As many of you know, our life on the road has been largely unscripted. We tend to get an idea, do some research, talk to other full-timers, try something new, evaluate it, determine what we have learned and what we might want to do with the information, and then move on.
For 2019, we set a modest goal to see how we might increase our volunteering time doing things we enjoy and focus on three places in different parts of the country where we could be reasonably certain to stick to our minimum climate requirements – 70 degrees and the likelihood of sunshine.
With our dear Koreshan State Park for reference, we researched other state parks in the southwestern U.S. for the fall. We found one in New Mexico which is an historic cattle ranch from the late 19th century, concurrent with the timeline of the Koreshan Unity Settlement. We were interested in the possibility of doing more docent work, maybe tours, and special projects as yet to be determined. We applied and were invited to come to Oliver Lee Memorial State Park from late September through mid-December when we head back to Florida and Koreshan State Park.
That left us with the summer. With family in New England, we focused on Massachusetts State Parks and applied in January. The process included a background check first and then a declaration of where we might want to be assigned. We picked Cape Cod and ended up with a placement in Sandwich, Massachusetts. We had camped here before and loved the location on the north side of the Cape, near lovely beaches, the Cape Cod Canal, bike trails and historic and charming villages dating back to the early 17th century.
The job we were assigned is camphosting, which means a variety of different things depending on the state park around the country. Here, at Shawme Crowell State Forest, it means one thing – keeping the bathhouse/bathrooms clean. The older part of the park, where we thought we would be, has quaint (read “old and outdated”) bathhouses with one tin shower and two toilets in a small wood frame building with cement floors. The work requirement is 20 hours per week for the free site and that would mean cleaning every day, seven days a week, at the time we determined best. There is the option of taking days off, since there is coverage available.
We had requested a host site near to the site we had camped in before and we were confirmed in the site. However, when we arrived on June 20, we were given a completely other site and work assignment in another part of the park cleaning the newest bathhouse which has tile floors, four toilets, and two showers each on the men’s and women’s sides. It is a much nicer facility for guests (and for us) and a lot more work since this section of the park is very busy. Eventually, we figured out that we were re-assigned based on the park’s bigger need based on the number of camping reservations. The newer section with the nicer bath had more reservations and so we were assigned to cover that bathhouse. Rolling with the punches is what’s essential when you are a volunteer!
The campsite we were assigned is gorgeous. It has a long driveway off the camp road. We are surrounded on two sides by pine woods, a ravine, dappled sunlight, low bushes and scrub oak trees. On the one side with a neighbor, about 150’ to the west, low bushes, a stand of pines about ten or twelve inches in diameter and a small ravine, provide a suitable privacy barrier. The campsite is completely dry which means we needed to fill our on-board water tanks with the 40 gallons we would need for essential water during our six week stay. We have two refillable gallon containers which we fill on a daily basis for potable water from the water spigot right near the campsite.
One of the first tasks was to set up a place for the generator, away from any potential neighbors and downwind of our dining room windows. We run the generator about two hours a day – in the morning for breakfast prep and when charging up electronics like the computer or the portable vacuum or watching movies on the DVD (no TV here) which need 110. We then needed to scope out the options for setting up the solar panel on days where they could be used. That was more challenging in our shady site, but we have actually succeeded in getting the batteries nearly fully charged on the few very clear and sunny days. From the fully charged batteries, we can power our refrigerator, charge the phones and our very cool new “Luci” lights which are LED lanterns.
Once set up on our site, it was quickly apparent to us that we had lots of flexibility with our schedules which meant we could clean the bathhouse whenever we wanted on any given day. The bathhouse includes a storage facility with supplies like the mops, cleaning liquids, buckets, and broom and dust pan for the essentials. Boxes of toilet paper, the critical supply of gloves for busy hands, lined paper bags for sanitary napkin disposals and liners for the waste paper basket rounded out the basics.
The first time cleaning was the worst. Our standards for details, for example, sweeping the spider webs from the corner of the ceiling and around the open windows, became immediately obvious. This hadn’t been done yet this season, though it did appear that the place had been power washed recently. The keys we were given opened three of the four toilet paper disposal units in the women’s bathhouse. There wasn’t a clean mop/sponge to use to wash down the walls of the shower (another personal cleaning detail). There wasn’t a bottle of Lysol in the place, and Peter is still waiting for that. He did use our own personal sponge and mop to clean the shower stall that I use since we haven’t been given one.
