Flying with the Falcon

The Oddity of Time Travel

*photo taken at Oak Hill Park, up the street from our home in Olean, NY

I know I said I would write about area trails, but I have been so busy I haven’t had time to do any hiking at all. This is one of many things about being back “home” which I will gladly relinquish to the past…which brings me to my title. I wish I could say I invented a time machine, but alas, I only feel like I have gone back in time. Since we’ve come back to Olean and have been living in our large home again, the experience has been strange. Have you ever gone back to a home you once lived in long ago, and had that odd sense of familiarity mixed with the strangeness of that place not being home anymore? That’s how I feel since we’ve been home/not-home. Olean is familiar, this house is familiar, and yet it doesn’t really fit me anymore. I’m not the person who left a couple of years ago, the person who gladly hopped into our van so loaded with clothes and furniture it sagged, headed for New Hampshire and a new way of life. It was heart-wrenching to leave my kids, and yet I had done what I could to prepare them for independence. Our families and our friends were left behind, but driving toward the mountains of New Hampshire and a new home in the woods buoyed us like we won the lottery. Who doesn’t want to live like they’re on vacation all the time?

After being on the road for so long, I am a different person for a lot of reasons. When you live in one place for a long time, you grow into a comfortable pattern in which you don’t really have to think too hard about how to get to the store, the post office, your favorite restaurant. Everyone you know has a pattern that is familiar, and we fit ourselves into a mold that works with each other’s schedules. When you leave the house you can navigate the familiar neighborhoods on autopilot, and get from one place to another without really seeing the scenery. Often we have to get out of town and go somewhere new to encourage our brains to kick in to drink in the sights and sounds and smells, unless you work hard to live in the moment. Living in a new environment every three to six months utterly changed that comfortable and familiar flight pattern, and forced me into a new space which pushed me to interact with the world by flexing new synapses. Being in a new place generally excites me, and I love exploring the options of what an unfamiliar town has to offer. For some people, the idea of this is hair-raising, but I enjoy change and seek it out often.

I know there are readers out there who travel a lot and probably understand exactly what I mean when I say travel changes your perspective on life. It opens your eyes to certain aspects of living, like the fact that people really are the same everywhere you go. You realize no matter where you go, your troubles will follow. It stretches your appreciation for the globe as a whole, the incredible and astonishing aspects of nature, and the deep wounds of human interference in the natural world. On the other hand, you also get to appreciate the sensation of being enveloped in the mystery of weather you can’t quite predict, landscapes you’ve never navigated, traffic patterns you might not readily understand, hearing words you don’t use in your own vocabulary, and finding different foods in the grocery store. An oddity of living on the West Coast took us by surprise: butter sticks. I am used to buying butter in long, slender sticks on the East Coast. On the West Coast, butter sticks are short and stubby. It took a while to get used to cutting the sticks to the size I wanted for cooking in recipes, since I was used to gauging the amount from a different shape. This is not a big deal, but it just meant that I had to adjust to an unexpected change of something I had always taken for granted: the shape of a stick of butter.

Coping with new culture, even within the lower 48, can be both exciting and infuriating at times, but the shape of your everyday life alters ever so slightly to adjust. It means needing to think about things you used to be able to do on autopilot. You engage with the culture around you with a new awareness, awakening your thoughts and actions on a daily basis to adapt to your surroundings. Going to the grocery store becomes an adventure instead of just a daily chore. Getting fuel can turn into a scavenger hunt, particularly out West, where you might drive a few hundred miles before finding a gas station after leaving town. So much of what we think is normal where we live becomes the abnormal on the road, and when you need to adapt it changes you. Having to orient to a new town, new vocabulary, new weather, new smells in the air, new plants and animals, new food, and new people all the time—for more than just a vacation—shifts your patterns of thinking radically. Because going on vacation is temporary. Living on the road is all the time.

Eventually, even the consistent change becomes somewhat familiar in its way. Humans are creatures of habit, and no matter where we parked we had our habits. Daily routines still kept us in the realm of the familiar, like needing to feed and walk the dogs, needing to cook meals, needing to sleep and exercise, or needing to work. All the normal daily stuff still happened, but as soon as we stepped out the door of the Falcon, the scenery reminded us we needed to adapt. At first it felt like it took months to get used to a place, but each new landing space became familiar in shorter time frames. After only a couple of weeks in the Carson Valley of Nevada I could navigate to all the most important places I needed to go, which was much quicker than learning how to navigate in Keene, NH (our first assignment on the road). The skills you learn with each new location embed themselves in your subconscious, and it gets easier all the time. Now that I have been traveling for almost two years, it’s strange to be back in a place that once felt so familiar. That familiarity now feels foreign, like I took a time machine back to a day in my memories. My body remembers all the corners and doorways and drawer pulls, and yet my feet still try to take me on the routes in the trailer when I wake to use the bathroom in the night.

Speaking of the trailer, we have been waiting for what might as well be an eternity for warmer weather to arrive so we can seal seams, replace the air conditioner, and remove the antenna from the Falcon. Snow does not seem to want to stop flying yet, and the days have been hovering around the freezing mark since we arrived in Olean. Now Michael has been forced to take a job in New Hampshire (back to Keene, which we both loved) in order to get money coming in while we wait for weather to improve, and I will have to stay in Olean to keep working on the house to prep it for sale. So Michael will travel back and forth, while I sell our unneeded household items and patch holes and paint walls. It will not be fun, but to have the Falcon remodeled and livable again is worth it. To sell the anchor holding us in New York State will be freeing so we can escape the excessive taxes of one of the most expensive states in the union. Most importantly, we can continue our adventure of creating the life we want to live, instead of living the life we can’t escape. Instead of being chained to a house we no longer want, we will be free to park the home we love in any location we can access with a road. Until that no longer holds our happiness, that sounds like heaven to me.

As always, I welcome your comments and look forward to readers who wish to share their own experiences and stories. Remember to be thoughtful and considerate, and be welcoming to all who wish to converse in this forum. If we still haven’t done any new work on the Falcon next week, I plan to revisit our trip to Sequoia National Park, a magical trip Michael planned as a surprise for me last year. Until then, I hope you all get out and do beautiful things with your time, see sights that make you glow from the inside, and meet people who make you laugh.

Flying with the Falcon

A Hold on Phase Two, and Reviews of Olean Area Food and Fun

*above photo taken of my Olean, NY backyard

Right this minute, snow is falling in earnest over the Northeast. A third snowstorm in just two weeks. I am not surprised by this weather, which is unfortunately common at this time of year in Western New York, but am more dismayed than anything else. Michael and I have been working rather steadily to complete the demolition phase of the Airstream, and are now to the point at which we need warmer weather in order to complete certain tasks. Now that we are down to the studs and have removed all but the wires from the interior, we have discovered several seams on the exterior are in need of resealing, and we need warm weather for that. Only yesterday afternoon during the last session of tearing out the old pink insulation Michael discovered rotting in the sub-floor so bad he could see daylight through it. Though Michael has numerous times been frustrated and filled with doubt about being able to repair our beloved Falcon, I remain steadfast. I know my husband is clever and creative. We will find our way through this.

While we wait for better weather to come around, we have an entire house of stuff to organize, clean, repair, and eventually empty. Both of us are in agreement that most of the furniture must go, and then we will find a storage unit for what little we want to keep. At some point we’ll build a small cabin (like a tiny house) somewhere in New Hampshire, and then the few things we save can be used there. As we drove to where we have the Falcon parked, Michael and I were talking about how much fun it would be to build a tiny house like a hobbit hole in a hillside, and then we thought how fun it would be to make a few hobbit hole houses to make it seem like a village. Shortly after that, of course, I had to geek out and say how fabulous it would be to then build a tree house like Lothlorien. Having all of this on land in New HampSHIRE would be only too perfect. Just because I’m an adult doesn’t mean I can’t have my child-like moments of glee. I know I saw an article about someone else having built a hobbit hole tiny house, so why can’t I?

Aside from the Airstream and the house, we have made a little time to get out to eat at our favorite restaurants. I thought I would share a few places we love here, since Olean is actually right on the expressway and those traveling in the region might appreciate knowing where the good food can be found. With that, I shall begin with one of the most well-loved restaurants in Olean and the surrounding area: The Beef and Barrel. This restaurant has been in business for decades, and can be found on North Union Street in Olean in the heart of the downtown. It’s always busy, even during weeknights, and on weekends the line usually runs out the door. One of my favorite things about the Beef and Barrel is the fact that the family who owns the business always act as the hosts who seat guests, and happily chat with you while they guide you to your seat. They always remember their regulars and thoughtfully ask after your family. It’s a nice way to be welcomed. Inside the restaurant the décor is pleasant and homey with lots of oak woodwork, a warm fireplace, and the tantalizing aroma of roasting beef fills the air.

