Today while paying a bill “the old fashioned way” I remembered that I underestimated the number of checks I would write on our travels.
Bring more checks than you think you will need!
In “regular life” writing a check is pretty rare. I use checks for a few personal transactions and I do everything else with some form of online banking, or cash. As do you, right?
With camping, free is best, of course. The BLM is great for this! So are New York State Parks. But sometimes you have to pay.
A Forest Service campsite might cost $6 or $10 or $15 a night. There’s a small wood or metal box that you stuff your payment into, in a small envelope with tiny boxes to fill out in pen. There’s no credit card option. Cash works too, but with no “cashier” there’s no mechanism for providing change. And nowhere to get money in the woods!
Some places are more modernized. Private facilities take credit cards, for sure, unless they’re small town operations. I also reserved a lot of California State Park campsites using their online system and a credit card – but it only works on registrations a couple of days out. When you’re traveling day by day and you pull into a California campsite without pre-registration, you’ll end up wanting a check. The camper host will have a packet of envelopes. It’ll become a familiar process.
And if you’re lucky enough to be living like this long term — You’ll write a lot of checks.
The Wall Street Journal recently published an essay called In Praise of a Nomadic Life, by Andrew Blackman. It’s a story about a particular couple, a 40-ish man and woman who decided to live on the road, mostly in Europe so far, driving around in an old Toyota, staying in hotels, and living on about $100 a day. They both write freelance to cover their costs (Andrew wrote the piece that I read); she also teaches photography. They’ve been at it for a couple of years.
The essay is published in the WSJ category “wealth management” and when I noticed this, it got me thinking about how people plan for their lives, and for wellness. It’s not really a wealth management article. In terms of a managing money, Andrew writes: “Our plan is to earn more and start saving.” For now they live comfortably, spending a little more per month than they did when living in London, and covering costs as they go (an example follows with the image).
Financial planning is really not this couple’s thing. I mean, they seem to be doing fine, feeling safe and secure, and having fun, but they’re not thinking about the future. The whole point of their travel adventure is to not have to think about the future. He writes about how he used to pin his happiness on future events, and how life as a nomad has allowed him to live in the present and enjoy what he has. “At the risk of sounding like a slogan posted on Facebook, I would say that for the first time in my life, I am living in the present rather than dreaming about the future.”
I’m curious about how and why this approach works for them because it doesn’t usually work for me. Sometimes I use cash-in-my-pocket budgeting as a mental exercise that can lead to thrifty decision making. It can be useful. It’s attached in my mind to romantic ideas about simple living. But honestly? It gets tiring. There’s decision fatigue in general, and the ways that poverty taxes the brain specifically. I’m so grateful that the exercise is optional, that I’m not stuck counting dollars all the time.
I think the trade-off approach works best with a long-term planning perspective. Rather than spending money and then belt-tightening to offset the things you got or did, it works in the reverse: choose something you want in the future, and make adjustments now that will help you get there. I find that having a goal in mind makes present-moment compromises feel much better. This is how we saved for the Cricket adventure. Here’s another example —
Chris and I didn’t get tickets this year in Burning Man’s main sale. At first I was really disappointed and I focused on other ways that we could get in, like working for a camp. But we’ve been talking about building a home, and as soon as I made a mental connection between using the resources we would have spent on Burning Man towards the house, I could let go of my perceived need to go to Burning Man. I’d rather use the money towards (some of) a hydronic radiant floor heating system, and I’d rather spend the time tromping around potential lots.
This idea about perceived value isn’t all about money, either. On our Cricket travels, I sometimes felt worn down by making all sorts of choices in each new place: where to buy groceries, where to get wi-fi, where to get good beer, where to sleep, where to make friends. While a general expertise may be cultivated (such as, in the art of finding campsites) the individual decisions didn’t seem to ever add up to anything lasting. The next day, you start over again. I almost always wanted to stay longer in places so that I could build on what I’d done the day before. I like it when parts of my life run on routine; this frees up some decision-making energy for other, more interesting, present-moment activities. I feel unenlightened writing this, but I’m happiest when my “now” is connected to a future that I’m excited about creating.
p.s. If you’re curious, there are people writing about how to blend financial savvy with forms of happiness that aren’t reliant on stuff. Mr. Money Mustache is the best, in my opinion.
