Irma and the Big Pivot: Our Odyssey #3 Plans

Eclipsing with other RVers in Sparta, IL

“We plan, God laughs” – Yiddish proverb
The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley” – Robert Burns

We’ve had a wonderful spring, summer and fall. After driving almost exactly 10,000 miles (wow!) on Odyssey #2, we were ready to enjoy the beauty of the Indiana Dunes and the creature comforts of a “stick house”. Among other things, we visited my brother in Maine and our families in the Chicago area, took a cruise to Bermuda, worked in the yard, did various photography things, read, cheered on the Cubbies, and generally just chilled. Yes, we are lucky.

Chillin’ in Maine

Maureen started a new gig volunteering with the National Park Service at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore visitor center. She’s “giving back”, and I’m very proud of her.

Snappy uniform!

We did hitch up Sempre Estate once to go see the solar eclipse in Southern Illinois. It was everything we heard it would be – truly stunning – and proved to us once again the value of having a house on wheels.

I also got one minor repair done. The slideout room had started to wear grooves on the bottom of the floor where the rollers run. This was a known problem, and total props to Lance for paying for the repair under warranty (they installed aluminum “runways” for the rollers to slide on), even though the trailer was more than a year out of warranty.

Groovy, not in a good way

And we were already looking forward to our next winter’s Odyssey. We had the best plans. Maureen was going to meet up with her old gang from the American College of Psychiatrists in Tampa, Florida in February 2018. And we had built a fabulous itinerary around this destination. It was going to be awesome:

  • A cruise with some our Xscapers buddies, departing Ft Lauderdale, with ports of call to St Martin, Puerto Rico, Turks and Caicos, and the Bahamas
  • A week with Mickey at the Fort Wilderness Park Campground in Orlando
  • Weeks in Fort Pierce and Pembroke Pines, FL
  • A month in Cudjoe Key at a full-hookup RV resort
  • Returning north through Naples to the aforementioned Tampa
  • A week in northern Florida and the “Emerald Coast” (Chamber of Commerce rebranding of the “Redneck Riviera”)
  • A week roaming the bourbon distilleries of Kentucky

We made these plans a year in advance, as Florida is notoriously tight on campground space during the winter, especially as compared to the Southwest. In Tucson last winter, we would set the alarm for 5:45 am (7:45 Eastern time), Maureen would get on the phone and I would get on my phone’s ReserveAmerica app, looking for sites that would become available that day in the 12 month booking window. I would browse for an available state park campsite. At 6 am I would press “Reserve”…and…get the message “No inventory is available.” Maureen had the same experience on the phone. There is such high demand for the few primo state parks in Florida that it is nearly impossible to book them.

After several days of this futility we gave up on state parks and found others that would work – mostly regional parks but also an RV park. We were set! It was gonna be great!

And then…Irma. Now we call our former itinerary the “Irma Highlights Tour.” It was almost as if the hurricane took a look at our plans and said “those look like nice places to go.”

After the cruise ports got wiped out (including especially Puerto Rico with Maria), we said, “that’s ok, the cruise ship will just go somewhere else.” And then Irma made landfall in the U.S. at…Cudjoe Key. A place we hadn’t even heard of until we made our plans (although we had driven through it once), was now a place of infamy. Looking at NOAA storm damage imagery a week later, we knew that we were going to have to make changes. We didn’t even bother trying to call Cudjoe Key to cancel for several weeks, and when we did, there was just a message saying “you will get a refund.” (someday, maybe)

We feel really bad for the people in the Caribbean and Florida who weathered this terrible storm. It’s a way of life down there, but knowing that doesn’t make it any easier when it happens. It had been a long time since this area took a direct hit, yet one hurricane season seems to have more than evened out the averages. Our small inconvenience in having to change our plans pales in comparison to the hardship many thousands have had to deal with.

Taking a clear-eyed look at the situation, we decided that this year would not be the best year for us to go to Florida. We figured we would be in the way of the cleanup and rebuilding efforts, not to mention that it wouldn’t be the most comfortable experience. We’ll be going back to Florida, probably in two years when The College meets there again.

So one afternoon, two weeks after Irma, we pulled the plug, cancelled all the Florida reservations, and spent an afternoon booking up much the same itinerary as we’ve had the last two years. We were lucky that at that late date a few sites were still available. In many places the campgrounds we wanted were down to just a site or two. Later I read articles stating that many RVers are doing exactly what we did, shifting their plans west for the year. Normally in the Southwest there is a bit of flexibility around making plans, but the Great Irma Migration along with the continuing booming sales of RVs has changed that. I expect that for the foreseeable future, the days of “winging it” are over, except for those willing to risk getting shut out.

We’re headed on a beeline to the Dallas area, then west across the Permian Basin, through El Paso to Deming, NM, thence to the Tucson area for about a month, Phoenix area for a month, through Quartzsite, AZ to Joshua Tree, CA, reversing course in late February and retracing our steps back home. For more deets see the interactive map.

Odyssey #3 Route!

As a result, this year’s trip will be short on novelty – we’ve seen most of these places before. But they will be high on comfort, like an old shoe. We know the places we like and get to see them again. And even the old places will bring new experiences.

I have a few jobs to do around the house and the RV before we launch, but it’s amazing how quickly three seasons have flown by. After an October of September-like weather, the last two days have brought cold, soaking rains. The strong change of seasons in the Midwest is a not-too-subtle clue that it’s time to get moving. Whether it’s east or west doesn’t much matter to me, as long as it’s sunny and warm.