Silverback Snowbirds

[You might remember Silverback Ron (Muskegon SBs) as the guys who builds and rides weird bikes, but he’s really a Renaissance Ape who builds everything from pizza ovens to automata:

When he told me that he and his wife, Silverbelle Pam, were plotting to become Snowbirds I asked him to keep those of us in The Jungle apprised of his progress. SB SM]

Chronicles of a first time snowbird

Part 1: Decisions, decisions

My wife and I are about to embark on an adventure that is fairly common for many in the good ole USA but very, very new for us. We are heading south for the winter otherwise known as snowbirding. With the encouragement of the Supreme Silverback, I plan to document our journey.

Before I begin, let me give you some backstory. I grew up in Vermont. Our family didn’t do any traditional camping. My dad was a contractor and when we were very young he and my mom purchased some land near Lake Bomoseen. The land came with a 30’ – 40’ stretch of lake frontage where we had a dock. On the land my dad built a small 3 bedroom, one bath raised ranch although to a young kid it seemed palatial. It still surprises just how small it actually is whenever I happen to visit the “The Camp” which is what we called it. I think the term camp is what they call a cottage here in Michigan. Basically it is a vacation home. When I was young we would spend the entire summer there while my dad would travel to work. Eventually we spent less and less time there as we got older. Time there was a big part of my growing up and what I think of as camping, “The Camp” is my reference point.

My wife, on the other hand, had a more traditional camping background. Her family of eight camped at state and county parks. First in tents and then in a small pop up camper along with a tent or 2 for the 4 boys in the family. She grew up cooking with a small camp stove and sitting around a campfire trying to keep the smoke out your eyes and the mosquitos at bay. Yes I know I’m painting a somewhat slanted comparison but come on, which scenario would you choose?

After being married for a few years and having two children of our own, we thought we would like to provide our children with a similar experience. Having a “Camp” was not in our income range and so we went traditional. We also started with a tent but quickly moved up to a pop up camper. Guess what? It was fun! We had several friends with whom we regularly camped. We even did some long range trips. One trip all the way up to Glacier National Park and one trip to Disney World in Orlando. Eventually our kids grew up and started to have summer jobs, and our camping trips became fewer and fewer. In the late 90’s we sold our camper.

Flash forward to 2017. We are older and much wiser and decided to try camping again. I had been retired for a few years and my wife was recently retired….sort of. She worked in the public school arena as a teacher, principal and consultant. She retired, but a part time job offer through the school system kept her toes in the water. The money was good, it would only be a day or two a week and she would have the summers off. It sounded perfect.

What kind of camper should we buy? We had a choice of a tent, pop up camper, a hybrid which is a cross between a travel trailer and a pop up, a travel trailer, a fifth wheel or a RV. The tent, pop up and hybrid choices were dismissed quickly. A RV sounded and looked pretty nice but was out of our price range. The fifth wheel option was appealing. They are beautiful, spacious and they have better towing qualities than a travel trailer. However, they are heavy and expensive and require a beefy tow vehicle and since we had to buy both, the fifth wheel option was also eliminated. We decided to go with a small travel trailer and a half ton truck.

2020 Jay Flight - 24RBS | Jayco, Inc

The travel trailer we chose was a Jayco 24RBS. It is a couple’s camper as opposed to a family camper. There is only one bed, a full length queen, a kitchen/living/dining area and a bathroom. There is one slide out at the dining area that extends about 3’ and opens up the main living space. It has air conditioning, a furnace, hot water heater, refrigerator, stove and microwave. This is where the older and wiser part comes in. We want to camp but we want all the niceties to which we’ve grown accustomed. The camper is about 24’ by 8’. With the slide out we are somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 SF of living space.

The truck we bought was a 2015 Ford F150 XLT Super Crew Cab with the 3.5L 6 cylinder DOHC with Twin Turbos. Just saying that makes you want to beat your chest and let out a few good guttural grunts. Today’s trucks are pretty nice. Quiet, smooth riding with tons of space. I can see why sedans are quickly becoming extinct.

Over the next 4 years we didn’t live up to our camping/travelling expectations. We only camped about a dozen or so times, all in Michigan accept one trip to Ohio. In 2020 we had to deal with COVID and we were only able to go twice. 2021 arrived and we were anxious to change our camping pattern. My wife was finally going to be totally retired at the end of September. Now we can get serious about using the camper to its full potential. Like many of us “senior citizens” who live in the northern part of the U.S., winter has lost its charm and is not something to look forward to. Winters in west Michigan are especially dreary. The prevailing winds come across Lake Michigan and pick up moisture creating blankets of grey clouds and a seemingly endless snowfall. The snow isn’t so much the problem. We don’t get the crazy numbers like say a Buffalo but it is the constant grey skies and lack of sun that is so depressing. So what does any grey haired gorilla do? Head south of course!

In late spring we decided that we would take our little home on wheels and head somewhere where the temperatures stay above freezing and the sun shines. When to go? A lot of people we know who have done this sort of thing leave after the holidays. Some go after Thanksgiving while others wait and go after New Year’s Day. The idea of travelling any distance with snow coming down scares me to death. I already have a death grip on the steering wheel in the middle of summer. We decided that we would leave on November 1st. We can get snow as early as October here but that is rare. Novembers can be pretty bad but we feel confident that we will be able to escape Old Man Winter’s grasp leaving on the first.

Where to go? There was Florida, all along the Gulf Coast, Texas or the southwest. We decided against Florida right away. For some reason it doesn’t hold any fascination for us although the Florida Keys do sound interesting and may be a future destination if this first foray succeeds. We nixed the Gulf Coast too. We spent a few weeks in the San Antonio area of Texas and although it was okay it was not enough to draw us back. We thought about the Brownsville and Corpus Christi area and that held some promise but not this time around. So southwest it is, but where? We are planning to fly back home for the holidays so we wanted to be near a major airport. Albuquerque and Phoenix are just north enough and high enough in elevation to possibly get some freezing temperatures. We decided we would go a bit further south and went with Tucson.

17 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Tucson, AZ | PlanetWare
So long, Muskegon. Hello, Tucson

Now where in Tucson will we stay? It soon became apparent that this part of the country is a mecca for snowbirds. There are dozens upon dozens of RV resort parks from which to choose. We Googled and searched through multiple RV Parks, reading reviews, looking at amenities and locations around the city. We finally narrowed the search to 2 parks and after a couple calls, made reservations for the first leg of the journey. We had decided to fly back home for the holidays in mid-December and return mid-January. When we return in January we will head further west to Yuma AZ where we will stay until the end of February. Again we went through the search process for a park to stay and soon had reservations confirmed. After our time in Yuma the plan is to head east and spend some time in western Texas before making our way home sometime in mid to late March.

The planning was done! We think it is a good plan but only time will tell. Now it’s onto the next phase – Preparation.

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