Layoff prompts family to live dream, hit the road
LANCASTER (AP) — Brian and Diane Peachey had always dreamed about seeing as much of the country as possible. But with just a few weeks of vacation a year, they never could relax or see everything on their list.
They liked camping with their three children. Maybe they could buy an RV and take a break from work.
Then Brian Peachey was laid off. It was a permanent sabbatical, they joke.
So the Peacheys went for it. They sold their house in February and soon hit the road in their RV. Now the family of five is exploring the country while looking for their next home.
They’re documenting their epic trip for their thousands of followers on YouTube, showing how Brian’s wheelchair doesn’t stop him from adventure. Their experiment is like an early retirement, with their children along for the ride.
Now instead of shuttling the kids to activities, cleaning the house and mowing the lawn, the Peacheys have a lot of time together on the road and at campsites around the country.
“It really gets you closer because you’re just together,” Diane says. “Building those relationships and those memories with our kids is going to be priceless.”
Thirty years before they started their trip, Brian was a Manheim Township High School graduate and a Penn State student working a summer job on a local construction site. As he was walking on the roof of a building under construction, he fell 20 feet, breaking his spine, fracturing his skull and making him a paraplegic. He explains this story with Lego toys re-enacting the scenes in a YouTube video that’s been watched more than 800,000 times.
Peachey graduated and got a civil engineering job at the Department of Transportation in New Jersey. That’s where he met Diane. When they were both laid off, they saw it as an opportunity to move back to Pennsylvania, where they both grew up. They moved to Berks County, then Coopersburg, Lehigh County, to help Diane’s aging parents.
During a winter break a few years ago, the Peacheys took a trial trip: four places in four weeks in a tow-behind camper. They figured out logistics, supplies, how the camper handled and how they could handle being so close for a month.
“We loved it,” Diane says.
“It went by so fast,” Brian says.
When Diane’s parents died, the Peachey’s ties to their home were not as tight. Brian’s job looked tenuous as the company went through an acquisition. Was this the time to go for their dream of a life on the road?
When Brian lost his job, their decision was made.
“We took this opportunity with this life change that we all had been talking about,” Brian says.
They bought a 33-foot Bay Star RV with solar panels on top and three slides. The interior has an open floor plan with no modifications other than the hand controls Brian uses to drive. It’s called Michelangelo, from a mispronunciation of the RV’s Michelin tires.
“And it’s a work of art,” daughter Makenna says.
Brian drives the RV, and Diane usually drives a second vehicle with another passenger.
They each have their own spaces in their home on wheels. The 16-year-old twins, Jarod and Makenna, sleep on different levels of a trundle bed. Daughter Alex, 10, has her own level of a bunk bed and the parents have the main bedroom. There’s enough space for their two dogs, Pepper, a black lab mix, and Caramel, a Plott hound.
For the past few months, the Peacheys have traveled to the Indianapolis 500, gone mountain biking in Indiana and taken in the landscapes of Colorado in the RV. They’re now in California.
The kids continue their classes through Agora Cyber Charter School. In the spring, they returned to Lancaster County for the kids’ state tests and for the twins to get their drivers’ licenses. (They’re not driving the RV yet.)
So far, the Peacheys like to schedule a few meet-ups and then do what they want in between. They’ve made a goal to volunteer in each state they visit.
They’re documenting the trip on social media, mainly YouTube, plus Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and a website, Ablefamilytravels.com. The Peacheys write and post videos as Able Family Life.
They first started the YouTube channel for fun and for the twins’ school projects. They soon realized most wheelchair videos online were either clinical (showing how a man who is paraplegic puts on his shoes, for example) or presented challenges where people tried to navigate the world in a wheelchair for a day.
“We wanted to show regular life activities,” Brian says. “Having fun, especially family-type activities you can do, regardless of what disability you have.”
The family splits up the video work. Everyone films. Makenna edits. Jarod films footage on their new drone camera.
Their videos are popular and some have millions of views. At the top of the list is “5 annoying people at playgrounds” with 3.5 million views.
YouTube has been a great platform because it reaches so many people, it’s easy to access and it’s interactive, making it easy to build relationships. The family also likes reaching a young audience.
“The younger you get them, then they never grow up with that stereotype of what a person in a wheelchair is like,” Diane says.
Brian has modified some of his adventures, like the time he could only go part way on a hike to a waterfall.
When booking a campsite at state and national parks or private campgrounds, they need to make sure the site is right for Brian’s ramp into the RV. Sites too narrow or with a steep drop won’t cut it.
Otherwise, they’ve learned quickly they can live with much less stuff. Diane does miss gardening, but they have a few herb plants in the RV’s windows.
While on the road, they can’t attend Sunday services at Calvary Bible Fellowship Church so they tune in to sermons online.
The Peacheys first thought they might travel through the end of the year, but they have since made plans through next year. For finances, they have their savings and money from the sale of their home. Perhaps new income from their growing online presence can fund an even-longer trip.
A new Patreon account allows people to pay to support the family. Each tier has rewards: a meet-up, access to the family’s journal entries, postcards from their travels and the chance to have a say in what the Peacheys do or where their next stop will be.
The busyness of daily life has slowed down on the road. It’s something Diane noticed when meeting up with friends.
“Just for them to get together with us is such a project because of that busyness factor,” she says. “You don’t realize you’re caught in that: stuff and busyness until you stop. ‘Wow I can live without all of that stuff.’ “
Now they’re wondering why it took so long to hit the road.