Reflections on Two Months Gone

Unbelievably, two months have now passed since we set out with Gertie packed to the gills for the beginning of our trip. As we wrote about earlier, the excess weight in gear packed into Gertie was solved by renting and hauling a UHaul for the first couple of weeks, storing the items in Florida in a small storage unit and solved again when we returned to Deerfield Beach to retrieve the stowed belongings after we acquired our new camper, Wolfie.  On one hand, it feels like forever since we were working in our jobs and preparing to leave; on the other hand, it feels new as can be – like an extended vacation. Still, in the back of our brains, we feel that we kind of know that it’s not a vacation and it’s our new life and with every day, this realization brings a contented smile.

We set out with a rough itinerary of places we wanted to see and a timeline with only a few fixed dates: New Orleans for Mardi Gras and summer to travel through the Canadian Rockies into Alaska.  Otherwise, we purposely eschewed making advance reservations anywhere, which we found to be somewhat challenging while in Florida for the 6 weeks or so preceding our scheduled arrival in New Orleans due to the abundance of RVers and other campers taking advantage of wintering in Florida.  While making reservations for campsites – tent or trailer – in Florida proved time-consuming and while we could not always stay in a particular location or stay at a campground as long as we may have wanted under ideal circumstances, making arrangements on the fly has its blessings. We ended up seeing parts of the country that we may not have otherwise selected and some of those have been among the most beautiful and surprisingly enjoyable and have met people we might have missed.

Life with Wolfie

Life with Wolfie, our trailer home for the past month, is good.  In him, we have all that we need and love the convenience of cooking without digging through the “bear box” housing pantry items, or without hunting for the spices within the camp kitchen as it is now all neatly housed within organized (mostly) cabinets in the trailer. With Wolfie, packing up camp and moving onward is a snap and we have that routine pretty much down pat.  Having an indoor bathroom is dreamy and being able to sit at the dinette to eat or work at the computer is easy and comfy.  We have places for our clothes, and our “office” equipment as well as our toiletries and sundry items that are accessible and don’t require digging through boxes to retrieve.

Technology needs remain a work in progress as cell signals and campground wifi (when it exists) can be quite spotty but we have learned new tricks to overcome these deficiencies when they arise (at least, thus far). We previously added a $30 digital antenna to our gear which often will allow for watching local network TV. We added an Apple AV cable that allows for our iPhones or iPads to connect to the TV if we have downloaded Netflix shows or movies in advance or if we have service strong enough to stream from an app.  The Apple TV, which we believed we would be able to use by connecting it to the T-Mobile data on Roque’s iPad, has proven to be largely useless.  The data signal on the iPad, which is sufficient often to permit internet browsing, does not appear to be strong enough to support streaming on the Apple TV.  And when our cell phone signals are strong enough to support streaming, if the Apple TV is using TMobile data, we cannot stream to the Apple through AirPlay since both devices (Apple TV and phone or iPad) need to be using the same data stream.  The AV cable solved the problem by taking the Apple TV out of the equation.  Now, it mostly collects dust and awaits its final home in Panama.

There are many ongoing adaptations still, though.  We wrote briefly of the limit of our gray and black water tanks in Wolfie and found it essential to add a portable waste storage tank to our gear, which allows us to empty the tanks on an as-needed basis to bring to the dump station, freeing up the tanks while we are stationary for more than a couple of days. The alternative, for those of you not familiar with the more unsavory aspects of life in a camper, would require hooking up Wolfie every couple of days just to tow him to the dump station.  The portable tank can be towed (I kid you not) behind the truck for emptying at the dump station, leaving Wolfie happily in his cradle of wheel chocks and stabilizers.  It’s not the most pleasant of household chores to bring the portable tank to the dump station but it is a small price to pay for staying put for a longer period and for the convenience of indoor plumbing.

And while we adore having a queen size bed without the obstacle of cot frames separating us while we sleep, we have realized that our trailer mattress is a piece of crap- hard as a rock and shorter than the conventional queen size mattress.  Its short stature is not much of a problem for me but Roque isn’t as vertically challenged as I am and while not an extremely tall man, finds that his feet stick off the end of the mattress at night.

