Our Airstream remodeling is completed.

We rarely catch those TV reality shows about home makeovers, but Monday, we were actually living one.  Exactly one week before, we left our Airstream with the mighty team of Ultimate Airstream in Williamsville, Oregon.  This was Phase Two of the renovations we committed to after two years of living on the road.  When Ian Harnish, the incredible team leader at Ultimate Airstream, showed us the inside, I just started crying with joy.  It was beyond what I could have imagined.

The beautiful windows in T2 bring the outside in so when I am writing, views like this (from Minnesota’s north woods in 2016) fill my heart. But we needed to improve the functionality of the living area for our needs.

As you loyal readers know, we love our Airstream (named T2).  Our experience with Airstream as the manufacturers has been nothing but enthusiastic.  But, after twenty-seven months, our love of travel, adventure, and life taught us that there were renovations we needed in order to maximize our tiny and very efficient space.  Specifically, we decided that we had no need for extra sleeping space so the long couch and the large dining table, both integral components to more sleeping space, were not priorities for us.

We are both avid readers and a comfortable chair became an essential element to peace and wellbeing and the original Airstream curb side bench was not making the grade.  We aren’t the kind of people who entertain a lot indoors so the long couch was not functional.  What we did need was more organized storage space inside, much more comfortable seating, and easier access to the under-bed storage that Airstream so brilliantly includes in the front bed, twin models.

View out the new window in the bathroom, June 2017. We did include a shade for night privacy. Also added a second towel rack in the bathroom.

Phase One of the renovations was completed at Airstream in Jackson Center, Ohio in June.  They removed the curbside bench and installed our new Lambright wall-hugging recliner pictured below in a couple of  images.  We also had them cut down the size of the dining table to better fit the recliner and open up the space more.  JC also installed a porthole window in the bathroom. We had seen this modification when we were in Death Valley in March and it just blew us away.  The picture here tells all you need to know about this improvement to the quality of our life.  The bath was functional without the window but with it, the natural light and the illusion of spaciousness of bringing the outside in, is wonderful and the last four months have just re-enforced our decision.

Here’s a close-up of the new cabinet which is tucked under the window and up against the wall with the refrigerator. The counterspace on top is amazing and because it is set back it just opens up the entire interior and feels so much more spacious.

In October, Ultimate Airstream took over from there for Phase Two.  They re-built the seating area completely, removing the original 93″ couch and replaced it with a custom 72″ couch and removing the gaucho slide that offered the option of another bed. (I have inserted before and after pictures at the end of this blog so you can experience the complete make-over). These guys use professional grade upholstery cushions and great vinyl covering that are essential for the intensity of our full timing. These cushions are firm and very comfortable for long periods of sitting (like writing and reading) and that will most likely last a decade.

They also designed and built a custom cabinet for us, adding precious storage space and creating an efficient set of storage spaces.  The middle cabinet drawers are heavy-duty, 11″ deep (they need to hold a portable filing system) and extend fully for access to the content. The cabinet materials, including drawer pulls and countertop, are all with the original Airstream materials that are specific to our 2015 and so the finished result is completely seamless.

Here’s a picture from the hall looking into the bedroom showing the two new under-bed drawers, fully extended. And yes, they did accommodate the floor rug when building!

The other modification we made was to install custom drawers underneath the deeper of the two twin beds in the bedroom.  Again, these are super deep and pull out all the way for incredibly easy access from the top to the storage bags of (in this case) sweaters and bulikier clothing items. This is already a life-changing modification as we have re-organized all the harder to get to spaces where seasonal items like hats and scarves got buried in smaller storage areas inside T2 and were hard to access.  We opted not to build drawers under the other twin because the space is not as deep (there are outside storage areas located in this general area) so it is far easier to access the contents since the space is so shallow.

On chilly evenings, we throw our Pendleton blanket over the recliner and all is well!

We also made another change this time around.  Ultimate Airstream replaced the radio/stereo that came with T2.  It never really worked for me and was too hard to use.  The new one, a Kenwood car stereo is great and since our Clarion speakers are so good, we can listen to our music and easily watch movies through the system.  No picture here of the stereo but know that it’s great.