This is a perfect place to bring family for dinner. They have a lovely kids’ menu, and the atmosphere is very kid-friendly. If you stick with the beef on the menu, you won’t go wrong. I’ve had fairly good chicken and biscuits there, and they do have other specials which are quite good, though I would avoid seafood. Soup is also fabulous, so try the vegetable beef or the French onion. Really, just go eat there for the experience. Beef is carved at stations located throughout the restaurant, and your mouth will water as you walk past on the way to your table. One of my favorite meals to get is a regional thing: beef on kimmelweck (called beef on “weck”). It’s roast beef on a roll crusted with caraway seeds and soaked in juice from the pan. You really can’t go wrong with this meal, but no matter what you order, get beef. Drinks here are always generous, and make sure you save room for dessert. I happen to love the mud pie, but lots of people swear by the apple which can be topped with locally famous Cuba sharp cheddar cheese. All the bread is made scratch in the kitchen, as are the desserts. Service at the Beef is also excellent. I have never had a bad experience with any server over the 30 years I have been eating at this establishment. That’s saying something amazing. This place is a comfort food love fest:

Another of our favorite places is Sprague’s Maple Farm in Portville, NY. It’s off the beaten path, but again, always busy. If you need a fun trip which can become an afternoon of family time that will keep everyone happy, go to Sprague’s. Early spring is the time of year when Sprague’s has their maple production in full swing because the sap is running and the syrup is boiling. If you care to take the tour up into the woods behind the restaurant, you can walk the path to the sugarhouse where they talk about how the syrup is made. You can also stop off at the quail den alongside the trail, where the family who owns the business raises quail they release into the wild to help repopulate the region. For the kids, a fun play area also stands alongside the trail.

Inside the restaurant is a wonderland of delightful animals you can spend the entire time you’re in the dining room trying to find. A hooting owl hangs in the rafters, geese fly overhead the antler chandeliers, bears climb the roof of the server shack and have dinner at one of the tables. Keep your eyes open for the woodpecker who pecks at the wall, and the raccoon who will pop his head up out of a bucket (but this guy won’t steal your meal like the bandits which can be found on my “disclosure” page). It’s a lovely experience for anyone, and the food is great for anyone who loves breakfast all day, is willing to try the fabulous farm-raised turkey in any of several recipes, or test one of their maple-inspired creations (love their maple dressing on salad—yum). Once again, this is comfort food, and consistently delicious meals like their Thanksgiving-style plate or the Main Line are worth the drive. After dinner, you can stop at their country style gift shop full of unique items. More than once I’ve gone there for birthday presents because they have lovely gifts you can’t find anywhere else. For more information about Sprague’s, visit their website:

One of the foods we really missed out West was pizza. When you live in New York, pizza is almost a food group. While my kids were growing up, we actually had a night of the week dedicated to eating pizza for dinner. It’s cheap and cheesy, and in New York we take pizza seriously. I can promise you that if you go to the Big Apple, pizza is one of the foods you absolutely must try. It really is better than anywhere else. Here in Olean, Michael and I have two favorite places to get pizza: Napoli and Renna’s. First, let me say that Renna’s is a classic pizza place here in Olean, a standard of NY style pizza which calls to people from miles around. Many who grew up in the Olean area and moved elsewhere will return just for this pizza. It’s not quite the same as it was when I was a kid since the original owners sold the business, but it’s still close. The new owners seem to have gotten the recipes from the original owners, so the pizza still has that familiar taste. I know people who also swear by the subs here, but pizza is where it’s at for me. If you eat here, go to the Olean Mall location, which is the original restaurant and easy to find if you come from the expressway and drive south on North Union Street toward the mall.

I am a fairly recent convert to eating Napoli pizza because my hubby likes it. Sometimes Napoli is inconsistent about the quality of pies coming out of the kitchen, and the delivery is usually slow, but it is all homemade and they use quality ingredients. If the owner, Tony, is in the kitchen and you dine in, make sure you order some pasta. Tony makes fabulous pasta. If you go to Napoli on Friday night, they usually have music in house, and in warmer weather they have Wednesday night music, too. On good weather nights, the music is usually outside on the patio, and you can enjoy a meal outdoors. I happen to know most of the musicians who play there, and I can say the music will rock. Napoli is a bit out of the way for those just passing through, but if you’re staying in town it’s worth a visit:

A few other places worth a try are Lakeview Chinese, located near Walmart on West State Street, and which has Chinese good enough that I compare all other Chinese I eat to this food. Great service, food prepared quickly, fair prices: Union Tea Cafe is a new spot on North Union Street, but it has wowed everyone who drops by for a cup. The tea is truly unique, the food is delicious, and the décor is divine. Even if you don’t drink tea, this is a special place which elevates tea beyond what you get anywhere else. They have so many flavors that anyone can find something to love, the food is scratch-baked, and they even have a sniffing bar so you can breathe in the aroma of the tea before you buy it: When I want a sub, my favorite place is On the Side sub shop. It’s a little pricey for just a sandwich, but it’s the best spot for subs in town. For as long as I can remember, I have been eating their subs with that little something extra in the sandwich, that little bit of magic to send it over the top. This place is also on North Union Street:

If you’re looking for fun ways to spend your time in Olean, we have a few tips for that as well. This region is rich with musicians who are incredibly talented, and you can find a variety of different programs to link you with a wide array of styles. St. Bonaventure University has quite a vast number of performers who come through the region to perform at the Quick Arts Center, and is also where the Friends of Good Music hosts several classical performances over their season. If you like symphony orchestra music, Southern Tier Symphony is a group of seriously skilled musicians from the region who get together for a few practice sessions and bang out some incredibly beautiful scores. They usually play a few times a year and are worth the price of a ticket. Olean Community Theater often puts on award-winning shows several times a year, and tickets vary in price depending on the show. If you’re more of the rock ‘n’ roll type of person, you can hit up a few of the area bars on the weekends for music, like Union Whiskey (a new bar and grill on North Union), Talty’s (which is an Irish pub that also has food), or the Parkwood (an Olean standard which honors the local sports scene). Thursdays in the summer you can find free music of all kinds at Lincoln Park in the center of town on the corner of State and Union, and sometimes Beat City in Allegany, NY hosts jam sessions for local musicians who come play outside on the sidewalk. And this is only the tip of the iceberg. Really, Olean is full of lots of music, from barbershop to modern rock.

For those who enjoy more physical activity for fun, you can go bowling all year at Good Times on East State Street, or in warmer weather you can go mini golfing, play volleyball on their sand courts, or take part in one of their many events and competitions. Rock City is a famous tourist spot which features a tour of natural rock formations and a gift shop, or you can save a little cash if you have a big group and go see Thunder Rocks at Allegany State Park, which is only about 40 minutes away off I-86. At Allegany State Park you can also swim at Red House Lake in summer, rent a boat (or bring your own), ride your bike on the paved trails, or hike on the many foot trails. Lots of people now find plenty to do at the Seneca Allegany Casino in nearby Salamanca, with plenty of shows to see and a buffet to stuff yourself, too. Just know that smoking is allowed, and the smoke gets fairly heavy if that’s an issue for you. In the summer, make time for ice cream at either Twist ‘n’ Shake on Constitution Ave. or HiHo on East State. Both places are local favorites, and have outdoor seating to enjoy your cone or sundae, and both also serve other food. I prefer Twist ‘n’ Shake if I need to eat a meal, as they have delectable salads and wraps, one of the best burgers in town, and they are located right on the Allegany River Trail (for which you can rent a bike if you wish).

In winter, Ellicottville is a great place to go skiing and enjoy the shops in the quaint downtown. They also happen to have several great spots to eat a good meal, like EBC (Ellicottville Brewing Company), The Gin Mill, or Dina’s. You can find all these places in the downtown of E-ville, but I think my favorite is Watson’s candy shop. Hello, chocolate. 🙂 If you go downtown, stop by Kazoo II or take a moment to look around in any of the shops selling art and you will be pleased to see what’s available. If you visit during warmer months, you can enjoy a trip to the Sky High Adventure Park, or if going in fall I recommend waiting until the Fall Fest, where you can ride the ski lift to the mountaintop and enjoy a hot cup of cider while you walk the trails. Downtown they usually have a festival of booths selling art, a carnival, and food vendors. Check out the website for Ellicottville to plan a trip there:

I almost forgot to mention that the Olean Recreation Center has cheap ice skating during winter, and you can go sledding for free in Allegany behind the Bartlett House Golf Club. And lest I get tossed off the Union Street bridge, let me also say we have an Atlantic 10 basketball team at St. Bonaventure, and Reilly Center gets rowdy when the team plays in town. You can visit St. Bonaventure’s website to find out more about buying tickets to watch a lively game: They’re having a great season this year! For baseball fans, see the Oilers play at Bradner Stadium, where Olean also celebrates July 4th with fireworks.  Like I said, there’s always something to do if you need some fun. Stop for a meal, a weekend, or an overnight and enjoy yourself. That just about wraps up the highlights of things to do and places to eat in or around Olean, NY. Obviously my Olean friends may have plenty to add to this list, and may argue with me about the best pizza, but that’s why we have variety. Either way, you can find plenty to keep you busy if you come when the weather isn’t so frightful, but even in winter we have fun around that, too. After all, when half the year is spent locked in cold weather, you have to find ways to get out and have fun. So get out and have fun!

As always, please feel free to comment and share. Do be thoughtful of the opinions of others when commenting. Also, I promise to share a few places to hike in the Olean region in a future post while we’re in our hometown, though if we work on the Airstream I’ll post about that first. Until then, my darlings….




