Camper Supplies I Love: The Top 10

July 29 marks the end of our first year in the camper (with the exception of the three months we were so lucky to rent the most adorable farmhouse in Maine!), and I’ve been thinking a lot about what has worked for us, what hasn’t, and a few things we’ve learned along the way. 

Just in case you are new to our story, last year we sold our beloved little home in our beloved little community in Freeport, Maine, and moved full-time into 18-foot Whitewater Retro 176s travel trailer. We immediately did some painting and cosmetic renovations that served both to create a space that fit our style better as well as increase some of the functionality of full-time camper living. We lived in our camper in our dear friends’ back yard until mid-October, when freezing Maine temperatures threatened the welfare of our camper’s plumbing and we finished our time in Maine from the comfort of a beautiful, cozy rental home near Wiscasset (rent it here!). Our work in Maine finished, we loaded back into the camper in January and drove away from the Maine winter toward Justin’s first travel-nurse assignment in San Marcos, Texas (stopping here and here along the way!). 

Now in the latter half of our second assignment here in Reno, I’m beginning to feel like we’ve been doing this just long enough to have some ideas about what’s working and what’s not, and to make some plans for the camper as we continue forward. I had originally planned to do this all in one post, but as I rounded the 2000 word mark and hadn't even said half of what I wanted to, I figured that perhaps I should reconsider how I go about this. So here we are, my "Top 10" supplies (or decisions!) that I think have worked particularly well! 

(1) My electric tea kettle*. I love this tea kettle more than I can begin to describe and it makes my day-to-day life significantly easier (every. single. day.). We use it each morning for coffee (I'll get to that in a sec), but also for making oatmeal, tea, heating water for dishes (I always forget to flip the hot-water heater on and it takes like 20 minutes if I have to wait for it), and anything else you can imagine hot water being handy for. I would say that the only downside to this kettle might be that it uses way to much power for me to use it when we aren't plugged in, so in those cases, I happily use either my Jetboil or Pocket Rocket + backpacking kettle combo.

(2) My blessed Aeropress. Seriously, perhaps I should have listed this first. I live in 83 square feet and my house sometimes drives down busy highways or bumpy dirt roads. When we still had our house, I had no less than 7 ways to make coffee at any given moment, but I had to choose ONE and one alone when we moved into the camper full-time. I chose the tiny, lightweight, unbreakable tool that makes good, strong, coffee without much fuss. It was definitely the right call. It also works when we're off-grid or even backpacking. And I'll throw this in because even though I know we could buy ground coffee or use the store's grinder, we use the crap out of our little metal hand-grinder and love this thing as well. 

(3) Tessie's dog bowls + food storage container. This thing is awesome. We split her food between this and a small airtight bin that fits into our under-camper storage (which is tight and not particularly easy to access). It keeps her food accessible, her bowls raised, and it has likely prevented innumerable incidences of us kicking her water bowl across the camper by accident. It's ridiculously functional and easy to clean and it was a stellar buy. 

(4) Our toaster oven and hot plate. I know each of these probably should have had their own spot, but they generally solve one dilemma: how to cook our meals. While we technically have a two-burner propane stove that comes standard in the camper, using it eats up a huge amount of our tiny counter space, means fire is uncomfortably close to our curtains, and contributes to the never-ending battle against condensation that we wage daily. So we do what oven things we can in the toaster oven (which fits neatly over the propane stove when in use or on a small platform Justin built for it under the sink) and generally use the hot plate outside as our single burner. We have a Coleman two-burner propane stove that we pull out when we need more than one burner, but the hot plate has made cooking significantly more convenient. I also feel that I would be remiss not to mention my tiny blender under this general cooking/appliance heading. My wonderful friend, Katie, introduced me to the power of the smoothie last year and I could not figure out how to make a blender work in our crazy small space- there definitely was NOT room. And then I found this little guy, small enough to fit in the little space I could carve out for it, a perfect single serving, and the ability to add ingredients in stages (rather than all the small blenders that have the blades in the lids and are hard to get in and out of as you add things). Love this thing, even if I'm pretty sure it will wear out rather quickly being used every day.