The fact that I didn’t end up wanting to live as a digital nomad full time surprised me. I like travel. I like efficiency and technology. I like work. I like coffee shops and bars. I like digital nomads; their ethic and their methods make sense to me. Yet I also like creature comforts of an office that are difficult to organize without a home base. So I learned how to make it work.
In 1995 I set off to Europe with a train pass, a backpack, and an almost 7 pound Powerbook laptop. Back then, laptops were heavy, expensive and not in common use like they are today. Everyone advised me against it, but I persisted. I was convinced that I needed a computer. I loved writing on my computer! But I FedExed the laptop home about a week and a half later, wanting to be free of its bulk and the responsibility of hauling it around. I wrote in notebooks on that trip. (Remember film photographs? Saving the rolls of film to develop when you returned home? That too.)
The lessons of that earlier trip were useful on our Cricket adventure and we’ve learned a lot in the last fifteen months about what does really work — How do you live like a digital nomad when you’re not one at heart?
Lesson #1: Go light.
This one’s obvious, right? These days, it’s possible to get everything most people could want technologically in a pretty small package.
For example, Chris just got a new external storage drive that holds a terabyte of data. It’s smaller and has fewer bulky power cords than our old one. For a small cost ($50 to $75) it really increases convenience. You might be surprised at how much small conveniences mean when you’re living on the road.
Lesson #2: Don’t go more high tech than you will enjoy.
There are so many options these days. You can get the equipment and software to be outfitted like a pro for photo and video. This also means that you’ll be spending more time learning how use the features, managing digital media files, and caring for your equipment. Be honest with yourself about what you’ll use and enjoy.
For example: Backpacking in 1995, I didn’t really need the laptop for the kinds of writing I wanted to do. Driving around the country in 2016, I never used a digial SLR and lenses. (I could have left it at home.) I used a small digital camera on the rafting trip, because it was the safest thing to bring on the river. Even though it was a nice piece of equipment in its day (2008 or so), the video quality looks terrible now and so I phased that out. I pretty much only used my iPhone and iPad and I’m super happy with the quality and convenience.
Chris, on the other hand, hardly went anywhere without his digital SLR and possibly an extra lens or tripod. That worked for him.
Lesson #3: If you’re a Mac user, the Notes app is wonderful.
Notes is good on the iPhone for an incidental list or jotting down the name of a book someone suggests you read. More importantly, it also functions quite well for word processing. I use Notes on my laptop because the application doesn’t get sluggish like Microsoft Word does, and because I can then access the file easily (without going into Dropbox), on any of my devices. The Notes app keeps on getting better, too.
Lesson #4: Get your syncing in order.
At home, Chris and I were set up with backups of our mobile devices occurring at night over wifi. If you’re the kind of person who backs your stuff up (and this is important!) you probable have a similar setup.
Living on the road introduces a lot of unknowns about when/where there will be wifi or cell coverage available, whether it will be secure, how fast it will be, and how long you’ll have access to it. We had to reorganize all our auto-sync settings and learned to manually sync everything possible when we were in a good location.
Lesson #5: Headphones help get in the zone.
Distracted by your neighbor’s conversation at a coffee shop? Learning that libraries aren’t always as silent as they are supposed to be? Want to signal to your spouse (or that cute barista) that you aren’t available for chit chat? Headphones help a lot.
The big kind are best; they make it more obvious that you’re in that zone, and they’re better at cancelling out ambient sounds. I listen to a lot of music and ocean sounds. I also use headphones without any music playing, just to muffle the noises around me. It helps.
On our travels, I practiced a lot at slowing down. Decompression was harder than I expected, and the process of slowing down is one I persisted at. Habits that I thought would take a couple of months to slough off were actually much more ingrained. There’s a lot to say about how.