We discovered, quite by accident, that the crappy mattress dilemma is universal.  While camping on the north shore of Lake Ponchartrain, where we took Wolfie to stay while we headed into Mardi Gras, we were included by our neighboring campers in a day /night of beach going and campfire relaxing.  With these 3 families the subject of the mattress arose and much to our surprise, we learned that they ALL hated their mattresses.  So, it seems that camper manufacturers install the most basic of mattresses in campers and slowly but surely, owners learn that they need to replace their mattresses with other ones IF they want to get a good night’s sleep.

Armed with this information and the new-found knowledge of not being alone in this island of misfit mattresses, we started to research replacement RV mattresses and happily learned (from website comments) that RVers – from high-end Class A motor homes to pop up tent campers – often need to commit to replacing their mattresses.  Through the internet, we also learned that the mattress we have is a “queen short,” explaining the feet-off-the-end problem that Roque is experiencing.  (It is interesting to note that RV dealers proudly boast of queen size beds in RVs without disclosing that while they are queen size in width, they are Sharon-sized in terms of length!).

We were also happy to learn that replacing the mattress with a gel foam mattress for Wolfie will not cost and arm and a leg and NOTHING like a conventional mattress for a conventional home.  The obstacle that looms ahead in this purchase, however, is being somewhere where the new mattress can be shipped to us or shipped to a store for pick up. When one lives on the road with a snail mail address in another state (Florida in our case), one cannot simply do the simple Amazon-thing since acceptance of  delivery of something as large as a mattress – even one that is shipped vacuum sealed for later “inflating” when the package is opened — is not something we want to impose on a relative or friend in an upcoming state (as we have with smaller items).  This means postponing the purchase and timing it so that it can be delivered when we are WITH the friends or relatives.  Until then, the sleep will just have to suffer and we will just have to remind ourselves that hard as it is, the mattress is an improvement over the two cots pushed together.

So, lest you think that we are sitting fat and happy in the comfort of our new home on wheels, we are still modifying and adjusting and I suspect that our future posts will have subjects similar to this one.  Yes, there are moments when we wish that the purchasing of stuff would end but mostly the moments are filled with appreciation for the quiet and peace of our life on the road. There is always a new path to walk and new animals to see.  There are bike routes to try and local foods to explore.  There are people to meet and internet radio stations to stream through the Bluetooth to the outside sitting area beneath our retractable awning while we enjoy our books, newspapers, Scrabble, Backgammon and Chess games or as background music to our conversations about where to explore today.  There are beaches where we sun and nap and new grocery stores to explore when we shop for the days’ meals. We have found that we can be as solitary or as social as we please and that suits us beautifully, as does each other’s company, which never fails to complete us (still).  Life is good.

Finding Our Stride

One of the greatest discoveries so far has been that we CAN slow down, so much, in fact, that we cut our time in New Orleans short and decided to return to Wolfie a day earlier than planned following Mardi Gras. Entering New Orleans on Lundi Gras (the Monday before Fat Tuesday), turned out to be perfect timing as we were able to watch Monday’s Proteus and Orpheus Krewe parades as well as participating in Zulu’s Lundi Gras festival on the waterfront near the French Quarter.  The parades were spectacular affairs and each Krewe brings a different spectacle to the streets. On Mardi Gras, the parades began at 8 am and we saw the “follows” floats from smaller Krewes still rolling down St. Charles Avenue onto Canal Street as late as 5 pm!  Many stay at their spots for all of these hours; we spent time wandering different streets, observing the differences in the crowds from one location to another.  Having amassed huge quantities of Mardi Gras beads at a parade in Ocean Springs, Mississippi on the Friday before Mardi Gras, we made little effort to collect new ones in New Orleans and were fascinated by the BAGS of beads and other “throws” collected by parade attendees (what do they DO with all that stuff after the parades???).  Still, we were thrilled when Roque caught beads thrown by hometown boy Harry Connick, Jr. from his float in the Krewe of Orpheus parade and when Roque caught a prized hand painted coconut from the Zulu parade on Mardi Gras, which coconut now graces our dining room table in a plastic Proteus cup also one-handed by Roque.

