicap lift took several weeks to get to RideAway, partly because the lifts are only made once they are ordered but they were finally able to install her handicap lift in late September. They did a great job with the installation, largely because the technician assigned to it had worked on motor homes for years and knew where everything was and what to do.
We got several nibbles on the house in Ashland, but no real bites. When the campgrounds started closing in early October, we had no choice but to move back to our driveway in Ashland. We finally got a substantive offer on the house in mid-October. It was less than we hoped for, but despite the size of our land and how well located it was, realistically our house was a fixer-upper and when compared to the prices of similar houses, it was a fair offer so we took it.
The next several weeks we waited for the buyer to get his financing squared away so we could pass papers on the house. Just when we thought everything was going to go through, we found we had a title problem with our house. Apparently twenty years ago, our original mortgage company had sold our mortgage to another mortgage company (not that we had any say in it) and they failed to do the paperwork correctly. Both of these mortgage companies no longer exist. Our lawyer put a specialist on this but her best estimate was another month before the title would be cleared. By this time it was early November and it was getting cold. Since we had done everything we could and our lawyer would take care of the closing, we finally left New England and headed south, just ahead of a snow storm.
When we got to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania we found we had lost one of the side panels on the motor home somewhere while driving through Pennsylvania. We never heard or felt anything, but there were a lot of bumpy roads and it could have happened anywhere along the way. Another snow storm caught up with us however, so we had to stay for a couple of days in Gettysburg. It would have been nice to be able to go sight-seeing while we were there, but the snow kept us indoors.
I had already thought about going to the Tiffin Motor Home factory on our way south in order to get the leveling jack replaced, but the loss of the side panel meant that it was no longer a choice. Once the weather let up, we headed for Red Bay, Alabama. We got there in early November and ended up having to stay 5-1/2 weeks. The side panel and the leveling jack were replaced less than a week after we got there, but during the initial inspection we were advised that our Phaeton had some warranty issues that needed to be repaired. The problem was the campground at the Tiffin factory was full of other motor homes waiting for the same problems to be repaired, so all we could do was wait for our turn.
About the second week we were there, we got notice from our lawyer that the title problem had been cleared up and they had passed papers on the house. This was a major relief because we had been beginning to feel we would never be able to sell the house.
It was pretty boring having to wait. Red Bay is a small town and there is very little to do there. The nearest city, Huntsville, is a two-hour drive away. Fortunately, we had satellite TV installed by the second week we were there. There was also a reasonably good 3G internet connection and we had lots of ebooks. Still though, the longer we had to wait, the more boring it got to be. Finally it was our turn and we spent the last four days in a row in the service bays having the final repairs being made. They finished on a Tuesday morning, we filled up with water, propane and diesel and hit the road heading south around noontime.
So here we are, mid-December, and finally in Florida. There were a lot of obstacles along the way, and everything took a lot longer than we expected but we managed to get everything done that needed to be done to get us here. We’re not quite done with the process we started at the beginning of the year. Early next year, the final step will be to go to Texas, establish residency and register the motor home, car and ourselves there, before heading off again.
Susan and I do not regret selling our house and leaving New England in the slightest. We both found the change from house to motor home to be a completely natural transition. We do not miss anything we had in our house or anything about our house. Our only thought about it is what took us so long? We still think of ourselves as New Englanders at heart and will probably be back to visit frequently, but at the same time we are relieved to be spending the winter somewhere warm instead of in the cold and snow. We have settled down in sunny Florida for the next couple of months, but I know that when winter is over we will be more than ready to travel again.