Also: WHY? Here are a few reasons slowing down is helpful.
- Slowing down helps appreciate what is rather than wanting more. Searching for different can become a habit. Checking things off a to-do list can become too much of the point, always looking to the next completion. Even progress has it’s follies. There’s got to be some balance to visionary thinking: the good in the now.
- Slowing down makes it easier to stay in your body, notice what’s happening, and adjust with it. The aches we have in our bodies are often byproducts of tightening in other places. By mid adult life, the ways we hold ourselves is so habitual. Clenching a fist and tightening your jaw can show up later in your shoulder. This happens for me with my toes and neck. Slowing down and noticing these reactions as they happen a the first step to feeling more physically comfortable.
- Slowing down makes it easier to catch a wave of flow. Sometimes immersion also involves a sense of urgency — the mad scientist frantically creating — but that’s not always true. I think flow is also often a slowing down, resulting in more engagement with the moment of making rather than hastening towards execution of the idea. Slow down and enjoy the act of creating.
Here in Durango, this song has me singing “mother, mother mountain.”
Every direction I look, from anywhere in town, there’s a mountain view. Here’s the one from my bedroom window, as I write this.
(This Pirate — er, Cricket — just turned 40 last month while on an adventure with Chris at the Lightening Fields. Which we’ll tell you about one day….)
In two weeks I’ll be beside mother ocean herself again, at Big Sur. This strip of lightly populated rugged stony coastline nestled into the Santa Lucia Mountains is one of the places I fell most in love with on our travels.
Cold nights kept us moving south a little too fast last fall (and my halfway meltdown was imminent) and I’ve always wanted to go back. (Actually, I tried to go back once with the Cricket, while Chris was in Denver. There’s a story about that…)
I’ll be spending a week of unstructured time, off line, overlooking the ocean, at the Esalen Institute. I haven’t watched the last season of Mad Men yet, but Chris tells me I’m in good company (and this video sums it all up pretty well – spoiler alert).
You might think that I’m blissed out and meditating (or drinking, or dancing, or strolling through mountain meadows, or watching acrobats) all the time now. It’s partly true!
But I’m a bit like Don Draper, in ways (and not in ways, too, I assure you!). One of the reasons I’m so excited to have a room here in Durango is that I have an office, a place to dig into project work and strategic thinking, a personal workspace. A “be me” space. My first day here, I bought a white board. I’ve been geeking out about how to organize my time and get my many creative things moving. (As well as to plan for what’s next employment-wise, of course.)
In contrast to the free flowing days on the road, I’m excited for routine. And I LOVE making things happen. XKCD’s recent post perfectly captures the kind of debates I have with myself about how much is too much…
How can I be authentically in the present moment while also kicking ass at getting things done? I think a lot about that. Most days, I wish I were more productive. Yet on this trip I also spent six valuable months fighting my usual urges to organize, to schedule, to discipline. I know I got something out of the uncertainty.
The kind of control that’s familiar to me is like a marked path — even if you haven’t travelled a stretch of land before, there’s a predictable route to follow with known information about distance, elevation, and forks along the way. I’m a planner by nature, and I’m quite comfortable both making and following these metaphorical maps. I know quite a bit about “what works” — for me and for humans in general — with regards to productivity. I’m starting to use these skills again, but first I had to let them go.
This trip was intended as a journey of discovery, which does require going beyond the known — while literally exploring the country, I’m also studying my soul. Looking back at my first post, A Manifesto, this purpose is clear. I knew the kind of growth I was after. I didn’t know how I would need to get there. I don’t think I understood that it couldn’t even be charted in advance.
One of the reasons I was so attracted to Steven Sagmeister’s TED talk on the power of time off is that he grappled with free time in a way I could really relate to. He thought he would leave his sabbatical completely open to create and discover, and he discovered that he got nothing done. As he put it, he became his own intern, responding to other people’s queries and letting the external world drive his time. In a brilliant move, he created a schedule for himself.
