It has been quite a while since we’ve written. We hope that you and those close to you continue to be well. We’re thankful that 2020 is over; the vaccines are starting to rollout, and we’re hopeful that 2021 will be a better year all around.
We are approaching our four month anniversary in our new house in East Helena, Montana. It seems unbelievable that it has been that long since we were living in Rhett, our 36 foot fifth wheel RV. And yet at the same time, our two-year adventure exploring America and Canada is starting to seem almost like a dream. Did we really do that? Yes! We’re really glad that we created the Lobsters on the Loose blog, so that we can go back and remind ourselves of all that we have done.
We arrived in Helena a few days before our house closing, and stayed at the county fairgrounds. This was right at the height of the western wildfires, and the air was very smoky.
The first few days we were in our new house, there was a group of “antelope” (or so we were told) in our back yard. Antelope only live in Africa; these are actually pronghorn sheep… known locally as antelope. I was surprised to learn that their closest living relative is the giraffe. Sure! I can see that resemblance! Uh-huh.
After a few days, they moved on. We saw them a few weeks ago in a field about 5 miles away, and we hope they return next year.
We are settling into our new life here in East Helena Montana. We’re making our home “ours” with furnishings, decorations, and projects like upgrading the lighting to suit our aging eyes.
We’re learning the layout of nearby Helena, the state capital, where we do most of our errands when we have to go out. We’re still isolating as much as possible and we remain healthy although dealing with some of the vicissitudes of aging. We’re establishing relationships with some doctors and we’re becoming Montanans by getting our drivers’ licenses and registering to vote.
Several of our specialists are located in Missoula which is two hours away. Luckily, it’s a beautiful ride through a pass in the Rockies; our car knows the way well. I’ve (Kathe) had more glaucoma surgery and am forever grateful that I’ve found a glaucoma specialist who is really terrific. And it looks like, finally, after ten months, my back pain is largely under control thanks to a pain specialist in Missoula. Getting old is NOT for sissies!
I’m thoroughly enjoying plenty of quilting time in my sewing room. Al set me up with some very bright track lighting and it’s a joy to work on the projects I have going. The views out the sewing room windows are gorgeous! I especially love hearing the train go by — even though it’s several miles away, we can see it in the distance. Trains here are different than we’re used to from the east coast. Many (most?) are well over a mile long!
Most of the land around us is agricultural; there are lots of cattle in Montana! Cowboy boots? Check. Cowboy hat? Have to get them. Chaps and spurs? Hmmm… We’ll have to think about those.
Since it is January and we’re writing about living in Montana, you can correctly assume that we decided to not return to the Arizona desert this winter. It was not a difficult decision to make. While we still have to isolate ourselves, it is easier in a house than in an RV. It still feels a little strange to us that sometimes we have to search for each other in the house, after both being in the same room for two years. We joke about now having to use our ham radio walkie-talkies to find each other.
Covid-19 has changed the RVing world. For us, it made the RV life less desirable. One of the things we enjoyed most about RVing was being able to meet other people and learn about their backgrounds and experiences. Covid ruled that out, so part of the impetus was gone. While we were in Quartzsite, Kathe most enjoyed her Quartzsite Quilters group and the activities at the Gem and Mineral club. While both of those continue to meet (why?), due to virus concerns Kathe would not have attended either this winter had we gone down.
For others, Covid has made RVing more attractive, offering the ability to vacation and travel while maintaining distance and isolation. No hotels, no airplanes, no restaurants needed. RV sales are booming, with many dealers’ lots empty and manufacturing backlogged by parts shortages. It was difficult before to find campground or RV park sites, especially near popular attractions such as National Parks; reservations had to be made well in advance. It will be interesting to see how much this boom in RV sales will make that problem worse, and whether the effect will be long lasting—or will many of those new RVs quickly become rarely-used lawn ornaments?
It looks like many others are also deciding to not go to Quartzsite this winter. A friend who did go to Q this winter said recently that there were about one-quarter of the rigs there, compared to what he remembers from last year at this time. The big influx into Quartzsite is usually the first two weeks of January, so it will be interesting to see whether the large crowds materialize.
So we’re staying in Montana. We have prepared for winter: heavy coats, a snow blower, and a Subaru Outback. Just as in Maine, it seems that Subaru is the state car of Montana—if you exclude the pickup trucks! The mileage that Scarlet, our F350 dually truck got (14 – 15 mpg), and the difficulty of finding parking in town for such a large (24′ long) vehicle made us decide to get other transportation. But so far Montana’s winter has been milder than usual, with less snow. We had one 10″ snowfall in mid October, but only flurries since; the ground is currently bare, and until this week the high temps have been in the high 30s / low 40s.
Helena is surrounded by mountain ranges; it is in the “eastern front” of the Rockies (we’re about 20 miles east of the Continental Divide “as the crow flies”). We can see mountains in all directions and those mountains do have snow. We are at about 3900′ elevation; according to the weather service, most of the snow has been above 5000′.
A few mornings ago we were finally greeted by real winter; it was two degrees and 90% humidity. Perfect conditions for the formation of hoar frost on neighboring trees and even our door’s Christmas wreath.
The next day was in the 40s, and we have bare ground once again. Of course!
So what does the future hold? While we plan to continue traveling in Rhett, it is unlikely that we will be full-timers again—but one thing this year has taught us is that you can’t predict the future, so maybe. During the spring, summer, and fall, we hope to do more exploring but probably in trips measured in multiple weeks, not multiple months. And hopefully, we will be able to return to wintering in the Quartzsite area or elsewhere warm! As we do have more adventures, we will continue this blog, but it may be quiet for a while until the spring.
By the way, we can still end blog posts with pictures of beautiful sunsets (or in this case, a sunrise), now from here in Montana…
We hope that you and your loved ones stay safe, healthy, and warm this winter.
-Kathe & Al, a.k.a. “The Lobsters”