Thursday, May 29, 2014

Strange Coincidences

This past weekend we took the camper out again. That's going to be a common theme in this blog. If you missed earlier posts, let me catch you up: We are obsessed with camping. The trip we took this weekend was special for a lot of reasons. It was our longest trip with the camper, we went camping in Canada, it is an annual trip that we do every Memorial Weekend, and this was the 50 year anniversary of this trip.

Just before we crossed the border. I know this is a common scene for local Detroiters but it is exciting for out-of-towners. 

So, let's go back 50 years. A woman named Mary and her two friends Donna and Dorothy decided to take their families camping. They chose a park in Ontario, Canada because the law, at the time, states that there was no fee for camping, you could camp wherever you wanted in the park and nobody was going to come bother you. Ontario Provincial Parks have since become much more strict but in the 1960s, they were common destinations for hippies and families in the Detroit area because it was a free place to camp. The park they chose was called The Pinery. These ladies and their 15-20 children camped at the park all week while the dads went back to Detroit to work. The dads came back on the weekend to pick everyone up and that's the way things played out every year. 

So who are these people? Donna is the grandmother of my wife, Jessica, and Dorothy is my grandmother. How cool is that? 

When Jessica and I first started dating in 2003 we were unaware that our families were close and had taken these annual camping trips back in the 60's and 70's. It's just something that we discovered after we had been together for a year or so. So, it was one of those things that we talked about when we got together with either of our families. They would share memories and it was really interesting to hear her aunts and uncles tell me stories about my parents. We also learned that the trip still happens every year. Most of my family doesn't go anymore and none of Jessica's family attends but Mary's kids and grandchildren, the Tononi family, show up in huge numbers and have kept the tradition alive. So we started going in 2008 and now we drink beers and tell stories on the same soil that our parents and grandparents did 50 years ago.

I just want to take a moment to tell you how amazing the Tononi family is. If you showed up to one of their weekly spaghetti dinners, not only would you be welcomed with open arms, you would learn quickly that this family takes tradition very seriously. It's infectious too. That is why, when Jessica and I were asked to be on the planning committee for this year's trip, we graciously accepted. If any Pinery campers are reading this, we hope you enjoyed it!

Noah, Sam and Jessica playing on the shore of Lake Huron at sunset. 

We came home a day early because we needed to prep the house to go on the market. We spent the whole day on Monday mulching, planting, scrubbing, mopping, and making our clutter disappear. We did such an awesome job I actually had a brief moment where I was like, "Hmmm...maybe I don't want to sell this place." Then I thought about the weekends I spent inside this 1100 sq ft box with two crazy kids during the polar vortex. I am ready to put a bow on this place and sell it to the highest bidder. Since we are selling now, instead of renting, our departure date could be moved up as much as 2 months. Once we sell we have 30 days to get out of the way. Bonus!

We really like our new camper. It's starting to feel like home and we have hope that we will be able to get our essential items inside of it and survive for a year. I ran some calculations and figured out that we get about 8-9 MPG while towing on the HWY. Not too shabby. I also learned some hard lessons about cornering while navigating the narrow, tree-lined roads of the Pinery. There are a few challenges that we are still working out, like the fact that we don't have a washer and dryer on the camper, but these are just small details that don't matter in the grand scheme of things. In fact, if you are worried about details like how you are gonna wash your clothes, you probably don't have the stomach for this kind of living. I have managed to find some clever solutions to some other issues that I will write about in my next entry. We are going into full execution mode so get ready to take notes! 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Selling the Farm

It's amazing to me how fast things develop once you decide to make a big change. Suddenly the 16 weeks between now and our journey seem very short. This week was productive and we carved out a lot of details in our departure plans. It's nice to have direction.

Last weekend we took the camper out for the maiden voyage. There is a county park about 35 miles north of us that we pulled the trailer to. We tested out everything. We were able to get TWO showers in without overflowing the grey water tank. This is something that was UNHEARD of in the popup. We also tested out the digital TV antenna. I never thought watching "This Old House" and "Monk" could bring me so much comfort. The weather was beautiful outside but I was busy flipping through channels chasing a familiar feeling from my childhood that I couldn't quite put my finger on. We went to the campground directly from Noah's birthday party so the boys spent the whole weekend pulling out new toys whenever they got bored. I can't really complain because it kept them busy and gave me plenty of cardboard to start fires with. I don't think
this weekend was a good indication of how the boys will be on the camper but Jessica loves it and when she is happy, we are all happy.

