30 June 2016

Day One - The Big Adventure is Live!

Seven and a half weeks we've been living in the trailer, waiting for the school year to end and tying up a myriad of loose ends and details.  Like a new truck.  For instance.

Seven and a half weeks ago we each harbored our separate doubts and misgivings about the path we have set our eyes upon.

Six and a half weeks we have been Driveway Surfing with our lovely, dear friends, sharing life much more closely and getting to know them better than would otherwise ever have been likely or possible.  

But all is now prepared.  And over the last few weeks our trepidation and fears have been entirely replaced with a growing sense of urgency to Come On and Get The Show On The Road!

We had decided to start our journey with a bang, and for our Day One destination picked Gilroy Gardens, a theme park targeted specifically at our girls' age group.  We thought it might be wise to front load some extra fun for the girls, and it worked.  They were giddy with anticipation.

We pack the last few things.  We give long, tearful hugs farewell. 

We hit the road.  Gilroy Gardens, here we come!

A beautiful day for a drive!  A couple of pit stops later, and there it is, looming ahead!  We pull into the ginormous parking lot, two minutes before the gates open.  I circle like a shark, trying to discern the perfect place to park Ruby and MATT.  We slide in and stop.  I hop out to unload the kiddos and then I hear a sssssssss sound that can only be a snake that never needs to inhale, or a punctured tire that is going flat.  Sure enough, there's a big fat screw in one of Ruby's brand new tires.  

Remember my saying we wanted to start the trip with a bang?  Mission accomplished!

We change the tire and get about the business that we came for.  Fun is had.  By day's end we are all exhausted, our fun reserves replenished.

We drag ourselves across the little town to a concrete pad that we've reserved for the night.  Our tiny trailer looks like a chihuahua at a Great Dane convention.

Food, warm showers, cuddles.  A beautiful start for the Big Adventure.

This is what I find most interesting about today: I predict it to be a perfectly foreshadowed synopsis of our whole trip yet to come: excitement to get going, trials and tribulations, problem solving, fun and excitement, exhaustion, and at the end warm showers, full bellies, and cuddles.  Time will tell.

20 June 2016

Stinky Slinky Misadventures

Once we had determined to take the path we are now upon, and being that a Travel Trailer Recreational Vehicle is central to our plan, and further, given that none of us had any direct experience with these beasts except to see them in the wild as they traversed the Interstates, I determined that it would be wise to learn everything possible about their proper care and feeding as quickly as possible.  And The Internet provided.

The most amusing thing that I learned as I smartened myself up about all things RV, is that the large diameter flexible hose that is used to transfer the "Black Water" (poop! and anything else you put in your toilet) from your RV to an appropriate sewer receptacle entry point, is, in fact, generally referred to and known as the "stinky slinky".  Maybe it's the part of me that refused to grow up all the way, but something in me finds this nomenclature tirelessly amusing.  In use, one end attaches with a sturdy bayonet mount to the RV "out" port, and the other end, on ours anyway, has a 90 degree elbow on the other end that screws to an adapter that then screws into a variety of different sewer inputs.

 A brief aside.  Tonight while dining with friends, Dan the Fireman related a story about his neophyte Fireman Trainee days when one of their tasks was to "tame" a firehose that was whipping about under pressure.  This story jogged a memory...

No kidding, there I was, at another RV dump station.  I had done this several times by now and considered myself Fully Qualified for Duty.  Fully Qualified for Dootie as it turns out.  

This particular dump station lacked a tight fitting sewer connection for my stinky slinky, and just had a big square hole in the ground.  No problem, I thought, just line everything up and put the hose opening right there in the middle.  Good to go.  

Remember how I said ours has a 90 degree elbow? 

I was never a fireman, and my experience with hoses under pressure is pretty much limited to the green type used to water the garden.  So I completely failed to anticipate what happened next...what happens when you suddenly release 20 gallons of raw sewage through a 4 inch hose that is not secured at the end.  

Imagine a giant cobra standing up to look at you.  While vomiting 20 gallons of raw sewage.