Flying with the Falcon

Phase One: The Demolition

Greetings from the chilly Northlands! We have returned to our hometown of Olean, New York to remodel our Airstream and hopefully empty our Olean home of all unnecessary belongings before putting it up for sale. After living tiny for the last year, Michael and I have both come to the conclusion that we never want to live in a big house again. Even though our Olean home is not considered large at roughly 1600 square feet, it feels enormous after living in about 228 square feet in the Falcon. Already after less than a week, we both are itching to get the remodeling done on the Airstream so we can get back to living in it again. It’s been a busy several days since our arrival in Olean, so busy I haven’t even gotten a hold of any of my friends yet. I barely had time to visit my family since getting back into town, but we’ve had a nice couple of visits with them in our few spare moments. This week I hope to make time for friends, too.

Thus far, Michael and I have emptied the trailer of all our belongings (which are now sitting in great lumpy piles all over the living area downstairs), and gotten all of the cabinetry and walls out of the Airstream. We still have to remove the pipes, and then we have to start removing rivets to take off the inner skin. That part is going to suck. I may be able to talk my brother into helping with that part, but it all depends on schedules of folks this week. We have a LOT to do before we can even think about building the new stuff in the trailer. This part of the work is fairly messy and at times unpleasant (particularly since at some point before we purchased the trailer a mouse had field day in every nook and cranny of this entire trailer, and we are finding mouse poop EVERYWHERE). There are moments of fun, though. I really like it when I get to stomp on cupboards and drawers and get to break things. That part is fun. 🙂 I also happen to like when I finally get all the screws out of things before being able to tear it off the wall or floor. Very satisfying.

We have pulled up all the horrid flooring the previous owner installed, revealing the subfloor. Two things about that: the previous owners were fools, since the things they did to “improve” the trailer only served to ruin it (like installing the wood flooring and toilet incorrectly); and it’s surprising to discover that Airstream would use chipboard as the subfloor of such an expensive RV. I mean, Airstream seems to spare no expense when it comes to finishes, but chipboard? An odd discovery, to say the least. We are also finding unpleasant surprises like black mold which probably grew as a result of all the condensation we created during the colder months in Nevada. This, my dears, is why we will be installing an air exchange unit which also controls humidity. Since we are removing the furnaces which haven’t worked since the first night we spent in the trailer, we plan to use at least one of the intake/exhaust openings for one of the furnaces as the spot where we install the air exchange unit. Hopefully this works out well, but all remains to be planned.

In between work sessions, we have made various runs to stores to compare prices for things like flooring options, wall coverings, sinks, refrigerators, and countertops. We think we have finally settled on most things, though we haven’t completely set it all in stone yet. Part of the dithering is coming out of our need to see what’s under all the pipes and floorboards first, since we still aren’t sure how much it will cost to repair any damage from water leaking, and maybe even mice chewing. Ew. Really, some of the finishing touches may need to wait until the very end when we see what money we have left after purchasing supplies. Still, it’s exciting to finally be in the phase of discovery and possibility. We have a lot of work ahead, and Michael has his moments of doubt about whether or not it will be worth it with all the scary things we’re finding as we go. Whether he has faith in the Falcon or not, my faith in our tiny home remains. I trust we will be able to repair it and make it a modern, comfy space.

For now, we believe we have decided on a vinyl option which is a fairly convincing faux wood for the floors. It seems like it will be a better choice than actual wood (which was our preference) because the vinyl won’t rot or get moldy. Since the space is so small, water is a much bigger issue than we expected it to be, and we are learning how very serious it is when we find spots of mold growth in specific areas, like near the door. Tile is too heavy, and linoleum is ugly, so it looks like we’re doing vinyl in click-lock planks as a floating floor. We still aren’t sure what to use for the walls, because the aluminum inner skin has been awful for cold. It acts like a giant conductor of heat or cold, which is bad in both very cold and very hot climates. Instead, we think we may go with some quarter-inch plywood, since wood will better insulate. Still need to think on that one. We also believe we have decided to go with lexan as a backsplash in the kitchen area, as it’s durable, light, shiny, and inexpensive. It also may look spanky up against stainless steel countertops, which we would like to have instead of laminate.

The bathroom may prove to be a little more difficult, because we have learned that shower pan replacements are ridiculously expensive for Airstreams (like a few thousand—because they add diamond dust?). Michael thinks he can re-gel the shower pan to make it nice again. I hope so, since we don’t have that kind of dough to dump into a thin piece of something resembling plastic. We may do lexan for the shower surround, too, but still not sure about that. The rest of the design elements are a work in progress, partially in limbo while we figure out what we can work with once the whole shebang is opened up and we know exactly how we can rewire, replumb, and replace walls. Hopefully we can install electric floor heating, as the cold floors in Nevada (where it didn’t get much colder than single digits, and only on a couple of occasions) were fairly miserable. Even with the skirting Michael made it got quite cold on the floor, and our poor dogs have to lie on it all the time. Besides, if we can do the heated floors it will serve as our main source of heat, and then we can supplement with some kind of propane heater if needed. Nice and toasty.

As of this moment, we plan to make a couple of dump runs tomorrow to get the trash out of the trailer (though we are saving some of the better wood for repurpose in the new build), and then hopefully get started on taking down the inner skin of the interior walls. I am getting so excited to see the progress as we work along day by day, and if anyone has any questions about what I’ve shared, I will hopefully have answers for you. Of course, if anyone has already completed a project like this, we would absolutely love to hear from you, since we tiny home/Airstreamers can always swap ideas amongst ourselves. It truly is an amazing life to live, and I honestly feel like this choice to live with a smaller footprint has made a huge difference in our lives. So, my darling ducks, I hope you have plans to go do something or make something amazing today. Don’t wait. Who knows what tomorrow may bring? Do it now. No regrets!

Flying with the Falcon

Cutting across Yards: Flitting through the South, and a Quick Tour through Mammoth Caves

*Photo taken at the mouth of the Historic Entrance to Mammoth Caves

Hello, friend. I hope you are doing something lovely like curling up in your favorite spot to read, or enjoying a delicious cup of tea, or perhaps lying on a hammock in the sun somewhere gorgeous. If you are sitting on a train ride to work and passing the time, waiting for a bus, or anxiously awaiting your plane, maybe your travel time can be made more interesting while we commiserate about our mild misfortunes. I write to you now from the comfort of the home we left behind in Olean, New York, and it feels strange to be here again. The expanse of the home almost overwhelms me with the amount of work to be done to prep it for sale: stuff to be sold, walls to be painted, surfaces to be cleaned, items to be repaired. Also, unloading the Falcon of all our belongings (you would be amazed at how much we fit into a 34 foot trailer!) before we begin tearing out all the guts to remodel it. Truly, I am exhausted. But let me go back a little to explain better how we arrived here….

Our drive back to New York State from Nevada could have been more harrowing, but our travel was not easy. The Aluminum Falcon seems to have responded to our discussion about remodeling by deciding to start falling apart in earnest. With almost every stop we made along the route home it seemed as if we discovered another broken part on the trailer. Coupled with the breaking parts, we also found ourselves troubled by the weather the entire trip. The weather across the country seemed conspired against us, beginning with the high winds in Nevada, then snow in Northern Arizona, ice storms in New Mexico and Texas, flooding in Mississippi (and soooo much mud!) and Tennessee, then finally severe thunderstorms in Kentucky.

Let me pick up where I left off last week. My last post related the ice storms in Texas, which ground our travel to a halt for a couple of days and forced us to go without water and sewer. This was not the end of the world, but it’s an added annoyance when things like stressful weather conditions slow down the drive time, you miss out on fun parts of the trip because you have to stop too often, and stuff keeps breaking. Compared to problems other people are having in the world right now, I thank my lucky stars that my problems are only annoying. Nevertheless, the Falcon is our home and we didn’t want our home to fall apart. Once the yucky ice and snow stopped falling from the sky, we got ourselves back on the road. Our plans had to be altered due to the time we wasted with weather, so we once again changed our route, and instead of going to visit Michael’s family in North Carolina we took the more direct route through Tennessee and Kentucky going north. Leaving Texas, we finally saw some nicer weather in Louisiana.

As we drove through Louisiana, I began to feel my entire body respond to the sight of sunlight after days of dreary weather, and the green grass and trees cheered me up, too. Leaving the cold, ice, and snow behind us made me almost buoyant with hope that perhaps we might finally catch a break in the insane inclement weather plague. And we did catch a break for the day as we drove through the green, tree-filled regions of Louisiana and then into Mississippi. Little did we know that when we decided to stop for the night at an RV park in Mississippi (a spot called Frog Hollow, very conveniently located right off route 55—the owner was delightfully friendly) we would encounter seriously saturated mud pits. The midsection of the country has been getting hammered with a lot more rain than usual this time of year, a fact which became more prevalent as we drove through Tennessee, too. Water stretched across incredibly wide swaths of countryside. When we spoke with someone at the RV park in Kentucky where we planned to stay for the night, we were told that severe weather would be sweeping through the region yet again, but that we would be close to the bathroom in case of an emergency need to take shelter. Yikes.

