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July 31, 2007

A perfect summer day

After posting my call for more Airstream visitors, I received an email last night from Mac and Linda, who have been traveling all over the US for the past three months. Now they are visiting family in Lake George NY, which is about 90 minutes south of here. On their way up to the Ben & Jerry's factory in Vermont they stopped to meet us.

Panton Mac and Linda.jpg

Emma and Eleanor were in the trailer getting ready for Emma's swim class when Mac and Linda arrived, but we've grown used to having visitors to the trailer at any time, so it wasn't any problem at all. E&E stayed inside while Mac, Linda, and I caught some shade under the awning. (It's been another 85 degree day here.)

I thought Mac and Linda would just say hello and zip back out to the highway to get on their way to Ben & Jerry's, but we had such a nice time talking that they stayed for about an hour. Not long after they headed off, I got a call from my parents inviting me to join them for a sandwich by the banks of Otter Creek. We rarely get a chance to do something like that together, so I jumped at it.

Vergennes falls lunch.jpg

Vergennes has a little Falls Park that few people visit, or even know about. It's just a short distance from the tiny downtown that defines this "smallest city". Boaters from Quebec come all the way down Lake Champlain and then up Otter Creek to get to this peaceful spot. There are even electric and water hookups at dockside (not accessible to RV's, sadly). Coming down to the Falls Park you can get a perspective on Vergennes that most people never see. I sat there with Mom & Dad and had a moment to just hang out together in a beautiful spot. That's a great summer thing to do.

Charlotte calm lake.jpg

This evening was another mellow experience, with some local friends and their 1-year-old boy, and a few pizzas from the Brick Store. The Lake went dead calm, which means warmer water in the shallows, and so we waded in for a little while. Even on its warmest days, Lake Champlain is refreshing. After dinner, a few yellow sparklers, and time to plan next week's trip to the County Fair, it feels like we've had the perfect summer day. We're going to try for another one tomorrow.

July 30, 2007


Not every day is an adventure. Some days we have to put our heads down and do the routine stuff. So I'm just going to do some clean-up here in the blog today.

Item #1: We have worked out an approximate schedule for getting back on the road. I'm trying to avoid a rigid schedule because it's always easier to just wing it. But we do have to be in Jackson Center OH (home of Airstream) the week after Labor Day, so that does force us to get moving in August. Right now we are thinking we'll pull out of Vermont around August 25.

First stop will probably be Massachusetts, where we've got family and friends to visit. We've been hearing about a campground in Salem near Massachusetts Bay, and so we've decided to give it a try for a weekend. From the campground I can catch a ferry to downtown Boston, which is both a scenic ride and a fun way to get into town to visit friends at their jobs and do a little street-hiking.

From the Boston area, we'll be heading straight west to the Albany NY area, where we want to take Emma on her first-ever "wild" cave trip. Then we'll keep west to Ohio, and eventually follow I-90 all the way to Washington state. By November we will have driven almost every mile of I-90 from coast to coast.

Item #2: To get out of town on schedule, we need to complete our personal divestiture project. What I mean is that we need to finalize our stuff in storage and get it in the hands of the movers. Eleanor and I went up to the storage units again today (and it feels like our thousandth visit). We're almost done. Just a few more things to donate, a few more boxes to repack, and a few more boxes to sort through. I think 2-3 more sessions and we're done. Can't be soon enough for us.

Item #3: Frustrated with spotty Internet here at the campground, and many other campgrounds we have visited, I am investigating better ways to receive wi-fi signals in the Airstream. Right now I'm interested in the Hawking Technologies HWREG1 wireless range extender combined with their 9 db omni-directional antenna.

The Hawking extender works like my current Linksys WRE54G wireless range extender, by repeating an existing wi-fi signal. But it has two major advantages. First, it runs on 12 volt power, which means I can wire it into the trailer's power system. Second, it accepts an external antenna, so I can have the repeater inside and an antenna on the roof for maximum convenience. I am seriously considering adding this to the permanent equipment in the Airstream.

Item #4: It's getting to maintenance time for the Airstream. We've put on about 10,000 miles since we last replaced the disc brake pads and repacked the wheel bearings. I'm putting together a list of items to be serviced when we get to the factory in Jackson Center. I should have had those things done when I was at GSM Vehicles a couple of weeks ago, but forgot. I'll also be checking the running gear before we get on the road later in August, just to make sure everything is set for the 800-mile tow. I'll verify the condition and pressure of the tires, look for leaking wheel bearing grease, check the lug nut torque, lube the Hensley Hitch, and check the underside of the trailer for damage.

A few other things need to be done on the trailer as well. The entry door hinges are starting to squawk -- they need a little lubrication. The Fantastic Vent screens need their semi-annual clearing of dust, which I do with a small brush on the screen and a damp towel on the blades. I may want to use a little sandpaper and paint to touch up rusty spots on the gray paint of the trailer's A-frame or bumper compartment.

We'll borrow a Shop Vac to clean up embedded dirt in the carpet and corners, and break out the glue for minor repairs on trim and counter edging. I'll also replace the water filter in the kitchen's Moen faucet, and probably the cabin air filters in the Armada as well.

This is also a good time to get spare keys made, clean out stored stuff that hasn't been needed, replace any broken or lost tools, verify the essential spares, donate or store books, and wash the rugs.

We've timed a lot of other annual events to be done in August. Our car registrations, inspections, etc., are set to expire in August. This makes it easy to get it all done when we are back at home base. When our home base moves to Arizona, we'll reset all those things to be done in the winter instead.

It may seem like a lot of maintenance to think about, but really it's less than we had to do on our previous house. Taking care of the Airstream is a pleasure most of the time, because it is so simple, and the Airstream rewards us with trouble-free travel for a relatively small amount of work.

July 29, 2007

Airstream visitors again

Socializing is a huge part of this Airstream lifestyle. Being on the road full-time can be lonely if you don't meet people, but fortunately there's not much effort required to make new friends. Just owning the same brand of RV can be enough to start a friendly conversation, as we've proved dozens of times over.

Today, we had a double-header visit: Abe and Melissa, and Dick and Ann dropped in with their Airstreams for a visit down by the lake. Dick and Ann couldn't stay, and headed off to Lake Placid, NY, but we convinced Abe and Melissa to hang out for the afternoon and through dinner.

Charlotte Abe Melissa.jpg
Melissa and Abe and their shiny 1976 Airstream Sovereign

In campgrounds we meet people all the time. While we are in Vermont and relatively stationary, our form of socializing is to invite friends or acquaintances met online or through rallies to come by and visit. We've got room at a neighbor's house by the lake for overnight visitors, and our present campground has a couple of spaces free most of the time too.

It might seem odd to non-RV'ers that we feel so free about inviting people over, but keep in mind that we all travel with our own homes. It's not like inviting someone to stay at your house. No need to wash the sheets and towels, clean up the living room, or wonder if your future houseguest has odd habits. We meet, we visit, and we can each retreat to our own spaces whenever we want. This means we can meet lots of people without the worry of being stuck with a bad dynamic for an entire weekend.

It almost never goes poorly when we have Airstream visitors. They seem to be generally cut from a similarly adventuresome cloth, and there's always lots to talk about.

Charlotte Abe Melissa depart.jpg
Abe and Melissa pull out to go to Lake Placid

Right now we've got no one on the schedule for the rest of August, but I'm hoping that will change soon. We have reviewed the maps and decided we need to be on the road about August 26. That leaves precious little time to get in the last few wonderful days of summer, finish prepping for the movers, and finalize our remaining annual tasks. At the end of the month, we'll be on our way again, with stops planned in NY, OH, WI, SD, MT, and WA through November.

July 28, 2007

Farmer's Markets

We hit a couple of the Farmer's Markets again today. The primary reason was to capture photos for an article next year in Airstream Life, but of course there's also the side benefit of munching one's way through an incredible variety of food.

Burlington farmers market.jpg

In Burlington, the Farmer's Market is held in City Hall Park, just a few blocks uphill from Lake Champlain. This is a big one, with everything from maple syrup to Bosnian meat pies. I tried a really good local root beer, a buttermilk doughnut, two local blue cheeses, and a couple of bites of the meat pie. That was a tiny fraction of the things we saw, but I was more engaged in photography than I was in grazing.

Shelburne veggies.jpg

The vegetables were beautiful, as were the flowers, bakery goods, and dozens of other goods. The Farmer's Markets don't just feature groceries, either. We found honey, wine, jewelry, handmade clothing, tortillas, turned wooden bowls, beeswax candles, and many other things. It's easy to spend an hour or two browsing all the great stuff.

Burlington guitarist.jpg

Some of the vendors were adding music to the mix. In addition to this fellow (a blacksmith), another couple was jamming on guitar and harmonica.

Burlington maple syrup.jpg

A Farmer's Market is one of the great ways to explore a local community without driving around. All of the craftspeople, the small farms, and local producers of all types come out and bring the community to you. Even if you don't plan to buy anything, a peek at the market gives you an insight into the values of the community and the sorts of things that are still developed locally.

It's also a great place to meet people and, by talking to them, learn about things you'll never hear about from the Chamber of Commerce. I grew up here and still picked up a few things from talking to the maple syrup guy. Sure, there are a lot of people who produce maple syrup in Vermont, and I can find some any day just by going to the grocery store. But will the impersonal bottle I buy in the store tell me a hidden place to go hiking?

July 27, 2007

Date night

Parents everywhere know that once in a while you've got to have "date night". Tonight Emma is having an overnight with her friend Kati and we are getting a nice evening to ourselves, including dinner at the local sushi joint.

S Burl car Eleanor.jpg

We often get asked by people about the issues of intimacy and privacy in the Airstream, since we travel full-time with our daughter. Most people don't want to approach the subject directly, but we try to read between the lines and give realistic and carefully worded answers.

The short answer is that we try to take advantage of opportunities like visiting friends and relatives with children who are willing to babysit for a few hours. This happens surprisingly often. We don't let Emma away with people we don't know well, but we have relatives in both east and west, and we have trusted friends in many parts of the country as a result of our travels.

Any amount of time to take a break from being parents is good. It doesn't have to be overnight. Sometimes we just need to talk as adults for an hour to hash out issues or discuss future plans. It's amazing how much we can clear up between us in a short period of time.