(5) Our outside folding table. I know this is super mundane, but this table is where I cook and where my small collection of potted herbs lives. We have a cheapy outdoor table cloth over it and underneath we store our little grill and charcoal and my fold-up laundry rack. The adjustable height allows us to use it as an outdoor coffee table and when it's time to pack up and head out, it folds up flat and small with a handle for carrying. We'd be lost without it.

(6) Our Nature's Head composting toilet. I know. This is getting awkwardly personal, but hear me out. This thing is AWESOME. We never have to deal with gross blackwater hoses or worry about weird smells or have some disgusting sewage mixture sitting in a tank under where we sleep. It's so much cleaner and so much easier and this video from The Wynns is a great resource if you are at all interested in learning more. (It would be great at a camp or on a sailboat, too...).

(7) To get the camper with the slide-out. This falls into the decision-making category, but there are not many days that have gone by that I haven't felt specifically thankful for our floorplan. It's a very different style of floorplan from the vast majority of other travel trailers and the slide-out combined with how the kitchen is set up creates a truly livable space for me. It's small, don't get me wrong, but it feels much bigger inside than you might expect simply based on the slide out and floorplan choices. I have enough space when the slide-out is out to unroll my yoga mat and do a practice inside our camper. I know that sounds silly when I could do it outside, but privacy comes at a premium in RV campgrounds and sometimes the weather can make that difficult. True livability matters for us since we want to keep our camper as small and mobile as possible, but also remember that we aren't vacationing- this is where we live full-time and where I work. We initially hedged due to the additional weight of the slide-out, but I'm grateful every day that we went with this one.

(8) Using high-gloss exterior paint in our interior renovation. While I mentioned some of the mistakes I made painting the interior of our camper in this old post, I have repeatedly been so glad that we used such durable, wipeable, pretty much impermeable paint. We underestimated how much battling against condensation we would be doing living in a camper full-time...if it's even the littlest bit chilly outside, we can potentially wake up to water running down the walls. The walls of "lightweight" campers tend to be some variation of fiberboard and moisture is the arch-enemy of such materials, making condensation a serious concern. The paint not only reflects light throughout the space (making it feel a bit bigger than it really is), but it prevents any water from reaching the fiberboard beneath it. If I were to begin the renovation project over, I'd probably use this primer instead (after making sure I had a better understanding of how to properly use the chemical de-glosser), but otherwise, I would use the same paint/color/finish. Similarly, I'm glad we installed the peel-and-stick backsplash "tile" (similar to these)...not only do people comment on it whenever we give someone a "tour," it's been so great to have a waterproof, wipeable surface behind the sink and where we prep food and make coffee. One of our smarter moves, for sure.

(9) Our truck build out. This sort of straddles the line between "things" and "decisions" but we have loved our truck bed build out so, SO much. It's been so great not only to have our outdoor equipment all in one place and pretty much always with us, but it's made getting outside so much faster and easier. The entire motivation behind uprooting our life was to spend more time outside doing the things that we love and seeing beautiful places. With our truck set-up, it's been so easy to simply toss some food and beer in the cooler (oooh...add our RTIC cooler to the list, we LOVE that thing and use it all the time, and I use my RTIC tumbler for my coffee and smoothies every single day, though I do recommend replacing the original lid with this one), throw a change of clothes in a backpack, grab the dog, and head out...we know we'll just climb into the back and into our sleeping bags, so no need to even make sure we have an official campsite reserved. It's allowed for more spontaneous trips and for us to take greater advantage of the places we've called home temporarily- which is the point after all!

