It is now June, and we are still in southern Arizona. Considering that we have wheels and places to go, it seems a tiny bit insane to still be here in the 100-degree heat. We just got our electric bill for May, and the combination of a 5-ton air conditioner and a poorly-insulated house meant that it was triple the amount of the previous month. I wanted to experience the heat, and I have, so now it’s time to go.
We are in fact very near departure. I have pulled out the checklist that I’ve been incubating all winter, and about half of the “to do” items necessary for liftoff are already checked off. The rest will be completed this week, and before you know it we’ll have eight wheels-a-rollin’ down I-10 heading east. And we have plans — good things awaiting us in New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, Wisconsin, Ontario, and the northeast states.
The Airstream is mechanically as ready as it will ever be: wheel bearings freshly packed, brakes and tires checked, hitch lubed, propane filled, batteries full, all systems “GO”. It just needs a little re-packing for the five or six month odyssey we have planned. The real challenge in preparing for a trip is not getting all the systems ready, it’s figuring out what we’ll need. As full-timers we packed for every contingency, but now I prefer to leave the spare kitchen sink behind and try to bring only what we’ll actually use.
The problem is that in five months we’ll use a lot of stuff. When you have a lot of interests, you have a lot of gear. So there’s a balancing act between various hobbies, avocations, and (in my case) professional equipment. We’ve got everything we need for snorkeling, hiking, backpacking, photography, bicycling, and homeschooling. We are equipped for sun and rain, sickness and health, warm and cold, east and west. That takes a lot of space.
So we dig through all the storage and re-evaluate everything we have in an effort to turn up things that can be offloaded. Digging through the trailer takes time but it yields many surprises (“I didn’t know we still had that!”) and occasionally some interesting memories. There are tools that remind me of hard-earned lessons, like my TorqueStik and spare wheel studs. There are a half dozen boxes of tea, which reminds me that (a) my wife is a packrat when it comes to tea and (b) we’ve made a lot of interesting tea-related stops in our previous travels. Half of those tea boxes will go into the “storage unit” (house) to make room for other things, like the 10,000 exotic spices and ingredients that Eleanor carries at all times. (This permits her to make dinners based on Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, Indian, Italian, and French cuisine on a whim. Which is one of the many reasons why I love her.)
This process is our trailer weight-loss program. Airstreams are like people; they tend to gain weight over time and it is much harder to lose it than to gain it. Between trips we do what we can to trim the excess, because it is a drag (literally) pulling four tons up a Colorado mountain pass. To ensure that we’ve got the trailer down to target towing weight of about 7300 lbs., and ensure that the geometry of our towing setup is optimal, I have weighed the tow vehicle empty at the local truck stop. Once the trailer re-packing is done, I’ll weigh the entire rig and compare the weight on each axle to ensure that is well distributed. If not, I’ll redistribute some items and adjust the tension on the weight distributing hitch. This is an essential technique to “tune” the rig for good handling. Being diligent about it has paid off for us many times on curvy roads and slippery conditions.
Setting up the Airstream is an interesting exercise, but I’ve been more engaged in business exercises lately. We have launched a new “Online Edition” of Airstream Life magazine, and it looks like a winner. It’s basically a mini-version of the printed magazine, about 15-20 pages per issue, which anyone can read for free online. Developing this was harder than it looks, and I’ve been at it for a few months. But it was worth the effort because now we’ve got a product for people who are considering joining the Airstream community. About half of the people who have subscribed to the Online Edition (free) don’t yet own an Airstream. I figure we’ll get a lot of them to subscribe to the print publication eventually, but more importantly the Online Edition gives us a way to talk to people before they buy, and that’s really great for advertisers.
The downside of this is that now I’ve got yet another online responsibility to manage. Website, this blog, online magazine, photo/video community, and contact form … it adds up to a lot of time tied to the computer. And that explains why you won’t be seeing me on Facebook or Twitter. I’m already overexposed, and my irises are starting to bleach from too much time staring at the screen. The various Airstream Life websites serve hundreds of thousands of pages each month. My email address is printed 10,000 times a quarter in the magazine. I don’t think anyone really needs to hear more from me. I’ve always tried to go for quality over quantity, and I think the social networking websites like those I mentioned tend to go the other way.
Since I’m wandering far afield of my original topic, I may as well cover a few other details. My trusty Nikon D70 got glitchy on me in the past few months, and it is now in the hands of Nikon for service. It won’t be back until after we hit the road, so I’m having it shipped to us in Texas. In the meantime, I am expecting UPS to show up this afternoon with the replacement Nikon D90, a terrific upgrade that I’ve been anticipating for quite a while. It will wear the Nikkor 18-200mm zoom most of the time. When it returns, the D70 will be my backup camera, mounted with either the superwide Tamron 10-24mm lens or my sweet new Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 lens for low-light indoor work.
Now I’ve just got to figure a comfortable way to carry both cameras at once. A new camera bag will be required soon, I can tell you that. My photo gear has increased to two bodies, three lenses, a flash, an assortment of filters, cables, chargers, and numerous spare batteries. Maybe this is why the Airstream is gaining weight…
The blog will continue as we travel this summer. Anyone who is coming to the International Rally in Madison WI (late June) can meet up with us during the Vintage Open House, and of course we’ll be at the Vintage Trailer Jam in August. We’ll also be at the 118th Birthday Celebration of Dr Pepper in Dublin TX in a couple of weeks. So ride along and let’s see what adventures ensue.