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It seems the only constant of our travels is that nothing stays static. Especially plans.
With all of us dispersed to the corners of the United States (Rich in Florida, E&E in Vermont, trailer in Arizona), and reuniting a week later than planned, the rest of our schedule has been pushed back as well. I was already concerned about having time to complete the Summer magazine and get ready for Mexico by March 10, and now time is even shorter.
Moreover, we haven't invested as much time in house hunting as we would have liked, so taking off to Mexico for two weeks seems like a poor choice now. On the other hand, I really want to go to Mexico, and mid-March is likely to be the best time for me to take off from work ... so it has been hard to decide what to do.
But the decision is made: instead of two weeks in Mexico, we will go for perhaps 3-6 days, and only as far as Puerto Penasco instead of deeper into Sonora. This will at least give us a taste of the procedures involved in crossing the border with an RV and it will have the advantage of keeping our Mexican insurance costs lower. We'll make notes for a longer trip later this spring or next fall.
This will also lower the pressure so that we can make time for a trip to southern California in March or April. Certain friends in the San Diego and Los Angeles areas are expecting us, and I don't want to disappoint them.
Also, Bert & Janie have been in touch. They're in New Orleans and heading our way. We expect to see them in a few days out in Tucson. I plan to take Bert out for a long bike ride or hike ... but he doesn't know that yet.
Tonight I am packing up to head back to Arizona. I'll reopen the Airstream and get some work done while I wait for Eleanor and Emma to return on Sunday. It has been too long since the Airstream roamed the roads, so I'm looking forward to getting it out again the minute I've met my deadline for the Summer issue -- assuming that our plans don't change again!
Tonight Brett and I drove about 50 miles over to Haines City, where Wendimere and Bill live. You might recall that we parked the Airstream here last November. Wendimere has just published her first book and the first review copy arrived on Friday, so we came over to celebrate it and have a really nice organic dinner.
Wendimere and Bill with the first copy of her book
Wendimere's book is entitled "The Health Chic Guide: Hip, Fun, and Delicious Living" and although it's not directly related to Airstreaming we're going to carry it in the Airstream Life store. I was really impressed with the quality of her work and the diversity of topics Wendimere managed to cover in it. Since she self-published it, people won't be able to find it at very many places and I think it's a really relevant topic to a lot of people who are concerned about living a more healthy life. Check it out here.
So now I can announce the rest of our plan for the bookstore. Over the past few months I've mentioned books that I found particularly good for travelers, like the Mexico camping book by Mike & Terri Church. I've decided to try to carry as many of those books as possible in our web store so you can find them if you want, and hopefully some of you will support this blog by buying the books from us instead of from some other online retailer.
As part of this, I'd welcome your nominations for great travel books. I'm interested in unusual books that make good reading or exceptionally good information. For example, a few months back Andy recommended "Sailing Around The World" by Capt Joshua Slocum. Mike recommended "A Cook's Tour" by Anthony Bourdain, Wendimere gave me a copy of "Blue Highways" by William Least-Heat Moon, and Bobby lent me "Over The Edge of The World," by Laurence Bergreen.
I liked them all and in the past few months I have recommended them to you. Eventually we'll get some of these in the store too, and hopefully a few newer books. So let me know if you've got a favorite tale or travel resource book that we might want to include in the store and recommend to other blog readers!
These days Tampa is like my second home. I hadn't expected to be here this long, but hey ... enjoy it.
However, today is Monday and that means plenty of work to be done. Brett & I parked ourselves in his home and spent the day pounding the keys of our computers. It seems like a million projects needed to be addressed: new products in the web store, article editing, planning for the Fall issue, tax returns, customer service issues, bills, etc.
I was asked last week at the rally how people can become full-timers and still make a living from the road. I get this question a lot. It's a tough topic because the answer is so dependent on the person asking the question.
Basically my answer is that you need to look inside yourself, decide what you like and what you are skilled at doing, and then follow your heart. Going full-timing is a choice made by people who are willing to take a chance at their dream. It's only one step further to do the same with your career.
The second thing I tell people is that they need to consider whether their goal is to make money or to travel. It's hard to do both well at the same time. Many full-timers I know choose to alternate working and traveling, two or three months at a time. Others work casually on small background projects all the time.
I rarely meet people like myself, who work every day and try to wrap travel around a "regular" day job. It's a difficult arrangement. It works for me because I really like what I do and the feeling of growing a small business is a big reward. Also I have an essential asset: my family is supportive of mixing work and play into one seamless lifestyle.
So now you can see why I say, "It depends on you," when someone asks me how to make money on the road. There's no simple answer. But -- it can be done.
Tonight we decided a nice break from work would be dinner and a movie. Here in Tampa you can get both at the same time, at the Pitcher Show. Tonight's flick: "Ghost Rider" with Nicholas Cage. It was actually much better than we expected ... nice escapism from a long day "in the office."
Last night when we got back from the campfire Brett commented that Sunday would be a good day to sleep in. But there was no chance of that. The crowd departs this rally early. At dawn we were awoken by the sound of rattling diesel engines, spouses calling to each other, the squeaking of awnings coming down and hitches being tightened.
I rolled over and managed to sleep to 8 a.m., then got up to watch the load-out. It's fun to see hundreds of Airstreams slowly ambling along the dusty fairground roads, before hitting the highway.
Before they get to hit the road, however, most stopped at one of the three dump stations at the fairgrounds. The line runs about 45 minutes at the peak time, which is between 9 and 10 a.m. By 11, the fairgrounds are mostly empty.
It turns out that Emma has a cold and so we have delayed her flight home from Vermont until next Sunday. Since I don't have any particular reason to run back to Tucson and have plenty of friends here, I also set my flights back a few days, so the blog will continue from Tampa until Thursday.
