We are celebrating one year of travel on this road trip from DC to Alaska to Panama! On one hand, it seems like a million years ago that we packed up Gertie and left Maryland and on the other hand, it seems like it was just yesterday that we were posting our US-Canadian trip plan on Facebook. Just as many other things that we planned before we left our last permanent home, much has been altered, changed, and adapted since we started our planning and travel on this epic trip of a lifetime. Of our planned itinerary, we stuck mostly to the plan: we skipped some places we hoped to visit (Taos, for example, due to a major snowstorm forecast for our time there) and added a number of others (King’s Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, for instance). We did travel north of the Arctic Circle but opted to do this in Canada rather than in Alaska due to concerns about the Dalton Highway and truck traffic on that road.
We dispensed with sleeping in a tent, and added our beloved camper, Wolfie, to our gear list. We added a new bike rack but returned to using the one on the roof. We added electricity to our camper life with a generator and an inverter, learned that Netflix, Amazon Prime, cell phones and plans, credit cards and satellite radio function very differently north and south of the lower 48, and have learned to adapt to different forms of lemonade and iced green tea. We’ve met some amazing people and traveled with some of them — Tom and Stacy, Gayle and Bobby, Fritz and Bill, to name just a few — and have had the benefit of the wisdom of many Overlanders who we connected with before and during our trip. We visited with friends and family as we traveled and returned “home” to visit with other friends and family last fall.
We’ve taken thousands of photographs of the hundreds of geological formations, wildlife species, towns, and people along our way and added more than 100 stickers to the windows of Gertie. We have sustained some injuries to Wolfie and Gertie but none have delayed our travels or depleted our bank account significantly. We have spent a sum of money on camping fees and gasoline for the entire year that is less than our rent in DC for 2016. We have seen sunsets and sunrises over many bodies of water and rock formations and experienced 24 hours of sun for weeks on end this past summer. We have seen snow far more frequently than wished (or anticipated) and have experienced smoke from wildfires for the first time in our lives. We have camped in pretty much every environment — cities, parks, roadside rest areas, forests, deserts and more. We’ve learned endless amounts of information about rocks, mountains, tectonic plates, weather, volcanos, earthquakes, wildlife, the US National Park system, western Canadian provinces and territories and the portions of Mexico through which we have traveled so far.
Our experiences in the US and Canada have been extraordinary; our experiences in Mexico, so far, have been extraordinary AND eye opening. For us, Roque’s fluency in Spanish has been invaluable and it is difficult for us to wrap our heads around how Overlanders cope and deal with the myriad things necessary for road travel in this country if they do not speak Spanish. Even for us, adapting to Mexican-Spanish, which we have dubbed MexiEnglish – a different form of Spanglish — has been interesting and comical at times. Consider the word “roofo” that we have seen on stores advertising building materials (el techo is the Spanish word for roof or ceiling), or the term “se renta” on buildings that are available to lease (alquilar is Spanish for “rent”). This is often so confusing that Roque has to let me know when a word is the authentic Spanish word or a form of MexiEnglish so I won’t add vocabulary that will make me the laughing stock of Panama.
Adapting to other things-Mexican has been a bit of a challenge at moments. For example, consider our experience using a Mexican electronic toll pass that we purchased, believing that it would function, more or less, like the several other electronic toll passes we’ve owned in the past. A word of background on Mexican roads — Mexican has a series of toll roads that basically parallel the free (libre) roads. The toll roads are expensive, even by US standards and it’s not uncommon for us to pay several dollars for a segment of road less than 100 miles but they are tope (speed bump) free, generally well paved and can be driven at higher speeds. The local and free roads are, by comparison, replete the above mentioned dreaded potholes, pavement irregularities, topes and more. (The craziness of Mexican drivers is a topic for another day). We have opted to take as many toll roads as possible since the costs are well worth the ease of travel to say nothing of alleviating the wear and tear on our rig. When we purchased the electronic toll pass, we thought having it would save our cash (effectiva) for other essentials like gasoline and food as credit cards are not used in Mexico quite as extensively as in the US and Canada. A great idea that took no less than a week and many attempts to get it to work. First, we had to figure out how to load it with money (requiring stops at banks or stores to reload it with cash as only Mexican credit cards can be used – we think). Then, after going through several (5-6-ish) toll plazas without being able to use it, we learned that it needed to be registered. Roque then registered it through a toll station employee who warned him that even with registration, it might still need to be manually entered at each toll plaza as the pass needs to be separately registered at toll plazas to be recognized there. Oh my gosh. Since it was highly unlikely that we would pass through the same toll plaza more than one time each, it started to look dubious that this pass thingy would be of any use to us. Then, Roque was able to figure out how to register the device on the Mexican website, which required an address (we used that of the hotel which campground we were using in Aguascalientes) and voila, the device FINALLY registered at the toll plaza through which we traveled en route to Zacatecas.