It's embarrassing, because it was my own noobie fault.  Normally I keep such embarrassments on a need-to-know basis.  But I'm putting it out here in hopes that learning from my misadventure will save some other noobie from the same mistake.  Maybe some day I will regale grandchildren with the tale of how grandpa once tamed a sewage-spewing firehose.  In that version of the story, I think it will be someone else's hose and I just happened to be passing by.

Epilogue: Yes, I did in fact have to lay hands on the monster in its throes.  It was a split second decision made to save the surrounding ecosystem.  Not sure I'd make the same choice again.  Nature is resilient.

18 June 2016

How To Change The World

I know how to change the world!

I have conceived one (huge) change that would directly impact many of our modern world's ills: water shortage, lack of affordable housing, excessive trash and pollution, and ridiculous accretion of personal stuff.

Living in a tiny house on wheels has afforded me both a new world perspective and more free time to cogitate upon it.

We expected the tiny life of the tiny mobile house to leave an indelible mark upon us, and I can already feel this beginning.  Having your own, personal, self-contained, electrical, fresh, and dirty water systems, one becomes acutely aware of how much water or electricity you're using; where, when and how to get more; how much waste you are producing, and the steps you must routinely take to dispose of it.  You become much more efficient at using less, when you know that all you have is X number of gallons of fresh water, and X gallons of space for the "used" water.  You turn off unnecessary electrical draws when you know that you only have 132 AmpHours usable juice in your batteries, running the Vitamix for 6 minutes uses 22 AmpHours, and you can only generate 60 AmpHours per day with your solar panels.  On sunny days.

And the other thing, living in a small, mobile space makes you highly aware of Your Stuff.  You only have a small place to store it, so you become much more judicious about what you really need.  When your space is full, if you want a new widget, well then, something else has to go!  Like nomads of yore who bore their possessions upon their backs as they roamed, every possession is evaluated carefully for its worth.  Do you really need a walk-in closet full of clothes?  No.  You do not.

If everyone were as aware of their systemic inputs and outputs as those living in a not-plugged-in RV, oh my, would not our populous be thriftier and more efficient in their consumptions?  Sadly, probably not...were it a voluntary affair.

But were compliance with a brave new world of minimized environmental impacts instead not voluntary, but mandatory, what a dramatically different place we would inhabit!  One change could effect it all: Outlaw conventional housing, and mandate tiny houses for everyone!

In one fell swoop the masses would become acutely aware of what it takes to live, day to day, far more in tune with their impact on the world.  (And far less able to do damage on a personal level).

I see two problems with all of this though.  The big thing, of course, is that no one would go for it.  The only way it could ever happen is if it were forced by circumstances beyond our control.  So, the Zombie Apocalypse or such.

The second problem: Just imagine the waiting line at the RV dump station :-/

16 June 2016

Weigh Thy Stuff!

I'm the kind of guy who reads the manual when I get a new widget.  Being that guy, I am well aware of the capacities and limitations specified by the manufacturers of both our trailer and our tow vehicle BOB (Beast Of Burden), our Toyota Sienna AWD van.  We love BOB.  Her towing capacity matches the trailer's max weight, so if fully loaded we're topped out, but still within specification.  But how does one ensure you're staying within these limits?  There's really only one way: Weigh Thy Stuff!

We had planned to weigh MATT and BOB just before the movers packed all of our stuff up, so we could easily offload anything on the off chance we needed to.  In all the packing/cleaning/fixing/moving chaos, however, we neglected to get a pre-move weight.

Can you guess where this is going?

Yes.  When we finally did get weighed, after the movers were gone, we were overweight.  And overweight for both the trailer and for the GCWR for the van, which meant we couldn't simply move weight from the trailer to the van.  We had to lose weight completely.  500 pounds.  And the hardest part of this was that I couldn't see any way to do it that did not include ditching our bikes.  

