Watts on Wheels (and Water)
With Lanier as home base couple travels the country
By Pamela A. Keene of the Lanier Lakeside News.
You could say their adventures started when Dave and Karen Watts decided to purchase a houseboat for weekend getaways on Lake Lanier in 2007. Or was it in 2016, when Dave purchased a Can-Am 3-wheel Spyder motorcycle and Karen soon got one to match? But wait: Maybe their lifetime of adventure goes back to their purchase of a DRV luxury Fifth Wheel and a full-sized Volvo Long-Haul Semi-Tractor, outfitted with a kitchen, sleeping quarters, and a place for their matching white Can-Am bikes in 2017.
If you want the truth, the day the couple met back in 1999 through an online dating service was the definitive beginning of their current life’s adventures as footloose explorers of North America.
“I knew the moment I saw her that it was like we’d always known each other,” said Dave, as Karen nods enthusiastically. “Everything else just led from there,” she said, “from both of us wanting to buy a house on the lake to getting a houseboat to buying our rig to the way we live now.”
The couple, who have been married 19 years, practically finish each other’s sentences. There’s a little bit of friendly ribbing, a very endearing trait, but you can tell that they’re – pardon the pun – like two peas in a pod.
Both were raised around water. Karen’s father was a charter captain on Lake Erie, so she spent many years power boating and sailing. Dave grew up near Detroit, powerboating and sailing on Lake Huron every summer. Boating had been part of their lives long before they met on the AOL Romance Channel in the late ’90s. They married two years later in 2001.
“We had our honeymoon on a houseboat on Lake Cumberland in Kentucky,” Karen said. “After that, and we’d had a taste of what houseboats were like, we knew we’d one day buy one of our own.”
They needed a few more years of work under their belts before becoming self-proclaimed nomads. Karen, an Ohio/Michigan native, worked in automotive and aerospace quality management. Dave, a builder and cabinet maker, decided to start flipping and renting residential real estate.
Finding Lanier Online
They found Gainesville and Lake Lanier in 2005, much the way they found each other: the internet. “There was a website called FindYourSpot.com, and I completed the questionnaire while Dave was at work one day,” Karen said. “When he got home, I encouraged him to fill out his own responses, and – wouldn’t you know it? – analysis of our two sets of answers brought up about 15 places with several that overlapped, including Gainesville, Georgia.”
Karen, who said she was ready to get away from snow, and Dave, who knew he could transport his business south, chose Gainesville and Lake Lanier. The water-lovers had found their niche. They built a house on the lake in 2005 and started making plans, eventually shopping for a houseboat.
By 2007, a 1990 Summerset caught their eye. They still keep it at Aqualand Marina, where they split time between their house and the houseboat. A pontoon boat provided extra flexibility for exploring the lake’s creeks and coves.
Karen fully retired in September 2017. Shortly after, Dave hired a property management company for his investment homes so that they could start planning for the next phase of their lives.
That’s when Dave decided he wanted a Can-Am. An internet search turned up just what he wanted in Florida. Their Georgia dealer brought the bike back from Florida to Georgia using a toy hauler, a concept that would further open the door for their future travels.
After Karen rode Dave’s bike, she decided she wanted a matching one. “It gave us some freedom to take to the road,” Karen said. “But we realized that we liked having everything with us, so we started looking for an RV.”
They both did internet research and traveled to RV shows for more than a year to find exactly what they wanted because a regular RV wouldn’t do. From floorplans to amenities, they finally found a used DRV Mobile Suites, a luxury fifth-wheel camper, with all the comforts of home. They bought the RV site unseen from a dealer in Arizona and soon they were looking for a tow vehicle big enough to pull it, plus their two Can-Ams and a Smart Car. They purchased a used Volvo 780 semi-tractor in Kansas, even though neither had ever driven a truck like it.
Additions included a hydraulic "Spyder stacker" lift to the bed of the truck for the two Can-Am motorcycles and a tote to the rear of the fifth wheel to carry the Smart Car. By late 2017, after selling their house, they finally ventured out in their customized rig. They believe their set-up is the only one like it in the world.
Traveling the U.S.
Their first trip to Crystal River, Florida, lasted a couple of weeks. “Already we could see that the RV life was such a good way to meet people and do short sight-seeing trips on the motorcycles,” she said. “From there, we just kept going.”
Karen said she always wanted to go out West, so they’ve made several trips that include Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas. Their bucket list includes Alaska. In all, they’ve been to 25 states in about 30 months.
“It’s really not about going to every state or checking off some kind of list,” Dave said. “We just like to go where we want and take our time to explore this beautiful country and make great new friends.”
They joined an online group called RVillage.com that connects RVers with others who live the life of adventure. “It’s like Facebook for RVers,” Karen said. “From finding out what events and rallies are out there to catching up with friends we’ve met along the way, it’s been an amazing community builder. We feel like we have friends everywhere.”
Keeping in Touch
Two years ago, Karen started a YouTube Channel called “Watts on Wheels” to chronicle their travels. It grew into a way to communicate with family, friends, and like-minded people from across the country. As the YouTube channel grew, they added repair and maintenance tips, campground reviews, tourist adventures, and recipes. The videos cover everything from ideas for the road to coverage of the massive microburst in early August on Lake Lanier, known as “An Hour of Terror,” which was broadcasted in part on Atlanta television affiliations and the Weather Channel. The video has been viewed more than 360,000 times as of mid-August.
Her YouTube overview sets the stage as Karen introduces their lives: “We’re Dave and Karen from Watts on Wheels,” she narrates. “We sold our sticks and bricks to RV full-time now that we are retired. We travel with our heavy-duty truck LeRoy, two Can-Am motorcycles, our DRV Dixie and our SmartCar Zippy.”
“We won’t ever give up RVing and houseboating,” Dave said, “not unless something drastic happens. As long as we have our health, we’re going to keep traveling.”
“This is our life and we’re enjoying every single minute,” Karen added. “Who would have thought that 20 years ago, we’d be living life the way we are? You certainly couldn’t have convinced me, but now, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Dave chimed in: “How many people do you know that say, ‘I’ve got my bucket list and I’ll get to it someday?’ ” he said. “Well, I’ll tell you, there’s no someday. That’s now, my friend. It’s time to live your dream.” Posted online 8/28/20