Such organization is how I am comfortable — my projects tend to be goal-aligned, color-coded, white-boarded, excel spread-sheeted, and tracked for progress. I’m the kind of person who makes to-do lists on vacation: write in journal, brush teeth, make sandwiches, go kayaking, walk to happy hour.
I studied Sagmeister’s slides. I was interested in him and curious about how he approached experimental organization. I’m enough of a dork that I took screen shots and zoomed in his schedule, was charmed that he included things like “future thinking” and crushed on him a bit over activities like “typographical research.”
I invested a lot of time and energy planning for our travels, but I focused on the practical things – budgeting, saving, minimalizing, planning, and outfitting the camper. While I was still employed, I was steadfast about not wanting to pre-define my creative time off because my intention was to discover new things about myself once I had the space to do so.
I thought that “I’ll figure it out later” was enough to accept openness. I thought that that once we got on the road I’d go Sagmeister-style and lock in some kind of routine and project rotation. I thought that even if I didn’t know quite what I wanted to do, I should have structured time for experimentation.
I had a lot to learn.
I didn’t know how much freedom I would need before I could even begin to understand the path my soul wanted to follow. Sure, I could think of tasks with my head, I’m rarely short on ideas. Yet when I tried to knuckle down to these projects, it felt false, like there were things I had to learn before I could benefit from familiar discipline. I could not predict how scary it would be to let go.
The first six months of our travel included many fun adventures, but much of my personal time was about the darkness of these fears.
I wanted the security and predictability of everything being planned, and our trip logistics, my travel partner, and my own brain conspired to prevent that. I fought against it, hard, and I was always unsuccessful.
I felt like I was trying to jam a changing person into old expectations. I didn’t know yet what I wanted to be focusing on, because I hadn’t grown into it yet. I could try to schedule myself into the activities that sounded good, but they felt a little false.
Six months sounds like a long time to be adrift like that. It still astounds me how long it took to shake off some of the ways I felt burdened and constrained by my old life. Interestingly, in some cases I’m now returning to interests that I’d previously held and thought I would discard as more oriented towards my professional than my personal self. Perhaps they are actually both — which is a good thing. To know this, I needed the space to go away and then come back on new terms and for new reasons.
I’m starting to understand how much this kind of personal adventure is truly about what’s around the next corner, over the next hill. It’s about open space and about discovering as you go, maps not needed. I hope I can bring this knowledge home with me, too. I’d like to always leave a little space in my schedule — and in my heart — for discovery.
It’s been a while since our last update, largely because we have been dealing with life (travel) choices and resetting some of our daily patterns. Plus, the longer we go without updating, the weightier each update seems to feel.
In many respects, these things are exactly what I want to be writing about — the real challenges of scrapping everything and heading out on a new adventure. What happens when you change your life so dramatically? What are the ways you grow? What are the ways you fight growth? Where do you come out on the other side?
I always wanted this blog to be a place where I can choose authenticity. As I’ve said before, neither Chris nor I feels good posting an overly curated version of our adventure, one that makes it look like we’re always wandering around beautiful vistas with sparking eyes and big hearts. As this recent post indicated, it’s not true. (Although in many instances it is true!)
I find though, that it’s difficult for me to write about growth and change while still in the midst of it. It’s also challenging to write about the not-so-fun moments without sounding like I’m complaining too much because really, our life is pretty amazing, and I don’t want to forget that. So I’ve been thinking a lot about this tightrope — how can this blog be a space where I highlight the things I’m grateful for while still being honestly reflective about the things i’m struggling though? (Some folks do this quite well, and I’m trying to use them as inspiration to push through.)
Where (both geographically and metaphorically) have I been lately?
We’ve settled for a little while in San Clemente, CA, halfway between San Diego and Los Angeles. It’s warm enough to keep smiles on our faces. We camp on a bluff overlooking the ocean, and we can bike into town to use the library, visit the farmers market, do yoga, and grocery shop (we drive the truck, too, of course). Chris has taken up a new hobby (I’ll keep it secret until he decides to tell you about it) and I’m starting to build the routines that allow me to feel creatively productive and fulfilled.