While in New Orleans, we dined at Mother’s for breakfast (The Katz’s — of sorts – of New Orleans), returned to Cochon for dinner (as memorable as our visit there nearly 4 years ago) and visited Compère Lapin which may have been the highlight of our trip, as the cuisine, a fusion of West Indian/Cajun/Italian prepared by a classically trained (French tradition) female chef from St. Lucia, was fresh, beautiful and so flavorful that had we had larger appetites, we would have tried everything on the menu.  Her menu expresses the following philosophy, which I found perfectly matched our meal : ” Meals aren’t about trends, shock value, or opulence. Meals are about moments, memories and those who surround you at your table. We believe in the complexity of simplicity, and the power of pure flavors. Our histories, vast and varied, deserve to be memorialized and romanticized by dishes that at once remind us of home and transport us to somewhere new.” These restaurants were wonderful treats and a lovely departure from cooking and we were thrilled with these choices although in New Orleans, we likely could have tried others with the same results as few cities honor food (or do it as well) as does New Orleans.

The two days and nights in New Orleans, through this season of revelry, were enough for us and we both decided – independent of one another – that we wanted to leave the city to return to the campground. We have nested in Wolfie completely and have added touches that make it feel like home. Our Zulu coconut. Our Cynthia-made, Strip Club endorsed quilt. Our yoga mat as floor runner. Our zero gravity outdoor lounge chairs.  These and more make Wolfie our home and we are loving it.

We now know that moving along the road with Wolfie should be done in smaller spurts, and unlike our last cross-country trip where we drove upwards of 8-10 hours at times, we are now trying to travel no more than 4 hours on a travel day.  While slower in pace, we are in no hurry to exhaust ourselves or to push onward when being here — wherever here is – is bound to bring more beauty, fresh discoveries, and new friends.  Our next stops — Lake Charles, LA, Galveston Island, TX, Houston and then Dallas – lie ahead with boudin, cracklin’ and crawfish and who knows what else to be sampled.  Whatever lies ahead, we look forward to it and will share it later with you.

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Bourbon Street on Mardi Gras
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New Orleans, here we come!
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Gallier Hall (former City Hall), St. Charles Avenue along parade route

Be Safe Y’All

We were told by our camping neighbors here at Fontainbleau State Park to “be safe” when we left to go to Mardi Gras.  We swiftly learned that the “be safe” admonishment was not to be taken literally as I was able to confirm with our hotel desk clerk that folk from Louisiana ALL say “be safe” in the way that we might say “see you later.”  So this blog will close with well wishes to you and hopes that y’all will be safe.

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Trip Plan – Part I

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.

Dr. Seuss and Solar Power

The More that You Read,

The More Things You Will Know.

The More that You Learn,

The More Places You Will Go.

˜ Dr. Seuss

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”

What’s your lodestar?

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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.

Sometimes, being sidetracked is still forward motion

Visiting and Visits

I figured that after 24+ days since the last post, as I sit here by myself, listening to tunes from my youth (Little Feat’s “Dixie Chicken” album) at a volume not conducive to conversation, it feels like a good time to reflect on those 24 days and share thoughts about them.

Shortly after writing about the “Spot,” and putting pen to paper about how much we still don’t know about gear and readiness for the long road trip ahead, Roque and I headed off for a trip to Guadeloupe for a little birthday-celebrating R&R. The island was perfect – beautiful, warm and friendly, with food that tasted like we were dining in Paris. With this vacation, we returned to our early days of traveling, where our trips were mostly to beach locations where we did little other than read, swim, soak in the sun, eat and relax. It was nice to return to that kind of vacationing. It was also a great reminder of how much we enjoy being on the road, seeing and doing stuff and not just sitting on our duffs. It was also a reminder of how we will need to build down time into our road trip traveling.