Peter did eventually get the process down to a total of 1.5 hours for the men’s and women’s cleaning. My involvement is limited to refilling the soap dispensers, the toilet paper rolls and sweeping for spider webs in the window wells. Things were doable until July 4th week which was pretty much of a nightmare. The traffic in each bathhouse probably averages about 50 a day but that week, there it was more like 200 a day. The supplies ran out in a day, which meant that week we had to check twice a day for toilet paper. The condition of the showers was deplorable after one day since the messiest people did not clean up after themselves – I leave it to your imagination! The darker side of human nature seems to prevail on the busiest of weeks.
In addition to this volunteer assignment, living this long on a dry site did require some serious planning. For example, we wanted to avoid having to pull the trailer off the site to the dump station. Rather, we pulled out our trusty little Blue Boy, last used about three years ago. This handy little portable dump station allows us to empty the black water holding tank every 10 days or so and take it down to the camp dump station. The process takes about one hour. Simple.
We use potable water from the water pump in the campground at the rate of about a gallon each a day. The hardest adjustment is doing the dishes. We have limited on-board water and so washing dishes required re-calculating. There is a stainless steel camp sink at the bathhouse so we have gotten the process down to a once-a-day trip up to the bathhouse to wash dishes. The water is hot, plentiful and aside from lugging the dishes up there and back, they are certainly cleaner with the abundant water and space.
When planning the time here, knowing there would be no electricity, we realized the likelihood of hot and humid weather was pretty high. Last year while getting our annual service at Airstream we had the technicians install something called EasyStart, an adapter to our air-conditioner that allowed us to run our AC off the generator. EasyStart reduces peak starting current and controls power throughout the start-up so the compressor starts more smoothly and the generator has a lighter work load. After we first got here to our campsite, we tried it and it failed to work correctly. We figured that the Honda generator probably needed to be serviced since we haven’t had that done in the two years we have had it. We found a dealer nearby in New Bedford, MA and they completed the service it needed. On the re-try, the AC worked like a charm! It has been a life-saver during the 90 degree weather and the summer humidity for which New England is known. Imagine dry camping in the summer heat and having AC, it’s awesome.
What this experience here for six weeks of dry camping has taught us is something pretty important. We have learned how much work it takes to keep a household going. It’s more like the way people lived before the availability of electricity – from getting water, to preparing food, to handling waste. While we wouldn’t presume to be living like the pioneers did, we do take a great deal of granted when it comes to convenience and modernity.
This life underscores the reality of how we are living on the road. We are living in a tiny house, 250 square feet, and we take it where we want to go. We have it set up in the way that suits us, comfortable and spare and pretty energy-efficient. We are living in an Airstream but we aren’t camping. We don’t do campfires, roast marshmallows, or cook over an open fire. I love taking showers in the Airstream whenever we have full hook-ups and the occasional outdoor shower in the sunny warmth of Joshua Tree or in the occasional BLM campground is a special treat that I look forward to when the conditions are right, but I don’t want to perpetually live that way.
I love lighting candles for atmosphere and mood in the beautiful aluminum interior of the Airstream, but I don’t want to rely on candles for essential lighting. We love our portable LED lanterns and our portable small fans that easily charge, along with our phones, in the USB ports built into the Airstream right running off the battery. We use propane for heat, when needed, and right now we are running the refrigerator on propane, along with the water heater. The generator runs eight to ten hours on one gallon of gas. We do have an inverter built into the Airstream and once the batteries are fully charged, we can switch it on and provide power to charge the computer if needed.
We have learned a great deal here in the beautiful place. Last week, we took the ferry over to Martha’s Vineyard to visit my sister and brother-in-law for an overnight. We invited friends to join us for lunch in Sandwich, which is an easy invite since most people love coming down here. This week we are having dinner with one of our granddaughters who is coming to the Cape. The location is amazing and we do love it. The Whole Foods is 15 minutes away. Macy’s yielded a new bathing suit on sale, lobster rolls are readily available and superb, the ice cream is plentiful and of unusually high quality. The hydrangeas are in full bloom in their blue beauty, dotting the landscape with color and in splendid contrast to the roses, daylilies, and Shasta daisies that remind me it is full summer in New England. Life is very good on our campsite here at Shawme Crowell State Forest.
Peter and Liz continue their travels and their adventures in their Airstream, settling in New England for the summer.