Help, humor, and hope: giving back to our own

On April 28, an over-55 RV park west of San Antonio was shattered to bits during devastating wind, rain, and hail storms, including an EF1 tornado that touched down nearby.

Miraculously, there were no fatalities, and only one injury that required an ER visit,
but most personal vehicles and RVs were total losses.

Although we’ve never stayed at this park, it is affiliated with the Escapees RV Club, and as Escapees members, we felt called to lend a hand to this branch of our RVing family. (Coincidentally, it was this time last year that we spent a month in service at the Escapees Care Center in Livingston, TX.)

This announcement on Facebook was our first alert, and the news video at this link added jarring visual evidence of the loss.

We happened to arrive in the area (our home base) the week after the storm, and were able to spend a couple of days working on site. Many volunteers had preceded us, so by the time we arrived on Day 9, much of the large debris had been placed in dumpsters already.

There was still more to clear, and we did a lot of that, but we found that one of the most valuable services we could provide was listening. The residents needed to tell their stories from that terrifying night; needed to tell us how much they’d been helped by volunteers; how they appreciated losing only things, not lives.

The hailstones were softball size and larger.
One was measured at 6.4″ in diameter — a record setter.
We saw tow trucks and insurance adjusters coming and going all day long, both days we were on the property.

Almost all the residents we spoke with said they were thankful they didn’t have it as bad as some of the others. We saw what they were dealing with. Just who were these others who had it worse?

Maybe it was because we weren’t on the scene until several days had passed, but we were surprised by the community members’ senses of resiliency, positivity — and even humor. They were in it together, holding each other up, cracking jokes about taking margarita breaks (at 10:30 in the morning), and making light of getting the job done, just slowly, due to age and associated infirmities.

“We can’t thank you enough for coming out here and doing this.”

“It’s… We just wanted… You’re welcome. This time, it wasn’t us. Someday, it could be.”

a typical exchange with residents as we worked
We borrowed the park’s trailer and began picking up piles of debris that had not yet been collected. There was a lot of metal roofing, sodden carpeting, plastic shards, and even ruined personal belongings like books, puzzles, and home decor.
Heartbreaking.
One of the two dumpsters brought in for storm debris was full when we got there.
Three trailer loads later, we’d topped off the second.
He wins at Garbage Can Jenga here at home, because I always cave way before he does.
He wasn’t going to be the one to dump that dumpster either.
(If the video doesn’t load, try refreshing the page. I have the same issue with my browser, and no earthly idea how to fix it. Sorry.)
Some owners were offsite for the season when the storm hit.
We covered a few shed windows and vents with plastic, and hoped for the best.
Those are the crumbs of an RV window on this couple’s wheelchair ramp. The floors inside were peppered with them as well.
Most lots are covered with gravel, not grass, and picking out all the shattered glass will take… well… maybe scraping it all off with a bulldozer and spreading fresh is the way to go.
We saw lots of places where hail had punctured exterior walls.
We also saw one instance of hailstones having fallen with such force that they came through an RV bathroom skylight and punctured an interior wall.
Damage at every turn
A few residents asked for our help clearing yard waste.
Those who were still physically able to stoop, bend, reach, lift, and climb prior to the storms had reached their limit by the time we showed up a week later.
So we raked (and stooped, and bent, and reached, lifted and climbed).
And I got a good reminder that I should have worn boots on that first day.
See those slashes across both shoe tops?
I must have dragged a piece of metal roofing across my feet.
Dummy. And a lucky one at that!
Next trip out, I wore my boots.
Community Support
A nearby business, the Graff 7A Ranch, has served multiple meals to their RV park neighbors since the storm struck, setting up a cafeteria-style line in the park’s clubhouse so that the residents don’t have to travel.
They are charging nothing.
And these business owners were hit by the same storms, and are dealing with clean-up and repair issues of their own.
I can’t even.

The level and amount of destruction we saw certainly filled our minds with our own what-ifs.

What if we lost our home tomorrow? With our full physical capabilities and financial stability, we’d start over, and eventually recover, with ample time ahead of us to appreciate the lessons learned and the blessings of a new beginning. 

But what if it happened when we were closer to our 80’s, when neither physical nor financial strength are assured? When it might be only one of us left able or alive to deal with the aftermath of a natural disaster? How would we begin again? How could we?

No answer. I have no answer to that. These folks probably didn’t either, and I’m sure they handle their “one step at a time” better during some hours than others.

One gentleman needed our help moving some furniture out of his ruined RV and into the outbuilding on his lot. He was unwell. He was living alone.

And yet, he offered to compensate us for our assistance.

We declined.

He insisted, and as the hand holding his wallet began to tremble, we realized that turning him down would likely add to his grief rather than alleviate it, so we told him we’d be stopping at a Dairy Queen for treats on the way home, and that if he’d like to pay for those, we would gratefully accept a few dollars. That earned us a smile.

I don’t think he knew that it was Mother’s Day. 

I also don’t think he knew how he was going to get through the next day. 

But rewarding his helpers was something he could do, while facing so many things he couldn’t.

Blizzards.
After helping people clean up from a tornado.
Um. Way to adhere to a theme?

Surviving such devastation takes more strength and patience than I can imagine, and so does enduring the lengthy and confusing insurance claims process, not to mention the hassle of finding new cars and RVs in which to start over — to start over at age 70 or even older.

I’d also argue that it takes strength to accept assistance. Our hope is that we helped the people of the Alamo Area SKP Co-Op/Lone Star Corral feel just a little stronger this week.