In the picture above Emma is by the frozen lakeshore, but Eleanor reports from Vermont that the ice on Lake Champlain has broken up. I like getting these pictures but each one makes me glad for the sunshine and swaying palm trees of Florida.
Saturday is always the big day of the rally, with a couple of really good events on the schedule. This morning we loaded a golf cart with back issues of the magazine, a pile of Airstream Life shirts and hats, and headed to the Flea Market.
The Flea Market is a great chance to buy and sell all kinds of Airstream-related stuff. Mostly people sell old parts, but you'll also see books, crafts, household goods, electronics, and apparel. It's also where I usually see all the folks who didn't happen to cross paths with me during the week.
Someone happened to swing by with a VW Thing this afternoon and it made a nice visual combination with Bill & Wendy's "Health Chic" Airstream.
In the afternoon the other major event of the day was the Vintage Open House. It's always a great chance to learn something. Two of the newer members were Nikki and Steve, who have a very nicely redone 1956 Safari with a polished interior. That's Nikki below with her son Chandler.
Of course Colin Hyde was busy at the Vintage Open House, educating people about vintage trailers and restorations. He has a photo album of restorations he has done that always amazes people. He also has samples of aluminum used in Airstreams over the years, which allows people to compare how the aluminum has changed.
Tonight we are out around the campfire with a crowd telling stories. It's a nice wrap up to a good rally. Tomorrow we'll slowly pack up and head home.
Last night when we got back to the motorhome we found Doug Rowbottom and Colin Hyde sitting outside in the dark under our awning, poking away at their laptops and using our open wi-fi signal. Colin came in for a while and ended up staying until 11:30 ... and it had already been a long day ... so today I slept in until 9.
Susanne Brown and Colin Hyde at the Vintage Club potluck dinner
Colin, poor bald guy, was not sufficiently aggressive with his sunscreen, and after two days at the beach with a baseball cap on, now looks somewhat like a lobster that was boiled with half its head out of the water. He has a good sense of humor about it.
Today was mostly a flurry of social events. Terry & Marie showed up in time to join Brett & I for the Florida Springs Unit lunch out at Linger Lodge. (Linger Lodge is an end-of-the-road fish camp and RV park that has a decent restaurant on the edge of a little river.)
We spent a chunk of the afternoon comparing stories with David & Denese Lee, Bill Reilly (the Health Chic husband), and others who randomly walked by until the all-important Happy Hour period began.
Hunter Hampton in pink
At every major rally I've ever attended, there's always a zillion Happy Hours. They start up all over the field, organized by intra-club, unit, common interests, Internet discussion groups, etc. If you can't find one to crash, you're just not trying. We dropped in on Hunter Hampton's first, which she holds at every rally for members of her Yahoo group, called "Airstream List". Then we headed off to the Vintage Airstream Club's potluck, which is large enough to need its own building.
This evening I finally got on a roof to take a few shots of the rally grounds. This picture doesn't begin to capture the entire field, but you can get an idea. Plenty of rigs. I've had a bicycle to provide transportation for me all week but still haven't had a chance to tour every row.
Tonight I'll head over to the nightly campfire that Colin & Susanne light in a metal pit by their trailer, but try to get to bed earlier. Tomorrow is the big day, the Flea Market and then Vintage Open House, and those events will keep me very busy.
A great day at the Florida State Rally! First off, my ear cleared up, which made me feel a lot better. Second, spectacular clear warm weather. Third, 475 Airstreams parked in a field together. It has been a nice day to hang out and share comradery.
Everywhere things were hopping. Above is the Airstream store. The service guys were roaming around fixing things, the new product showcase was filled with cool trailers, and I kept running into people I knew.
There are several vintage tow vehicles pulling Airstreams here. This one is a 1956 Cadillac with a modern 454 engine under the hood. Plenty of vroom (450 hp, 500 ft-lbs torque) and a classy ride to boot.
This afternoon Brett and I presented our seminar called "How to get online while mobile," to a packed room of abut 85 people. That one always seems popular, especially since we provide a wi-fi hotspot in the room during the seminar. Everyone brings their laptop so they can check their email during the talk. There's a real desperation among rally attendees to get online, so we've left our wi-fi open for people to use if they want. (It's at the Argosy motorhome #5501.)
We've also had the usual revolving door of friends and curious passers-by dropping in, so the rally feels in full swing and everyone seems to be in good spirits. But what's not to like? It's Florida, it's February, and it's sunny.
Up in Vermont, Emma made a friend at Uno's when she was at dinner last night. Heather Paine, the waitress, discovered Emma's interest in snorkeling ... and on the spot made her a custom aluminum foil mask complete with breathing straw. Heather has her own company called Dragonfly Gifts of Vermont, which makes candles and gifts. Thanks, Heather!
Last night I flew into Tampa and drove down the highway to Sarasota for the Florida State Rally. Pulled in around 12:30 a.m. local time to a fairground packed full of sleeping Airstreams, all gleaming in the dim moonlight.
I've been told that over 400 trailers are here so far, but that's not the official count yet. All I know is that they are now parking them outside the fence in an overflow area. It's a big rally. Surprisingly there's not much vintage participation this year (maybe 20 rigs so far?), but I expect more to arrive tomorrow.
This is a quiet, relaxing rally, and I really like the mellowness of it. Soft sandy grass underfoot, sunshine above, comfortable temperatures in the 70s, and not much on the schedule. Well, technically there is, but I'd rather sit in Brett's motorhome with the windows open and the awnings out, feeling the warm breeze and sipping a cold tea. Once in a while I put the laptop away and rode around the grounds on a bicycle to meet up with people.
With that technique, I missed the Opening Ceremonies and a lot of vendor seminars today. Ah well, I've seen them all before. I'm here to reconnect with people: friends, Airstream personnel, potential advertisers, and future interviewees. That's best done at a relaxed pace, dropping in on Happy Hours and sidling by vendor booths.