Being together in a small space doesn't eliminate the need to converse and update each other -- if anything, it increases it. You don't want issues festering when there's so little personal space. Even though we enjoy the excitement of travel, we still need the same human considerations that other people do.

So Date Night is always a success, regardless of what we do with it. Tonight, we had a lot of time to be together and a nice dinner too, both of which are like battery recharges to us. Tomorrow we don't have to pick up Emma until dinnertime, so we'll extend Date Night into Saturday and do some "boring" adult things for a change. I can see a whole program of little decadences, starting with a very leisurely breakfast ...

July 26, 2007

Finding adventure

One of the problems I have discovered that I face in writing up our experience from two years of mobile living is that we have had an almost uniformly good time. From a writer’s standpoint, it’s boring. The best travel stories, it is said, come from the worst trips, or at least travel to the worst places. We had a lot of sunshine and few mishaps, poor fodder for a travelogue.

Our travel was through the settled and safe USA, where civil war is an unlikely experience. Nor is being stranded deep in the veldt, or having our passports held by a foreign consulate, or other classic tales of globe-trotting reporters. Political intrigue, bomb-shattered cities, attacks of dysentery, unreliable cabbies, or even airport delays are not contained in our experience. The State Department has not issued any frightening cautions about the places we’ve been.

If I were writing for National Geographic Adventure or Outdoors magazines, I suppose we would have taken the Airstream overseas and tried to find a campground with amoebic water and sparking electrical outlets. Or we might have set up rope and climbed the Canyonlands of Utah in the thunderstorm season and hoped for a flash flood adventure. If none of these things worked disastrously, we’d write it up in a breathless Gen-X style that at least made it seem exciting.

But I'm not seeking adventure solely for the sake of a good story, so instead we have roamed the 48 states and parts of Canada and Mexico in perfect safety, enjoying good food and friendly “natives” at every turn. Nobody has died or even been injured, and in fact nobody has gotten an illness more worrisome than a bad cold or a migraine. We’ve suffered no financial disasters, haven’t been ripped off by an unscrupulous mechanic, haven’t been strip-searched at the border. We haven’t even been short-changed by anyone. Our trip is almost defined by the lack of dramatic things that have happened.

This is, of course, a good thing for us. We had a nice time. But in reviewing other travel books, I find that the authors celebrate the angst of the trip even if they are really having a pretty good time. In Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods,” he manages to tell a funny yarn about what would otherwise be a monotonous hike up the Appalachian Trail, thanks to his dysfunctional hiking companion. The companion becomes his comic foil, and revealing his many faults is a big chunk of Bryan’s writing. If I did that, I’d be facing divorce. It is not for me to pick at my travel companions. They might write a book about me someday, too.

Paul Theroux, in his under-appreciated story of hiking the coast of England (“Kingdom By The Sea”) sees black and ruined industrial towns, threatening nuclear plants, strange and dishonest innkeepers, football hooligans and skinheads, and dismal seaside resorts virtually every step of the way. This is his interpretation – he’s welcome to it – but while I can imagine a dark perspective on everything we’ve seen and done, I prefer not to go there. I am unwilling to suffer as I travel, or view everything with the eyes of a critic. I can do that, but it takes the fun out of the trip for me, and I feel no particular need to poke holes at the fabric of American society. Plenty of other people already manage that job.

Although I must confess I've considered it. At one time I was thinking about writing two blogs, this one and another "dark side" blog in which I revealed my most satirical, cutting, and no-holds-barred impressions of our experiences. I didn't do this and didn't even keep notes, but believe me there was plenty of material.

For example, we have seen hundreds or even thousands of examples of the lingering “white trash” mentality and behavior that forms the basis of the popular image of RV’ers. There’s a lot of truth in the stereotype, but I am looking for and documenting the exceptions to the rule, the people who travel with purpose beyond a quest for the local Early-Bird Special. The world of RV travel has changed already but the popular media are just now catching up with it. The Boomers are not doing it like their parents did, and I want to document that.

Still, I find myself wondering if we should take some sort of risk in the waning months of our full-time travel, to create a startling tale as the centerpiece of the trip. We could go backpacking with open food containers in bear country, join a research trip to the Arctic, scuba dive the sunken airplanes deep in Lake Mead, or at least smuggle a ton of prescription Zyrtec out of Canada … Any one of these would likely give me that sort of dramatic opening line that writers strive for: “I remember clearly the glaring sun over the ice when the polar bear began to chew on my leg.”

Nah. I’ll cure this problem the old-fashioned way. A good story can be told of any adventure, no matter how hum-drum it might at first seem. The writer is responsible for telling the tale interestingly, and every tale has an angle. Several friends who are avid readers – and even a few writers --- have written inspiring emails with fantastic advice. I am saving those emails and reviewing them periodically as I digest the events of the past two years.

Of my first attempt at an essay, my friend Tom (a professional writer) said: “I think you netted the whole panoply of what moves people to take to the road, and how you pare down to essentials, and see more clearly what means something and what doesn’t. If you’re able to put that kind of theme and structure in the book, it will be a winner.”

My legal advisor, Don “Nacho Grande” says, “The characters and situations you encounter along the way make for the most interesting read to me. Tell me more about the Victor Valdezes of the world singing by their homemade walking sticks; ‘Boots’ Hinton and his Bonnie and Clyde Ambush Museum; and of course, Ayres T. Reem.”

He also went on to say, “Rich, what I really want to say is write whatever stirs your soul. To hell with the ultimate consumer. Forget about making a buck on this one. This should be for you. Take a page out of Eleanor’s book and go a little crazy with your herbs and spices. Listen to the bread’s crust. Poe's meter. Hemingway’s metaphors. Take some literary risks and try to SCARE yourself by your own audaciousness. Use a pseudonym if you’re afraid of tarnishing your good name. Make Jonathan Swift roar with laughter!”

I think the pseudonym is a particularly good idea. I’m thinking of using the name “Don”.

My medical advisor, Dr. C, was helpful also, with a detailed suggestion that I go find Paul Theroux in his home, roust him out of bed, and shake him roughly until he confesses all his secrets of writing to me. Well, actually, the good Doctor didn’t quite go that far but he did provide Theroux’s home mailing address, quite a handy feat. I'm supposed to write him for advice. Instead, I’m thinking of asking Dr. C for the home address of some of my other heroes. Perhaps they'll have courtesy parking.

By the way, Theroux completed an overland voyage from Cairo to Cape Town a few years ago, at the age of 60, and wrote the book Dark Star Safari about it. You can read his interview about the conditions in Africa here. It may be particularly relevant to those planning the Cape Town to Cairo trip in 2009.

Now there’s an adventure in the making. Never mind that public and private caravans traverse Africa routinely. It’s still a rough journey and the spirit of exploration calls all the more loudly because of it. That hasn't been our experience but I'd sure like to do it, and in fact we are reserving the option to drop in for at least a portion of the trip.

“When travelers, old and young, get together and talk turns to their journeys, there is usually an argument put forward by the older ones that there was a time in the past – fifty or sixty years ago, though some say less – when this planet was ripe for travel. Then, the world was innocent, undiscovered and full of possibility. The argument runs: In that period the going was good. These older travelers look at the younger ones with real pity and say, ‘Why bother to go?’ ” -- Paul Theroux, Sunrise With Seamonsters

I think if you are reading this you already know why to go.

Yes, our North American voyage has been relatively free of strife but nothing is 100% free of risk. I tell you about my writing challenge because Nacho Grande's and Theroux's advice applies to you, too. You have to “hike your own hike” as they say on the Trail. Nobody can define what your travel will be, or the product of your travel. When people tell you what they fear will happen, they are telling you their fears, not what will happen. So don’t worry about what other people think, or whether they will find your trip interesting. Just go … and find your adventure on your terms.

July 25, 2007

More friends

We had another Airstream couple drop in this week: Adam and Susan. They've got the prototype Airstream Class C (the only one made), and love to drive it everywhere. They spent one night at the same campground as us before heading on.

Vergennes Adam flamingo.jpg

Walking through Vergennes, Adam encountered one of those priceless moments of Americana: a little kid with a lemonade stand. The pink lemonade Adam bought from this budding entrepreneur ($0.50 per cup) served not only him but a nearby flamingo. Now you know where they get the pink color!

July has at last arrived -- three weeks late. We are getting the classic Vermont summer weather now, with sunny, warm, humid days that gradually build into thunderstorms and then re-start with fresh dry air. I've finally felt the need to put out the Airstream's awning, which is the first time I've done that since Lake Mead in Nevada. Every evening we all gather at the rocky shore of Lake Champlain for swimming, boating, fishing, gabbing, whatever. The program is different every night but the general idea is the same: enjoy the warm nights of summer while we can.

Vergennes creemees.jpg

And afterward, what better way to wrap up the evening than with a visit to the local "creemee" stand? Emma's choice was Cookies-n-Cream ice cream dipped in Cherry sauce. It sounded horrible but I tried it and it wasn't bad at all. But I'll stick with one of my favorites: Vermont Maple with Walnuts.

A blog reader emailed me this week to say that I never appear in the blog myself. That's because I'm the guy with the camera most of the time. But if you hunt through the archives you'll find a few shots of me, and even one or two of all of us together.

Still, not to disappoint those who just can't get enough of my face ... here's a bonus shot from last February when I was at the Florida State Rally. Every time I catch a cold my nose gets all red ...

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Rich with Obie the Clown

July 24, 2007

Friends in the bunkhouse

Friends are starting to arrive for little drop-ins this week. Today our old buddies from Vergennes, Elisa and John, showed up with their daughter. They don't live in Vermont any more and neither do we, but we are meeting up here anyway, since we all like to be here in the summer.

Charlotte kids running.jpg

Elisa and John have a special honor. They were with us on our very first weekend out in our first Airstream, back in August 2003. They don't have any sort of camping equipment, so we lent them a tent and of course it poured all night long. We felt a bit guilty in our comfortable 1968 Airstream Caravel, listening to the rain on the aluminum roof, while they were in our old tent.

Amazingly they are still our friends despite that experience. This time they'll spend the night in the Airstream bunkhouse with us. There's plenty of room for all six of us. I think they'll be a lot more comfortable.