Don’t get us wrong: there are a number of things that we have encountered here in Mexico that we think are really nice improvements over things we ever experienced in the US. Kisoks in every store that allow for the recharging of sim cards and payment of accounts. The purchase of cell data by the gig, untethered to costly telecommunication plans. Guard posts in shopping centers. Handbag racks next to tables in restaurants. Sloping escalators that allow shopping carts AND people to travel up and down together. Pharmacies that allow for the purchase of most medications without a prescription. And much more. And other things that we have loved that don’t fall neatly into any particular category: amazing street food that is healthy and tasty and cheap, even by local standards; warm, friendly and joyful people in every place; incredible architecture dating to the 16th and 17th centuries when the US was barely a “discovery,” fabulous tequila everywhere. We have loved seeing the Mexicans in down jackets, ear muffs, scarves and gloves here in Zacatecas when we are wearing shorts and the temperatures are in the 60’s. We have stared open-mouthed watching a father ride a bicycle holding his toddler in his right arm as he pedaled along. We have admired and photographed many beautiful doors and buildings that have no match in the US and that demonstrate a richness of history and love of beauty that is prevalent everywhere we have traveled in Mexico.
Zacatecas on Christmas Eve
It’s been a year on the road, 50,000+ miles traveled, and a million memories etched forever in our brains and our hearts. We look forward to the coming year and the experiences we have ahead as we complete the journey to Panama. Here’s wishing for a safe and memorable 2018 for our continued travels and wishes to you for a 2018 that is everything you want and need.
(Or, given the timing of this post and today’s holiday, Happy Thanksgiving to all!)
Initial Camping Kitchen Set-Up
You will recall that when we left Maryland on December 26, 2016 on this road trip, we were tent camping. At the time, we were carrying a fairly sophisticated arrangement of camping “rooms” – a traditional dome tent for sleeping, a screen tent for our outdoor living area and tarps to frame and shield our outdoor kitchen, usually “built” around a park-supplied picnic table. We had long before dispensed with the traditional Coleman-type 2 burner camp stove and had upgraded to a more powerful 2 burner Mr. Heater Basecamp camp stove which is rated at 15,000 BTU per burner.
In addition to the camp stove, based upon an ingenious idea obtained from Pinterest, our camp kitchen was housed in a Stanley Tool Fatmax rolling toolbox. Within it were utensils, foil, baggies and plastic wrap, spices, cutlery and silverware, pots and dishes alongside our dishwashing and drying necessaries. We also had one large bear-proof box (creatively named the “bear box”) that housed other kitchen items such as charcoal and fire starter, larger pots, cutting boards, pantry items, etc. We were traveling with a 63 quart ARB 12-volt refrigerator which we powered using the cigarette lighter adapter while driving and our 100 watt solar panel and Goal Zero Yeti 400 solar “generator” while stationary.
We brought as many spices, sauces and pantry ingredients as we could fit into the Kitchen and Bear Box because we wanted to continue to cook and eat as we did in our brick-and-mortar home. While it is not completely clear how other overlanders cook and eat on the road –- whether they stick to basics or bring a little of home with them – we thought that since we planned to be on the road for well over a year, we wanted to eat the same (or similar) broad range of foods that we ate before we left on the trip. This included cooking with flavors from the Mediterranean, Asia, India and elsewhere.
This all worked pretty well. It was cumbersome but workable. We packed an amazingly large amount of sauces, condiments, spices and pantry items as well as kitchen utensils, including an electric coffee/spice grinder and a small electric chopper/food processor (in addition to a manual coffee grinder). We scaled down to several pots and pans – a cast iron skillet, cast iron Dutch oven, cast iron plancha (grill/griddle combo) and small pot with lid.