Some perspective on what this means to us: Asking our family to travel North America without our collection of highly functional, but weighty, bikes would be like asking a diver to go to the Great Barrier Reef but not dive, a climber to go to the Alps and just look, or a photographer to go anywhere without their camera.  We are a bicycling family, and we could not envision the Big Adventure sans bikes.

Kirstin refused.  She said we had to find another solution.  

We pondered and thought, deliberated and evaluated, and then she suggested something I had not considered, because I didn't think it was within the realm of possibility: replace BOB with something that will handle more weight, and then offload the extra weight from the trailer, including the bikes, to the tow vehicle.

We love BOB.  The kids love BOB.  We had always thought we would drive BOB into the dirt.  But faced with giving up the bikes, long old friend.

And hello new friend!

Meet Ruby.

So the moral of the story is this: Unless you want to end up with a sparkly, shiny, new truck, replete with fun doodads, and a big manual describing how to use them all, be sure to Weigh Thy Stuff!

09 June 2016

Driveway Surfing

Trailer outfitted and provisioned?  Check.

House packed up, cleaned and empty?  Check.

House rented out and tenants moved in?  Check.

Get up and go?  Not quite yet.  As of move-out-from-house-time, our eldest daughter had about a month of school left in the school year.  We decide this is a good thing because this affords us the opportunity to ease ourselves into the trailer as a full-time abode, and also be close by our house to suss out any hiccups for our tenants.

Ah, but where to park the trailer while we're still living in town?  Friends' driveways, of course!  Seriously, we are so grateful for friends who are willing to tolerate us well beyond the 3-day rule that's typically reserved for in-laws.  And we've been humbled by the number of people who have stepped up and invited us to spend time with them.  In an effort to share the love, we've been rotating our whereabouts every several days, and it is so heartwarming to more intimately join in with our friends' lives, sharing meals and hanging out while kiddos play together.  And come bedtime, we just scoot back to our little mobile bungalow and cozy up in MATT.  

Driveway surfing!

07 June 2016

The Plan

Making the jump from dream to reality is best accomplished with some forethought and organization, ergo, a plan.  Our plan was inspired by the story of another family that had made a similar leap.  Their story involved quitting their day jobs, selling their house and most of their possessions, buying an Airstream, and heading out to visit all 400 US National Parks.  If they could swing that, why not us, right?  So the initial elements of our plan began with finding a trailer that would do what we need it to do, divesting ourselves of extraneous possessions, outfitting the trailer, deciding where to go and what to do, deciding how long to do it for, tying up loose ends, and going!

First, the issue of "how long".  When I was in middle-school, I had an English teacher who provided a most unorthodox answer to the inevitable question of "How long does this paper need to be?"  Unlike every previous teacher who measured success in a certain number of written pages, this particular educator replied, "It should be the length of a woman's skirt: Long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to keep it interesting."  This concept has stuck with me through the years.  We decided that if a woman's skirt were a road trip intended to explore North America, it might be about a year long.  But to be on the safe side we agreed that the skirt should be made of spandex to afford a generous degree of flexibility, should we decide once we get out there that the correct skirt length is actually only six months.  Or maybe three years.  Flexibility is good.