We laugh about it — we’re basically trying to recreate a normal life here. We had to drive 12,000 miles (6,000 on the Subaru and 6,000 on the truck) to end up 3,000 miles from home, trying to recreate the patterns of the life we once knew? Funny, but true.
Recently we were in a similar geographic location that almost offered these things but, somehow, not quite. We spent several weeks before and after Christmas in Morro Bay, CA, just a few hours north of here. It was a beautiful town, smaller, quieter, and a little less built-up than here; further from the highway; right on the ocean with some really stunning natural formations and a lot of cool outdoors stuff to do. (The big rock foremost, but not only.) I loved it. In many ways it was a better “fit” than here as far as the culture and vibe, for me, personally. Plus, there was a bar called The Libertine that I could have gone to every day to try carefully curated beers, like sour stouts with yummy vanilla overtones. I felt like one lucky duck. Yet — almost every day was a struggle. It wasn’t about the place, of course. It was about who we were at that moment, what we were fighting in ourselves.
We had stopped there to make some sort of routine, having identified all the benefits of doing so in Morro Bay. It was the first place we could reasonably bike from our campsite into civilization, which was a big deal. It was warmer and drier than where we were coming from. I reveled in everything awesome about Morro Bay, and yet, floundered. Everything seemed hard. When I had a week alone, during which I though — I can finally make my own schedule!! — I didn’t do any of the awesome things I had hoped to.
(As a sort of aside, I’ve been wanting to write about Morro Bay for awhile and a recent post by Nikki, the female half of the Wynns, dislodged my writers block. She blogged and made a video about her solo adventure in the RV that was awfully similar to my week alone in the Cricket. It kind of makes my heart sing to know that I’m not alone in sometimes struggling through moments of girl power. It makes me a little teary, too. I can be sometimes overly independent, and it was an interesting lesson to find that just because I can do something by myself, doesn’t mean I really want to. Teamwork is awesome.)
So, even though the place was obviously not the main problem, we moved, and I have to say, it felt GOOD. No, it felt GREAT! Just putting some miles between us and whatever funk we were in was awfully therapeutic. Plus, there was the benefit of moving south, to a location where the nights wouldn’t be nearly so chilly. That’s helping a lot. Every moment of challenge is created by a whole web of factors, and sometimes sorting out the practical physical ones makes dealing with the more complicated behavioral ones a lot less challenging.
I’m learning about the minimal things I need to be comfortable. Sometimes I feel like a badass camper chick, and sometimes I feel really spoiled. It is what it is. I know I need warmth, and to not spend all my nights or days bundled in layers. Hot showers are also surprisingly important to me. Having found a yoga studio with bathing facilities that makes me feel like I’m in a zen spa makes a big difference in my overall mental health. I probably will, but I wish and dream about never having to pay for a lukewarm shower with quarters again. I like a hot beverage in the morning. I need quiet time alone. I value stability in my friendships, and regular opportunity to connect with those I love.
I’ve learned that I have some either / or both preferences, too. I can take a lot of discomfort, if I know roughly when it will end. I kind of revel in that dichotomy. Similarly, I really like going “offline, and off the grid” because it helps me clear my mind and live in the moment, but I also really like good cell service and the ability to create a wifi hot spot, because it helps me connect.
I need more routine than I thought I did. I’ve long known that I need some regular practices like morning pages, I’ve long loved to set goals for myself and to live by lists, and I’ve learned that I’m pretty good at helping others set these patterns in place for themselves, too. Still, I thought of myself as kind of a disruptive force — I don’t like set mealtimes, I like to move between many projects, I’m always craving some kind of change or something new. I pushed past my own limits though, via the many vagaries of this travel lifestyle that I wanted so badly. Which brings me back to being here, in San Clemente with Chris, laughing about how all we want to do is be normal, predictable, stable.