Our drive through Tennessee showed signs of spring, which should be a happy thing. Yet it’s not time for cherry and crab apple blossoms to come into full bloom. It’s too early. Too early for the bushes to be green with leaves and the trees to be budding already, even in the warmer Southern climate. This early spring growth is bad for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is how it affects migrating animals which depend on the plant life developing at this time of year, but which have yet to arrive. The cycles of migrating animals and plants which pollinate or blossom at certain times of year are often delicately balanced, and now the cycles are disrupted year after year. Hard freezes in the North are becoming less frequent or shorter in time, causing other types of disruption. Warmer ocean water feeds the heavier rain and storm systems which dump more water on already saturated areas, and hotter summers are then drying out already dry areas to create record-breaking droughts. Anyone who says climate change isn’t real isn’t paying attention. The signs are everywhere. Ask Louisville, KY how they feel about rafting down streets instead of driving, or how Miami likes high tide these days.

While I watched the water from my front seat, I looked up a place for dinner in the Nashville area. As much as I wanted to stop for music there, we had time only for a meal. Thankfully, I found a special spot to refresh ourselves. If you ever find yourself in the Nashville, TN area, do yourself a favor and go to the Loveless Café. You will be treated to one of the best Southern meals you’ve ever had (except for maybe your grandmother’s cooking, of course). Every single bite of my meal was melt-in-your-mouth delectable. I had the fabulous fried catfish with turnip greens and fried green tomatoes—a meal fit for a king. Michael had the smoked turkey with cranberry sauce and hoecakes, and both of us were stuffed to the gills after eating the whole plate of biscuits they brought warm and which we slathered with their yummy fruit preserves. The food at Loveless is all scratch cooking, and the café is a gingham-draped cottage style dining room which is clean as a whistle. All the staff were delightful and friendly, and the food came fast, a surprise in a full dining room. A wedding was taking place in the event center behind the restaurant complex, and as we left Michael and I laughed over the flower girls romping in the yard attached to the barn-like structure. If you have a meal here, you may as well prepare to go shopping, too. This place is a rabbit warren of fun little shops, including a gift shop and country market. Of course, you could just stay in the motel on the property and really go crazy. I imagine it would be a lovely romantic getaway weekend if you like quaint country spots. Either way, stop for the food. It’s divine.

Our last night in the broken-down Falcon was spent at Jellystone RV Park in Kentucky, near Mammoth Caves National Park. After all our difficulties over the week, we decided to make at least one stop at a National Park, since we missed our chance to see the petrified forest in New Mexico. We pulled into the nearly empty park after dark, but not terribly late. Still, the office was closed so we grabbed the info packet left for us by the park personnel and proceeded to get lost on the winding roads. Once we found the space and got settled, rain began to gently fall. We pulled up our hoods and happily hooked up the water (yay, water!), though the trailer wasn’t level and we found ourselves goofed up from the slight tilt once inside. Funny how even just an inch or two will make the inside of an RV seem like a fun house, and it will throw off your body’s muscle memory of where things are supposed to be. We could have fixed it, but we both felt too tired to care. Instead, it offered us moments of comedic laughter when crashing into things or falling over in response to the off-kilter floors and walls.

We got settled in for the night and finally had a moment to relax, but then as the rain fell more heavily I checked the weather. Tornado warnings had been issued for most of the state of Kentucky, and the storm heading our way had already dropped at least one tornado, possibly two or three. As I scanned the news stories, Twitter feeds lit up like a Christmas tree with urgent messages to seek shelter or find higher ground due to the severe and dangerous flooding. News in the Louisville area during the storm was of water rescues for people trapped in cars and homes with flash flooding. We knew flooding would not be an issue where we were parked, but I worried that we would see the destructive wind. Fortunately, the worst part of the storm passed over us without too much more than a bit of leaking (that stupid AC unit is definitely getting replaced). Winds howled, but it wasn’t any worse than what we dealt with in Nevada, where mountain weather gets downright ornery at times. Despite how light Airstreams are for towing, I am consistently amazed with how well they endure stormy weather. We barely felt the wind as it whooshed through the park, and I suspect the aerodynamic shape of the Airstream is part of the reason. Either way, we got lucky again. Nothing more severe than heavy rain pelting the trailer.

In the morning Michael made sure he emptied all the tanks completely before heading north and home, since we expected to drive straight to Olean after our quick tour of Mammoth Caves. I reserved a tour time of 11 am, which gave us plenty of time to get packed and ready to go, and Jellystone is only about 15 minutes from the park’s visitor center. We liked this RV park, though it was pricier than the typical $30-35 per night you find in most Southern parks; we spent almost $50 for the convenience of being close to the National Park. Other than the steep price, the park was nice and clean, and very kid- and dog-friendly.

The drive through the national park pleasantly surprised me, as the wooded area held onto several shades of neutral tones from dried leaves still clinging to trees and scattering the ground, but also glimmered with a soft glow of green moss popping up occasionally in the woods. Once checked into the tour at the visitor’s center, we took the time to walk through the exhibit there, one of my favorite things to do at the national parks. I have said before that if you go to a national park it may behoove you to take the time to walk through the typically attractive and informative exhibits in the visitor’s center of any park. They usually run through the most common animal and plant life you may see in the park, often give insightful info about geology of the region (and why the park was designated), and usually break down the history of the park and its surrounding area. Even if you only skim the info, I find I enjoy the park much more due to knowledge of what I may see during my visit.

We decided to take the “Domes and Dripstones” tour at Mammoth Caves, which is two hours long. Our snarky ranger guide amused the tour group with quips about safety, reasons for being conscious of what we touch in the caves, and told us stories about one of the first explorers of the portion of the cave we visited. I found the first portion of the cave to be one of the most interesting. On this tour, you descend about 280 steps built specifically to wind through the often close passages of the cave, sometimes being able to look down dozens of feet below. As you travel downward, water drips from above and the music of its falling echoes through the limestone cavern. It’s difficult to take the time to truly appreciate this wonder, as the steps allow for only single file descent. This makes it hard to stop and take in the fascinating structures of the domes overhead, but do try. While on the stairwell you will see some of the most interesting rock formations of the entire tour. One kindness of this particular tour was the choice to put the slowest members at the front of the group, which kept the pace somewhat slower and did allow for occasional stops. It was thoughtful of the ranger to do this, since this meant our elders would not be left far behind, but instead held a place of honor at the front, as it should be.

Once at the base of the stairwell, we were corralled onto benches for a short history lesson and another story, but I suspect it also offered those who were tired from the stairs a chance to rest before continuing. The entire tour is about two miles of walking, including the stairs. What I did not realize about Mammoth Caves is that the system of caves is the largest of its type in the world, but is encapsulated in a small geographic area. Think of intestines winding through your abdominal cavity—approximately 25 feet fit into your belly—and that’s what the Mammoth Cave system is like, with miles and miles of caves all sitting on top of each other.

We stopped a few times during the tour to listen to stories or explanations of certain aspects of the caves, and I found much of this information engaging. Honestly, much of the cave tour did not strike me as terribly exciting or interesting in terms of its beauty or rock formations. As I said, the stairwell portion was the more enthralling part of the cave to me, and then at the end of the tour the group is given the option of descending a set of stairs to view the “Frozen Niagara” formation of limestone, named for its resemblance to that massive waterfall. I will admit this formation does impress, and on this tour the group gets the pleasure of walking beneath the formation to see it from many angles. Because of all the recent rainfall in Kentucky, we saw a lot more water falling from above than is typical, and our tour guide divulged this fact with good cheer. Though much of the cave tour is dry, even in rainy weather you may want a rain-proof jacket for the beginning and end of the tour where it tends to be more drippy. Also, wear good shoes for climbing, as the ground is often either steep for short periods or is quite uneven.

After the tour, Michael and I took a few minutes to view the historic cave entrance, where yet another waterfall adorned the opening on one side. We also walked down to the river, which was of course swollen beyond its usual banks. I imagine this walk would be a delight in spring and summer beneath the trees in full bloom, but even in winter without leaves the forest still held a bare beauty to be appreciated. If you have the time, there are plenty of trails to explore from the visitor’s center, some of which appear to traverse miles. Perhaps if anyone has taken another tour of the caves, that information can be shared in the comments below. I would love to know if another of the cave tours might have slightly more interesting sights.

The remainder of our trip home went without much excitement, which is good. We arrived in our home town of Olean, NY with little fanfare at the early hour of two in the morning, and faced the task of needing to unload quite a few of our belongings right away. Since the night time temperature had dropped below freezing, we could not leave anything that might freeze, but we also needed to get clothes and food for morning. The monumental task of unloading the entirety of our belongings remained for the next day or two, followed by the beginnings of tearing out the cabinetry and flooring yesterday. Currently, the state of affairs of our home is an absolute mess, but this is a good beginning. Michael and I are both excited and concerned about what we will find when all the interior is out and we can begin the process of building it back up with new materials and a slightly more suitable design for our lifestyle. We will take occasional photos to document and share our upgrade, and look forward to sharing the remodel when it’s finished. I am also prepping some email courses I am excited to share, so keep an eye out for those when I get them up on the website. I will create a page for them for anyone interested.

A storm is headed for Western New York this evening, so I need to get back to work. We have a lot to do before the storm hits, not the least of which is to move the trailer to another location before the winter weather arrives, since the trailer can’t sit in the street in the way of the plows. More to come as we work, but if we go on any interesting hikes while home I will share those. I may also write up a guide to local trails of the WNY region, since I know there are lots of hikers out there who enjoy those posts. Until next week, friends, I am off to work. I do hope you get outside and enjoy the world.