(10) To do this thing. The best decision we've made has been simply to go for it. It has not always been fun and at times it's been downright uncomfortable. We miss our community and our home and the beauty of Maine. But we are so glad that we chose to do this and to do it now. Not to wait and not to postpone and not to give in to the temptation to be "better prepared." It's messy and we are learning as we go, and almost nothing has played out as we expected it to (let's just say that Reno was never on our list of "must-see" places, but we totally love it here!). We've met so many people and heard so many stories. We've relied on each other and leaned toward one another when things have been hard, and we've laughed uproariously together when the unexpected happened. We've grown so much in just this single year, learned so much about what we need and what we think we need, how we define home and how often we can redefine it. How much that we thought was set is actually quite flexible. We've been blown away by own adaptability and resourcefulness and how quickly we've learned that there is simply no time to wait. So we say "yes" and we reach out our hands to grasp the friendships that are offered and we stop to look right now and we keep our eyes open wide and we set aside fear and fall in love. To go, to leap, to take this chance...it's been our best decision yet. 

retro_camper_supplies_fulltime_rv_camperlife

*Please note: this post contains some affiliate links, meaning that if you click the link and it takes you to Amazon, we receive a minuscule commission if you end up buying the product through the link.  

Traffic

“You aren’t stuck in traffic, you ARE traffic. Get a bike.”

I saw these words on a billboard next to a busy highway once and while at the time they simply struck me as funny, they have stuck with me over the years. We complain about crowds in the places we want to go, conveniently forgetting that we ARE the crowds, and we overlook solutions that might remove us from adding to the density.

On our way here to Reno, we stopped at the Grand Canyon. It wasn’t my first visit there, nor Justin’s, but it was the first time either of us had allotted a mere day for the visit. It is a famously crowded park and a destination for people from all over the world. There are cameras and selfie sticks and plenty of people who have never spent any time in the outdoors. And I will be the first one to admit that I felt irritated at the lines and cars and crowds. We hiked a portion of the South Kaibob Trail and never for a moment found ourselves out of hearing or sight range of any number of other people.

We knew going in that we were making rookie mistakes, that we were setting ourself up for exactly the experience of the Grand Canyon that we got. But we had several factors that had to be considered, from our travel schedule to having our dog with us to time for the other places en route where we wanted to visit.  The Grand Canyon got the short end of the stick, but we just couldn’t bring ourselves to skip it altogether.

And so we became “traffic.”

That experience got me thinking about that billboard and things we might have done differently as well as other times when we did do better and I thought I’d share a few thoughts on how to “get a bike”:

1. Pick your timing with care. Because of when we left Texas and had to be in Reno for work, we didn’t have much flexibility when it came to the Grand Canyon. If we could have waited another two weeks, the North Rim would have been open, which is significantly less crowded  than the South Rim (where we were). We saw this in action a few years ago when we visited Florence, Italy in February. While the weather was a bit brisk and it drizzled on us a few times, it was certainly much milder than the Maine winter we’d left behind. And our vast rewards included no lines at the Uffizi, sitting in the room with the David with only a handful of other people present, and having Michelangelo’s Pieta all to ourselves for nearly 40 minutes. No crowds on the Ponte Vecchio or the Piazza Michelangelo or in the Duomo…or anywhere, really. For the price of having to wear a jacket, we never felt rushed or claustrophobic when seeing any of the sights that one comes to Florence to see. And it was all due to the timing.

2. Wake up early. Sometimes hitting a location during the high season simply can’t be helped. This is the time to consider waking up much earlier than usual and heading out while most tourists are sleeping in and lounging over breakfast. We left our campground in Flagstaff much later in the morning than we’d intended and found ourselves pulling up to the gates of Grand Canyon National Park alongside hundreds of other cars. And then waiting for buses to the trailhead alongside hundreds of other people. And then hiking alongside those same hundreds. Had we arrived at the park at sunrise, we certainly wouldn’t have been alone, but we likely would have enjoyed moments of solitude, which can change the feel of an experience significantly. When I traveled to Prague for work several years ago, I remember being overwhelmed my first afternoon by the throngs at the Charles Bridge and Old Town Square- it felt as if the press of people would suffocate me and I was distracted from noticing the gorgeous stones of Prague's ancient buildings or the craftsmanship of the Astrological Clock. The next morning I woke before the sun rose and made my way to those very same places, my solitude interrupted only occasionally by someone passing by on their way to work or the bread truck pulling up to one of the cafes near the Square. In that quiet, I could truly connect to this famous city and the places within it, a feeling that I was able to carry with me even when the hour grew later and the crowds thickened once more. This has been true time and time again and I have never regretted waking up early to find a little space.

