On October 30, 1958, Jan and Hoagy Carmichael were married via a Justice of the Peace whose office was in the back of a gas station, with two witnesses garnered from the gas pumps outside. This scene in tiny Coloma, Michigan, was an auspicious beginning! A clue to how those 50 years succeeded can be found in the invitation to their 10/5/08 anniversary open house, which says, “Fifty years together required great love and respect in addition to lots of communication, compromise, communication, compromise, and communication.”
I was busy when that invitation arrived and didn’t intend to go but the more I thought about what a great record fifty years is and how often old friends can have one, I packed up and left for Carmichael Lane near Huachuca City, Arizona. Hoagy and I have a connection that began well before 1958. It started with my father’s gratefulness to Hoagy. When my late husband and I were dating, we would sit in the driveway at the end of a date and “talk.” We certainly never had the chance to get into trouble because Hoagy would tap on the window, ask for a ride home, and fall asleep in the back seat.
Since that time and until Jan and I became acquainted many years later at one of the guys’ class reunions, they lived the picket-fence Michigan lifestyle with their son, Kevin. When we arrived at that 25th class reunion, we were in our 21-foot mini-motorhome and introduced them to the wonders of RVing.
They bought into it, too, eventually selling everything and for the next 23 years, at a time when most people didn’t even know what the term meant, they became full-time RVers. The rest is RV adventure history. They traveled throughout old Mexico, but they ultimately landed on the white sands of Santispac Lagoon, 633 miles into Baja, California Sur, and for several years spent their winters with their RV backed up to a palm-thatched sun shelter just off the Bay of Concepcion near the Sea of Cortez.
“We didn’t know any Spanish,” says Jan. “The first sign we saw said, ‘Despacio.’ Hoagy was driving 60 miles an hour and by the time I looked up the word —we discovered it meant ‘slow’—then we hit the potholes.”
Time on the Beach
Beach living fit perfectly into their lives. Each day began with a spectacular sunrise and continued into fishing, exploring on Baja bugs, boating and buying bounty from the Mexican boats that came in every morning after a night of shrimping. Natives roamed the beach offering jewelry, hot tamales, colorful blankets, vegetables, fruits and meats. The day ended with seven layers of mountains disappearing into a magnificent sunset and a campfire shared with other “beachers.”
Their travels and adventures took them throughout the United States, working at various jobs to keep afloat. One summer they spent two months on Oregon’s Klamath River working a gold mine as 20 percent owners. Hoagy said, “We lived in the middle of nowhere with the bears and blackberries. We sold out at the end of the season.” Jan said, “It paid our living expenses all summer and we had six ounces left over to dream on.”
The Carmichaels volunteered on a three-week medical-boat build in Brazil, as missionaries for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. “The natives were so small, I looked like an Amazon,” said 5-foot, 10-inch Jan.
They gutted and renovated two buses over the years, the first one bringing them close to divorce. Before starting the second one many years later, Jan says she insisted on an agreement: “I won’t get under the bus if you don’t come into my kitchen.”
Along with the buses and various fifth wheels, they enjoyed touring on a ‘65 Honda Silverwing wherever they stopped.
In December 2001, they bought four and a half acres in southeastern Arizona and sold the bus. They put in manufactured housing with patios all around that harbored chairs and small tables for many parties over the years, but even more for this special occasion. And guess what, another bus lived in the yard! RVing is addicting and after 23 years of it, they couldn’t quite let go. The Carmichael yard has four full-hookup RV sites for visiting friends, and they were all filled—plus boondockers— as I pulled into their yard for the big party.
Friends flew in and stayed at local motels and a friend’s travel trailer was pulled in for me and another single lady to sleep in. These friends were, with the exception of a handful, friends they had met throughout their many RVing years.
Jan and Hoagy were dressed by friends in specially designed denim jackets, red bandanas and straw hats, with a ball and chain for Hoagy and a long white veil for Jan. Jan carried a chili pepper bouquet.
Hugs and laughter were rampant. Food was abundant along with the happy buzz of conversation. Michael Hargis, a local singer, gave us an afternoon of dancing and toe tapping from a portable outdoor stage. Midway through this exceptional October day, a group of western costumed people stomped into the yard and charged Hoagy with several hanging offenses. After much ado and threatening rope, they let him off because it was his anniversary. Jan arranged for “The Wild Bunch” and “Hell’s Belles” to surprise Hoagy. They did! Missionary friends led them through a renewal of their wedding vows.
The third day of partying took us on a five-hour guided ATV tour into the Cochise Stronghold near Tombstone. We rode single and double on eight new Honda and Yamaha ATVs. Our leader and owner of Apache ATV Tours, Jim Pearce, allowed me to ride with him. He took us into magnificent rock-bound mountain country—which you probably wouldn’t want to do with an RV—to some really great campsites. He provided gloves, goggles, water and snacks, as well as instruction for new ATV drivers.
In the evening our last celebration was imbibing and eating at Big Nose Kate’s Saloon in Tombstone (The Town Too Tough to Die), a story in itself. With Jan and Hoagy on their way to additional anniversaries and adventurous RV trips, I left the next morning with a stop at Arizona’s Kartchner Caverns State Park, but I’ll tell you about that another time. Happy Valentine’s Day and God Bless.
(For information on Apache ATV tours, visit www.apacheatvtours.com or call (520) 860-0178. For information on the Wild Bunch and Hell’s Belles, visit www.tombstonewildbunch.org or call (520) 457-3548.)
Autographed copies of RVing Alaska and Canada ($19.95 for the revised 2009 edition, $16.95 for the 2001 edition); Adventures with the Silver Gypsy (14.95); Full-Time RVing: How to Make It Happen ($14.95); In Pursuit of a Dream ($8) and Freedom Unlimited, the Fun and Facts of Full-timing ($9) are available through author Sharlene Minshall, Box 1040, Congress, AZ 85332-1040,www.full-time-rver.com or Amazon.com.Research Campgrounds, Plan RV Safe Routes & Turn your phone into an RV GPS.
Try the RV LIFE Pro Bundle FREE for 7 days