The Summer of Our Discontent

Just for fun, here is a nonexclusive list of things that are definitely not good for our mental health:

  • Spending long hours cooped up in our trailer because of stifling heat and humidity outside. Going outside to exercise left us sweat-drenched and dehydrated, while staying inside made us feel lazy and claustrophobic.
  • Checking weather sites to confirm the mild and pleasant temperatures prevailing in the places we originally planned to travel this summer.
  • Obsessively checking various Covid-19 dashboards to see the daily updates and trends on testing, positivity rates, and cases in our area and in areas where friends and family live.
  • Anxiously awaiting updates every three hours from the National Hurricane Center when tropical systems develop in the Gulf of Mexico and could be headed our way.
  • Being stuck inside our tiny trailer for multiple days in a row, multiple times, when those very tropical systems brought rain bands that parked over our heads and dropped record-setting amounts of rain. How much rain? Our rainfall total for August + September was 35 inches. Setting a 200-year precipitation record is not the sort of fame I am looking for.
  • Obsessively reading news to get the latest info on the dumpster fire that is our national political situation.
  • Languishing in a private RV park which, while clean and well-maintained, is still basically a trailer park complete with Confederate flags flying high.

So what did we do this summer? See above. πŸ™

We struggled mightily to maintain our positive attitudes this summer instead of drowning in a sea of self-pity. And that was before our air conditioner died.

 

 

As if we didn’t already know this, we can confirm that RV air conditioners are no match for summer in Florida. Between the relentless sun, the UV index over 10 virtually every day, the oppressive heat and humidity, and the limited insulation in an RV, it was impossible for our A/C to keep up with demands. Even set on 80 degrees, it ran continuously from about 10 am to about 5 pm, but could not maintain the temperature. Every day we watched helplessly as the inside temperature ticked higher and higher, until we finally got some relief in the form of shade starting around 4:30. The “good” news is that when the heat index outside is 111 degrees, your 85 degree RV interior actually feels somewhat comfortable when you first walk inside.

Our hard-working A/C was the only thing standing between us and complete misery, so we spent the summer living in fear of its demise. The loud screeching sound that the A/C started emitting on Labor Day — because things ALWAYS break on holidays — was of course the sound of doom. Some hasty online research revealed that we might just have an issue with lubrication on the bearings, so we spent several days visiting the roof of our rig and opening the A/C housing daily to try different products on the fan motor bearings. We had some success with trusty Three In One, but also called a mobile RV repairman to evaluate the A/C. Jason’s advice was to keep lubricating it until the motor died — which it was destined to do — and order a replacement motor ASAP.

That’s great advice, except that there were absolutely no replacement parts to be found anywhere. Dometic (the manufacturer) had the motors on back order for 4-6 weeks, and even those sketchy online RV parts places with websites that look like total scams showed no inventory of the needed item. Jason offered to try to find a camper with a similar A/C in a junkyard and cannibalize it for parts, but we decided to just limp along until we could get a new replacement part.

Our A/C finally stopped blowing cold air on a day we were stuck inside waiting out the endless rain bands from Hurricane Sally. It is just so marvelous to be trapped inside an aluminum tube during a massive rain event, unable to control the inside temperature and unable to open windows because of the hurricane going on outside. At least when it’s raining the temperature is somewhat lower. Fun times!

We quickly invested in a large number of fans. They helped a bit, but believe me when I say that living inside a wind tunnel has its own challenges.

We were already having a hard time remaining positive after dealing with all the drama of this year. You can only imagine how cranky we became after several consecutive nights of trying to sleep in hot, sticky conditions. A blast of cold weather in the last week of September brought nighttime temperatures as low as the 50s, and that’s probably the only thing that kept us from turning into homicidal maniacs. Like many people, we will not be looking back on 2020 with fondness.

BUT …… Our long, uninvited pause was not completely without benefits. We made frequent visits to the lovely white sand beaches of St. George Island, and after our long beach walks we even enjoyed occasional swims in the crystal clear warm water. I recognize that a summer spent going to the beach most days is, in any objective sense, not a tragedy.

