After leaving Imperial National Wildlife Refuge where we volunteered for over four months during winter 2005-6, we returned to the Denver area. We could have stored the fifth wheel and reverted to living in our house. Instead, still in our “experimental” mode, we parked at Cherry Creek State Park, three miles from our house, to test our resolve to this mobile lifestyle.
We had volunteered at this park for several years before leaving on our first lengthy opportunity elsewhere. Now we would stay at the Park as live-on volunteers for the next two months, returning to the house merely to organize things in preparation for possible sale.
Soon, we discovered that our biggest chore was driving up the old cul-de-sac leading to our former life and rummaging through years of collections and useless trinkets. Sentimental doo-dads and material possessions should not stand in the way of our decision to relinquish the comforts of familiarity for the excitement of the unknown.
Each day, after working at the house, we relished returning to the Park where we enjoyed the company of other volunteers, a parade of deer through our campsite, and sounds of nature as we enjoyed a glass of wine by a crackling fire.
But still uncertain that we wanted to surrender our lifeline — our stick house of 35 years — we left the state park to experience another extended volunteer position. This time we would park our Arctic Fox fifth wheel at the Jackson National Fish Hatchery in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, near Grand Teton National Park. But this time, our snakes were not welcome.
Leaving the snakes at the house in care of a zookeeper friend, we headed to the Tetons to spend the summer of 2006. Part of the draw to this area, of course, was the unlimited hiking through spectacular scenery. Part of the draw was further exploration of our new lifestyle. And part of the draw, also, was the Grand Teton Music Festival (GTMF) where our son and daughter, both professional symphony musicians, spend part of their summers performing with the GTMF symphony. For years we’d been heading to the Tetons for a week or 10 days to visit with our son and daughter and see a concert or two. Now we could spend more time with them and attend every concert.
But interpreting fish was new to us. At the Hatchery, we learned about the Snake River cutthroat trout and by the end of summer could even discuss with Hatchery visitors whirling disease in trout. We helped with spawning, squeezing red eggs from females and mixing them with sperm squeezed from males. We joined staff on some of their trips to various lakes to release truckloads of young trout. And we hiked with others five miles to a remote lake, each backpacking 30 pounds of fish in sloshing water. Tenderly, one at a time, we released each fish after helping it habituate to its new surroundings.
As well as talking with visitors to the Hatchery, we performed minor maintenance. On slow days, I watered the flower garden while Chuck mowed.
“This is ridiculous!” I told Chuck one day as he drove the riding mower back to its garage. “We’re paying someone to mow our yard at our house while we’re gone, but you’re mowing here as a volunteer!” We agreed, however, that our volunteer work was much more satisfying than the drudgery at the house.
Decision time was at hand!
When summer ended, we drove straight back to Denver, parked once again at Cherry Creek State Park, and devoted the next few weeks to emptying our house, staging a garage sale, and hiring a real estate agent. By the time we returned to Imperial National Wildlife Refuge for a second season, our Colorado home sported a “For Sale” sign for the first time in over 30 years.
We’d made the plunge, committed to this new lifestyle, but as yet were still tied to roots until the house sold. We weren’t totally full-time RVers until our real estate agent left a message on our cell phone stating, “Congratulations! You’re homeless!”
It was now time to trade the Arctic Fox for a true full-time rig that would provide us more space as well as a basement compartment large enough for four snake cages.