The night before departure

The Airstream is loaded and we are aiming to depart at 8 a.m. tomorrow morning.

Of course, that won’t happen —it never does, because there’s always 55 last-minute things that need attention, and Emma is groggy if woken before noon, etc.  But at least the intention of leaving at eight means that Eleanor is feeling fairly optimistic about our packing process this year. If we actually get out at 9, it will still be a reasonable start by our lax standards, for a multi-month trip. It means we started early enough on the packing process and weren’t left with a lot of last-minute things to do.

You’ll note I said Eleanor was feeling optimistic.  I emphasize her because she’s really the Chief Packer in our family.  I pack my personal gear and all the stuff I need for business, plus I take care of the Airstream and car.  If I hurry, I can have all of this done in a couple of days, otherwise four or five days.  Eleanor has the harder job: packing her stuff, all the household gear, and (most challenging of all) Emma’s stuff.  This takes at least a week every year.

The major problem is that darned children keep growing and changing.  So the toys, books, crafts, clothes, shoes, sundries, and even foods that were perfectly suited to a kid in 2011 have little to do with what she’ll require in 2012.  And that’s in addition to figuring out a multi-functional, all-weather wardrobe that fits into a couple of plastic bins and four tiny drawers.  Inevitably this means shopping for all kinds of things: clothes that fit, replacement batteries, foods that pack well, new games (lately on the iPad, another sign of change).

I’ve struggled a little this time with packing as well, but not nearly as much.  These days I’m packing for magazine publishing, Alumapalooza, a brief visit in Vermont (possible lake activities), and (Dr C, avert your eyes!) a motorcycle tour through upstate New York.  That translates to roughly 50 pounds of books (Newbies, Tin Hut, Wally Byam), 30 pounds of technological gadgetry such as computers and cameras, a Dutch Oven, quite a bit of bulkiness in the form of apparel that will be for sale, plus one high-visibility armored motorcycle jacket and full-face helmet.  Eleanor is also doing two cooking demonstrations at Alumapalooza, which means she’s toting extra ingredients and tools too.  All of this has to go somewhere in the confined storage of our 216 square foot home.

This is what really makes it tricky.  When faced with this sort of problem, most people either get a bigger RV or a bigger truck, which explains the popularity of massive Class A motorhomes and sky-scraping fifth wheels.  We could make life much easier on ourselves if we traded the Mercedes GL320 for a 3/4 ton pickup truck with a fiberglass bed cap, but that’s not our style, so we instead we spend extra time meticulously deciding what can come with us, and where it will fit.  This forces us to be ruthless about leaving behind things we really don’t need.  Eventually all the important stuff gets in there, even things one might not expect.  Two years ago we made the trip with a four-foot fiberglass greyhound on the bed, destined for a friend in Chicago.

We tend to pack like submariners.  As we depart, the trailer is stuffed to the gills with food and supplies.  As we travel, the space gradually clears out.  I’ll sell the t-shirts and books, we’ll drop off gifts and deliveries to friends along the way, we’ll eat the food, and thereafter we’ll be more careful about what we acquire so that the interior remains liveable.  We try to buy very little that is not consumable, and tend to come home with a freezer full of interesting foods, but not much else in the way of souvenirs.  These are habits that come from years of full-time living, and I see no reason to break them.  We just have never been “weekenders,” and I doubt we ever will be.  So we try to take only what we need.

At times I am a bit jealous of the weekenders, because they only have to pack for a few days and they can bring all kinds of fun stuff.  We often camp with people who have brought their plastic pink flamingos, awning mats, Weber grills, paper lanterns, table decorations, bicycles, even outdoor kitchens.  They make wonderful presentations, even to the point of having holiday-specific decorations.  By comparison, we look rather stingy—we don’t even bring folding chairs!  That’s a part of compromise of traveling for long times.  When others are spreading out their stuff and preparing for a cookout, I am usually rummaging around in the toolkit so I can fix something.

In recognition of the fun displays that people like to put out, we are once again going to give someone at Alumapalooza the coveted Airstream Life “Wally” award for Best Open House Presentation.  I am hoping to see some really great setups while we are parked on the grass at Airstream.  A few people have already made it known that they plan to really go nuts this year.  The only limitations we impose are (a) no ground fires; and (b) no big light displays (since each trailer only gets 3 amps of power).  That leaves a lot of room for creativity.

We don’t have a traditional last meal before we leave, but it is always something dead simple.  I sometimes have to restrain Eleanor from trying to cook something elaborate, because it’s her nature to feed us well, but this year she has come up with a convenient choice of lobster ravioli from the freezer and sushi from the grocery store.  Usually our last night in the house is a little frantic, as the final tasks end up getting done in the dark of night, so it’s best to have an easy meal.

At this point I’m feeling that we are already well set.  Tonight Eleanor will move over the last of the food from the house refrigerator to the Airstream refrigerator, and pack up the last items that are strewn around the Airstream.  In the morning I’ll dump the water that we used to clean the interior, hitch up, and pull the trailer out of the carport and into the sun for final walk-around.

It will be a great feeling to be driving the big rig again.  There’s always a moment when I feel sad to be leaving the house in Tucson, but in just a matter of hours the Airstream will become our home again and we won’t look back.  We will experience that exhilarating combination of freedom and uncertainty, as we drive on Friday to a destination we haven’t planned.  We’ll know it when we get there.  See you on the road.