We have four weeks stretching ahead of us, in which we know how all of our basic needs will be met. We have some exciting things we want to do as day trips in the area, but we’re both so keen to focus on the day-to-day life patterns. We’ve talked a lot about routines that will work for both of us (together and alone), and we’ve scheduled several of those into place. I’m trying not to overwhelm myself, but there’s a lot I want to do. Every time I accomplish some small goal that I set for myself, I feel a little stronger. It’s really exciting! I’m starting to feel like Alexis again.
I’m grateful for the friends and family who have listened patiently as I worked through all of this, and who have encouraged me through advice, empathy, and reminders of the broader context within which I exist. I’m so excited for this new lease on life and travel in the new year. I know there are more challenges to come, but I’m feeling a lot more optimistic.
Plus? Chris and I are learning so much about how to work together. Making our way through all of these challenges, as friends and partners, is strengthening our relationship in ways I never even dared to hope for. It kind of makes my heart swell. I’m not necessarily getting what I thought I would out of this trip, but I’m getting good things all the same. I guess that’s life.
Just after we roll into the new year, Chris and I will be halfway through our “year” of travels. (I put year in quotes because sometimes we make up excuses to extend the trip — Burning Man 2016, Wyoming in autumn, too many things to do and not enough time. Other times, on those hardest or coldest or wettest of days, we contemplate going home early, although I don’t think we really would. “Year” is a flexible term for us.)
This is most definitely a time of regrouping, and it feels appropriate to me that it coincides with a season of fresh starts. We have learned so much in these last six months. Nearly every expectation that we’ve had for the trip has been foiled on some way. Perhaps the only one that stuck was the notion that we would learn something and be changed in some unforeseen way.
As I write this I’m sitting in a warm home, in a comfortable chair, looking out windows at a snow-covered back yard. I slept in a real bed, took a proper shower this morning, stacked my breakfast dishes in a dishwasher. I’ve spent the past couple of days in the company of family: talking, laughing, drinking, playing games, eating, and just being together. It’s all that I hoped for when I wrote about my struggles with Christmas. And it’s more.
It’s easy to find oneself wanting to stay in all this comfort, although it’s also clear to me that I (and we) wouldn’t be growing in the ways that we are if we had opted for simple security and sameness. This was elegantly expressed in a New Yorker article from earlier this month, about learning Italian. Sometimes we have to pitch ourselves headlong into the unfamiliar in order to find something new about ourselves.
Usually, such growth is an uncomfortable process. I’m a little unique in how much I enjoy it, how much of my professional life has been spent steeped in change, and how much I consistently seek it out personally. I find it to be very rewarding. But still, it can hurt.
The kinds of change and growth and decisions we face are both big and small.
With day after day of unstructured time, we’re forced to confront our creative habits and the ways we allow ourselves to explore (or don’t – and why); ditto with healthy routines like exercise. While I’m not as creatively productive as I’d hoped for, I’m finding that my writing is turning to new topics as my newly-freed-up brain and soul allows itself to explore more widely.
We are two very independent people, and we’re learning how to share a small space and to be together (usually within three feet of each other) during most of our waking hours; we are also learning how to build in time apart, which is necessary.
We did not anticipate how cold winter nights would be, even in places warm and sunny during the daytime. Nor how frustrating it could be to cook dinner outside in the dark evenings of winter.
On a positive note, I also didn’t anticipate how much time we would spend camping in places where we wake up to see the ocean from our Cricket window. Many good surprises include things about the places we are lucky enough to visit; we were both surprised at how undeveloped the northern California coast was.
I had no idea how many small things there would be to worry about. In our daily lives, Chris does most of the worrying. I recently had a week alone with the Cricket, and I was shocked how much burden it was to ensure everything was in order day after day: bikes still secure on the roof, the Cricket packed away properly for moving around, electrical charged, turning around and backing up in small parking lots, propane safety, etc. I could go on and on but I’ve done enough complaining about these small burdens to a few patient loved ones.
There are of course the good surprises too. I am awed by the easy camaraderie we find with fellow travelers. We recently spent two delightful days laughing ridiculously hard with a fellow travel couple, swapping stories about grumpy moments and the small comforts we miss, all while acknowledging how privileged we are to participate in this lifestyle.
