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.

Homebody

Every day now I am redefining my idea of home, of what grounds me in this life and where I hide from the bigger world when I need quiet and solace and solitude. Is it this rolling tin can of a “house” with its four aluminum walls and painted fiberboard interior? Is it my little family of husband and dog and the choices we make together for our days? Is it something I carry within me, separate from structure and routine and external validation?

I don’t really know yet. I suppose that’s part of what we’re doing out here, part of why we shook things up in the first place. And this not knowing is both thrilling and liberating and deeply uncomfortable. I swing from feeling wholly rooted one moment to entirely rootless in the very next. 

I am a homebody in the truest sense of the word. I love to be at home, to tinker in the kitchen and fiddle in the garden and rearrange the furniture so that “cozy” is always the most applicable adjective to describe the space. But I am also very much at home snuggled deep into my own inner life, under the soft knit blankets of my ideas and plans and imagination, thinking and wondering and allowing my curiosity to roam freely. And when I’m strong and running through the woods, when I’m connected to every muscle and sinew, I inhabit each millimeter of my body and know that it is home as well. 

So I’m finding that as we alternatively move and stay, I must take time each day to think about “home” with real attention, to consider where I will find my sense of home in this moment. It’s no longer a static place on a map, but a fluid idea that must take the shape of whatever container I have on hand at any given time. I am learning how to do this. I am learning how to be a homebody with no fixed address, to relinquish all of my old ideas about how that must look. And as I do this rather uncomfortable learning, I’m reminded yet again that cultivating meaning and purpose in my life is about honest, no-getting-around-it hard work, the work of growing, the work of deepening my understanding of myself and my world and where I fit into it.

Where do you find home?

Renovation Station

Things are a-bustle around here. The house looks like its been hit by a bomb as I sort through what few things we'll take with us, what few things we'll store at Justin's parents' house, and what we're selling/donating/etc. The list for the first two things are quite short, while the "sell/donate/etc" list is quite long. We've been focused on getting our still-nameless trailer painted and renovated while we still have tools and space (an an address that Amazon will ship to!). It's been seriously crazy town and I'm pretty sure my friends, family, and clients all thing I've entirely disappeared from the face of the earth at this point!

Like any renovation project, we've run into a few hiccups along the way. We want to be sure to share all of our snags as well as our triumphs, so be prepared for some epic #fail moments as we figure out what the hell we're doing here.

We began the reno by painting everything but the cabinets. I just couldn't handle that much wood and it felt a little dark and claustrophobic to me. Also, while you couldn't really tell at first glance, most of the "wood" was mis-matched fiberboard paneling and some pieces were full-on different colors. The closer we look, the crappier the craftsmanship is revealed to be.

After googling the crap out of how to paint an rv/camper/travel trailer. A few themes popped up:

  •  a general recommendation against sanding fiberboard as it can't stand up to much abrasion
  • instead of sanding, use a chemical de-glosser/sander
  • Glidden's Gripper primer was almost universally recommended
  • consider exterior paint for extra durability

So. I purchased chemical de-glosser and wiped everything we were planning to paint down with it. Here's where we hit our first minor snag. While the bottle and the world of google were full of directions for using it in a properly ventilated area and other such safety precautions, other than a basic instruction to use a clean cloth to wipe it off and that a second coat could be applied if necessary after 10 min, I couldn't find any actual instructions on how to use it or what to expect or how to know whether it was working. So I donned rubber gloves and a mask and opened all of the windows in the trailer and went over every surface we were planning to paint, followed by a wipe down with a clean cloth. Nothing looked different, but what do I know about de-glosser?

Next we painted everything with two coats of Gripper. It went on fine in most places, but I definitely noticed a few places where it did that beading-up sort of thing that started to worry me. But the second coat went on just fine and a scratch test seemed to indicate that everything was adhering, so I continued to proceed. I realized later that Gripper comes in an "all-purpose" version and a "hard-to-stick-surfaces" version. We didn't realize that there were two varieties and ended up with the first. Oops.

