My Own Cactus Flower

May 17

Do you remember the 1969 comedy with Goldie Hawn, Walter Matthau, and Ingrid Bergman called Cactus Flower? A potted cactus plant with a flower plays a role near the end as a metaphor for the changes in the main characters. At 63, I have found my own cactus flowers in a more literal sense in the place I chose to make my retirement location.

I am not a California native but might as well have been. California was my home for most of my last 45 years, minus a brief jaunt into the Pacific Northwest for 3 years. However, ask anybody who knew me then and they would say they often heard me complain and say how much I really disliked it. It was a lifelong dream realized when I was able to retire at 60, sell my home, and take off with my 3 pets in my motor home to find my place.

I just knew there was a place out there somewhere that would really feel like home. I never did get to see as many states as I had planned due to COVID screwing those plans up in March 2020. But I did get to travel through 16 states before we were all put on hold. As 2020 rolled along with not much getting better in the way of restrictions and hold ups, I put myself on 4 waiting lists for places to permanently park myself. I picked places that I thought would be safe and affordable.

Two of those places were in parts of the south that get rather humid and after spending most of 2020 in Texas, I started having second thoughts about that humidity and my own comfort. One of the places on my waiting list averages over 100-120 degrees most of the summer (near Tucson). There were a few other factors that had me questioning the smartness of this decision, including that I would have to pay for RV storage as they didn’t have any place for my motor home.

As luck would have it, the top place on my list was the first place to call with a spot for me. Within 7 days after they called, I had driven down, paid, purchased a large travel trailer to live in and had it delivered. This is a place I had lived in as a child for a few years and a place I had taken some camping trips in while passing through in 2018 and 2019. It’s an enchanted place that I have really fallen in love with. That place is New Mexico.

I haven’t been in my mobile home park for a whole year yet but I’m learning about the different seasons. I experienced my first snow in 40 years this past winter. It doesn’t really last here in the Chihuahuan Desert but it was pretty. Now it’s spring rolling into summer and I’m amazed at all the greenery. Some of the flowers and plants are part of the landscaping where I live but many of them are native. Here’s a selection of the “cactus flowers” I’ve seen while walking my dog in our new home.

I am looking forward to my retirement blossoming just like the beautiful cactuses around me.

Across the U.S.A. at 60 mph

This essay was written in the summer of 2019 after I’d been on the road full time for a little over one year.

There’s something to be said for driving at a leisurely pace. Now that I’m retired I really don’t have any deadlines and I’m finding that, at 61, I’ve started driving like an old lady, which isn’t a bad thing. I’ve always enjoyed bird observing and seeing the sites but before I bought the motorhome, I was always on my way to somewhere else. I would slow down as I passed an interesting lake full of migratory birds or tiny waterfalls along winding mountain roads but then I was back up to speed limit, maybe a little faster even, feeling annoyed at slower drivers in front of me, especially if it was a trailer or large RV.

Then I bought the motorhome. That was in 2016. It’s not a large motorhome, only 24 feet, about the size of one of those small specialty busses you see driving around town or to the airport. My motorhome was actually smoother to drive than my little Hyundai car, with a powerful V10 engine and cruise control. And you can really see all the traffic up ahead unless you’re blocked behind a semi. I was very cautious at the beginning. But driving it soon became second nature and I found myself realizing I could go the speed limit, even on the freeway, with no issues at all as long as I had put all my stuff away properly. 

When I retired mid-2018 and headed out after selling the house, all of a sudden, I found that I didn’t want to drive the speed limit anywhere. How can you drive across New Mexico at 75 mph when there is so much to look at everywhere? As I started getting in the habit of driving more leisurely, I found that all those little cars and semi-trucks in such a big hurry would just pass me and be on their way like they’d never even existed. I felt like I was in my own little world traveling down the highways in a different dimension from everyone else and that other dimension changed me mentally too. I noticed that the anger I used to have often in traffic was gone and my concerns for what other drivers might think of me had also dissipated. It was a really freeing feeling. 

Sometimes, my son will call me early in the morning when he’s on his way to work and while we’re talking, he’ll start cussing out the “stupid” drivers next to him and I can feel him getting really worked up. I don’t like him to be in that position but he always brushes it off later as “that’s just the way it is.” I’ve mentioned that there are several country roads that he could take all the way to work and avoid the freeway. It might add fifteen minutes to his commute but it would save a lot of merging, cussing, and aggravation. He does not agree with me. We shall see if things change when he retires.

I was in a hurry once with the motorhome. It was a week before Thanksgiving and I was in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I told the folks in Sacramento I would arrive for Thanksgiving, even though I hadn’t planned to be back until closer to Christmas time. They were missing me and my dad even sounded a little depressed on the phone. It’s the least a daughter can do I felt, as they had been very supportive of my taking off and wanting to travel the country. So I allowed myself eight days but was hoping to make it in less. 

It was November so I didn’t want to take I-40 back due to high elevations in parts of the country that might see snow and ice. I decided to take I-10 which follows the border to Mexico. I did 3,076 miles and arrived on day eight of my journey. The longest day’s drive was 518 miles which was my second day traveling across Texas. 

I was in such a hurry to get the whole week over with, I left by 8:00 a.m. every morning and didn’t stop until 5:00 or 6:00 every night, which included at least two stops per day because of the dogs. All I have to say is that I will never do that again. I think it took me a month to recover. From now on under 200 miles per day is my goal and I will take ten days to get somewhere that is 1,000 miles away if I have to.

Recently, things changed again. I am now towing a car. Even though the towing is pretty much seamless, you can’t even feel it and it turns like a dream, I find myself driving very cautiously. It says on the Oklahoma Turnpike (I-44) that the speed limit is 50 to 75, “no tolerance” they add on the sign. So I picked 60 mph, set my cruise control and drove 130 miles no problem. People didn’t get mad at me, they just passed me and I was left alone to enjoy my own little world of scenery and peacefulness.

I’m sure as I get more bold with the towing situation, I will start to feel more comfortable going faster, except maybe on city interchanges, but why go faster? I’m not bothering anyone, I’m not breaking the law, and I’m enjoying a blissful, stress-free retirement.

So when you are behind a slow moving motorhome towing a car and starting to get steamed because you can’t pass, don’t get mad. Think about those retired people in front of you enjoying the scenery and not having a care in the world. And hope that one day, you can be like that.

For pictures and descriptions of 32 sightseeing sites to date, go here.