Before we left on the trip, we added frequently used recipes to the Pepperplate app for easy access along the road. Pepperplate is a website/app that allows users to upload recipes (user generated or obtained from other websites) and create menus, from which shopping lists can be generated and more. It’s a powerful and handy app for anyone who enjoys cooking, recipe collecting and entertaining (the shopping list feature is worth its weight in gold as it aggregates ingredients — so handy for holiday meal preparations!).
Life After Wolfie
When we acquired Wolfie, we moved our kitchen from the Kitchen and Bear Box inside. Wolfie’s kitchen has a 2 burner propane stove, a small sink, a microwave and a small fridge that runs on propane or electric. Of course, the microwave works only when we have electricity. (More on electricity below). We also have a small counter space next to the sink and a couple of storage areas above, below and next to the sink/stove areas.
Roque very cleverly used one of our 3 door plastic “dressers” (previously used for clothes when we were tent camping) inside one of Wolfie’s storage cabinets which now houses spices, pantry items, some canned goods and sauces. A $2 tin bucket from Michaels’ houses our most frequently used utensils – wooden spoons, spatulas, whisk, knives and cutting boards have a place alongside Wolfie’s 2-burner stove. We house our pots and pans under the sink with our dishes (plastic and paper) and our additional pantry items are in a cabinet or under the benches at the dinette (together with all sorts of other stuff). Prep space in Wolfie is extremely limited now that we are using our counter space for a dish drain so most of our food prep is done on a cutting board placed on the sink.
Despite the compact space we live within, we have added a couple of kitchen gadgets along the trip including a dehydrator for making jerky (ours is better, more healthy and less expensive than from the store), a small electric drip coffee maker (the French press uses too much water to clean when we are wild camping), dish drainer and a couple of extra cups for when we have “company” but otherwise we are using the same equipment as when we were in a tent. The Stanley Fatmax tool box was returned to its originally intended function as a tool box and the bear box is being used for hoses and Wolfie-related items. Wolfie’s fridge added a tiny freezer that allows for some ice and additional fridge space.
Note on Electricity:
Electricity for us is a bit like other technology in that it’s a work in progress kind of thing . . . For those familiar with RVing, you know that RVs have a “house” battery (usually some form of 12 volt car or marine battery) that charges when you are driving and that runs some of the RV’s essential functions such as lights, water pump, USB power outlets (for newer models), RV fridge, hot water heater, kitchen and bathroom fan and perhaps a little more. The battery does not supply sufficient power to run AC, microwave, or “regular” power outlets. You can add batteries to the RV battery bank but that will only extend the amount of time you can run essential functions without recharging UNLESS you also add a power inverter that will “convert” (which is really inverting) 12 volts power into AC power to run small appliances such as drip coffee makers. Many modern RVs are sold with solar connections that allow for solar panels to connect into the RV electrical system and then recharges the battery when the RV is stationary and not hooked to electricity.
In order to run a powered appliance, you need either an inverter (which simply converts stored power from DC to AC) or a generator, which actually creates usable electricity for power-hungry functions like the microwave or air conditioning.
Many in RVs never sweat any of this because larger RVs usually come with generators built into the rig, drawing gasoline directly from the gas tank of the rig, or they just rely on campground-supplied power. It’s great to have power supplied at a campsite but camping only in campgrounds supplying power limits you to certain kinds of camping.
Our Goal Zero solar “generator” is really just a beautifully packaged battery with an inverter attached . . . The model we bought was the Yeti 400 and the “400” denotes the watts that are “generated” by the inverter. Our Goal Zero produces enough power to power our ARB fridge and to recharge our phones and tablets. It can also be used for our small coffee grinder or tiny food chopper but that is about its limits.
After we wild camped a few times, we realized that there were times when we were going to want more power so that we could recharge the house battery, or we could run the coffee maker or we could run the air conditioner. For these needs, we knew we needed a generator, which we decided to purchase while on the road to Alaska, ordered online for store pick up in Anchorage.
We opted to purchase a Champion generator that can produce sufficient watts to run the air conditioning in Wolfie because it seemed to make little sense to have a generator that supplied some but not all of our needs. We believed, as well, that the generator might come in handy for future non-RV applications and we could, therefore, justify the purchase for several reasons. The one we bought works well but it is quite loud – the much quieter Honda generators are extremely costly so while we would have loved less noise, we couldn’t justify the additional cost.
