boomers

On the journey of life, no one wants the scenery to go by too fast. So when Nancy Schwarz and her husband, Mark, retired, it was a reminder that they had turned a corner — one that Nancy wasn’t sure she was ready to take.

“My husband had this dream to get an RV (recreational vehicle), and after retirement, travel and see the U.S.A.,” Nancy said. Her response? “That’s what old people do.”

At 62, Nancy had raised two sons and had four grandchildren, and after working for 12 years in secondary education, she was looking forward to more time to spend with her husband, who had retired last spring from a career in commercial real estate.

“I don’t have anything against traveling,” Nancy said. “It’s just the thought that, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to be of that age where I can do this. I’m not sure I want to face that. To get an RV and travel was just putting a big stamp on my head saying, ‘I’m old and I’m going to travel until I die.’”

Mark persisted for five years, showing Nancy photos of RVs and blogs by people who loved to travel by RV, and slowly she came around. “He found a particular company that made exactly what it took for me to say, ‘Yes, I can see myself in that, and I might like it,’” Nancy said. With that green light, Mark planned a road trip to Winkler in Manitoba, Canada, where they toured a factory and chose the vehicle and amenities they wanted.

Today, they own a 25-foot leisure travel vehicle (LTV), which is equivalent to a B-plus in RV terminology — not the smallest model, but not the biggest either. The LTV is equipped with a very comfortable Murphy bed, a kitchen with all the appliances and a “nice-size” bathroom. “It’s not like being in a five-star hotel, but it’s really nice and comfortable,” Nancy said. “The décor feels Scandinavian; it’s sleek and attractive but very simple. It’s truly comfortable to live in and travel in.”

It’s also easy enough to drive, according to Nancy, and she often takes the wheel on their cross-country treks. After bringing the LTV home from Canada, their first trip was to visit a son and his family in Maryland. They took the scenic route to get there, stopping along the way in the Smoky Mountains, Blue Ridge Parkway, Nashville, Pigeon Forge, the Biltmore Estate and Monticello. “If we had gotten on an airplane, we would have missed all that,” Nancy said. And having their own place to stay meant they could extend the visit with their son.

“On another trip, we went to my favorite place in the world — Mount Rushmore. We had taken the kids when they were younger, and I said that’s the one place I want to go back,” said Nancy. Again, they took the scenic route on the return trip home, stopping to visit friends in Colorado and a niece in Canyon, Texas.

“We really are trying to make the most of being on the road — taking our time and visiting interesting places as well as the people we love,” she added.

The travel may be a dream come true for Mark, but Nancy is already fulfilling her wish list as well. At Christmastime, with both sons unable to make it home, they hauled the LTV out of storage and drove to Pasadena, Calif., to attend the 129th Tournament of Roses Parade on Jan. 2. They took advantage of off-season rates at a campground overlooking the ocean in Malibu and also toured the studios where the floral parade floats are decorated.

In April, they are bound for the Indianapolis 500 races that occur at Speedway, Ind., every May, and Mark has a couple of surprises planned along the route, Nancy said. “I trust him implicitly. He is so happy I agreed to do this, he makes it really special for me. And I love it.”

But it’s not just the big adventures she enjoys. What makes the travel most memorable and enjoyable are the little things in between, she says, like the festivals, small-town shops and cafes, the people they meet in campgrounds.

It’s also memorable when things go wrong, as it did on one occasion when they were at an LTV rally in Canada with 85 other LTV owners. “We pulled into our space, put out the slide, then decided to go into town for something. So we cranked her up and started driving,” Nancy said. “We noticed people were looking at us funny and thought, ‘Whatever, maybe they are just admiring our beautiful RV,’ that looked, of course, just like theirs.”

Instead, they discovered on their way out of the gate that they had left the slide out – a big no-no – and the next day had to play along with the others as they gossiped and chuckled about the people who were driving with their slide out.

“There’s a huge learning curve to every single aspect of the RV life,” Nancy said, admitting she’s still learning how to shop and stock the camper’s kitchen and cook on the propane burner stove. It’s not gourmet like others can do, but “we’re not just opening a can of soup. We’re actually cooking and enjoying the food.”

She’s also growing more comfortable with what it means to be an empty nester, to being retired and traveling the country by RV. “More than anything, I am adjusting to being the age I am,” Nancy said. “I’m not ancient, but I’m adjusting to being in this chapter, whatever chapter it is, and appreciating the people, old or not-so-old, that are out there enjoying life in an RV.

“I think part of it is because I have seen women in their 70s and 80s doing this and enjoying it. They are vibrant and looking forward to the next place. They are engaged in life,” Nancy said. “So I do think it has been a real inspiration to me to see the adage ‘age is just a number.”

“And I’ve been encouraged and inspired by the fact that there is just lot of meaningful life in front of me, however long God chooses. The RV that I thought was going to put a ‘you’re old stamp’ on me has put on a different stamp that says, ‘OK let’s go.’”

By Shari Biediger