Driving Ms. Karen
by Craig Ruhl
My wife, Karen, is a professional photographer as well a published writer and author. She also runs a graphics design business from our full-time home on wheels, a 32-foot motor home. We have been posted up in a beautiful campground in southwestern North Carolina for past 2 years and before that, we were camped in an equally nice RV park in southwestern Ohio. Since our motor home gets about 9 miles to a gallon of gas, with a strong tailwind, and requires a bit of work to fold up camp and hit the road, we usually take our road trips in the van.
Being a photographer, Karen is seldom without a camera in her hands or within reach, usually a professional digital model, but sometimes her smart phone or tablet does the trick. Our usual load out when traveling by minivan is 2 digital camera bodies, 8 or so lenses of varying size and use, a tripod, 2 camera bags holding all the lenses, filters, batteries, flashes, and gadgets that may come in handy some day. We keep 1 or 2 coolers in the van filled with ice, drinks, fruit, and other perishable food items. In addition, there are several plastic grocery store bags stuffed with crackers, pretzels, candy and most importantly, chocolate. In the event of a disaster, war, food shortage, civil uprising, or loss of direction, we are adequately prepared to survive. This might seem like a large undertaking for just a country drive or road trip, but Karen is able to pack it all and saddle up in under 30 minutes. Before you know it, we are “on the road again.” Yes, we actually do sing the words to that song as we drive.
My designated responsibility in all this is to be the driver, photo assistant, consultant, look-out, and get away man. Of primary importance is the need for me to be a good listener and have lightning fast reflexes. Thick skin is also an important attribute. Karen often does drive, particularly to a destination and back or as co-driver on long trips. Once we are near a photo opportunity, I take over. This allows Karen to have her camera at the ready and be able to shoot from inside the van through the open window. Sometimes, she’ll shoot a photo through the windshield. I often spot a scene or object that I think would be a great photo. I tell Karen and look for a safe place to park so she can take the photo. Things get interesting when Karen sees a photo op, but I don’t. This is where superior communication skills come into play. “Stop!” is often heard from her and then I respond with “do you want me to go back?” If I do get the message, process it in time, and am able to pull over and stop, Karen has the choice of taking the photo from inside the van or climbing out and getting a better vantage point. My task is to keep an eye on her to make sure she is safe outside and, at the same time, keep us from getting rear-ended. It can really get dicey when we just suddenly stop in the middle of the road because there is a great shot but no area to pull off. That is when my driving skills are really utilized. My highly trained eyes can scan between three mirrors, windshield, and side windows so fast that it seems one blur. My hearing isn’t what it used to be, but then Karen’s isn’t either. Much of our conversations consist of “what,” “say again,” or just plain “huh?” We are working on lip reading and hand signing. Speaking of watching what we say, some terms associated with photography are best left unsaid when out and about. When visiting a park, it is best not to tell the ranger at the gate, “we just want to drive in and shoot some birds.” One such ranger was not amused at a park in California. People kind of avoid you when you ask “where is a good place to shoot some families with children.” We do mean shooting photos, by the way. Our outings are rarely dull.
We Americans are blessed with fantastic park systems; Federal, state, and county. As seniors, we have the America the Beautiful – The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Senior Pass that allows unlimited lifetime access. We purchased ours a number of years back for the small one time fee of $10. The price for this pass goes up to $80 in August 2017. We use this pass so often that we keep it tucked in the windshield visor. In North Carolina, we also have a really great free state park system. We moved to our present location due to the easy access to the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains, multiple states, and a beautiful Atlantic coastline. One of our current favorite drives is along the Blue Ridge Parkway, enjoying the overlooks, waterfalls, tunnels, landscapes, and wildlife. Prior to moving to Ohio, Karen and I lived in southern California for many years. While there, we continually visited and enjoyed it’s fantastic state and county parks. Karen has many thousands of photos to show for it.
The van is so much easier to travel in and it gets better gas mileage than the 8 – 9 miles per gallon that the motor home gets. Now, we just need to figure out how to set it up for short term camping. It has been a topic of conversation between us partly because when you live in an RV full-time, a nice motel room with a full-size shower is tempting. On the other hand, the money we save on lodging helps put gas into the gas tank. We are working on keeping our food costs about the same as at home. Digital photography is inexpensive once you have the cameras, lenses, computer, and all the stuff that goes with it. Thankfully, this all combines to enable us to engage in all those things we love to do.
Karen is editor in chief and publisher of Faith On Every Corner, a digital magazine. You can see some of her photos used there as well as at Karen Ruhl’s photo website. She has written a weekly country drive column for a daily newspaper, authored a children’s book, published her photos, articles, and stories online and in print. She is currently working on a book of devotions, new stories, and another book for children.
I am a retired businessman who loves working and playing with Karen. Many years ago, I was an aspiring writer. Now I am returning to my love of writing and working on several projects with Karen that include senior editor, writer, and business manager on Faith On Every Corner. Once in a while, I take the backup camera and shoot some stuff with it. Yes, we are the 24/7 couple!