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Posted on Sun. Jul. 20, 2014 - 12:01 am EDT

Retirees hear road calling

Boomers unloading homes, revving up RV for life of travel

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Judy Maley is sitting outside at her patio table, watching her dogs, Rusty and Peaches, chase a squirrel up a nearby tree.

Although she’s only about four miles away from her home in Roanoke, she’s at what she now calls her “lake cottage” – but what she wants to someday call her home sweet anywhere.

The 56-year-old says when she and her husband, Dennis, 54, retire in a few years, they’re going on the road in their KZ Durango 1500 fifth-wheel.

“When we retire, we’re going south for a few months in the winter time. We could go to Florida for a time, and then move to Texas or Arizona for a few months, all during one year.

“That’s the nice part about these things. You can pick up and go anywhere.”

Ah, yes. The lure of living on the open road. No worries. No cares. No permanent address.

It’s a bug that baby boomers are catching these days as they look toward their societal seniority, says Ron Sleeper, owner of The RV Center in Columbia City.

“I have two customers from around here who this year have auctioned off their home and belongings and basically kept just what they need to survive in their camper, and they’re out traveling now,” he says.

That’s just what Frank and Carol Davis, recent residents of the KOA campground outside Middlebury, have been doing since 2009, though they still maintain a foothold in the Pensacola area of the Florida panhandle.

“We’ve spent 440-some nights on the road since then,” says Frank, 66, a retired telephone company worker, standing next to a map of the United States on the side of the couple’s fifth-wheel.

Every state except Illinois and Hawaii have been checked off. “And we’re going to (Illinois) next,” he says.

The couple started with a car trip to Alaska, staying in motels and bed-and-breakfasts.

“We saw there were campgrounds everywhere, and we saw there was more freedom with a camper,” he says. So the couple bought a 34-foot fifth-wheel, towed with a Chevy Silverado truck, in 2011.

They’ve taken it back to Alaska and driven to Maine. They took one of their favorite trips to Mount Rushmore and Rapid City, South Dakota, where Frank relished going into a missile defense silo.

Just before stopping in Middlebury, where they’ve been enjoying the sights of Amish country, they spent time around July 4 in Yellowstone National Park.

“Beautiful,” says Carol, 63, a retired state revenue department worker. “Each state is so unique.”

How do they do it? “It’s rather easy,” Frank says. “Before this, my idea of camping was the second floor of the Holiday Inn, but this isn’t bad … This is basically our motel room.”

He says he learned basic maintenance of the rig and hasn’t had any breakdowns. The couple get groceries – they like sampling local produce and delicacies – and cook “at home” in the camper’s kitchen or on the grill, eating out occasionally while on the road.

“I’ll tell you our secret – the America the Beautiful Senior Pass. It’s free entrance to every national park and half-price for camping,” Frank says, adding that they may wend their way home in October.

“This trip has been 6,100 miles. We’re out to see as much of the country as we can.”

Matt Rose, spokesman for the Indiana Manufactured Housing Association’s recreational vehicle division, says what he calls “the RV lifestyle” has several variations.

Some change locations every few days, he says, but many drive to a destination campground and stay several months, using their towing or towed vehicle for sightseeing and errands. Then they pack up and go on to the next spot on their bucket list.

Often, dealers say, people organize their stays around their interests – from beaches, boating and baseball to horse races, hunting and handicrafts.

Still other retirees use an RV for real-estate reconnaissance, says Bob Coplen, co-owner with his son Paul of Coplen’s Coleman Camper Center, 9810 Lima Road.

“Full-timers, as they call them, are still a relatively small percentage,” Coplen says. “A lot more are (going out on the road) to travel around for a year or two to get a feel for different areas as to whether they want to settle down in an area.”

Other people become what Coplen calls “semi-permanents” – people with two RVs, one for winter and one for summer.

Rose says technological improvements in RVs, campgrounds and life conveniences have made life on the road easier.

RVers can set up a private mailbox in places where they stop. They can stash extra stuff in storage facilities. They can sign up for direct deposit and – with a smartphone, tablet or laptop – do everything from online banking to Internet-based itinerary planning.

Many campgrounds now have Wi-Fi, and newer RVs have a device called a wireless repeater that amplifies signals to a cellphone or other electronic device, Rose says.

And, though many RVs come equipped with a big-screen television, that’s not even needed for TV watching these days, with today’s electronic devices.

“We have units sitting out on the lot – they have satellite dishes. A lot of our trailers come with 50-inch TVs, and some have fireplaces and an air-conditioning system,” Sleeper says.

“Some have leather recliners and queen- and king-sized beds. They have kitchens and refrigerators and microwaves. They have showers, so the units provide all the comfort of home.”

Rose says a recent big improvement in RVs is that they’ve become lighter. That helps keep the cost down on fifth-wheels, he says.

“A lot of fifth-wheels need a bigger truck, because a big factor is weight,” he says. “But now, some of the lighter ones can be hauled by a lighter truck, like a half-ton truck like a (Ford) F-150.”

Prices for fifth-wheels and drivable units, sometimes called motor homes, are comparable, Rose says – except for high-end drivables, which can run into the mid-six figures.

Coplen adds that “a lot of new RVers need to realize they’ll have to tow something,” whether it’s the trailer or a run-about vehicle. However, some motor-home owners choose to rent cars or motorcycles for short periods.

Coplen says full-time RVers also have to realize that maintenance is still required. Holding tanks have to be emptied and cleaned, generators maintained and, sometimes, water hauled.

He recalls friends who thought they wanted to travel in a motor home. “He rented it one weekend, and he never mentioned it again,” Coplen says. “Too much work.”

But that has not deterred the Maleys, lovers of the outdoors in the trial stages with their 27-foot fifth-wheel.

This summer, they’ve parked it at Camp Timber Lake campground outside Roanoke and are spending stretches of time there to see how it goes.

The RV has a queen-size bed and a bathroom with a shower, and the kitchen has a sink, small fridge, a gas stove and oven and a microwave. The campground has laundry facilities and is hooked to a sewer line, so all that’s necessary is to plug into a pipe.

The RV also has a dinette, a big-screen, a queen-size bed, a sofa, upholstered chairs and, Judy Maley says, “plenty of storage.”

She says she actually enjoys not having to deal with more “stuff.”

“Initially I brought a lot more, and I’ve learned to downsize,” she says, noting that one item she never thought she’d need has turned out to be essential – a cast-iron pizza pan.

“I’m learning to cook on the fire much more,” she says, “so I’ve learned to make pizza on the fire, and we love it. I make it a lot.”


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