I had some similar conversations with a solo traveler last week, and I’m still trying to wrap my head around how easily I can approach a stranger with an ask for help, and how quickly we then found ourselves sitting on the ground barefoot talking about things like loneliness and cold showers. I knew we would have these sorts of connections, but I didn’t expect how important they would feel.
When we fly back to California to regroup with the Cricket, we will be contemplating some pretty big options about what could be next: Heading down to Baja California for some warm weather and cheap living? Would we feel safe? Scurrying over to the Gulf Coast area for warm nights and a place to chill for a while? Can we feel fulfilled in Texas? Taking one or another kind person up on their offer of a home to use for a little while? Would that feel too easy? Like we were missing out on too much? Do we head over to Death Valley and enjoy a different landscape for a while, cold nights be damned?
I was raised on the idea that I have options and choices, and I love how rich and varied that has made my life. But interestingly, with these travels, even I am starting to hit my limit for uncertainty. Some days I just crave sameness, routine, predictability. I’m glad to know that I will appreciate these things more when(ever) we do return home. And I’m trying to figure out how we build some of these things into our daily lives a little better, while still keeping the freedom that’s so central to this kind of travel.
I’ve felt a little more like complaining lately, a little less secure. That probably comes across in this post. It doesn’t mean I’m not grateful for all the opportunities we have, that we have made for ourselves, and that the universe has afforded us. In part, writing like this helps me keep the little nuisances in perspective while still feeling like I’m being honest about the realities of our adventure — we never wanted this blog to be a spot to simply show off.
So I suppose all of this leads back to where I started this post — we are halfway through, and soon we will be regrouping, deciding how we spend the next half (or however much) of our “year” across the U.S. I suspect there will be changes both big and small. And a lot will stay the same because, truthfully, it’s awesome. Our days are our own, our minds and hearts are our own, and we can do (almost) anything we want.
And so it continues. We are still catching up on fun adventures from the months past, so stay tuned for more.
This post is a flashback to before we left. Rather than the details of life on the road, it covers a home improvement project. We benefitted from plenty of internet research on the topic of concrete floors, and I wanted to add our own learning lessons to the mix.
Remember the tiny space that we transitioned with, before hitting the road in the Cricket? It’s fun to think back on that place, realizing what a big deal it was to make that downsizing, and how splendidly decadent it sounds now. Just this morning I was saying to Chris, “remember when we had a coffee maker … ?” Not to mention the indoor plumbing! But we lay in bed now looking at the bay, so we’re not complaining. Just comparing.
Anyway — a major aspect of that renovation was redoing the floors. Here’s what we did, and what we learned!
1. I started by ripping up all the old carpet and flooring. I’ve learned over the years with Chris that he does not appreciate carpet — his standard reaction to a picture of a place with wall-to-wall is “YUCK!” And the idea of a kitchen on top of carpet was yuck indeed, so out the carpet went. The two layers took a bit of crowbarring, especially in the spots with way too much glue (as in by the door, below left) but overall this step was pretty easy.
The yoga studio downstairs had opted to paint right over the cement and glue in their hallway (they put in nice bamboo in the yoga space itself). This seemed to be holding up for them and given the short timeframe we’d be spending in the new space, I hoped for a similarly easy simple solution. We didn’t have much luck figuiring out what the pink glue was, and we didn’t want to get into chemical solutions and tried (without luck) a non-toxic Citristrip that did nothing at all. So I sanded down the rough glue bits until it looked like the pictures below. While the color is mottled, it was quite smooth to the touch in most places. There were a few spots where the glue was thick and wouldn’t sand nor scrape off.
I hoped the next step was painting (and then the kitchen install!) but the Floor Gods had something else in mind. We visited Sherwin Williams to get the Porch and Floor Enamel that I’d read good things about from other fearless concrete painters and — I’m still not sure if we’re suckers or smart — an employee there instilled a fear of “floor failure” that we just couldn’t shake. Over the course of a few visits he listed the possible calamities, largely bubbling and peeling, and kept repeating to us, “your floor will fail.”
