Why and Why Not?

Cheyenne Mountain, sunset.

This post was modified from the original on 2014-03-22 at Pomona State Park, Kansas.

On June 30th, 2013, at 5:08pm I was thinking about Airstreams at my home in Waukee, Iowa. I know this because I wrote a simple pros and cons list in Evernote. I called that list “Why and Why Not?”

Why?

  • Simplicity. It is more difficult to fill a small space with clutter.
  • A trailer has a real limit to its own maintenance.
  • We’ll get outside more.
  • Whilst running costs are likely to remain high, we won’t have so much tied up in things.
  • I like to travel. “Wanderlust.”
  • Rain falling on the roof.

Why not?

  • No back yard for Alfred.
  • Some everyday things are harder in an Airstream – for example emptying black water and using a laundry.
  • Campgrounds are not glamorous.
  • It may be taxing for Julie if I am not there.

After 120 days of living in an Airstream did I have this right?

Why?

Simplicity. It is more difficult to fill a small space with clutter.

Yes, that’s right.

A trailer has a real limit to its own maintenance.

Yes, that’s right. Although we have been surprised by how many repairs there are, maintenance is limited in scope and we never think about re-modelling.

We’ll get outside more.

Yes, that’s right. We try to travel with the seasons and enjoy being outside more often. We also bought cold weather togs.

Whilst running costs are likely to remain high, we won’t have so much tied up in things.

Yes, that’s right. In fact the numbers were uncannily accurate. We are financially almost entirely virtual now. Click click. We’d have real problems with an EMP.

I like to travel. “Wanderlust.”

The wanderlust hasn’t worn off – it’s grown.

Rain falling on the roof.

Why not?

No back yard for Alfred.

It’s really not difficult at all. Living in an Airstream you find yourself going outside regularly anyway for one reason or another, which is good.

An important piece of our decision to do this was to focus on our health. We’re running farther and walking often. Our dog Alfred is always with us. We think every day is an exciting day for Alfred.

In the winter we have had entire state parks to ourselves for days. Or if not an entire park, a large section of a park. Petit Jean State Park in Arkansas, Pomona State Park in Kansas, Cheyenne Mountain State Park in Colorado. We shouldn’t admit it, but we break the rules about dogs on leashes in these instances.

The biggest dog issue? Dog hair. This is endless war. We fight it every day with a Dyson and large pet hair sticky roller.

Some everyday things are harder in an Airstream – for example emptying black water and using a laundry.

This is partially right. The black water isn’t an issue. I still don’t understand why people fuss about it. The real difficulty is temperature. When the temperature drops into the 20s for more than a day you are in the business of thawing dump valves and pipes each time you need to empty a tank.

For Julie the laundry is a major inconvenience. When the park has a laundry on site this is much less of a problem. Julie loads the laundry bag, takes her kindle, and is back an hour or so later. When the park does not have a laundry (many state parks have laundry facilities but close them in the off season) then you’re in the business of going to a laundramat. We have found a few dry cleaners that also do laundry paid for by the pound.

Campgrounds are not glamourous.

This is partially true. We’ll stay at off-interstate KOAs when we have to if we’re dashing from A > B. They aren’t glamorous. But that experience isn’t glamorous. You’re looking for a place to plug in for the night. In contrast we have been astounded by many state parks. Petit Jean in Arkansas. Cheyenne State Park in Colorado. Pomona State Park in Kansas. Lake Fort Smith State Park in Arkansas.

It may be taxing for Julie if I am not there.

This is true. All alone at 3am in an empty state park.

You get an instinctive sense of a place, which may be completely unfounded. For example, there was something about an evening at Lake Chicot State Park in Arkansas that unsettled us. Even Alfred woke up growling in the night.

That park is located in the heart of “The Most Southern Place on Earth” – the Mississippi Delta. Bordering the park are Washington and Humphreys Counties, MS, jointly tied for 5th poorest in the country. There’s also Issaquena County, 4th poorest in the country. East Carroll Parish, LA., 12th poorest in the country. (The Poorest Counties in America).

Some tweets around that stay convey the mood.

You get it. Unsettled.

So if we’re in a place that isn’t 100% comfortable for Julie, then she and Alfred spend the evening in a local hotel if I need to go away overnight for work.

After 120 days, what’s missing from this list?

Weather

You can keep an Airstream as warm as you like, for a price. You can reliably get water into it with the appropriate kit. What you can’t do trivially is get rid of the waste water, unless you start skirting.

We have done zero-ish cold for weeks. So we’re not talking the art of the possible but we are talking the art of the reasonable.

If I were to draw an arbitrary line on a map I’d probably have it run somewhere through the middle of Kansas and Missouri. Say Springfield, Missouri for the sake of argument. If you can’t spend much of the winter below that line, your Airstream is going to be a lot of work and very expensive (propane).

2014-03-22 update: after a couple of “Polar Vortex” weeks I would now move this line further south to the middle of Arkansas.

Travel stress

Sticking to a tight schedule on the road is stressful. We started out trying to travel too much. When you are dashing from place to place, keeping meeting schedules, things like frozen pipes turn an already stressful day into an unforgiving drama quickly.

So we travel less now. We give ourselves more time. If I need to get from Denver to Kansas City in one day, I’ll fly, as much as I dislike it. For 2014 we’re aiming to stay in each spot for 3 – 4 weeks before moving.

Maintenance

Imagine the most unreliable vehicle you have ever owned. Now combine that with a 20 year old Landrover Discovery. You are visualizing the maintenance implications of an Airstream.

Every day something doesn’t break is a blessing. After about 90ish days our confidence was built up and we became at peace with it. Before that it was a major source of stress.

So that’s it. “Why and Why Not?” revisited and evaluated. We have discovered that it’s true, “love will find a way.”

– Anthony, Cheyenne Mountain State Park, Colorado

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