Nancy and John McIntyre are retirees and friends of mine who have discovered their version of the good life: Traveling carefree for months on end in their small recreational vehicle, in no hurry to get anywhere.
In three years as RV newbies, the Minneapolis couple have logged 60,000 miles on their rig, traveling from Alaska to Florida and California to Newfoundland. They've seen spectacular scenery and quaint towns, have made new friends and are effusive about their new life in a 19-foot modified van.
"It's pretty sweet,'' said Nancy, 63.
Two other friends -- one recently retired, the other about to be -- also bought RVs last year and plan similar adventures. All of which leaves a working stiff to wonder: What's wrong with this picture?
"You're dumb to keep working,'' John McIntyre, 63, told me the other day.
He was joking.
Until now, my camping -- whether along the Pacific Coast of Washington, the mountains of Montana, the tundra of the Northwest Territories, or the lakes and rivers of northern Minnesota and Ontario -- has been in a tent.
I've only camped in an RV once -- on a duck hunting trip to North Dakota years ago. And while I'm not ready to retire my hiking boots or canoe paddle, I confess I'm intrigued after hearing about the McIntyres' adventures and nomadic lifestyle.
Plenty of Minnesotans have been similarly hooked. Last year, residents registered 152,000 RVs, not including pickup campers. If you figure most RVs are used by at least two people, that's more than 300,000 RVers in the state.
Taking the plunge
The McIntyres hadn't done much camping. But they knew a tent wasn't for them.
"I hadn't seen hardly any of the national parks,'' Nancy said. "I wanted to go places and see things, and this made the most sense."
They researched RVs for a couple years before taking the plunge on a 2007 Roadtrek 190, a 19-foot modified van with 48,000 miles. It's small, but that fits their RV lifestyle.
"The best advice we got was to decide if you're going to be a traveler or camper,'' Nancy said. "If you're going to be on the go a lot, the mobility of a smaller unit is very desirable.
"We didn't see ourselves driving someplace and sitting there for a month and a half. We like to move around.''
They can park their rig in a regular-size parking space and navigate tight spots. Last summer, they "camped'' on a small ferry landing in Newfoundland.
"It's pretty slick,'' John said.
Added Nancy: "You can come and go when you want and not be tied down.''
Cost also was a factor in their vehicle choice.
They bought their RV for less than $50,000. And they didn't want to buy and store both an RV trailer and a truck to pull it. Plus, their RV gets 15 to 18 miles per gallon, not bad for a home on wheels.
My other two RV-owning friends made different choices: Both bought luxurious 30-foot-plus fifth wheel trailers with oodles of elbow room -- and new diesel pickups to pull them.
They're looking for RV experiences of a different kind.
"We wanted something comfortable to live in for six or seven weeks at a time,'' said Dennis Buster, 61, of Prior Lake, who is retiring next month. "We'll maybe move a couple times on a trip. That's why we bought a bigger unit.''
Buster notes with some satisfaction that his RV has a queen bed, separate bedroom, dining table and 8-foot ceilings.
"It has all the comforts of home,'' he said.
No lime-green pants
For the McIntyres, the RV life has been full of surprises.
"We envisioned people with lime-green pants and white belts,'' Nancy joked.
Instead, John said owners of other Roadtrek RVs "are more like pirates -- they cruise all over the place. They're excited about what they're doing. We've met interesting, fun people.''
Fellow Roadtrekers greet each other at campsites and sometimes travel together. The McIntyres joined a loose group of 32 Roadtrek owners in Alaska in 2011, sometimes camping with a few.
They've been invited to the homes of other RVers, and stay in touch with many.
Said Nancy: "You meet all these other fun people doing the same thing.''
While their RV is small, it has a stove, microwave, sink, toilet, shower and TV. They bring their computers to keep in touch with family and friends.
"I don't really consider it roughing it,'' Nancy said. "It just seems like an alternative home.''
Said John: "When you see campers out in the rain trying to make coffee, and you're inside under a warm blanket, it's nice.''
They try to be frugal.
"The biggest pain in the neck is gasoline,'' John said. "We don't eat out much. We've never stayed in a hotel. We've saved a lot of money on lodging and food.''
Campgrounds with full hookups can cost $30 to $40 a night, and the McIntyres have learned to do more "boondocking'' -- camping free at sites without hookups, including Wal-Mart parking lots. On their three-month, 12,000-mile journey to Alaska, they spent about $5,500 on gas and camping fees, a fraction of what it would have cost staying in motels and eating out.
Both say their RV has changed their lives. "It's a lot more interesting,'' John joked.
"It beats working,'' added Nancy.
So will I take the plunge, retire and buy an RV -- and perhaps a pair of lime-green pants?
Doug Smith • firstname.lastname@example.org