3. Pick an alternative site (trail/museum/city). Okay, this isn’t always a realistic option. After all, if you’ve traveled to see the Grand Canyon, no other canyon will quite do. If the Trevi Fountain in Rome is the lifelong dream you are finally realizing, then a small mountain village won’t quite cut it. But if we’d planned (and budgeted) a little differently, there are one or two single-day rafting trips in the Grand Canyon. While they might not have the full appeal of the longer trips, seeing the Canyon from the river is simply an entirely different (and far less crowded) experience than hiking the South Kaibob Trail. Even better would be a longer river trip or planning ahead to acquire a backcountry permit and spending a night or two in the park, since the vast majority of our fellow tourists are only passing through and don’t tend to make it far past the usual spots. Similarly, if Florence is jam-packed with tourists in the summer, consider one of the smaller villages dotting the Italian countryside instead and perhaps experience a more intimate connection to Italy as well as avoid being pushed through a site en masse. Or skip the Uffizi in favor of a visit to the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, a much smaller and less visited museum filled with sculptures that once called the Duomo and Baptistry home (including the Pieta that Justin and I got to enjoy in solitude for so long). It can be worthwhile to pause in the planning to think carefully about what it is you really want to see at a given location and to consider an alternative way to experience it.

4. Suck it up, Buttercup. Sometimes there is simply nothing for it, we are simply “traffic" and there is no good way within the constraints of our travel limitations to “get a bike.” So the only changeable thing is our mindset and our attitude unless we want to forego the location altogether. To look around at our fellow tourists and stop considering them an impediment that frustrates us and instead thinking of them as co-participators in a shared experience. By virtue of the fact that we are standing in the same location, having gone to some effort to be there, we can begin with the sure knowledge that we share something in common with each person we are there beside. I wrote briefly of this in a caption on Instagram last year when I was visiting Athens for work: often the touristy spots are popular for good reason and sometimes it’s simply worth enduring a little claustrophobia in order to see them. I would truly have missed something spectacular had I opted to forego the Parthenon while there, despite the throngs and their selfie-sticks. And sometimes a smile and an offer to take someone’s photo for them can lead to conversation and recommendations and cut through the frustration of so many people and elevate a “tourist” experience to a “travel” experience. When we were in India and waited upwards of four hours for the office selling passes to the Dalai Lama’s teaching to open, it was the experience of the other people waiting alongside us that made those four hours one of my most cherished travel memories ever. Stay open and grateful to be able to be visiting a treasured location in the first place and foster an atmosphere of sharing and cooperation instead of competition and scarcity. 

Our Grand Canyon visit wasn’t our most ideal way to spend time in such a moving and wild place and we would love to have had the time and notice to get a backcountry permit. But alongside hundreds of other people who were as eager as we were to stand for a moment in the presence of geologic splendor, we were gifted with the opportunity to pause at the edge of the very grandest of canyons and feel small, to remember that both our egos and our failures are blips in the grand scheme of time and space and importance. 

Traffic or not, that’s always worth waiting in line for.

Bloom

It began drizzling as we rolled into the eastern half of Saguaro National Park (did you know that this park is split into two parts with the city of Tucson between them? This was news to us...) and the rain was a cool balm to my dusty, thirsty skin.

After more than a week in the desert, I admit that as we drove from New Mexico toward Arizona, I wasn't thinking very much about Saguaro N.P., that I was sort of expecting the same general landscape we'd been looking at since Big Bend- scrubby mesquite bushes and ochre mountains and clustered prickly pear. It wasn't that I was bored (I mean, c'mon, how does one get bored when it comes to wide spaces and even wider skies?), but it hadn't really registered that this desert would differ significantly from the desert we'd been spending time in. Which is crazy considering that we all know saguaro (pronounced sah-WAR-oh...something else we learned there...isn't the world just full of surprises?) cacti are THE cacti that we all picture when think of cacti at all, all arms and elbows and looking for all the world like they are asking for a hug or giving praise at an old time tent revival. 

