On the road again! We’re traveling in a whole new way now that we’ve relocated (temporarily) to California.
I’ve long had a thirst for the road. I’m not sure if it’s a culmination of my very early life with my parents, living in a van in the sixties and seventies, or if it’s the result of living on an island with only a couple of hundred miles radius for the last twenty years…but ever since the kids left home, I’ve wanted to road trip. Like, seriously, really road trip. And we have. Our road trips have been epic, and if you’ve missed my travel blogging and photos, check them out here.
I’ve even been co-authoring a series of apocalyptic romance thrillers about road trips during a pandemic, starring couples falling in love as they fight enemies and the elements while traveling to join their big Italian family in an armed, self-sufficient compound called the Haven. (To date, I have seven books with “road” in their titles, so that should give you an idea of the level of obsession.) My writing partner, Emily Kimelman, actually lives full time in an Airstream with no fixed address, so our interests on this project were completely aligned.
Over the course of Mike and my annual travels, we found the constant transitions in and out of hotels, motels and tents exhausting on our long road trips. We speculated that having a camper would decrease the psychological wear-and-tear. Humans are territorial creatures, fond of staking out a corner and building a nest. Not having that nest for extended periods led to anxiety and crankiness (particularly on my part.)
Conversely on our road trips, we hated RVs. They were huge, and ugly, and slow to travel behind. The camps we shared with them did not enamor us of their chugging generators, belching fumes, and loud, indifferent people who often seemed insulated from the environment we shared, sheltered as they were by four walls, AC, and TVs.
Mike had promised me “one last big adventure” to pry me out of my comfort zone on Maui, so soon after we settled into the cottage on the Russian River, we began looking for a travel camper that would meet all of our requirements: small, because we wanted to move fast and easily and still be mostly outside, experiencing the place we were in; not ugly because we’re both aesthetes; and detachable because we need to be able to separate from each other. We had a travel pattern that would only work with a detachable rig: I like to sleep in and do my morning ritual, and Mike likes to blaze off and explore at the crack of dawn.
It was Emily who told me, “look for a Casita,” when I told her Airstreams were too expensive for our current economy. So, after weeks of Craigslist scouring and weekend drives out to places like Byron and Manteca (you probably haven’t heard of them…I certainly hadn’t) we finally found our Casita.
Casitas are small, nice looking and lightweight, with all the amenities. We were beside ourselves with excitement to find one in good repair with only one previous owner, a couple who had loved and cared for it.
(There’s always a “but,” isn’t there? I’ve come to the conclusion that the best dreams are those that are the result of delayed gratification and achieved by overcoming a series of hurdles. Probably a rationalization, but it’s comforting.)
The vehicle we’d hoped to use to pull the trailer, Mike’s SUV brought over from Maui, had mechanical issues. Even though the Casita was light, we weren’t confident it could do the job. We needed a bigger, more reliable vehicle, and that began another project, involving multiple trips to car dealers and a scary list of decisions.
A further “but” was that the river cottage has no parking for a trailer of any size at all. Perched on the shaky side of a hill and anchored by redwoods, our current abode is on a snaky little road with no shoulder. We can barely park our cars at night, let alone a trailer.
So we began a search for an RV storage facility. Who knew these even existed? The World of RV’ing was turning out to be a steep learning curve! It took a month of hunting for Mike to find a place within an hour of our house to store the Casita, but we finally did. Keying in our code to a huge rolling metal gate, I was impressed by the acres of RVs and boats in stored in a graveled, fenced lot, each “parking spot” shaded by high metal roofing. “It’s like all of the excesses of America stored in one place,” I said in wonderment, passing rows and rows of campers, trailers, luxury boats, speedboats, bass boats, ATVs, and RVs. Yep, we like our vehicles, here in the USA!
Retrieving the Casita from its current parking situation and bringing it up to the storage area was filled with more challenges: buying and installing a tow package on new-to-us beefy V8 Lexus SUV we’d bought to pull it. Ordering and putting in an electric braking system that connected the RV to the car’s brakes. (again, who knew? Mike has been watching A LOT of You-Tube videos!)
Finally, two weeks ago, we were ready for our maiden voyage in our “new” rig. We’d chosen Wright’s Beach for our first night in the Casita, a nearby coastal state park we’d scouted on one of our explore drives. The RV sites at the park butted up against the beach, and my fantasies were filled with the sound of waves at night as I snuggled with my honey in our tiny portable home on wheels.
