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.

Breaking Down by a Murder Scene

We were driving away from Salmon Glacier near Hyder, Alaska, when the Buffalo started making a rattling noise.

It was hard to tell exactly where it was coming from and seemed like the truck was just running a bit rougher than usual. Matt kept our speed low and we continued toward the next town: Dease Lake, BC. It’s one of a handful on the remote stretches of highway we’d traveled recently and surrounded by thousands of miles of wilderness.

As we rattled along nearing Dease Lake, we looked ahead and saw that traffic was stopped. We pulled in behind a few other cars and waited to find out what was going on. A woman who was essentially playing the role of construction area flagman approached us. She told us that one lane was blocked ahead due to a police investigation.

She didn’t give any details.

After a few minutes she told us to proceed. We continued driving and saw that the highway was roped off to a single lane for several miles. At one point, we could see two police officers kneeling on the far side of a small rest area looking at something.

About fifteen miles past that, the rattling noise resolved itself when parts started loudly falling from the truck. When Matt saw them bouncing on the road behind us in the rear-view camera, he immediately pulled over.

We walked back and saw two large pieces of our drive train lying in the middle of the highway. Transmission oil was pouring from the truck.

Moments later, a large semi-truck roared past us on the highway. I waved him over, and he offered to give Matt a ride to Dease Lake where he could get a tow truck (Thank you, Garth!). With no cell service, this seemed like our best option.

Matt left to get help, and I waited for him in the Buffalo with Wolf and Casey. He was back within the hour. We got towed first to a mechanic, and then to an RV park at Dease Lake where we’re still waiting for the parts to complete our repair.                    

In the days after we arrived at Dease Lake, we learned more about the “police investigation” we had driven past.

Apparently, a man had been found dead by the side of the road. Not far from him a truck was set on fire, and the two young guys who owned it were missing.

We also learned that two days earlier and a few hundred miles away, a young Australian/American couple had been shot to death roadside after their van broke down.

To make it worse, we discovered the highway we’d just been traveling on was also known as “The Highway of Tears”. Over several decades, dozens of women, mostly native and too poor to have their own vehicle, had disappeared or been murdered while walking along that highway. It was widely thought to be the work of a serial killer.

Were these killings connected? Were the two missing guys additional victims – or were they the killers? Was the killer (or killers) still in the area? And was this all somehow connected to this serial killer?

Nobody knew.

The days that followed were tense, a feeling compounded by the visibly heavy police presence in Dease Lake. Helicopters often flew noisily overhead.  

We tried to lie low at the RV park where we’d been staying until we knew more. But after a few days, decided to stretch our legs by walking to a nearby lake.

It wasn’t relaxing at all.

I kept expecting to come across the bodies of the two missing young men in the brush. Or worse - the killer, hiding out. We quickly left and I told Matt I didn’t want to go back.

After that, we stayed mostly between the RV park, the college across the street that shares its wi-fi with the community, and the gas station that is also a grocery store.

Then, we got a news update.

The two missing men were now considered the primary suspects for all three killings. After shooting to death the man outside of Dease Lake, they’d stolen his car. Several people had spotted them driving it in Saskatchewan, over a thousand miles from where we were.

It was a huge relief to learn that they had left the area.

As the manhunt expands across Canada, we’ve learned that the two suspects are from Vancouver Island. When they left a few weeks ago, they told their families they intended to look for work in the Yukon. Instead, they went on a killing spree – seemingly picking their targets at random.

I wonder how close we came to them. Were they fleeing Dease Lake on the same road we were approaching it on?

I’ll never know, but the thought does give me some perspective. As expensive and inconvenient as this breakdown has been, sooner or later we’ll move on to our next adventure.

I wish the same were true for these other three travelers.

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!!!

How We Got Here - Part 3: Buffalo Hunting

Matt and I spent a lot of time looking at different truck options that could support our global overland travel plans before stumbling across this YouTube video. It was the engaging vlog of a couple from Alaska documenting their own search for an overland rig. 

In the video, they were at an overland vehicle company called ETL checking out a converted Light Military Tactical Vehicle - or LMTV. The truck had a lot of features we were looking for: not too big, separate wet and dry bathrooms, a descending queen sized bed, lots of large windows, and a crawl through passage to the cab. It didn't look very stylish on the inside, but the bones seemed to be there.

We did a little research and learned that ETL had been purchased by Plan-B Supply (PBS), out of Ogden, Utah. They are a company that specializes in survival preparation. From their website:

 If everyday life changes due to an earthquake, hurricane, blizzard, tornado, financial collapse, war, pandemic, political unrest, zombies...well...yeah...any of those things...WE WANT TO SURVIVE! And we want others to survive as well. We know it takes a good measure of preparedness and hard work along with smart planning and lots of love and courage to be ready for a disastrous event. Vehicles that will go the distance...

In other words, they cater to preppers. We later learned that one of their big marketing events of the year is PrepperCon, which promotes itself as a one-stop shop for survival preparedness. It even has a prepper fashion show...with cute little kids modeling bullet-proof schoolbags.

