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Lohmann: Richmond family returns from their cross-country pandemic adventure
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Lohmann: Richmond family returns from their cross-country pandemic adventure

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Richmond family who traveled the US in RV for half a year, comes back, buys new home.

It seemed like a good idea last fall.

And it was.

In an attempt to break out of the pandemic doldrums, Liz and Dan Collins decided to make a bold move and take advantage of a rare opportunity, with Liz working away from the office, Dan making a career shift and their 10-year-old son, Noah, attending school remotely: They sold their home, bought an RV and hit the road.

It was all good — or mostly.

“Just being on the road was an adventure,” Liz said.

“It worked out,” said Dan. “I wouldn’t trade it.”

Through it all, they survived:

  • Snow and hail across the seemingly endless expanse of Kansas as they approached the eighth hour of an arduous nine-hour drive. “Then I saw lightning in the distance,” Dan recalled, “and I thought, ‘This is not what I need right now.’”
  • Steep 6% grades on Colorado highways in their 30-foot RV, towing a 20-foot trailer with their car. “Stressed the marriage out a little bit,” said Dan, who did the driving; “Oh my gosh!” recalled Liz, “I had to go sit in the back. We had to go through three passes to get out of Colorado into Utah. It’s gorgeous, but hair-raising.”
  • Pesky biting gnats along the Gulf Coast.
  • No-see-ums
  • ,
  • as they’re known, “are a real thing,” Dan warned.

Then there was the great Texas freeze of February, when they hunkered down with family near Austin, weathering frigid cold, power outages and water shortages, but managed, despite rolling electrical blackouts for days, to bake cookies.

“They were delicious,” Dan said.

Now they’re back in Richmond, settling into their new home in Richmond’s North Side, a lovely house built in 1900 that’s been completely renovated. The housing bubble didn’t burst while they were away, so it was a challenge to find a new place, but they eventually did. Now, they’re unpacking boxes, marveling at some of the things they stashed in storage while they were away (“We decided to keep that?” Liz recalled saying at the sight of one item), and happy to be home.

The fourth member of the family, Rufus, a hound they adopted a few years ago from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, is also happy to be back, though his enthusiasm was restrained during our visit Friday. He mostly snoozed next to the couch.

“That was him pretty much the entire trip,” Liz said — the title of their travel blog was “Rolling with Rufus,” and he mostly rolls with everything — although she noted he did seem to get a little concerned every time they began packing up, strapping down and getting ready to move to the next place.

For all of them, the trip that began in November was a lesson in the benefits of travel and friends, Dan said. They visited, and in some cases, stayed with, friends and family all over the country, including the family that put them up when they got back to Richmond at the end of May — a little earlier than expected, because they couldn’t find anywhere to park their RV along the North and South Carolina coasts as lots of other people had the same idea — without a place to stay as they were searching for a new house.

“We all just meshed really well,” Liz said. “Somehow it just worked.”

Favorite places along the way included Sedona, Ariz., a nice stop after the Grand Canyon, which was wonderful in a natural sense (“It was amazing how close you felt to the stars,” Liz said) but lacking in cell service, which Liz needed for her corporate job and Noah needed for school.

They loved the Florida Keys, where they fed tarpon and marveled at the almost unreal color of the water. Other highlights included the food of New Orleans and Charleston, S.C.; the month they spent in Texas with Liz’s family (except for the freeze, though they got good stories out of that); and mountain biking in Utah, snowboarding in New Mexico and sledding in Texas by way of an all-terrain vehicle and johnboat.

They put about 10,000 miles on the RV, which they plan to sell after they tidy it up, and made it as far west as Las Vegas. They originally intended to hit California and see the Pacific coast and redwoods, but their plans changed along the way. That sort of flexibility was generally their friend (“We’re not really planners,” Dan said, at which Liz laughed), though some of their “day-of” calls to fully booked campgrounds forced them to start looking at least a week ahead to future destinations.

There were no catastrophes along the way, though Dan did lose his cellphone at Busch Gardens in Florida when a roller coaster turned him upside-down. He recovered the phone — miraculously undamaged — the next day. He wasn’t so lucky with his wedding ring, which went missing on a beach trip on the east coast of Florida. He replaced it when they got back to Richmond.

COVID-19 was, of course, a large part of the reason they made the trip in the first place. They had no particular issues with the virus itself, although they encountered the range of responses to the pandemic.

In places like Austin, everyone seemed to be wearing masks; in more rural places, Liz, Dan and Noah seemed to be the only ones. When Liz and Dan became age-eligible for a vaccine, they were in Florida, but their attempts to get vaccinated were thwarted because they were not state residents. They had to wait until they returned to Richmond to get their jabs.

Now, they’re good to go. Noah is looking forward to starting sixth grade at Richmond’s Binford Middle School, Liz continues to work her job, and Dan is figuring out what’s next. He spent 18 years as a school photographer but now wants to do something different. He would like to move more into the realm of fine art photography and hopes the images he made on their trip will give him a good start. He’s also considering using his photos as the basis for a “Rolling With Rufus” book of their travels.

I asked about returning to “real life” after more than six months on the road.

It was time, Dan said.

He couldn’t remember where they were — he thought it was Savannah, Noah said it was Alabama — when they were watching a movie in their RV, and Liz commented offhand about not being able to stretch out. “I miss a couch,” she said.

Dan replied, “Yeah, I do, too.”

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