I have another reason for laying low today, too. Despite not having a cold, I had some trouble on the airplane (equalization again) and now have a left ear full of fluid. It is clearing on its own but in the meantime I can't hear much on that side. That made it a good day to park myself and do some work. I am going to have to restrict my flying in the future, which will make the Airstream (and occasionally Amtrak) more important as my primary modes of travel.
Emma is still having the time of her life up in Vermont: Disney On Ice, sledding on a Hammerhead sled, skating, and visiting friends. I'm glad she's getting winter activities ... and I'm glad I'm not! It's a good deal for both of us for the moment and I'm sure we'll be happy to re-connect next week. PS: Eleanor, I miss you too!
Here I am with a two-hour layover in Las Vegas. There's free wi-fi here so I was able to check my email and get this picture from Emma's morning.
Quite a contrast to sitting in the desert. I'm glad she's having fun with her grandparents.
I mentioned I was left with the tough job of cleaning up and putting things away ...
OK, so cleaning up isn't that hard. But Eleanor left me with a pile of perishable food and orders to consume it all before I go -- or die trying. That included a large bag of lettuce, two quarts of milk (skim and 2%), a loaf of bread, cold cuts, a pineapple empenada, a bag of grapes, four single-serving cottage cheese cups, a package of large tortillas, and a half pint of heavy cream.
Combining everything into the classic bachelor meal wasn't appealing. Well, maybe with peanut butter, but I didn't try it. So each day I have eaten a seemingly random mish-mash of whatever appeared it was going to mold first. Reminds me of college days.
I wasn't fast enough for the tortillas. They turned to something resembling blue cheese in the past few days, and even I wouldn't eat them. Besides, something microscopic was obviously eating them already.
It has been an interesting challenge to come up with ways to use up food when I have no known cooking skills. Combine the cream with the skim milk (isn't that just like whole milk then?) and add some chocolate syrup -- voila! A way to drink a quart of milk in one day! And I've discovered that cottage cheese can be a side dish to almost any meal. (I've eaten so much dairy in the past few days that I may get a kidney stone from the calcium.) And there were other clever solutions that I probably should spare you.
People were reporting in today from all corners of the Airstream world. Brett says the Florida State Rally is getting underway. Colin Hyde and his family pulled into the rally today. Bert Gildart called from Tampa and says we'll see him and Janie out west in a few weeks. Rich C says he's going to stay here in Tucson another week, but I wonder if I'll see him when I get back from Florida.
Dr. C emailed from his hideaway 50 miles south of here, and threatened to come up for a visit tomorrow before I catch the plane. Mike Young IM'd me about his plans with Rosemary to move to Phoenix. Leigh & Brian emailed that they would like to have joined us in Mexico but have prior commitments. I also heard from Mike & Terri Church, authors of the Mexico book I bought a few weeks ago. We're going to start carrying their great RV travel books in our store in a few weeks.
And so on ... I love keeping in contact with all my friends and acquaintances.
Tomorrow I need to do the final things to make the trailer ready for vacancy. Since we are on a monthly rental in the park, we pay for our electricity separately. So I'll unplug the trailer and let it stay charged on solar power. I'll set the furnace at 45 degrees just to ensure that the holding tanks won't freeze in the event of an exceptionally cold night, check the propane, toss out anything perishable that I didn't manage to eat, crack a vent slightly, and lock up. Not much to it.
There may not be a blog entry on Tuesday because I'll be flying until late. The blog will pick up again on Wednesday from the Florida State Rally.
Down I-19 from Tucson you'll find the town of Green Valley, a peaceful and sprawling development area that seems to be a mecca for retirees. As peaceful as it is now, it was once the site of weapons of unimaginable destruction -- two Titan Missile silos buried in the hills.
These were two of 54 Titans deployed across the US. Holding 9-megaton warheads, always armed and ready to launch, they were the core of the United States' cold war-era strategic deterrent. With the proper authorization, they could be launched within 30 seconds of the turn of two keys. They were the tools of Mutually Assured Destruction.
Blast door #6
All the Titan silos are gone, stripped of their parts, de-commissioned, and blasted shut forever. Except this one. For $8.50 you can take a guided tour of this "dinosaur of the ICBM fleet", right down into the silo and into the control room, which is exactly as it was. The guide even demonstrates the procedure required to launch the missiles, which is really chilling when you think about it.
There is much more about the tour than I can tell here. The 8-foot thick walls, proof against blasts and electromagnetic pulses; the rooms suspended on giant springs; the incredibly finicky rocket fuels that required massive air conditioning in the Arizona desert; the strict rules against being alone anywhere near the command center. It's a fascinating place.
I've published about 11 photos on Flickr from the museum.
This evening yielded yet another spectacular desert sunset. I don't think I'll ever get tired of seeing them.
Well, the female 2/3 of this family did manage to fly back to Vermont today.
It's hard to reconcile the reports I hear of weather in the northeast. Big snowfall, cold weather, Lake Champlain frozen ... while here Rich C and I were out exploring the cactus-covered Catalina Foothills in the hot sun at nearly 80 degrees. Is one of these scenarios just a special effect?
Emma had trouble understanding that it was two hours earlier here when I was talking to her on the phone tonight. In her end of the country it was dark and cold, while I was pacing around outside the Airstream in shirt-sleeve temperatures and watching the sun set slowly over Mexico.
I think I can relate to her confusion. Sometimes I'll reflect on the incredible diversity of this world. While I am occupying just one tiny pinprick on its surface, billions of little dramas are playing out in infinite climates and infinite settings. It both staggers and inspires my imagination.
