35,000 Feet

I am on a plane. On my way to see my 97 year old grandmother. Leaving the country means not seeing loved ones anytime in the near future. At 97 that future might be shorter than others.

I planned this trip a month ago. My cousin Suzie has always been afraid to drive her car across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, a 3.5 mile span of bridge connecting mainland Maryland to the Eastern Shore. She normally pays $35 each way for someone else to drive her car across. I offered my sevices in lieu of room and board at her lovely home in DC. She and I have always been pretty close cousins.

When leaving on your infinite trip, traipsing off to other parts of the world, one of the choices you make is to leave your family. At our age that family runs deep. No kids of our own, but plenty of cousins we’ve watched grow up and have families. Nieces and nephews who have grown up and had kids. Friends who have grown up around you and had kids. These are as much family as if we had had our own. I think it is a little easier to leave them behind though… you know their immediate families are close and watching over them. You kind of realize how alone your life really is.

Now I know we have worked just as hard as the family and friends around us. We have been able to make investments and cash out on those to fund our next phase of life. We don’t have to think about any legacy, how to make our kid’s lives easier once we are gone… by the time that happens our family’s kids would be having kids. Life is somewhat selfish when you don’t have any immediate legacy to worry about.

Looking out the window of the plane I see flat. I am on my second leg through Minneapolis on to D.C. My family has seen my FB post and realize this is it… figure out how to visit with me now or continue to visit via internet. Growing up there was no internet, cell phones, texting or ” blogging”. You got in your car and drove to visit your people. You planned elaborate dinners around holidays. I think I actually like the virtual connections better. A whole year would go by without a word then you are thrust back into each other’s lives and try to play catchup in a few hours.

Introduce internet, cell phones, Facebook, Instagram and so forth and now on an almost daily basis we can see their kids grow up, achievements, and ups and downs. It’s like being in their lives on a weekly basis. You can visit and continue a conversation without the catch up. It brings the entire world into your grasp. It makes the world a smaller more friendly place. It connects generations. Opens new worlds once thought unachievable. It becomes a road map to exploration of foreign cultures and life styles… without being so foreign anymore. It also has taken us away from today. Heads down in our phones. Find a balance. The world is still out there.

 

 

A Long Time Coming

It’s hard to tell a story with so many twists and turns. Sometimes the anticipation and planning is more stressful than anything I’ve done before. It’s different when it’s a long term decision. The path we choose now WILL affect the next phase of our lives. Saying that out loud really brings this into perspective. The decisions we have made in the past could be wrong… we always had the time and means to make it right. This decision may not be so easy to undo.

What on earth could be so dire? Well it’s the decision about our new home on wheels.

So you may be saying, so what’s the big deal?

When you are going from a house too big for two, to a custom created camper van with a living space of 73.5 square feet. Everything you own is contained in this space. How do you decide what to keep and what to discard? We grew up in a time when at least 40 years of our lives were NOT digital. That means for a photographer… boxes and boxes of prints and negatives. I have a wood toy chest from my childhood I have lugged all over the US every time I moved. Handwritten letters from past loves, friends and family. Artwork collected from around the world.

The electronics, furniture and other STUFF is easy to part with. There is just so much STUFF to get rid of…

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The process: We have really vacillated back and forth between a very used Sprinter van to a gently used Ford Transit. My mind has been designing and redesigning our cozy living space. The main goal is usable space and storage. A space that two women and a corgi can live in comfortably. A “home on wheels” that is comfortable and inviting. Our Tiny Home.

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There is so much I have had to learn. Solar, plumbing, electrical, wood working. The imagination is strong and the ability to recreate what I see may be tough. We hopefully will be buying our van this week and the build will begin. I hope we will be able to be patient and build out our space carefully and “hell for strong”, as my dad would say.

Utah Desert Solitude…Searching for Swasy’s Leap

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We spent the weekend in the Escalante Staircase National Monument. This is a prehistoric yet wondrously accessible desert in central Utah. If our Commander and creep has his way, this land will be mined out… selling its beauty to the evils of oil and natural gas exploration. Oil fields scattered all over this beautiful landscape. Heavy machinery traveling on the fun back roads we explore in the peace and quiet of this desert.

