I’ve got a new story over at Aluminum Dreams: Marfa, Texas
Category: Life Updates
Off to the big city in the Airstream. I’m more of the wilderness type and Grace is definitely more the city girl so we try to mix it up with our travel locations. However, Austin is definitely a location we can both agree on.
The curse of the urban RV visit is that locations to stay in tend to be both over priced and over crowded. Thankfully, Austin provides a welcome alternative in McKinney Falls State Park. Just a few miles from downtown Austin, this amazingly expansive state park offers beautiful and enormous spots with lots of trails and incredible quantities of wildlife for essentially being in an urban setting. With the exception of the inevitible college kid party on the weekend (this is hook’em horn country after all) this place was a wonderful quiet home base for exploring the city. It also gave us a chance to have our first campfire since we’ve been on the road. Can’t believe it took us this long!
We aren’t the perfect demographic for a city like Austin. We tend to go to bed too early for things to heat up on 6th Street. However, that doesn’t stop us from enjoying many of the other charms of the city, including the food. While Austin is full of many excellent brick and mortar restaurants, it’s especially famous for it’s food trucks. We were big fans of The Lucky Belly at The Thicket and The Mighty Cone at The Picnic.
We also had an informative morning at The Bullock Texas State History Museum exploring both the glorious and darker parts of the history of the Lone Star State. We even found a few exhibits that reference relatives of Grace! Does that make us honorary Texans?
Sometimes cities can be a bit tough for nomadic dog owners. Austin on the other hand is a dog owner’s paradise. The city is full of massive dog parks to let your pup run free. Our favorite was the Onion Creek District Park. This massive greenbelt features miles of creekside trails plus huge fields for your dog to run and play.
While we spent most of our two weeks in the city proper, we did make one day trip out to Saledo, just to the north of Austin where our Aunt Melissa and Uncle Joe run the amazing Glass River Design glass studio. They make some absolutely stunning glass work and they love to teach people about their craft as well!
While we didn’t make it out to the bars on 6th Street, we did at least get a little music entertainment. On the night before we were leaving town, we made to the Austin Opera for a fun performance of Donizetti’s “The Daughter of the Regiment”. It was a great send off from the big city.
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So, we are finally on the road again and it feels great. We needed some time in Oklahoma to get our affairs in order and to spend much wanted time with friends and family. However, we were certainly ready to get back out on this new adventure of ours.
We started off our journey with a quick jaunt down to Dallas for a business meeting with a client. It’s a new experience hauling one’s house around for business meetings and a quite pleasant one at that. There’s something nice about being with family at home after business meetings in a strange city. We didn’t really get to spend much time poking around, but we’ve spent more than enough time in the big D and we were ready to hit the road.
Our first stop was just outside of Beaumont at Village Creek State Park. Grace was here to do some genealogy research in Beaumont and the surrounding area. Unfortunately, we were only here for a week, so I didn’t get to see much of the area, but we did make sure to squeeze in a few adventures together.
The park itself was a real treat. Quiet, secluded and with lots of trails to explore. This was the first time Magda and I have had a chance to do some real hiking together and while she was a little intimidated by the sounds and smells of the swamp (I don’t entirely blame her), she was a real trooper.
We also made sure to make it out to get some Cajun food, something not to be missed in these parts. However, I’m not sure if the zombie gator is the best advertising for a restaurant.
On our last day in the area, we did finally make it out the coast. Hoping for some nice views, we ended up being surrounded by fog. That said, the smell and sound of the sea was well worth the trip.
This was a very quick trip and we definitely felt that. The next day we headed out to Austin for a longer stay which will hopefully feel a bit more complete.
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After the somewhat frantic out and back travel we did for the first three months in the Airstream, we were ready for a break. While we were enjoying the sights, having to head out to a location for only a week or two before heading back to Oklahoma was getting a little tiring. Since we had the holidays coming up plus the kids’ birthdays, we decided to stop traveling for the year in the middle of October.
We settled into a nice little place in Luther, Oklahoma just a few miles from my parents. It was really nice to be settled in one place for a bit to get our bearings and really get used to this tiny house living.
Having a tiny house has some really awesome advantages. For example, doing a complete deep clean of the entire house, including moping, dusting and scrubbing of all the cabinets takes about 45 minutes. We are still really enjoy having so much less stuff in our life. It really is liberating.