 

 

We were extremely fortunate that our friends and fellow RVers Eric and Laurel were hunkered down at her parents’ home just a few miles from us, and we enjoyed multiple outdoor, socially-distanced happy hours and dinners as well as several joint kayak trips when the weather cooperated. FaceTime calls and Zoom meetings and email can only do so much to keep us connected, and having the opportunity for actual human interaction with like-minded fellow travelers was a real life-saver for us.

And speaking of dinners, we came close to eating our weight in local shrimp.

 

 

We took a few short camping trips to nearby state parks, like our Fourth of July weekend at Three Rivers State Park, and loved being back in a more natural environment. It was also good to remember how to hitch up and drive our trailer. While I cried a few bitter tears every time I had to cancel one of our hard-won summer reservations — especially our 10-day stay over Fourth of July at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore — we ended up not paying giant cancellation fees. For the most part our cancellations cost about $20 per stay between the non-refundable online reservation fee and the typically modest cancellation / change fees. In particular, the punitive cancellation policies at Michigan state parks were waived because of the pandemic, so we didn’t have to take a major financial hit from our decision to stay put for the summer.

We did plenty of useful work on taming the wild vegetation on our lot, though the vines we tackled in the spring returned with a vengeance over the summer. More important, being physically present allowed us to make a lot of smart choices about situating the house on the lot to save as many trees as possible. Our presence even encouraged our builder to make an early start on our project. We originally expected to be installing pilings around the end of September, but we have already advanced to having both the pilings installed and most of the framing complete.

 

 

The quality of work at Salon Ken steadily improved over the course of the summer as he gained more skill and confidence in pandemic haircutting. I’m not sure which is more impressive — the fact that he can now cut my hair as well as the average Supercuts stylist we’ve visited on the road, or the fact that he can cut his own hair, including the back, entirely on his own. That skill will come in very handy when we travel again.

I managed to listen to enough hours of Continuing Legal Education podcasts and webinars to renew my law license through 2026. We also started volunteering with a community group to work on a long-term legally-oriented project that, if successful, will help preserve the quality of life on SGI for future generations.

 

 

We took care of the many items of paperwork associated with moving to a new address. We are now the proud holders of new driver licenses, new voter registration cards, new bank accounts with a local bank (gotta have a source for quarters when we travel again), updated addresses on all our credit cards, etc.

Most important, we achieved our goal of avoiding contracting or spreading the dangerous coronavirus. The positivity rate in our rural area has remained fairly low, especially outside of the state prison located at one end of the county, and we have been vigilant about limiting our interactions with other people. While any virus deaths at all are an indictment of the atrocious handling of the pandemic in the US, we feel fortunate that to date our small county has only experienced 9 hospitalizations and 4 deaths as a result of the virus. Most of Florida is faring far worse.

Now we are back on track with the plan for the year we designed in January and things are starting to feel less out of sorts. We intended to return to St. George Island in the fall for the house build, and back in the pre-pandemic times we rented a house on the island for the months of October, November, and December. Now we are ensconced in a real sticks and bricks house, complete with washer and dryer. So luxe! This fully furnished three bedroom house is almost impossibly large for just the two of us. It’s a little sad that the family holiday visits we originally planned will likely not be happening, but being in the house is a major improvement in our life. We’re just two blocks west of our home-in-construction so we can check on progress, and we’re also just two blocks north of the beach. Now we will really have the chance to experience island living, while figuring out how to function when we can be at home yet more than 15 feet apart.

The Airstream fits just fine in the driveway of our rental house.

 

10 thoughts on “The Summer of Our Discontent”

  1. You’re spot on here– everything is a bummer, but the summer is also a success, because it sounds like you didn’t accidentally kill anyone! Thank you for doing your part responsibly, hopefully if we’re in this together next year will be better!

    Reply
    • You framed it exactly right — we should all allow ourselves a low bar for success (not accidentally killing anyone) and work together to meet that. If we can do that, things will be looking up next year.

