Our Big Pivot!

Our plan has been to travel through the western United States up through Canada to Alaska, over to the East Coast, and then to ship the truck to South America for another year or two of travel.

We’ve just finished the first leg and are driving back from Alaska right now. But instead of going directly to the East Coast, we’re heading to Kansas City for a few weeks. We’ve put the Buffalo up for sale and are going to take a few weeks in KC to regroup and finalize our next steps.

So, what’s going on and why are we selling the Buffalo?

The Buffalo is (obviously!) a complete beast built for ultra-rugged adventures. It’s designed to cruise over rocks, sand dunes, and other terrain that most other vehicles would not even consider. It has a “crawler gear” for goodness sake.

But…we’re a family in our 40s and 50s traveling with a four-year old, and a dog. Looking back at our choice to buy the Buffalo, it feels like we were a little aspirational about taking advantage of its unique abilities. Unless gravel counts, we haven’t rock crawled a single time. We don’t drive over sand dunes. We’ve never used the 17.5 ton winch. Based on driving up to Alaska and back, the unexciting reality is that we haven’t done anything in it that a good RV couldn’t handle – which amounts to a few long, bumpy dirt roads.

Another factor we didn’t fully consider is the convenience of pulling a vehicle (which we didn’t). Based on what we saw in Canada and Alaska, an awful lot of RV’ers do pull vehicles. It turns out that there is a sensible reason for this.

When you just want to run out and buy a few groceries, you really do not want to have to disconnect the power, water, and sewer to maneuver such a big vehicle into parking lots. You just want to zip around in your normal car, truck, or SUV.

But despite the practicality of towing a vehicle, South America doesn’t seem like a great place to start. A lot of the Andean roads are already treacherously narrow and windy. We don’t want any more length than we strictly need.   

As we considered our options, we noticed that in Alaska and Canada quite a few people were driving truck campers. These aren’t as common where we’re from in the Midwest. At least, we didn’t notice them as much in Kansas City where most people opt for the big Class A motorhomes and fifth wheels.

But truck campers make so much sense on those northern roads that get rough and slippery with mud, snow, potholes, and gravel. They can go almost anywhere that a 4x4 truck can go, which is most places – and certainly everywhere we’ve gone so far in the Buffalo. And a big plus is that we can periodically disconnect the RV from the truck to run errands or more nimbly explore the local area.

As we researched truck campers, we gradually became convinced that these are the right choice for us as we transition to South America. For the truck, we have decided on a 2019 HEMI gas-engine RAM 3500 dually. It has a 7000 lb payload, which is plenty to carry any of the campers we are looking at. And, its gas engine allows us to travel freely in South America without worrying about finding the high-Sulphur diesel required by modern American trucks.

For the camper, we’ve 99% landed on the 1165 Eagle Cap. It is sturdily built and insulated for four seasons. And from a comfort perspective, it has three slide-outs – one of which contains recliners (a key requirement for Matt). Overall, it will end up giving us a little more livable space than we currently have. We’re going to view it in person on our way back to Kansas City.

A truck camper won’t have nearly as much storage capacity as we do now, so this will be a compromise for us. We’ll solve for it by towing a small, heavy-duty little cargo trailer. We will be a smidge longer, but will be able to keep our bikes, inflatable kayak, and a few other things like that locked safely out of sight.

We’ll use this time in Kansas City to finalize these final details and are still on track to head to South America in February. Meanwhile, I hope the Buffalo finds a new owner ready to use it like the beast of a truck it is. It was born to roam and deserves to be off road more!

This…

This…

on top of this…

on top of this…

pulling this…

pulling this…

with Matt sitting here.

with Matt sitting here.

The Magic in the Moments

A few days ago, we went for a bike ride out to the lake Dease Lake, BC, is named after. While we were biking, two large ravens swooped down close to us.

Inspired, Matt recited Edgar Allan Poe’s poem The Raven in its entirety. He memorized it a few years ago for our annual “Poe Party”. It was a gothic-themed fall party where we would lay lots of poetry books around, and then eat, drink – and read poetry! Bonus applause for any Poe recitations.

It was wonderful to listen to him while coasting through the otherwise quiet and pristine Canadian wilderness. That got me thinking about a few of the other amazing moments we’ve had so far on this trip:

·       Flying kites & seeing a fawn. This was the very first stop of our trip. We visited our close friend Bridgett and her family at their historic farm in the middle of Kansas. It was a beautiful, breezy summer day and we decided to fly kites in an open field. We all loved it, but Wolf had never flown a kite before and did not stop smiling the entire time. As we walked back after flying kites, we found a very young fawn nestled in the grass.