WheRVe we been? Our travels, 4th quarter 2020

For a period of travel predominantly dictated by where we had to be, rather than where we wanted to go, there were many more hidden gems in the mix than we expected to find. Come examine them with us? 

The very short version of the story is that attempts to fix my left shoulder kept us in Texas. Attempts to fix the RV sent us to Indiana.

The same description applies to both situations: we’re not exactly sure what’s wrong, but something definitely isn’t right. Both are being examined and treated by experts; we just don’t want to publicize details on either until we can include the end of the story — or at least see it from where we stand. Stay tuned.

We went from TX to KS to IN to TN to FL, and added our 41st RV state with that 5-day stop in Kansas.
RV miles traveled this quarter: about 3143 
(Map does not reflect exact routing.)

Texas

Our home base for most of October and November really was a base, namely Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. The RV park there is safe and spacious, convenient to our doctors and my family, and easy on the budget. Tim served for 25 years, so military bases feel like home to us no matter where they are.

And it felt even more like home on Thanksgiving, when we got one of our boys and his girl, who drove down from Austin for the big meal.

That said, the noise level at Fort Sam is a little high (frequent trains, occasional choppers) and the scenery really isn’t… scenic. So when we had longish breaks between appointments, we went AWOL with a few side trips.

Side Trip 1: our site at Hickory Creek Park, near Dallas, offered one of the best yards we’ve ever had.
We liked it so much we’ve booked a return stay in May, for a Dallas-area wedding.
Sunrises were definitely worth the wake-up.
Side Trip 2: The friends whose land we stayed on in Wyoming are working as camp hosts just south of Dallas for the winter, so we stopped for an overnight visit, and were treated to the usual photo opportunity with their littlest doggo, Henley.
We’ve got history, as you can see in this collage from August.

Side Trip 3: Crane’s Mill Park, Canyon Lake

Side Trip 4: An overnight at the little known but very delightful Museum of Texas Handmade Furniture, a Harvest Hosts location in New Braunfels
Side Trip 5: We spent the night at another Harvest Hosts location, the Medina River Winery in Castroville. As it turned out, our friends, Phil & Stacy of You, Me & the RV, were parked nearby, and they brought their friends, Phil & Shar of A Year to Volunteer over for an evening of wine tasting and plan hatching.
More on that below, in the “Where to next?” section.
(Photo credit: Medina River Winery)

Finally, on December 1, we were bound for somewhere outside Texas.

Destination: the DRV Factory Service Center, in northern Indiana. I know. Everyone’s favorite winter vacation spot. Don’t be jealous. It was the opening they had, and we needed it, so we took it.

But first, we stopped in… Texas. Big state. And if we’re heading north or west from San Antonio to get out of it, we end up stopping for the night within its borders.

Eisenhower State Park is not in Oklahoma…
… but you can see it from there.
A short walk down the embankment behind our site yielded this view of the dam along Hwy 91, just north of the Texas border.

Kansas

When Tim was evaluating various routes to Indiana, he discovered that we could stay in yet another Eisenhower State Park. And since liking Ike that much would allow us to add another RVisited state to our list, we made a reservation at the Kansas version.

Our back-in site on the tip of a peninsula offered 180 degrees of lake views.
December sunset — with a visitor

Indiana

After a stop at MORryde in Elkhart for a suspension check, we then had 3 nights available before our service appointment at DRV in Howe the following week. We could have split the stay between the two parking lots and paid nothing, but we seized the opportunity to go somewhere quieter and prettier.

Hello, Indiana Dunes State Park.
We found lots of RV sites available in December, there on the southern shores of Lake Michigan. Surprise?
The trails were nearly deserted, and the weather was chilly, but sunny enough for hiking on our first couple of days.
And since the state park is enclosed within Indiana Dunes National Park, we explored a fair amount of those trails too. So starkly beautiful at that time of year.
But then more typical weather arrived, and as soon the RV was done, we aimed our nose southward again.

Tennessee

We realized when we crossed into Tennessee, that we hadn’t been back since we left after our Amazon CamperForce gig three years ago.
Our 3-night stay at Harrison Bay State Park was far more enjoyable.

Florida

For the holidays, we’re moochdocking in a friend’s driveway near Pensacola. We’ve stayed here before, and we were greeted by the same cat, who just happens to bear the same name as our late canine companion, Lola.

She’s a vocal one.
Plus, there are foster puppies here this year, and I’ve been getting lots of snuggles.

Where to next?

After a quick run back to San Antonio in January, we plan to spend a significant part of early 2021 in Georgia and Tennessee, doing service work with A Year To Volunteer. When we met founders Phil & Shar in November, we knew right away that their mission meshed well with our own values, so we registered for three of their upcoming projects. After so many rewarding stays in state parks over the years, we are excited by this opportunity to give back — with what sounds like a lot of sweat equity.

I’ll try my best to blog about each project individually, and as ever, you can follow us on Facebook, Instagram and/or Twitter for updates as we go.

Our Pandemic Caveat
We are traveling a lot less than we normally would, and as often as possible we choose destinations that offer ample outdoor opportunities, and are unlikely to be crowded.
When we gather with friends or family, we keep our numbers small, and we request honest communication beforehand about their comfort level.
We continue to wear masks in public and wash/sanitize hands frequently, and we limit our outings.
~ The rrrrOHHHHRRRerrrrs, March 2020 – ?

We started full-timing in August of 2015, but I didn’t think to do an annual review until the end of 2016, and it was just a listing on Facebook of places we’d visited. After that, I started using a quarterly format.