Flying with the Falcon

Wacky Weather and Other Traveling Woes

*I already inserted an addendum near the end of my original post, but now that we are stuck in Vernon, Texas for a day to wait out storms I will also add that last night we encountered icy roads too treacherous to continue onward. Though I wanted to post the last two nights, I have been too busy managing the many issues we’ve had while traveling. It’s been wild and wooly, but we are safe and hunkered down for a bit. More to come next week! Photo taken on the way to Amarillo, TX. Spatters from our encounter with snow still on the window.

Sunday Michael and I left the Carson Valley with our beloved Aluminum Falcon in tow. We took Saturday to button up the Airstream and pack away all the loose items sitting on countertops, remove the skirting Michael created to cut the cold wind under the trailer, check the tires on the Falcon, and hitch the truck to the trailer the night before leaving. If you happen to be an RV owner, you probably recognize these common items on a long list of checks one must do before traveling. Once we felt certain all the cupboards and drawers were secured (or so we thought, ehem), the pipes bled, and the loose furniture strapped down inside the Falcon, we checked out of the RV park we called home for eight months. It’s hard to believe we lived in the Carson Valley that long. After that amount of time it creeped into the realm of what feels familiar, and both Michael and I will miss the gorgeous chain of mountains across the road, those snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. Of course, we will miss the sunshine—we both were glad to avoid the snow of the north—but we will also miss the wonderful community of people we got to know while in Carson.

Unfortunately, our plans to leave on Sunday morning did not anticipate the high winds we drove through the entire day. From Carson Valley we drove south to Vegas, hammered by wind the whole way south through the state of Nevada, which drove our gas mileage down into the single digits at times. Our truck on its own gets between 20-24 miles to the gallon on the highway when not towing anything, but typically the mileage drops down to between 10-15 miles to the gallon when towing the Falcon. That wind really dug down into the gas tank. I suppose we could have waited to leave for another day, but we had everything packed and ready. Thus, we fought the wind all the way to Vegas, where we stopped at Ikea to pick up some window dressings and a sink for the bathroom. Why, you may ask? Because we have finally determined it is time to renovate!

After living in the Falcon for a year, it’s showing serious signs of wear and tear. I mean, even an Airstream will start falling apart after 30 years, no matter how well it’s been treated over time (see my post on the pros and cons of living in a used Airstream). With some water damage from the leaking AC unit, as well as leakage from a mystery location under the shower, coupled with humidity issues from condensation in the cold weather, we have been worried about rotting and mildew. Since Michael could not secure a contract with any of several positions to which he applied, we have absolutely no plan for where we need to be anytime soon. A job in Bradford, PA looks like it could be promising if Michael can renew his PA license soon (though he had a snafu with it, which he hopes we can remedy if we go back to our current home base of Olean, NY). We shall see what happens when we get back east and secure a spot to park and start ripping the guts out of the Airstream.

In the meantime, we are planning to enjoy our drive across the country, a last fling with warm weather and sunshine which will hopefully sustain us through the last leg of winter in the north. At this very moment we are driving through northern Arizona toward Flagstaff, where the weather says it’s snowing. Sigh. Perhaps we won’t get that sun and warm weather. At least the scenery is beautiful. Honestly, we have seen a sweeping change of landscape since leaving Las Vegas (as a quick aside: if you take your RV to Vegas, we stayed at Arizona Charlie’s for a low price of about $35 with full hook-ups and a pull-through site, which is much better than prices anywhere else, and was nice and clean). Around Vegas, the mountains have a stark sort of beauty in their craggy brown rock, which is occasionally striated with sedimentary coloration, though the scenery is largely brown with some areas studded with shrubs, palm trees, and Joshua trees. At times in Nevada it looks positively Martian, with oasis-like green mostly clustered around areas where people live and plant trees for shade or landscape to make things look more hospitable. And Nevada in general is not all warm like the area around Vegas. In the mountains, one gets plenty of cold weather and snow, even though the climate is dry and mostly sunny.

Going south from Vegas toward Kingsman, AZ is the road to Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam. We opted not to stop, since we did those sights back when we married five years ago. It was still fun to ogle the marvel of the mountains and canyons there as we drove past, and if you haven’t been to visit, I recommend going. The dam is massive and impressive, and the area is absolutely gorgeous. Lake Mead is a popular tourist spot, as is the dam, so expect crowds anytime of year. Once past the lake, continuing toward Kingsman, the shape of the mountains changes from the canyons to flatter land below the peaks, and then as you gain elevation going toward Flagstaff the air gets colder and the juniper and pinyon pines fill in the undulating skyline. Though we left a cold morning in Vegas behind us, I had hoped the day would warm as the hours crept toward midday, but fortune did not see fit to reward us with nice weather on this leg of the trip. While we lost an hour crossing the state line to Arizona, we lost about 20 degrees, and then gained roadside seats to a dusting of snow on the yellow-hued grass. The rounded peaks stretching away in the distance had been clouded by falling snow and speckled with the stubble of dark evergreen growth that reminds me of a beard started several days ago.

Approaching Flagstaff, I am reminded of our trip to the Grand Canyon years ago. We stayed in Flagstaff to be closer to the South Rim, which is the only access to the park in winter months. Since it was cold and snowy when we visited in January, hardly anyone was there. It was actually rather nice to have the whole park to ourselves as we walked along the trail next to the canyon, snapping photos and being generally awestruck. Again, since we already visited this National Park a few years ago, we do not plan to stop there this trip, though I highly recommend making the effort to drive from Vegas if you have the time for this side trip from Sin City. It only takes a few hours to get there, and it is well worth the time. On the way to the Grand Canyon you can stop and see the Hoover Dam, too.

We had hoped to stop to see the petrified forest while traveling along Route 40, also known as old Route 66, through Arizona. For a short time we dithered over whether or not to make the trip up the road to see the painted desert as well, but when we checked maps it was hard to tell what kind of road would lead us there. Without being certain the road would be in decent shape, we didn’t want to risk the Airstream having to bump along on potholes. So we chose to just stop at the petrified forest, which is a National Park, and right off the highway. Then somehow our day of driving got eaten up with too many stops we needed to make for a variety of reasons I can’t even remember (one of which was a rest stop which turned into sweeping up the glass of a broken dish which had sailed out of a cupboard after a rough patch of road). Snow began to fall in earnest, and then by the time we arrived at the park entrance it was already closed for the day. Sad face.

After the disappointment of missing out on fun, snow became a serious issue. We planned to drive to Albuquerque to spend the night there, but between the park and Gallup, NM the snow started to fall so heavily we could barely see. It built up on the roadway in icy slush, and our pace slowed down to half what it should have been. At that point, we made the decision to stop at Gallup for the night, rather than fight hours of snowfall and dangerous driving conditions with the trailer. Thus we ended up at the USA RV Park in Gallup, right off the highway. The park was convenient and about the same price as the park in Vegas for full hook-ups, so we were happy. One downside with the weather: no water or sewer overnight. When it gets below freezing, anyone who full-times in an RV knows you have to take precautions to prevent things from freezing. When the fresh water hose sits directly in the snow, you have to wrap it in heat tape and insulation. Since we really had no desire to waste time with such measures, we chose to go without the hook-ups for water and just used the jugs of water we purchased at the store earlier in the day. The stove helped heat the Falcon up to a nice toasty temperature before bed, since I baked sweet potatoes to eat with dinner. Hooray for baked potatoes!

Without water, we waltzed out our camp cooking skills to wash dishes and hands and brush teeth, and then in the morning we went to breakfast at Denny’s after a cold splash of water on the face. Leaving Gallup we encountered more snow, though the road stayed clear. We once again revisited our travel plan for the day, as the weather looks to continue for a while. Neither of us wants to drive through snow and go without water again if we stick with our plan to go to Amarillo, TX. Going south for warmer weather sounded like a good plan, but it will add a lot of time to our driving across to North Carolina, where we hope to visit some of Michael’s family on our way back to Olean. In the end, we stuck with Amarillo, but I hope the weather will be better than it looks in the forecast. Out my window right now I see vast stretches of yellow grass stippled with stubby round evergreen bushes, and the occasional flat-topped rise of red rock. I find it odd and amusing to see the abandoned small settlements alongside the roads here in the Southwest. In the Northeast, such structures often get overgrown with plant life or rot from all the snow and rain. Here, they survive much longer, like ghosts from mysterious lives of unrecorded history. No textbooks know the names of the people who lived in these long-abandoned homes, hunting and mining camps, even entire towns. They stand against the harsh winds and blasting sun, echoes of life whose purpose crumbles beneath the cries of hawks and falcons.

{I intended to go ahead and post this yesterday as is, and then two nights ago as we were about an hour outside of Amarillo we stopped for gas and Michael noticed the door of the Airstream was open. He walked back to check it, and discovered several things: the door was bent so badly it wouldn’t shut, the lock feature to hold the door in place when open had snapped off, a dent in the Falcon’s side seemed to have been caused by the lock banging into the Airstream as the door slammed open while we drove down the highway, and probably half the rivets holding the door together had popped off from the force of the collision. Let me tell you, Michael was ANGRY. He swore like a sailor and started to threaten to sell the Falcon due to the door being broken—not unlike my own moments of losing my marbles over things like going without sleep or food for too long—and then he bent the door enough to close it so the latch would catch, followed by attaching a ratchet strap to hold the door shut until we got to Amarillo.