We returned on a Tuesday about 12:50 and used our Global Entry cards for the first time and oh boy, you just gotta get one of these cards!  We had our bags on board with us which made the exit from our row 2 seats and into the Terminal much easier.  Still, we were literally out of the airport and in our truck on the way home by 1:05 – I kid you not.  Slide the passport into the kiosk, answer a couple of questions, scan fingerprints and VOILA! Out popped our receipts and out the door through Customs we went.  So cool that I just had to mention this again.

Arriving later that day were daughter, Renee, son-in-law , Fard, and newest grandson, Jacob Victorious, from California for a couple week trip east.  The day was spent getting ready for their arrival and the welcome party for the baby the following Saturday, returning to work, making meals and later-than-our-usual evenings in conversation with the West Coast family.  Whatever residual repose remained from Guadeloupe faded quickly nto the whirlwind of the visiting family and return to work-a-day life.

Along the way, though, lessons were learned that further the trip planning and upcoming change in lifestyle.  We reflected upon the fact that the beach was lovely but wasn’t it odd how odd it felt just to do nothing when the past several years of travel have been on the road, with sights, smells and sounds changing nearly every day.  We reflected on the fact that our road trips have been at a fairly feverish pitch, never alighting in one place for very long and how it felt good to stay in one place for a bit.  We reflected on how easy it was to do without TV, since we were lucky to find a radio station we loved, had our iPads, books and wifi and cell signals strong enough to support email, online Scrabble, text messaging, Waze, and some internet browsing but nothing robust enough to allow for video streaming of any kind. (In full disclosure, I have to admit that when, on our last night, we stayed in a room with strong enough Wifi to support YouTube, we did enjoy catching up on some Daily Show and related clips. . . ). We reflected on how essential having navigation capability is, how language challenges can be overcome, how nice it will be to have a 4-wheel drive vehicle while on our Pan American road trip, and how much we love exploring grocery stores, local specialities, and off the beaten track locations.

With the arrival of our family and the ensuing 2 weeks of sharing our house with 3 additional people, we’ve had additional reflections: we’ve loved our time with the baby and, more than ever, look forward to the time when he and his cousins will come visit with us when we relocate to Panama, a dream that we have had since we first conceived of moving there. We’ve loved the time with family, which reminds us how important it will be for us to make those twice yearly trips back to the States once we relocate outside the country. Watching the baby and new parents, it’s impossible not to reflect on the level of energy that is required to take care of a baby and to be thankful for the handing off the baton to our kids for them to start the process of creating the next generation of movers and shakers. It feels more and more comfortable making the decision to take our energy in a different direction and devoting the next chapter of our lives, of whatever duration, to exploring and to focusing on selves.

Being sidetracked these last 24+ days hasn’t meant moving sideways or standing still. With our eyes open, we see through these times, how every day adds to our learning about the days ahead.  Or, maybe we are just paying more attention.  Whatever the reason, we are grateful for the diversion and, as always, for what we learn along every path.

 

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What the heck is a SPOT?

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.

Clearly, my research was not thorough enough. Continue reading “What the heck is a SPOT?”

Global Entry Program

A short shout-out to the Global Entry Program of the US Customs and Border Control, which offers an applicant who is considered a “trusted traveler” a 5 year pass that allows expedited entry into the US through Customs without waiting in the traditional lines at airports or, I’m told, through border control entry points by motor vehicle.  The Global Entry pass includes TSA Precheck Logoas well, which allows expedited screening at airports without having to take off shoes and remove computers from bags.  If you fly often enough, no doubt you have drooled with envy at the TSA Pre lines which are shorter, faster and less cumbersome than traditional TSA screening points at airports.

Domestic travelers may find it more convenient to apply for just TSA Precheck Logo since it is less expensive than Global Entry but at $100 for 5 years, anyone entering the US from out of the country a couple of times over the duration of the GOES pass, especially if you fly domestically from time to time, may find that applying for Global Entry has its benefits.

The online application is easy and painless and in our case, our conditional acceptance into the program was communicated to us within 2 weeks of application and our interviews with US Customs and Border Control were scheduled shortly after.

Passes in hand, we hope that our travel to the US for semi-annual visits when we expatriate to Panama will be as easy and painless as obtaining the pass.