The next two days are a chance for that sort of thinking. I find it useful. Time alone, whether here in the Airstream or out in the Foothills, is an opportunity to get a new perspective on things. It's also a great chance to work utterly undisturbed, so I'm getting a lot of editing done for the Summer magazine.
I have also been left a few tasks, since I'll be the last person out: eat the leftovers, put away the bikes, fill the propane tank, pick up the forwarded mail, and clean up the trailer. It feels a little sad to be sealing up the Airstream, perhaps because I hate to leave it behind for even a few days. It's like a glimpse into the future, to the end of our odyssey. Fortunately, we've got months to go -- even if we find a house -- before we'll move out of the Airstream.
Amidst the house-hunting and work, I am also making some of the final arrangements for our trip into Mexico. I heard from Bert & Janie and Adam & Susan today but unfortunately none of them can make it. On the bright side, Ken & Petey Faber have asked to join our little caravan, so that makes three Airstreams going now. The Fabers will be a welcome addition because they've been to Mexico before, on a Vintage Airstream Club caravan all the way to Belize.
One of the things I needed was a notarized document from my corporation certifying me as a bona fide employee and authorizing me to take the company vehicles into Mexico. This would be a minor nuisance but for the fact that we happen to have a resident notary here in the park. I just walked down to his site last night and got him to witness my signature while sitting at the picnic table. It's amazing what services you can find among the residents of these places.
Tomorrow we shall try again to get E&E into the sky. Vermont hasn't warmed up any (still brutally cold with mounds of snow everywhere) but they seem to be looking forward to the visit. Personally, I am still enjoying the warm sunny days of Arizona and don't have any desire to leave.
The sunset bike rides have become a regular feature for Emma and I. Right around that time all the residents seem to come out and walk their dogs or chat with their neighbors before dinner, and everyone appreciates the gorgeous sunsets along the Santa Catalinas and the Rincons.
Once in a while Emma takes out her camera to capture it. This evening we went over by Rich C's trailer and he followed along on his skateboard as we looped around the paved roads of the park. Whatever we do, this little sunset ritual puts a nice cap on the day and I've come to appreciate it.
I dropped Eleanor and Emma off at the airport this morning, and 10 minutes later I was swinging back to pick them up. Snowstorms in the northeast wrought havoc on flight schedules, and the end result was that their flight was impossible today. So they're going to fly on Saturday instead.
That made today and the next few days into bonus days. That's a gift. We took the hint and went out for breakfast to discuss whether we really wanted to buy a house.
See, from one point of view, not buying a house would be a financially responsible thing to do. Our living costs are lowest when we live in the Airstream and travel moderately. Having a home base means obligatory payments: taxes, insurance, upkeep, utilities. It's a luxury. It's nice if you can afford it, but for many full-timers having a house, even a small one, doesn't make financial sense.
But we also recognize the investment potential in real estate. Wouldn't it be nice to have a home base that is also a good long-term investment? So we're looking in that direction.
The other bonus of the flight delays is that Eleanor and I have a few days to ensure the last vestiges of our colds are gone. We're both pretty well at this point, but a couple more days of rest wouldn't hurt. And I could use some time to work on the Summer 2007 magazine. People are getting the Spring 2007 issue in their mailboxes right now, but I'm deep into editing the next one and need to have it wrapped up by March 8, which is right around the corner.
A lot of people commented to me privately about our house hunting process. Interestingly, nobody begged us to stay on the road and not buy a house. I'm interpreting that as meaning that our friends are supportive -- rather than a hint that we are on the road too much!
Of course, you already know we won't get off the road permanently. My intention is to keep the blog going for a long time. We also haven't bought a house yet, although we are deep in discussion about it.
Whether we do or not, we have some very interesting plans for this fall that I'll share with you later, once they firm up. But here's a hint: I've been buying books to plan the next major expedition ...
Eleanor and our real estate agent chat about a house
In the meantime, I have been thinking about how we got started on this adventure, and what we've learned. Most people who have RV travel experience already know that traveling this way is not like the average person's view of travel. I've always winced when people refer to us being "on the road" because it rarely feels that way.
"Travel" evokes images of glamour and suffering: exotic locales arrived at through uncomfortable means of conveyance. The constant uncertainties and dependencies inherent in traditional travel will wear you out. As someone once said, travel is like cream: broadening but too much will make you feel sick.
By contrast we mostly float seamlessly through the country, courtesy of our Airstream. It often doesn't feel like travel at all. I know that's hard to believe, but keep in mind that we couldn't possibly have lasted this long (16 months at present) if this had really been just one big road trip. It's a lifestyle.
The only time I feel that old familiar feeling of rush-rush travel is when we need to fly somewhere ... as this week. We are still monitoring Emma closely for signs of congestion that would prohibit her flight on Thursday, and there's a heavy load of snow in the northeast that shut down half a dozen major airports today. Eleanor has been pressing hard to complete her obligations today and be ready for an early departure, all the while wondering if they'll even be able to go. It's a pain.
I've moved my flights. The congestion is clearing only slowly, and I doubt I'll be ready to fly on Friday, so now my flight is Tuesday. Hey, I could drive to Florida by then ... but I think I'll just sit here instead and enjoy a rare few days alone in the Airstream. Hmmm. ... maybe a few movies, some good guy chow, and Rich C and I can hang out for a while. He's right across the park. Or maybe the Titan Missile Museum this weekend.
We seem to dividing our days three ways: working, hunting for houses, and lying in bed. Actually, I'm doing most of the lying in bed since I seem to have the worst of the virus. (I can hear all you women saying, "Oh, men are such babies when they get sick!") But really, Emma seems perfectly fine and Eleanor is bogged down a little but pretty functional.
I've shaken the cold but the sinus congestion hasn't cleared, and I'm afraid it may be another week before I can fly, which means there's a good chance I'll have to stay here and miss the Florida State Rally. E&E should be good to fly, and their major worry is snowstorms in the northeast.
