In late February 2019, early March, Chip went to the doctor after a week of severe pain in his right side that we thought maybe his gallbladder or appendix. The doctor told us those organs looked fine, however, there was a huge mass in his kidney that was of concern and immediately set up an appointment for a scan at the imaging center. The word mass, of course, was enough to set off the panic alarm, but we were optimistic and prayed that it was nothing to it. By the time the scan was completed, read, and a follow-up appointment was made it was mid-March. We went to a urologist in Danville who informed us Chip had kidney cancer and his right kidney needed to be removed. He recommended that we go to Duke to see a specialist, an Oncology Urologist. We met an amazing young doctor, he was younger than us, so we can call him young, who told us the same thing, the right kidney needs to be removed. He told us there may be some lymph node involvement based on what he was seeing, but he would not know for sure until he was performing the surgery. Additional cancer care would be determined after the kidney was removed and tested.
Chip asked that I keep all of this private, and I did. We did not even tell our immediate family until after the procedure was done. All along we, of course, we’re praying that everything would go well, which it did. Many of you prayed when I posted on FB prayers for a dear friend, that dear friend was my best friend, Chip, so thank you for those prayers. Chip had his right kidney removed in May and it was cancer, but no lymph node involvement. The doctor felt that they were able to get everything and there would be no need for additional cancer care at that time. Chip would go back in September for blood-work and again in December for a scan to assure there was no further sign of cancer. Septembers blood-work was what we expected, his kidney functions were out of whack because one kidney was trying to do the work of two. It may take a couple of years for this to improve.
Our summer was different as we were not able to go to the lake, beach or camping, as Chip had a lot of restrictions on what he could not do related to lifting and such. It took a couple of months for him to get his strength back and feel normal again. We canceled all of our trips, some that were planned the summer before, but enjoyed being at home and praising God that the cancer was caught so early, which from our understanding was rare, as it usually went undetected. Thank God Chip had a pain in his side, besides me, that he actually was concerned enough about that he went to the doctor. This was the first time in our 32 years together that he had been to the doctor. That in itself tells me there was divine intervention.
What we were reminded with this diagnosis was life is precious and none of us are promised tomorrow. We tried not to think about, “what if”, but we both did. I thought about how I could not live without him, and he thought about what he could do to make my life easier if he was not here. We thank God that for now, we don’t have to worry about that, that we know of. I couldn’t help but think of my time with hospice and all the many families I worked with that were my age or even younger, that had traveled this same journey with a different outcome.
Like most, we have always talked about what we were going to do when we retire. Our dream had been to truck camp our way through every state, except Hawaii, as that may not be cost-effective to get our camper there. After this scare, being reminded tomorrow may not come, we started talking about trying to make our dream happen, in small pieces, until we had camped through every state with our truck camper.
We started planning our first trip. I don’t think Chip missed a night that he was not on the computer planning our journey. I was fortunate enough that for the first time in my career, I was in a job that I could take extended time off. Chip spent extra time getting his job “ahead” in everything and had a co-worker cover him on the week-to-week things that might come up. Chip would be able to talk to loggers and land-owners as needed on the phone while we were on the road.
We packed for weeks, checked things off the list, and were ready to hit the road. I, of course, had all my clothes completely packed and in the camper two weeks before we even left. Chip, of course, said if I didn’t need those clothes for two weeks then surely I had too many clothes in my closet at home. Of course, the clothes that were packed were not my everyday clothes, they consisted of hiking pants and t-shirts. I love to dress down and was definitely looking forward to no dress clothes, curling irons or other necessities of my work life. I was going light and simple. Though I thought he was crazy, Chip told me I needed to pack for winter as well as the higher altitudes weather was unpredictable, and we needed to be prepared for anything. I did pack at the last minute a pair of gloves, my winter coat, a head-wrap, and a scarf. Surely, I would not need these things as I packed them on a day it was above 90 degrees, but I did pack them, just in case. I definitely did not want to be told: “I told you so.”
We had no set destination, we just knew where we wanted to go and what we wanted to see. Our list included South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana. Chip planned out or direction going, and we would discuss things as we went.
