Storrie Lake State Park, New Mexico

The worst part about long driving days is that there is so little to recall at the end of the day.  There’s just a sense of ennui from looking at too much concrete, combined with agitation from unspent energy.  This is the price we are paying for delaying our trip and having to rush through New Mexico.


Finding interesting rest stops and overnight stops provides some relief.  The best stop we made all day was a four-mile detour to Pecos National Historic Site in northern New Mexico.  The site interprets and preserves ruins of a Native American pueblo, along with  the ruins of Spanish Conquistadors who occupied the territory while they were searching for fabled gold.  The site has a long and interesting history, and the Visitors Center does a very good job of showing it, with a nice display of artifacts (mostly pottery) and dioramas.  I don’t think it had a Junior Ranger Program but in any case we arrived too late in the day for Emma to complete one.

pecos-nhp-kiva.jpgPecos was a nice break, but it did chafe to pass so many other possible stops. New Mexico is loaded with Ancient Puebloan history, early American settler history, Route 66 history, and attractive natural areas that were begging us to just pull over for a few hours.  But we got a late state this morning and ended up a solid 100 miles short of our expectations for the day.  If we procrastinate any further we will disappoint a lot of people, so we really have to keep on truckin’, at least for another day.

Our stop tonight is at Storrie Lake, a little state park just a few miles from I-25 near Las Vegas, NM.  It’s like a miniature version of Elephant Butte Lake, not as majestic, not as large, but pleasant in a small-town kind of way.  The sites are the same: primitive, developed, electric, and at the same prices.  Since we had full sun most of the day, our batteries completely recharged during the drive and so we chose a non-electric site by the shallow little lake.

I had forgotten how disciplined about work I have to be when traveling.  At the end of a day of driving, I have to immediately jump to the computer and catch up on email. But today I got caught out:  while the phone works fine here at Storrie Lake, the Verizon Wireless Internet card does not.  It connects, but no data transpires — so I can’t get online.

This happens sometimes on the road, and I have a variety of strategies to combat it.  In this case, the solution is to leave early on Friday, and stop along the way (perhaps at lunchtime) to catch up then.  But I was still worried this evening about certain problems that were up in the air, and that was bugging me.

The answer came courtesy of the iPod Touch.  As we tow, the iPod is constantly in touch with the Internet because our Verizon card is installed in a Cradlepoint wireless cellular router (in the Airstream), and I leave it on all day.  This gives us a wifi hotspot in the car in case we want to look something up from the Internet.  Translated from geek-speak, that means that the iPod Touch was picking up my email as we drove.  So although I can’t reply to anything tonight, I can at least read the 21 emails that arrived since this morning.  Fortunately, in the batch there was nothing urgent.

Tomorrow looks like a rather dreary day.  We have to tow about 300 miles through what is expected to be rain with low temperatures.  Part of the drive will bring us up to nearly 8,000 ft elevation (at Raton Pass).  It was snowing in our destination, Colorado Springs, this morning, which does not bode well either.  I do not want to see snow, and I especially don’t want to drive through any of it.  It could be a very long and slow drive …

Elephant Butte Lake State Park, NM

At long last we are back on the road.  Getting back into the Airstream was easy, like riding a bike, but getting out of the house was not.  Even though we delayed our departure a couple of times, it was still a long day on Tuesday settling final projects and packing the Airstream.

Part of the trouble stemmed from the fact that the Airstream will be away from home base for six months, and it contains a growing child.  Eleanor desperately tried to plan for Emma’s expected growth this summer by test-fitting every single piece of clothing, culling the borderline outfits and finding suitable replacements. This was a process I’d just as soon never see again, much like touring a meatpacking plant or a Congressional committee hearing.

But it’s all done, and by 10:20 a.m. (only an hour behind schedule) we were heading away with everything we’d need for an indefinite time on the road.  We got back into the full-timing groove almost instantly.  At the first rest stop, Emma commented wistfully, “It’s good to be back.”  I had to agree, although I realized that she was twice the size and twice the age she was when we started out the first time.  She used to be able to sit cross-legged on the dinette and take pictures through the window, but now, she’s a pre-teen approaching five feet tall.  Still, the Airstream is home to her.

Having trimmed a full week from our original itinerary, we have to make some miles at first.  Rather than dawdling through New Mexico, we are making a simple overnight stop at Elephant Butte Lake State Park in central New Mexico (near Truth Or Consequences) and then proceeding north to Colorado.  Our trip plan calls for about six hours in the car on Thursday, then about three hours on Friday, and then we’ll pause in Colorado Springs for the weekend.

Zooming past the scenery is not all that bad today.  Generally we like to go more slowly and explore, but this time we are making notes for a future pass through the area.  There are a lot of interesting state parks, historic and natural areas, and “blue highways” that we would like to explore, and we will, next year.  The sky is brilliant blue, the mountains are red and tan, and the weather has been absolutely perfect.  Best of all, the Airstream and Mercedes are performing optimally, with no strange glitches resulting from months in storage.  So our opening day has been auspicious and I hope it will be the start of a long stretch of happy towing.

