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Archive for March, 2007

Four Corners Unit Rally

This afternoon we dropped in on an Airstream rally being held about 25 miles away, by the newly-formed Four Corners Unit of WBCCI. We didn’t know a single person attending, but a couple of them invited us by email anyway. Rather than move the trailer out of our current campground, we just drove over in the afternoon, and on the way we encountered the International Wildlife Museum by chance.

Tucson International Wildlife Museum.jpg

The museum houses an impressive collection of stuffed and/or mounted creatures, from butterflies to elephants, and everything in between. The only live creature we spotted was a tarantula; Everything else is a creation of taxidermy or model-making. It’s a lot of dead critters but the presentation is good and well worth the $7 admission. The only part that we didn’t linger over was the extensive presentation of scat from dozens of different animals … each specimen extremely life-like and fresh-looking.

Tucson 4CU Bambi.jpg

After the museum we cruised over to check out the Airstreams. Not bringing the trailer turned out to be a missed opportunity, because the rally was being held at the beautiful Gilbert Ray Campground in a county park. The views at Gilbert Ray are panoramic, and from many campsites on Loop C we could see the observatories of Kitt Peak to the south as well as the Tucson Mountains to the north. It’s a sweet spot to go camping, especially with the skies as crystal-clear as they have become.

Even though we didn’t know anyone, it took only about a minute to meet Brent and Tiffany, the hosts of this event, and then we were quickly introduced to the rest of the crowd. Although we planned to stay only a few minutes to say hello, they dragged into the potluck dinner, Emma hooked up with another little girl, and then there were tours of people’s trailers, and it ended up being about 8 p.m. before we finally said goodnight.

Tucson 4CU potluck.jpg

Most of the rigs at the rally were new ones, but we did spot an immaculate 1989 Airstream Land Yacht “Squarestream” and get a quick tour of it. The Squarestreams may be regarded as “not true Airstreams” by some but I think they are a fascinating part of Airstream history and fun to have at any rally.

Tucson 4CU Squarestream.jpg

Had we towed our Airstream over we’d probably still be sitting up with some of the folks, talking and making some new friendships. As it was, we got invited to a couple of other events, including the Albuquerque Balloon Festival in October, and we’ll probably go to one thing or another. The balloon fest sounds ideal — we get to park on a hill overlooking the launch site and watch balloons flying around for days. I’ll have to reserve that soon.

Attack of the t-shirts

My friend Brett had a t-shirt made for me a few weeks ago, which I picked up at General Delivery, Borrego Springs CA. It has a stick-figure drawing of a person at a computer and the slogan, “Time to make the blog”. That’s me every night. I’m like the Dunkin’ Donuts guy who has to get up at 4 a.m. to make the doughnuts, every day.

(I like “making the blog” but it is a chore many times and there are a lot of times I wish I could just go to bed and forget about it. But you, the dedicated reader, make it all worthwhile.)

However, the t-shirt joins an alarmingly fast-growing pile of t-shirts which I have been given in the course of this trip. I now have an entire tub full of nothing but t-shirts beneath the bed. Every single one is a great memory — the initiation ceremony with the Dixie Campers, the weekend at Ft Wilderness with Trailerworks, visiting the Airstream factory, etc. But my limited wardrobe space means that the heap must be culled down periodically.

Perhaps this is the true reason we need to buy a house. I could decorate the den with framed shirts commemorating stops on our trip. Forget the “home base” discussion, and school for Emma — we just need a hangar for all the souvenirs we’ve accumulated!

Of course, the shirts are only one example. We’ve also managed to collect a rather substantial pile of rocks, and amazingly, fish sculptures. We never set out to collect sculptures of fish, and yet we have three so far: two of glass and one of pink gypsum. All have been spontaneously given to Emma, and all of them are substantially heavy. Needless to say I never expected fish sculptures to be one of the major outcomes of traveling full-time for 18 months, but here they are.

As I’ve mentioned, we periodically off-load excess items to our storage unit in Vermont. The problem is that some day we’ll come back to that storage unit and have to deal, somehow, with all the souvenirs. When I think about getting a house, I think about that storage unit and the many mysteries contained within it, and I have an involuntary shudder. There are boxes in there that we still do not fully comprehend, secrets of our former life that we have long since forgotten. It’s like an ancient Egyptian tomb filled with artifacts for the afterlife, except we have to deal with them while we’re still alive.

I can see what might happen. We’ll find a house here in the southwest, and call for all the stuff in storage to be put on a moving truck. Thousands of miles and thousands of dollars later, the truck will drop off a hundred cardboard boxes, and we’ll sort through them, only to find 572 assorted t-shirts, 200 pounds of rocks, and three fish sculptures. It will make for an interesting decorating theme.