I was staring out of the passenger window as we approached Tucson, caught up in my thoughts and not really seeing anything I was looking at, so Justin's exclamation startled me a bit and I craned my neck to see what he was pointing toward. Our first sighting of the mighty saguaro. They dotted the open spaces as we passed in ever increasing numbers, sentinels standing watch as we inched toward the keep.

The desert isn't the landscape that calls me home. Don't get me wrong- I genuinely appreciate it and very much treasure my time there, but when my heart hurts and calls for wilderness, it's mighty trees and secret streams and mountains rich with foliage I crave most deeply. After more than a week of heat and dust and air so dry that my skin was cracking, I looked longingly at the building storm clouds but held no real hope for rain in this desert full of cactus royalty.

The first drops fell as we got out of the truck and walked toward the visitor's center. I paused to let the wet hit my skin and took a deep breath, inhaling the distinctive smell of creosote in the rain. It was a little bit sharp and a little bit metallic and will be how I remember the Sonoran Desert smelling for the rest of my days. 

Maybe it was the rain or maybe the cool air that came with it, or maybe just simple good timing on our part, but the desert was blooming in full force. The saguaros looked as though they were holding bouquets or wearing midsummer flower crowns in preparation for dancing around the bonfire, and the prickly pear and cholla were eager to keep up with their own festive looks. There is something distinctly special about seeing tender blooms sprouting from such spiny survivalist plants. A reminder that there lies within even the prickliest among us, a fragile and tender heart. 

That night we were treated to a thunderstorm that shook the ground beneath our camper. We turned off all of our lights, pulled out a bottle of whiskey, and watched the desert light up. It flung its light and flashed its fury and the rain grabbed the dust from the air as it fell.

Just when I thought I was beginning to know the desert, she showed me her version of tall trees and lush foliage and rushing stream. And then threw in a light show to drive home her point, cheeky thing.  

Over Night

Last week we ran away for a night. It was just one night, stolen between workdays and responsibilities and to-do lists. We drove down an old fire road between enormous trees and along a bubbling creek and we hung our hammock, drank from our cooler, built a little campfire, and slept in the back of our truck. It was easy, no major planning involved, just a little time in the car to reach a place with no people or cell phone reception. 

I occasionally catch myself thinking that unless I can "go big" I should just "go home," that small adventures don't "count."

Count for what? Who the hell do I think is keeping score? What a bunch of crap.

It all "counts."

Every moment that we step away from our routines to feed our souls counts. Every move we make to care for ourselves, be it a sleep in the forest, a long bubble bath, a well crafted meal, counts. These moments are how we stay strong and whole so that we can offer the best of ourselves to the world. This is how we fill the well from which we pull our creativity, our compassion, our courage, our kindness.

Sometimes we get the time and space and resources to "go big." But more often, if we always waited for the big adventures, the grand vacations, we'd be exhausted and puny when we got there, our souls emaciated and malnourished. What silliness to wait, to assume that there will be a better moment than the one in front of us to do some small magic for ourselves.

We stole a night beneath grand ponderosa pines and red firs and a million stars twinkling between their branches. It wasn't "hardcore" and it wasn't "big" and what feeds your soul might be something entirely different. But as we drove back down that old fire road the next morning, my step was lighter and my to-do list more manageable and my smile easier. Just like that, just over night. 

 

 

 

Ruled By Water

Lately, my days have been ruled by water. I wake after a night of dreaming of downstream “v”s and wave trains and the swirl of where main current meets eddy. My conversations revolve around flow levels and “gnarly holes” and the current impact of snow melt on every river near the Sierras. With every motion I make, I’m aware of my body, sore and aching from using muscles long atrophied from disuse, from moving rubber and people through rapids and around rocks after more than a decade of not doing so. 

