Pocahontas State Park is fifteen miles outside of Richmond, VA, which is just a two-hour drive to our home back in Maryland. The park is big and beautiful and we try to enjoy it but we are unsettled to say the least. We meet a woman staying across from us who comments on the Woodebago. Hers is the same model and she, her husband, and three dogs are just starting their RV experience although, having just lost their house to a fire, theirs is one of necessity not adventure. This week they start working part-time ticketing at NASCAR races, she says, which will mostly cover the cost of campsite fees. The rest they will just have to figure out. We are headed home for a week, we tell them, before our last leg in New England.
Heading home is something we’ve been talking about for awhile but now here it is and we are a mess of emotions. Will everything seem different? G asks. Will things have changed? It was scary to go away, now it’s scary to go back. We try to reassure the kids that it will all seem familiar as soon as we get there, that it just seems like a long time but really nothing’s different. But there are tears and sleepless nights; we, too, are anxious about home, even if it’s just for a week.
A few days later, crossing over the Potomac on the American Legion Bridge, we spot the Maryland flag on the welcome sign and, just like that, the spell of anxiety is broken. The kids yell “Maryland!” and are still smiling as we pull into my mom’s house, our home base during this pass through. And there she is…our dog, Sheba! As furry and gorgeous as ever, the fifth member of the family is back with us again, ready to join the trip north.
While home, we celebrate the kids’ birthdays, and knock out over a dozen doctor, dentist, and school-related appointments. We are glad to be busy, hoping to stay in trip mode so we can enjoy our last months.
But it wouldn’t be right if BigTrip didn’t spend a couple of days enjoying our own Chesapeake Bay with our best friends from home. Their spot in Calvert County, just down from the 15 million year old Calvert Cliffs on the western shore of the Bay, is like a home away from home to us. We’ve been coming here for nearly a decade so the kids recognize it all immediately. Signs for Prince Frederick. The exit toward Port Republic. The long two-lane highway canopied by American chestnut trees. The bend in the road that provides that first glimpse of the Chesapeake. Look, it’s high tide! You can see the dock! The Bay!
The next day brings a rainbow, a perfect arc of pastels over the dock. Even after the rugged Badlands, deep Redwoods, stunning Pacific Coast, and the biggest mountains, grandest canyons and everything in between, Maryland is a beautiful place to call home.
The last task of our home visit is the hardest. We strip down and clean out the Woodebago until there are no signs of our lives from the last 10 months. Since our last leg is New England, where we have plenty of family and friends, we’ve decided to forgo the expense of gas and campgrounds, and the hassle of driving up the crowded Eastern seaboard in an RV, and instead downsize to the family minivan. The toad, too, will be left behind, although the sticker-clad car top carrier will come with us.
Clearing out the RV is surreal and a little sad because we know we are saying goodbye to the little home that took us, literally and figuratively, to places we never imagined we’d go as a family. She stripped us of privacy, personal space, and individual luxuries (the crinkle of the plastic insert of Girl Scout cookie boxes is shockingly hard to conceal, for example). She was also needy. Check my tire pressure! Check my water levels! Tether, untether, plug in (don’t forget the adaptor), unplug, fill me up, drain the tank. Don’t forget to top off my batteries (distilled water only)! And if you’re going to use my refrigerator, you’re going to need to level me, every time, even in the rain.
But she taught us a lot too. She made us resourceful and creative; we learned to fix, fasten, and hack all sorts of things. She made us humble, grateful to have a roof when it rained, water in the desert, and a dinner of cheese and crackers when that’s all we had. And she gave us time and space to do nothing but read; together, we’ve read 170 books so far (we’re tracking them on an app called Library Thing). The Woodebago made BigTrip possible (surely we couldn’t have lived out of our van for a year). But we have to say goodbye now–she’s for sale, if anyone’s looking for the adventure of a lifetime. Now we turn north for our last two months in New England. Cape Cod, see you soon!