Our Maiden Voyage

Thanks everyone for being patient with us as we leave DC and make our way to my hometown of Leavenworth, Kansas to visit my folks where they have been remodeling Flo. We have had a lot of requests from friends and family to know what’s happening. We have been posting weekly so feel free to read past posts or follow us by clicking the link at the bottom of the page to receive updates via email when we post. We also post snippets throughout the week on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Last week in Kansas was intense: paperwork, fixes, squeezing in time with family and leaving unfinished projects. After the amazing woodwork Clint and Larry did on the cabin, we were itching to hit the road. Since we have a timeline and a lot of miles to travel, we were ready to leave last Friday but didn’t get a chance until Monday. That set us back so with no time to test her out, we just went for it. We knew that anything could happen and we thought we were prepared.

The first hit of culture shock came the first night at a campground in Little Sioux, Iowa just 225 miles north of Kansas City. Here is my first evening report of our maiden voyage:

Day 1: 17 April

Shortly after crossing the Kansas/Missouri bridge and as soon as we hit 50mph, a little wind got under the window, popped the artist tape off and the duct tape popped shortly after (2-3 minutes later). I was watching the whole time so we pulled over immediately.

I added two pieces of gaffer’s tape to each window. A long piece in the front and a long piece along the bottom.

At the 50 mile mark we pulled over and did a walk around. The gaffer’s tape didn’t budge. The wheels were cool and not much had shifted inside the cab, just a little settling of contents.

~160 miles later…

Sunset at Little Sioux, Iowa is 8:07pm. When we pulled into Woodland Campground, we weren’t sure if we would get a spot. The website said it opened April 15th but the office was closed. A couple pulled up in a pickup and asked–nearly in stereo while bogarting cigarettes–“can we help you?” I explained that we were chasing the sun and were hoping there was a spot available with electric.

The woman passed her cigarette to her husband and gave clear instructions on how to put it out without “killing” it. I said something about needing to save it. She agreed and said she was trying to quit but her son recently shot himself so things were a bit crazy lately.

She showed me to the office and told me our spot would be block 9, lot 2. I looked up at the map and the RV rings resembled a microscopic view of a Petri dish full of bacteria. Funny shapes, and lots of them, scattered around with lots of little sections. Each representing a lot to drive through. Drive through…good because we haven’t mastered the back-in yet.

After forking over what I hoped would be worth a hot shower in the morning and an electric hook up she shooed me out the door. I asked for a receipt and she referred back to her son’s tragedy, complete with details about how he shot himself, fractured his femur in 5 places, had to create a tourquinette and plug a major artery with his finger as he drove himself to the hospital where he worked. While stunned by the amount of detail she shared while staying compassionate for her son’s tragedy, I thought I was never going to earn that receipt and get camp set up by sundown.

Hierarchy of Needs

Once we were in and started pulling out gear, it hit me. I was stirring mayo (from packets I took from a gas station) into my tuna when I realized I simply was not prepared. Part of feeling not prepared is a sense of safety. The campground was cold, with a lot of annual residents but very few cars which indicates they haven’t returned for their summer getaway. While there we only saw three other families in the distance. Since we packed in a hurry, I didn’t know where everything was therefore not everything has found its place.

I have always felt safe with Ray around. The only change was our environment. I went from the warmth of my childhood home to a cold, small metal cocoon. So many “I should haves” ran through my head including all of the luxuries my mom offered me before we left. I said no to so many things that would give me comfort in exchange for keeping things simple.

Drawing of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Human motivation is to move through this model from bottom to top.

Due to many unknowns of pulling a trailer, new geography neither Ray and I have visited, and the stress of lifestyle changes, I was not able to stay in the flow state. However I have been able to simply go with the flow. There is a routine when you go camping: setting up, finding the gear you need when you need it, eating, cleaning, tearing down, etc. But what you may not be able to anticipate is where you may sleep the next night and what the weather will bring. Most campgrounds this time of year are closed or don’t have electricity. With such low temps and since we aren’t “self-contained” we need heat to keep us warm at night. Not to mention all of the luxuries electricity may bring (hot pot, charging mobile devices, etc.). So I spend a good majority of my day tracking the weather and calling campgrounds to keep everything running smoothly. It’s a temporary flow for now until I can get into a more comfortable routine.

In the meantime, we were able to smile for the camera during stops along the way.

Flo posing in the Badlands of South Dakota. Selfies at the Corn Palace and Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, and at the base of Bitterroot Mountain in Victor, Montana.

Life on the road with a teardrop trailer is like having another person in an already committed relationship.

So here we were, on the road with this new to us—yet antique—piece of metal. Ray is very familiar with camping as he grew up on the mountains and lived there during his childhood summers. Me? I’m used to 4-5 star accommodations and all of the amenities it provides. The idea of having a bed everywhere we go and a solid cover over our heads was what we both had in common.

Getting the rhythm down and taking on a new lifestyle was a challenge. But when we found ourselves at the foot of Bitterroot Mountain in Victor, Montana our challenges melted away.

George Wilkerson is a tall and generous man who served in the Army, 35 years with the LAPD all while running a teardrop company, and has built over 600 trailers and touched at least that many rebuilds and repairs. He kindly took us in and watched over and guided us as we found and fixed things on Flo.

Ray and I feel most at home when surrounded by mountains. Victor, Montana is a wide valley sheltered from the weather. George claimed that storms from the Bitterroot Mountains often skip over the valley to the Sapphire Mountains to the east.

The setting was gorgeous. The snow-capped mountains served as our backdrop as we ran around in t-shirts all day airing out linens, adding seals, patching and learning about other teardrop makers, how to build from scratch (both kits and replications) and where to source parts if George doesn’t have them. And he ALWAYS has them.

George added a little sparkle to Flo’s shoes with these rims. He specializes in aluminum trim, sells kits for those DIYers, and has all the tools. His website is what attracted us to Victor and can be seen here.

Right: These 3-tiered stainless steel rims are a nice touch and compliment to the half moons mom added to dad’s red wheels. Left: George shares his signed copy of his good friend’s book.

George’s knowledge was matched only by our couriosity and desire to learn. Along with all of the resources, he shared stories of Bill Kennedy, co-owner of KenSkill trailers, and Dan Pocapalia, author of “I Love a Challenge!” and veteran teardrop builder. George loves to talk teardrops. He shared emails from people who sends him pictures of their builds and offers commentary about how they are built, estimates of how long it would take us if we took on a project like this, and tips on how to recreate an original trailer should we ever want to. We are hooked.

An entire wall in his office reflects his life from Boy Scout badges, certification in diving (he was an underwater diver for the LAPD), and even a Purple Heart. He didn’t talk much about the awards, just that they remind him of where he has been. He has lived a full life, has two beautiful daughters who he talks about fondly, and shares his passion for the classics freely from Coca-Cola coolers to black and white movies featuring Humphrey Bogart.

We are headed back on the road now a little smarter, a lot more confident and extremely grateful for the kindness of  George and others. With the 10-day forecast showing rain, we are reminded that it is spring and have the best seat in the house to witness the change of season: the front seat of a Jeep while on the road.

Dwarfed by the big rigs, Flo belongs on the road.

If you have any favorite stops along the Westcoast that you recommend, please let us know. We are planning that leg of the trip now.

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