Let me tell you about our camper and our plans to “boondock” our way to Yellowstone National Park. We purchased our truck camper several years ago after Bailey was away at college as we wanted to have some spontaneous weekend getaways without pulling our tag-along, which is a wee bit bigger than a truck camper, and therefore not easy to hook it up on a Friday afternoon and take off for a quick camping trip. We wanted something that was small since most of the time it would just be the two of us, but we also wanted something, so we would able to get off the beaten path. Truck campers have some advantages over other types of campers. The reason we like our truck camper is mainly that we can go anywhere in it. Places that most people would never consider taking any other type of camper, that is where we like to go. It is small, kind of like a tiny house on wheels, but has everything that we need. The other reason is we love to take our boat to the lake and coast which meant taking two vehicles, one to pull the camper and one to pull the boat. Or even worse was Chip would pull the camper to the lake on Thursday to set it up at the campground, come home, work all day on Friday and then come home, get me and Bailey, hook the boat up and go back to the lake. On Sunday, we luckily had family who would come spend the day with us and then pull one of our toys home. This was not quite as easy when going to the beach. We literally took our boat to Wilmington one weekend and were fortunate to leave it at a friend of a friend’s house. The following weekend we pulled our camper down to the KOA campground and spent the week. Toward the end of the week, my brother and his family came down, spent some time with us and pulled the boat home while we pulled the camper. Now with our truck camper, we can easily hook anything up, a boat or a trailer with our side-by-side and head anywhere we want to go. But there has been a hiccup with what we thought was a perfect solution. Chip quickly learned to not let me be the one to go park the camper pulling an empty boat trailer after unloading the boat. The first time I did it, I was so proud that I made it all the way from the boat landing, into the campground, through the roads, and into the campsite. I didn’t have to back-up at all so no chance of jack-knifing the trailer, so I had it made. There was a turn, pretty sharp into the site. Not thinking about the boat trailer having a huge crank handle, I turned to the left, sharp, but not sharp enough jackknife or anything. I parked the camper, so proud of myself and went back to see if the trailer was in a good spot for Chip to be able to unhook it and leave it parked. That is when I saw the crank was in the camper, and I mean literally in it. The crank handle where you tighten the boat on the trailer went into the back of the camper, through the tail light. It was stuck and I did not know what to do. Chip couldn’t get to the site fast enough with the boat. I met him at the water crying. I was so upset. Chip was not mad at me, though I am sure he was mad at himself for letting me do it. But we had a good weekend, and he had it completely repaired by the following weekend and you can’t even tell where it happened. It hurt my feelings more than it did the camper. I now am the one who drives the boat from the dock to the campsite while Chip parks the camper. This is a good decision on his part, that is until I take to boat dock out or something, which I pray never happens, but trust me I do worry that I won’t be able to dock it. I am so thankful for the weekends that Bailey or my brother is there when it is time to leave.
Here is a great article on the reasons people like truck campers, and you will see in the article pictures of the kind of places we like to go.
So now let’s talk about “boondocking.” Boondocking is also known as camping off the grid. It is simply camping without any hookups outside developed campgrounds. Our favorite place to boondock is on National Forest Land. You can usually find somewhere off the road to set up camp. The general rule of thumb is to park at least 100-feet away from any water source. We love to find a remote site somewhere off the beaten path. When you boondock you have to learn to be conscious of your water use and using lights as they will run down your battery. We have had no problems being able to camp comfortably for 2 days with no amenities, as our tanks hold plenty of freshwater and storage of what is used. When you are on the road, the batteries from the truck recharge the camper battery. There are a lot of places that allow you to dump your tanks (gray water is the sink and shower and black water is the toilet) and refill your freshwater tank. In our camper, while boondocking, we can watch tv and or at least watch a dvd, take showers, use the stove and fan. We cannot use the air-conditioner or microwave without the generator so you have to make sure where you are staying allows generators if you plan to camp when it is hot. The refrigerator runs off-gas as does the heater so you just have to make sure your propane gas tanks are full.
This is our model truck camper and some of the pictures are ours, but I am having a hard time getting some of the pictures to load so here are some generic ones so you can see spacing. I love that it is small and yet has everything we need. It is easy to keep clean. I made the bed every day n our trip, It is important to keep things put away and things “neat” or it would drive me crazy is such a small space.
Though our camper is perfect for two, Bailey has stayed with us plenty of times. The table folds down into the bench to make a bed. The three of us have spent plenty of hours at the table (it slides out) playing Yahtzee or putting together a jigsaw puzzle on a rainy evening. The bed is big enough that all three of us have comfortably watched a movie though I am not sure we could all sleep together as one of the three wiggles a lot in their sleep and I can assure you it is not me or Chip.
I did not take pictures of all the storage in the camper, but I can assure you we packed everything we needed for 15 days on the road and had room to spare. We took spare paper towels, toilet paper and such. The only items that needed to be replaced on the road were milk, bread, water, and ice for the cooler where we kept cold water in the backseat. Otherwise, we had everything we needed with us. I took enough clothes for the entire trip with plenty of extra, but Chip does not own enough clothes, so we had to wash clothes for him once during the trip. I think Santa will be bringing him more socks and underwear this year.
Chip and I tied up the loose ends with work, home, dogs and family and pulled out of our driveway, more excited than kids on Christmas morning, on Friday, September 13, 2019.