On the way to town, I Googled up a place to stop for the night (Overnite RV Park was kind enough to let us stay extra so we could work on the door, and we thank them very kindly), and found an Airstream dealership in case we could not fix the door ourselves. We rolled into town after dark and pulled into the Home Depot parking lot so Michael could go buy supplies while I walked the dogs around the downright bitter parking lot in the icy cold. Supplies in hand, we stopped at the Big Texan for a lovely dinner. If you are ever in Amarillo, you must have dinner at the Big Texan. It’s famous for being in the movie Guilt Trip and also on the TV show Man vs. Food. This place is rather more of a destination that just a place to eat, as the lobby/bar area has a delightfully fun Old West style shooting gallery, a lovely gift shop, and the most dangerous dessert counter you’ll find for miles. The dining room décor reminds me of Victorian style saloons you see in movies, with flowered chandeliers and wallpaper hung next to the heads of dozens of cloven beasts (ie: deer, elk, antelope, etc.). Minstrels wander through the dining room while people eat, stopping at every table to offer up a song of your choice. If you tip, they will play you another. If you are up for an eating challenge, you can attempt what Barbara Streisand’s character attempted in the movie, Guilt Trip, and try to eat the immense steak dinner in an hour. They have a timer over the table so the whole dining room can watch your progress, and if you eat it all, you get it free.

After dinner we drove to the RV park, and by that time Michael was just too tired and cold to try to mess with the door. We hung a blanket over it to keep out the breeze, and went to bed. Morning did not bring warmer temps, but after coffee Michael got to work on the door. Fortunately, he knows how to install rivets and has a good set of tools for at least small jobs, so he drilled new holes in the door, bent the center of the door frame back into shape, and managed to get the darn thing back in working order. It’s a little less shapely than before the accident, but at least it’s still able to function. We went to a locksmith to get a key made for the deadbolt to keep the door from slamming open again, as we never got a key for the lock when we purchased it, but no dice. For the rest of the ride back home we will have to ratchet the door closed, which is a pain in the neck. In any case, the Aluminum Falcon is living up to its namesake in its aged tendency for needing repairs. We don’t have a hyperdrive, but everything else seems to need work. All is well, however, even if we now are facing yet another round of yucky weather. We plan to go south now so we can at least be warm enough to use water. Camp skills are fine for a few days, but washing with minimal water gets old pretty fast.}

I shall keep writing as we drive, and share the pertinent details in my next post. When we gut out the Falcon, I plan to document the whole affair and describe the most interesting parts. It’s going to be an adventure, but also promises to be positively horrid at times, depending on weather and what we find when we take everything out of the trailer. Every construction job takes longer than you think it will, since rarely does everything go according to plan. It will all be worth it when we get the remodel done. Nothing beats a do-it-yourself project. After all, don’t you most appreciate the things you made yourself? When you earn it, you appreciate it more. To my left I see the beginnings of the rocky canyons we saw when driving out here last year, when this was all new to me. It’s amazing what travel will do for your perspective. If you have yet to get out in the world to enjoy it a little, stop waiting for the perfect time. Do it now. Make your plans. No matter how many chores you need to do, what the kids have on the calendar, or who needs you at work, all that stuff will still be there tomorrow. Take the time to refresh yourself and take a trip, even for a morning or afternoon. The world is a wonder. Go get awestruck, and don’t let the weather get in your way.

Flying with the Falcon

Greetings from Limbo, and the Heaven and Hell of a Transient Lifestyle

*Photo taken outside of Ely, NV on Success Loop. See the deer hiding?

Hello, darlings. Greetings from limbo. Michael and I are still waiting for news about his next contract, and in the meantime we twiddle our thumbs nervously hoping we can secure something soon. This is the nature of contract work, and it can be both frustrating and stressful, even while it can be incredibly invigorating and liberating. For the moment, we will endeavor to enjoy the remaining time we have here in Nevada, despite waking to snow on the ground yesterday morning, snow which is still stubbornly sticking in places around the RV park for the first time since we’ve been in the Carson Valley. Apparently we have another storm on the way tomorrow. While we wait for news and weather, I thought I would invite you into a more intimate space about our travel lifestyle. Grab your afghan and a hot cup of your favorite beverage.

Perhaps our existence appears romantic and filled with delight, carefree fun, and magical experiences. Well, at times our lives are all of those things. And then sometimes it’s miserable, difficult, and anxious. Regardless of the negatives, both Michael and I have gained immeasurable benefits from living on the road for the last year and a half. We both learned to appreciate what we truly value, the people we love and miss, and discovered more clearly what we really want out of life. We have both been pleasantly surprised by living on the road, but I feel compelled to expose the pale unsightly underbelly, right along with the joys, of a travel lifestyle. At the end of this post, I will also share a list of fun things to try in your own life so you can dabble in more travel, even if you believe it’s out of reach because of time or money constraints.

Let me begin with how we arrived at owning and living in our Airstream. Michael and I have only been married for five years, and when we first started dating he was still in school working on his nursing degree while I was teaching in public school and college. One day Michael mentioned he had been entertaining the idea of travel nursing, and as he shared his idea I felt the tingle of what Elizabeth Gilbert likes to call “Big Magic,” that inkling stirring in your gut when your very soul responds with a resounding YES. Ever have one of those moments? Goosebumps! From there, the idea of traveling cycled through a limping treadmill between my heart and my head, rattling through countless possibilities about how we could actually make this dream a reality.

We talked about this lifestyle for years before making it happen; meanwhile Michael finished his degree, started working full time at a hospital an hour away from home (one way), and his schedule was five days a week, 3-11pm. Grueling. He had only one week of vacation that first year of work, earned only through the hours he logged, as if vacation time is some sort of piñata-type reward instead of a sanity-preserving benefit all workers in demanding fields deserve. I kept slogging at my teaching jobs and continually getting the short end of the employment stick, even though I worked hard, maintained a great rapport with my students, installed the hinge in the back of my neck to nod my head to all my bosses, and dedicated my entire adult life to the field. Our work lives were exhausting and soul-sucking.

At some point we both committed ourselves to attaining the freedom we sought in the dream of traveling, and we started to plan in earnest. For a year or so we schemed like thieves about how we could live on the road. We needed to wait for my kids to graduate high school and both be settled in college or jobs to support themselves. We needed to accommodate our two dogs. We needed to figure out what to do with our home in Olean. So many pieces of this puzzle had to be orchestrated, not to mention Michael needing to choose a company for his employment. Lots of horror stories were shared with us from people experienced in travel nursing, stories about how some companies didn’t support their nurses, and researching agencies became its own kettle of fish. Eventually, we settled on testing the waters with a company Michael liked, traveling to a place not too far from home in case the experiment failed, and renting a temporary space before purchasing anything permanent.

Our general consensus before starting really was that both of us would prefer to build a tiny house, but we chose to compromise by deciding to search for a used Airstream we could remodel to make our own. This decision came about after lots of research about tiny living, and learning that finding a place to park a tiny home is often difficult or impossible due to zoning laws and insurance companies. Our thinking then turned to the possibilities of having what we wanted in a tiny house, but built into the sleek frame of an Airstream travel trailer, a brand of RV which never goes out of style and has quality in its build to last. Of course, we have yet to actually remodel after living in the Falcon for almost a year, but that’s another story. Also important, we are still waffling about whether or not the Falcon can be a sustainable way to live due to the fact that its aluminum frame is difficult to heat in temps that drop into teens and single digits, an unavoidable aspect of weather pretty much everywhere in the country, even in the warmest states. We are also facing the reality of problems with condensation when it gets really cold, a difficulty we didn’t even consider before purchase. Thus we gamble our intentions with reality, and attempt to sift out the wheat from the chaff.

Our first six months of living on the road were spent in a pair of rooms connected by a bathroom in a lodge outside of Keene, New Hampshire. Living in the woods, even for that short stint, convinced us we definitely wanted to commit to traveling, so we began looking for used Airstreams to buy.  You may be wondering at this point why we went the route of used trailers. In all honesty, new Airstreams are wildly expensive, well out of our range of affordability, particularly when we also needed to purchase a truck capable of hauling the heavy load in any terrain. We eventually found a used Avion, a sister to Airstream (and competitor until the company was bought out and became Fleetwood) in Louisiana. After Michael confirmed with the man selling his RV that he would hold it for us, we took one of Michael’s rare six-day stretches off from work and drove two days straight to see what we hoped would be our new home. Oddly, the man selling the RV never showed.

We sat in the driveway of this guy’s house for at least an hour in the cloying damp night, crickets singing from the fields around the house accompanied by the sounds of a dog sniffing at the privacy fence surrounding the back yard. Eventually we sought out a room to rent for the night. Michael sent several messages to the man, none of which were answered, even though on the morning of our arrival his last message stated he expected to finish his work out of town in time to meet us. The overnight turned into a long breakfast in the morning, but we finally had to make the decision to leave without the Avion, despairing that we spent so much money on the long trip with nothing to show for it. We never did find out what happened to that man, and we hope it wasn’t an accident of some kind, though we may never know.