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At least for now, this is a pristine area that takes you into some of the most ancient exposed rock on earth. The vast panoramas are breathtaking and are the product of millions and millions of years of evolution. More to the point… wind, sand and water. I have traveled to many places in this world and seen many landscapes.
This Utah desert is spectacular and has a history full of intrigue, cowboys, Indians and bandits.

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We set out to find a trail called Swasy’s Leap. It was at the end of some pretty advanced 4WD roads requiring a high clearance vehicle. I can say that the trek in was far easier than the trek out. Funny we never did find where this little bet was waged and the leap was made back in 1800. No problem the 5-6 miles we hiked were rewarding and around every butte was more and more wonder and awe.

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We followed an eighteen year old 4WD Book and a topographical map. The dirt roads go off everywhere. We got off on the road to the trailhead, finally, and maneuvered our Cruzer carefully over the rocky ledges and step downs for 4 miles to the trailhead. The heavy black storm clouds hung around the rocky peaks in the distance, and threatened us with curtains of rain and flashes of lightening. The sun held the storm at bay until we got back to the car and found our remote campsite.

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We unfolded our roof top tent as it got dark with heavy thunder clouds and sought refuge inside the Cruzer as Mother Nature unleashed her fury. We kicked back to wait out the storm and had a well deserved cocktail and laughed at our hike and joked about this kid Swasy, who jumped a crevasse, on his horse, somewhere out there, instead of riding around the damn thing. He got 75 head of cattle for this little stunt, which made him rich and got him written up in the Utah history books.

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The storm passed, gave us a rainbow, and as is usual, the desert sucked up every drop and dried out quickly. We settled in, cooked some dinner and had a fire. Love, love LOVE the desert solitude.

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We were basically “trying out” the remote camping or boon-docking. We have purchased so many new items to get prepared for our upcoming Overlanding adventure. A new Snomaster fridge/freezer, new double battery setup, new suspension and steering components, new Baja full length flat roof rack, we wired and installed a Pure Sine Wave 1750 Watt Inverter. She’s never really been tested out.

I am here to tell you she performed incredibly. The fridge didn’t pull down the AGM spare battery at all. The Inverter worked flawlessly. She stepped up and stepped down rocky trails, got her first brush scratches, rooftop tent was awesome, although a bit hard… but toasty warm.

We spent the weekend talking about how to build out the interior. Wether or not to buy a 4×4 van. The SportsMobiles are very expensive. You can’t drive an ULEV diesel into Central America… the diesel isn’t available, so a lot of the nice big turbo diesel vans are out of the question. Decisions… decisions…

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Medical Tourism… Everything We Learned and Need to Pass Along

Living in the USA, we all feel entitled, if you will, to everything from beautiful groceries at the market, clean water, good healthcare and creature comforts we seem to feel we need. All of this comes with a huge price to pay.

The world is aware that our crazy commander and creep has made it his mission to take as many of the above away as he can. Of course he is “rich” and can afford medical care, medical insurance and the sky high deductibles that we are forced to sign up for in order to bring down astronomical premiums.

Then you look at treatments like dental work. Even if you do have insurance for this, you will still pay hundreds and hundreds of hard earned dollars in order to get a painful tooth handled. It’s not like you can ignore it until it’s more convenient… therein lies the reason for this post.

Chris broke her back molar a year or so ago and went to the dentist who “patched her up”. Temporary fix $400. Last week she was on a trip for work and the “temporary fix” fell off. She was in immediate pain and called the doc. They quoted her $1200 for a permanent crown. OMG! So $400 plus $1200 is way too much and hard to stomach. Enter Mexico…

For years I have been reading about Medical Tourism. Hundreds of thousands of people travel to other countries for life saving treatments, why not travel for dental work? Why not travel for minor procedures that at home would be outrageous?

A few years back I twisted my knee chasing some howler monkeys on a muddy trail in Costa Rica. It swelled up and became too painful to bear weight. I had travel insurance but they required me to go see a doctor in country.  I took a taxi to the doctor’s office.  It looked like a small storefront shop with a shingle hanging outside with the doctor’s name.  I walked in and was warmly greeted by a young man who spoke perfect english. His office was quaint with a few chairs and a coffee table, a small TV and AC.

