Full-timers Combine "Regular" Jobs With Freedom To Roam - by Arline Chandler
Too young to retire, yet longing to travel while they have health and stamina, Norm and Chris Denton did the unthinkable. Ignoring askance looks from family and friends, they packed their twins off to college, earmarked funds for tuition, put their dream home on the market, and shopped for an "empty nest" on wheels. As the realtor drove a "For Sale" sign in the front yard of their Redmond, Washington house, the Dentons pulled their new motorhome out of the driveway and headed off to become full-time RVers.
Despite comments from his partners in a Washington architectural firm that Norm was experiencing a mid-life crisis, the thriving professional stood his ground. Far from any kind of crisis, the Dentons had leaped to liberty with careful forethought. Early in their planning stage, Chris, a former hairdresser, had switched to driving a school bus, knowing the experience would give her potential for driving shuttles or buses in Workamping jobs.
Norm's 12-foot office windows overlooked the parking lot of a medical facility. From his desk, he watched RVers park for appointments. Often, he slipped out to talk with the seasoned travelers and share his "wanna-be" dreams.
Three days into their new lifestyle, they Norm and Chris enrolled at the Life On Wheels RV Conference on the campus of the University of Idaho at Moscow. The couple hustled to a week of classes on subjects ranging from RV gadgets to handling mail and telephone communications on the road. New friends re-affirmed their commitment to a full-timing dream.
With treasured memories tucked alongside practical RVing tips, the Dentons headed off for their first adventure in a rolling house, ending up in Yellowstone National Park. Along the way, they looked for interesting part-time work to supplement their early retirement venture.
Norm discovered a possibility with his favorite diversion, fly fishing for trout in Yellowstone's clear streams. When he and Chris signed up for a full day fishing trip guided by the owner of Blue Ribbon Fly Shop, the man mentioned his need for guides who related well to people. After spending a day with Norm, he recognized polished people skills and offered an opportunity for him to share his passion and, at the same time, net about $200 a day, along with a limit of cut throat and brown trout weighing up to five pounds.
When guiding, Norm drives his clients to a point in a van, then takes them to the best fishing holes along Fire In The Hole River, the Yellowstone, and Gibbons Creek. He relates that his job is to watch and see each one's technique. "Some people fish to learn how and others actually want to catch fish," he says, explaining that he also observes the different "flies" that hatch to determine where the trout are feeding.
Capitalizing on his avid fisherman status, Norm writes for three publications, one of which is the BASS organization. His regular column on warm water fishing appears in an outdoor magazine and other articles in the state level newsletters.
After an idyllic first summer of wandering in national parks and along interesting byways, Norm and Chris proceeded to Washington to speed up the sale of their homeplace. Chris returned to her job as a school bus driver. Norm tagged along trading "power" lunches with clients carrying briefcases for the chatter of school kids filing onto a big yellow bus, swinging bags of books.
When their house sold in mid-year, the Dentons discovered what Chris describes as "...a wee bit of capital gains." However, they adamantly refused to re-invest in property rooted to the ground. The logical step was a new and bigger home with wheels.
With undaunted enthusiasm, the Dentons switched their neighborhood lined with beautifully appointed homes and manicured lawns for site #148 in an RV park, only a 25-minute morning commute from the bus barn where they both started their work days. They swapped the sounds of children playing in backyards for the honks of noisy geese ordering ducks around on the man-made lake centering their park. Long, leisurely evening walks and new neighbors with the same glint of wanderlust in their eyes reassured the Dentons they were headed for great adventures.
Since the beginning of their mid-life odyssey, Norm and Chris have fished Yellowstone streams in the company of a bull elk protecting his family and a herd of buffalo nose to nose on three sides. They have been entertained by a family of raccoons and scared senseless on a midnight bathroom run by a herd of sleeping elk.
The twosome has bicycled on trails around Diamond Lake, watched sunsets melt into dark skies electrified with nature's laser lights, and slept like babes to the beat of thunder drumming in the distance.
Once, they hiked the rim of Crater Lake, a cobalt sky reflecting in metallic blue waters with varying intensity at each observation station. Skirting the lake's edge, they claimed two big rocking chairs on the main lodge's verandah, and ordered a bottle of wine to complement a lunch from their backpacks. Another day, they rafted down the upper part of the Rogue River.
When the Dentons set out, they envisioned summer jobs as shuttle drivers in the Grand Canyon and winters loafing through sun-warmed Arizona and New Mexico. But with considerations of a steady salary plus benefits, they figured out a plan to full-time RV and hold onto traditional jobs at the same time.
"One of the benefits of a rolling house is the spontaneity of taking off on weekend trips," Norm says. "Despite the fact we are committed to full-time jobs during winters, we can leave after work, and within five hours, be set up with all the comforts of home on the Long Beach Peninsula. No more staying home to mow the lawn or do house repairs. We just pick up groceries and unplug the water, power, and sewer. Pretty easy!"
With a flexible public school schedule, the Dentons pursue their travels during winter and spring breaks, as well as summer vacations. During one mid-winter respite, they drove to Cannon Beach on the Oregon coast. Most of the week, they stayed outdoors exploring favorite beaches, primitive rocky points with tidepools, all types of shops, delicious bakeries, restaurants, and an artists' colony. When the weather failed to cooperate, they donned rain gear and headed out anyway.
From their camp site on a bluff 30 feet above the Pacific Ocean, the couple viewed an unobstructed panorama of the surf. "One night, wind gusts reached 50 miles per hour," Norm relates. "Waves pounded the bluff and huge logs smashed with the thud of thunder. Through our motorhome windshield, Chris and I watched the moon peek in and out of the menacing clouds. The next morning, the eerie-looking beach covered with white foam looked like a foot of fresh snow."
Mesmerized by the surf crashing on the beach, the Dentons bundled up and sat on the bluff, watching waves crest as far as the eye could see. When the wind died, they built a fire, invited their neighboring campers over, munched on s'mores with steaming coffee, and exchanged RVing stories.
This past winter, Chris and Norm took a four-weeks hiatus from school bus driving to seek warmer and drier weather. From Palm Springs, they visited Quartzsite and looped around Arizona. Returning to Washington, the pair spent several days acting like the kids at Disneyland and Universal Studios. With heads spinning from the rides, they headed up the coast highway to San Francisco.
"We stayed down on the Wharf and ate all the fresh crab, clams, shrimp, oysters and halibut we could fit into our 'tiny little bodies,'" Norm says, inserting a "yum, yum" for emphasis
Traveling north up the coast on Highway 1, the Dentons toured wineries in the Napa Valley and hiked in the shade of giant redwoods. They stopped long enough in Coos Bay, Oregon to watch the Coast Guard 'fire bomb' the Coressa Freighter that had run aground.
Back in their home park, Norm and Chris picked up their work schedule, rising at 5:00 a.m. to prepare for their school bus runs. Two evenings a week, they work in the RV park's office and store to cover their monthly rent. The end of school typically offers extra school trips, translating into overtime for the drivers.
With his typical humor, Norm says, "The fly fishing shops in West Yellowstone appreciate all the extra spending money I bring."
When the final bell for the school year rings and the last kid is dropped off safely at home, Norm and Chris unplug and take off for clear streams and long hiking trails.
"We have no regrets," Norm says and Chris nods in agreement. "Combining RV life and traditional jobs provides experiences I could never have known just looking out an office window."