So here are two remarkable pictures of T2.  The first, the “before” picture, shows the original set-up with the curbside bench, most of the long couch, and the fabric upholstery that we chose when we ordered the Airstream new in 2015.  The original table is oversized and while it did provide a great work space, the trade-off in comfort was not worth the price.

And below that is the “after” picture of the new living area showing the gorgeous couch covering, Chimayo wool throw pillows, comfy alpaca throw over the back cushions, and a view of the recliner.

The original interior living/dining area.

Our newly remodeled living/dining area is fabulous.

Liz and Peter are continuing their pilgrimage to here in their newly renovated Airstream, heading slowly south and east and aiming for arriving in Florida by mid-November. 

 

 

 

 

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If it’s Labor Day, this must be Kansas.

In Kansas, the wildflowers are in bloom in the Flint Hills.

On this Labor Day morning, we are heading west across Kansas where the early morning sun is chasing us, splashing its burnt orange light on the world.  We left New Hampshire August 22 which was six weeks to the day from Peter’s hip replacement surgery.  His recovery continues to amaze everyone, including his surgeon, and after years of chronic and increasing pain, he is reveling in the reality of being pain-free.  In light of the priorities for his recovery and healing, we did two major things before beginning our westward journey.

First, we invested in a heavy-duty bed slide for the back of the truck which completely eliminates the need to climb into the truck (and potentially twisting in ways that a new hip-replacement isn’t supposed to go).  The slide pulls out 70% of the way so the things that we regularly need when setting up camp will now be easily accessible without the gymnastics of climbing up and in.  With the help of friends and family, Peter was able to build some shelves around the edges of the bed slide in the front and along the sides of the truck.  This provides storage for items we don’t always need in a campsite.

A closer look at the bed slide, partly extended and neatly loaded.

The second thing we did was to re-plan our original route, eliminating a side trip to visit family near Toronto and cutting back on the total miles driven each day.  These shorter driving days mean we are able to arrive at our series of mostly one-night-stand campgrounds around 3:00pm.  Since we do not unhook, we have time every day for some hikes/walks and Peter has plenty of time for his physical therapy and strengthening exercises.  When possible, every three days or so, we are staying in campgrounds with full hook-ups, making our lives much easier.

On our first stop after leaving Keene, we spent four days visiting our dear friends in upstate New York.  Jim helped Peter re-organize the contents in the back of the truck and they secured the items on the shelves in the most efficient way.  From there we stopped in Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio and then to Jackson Center, Ohio and the Airstream factory where we had a failed exhaust fan replaced. We also picked up a set of pink flamingos (a kitchy Airstream thing, the flamingos are still made in Peter’s boyhood home town of Leominster, MA).  We stopped in Prophetstown State Park, Indiana at a gorgeous campground without the chance to tour the nearby Tippecanoe Battlefield.  Next time.  Then we spent our last night east of the Mississippi River in Chandlerville, Illinois in a place called Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Park with lovely open prairies and lush green grasses from the summer rains.

Restored gas station in Quincy, Illinois captures memory of long-ago gas prices.

We crossed the Mississippi at Quincy, Illinois on our way to Missouri and our next campground a commercial site called Cottonwoods RV Park, in Columbia, Missouri, a perfect one-night stop with easy access to I-70.  We were surrounded all on sides of this completely full campground by folks gearing up for the big football game the next day between University of Missouri and Missouri State. We were grateful that this was night before the game, and not the night after because no matter who won, there would most definitely be some festivities.

There are two things to mention here about this late-summer crossing. By the time we hit Missouri we realized that we had been looking at corn and soybean fields for about eight hundred miles, that’s right, eight hundred miles!  When you live most of your life in the northeast, it is easy to forget the fecundity of this country’s midwest. The agriculture and farming is so deeply ingrained in this region that local TV and radio broadcasts include weather reports and soil conditions routinely.