After the Gripper had a chance to dry, we applied two coats of high-gloss bright white interior/exterior paint. We knew the gloss would show imperfections, but felt like it was worth it for the increased light reflectiveness as well as the most wipe-ability. 

Y'all it looks GOOD. And so much brighter.

But.

I think you might know where I'm going with this. When we started pulling the tape off, the edges of the paint began peeling up. We haven't tested to figure out just how vulnerable the entire paint job is (mostly because we simply don't have time to fix it all at this point), but it's not looking ideal. Our short-term solution? Caulk down the edges, be careful not to ding up the paint, and have extra primer/ paint handy for touch-ups.

I don't know if it was a poor application of deglosser on my part (since I didn't really know what I was looking for) or the all-purpose vs the hard-to-stick-surfaces primer mix up, but for those of you considering a similar project...maybe do a test area?

Other things we've done so far:

  • Applied this wallpaper to the back wall of the dinette
  • hung small picture ledge shelves in the dinette (sort of like these...)
  • Began applying these Smart Tiles to the kitchen backsplash...under-ordered and are waiting for a second delivery to finish the job and hang a shelf across the kitchen wall
  • applied magnetic & chalkboard paint to the fridge (same issues and had to caulk edges...but it's paintable caulk, so I'll touch them up with chalkboard paint and then test the whole thing!)
  • I sewed some curtains from indoor/outdoor fabric I found on sale at Joann's (though we realized we hung the curtain rods of two windows too low to use the clips I bought to hang them with, so I had to use the top pocket of the curtains instead...not a big deal, but I don't like the look as much) (oh, also...I sewed one of the curtains upside down...oops)
  •  bought this mattress topper and these cute organic sheets  for the new bed (we're going from a full to a queen...so funny to be getting a bigger bed!)

We're under the two-week mark now and it's going to be a race to the finish, I think. We've still not decided where we'll park this thing once we close on the house, so there's that. But I found a co-working space to rent a desk for the next few months, and that takes some of the pressure off...it's good to know that my work can proceed without too much interruption even if we park somewhere without wi-fi!

Next on our list:

  • finish the "tiles" and hang the kitchen shelf
  • paint the front door yellow (low-priority at the moment)
  • mount mirror in the "closet" door
  • figure out storage for clothing/food/etc
  • dispose of all of our world possessions & clean the house for our awesome buyers! 

Sleep is for the weak! 

Stay Curious, friends!

 

Not Quite #Vanlife

Well, we made a decision about housing (which is good, since we close on our house in T-minus 3 weeks)!

We'd like you to meet our new home!

(We haven't named her yet...Justin's vote is for Ethel, but I'm still not sure I'm totally on board yet)

A few things about her:

  • She's a never-owned 2016 Whitewater Retro 176s by Riverside
  • She's just shy of 18' long and 7'7" wide and has almost exactly 100 square feet of living space when the slider's out
  • She features a slide-out dinette area (so I actually have enough floor space to roll out my yoga mat when the weather isn't cooperative for an outdoor practice! Getting' fancy!)

We looked at only a few trailers...it would seem that the only trailers New Englanders seem to buy are bigger than our current house, so finding some small ones (that weren't pop-ups) took a little doing. We are planning to pull the trailer with our 1999 V6 Toyota Tacoma, so in this case, size does indeed matter.

We found the Retro online and had to travel to look at a few. We'd originally decided on the 166, but ultimately decided to splurge on the space afforded by the 176S's slide-out given that this will be our full-time home (and my office once we hit the road in January) for the next several years.

I have some plans to renovate, but I thought I'd share a few quick snapshots I took as we were preparing to paint...

The plans include a ton of bright white, high-gloss paint, immediately disposing of the super-crappy weird bedding that came with it, and maybe turning the fridge into a magnetic chalkboard. Some of my big plans were immediately dashed when we got in and realized just how "lightweight" the building materials are...ummm...we're sort of crossing our fingers that this thing can stand up to a strong breeze...bookshelves are totally out.

I will do my best to keep you posted over these next few weeks as we whirlwind renovate/pack/sell everything we own/ figure out where we'll park this thing for the next few months!