Bicycling de Anza’s Trail

Tucson is one of the nation’s best cities for bicycling. Great weather all winter long, generally flattish trails, plenty of scenery and lots of bicycle-friendly areas. We grabbed the two folding Birdy bikes and Emma’s $39 Wal-Mart special, to take Emma on her first bike path ride ever.

Tucson de Anza trail.jpg

The trail we chose today runs along both sides of the Santa Cruz River near downtown Tucson. The Santa Cruz, like all the riverbeds in this area, is dry most of the year. The scenery varies from bad to great. Our starting point was at 29th St near the Pima County prison, so the view started with razor wire and guys playing basketball in orange jumpsuits. But it quickly got better, with a nice view of A Mountain, and lots of little critters along the path (ground squirrels, a large lizard, roadrunners).

Tucson Santa Cruz bike path.jpg

The Garden of Gethsemane is a nice stop along the trail. An artist named Felix Lucero dedicated his life to sculpting religious statues, and he made a set of them from concrete with sand & rock taken from the Santa Cruz river bed in 1945. The statues are in rough shape from weathering, floods, vandalism and other attacks, but undergoing restoration. Their present location is a lush garden inside a tall iron fence, free to the public.

Tucson Gethsmane.jpg

Emma’s first major bicycling outing was a success. Yes, she managed to stop every 300 feet for one thing or another. Everything got her attention and called for a pause in the action: birds, dogs, amusing signs, itches, wedgies, plus multiple stops for water and snacks. But at the end of about five miles she was still lively and said, “That was awesome!” when we pulled into the parking lot. I expect we’ll be doing a lot more cycling as a family in the near future.

Tucson bikes.jpg

This trail is officially part of Tucson’s linear Santa Cruz River Park, and is also part of the historic Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail. We last encountered the story of de Anza when we were at Channel Island National Park in California over a year ago. His voyage to scout land for the Spanish crown is an incredible story, ranging from present-day San Francisco south well into Mexico. I would like to find a good book on that tale next time I’m prowling through a NPS bookstore.

Ocotillo sunset

Our days seem progressively more ordinary as we sit here without moving. The adventures have been limited. Today, a haircut, some groceries, drop off a disc at Blockbuster, check out the local Thai restaurant, work, work, work … all very suburban and completely at odds with what we’ve done for the past year and half.

Eleanor has reminded me that it was only 11 days ago that we left Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Funny, it seems like weeks to me. And here I was thinking we needed to break out this weekend for a trip …

Normally after a cold front passes through I’m used to seeing clearer skies. It has been beautiful today but the dust from yesterday’s high winds is still visible against the backdrop of the mountains. In a few days it should be settled, perhaps even as soon as tomorrow, and if there’s a chance to break away from work we may take half a day to drive up to Mt Lemmon.

Tucson ocotillo sunset.jpg
Sunset between the ocotillo

Another symptom of wanting to hit the road again is finding myself idly browsing the National Park Service website. Coming up on our list is Chiricahua Nationa Monument, not far southeast of here. Chiricahua is at higher altitude so we were waiting for the weather to warm a little more before going.

Today I noticed that the roads in the park and the park campground have a 29-foot trailer limit. Our trailer is called a 30 but in reality is 30 feet 10 inches long, so we can’t stay in the campground. But we can still visit the park. We’ll just have a few logistics to work out.

Eleanor has been reviewing schools and their schedules. Turns out that the 3-month summer vacation we remember as kids no longer exists. Now schools give a couple of weeks here and there, with school being in session nearly year-round.

Whose dumb idea was that? A schedule like that is going to cause us huge trouble, since I have a travel schedule (rallies, events, meetings) that will persist even after we stop full-timing. Will I have to go alone, thus taking us apart for weeks at a time? We’re not psyched. We’ve been together every day since Emma was born, with few exceptions, and we like it that way. This is going to take some serious consideration.

Blowing dust

Arizona has an interesting range of weather. Today the forecast was for “blowing dust” due to high winds. Here, dust is a form of precipitation, like rain or snow in other parts of the world. The wind whips it off the ground and into the air where it hangs and spreads for miles.

The effect is interesting the first time. The mountains that ring the Tucson metro area grew hazy and indistinct today, and walking around we felt the delicate pelting of sand on our shins. I opened my mouth too wide while walking into the wind and found my tongue coated with dust. It’s sort of a desert equivalent of having snow flurries blowing into your face.

In the summer a “monsoon” season comes. This means thunderstorms rolling in from the west, filling all the dry riverbeds and washes with surging brown water, which disappears within a few days. All over this town there are “riverside” parks with no water, and bridges that cross nothing but rocks and sand. They come to life in the monsoon season, when Tucson goes from having very little water to more than it can handle.