It’s safe to say we are both loving our little Airstream, but I would be kidding if there weren’t challenges to living in 200 square feet.
We really haven’t been stepping on each other’s toes too much. However, it’s easy to feel like the walls are closing in, especially in the colder season when being outside isn’t a particularly appetizing proposition. Additionally, that cold weather has forced us to change how we use the trailer’s systems, namely the water systems.
One of the rules that many say about living in an RV is that it can’t be camping. This is our home and it needs to feel as comfortable as possible. The discomfort I might put up with for a backpacking trip for a week or two will get old if it’s my daily experience. When it gets really cold, with our exposed underbelly and thin walls, we are forced to drain the water tanks and live a pretty spartan existence. Suddenly, we start feeling like we are living in an aluminum tent and it can be a little stressful.
That said, having a house on wheels has had some amazing perks as well. The best of which has been our ability to spend some time with our niece and nephews at their house. My in-laws have about eight acres of land and offered us spot on their lawn. It was fantastic to be house guests without feeling like we were being long-term pests. (At least, we hope it felt that way for my in-laws). Having the kids come over for little backyard adventures was fun for both them and us!
With that said, we’ve both been feeling restless feet for the last month or so. We’ve been planning and dreaming about getting back out on the road. We are heading south into Texas for a little exploration of the Lone Star State. Grace is looking forward to doing some on-site genealogy of some Texas ancestors. I’m looking forward to some wide open vistas and desert sunsets. And both of us are looking forward to being out on the road for a few months and stretching our traveling legs.
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Falling behind is always my terror in blogging. I’ll get busy, things come up and the next thing I know you I’m a couple of months behind on posts. I then feel overwhelmed with the amount of writing I have to do to get caught up mixed with guilt of not doing what I need to do. Then I just give up …
Well, I don’t want to give up so soon, so in this case I’m going to have to make a compromise to keep this thing going. So here are inadequate but necessary catch-up posts of our travels from the end of this year. I’ll try to be better going forward.
Grand Tetons & Yellowstone
This was our big trip of the year and our first attempt at extended boondocking. We started off with a week in far eastern Idaho, in the small town of Victor, just over the range from Jackson, Wyoming. It was a great place to stop and get our bearings. I was really amazed at eastern Idaho, with its mile after mile of rolling fields of wheat and scattered potato farms. It reminded me more of Kansas than the rugged far west.
Victor was a very cute little town where not much was happening, which made it perfect. They have a nice main street with a few stores and restaurants to support the limited tourism trade on this side of the Tetons. It feels mostly like a bedroom community for the people who work in Jackson but couldn’t possibly afford the real estate prices just west over the range.
The town supports a fantastic, and for a guy who hasn’t been riding much, wonderfully flat, 7 1/2 mile bicycle trail between itself and neighboring Driggs. It’s a nice ride that lets you marvel at the Tetons without the traffic in the park. Additionally, it takes you by the most Idaho named drive-in possible, The Spud!
We also started doing our explorations of the Teton and Yellowstone parks. This was both amazing and in it’s own way upsetting. You don’t realize how big these places are when you are traveling out here. Once here, we suddenly realized how much time it would take to really explore these places and how limited our time was for our visit.
This is one of the early frustrations we are having on our travels. Due to some obligations back in OKC right now, we have to take short out and back trips which makes our stays seem more rushed and more like a working vacation than a working adventure. We will both be glad to have some longer stints in areas to get a chance to dig a little deeper into the places we visit.
On our first day of exploration, we certainly hit the wildlife jackpot. In one stop at Blacktail Ponds at dusk, we spotted within about a three-minute window: mule deer, a massive elk herd, moose and a red fox. Plus we were presented with an astounding sunset over the mountains.
The next week, we crossed over into the Wyoming side of the Teton, snagging an amazing boondocking spot at the aptly named Upper Teton View. You can read our in-depth review here. It was sometimes hard to work with this view presenting itself.
My mother joined us for a week and a half for this part of our trip which allowed Grace and her to do some exploration during the week while I worked. This was also our first test of our ability to do long-term boondocking. Overall we did well, though we did run out of drinking water on one day and were forced to run to the dump station a few days before we moved out. Once we have the composting toilet installed, I think long-term stays will become much easier.