      Reply
  2. So glad you have moved into more spacious quarters where you can enjoy a more normal life.
    You are so right, 2020 has been the year from hell. Let’s hope we can attain some amount of normalcy soon. Let’s also hope we can retain sane environmental policies so our planet is not in constant danger of devastating floods, fires and horrendous storms.
    Looks like β€œDelta” is heading toward the gulf coast this week and you may get another dose of huge amounts of rain. Stay dry…..
    Your construction project looks great. A new home is something to look forward to.

    Reply
    • I thought it was a rule that the storms would stop coming when we ran out of names, but apparently not. πŸ™‚ At least we are coming to the end of storm season, and moving into the part of the year that explains why people live in the Florida in the first place. Plus we have the excitement of the house coming together slowly. For us, things are definitely improving.

      Reply
  3. I’m in the middle of writing a post where I also use the phrase ‘dumpster fire of 2020.’ Because nothing more accurately describes the hell of this insane year.

    Although we already knew the many challenges that you two have faced since being in Eastpoint, seeing it all in list form is daunting. Your tales of running your A/C 24/7 and never having it get below 80 degrees were bad enough, but when your A/C completely croaked…that was beyond bad. I want everyone who reads this blog to know that throughout it all, you two have somehow maintained positive attitudes. Yes, you’ve had great stories, and we’ve all expressed plenty of outrage at what has transpired in our country, but you’ve taken your personal challenges in stride and have never wavered from doing what you believe to be the right thing.

    We’re glad you’re here. Hanging out with you guys has kept us from going feral, and it’s been a heck of a lot of fun. Now that it’s cooling off, it’s time to try roasting (not cremating) some oysters in the backyard! πŸ™‚

    Reply
    • Yes, 2020 is a real doozy. Even without the pandemic it would be a terrible year full of catastrophic natural disasters and political strife, but the coronavirus has doubled or tripled the terribleness quotient. I am sure a large part of the world’s population is going to end up with some amount of PTSD from this experience. Ugh!

      As you know, and as I said in the post, having you guys nearby was incredibly valuable to us. One very positive thing to come out of 2020 is the opportunity to deepen our friendship with you two.

      Reply
  4. While everyone has been dealing with all kinds of crazy challenges this year, I think a lot of RVers have really struggled because they haven’t been able to do the normal things that make up for the fact that RV living isn’t exactly luxurious.

    You guys have dealt with all of that on a whole other level. At least you have Eric and Laurel nearby, which I know has been a huge benefit, but being stuck in a tiny tube, uncomfortable, for months on end, not being able to do the things you want to do, and having to deal with the endless anxiety and uncertainty and aggravation endemic to living in a world on fire, is a lot to take. A LOT. The fact that you didn’t murder anyone – not one, single person – is truly a testament to your personal character.

    I am seriously happy to hear that things have really turned a corner for you. Hopefully it’ll be all smooth sailing from here on out. One can hope, anyway.

    Reply
    • Coming in to the summer, we knew that the heat would be rough — we lived in Florida before hitting the road — but after dealing with plenty of cold, snow, slush, hail, breakdowns, medical issues, and other challenges on the road we also thought that we had pretty good coping skills. This summer really tested us, though. We are enormously glad it’s over, and no one died.

      I do think things can only get better from here. We have a fixed place to live for three months, we are making good progress on house construction, and we are getting more established and meeting people in our new community. Better weather is certainly helping also!

      Reply
  5. Weather rises to a whole new level when you live in an RV. Add the inability to escape it for a host of reasons, and I’m not thoroughly convinced there isn’t a body hidden under all that construction! Your new temporary digs sound wonderful, and the build, while not moving as fast as it would in “normal” times, is really coming along nicely. Having friends nearby to share a paddle and a meal is the icing on the cake. The only thing missing is a picture of your haircut. We can’t be expected to believe in your stylist’s skills without proof! πŸ™‚

    Reply
    • I can tell you that it’s very easy to dig a hole in the sand here, but I’m not going to tell you how I know that. πŸ™‚ Now that we survived the long, terrible summer, we feel a lot better about everything and are not even impatient about the house construction process. You will get to see my home-made haircut when you come visit us this winter…. I can’t see going back to outsourcing that process even after we have vaccines and can visit personal care providers.

      Reply

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