Crossing the Mississippi River, this time at Quincy, Illinois, is always an emotional experience for us.

Along US 30 we noticed assorted farm vehicles – from small back-hoes to parts of irrigation systems to fertilizers – with For Sale signs on them, every few miles along the road.  When we asked, we learned that this is the time when most farmers are selling their crops and have income and are more likely to buy equipment they found they are needing for next season.

The second thing we noticed as we crossed Missouri and headed into Kansas were the miles and miles of wild sunflowers, millions and millions of them, along the highway.  Unlike fields of cultivated sunflowers that we saw in North Dakota, these untamed varieties have arranged themselves in clumps and clusters along the roadside and then, hopping the guardrails, create great swaths of brilliant yellow as they rush into open fields and ravines.

T2 breakfast in Manhattan featuring my sister’s amazing scones with North Country Smokehouse (Claremont, NH) bacon and scrambled eggs. Yum.

We landed for two nights at one of our favorite Corps of Engineers campgrounds, Tuttle Creek Lake, in Manhattan, Kansas.  Even though there were fellow campers here for another football game between Kansas State and Central Arkansas State, this place was much more sedate.

We spent a couple of hours on a very warm late-morning hiking the Konza Prairie Nature Trail in the beautiful Flint Hills.  We discovered the Flint Hills when we were here last year and fell in love with the place. Konza Prairie was closed then because of heavy rains so we looked forward to returning to hike in this 8,600 acre tract of native tall grass prairie.  Purchased originally by The Nature Conservancy in 1977, the tract is managed by the Division of Biology at Kansas State University.

Along the trail one can see the limestone outcroppings of the Flint Hills that have preserved the largest untouched natural tallgrass prairie in the United States.  The soils are shallow and the layers of limestone so thick that the land was not able to be plowed.  The dominant tallgrass species are big bluestem, Indian grass, little bluestem and switchgrass and we learned that the big bluestem, in a good year, will top 10 to 12 feet in height while its root system can reach the same depth into the soil.  Asters, goldenrod, sunflowers, globe thistle are in bloom.

Peter in the big bluestem at Konza Prairie, Kansas.

Thick stands of bur oak and something called chinquapin oak, American elm, and cottonwoods offered welcomed cool spots on the mostly open trail.  The remains of a Swedish homestead (1898) sit nestled in a ravine under towering oaks.

While we did not see them, there is a bison herd of about 200 here in the preserve, continuing the legacy of the herd that once filled this tallgrass prairie. To this day, the preserve is periodically burned, mimicking nature’s way of managing the vegetation and nutrient value of the food source for migrating animals.

This was a peaceful respite on our journey west and as we head toward Colorado and Wyoming we invite your company.  Bet you can’t wait to see these plastic beauties set up as accessories to T2 at some future campsite, right?  We’ll post pictures.

Peter and Liz resume their pilgrimage to here in their Airstream, crossing the great Midwest onto their next destinations in Colorado and Wyoming.

 

Hot Springs National Park and more of Arkansas.

The trees and water of Ozark National Forest at Nimrod Lake, Arkansas.

Like putting on a well-fitting shirt, we headed east from oversized Texas, slipping into the easy comfort of the eastern forests of north central Arkansas. Here, the recognizable hardwoods, the moist air, the meandering and now-spring-muddy rivers reminded us of New England, even though we have yet to cross the Mississippi River. Continue reading

Zig-zagging (mostly east) across Texas.

The ranch gate at our friends’ place in cutting-horse country near Fort Worth, Texas.

Since leaving the Hill Country we have encountered the good, the bad, and the ugly of life on the road. Let me assure you dear followers that we are both fine. All of the wheels are back on the wagon and we are winding our way due east out of Texas and into Arkansas. Here is the story.

The Good. Visiting friends on the road is one of life’s delights. From the Hill Country near Austin, we wandered up toward Fort Worth, visiting friends we met in the 1990s during our days in the art furniture business. We haven’t seen them in years and it was a happy weekend reunion at their lovely ranch home. These are two of the most artistically creative people we know. Buckeye, a painter and sculptor in the traditional Western style, and Tona, who explores jewelry making and decorative arts, live in a custom home/barn that is beautiful and joyful. Continue reading

Texas Hill Country and the 36th President of the United States.