I awake thinking of the river, of the day ahead, of what I can wear that will keep me warm in 40 degree water on a blustery day. I end the day exhausted and replete, joyfully windswept and shivering and eager for a hot shower and an enormous meal and an early bedtime. My world has suddenly become dominated by the tactile and physical, intimately connected to weather and movement and reliant on my sensory awareness and response.

It’s a recollection on so many levels. A recollection of what it is to be so very connected to my own physicality and also a recollection of a less insulated existence. I love inclement weather, I always have (I blame a childhood spent enthralled by the descriptions of English moors and Scottish heather and Irish rain and New England snow that dominated the books I was obsessed with), and I will always thoroughly enjoy sitting within the confines of cozy home/bookstore/cafe sipping something steamy from a mug and looking out upon the weather from my warm and dry shelter. But I’d forgotten how much I love this too, this being out in the middle of that weather, a part of it, of squinting rain out of my eyes as I keep the shivering at bay by pure exertion. Or the flip side, the beating sun in this high desert, the juxtaposition of scorching air and icy runoff that splashes up with each wave we punch through. All of it a recollection of a me who didn’t always spend so many days looking out upon the world from behind her computer, a recollection of a me who knew more precisely where her body and mind intersected in space, how her physical and intellectual could become entwined to cope with challenges. 

And there are challenges aplenty. This is hard. Much harder than I’d anticipated and for reasons I’d never considered. I expected it to be physically challenging…it’s not exactly rocket science to imagine that I would get quite a workout guiding rafts after all this time and that there would be some soreness and exhaustion. But I underestimated how many fears I would be facing down daily, how many perceptions about myself I’d have to look more closely at and take responsibility for. It was easy to talk about my “glory days” as a river guide in the past, to hold that identity as part of the narrative about how I became my current me. It was easy to remember that I’d once been really quite good at it, that I was a leader and had solid knowledge born of day-in-and-day-out experience and immersion. I knew water back then, deep and sure. But to come back after all this time so far away from it is to expose myself to the very real possibility that I not only might be “rusty” and out of shape, but also that I have changed so much in the intervening years that the water might not speak to me in any real way anymore. It was one thing to have walked away from that life all those years ago, another to realize that it might not have any place for me now. Or that the me and the life I’ve built over these last years might have no place for rivers. And what of my creative work? Where does that work fit into these days spent on the water? Can I fall exhausted into my bed each night and still find the energy and motivation to create? Must I choose between them? Who am I in this swirl of past and present, of exterior and interior life and work? 

The only answer I have is that I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m doing here. I don’t know what the balance looks like or whether I’m doing the right things or making a mess. I don’t know if I’m being brave by confronting the barrage of fears and insecurities that show up each day or if the mean-girl voice in my head that keeps whispering that this is what a mid-life crisis looks like is right. I just don’t know. I don’t know if I can regain enough skill to become a good guide again in these three short months. I don’t know what exactly I’m trying to get out of this. I don’t know if neglecting my business for three months will be recoverable or if I’m setting myself up for failure and regret later. I actually just don’t know any of the answers.

But I am moving forward anyway. On trust, mostly. Trust that there is room and space in myself and my life for all of this. That there are cycles to all things, creativity and business and personal identity included, and that stepping back from my business just a bit to dedicate these months to water will actually allow greater clarity and focus when I return. That this version of me has very different lessons to learn from this time working on water than my twenty-something self did, but that they will be just as valuable. That the joyful thrumming I feel despite all the work and fear and difficulty is a sign that I am doing something right. Trust that I have enough courage inside of me to face whatever I find as I move through these choices and these changes and these fears. 

Luckily, lately my days have been ruled by water. And if there is a better daily reminder that trying to control everything or that working against natural flow is a fruitless endeavor, I don’t know what it is. I feel alive and in touch with every part of myself right now, which feels a bit strange and foreign, but also just absolutely lovely. I’m exhausted on pretty much every single level. But it’s a deeply satisfying exhaustion, a kind of bone-deep weariness that comes from reaching all the way into the depths, of working hard and honestly and past my perceived limitations. I am immersed once again in the rhythms of water and seasons, and such, can trust that my own rhythms and cycles also have purpose and intrinsic value.