He took me right into his exam room which was clean and looked like any exam room you’ve ever been in. He asked me a barrage of questions and then proceeded to examine my injured knee.  He called his assistant in to take me to get an x-ray right in the next room.  Twenty minutes later I walked out of his office with a full explanation of what he felt was wrong and a knee brace and pain medicine… all for $50 USD.  At home the x-ray alone would have been more than $50, PLUS the doctor would have buzzed into the room pulled and pushed on my leg and left the room never to be seen again. In a week or two I would receive a bill for $650 for the inst-care.

To wrap this up, if you are afraid and nervous, that’s fine.  Just as in the US or where ever you may be from, do your homework.  There are hacks everywhere.  There are sites you can access that give you step by step instructions.  They have done research and you can reach out to them if you have questions.  The world is a much smaller… and expensive place.  If you are too scared and need to live in your little comfortable box, I get it.  There’s a lot out there… outside of your little box.  LIVE!

This is the dentist we just used:

www.tijuanamexicodentist.com

More reading and links:

www.medicaltourism.com

www.patientsbeyondborders.com/medical-tourism-statistics-facts

www.en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medical_tourism

The Hurry Up and Wait Game

The hardest thing of all this moving on is the hurry up and wait game. I guess we did it to ourselves.

In the US, perhaps as with many other countries too, forgive my ignorance… we have to invest our money in a home in order to offset some tax burdens imposed on us. Same holds true with a business… pay yourself or pay the government.

Seventeen years ago we built our dream home. We had no intention of moving outside the US or traveling to the extent we are currently planning. If you had told me back then that we would amass a good amount of money, enough to live very well on, I would’ve laughed. Today this is very much a reality.

The biggest hang up is our business and building it works out of. I have no doubt that our home will sell quickly. The business is hit or miss. The building is also a major wildcard. Part of investing in our future has been making these investments. It is the time it takes to liquidate all these that is driving me crazy.

It is the hurry up and wait game that we are embroiled in currently. People inquire about the business, the building and what not. We answer these questions and nothing seems to ever materialize. The other day some “YouTube” guys came in and took a tour. They are looking for a studio to make their videos. Another guy came in and sat down in front of me until we had so much going on I had to excuse myself. Another guy has been texting and has a walk through and interview on Tuesday. I hope that in all this action some solid lead will come.

In the meantime we continue to move forward with decluttering years of possessions. The various pieces of local artwork from different countries where we have traveled all have to go. The nick knacks, furniture and household items we have accumulated must go. It is hard to put what worldly treasures you think you want to keep and someday be reunited with, in an assortment of manageable boxes.

What will life look like when we finally land and put downs some roots again? Will we be able to live on our own and be healthy? A deep down part of me fears growing old. Being alone someday. The life of  a Gay Woman, a Vagabond, an Overlander, a World Traveler… all come with a price in the end. Growing old and alone. Hey… it’s reality. No kids, no family but those you’ve met on the road. No roots, no foundation but the means to buy whatever happiness you can… and even now that isn’t always a given unless you carry around pieces of gold.

So now… sitting in my backyard, surrounded by sounds of the birds in our little piece of forest. Somewhere in a small mountainside in Utah, my home, the simple greens of our oak trees and aspens are soothing that turmoil of fear. Life is here and now. Sometimes, yes we must settle with hurry up and wait.

 

Overlanding Expo May 2017

I don’t know who coined the phrase “half of the experience is the journey itself”, but they hit that nail dead on the head. We started packing last weekend. The Cruzer is taking some getting used to but she is capable of handling our gear. The way I figure it… I pretty much have everything I need to be self sufficient for several days.

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What’s the difference between a trip for several days vs. several months? Not too much. If you were living on the road, the road would be your home and you would need to stop and do laundry once a week, or so, just like you do in your brick and mortar home. I think you generally just stink and after while don’t notice. Ha! What a thought. So you don’t need to own but maybe two weeks worth of clothes… and I’m not talking three changes a day… think about it; what do you really need if it’s 50-100 degrees everyday. A chance of rain half the year. Twelve hours of daylight on average per day.

