LIVING ON WHEELS

The Gypsy Judge

The Path from Circuit Court Judge to Fulltime RVer

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“I say with pride that I was born with the soul of a gypsy. For me, the term gypsy is one of endearment. It speaks of fierce independence, curiosity, restlessness, and a willingness to try most anything. A gypsy is unwilling to be shackled by expectations and doesn’t like to color within the lines.”


The above quote could describe the soul of so many of the fulltime RVers I have known, people who left their stable lives in familiar surroundings to head out on the road into an unknown future, either envied or ridiculed by the friends and family left behind.


It’s a quote from the book “Footprints on My Soul, Journal of a Circuit Court Judge,” by Laura Melvin, a solo RVer who has been living the gypsy lifestyle for about 15 years. Laura has been in and out of Silver City for the past 10 years, often spends several summer months here at Rose Valley RV Ranch and has become a familiar face to the staff. A couple of weeks ago I learned she had previously been a circuit court judge, and my natural nosiness kicked right in. How did someone trade in her judge’s robes for the gypsy lifestyle of fulltime RVing?


Laura and her service-dog-in-training, Maya, sat down with me for a question-and-answer session under the open gazebo in one of the grassy areas at Rose Valley. By then I had read her book, which gave me a head start into ferreting out the details of her decision to so completely change her life. I knew she grew up in Milton, Florida during the 1950s and although she was a natural tomboy, she traded in that persona at an early age for the traditional demure and subservient female role of that era. Her father had been a judge, and she’d taken the traditional path of wife and mother before deciding, against tradition, to go to law school. After 10 years as a lawyer, she spent 10 more years as a circuit court judge, where she presided over just about every type of case there is – criminal, juvenile, family, civil, probate.


During that time, despite a sharp fear of heights, Laura became a skydiver. Since embarking on her RVing adventure, she’s done jumps all over the country, although she eventually gave it up for health reasons to become an avid motorcyclist. In 2011 she undertook a fundraiser for four children’s charities, which she called “4 Corners 4 Kids,” riding a Gold Wing over a seven-week period from Pensacola to the four geographic corners of the U.S. (San Isidro, California; Blaine, Washington; Madawaska, Maine; and Key West, Florida).


“I love long distance riding, and when it was over I would have done it again,” she said.


Laura has been to every state but two on her motorcycle, and currently rides a Can-Am Spyder Three-Wheeler. which she can pull behind her motorhome. She has also had several articles published in RIDER Magazine, a motorcycle publication that focuses on travel.


But why give up the prestige of being a judge, the power and the money, the security of owning a home and the network of family, friends and co-workers?


“The judge label comes with many expectations, roles that limited how I could interact with other people,” Laura said. “People treated me differently because of that.”

In her book she writes, “I was in the legal spotlight doing complex work. Yet I also felt like Wile E Coyote in the Roadrunner, for I had run off a high ledge in pursuit of success. In my early 50s, I’d become restless and unhappy; rather than feeling content, I was challenging the importance of pretty much everything in my life. It felt more and more like the only way to find out if I belonged in the legal world was to leave. Leave it all.”


She bought a fifth wheel for short trips, hoping that would resolve her restlessness. She downsized into a garage apartment and got rid of most of her belongings, and decided that four of anything is enough, a rule she continues to live by. Any fulltime RVer could have told her she was in the preliminary stages of the biggest change of her life, and eventually, with several years left in her term as judge, she officially retired from the bench and left Florida to begin a life on the road.


Laura soon found out about the inherent kindness and helpfulness of her fellow RVers. There was always someone at the RV parks where she stayed to guide her as she backed into her site, and opportunities to socialize were frequent, often resulting in an invitation to meet up with other campers at another location.


“I’ve met people I would never have met if I’d retired in the subdivision back home. I have a lot of stories to tell, and as an introvert, I’m delighted with the way I can interact with people or choose to be alone.”


She quickly discovered the joy of the open road, of not having a definite schedule.


“I’m not a planner, and I love how I can get to a stop sign and think, ‘I know I should turn right, but what if I turned left instead?’”


She recounts driving through Kansas to a workcamper job at a wild mustang refuge in South Dakota and being surprised to find herself in Nebraska, which she did not realize sat between the two locations.


“I cracked up and thought ‘This is going to take a lot longer, but it doesn’t matter,’ and I learned a little geography in the process.”


What does the future hold for Laura?
“I’m much more conscious of ‘aging out’ and I don’t want to leave anything on the table.” She knows that eventually she will need a permanent base and Silver City is high on her list. Meanwhile, when her inner voice says “It’s time to go,” she’s ready to move on.


I recommend Laura’s book “Footprints On My Soul, Journal of a Circuit Court Judge,” available through Amazon, for the curious – anyone who has ever felt that they need more than the traditional lifestyle – those who wonder if there are adventures out there just waiting to be discovered; those who have already taken the chance and discovered the joy of new places, new people, new experiences and a more satisfactory life; and those who enjoy a good arm-chair travel.
As Robert Louis Stevenson said, “I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.”

Sheila and husband, Jimmy, have lived at Rose Valley RV Ranch in Silver City since 2012, following five years of wandering from Maine to California. She can be contacted at sksowder@aol.com.