To counter the generator noise issue, we later decided to add a 1500 watt power inverter into our set up. The inverter is silent because it is not generating electricity but just inverting power from 12 volt to AC. It is connected to Wolfie’s house battery (which is now chained to an additional AGM marine battery that we were using with the Goal Zero in Gertie) and allows us to run an extension cord to the coffee maker or coffee grinder in the morning without starting up the generator.
Most Pan American Highway overlanders do not appear to be traveling in any sort of RV and are likely doing just fine with a solar panel and battery plus some type of inverter. Most RVers are likely fully self sufficient with factory-supplied generators connected to the RV’s electrical system and gas supply. We are kind of in between. The sort of “hit and miss”-learning by experience that has emerged over our time on the road has probably resulted in a hodgepodge of solutions that might make others howl with laughter but it seems, finally, to be working for us.
Our Eating Repertoire
Our breakfasts and lunches are simple affairs – most of our thought and energy go into planning and making our dinners. On average, we will cook 6 out of 7 dinners – or 20 out of 21 weekly meals. They are also mostly simple affairs consisting of a grilled source of protein and a vegetable or salad or a fruit. Keeping fresh veggies and fruits around is a challenge – they take up a LOT of refrigerator space and spoil easily so often we have one or the other with dinner but rarely both. Roque is a master at grilling, whether over gas, charcoal or firewood and we have enjoyed many meals of grilled whole fish, steaks, racks of lamb, pork of all sorts and more. Grilling is not always possible, particularly when parks restrict fires and charcoal grills and grilling over a propane heated, cast iron plancha does not always produce excellent results. So, when we are not grilling, we have enjoyed pan seared Pacific halibut, pan seared steaks, freshly shucked local oysters and more. We have learned how to “bake” mini pizzas in the Dutch oven, made stews, prepared curries, scrambled eggs, blackened salmon, stir-fried Asian meals, “doctored” ramen packets with veggies, pork belly and aromatics, and created chicken lettuce wraps just like when we lived in DC. On Passover, we prepared a small sedar, complete with gefilte fish (store bought), hard-boiled eggs, matzo and homemade matzo ball soup. We have learned that much is possible with a bit of thought and a healthy dose of creativity. Still, we have also de-emphasized meal prep over the course of this trip largely because the therapeutic value of cooking was significantly reduced after retirement and because we just didn’t feel the urge to spend a lot of time in the kitchen/fire pit when there was so much other stuff to do.
Our Shopping Regimen
A friend asked us about our shopping routine one day and the question stopped me in my tracks: what WAS our shopping routine? Earlier in our trip, we learned from shopping trips to grocery “stores” in Terlingua, Texas (on the western edge of Big Bend National Park) and in Springdale, UT (on the western edge of Zion National Park) that while there is often some source of grocery items, the selection and cost for “our” staples made it essential that we ensure these items were stockpiled, when possible.
After passing through tiny towns with little more than convenience stores within gas stations as a source of procuring grocery items, we learned to take mental stock of “meals” on hand – eggs and cans of salmon and tuna as well as PB&J were always in our pantry. After spending substantial time in Canada, we learned that sugar-free beverages were scarce and that we had to make adjustments when it came to our preferred non-alcoholic drinks. (Note: alcoholic beverages in Canada are HIGHLY taxed and much more expensive than in the US – we learned to stock up on liquor in Alaska before heading back through Canada). In short, as long as we could count on at least 2 meals within our pantry and fridge, we knew we wouldn’t go hungry.
When in new towns, one of our great pleasures is to visit new grocery stores. Within the US, grocery store chains are often more familiar than not and we learned that our store courtesy card/phone numbers worked in stores where we had NEVER shopped before, making clear that some chains are linked whether we are aware of this or not. For example, Albertson’s, which we have visited throughout the western US, is a chain related to Safeway in some manner.
In short, we shop when necessary – when we are out of essentials or when we have “nothing to eat.” This pattern is not unlike how we shopped when we resided in a brick-and-mortar home – we shopped nearly daily for dinner items and bought our staples at the same time. While we cannot, as a general rule, purchase Costco-sized packages, we buy our racks of lamb only at Costco and have made many batches of curried chicken salad from the rotisserie chickens we buy at warehouse clubs.