Bluebonnets in the Hill Country. The wildflowers were spectacular.

We came to the Hill Country of Texas because we were on a mission. We were intent on uncovering the clues that would help us piece together a more thoughtful understanding of our 36th president, Lyndon Baines Johnson. After visiting the Johnson Presidential Library in Austin in 2016, we realized that our memories of him, formed in the turmoil and passion of the 1960s, were narrower than the historical record. The filter of our 20-year old lenses acted like a microscope, zeroing in on the details of just two things – the assassination of JFK and the Vietnam War. While both were hugely formative in our young lives, the lens created a blind spot when it came to an awareness of the deeper contributions of his presidency, of the man himself. Continue reading

Easter at Davis Mountains State Park, Texas.

Easter sunrise, 2017.

Witnessing the sunrise on Easter morning was an unexpected gift.  After two visits to the McDonald Observatory, I thought I had exhausted my quota of celestial events.  Maybe they all prepared me for this one?

In any event, I woke up Easter morning before dawn and spotted Venus, the morning star, just above the horizon.  I realized that it might be clear enough to drive up Skyline Road at Davis Mountains State Park for sunrise.  From that vantage point, one can view the wide open valley that includes three counties (Jeff Davis, Brewster, Presidio) with 30% more area than the state of Vermont and a total population of 20,000.  This is sparsely populated west Texas. Continue reading

Phoenix then east to Silver City, New Mexico.

Sunset at White Tanks from our beautiful campsite.

We both experienced the poverty of heart leaving dear friends in California. We sailed along in silence, towing our Flying Cloud. Shortly after crossing into Arizona, we re-entered the Sonoran desert and after spotting the first towering saguaro, with their open arms lifting skyward, we felt welcomed. Returning to places that we love is one of the treasures of this pilgrimage so pulling into White Tank Mountains Regional Park in the golden late afternoon light refreshed us. The cholla are in bloom now and plump buds adorn the top of the saguaro, like tiaras. The desert marigolds continue their endless blooming, palo verde are fragrant with their yellow flowers, now buzzing with busy honey bees. Continue reading

Central Coast and SoCal with friends

Our first bookend campground was Anthony Chabot State Park in the east bay.

After leaving Death Valley, we headed north toward the Central Coast of California. We had to re-route ourselves as a result of the slides that have closed the section of Highway 1 south of Big Sur and north of Gorda. A new slide occurred just as we were leaving Death Valley, confirming the closure of the national forest campground at Kirk Creek, where we have camped the past two years, gloriously perched over the Pacific. Our return will have to wait for another year. Continue reading

Death Valley National Park.

The logo of the 2017 Mars Fest at Death Valley National Park.

We were in Death Valley the weekend of Mars Fest. We hadn’t planned this but the wonder of our pilgrimage to here lies in discovering the synchronicity of life. Last year, it was the wildflowers super bloom and this year, it’s Mars Fest.

What, you might be asking is Mars Fest? It’s an annual collaboration among an alphabet-soup of organizations: NPS (National Park Service), NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), and a couple of other organizations who gather for keynote evening presentations, daytime guided hikes, and afternoon talks, centered on the general theme of the exploration of Mars. Continue reading

Joshua Tree National Park

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Pig in our backyard at Indian Cove.

Last year, we both fell in love with the monzogranite boulders at Joshua Tree National Park.  Peter is a serious rock hound but I was equally smitten when we first came to this campground (Indian Cove) last year. And so we are back. In one way, we are conventional because we reserved the same impossibly un-level site (#36) simply because of its primo backyard.

We took our site for five nights of dry camping, excited to try out our new Zamp solar panels. Learning the ins and outs of dry camping started with the purchase of our Honda 2000 generator last year. National parks have strict hours for generator use, which we completely understand.

Continue reading