As an air traffic controller in New York, Jim Courtney is used to taxing situations.
So how does this Long Island resident feel about piloting a motorhome through the Big Apple with his wife and two young children?
“Going through New York City with a motorhome is very stressful, more stressful than anything else on this earth I’ve ever experienced,” he said. “In fact, we have a new policy: We have to get over the George Washington Bridge by 6 a.m. or we go on another day.”
The bridge spans the Hudson River between New York City and New Jersey. To cross it is to leave Manhattan and the big-city traffic behind.
Jim, 44, is an air traffic controller for the Federal Aviation Administration. He’s an operations supervisor at New York Center in Ronkonkoma, about 45 miles east of New York, New York.
New York Center is a radar control facility that controls air traffic for all New York metropolitan airports, Philadelphia, Pa., and additional airspace to the west.
‘Just having fun’
For Jim, motorhoming is “a huge break” from a notoriously stressful occupation. Preventing mid-air collisions and keeping air traffic moving along safely and efficiently is a hefty responsibility.
Air traffic controllers must visualize the position of each aircraft under their control. They must absorb data quickly, make quick decisions and stay calm under pressure. One miscommunication about an altitude level or runway number could prove disastrous.
“The best thing about my job is that it’s one of those when you leave for the day, you leave for the day. I don’t have to take my work with me. So when I‘m out in the motorhome I’m just having fun. I’m not worried about anything else.”
Jim and his wife, Angela, 35, and their kids, Ashley, 11, and Jimmy, 8, go on motorhome trips at least six weeks of the year. The family dogs, Sam, a chocolate Lab, and Daisy, a beagle, are co-passengers.
The Courtneys, who joined FMCA in 2005, are on their second motorhome, a 2005 SportsCoach Cross Country SE. It’s a 38-footer with a diesel engine and two slideouts.
“The best thing about our motorhome is it brings our family together,” Jim said. “We’d rather be out in the motorhome than anywhere else.”
Angela, 35, a registered nurse, homeschools the kids and values the learning opportunities that motorhoming creates. “You could take any motorhome destination and we could turn that into a learning experience, even a trip as simple as staying on the beach,” she said. “There are learning experiences everywhere you go.”
Taxiing down the highways
Jim’s normal work week at New York Center is 40 hours, which may include nights, weekends and holidays.
“More overtime is required these days,” he said, “but for the most part we’re all government employees and receive a decent amount of time off. I get five weeks of vacation per year and I’d say we use every bit of it out on the road in our motorhome.”
Even when he has to work, the family manages to spend plenty of time in the motorhome. They enjoy camping at Smith Point Beach, a Suffolk County campground located on the south shore of Long Island, about 10 miles from their home. “They have full hookups, so we’ll camp out there for a week at a time and I just go to work from there,” Jim said.
Their favorite extended trip, so far, occurred in 2006. They met up with Jim’s aunt and uncle, fellow FMCA members Lee and Wallace Courtney, from Asheville, N.C. They all headed down to Punta, Gorda, Fla., in southwest Florida to visit Jim’s father. Then it was up to Orlando to stay at Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground at Walt Disney World. They finished the trip by heading over to Daytona for an RV rally.
Disney World is one of the Courtneys’ favorite destinations, along with Hershey Park amusement park in Hershey, Pa. They like to camp at HERSHEY Highmeadow Campground, which offers free shuttle bus service to Hershey Park.
“We’ve been on a lot of really great trips,” Jim said. “Actually, any day not spent on the Long Island Expressway [Interstate 495] or driving through New York City, is a good trip.”
In August 2007 they traveled down to Asheville, over to Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., and then up to Virginia for some river rafting, bicycling and a visit to a natural water slide.
Jim and Angela, who have lived on Long Island for 11 years, are looking forward to many more trips like this with Ashley and Jimmy.
“The kids love it,” Angela said. “They’ve been camping since they were babies. They have made a ton of friends and have been to so many places.”
Added Jim: “We stayed at a hotel one time and all they did was complain that we weren’t out camping in the motorhome.”
Jim and Angela’s dream trip is to go out West to see the national parks, “and then take a big northern turn up through Canada on our way to Alaska,” Jim said.
Alaska almost became their residency in October 2006. Jim considered accepting job at an air-traffic control tower in Fairbanks. “We were very close to moving up there, but we decided Alaska would be a better place to visit than to live.”
A motorhome? Not us
Although Jim and Angela always have loved to camp and travel, they never thought they’d become so immersed in the motorhome lifestyle.
They remember the day at a campground in 1999 when they set up their little pop-up camper next to a motorhome. They took up a conversation with the couple who owned the behemoth home on wheels.
“We were just in awe of their motorhome,” Jim said. “They told us we would eventually move beyond the pop-up phase and get a motorhome. My wife and I looked at each other and shook our heads, thinking no way that ever would be us.”
But the thought of being able to enjoy all those homelike features while en route to a destination … well, it just stuck in their minds.
They bought their first motorhome, a Gulf Stream Independence, in 2004. That was before they knew what a “toad” was or how to direct the motorhome through narrow toll stations.
Now they tow a 2004 Saturn Vue Red Line four wheels down and can maneuver their SportsCoach Cross Country SE with relative ease. They take turns driving two-hour stints behind the wheel.
Angela has turned a three-ring binder into a motorhome book. In it she places information pertaining to reservations, insurance, repair history, campgrounds, favorite places, pet vaccinations, coach customer service facilities, and club affiliations with membership numbers and discount cards.
One of Jim’s favorite features of their SportsCoach is the in-motion satellite system; Angela appreciates the washer-dryer.
A third motorhome is on their radar. “We’ve had our eyes on American Coach Eagle for over a year now,” Jim said, adding that they also like the Allegro Bus and Beaver Contessa.
Jim, a graduate of the University of Florida, will be eligible to retire at age 50, and motorhoming considerations already are weighing on his and Angela’s minds. Where will they live? Do they want their retirement home to be located near the interstate? Will they need to build a structure to park/store the motorhome?
“It’s funny because everything in our life — including our retirement plans — revolves around our motorhoming activities,” Jim said.
Western North Carolina is a strong contender to be their retirement destination. They are currently negotiating with Jim’s aunt and uncle for the purchase of 25 of their acres in Asheville.
'Get out there and do it'
Regardless of which motorhome they own, and where they live, one thing’s for sure: They plan to travel a lot. “I don’t think we’ll ever go full-time," Jim said, "but we want to go wherever we want, head out West, and come back whenever we want.”
Motorhoming fits their lifestyle and interests. Jim likes history, dirt bikes and anything outdoors. Angela loves anything Amish.
They’re enjoying their FMCA membership — “the cool coach plates, and the rallies, Family Motor Coaching magazine and friendships,” Angela said.
Their advice to new motorhome owners: Get out there and do it. Join FMCA, go to a rally.
“Motorhoming definitely helps a lot of our dreams come true,” Jim said. “It’s been a lot of fun. We’d rather do this more than anything.”
It sounds like many more departures and safe arrivals are in store for the Courtneys.