The house hunting is going well, perhaps too well. We've found two houses we like. Now the problem is deciding to commit to one or keep looking for something even better. That's a hard call.
View of the Santa Catalina Mountains from one of the houses we are considering
It's also hard to face coming off the road. I was exchanging email a couple of days ago with Leigh of www.63flyingcloud.com and she made a similar comment. Leigh and Brian are preparing to build a house after 600 days of full-timing. Leigh said, "The problem with 2 years on the road, is the idea of being stationary anywhere for more than 3 months is pretty unappealing."
We could make an offer on a house tomorrow and be in it next month. But obviously we're not driven to that, because we haven't made an offer despite having found good houses. It's interesting that the full-time lifestyle is so appealing -- even with its many compromises -- that we find ourselves hesitating to re-enter the traditional world.
But it is inevitable. We need to establish a base camp. The compromise will be that we won't settle down fully. We'll be on the road, and in the Airstream, for probably 4-5 months a year, including all summer.
On our way back from house hunting the GPS suggested a shortcut. This should be a good lesson to those of you who trust your GPS a bit too much. Sometimes they don't know what's best. In this case, the GPS sent us to a road clearly marked "DEAD END", but we decided to pursue it anyway because the road did continue in the form of a very bumpy dirt trail down a hill into a wash.
Hey, what's the point of having a high-clearance vehicle with 4WD if you don't have some fun with it once in a while? The road eventually bottomed out in the wash and we took a short drive in it, and then continued onward. The GPS was right, it was a shortcut ... but not one I'd recommend without plenty of ground clearance.
I thought that water would only be a big deal when we went to Mexico, but here in Tucson it's an ever-present factor too.
We arrived with the Airstream bearing mud from the Hill Country west of Austin, and never got a chance to wash it off. Now that we are here and have time, it's not so easy to get the water to clean it up. At Beaudry's we were prohibited from washing -- only approved contractors could do it (at a premium price).
At our current residence, we can wash but we need to obtain a permit first. Rich C arrived today, fresh from his cross-country journey from Massachusetts, and his trailer is a mess with road salt, so he's going to inquire about the wash permit.
Sunset over the trailers
If you own land here and strike water in a deep well, you don't own it. The state keeps all subsurface water and mineral rights. New developments have to pass a test to "prove" a 100-year water supply before they can build. Apparently they're not having any trouble doing that, because there's a ton of new development happening all over the area. Tucson is growing into a much more sprawling city.
In fact, I've been astonished at the number of swimming pools here. There seem to be as many as we would find in Florida. And so far, of the houses we have checked out, nobody seems to use a simple pool cover to reduce evaporation. I'm mystified by this. The air here is normally arid enough to suck the moisture out of anything left exposed, so one would expect the pools to have a high evaporation rate.
A rain shower?
This is the dry season, so we aren't expecting rain anytime soon. But yesterday I noticed what looked like a bit of rain in the late afternoon. It was a very isolated little shower up by the Catalina Foothills, if any moisture reached the ground at all.
Well, we're learning about the differences between life in the desert and life in humid green New England. It's an interesting experience -- part of the value we get from pausing long enough to really dig into the local community. Both Eleanor and I are looking forward to more.
Yup, Eleanor has the cold too. I was thinking that being sick would eliminate the chance of any adventures, but what it has really done is force us to find the small adventures in our surroundings.
It has been cloudy all day, unusual for Tucson. But in the late afternoon the sun dipped below the overcast and gave us a show. Suddenly the Rincon Mountains, ten miles away, lit up red in the setting sun. For five glorious minutes, the scene was absolutely surreal with flaming mountains and blue skies. I haven't seen anything like it since last summer in Gunnison Colorado.
Another resident of this park introduced herself and invited me to join their bi-weekly Camera Club outing on Thursday. I can't go because I have to shuttle E&E to the airport, but the thought was intriguing. We've never stayed anywhere long enough to join up with local clubs and organizations, but now there's a small window to do that.
And since we are actively looking at real estate here, we spent hours online today reading up on zoning, HOAs, neighborhoods, local construction methods, etc., in an attempt to understand the local market. So today was well invested even though we didn't go much of anywhere.
I'm still pretty much out of action with the cold so the blog may be a bit restrained for a few days. It's particularly disappointing because we had a great day planned. We were going to do a bunch of exploring, and then meet up with fellow Airstreamers Ken & Petey Faber, and photographer Douglas Keister and his wife, for dinner. Ken can be seen in the Winter 2006 issue of Airstream Life magazine, posing with his amazing one-of-a-kind Airstream trailer, "Der Klein Prinz."
But this morning we regretfully cancelled that plan. In the evenings the cold knocks me out. So we'll meet up with Ken & Petey another time. Doug will be flying off to Europe and Asia, doing research for his upcoming book & photographic projects -- I've asked him to get me some photos for upcoming articles, too.
After sitting around half the day watching movies I could stand it no longer, so we got into the car for a quick look at nearby Saguaro National Park. Saguaro is an unusual park in that it is divided into east and west portions, which are 30 miles apart and separated by Tucson. The east side is only 10 miles straight north from here.
Although I wasn't up to hiking, there's a nice one-way loop drive you can do. The scenery is beautiful and there are hikes to be had all around the park. It's perfect medicine for a cold.
The older saguaro cactus have holes in them, which are used as homes by birds. We spotted an owl nesting in a saguaro, which was the first time we've managed to spot one. It was very exciting, so I carefully mounted up my long lens, crept out of the car, and sidled up to within about 30 feet of the cactus to get a nice close-up.
You can see his face clearly in the shot. Looks like a spotted owl (which doesn't live in the desert) or elf owl (which does).
