We knew we were finally home when the soft sand of Carolina Beach embraced our tired feet and the warm ocean waters kissed our weary toes. Wed made it. After tens of thousands of miles in our RV crossing and recrossing America from sea to sea and from Canada to Mexico wed come home to the sweet land that always held our hearts.
We shocked a lot of people, including ourselves, back in 2007 when we announced we were selling or giving away nearly everything we owned and taking up life on the road. Room was scarce in our well-used and well-aged motor home, and there was little space for the stuff that weighs us down. Vinyl albums collected over the years, knickknacks, a couple thousand books, furniture, dishes, my wifes sports car and my Harley all of it sold or passed on to friends, family and charities.
Everybody wanted to know how long wed be gone on our grand adventure. What they were too polite to ask was, When are you two going to grow up and settle down? You could hear the charming but unspoken Southernism, Bless their hearts lurking behind every question.
The truth was, we didnt know where we were going, much less when wed be back. I was ready to retire from my job as a columnist and editorial writer at The News & Observer in Raleigh after 31 years, and HollyAnn was ready to move on from her job as a community college grant writer. Wed never spent so much as one night in an RV, much less lived in one full time. All we knew was my cousin Charlie would sell us his old RV cheaply and we were ready for an adventure. It is kind to say this was not a well thought out plan.
We made the transition from our sedate life in a lovely historic home in Sanford to the uncertainty of the road in less than six months. We had no plan, no goals and no bucket list of must-see places, just faith in each other and a burning curiosity to see what was around the next curve. Wed spent our working lives going toe-to-toe with deadline demons and now our time was our own. We would rush, dawdle, meander, roam, kill time or make time as it suited us.
That first days trip July 15, 2007 from Sanford to Mountain Stream RV Park just up the mountain from Marion was terrifying, exhilarating and exhausting. I had never driven anything approaching the size of our rolling behemoth with a mind of its own. We immediately christened it The Wiggly Pig for its tendency to wobble as we chugged down the road.
I only scraped the mountain once on the way up, but otherwise it was a good week. We investigated our on-board systems. We gratefully accepted advice and assistance from fellow RVers who could tell from our confused looks that we were newbies. Theyd once been like us and were there to help as others had helped them. We would pay their kindness forward to other rookie RVers we met in our travels.
We enjoyed our shakedown visit to Marion, but after a week it was time to move on. So we pointed The Wiggly Pig sorta north and sorta west and just kept going. Big Stone Gap, Va. Butcher Hollow, Ky. Hannibal, Mo. Clear Lake, Iowa. Rapid City, S.D. It was in Rapid City that we decided the road life agreed with us and swapped The Wiggly Pig for a more spacious and comfortable fifth wheel trailer and Great White Truck to pull it.
The miles rolled on. We walked where the valiant troopers of the 7th Cavalry died with Custer at the Little Big Horn. We heard bull elk bugle in Yellowstone. We drove the magnificent Wind River Canyon in Wyoming. We were astounded at the beauty of America, awed by the sheer majesty of it all and touched deeply by the welcoming smiles and kind words of strangers. A great revelation: The South has not cornered the market on hospitality.
We traveled like that for most of the next five years. We touched glaciers in Montana and stood on the banks of the mighty Columbia and Missouri rivers where Lewis and Clark had explored. We marveled at the giant redwoods of California and the cliffs of the Oregon coast. We traveled with the Joads on Route 66 across Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.
We volunteered for two months at a state park in Georgia and at a wildlife refuge in Louisiana. We worked at a shelter for homeless families in Phoenix, made jelly and salsa at a Louisiana childrens home and helped a church camp in Tennessee get ready for the summer.
We ate steaks in Iowa; everything we could find in Louisiana; chicken-fried steak in Texas; and bratwurst in Wisconsin. Well never forget a Sunday dinner of the aptly named Worlds Best Fried Chicken at the Old Country Store in Lorman, Miss. And Memphis barbecue? Yes, indeed. And in Kansas City, too.
We fell in love with Las Cruces, N.M.; Missoula, Mont.; Madison, Wis.; Breaux Bridge, La.; Apalachicola, Fla.; and Fairhope, Ala. The quirky artists of Bisbee, Ariz., and Silver City, N.M., the public murals of tiny Colquitt, Ga., and the roughhewn cowboy style of Cody and Sheridan, Wyo. all charmed us. We wont soon forget Great Falls, Mont., and Adrian, Minn., and dozens of little towns all across this country. We came to appreciate our native land in ways deeper and more intense than we thought possible.
The thought of coming off the road began to grow last winter, and as we considered what it would be like to live in the places wed so enjoyed, we soon knew that when it came time to hang up the RV keys, wed come home to the Old North State.
HollyAnns Scottish heritage goes back generations in the Sandhills, and my English and Irish roots are deeply entwined in Wilson County.
Weve settled in Winnabow, just across the Cape Fear River from Wilmington and up the road a piece from Southport. It simply felt right to be here and thats always been a good enough reason for us to do anything.
We havent seen it all, but we have seen enough to know that no matter where weve roamed, the people weve met and experiences weve had, North Carolina always was and always will be home. It is here our families were born, lived and are buried. It is here our histories took root, where friends have waited for us, where our drifting dreams first took wing and our future, whatever it holds, will be played out.
Were home and it feels mighty good. Yall come to see us.