My wife and I have been out on our annual summer RV vacation since early June, which is the main reason I’ve been fairly quiet of late (and no, I haven’t forgotten that I have books to write, believe me!). This year we’ve been touring through New England, and have seen and done a lot of amazing things and visited some magical places. We’ve also been through the usual assortment of hair-raising situations that might make saner folk question just what the heck they were doing out on the road in the first place!
As Bilbo Baggins once told Frodo, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door. You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no telling where you might be swept off to.” I think Bilbo must have had a lot of experience with RV travel, and I’m tempted to have that quote painted on the side of our rig.
There was more than one occasion during this summer’s trip (well, and most of the trips we’ve taken before) when I thought to myself, “Just what the HELL am I doing out here?” This thought would usually run through my mind in such joyful situations as driving through a straight (or, even better, turning) construction zone with barrels, cones, and/or Jersey barriers positioned no more than a foot away from either side of the rig, although at the time it seemed like only inches. Or grinding up (or, worse, zooming down) steep, twisting country roads with blind turns. At night. In pouring rain. With hail. And meteors. Or trying to squeeze the rig through narrow streets of quaint little towns that would be a tight fit for my bicycle, because the GPS said that was THE best route to get to our destination. The infernal device, which I call Gertrude, forgot to mention that we needed vaseline to get through. Or our destination was intentionally located by its proprietors in such a difficult to access area that guests would never want to brave the hellish roads to leave and would stay forever (cue up Hotel California by the Eagles). The RV park where we’re staying right now has its own graveyard. I kid you not.
So why do my wife and I go through this self-inflicted hell on wheels, rather than just staying at home in Sarasota, floating in the pool with tropical drinks with little umbrellas in hand?
Because, to us, the rewards have justified the madness. It doesn’t matter so much that we’re in an RV, as opposed to driving a car or flying and staying in a hotel (although we prefer RV travel because it’s our own place with our own stuff, and we can take the cats). What matters is that we’re out experiencing the world, warts and all. We’ve seen so many places and done so many things that so many people never get around to. And every time we go somewhere, we come away with the thought, “Wow! There’s so much more to see and do here!” And while driving The Beast can be a challenge, I can also look back and say, “Hey, I did that – and survived!” It’s a confidence builder, and certainly has given us lots of great fodder for stories to tell over a good meal with friends.
Beyond that, it’s the mental attitude, which takes you far beyond traveling the highways and byways in an RV. The words of John F. Kennedy’s “We chose to go to the moon speech” come to mind:
We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win…
I thought about Kennedy’s words a great deal when my books took off back in 2011 and I was faced with the opportunity to leave my career government job and begin a new career as a full-time author. But that meant leaving all the security and benefits – a stable and pretty much guaranteed income, excellent health care, and good retirement benefits – of my government job behind. By contrast, working as an author has no guarantees. I have no idea what my income may be next month or the month after that, and I have no idea how well any given book will do when it’s published. I have no retirement plan beyond what I choose to make for myself. Our health benefits are far more expensive than as a Federal employee. I do everything for the business, from writing the books to doing the taxes, and sometimes – like driving the RV – it drives me nuts. And everything is uncertain; there is no safety net. In short, it meant that I, and my family with me, made the decision to step out onto Bilbo’s fabled Road in a big way.
It would have been very easy not to. I could have stayed comfortably in my Hobbit hole, just as it would be comfortably easy to stay in our house and not venture out in our RV. But had I done that, I would never – at least until I retired in another dozen or so years (with the understanding that tomorrow is guaranteed to no one, and those days may never have come) – have been able to do the things we’ve done these past few years.
Far too many people let life pass them by because they’re afraid to test the boundaries of their comfort zone, and I’m not just talking about travel. It’s about making the most that you can of life. It’s about doing the things that you want or need to do, but that mean taking some measure of risk. You’re afraid you won’t succeed, or in some cases you’re afraid you will and aren’t sure if you can handle it. I can’t tell you if you’ll make it or not, and you should never let anyone else tell you that, either. But I can tell you this: if you never try, if you never open the door to your Hobbit hole and set foot upon the Road or look up at the moon and decide to do what is hard, you’ll never, ever know.