In late January of 2018, I bought an old fifth wheel out in the desert. The fifth wheel is almost as old as I am, and I don’t think it would stay together if I tried to take it on the road. I imagine hooking it up to a tow vehicle and getting up to 50 or 60 miles per hour on the highway only to have pieces of the fifth wheel start to fly off. Wind and vibration might peel the metal walls from the frame, allowing my life (or at least my material possessions) to be sucked out one by one. None of that for me, thanks; my fifth wheel is stationary.
The RV (actually my winter home and not used for mere recreation) came with solar panels and deep cycle batteries. Everything was already hooked up. I can charge my laptop and cell phone inside, and when the sun goes down (and it’s dark by 6 pm in the desert in the fall and winter), I turn on electric lights, just like people in conventional homes do. The difference of course is that folks in conventional homes receive a bill for their electricity each month. The other difference is that on cloudy or rainy days, folks in conventional homes don’t worry about running out of power.
I have running water. To be more specific, I have cold running water. The fifth wheel has no water heater, so that water that comes from the faucet is cool in the fall and winter. Since we don’t cook meat, cold water and dish soap works for washing dishes. I wash my hands and face with water from the faucet, but I buy my drinking water from one of the reverse osmosis machines in town.
When I want to take a shower, I go to one of the four shower houses in the RV park where the fifth wheel is sits. Cold water showers are included in the price of the rent. Since I hate cold showers, I feed quarters into the machine that magically allows the hot water to flow. The water is plenty hot, but sadly short. Lately I’ve been taking dollar showers. The Man is happy spending 50 cents to wash himself.
The RV park is nothing like the RV parking lots I’ve seen across the country. Nothing in the whole place is paved. Desert plants grow wherever they grow. Lots are not laid out uniformly; some are bigger than others and the RVs are oriented every which way. Some of the RVs are large (motor homes as big as Willie Nelson’s tour bus) and fancy (Airstreams and brand new fifth wheels) while many are like mine–old, sun-bleached, decrepit.
The people living in the desert are a mixed bag too. There are old desert rats who’ve been full-time residents for decades and newcomers tent camping in the desert for the first time. There are people who seem to have a lot of money (the ones in the giant motor homes and fancy RVs) and folks who are barely scraping by on social security dollars and food bank bread. Some people are social and participate in many activities down at the clubhouse, while others are practically hermits. In addition to Americans who come from as far as as Washington state and Maine, many Canadians come to the desert to escape their country’s harsh winters. It truly takes all kinds.
The people who want to be social can find a lot to do down at the clubhouse, starting with coffee in the morning. The park manager brews a fresh pot when she opens the office at 8 am, and for 25 cents a cup (or $10 upfront for the monthly plan) residents can gab and drink as much java as they can stomach. Since the closest McDonald’s is 50 miles away, the senior citizens gather here instead of the Golden Arches.
Other activities to participate in include hikes on Tuesdays, Bible study on Wednesdays, gentle exercise every morning, and card games several afternoons each week. A group of artists gathers on Mondays, and the crafters meet on Tuesdays. There’s a pancake breakfast on Thursday mornings and movies on Monday nights. Dancing is on Friday nights and the open mic for musicians happens on Saturday afternoons.
I participated in the crafting group once. I was invited, so I showed up. A dozen women and zero men sat around a couple of long tables pushed together. I was the youngest one there by at least 15 years, which didn’t bother me.
Let’s go around the table and introduce ourselves, the leader of the group said.
I had the distinct impression they wanted to do introductions so they could find out more about me. I was the only person in the group who didn’t include the number of children I had birthed in my introduction.
Early in December 2018, The Man said we should participate in the group hikes. He said we needed to get out of the house, get some exercise, and be more social. I agreed with at least the first two points.
Someday I’ll post a complete recap of the entire hiking adventure. For now I’ll say that what was advertised as a 3 and 1/2 hour hike took me and other slow folks over 5 hours to complete. When it was over, my hips ached, I was beat, and the rest of my day was shot. Even The Man was wiped out. He and I agreed the hiking group was not for us, but people ten, fifteen, and twenty years our senior didn’t seem to have half the trouble we did.
I’m glad to have a warm place to touch down in the winter. I wouldn’t want to be in the desert when summer temperatures soar above 110 degrees, but in fall and winter and the early days of spring when the average daytime temperature ranges from 87 degrees to 66 degrees and hard freezes are rare, I think the desert is a wonderful place to be. We don’t see snow and winter rains are infrequent. The sun shines most days, boosting both our electric power and our mood.
We do deal with desert winds. They blow and they blow, sometimes for days on end. Something about them can really agitate me, so being able to cook and wash up inside the fifth wheel is a huge blessing. I’ve had to do my housekeeping outside in the desert wind, and I’d rather not, thank you.
Of course, we have to figure out what to do when the mercury climbs. I for one don’t want to be in the desert much past the middle of April when it’s hot enough to make me grumpy. There are many questions to answer before The Man and I leave the fifth wheel. Where should we go? Together or separately? How will we earn money? What nature do we want to be close to? Where will we find cool temperatures?
I remind myself I don’t have to figure it all out today. Time will tell. The story will unfold.