Nevada Skies

We left Kippetje (did I tell you guys that we finally settled on a true name for our sweet little camper home? Kippetje- or Kippee for short- means “little chicken” in Dutch and it just feels right…now if we could just come up with the right name for our truck…) parked rather forlornly in the sandy side lot of a friend’s home in the desert east of Reno. We tried not to look back at the rearview mirror as we pulled away, Kippee’s light blue sides peeking out beyond the fence accusingly. It just felt so wrong to abandon her like this, to leave her in the hands of near strangers for months under the desert sun. 

I thought momentarily of the scene in the book Love With A Chance Of Drowning where they return to their stored sailboat to find that their canned goods had exploded at some point over the months and that their home was covered in unlivable filth. It was with that scene in mind that I’d scoured the camper for anything that might freeze or attract critters or otherwise not survive storage well, but as we drove away from Kippee, I worried again that I’d missed something, that we would return to her in February to irreparable damage. And the truth is, we just might. Things happen…the temperature variations in the desert and the intermittent sandstorms, the small creatures adept at squeezing through tiny gaps to find shelter, the simple neglect of sitting unused for nearly 5 months…it seems more likely than not that something will be in need of repair when we resume camper life. I have to fight the urge to worry, to call the friends storing her and ask for updates, to attempt to control all outcomes from my perch 3,000 miles away.

But this has been part of my work since we made the choice to sell our home in Maine, possibly my most important work. Learning to let go. Understanding on a visceral level the realities of impermanence and non-attachment. On some level, that understanding resides deep in my gut- one simply cannot survive cancer without having come face-to-face with the unavoidable truth of one’s own intrinsic impermanence. My nature, however, inclines me to hold on tightly-often too tightly- to people, to things, to ideas. It is my lifelong struggle to know when to pry my fingers, one white-knuckled digit at a time, from gripping the people and things I love with all of my might. There is some beauty in that grip, the fierceness with which I love my people often pulls the best parts of me to the surface, allows me to rise to be the friend, partner, sister, daughter that I aspire to be, to truly show up even when it’s hard, to support them even in the face of my own pain or grief. However, I would be lying not to admit that a big part of that grip stems directly out of a place of fear, the innate and primal terror of inevitable loss, and we all know that that sort of grip is stifling and unhealthy and tends not to serve anyone well.

Our choice to sell our home or relinquish most of our possessions is, by no means, the same letting go that is required when we lose a loved one. But I think of it as a step toward learning to make peace with change and the inevitable losses that balance the gains. The minimalism movement talks ad nauseum about the freedom that comes with ridding yourself of possessions. And sure, to some extent that’s obviously true (our journey would certainly be more complicated if we were trying to do this while also dealing with the expense and responsibility of storing our possessions or renting out our home). But I wish more of the folks leading that movement would talk a bit more about how damn hard that can be, how if you’ve already done the work of paring down the clear excesses in your life, letting go of more is truly heart-wrenching. I remember a conversation I had with a “hard-core” minimalist as we were beginning to set aside the minuscule percentage of our belongings to store while we journeyed. I commented that I obviously was going to keep and store my family photos and papers, things like my great-great-grandparents’ marriage certificate and the sepia toned images of my grandmother as a wide-eyed girl. My acquaintance made the dismissive remark that I’d get over that, to just scan them in and send the hard copies to the dump. I just stared at her in disbelief for a good long minute before likely saying something snarky about us clearly operating very differently. Some “things” are not really “things” at all. The brittle paper of that marriage certificate is hardly the point. It’s the faded ink of the signatures, the record of how their hands moved across the paper when they were so very young and strong, how the story of these humans I’ve never met leads directly to my own. That little rectangle of paper connects me to them with all of my senses- the feel of that fragile paper and its creases where it was stored in an envelope, the musty scent, the variation in the fountain pen ink, the small water stain in one corner, the ornate typeface that echoes of how things were done before computers or typewriters, the simple ability to touch and smell the very same piece of paper that they did so very many years ago. A scanned version simply wouldn’t do, wouldn’t affect me in the same way. I’m pragmatic, of course, and have scanned them all in, but that is for back-up, for safekeeping, not license to destroy my history. I’m digressing here (it’s hard to resist a tangent about minimalism or history…subjects on whose discourse I could spend days at a time), but the point is that with each step of this journey I have been faced with letting go of things I cherished, everything from furniture that Justin and I built together to my favorite teapot to my plants to the home and community that I just loved. Each time I bargained and tried to work around the letting go, gave the list of reasons that this one thing got to stay. And almost each time, I would eventually circle around to the truth that while I could justify hanging on and that there were good, valid reasons for doing just that, the cost would be too great- either directly interfering with the choice we’d made to journey or edging out other items that were more important to me.