Food? Well unless you’re going down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon by paddle boat, you can go to the market once or twice a week and buy fresh. We don’t have a full on refrigerator after all. If you go camping for a week you go to one place and hopefully have enough food and ice to keep it cold. So there you have it.

One thing I would have to do though is organize the Cruzer. It was frustrating trying to find anything. I had to do a lot of climbing around and rummaging to find things I knew I had put in there somewhere. Oh well… duality noted. I think we will need to build compartments. That’s what I hope to bring home from the Expo.

Part Two: The Revelations:
First let me start by saying going to the Expo was a great thing! I met some genuine people there. The camp area was packed tight with all types of rigs from VW Buses to Hummers to Land Cruisers. All the rigs had basically the same equipment. Tents of all types and sizes. Gear necessary to support it’s occupants for a trip into the wild. Varying degrees of sophistication. Some old and some newer. Some costing thousands of dollars to build to several hundreds of thousands. What did each have in common? The owners and travelers desire to be self sufficient with the ability to escape the realm of responsible reality.

I was lucky to get some great neighbors on each side. The most memorable will be Mona and Al from San Francisco area originally.
To say they took a blow on the chin and continued to turn the other cheek would be an understatement. They lost their home in the fires that ravaged the area a few years ago. Still they remained hopeful and positive, and picked up what they had left and continued moving forward instead of becoming “victims”. They reminded me so much of Chris and I it was amazing. They complimented each other, obviously loved each other and yet were so totally opposite of each other. I think that is the greatest strength of any healthy, life long relationship. Mona and Al took me in and we became good friends in the short time we spent together. They have big plans for escaping just as Chris and I do.

I attended many seminars, Q&As, demonstrations and took from each a bit of vital information and revelations. I really enjoyed speaking with real people that have actually done what we are preparing to do. The greatest part was that maybe learning from them and their experiences, we can avoid some costly mistakes.

I got to experience the life of “up at sunrise and to bed at sunset”. I got to pick people’s brains on a personal one to one basis. I was taught as a student and was showed things I never would have known otherwise. I gained a confidence in what our future may look like. I came home with so many great, doable ideas and how to put them into something tangible that will increase our chances of survival as two women alone on our Overland voyage.

The best part of it all was when Chris finally joined me on Saturday night. There was no way I could show her all I had learned but I took her around and showed her it was possible. Our dream could come to fruition with the knowledge of those who have been doing the minimalist life style for years and years. I was able to get her buy in 100% to building our “home” on the road. We discussed at length weather or not we had the right vehicle. We discussed other possibilities if money was no option. In the end I told her I would design Lucky’s interior and before it went into production get her buy in.

Leaving on Sunday was bitter sweet. I had to say goodbye to my new friends. Pack up all our soon to be “worldly possessions” and hit the road for the long journey home. This 8 hours was the longest Chris and I had spent without the TV on, faces in our phones or iPads in a long while. It was the quality time we needed to do what we do best… discuss our ideas, hash out our differences and compromise.

The next phase will begin as I draw out my ideas about how we need to improve our home with the knowledge I gained from veterans who have gone before. Hopefully learn from their mistakes and leap into the next stage of our lives with a better knowledge and understanding of what could lie ahead. I feel it will be easier for us to transition into life on the road without time limitations and the burden of owning anything except what is “on our backs” as it were.

In conclusion, this was an enlightening weekend. It was a necessary step in the right direction. It affirmed this journey as possible. It drilled into my brain the realities of the dangers and enjoyment one can encounter when all ties are broken and life is lived not just endured.

“We travel not to escape life… but for life not to escape us”.

On The Road Again….

Well we are off… spent last two days scrambling around to get everything just right. It’s an eight and a half hour drive and 531 miles. First road trip… me, Gandaulf and Lucky, the Adventure Cruzer!

The Overland Expo will fuel my imagination and give me great ideas for finishing off Lucky’s interior. It can also be dangerous!  These guys live to outfit the lifestyle we are striving for. With our home on our backs, so to speak, everything we own inside a 12x6x4 foot space, we need to learn to travel safe.  We need to learn how to read a map… not always gonna have GPS or cell phone service… can’t just call AAA if we get a flat.  This weekend is gonna be like going to outdoor school. So excited!!

Flagstaff ARIZONA here we come!