The odds were against her.
Her husband had died in a car accident, and she had never driven a motorhome before.
She wasn’t mechanically inclined. At the age of 54, could she learn to operate and maintain a motorhome? Did she want to?
Barbara Cormack, of Thornton, Ontario, Canada, has been traveling around North America in her 35-foot Fleetwood Bounder — with a Ford Escort wagon in tow — for the past nine years.
“I love the lifestyle and hope to do it for many years,” she said. “I would like to tell all single people that when your other half dies you shouldn't give up what you loved to do with your spouse.”
Barbara, 63, travels in the motorhome about six months per year. In 2004 she covered the entire 3,700-mile Lewis and Clark trail with FMCA's Singles International chapter.
Her travels haven’t been without peril. Once, the left front tire of her motorhome blew out in a construction zone amid heavy highway traffic. Another time, she acquired food poisoning in the Rio Grande in Texas and was hospitalized for five days.
“I have had a great life with many traumatic experiences but I’ve survived,” said Barbara, who was born in the New Brunswick town of Moncton.
The most traumatic event occurred in January 1997, when she lost Bob, her husband of 30 years.
He worked as a design technologist for JKS Boyles in North Bay, Ontario, for nearly 20 years, designing core drills for mine exploration.
On a snowy day, Bob was driving his daughters, Carla and Jessica, back to Canadore College in North Bay when his Volkswagon Jetta collided head-on with another vehicle. He was killed. Carla and Jessica sustained serious injuries from which they recovered.
Bob was only 51 years old.
“You think you have the rest of your life to live,” Barbara said, “but it doesn’t happen that way a lot of times. That’s why I’m enjoying life and motorhoming now … although Bob and I had fun going to a lot of places."
The Cormacks, who joined FMCA in 1993, bought their first motorhome at an auction in the 1980s — a Frontier type C. They took the family to Disney World a few times and had many weekend adventures.
They owned two other Fleetwood motorhomes before buying the ‘96 Bounder.
Avid stock-car racing fans, Bob and Barbara drove to Charlotte, N.C., every year for NASCAR races. “Many of our friends are stock car drivers in Canada. We liked to spend time in Myrtle Beach the week before a race in Charlotte.”
Barbara also fondly recalls spending Christmas and New Year’s at Disney World with Bob for the two weeks before his death.
‘I decided to just get in’
Bob and Barbara never discussed what they would do if accident or illness befell either of them. “We just never thought of it, but I knew I always wanted to [continue motorhoming] because it was something my husband and I always enjoyed doing together.”
Yet after Bob’s death, the Fleetwood Bounder sat idly in the driveway. They had purchased it in March 1996 and planned to drive it down to Florida for a two-week winter vacation.
Barbara couldn’t decide what to do with the motorhome. "Finally, I decided to just get in and learn how to use it. I love traveling and figured it was the best way to see the country — all the little places you don’t normally see.”
In the five years following Bob’s death, as insurance claims from the accident were settled, Barbara used the motorhome sparingly. She went on small trips to teach herself how to maneuver the coach in and out of gas stations, border crossings and toll booths.
Soon she became familiar with the instrument panel gages and learned how to operate the accessories and appliances. She developed a feel for the engine and what it sounds like when running correctly.
“Then I started getting people to take trips with me in my motorhome — couples who had their own motorhome but came with me to share their experience. They helped me fix things and show me how to do things.”
Gradually, she learned routine maintenance — checking tire pressure and oil and fluid levels, hooking up power and water lines. “I didn’t start towing a car for about three years,” she said.
She has a friend who works for an RV company in Toronto. “If I get really stuck on something I can phone him and he can talk me though things.”
Barbara, who’s also a member of the Ontario Rovers chapter, says she’s learned much about motorhoming from FMC magazine and from attending FMCA rallies and conventions. “I’ve taken a driver’s safety course and bought a lot of things for the motorhome at the rallies.”
She’s a confident driver now. But in the beginning she confronted anxieties typical of someone learning to handle an oversize vehicle.
“I used to worry about getting into gas stations. I would drive around in circles a lot. My gas tank is in the rear, near the license place. They’ve made the fuel pump hoses shorter now so you have to get quite close to the pump.”
Driving a 102-inch-wide motorhome on narrow roads at border crossings also can be challenging, she said.
“My stomach was always in knots a few months before a trip.”
But the scariest moment, she said, was the time she blew a left front tire in a construction zone. “I saw the median coming and, thankfully, I knew I wasn’t supposed to put the brakes on. Here I was with the passenger side right up against the cement pylon and that’s where my door is. I have trucks and traffic coming at me …”
A trucker suggested she get off the road. “Driving the coach ruined my rim, but that was better than having someone run into me.”
“Everything that’s happened, I think I’ve dealt with real well. You just have to learn not to get uptight and worry about things. I do look at life a lot different now. If I get a ding in the motorhome or something, so what, I just get it fixed.”
Her advice for others who travel solo: “Just get in and do it. You can’t wait forever for someone else to help you. Just enjoy it.”
Barbara keeps a travel journal in which she writes “about funny things and sad things, about what I like, what I see.”
Her trip from May 24, 2004, to August 2004 gave her plenty to write about. Barbara was among 13 single RVers from the Singles International chapter to travel the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.
The trail begins at Hartford, Il., and passes through portions of Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. The group took side trips to Yellowstone and Glacier national parks, and to FMCA's convention in Redmond, Ore.
“It was fantastic. For nine weeks and 3,900 miles, we went from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. That was the trip of a lifetime.”
Barbara loves traveling in the western United States, especially Arizona. She counts Quartzsite, the town of Tombstone, and Kartchner Caverns State Park among her favorite destinations.
And she fondly recalls a Jeep tour in California’s Joshua Tree National Park. “There’s an original mining camp homestead in there called Key’s Ranch. It’s just unbelievable.” The ranch, a preserved historical monument, is available for viewing by guided ranger tour.
An active future
Barbara has no plans to end her motorhoming lifestyle. “I’d love to go back out West. And I like Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi … as long as I’m healthy, I can keep doing it.”
In July 2006 she’ll host a Singles International chapter rally in Thornton, which is an hour north of Toronto. “I’ll be taking rally-goers mostly in cars to show them the lakes up there and some of the unique things we have.”
She is spending the winter of 2006 in Florida. In mid-April she'll head back to Ontario, where she shares a ranch-style bungalow with Carla, 30; Jessica, 28; and Carla’s 2-year-old daughter, Grace. Barbara also has a son, Dana, 42, who lives in Toronto.
With an acre lot and only eight other houses her street in Thornton, Barbara has plenty of room to park the Bounder. And that’s just how Jessica likes it — parked. She isn’t crazy about Mom traveling solo.
“My oldest daughter says, ‘Send me a plane ticket to wherever you are. My youngest daughter doesn’t like me going, but she knows I’m going to do it anyway. She and my husband were very close. She doesn’t like me being too far away.”
Even when Barbara is far from home, behind the wheel of her motorhome, she doesn’t feel alone. “Bob travels with me, in spirit, I am sure.”