The next time you find yourself making excuses not to get out and fully embrace the freedom afforded by the RV lifestyle, I recommend thinking of Len and Sherrie Johnson.
The reason is simple: Facing what many would consider obstacles, the couple goes undeterred in embracing the RV lifestyle.
What kind of challenges am I talking about?
For one, a devastating plane crash that left Len in a semi-quadriplegic state.
How they went from that to shopping for a new RV last year at the California RV Show (where I met them last year) is truly an inspirational story.
They were happy to share with me and I am honored to pass it on to you.
“It’s very easy to sit back in your chair and think, ‘This is it. This is what I have for the rest of my life,’” Sherrie said. “I actually had that mindset for a while, but the more I discovered about the RV lifestyle, I really just became very enamored of it.”
She continued by noting that “there’s good and bad in everything, and it doesn’t matter if you’re in a sticks-and-bricks home, or whether you’re in an RV. You’re going to have issues that you deal with.”
They shared with me the story of what happened.
It started when Len spent several years building a single engine airplane — an Arrow Canard. As Len put it, “it’s a very fast airplane” and would go 200 miles an hour and had a range of 1,000 miles.
Not only that, but the plane was biofuel-powered.
Len set out on a cross-country trip.
“The goal was to prove that the fuel would work, and that the engine would function normally with the fuel,” Len said. In order to do that, he set up two fuel caches across the country, one in Amarillo, Texas and another in Memphis, Tennessee.
It took several days, but Len did it. Sherrie, meanwhile, was on pins and needles.
“When he landed at Kitty Hawk and met with the First Flight Foundation, I thought that my heart would burst with pride,” she said. “I was just so proud of him for this accomplishment. They actually did a back page article in the Smithsonian Air and Space Magazine on him, and the First Flight Foundation, when they greeted him at Kitty Hawk, gave him a replica of the Wright Brothers Memorial
Trouble occurred on the way back, however, when Len ran into bad weather.
“When I got close to the Lake of the Ozarks, as often happens in the Midwest, the weather started to come up around me,” Len said. “So, I ran into some moderate to severe clear-air turbulence.”
Len explained that when a pilot says “severe,” that means you “can’t keep the shiny side up.”
“You don’t have any control anymore. The weather pretty much takes over. So, I was at that point where I was between being able to control it and not being able to control it. So, I had to land it. I had to make an emergency landing, and I did that, but the field that I landed on, when I reached it, I didn’t have enough energy to fly around and determine where the runway was, and how I could best land. I just had to take what I could get. It turned out that it was sideways (on the taxiway).”
Len estimates he was doing more than 60 mph when he hit two poles that tore off the plane’s wings and front. Len said he hit the poles after deciding to avoid hitting a house. In a video made after the accident, Len called it a “Tough call…but the right one.”
”The plane came to rest between the fire department and the police station, so there were people on site within just a few minutes. I was unconscious, and they started to dig me out. I was wrapped up in a bunch of wires, and there were bits and pieces of plane all over the place. So, they started cutting through to me, to get me out of there, and I started coming to. I was coming from a, surprisingly, a very comfortable place. I felt warm and happy and loved. I was good there. I was ready to just let go, but a voice came to me, said, ‘Not yet.’”
When it was all said and done, doctors determined Len would never walk again due to his spinal cord injury. He also had something called Brown-Sequard, which leaves a person with sensory deprivation on one side and weakness on the other.
They could have essentially called it quits on fun and adventure.
But it didn’t happen.
Sherrie began researching RVs and RV travel
“She came back and told me, ‘Hey, wait a minute. We can do this,’ and she persuaded me, and we are able to do it,” Len said.
As I mentioned earlier, they were shopping for a new RV when I met them last year.
However, they hit the road in a modified Toyota Sienna van that could accommodate Len’s wheelchair and had enough space for a bed that Sherrie could comfortably sleep in.
”When we load it in, there’s not a lot of room, but there’s enough because I sleep in the wheelchair when we travel anyway. So, there’s not any real reason why it can’t be in the wheelchair van instead of a hotel room. So, it doesn’t really make much difference to me. Sherrie built her own bed,” Len said, noting they made several other modifications to allow for long road trips.
They have spent a good amount of time on the hunt for a new RV, but they have admittedly struggled to find one that gets better fuel economy (like a Class B), fits their budget, and can accommodate their space needs.
But, like many aspects of their life, they aren’t dissuaded.
“Even if you go out and buy an RV, there are going to be problems with your first RV, and your second RV, and your last RV,” Len said. “So, there will always be issues, and there will always be things that could be different or better, but the question is.. can you deal with the adversity?”
The Johnsons clearly believe they know the answer.
“There are many ways that you can overcome adversity,” Len said.
Check out an audio version of my interview with the Johnsons from a previous episode of the RV Lifestyle Podcast that can be found at https://rvlifestyle.com/theres-always-a-way/.