What We Crave
Despite our expansive cooking repertoire, broad palate and willingness to eat what the locals eat, there are things we don’t get to eat often enough to fulfill our inner (eating) souls. Among these things are good sushi. Bagels. Dim sum. Good fried chicken. Chopped liver. Anything braised. And a delicious piece of cake or pastry. The take-away is that it is worth waiting for the right place (or kinda-right place) before trying to satisfy the craving, even if it means waiting 6 months for sushi. Or learn how to make it yourself. (Ask Roque about shucking Pacific oysters – a topic for another day.)
Cooking in Mexico
Since we just arrived in Mexico, it is not clear how our eating and cooking will change. The first several days felt like we were on vacation and we succumbed to the temptation to eat out – one late lunch at a beautiful vineyard, El Cielo, in the Valle de Guadeloupe, an early lunch of tostadas on the street at La Guerrerense, and a fabulous early dinner at Manzanilla in Ensenada. The meals were each memorable and, frankly, better than most of the restaurant meals we’ve eaten along this trip. They were also, predictably, much less expensive than most of the meals that we have eaten (in or out) over the past year of travel and so, the dilemma, both in terms of pocketbook and waistline, for us will be in finding some balance.
We have already learned, from visits to local markets and grocery stores, that we will not be without good (and familiar) food, however, meat is butchered differently in Mexico than in the US and the broad selection of cuts and types (lamb has been absent from all of the stores we have visited including Costco and Sam’s Club) may limit what we purchase until we become more familiar and, perhaps, more adventurous. It is exciting to find huge bins of different dried chilies, unfamiliar fruits and vegetables, and ones that we recognize but do not know how to cut or prepare (prickly pear being among them). And the spices! We replenished our ground cumin the other day with a 40 gram packet that cost under $1; the same was true for aji molido (garlic powder).
Our favorite beverages are not available in any store so we will need to make adjustments but we are flexible and are sure we will adapt. And when we are able, we look forward to cooking classes and more research on how to use some of the local ingredients and, perhaps, will find the courage to learn to cook things we love to eat but have never cooked. Pulpo anyone?
In case you are interested, here is a list of what we have and try to keep on hand:
Salt, white pepper, black pepper (whole and ground), garlic powder, onion powder, cumin (whole and ground), Montreal steak seasoning, coriander, cardamom, turmeric, oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary, tarragon, mustard powder, Old Bay, curry powder, garam masala, sumac, ras el hanout, ginger powder, cinnamon sticks, ground cinnamon, whole nutmeg, allspice (whole and ground), cayenne, bay leaves, fennel seeds, and celery seeds.
Sauces and Pantry Items
Oil (canola and extra virgin olive oil), soy sauce, vinegar (champagne and balsamic) chicken and beef bouillon, Tabasco and 2 other hot sauces, Worcestershire sauce, sesame oil, oyster sauce, Asian fish sauce, Chinese rice wine, hoisin, flour, white and brown sugar, splenda, dried whole milk, baking soda, baking powder, vanilla, rice, canned sardines, canned tuna, canned anchovies, canned salmon, Rotel, peanut butter, maple syrup, mustard, ketchup, mayo, grape jam, Naomi Benzil’s mango chutney and peach mango honey, fresh garlic, minced ginger, lemons, limes, tomato paste (in a tube), panko, bread crumbs, various dried beans and legumes and some other items that we’ve likely overlooked.
One of the most challenging things for me has been trying to work on aspects of the blog BEFORE we leave on the trip. Road mapping? No problem. Making endless lists? No problem. Sorting through belongings in garage and itemizing for donations? No problem. This embedding of maps and way points – well, let’s just say that for me, it’s more difficult than mastering phyllo dough or organizing a party for 100 . . .
I have learned how to use Google My Maps to create layers and to show the way points planned for the trip – I even got as far as showing the driving route from DC to Anchorage. But alas, THAT map won’t embed in this blog, as far as I can tell (at least as of this moment). So today’s experiment is with embedding a map – next task is to learn how to embed a map with ALL of our planned way points and not just a portion of a trip.
Plain ol’ Google Maps will allow for a certain number of points to be shown on a driving map and this is what is displayed below. As I experiment, be patient. I continue to learn, whether about solar energy, satellite messaging devices, bull bars or bug net hats for Alaska. Behold the result of some of today’s lessons.
