First time camphosts in Sandwich, Massachusetts.

Our pet flamingos love our beautiful campsite here at Shawme Crowell State Forest in Sandwich, MA.

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.

Window boxes in downtown Sandwich, MA.

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 The older part of the park, where we thought we would be, has quaint (read “old and outdated”) bathhouses with one tin shower and two toilets in a small wood frame building with cement floors.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.

Glorious hydrangeas line the sides of  Route 6A on Cape Cod.

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.

Our LED lanterns are wonderful and portable and collapsible!

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.

My beach boy on South Cape Beach State Park.  

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.

Our solar panels, from Zamp, are great. We can get a good, though not full, charge in about four hours here on the Cape.

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 is high quality ice cream country – and we are doing our part.

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.

Vineyard Haven, Martha’s Vineyard, is an easy 45 minute ferry ride away.

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. 

 

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Estero, Florida in the rear-view mirror.

This is Bonita Beach and our piece of heaven in Florida.

One of the most mysterious effects of being in one place for a long time is how time folds in on itself and neatly puts itself away.  We’ve been in Estero, Florida for nearly five months and in that time, Christmas and New Year’s have come and gone, we witnessed what south-Florida calls the seasons – winter (temperatures in the high 40s);  spring (temperatures in the mid-70s); and currently, summer (temperatures in the mid-80s).  We pulled together a wedding reception for two of our fellow volunteers here at the park, complete with a cake and champagne toasts.  We made a quick trip to the deep and frigid north for a wonderful family weekend, we celebrated a reunion dinner with Triangle X friends who winter here in Florida, met up with people we met on the road in Ann Arbor, and enjoyed a reunion with our first Airstream friends who met in the panhandle of Florida in 2015.  We continue to delight in the company of our Koreshan State Park fellow volunteers following our official fourth anniversary living full time on the road.

Peter with his children, Davis, Elizabeth and Justin at the party for Elizabeth. Thank you Ed, Izzy and Emily for putting together the party.

The unexpected cards that life deals out continue when living on the road.  From a devastating piece of health news about a family member far away, to the joyful news of my son’s engagement, to the breaking news of a nephew’s January 4, 2020 wedding in Chile, to the water-meets-MacBook Air debacle that happened the night before leaving Estero*, life continues.

The unexpected and joyous party honoring a milestone birthday for Peter’s daughter took us back to New Hampshire for a cold, March weekend with Peter’s three children, and four of our amazing New Hampshire grandkids.  Waking up to a couple of inches of new snow, blustery winds and the exposed, bare bones of New England trees, I was grateful to be merely a visitor this time.  Earlier in the month of March, we had shared a much quieter birthday for Liz in the warmth and sunshine of Florida.  It all occurred in this tiny slice of time.  Tomorrow, Peter celebrates his birthday in the continued embrace of the loveliest of Florida days.

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Peter & his crew at the Cast Iron Cafe.

Our jobs this year at Koreshan State Park were rewarding and lots of fun and very busy during the height of the season.  Peter’s cooking program has been very successful and his crew this year was great.  They were cooking on Sundays and sampling Koreshan recipes for upwards of 200 people a day, spreading the good vibes of historic recipes from Meyer lemon pie, to Koreshan risin’ bread, to bread pudding, and Portuguese cornbread, and some new dishes like pineapple cake, and coconut cake.

In addition, this year, he has expanded a program called Lunch & Learn which includes a private group tour (which I get to lead and customize for each group), followed by a full lunch in the historic Cast Iron Cafe with his commentary on what folks are eating, all from original Koreshan recipes.  It’s been really well received and he is hoping to expand it even more next season.

Here I am in costume talking to a group in the Art Hall.

The planning for year two of March’s Women’s History Month paid off with a record number of visitors this year. Our three special public tours throughout the month of March introduced guests to historical re-enactments of some of the women who lived here in the Settlement during its 98-year history.

This year we had two great evening lectures in the historic Art Hall at the Settlement, including one about the music of the Koreshans, which included presentation of songs they performed using well-known music (like a piece of music from a Verdi opera) with lyrics written by one of the women in the settlement. The more that I learn about the lives of the Koreshans, the more passionate I become about telling their stories to our guests here at the Park.  Our fellow volunteers share our love for the place and part of the delight of putting together a program like this, or Peter putting together his cooking program, is the way we can help people to better understand the complexities of their 19th century lives and the historical realities that led to the formation of this Settlement, and the hundreds of others just like it around the country.

