Friday, August 1, 2014

How we Retired at 58

Written by Philip Gardner

I don't know about you but just the thought of retiring early from my stressful job, getting rid of all the "things" that tied me down and heading out on the highway of adventure in an RV was a dream come true.  My wife and I wanted to see the country close up and personal.  We wanted, in a word, freedom,  freedom from stress, from stagnation, from the same old routines.  We were both 58 years young and both ready for something new and exciting. 

Of the two of us, my wife, Deb, is a researcher.  Once our dream of fulltime RVing started, she was on the internet studying everything she could find about the lifestyle.  Over the years we had had many dreams.  Many involved us moving to foreign countries like France, Mexico or Ecuador.  We even started learning Spanish at one point.  But each time we balanced the scales on these dreams, we found something that just wouldn't let us get past it.  We were real close to heading down to Merida, Mexico in the Yucatan peninsula to look at these beautiful colonial homes but my horrible aptitude for Spanish and Merida's super high humidity killed that one.  France, Deb just couldn't see those French folks warming up to her.  When it comes right down to it, there's just no place like the good ole USA.  As long as we stayed out of New Jersey, we figured most folks could understand us with our southern drawls and we could probably understand them.  I'm just kidding about New Jersey, it's just hard to understand them.  Although our dollars may not be all that colorful, at least we know how much change we ought to get back.  A huge advantage of staying right in this, our, country is that we know how far we have to go to get somewhere, in miles.  I would need a calculator anywhere else to convert kilometers into miles and liters into gallons, and pesos into dollars and for Pete sake, "let's just stay home".  You can sort of see how our dreaming was going.  So we were real excited and had no reservations when we finally decided to RV around the country.  Life was looking up.

For two memorable years we traveled around the country.  We saw parts of the country we had never seen before.  We met super friendly people from everywhere and from all walks of life.  We made some lifelong friends during that time.  We had our dog, Hanni, with us and we were as close as two people and a dog could be, literally and figuratively.  It is funny to consider how much space we lived in before and how little we have now living in our RV.  Being totally honest, the amount of living space we now have is totally adequate and very comfortable.  I am absolutely amazed that we ever lived in as large of a house as we had in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  A huge part of my "non-working" free time was spent "working" on that large house and yard.  We must have been crazy.

After that second year of traveling the roads, my lovely wife started making some overtures and I sensed a change was coming.  We had joined an RV club called Escapees and had attended one of their major rallies in Wyoming.  There we first heard about the Escapees Co-Op RV Resorts.  It was relatively cheap to have your own site but it involved pitching in and helping out around the park in order to keep the monthly maintenance fee at a minimum.  We were fine financially and I had not worried about that at all but the economy is a fragile thing and it's always possible for bad things to happen.  Looking back on it, I think part of the appeal to her was having her own space to grow plants and some nearby friends.  I can say that at the time, I did not fully appreciate the strength of her new direction.  All I knew was that she wanted to visit one of the Co-Ops in Coarsegold, California to see what it was all about.  Before we even got there she already had all the pertinent information and was probably considering it seriously.  Me, I was just along for the ride.  That is just the way she is and we compromised as was our custom, if you know what I mean.

Site at Park of the Sierras'
 Located about forty miles from Yosemite National Park, The Park of the Sierras' is in Coarsegold.  It is as stated a Co-Op Escapees Resort.  It is scenic with gentle hills, towering trees, huge RV sites, nice people and an affordable buy-in and monthly maintenance fee.   Its proximity to Yosemite was also very appealing.  A huge disadvantage to me was the lack of tennis courts and a pool.  The prior Winter I had really gotten back into playing tennis.  Both Deb and I had changed our lifestyle and adopted a much healthier vegan diet.  We had both dropped 30 pounds and wanted to keep up the exercise and diet regiment.  The lifestyle we observed at Park of the Sierras' would have been a little more sedate than what I personally was seeking.  Their activities centered around their large clubhouse and involved play cards, bingo and pool.  We were also noticeably younger than the members there.  They were awfully nice, however, and were quick to tell us about another Co-Op they thought would better match our needs.  They said it was more expensive but had lots of amenities and activities.  Of course my wife immediately began researching it and two days later we set off for Jojoba Hills which is between Los Angeles and San Diego. 

Overview of Jojoba Hills
During the drive, Deb would read aloud descriptions of the resort from bloggers who had visited.    I think she read every word she could find about Jojoba Hills. This basically means, I heard every word written about Jojoba Hills.  She was getting higher and higher on Jojoba the closer we got.  I can probably boast that we were unofficial experts on Jojoba Hills before we even arrived.  I am pretty sure that Deb had already made up her mind to purchase a membership before we ever arrived.  Me, it did sound really good. 

Jojoba Hills doesn't really take reservations since sites are all assigned to members.  But they do let you know that a site is available before you make the trek to the resort.  The members there place their sites in a pool for visitor rentals and depending on the time of year, there may be upward of 20 sites in that pool.  As it turned out, the resort was experiencing something that had never happened before.  There were sites available for membership without an active waiting list.  I guess the primary reason for this was the economy and downturn in the housing market.  There was a waitlist but, lucky for us, the people on it were not ready to make the move. 

