We Are All Strangers in a Strange Land, Longing for Home

Or at least that’s the situation for full-time RVers like us in the current pandemic environment. It’s not completely obvious how best to follow the instruction to “stay home” when, as RVers like to say, “Home is where we park it.” For the estimated 1 million people in the US who live full time in RVs, a cascade of closures has made it difficult to find a place to park where we can be assured that we can safely hunker down for the duration of the virus crisis. Not only are most campgrounds in state and national parks closed, but many private RV parks have closed as well. Even dispersed camping on federal lands has been closed in many places.

In the last installment of the blog I mentioned that we were able to secure the one (1) available spot at a private RV park near Apalachicola in the Florida panhandle. We chose this area because it is close to where we own property on St. George Island and plan to build a home later this year. Now that we’ve been here two weeks and the park is now half empty, we assume that plenty of people have wisely chosen to either cancel their trips or cut their visits short.

 

Us Versus Them

Closures of parks and camping areas are hard for RVers, but the ugliest and most challenging dynamic that we saw emerging was fear-based tribalism and a tendency to view the problem as a threat from the outside. That tribalism has been on full display here on the Forgotten Coast.

On March 21 Franklin County closed all public beach access in response to Panama City Beach closing its beaches; Franklin County didn’t want spring breakers to leave Panama City and come here instead. On March 24 the Apalachicola City Commission closed all lodging in the city for tourists and leisure visitors, effective March 25. This terminated all hotel, RV, and marina stays except for long-term stays of 28 days or more. On March 27 Florida’s governor issued an executive order prohibiting vacation rentals throughout the state. On March 29 the Florida Highway Patrol set up checkpoints on the interstates leading into Florida to intercept out of state drivers, particularly from New York and New Jersey, and communicate the state’s self-quarantine requirements. The common thread here is that out-of-town visitors are seen as the true source of potential virus transmission as opposed to, say, a resident of Franklin County who contracts the illness from visiting the Walmart an hour away in Crawfordville or a medical specialist in Tallahassee. The reality is that the people most likely to spread the virus are those who don’t engage in social distancing, regardless of their home address. (And RVers are very good at spending long periods of time with few personal interactions.)

Yet other parts of the country have taken or tried to take similar steps. The islands of North Carolina’s Outer Banks are restricting access across bridges and ferries to permanent residents — even keeping out owners of properties on the islands who are not full time residents. The three counties of South Texas that surround Big Bend National Park all shut down campgrounds, hotels, and AirBnBs to deter people fleeing from urban areas to their small communities. In New England, 10,000 residents of Cape Cod signed a petition to close the Sagamore Bridge and cut off access to the entire peninsula to everyone other than year-round residents, medical personnel, and supply trucks. All this activity has made a few things clear. First, since we are Florida residents and we are already in Florida we should not leave the state until the crisis is over. Second, it behooves us to become as “local” as possible.

We are not bold enough to select one of these colors for our new home.

We are here because we own property on St. George Island, so we looked into the process for establishing our address with the post office. We would be happy to install a mailbox in front of our empty lot if it meant we could get new drivers’ licenses, register to vote, and take other steps to firm up our connection to this place. We intended to do those things eventually, and there is no time like the present! Having a recognized address will also be helpful when we are having construction materials delivered during the house build. Unfortunately, the friendly local postmaster informed us by phone that addresses can only be activated on a new home once the foundation is in place — which in our case means our concrete pilings.

Given the tendency of local authorities to view RV parks as places filled with transients, we also looked into renting a sticks-and-bricks house in Apalachicola. There is exactly one house for rent at the moment, and it didn’t work for us so we passed. Instead we have extended our reservations at our RV park through the end of June. We are also going to change spots from the waterfront spot we’ve been occupying to one further in from the road. We look forward to getting a little more shade as temperatures rise and getting away from the road noise, but we also want to be closer to the section of this RV park occupied by long-term residents in an effort to blend in with them. So long as Franklin County doesn’t close the whole operation down, we plan to stay put here.

Staying Sane in Crazy Times

The good news is that there are things we can accomplish here on the Forgotten Coast beyond obsessive news checking. We’ve been visiting our property quite a bit and doing useful work. Being on site allowed us to measure and stake out the footprint for the new house, and make good decisions about where exactly it will sit on the lot and where the stairs will connect the house to the ground. We’ve also started on the very large project of removing vines growing in the trees and shrubs that occupy about a third of our lot. These vicious, thorn-covered minions of evil have resisted our efforts, and our lower legs look like we’ve done battle with a clowder of exceptionally angry house cats.

Some of our handiwork

On days when we don’t attack the vines we are taking walks in the neighborhood to study how other homes have resolved design problems. Through email and phone calls with our architect we have essentially finalized our house plans. Our next step is to coordinate with our builder on the timing to pursue permits and get construction started, when the shutdowns and his schedule allow. We are currently in line for construction to start in October but like most things the dates are in flux in the current situation.

We’ve met several neighbors who couldn’t resist coming by (and standing 10+ feet away) to check out what we’re doing on the lot. To a person they have been friendly and welcoming, and one couple in particular is very plugged into the community as business owners and civic leaders. I am confident that they will suck us into volunteering with any and all civic projects that come along. We’ve also had the chance for a few (well-distanced) interactions with fellow RVers Eric and Laurel (Raven and Chickadee) who are also hunkered down in this area. Together we have started exploring the paddle trails of the Apalachicola River, providing a much-needed opportunity to appreciate the area’s natural beauty.

 

 

It’s been reassuring to find these hopeful signs of a bright future in the midst of all the anxiety and bad news. And making tangible progress on the house build makes us feel like we have some control despite being in a situation where so many things are out of our control. Since our goal for the next few months is to lay pretty low the blog may be relatively quiet for a while, but we’ll continue to post on Instagram somewhat regularly (use the links at the top right). In the meantime, please stay safe everyone!