Elephant Butte Lake is a nice spot.  There are “developed” campsites (shade ramada, water, barbecue grill, $10) lined up on a bluff overlooking the long and convoluted lake, and we chose one of those.  Our Verizon Wireless cell phones seem to work fine here. Down below are sandy primitive sites ($8) where tenters are camped right next to their boats pulled up on shore, and a large marina.  Off to the west and mostly lacking a view, is an electrified campground ($14) where all of the other RV’ers seem to have chosen to be.   I don’t think you could go far wrong choosing any of these, but I would warn RV’ers to avoid the sandy primitive spots by the lake, because you could easily get stuck.

After a long day in the car it’s really important to get out and move around a while.  There was just time for a nice walk down to the beach and back (about a mile total), settling in, and dinner, before the sun set.  We needed that break to work out the little travel stresses that build up in a long day of driving.  I spent the evening on the bed, working on my first little travel video about towing with the Mercedes.  Eleanor shot it for me with her little Canon digicam.  The video quality isn’t superb but it does the job, and it was fun to make.  You can see the results of our first effort on YouTube.

Now the wind is blowing warm against the side of our trailer in the dark, with a brilliant star-filled sky, like it should be in the desert this time of year.  I had forgotten about this: a night with the trailer gently rocking in the breeze.  I won’t ruin it by putting the stabilizers down.  Emma was right, it really does feel like coming home.

I should know better

I should know better than to predict our departure date.  Last year I wrote the blog entry “(Almost) Ready To Roll” on June 1, and we ended up stuck for various reasons until June 17.  This year I wrote “Last week before launch” on April 27 and then we realized it wasn’t really the last week at all.

Not that we’ve had serious mechanical issues, like last year.  This time it’s more a matter of feeling not quite ready.  We’re going with our guts here.  Eleanor was feeling stressed by a lot of projects she wanted to get done, and I was feeling put off by the generally lousy weather conditions along our proposed route.   I can’t see the point in rushing away from decent weather here just to go up and freeze our snowbird tailfeathers in the upper elevations of New Mexico and Colorado.

As I’ve said many times, flexibility is the key.  We had an Executive Committee meeting (Mom & Dad) and decided that we would simply chuck a few destinations from the trip plan in order to be able to stay in Tucson for another week.  The major destination dropped was Chaco Culture National Historic Park in northern New Mexico.  Being at about 6,000 feet, it was still experiencing cold days and wind recently.  Although Chaco has been on our destination list for a long time, we’re going to postpone it again until summer 2011 when we are looking for a cooler getaway from the heat of the low desert.

This has turned out to be a great decision.  Not only do we have a much more leisurely packing process, but we are using the opportunity to clean up projects and tasks that otherwise would have dragged on into the fall. We’ll leave in a clearer-headed state, and that much more able to enjoy the travels that are ahead.

That’s a really important point.  When talking to prospective full-timers, or people who are planning a grand voyage of several months, I always mention that they need to get the little things cleaned up before they go.  Most people don’t follow this advice as well as they should, and the result is always that the first year or so of travel is overshadowed by lingering issues from their life before.  In particular, it’s important to get your financial house in order.  Too many times I’ve seen folks go out assuming that life on the road would be fantastically cheap (which it can be, but isn’t always), and then they inevitably hit a wall caused by old debts not cleared up, lack of capital, tax problems not resolved, or unexpected expenses.  More than one person I know has had to give up their travel dreams, sell the trailer, and go back to a day job, very much against their will.

Of course there are plenty of other things that can hang you up as you go.  Some can’t be prevented, and just have to be dealt with as they crop up, like medical problems and mechanical breakdowns.  But it’s a crucial exercise to think for a few months about how you live every day, and what you’ll need to adjust when living out of a 200-square foot space that has no fixed address.  We still do it before every trip because it’s easy to accumulate stuff and habits while living in a house, that don’t translate well to mobile life.  It’s a process of cleansing, simplifying, and organizing your life that ultimately yields benefits beyond the travel experience, so it’s well worth doing.

You may not think retirees have a lot to teach you, but in this case they do.  Retirees often simplify their lives in a healthy way.  With kids and jobs behind them, they reduce expenses, clear out the garage, downsize the house (or get rid of it entirely), don’t replace the elderly pets, stop taking on big projects, and try to focus on what’s now important in their lives.  A lot of working people try to have it all when they travel, and that’s a huge mistake. The freedom and broadening of travel are the rewards — everything else is ancillary.

Oh, how nice it would be if I didn’t have to work as we go!  But of course in every life there are compromises.  This year, thanks to the new magazine project (launching in November 2010), I expect to have more work-related compromises than ever.  In fact, I have given in to reality and built a six week hiatus into our travels, during which I will return to Tucson alone (by air) and just get stuff done. Rather than be depressed about this, we have a plan to make the most of it, which will be revealed later.  It should be a very interesting summer.

And that’s perhaps the most important point about travel life: everything is an opportunity, if you’ll just choose to see it that way. Even a breakdown means a chance to meet someone new, try to learn a repair skill, or suffer discomfort that becomes a grand tale of adventure later. We are leaving later than planned, digging a 6-week hole in the middle of the schedule, and working too much … and yet this looks to be the most interesting summer we’ve had in a long time.  I’m looking forward to it.

Revised countdown:  T minus six days and counting…