Companion Casita at Yuma Palms RV Resort
Alright, how do I do this justice?  We had seen some really spectacular resorts during our travels, five star ones.  We had toured some of these resorts and were amazed at the high cost of ownership.  The basic sell was typically the extraordinary amenities and activities.  In Yuma we had stayed at the Yuma Palms and boy was it nice.  For a cool hundred thousand you could get a narrow site there and pay another $400 or more in monthly maintenance fees.  For another hundred thousand you could then build a companion Casita to expand your living area.  We loved all the facilities and the countless activities.  I had gotten back into tennis, played volleyball, learned to throw pottery on the wheel, enjoyed weekly burger bashes and pancake breakfasts and even gone to noteworthy concerts right in the resort.  It was actually appealing except when you consider that it was in Yuma, Arizona where the Summers are just too hot to live.  You would only be able to use it for half the year.  Also, it was in Yuma, not exactly the most scenic place in the world and not close to anything except Mexico.  It was these experiences that served as our basis for evaluating Jojoba Hills along with our own vision of what we were seeking.

My first impression of Jojoba Hills was that it was really far from the city of Temecula, California.  We drove out about fourteen miles from the interstate on a winding Hwy 79.  It seemed like a long way out there.  The first night we had to stay in their boondock lot with no hookups since we arrived after their office had closed.  This area is outside the real resort sites next to the office and storage area.  It is not bad but certainly not what dreams are made of.  The next day, we met the friendly staff and were escorted to what would become our home site.  A fellow named Dave escorted us to our site and against resort policy helped me guide our 5th wheel back into the site once he realized I was the worlds worst backer.  I liked him immediately and he and his wife Jan have become excellent friends. 

We stayed on site 511 on Roadrunner Way.  It was a basic site that had minimal improvements.  The resort encourages all visitors to take a guided tour but we did not wait.  We were all over the resort, checking it out.  Two days after we arrived we did get the official tour from Brian, a retired Chicago police officer.  He was about our age and we really enjoyed getting to know him.  He made fun of our southern drawls and we felt right at home.  What we saw was a well maintained resort.  Every facility and amenity was in excellent condition.  Believe me when I tell you that many of the RV parks where we had stayed were run down, or falling down.  There was none of that at Jojoba Hills.  Everything was in pristine condition.  Oh the sites, huge, they were at least 3 times the size of any other resort we had visited except for the other co-op in Coarsegold.  Typically you find yourself crammed in next to the RVs on either side of you.  Amenities, I will not even go into all of them because there are just too many of them.  I highly recommend that you visit their website,, and explore things for yourself.  The other really great thing about this resort was the friendly attitude of every single person we encountered.  We got hugs, smiles, handshakes and conversation.  The members did not know us but seemed sincerely interested in getting to know us, wow!  There were also a huge number of activities every day.  You could play all sorts of games, bingo, pool, tennis, pickleball, putt putt, swimming, shoot air guns, fly remote controlled airplanes, workout in the exercise room, take craft and art classes and the list just goes on and on.  There is no way you could get bored here unless you wanted to.

So after all that, we committed and became proud members of Jojoba Hills SKP Resort.  We had our choice of a couple of sites but decided to stick with 511, the one we were on, and not just because I didn't want to back that huge 5th wheel into another site.  I am including some photos of how the site appeared when we first arrived along with others showing the progression of improvements we made. 

The resort has the policy that allows existing members to get on a wish list for other sites.  Our site was certainly not one of the best sites.  In fact, many other members had started on this site and moved to other sites as they became available.  We looked.  We just didn't find anything we liked better.  We would loved to have found a site that had already been fixed up.  It would have saved us a lot of expense.  I would say that during our initial few months we considered maybe six other sites that became available.  Each time, we found some reason to stay put and we are happy we did.  

The Basic site has full hookups, a concrete pad and a shed. 
We began by creating a privacy screen, expanding the pad with pavers, adding a walkway and laying down river stone
After that we add a metal awning to provide needed shade during the hot summer months
Deborah did amazing things with the outside living and dining areas where we spend much of our time.

We have a constant stream of friends dropping by and a comfortable place to sit and chat or entertain.

Our investment in our site improvements was in the neighborhood of $10,000.  The membership, which we will recoup when we decide to leave, was just over $30,000.  Going forward, our monthly expenses includes a maintenance fee of $253 which covers the super nice staff, cable TV and water.  We budget an average of $100 a month for electricity and $50 for propane.  Of course we have all the other living expenses like groceries, fuel, clothing and entertainment but we can control a lot of that.

A waiting list is maintained of RVers wanting to become members.  There are only 280 sites and they are in high demand.  We were extremely lucky that when we joined, the folks on the waiting list were not ready to make the move, probably because of the housing market and their inability to sell their homes.  Prior to that, I had heard that some of the other members had to wait as long as two years before a membership became available.  I am not surprised by that.  After seeing the resort and becoming a member, I am surprised that people aren't beating down the gate to become members. Assuming you can afford the modest cost for membership, the monthly expenses are so low.  I always thought it would cost a lot more here in southern California.  It is a wonderful place to live. The weather is outstanding.  We are close to all of southern California, including San Diego and Los Angeles.  We have every convenience imaginable fourteen miles away in Temecula.  There are over 40 wineries within a thirty minute drive.  There are casinos, theaters, shopping, golf courses and great restaurants all close by.  The best word that describes this resort is, "unbelievable". I urge everyone to check out the website,, if you are considering a home base from which to live life to the fullest.  Being here allows us to stay retired, stay active and stay happy.