A former Miami Dolphins football player, now an FMCA member, shares his thoughts on joining the RV world.
By Tim Ruddy, F347673
From 1994 to 2003 Tim Ruddy anchored the Dolphins offensive line, many of those years as center for legendary quarterback Dan Marino. How Tim and his family embraced motorhoming after his retirement from a successful career in professional football is the subject of this three-part story. Part 2 will appear next month.
The quote that best summed up my travel experience prior to May 2004 was, “Been everywhere, seen nothing.” After 10 years of professional football with the Miami Dolphins, and four years before that with the University of Notre Dame football team, I had been to every major market in the United States, many of them 10 times or more. Unfortunately, most of my sight-seeing was confined to badly wallpapered hotel walls, and locker rooms reeking of sweatsocks. At times I felt like a traveling inmate, with a new, musty cell waiting for me in every city we played.
Then everything changed when I entered, as I call it, the Football Withdrawal Protection Plan. Under this system I altered my appearance (shaved my head), lost half a person (80 pounds), and fled the boredom of commercial air travel and dingy hotels. To put it bluntly, I retired and bought an RV.
Actually, I am only semiretired. I worked in the off-season as a financial advisor during nine of those 10 years with the Dolphins, and now I help people with their finances full-time. But considering my former profession, this current “job,” which I can take with me anywhere I go, is like a Sunday drive (no pun intended). I’m now often “working” while watching the kids play, or enjoying a sunset. Due to modern technology, most of my clients don’t even know where I am. This is probably a good thing, since they would most likely be very jealous.
Unfortunately, from the perspective of a financial advisor, it’s difficult to encourage, or even defend, the purchase of a new RV. The depreciation and costs of ownership outpace the savings gained by the mortgage interest tax deduction. And, of course, RVs are probably the only homes that have not doubled in value over the past five years. But to those of us who have been behind the wheel, there may be no greater pleasure. Go where you want, when you want, with all of your stuff, and bring your hotel room with you. Who can put a value on that?
My RV odyssey had a strange beginning. Oddly enough, it was not my idea to purchase a motorhome. My wife, Kimberly, is originally from Indiana, not too far from the RV manufacturing plants in the Elkhart area, and she first conceived the idea as my playing career was nearing an end. I knew she was crazy, or just trying to get a rise out of our friends. However, she refused to stray from the idea, and I, in standard husbandly fashion, caved in and bought what she thought was the perfect RV for us: a 2004 type A motorhome.
Before I continue my story, I must confess something. I was graduated summa cum laude with a degree in mechanical engineering, and at one time I was touted as being the smartest man in the NFL. Now I realize that this is kind of like being the skinniest kid at fat camp, but it should count for something. My engineering mind was intrigued by all the moving parts and systems contained in an RV. And, to be honest, I can read and understand the directions to most things, so I thought I was prepared. Our new coach had a gasoline engine, very similar to all the other vehicles I had driven, and most of the conveniences of a small home. So, I wasn’t really that reluctant to take the plunge.
Then it came time for negotiating the purchase, which, by the way, is not my wife’s strong point. She had proudly exclaimed, “I have to have this one!” in plain earshot of the salesman. And while I tried to temper the comment with, “Oh, you mean one like this,” or “I think we might need a darker interior with the kids,” the damage was done. Before I knew it, I had a one-way ticket to Sarasota, Florida, for a pickup, and I was the proud owner of a new motorhome, its accompanying mortgage, and a world of adventure.
On the road
Of course, it’s easy to lessen the value of your RV in a hurry. Just get in an accident, and you can hear your book value deflating like a leaky air hose. We came pretty close on our maiden voyage. We were traveling a few miles down the road to a local campground, just to “check the specs” of our new RV and get comfortable with it. The trip turned out to be more excitement than I bargained for.
I realized shortly after picking up my mobile estate that I had overlooked a small detail: I had never backed it up! White knuckles and brow sweat were my distinctive features as we pulled into that first RV park, which was covered with big pine trees mere inches from thin, winding roads that seemed only as wide as bike paths. Flashes of driver’s ed class horrors filled my mind. To top it off, I had bumped a curb during my exit from a filling station, so I was constantly looking for curbs and other low-lying obstacles – so much so that I almost took the top off the coach, courtesy of a low roof overhang at the park office.
Fortunately, the staff at the campground was very receptive and guided me to our site without much fanfare. I tried to act like an experienced full-timer, but I’m sure they knew I was a novice. Some nice RVers in a neighboring site also helped answer any questions I had. I spent those first few hours poring over the manuals to make sure I didn’t screw anything up, at least not on the first night.
I was impressed with the campground. It had a homey feel, much more so than the tent-camping parks my family had visited when I was young. It had activities for the kids, a place to walk the dogs, and, of all things, a gopher tortoise habitat. Something about these small digging turtles made everyone smile. Our kids thought the reptiles were playing peekaboo from their little burrows. I had found a little bit of relaxation after all.