·       Singing “American Music” while buffalo spotting. While driving, we listen to a lot of podcasts and stories. But sometimes, we just play music. I was exploring Matt’s music library and found that he had the song “American Music” by the Violent Femmes, which I’d always liked. I put it on and started singing along. Wolf picked up on the chorus, and joined in: “Do you like American music? I like American music…” And then Matt. We were at top volume when we saw our first buffalo of the trip.

·       Wolf finding the universal language of bugs at Crater Lake. Wolf likes bugs and so do a lot of other kids. At Crater Lake, he saw two Chinese children inspecting a colorful bug on the ground. He immediately joined them, and they all started talking excitedly in their own languages while examining this bug. There was no barrier at all.

·       Matt’s evening banjo practice. Matt requested a banjo for Christmas last year and has started teaching himself how to play on this trip. He practices almost every night and is catching on quickly. He works a lot on an old bluegrass song with the lines, “whistle up your dog, shoulder up your gun, off to the woods to catch a groundhog.” I often find myself humming along.

·       Watching Wolf and Ruby exploring Cannon Beach. We had an impromptu visit at Cannon Beach, Oregon with our good friend Stephanie and her two daughters, Cora and Ruby. Wolf adores Stephanie’s girls, and particularly Ruby who is closest in age. The two of them spent hours combing the beach together, holding hands while deep in discussion.              

·       Wolf playing his first chord on the ukulele. I walked into the Buffalo, and Matt and Wolf were sitting together on the bed. As soon as I walked in the door, Wolf shouted that he had something to show me. He then proudly played and sang “Three Blind Mice” to me on his rainbow ukulele. Every time he was supposed to pause, he shouted “REST!”. It was adorable.

·       Kayaking on the Yukon River. We have been waiting in Dease Lake, BC for our truck parts to arrive. Since the post office was closed Monday for British Columbia Day, we rented a car and drove to Whitehorse for a long weekend. We kayaked sixteen miles through the pristine Yukon River, where we saw a coyote and at least twenty bald eagles. Wolf chatted cheerfully with everyone who floated past us, asking if they were having “a good paddle” and what animals they had seen. 

When this trip eventually ends it will be this incredible mix of moments I’ll remember, all accompanied in my mind by the gentle picking of Matt’s banjo.

Healthy Non-Metrics (or Why I Threw Away my FitBit)

I’ve always liked being active.

In our pre-truck life, I lifted weights at the gym a couple times a week, took walking breaks sometimes at work, and even fit in an occasional lunchtime exercise class.

But I also worked forty hours a week in an office. And like most people in offices, I often sat at my desk for several hours at a time. I recently started feeling the impact of all this sitting on my body, through stiffness and random stabbing pains in my hip flexor.

I chalked it up to being 44 and decided to add more yoga into my routine. I bought a bundle of yoga classes but didn’t really think through when I was actually going to get to the classes. Unwilling to wake up an hour earlier to exercise, the only time I really had available was in the late afternoons and evenings.

The challenge was that Wolf was already in his preschool aftercare until 5:30 pm. We were usually home by 6 pm, which left just a few hours to spend together until his bedtime. Did I really want to turn right around and go to a yoga class? It turned out I didn’t. My yoga membership lapsed, and I suffered through the occasional sharp pains in my hip flexors.

When our big trip started, I knew our overall activity level and health would probably improve. We planned to sleep until our bodies were ready to wake up, spend the time to cook healthy food every day, and to regularly play outdoors – hiking, biking, and whatever else looked fun.

Still, I decided to set a few daily targets for myself – because as most people in corporate America have heard: “what gets measured gets managed”. So, every day I planned to walk at least 10,000 steps, do 3 minutes of planks, 10 push-ups, and at least 15 minutes of yoga.

It was a good plan, except that it didn’t work at all for me.

First, there was my plan for daily yoga. I did it a few times, but after just a few weeks on the road I didn’t feel like I needed it as much. Even with all our driving, I didn't feel stiff the way I did after sitting at my desk all day. It turned out that dramatically increasing our physical activity was loosening up my whole body.

Then there was my goal of 10,000 steps a day. It was hard to know if I ever hit my target because the smart watch I bought to count steps never worked right. The step count randomly stopped tracking for periods of time, wildly throwing off my overall count. For a while I still wore it and checked continuously to see how it thought I was tracking toward my 10,000-step goal. I’d make mental adjustments for the steps I thought it didn’t count.

