We’re in Tucson, and our full-time travels are over.
I could tally it by the numbers (75,000 miles, three years, 45 states, three countries, hundreds of stops, 31,000 photographs), but of course that doesn’t tell the full story.
The adventure has ended with neither a bang nor a whimper. It has simply morphed into something new. Life doesn’t yet feel particularly different. I supposed that’s partially because the changeover hasn’t sunk in yet, and partially because we’ve learned from experience that our real “home” is in our mind. We’ve developed a sort of mental turtle shell that gives us comfort and shelter no matter where we are. So when we arrived in Tucson it was pretty much like arriving at any other place. It felt just fine.
The last phase of this travelogue is to document how we make the transition into our new lifestyle. It’s an adjustment to move back to conventionality. We’ve set up everything in our lives to accommodate constant nomadism, and now we need to adjust things to suit a “sedentary” life. I’m talking about ordinary things, like insurance and mail, and choices like schooling.
We don’t expect to just flip a switch and be entirely set up. The change will take some time. But we did make a major effort last winter when we were here to get the house to a point where we could just unlock the door and move in, without a lot of hassle. Our neighbors and local friends, wonderful people that they are, kept an eye on the place while we were gone. Carol swept the dust and leaves from our carport and entryway, and left us a “Welcome Home” note taped to the door. She also plugged in the refrigerator so it would be cold when we arrived. Mike took the Fit out for a couple of drives and ran its air conditioning, so the car would be exercised. Rick came by to check on the house and water the grapefruit tree (which is loaded with green fruit right now).
The house looked perfect except for a thin layer of dust and some really huge weeds in the back yard. We stripped out the essentials from the Airstream (toothbrushes, computers, food, etc), and started the task of booting up the house.
Of course, there were some minor hitches. We’ve never moved in to this house before, so we don’t have a good checklist. Eleanor started a load of laundry before either of us remembered to turn on the water heater. We don’t have any hooks or established places to put things like keys, hats, and shoes, so things are just strewn all over the place. It will take some time to get it really comfortable. But for the short term it was as convenient as arriving at a furnished rental: sheets, towels, beds, dishes, and all the other accoutrements of household life were in place and ready to be used.
Half of my mind is thinking about the next time we’ll be on the road, and so while moving into the house I’m also preparing for the next trip. We may go out for a weekend trip, in as little as ten days. We got the Armada washed at the TTT truck wash on I-10 ($30), we’re washing the sheets from the Airstream, and slowly unloading all the detritus of full-time life so that we can make short trips with less weight and clutter.
The Armada is going in for a set of tires today too. I think in the last few months of travel I’ve been unconsciously delaying maintenance because I knew we’d have plenty of time to do it here, and that actually hasn’t been a good thing. I’ve got a pile of things to take care of that we should have (and would have, in years past) done along the way. It needs a brake inspection, four tires, cleaning/detailing, wiper blades, a repaint of the hitch, and a check of the exhaust system.
The Airstream, for its part, needs at least one tire, a thorough cleaning, shampooing of the bedroom carpet, disinfection of the water system, a new flush ball seal on the toilet (the current one has a slow leak), some new chrome trim (which I bought in Jackson Center but haven’t yet installed), a Hensley refurbishment, and new upholstery on the dinette. We’ll get all that taken care of over the next few months, starting with the most urgent items like the tire.
In a way I already miss being the Airstream. I’ve grown accustomed to that cozy little bedroom, with storage lockers overhead, pictures from our travels on the walls and a window two inches from our pillows. Our bedroom in the house seems much too large, and too echoey, like sleeping in an auditorium. We don’t know what to do with all the space.
Our “official” first night in the house was strange. When you move into a new place, it takes a while to get used to the surroundings. Little noises at night, the feel of the bed, and even the smell of the air give your mind subtle clues that you’re in different surroundings, and it makes for a fitful night. Eleanor was awoken by the sound of the ice cube maker, and the cycling of the air conditioning. But we were pleased to see the sun rising over the Santa Catalinas, and to hear the birds singing in the morning as they always do here. It won’t take long to get used to.
I suppose it goes without saying, but the past three years are a phase of our lives that we will never forget. It was not always easy, but I don’t regret a minute of it, nor do I regret the expense. It was absolutely, without a doubt, the most sustained, exhilarating and rewarding thing any of us has ever done. We have been changed by this experience, and we have gained dozens of great friends too. I can’t think of anything I would have rather done with the last three years, and so even though we are paused, I am completely satisfied.