Here was my Facebook post that day, along with a photo of the Casita:
“I started life in tiny dwellings: a little cottage in La Jolla. An itty-bitty beach house at Rocky Point on Oahu. Then, a van to live in, and tents and shacks and little plantation houses with and without bathrooms, all through my growing-up years on Kauai.
I longed to be “normal,” to own a house in suburbia, have a nice family, enjoy a decent job doing meaningful work and drive a reliable car, leaving my hippie roots behind…and I did all that. Had all that.
Oh hell, I STILL have all that.
But now, all I want to do is get in my tiny house on wheels, a return to that van we lived in, and go. And go and go.
Stuff is overrated. It sucks time, energy and money. It weighs you down. Why have more than one of ANYTHING, really?
It's the turn of the road, the arc of the sky, the smell of sun on the redwoods, the feel of beach stones under your feet, the hum of the pavement beneath the wheels, with Santana blasting on the radio.
And at night, all you need is a little tiny place to curl up in with the one you love, and the sound of rain on a roof that isn't leaking.
Our first night in the tiniest house I've lived in since high school is coming up, and I'm so excited.”
Well, it was all that and more, right down to Santana on the audio in our new truck, and rain. Really a lot of rain. But I get ahead of myself…
The rig worked great. The electric brakes slowed the trailer so even I could drive it without being intimidated, and the new truck hauled it so easily, even up hills, that we were super happy as we pulled into and parked in a gorgeous empty camping spot, butted up against the beach. We got unhitched, laid down our rug, started a fire…and discovered we were assigned to a different campsite with no view and no beach! (It pays to look closely at the reservation sheet.)
We grumpily packed up, even moving our smoking log over to the new site, and began to appreciate the differences between camping in the Casita and tent camping.
First of all, it took all of ten minutes to move, and breaking down camp with a tent is much more work. Also, the wind, which had been chilly and gusting kicked up in earnest along with spits of rain, and we were glad of the bushes that cut it as we tried to barbeque with a tabletop grill. (We weren’t yet ready to try cooking inside on the microscopic two-burner stove.)
We ate inside, sheltered from the elements, and Liko, my little dog, curled into his familiar bed with a sigh of happiness to be out of the weather. After dinner, we folded the table into the bed, made it up, and settled into watching a DVD on the 12-volt TV Mike had bought.
I take all my snobby comments about RVs back. In forty degree weather, with wind lashing your camper and buckets of rain, it’s VERY NICE to snuggle up and watch a movie and be insulated from the elements.
Our one regret from our first adventure is that we still hadn’t figured out the Mysteries of the Toilet, and had to put on raingear and boots to trek to the public bathrooms in the middle of the storm. I got completely turned around in the dark on my way back, my phone app flashlight inadequate to navigate the pelting rain and streams of water, my umbrella flipped inside out, my Ugg boots soaked. When I finally found our rig and crawled back into the Casita like a drowned rat, I had to get into bed in wet clothes because my backpack was locked in the truck. (People have toilets in their rigs for a reason, and even the daunting prospect of managing Gray Water vs. Black Water is worth figuring out some nights. And if you don’t know what that is, join the club. Neither do I. More You-Tube videos!)
Finally, damp and frazzled, I was tucked into our king sized bed, wondering how to deal with my wet clothing…and the Casita’s heater kicked on. It sounded like Air Force One landing next to my head, but I was delighted to be able to flap my wet yoga pants in front of it and get warm and dry. Another thing that can’t be done in a tent!
The next morning, the storm had blown away. Mike and I took a walk with Liko along the expanse of whale-colored beach, pebbled in gray, white and black. I found a handful of shells that looked like mother-of-pearl dragon scales (later identified as “jingle shells” or “mermaid toenails.”) Liko, off his leash, chased a seabird and was almost swept away by a giant, freezing wave. Back at camp, we discovered the metal stabilizer jacks on the Casita had sunk deep into the sandy loam with all the water flow, and had to be dug out. But finally we hitched up our tiny home, and drove to a restaurant for breakfast.
Yes, I’m a convert to the camper life! More will be revealed as we figure out the mysteries of cooking in the Casita and actually using the “bathroom” and “kitchen.”
And as to having more than one thing?
Always have a backup wine opener, roll of TP, and car key.
What are the “more than one things” that YOU recommend taking on a camping trip?
(click on any of the images to open to full size and scoll sideways for slide show.)