 

Sunrise over Apalachicola Bay means fresh hope every day

 

10 thoughts on “We Are All Strangers in a Strange Land, Longing for Home”

  1. While we are sorry that you will not be making it up to Shenendoah this spring we are glad to hear you are making some progress on your future home. It sounds as if you are making the best of a bad situation. We hope you will come see us when this is all over. In the meantime stay safe. Were thinking of you!

    Reply
    • We are also very disappointed about having to cancel our travel plans, but after all the research and effort of making the itinerary I am sure we will try to make it happen soon — maybe next year! Thanks for the positive thoughts. It means a lot to those of us who are somewhat stranded in this situation.

      Reply
  2. Of all the insane, crazy things that have been happening these past few weeks, the situation you describe – of checkpoints and bridge/road closures, and generally suspicious treatment of outsiders, is the most disturbing to me. We full-timers went from complete freedom to the polar opposite. Benefits have become liabilities and things that never crossed our minds before, never leave our minds now. It’s funny that while you guys are actively trying to prove your local bona fides, we are worried that our Florida license plates will eventually cause problems for us in Texas. And I am wondering if we’ll face questions from nosy neighbors when we pull into our next RV park. It’s all enough to make me want to curl up under the covers and turn the lights out… which, if I’m being honest, is what I spend a lot of my time doing these days.

    In any case, as bad as things are in the wider world, you guys seem to be doing well in your corner of it. Friendly and welcoming neighbors – who will undoubtedly be keeping you busy – access to your property, and good, reliable friends down the beach are all cause to be relieved. You’re in a good place to weather this storm.

    Stay safe and stay in touch!

    Reply
    • I’ve been worrying about you guys and your tell-tale Florida plates, but you really had no choice but to hunker down in Austin when this situation arose so quickly. I am hoping that being in a larger city with lots of recent immigrants (from other states and other countries) will mean you are in a community that is relatively more welcoming to people seeking temporary shelter.

      All things considered, we are in the best possible place for us to be right now, and I am still pretty anxious all the time. I can’t imagine how we would have handled things if this had come to a head when we were up north in the summer, for example. Happily that is not the situation we have, so we’re making the best of it to the extent we can. Stay well, friends.

      Reply
  3. Seems like you’re in a good place to shelter and ride this out. And I’d have no trouble picking one of those bold vibrant colors for my new home. I’m getting a little tired of looking at desert beige 😆

    Reply
    • We think this is a great place, as long as we get to stay. And even though we can’t enjoy the beach (and the place is eerily empty) we are still enjoying the cheerful beach colors! Who knows, maybe after a few months we’ll be embracing the idea of a lime green house.

      Reply
  4. Oh, you guys…this is such a surreal time. As you said, the freedom that we all enjoy as fulltime RVers has suddenly become a huge liability. We’re watching our spring and summer reservations fall prey to the pandemic and wondering just how long term we’re going to be here. The sh*t hit the fan just one week before we were scheduled to head out, and although we’re still reeling, we’re also incredibly grateful that it didn’t happen after we had put my folks’ house on the market and were hundreds of miles away.

    Your observations on the paranoia against outsiders is giving me something to think about. Because, truthfully, I want people to stay home and to shelter in place. I miss having St. George Island available for beach walks, but I also didn’t want hordes of spring breakers flooding the beaches. And as you know, I was furious when that dumbass Georgia senator who was JUST released from the hospital after suffering from COVID-19 decided to come to St. George to his vacation home to recover. I loved that the Franklin county sheriff basically ran him out of town.

    Of course, the suddenness of this pandemic and the need to shelter in place has created a situation that is incredibly difficult for fulltime travelers. Do I think it’s okay for people to keep traveling? No. Had we been on the road, we would have looked for a place to hunker down until this was all over, just as you have done. I think you’ve chosen a responsible option. And you know there’s a backup plan waiting for you should you need it. We’re glad you’re here. 🙂

    Reply
    • It is definitely a stroke of good luck that you still have your parents’ home and some pals around to help you enjoy this lovely area. Of all the full-timers I know, I think you were fortuitously in the best possible position when everything fell apart. Still, it really does stink to lose one (hard-won, well-researched) destination after another for the summer. I console myself with the reminder that those places will still be there next summer.

      I understand the psychology of wanting to keep outsiders away, but it’s too easy to blame “foreigners” for problems instead of recognizing that this virus is eventually going to be everywhere and affect virtually everyone, and preparing for that reality. Also, I would be pretty annoyed if, for example, I owned a house on the Outer Banks and was prohibited from going to my own home. It’s a difficult situation to be sure.

      Having you guys nearby makes a world of difference in helping us get through this!

      Reply
  5. I agree that the fear of “outsiders” is our biggest concern during this time. We haven’t, fortunately, experienced anything in person, but we sure see the virtual pitchforks and torches coming out. Keep away! Stay there! Have compassion, but not for THOSE people! It’s Karma when [this person] gets it, but so sad when [this person] gets it. Argh!!! There is always much to learn and ways to do better, but so much blaming and fear and hate is going to be the real death of us all.

    I am glad you are safe and well, and it is my fervent hope that things remain so for you.

    Reply
    • I am very relieved that you are not personally experiencing any discrimination or even side-eyes in your out-of-state location. I think that once the virus is basically everywhere in the U.S. (which sadly looks like it is going to happen) there will be no point in distinguishing between locals and outsiders, but maybe I am being too optimistic. We are sending positive thoughts to you and all our friends who are sort of stuck in transit, and hope you continue to be well.

      Reply

Leave a Reply to Shannon Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.