Our time in New Hampshire came close to wrapping. We had no prospects for where we would live at our next assignment, a contract in Ely, Nevada. Then we got lucky. Michael happened upon an Airstream for sale in Illinois, and he happened to be the first to inquire about it. A couple of weeks later we pulled into the parking lot of the dealership in Casey, Il to pick up the Aluminum Falcon, purchased before we ever laid eyes on it. It was chancy, but we followed our guts and lucked out. Our luck might have gone another way; we could have ended up buying the Avion and being forced to tear it apart before ever living in it, something we didn’t have time to do before leaving for Nevada. That Avion was not in good condition, and it needed a lot of work to be livable. Though the Falcon is 30 years old, the interior had been maintained and was immediately livable after cleaning it thoroughly.

During this year, we have given ourselves a crash course in RV living. We have learned about holding tanks, how to juggle appliances to avoid tripping circuits, the need for heat tape on the water intake hose, how to strategically utilize awnings to moderate temperature in the desert (and to never leave the awnings down when away—NOT EVER), and to accustom ourselves to “military” showers with a tiny six-gallon water heater. We also learned how to dance around each other in the small galley space down the center of most of the trailer; had to gain muscle memory of the interior areas to avoid hitting our hands, knees, shins, and elbows on virtually everything; and to manage to share this small living area with two dogs and different sleep schedules. None of it was easy. Sometimes we got cranky and argued. There were moments when both of us blew our stacks. And yet, even with all the troubles, we both now fully appreciate and love living tiny. Neither of us wants to go back to living in a full-sized house again.

My point with this story is to relate to readers that making a choice to travel or live tiny may take a lot of dedication to research and a willingness to take risks, but before we started this adventure we were not terribly comfortable with our income, nor did we have lots of resources. We started out armed mostly with the grit to try this life to see how we felt about it, knowing we could always go back to our home in Olean anytime. A lot of things about traveling did not work out the way we planned or expected. Originally, our plan was to stay relatively close to home. But then the available jobs through Michael’s travel company didn’t pay well enough close to home, not enough for us to cover the costs of living on one income. We ended up in Nevada chasing higher-paying work, and that has left me completely disconnected from my kids for the first time in their lives. After being away so long, I am hearing the siren calling me home to make sure my ducklings are surviving. I also miss the woods.

I think Michael has come to love it here in Nevada for a lot of reasons, and he is finding it difficult to leave. He does, however, agree that New Hampshire was beautiful and admits he could live there one day, as could I. We hope to get back there soon, and maybe we’ll even settle there eventually. Who knows? For now, I just want to get closer to home so I can see my kids more often. Something else that bothers me is the unexpected difficulties I have faced with finding any work as a writer online, and also with securing any workshops to teach here for extra money. I consider myself fairly good at selling people on my workshops after so many years of teaching, and normally I can at least get libraries to throw me a bone, but I’ve had little luck here with any of my usual tactics for extra income. As a result, Michael has been carrying the load of supporting us entirely on his own, and I hate it. One good thing that has come out of my time free of paying work is all the writing I can do, and I have spent a lot of time learning how to manage myself as an indie author. I might not have done that if I were busy working, so that’s a plus. But my writing isn’t paying any bills yet. More like filling a change jar over time.

Trials aside, we have seen monumental shifts in our lifestyle. We spend more time hiking and have had the unbelievably thrilling experience of visiting several National and State Parks while traveling out West. In every place we’ve lived we’ve been blessed with meeting wonderful people. The more we travel, the more I realize we are all the same, everywhere in the country. We all want love, need to pay bills, struggle with fear and anxiety, and have to deal with the mundane aspects of life, like grocery shopping, cleaning the house, and taking showers. Everywhere we live, we find that people are just people, whether rich or poor, black or white, religious or not. We all have dreams and desires and wants and needs, every single one of us. Michael and I feel fortunate to have made friends and acquaintances in all the towns where we parked, and each person has been a little light of happiness. All of you are special and spectacular in your own way, and our lives are richer for knowing you.

While we wait for news, we gently detach from the womb of kind souls who gave us a warm place to call home in the lee of the windstorm of hate and division across the globe. What’s sad is that if you look on social media as a cue of the state of our mindsets, I believe we do ourselves a disservice. When we hide behind our avatars online, many of us feel free to blast our worst selves into the electronic static of phish and bots and trolls, regardless of fallout, as if the act of vomiting our own darkest of hearts online may flush the line of fear from our veins. Really, we hurt ourselves the most when we spread our hate like lard over the online community, forgetting those people have feelings just like us. When we spread acts of hate like sharing gossip, tearing someone down for a differing opinion, or spreading outright lies, it only poisons our own hearts and distances the options for having a real relationship with another person. Regardless of the politics or beliefs of any of the people I have met on the road, I have found everyone to be genuinely friendly, kind, and thoughtful. All I have done is listen to their opinions, acknowledged them, and shared my own with what I hope was thoughtfulness in return. In doing so, I have befriended climate change deniers, Trump followers, white supremacists, extreme liberals, religious fanatics, LGTBQ activists, ex-cons, moderate feminists, apathetic homebodies, and everything in between. None of them yelled at me for who I am, and I didn’t do that to them, either.

Instead, as I met more and more people, what I find as a common thread amongst everyone is that none of us can be pigeon-holed. Though a person may support Trump’s policies on one hand, on another he may also be a wonderful math teacher who lovingly donates time at a food pantry every week. Another person may be a staunch Bernie supporter who also serves as a city cop and attends a conservative Christian church every Sunday. We are all full of a rich and varied set of beliefs which cross over the spectrum of pigeon holes, and traveling is teaching me on an exponential scale that humanity is fragile but enduring and incredibly creative. And love is definitely more powerful than hate. And living tiny is a gift of joy. And dreams do come true, even in tumultuous times. And, and, and. Put that word in your day, then see what happens. The bills need to be paid, AND….My kids have a game later, AND….I have to fix the toilet, AND….Where will that word take you?

If you feel envious of our travel life, may I make a suggestion? You can try a few tricks I used to use (and still do on occasion) to give yourself a taste of travel. Give yourself a fun, happy, memorable experience to get yourself out of the daily doldrums of habitual life. I have been accustomed to a tight budget since I was a kid, but I have always been a gypsy at heart. Travel makes me happy, but it can be expensive. Here are a few options for travel to get away for an afternoon, a night, or even a couple of weeks on a budget:

  • Set a change jar somewhere close to where you keep your wallet, then every day empty your change into it. Use the change to fund a trip out of town when it adds up to enough.
  • Find a place you really want to see (near or far) and wait until it’s a good time to go camping. Car camping saves a lot of money for lodging. Also, Airbnb can make trips much more affordable if you haven’t tried that route yet.
  • Want to dine at a fancy restaurant while traveling? Eat there for lunch and save up to one half or a third of the price you pay for dinner, then go shopping for sandwich makings or eat at a food cart for dinner.
  • Stay in a quaint B and B overnight in an expensive area, but wait for the off season to keep costs lower and avoid crowds.
  • Look for free and low-cost opportunities for fun by exploring city or town calendars for festivals, parades, concerts in village squares, self-guided tours of historic places, donation-only museums, or events around holidays.
  • Google your own city or town to look for attractions you may not have considered or even known existed. Find an adventure in your own backyard, and see your home from the viewpoint of a tourist!
  • Pack a picnic and jump in the car. Stop at the first place with a free view you’ve never stopped to enjoy and throw down the blanket.
  • Go backpacking. The view you earn carrying all that weight on your back will be that much more memorable and special, and all the food will taste more delicious. Really.

Now you are armed with ideas to give yourself an escape or well-deserved break. Take it. Americans work too hard and don’t play enough. It’s part of what’s dividing us and draining our compassion collectively. For that matter, you could always call a friend and get together for coffee or a drink and just catch up over a few laughs. If the world is weighing you down these days, find the light. If you envy what someone else has, start planning how you can have it, too. Don’t let time or money stop you. We only live once. Make the most of it, and remember that joy is often on the other side of struggle and pain. Make the most of that, too.

As always, please feel welcome to share links or stories of your own travel interests, post photos, or comment on the content I offer. Do remember to think about your intention before you post, and be kind to everyone here. I look forward to hearing from you!

Flying with the Falcon

A Few of Our Favorite Haunts around Carson-Tahoe

*above photo taken from the inner courtyard of Vikingsholm in Emerald Bay State Park, CA

Soon Michael and I will be hitching up the Falcon for our next adventure. I have shared in other posts that Michael is a travel nurse who works in the ER. Each contract he takes lasts for at least three months, and then we have to decide to renew the contract for another three months (which is not always an option) or start a new contract elsewhere. We have been in the Carson Valley of Nevada for two contracts, plus an extra five-week extension, and we’re ready to see new sights. Honestly, I miss my kids. They are far away on the East Coast, and it’s strange for me to be away from them for so long. After so many years of being there for everything, it’s odd not to see them for months at a time. I also miss the trees and the green of the Northeast. While I have enjoyed exploring the desert and the mountains (see my post about hiking if you enjoy exploring, too), I really miss the woods. The forest which surrounds Lake Tahoe is beautiful, but it just isn’t the same as deciduous trees, and this desert region doesn’t have much in the way of those.

As we wrap up our time here in Carson-Tahoe, I thought I would share some of the places we visited in the region. We have tried quite a few restaurants, shopped in a few fun stores, and discovered a few other interesting things going on around here. We tend to seek out quirky, unique spots that offer something a little off the beaten path.