Great picture? Well, when we got back to the Airstream and enlarged the photos we realized it wasn't an owl at all ... but merely a bit of the internal structure of the cactus playing a trick on us. Click on the picture above for an enlargement and you'll see. No owl at all... I had no idea those saguaro were so tricky.
Uh oh. I thought I'd get through this winter without a cold, but -- zing! -- someone got me.
E&E seem mercifully unaffected, at least so far. In the confined space of a trailer it is amazing that we can all co-exist without spreading colds to each other, but somehow we manage to do it. I am really hoping they stay healthy, because they've got to fly on Thursday. Emma won't make it if she's congested.
I also have to fly, on Friday, so I'm dosing with Zicam and hoping for the best. But if I must have a cold, being in the desert with warm temperatures and lots of sun is the best place I can imagine.
So what if we had been in a less conducive situation? For example, imagine we were midway through a drive down the Natchez Trace, or Blue Ridge Parkway, or up the Dempster Highway in Alaska? Well, our experience has been that there's always somewhere to pull over and park it for a while. The spot may not be your first choice, but at least with the rig you'll have a warm bed, food in the fridge, and the other comforts of home, even if you are just hanging at a truck stop.
This is partially why we always travel with plenty of supplies: water, food, propane, etc. Even without many illnesses we've had many a day where an impromptu stop was either required by circumstances or chosen just for fun. From talking to other RV'ers I know that many leave their water tank empty (to save weight, usually) while towing, but we never do that, and many times we've been glad to have the water.
Unexpected stops seem to be a part of this life. Planning is great but it's no guarantee. We've had plenty of unexpected stops. Most have been by choice, but we've also had some because of weather, mechanical breakdown, getting a late start, and illness. The trick of course is to find the opportunities in every stop, and revel in "adventures" even if they aren't exactly what you set out to do.
OK, what was a talking about? See, that's what happens when I get a cold. Last year's cold was in San Diego and it was a doozy. Since my brain has gone to mush, perhaps you can flick over to that blog entry and entertain yourselves reading the Archives while I get better.
I promised I would write about the preparations for Mexico, so here's an update. Joe and I have been going back and forth on the details as they turn up. The latest snag has been insurance -- it's expensive. US auto insurance is worthless in Mexico, and if you get in an accident, the Napoleonic code that Mexico uses considers you to be guilty until proven innocent.
What that means from a practical viewpoint is that a fender-bender is treated as a criminal offense, and so the parties involved will be "detained" in a prison cell until the authorities are assured that the responsible party can pay for the damages. So it becomes a matter of having good Mexican liability insurance, along with bail and legal services riders, to be sure you aren't the person left rotting in a cell at the end of the day.
Fortunately, there are dozens of websites that quote Mexican auto/RV insurance online. We've been comparing coverages and shopping prices for days. For visits of less than 30 days it's usually cheaper to buy a daily policy, and beyond that it's cheaper to buy the 6-month policy. For combined truck and trailer value of $60k, on a 15-day visit (for example), I'm seeing premiums of $377 to $700 -- quite an impact on the overall cost of a trip!
Of course, there are many variables that affect the price. Optional riders, medical payments levels, liability levels, and obscure details such as whether payouts are in pesos or dollars and where bodywork gets done. It's much more expensive to get a policy that allows you to get repair work done in the USA rather than Mexico. And some companies have a good reputation for easy customer service over the phone in Mexico, whereas others ...
So we're proceeding with caution. I'm reading threads on RV.net forums, visiting various insurance websites, reading policies (and wow is that tedious!), and comparing the experiences of people who have gone before us.
To further complicate things, we need to figure out our exact dates of entry/exit if we are going to buy a daily policy. We can buy extra days while we are in Mexico, but it would be a nuisance. So the decision to buy a 15-day policy at, say, $403, versus a 6-month policy for $560, has to be considered carefully. It might be better to buy a 6-month policy for the flexibility in dates, and to retain the option to go back into Baja later this spring if we feel like it.
I've also made a checklist of things we need to do in advance of crossing the border: buy a telephone card, collect our documents (passport, vehicle registrations, and in my case a notarized letter from myself affirming I'm authorized to drive the company vehicles into Mexico), sanitize the water tank, buy a phrasebook, etc. Really, there's not that much we need to do. I'm over-preparing this time because its our first trip.
Today I took a short walk out into the desert for a lunch break. The area immediately around the campground isn't particularly interesting except for the birds, but I could see taking a mountain bike out for some real exploration. I spotted some cardinals in the brush, and there seem to be a lot of songbirds in one area. The desert floor here is mostly brush with cholla (CHOY-ya) cactus, but it varies a lot depending on whether you're on high ground or in a dry wash. The saguaro cactus (the ones with the "arms") start a few miles north of here. We'll see more of those when we go to Saguaro National Park.
Cooking out under the bright desert stars
This morning I happened to notice a new wi-fi signal in the park: "Odyssey". You may have noticed a link (left column of this blog) to a blog of the same name. Could it be?
Yes! I took a look out my dinette window and there it was, 44,000 pounds of mammoth motorhome. What an opportunity! Blog meets blog. So of course I grabbed my camera and headed over to see Sean and Louise, who I had never met before.
I knocked on the door and high above my head, a window popped open and Sean's head appeared. It was a bit like talking to the Wizard of Oz ... me, standing below in the shadow of Odyssey and looking up to Sean as we chatted. Later, Louise's head popped into the window as well.
It's a shame we were both preparing to leave. I would have liked to have heard more about their travels in Mexico, although I've read the blog entries. We'll have to try to catch up again on the west coast this spring.
We have moved to our home for the next month, about ten miles east on I-10, still in Tucson. We have never booked a full month anywhere before, so it felt rather strange to set up here knowing we'd be so permanent. A month is nothing to an apartment dweller, but to us it feels almost like a commitment. What if we don't like the neighborhood? What if we get an itch to go somewhere else?
