Between the sound of airplanes flying in and out of the Chesterfield County Airport a mile away and the 31-foot Winnebago pouting in the driveway, there’s hardly a day when the Barkers aren’t tempted to just up and go.
“But I don’t really like airplanes,” said Herman Barker, 78. “I’d rather be taking my motor home, even if it takes me a week to get there.” They bought it seven years ago and, as he boasts proudly, it’s certainly not for show.
For portions of the year it’s their home on wheels, equipped with all the characteristics of a normal home: a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, dining room and lounge area – and of course the driver’s seat up front. He asserts it is not only economic (for the sake of saving on hotel accommodations), but both convenient and safe for a married couple their age.
But when Herman and his wife, Lorene, 80, returned home a few weeks ago, after spending a month traveling the west coast and Alaska, one of the few times they had actually flown in a plane, despite their apprehensions and insatiable hunger for the road. They had finally been to every state in the country.
In his Carolina accent, he calls what they do “jumpin’,” and it’s the only way they ever envisioned spending their retirement years. Even their home, both inside and out, is decorated with memories from their travels. Massive seashells, clearly not from Virginia Beach, adorn their deck, and dozens of stacked photo albums of their travels are begging to be taken out of the closet.
“We don’t like to stay in one place for too long,” Lorene said. “When it starts getting a little bit warm he gets real itchy to go.” Perhaps the souvenirs are their effort to avoid suddenly taking off at any moment, leaving behind their responsibilities.
Residents of Chesterfield for the last 48 years, the two have been traveling all throughout their marriage of 55 years and have been across the country at least four times.
The two laugh aloud in unison when asked about the Winnebago’s gas mileage, which holds a 75-gallon tank, but they feel it’s worth it, saving on hotels and over-priced restaurants. According to Herman, they average about 400 miles a day before resting wherever they choose. “We don’t accumulate a lot of money, we just spend it,” he said.
And it’s probably no surprise that they spent the majority of their working lives on the road as well. Herman drove tractor trailers up and down the east coast for 31 years; and for 28 years Lorene was a bus driver for the Chesterfield County school system. Of all the driving experience between the two, Lorene believes she is the better of the two, never failing to remind her husband.
Herman could care less. However, he does most if not all the driving when they are on the road.
“I just have to travel,” he said, now retired for 18 years. “A lot of retired people sit around and get bored. But we don’t let a lot of grass grow under our feet. We like to go.”
Despite both having a natural impulse to vanish like a summer breeze, the couple’s eagerness to travel only multiplied when Herman discovered he had been carrying a brain tumor 15 years ago. Though he has since recovered and had surgery, Lorene, too, has experienced her fair share of health issues. The two are both now healthy and feel the traveling keeps them young. “But I got to admit it makes you appreciate life more when you have a close call like that,” he said.
The list of places they’ve seen seems endless: New York City, N.Y, Key West, Fla., Las Vegas, Nev., Lake Tahoe, Hoover Dam, Biloxi, Miss., Nova Scotia, Canada, Grand Canyon, Ariz., Biltmore, N.C., Los Angeles, Calif. They have also been on two cruises, one from Washington (state) to Alaska, the other in the Caribbean. Hawaii is also one of their personal favorites.
But they say their real taste of the good life is every winter when they habitually migrate south with the birds, to their beloved second home in Florida, at least four to five times a year.
Their daughter, Regina Cobb, 50, recently accompanied them on the cruise to Alaska, taking along her husband, Kenneth Cobb. It was the first trip she’d shared with her parents in 15 years.
And despite all the placed they have been, their daughter’s best memory actually took place in Virginia – in Chincoteague watching the region’s renowned Pony Swim. It was when the family first heard the news of Herman’s tumor. Her other sibling are local residents Dan, 54, and Keith Barker, 53.
When considering the extent of her parent’s travels, Cobb has accepted that whatever is driving them surely isn’t going away anytime soon.
“I don’t know what it is, but they’re hooked on it. Since they’re retired you can’t stop them. They go everywhere. My dad looks after her very well, and they were very happy to see the fifty states,” Cobb said. “I probably have the best two parents in the world. My mom is an angel on this earth, and really, my dad’s the same way.” She did not comment that she felt this way because they were gone all the time.
In the mean time, they also take a lot of short trips. They are currently reacquainting themselves with Chesterfield and are planning a trip to south-eastern Virginia soon. This summer the Barkers plan to also visit an assortment of blue grass festivals anywhere they feel like going.
And to Herman, as jolly as he is, the traveling brings home a reassuring reminder: “We’ve lived one heck of a life.”