Shopping. If you are looking for gifts or just for a fun day of discovering things to decorate your home, we have a couple of great spots for you. A to Zen has a huge selection of vintage and collectible items ranging from the interesting (a hidden compartment behind a painting) to the ordinary (self-help books, anyone?). Wander through the store and you can find all sorts of fun tchotchkes like figurines or wall hangings, but they also have furniture, a wide array of clothing, and plenty of collectibles for music fans and antiquers. The zany décor will keep your eyes busy with every corner, nook, and cranny filled with fun. They even have a section for kids, so bring them along and let them explore, too. Mike Epps, the owner of the shop, is a friendly guy who also opens the shop every Friday night for an open mic, and you can hang out and enjoy the treats for sale while listening to music, hearing poetry, or even see some magic, depending on who shows up to take their 15 minutes at the mic. Mike also plays for every show, and you can expect a treat when he takes the stage to play and sing. This place is one of our absolute favorites in the Carson Valley! Visit their Facebook page to learn more:

Another spot we enjoyed is the Dancing Deer in Genoa. Again, I have mentioned Genoa in other posts, and its claim to fame is the oldest settlement in Nevada (though I said oldest European settlement—ehem). You can check out some other places in Genoa, too, like the museum in the park on the corner (you can’t miss it), and some of the other shops on the main drag. Everything to see in Genoa is pretty much located on one street, so set aside a day and wander. The Dancing Deer offers a range of unique gifts, along with hand-crafted soaps and lotions, polished stones, jewelry, candles, knives, and lots more. The store is set up to be inviting and colorful, and you can easily get lost for a long time. For more information, check out their website: Remember to visit the Genoa Country Store right next door, too. They have fabulous lunch fare, homemade bear claws and cinnamon rolls (get there before noon!).

One of our absolute favorite places to eat anywhere in the Carson Valley is The Basil Thai restaurant on N. Carson Street in Carson City. Michael and I both love Thai food, and The Basil is divine. Everything we have eaten there has been delicious, the dining room is refreshingly clean and beautifully decorated, and the service is always outstanding. If you head there for lunch, you get soup and salad with your entrée, a real bargain. We also love that it doesn’t break the bank, and there are options for vegetarians. You can learn more at and search for The Basil. Other places we’ve eaten in Carson are Red’s Old 395 Grill, which has a funky décor with lots of interesting old-time cowboy and mine-related items (seriously, this stuff is incredibly cool) like an old coal-operated steam engine and a buggy hanging from the ceiling. The food is great bar fare straying in the direction of a steak house, and they have a wide variety of beers (101, according the website). If you go on Friday and Saturday between 6-8pm they have an in-house magician performing tricks at the tables. A really fun place for either family or gatherings with friends. Again, the website:

If you love pizza, Chicago Mike’s in Gardnerville is fantastic. We had the deep dish, and I was pleasantly surprised to have it cooked to perfection. It’s not easy to get a deep dish pizza to cook all the way through, as the middle is usually doughy in most places outside of Chicago. Chicago Mike’s does it well, and the dining room is a sports fanatic’s dream. Go informal and enjoy a good pizza and brew. They also have cheesecake. Need I say more? My favorite Mexican food was at Francisco’s in Minden. If you come to Nevada, you really do have an obligation to try Mexican food at least once, since this region (and I mean from Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, etc) is known for its Mexican cuisine. I loved Francisco’s tasty food (I had a shrimp enchilada that was fabulous), and they have a great variety of specials which offer a slightly more elevated cuisine than your average Mexican fare. The food is cooked to perfection, the plates are generous, the service is excellent, and the prices are fair. Really excellent choices, even for vegetarians. Their website:

I’m saving one of the most fun places for last. If you come to the Carson Valley, you really must set aside time to visit Virginia City, which is North of Carson, and is famed as one of the wealthiest mining communities of Nevada at one time. Many famous people passed through, performed, or even lived in Virginia City in its heyday (most notably, Mark Twain), and then even in the 60s and 70s (such as the Grateful Dead). You can find a treasure trove of history, shopping, restaurants, and historic tours. I advise starting with the bus tour of the downtown, as you will hear about all the most interesting and notable places and people, and then you can make choices about which places you most want to visit. We took a couple of trips to Virginia City, and had lots of fun visiting the Delta Saloon, where one can see the infamous “Suicide Table” and some interesting background on Mark Twain, Ripley’s Believe It or Not (which filmed an episode in town), and some of the history of gaming in Nevada. The Red Dog Saloon is a great place for music lovers, and is where Janis Joplin took part in an event with several other famous musicians in 1965, and still offers an open mic once a week. Many films and TV shows, along with lots of stories, have been set in Virginia City, one of the most notable being the TV show Bonanza, and the 1940 film Virginia City, which starred Errol Flynn. Go visit the infamous Bucket of Blood Saloon and hear the story behind the name. For more refined tastes, take a tour of Piper’s Opera House for a few dollars. They still offer shows there, so you can look it up prior to your visit to find out what’s running. For more information, you can find lots of info about Virginia City by looking it up on Wikipedia, but there is plenty of travel info online to guide you. If you have a sweet tooth, this place is chock full of candy stores, but you can also find a good variety of places to eat a good meal. Enjoy your trip! It’s a must-see, in our opinion.

I could share plenty of other spots from the Valley, but here I offer just a few highlights. In other posts, I have shared what we loved about the Lake Tahoe outdoors, and you can find those posts by visiting my archives. Honestly, I think my favorite place in Tahoe is Vikingsholm, the “castle” built by Lora Knight in 1929, and is now registered as a historic place. You can tour the mansion for a fair price, and see some of the most incredible Scandinavian craftsmanship in the finishings of the home (if you love all things Celtic, this is for you). It still has all the furnishings of the original décor, and you can learn about an amazing woman who was responsible for funding Charles Lindbergh’s famous flight in the Spirit of St. Louis, the plane he named for Ms. Knight, a little-known fact about that time. The scenery in gorgeous Emerald Bay is nothing short of jaw-dropping, and you are guaranteed a delightful day if you take the trip. Do note that to get to the mansion, you must walk at least a mile downhill, which means also climbing back up to leave. This is considered high elevation at above 6,000 feet, and if you aren’t used to it, you will find the climb is arduous. Be prepared with water and expect to take your time. They do not offer tram service, and there is no other means for getting down to the mansion. Visit their website for more details: Another option, however, is to see the bay by boat (you can find places which offer day-long rentals), and there is a dock where you can moor your boat while you wander the park or take the tour. No climbing if you arrive by boat! I am told by a local that this is the best way to see Emerald Bay.

If you are the adventurous type and you visit during the warmer months, Tahoe Treetop Adventure Park might be a great choice for you. We absolutely loved the fun of this “aerial trekking course” which offers options for several levels of ability. It’s all quite safe, as you are fitted with a harness which hooks to the lines across all the courses, and then you get to test your sense of adventure by climbing and ziplining in the trees. If you’re afraid of heights, this might be tough for you, but I am terrified of heights and managed just fine. Like I said, the safety harness ensures a perfectly safe interaction with all the courses. It does tire you out, and because it’s in Tahoe, it’s high elevation. You will need time to adjust to elevation change before trying out this type of strenuous activity, but it’s worth the wait. We took my niece and nephew, and we all had a blast on the inventive courses. The staff are friendly and helpful, give great tutoring sessions prior to your session, and will even rescue you if you get stuck and want to bail. Their website is if you want to check it out.

Also in nice weather months, South Lake Tahoe offers a free concert series on the beach every Thursday night. We were fortunate enough to hear about it from some locals who took us to a show, and we had a glorious evening on the lake. Can you imagine anything better than sitting on the beach at sunset while you listen to some great tunes? Honestly, this place has a stellar view, and all are welcome to bring a picnic, blankets, chairs, and even swim if you like. Whether looking for a romantic evening or a family outing, this hits the mark. You can visit the website to find out when the concerts begin for the season, and the line-up of music: under “Events” and titled “Live at Lakeview: Free Summer Concert Series.” Do note that if you choose to swim, the water tends to be quite chilly due to its depth, though we went in August and the water felt just fine. 🙂

If you are a winter arrival, I understand Heavenly is a great place to ski (or so I was told by a visitor who has come here every winter for the last four years), though you can also find places to partake in other winter sports. I am not a skier, and Michael and I spent our winter avoiding the snow, so this aspect of Tahoe is not in our wheelhouse. For the most part, I have enjoyed living in the sunny valley with relatively fair temperatures during the day. If you love winter sports, though, this place has a great reputation for whatever your heart desires. Even though Lake Tahoe is often billed as a place for the wealthy, Michael and I have found plenty of free and inexpensive fun there. Then again, I excel at finding the free and cheap adventures anywhere I go. This goes to show that even where the wealthy find their fun, the rest of us can find fun at our level of affordability, too. Let this be a lesson to those dreaming of travel: before you scoff at a place for its reputation, do a little research. You might find gems of adventure for very affordable visits. As always, I hope those who know the region will feel free to share in the comments if they have favorite places they want to promote. Remember to be thoughtful and kind when you comment, and please also feel free to add to the info I offer in this post. Get out there and do something fun today!