A family affair
It was interesting to me how our family duties fell right into place. Because of my engineering background, I was volunteered to handle all things mechanical. My wife headed up the “department of the interior,” as I like to call it “” making sure the inside of the coach was clean, and keeping the kids and dogs in line. Surprisingly, the kids were fine. They enjoyed their new “traveling car,” and their new beds. The dogs were another story.
I should probably give a little background on my animal experience. I’ve always liked animals, just as long as they’re not close to me. I enjoy zoos and open wildlife preserves, but I also like hunting. I’m not sure whether that makes me a hypocrite or personally invested in my own future unhappiness. Anyway, the rest of the family loves dogs. We have a 3-year-old, sometimes carsick, 55-pound female Airedale terrier who thinks she’s a 10-pound puppy; a 12-year-old Welsh terrier who feels that it’s his civic duty to, shall we say, “season” any vertical surface he comes close to; and an 18-month-old Yorkshire terrier who resembles a dustball and has a penchant for acquiring odors reminiscent of a billy goat. I can assure you we have our hands full with these three. They are available for rent if any readers are interested.
Unfortunately, our biggest obstacle to embracing the RV lifestyle was our equipment. The coach manufacturer apparently loved our unit so much that they kept it in the shop for more than nine months during our ownership period to correct a host of problems. After that amount of time, we felt it was their “baby” and that they should have it back. We have since gotten a Tiffin Allegro Bus and have had no major problems.
A new view
Being an RVer has changed my outlook on the world. I’m amazed by the kind of thoughts that go through my mind now that I’ve been indoctrinated into the RV lifestyle. For example, I’ll hear about a car having 300 horsepower and mutter to myself, “But what about the low-end torque?” Or we’ll drive by a fellow RVer and I’ll wonder, “Does that 2006 model come with hydronic heat?” It really does get into the blood, doesn’t it? Or “Sure, it can go zero to 60 in 3.9 seconds, but what do you do in the middle of Arkansas when your child yells, ‘Daddy, I’ve got to go….BAD!'”
Enough small talk. Here’s the real challenge. Can two young parents, two kids, and three dogs cross the country in an RV over the kids’ summer vacation, and make it back alive (and still married)? I sure hope so. Without spoiling the story, here is a quick summary of the trip we planned last year.
We would leave Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and spend about 2 1/2 weeks traveling across the United States, driving an average of six hours per day. We planned on taking breaks every few days, with a long one scheduled for Colorado, and probably a shorter one in Utah. From there we planned on working our way through California, Oregon, and Washington, basically from King’s Canyon and Sequoia national parks up through the Puget Sound and Seattle areas, and then would begin the trip home, stopping to see some friends and family along the way.
Although we’ve only been RVing a few years, this is not our first marathon. In 2004 we made a five-week, 4,000-plus-mile journey through the Appalachian Mountains, visiting family and seeing some of the major sites in the area (and getting stuck in an alley behind my parents’ house). Also, in 2005 we made a six-week, 7,000-plus-mile trek to Mount Rushmore and then down through the Rockies to the Grand Canyon, traveling home through Houston and New Orleans (pre-Katrina). We survived this trip intact, aside from a little pause outside of Tallahassee, Florida, when our fuel stop provided a nearby parked car with a courtesy racing stripe. Now we are primed and ready.
We hope all of you have a great spring and summer, and wish you many happy campsites. And one more thing: if you see two kids and three dogs strapped to the luggage rack of a towed Jeep, please don’t be alarmed. They’re just getting a timeout.
Next month: Part 2 “” On the road.
About Tim Ruddy
Tim was born April 27, 1972, in Scranton, Pennsylvania. He attended the University of Notre Dame, where he was a four-year letterman and two-year starter in football, playing center and guard for the 1990-1993 seasons. He received a B.S. degree in mechanical engineering in May 1994, graduating with a 3.86 GPA, which included maintaining a 4.0 average throughout his junior and senior years.
In 1994 Tim was selected by the Miami Dolphins in the second round of the NFL draft, the 65th player overall. He remained with the Dolphins through the 2003 season. During those years, the 6-foot-3-inch, 295-pounder played in 156 regular-season games and started in 140 of them. In the post-season, he started in nine of the 11 playoff games in which he participated.
Tim was considered by some as one of the Dolphins’ steadiest blockers on the offensive line. During much of his career with the team, he was center for future Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino. Following the 2000 season, Tim was named to the first Pro Bowl of his NFL career. In 2002 he served as a co-captain on offense along with then-Dolphins quarterback Jay Fiedler. He was elected team captain three times, and was selected to the team of the 40 greatest Dolphin players of all time.
Today Tim resides in Florida with his wife, Kimberly; 10-year-old son, Braden; and 8-year-old daughter, Kailyn. As he did during the football off-season, he works as a financial consultant.