Fortunately, the new park is fine. It's situated out in the desert, with absolutely no neighbors except deer and jackrabbits. We can't hear any traffic except an occasional train a couple of miles away. There's free wi-fi and it actually works. And our site is pleasant enough, level gravel with nice views of the surrounding mountains and the desert.
After we settled in we got a visit from Mike and Tracy, who are parked just a few miles up the road at a "55+" park. It's a bit more stuffy over there but Mike wanted to take some lapidary classes offered in the park. Our place is more relaxed. Eleanor and Emma pulled out all their rocks and suddenly the afternoon disappeared in a haze of mineral chat, until it was time for Emma's evening bike ride.
Don't worry about the blog getting dull while are here. We've got a ton of things to do: work, hiking trails, Saguaro National Park (right up the road), real estate hunting, bicycle paths, a trip to the Florida State Rally, and family day trips to places like Mt Lemmon, Catalina State Park, the Titan Missile Museum, Bisbee, Patagonia, etc. The blog will be busy.
The real trick to this mode of travel is the fact that I have to keep working ... and not just at an ordinary job, but a startup business that demands my attention at least six days a week. Often retired folks will say, "You're so lucky to be doing this at your age!" and that's true, but I envy the retired folks who don't have to report in to a job every day, and who don't have to worry about whether they can be reached by phone or get online.
So today was another day at the office. This morning I had a couple of calls to make early, so there I was again, wandering around outside and jabbering into my cell phone. I usually go outside so I can pace while I talk, but also so I can avoid waking Emma.
The difference today was that Mike Young, our Airstream neighbor, was out with his Nikon D70 and a very fast & massive 200mm VR (vibration reduction) lens. He spotted me and took these spy photos above of me talking to one of the magazine's contributors.
In a campground in Idaho last summer, I was doing this same routine every day, sometimes in my pajamas. A neighbor spotted me and said, "You must not be a very good businessman!" I asked him why he thought that, and he said, "You spend too much time on the phone. You ought to be able to enjoy your vacation!"
Well, obviously this is not vacation. But I do hope to take one next month when we go to Mexico. Our ability to connect via phone and Internet will be limited. I could get a "North American" phone plan from Verizon and have some cell phone service, and I could seek out wi-fi campgrounds and cyber cafes, but instead I think I'll take a real vacation.
So I've been working for months to get the business ready for me to be completely out of touch for two weeks. That might seem easy but it's really not. After three years of being dependent on my daily involvement, the business needs time to separate from me. But the exercise of getting the business running more independently is healthy. Eventually it will need to stand on its own.
I mention this because those of you who are considering going on the road with their businesses or vocations need to appreciate that in most cases you can't just flip a switch and go on the road. It takes time to get everything lined up. It took me months to get ready to go mobile, and it has taken months to get ready to go offline. But the effort is ultimately worth the investment.
We are already right at home here in Tucson. We're learning our way around town, getting to know the local events, attractions, traffic patterns, stores, etc. And it would be impossible not to like this weather: sunny, crystal clear, 70s, and dry.
This morning a blog reader dropped by: Mike Young. Mike has been following our blog for a long time, and commenting too, so it was fun to finally meet him in person. He and Rosemary will be here at the park through Wednesday, so we'll get together for something fun tomorrow.
But our visit was shortened by the fact that today was a work day. Other than Mike's visit, our adventures have been limited to a bike ride around the park after work. Emma is still reveling in her ability to ride a bicycle, and after a day at the computer a bike ride is just the thing to relax.
I don't mind working all day when the sun is shining in the open windows and the warm breeze is blowing. You'd think a beautiful day would be enticement to go outside and play -- and it is -- but sometimes it's also just as nice to put on some music, work at the table and look out at the mountains. Eleanor made another batch of lemonade from the fallen lemons of our tree, and suddenly it felt like summer.
An Airstream can be marvellously relaxing even on a work day. There's something about the interior curves of the space that makes it feel like a cozy secret getaway. My secret vice is to wait until Eleanor and Emma are out on errands, and sneak a nap in the afternoon between tasks. Sleeping in the Airstream on a warm sunny afternoon is as relaxing as a massage. For the record, I didn't do that today, but .... I would have liked to.
One nice thing about this place is that there are fruit trees all around: lemon, orange, or lime. Every time we've been here, the lemons have been ripe and we manage to collect enough drops to make tangy lemonade.
Finally -- beautiful weather. 70s and clear sunshine is predicted for several days. We took the opportunity to check out some local real estate. (The Catalina Foothills area is beautiful, but we also saw some nice in-town bungalows from the 1940s.)
Emma only cared about one thing, getting out on her bicycle. The roads in the park are pretty quiet, so it was a nice safe place for her to take me for a cruise. I think she's ready to step up to a real bike path now, and there are several good bike paths around Tucson to try.
It's a measure of how much I don't care about football that I wasn't wasn't even aware it was Superbowl Sunday until someone mentioned it this morning. But back in the RV Resort, everyone seemed to be geared up for super-TV-watching.
A lot of Class A motorhomes are built with big outdoor TVs mounted on roll-out trays in the lower section. These always struck me as sort of ridiculous, but to each their own. Tonight several motorhome owners are sitting outside watching the Superbowl, despite the evening chill. I guess if you have an outdoor TV you need to use it for an event like the Superbowl, even if it would be much more comfortable watching the indoor TV.
The observatory was great last night, until the full moon rose and obliterated the darker objects in the sky. Emma saw the a few bright stars, the Andromeda Galaxy, the Orion Nebula, and a star cluster. With a Meade LX-200 telescope, you can really get a nice view. Check out the Butterfield RV Resort in Benson AZ if you want to try the telescope some time.