My mother and I had a really nice long photo trek through Yellowstone on Labor Day weekend. Yellowstone really wasn’t as packed as I would have expected, but there certainly were a lot of people around. The best part of the exploration was getting to West Thumb right before dawn. The place was almost completely deserted except for a couple of intrepid photographers there to capture the golden dawn light.
As we were tramping around, we kept hearing nearby bellowing from a male elk. All of the sudden, two females came galloping at full tilt through the geysers followed in close pursuit by a male, in pursuit of a mate. These are the moments I think I most look forward to having on our trips. The sites are great, but this was a moment that was purely mine, a trapped memory to keep and revisit.
We capped off our trip with a dawn visit to Old Faithful and the surrounding geyser basin on Labor Day. While it was cloudy and gloomy, the lack of crowds made for a wonderful way to see this generally packed site. Actually, the surrounding basin was maybe even more amazing than the grand event. Mordor jokes seems appropriate in this land of steam and sulfur …
It was too short of a visit, but a nice introduction to an amazing place. I hope to return here again before our adventures are over …
Hot Springs & Eureka Springs
The plan has been to spend the fall and holiday season back in Oklahoma, not only to be close to friends and family, but also to give us some time to finish some trailer projects and to better organize the trailer based upon what we’ve learned. However, we’ve already learned that the Airstream can struggle in really warm weather, so we planned a very short two-week trip up into the Ozarks of Arkansas with the hope that the slightly higher altitude and tree cover might make it slightly cooler than central Oklahoma. It was a theory anyway …
We started off in Hot Springs, which is an astoundingly odd National Park being that it’s a park that is really mostly a city with grand 19th century boulevards and amazing turn of the century architecture in the grand bath houses.
The whole place has an amazingly weird feel to it with old-fashioned tourist trap shops (magic stores, houses of wax, t-shirt shops specializing in vulgar clothing, etc.) along with the old architecture including crumbling 15 story former grand hotels and with amazing levels of extreme poverty as well. Not sure exactly what to make of the place. Maybe best described as an interesting combination of contradictions.
We did make sure to get a bath. Not sure it cured me of any particular ailments, but it was certainly a relaxing experience.
We then moved over to Eureka Springs for a week. A far more prosperous tourism community which felt almost artificial in some ways after the grittier Hot Springs.
However, it was a nice way to finish out our big travels for the year. We had some great photo walks through town and generally enjoying some last moments on the road.
You can see the full gallery of Yellowstone photos here. And a small gallery from Hot Springs / Eureka Springs here.
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This is the sort of spot you dream about when you start thinking about RV travel. Admittedly, it’s not a secret, but with plenty of room for everyone, this is a spot not to be missed. And even though you won’t be alone, compared to many of the other campgrounds in the Grand Teton/Yellowstone area, you will feel like you are truely in wilderness.
Access is fairly straightforward for most sized rigs, though there are a couple of blind turns and a few spots where two rigs passing would be difficult. If you have a tow vehicle, I would recommend sending the second vehicle up to the top to hold traffic. That said, we never had a problem on the four times we took the trailer along the road. Traffic is generally very light.
The main plateau is just off the top of the hill, take the first turn off on the left. There are a ton of spots, most with good views. However, the really premium views are the four spots right on the west rim of the plateau. However, I would take any of them and be happy. All of the main spots are fairly level and there is plenty of room to maneuver and turn around.
If you can’t find a spot on the plateau, there are tons of little places tucked off to the sides of the forest road further up the road. There are lots of opportunities, especially for smaller rigs.
There are plenty of exploring opportunities around the area, if you can tear yourself from the view. You should definitely be bear aware up here but we never saw any signs of bears in the area. If you are in a tent, there are bear boxes available on the plateau.
Cell phone coverage is strong, but bandwidth can be limited especially during the day. Probably a lot of Instagram photos being uploaded nearby.
The spot is extremely conveniently located. It’s a short 30 minute drive into Jackson and about 15 minutes to Moose. If you are looking for a place to explore the Teton Region from, this is it.
5 out of 5 stars.
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Proving that blogging is the first thing to suffer as soon as stuff gets interesting, we’ve been horribly quiet over here lately. It’s been a whirlwind of activity as we’ve purchased our trailer, set it up and hit the road for our first work trip.
