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. 🙁
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.