The trailer.  Our envisioned expedition called for something small, light, durable, yet fully functional.  A small house on wheels.  Definitely not a huge trailer that's relegated only to RV parks and campgrounds that can accommodate such behemoths.  We want to spend time in the middle of the deep, dark woods, as well as in the hustle and bustle of humanity.  A smaller trailer goes more places.  But you can't go too small, or you give up certain things, like an indoor kitchen, or a toilet and shower.  At that point what you have is a glorified tent, not a tiny house on wheels.  A lot of research got me focused on molded fiberglass trailers, e.g. Scamp, Casita, etc.  A lot more research narrowed it down to the Escape brand, built in British Columbia.  Very well built trailers, with excellent customer support, highly customizable by the factory, and fairly priced, especially if you're paying in US dollars, due to the current exchange rates.  The only problem was that we had committed ourselves to The Plan about eight months before intended execution, but due to their popularity, Escape trailers require about a year lead time to order a new one from the factory.  Used units were also difficult to come by because of high demand.  Searching the For Sale adverts became a daily routine, in hopes that one would pop up.  And The Fates came through.  A family in Washington put up for sale their five-year-old yet pristine and almost never used Escape 17B, outfitted almost to a T as I would have done myself.  Within hours of their post we had talked and agreed to terms.  A road trip from Cali to Washington and back and we had it!  It has everything you could want in a tiny portable home: kitchen with fridge, small bath, sleeping space for four, storage for stuff, big batteries to run stuff and solar panels to charge them, air-conditioning if it's hot, a furnace, double-pane windows, and extra thermal insulation if it's cold.  But WOW, it is tiny!  "It'll go places that a giant trailer won't fit," we say.  "Less is more," we remind ourselves.  We dub our tiny little home MATT, for Maximum Adventure Travel Trailer.  We decide that contrary to normal naming convention, MATT is a girl, as her role and function is that of comfort, nurture and support.  Not only are all my immediate family members female, but so are our anthropomorphized possessions.  I have not yet decided if this is a good thing or not.

Divesting possessions.  For many years Kirstin and I have struggled to free ourselves from extraneous possessions.  "Less is more," we regularly say to each other.  "The things you own, end up owning you," we channel from Fight Club.  Over the last several years we have definitely decluttered,  and redistributed many, many things to the world.  But at a certain point it gets hard.  For me that's somewhere between "that is a useful widget" and "that is a sentimental widget".  So we committed ourselves to combing through everything one more time.  We made stacks and piles of stuff in the guest room, the living room, and outside next to the garage.  We set aside some special items to gift to friends and family.  We scheduled a garage sale.  We put things out on the curb labeled "free".  And at the end of it all, we donated everything that was left to a local charity.

But there's still a household full of stuff, and it needed to go somewhere, because it won't fit in the trailer!  This is another place where The Fates smiled, because one of the benefits of my military retirement is that they will pack up and store our household goods for up to six years, and then deliver it where we ask them to, all as part of our final military move.  I consider it payback for all the other times they made us move every few years.  So we scheduled the movers, who dutifully showed up, packed up all our remaining possessions, and drove off with them, ostensibly to a climate-controlled warehouse.  Hopefully not to a thrift store.

Still, one of the life-lessons we hope to take to the next level during our walkabout, as individuals and as a family, is a deeper understanding of how unimportant and unnecessary both those useful and sentimental widgets truly are.  Spend a year without them and they're probably not all that essential, are they?  Perhaps this will be my final hurdle to cut the ties with a lot more stuff that I've been lugging around for years.

Where to go.  This is a unique trip for all of us.  It's the first time that any of us have had the freedom to go wherever, for as long as we'd like, without a hard finish time.  Every normal vacation has an end date, then it's back to work or school or whatever.  Lack of such constraints for us has largely removed the temptation to rush ourselves, or limit ourselves to checking things off a list of "must see" places.  It affords us the opportunity to immerse ourselves in a place until we're ready to experience a new place.  This is really more commentary on "how to go" than "where to go", but the two intertwine closely.  Our "where" list can be summarized into the categories of Friends and Family, Scenic/Historic Places, and Places We Might Want To Move To Afterwards.  It's a meandering list of the people and places we've never been to, or yearned to go back to, or want to share with our kiddos and so expand their lives and understanding of the world.  We have deliberately avoided a hard schedule because we want to be able to stay longer or go earlier, or go somewhere new that we didn't know about until we discovered it.  Explore.  Experience deeply.  These are our objectives, and this is why our itinerary is irritatingly vague to our friends and family.

If a blog entry were a woman's skirt, then surely this blog entry would be part of a nun's habit.  One final note for now though.  When one has children part of any big life event such as this, is getting them onboard.  We introduced the idea from the beginning as a big adventure, and that is what it has become for us all.  The trip itself has a name: The Big Adventure.  And undoubtedly if it has a gender, you can guess what it is.