First day of the trip at the East Austin KOA Holiday campground. Photo by Jenny Block
A two-week RV trip for Thanksgiving sheds light on a whole different way of life
Jenny Block | Contributing Writer
I’m not sure what I expected. I had never even been inside an RV before, so when my wife suggested we rent one for the week and do a Texas road trip over Thanksgiving I figured, “What the heck!”
Ok. I didn’t exactly figure “What the heck.” I was actually kind of nervous. I like a bit of privacy and solitude, and I like my bathroom space. But my wife seemed so excited, so I said, “Okay! Let’s do it!”
We made the decision pretty late in the game, so we ended up renting an RV from a place all the way out in Shreveport. It was a really cool Thor Motor Coach from a super sweet guy at Arvey Brothers. But yes, you heard that right: It was hours away in Shreveport.
So before we even hit the road, my wife had to, well, hit the road — three hours there to pick it up and three hours back home. So hit she road she did. And while she was driving, I was shopping, searching the grocery store for anything we could, would or might want or need.
The next day we packed up the RV. It was hard to know what to bring and what to leave behind. I made little baggies of spices and small containers of flour and sugar. I packed extra blankets and what turned out to be way too many tank tops. I packed a couple of casual dresses for outings and Thanksgiving. We brought along the Instant pot and the George Foreman and a little Cuisinart grill. I even brought along a cushy bathroom rug.
My wife packed one bike for trips to the campsite offices, bungy cords, a first aid kit, an outdoor rug, camping chairs, a table — in other words, all the things that she knew would help create a bit of home away from home.
And on Saturday at 11 a.m., we headed out with our 12-year-old Chihuahua terrier Walter and our eight-month-old Chihuahua dachshund Aurora for our first stop: Austin. The RV was more spacious than I imagined. It had a “bedroom” with a queen-sized bed; another queen-sized bed over the “cockpit;” a kitchen with a microwave, range, sink and plenty of storage for a week; a bathroom with a shower that was not — thank goodness — over the toilet, and a slide-out section that doubled as our “family room,” complete with a table with benches and a sofa.
The dogs loved it. They got to sit on my lap all day long. And we took turns playing DJ, listening to podcasts and favorite playlists.
Around 4:30 p.m., we arrived at the Austin East KOA Holiday. My wife checked us in and got us all set up. She was a natural despite it being her first time dealing with all of the hook-ups. Despite any trepidation I may have had, I liked RVing right away. I actually really like camping, and it felt like upgraded camping — glamping, if you’ll excuse the now-overused term.
We got a great spot at the campground with a little extra yard for the dogs, and, because of them, we made new friends right away. You know how dogs are when they see other dogs. We met the Watsons — Rebecca and Cory and their kids Adley and Shep — from Washington state who are on the road for a year.
We met them through their dogs, Mae and Sunny.
The Watsons had their year-long road trip planned before COVID, interestingly enough. They own their rig, which they customized with tile and a barn door and real furniture. You could almost forget you’re in a travel trailer when you’re inside — almost.
We all hit it off immediately. There’s something about travelers — like kinfolk on the road, the kismet of meeting people outside what your norm is, the connection between people who like to ramble ….
Hayden Walker, a foodie friend of mine in Austin, brought us dinner from La Barbecue that night, and we sat by the campfire and ate heavenly brisket and caught up. And I could feel my wife start to relax, which is a really big deal for her. Between work and the pandemic and keeping me from losing my mind through the political debacle we are finally making our way out of, it’s been one hell of a year, as you obviously already know.
That was the point of this whole thing, of course — to relax. To really relax. The funny thing is, much to both my surprise and hers, as we left home, we each admitted that we were both taking the trip for one another. I thought she really wanted to do this RV thing, and she thought I did. We both had a good laugh, and I couldn’t help but think that that’s what I always wanted in a partner — that moment when you realize you’ll both do anything for one another, even when it’s outside of your comfort zone.
We spent the next day sitting in the sun and walking the dogs, and I even taught myself to how to felt. I made a teeny owl that I gave to Adley because it was her birthday, and she hand-wrote a thank you note to me for it.
Things are different on the road. Everything is slower and more deliberate. It takes time to cook things and to get things out and put them away every time, which you have to do in a small space. Everything you do is about journey rather than destination — literally and figuratively.
And, in case you’re wondering, we opted to shower in the bathhouses at the campsites since the RV shower was so tiny, and you really can only take a two minute shower because of the hot water required.
And we decided to mandate the RV bathroom as a peeing-only facility. So, yes, I did have to run in the dark and cold some early mornings and late at night to the bathhouse, which I hated because I am no fan of the cold or the dark, but I am less of a fan of a lack of privacy.
And if it’s all the same to you, that’s the last you’ll hear about all of that.
Before we knew it, our two nights in Austin were over, and it was time to head to our next campsite. We were truly sad to say good-bye to our new friends, and I was reminded of the bittersweet goodbyes at summer camp each year when I never wanted the summer to end or to leave my new friends behind.
Next up was two nights in San Antonio at the Alamo KOA Holiday. On the way, we masked up and stopped at the Vineyard Vines outlet in San Marcos, where we basically had the whole place to ourselves. Vineyard Vines is my wife’s favorite, so we couldn’t resist.
That night at the park, our friends Rob and Jeff came by for dinner. I cooked up a hearty pot of goulash, and my wife set a beautiful table, complete with tea lights and a tablecloth.