We regrouped. Considered our options. Conducted hours of internet research. And concluded with a big experiment.
We both loved the look of stained concrete floors, those gorgeous glowing and marbled surfaces. We might want one in a more permanent home someday, so why not practice now? Our logic was that if we had to put the effort into removing all the glue, we might as well go all the way. The result? Renting a big floor sander and special attachment.
The floor sander required water to keep things cool as it ground up the concrete, and we were left with stone soup! Below, I’m scooping the gunk into a bucket.
Messy, yes. But look! The floor is a beautiful even tone, all ready for spray application of an acryllic-based decorative concrete stain. See how pretty it looks just after application?!
Unfortunately, we had scoured the concrete so well that is soaked it right in. This pale, mottled, version below? That’s what the same floor looked like about four hours after the glowing stain above was applied. We tried another coat in a small area but you know, all this learning starts to get expensive! We decided to cut our losses, return the unused stain, and move on to Plan C … which looked a lot like Plan A. We painted the floor a solid yellow!
Living in the space, I loved loved loved it.* I had been avidly desiring a yellow floor and it brought all the brightness and sunshine into the room that I’d hoped for. But at the time? I’ll admit that I shed a few tears over the failure of that stain. Floor failure. It’s as sad as it sounds.
* Except that we discovered later that it was difficult to clean. The more texture the floor has, the more little spaces there are for dirt — or dirty water while washing — to get in there. Other than a simple process with a vacuum and a sponge, we never figured out how to best handle this.
When Chris & I split up for our individual Burning Man / Durango adventures, we did so by way of Salt Lake City.
Before heading off, we spent a weekend and several days with Chris’ aunt and uncle who live in the lovely hill neighborhood known as “The Avenues.” They offered more generous hospitality than we had even dreamed of hoping for, and we had a great time eating, talking, drinking, and seeing the City with them. We share quite a few interests.
When we met up again in SLC it was also with the addition of Chris’ parents who drove in for the weekend. We had not connected with them on our way out west because as we [could have been] passing by their place, they were flying off to their own adventures in Alaska. (Lucky them!) So a family visit was something we had been thinking about.
And then, on a relevant side note, Chris and I have been contemplating our tow vehicle. We are so pleased that we could tow the Cricket with Chris’ trusty Subaru. I think there’s a bit of romance for us in having a trailer light enough to make this work. And, work it did. Really well. Almost all of the time.
On our way through our first mountain pass in Wyoming, we started to realize our limitations. We made it, going very slowly. Cue a couple other close calls, and we started to wonder if we should trade up for something with a V6. We spent a week in Idaho Falls contemplating our options — literally, car shopping & budgeting. We talked to our folks. We agonized. Had several beers. And then, a very generous offer came in.
So in SLC we hugged the Subaru farewell (or, I hugged the Subaru and got teary while Chris acted brave) and we hitched the Cricket to a new (to us) tow vehicle.
It’s not goodbye forever. We will most likely see the Subaru again in a year. But in the meantime, we’ve got more power, more storage, and a new stylish look; when Chris’ dad upgraded to a new truck, he kindly let us use his previous vehicle, the excellent Honda Ridgeline.
It is already making a huge difference. We love tiny living, but to have some extra storage space? Really well appreciated. And, less car and trailer sway when some highway cruising is necessity? Also appreciated. And the ability to cruise easily down dirt roads, to drive hours up windy mountain roads into Oregon, and to do all of this with a footloose and fancy free attitude? Priceless.
Above, Chris proudly showing off our new rig. And below, Chris’ dad lounging in our SLC-area campsite by a “Bear Country” sign.
Finally, here we are celebrating Chris’ birthday with the Nelson clan.
It was such a short visit, we were sad to say goodbye. But we made the most of it with a weekend full of activity, and we’ll dream now about where we might meet up next (thinking… maybe the California coast … or lovely Durango?).
A BIG thank you for the generous vehicle loan, and all the kindness and love of the extended Nelson family.
Alexis (& Chris, or course)