Ann and I have lived in our 1999 Lance truckbed camper for the entire year. A few times we wondered what the square footage of this thing is, so I finally looked up the specs. Here’s our floorplan:
Assuming we have the standard cabover option (it doesn’t seem to be marked), that gives us a cozy 105 square feet of living space. I won’t say we haven’t ever wished for more room, but we’ve managed with it! Today I’m asking myself, what were the most crucial things we learned?
Roving with a trailer is like trekking with a camel.
Well, I haven’t actually trekked with a camel, but the book I’m reading makes me aware of this fact: when you trek with a camel, the trip is more about getting the camel through the journey than you. We began our year pulling a cargo trailer, thinking we needed the additional space (60 square feet!), but we found ourselves having to take care of the trailer at every turn.
There’s no hanging a Uey in the road with that back there. So when we wanted to explore an unknown road, Ann would get out with a walkie-talkie and go down it on foot until she could verify a suitable turnaround. That wasn’t any fun. The trailer also demanded consideration with every lane change, gas station stop, and camp site choice, which made Ann resistant to driving the rig. We got tired of it, and also realized we could probably do without many of the things in there: the generator, ski gear, car camping gear, bikes, wardrobe, etc. The crucial things could probably go on top of the camper in and in the truck cab. When we made our first big pit stop at Ann’s parents place in June we ditched the trailer, and the only real regret we had was leaving the bikes. In the future we’ll find a way to take them on the smaller rig.
Freedom is a full time job.
Finally, we’re mobile, we can go anywhere we want. Woohoo! But there are a few necessities still to consider. We can contain a few days worth of fresh, grey, and black water – where is our next dump and fill? We have limited food storage – where is our next grocery store? Our battery will last several days supplemented by solar power, and gets charged while driving – how will we stay powered up? I have a freelance business to run on the internet – where is our next connection? We must consider diesel, propane, maintenance, repairs, health care, legal requirements, and budget. These must be scheduled around time spent driving, eating, sleeping, working, and hopefully playing and visiting! Much of the burden falls on Ann, who prides herself on being prepared. It isn’t easy in this situation, especially when you factor in our sensitivity to weather. Sometimes we paralyze ourselves trying to consider all the variables.
Living the dream changes it.
Nobody says out loud what it is, but we’ve gained the sense over the year that when people hear a brief description of what we’re doing, they put us in a mental category along the lines of Living The Dream. I’m sure it varies a bit with everyone, but here are a few things people seem to commonly assume about us: we’re on permanent vacation, we’re Extreme outdoor people, we’re rich, we’re world travelers, we’re hippies, we’re always happy and motivated. Of course none of these are accurate, which introduces a subtle danger. By failing to be these things, we pose a threat to people’s Dream, and they may feel resentful of us for that. Likewise, we feel a sense of failure, like we should somehow be doing more to achieve The Dream.
Maybe The Dream just represents an escape from the pressures of everyday life. When we actually pursue it, and find that freedom introduces its own pressures, The Dream is forced to morph into an escape from these new pressures. I’ll admit to daydreaming now and then about my carefully filtered memories of the simplicity of stationary life. I’m starting to realize that this doesn’t necessarily mean I want to go back to that. Fantasizing about relief from whatever is hard at the moment could be a form of rest in itself.
Down time is not defeat.
We tackled the work of freedom with enthusiasm this year, and had some great times. We visited all kinds of places, as we can see in Ann’s map of our campsites:
That’s a lot of little homesites in a year! Overall I’d say we recreated about the same amount as we have in more stationary situations, but obviously we got to do it in all kinds of diverse places. I loved this, yet by the end there was some undeniable fatigue setting in. We just wanted to stop for a while, but deciding where to go in this frame of mind was harder. We settled on Twentynine Palms, near our wedding location in Joshua Tree National Park. We got here, plugged in, and got depressed. Had we achieved our dream only to fail at it?
Now that we’ve been here a while, our attitudes are recovering. Clearly, if we’re going to continue this lifestyle, we need to build in some periods for rest and recovery where the basics are taken care of. Staying for a month or more at an RV park with full hookups seems to work for this. I’m starting to see that isn’t a failure – it’s as natural as our daily cycle of waking and sleeping. We’re getting the energy back to do a little climbing and starting to get excited about new prospects.
There are some things we still haven’t figured out. Ann has considered pursuing some kind of online work, and finally concluded that this is just not how she can best use her talents. Neither of us have a clear vision of new things to pursue in 2011. But we’ve also asked ourselves, is it time to stop? And for now the answer is no. Not yet. We’re not done roaming, and we’re able to continue. We have invitations in the Tetons, so to the Tetons we will go!
I’ll close with some of my numbers for the year:
Hours Tracked (by GPS, starting in June): 443.4999999999999
Outdoor Nights: 75|13
Miles on Foot: 911
Elevation Gain on Foot (ft): 189437
Rock Climbing Elevation Gain (ft): 8290
Miles by Bike: 245.69000000000003
Bike Elevation Gain (ft): 15804
Books Read: 14
Movies Watched: 33
Interesting differences from last year: in general we did less hiking and backpacking than last year, but a lot more climbing. We did a lot more living in nice spots off-grid in the camper, and visited many more places. The mobility is great, but free time is not built in, you have to earn it no matter how you’re living!
Strangely, I ended up with exact same number of books and movies consumed as last year.