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Seniors relish life on the road

Richard and Earleen Huebner sold their home in Michigan and took to the open road.

Full time.

"We're like turtles with our home on our backs," says Earleen, 64.

Their 36-foot, 12,620-pound Montana "fifth-wheel" RV more resembles the inside of a cozy efficiency apartment than anything even remotely connected to camping.

Inside they've got a garden tub, matching La-Z-Boy recliners and Earleen's great-grandmother's spoon collection.

Outside, a plaque declares: "If I'm not at home, I'm at Wal-Mart."

The Huebners parked until May at the Quail Run RV Park, a tidy, gated enclave of RV enthusiasts off Old Pasco Road.

Richard Huebner, 65, a retired General Motors Corp. machine operator from Rhodes, Mich., a small town near Saginaw, jokes that his favorite thing about their chosen lifestyle is that "if we don't like our neighbors, we can just move."

Park co-owner Frank Gilmore estimates the number of park visitors who have sold their houses and worldly possessions for Zen-like retirement on wheels at about 20 percent _ up from around 5 percent when he bought the park a little more than a decade ago.

"It's a reasonable way to live," says Gilmore, a retired aircraft company supervisor who fell so in love with the RV life that he and his wife bought a park.

"You couldn't live in Florida any cheaper. Granted, it's a big investment, but you make it up in freedom."

Such homes on wheels get better yearly, he says, appealing to the throngs of retirees opting to live the roadie life full time. Luxurious kitchens, bathrooms and built-in storage for flat screen TVs and computers make some vehicles as nice _ or nicer _ than many anchored-to-the-ground houses.

"They can easily cost $250,000," Gilmore says. "But like anything else, they start depreciating fast."

And unless a person plans to camp on the roadside, the lifestyle is hardly cheap.

Winter visitors to Quail Run pay $1,550 to park for six months. The fee covers electricity, sewer, water and a front slab that many residents use as patios, decorating with picnic tables, United States flags, pots of annuals and strings of outdoor lights.

The Huebners put up a picket fence and miniature birdhouses. They planted purple, red and white impatiens and gussied up their outdoor sitting area with a bird-bath painted by Earleen, a certified "one-stroke" painter.

Across the way, Janice Lee, a 58-year-old retired accountant from Reno, Nev., and her 78-year-old mother, Betty Hilton, a former cattle rancher, also succumbed to the call of the open road _ the domesticated road, that is.

They sold their homes and furniture, put their china in storage, and bought a 38-foot Cheetah Safari motor coach. It has a 27-inch Sony flat screen set into an outdoor bay that closes when they travel. At night they can sit in chaise lounges beneath an awning strung with jewel-colored party lights and soak in the mild Florida weather.

They're parked in Pasco until spring because Lee was drawn to the way the area looks.

"Since I'm from the desert, I don't really like to be on the beach _ it looks the same to me," she says. "I like the trees and moss."

The Huebners migrate back to Pasco annually, arriving around Oct. 1 and heading north May 1. They like Quail Run not only for its amenities _ big shade trees, pool, general store, computer center, woodworking shop _ but for its central location.

"We're just an hour from Disney, and we have yearly passes to Busch Gardens," says Earleen, who makes regular outings with park friends to Joanne Fabrics and the Olive Garden.

Last summer, when the Huebners left Florida, they spent six weeks just cruising.

"We never go straight home," Richard explains. "We start out, maybe heading west for a while, then wander through some states we've never seen."

They typically take turns driving, a fearless Earleen clocking herself at 75 mph recently as she cruised the outskirts of Atlanta. Their RV isn't a motor coach, so they pull it behind their 4-by-4 Chevy Durham 9x diesel truck.

Some days, they might drive 400 miles, other days 100 or less.

"This is something I always wanted to do," Richard explains. "It's beautiful seeing the different sites, going across Montana at a high elevation and looking across the land and seeing a train going by far away."

They estimate they've seen 40 states so far. This year, they're planning a side trip to Connecticut to visit some of Earleen's relatives.

They'll linger for a few weeks in Michigan, visiting their three grown children and five grandchildren. After that, they'll hit the road again, spending a few weeks here or there in far-flung Northern campgrounds better known for their natural beauty than amenities. Last year, while parked in a Michigan state forest, they pumped their own water and grilled every night over an open fire.

In Pasco, life's a little more posh: Regis and Kelly in the mornings, oven-baked pork chops for dinner, an evening card game with neighbors at the Quail Run clubhouse.

Richard even volunteered as cook for the park's regular pancake breakfasts, until residents became so worried about carbs that they switched to eggs and bacon.

Still, the big question begs to be answered: Doesn't anyone around here miss his or her stuff? You know, the books, throw pillows, scented candles, mismatched coffee mugs and three kinds of china that make a house, well, a cluttered home?

Earleen just smiles.

And smiles.

"That's exactly what it was to us _ stuff," she says. "Each time we go back to Michigan, we find ourselves unloading even more because we don't use it. The truth is, we have all that we ever really needed right here with us now: our grandkid's pictures and our wedding album."