We have resolved to slow down on the house-hunting. In the past week it has been consuming every spare moment. Now that we’re getting up to speed on the local market and neighborhoods, we’re feeling like we should slow down and put more of our spare time into exploring the attractions of southern Arizona. There’s still so much more for us to see and do in this area.

Tucson Eleanors birthday.jpg

Today is Eleanor’s 23rd birthday. Ooops, that’s a typo. Well, you know what I mean.

Leap of faith

Tucson Emma jumping.jpg

I thought this picture from today was analogous to many things we’ve done in the past two years. Selling the house, full-timing, picking a new place to settle, and now the real estate question. Sometimes you’ve just got to take a giant leap and hope for the best.

Of course we look before we leap. Although it may look to outsiders that our moves are random or oddly motivated, in reality moderation is our goal. We just happen to believe that conventionality should also be in moderation…

Likewise, a lot of people who have written to us and said, “I hope to do that someday!” I hope you do, too. For some of you, the stars will align and the right moment will be clear. But for most, there won’t be a clear sign and at some point you will just have to make that leap, perhaps walking away from a perfectly good job, house, or neighborhood to take an adventure whose outcome is not guaranteed.

Emma’s leap of the day was to get re-acquainted with the deep end of the swimming pool. Leaps like this are the outward signs of having conquered fear, which is always a great thing. Something to think about. Have you taken a leap lately?

The price of not full-timing

As we consider the goal of having a home base, we’ve been tallying up the cost of this little luxury. This may be helpful — in reverse — for those of you considering full-timing in an RV, to see how much you’ll save if you sell your house while you’re out, like our friends Bobby & Danine.

Petey gave us an article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal, March 12, 2007, by David Crook, entitled, “Why your house isn’t the investment you think it is”. You may be able to find it online but I think you need a subscription to read it. The essence of the article was that houses are inefficient or even bad investments. Although people think they make money when they sell, in most cases they actually lose money when the cost of maintenance, taxes, insurance, and interest are factored in. Mr. Crook calls the check you get when you sell “a partial rebate” of what you spent, not a windfall or profit.

I looked at the numbers for our last house and found he’s right, at least in our case. It looked like we made money on our house, but we actually lost money. We actually would have been better off not building on the land we bought, renting for the eight years we lived in the area, and then selling the land — no kidding. For most people, it turns out, houses are something you buy because you want one, but from an investment standpoint you’d be better off putting money into rent and a mutual fund. It varies a lot from one local market to another, of course.

This naturally dampens our enthusiasm for having a “home base”. Financially, it’s pretty darned risky to plunge back into the real estate market when we don’t expect to be here for more than 7-9 months per year. It’s a huge luxury compared to the lightweight and inexpensive lifestyle of full-timing in the Airstream.

Our “housing” expenses, as full-timers, amount to $400-600 per month, plus an amortized $500 per month for the trailer itself. That includes our campgrounds, utilities (water, sewer, and propane), and maintenance. We don’t pay property taxes, or for garbage pickup, electricity (except this rare moment while we are staying for more than a month), cable TV, lawn mowing, Home Owners Association or condo association dues, etc.

This stuff is probably ho-hum to you, but we’ve been on the road so long that all of the expenses associated with owning a house seem outrageous to us now. Since we sold our house two years ago, we have become used to putting money in the bank account and having it stay here. I had forgotten how invisible forces seem to suck it all out when you have a house to feed.

So why buy? There are a few reasons still left:

1) We have a child. She is doing wonderfully in our homeschooling program and we love the time together, but we’d like her to have more friends and at least a test of traditional school for a year or two. We never intended to be full-time travelers forever.

2) Health care. Continuity of care is important when you have any sort of chronic illness. We’re pretty healthy right now, but there have been a few things to remind us that this can change. If one of us gets really sick, we’ll want to park somewhere and deal with it. Having a home base makes that easier, since we’ll already have known physicians and facilities to go to.

3) For people who are only going to full-time for a short period, hanging onto the house may be the smartest choice. The cost of selling (broker’s fees) and the cost of re-acquiring a house (closing costs, market appreciation) can be more than the cost of just keeping the old homestead.

4) Satisfaction of ownership. Sometimes, you just want to have a “nice” house and feel like it’s really yours. If owning a house is a big part of your self-image and makes you feel good, that’s a reason to have one that transcends financial matters. But I’d recommend that frequent travelers or full-timers be honest with themselves and acknowledging the house for what it is: a luxury, not a financial decision.

Renting is also a good option. In our case, renting an apartment or house would probably be cheaper than buying for the short term, so a big part of the buy/rent decision will be our willingness to commit to the area for several years, at least. Having an Airstream to let us travel (and spend summers in the cool northeast) makes that commitment easier.

This is a work in progress … we’ll let you know how it goes …

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