A big part of the reason I wanted to take the camper out this weekend was to get a feel for the handling and try to calculate gas mileage. We are towing this large trailer with a full-size SUV (Chevy Tahoe) so special consideration needs to be taken since we don't have the luxury of a full-size pickup or diesel engine. I kept a close eye on the RPMs and concluded that our most efficient speed is between 55-60 MPH. Not really ideal for driving on the Interstates but it should do fine on the highways and back roads. Since we have an entire year I am not worried about it. I look forward to touring the country the way people did before the interstate highway system came along and ruined everything. I might be bias on this topic since I am a touring cyclist but I can't wait to get my kicks on ROUTE 66!

We decided we are going to sell the house. We are listing it next week. I know it sounds like an extreme measure but we have been looking for a way to get out from under this house for a couple years now. Our real estate agent said that the market in our area is dry right now so it gives us a good chance. Home values have finally recovered to the point where we can actually make a few bucks on the sale. (Literally a FEW bucks. About $200 after closing). So, if anyone is looking for a well kept, brick ranch in a great school district I know a place.

We are taking the camper to the Pinery in Grand Bend, ON, Canada this weekend. It will be her longest voyage ever. Last night I grabbed our rig from storage and it was running hot. I expected this might be a problem. My dad is a mechanic and he says there are things we can do to beef up the cooling system. We will see how it goes this weekend. If it runs hot then I will consider making the modifications to my truck or I may just upgrade to a full size truck.

We have notified everyone in our friends, family and work network of our plans. Everyone is being really supportive. If I forget to thank you all later, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR BEING AWESOME!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Pulling up the Stakes

Let me get right to the point here:

In exactly 4 months I will be loading my family into a truck, with camper in tow, and embarking on a one year journey across North America.

Now that we got that out of the way, let me explain:

At some point during this miserable cold season it occurred to us that we hate winter. I mean, sure, we like Christmas and we love seeing family and we make the best of the snow but, as most of our family and friends know, we live for the summer. We live for long weekends in our camper, discovering the wonders of a new state park. We live for hiking and biking and nature...even our 4lb toy poodle is an experienced hiker. When we aren't camping we stay up late researching new camping spots on the internet. It's the foundation of our family. We love camping. For example, when most couples get married they get a pile of household items at their wedding shower. Blenders, pots and pans, towels, picture frames, etc. At our shower we received a pile of green colored boxes from the camping aisle at target. We had three people give us the same camp stove and someone even gave us biodegradable toilet paper. WE. LOVE. CAMPING.

So, it started out as a conversation that I didn't take seriously. 'let's move somewhere warm'...'let's go full time on the RV'...just playful dreaming. Then, we started to ask ourselves 'why not?'. Within a couple of weeks we didn't have any good reason to stay here. Every potential problem we discussed had a very logical solution. It's a scary feeling when you realize the only thing holding you back is yourself. We are actually at the point now where we agree that this trip is urgent. Based on the ages of our kids and the timing of everything, our window of opportunity is closing. Noah is turning 5 and Sam just turned 3. After this year it will probably be best to have them in a traditional school setting but missing preschool and big deal. Sure, we could wait until we are old and the kids are grown up but what's the fun in that? Besides, why do tomorrow what you can totally do today?

So, that's it. We are moving forward and not looking back. We just traded in our old popup and bought a 31' travel trailer. Here is a picture of it next to our old popup. Jessica and the boys had a moment of sadness as we drove away from the popup. We had a lot of memories on that thing. I didn't share in their moment as I was busy freaking out about the 31foot, 6000 pound trailer hooked to the ass end of my truck. It was all good after the first 5 miles. She tows beautifully.

Our official departure date is 9/15/2014. We plan to return to the area in August 2015. When we do we will be looking for a new place to live. Maybe someplace warm...maybe a house in the woods...who knows? What we know for sure is that we have a lot of loose ends to tie up this summer. Then we will be off creating memories that will last us the rest of our lives. We will update this blog before, during and after the trip so our friends and loved ones can keep tabs on us. We would also welcome strangers of all sorts to follow along. Who knows, maybe you will find it useful in planning your own journey.