And did my exact number of steps even matter? I looked it up, and apparently the 10,000 steps was a marketing ploy by a Japanese company from the 1960s. There’s no medical rationale for 10,000 as a daily step goal. It’s just a nice round number.  

And so, eventually I put away my yoga mat and slid the semi-broken smart watch into a drawer.

Unwinding from years of full-time work is a process, but I think I’m getting there. This morning, I took Casey for a walk while Matt and Wolf were still sleeping. We walked out to the end of the dock by the mountain lake where our truck is parked. Casey napped in the warm morning sun while I did a little yoga. 

The four of us are doing a hike to the small but mighty Mouse Mountain this afternoon. After that, Matt and Wolf will probably build a campfire, we’ll grill some fish, and the grownups will enjoy a glass of wine. We’ll probably all fall straight into a deep sleep.

Without measuring anything, I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a great and healthy day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Never a Good Time for a Flat Tire

We were in Jensen, UT. Our house was closing on Monday. We had the 23 pages of documents in email. They had to be printed, two notarized, many filled out and signed, and overnighted back to Kansas City. It was Friday night. We didn’t have much time but we had a plan: Run into the nearby and much larger town of Vernal, find a UPS or FedEx store, and take care of the whole thing. Easy.

400 pounds of flatness

400 pounds of flatness

While driving into Vernal at 10:30 Saturday morning, our right rear tire decided to split on the sidewall. One of the fears we discussed before leaving on the trip was becoming a reality. Very bad luck. We pulled over in the parking lot of a Chevron on the edge of town. In order to accomplish our mission, we would need loads of good luck…

It just so happened that two days earlier as we were driving from the Arapaho forest to Dinosaur National Monument, Jane was on her phone looking into Good Sam. Good Sam is an RV club that offers discounts to members at RV parks, gas stations, and RV related stores. We decided to sign up. While going through the process, we were offered six months road side assistance for 40 bucks. Not a bad deal. We took it. First piece of good luck.

As I was checking out the flat, Jane was on the phone with Good Sam. I later learned that Good Sam stands for good Samaritan. But they were not the only good Samaritan. A young guy whose mother was working at the Chevron, pulled over by us in his pickup truck and offers to help. Second piece of good luck. His name was Clayton and he worked as a local truck mechanic. He was willing to help and was perfect for the job. While Good Sam was finding our help, Clayton and I removed the spare tire. I should mention that the tires are as big and heavy as they look. 47 inches tall and all of 400 lbs. After removing the lug nuts on the spare and lowering it with the winch, Clayton went down to his shop to get a jack.

The clock was ticking on being able to get our documents taken care of in time. We assumed that places would close at noon or shortly thereafter. While I took care of things at the truck, Jane launched into the unknown. OK, that may be a little too dramatic. What we did was remove the folding, electric mountain bike from the garage on the back of the truck. I set it up and Jane pedaled into town get the paperwork going. She was going to try FedEx and UPS.

Back at the truck, I was on the phone several times with Good Sam and worked with Clayton to jack up the truck. His jack was pneumatic and we were hoping to get air from the truck. The truck has connections to operate the air brakes to enable towing or being towed. We were not able to get this to work. Just when we were looking for a Plan B, Good Sam contacted us and all was approved for a local shop to help. Third piece of good luck: it was a commercial tire shop that happened to be on the other side of the Chevron.

Meanwhile, Jane returned from her outing. I mentioned earlier that she was riding an e-bike. What I didn’t tell you is that in our scramble to get her going, we could not find the keys to turn on the power. So, she had been getting some good exercise over the last hour. She rolled in with some bad news. Neither FedEx nor UPS were options. They were both closed and were more of distribution centers anyway. Jane got the idea to try the library for printing. She was off again. Fortunately, I had found the keys for the bike by this time and she had the pedal assist engaged for this trip (the pedal assist is awesome!)

Help from the commercial tire shop showed up. He had a service truck with everything he needs: air jack, compressor, pneumatic lug wrench that can fit our bulky lug nuts. He got to work. I stayed out of his way.

We still didn’t know how we are going to get everything done. Time and options seemed to be running out. I got on Google Maps to find a solution. It turned out that Wells Fargo has a location nearby and offers notary services. Also, the post office is open until 1:00. There was a glimmer of hope.

Jane: Fleet footed goddess of document printing and delivery

Jane: Fleet footed goddess of document printing and delivery

The mechanic got the job done very efficiently. His experience working on large trucks has paid off for us. I stuck everything back into the truck and head over to the commercial tire shop to pay the bill. I texted Jane to meet me there. It was now just after 12:00. Jane arrives just as I finished paying. We stowed the e-bike and raced off (as fast as the Buffalo can “race” at least). Jane successfully printed everything at the library and now we had to get two documents notarized. Off to Wells Fargo!

