My Letters From America – “Oh, about six miles to the gallon”

John and Peggy hailed from North Carolina (NC) and they were sat behind us at the Cody Rodeo in Wyoming. The rodeo was great fun consisting of various competitions including trying to ride young angry bulls for at least 8 seconds. For the record none of the young men who embarked on this potentially bone shattering project succeeded.


They were away for 85 days. John, a burly former engineer, at least 75 years old had planned a schedule of stops all the way up north; this wasn’t their first visit to Cody or its rodeo. They had perfected their retirement plans by spending time in their Recreational Vehicle (RV) many weeks of the year. After this jaunt it’d be hauled out again to join the ‘snowbirds’, as the migrating pensioners are called, in Florida. Anna talked to Peggy and I to John. Surprisingly for his age John was adeptly flicking screens on his mobile phone to show me spreadsheets, Google Maps and a selection of photos of his RV and luxurious home back in NC. For his years he was active and organised. I felt that the ‘down time’ in North Carolina was spent poring over maps, checking out camp sites across the country and working out new routes.

I admire the spirit of older Americans who take to the road. It seems that they probably pack their medicine cabinets with their pills, stuff the RV with every convenience to cope with failing joints and then head for the sun or, maybe, somewhere cooler. The only time I had less admiration was in 2014 as I cycled through Colorado and had large RV’s nearly graze my hip as they put these large vehicles onto cruise control at 70mph. Their eyesight or concentration was never good enough to spot a miniature obstacle such as a cyclist grinding along up a slope on the side of the road.

Not John’s but very similar

Whilst who wants to be old it’s pleasing that there are ‘Senior’ discounts at a lot of attractions and even with some parking. Like the military this is a privilege extended to these large groups. We made sure we declared our decrepitude every time money was involved. Sadly no one felt it necessary to check that we were being honest! The American winter is brutal but the summer is long and sublimely warm. I think this liberates older folk to spend more time outdoors and be adventurous.

So who looked after the house in their absence? John said his daughter was in residence with the instruction to keep the grass cut. Anna found Peggy less discrete and in fact the daughter was in residence with their three grand children after a marital separation from the son-in-law. As the daughter was a psychologist you hoped she was coping better than most.

On our 2,500 mile drive (so far) we’ve seen these bus length RV’s on the Interstates. There was little that they lacked as regard home comforts and on the wide fast US roads they were easy to pilot. I think John was financially very well off but these vehicles, second hand, can cost $200,000 depending on the year and mileage. I imagine some campers literally sell up their homes and live in these pantechnicons forever.

They’d never visited Europe and I’d be the first to agree that the USA has much to offer for variety but I worried that you do become tied to these types of holiday. Inevitably Anna had to ask what was the fuel consumption? This was a question we’d asked each other as these things rumbled by. “Oh, about six miles to the gallon”, in fairness that’s a US gallon and if converted to an imperial gallon it climbs to 7.5mpg! Petrol not diesel. And if John chose not to hitch up a small Jeep car to the tow bracket I expect he might even break into double figures.

For all that unforgivable climate damage I’d still love to look around one and maybe even drive it a mile or two. Like all Americans we struck up a conversation with they were endlessly civil, courteous and engaged. I always find the dialogue starts easily if you just wade in.

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