After much going back and forth, we decided we wanted the Airstream Flying Cloud 27FB. It’s a nice compromise between the compact length of the 25FB and it’s slightly awkward sleeping accommodations and the spacious 30 foot which would severely limit some of the places we would like to go. As soon as we were sure that our house sale was going through, we began a nationwide search for our perfect trailer. We finally found the one we wanted at Colonial Airstream in New Jersey. Even though neither of us have any real towing experience, we went with that old adage about fortune favoring the brave, and dashed to the East Coast to pick up our new home and bring her back to Oklahoma!
Thankfully, we really needn’t have worried as much as we did. Between our truck which is a bit of overkill for a trailer of this size and the very nice ProPride hitch that we sprung for, the towing experience has really been uneventful which is to say wonderful!
It took us five days to get the trailer back which was a great chance to test all of the equipment and get some good practice hooking and un-hooking the trailer. We were wimps though and passed on trying to back it up for the first week.
While in Oklahoma, we’ve settled into a nice place in Luther which is close to my parents and also easy to get into the city for work. We spent three weeks in Oklahoma getting stuff organized, installing the various cellular and WiFi antennas that we will need to keep us working on the road. Then it was off for a short two week trip to try all the stuff out and get our feet wet!
We’ve spent the last week in Gunnison, Colorado which is on the southern side of the state just down the road from the ski town of Crested Butte. We stayed in an RV park on the outskirts of town while we looked for some places to do some dry camping the following week. First lesson learned, don’t count on RV Park WiFi. This is one I had already heard from other full-timers, but I had hoped that we could make it work. Unfortunately, the park WiFi was extremely throttled and usage was very limited. Combined with a lack of usable cellular signal, our first week of on the road working was a bit tough. We also got our chance to work on our first trailer repair. During the antenna installation, we didn’t entirely seal up the access hole to the inside of the trailer, which made for an alarming leak that we think we now have under complete control.
It hasn’t been all work and learning though. This weekend we got a chance to head up to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison for a little sight seeing. Grace wasn’t too thrilled with the steep drop offs (She is very, very afraid of heights.), but she humored me. It’s some amazing sights to be sure!
For this week, we’ve moved about 20 miles up the road to a small National Forest Service Campground right by the Taylor River outside of the small hamlet of Almont, Colorado. It’s a beautiful spot with enough sunny spots for me to try out the solar panels and with the beautiful, rolling sound of water running through the rapids just down the hill from us. This is the sort of place I’ve been dreaming of when we started thinking about this change of life. Can’t wait to spend a week here to find out just what it’s going to be like!
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So, my three weeks off is coming to an end. It’s been an amazing whirlwind of activity that has moved us closer to our dream of the open road than the last few months combined.
This week was a slow return towards normalcy. I personally spent most of the week doing client work, cleaning email and getting business work taken care of after the craziness of the last two weeks. Kind of nice to write some code again. I didn’t think I would miss it so soon.
However, we also made some great progress on the house as well. The house exterior painting is almost complete. This includes the great new porch color which is really looking nice. We also managed to complete the sale of a few more of our remaining household goods. Things are really starting to look empty around the house …
The really big news of this week was that we went truck shopping this weekend. Thankfully, I was able to enlist the intelligent assistance of my auto-handy brother-in-law, James, for a long day of test driving a large number of extremely large trucks. We finally found our new tow vehicle! Meet Minerva, our 2012 F-250 Diesel Pickup Truck …
This is another one of those big milestones on our journey that seem to have made up the last three weeks. In the long term we hope Minerva will take us a long way down the roads we hope to travel and in the short term, it’s great to have a vehicle that can carry our remaining goods around to donate or store.
So, tomorrow I head back to the day job. We still have a lot of work left to do, including, painting the interior, replacing some flooring and remaining yard work and clean up. However, all of this seems so much more obtainable than when we started this dream a few months back. For awhile, our task list seemed like it stretched into eternity. Now, while there is still so much to do, we are feeling like we have a grasp on the project.