Of course it was a homeschooling event as well. Emma didn't really appreciate how far away or how large stars were. It was fun to show her a blue giant star and explain that the light we were seeing has been traveling for 1400 years to get to our eyes. We also talked about how nebulas are giant clouds of gas in which stars are born, a concept that Emma seemed to find fascinating. Of course, a six-year-old's grasp of these things is pretty limited, but at least we've gotten a start.
A few geodes at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show
Today we moved about fifty miles to Tucson and set up at Beaudry's. Our Google Earth location. There are at least three other Airstreams here, and hopefully we'll meet up with some of their owners on Sunday. But today we headed straight out to one of the many Gem & Mineral Show venues to look at more rocks.
Emma spent most of her time watching the ground. Lots of fragments end up discarded on the ground, and nobody seems to mind if she picks them up. So I ended up with a pocket of a wild variety of small stones collected by Emma: opalite, lapis lazuli, goldstone, "sleeping beauty" turquoise, black opal, fire citrine, green catseye, and several other interesting bits we can't yet identify. None are larger than 1/2", and some are just tiny chips.
The nice thing about the show is that every venue is different, with all kinds of interesting stuff -- not just rocks. Jewelry, crafts, beads, food, Indian art, leather, tools, etc. The other nice thing is that admission and parking are free. We saw just one venue today, so there's a lot more for the next few days.
Book report: Dr C sent me a copy of "On The Border" by Tom Miller, which I finished last week. It's a great series of vignettes of real life in the Mexican border zone in 1980s. Miller argues that the border is functionally its own country, with unique laws, rules, customs, and problems, and he documents it beautifully in stories both funny and sad. Although the book is a little dated now, my experience with the border suggests that things haven't changed much since 1985.
Miller couldn't foresee the massive increase in border paranoia that would come. Concern over drugs, terrorism, and "UDAs" has made the border more tense, more complex. But the book is still good reading if, like us, you spend time in this unique territory.
Eleanor and Emma got out for a little more rock hunting this morning before we packed it up and headed west. Even with the cold wind, Rockhound is a fun place with just awesome, ever-changing views.
The sign at the dump station made me pause ...
Sign of the week
How exactly do you "dump slowly"? Not to get into too much detail, but opening the black tank valve less than fully is not a good idea. I'll leave it at that.
We pulled the Airstream along I-10 to Benson, AZ today. There's not a lot along the way, except for three more tourist traps run by the same organization. This time I was granted permission to skip them.
We have at last gotten into the gorgeous scenery that I have come to associate with southern Arizona. In the afternoon the sun lights the desert floor and the craggy mountains all around, and the skies become so blue it doesn't seem real. I can see my camera will be getting a workout in the next few weeks, although it will have to go in for service at the "camera doctor" in Tucson soon.
Our friend Joe recommended this RV park. It has the unique distinction of having a good-sized telescope on site in a real observatory, and nightly viewings with an astronomer. Tonight the show starts at 7 pm, so we'll be there. The skies are marvelously clear out here in Arizona, and the viewing should be spectacular.
Our Google Earth location.
It's a good thing we went rockhounding yesterday and didn't wait for today. The wind is blowing so hard and cold we can barely stay out for a few minutes. The national weather service says it is gusting occasionally to 40 MPH but it seems like 40 is the rule rather than the exception. Just opening the door of the trailer is an effort against the wind. I should have put the stabilizers down when we arrived, because the wind is hitting us broadside and making the trailer rock like a cross-country train. But now it's cold and I'm comfortable in here, so we'll just enjoy the ride.
Days like this make me feel almost guilty for being so comfortable in the Airstream. There are couple of intrepid rockhounds in a tent nearby, and their tent has been battered all day but is somehow still standing. They have to be freezing -- the wind chill is about 27 degrees. Meanwhile, we are living cozily. I have been working on the bed all day with the furnace purring. Eleanor and Emma have been homeschooling and working on bead art projects. At lunchtime we took a short hike down the road, paid for another night of camping, and let the wind blow us back to the trailer for hot lunch and root beer.
Rockhound State Park is a beautiful spot. The campground is not much to look at, although it is in good condition. But the setting is marvelous. To the southeast we have craggy peaks covered in a light snow. To the north, the hill rises from the campground to expose ledges of rock filled with jasper. To the southwest, flat open ground is criss-crossed with the streets of Deming, and the sun beams down through gaps in the clouds to illuminate the desert in gold. Far south, we can see another range of mountains in Mexico. The visibility today has fluctuated but at times it is incredible -- probably 75 miles.
At night the air is so clear that the lights of little Deming (5-9 miles away and 1,000 feet below us) glisten like they've been polished. It looked like a miniature Los Angeles last night in the full moon. If the wind doesn't blow me to Las Cruces, I'll break out the tripod and try to get a night shot.
We have discovered the identify of two of our rocks: red jasper and yellow jasper. The yellow is particularly beautiful. We'll ship it home to Papa to see if he can polish it up.
We have also solved another mystery: the amazing refrigerator smell. A week or so ago, we noticed that everytime the fridge was opened, an incredible odor rolled out. This odor, reminiscent of bad meat mixed with garlic, was so intense that we'd immediately want to open the windows no matter how cold it was.
Last night I had had enough, and emptied out the refrigerator in search of the culprit. I found nothing except some jars of mustard and black bean sauce that had some slight odor to them. But this morning Eleanor found it: the darned stinky cheeses we bought back in Austin! That Cowgirl "Red Hawk" cheese is really powerful. Mixed with a little gorgonzola it can find its way through a sealed plastic bag.
The offending cheese has since been double-sealed in bags and the smell is -- thankfully -- gone. You may find it amazing that we'd eat something that smells so bad, but it tastes better than it smells. I guess it would have to ...