“The best things in life are unexpected – because there were no expectations.”
- Eli Khamarov
Today I write this from the Florida Keys, about 8 months into our journey. It’s been a wild and wonderful ride.
January started off near Austin, Texas. We had a visit from my in-laws who drove down from West Michigan for a week of family time. Texas was nice but it was mostly cold and rainy while we were there. I worked by business from Starbucks most of the time while the kids did their home schooling and got some good grandparent time.
The highlight of my stay in Texas was a road trip to Lockhart, which is known as the BBQ capital of Texas and maybe the US. We hit 3 of the most recommended BBQ joints in one afternoon. Let me make this perfectly clear: If you love BBQ, it is worth it to throw your family or your buddies in the car and make the whatever hundred mile drive to Lockhart to taste the finest smoked meats you may ever have.
These will not be slathered in BBQ sauce as us Yankees are so used to doing. In fact, you will be considered an amateur and could possibly be publicly shamed and maybe even tarred and feathered if you even ask for BBQ sauce. This is not ‘Famous Dave’s’ people. This is some of the best you will ever taste and there is no comparison. I’m not messing around. If you love perfectly smokes meats, plan the trip.
Lockhart is a small unassuming town about an hour and 20 minutes from where our RV park was. Our favorite by far was Black’s BBQ . The brisket and hot ring (also known as a hot link for you Chicagoans) were unbelievably delicious. Blacks also provided a generous buffet of homemade side items as well. We were lucky enough to get a tour of the pit and learned a little history about this 30-year-old family business. The owners were very pleasant and very accommodating. I cannot recommend them highly enough.
Another highlight of this part of Texas was touring the Missions National Park. We took a walking tour through buildings and architecture that at one time was a thriving community of Christian missionaries. These outposts were established by Catholic religious orders to spread Christianity among the local natives. We spent a good amount of time touring the different buildings where missionaries spend time building a community of followers, engaging in simple day-to-day community activities such as preparing food, basic agricultural, and enjoying the company of each other.
Tammy flew out of Texas for weekend to meet up with some girlfriends for some much-needed girl time. I feel for her sometimes being stuck in a 250 ft. metal box with three boys all the time can be a little unnerving. I took the opportunity to take the boys down to the Gulf and explore the beach there for a day. We took a long walk and gathered a few shells as souvenirs. The ocean, as always, was beautiful and wild.
From Texas we moved on to New Orleans which for me was a highlight and probably my favorite city so far of our entire trip. I’m not much for cities, but New Orleans gets it right. We were there a couple weeks before Mardi Gras, which is probably a good idea considering the sheer volume of people that would be arriving soon.
The people of New Orleans are friendly and accommodating – you could tell they had a lot of pride in their city. New Orleans has been through hell and is still recovering from the hurricane disaster from years prior. We passed neighborhood after neighborhood littered with houses that had been condemned due to flooding. But you could also tell clearly that efforts were being made to rebuild.
I love New Orleans because it’s unapologetic, and in-your-face about its identity. There is no subtlety here. The food is amazing, the music is everywhere, and creativity rules. The entire vibe is art and music and excitement about life without being pretentious.
We enjoyed beignets (a powdered sugar pastry ball of goodness) and chicory-infused coffee from Café du Monde – arguably the most famous Café in New Orleans. We ate ‘slap-your-grandma-worthy’ shrimp po’ boy sandwiches from the Parkway Sandwich Shop on Hagan Avenue. I stood in line to taste the original muffeleta sandwich at the Central Grocer in the French Quarter. Our taste buds were simply rocked.
We listened to a history of jazz presentation one afternoon and my sons enjoyed magic shows and snow cones from street vendors. We enjoyed a pre Mardi Gras parade where the entire town came out to support local businesses, schools and clubs who participated. Strings of beads, candy, toys and trinkets were thrown by the hundreds from floats to observers. My nine-year-old wasn’t really into it, but my teenager and myself enjoyed making a spectacle of ourselves just to get more beads thrown to us. You only live once. Overall, I look forward to in the future coming down to New Orleans for at least a month to soak up its rich culture of art, music and food.
As far as RV Park life goes, one thing that has become somewhat of an anomaly for me is what I like to refer to as the ‘Cult of the Little Yappy Dog’. This pervasive cult clearly targets retirees who drive big class A motorhomes and pull hybred cars. These hopeless followers show their commitment to the cult by owning small, obnoxious yapping dogs. Its also how they identify other members. Your status in the cult is clearly determined by how many little yappy dogs each member owns. The higher level members erect 3 foot tall fences around the outside of their motorhomes to herd their respective beasts into tight proximity.
I do like most dogs, but I have my limits. Dogs are not human beings no matter how many Ewok outfits you dress them in. They generally have no concern over their own hygiene, roll on dead animals for enjoyment and are masters of orally exploring their own anuses without care.
Retirees in RV parks treat their dogs like grandchildren. They dress them up in little costumes like they are going to some doggy pageant. They can’t understand why anyone could possibly be annoyed by the incessant barking of their little furry ball of noise defending their territory whenever a stranger walks by. I confess, I have often daydreamed of pulling out the leftover bear pepper spray from Glacier National Park and hosing them.
A lot of what gets posted on Facebook and blogs bout this lifestyle can make it seem like everything is perfect and life is always good and everything is rainbows and unicorns. The truth is, no matter what path you choose, there are always going to be trade-offs, annoyances, inconveniences, frustrations, and thoughts of the grass being greener. We are not immune to such thinking ourselves and especially in the last couple months these types of topics have come up.
For example, our children are homeschooled and have school for about 3-4 hours a day. After that, a lot of their time can be spent online or video games. I still have to bring in the money, which means serving clients and working on my different businesses. This is not a 4 hour workweek as much as I would love it to be. Sometimes my days go 12 hours and I feel guilty for not being able to spend more time with my kids. I have to remind myself always that this is technically not a vacation.
The truth is if you you are going be on the road this long, you’ve got to really enjoy each other because there are no afterschool programs, soccer leagues, or swim clubs to rely on. You’re on your own trying to figure out what things you can discover as a family in the town that you are staying in. We’ve learned to be very comfortable with uncertainty all of the time because you never really know what environment you’ll have no matter how much you prepare.
I’ve also learned to be appreciative of things that are predictable – such as if there is a running trail close by or a Starbucks to work from. Whether or not you’re going to be able to get reliable Internet from the RV park you are staying at is also a gamble and usually a complete joke. I think we all miss some of our favorite TV shows and are very excited when we stayed a place that has Internet strong enough to support streaming Netflix.
Probably the biggest lesson I’ve learned is how important it is to actively manage your expectations about your life – whether or not you’re traveling in a trailer or wherever you are living or doing whatever you do. My expectations about who I am supposed to be and what I am supposed to be doing can get me in a lot of trouble. I can easily compare my life to the lives I see in the media and in magazines and wind up getting emotionally and mentally constipated.
Before we started this trip I had strong visions of how every weekend I was going to be backpacking with my boys, working less, and just living life day-to-day. It hasn’t always worked out that way. I had expectations of how I was going to be exercising more while we were traveling – when in reality I’ve been denying myself nothing when it comes to tasting the local delicacies of the cities we visit.
I have learned that my own high expectations and ‘shoulds’ can be my biggest enemies when it comes to truly living in the moment and enjoying the ‘right now’. Fortunately I have good friends and my wife that help ground me when I need it.
Such is the nature of living outside your comfort zone. All things being equal, I would have it no other way.