The golf-cart makes travel around the park a bit easier for Peter.

We left the park April 1 on our generally northbound trip which is our continuing pilgrimage of life.  We will take time off, re-grouping and visiting family in Florida and then North Carolina before heading up to Atlanta and the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and hopefully, make it this time to Washington DC for more family visits and tourist time.

Life on the road makes city visits more challenging since finding places to camp that are close enough to the interesting places is always present.   When I was growing up on Long Island, merely 40 miles from downtown Manhattan, I took access to places like the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Plaza, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art for granted, thinking it would always be so easy to get to these places. But now, we are more intentional about our travel arrangements, realizing the days ahead of us are fewer than the ones behind, and we need to get on with it.

From last summer, I love this picture of Peter enjoying a walk just before sunset on the beach at Sandwich, Massachusetts.

This summer, we will journey back to New Hampshire for a granddaughter’s high school graduation, more family time and then a completely new adventure. We plan to spend six weeks on Cape Cod as camp hosts at the beautiful Shawme-Crowell State Forest, a place we have camped a number of times.  Close to the Cape Cod Canal bike trail, and the glorious beaches of the Cape, and favorite restaurants like the Ice Cream Sandwich and The Hole Donut, and more lobster rolls than I can imagine, the prospects are exhilarating.  We have wanted to see what it would be like to be on the Cape during the summer for a long stretch of time and we’ll let you know how it all turns out.  Thank you for coming along for the journey, and let’s stay in touch.  In closing this blog, here’s a souvenir photo of us in cold-weather gear in Vermont on our quick weekend trip north.  Gotta love the cow poster in the background!

* By the way, the MacBook could not be repaired and yes, this is the first blog on my shiny new gunmetal grey new MacBook Air.

Peter and Liz continue their pilgrimage up the east coast, heading into Spring in their Airstream, and capturing memories and stories along the way. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two snowbirds roost in south Florida.

This is our campsite, decorated with Christmas lights and pots of chrysanthemums.  We are facing east and the morning light is lovely.

Returning to Koreshan State Park in Estero, Florida on November 2 felt like a homecoming.  There was much that has changed since we left the park in April (more on that later) but somehow time compresses itself in the familiar and it seems like merely weeks since we were last here.

First, news about where we are living.  Our new site this year in the Volunteer Village is our favorite of all three years here.  We are up against the fence which means we are closest to the very busy Tamiami Trail but the huge advantage is we have a really lovely “front yard”, a place to securely store our bicycles and no neighbors on our front door side.  Plus, we are removed from the center of the very busy Village, the bathhouse, and the Rec Hall.  The morning sun streams in the kitchen windows and the afternoon sun hits the back of T2, keeping things much cooler than last year when we faced straight into the afternoon sun.  We are next door to some friends from last year who are easy to be around.  It’s all good.

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Spring cleaning before heading north.

The tools from the spring cleaning tool belt. All that is missing is the baking soda, already in the frig.

Each year, in springtime, I commit to a comprehensive T2 cleaning.  It’s usually spread over a few days with Day 1 always starting with the triannual refrigerator defrosting.  Perhaps it’s because it is my least favorite cleaning task and I know that once starting it, I have committed to  the no-turning-back process.  The best part is the ritual that ends with putting the fresh new box of  baking soda in place and writing the date on the duct tape patch on the inside the refrigerator door.

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Celebrating my birthday with the women of Koreshan in Florida.

In-costume at Koreshan State Park during Women’s History Month with my favorite baker.

I’m writing this blog on my birthday and I have been given the most exquisite of gifts: a morning of solitude in T2, our sanctuary.  I’ve been reading poetry and found two snippets from poems that fit my reflection today.  Stanley Kunitz, at the age of 79 mused, “Maybe it’s time for me to practice growing old. The way I look at it, I’m passing through a phase…” while Billy Collins, at the age of 70, whimsically observed, “One bright morning in a restaurant in Chicago as I waited for my eggs and toast, I opened the Tribune only to discover that I was the same age as Cheerios”. Continue reading