Fascinating as I found this whole apocalyptic preparation scene (and market), we are not preppers. But apparently preppers and overlanders have some things in common since both want to get off the grid. One is preparing for the end of the world, and the other wants maximum freedom to travel and explore. Both need a rig with solar panels, large tanks, and redundant systems.

Anyway, the PBS truck looked like it could be exactly what we wanted. We booked flights out to Salt Lake City to check them out in person. When we arrived at the shop, we were shown into a huge workshop filled mostly with Humvees, along with a small handful of the RV-style military trucks in various states of build. 

 

The rig we had seen on the Alaska couple’s vlog was just as tough, masculine, and utilitarian-looking in person as it had seemed online. It was a 1997 model that had been bought by ETL at a military surplus sale. It only had 17,000 miles on it, but there was no record of any of its maintenance history.

The exterior, parked in the PBS shop:

Interior with bed descended from ceiling, jackknife sofa, and faux wood paneled walls.

The kitchen had a busy countertop and backsplash, as well as a propane stove. 

It was functional, but not very comfortable and in no way pleasing to look at. We talked a lot to the PBS guys about possible renovations we could do, and started to really think that it could work for us. Fully gutted and remodeled, it would still cost less than a third of what a BlissMobil or GXV would have cost us.

After several more conversations and one more trip out to Ogden, in the early spring of 2018 we bought the truck. 

We decided to split the remodeling work in half so that in May we could take the truck on a week-long road trip. That road trip would enable us to live in the truck a little to get a sense of any other changes that we might want to make. The plan was that over Labor Day Weekend we would fly in to pick up the completely renovated truck and drive it back.

 As the weeks turned into months, though, it became apparent that nobody was really doing any work on our truck. PBS kept telling us that materials were being sourced or ordered, but the work just wasn't being done. We arrived in Ogden in May to find that - as expected - only a small fraction of our pre-May list had been completed. The two PBS owners were apologetic. They told us that they had been understaffed, and had just hired a new project manager who would be dedicated to leading the rest of our build. 

We accepted that, and headed off to enjoy our truck's maiden voyage down to the Overland Expo in Flagstaff, Arizona. With us were our son, Wolf, and sweet 10-week old puppy, Casey, who we had just picked up from our breeder on our way to Salt Lake City!

We had a great trip out to the very cool Overland Expo West. Besides meeting lots of like-minded adventurous spirits, we learned a lot about the overlanding lifestyle and came back excited to finish the renovations and start our own traveling adventure. But when we returned to Kansas City, it soon became clear that having a project manager assigned to our truck build wasn't making much difference. Once again, the work wasn't moving along very fast. 

Almost two months after our original deadline, the truck was finally delivered to us. It arrived mostly done, but with lots of smallish things (like interior door handles...) not installed. The PBS team flew guys down to Kansas City twice to finish the work on-site at our house. Both times they stayed a few days and did a lot, but even after their second visit the remaining work wasn't finished.

After a lot of back and forth that didn't really go anywhere, we eventually gave up on the idea that PBS would complete the job as originally scoped. If we wanted to get on with our adventure, we were going to have to get the rest of it done ourselves. Matt did a lot on his own, and then we found local companies who helped with the stuff he couldn't do - like adding another fuel tank.

The bottom line (for us) is that the guys at PBS do have the technical know-how to reinvent these military trucks into whatever kind of build you would possibly want - as long as you don't also want consistent communication, reliable follow through, and an on-time completion.

The reason we got the truck completed at all really came down to one guy on the PBS team: Matthew. When he wasn't ice climbing in Chile or paragliding across Morocco, he was muscling our project toward the finish line at PBS. Unsurprisingly, he recently left PBS to go be a pilot somewhere. If you ever read this, Matthew - thank you.

In terms of our truck and what we ended up with, the good news is that we love it. We're still finishing up some loose ends, but it's functional, efficient, and really comfortable. It looks good, too!

 For a little before and after fun, we went from this blah interior:

To this one!!

A few of the changes we made to the interior include:

·       Real hardwood flooring

·       Solid walnut tabletop to replace the plywood one

·       Two space-efficient recliners instead of the jackknife sofa

·       Quartz countertops in kitchen and bathroom

·       Zero radius kitchen sink with new faucet

·       New fridge 

·       Two-burner induction stove to replace propane stove

·       White wall covering 

·       Window shades

·       Recessed lighting

·       New cabinetry

·       New upholstery for the sofa

·       Bookcase shelves built-in behind the recliners

·       Additional storage inside and out, including a garage for our electric bike.

As part of the truck's rebirth, we kind of liked the idea of giving it a name but could never land on anything. We started to think that maybe we just weren't vehicle naming people.

Then one afternoon, Matt offhandedly mentioned that he needed to move "the big buffalo". We looked at each other, and realized that we finally had our name. The Buffalo was born!

How We Got Here - Part 2: Our Mission Takes Shape

Our Mission Takes Shape

Defining our mission has been a gradual process. It started with Matt and I knowing that we wanted to spend several years of our retirement traveling and living internationally.

Our original idea was to spend a year at a time in different countries. Maybe we would start with a year in Thailand, then spend the next year in Portugal. And so on. We always talked about starting this after Wolf finished high school, which would put us at pretty normal retirement ages - me at 58 and Matt at 66.