A year ago — no a MONTH ago – had you asked me about solar power, I would have given you a blank look. What a difference a month makes and shows that the more that I read, the more things I will know and armed with that learning, the more places Roque and I will go.
From the scores of Overlander blogs from we have read and studied over the past couple of months, it seemed pretty clear that life on the road will be a whole lot more comfortable and enjoyable if we have a 12 volt refrigerator with us. Not to be confused with thermoelectric coolers, 12 volt refrigerator/freezers are true refrigerators and have the capacity to maintain temperature required for real refrigeration, regardless of external temps. Not only will this allow us to have fresh veggies, beverages and meat food on hand for days, it will allow us to save leftovers, etc. without having to deal with the inconvenience of locating ice and dealing with the melting, to say nothing of the spoilage that inevitably results from days of camping with coolers and ice. Not a necessity, for sure, and relatively expensive (certainly compared to the cost of ice), but having such a fridge is a luxury we figure will be a great investment considering the amount of time we will be on the road and the unknowns of locating fresh food and ice. Continue reading “Dr. Seuss and Solar Power”→
The convergence of a theme emerged last week in ways too coincidental to ignore. Alternatively, it’s completely possible that once a seed is planted, you begin to see it grow in many aspects of your life and is less coincidence than thematic, if only for a short time. Regardless, at dinner with close friends, the upcoming road trip was discussed when one friend offered that she was envious of our plans to drive to Alaska and then to Panama, reflecting that she was happy to envision more time with grandchildren and lead the relatively quiet life she leads but believing that she “should” want more travel and exploration as part of her future.
Justice, Equity and Dignity
Later in the week, due to circumstances too tangential to this blog to mention here, Roque shared with me that he has led his life according to three principals: justice, equity and dignity. With all of the time that we have spent together, and with the myriad conversations and topics we have discussed, it seemed somewhat remarkable that Roque never shared this before with me – at least, in this particular way. If you knew Roque, it would be no surprise to hear him articulate these specific principals since he walks the talk in every fiber of his being. What was most intriguing to me about his articulation was how much this resonated with me in connection with the earlier “should” conversation when my friend mentioned her envy about the trip that Roque and I are planning.
Discarding the “Shoulds”
To me, among the most important aspects of our impending retirement and road trip, including the plan to expatriate to Panama, is that we have largely discarded the “should” from our thinking and focused on our lodestars. And while Roque’s principals of justice, equity and dignity may seem somewhat disconnected from the concept of “should” or, frankly, expatriating to Panama via an overland adventure, they struck a chord with me by how important it is to be guided by an internal compass and how retirement, if not before, is a perfect time to discard the “shoulds.”
Roque’s guiding principals suggest an outward approach to those who he has sought to serve but they can and, of course, are, his internal guideposts as well. I might choose different words or, even, different principals. But whatever they are, they have guided me in all that I do and all that I am, much as they do for everyone else. My connection with Roque, his with me, and with the people who are dear and important to us, are cemented by our lodestars and the power of those connections are, I believe, stronger or weaker depending upon how closely our lodestars match with others in our lives. I see this in nearly every interaction I have and it helps me to understand why I feel the powerful connections to near-strangers and, sometimes, the distance I have with close relatives and co-workers with whom I spent enormous periods of time.
Alongside these principals, however, at least for me, has always been the “should.” The “should” has often competed with my internal lodestars and, perhaps embarrassingly, has sometimes taken over – not to the compromise of any of those principals I hold dear – but certainly when it comes to being true to myself.
With my friends who have apologized for how long it’s been since we saw each other, I have always said that no apology is necessary, further noting that the way that we spend our lives is often the best snapshot on what we truly value the most. Whether it is family, career, leisure activities or nothing at all, I think that we might benefit by paying more attention to the things that actually drive us rather than some sense of “should” coming from external sources.
Whether the “shoulds” come to us because of our birth order, or because we are products of our generation, or due to our gender, it is worth reminding ourselves that whatever leads us internally requires no apologies. I say this, in part, with the hope that if I repeat this mantra often enough, I will believe it more fervently with every reciting. If Roque and I followed our “shoulds,” it likely would not have resulted in a decision to expatriate or to overland to Alaska and Panama. Roque has admonished me from time to time that what I characterize as “selfishness” is more self-focus. That resonates for me, even if I am still trying it on for size, since self-focus requires serious inward attention to those things that drive me and fulfill my soul.