---

More images from our transition time between Texas and Nevada. If you ever find yourself in southern New Mexico, be sure to carve out time to see White Sands National Monument. It is simply magical.

Double Vision

After leaving Big Bend National Park, we took the scenic route following the emaciated Rio Grande and through Big Bend Ranch State Park along Texas Farm-to-Market road 170. It’s a gorgeous drive through mountains and desert and definitely a preferable route to Marfa from Big Bend if you can spare the extra 2 hours. About midway through the state park, the road makes a single, very steep climb with just enough switchbacks to keep you from hitting it with any speed. You guys, we seriously almost didn’t make it pulling the camper. The gas pedal was actually pressed to the floor, our truck was revved high, and our speed dropped down to just under 15mph and we had our fingers and toes all crossed that we could make it to the top. Another 20 yards and we likely wouldn’t have. But we did, indeed, make it and the view from the top was incredible. The valley below was golden with a green swath stretched along the river banks. It just had a true West Texas feel to it. We were giddy with relief as we dropped over the other side and made it to Marfa without incident. 

Or so we thought.

After checking into our adorable little RV park and wandering about the tiny-but-bizarrely-cool-and-artsy town, we headed out to take a few photos of the famous Prada Marfa art installation. On our way there we began to notice that our truck simply wouldn’t go above 60 mph despite the perfectly flat terrain. It had no power, no pickup, no oomph. We got our photos, enjoyed the stunning sunset and pronghorn antelope dotting the fields, and resolved to see what a town with a local population of approximately 1,500 people had for mechanics in the morning.

In the meantime, Justin called his family’s mechanic back in New Hampshire (who was instrumental in helping us acquire our truck) and he gave us a run-through of things to check out. When he heard where we were and what we were up to, he exclaimed that he was so excited at the “rocking chair memories” that we were making.

Rocking chair memories. What a perfect way to put it. 

With every step we’ve taken, from the crazy sale of our home to getting moved into the camper to each step along the way since we actually drove away from Maine, I’ve had a nagging sensation of double vision. I am in the moment itself, hiking the Lost Pine Trail or watching a sandstorm in the Death Valley, and I am engrossed in the experience of it. But I can also feel the echoes of these moments as memories later in life. The way the stories will become entwined with the story of us, of this life we share and build together. How we’ll learn a rhythm in how we tell them together over the years. It’s an odd feeling to be in the present and to also see yourself looking back on this moment later. To be able to see the rocking chair memory clearly in the very moment we are making it.

And isn’t that at the crux of this whole thing? Isn’t this why we left so much that we love behind? We never expected everything to go perfectly smoothly, or be easy, or even to always feel that we made the right decision in doing all of this. We knew that at some point we would likely find ourselves with car trouble in the middle of nowhere (okay, maybe not exactly that, but some version of it…), but also that that is where the real stories are. To someday say to the other, “Remember that time we were stuck in Marfa, Texas when it was 103 degrees and couldn’t find a mechanic?” 

We won’t have that precise story to tell…we did find a mechanic and he was fantastic (and his wife owns a flowershop/bakery called Buns-n-Roses which might just be the coolest name ever AND had the best damn turnovers I’ve had in a long time) and we were on our way to Guadalupe Mountains National Park and Carlsbad Caverns the very next day. But. The double vision remains. There are other moments- intense mountain passes and desert sunrises and dark night skies filled with the sounds of coyotes and thunderheads over saguaros- and I can feel their “rocking chair-ness,” see the memory alongside the experience. And I’m sure for a bit that this was, indeed, the right decision…we were always in it for the double vision.

There are restrooms (fully plumbed) as well as a snack bar and gift shops nearly 800 feet below ground, which might just be the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen...

There are restrooms (fully plumbed) as well as a snack bar and gift shops nearly 800 feet below ground, which might just be the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen...