I’ve just set up a Flickr account to help you find the photos of trips, Land Rovers, and the critters.
Does anyone know how I add a copyright to the images though? I couldn’t work it out. Thanks, s
I’ve just set up a Flickr account to help you find the photos of trips, Land Rovers, and the critters.
Does anyone know how I add a copyright to the images though? I couldn’t work it out. Thanks, s
What with all the time spent taking photos this summer,it’s time to get serious again about photography. As a twenty-something, a project of mine got me into an 18 month course at Pimlico Media Centre in London, the stories and images of the squatters in East London caught their attention and with a full scholarship, I studied SLR manual cameras, documentary photography, portraits and working in the darkroom.
Now then, after quite a while without consciously thinking about the skills and cameras I’ve had, it’s time to focus on the imagery of our trips. Three months in the van with Harold, Rosie, and Stevie kept the camera in hand. Now what to do with the results?
First, edit! Edit out the fuzzies and wobblies.
Second, edit! Find the best striking compositions. Those that catch my eyes even after all the times I’ve seen them. The challenge is to not be caught by the memories of each one but to pick pictures that capture the essence of specific places or experiences, ones that translate to viewers.
And third? Publish. After meeting Carlan Tapp this weekend, a local prolific and professional photographer, at his gallery in Madrid, NM, I’m inspired. Sharing stories with him, talking of our road trips, and our cameras and ideas, I’m inspired. I’ve focused on writing and wandering, taking photos it’s true, but it’s time to share those as much as I do the photos.
With that in mind, a photo essay book is in the work. And in the meantime, a few calendars are now available on Lulu.com. I’d like to also find a way to sell via Amazon as they’ve been so good to me as a writer. For now, I’m happy with the quality and flexibility of Lulu.com and the calendars on there.
Little Stevie’s Big Adventures, a road-tripping cat in the Northwest.
Land Rovers of New Mexico, or rather the adventures of a 1959 Series II and a 1972 Series III.
New Mexico Skies: a collection of the night skies around Madrid, NM.
Click on the link for a chance to win a free copy of VAN LIFE. Only via the app though so pull out your android and click away.
Elephant Butte State Park, NM is only three and half hours from home, in theory. It took us most of the day. I took the long route once again. Poor critters in the back of the van, they simply dozed until the engine stopped and doors were opened.
“Where are we now?” Stevie jumped out and froze on the beach of the reservoir. He huddled under the van and stared around as Harold and Rosie ran flat out across sandy beaches. November in New Mexico was still warm enough for this last minute camping trip. I’d needed a break. I spend my days on the computer, fixing up the house, and walking the dogs. I needed variety. The road called, and the question was where we’d end up.
Elephant Butte Reservoir had not inspired me in the past. Was that because I’d been in summer? No shade, crowded beaches and low water? Perhaps…
This time was a short two night getaway, time to test out the new desk inside, and to unwind on a beach, not that I’d swim but Rosie did. And Harold ran hard, so much so that he limped the rest of the day. Oops.
We did nothing but walk, make campfires, eat and drink. Stevie wasn’t relaxed though and he mostly slept inside the van even though I’d camped under a tree just for him to climb.
Tuesday and Wednesday are good days to camp here, we saw only a couple of others and they were so far away. I drove nowhere, just stayed for three days and then headed home. I’d recommend it for a peace and quiet destination. Yes, you could go to town, find hot springs, diners and cafes, but we didn’t. Not this time. Maybe in January when I get restless again? I’ll let you know what we find. Or have you been there? Any recommendations?
It’s true. A new book of my travel stories just came out. It’s a work in progress so forgive the mistakes, I’m working on it! This travelogue follows our adventures in the Northwest, the details about the small places we found along the way, the people we met, and the critter’s advice when I was having a hard time. Lighthearted and engaging.
Washington State, a place of such mixed experiences that I lost the desire to write, worried that I’d offend someone by the over all relief to arrive in Oregon. I look though at my notes and it wasn’t all claustrophobic. Only the Olympic Peninsula, the rain forest, the coastline, those choice places I’d heard so much about left me cold, left me with a bitter taste of claustrophobia.
Spokane surprisingly enough was energizing for me. A busy city environment, traffic filling the roads, construction creating detours, and people everywhere. I liked it. I liked the business and chaos. I day dreamed of moving there and even mentioned that to the cashier at Trader Joes. Meredith laughed and asked where I was from. Santa Fe, I told her. “That’s where I got married!”
Trader Joes, the first I’d visited since leaving work on May 15th at TJs in Santa Fe, was a familiar comfortable place to restock. Dog food that the pets like and treats for Stevie cat and me. Known staples for my kitchen. Yep, I was glad to be there, talking to Nate the Mate who sent his hello to my own manager in NM. It’s a small world at Trader Joes.
Coffeepot Lake, WA, caught my attention and we headed there for a few nights of BLM free camping next to water. It really was in the middle of nowhere, long open range farmland, few homes, and little traffic. I drove down the slippery gravel and dirt road and turned to corner to see a nice sized reservoir with eight huge cottonwood trees and camping spots between and under each tree. Perfect. The campground is about an hour and a half from Spokane, down Hwy 2, and then south on WA-28 near Harrington. Pulling up into the shaded site, it was time to release the Hounds, and cat. It was safe enough for all to run free. Finally I wore shorts and a tee shirt.
There was a path leading away from the boat ramp, and with Stevie tucked up in the van, the dogs and I explored the lake in the afternoon sunshine and solitude. A few boats of fishermen dawdled in the warmth. Our walking under his tree irritates a hawk but I keep my head down and follow the pups over a ridge and down the other side. An empty beach tempts me. I strip off and swim near the mallards.
Washington, yes, the east side I liked more than the western coast which was unexpected. Disappointing really. I’d been playing with the idea of moving to Washington, a place highly recommended by friends and co-workers who know me fairly well. They talked of the mountains, the ocean, the forests, and the places to visit. They didn’t warn me of the political signs, the overwhelming presence of the racist misogynistic presidential candidate. They didn’t warn me of the huge number of churches of all denomination that outnumbered any other type of community meeting places like libraries, cafes, or pubs. Nope. The culture I found on those back roads as I crossed the state was not one I could relax within. I kept my mouth shut, head down, and hid at the North West Overland Rally near Leavenworth.
It’s been hard to stop still on this trip so far. I’ve racked up so many miles, taking local county roads through small villages and avoiding the cities and interstates, always looking for rivers and lakes but even when I found them, I didn’t relax for more than a couple of nights at a time. Curious. Restless. Call it what you will, but I keep on going…
The NWOR will need a blog of its own; I’ll get back to that. With this travel report from Washington I’d hoped to beat down my reluctance to write about the state and to get through my writer’s block. It’s working.
Open rangeland, farmland, high desert, huge lakes, and ocean beaches, these are the places that relax me. My eyes widen and yet also half close as the sense of distance, emptiness, and space reminds me of how lucky I am to exist, and how life carries on whether I do or don’t. My insignificance is reassuring.
I didn’t write much as I crossed from Leavenworth towards Bellingham and Arlington. M notes are incomplete, rough, images and reminders but little worth for anyone else.
Methow River valley.
BLM dirt tracks over mountains with little shade but empty of others. Perfect after the business of a week at the rally.
Twisp, an amazingly good selection of food at the local supermarket. Great cheddar, organic veggies, and the freshest of peaches and nectarines.
Winthrop – a cute tourist town on the river that was busy for a Monday morning. I didn’t stop except to grab a coffee.
Gorge Lake campground in the Cascades National Park was free and therefore busy. I found one of the last sites that lunchtime and glad to be able to park in the shade, I set up for one night. Critters out, then cat back inside, as this was bear country, active bear country. I shared my campsite with three others who’d arrived late and tired. I moved the van forward and they put up tents and offered me a beer and conversation.
Washington was the state where I had van troubles, ongoing noises that worried the hell out of me but no one else neither heard them nor believed how bad it sounded. Typically I’d be alone taking a left hand corner, slowing down, a tight turn and then crunching, clacking, grinding sounds from the front wheel would stop me cold. The wheel’s falling off! Time to stop and smell the rivers.
Washington was a place of five mechanics, all with different ideas as to what was going on. Each time, something would be fixed, replaced, and then within half an hour or even half a block, I’d hear the wheel complaining loudly. Finally, after a day in Seaview WA at a higly recommended mechanic shop, they’d fixed one thing, sent me off, and yep, by the time I reached the beach five blocks away, that noise returned. I drove back, pulled up, grabbed the mechanic, and took him with us. Clunk. Scrape. Crunch.
“That’s the wheel bearing!” he’s as excited as a kid with a new toy. “I can do that easily. Let’s see what’s going on down there.” He fixed it in half an hour and for less than $150. The noise hasn’t returned.
Five mechanics. Five bills paid by credit card. Total spent. $786.
“How much did you spend on gas? How many miles did you drive? What did the campgrounds cost? Did you need mechanical work? How much did the van cost?”
We’re a practical bunch. We want facts and figures. None of this anecdotal crap. Just the facts. Well, some of my friends are scientists, statisticians, more focused on the details than the stories. Me, I’m more of an impressionist than realist, but this is for the rest of you. And no, I didn’t total and summarize any of it. That’s your job. I was too busy dipping fingers and toes in mountain lakes and paddling on ocean beaches.
I’d do it again.
It was a random conversation, a chance meeting and a joke that led me to buying this van four days before I was heading out to Arizona. A 2003 Dodge Conversion B1500 van is now part of my ever-growing stash of vehicles, one for each occasion! I know, I know, but I don’t have kids so why not, eh?
I drove the van home and opened up all the doors, side and back, then let my dogs and cat out of the house. All three ran over, jumped inside and sniffed around. I folded down the backbench seat into a short bed, threw over a thick blanket, grabbed a cold beer, and sat down. Rosie claimed the front driver’s seat. Harold lay on the bed with me, his tail thumping as he sighed, looking out the window. And Stevie, well, Stevie purred and explored under the bed, around the other four seats, and then the shelf above the bed. I could hear his happy loud wanderings and then the little cat found a spot on the bed next to Harold and I. I sipped my beer as the critters all fell asleep that first afternoon. Naptime.
A week later and I’m back after Phase One of my summer’s adventures. I’d left Stevie at home with the neighbors checking in on him and had taken the two dogs to Overland Expo West, a huge gathering of some ten thousand travelers, those who love extended vehicle dependent explorations of new places. I’d camped in Coconino NF near by and driven in each day, parking in the corner with windows open. The dogs happily walked with me as I checked out vendors, participating as a panelist on some roundtable discussions, and presenting a class on traveling with dogs in the backcountry. Yep, it was a good trip. We even got to see the Grand Canyon on the way home, of course I broke down within 50 miles of the park, but that’s what happened five years ago too so it came as no surprise.
We’re home now, and I’m modifying the van for all three pets. Living in a van with pets, yes, that’s the goal for summer. There’s really not much online so I thought I’d write about how I’m doing it incase it helps someone else with ideas. We’ll all do it our own way, but this is mine.
I started off by taking out one of the seats behind the front passenger but I did leave the one behind the driver’s seat. Some friends think I should remove it for more storage. I did consider that but here I am, sitting at a table in that very place. A comfortable leather seat, a folding lightweight table, and a window with a ledge for my cooling coffee, yep, this is perfect.
The week in Coconino Forest was a week without writing; it was disconcerting. I worried that I’d not find a comfortable creative place within the van in the coming months. Outside was so incredibly windy that I wasn’t inspired to sit at the table next to the fire pit and write. Two days ago though, I looked around my property and found a small shelf, about 18” x 24” as well as some chains. I rigged up a hanging table, one that could be set up and taken down easily. It was heavy though, awkward. I liked how it looked but that was all. I still didn’t sit down at the table with the laptop and write. I took photographs instead. Not a good sign.
Now though, I’m happy.
Yesterday morning I had a sweet surprise from REI. I’d recently got a credit card from them for emergencies on the travels. After using it just once, as thanks, they send out a $100 gift card for their stores. Oh sweet…I drove to Santa Fe to meet Alexis for a late lunch, stopping by REI on my way. I found a very lightweight-folding table for $40. I got it. I’m using it. This is perfect, the right height, the right depth, and easily stashed out of the way when we’re driving. Yep, it’s a winner already. And here I am writing again.
Another consideration for me has been Stevie, the cat. No, he’s not gone anywhere yet. I’m building up his comfort in the van. I leave the doors open as much as possible. I set his bowl of dry food on the wide dashboard. There is a bowl of water for dogs and cat on the floor near the side door. I’ll want to get one that has a non-spill lip at some point, but for now, a regular water bowl is what we have. We hang out in here. I drink my coffee in here even my home is only a few hundred feet away. I read, nap, and even sleep in here with all three critters of mine.
I have a small carrier for Stevie, a soft one with a strap. I mostly got it for emergencies; if I had to walk away from the van, say at a mechanics or something. I wanted to know that I could bring him with me as needed. For now though, it’s where I’ve stashed his litter box, in the carrier with the front and top doors open, and hidden behind this jump seat. It’s out of the way but accessible for a cat but not Rosie’s tongue.
There is also a large soft canvas crate, meant for medium sized dogs, but a perfect home for Stevie as needed. Again, when it arrived by FedEx yesterday, I set it up, threw in one of our blankets and put it on the bed in the back of the van. Rosie and Harold sniffed it. Stevie stepped inside and claimed it as his, purring all the while. The plan is that whenever I stop for gas or shopping along the way before arriving at a campground, I’ll pop the boy inside, zip him up, and not worry about him skipping out when the doors are open. Hopefully.
We’ve been sleeping in the van together, all four of us. Rosie still prefers the driver’s seat. Harold likes to be on the bed near me, and Stevie purrs up and down, changing spots every few hours, but even on the first night he didn’t try to escape, just settled down, and purred the whole nightlong. He’s a happy boy. He’s coming with us. I even took us for a short ride. I didn’t zip him in his tent, I just started the engine. Stevie sat up. I drove off. Stevie climbed onto the shelf. That was that. I see us all camping and hiking together. I’m scared of losing him, my little cat, but I have that fear every day at home too since he comes and goes like the wild child that he is.
The windows, doors, and building screens for the van are next. I’ll let you know how I do that project. I have some ideas and will pick up materials today.
“Aren’t you scared?”
Even just yesterday a friend asked me if I ever got scared camping on my own, travelling on my own. No. I don’t. There’s more to it than that, but simply put, no, camping on my own is where I am happiest and most relaxed. In towns, in cities, surrounded by people, traffic, noise, music, talking for the sake of filling in the silence, no, that is not where I relax.
This weekend, I had the honor of being a panelist on discussion about the art of solo travels. I thought I’d write about some of the observations and stories that came up.
Overland Expo West 2016 had almost 10,000 people all interested in vehicle dependent travels, whether local or worldwide; we all were there to get inspired.
To hear the stories from others who just have the wanderlust in their blood like I do was reassuring for me. I’ve been settled for eight years now, making a home base, setting myself up, writing, publishing, and taking short trips around the Southwest. I’m restless. I have been for the last year or so, working towards getting on the road again. This weekend at Overland Expo, I talked about crossing the States at 22 years old, hitching with a small backpack and no credit cards or money, just following my distracted ideas of what to do next, riding my 1976 Yamaha XS750 across to the Midwest repeatedly even though it would break down every other day, street performing in Guatemala, driving the high elevation passes in Colorado in a 1973 VW Beetle, not knowing what to expect, these stories are part of me. I lost my two front teeth in Tarancon, Spain. I woke up on a train in Switzerland, not quite sure which country I was in. Hitched to the Munich beer festival. And yes, I travel alone. And I like it!
I admit, I once traveled with someone. It was 1989. Steve joined me in Chicago, a friend from my small hometown. I was walking down the streets in the city, knowing we’d find each other somehow but since neither of us had phones or hotel rooms, it would be a challenge. I walked with my backpack clunking away against my hips when I saw Steve sitting on a bench smoking. I sat down next to him and took his smoke.
We crossed to Maine, New York, Washington; we took trains, hitched, and then stayed at random homes of the families we met along the way. It wore me out. Steve let me make all the decisions. It wore me out. The responsibility. The constant discussions as to what we would eat that night, where we would sleep.
There have been other moments, a week here and there, spent on a road trip with a friend, but nothing as extended at that initial travel with Steve, bless him. Since then, I tend to go off on my own, I’m happier that way.
Planning: on my own, I’m free to follow my nose, or rather the signs that capture my attention. It’s usually the ones that say ‘lake’ or ‘4wd only”, and off I go. I generally have a loose plan, places I’d like to visit if I’m in the area. I set a few goals, for small weeklong trips and for the extended travels. These days with the Internet, I plan a lot more, looking at photos, reading forums, and asking for suggestions. Whether I follow the ideas, that’s another story.
Packing: light as less is best. Since I’ve done a bit of everything, backpacking, hitching, motorcycles, busses, trains, VWs, trucks and now a van. The packing has become more complicated as I’m taking two dogs and a cat with me for a few months up north. We’ll see how this goes! Packing though does seem to stay fairly consistent, the basics of a change of clothes, bedding, kitchen, water, tools, and now critters’ food and bedding too. A short list, and with the idea in mind that I might have to abandon ship (van) in an emergency so the necessary items all fit in a small backpack too. I can leave the rest. I have before, in a dead VW bus in the middle of nowhere Missouri. I never did see that red camper again.
Eating: I love that I can eat what I like and when I like. Frito pie for breakfast? Bacon sandwhich before bed? Chocolate? Cheese and crackers? Veggies and eggs? Whatever I like when I like. It’s wonderful.
Engagement: As a solo traveller, I interact much more with locals. I’m seen as trusting them and it’s always come back to me that these strangers treat me with trust. It sets the tone; we open up and chat over a coffee, a campfire, or a beer at a local brewery. I’m interested in what people do, what’s important to them, the work, home and community. This is why I travel. I’m curious. The stories feed me. I also found that when I first crossed the States alone that many families I met wanted my stories of other states, places, towns, ones they had never visited themselves. My anecdotes of their own country paved the way for their hospitality. It was a trade in a sense.
Safety: Hmm… I’m not very safe. I go places I shouldn’t. No one really knows where I am. I follow roads, conversations, and dreams. I have no back-up plans. I take risks. I fly by the seat of my pants and all without a safety net. I like it. Traveling like this wakes me up. Opens me up. To answer the question I started with, have I ever been scared? A couple of times. That’s all. First was when I had to get myself back from the South of France as an eighteen year old who’d been fired from her nanny job. I had a passport and a plastic bag of clothes. No money. No credit cards. And this was before cell phones, not that I would have called my parents, I preferred to get back and then tell them. I didn’t like to worry them! Poor buggers. I stowed away on a train, stole food, had a guard try to rape me, smashed him in his privates and locked myself in a bathroom on the train. That was the first big solo trip and the sense of achievement at the end was incomparable. “I can improvise. I can get out of trouble. I should keep traveling!”
Know yourself: Where are you happiest? How do you spend your days? Are you mostly surrounded by friends and co-workers? Or do you work alone? Live alone? What are you social needs in other words? Think about what stresses you out and what makes you relax. For me, time without words, yes, I know, ironic since I’m a writer, but still, empty heads talking at each other wears me out. I like silence. I like mountains. And I like the company of animals more than people. But that’s me…and then after a couple of days alone, I love to sit and chat to friends and strangers alike. I have the energy and desire to hear their stories. To tell mine. To connect. Knowing yourself is one of the amazing benefits of solo travels, you have to take care of yourself and you will. You’ll learn new rhythms and routines that are yours. To share your experiences, that is some friends ask about, how do you find meaning when you have no one to share with? But I do. I write. I photograph. And simply sitting next to a lake in the mountains alone with my dogs, I see how the world is magical, stunningly beautiful whether I am there or not. I am a very small speck in a huge world and that is reassuring to me. I relax.