In closing, some sincere thank yous are in order to everyone that has helped us out for the last several weeks. In particular, thanks to my step-father Mark who has guided our construction efforts for the last three weeks. Without him, I’m sure the house would be in much worse shape than when we started. (And thank you to my mother, Hollis, for your advice and allowing us to borrow Mark during this busy time.) I also want to thank our house painter Kevin Jefcoat, who squeezed us in to his schedule on very short notice. I also want to thank my in-laws, Dan and Teresa, for providing us some great flooring for the house. Thank you to my stepkids, Alex and Gwen for being such a huge help setting up the estate sale (at 4 a.m.!). Ahead of schedule, thanks to my aunts, Seddie and Connie, for helping us with the interior painting. I also want to thank my employer for helping get me this time off for all of these projects. Also, a HUGE thank you to James for helping me pick out the perfect truck for our needs and offering to teach me about my new diesel acquisition. (And thank you to my sister-in-law Allie for letting us borrow James.)
We also want to extend a big thank you to everyone who dropped by our estate sale and everyone following along and cheering us on during the start of this big adventure. Your kind words and encouragement help more than you can know!
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I think there is an inverse correlation between the frequency of blogging and how busy someone is. The silence here should be indicative how exactly how insane the last week was for the both of us. However, as far as making progress on our dreams, this was the best week yet.
We started off at a fairly calm pace. Mark and I did a large quantity of tree pruning, replaced one wall of paneling on the old detached garage and finished getting the porch squared up and ready to go. Grace continued getting ready for our estate sale which was scheduled for this last Saturday.
My house painter, the excellent Kevin Jefcoat (if you are looking for someone), got us squeezed into his tight schedule and started making great progress on the house exterior. We were also able to get a yard crew in to do some serious rehabbing on the yard, long neglected by yours truly.
It wasn’t till Wednesday night that Grace was finally able to pound it into my thick head that we owned a lot more stuff than I ever understood. Thus began two very long days and nights of hauling, sorting, stacking and pricing.
It has been less than a year since our last garage sale and I had thought we had already made a lot of progress. This time around has taught me a bit about my personality that I really am not fond of. I’ve spent an enormous portion of my life collecting an incredible amount of what could be politely described as detritus and more accurately be termed as crap.
Some of this is your standard consumerism stuff but a lot of it is my obsession with old oddities. In this group, there are true oddities such as weird balances for measuring the specific density of substances, fossils dug up on childhood camping trips and WW I trench lighters. But, there were many more perceived rarities which turn out to be anything but. One example was an extremely beat up old copy True to the Old Flag, by G.A. Henry, a history of the American Revolution from the British point of view. Turns out this book is well known, has never gone out of print and is available in any number of formats.
No matter what, I think it will be extremely important for me to put my “Ooh, that’s odd” and “Ooh, that could be useful someday” natural attitude to acquisition in check if I’m ever going to make living in 200 square feet really work.
However, this first extremely large pass at downsizing went well, if at a frenetic pace. We were able to get the vast majority of stuff ready to go for the sale. Even better, we were able to sell a huge quantity of it in a massive one day sale that started at 4:00 AM. I owe an especial level of gratitude to the many old and new friends that made an effort to come by and pick up a few items!
By the end of the day, we were more exhausted than I can remember, but felt extremely satisfied that so much progress has been made towards this big change in our lives. Grace commented today that the emptier house is her first indication that this is really going to happen. I can second that motion.
Today, we were kind of forced by soreness and sleepiness to work at a much more leisurely pace. We mostly spent the day attempting to put the remaining house back into some semblance of order, assisting in the pickup of some of the larger sold items and to start boxing up the rest of the items that will be donated to charity. Of course, all we really wanted to do was to be like Opie on a nice sunny afternoon . . .
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It’s been amazing to see what can get done in a week if you can get the time to focus on it. I started this week with a laundry list of home and garden tasks, some of which I had been ignoring for years. I end this week with some major projects done and progress on many others.
The major task of this week was my front porch which has been long needing to be re-decked. With diligent effort, Mark and I were able to finish this, which is the most daunting of my repairs, within the week.
I spent this weekend was spent clearing brush, shrubs and trimming trees, especially around the building structures in preparation for the exterior house painting. Now I have several dozen trees to chop up and put in the dumpster.
In the mean time, Grace has been frantically working to keep our business up and running while also priming the front porch and prepping us for our estate sale which is happening next weekend.
We have a lot of irons in the fire, but so far we are keeping up with them all and it’s great to finally see real progress towards our dreams.
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