Wells Fargo was about five miles away inside of a Walmart. After an awesomely illegal parking job right next to the entrance, we ran in to find a line of about five people. This would not work. It was closing in on 12:30. We pleaded with the folks in line in front of us and each was kind enough to let us in front of them. Fourth piece of good luck!

Now notarizing is a legal process and takes detailed documentation steps including filling out a ledger, checking IDs, and stamping, and WILL YOU JUST LET US SIGN IT ALREADY SO WE CAN GET TO THE POST OFFICE!!!

Ok, take a breath Matt. In… out…

Notarized documents in hand, we sprinted out of the Walmart, hopped in the truck, got berated by a Walmart supervisor for our parking job, and headed to the post office. It’s 12:50.

The advantage of small towns is that everything is close. The post office is less than two miles away. We entered five minutes before closing. We still had to fill out and sign about ten other documents. Jane asked the clerks if it is OK if we run a little past closing. They were OK with it. Fifth piece of good luck!

We filled out and sign everything and gave it to the clerks. They can get it there by Monday 3:00. It will be there in time for the closing! Mission accomplished!!!

My Mugsistential Crisis

I found that one of the most challenging things in transitioning to our new overlanding life is my attachment to many things. I admit, I like things. I know that experts say that experience make you happy and not things. I like my things. I like my leather overnight bag, I like the cocktail glass that I bought from the tapas place we like to go to, I like my car. These things bring me pleasure.

I’m going to be giving much of them up for our new life on the road. There are items that I don’t have a choice on. I must sell my car. My Dewalt table saw has no place in the rig. These choices are made for me by the overall lifestyle choice. That choice was easy.

Now for the harder choices. The choices that whittle down or perhaps cut deep into items that I have. Obvious my wardrobe is a challenge. My oxblood leather shoes that feel more like slippers on my feet. Several of my shirts that just make me look and feel like a million bucks. This will take some doing. Fortunately, much of my wardrobe is not suited for life on the road. This is also fortunate for REI who has played a big part in outfitting me for our future lifestyle.

A surprisingly tough choice was deciding which mugs to take with me. I figure that two mugs is plenty. Dishes should be washed after every meal, so I could get by with just one. But what if I misplaced my lone mug or I dropped it and it shattered. I need a backup. Bottom line: I must choose only two. Possessions, especially in a large house, tend to accumulate. The mug shelf in our kitchen had no other option but to fill up. Photographic evidence above. Most of these have some sentimental value.

- The one with the orangutan that we got on our trip to Borneo when Jane and I got engaged.

- The Father’s Day gift from my middle son, Justin, calling me his hero - gentle and brave.

- The classic Navy mug commemorating my time as the Engineer Officer on the USS Topeka.

- The mug with the logo of the podcast I hosted for the better part of 2017 - The R and D Show

 Like all moral dilemmas, this is not a choice between right and wrong but a choice between many rights. I had to sacrifice several cherished possessions to enable our dreams of living on the road. Painful as it was, I decided on the final two mugs. The deciding factor reflects part of my outlook on life and family. I feel it is a detriment to be too focused on your family. Love them, cherish them, develop a fulfilling life together. Making them the center of your world does not help them, or you. You must have your own life as well. There must be a balance.

So, one of the mugs is for me. It is the Viking mug pictured below. Jane and I bought it at dinner while celebrating New Years Eve 2016 with my parents. We were at Krokstrom Restaurant in Kansas City. Krokstrom is a Scandinavian restaurant and we had a wonderful dinner. To commemorate the evening, I bought the Viking mug (along with a very cool bottle of a port-type concoction called “Viking’s Blod” that Jane and I enjoyed over the following few weeks.) The mug represents my individual spirit. An independent and adventurous force that will take me all over this great globe.

The other mug is for my family. Shown below, it is photo mug of my three sons when they were young tykes. I even make an appearance in a grade school photo rocking the lapels and vest. I love this mug. I reminds me of each of them, how I loved them as youngsters (one still is), and how proud I am of how they have grown into amazing people (yes, even Wolf). The mug warms my heart. I find myself looking at the pictures as I use it, lost in some fond memory. The only thing missing from the mug is Jane. Except through Wolf of course. I have Jane covered, though. I will be spending my mornings next to her, sipping tea, with the world as our front yard.

Decision made. On to the next crisis!