There is an art to solo traveling. There is a science to it as well but I’ll write about that another time. However, let me say that the more I travel alone, the more I appreciate nature and the random conversations with people I meet. I am not afraid. I am open to life and adventures…
How does anyone afford to take off and travel for extended periods? I’m asked that a lot by friends too, those who know that I work part time in a grocery store in New Mexico. How do you do it?
When I was sixteen, I knew that a motorcycle equalled freedom, the freedom to explore England, the way I could leave my small hometown. Working for a local Rugby and Hockey club, cleaning for an elderly lady in the village up the road, and babysitting Emma, Abigail and Amy in town, I saved enough for a small Honda bike. My dad and brother taught me to ride safely, to be aware of all around me as I rode down the country roads. Within months I moved to London with my bike.
Work. Save. Travel.
My mantra, my m.o., has always been to work hard, save, and then take my earnings and explore. At twenty two, I arrived in New York City with a few hundred dollars and a handful of addresses of friends met in my teens when living in Germany. It works for me. Even now, working part time in my forties, I work, save, and travel. I’m frugal, look at my clothes, my self cut hair, and the vehicles I drive. Well, okay, maybe not that. My weakness is for old vehicles, for multiple vehicles. It’s knowing, or at least hoping, that there will always been one vehicle to take me away if I need. Although one day a few summers ago, I started up the motorbike only to have it spew gas out of a broken gas line. I moved right along to the Toyota, and the battery was dead. Next up, I pulled out the keys for the 1972 Land Rover and drove to Madrid, only two miles away. I stopped for a coffee on my way to work. Casey came over and asked if I knew that the Rover was leaking anti-freeze. That was that. He fixed it up enough for me to limp home and call work.
Work. Save. Travel.
But how? Create a budget, a realistic budget and stick to it, sounds easy right? It’s not. It takes practice. The trick is to avoid compulsive purchases. For me, shopping in stores is not a pastime of mine, I hate stores even as I work in one. I make a list, a rough list of food needed for the week ahead, a monetary limit of say $50 per week, and with that in hand, I shop. I give myself a treat, something spontaneous, but only one item per week. This works for me.
Online shopping though has been more of an issue for me. Knowing I’m about to camp for three months with the dogs, I’ve been playing, easily tempted, and now on the shelf at home is an assortment of gadgets, travel solar pack, LED lamps, all oh-so-practical for camping. I’m cutting myself off. No more credit card numbers stored on Amazon or the such. I keep my wallet in the truck, away from me. To have to get up at night and walk out to the 4Runner to find the wallet and grab a card to buy the next ideal gadget, well, I sit in bed instead and keep scrolling.
Set up bills for auto-pay. You’ll avoid late fees if nothing else. For me, I used auto-pay to pay off the credit card bills for the new tires and to the dentist. I set it up to pay twice a month, thus cutting back on some of the interest that builds. I’m now debt-free.
Consider your monthly bills. What is a need and what is a want? Insurance, internet, phone, property tax, food and gas, those are my main expenses. Oh, and the critters, two dogs, a cat called Stephen, and the girls, two hens who don’t like to lay eggs. I’m lucky in that my home is paid off, no that’s misleading. I bought a shack on some land, and turned it into a home as when I could afford without using a credit card. It’s now a cozy warm welcoming cabin in the mountains that I return to after my travels. It’s home.
But what about those other bills? I used to have a website in my own name, one I paid for on a monthly basis, and now I use WordPress with more ease and freedom, financially and creatively. Television? Amazon Prime? Netflix? No, no, and no. Simply put, again, ask yourself is paying for that service or item a want or a need? Remind yourself about the bigger picture, what do you want to do with this precious life? Watch television or movies? Explore the world? Sit on a beach or in an office?
Keep it simple. Gas, food, miscellaneous. The auto-pay will take care of the rest. Hide the credit cards for emergencies. Work. Save. Travel.
The goal, for me, is to become self-sufficient. The goal, for me, is to create income on the road or at home, to work in a way that will allow me to come and go as I please. I’ll get back to you about that. The expenses are taken care of. The income is next.