IMG_5368.JPG

The more we talked about it, though, the more we wanted our adventures to include Wolf - rather than being something that we did by ourselves in our retirement. What if we spent a few years traveling and home schooling him on the road? We could teach him English and math, but he could also learn about ecology in the Amazon, indigenous history in Peru, and so on. How much more fun and interesting could education possibly get? 

It turns out that this kind of learning is a thing and it’s called road schooling.

The road schooling idea really got us thinking creatively. If we sold our house, made a tiny house out of an overland vehicle, and stuck to mostly low-cost countries, we could potentially fast-track our plans and have an amazing experience for all of us.

After many long talks, a few bottles of wine, and one VERY detailed financial spreadsheet, we had our mission defined:

Travel the world overland as a family for at least a few years - maybe more. Move slowly, plan loosely, follow our interests, and spend time together in interesting places. 

After a few years of overland travel, our rough plan was to sell the truck and settle in one country (Thailand, Portugal, and Spain are still on our short list) for a few years at a time. Wolf could go to an international school and Matt and I could volunteer, pursue hobbies, or even work full-time again.

With the goal in place, we turned our attention back to finding the right vehicle to support the adventure we wanted for our family.

Our core requirements:

  • Rugged enough to travel easily on bad roads

  • Easy to repair with parts we could source internationally

  • Largely self-contained with solar powered batteries and redundant systems 

  • Extra-large fuel and water tanks

  • Comfortable and homey

  • Secure as possible

It turns out that there is a niche market for exactly this kind of travel (who knew?), and the vehicle itself is known alternately as an overland or expedition vehicle. One particularly useful resource we found was Expedition Portal. It has a very active forum, and through this site we learned about a company called Global Expedition Vehicles (GXV) out of Nixa, Missouri that makes this type of vehicle.

Nixa is just three hours away from our home base of Kansas City, making a trip down there a no-brainer. We headed down to Nixa to meet the owners of GXV, Mike and Rene, and see their vehicles in person. At the very least, we hoped to leave knowing if we could seriously imagine ourselves in one of these vehicles.

Mike and Rene showed us their fleet of vehicles and let us climb all through them. They did not disappoint. GXV had rigs that looked like just what we were looking for: about 18 to 20 feet long with solar panels, redundant systems, and all the creature comforts of traditional RVs.

There was a lot of thoughtful design throughout the vehicles, as well as a clear belief that traveling - even off-road - can and should be comfortable. This kind of comfort does not come cheap, though – a rig cost upwards of 400 – 650k.

The trip to Nixa confirmed that we could easily see ourselves living and traveling in one of them. But as much as GXV impressed us, half a million dollars was way more than we wanted to spend.

We went back to the Expedition Portal drawing board to do some more digging and found an interesting GXV competitor, BlissMobil. Unfortunately, it had a similar price point to GXV and the additional hassle of being built out of Holland.

Just when we were beginning to think we were running out of options, we saw a YouTube video of an Alaskan couple vlogging about their tour of a now defunct company called ETL Overland that also made expedition trucks.

Stumbling across this random video ended up being a major turning point for us.

Next: We find our truck!

 

How We Got Here - Part 1: An Idea is Born

An Idea is Born

The short version of our plan is that Matt and I left our jobs to travel the world in an overland military truck converted into a self-contained RV with our (now) four-year old son, Wolf, and our Rhodesian Ridgeback dog, Casey. Now that we have the big picture out of the way, let’s back up to the beginning.

About a year ago, Matt asked me what I thought about getting an RV and I told him that I didn’t want one. I’ve never been drawn to RV life, and the introvert in me didn’t at all like the thought of being in a crowded RV park. But then his question reminded me that in my 20s I had seriously wanted to drive all the way up from the continental U.S. to Alaska.

I didn't pull that trip off, but the idea still appealed to me a lot. The rugged, wild beauty of places like Alaska and northern Canada really pull at me, which has a certain irony to it because I'm also incredibly intolerant of the cold. If left to my own devices I would keep our house temperature around 80 degrees, and would still want to sleep with the mattress heater and my furry slippers on. And yet, I dream of activities like dog mushing through the Scandinavian Arctic, driving the Trans-Siberian highway, and tracing polar explorer Shackleton's footsteps across South Georgia Island. 

What if there were RVs out there that could handle traveling on rugged terrain away from the amenities of RV parks, could accommodate a family our size, and would still be comfortable? Curious, I did a little online digging. 

A quick search turned up a tough-looking 4x4 truck-based RV by Tiger called the Siberian. Designed for going both on and off road, the company's marketing described it as "hardened and fearsome on the outside, but gentle and welcoming on the inside". My kind of RV! On closer inspection it looked too small to be practical for our family of three plus dog. But, it proved that the kind of RV that would enable family travel away from RV parks and on tougher roads existed, and that there were probably other vehicles out there that we would like even more. 

This led to the big question: What did we really want to do? Before going too much further, Matt and I needed to spend some time defining our mission. 

 Next: A family mission starts to take shape

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!