And that has been at the heart of this learning to let go. It’s rarely a choice between a thing/experience/person that I want and one that I don’t. It’s learning to choose between the many things that are wonderful, the many things that I want with all my heart, of choosing what takes priority. I chose to let go of our home entirely and experience the uncertainty and fear and “all in” mentality of traveling without that safety net to return to. I miss it often, and the loss strikes me unexpectedly sometimes in such a punch-in-the-gut sort of way. But we would not have had the year that we’ve had nor the future we’re planning if we hadn’t let go and I can’t bring myself to regret the choice. We could have rented a large storage unit to hold all of our belongings while we traveled and I know that when we next make a more permanent home, I will be cursing having let go of some of what we will buy again. But even beyond the freedom from the financial burden that storage would have entailed, I grew tremendously from prying that death grip from my belongings and fully grasping the space it allowed for us to have this time be a true new beginning, to embark on a new era in our lives unencumbered by the trappings of the last one. 

As we drove away from Kippetje and left her well-being in hands not our own, my inherent resistance both amused and bemused me. How many times and how many ways must I learn the same lessons? We do what we can, we prepare and we do our work and we control the controllables. And at some point, things change or the unexpected happens or some factor that we hadn’t considered comes into play, and we get outcomes different from what we’d hoped or planned for. There is simply no escaping. Nothing is permanent. Why is it so impossible to fully grasp this? Not people, not belongings, not situations, not who we are or what is important to us. If we arrive at our friends’ house in February to find some kind of major issue with Kippee, well...we’ll figure it out. The me of just a few short years ago would never have been able to say that and really mean it. But after a year and a half of practice at letting go of all kinds of things I thought I couldn’t live without (my own shower, clear daily structure, workspace, etc), I recognize that this is just the truth of life in general. Prepare as best we can, make the best choices we can with the information we have, and then figure it out when things go awry. I will still worry for our little home here and there, but I can see ever more clearly how worry often creates a barrier that prevents me from fully engaging where I actually am. If I’m worrying about Kippee, then I’m mentally somewhere in Nevada expending energy to deal with things that haven’t actually come to pass, existing in some bizarre fantasyland, rather than being right here where I am dealing with what is actually happening around me, expending energy on the goals and projects and people that are real.

I suspect this won’t be the last time I dive into this work of letting go. Hell, it’s likely not the last time today that I work on it. And that’s okay, really. This is the work of life, after all, this learning how to love and be loved, how to stretch ourselves, how to set aside our egos and still make good use of our gifts, how to balance our lives in relationship to others, how to fight when a fight is what’s called for, how to release when it’s time to let go. It’s work that we must come back to over and over, circle around it to see all of the angles, crack ourselves open as we search for honesty and truth under layers of story and fear and vulnerability. It’s real work, true work. 

And so we turned away from Kippetje, from the rearview mirror for a bit, and looked out at the road before us, at the two lanes winding east under broad blue skies. Nevada isn’t a good place to hide. There’s no cover on those golden hills, nowhere to tuck away behind self-deception or doubt. As we aimed the truck toward Idaho and set the cruise control too fast, the cotton clouds rolled up into formation and we rolled the windows down, allowing that desert wind to set our hair flying as our outstretched hands rode the currents.

Forward, friends, under these Nevada skies.

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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. 

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