Charlotte Japanese beetle.jpg

Emma has been catching all sorts of creatures lately. Japanese Beetles are a favorite for their iridescent gold color, but she's also caught tiny leopard frogs, and a big fat toad. She has mastered a technique for rubbing their tummies to calm them. I don't know where she learns these things...

July 23, 2007

Summer sensations

I keep walking across the lawn to the beach and back to the house, and thinking of the little cues that make the season into summer. It's a only few hundred feet of open lawn, but it's easy to fall into the moment and forget everything else as you walk across it. There's the subtle smell of grass cut the day before, a few bumblebees browsing the flowers, a fresh breeze, sun setting over the Adirondack Mountains, the hum of a motorboat miles out on the broad lake ...

... and thoughts of a ride on the boat to a distant sandbar, perhaps group whiffleball or Frisbee game on the lawn, dinner on the beach by the Tiki Bar ... ice cream in the humid evening with fireflies blinking outside. These are a few of the sensations of a northern summer. I'm endlessly grateful that we have the Airstream to enable us to spend summers here.

Panton Emma teeter.jpg

Of course, for some of us the sensations of summer is completely different. Emma discovered the teeter-totter here at our new campsite and enjoyed the sensation of being popped up in the air with me halfway down the other end.

Shelburne Cookie Love.jpg

Saturday is the day for Farmer's Markets all over the state. We've got three we go to: Vergennes, Shelburne, and Burlington. There will probably be an article on the subject in the Spring 2008 issue of Airstream Life, so I stopped by this weekend to snap a few photos for it. I want to drop in on Burlington's on the next nice Saturday. There's a local cheesemaker there who has fabulous blue cheese and I can't get it anywhere else.

Storage mess.jpg

The one downside of summer is that our labors at the storage unit continue. Let this be a lesson to those who acquire too much "stuff". Getting rid of it is much harder than you might think. Fortunately, we sold all the living room furniture this weekend and were able to get people to pick up several boxes of stuff, thanks to Freecycle. After two summers of effort, I think we are finally approaching the end of the project. We should be ready to bring in the movers in a couple of weeks.

I have partially resolved the Internet problem here at the campground. My repeater is bringing the signal into the trailer, but the distance between the source and the repeater is so great that the connection is fragile. If anyone in the area uses their microwave oven, we get knocked offline. A whole bunch of common wireless devices share or contribute interference to the same frequency band as wi-fi, including 2.4 GHz cordless phones, Bluetooth-capable devices, and microwave ovens.

The solution would be a second repeater to cut down the distance and thus strengthen the signal, but I don't have one handy. I'm still playing with ways to enhance the signal and hope to have a more workable solution soon. In the meantime, the connection I have is adequate for most tasks. If I really need super-fast and reliable Internet, I can head over to my parent's house on the lake to borrow their connection, and get another taste of summer while I'm at it.

July 22, 2007

Network geek

Our relocation to a new campsite near Vergennes VT has reminded me that sometimes you need to be a bit of a computer handyman, if you are to get reliable Internet service while traveling. Our axiom is that the more desirable and beautiful a location is, the less likely you are to find Internet access. That means you need to get clever about getting online.

Vergennes is one of those spots in Vermont where Verizon has been unable or unwilling to provide decent service. The Governor of Vermont is on a rampage about this issue and has proposed that Vermont become an "e-state" with border-to-border cellular and Internet coverage. Unicell, a local provider, seems to be making an effort to fill in the many gaps, and so I'm hearing from a lot of people here that they've switched to Unicell lately.

Certainly, Unicell customers can make a decent call in downtown Vergennes without having it drop in a minute or so. That's not the case with Verizon, at least by my recent experience. But switching carriers isn't an option for national travelers, and besides, I have two Verizon accounts (one for voice and the other for Internet).

So here's where getting clever comes in. My first thought was to scan the local campground for stray wi-fi signals that I might pick up. No dice. My second idea was to go into downtown Vergennes and look for a spot where I could sit and work within range of free wi-fi. The public library doesn't have it, but eventually I discovered (by asking around) that I could get an open wi-fi signal when sitting in the front of a particular cafe.

Still, that wasn't my first choice for all-day work. Eventually the cafe would get busy and I'd probably be asked to move on. It's not a large place.

Then I talked to the campground owner. Turns out his wife has high-speed DSL in the house, and it's hooked to wi-fi. A quick roam around the area with my laptop open, and it is determined that by sitting on their front porch I can post this blog. OK, we have a temporary solution, but obviously that's not going to work long term. Also, her local Internet Service Provider blocks all outgoing email except from their email server, so we've got a second problem to solve.

Now I break out my tools. The key is the to extend her signal to my trailer, so I can work comfortably in my office. I'll set up my wi-fi repeater in a conveniently located barn, about mid-way between the house and my trailer. Hopefully that will bridge the gap.

Solving the email problem is easier. Based on our location, it wasn't hard to guess which telephone company provides her DSL service, and so I can easily figure out (with some web searches) what email server I should set my email program to use. One simple change in configuration, and voila! I am sending and receiving email just fine.

If the wi-fi router hadn't been "open" (unencrypted), I would have had a larger problem. In this case, the owners are friendly enough that they would have given me the passcode so I could at least get online from the front porch. My repeater is incapable of repeating an encrypted signal, however, so this would not have allowed me to get the signal in my trailer.

If I were really lucky, they might even have let me come in and fiddle with the router settings, once I'd proven I was trustworthy enough to disable the encryption and put it back when I was done. I don't push on things like this, because often people feel that letting a stranger play with their router is like giving me the keys to their car and a credit card. But once in a while this works. That's an advanced gambit and I wouldn't recommend you try it unless you are very familiar with how routers work and willing to pay the price if you screw it up.

In any case, if I can get Internet in the trailer and at least be able to make phone calls outside (which I seem to be able to do most of the time), we will stay here a couple of weeks. If not, we'll have to move -- which would be a shame since the setting is very pleasant and the camping is very affordable ...

July 20, 2007

Shifting gears

It's time to shift gears again. Having done three days of essay-writing, the blog will go back to the usual sort of entries, while I digest what I've learned from the many comments I've received (including lots of private emails). Thank you all for your help.

Another shift will be in our location. We have been parked in my parents' driveway for several weeks, including the time I was down in Perry GA attending the International Rally. We're going to move to a small campground near Vergennes VT for a while. The location is more convenient for Emma's upcoming swimming lessons, but equally importantly, being in the campground will give us some space to host friends who are dropping in next week.

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A huge flock of cormorants on Lake Champlain

I have avoided talking about the mundane tasks we've been doing since I got back from Georgia. Those of you who have read the blog for a while probably recall the drudgery of clearing out our storage units. We spent five weeks last summer working down from two 10x20 units to one, by giving away stuff to charities and via Freecycle, selling things on Craigslist, auctioning furniture, and donating things to friends. (You can read about this process in our August 2006 archive, starting with August 22.)

The job this summer is to get from one very tightly packed 10x20 storage unit down to half a unit. We conducted an evaluation and discovered that the cost of moving many of our possessions 2,500 miles west exceeded the replacement cost of those items. Moreover, after two years with minimal possessions, we've become even more religious about the need to pare down. We don't want to fill up the next house with a bunch of stuff from the old house. Half a storage unit will mean we are down to the essentials: photo albums, a few basic pieces of furniture, my collection of Airstream Life magazines, tools, some extra clothing, kitchen stuff, and a few irreplaceable items.

So far Eleanor and I have had about four mutual sessions at the storage unit and she's been there independently several other times. This Saturday will be the big push. We're expecting to see buyers for our remaining living room furniture and a bunch of people from the local Freecycle group who want various household items. If we are lucky, after Saturday we'll be ready for the movers to come in and quote the cost of getting the rest over to Tucson. I'm hoping to keep the moving budget under $2k.

There are some items in storage which cause me to stop and think. What to do with my old cross-country skis? What about my fabulously warm LL Bean winter parka (so warm I can only wear it when the temperature is below 20 degrees)? Winter boots? Ice skates? Autumn rain coat with zip-out lining? It's easy to say I should just get rid of these things, but we do come back to New England regularly and I may want them. Most likely I'll try to find a local friend or relative willing to store them for me up here.

Emma skating.jpg
Emma skates while her mother and grandparents watch from the gallery

Except for the ice skates ... Emma has been taking skating lessons since she arrived in Vermont and seems to like them. It's good for her to practice something that encourages grace and coordination. We'll probably have find a skating rink in Tucson, and that means I'll be asked to get on the ice too, so as unlikely as it seems, we will move pairs of ice skates to the desert.

For all the complaints out west about excessive heat and extended drought, it has been exactly the opposite here. It has been unbelievably gray and rainy for July, and we have not seen a day over 80 degrees since I arrived two weeks ago. No wonder my window air conditioner is not selling on Craigslist. Most days I wear a fleece while working at the computer until mid-day when it warms into the 70s. It's nice that we have needed neither heat nor air conditioning, but this is not the sort of summer we usually get.

Since summer in northern Vermont really starts to decline by mid-August, this is slightly alarming. It won't be long before the days start becoming noticeably shorter, and the county fair season kicks in, signifying the last hurrah before summer's end. For northern Vermonters, it's July or never, to get a few hot days to brag about later in the season. This year looks like a bust.

What we really need is a few hundred Airstreams parked nearby to create a local heat effect. When the International Rally was here in 2003, the temperature spiked at about 100 degrees, and that is a historic event indeed up here. It hasn't been so hot since.

The heat spike seems to occur wherever the International Rally is held, causing many to speculate that it is caused by all the shiny aluminum. In Salem OR last year we had three days of 103 degrees, and the locals were flocking to the local rivers in their desperation to escape the heat. In Perry GA of course it was hot but who would expect otherwise in Georgia that time of year? I will be interested to see what happens in Bozeman MT next year -- but probably from afar.

One last gear shift: Airstream informs me that the very last Safari 30 bunkhouse (like our trailer) has finally been sold from dealer inventory. These trailers are really special because they are the only Airstream trailers ever made with two permanent bedrooms. Only 80 were made in 2005 and 2006, and now they are all in the hands of happy owners. It is a shame that this trailer didn't become more popular because it is uniquely suited to the needs of full-timers with children or a need for office space. If you want one, you'll have to find one used now.

July 19, 2007

Seamonster Essay 1, part 3

This is the third and final part in a multi-part series about how we got started as full-time Airstream travelers. The first part can be found here.

Some people cannot see their way to lowering their expectations of certain creature comforts or perks of our satiated society. They want to retain all the familiar benefits of home (the gardening club, yards of indoor personal space, unlimited hot showers) while traveling. Such people are doomed to spending their vacations in hotels, and paying top dollar for their travel. I pity them.

We often forget that everyone in America is royalty, relative to much of the developing world. As one potential immigrant said, “I want to live in a country where the poor people are fat.” We forget that even “starving” college students enjoy a lifestyle far above much of the world’s population. We have technology to enable nearly constant communications, safety nets galore, and the path is well paved by those who have gone before. We are blessed with enough abundance that most of us have the option to travel, whether we choose to exercise it or not. Rarely can I buy the arguments that “we can’t afford it,” or “it’s too hard” when people are speaking of heading out to travel full-time. It is more a matter of adjusting expectations. Changing yourself is more of a challenge than coming up with money.

For example, we had to adjust to life in 200 square feet. Three people in a trailer full-time requires a higher level of cooperation and togetherness than in a house. The compensation of course is that the world is your living room. Sitting in a trailer in one spot can be deadly boring, but if you travel the scenery always changes and interior space becomes less of an issue. I think people are buying larger houses these days because they spend more time inside sheltering themselves from other people and potentially distracting experiences. For some of us, going larger is an unsustainable strategy. At our house we had 2,900 square feet and I was driven nearly mad with cabin fever each winter. The next winter I was happy to share 200 square feet with my family in the Airstream. I had discovered what really mattered to me, and it wasn’t square footage.

Interior space still matters, but the lack of it can actually be a benefit. I was asked about this by the marketing head at Airstream, who wanted to know how a family of three could survive in such close quarters for months. “It has made us more polite. We say ‘excuse me’ a lot,” was my answer – which was true, because when every cubic inch has to serve a purpose, inevitably someone else is occupying the space you need. But a better answer was given by a couple in California: “We bump into each other a lot. We like bumping into each other.”

The rewards for all the minor adjustments are intangible but satisfying. I said that the genesis of our travel was necessity, but there is a deeper motivation that stems from our desire to be free. The winter before we put our house up for sale, we spent three months in rented Florida condo. At that point the magazine was a struggling start-up, and we were living solely off savings. But every day seemed worthwhile and full of beauty, and finally one day I realized that freedom was more important to me than things. I was enjoying life more despite living with less.

Our house was stuffed with objects that didn’t really add value to our lives – to the contrary, when we got back from Florida Eleanor and I were dismayed to re-discover all the stuff we owned that served no practical purpose on our lives. While we were gone, we missed none of those things, and in fact had forgotten they existed. These things were psychological anchors, but not only in the sense of giving us a home base. They were also obligations that held us fast, keeping us from exploring by their sheer weight.

We talked about this sensation, and realized that the stability we had built for ourselves had a dark side. We had the security of home and the insecurity of worrying about mortgage payments. We had the memorabilia of generations past, and the obligation to keep it dusted. We had enjoyed the income that comes with success, and felt the unyielding demands of careers. In short, the security we had felt was an illusion. Was there an alternative? Could we give up the trappings of a traditional life to find something else?

Based on this experience, I resolved to trade money and things for freedom and experiences, and that was later the foundation of our decision to sell the house and plunge headlong into the magazine. That led to the second decision to live the traveling life, and ultimately our satisfaction proved the thesis: freedom is more important than things, at least for us. Our net worth on paper is less than it was two years ago, but our satisfaction with life (a more heartfelt measure of net worth for most people) is dramatically higher.

Besides, there have been practical benefits. Full-time traveling turned out to be cheaper than staying home. The tallying of our expenses has become an almost guilty pleasure because money deposited in the checking account tends to stay there, rather than being vacuumed out by household bills. Not only did our decision to travel give us more capital to invest in the business, it seems unfair to everyone else that we get to see America, Canada, and Mexico at our own pace, while spending far less each month than for a week at Disney. Considering how broadening the experience has been (and continues to be), it has been the bargain of the century. This is how full-time travelers get addicted. They recognize that re-settling in a fixed location and having to buy furniture again is the real compromise, and so they put it off, sometimes for years.

That is precisely what happened to us. Four months into our “six-month” voyage, somewhere between the redwood forests of northern California and the sea lions of southern California, we suddenly felt the slippage of time and realized we weren’t ready to stop. In four months we hadn’t seen much relative to the vastness of North America and, having tasted the freedom to explore at our own pace, the idea of settling down to build a house and leaving the rest of the world to explore some other day was horrifying.

This was not a lightly-made decision. The home-building season in Vermont required us to start construction in May in order to be finished by winter. Staying on the road for “a few more months” effectively meant we’d lose the building season until the next year. Thus, our choice to become official “full-timers” meant we’d be living in the Airstream for a total of 18 months at a minimum, and even longer if we lived in it during house construction.

Still it was a clear choice. Our daughter Emma was young enough (age five) that homeschooling was easy. We had no obligations requiring us to be near home base. In a few years, school, family obligations, medical issues, and even the magazine might require us to stop traveling. It seemed best to grab the opportunity while it was still available. We were undeniably no longer just voyeurs to the full-time lifestyle, but committed in a fundamental way. We had tip-toed our way in, from buying the first Airstream, then deciding to commit to a business that would enable travel, through the advancing phases of selling our home, delaying a replacement, and finally admitting the truth: we were happier with only the things we could fit in a 30-foot trailer and endlessly varying scenery. I called Airstream, wrote a check from our house fund, and a few weeks later the trailer was officially ours.

From this point on, Eleanor would explain to the incredulous and skeptical people who often visited us, staring up and down the 26 feet of interior length, “It’s not a house, but it is our home.” Few people understood, but it didn’t matter. We didn’t need validation from others. It was about what we knew worked for us.

Of course our plan didn’t work out nearly as we expected it to. Plans rarely do. We started out devoted to making memories, and in that we were successful. But we found that life in an Airstream included the moments that were lonely and frustrating, just like in stationary life. There were moments of insecurity where we feared having to go back to “the real world” and there were moments when we saw sadness in the other’s eyes and knew that perhaps we were reaching the end. One night in Florida we sat up until 2 a.m. talking while a heavy fog blanketed the trailer and the surf pounded the shore outside our window, whispering to each other about fears and finances, health and home, and the sum of it all. These are elements of life, and they must be embraced along with the high points. We experienced these things and grew with each challenge, because we had to in order to keep the adventure going, and we loved the adventure.

Eventually the trip mutated from an adventure into a lifestyle, and then something beyond lifestyle. It became one of the most remarkable events of our lives, and the formative part of Emma’s childhood. “Trips” come and go and they are often the source of wonderful memories, but adopting an entirely new lifestyle is much different. The change gets into your heart, and affects your values, your perception of the world, your understanding of society. You can’t go back to being who you were before. It is no exaggeration to say that in many ways, we were re-invented by travel.

Reading this, you may be skeptical that an extended trip in an RV can be so influential. My purpose in writing what is to follow is to show you how the change gradually came upon us, drawing on the notes I took and the daily weblog I wrote during more than two years of life in a house with wheels. You can travel with us, to dozens of national park sites in 42 states, from two hundred feet below sea level to 12,000 feet above, and meet hundreds of people of every description. If I can convey the feeling of each experience rather than just the sights and sounds, I may succeed at explaining the changes that occurred inside us.

Perhaps rather than asking “How did you get started?” the question should be, “Why did you stop?” At this writing, we haven’t yet stopped but we have always recognized that the possibility existed at any time. Events in life never stand still, and inevitably, we will need to change our lifestyle again in response to some outside influence. In our case, it will probably be that Emma exceeds our ability as educators and can benefit from a formal education. Anticipating this, near our second anniversary of travel we bought a house. It’s a small low-maintenance shelter designed specifically to give us a stable base if we need it, and designed to avoid bankrupting us if we don’t live in it.

To date, we have not moved into the house and have no immediate plans to do so. We have a choice now, between living in a traditional base with all the amenities of modern American life, or continuing on with the metaphorical traveling circus. Having the security of knowing the house is there, we choose the circus for as long as we can. There is more growing to be done, and the unexplored world still calls.

July 18, 2007

Seamonster Essay 1, part 2

This is the second part in a multi-part series about how we got started as full-time Airstream travelers. The first part can be found here.

At this point Airstream Life magazine had produced just four issues and my credibility with Airstream was rising, but I am sure they did not feel responsible for my housing problems. Fortunately, Bob Wheeler, the new president of Airstream, and a few other members of senior management thought the Tour of America idea was worth a small investment. It was also fortuitous that they happened to have a trailer that would fit our needs (an Airstream Safari 30 “bunkhouse” that had been used as a demonstrator) and were willing to lend it to me on the conditions that I insure it, and either buy it or sell it to someone else in six months. I was to pick it up in October 2005.

I should pause here to mention that this is highly unusual. Being the icon of American road travel, Airstream receives literally dozens of requests for “loaners” each month, ranging from the impressive to the bizarre. With rare exceptions, these requests are turned down – Airstream does not have loaner trailers. In 2005, only a few trailers were made available, to high-profile TV productions (such as “The Apprentice” with Donald Trump, and “The Simple Life” with Paris Hilton) and to major promotional partners – and they probably had to pay for them.

Since then, I have been contacted by many wannabees who email me asking for “contact names at Airstream,” and “tips on how to get a free trailer.” Inevitably they justify this because they are going to roam the country doing something (taking photos, selling gizmos, interviewing people, visiting every flea market east of the Mississippi) and along the way they propose to “promote Airstream.” This usually doesn’t work, and in any case there are no free trailers to be had. Hey, I publish a magazine all about Airstream and still I had to promise to pay for the trailer if I couldn’t find a buyer for it. I used to try to gently dissuade people who were looking for aluminum handouts, but now I don’t respond. I hate to smash people’s dreams.

Three months before the scheduled pick-up date, our house sold. Suddenly our proposal to become “full-timers” moved from the academic to the asphalt. We moved into a 1977 Argosy trailer (the magazine’s restoration project) for the summer and stuffed our belongings into two large climate-controlled storage units. We traveled a few weeks that summer, but spent most of it parked near our former hometown, gathering steam for “the trip” we expected to begin in October.

We soon discovered that society is not geared to respect people without fixed addresses, especially people with children. We were called gypsies, nomads, wanderers, drop-outs – and those were the things our friends said. Others, thinking I was not overhearing their whispers, or posting comments on the Internet, were not as kind. There was a perception that by carting around our child we were unstable, denying her the right to “socialization,” denying her security, and the benefits of traditional communities: the Brownie troop, trick-or-treating, piano lessons.

I think the most cutting perception was that we had dropped out of society and were on some sort of permanent vacation, living on coconuts and love, working for gas money and sleeping in Wal-Marts to save money. For all the perceived enlightenment about telecommuting, virtual offices, and Internet-based businesses, this country has a lot of growing up to do when it comes to recognizing that most “knowledge workers” need not come into the office anymore.

When people said, “How can I reach you?” I replied with the same list of phone numbers and email addresses that I had used for two years prior. Inevitably this caused a double-take. The technology does not care if we move around, but many people still do. A full-time traveler has to come to terms with the fact that most people will not fully understand what they are up to. If you can get acceptance, that’s good enough.

Around this time I also realized that most people would never do what we were doing, even those who openly fantasized about it. When it comes to the tough choices, most people are unwilling to make the trades necessary to enable a traveling life. We traded the benefits of hearth and home for the freedom of travel, driven by a need to do something about the green hemorrhage of money caused by the business.

But I was also disenchanted by the house; it made me stay put on Saturday to mow the lawn, it needed painting, and the garden needed weeding. We might as well have justified the change on the basis of time instead of money. Money can be generated, but we all have the same amount of time in a day, and at the age of 40 I decided I wasn’t going to continue spending my time sitting on a riding lawnmower. Eleanor would have been happy to stay in the local area, but in the end it was her idea to move into the Argosy for the summer rather than rent an apartment. If we were going to live in an Airstream, she felt we should not be afraid to start right away. Without these multiple motivations, we might have thought twice about it.

It also helped that we engaged in a small self-deception: once the six month tour was over, we would return to home base and build a new house, a small one that we could easily leave behind for a few months each year without feeling undue pain of upkeep. The magazine, we surmised, would be throwing off more money by then, and we’d be comfortable taking out a new mortgage.

Anyone who has launched a small business can probably see how utterly unrealistic this was, and so can I, now. Most new magazines are gone in less than two years, victims of low advertising revenues. But at the time we were utterly inexperienced in the magazine business, perpetually optimistic about its prospects, and besides, what else could we do? The alternative was to get a real job and throw away the dream. It was more to our liking to run away with the circus and worry about the rest later. This is another aspect of the decision to travel full-time, a willingness to deny “reality” as you know it and take a leap of faith.

Without some faith in yourself, or least blindness to the many things that can go wrong, a life-changing experience will only happen by circumstance. Most such experiences have a large negative component: bankruptcy, health problems, death, corporate relocation, job loss. I’d much rather pick my own life changing experience and try to make it a good one. It takes some self-confidence, and it most definitely requires that you moderate in your mind the comments of nay-sayers. There is always a reason to not do something, and there are always plenty of people willing to explain those reasons to you. Being stubbornly unreasonable can be an asset.

... to be continued ...

July 17, 2007

Seamonster Essay 1, part 1

The following is the first in a multi-part essay which may -- if it works -- be featured in a book about our two-year trip in the Airstream. This is only the first 950 words. The rest will be posted over the next few days.

The question I am most often asked these days is simply, “How did you get started on this?” They’re talking about the fact that for the past two years I have lived and traveled across North America with my family in an Airstream trailer. For many people it is the dream life: no mortgage, no taxes, no permanent neighbors or boss, endless diversions and the ability to follow the sun. It is like having Peter Pan sweep in the door and take you to Neverland, or running away to join the circus – a fantasy that has its roots in our childhoods and is thus so pervasive in our psyches that we can’t shake it.

For this reason, many people either desperately aspire to become travelers, or the idea of being “rootless” is so foreign and intimidating that they are morbidly curious. Either way, I get a lot of inquiries.

I try to be honest. Even in Neverland there was Captain Hook, and if you were so lucky as to run off with the circus you might find yourself working as the clown they shoot out of the cannon nightly. But still, it is a remarkable fantasy to be free to travel and explore the world without the constraints of a fixed foundation. Prospective travelers seem to fall into three categories: those who want to get more out of life, those who are trying to fill an internal void, and those who wish to escape from a prison they’ve wrought for themselves.

It is utter nonsense, of course, to think that life “on the road” is somehow intrinsically superior to life somewhere else, if your personal demons travel with you or if you expect to find no villains as you go. I can testify to that. Our lives have been no more carefree than anyone else’s, and a good bit more complex than most. We’ve been fraught with the usual bugs of life, just as we would have been if we had stayed home. But there is something better about it, and after two years I am still not sure what it is. It’s like sitting in warm sunshine. I can feel it, but I can’t explain it unless you try it yourself.

Likewise, it has been impossible to sum up the experience of two years. Where to start? The dozens of indescribable sights? The roadschooling education of my daughter (now seven years old)? The mechanics of trailer travel? None of these things are the full story. Even explaining what we’ve learned from the experience is too much to tell, and when I try I inevitably wind up disappointing the listener.

That’s because the truth is too mundane. It has not been a singular experience since we began living in an Airstream trailer. It hasn’t even been a process. It has been life, under circumstances somewhat different than the usual, with all the joys and faults that materialize in any life. Every time I try to answer the question more cleverly, the answer goes out of my head before I start talking, which is a formula for babbling.

At one time I would toss off a blithe response to people who asked how they could travel like us, before retirement. “It’s simple,” I’d say. “Just start a travel magazine, sell your house, and buy a trailer.” But this too-glib and canned answer would inevitably disappoint as well. It was almost as if I was shrieking jealously, “You can’t! Don’t even try!” which was not my intention at all. I stopped doing this after the third or fourth bad reaction.

In reality, our trip – if you can call it that – was borne out of necessity. In 2003 I left my career as a wireless industry consultant and in early 2004 I launched Airstream Life magazine. The magazine was designed primarily to give me something to do that I would actually enjoy, with the vague hope that somewhere down the road it would also make money. By late 2004 it was clear that the work was agreeable and the finances were not. I had a choice between folding the magazine or committing to it more fully, and I chose the latter.

What is commitment? Entrepreneur magazines like to toss out this word as if commitment was a known quantity – either you are or you aren’t, apparently. In our case Eleanor and I justified the sale of our home by examining its true cost of ownership. It was costing us about $65 per day to live in our home, once we factored in all the costs. Eleanor checked local hotels and found a long-term stay rate at the same price – and for that, she pointed out, we would get a pool, maid service, and free continental breakfast. We could certainly live in an Airstream for less than that, and we’d have the bonus of being able to do a little traveling as well. So was it commitment to the magazine that made us sell the house, or a well-justified opportunity?

Regardless, a few months later I found myself in the made-over garage in Jackson Center, Ohio, that serves as marketing headquarters for Airstream Inc., pitching Airstream on the idea of lending me a trailer to take a six month “Tour of America.” I promised that I would cover the trailer in colorful vinyl graphics, blog the entire trip, write about it in the magazine, maintain a digital photo album online, and contribute articles to Airstream’s email newsletter. In short, I was desperately trying to show Airstream some value for what amounted to a housing subsidy for me, and I was scrambling for any justification I could find.

... to be continued ...

July 16, 2007

Book test proposal

Last night I let the blog go unwritten, because I wanted to take a day off to think about where the blog is going and where my book project is going. Frankly, the book has been going nowhere. I have now written at least five completely separate drafts ranging from 3 pages to 83 pages, and abandoned each one.

With a sunny day to think about it and no other writing to do, I have come to realize that my block stems from the enormity of the trip. The task's size does not daunt me -- I am used to writing tomes of up to three hundred pages, and my output just on this blog amounts to about 20,000 words a month (roughly the amount of text in an issue of Airstream Life). But the trip is different. It defies summarization, definition, and explanation. When I grab a hold of one piece, the rest seems to slip out of control like a greased balloon.

So my book drafts have been readable but annoying. One started to read like a "how to" guide to RV'ing. We don't need that. There are plenty of guides already out there (although I will say that many of them are terrible). Another draft followed the "People's Guide" travel book format, and did work at some level, but it wasn't what I wanted to produce. I may resurrect that one later. A third draft attempted to tell our story chronologically and even I was fantastically bored with it by the tenth page. And then there were the various half-attempts, amounting to three or four pages of desperate writing in search of a point.

Since I will soon have to get into some heavy writing and editing for the Winter 2008 issue of Airstream Life (coming out in November), I wanted to at least have a stub of a book worked out this month. That way I won't have to obsess about it when I should be working on the magazine.

My approach today is code-named "Seamonster". I have taken to naming the drafts based on what inspired the approach. This one got kicked off by a collection of essays by Paul Theroux called "Sunrise with Seamonsters". Theroux is a writer who simultaneously makes me stupified by his incredible skill, and sigh with envy. Just one of his opening sentences is better than any ten paragraphs I've ever written. I am like Antonio Salieri to Amadeus Mozart, good enough to recognize a true genius when I see one, but not good enough to ever play his music. Perhaps with another ten years of practice I'll get better.

In any case, I want to recruit you, blog reader, to review a few pages of the current draft. The format of "Seamonster" will be a series of essays, each designed to stand alone but gradually build on each other to form a fairly complete picture of our two years of travel. The first essay will be an introduction, and if the format works I'll continue to write additional essays -- based in a large part on this blog -- to eventually reach perhaps 25-40 essays and enough to fill a decent-sized book. (Then I'll ask you to buy a copy, but let's worry about that later.)

So starting tomorrow, I will be posting excerpts from the introductory essay here on the blog. Given that each blog entry is about 800 words, it will take several days to post an entire essay. Bear with me during this, and do feel free to send your comments and suggestions. I'm interested in whether you think the format works, whether you'd buy or recommend a book containing such essays, and what topics you'd like to see discussed.

If you have nice things to say, post them here as Comments. If you have negative things to say, write them on the back of a $20 bill and mail them to my PO Box. That will sweeten the blow.

Charlotte tent morning.jpg
Bonus shot: morning view from the tent

Of course I'll still continue to post pictures and events from this week in addition to the Seamonster tests, so if you aren't interested in being an Editor-for-a-Day there will be Tour of America stuff to read too. Thanks for your help!

July 14, 2007

Tenting by the lake

Last night a bunch of friends came over for a beach party at the Tiki Bar. The Tiki Bar is a creation of my brother's. It's a rough wooden bar made of driftwood and scraps, topped with an umbrella and surrounded by beach chairs, a fire ring, a barbecue grill and a bunch of coolers.

Charlotte beach party dock.jpg

The Tiki Bar comes to life when friends drop by. Last night it was: (top row) Ken, Karen, Bruce, Sue, Eleanor, and old brother Steve. (Lower row) Emma, Mom, Caroline, and Kathy. Also in the front row you can see Caroline's dog, Nina. The black blob swimming in the water is Kathy's Newfoundland dog, Allie.

Charlotte tiki bar.jpg

A highlight of the evening was when Emma gave everyone a hula lesson. Below you can see the group reaching up to pantomime the sun, wearing the lightsticks that Emma distributed earlier.

Charlotte hula dance fire.jpg

Earlier in the afternoon we had all set up tents by the water for a big sleepover. Emma was really looking forward to spending the night "camping in a tent". You'd think she had not gotten enough camping by now. But of course, sleeping in a tent is a completely different experience.

I have to admit, it wasn't just for Emma. I like tenting a lot. The night was warm and clear, and as we were going to sleep we could listen to the sound of the small waves lapping the rocky shore of Lake Champlain. And I was able to share in Emma's excitement about sleeping out in a snug little tent on the grass.

Charlotte tents.jpg

Since our tent is an ultra-lightweight backpacking version for two, Emma and I shared it and Eleanor stayed in the Airstream. This tent was bought back when Eleanor and I were childless backpackers. We used to go backpacking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire regularly. The last time we were in this little tent together, Emma wasn't even an idea and we were camping in Death Valley. How things have changed ...

It was a very nice night. Emma, of course, loved it and wants to "camp out" a lot more. We'll definitely have to get a family tent now. I'm already eyeing spots in the Airstream to store a larger tent, plus sleeping bags and camping miscellany, as we travel this fall. I've got a few places in mind I'd like to use it, including the Florida Keys, Glacier National Park, the national forest near Prescott AZ, the Huachuca Mountains in southern AZ, and other such places where the Airstream can't go.

July 13, 2007

Art show & yogurt rant

For the past week Emma has been attending art camp in a crooked house in the village.

Art class crooked house1.jpg

Since today was the last day, there was a grand unveiling of all the art and of course all parents (and in Emma's case, grandparents) had to come see. There was some mighty fine art there, including painting, pottery, and digital photography.

Art class Okeefe.jpg

For full-timers with children, we can offer this experience as an example of how you can enjoy local activities and communities even though you're "on the road". The class was only a week but it was a great opportunity to spend "quality time" with other kids. Even a family moving at a fairly rapid pace can usually carve out a week here and there.

Art class crooked house.jpg

The next structured learning experience for Emma will be swimming lessons. We'll rejoin a bunch of kids that Emma has been learning to swim with for the past three years. Between now and the start of swim class she wants to keep going to the skating rink in the morning, which she has been doing for three weeks.

Rant department: Eleanor came home with a single container of Brown Cow yogurt (my favorite brand) and the bad news. It now has pectin added just like all the others. Not much, judging by the mouthfeel, but it's the principle of the thing. Whose bright idea was this? What was wrong with just making it from milk?

I did some research and found this quote from an article published in Dairy Foods, May 1999:

Suppliers are making this [premium, all-natural yogurt] possible through the introduction of specialty starches for yogurt stabilization. These starches replace gelatin and non "all-natural" hydrocolloids, resulting in a simpler ingredient label to satisfy health-conscious consumers.

Well, that's all very nice, but I agree with an online poster who wrote: "... yogurt with added pectin is no longer yogurt, it's jello."

Elsewhere, I read this:

Nonfat milk, when inoculated with yogurt culture, will not thicken into traditional "yogurt" consistency. So a thickener must be added. Some companies use pectin, some use tapioca starch.

The Brown Cow Cream Top plain yogurt I like isn't made with nonfat milk, so that excuse doesn't fly with me. I think they're compensating for something. From San Francisco Chronicle, March 3, 2004:

The best-textured yogurt contains none of these additives [gelatin, pectin, gum], relying instead on high percentage of milk solids to do the job.

I'm beginning to see a yogurt conspiracy here. Time for me to try Fage, Trader Joe's, and Nancy's, as many blog readers recommended last time I ranted on this subject. (Hey, yogurt is serious business to me. A couple of spoonfuls every day seem to really benefit my digestive tract. And I love the taste ... Throw some in your fridge and see if you don't agree.)

July 12, 2007

Leak test

I am in a large part governed by the weather. The last week of dampness and gray was beginning to annoy me, but the weather changed in the middle of the night and suddenly everything was different. I could feel it even in my sleep.

Cool, dry air slipped in the open windows of the Airstream and the moldiness was swept away. The sheets of the bed became crisp and dry, and I rolled over just to feel them against my legs. I lay there for a while, looking up at nothing in the dark, just reveling in the thrill of the refreshing night air, and then turned back to dreams filled with fantasies of exploration.

Lake Champlain ferry Safari roof.jpg

It has been a beautiful day. I got up early and hitched the trailer and then loaded it up on the Charlotte-Essex ferry for an absolutely gorgeous ride across the lake to New York state. My mission today was to visit GSM Vehicles, where Colin Hyde and his elves work magic on Airstream trailers.

I had only two things on my list: First, to replace the standard plastic RV toilet with a new Dometic Sealand china toilet. The one that came with the trailer has had an intermittent issue where it lets sewer gas into the bathroom. In other word, it stinks. We've never been able to figure out exactly where the gas was leaking in, and it turned out to be easier to swap the whole unit for an upgrade than to fix it.

Plattsburgh leak test fan.jpg

The second item was to leak test the trailer. Colin says, "They all leak" and I tend to agree with him. There is no such thing as a trailer that has never leaked, despite what sellers claim on eBay. What they really mean is, "I don't know where the leak is." Even if your trailer doesn't leak today, after a year or two of bouncing down the road things can be different, so it pays to preventively check.

The machine above is a big fan that sucks air in the roof vent and lightly pressurizes the interior of the trailer. The guys close the doors and windows, and then go around the trailer spraying a soapy water solution on everything and look for bubbles. It's simple.

Plattsburgh step light leak.jpg

Our trailer did pretty well on the test. We found several places which formed bubbles, but some of them are not really leak points and so we ignored them. Three "real" leaks were found. The worst was on the plumbing vent (on the roof), and repairing it was a matter of removing the vent, trimming the vent's gasket, and re-sealing it. The other two were on the patio light and the step light. They only needed re-caulking.

Plattsburgh patio light leak.jpg
Colin marks a leak at the patio light

The guys said our trailer was the least leaky one they've tested so far ... remember, they ALL leak eventually. If you haven't done a leak test, I recommend it as relatively cheap insurance. Just because you can't see a leak doesn't mean it isn't rotting out your Airstream's floor!

July 11, 2007

Anticipation and relief

This has been the longest stretch of thunderstorms that I can ever remember having in Vermont. Every few hours for the past six days we have had another one roll in and inundate us again. But tonight the blessed New England summer weather phenomenon arrives: a cold front, with dry clear air behind it.

These cold fronts are marvelous to experience. One day it's as humid as can be (and I mean that literally, since our dew point was 72 degrees today and the high temp was only about 79), gray, calm, and rainy -- and then a giant eraser comes across the sky to wipe the slate clean. Our stickiness vanishes in hours, with a thrilling blue sky above dotted with puffy white clouds. Suddenly, it's time to be outside, ride in the boat, walk down the road, hike in the mountains, and swim in the lake.

Charlotte gray lake swim.jpg

That's what the forecast promises. A glorious cold front is draped across New York state from north to south and it is heading our way, slated for arrival tonight. But in case it didn't arrive on schedule, Emma and Steve decided to take to the lake last night anyway. The water was cold (probably mid-60s) and the sun was hidden, but they still had some fun.

Charlotte Emma lake toss.jpg

This next item may not seem related, but bear with me here. This afternoon the dentist's office called with a last minute cancellation. So I zipped over and in 15 minutes they were prepping me for some fun fillings. Turned out I needed two of them and one was a doozy. Mucho novocaine. Suffice to say that I'm glad it's over and now I don't have to spend the rest of the month wondering when the dental call will come.

So today has been a day of anticipation, and turning the corner. The dismal weather and the boredom that comes with it are nearly gone, and the threat of drill-and-fill is over too. By tomorrow things will feel much different (for one thing, I'll be able to feel my jaw again).

Charlotte Eleanor nan.jpg
Eleanor cooks Indian naan

Now, if I could only eat dinner without biting my tongue ...

July 10, 2007

The dentist's office

Part of our summer routine is unfortunately to catch up on medical and dental exams, so today I visited the ever-friendly dentist and had everyone take a look at my teeth. When E&E were getting their teeth cleaned a few weeks ago, our dentist asked them to have me bring a current issue of Airstream Life along. They like to see how Matthew McConaughey's trailer is coming along. It's a reminder to me that even non-RV'ers like to read the magazine.

I also left a copy in the waiting room. We do that all over town: the ophthalmologist's, the dentist's, the periodontist's (but thankfully I don't have to go there anymore), the allergist's, etc. People get tired of reading the same magazines all the time (People, Newsweek, Conde Nast Traveler and other staples of the waiting room).

I used to do it just for fun, to make people sit up and say, "What the heck is that magazine?" But in the past year I found the effort actually paid off in a small way. We picked up a few subscriptions in those towns not long after I left the copies. One person even wrote me a letter, saying that the humor column made her laugh so much that she forgot she was waiting for a root canal. She concluded with this: "Are people really this crazy about Airstreams? I've never seen a magazine like this before!"

Subscribe to Airstream Life!

The dental hygienist who was working on me today was very interested in the full-timing life. She had to keep stopping to allow me to answer her questions. Since she had a sharp pick in her hand, a bright light shining on my face, and plenty of other dangerous-looking instruments on the tray, I imagined I was being interrogated by an enemy government ... "You will tell us the secrets of the RV life, Mr. Luhr, or my associate here will be forced to take, shall we say, unpleasant measures." Needless to say, I answered all her questions truthfully.

They want me back in a few weeks, if an appointment time can be found, for replacement of a filling that fell out. So I'll find out if the current state of Matthew's trailer has found approval with the dental office staff. This is a little like doing a focus group survey. It's useful feedback, really.

For the past several days the thunderstorms have continued to march through. Yesterday we had four, each separated by a couple of hours. Two of them were monsters, with damaging wind and hail. The power went out in the house for a while (but of course, not in the Airstream since it has battery backup).

In the late evening and early morning we get light rain showers, the evidence of dissipated thunderstorms that petered out over the Adirondack Mountains in New York. As a result, nothing will dry. The humidity is running 85% inside the house and higher outside. Anything made of paper lies limp, Eleanor's hair threatens to frizz up like a shocked cat, the beddings feel damp, and as I drove past plowed fields today I noticed them actually steaming in the sun. Fog forms in low spots at any time of day.

But the temperatures are moderate, mostly in the 70s. It is the polar opposite of our home in the southwest, where it is scorchingly hot and dessicatingly dry. Eleanor and I have decided we like the contrast. It's much more interesting than going from, say, New Jersey to Florida. Each year we will go from green/damp/cool to brown/dry/warm and back again.

In our past travels, we've found that moving from one corner of the US to another always brings delight, because it is so different. We're looking forward to saying, "Oh, it's great to be back!" no matter which direction we are headed. Even if the green part does require a visit to the dentist.

July 09, 2007

Defining "full-timing"

Last week at the big Airstream rally I was approached by many people and asked about the full-timing life. It seems more and more people are looking at this lifestyle as an alternative to a sedentary retirement. Far from being a refuge of the borderline-homeless and hillbillies, living in a travel trailer is now a cool thing to do, almost chic.

I was pleased to see the sorts of people asking me about full-timing. They were successful, intelligent, thoughtful people who have come to realize that there are huge advantages to mobile living. Most of them were approaching retirement and viewing their Airstream as a literal "retirement vehicle", but others were still working and trying to figure out how to carry some semblance of a career forward using mobile technology.

For a lot of people, full-timing is a way to travel and live cheap. But many people who approached me last week had no intention of selling their homes. To my way of thinking, that's reasonable. It's not as affordable to keep your home (compared to selling it), but it does have the advantage of giving you a ready base in the event of an unexpected event that prevents you from continuing in the travel trailer.

This reminds me that full-timing doesn't really have a definition. I know people who consider themselves full-timers but sit absolutely stationary for months at a time. Others only consider it true full-timing when you are on the move regularly. Some people have homes they return to periodically, while others (like us) go for years with the RV as their only shelter.

If you spend six months each year in your RV, and six months back at home base, are you a full-timer? Perhaps you're a part-time full-timer.

The definition is flexible, but I believe there's a mental orientation that we all share. Full-timing is more about your travel philosophy than your exact circumstances. Here are a few commonalities to full-timers that I've noticed:

Full-timers like to explore. They live in travel trailers for the convenience, but they'd do the same thing in a boat if they felt like exploring the seas. In fact, many full-timers I've met were formerly "live-aboards" (the equivalent term for boaters).

Full-timers like to travel more slowly than the average person. They tend to reject fixed schedules, and celebrate the opportunity to be flexible.

Full-timers are often stubbornly independent and march to their own tune. They will go where their family members wish they wouldn't, whether that's Alaska, Mexico, or the mosh pit. They have chosen to trade traditional "stability" for freedom, and they don't take it lightly.

Full-timers will stretch a buck ten feet if it means they can stay on the road a little bit longer. They'll work almost any job, no matter how menial, if it keeps them where they want to be. I met a wealthy professional working the gift shop at Grand Canyon just so he could stay all season (otherwise your stay is limited). He could have afforded a nice hotel room a few miles down the road. I met a retired lawyer cutting hair and parking RV's just so he could stay all summer in a beautiful Idaho park and visit his grandchildren.

Full-timers tend to be unafraid. They don't stay home because someone else had a bad experience, or because someone told them there were snakes. The only things full-timers fear are high gas prices and bad health.

Full-timers know how to make their own fun. I've never met a bored full-timer. (I suppose anyone who did get bored would quit traveling pretty quickly.) Full-timers learn the trick of finding something to do anywhere, and they enjoy location-independent pursuits like reading, writing, photography, quilting, and cooking.

Most full-timers are gregarious. They love to meet new people and socialize. It's hard to travel around and be a hermit at the same time. Making friends is part of the package.

So overall, full-timing is a mindset. If you get a great feeling of freedom and lightness when you travel on business or vacation, you may be a full-timer who just hasn't launched yet. And if you've been a full-timer (like we have) and are now contemplating "settling down", just keep in mind that owning a house means nothing. You can still pack up and go out again ...

July 08, 2007

Rally plans

If you've looked at the "Schedule" page of this weblog, you have probably noticed that there's very little scheduled in our future. Some people have interpreted this as a message that we are about to get off the road and settle into our house, and I had to explain to people several times last week that it's not really the case.

What's really happening is that we are simply scheduling less, and wandering more. In particular, we aren't signed up for any Airstream rallies. It seems over time that we have been going to fewer and fewer rallies. I was wondering why this is, since we generally enjoy them, and I've come to the conclusion that our full-timing lifestyle just doesn't lend itself to rally participation. Roaming across the country would seem to facilitate attending rallies, but in reality it makes the situation harder. In the past our schedule has rarely coincided conveniently with events we'd like to attend.

Perry rally sign.jpg
"Where no Airstream has gone before ..."

This weekend we were forced to make the painful decision to skip the Albuquerque Balloon Festival in October. A bunch of Airstreamers are going to meet up there, and I had gone so far as to send in a $130 deposit on the event. It would be a tremendous event to attend, but we just don't have a solid schedule for this fall and so we transferred the reservation to another Airstreamer from Phoenix.

The problem with full-timing is simple: If you don't set a schedule, it's impossible to be sure you'll be at the events that interest you. If you do set a schedule, you'll inevitably find that you have to skip wonderful places to keep on the schedule, which is immensely frustrating.

After numerous frustrations, we have decided to avoid setting schedules as much as possible. If we must be in Albuquerque in mid-October, we'd have to skip Fall in New England and rush about 2,000 miles southwest in six weeks. That may seem like a lot of time to drive that distance, but it's really not. Between Vermont and New Mexico are dozens of friends we'd like to visit, dozens of national parks, and many festivals, hikes, scenic overlooks, photo opps, and museums to check out. No matter how much time we have, we can easily fill it just by stopping and partaking in whatever the local area has to offer.

So while we don't have an itinerary or a fixed route, we do have a lot of ideas of places to go and things to do. Instead of booking spots at rallies and other organized events, we are going to simply take a list of things that are happening all over the country -- including rallies, festivals, open houses, airshows, and harvests -- and see what makes sense to drop in on as we go.

While I was at the International Rally last week I also heard from many people who shyly admitted that they read this blog. In some cases it was almost like they were confessing a secret vice: "I read it every day ... just to see what you're doing." Well, that's fine, and you can all come out of the closet now. I know from the site statistics that over a thousand people read this blog every day, and many people read it every day. Don't worry, I can't tell who you are -- your secret is safe. Just don't let the boss catch you!

July 07, 2007

Town fair

Vermont is the most rural state in the nation. That doesn't mean it is the emptiest, or the lowest population, but it does mean that the state is uniformly carpeted with small towns and villages. These towns are great places to live and raise a family (if you can deal with the long winter and the lifestyle associated with small towns).

Once a year the town we are in celebrates with a small fair on the green, between the library and the town offices. It's a modest event, but everyone seems to drop in for a while. Under the big tent there are booths set up by the various civic organizations and local boosters: the Historical Society, the local church, the town Recreation program, a trails committee, a conservation organization, etc. There were bake sales and raffles, too.

Outside on the grass, Master Roh (who runs a local martial arts class), was organizing the kids in contests of high jumping, limbo, and other energy-burning activities. A guitarist was on the porch, playing and singing, while under another large tent the library was holding a huge book sale.

I wandered in, not expecting much, and came out with several books: something by Primo Levi about his post-holocaust experiences, two travelogues by Paul Theroux, "A Brief History of the Universe" by Steven Hawking, and "Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee" (which I've been wanting to read ever since we visited our first western national park). All for $5. Eleanor picked up a few Hercule Poirot mysteries too. Those are always good for trading at campgrounds, almost as good as cash.

The thunderstorms continue to rumble through regularly, but that's fine since the weather has been mild and actually pleasant between downpours. The rain also helps combat the dropping of the local seagulls, which seem to have an affinity for our new orange car...

Sorry for the lack of photos lately. I've been recuperating from the International Rally, where I shot several hundred photos and walked around for two weeks with a camera around my neck most of the time. About 170 photos remain after the first culling, and with time I expect to get them down to about 100 worth keeping.

Warner Robins headless man.jpg

Since I have no photos yet from Vermont, here's a bonus shot from last week at Museum of Aviation in Warner-Robins, GA. The headless man is Brett, investigating a compartment of what memory tells me is a B-52 bomber. If anyone cares to suggest a caption for this photo, please leave a comment!

July 06, 2007

Life in the rain forest

My foray into tent camping was briefer than I expected. Thunderstorms in the northeast made a second night of tenting impractical, and so I was left with three options: (1) Find a motel; (2) Drop in on a friend's house; (3) Drive straight through, 750 miles.

The Honda Fit was performing beautifully, it was a nice day, and so I decided to just keep on drivin' ... With the engine breaking in, the fuel economy kept rising. Toward the end, I got one tank averaging 48 MPG (all highway, no A/C), and the next averaging 42 MPG (all highway at 65 MPH, using some A/C). Woo-hoo! I think we've found balance for the 9 MPG we get while towing.

After my decision to plow straight through, I got calls and emails from friends along the way. Don and Amanda, who courtesy parked us last fall in Connecticut, offered their couch, and I also got a call from Brad (who we camped with in the Florida Keys last winter) offering space in his Airstream in southern Virginia.

Both offers came too late, alas. By 8:30 last night I was crossing the Lake Champlain Canal and entering Vermont, and at 9:30 I was home -- which means, I was once again with my family and our trusty Airstream parked in the driveway. It's true, home is where you park it. And Eleanor, Emma and I been apart too long. I doubt I'll let another two weeks separate us in the future.

The dominant feature of the day is thunderstorms. Every two hours another one blows through, bringing pea-sized hail (not large enough to dent the aluminum) and a deluge of rain. Our Airstream is very clean on the outside, since the thunderstorms keep giving it baths. It's a real contrast to the months we spent in the southwest where water restrictions kept us from washing the trailer. Here, we can't seem to get dry. With the humidity and rain and the happy birds chirping above in the trees, it feels like we are living in the rain forest.

The deluges come on so suddenly we don't have a chance to run to the trailer and shut down the Fantastic Vent, but fortunately our center vent has the "rain sensor" feature and it shuts itself down at the slightest hint of rain. This feature has saved us a couple of times today. It may be that we have to rely solely on our two vents that have the rain sensor, during the summer thunderstorm season, and keep the manual vent closed.

July 04, 2007

Claytor Lake State Park, Virginia

There are no bugs. I have many things to be grateful for today, but the thing that strikes me the most is that there are no bugs. No buzzing mosquitoes, no bewildered moths, and especially no irritating gnats. It's utterly perfect here.

This is astonishing, because I am sitting in the midst of a forest campground, somewhere off I-81 in southwestern Virginia, in July. There ought to be bugs but apparently someone forgot to tell them, so I am sitting comfortably at the picnic table typing up a blog entry for you unhampered. Moreover, the air is not too humid, the temperature is balmy, and all I can hear is the light breeze in the trees and the occasional child having fun at adjacent campsites.

Oh, I'm wrong. There goes a firefly, right past the glowing Mac symbol on my laptop. Even better.

Claytor Lake SP.jpg

What am I doing, camping without an Airstream? Call it an experiment in minimalism, or a revisiting of my earlier camping lifestyle. Just don't call it what it really is: a confluence of my cheapness and circumstances that prevented me from bringing the Airstream along. I'm in a rush to get back to New England, and taking my thrifty new car back with me. Since I'm using about 1/4 the gasoline that I would normally need to tow the trailer, I figured I'd go all the way and sleep in a tent as well. Reductio ad absurdum.

Tenting is also a way to reach campsites that RV's can't travel to. In the old days we used to carry 40 lbs of gear on our backs and hike far into the mountain ranges for camping. Now that we've had a taste of the places we can find in Arizona, I think we'll want to do some tent camping and backpacking there this winter. An Airstream with a tent in the luggage compartment gives all the flexibility we could want.

So this is fun. My tenting experience will be brief this week, so I can enjoy the experience of sleeping on the ground knowing that I won't have to do it every night. This reminds me of what other people who don't travel full-time have to look forward to. In a way, it's nicer to anticipate that fun camping weekend than it is to be "camping" every night of the week.

It's also a nice change from the rally scene I left this morning. I like rallies, but I've decided that two weeks is too much for me. At some point the rally starts to become an analog for Burning Man, a massive experiment in group living. People start to drive faster on the grounds, boredom sets in, and pretty soon it's just another big trailer park. Better to enjoy the offerings of the rally and then get out of town, I think.

And for me, it's time to get home. The weather is reportedly poor, with thunderstorms expected daily, but still I want to see my family again and get going on a plan for this fall. We are debating three possible routes: east to Newfoundland, west to Montana, and straight southwest to Arizona. The final plan won't be unveiled until August. But definitely, I plan to pack the tent and sleeping bags this time ...

July 03, 2007

It's all over but the flea market

This year's rally fell awkwardly on the calendar. By the club's constitution, the International Rally must encompass both Canada Day (July 1) and Wally Byam's birthday (July 4), and this year July 4 is a Wednesday. This has caused the last three days of the rally to be rather quiet.

Although there are scheduled events through Wednesday, many people chose to leave on Sunday or Monday. Working people tend to focus on extended weekends. Some people have another week free, but they decided to spend it traveling home slowly. And for some, the main excitement was over by Sunday and they just went home.

Perry storm clouds.jpg

Tomorrow's flea market is the last major event that people will stay to attend. This is a giant swap meet where you can find that elusive vintage part, an aluminum casting, some cheap paperbacks, crafts, and junk of all kinds.

Of course, you can also find Airstream Life magazine there. We take a double table and sell hats, shirts, magazine subscriptions, and those prized back issues. Brett & I will manage the table for a few hectic hours and then, once the crowds have abated, I'll be hopping into the little Honda Fit for the 1,200 mile drive home.

The roadtrip plan is to try something different. I have a small tent and a sleeping bag. If I can find convenient spots along the way, I'll get to tent camp for the first time since 2003. It should be a fun change and a good chance to regain my perspective on camping. So for a few days, this blog will switch (once again) to something a little bit different...

July 02, 2007

Georgia Music Hall of Fame

Yes, it turns out there is more to do in the area. About 25 miles up the highway from Perry is the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in Macon. You might be surprised at the number of legendary musical artists who come from Georgia: everyone from Little Richard to R.E.M. And they're all celebrated there, along with memorabilia, instruments, movies, and their music.

Macon GA Hall of Fame.jpg
Tuning up

This museum is small but really worth a visit. If you stop to listen to the music, you can spend a couple of hours. Even a quick visit would be about 45 minutes, just browsing past things like James Brown's stage costumes, and getting a quick earful of sweet gospel music.

Back at the rally, the weather cleared up for a few hours, and everywhere people popped out of the air conditioned buildings and Airstreams to take advantage. Unfortunately, so did the ants. The rainstorms of last night washed away all the anti-ant stuff we'd put around the motorhome, and they immediately began marching in and demanding snacks. A re-application of the ant poison took care of that.

Perry lounging.jpg

Over in the Vintage area, Vince and Lonnie were serving leftovers of their gator etouffee, so like a pair of ravenous college students, Brett and I grabbed a bowlful each. Delicious as always. Nearby, we ran into Jim Breitinger (the guy who sells meteorites). We joined him for a tour of Bill Stallworth's beautiful 1958 Airstream Overlander. Bill's trailer was recently rebuilt after a terrible rollover accident.

Perry Bill Jim.jpg
Bill and Jim

Our rounds of visiting were cut short by the return of the thunderstorms. They got beyond the normal descriptions of downpour or gulley-washer. We got caught inside a store by the evening storms, listening to crashing thunder and waiting out one of the most remarkable rainfalls I've seen in a long time.

It was two hours before we were able to leave the store without drowning. Fortunately the Argosy motorhome we are in does not leak, despite being 29 years old. Tonight I will listen to the rain until late and stay snug and dry in my bed.

With the worst of the heat dissipated by the thunderstorms, the major weather factor remaining is humidity. At times it is nearly 100% and fog begins to form. At 80 or 85 degrees Fahrenheit, this is still uncomfortable, and so air conditioning is a requirement if you don't want to get moldy. I am pining for the dry heat of the southwest, or the cool humidity of Vermont. And everyone I have talked to is looking forward to the next International Rally, which will be held in a sane location: Bozeman, Montana, up in the dry air at 5000 feet elevation.

July 01, 2007

Early departures

Although the rally officially ends on Thursday, there are always early departures. Quite a few of our friends took off for other spots all over the southeast today, leaving gaps like missing teeth in the trailer rows. Before many more departed, we took another look at the vintage area this morning.

Perry Fishers trailer.jpg

I'd like to get going too, but I need to stay here a few more days for the flea market on Wednesday. There's not much going on at the moment. The rally schedule is always light on Sunday and thunderstorms have finally moved in for real, effectively raining out any outdoor activities. Suddenly we've gone from having too much to do, to having hardly anything to do except the laundry.

We did meet up with Jim Breitinger, who began full-timing in his Airstream two months ago and is roaming the country selling meteorites. That's what he said, but when we visited his booth inside one of the fairground buildings today, we found he also sells amber, jewelry, many types of polished stones, and books. I couldn't resist a piece of amber with a nice big bug in it, for Emma, and I may go back for a piece of jewelry for Eleanor too.

Perry flame job.jpg

It suddenly feels strange to be here. Our major meetings are all done, and our friends are hitting the road at an alarming rate. Colin & Suzanne decided to head for the Outer Banks, so they packed up and disappeared today. Adam & Susan needed to get back to work, and are catching a flight out. Wendimere and Bill hit the road early this morning. All our friends at Airstream left a couple of days ago. Our friends in the New England Unit, caravanning together, are going to Ashville NC tomorrow.

There are plenty of people left, but it does feel lonely tonight as the lightning flashes outside the window. I thought we'd be busy on Monday but there are fewer options than anticipated. The Bluebird factory, a tour we had been looking forward to, is not open due to reorganization. The Microcar Museum, another interesting spot, is closed for the summer. Lane Packing, a nearby peach orchard, is not packing at the moment. All of the downtown stores in Perry are closed on Mondays.

I'm looking at the official rally schedule, but it's no help. Golf, Line Dancing, Unit Leadership Workshop, Vintage Club Board Meeting, Party Bridge, Genealogy Club Meeting, Jewelry Making, CB Seminar, a prostate seminar, Computer Class ("Publisher"), Teen Queen practice, Craft Workshop, Knitting ... water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink.

When this happens, it's time to look a little more closely at the little things. There's a very local drive-through chicken & seafood place down the street that looks interesting. We can check Macon again for its little attractions. Maybe it's time to drive down to the National Prisoner of War Museum.

Perhaps someone will drop in Monday or Tuesday and surprise us? Maybe a spontaneous road trip will be proposed? Otherwise, it might be a long day in front of the laptop, listening to the rain drip on the aluminum roof. Seems like a shame to spend an entire rally day just working.

Perry night trailer2.jpg