Whether one prefers the company of grandchildren, or the excitement of the unseen road, or the peace of time at home with family and friends, we should listen carefully to our inner voices and substitute the compelling driving forces within for those things that we allow to influence our considered and careful pursuits.
Roque and I are unsure how it will feel to be on the road, away from familiar things and the people who are the cornerstones of our footing. But for us, this feels like the right thing to do. If it does not evolve into what we are hoping for, we can always turn back. For those who are not so impelled, I offer this blog to travel virtually with us.
The Power of Asking Questions When You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know
As I contemplate our next Boots and Coffee post about gear, I have stalled because I am not sure how to describe the unbelievable amount of research that seems necessary to decide on the proper gear for our journey. Choice of gear involves many decisions and a lot of exhausting thinking: it’s not just what gear do I need because decision-making involves consideration of how MUCH gear can be taken and how costly will that gear be if we opt for it. So, what to do first? Make a “wish list’ of desirable gear and then research the best choices within these items, followed by an accounting of the cost? Or do we decide on “essential” gear, figure what that will cost (if we need to add purchases to our supply), and then figure out if we have the space? It often feels like it is a sort of a chicken-and-egg thing – and I’m sometimes immobilized by how to approach these questions.
There are many bloggers on the road who have considered these questions and I would be remiss if I didn’t, once again, acknowledge the hefty assistance of resources such as Life Remotely, which blog contains a gear section with 3 subsections: choosing gear, packing advice and packing lists. Similar lists exist on many other blogs and Overland websites. They are wonderful starting points but one soon realizes, as one reads through these sites, that there is clearly no “one size fits all.” First, space is a real limitation for us since we are not traveling in a RV with oodles of storage. Obviously, finances are another real limitation. And you can fill in the blanks about the other criteria that you might consider if you were in our boots.
One of the more formidable tasks for us is in knowing the right questions to ask about gear. Here’s an example: Roque and I have traveled outside the country on a number of occasions and struggled with the issue of cell phone and data connectivity. There are scores of words written on this subject and, sadly, every country seems to present it’s own challenges. When in Canada this summer, having done a hefty amount of research before we crossed the border, we spent a couple of hours on our first full day in Nova Scotia, hunting down prepaid sim cards to insert in our (then) unlocked iPhones. (I won’t bore you with the details of why this took hours rather than minutes). Sim card in hand and iPhones with data in our lap, we navigated beautifully to the spots where we wanted to go. It all worked swimmingly until 2 days later when we found ourselves in the middle of Prince Edward Island with no data connection and no cell service to help us navigate through the problem solving. We sought out a place with WiFi and made a series of calls only to find out that 1) we had already blown through $100 worth of data and 2) we could have added a Canadian plan to our Sprint plan at a very inexpensive rate that would have been tons easier than our sim card purchase and time spent in cell phone stores and in trouble shooting through the data dilemma.
Having decided that we would embark on this road trip en route to Panama, and having rejected the idea of taking one of our Audis, we began to consider what kind of vehicle we wanted to drive. Studying postings by Overlanders revealed a stunning array of exotic vehicles selected for this massive road trip. There are Overlanders on bicycle and motorcycle, in motor homes and in antique cars, in modified ancient VW (and similar vans), in trucks, in SUVs and in contraptions referred to as “Global Expedition vehicles,” which are like motor-homes on steroids. Much as Roque, like many men, might secretly pine away for the testosterone-charged Earth Cruiser or something similar, I waited for his fiscal prudence and common sense to kick in (since expedition vehicles start at a whopping $175,000+) so that we could talk about something a tad more affordable and, for me, easier to climb into.
Overlanders use all kinds of vehicles (ambulance conversion anyone?) and many seem to favor older-model Toyota Highlanders (ca. 1980’s) apparently due to the early generation Hilux truck body on which the Highlander was built. As you can see, I read enough to sound like I know what I am talking about but frankly, this is all way beyond me and I was NOT enticed to start looking on Craig’s List for 30 year old trucks with which to take this trip. Continue reading “Getting ready – Part I”→