Cooking on the trip was a big part of the fun for me. I learned to make biscuits and eggs and bacon all in my one Finex cast iron pan right on our teeny little grill. I figured out how to bake chocolate chip cookies and even mini pumpkin pies in my George Foreman. I loved being able to figure out how to make non-camping food in camp settings.
We did decide to get pizza and wings for our second night in San Antonio. We couldn’t resist, and we were glad we didn’t. I don’t know if it was because we were having so much fun and were eating by the campfire or because it actually was that good, but we enjoyed that pizza as much as or more than any number of far fancier and far more expensive meals we’ve enjoyed together.
After San Antonio it was off to Fredericksburg, where we stayed at Texas Wine Country Jellystone Park Resort. We went to a Dale Watson concert in Luckenbach, that night, which was a total blast. I sent my dad a postcard from the gift shop, since it and the bar and the dance hall comprise the entirety of Luckenbach. People two-stepped in the street and we ate barbecue under the stars, and I started to think that perhaps the best parts of life are just outside the frame.
We got to Luckenbach via Lyft, which turned out to be half the fun. We became fast friends with our driver, who turned out to be country singer Matthew Butter. He ended up taking us to and from downtown Fredericksburg a day later. The one peril of having a drivable RV and not towing a car: You need to hitch a ride to get anywhere.
But again, it was all part of the journey.
Thanksgiving was kind of a hoot. The campground provided the turkey, and all of the campers brought side dishes. My wife made stuffing, and we brought a prepared pie since I couldn’t bake a whole pie with no oven in our RV. We got our food and sat at our campsite picnic table complete with Thanksgiving décor from home and, of course, a fresh flower arrangement that my wife picked up in town.
We had a great day shopping downtown the next day. My wife got me the prettiest cowboy boots I’ve ever seen and new ornaments for our tree. And because as it turns out, this trip was all about connecting, after waiting an hour for a table at Hondo’s on Main, we bumped into a couple just arriving to hear there was an hour wait who joked that maybe our table would work for four. Turns out, it did. We invited the strangers-turned-friends to join us and ended up having just the best time.
It was becoming a theme on our trip, a welcome theme that I never expected: following the journey; saying yes; opening our hearts to whatever adventure awaited us.
After Fredericksburg, we were supposed to return home. But instead, my wife suggested we add on another week and meet up with the Watsons, the family we met in Austin, in Galveston. Arvey Brothers graciously agreed to let us keep the RV for another week, and the campground where our friends were staying had space. So it was game on.
The weather had been gorgeous up until Galveston. But when we got to the beach, we were met with high winds and frigid temps and pouring rain. Still, it didn’t matter. We were so happy to see our friends, you would have thought we had known each other forever. And even though I’m a girl mom, five-year-old Shep and I fell madly in love. He’s like this wild sprite, and maybe, deep down, I have a little boy mama in me, too.
We got in late that night, but the next day we all went off to Gaido’s Seafood Restaurant for lunch and then hit The Strand for ice cream before heading to the tall ship Elissa for a tour and then to Moody Gardens to see the holiday lights and the animated dinosaur exhibit and even a 4D version of Rudolph.
We had the absolute best time.
The next day, after the wind died down and the temperature warmed up, we took the dogs to run on the beach. And that night, I made chicken stir fry and took it over to our friends’ fancy travel trailer where we ate and talked and drank and laughed like old friends.
I cried that night as I started to drift off to sleep.
“Are you ok?’ my wife asked.
“Yes,” I insisted.
“Jenny,” she said.
“I’m going to miss this,” I said. “I’m not ready to go back. I’m going to miss you so relaxed, and us, so close, and our new friends. I feel so connected to other humans and to life out here.”
“We’ll take the feelings home with us, baby. And we’ll do it again soon, I promise,” she said. “Now get some sleep.”
The next day was our last one on the road. My wife had to spend the day on conference calls, as did Cory.
So Rebecca and I headed out with the kids to Crystal Beach. We took the ferry over and drove down onto the beach where we walked and collected shells and let the dogs chase one another and the wind.
We headed back after the sun went down, picking up pizza on our way back to the RV park. That night, as we ate around the kitchen island in the Watsons’ travel trailer, it was strange how natural and easy it was.
It made me wonder yet again about the bonds one makes when traveling, when things get slowed down and simplified as to leave time and space for nothing but what is most important.
That night it rained and stormed and blew. My wife and I spent the next morning hunkered down, working on our respective computers. Late in the afternoon, the sky cleared and the temperature warmed for almost exactly one hour — time that we used to stand between our campsites and say good-bye again to our new friends. Well, to Cory and Rebecca anyway; Adley was stuck in an online class in the trailer and Shep was conquering the RV park with his new tribe of lost boys.
Just as well. I managed not to cry amidst the adult good-byes. I would not have fared as well with the kids, I’m sure.
We got home that night and unpacked the RV in the driving rain. And the next day my wife drove the six hours round-trip to Shreveport to return our home away from home while I unpacked and unpacked and did more laundry than I’ve done since I had a newborn.
I kept tearing up and tried to get a handle on why that was.
I still don’t have any explanation, although I will say this. I have never been very good at transitions or good-byes. I don’t like endings, and new beginnings can scare me just as much. Rebecca and I have texted every day since we got back, and the Watsons have promised to visit us on their way back West.
In the meantime, I’ll remain grateful for what the road gave me as this very strange and painful year draws to a close — proof, once again, that even the most evil of forces, human and otherwise, cannot squelch the human spirit and its innate penchant for wandering and for connection.