Designing a life

We've been a little quiet, and some of you have been asking what we have been up to since taking our big trip. Perhaps it was all that mountain air, but in September we learned we were expecting and we welcomed baby M in June! Needless to say, we had all kinds of plans that we put on hold and being pregnant with a toddler is completely exhausting. It was easy to let a few things slip.

  Photo credit Nancy Alcott | Baby and Child Photographer

Photo credit Nancy Alcott | Baby and Child Photographer

Our trip helped us redefine our priorities as a family, and we made some big changes to our lifestyle on our return.

First, we downsized considerably. We left a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom condo in San Francisco, and we're now in a (much smaller) 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom outside of the city. Don't get me wrong, there are definitely times I miss the extra space. We don't have an extra room for family, it's hard to make sure the baby can nap without getting woken up by our spirited 2 year old. Living in 150 square foot trailer for 6 months really makes you see what you need versus what is "extra." By moving to a more family-friendly area and into a smaller space, we were able to cut our housing expense by almost two thirds.

I would be lying through my teeth if I said that adding another human to our family didn't give us the urge to buy a house or move into a bigger place. But moving somewhere “bigger” would mean we would have to spend nearly twice as much money, and then we would have to sacrifice the financial comfort we have created. Spending less helps us feel “unshackled” and free to make choices that are truest to ourselves. Perhaps it’s seeing our parents’ generation get saddled with huge mortgages in the housing crisis, but for us owning a home isn’t on the top of our priority list -- at least right now.

Second, we focused on building our "village." I used to be allergic to the idea of moving outside of the city. Now, I love it. Having kids in a big city can feel extremely isolating. We are lucky enough to have friends as our upstairs neighbors, and they have a little boy our daughter’s age (who she proudly proclaims is her best friend). We can go out to dinner with the kids without feeling like we are intruding on everyone else’s adult time: even the beer garden here has a toy box for kids. Without our immediate family close by, our village is the key to our survival as a family. When I went into labor with M, our lovely neighbor came down for a “sleepover” with A, which helped me feel totally relaxed and at ease.

Finally, we “designed” our careers. Part of the impetus for our trip was wanting to spend more time with our daughter A. Coming back to the real world, we knew this wasn’t something we wanted to sacrifice. We started looking for ways to generate income that would allow us to have at least one parent with a flexible schedule. A goes to preschool during the day and is thriving (and it’s significantly less expensive now that we’re outside of the city). Our new flexibility means at least one of us is around to grab her if she gets sick, and we have more time to hang out with her without having to rush off to an office.

Now we are "working" in traditional jobs less than we were before the trip, but actually accumulating more wealth (i.e. saving more) just from cutting down our expenses. I know, it's not rocket science, right? All of the newly founded flexibility has lowered our collective stress level considerably, and we are happier across the board.

Right now, I have all of the feels about where we were "this time last year." I keep looking back at pictures of A on the trip and feeling so grateful to have had that time with her. Now that we are getting (somewhat) adjusted to being a family of four, we've started planning our weekend warrior circuit. I’ll share some of my trip ideas here, so if you have a place we can’t miss -- drop us a comment!

This time last year: Catching good vibes in Asheville & the Blue Ridge Mountains

6 Reasons I Took A Career Break

As many of you know, last April my wife and I left our jobs working at tech startups, moved out of our condo in San Francisco, and took some time off to travel around the country in an Airstream with our baby daughter.

Taking a career break to travel is something I recommend everyone do at least once. I didn’t even know there was a term for it — apparently it’s more popular in the UK and they call it a gap year. Needless to say, it was an unforgettable experience. 

There are lots of great reasons to take a career break — today I’m going to outline why I did it.

To live more deliberately

The more my wife and I talked about the life we were living, the more we realized that we were just going through the motions. Our actual lives, the way we were spending our time, had just diverged too far from what we actually wanted.

I wanted to spend more time with my daughter, but my job didn’t allow that. I wanted to take a vacation, but I was spending so much in rent that I felt guilty about paying to stay somewhere else.

To regain perspective

As you may remember, the unicorns were flying high in April 2015. Companies were raising crazy amounts of money at sky high valuations. I was not immune to the koolaid, but I also felt like the growth-at-any-cost mindset had gone a bit insane and it had to slow down soon.

I definitely knew the rest of the country was not like San Francisco, and I was starting to feel like I’d been in a crazy bubble for so long that I was starting to believe it was reality. I thought seeing some of the rest of the country might help me to get re-grounded.

To bond our daughter with her grandparents

Neither my wife’s family nor mine live near us, and it just didn’t feel natural to us that our parents would come, visit for a weekend, and then leave. Our baby was changing by the week, and no trip that short could create the type of bonding and joy that we wanted our parents to feel for their first granddaughter.

We made sure to schedule at least 3 weeks to just stay put in each of our hometowns to get that bonding time.

To reset my career

I honestly did not love what I was doing at work. I just felt like there had to be something better, something where I could learn more, where I could work on things I actually cared about, where I was better positioned for future growth.

I am now working on reshaping my career to be more flexible, more dynamic, and more diversified in terms of income streams. Shameless plug — if you’re looking for adventure and you live in the Bay Area, you can rent our Airstream!

To take some bigger risks

There is never a time when taking a big risk makes me feel comfortable, but I suppose that’s why it’s a risk. Of course I was scared by the idea of leaving my job, my city and making a huge investment in a 45 year old piece of metal.

But ultimately, I realized that maybe I’d been playing life a bit too safely, and it was time to shake things up and see what I would learn from it. I’m also keen on maximizing ROI, and research shows spending money on experiences gives you the most bang for your buck.

No way I’d regret it

All these were big factors, but what closed the deal for me was the realization that I was never going to regret making a decision to live more deliberately, reconnect with the world, and help my daughter get to know her grandparents.

Once I had kids in school, it would only get harder. If I didn’t do it now, there was a decent chance I never would, and that I very well could regret. Ultimately, once the thought got into my mind, it just had to happen. Being practical just didn’t seem important to me anymore.

Have you ever thought about taking a career break? Or taken one? Does this resonate with you? Let me know if I can help you make the big leap!

(Originally posted on Medium, 3/3/2016)

4 Lessons I Learned from Living on the Road

Not everyone can take an extended leave from work, but with a little creativity, some budgeting skills and an appetite for adventure, many of us can. What may seem like a frivolous time to shirk responsibility can actually teach you a great deal about how to strike a happier balance in life back in the real world.

Long-term travel (beyond the standard 2-3 weeks of vacation a year) is an eye-opening experience - especially when your means of travel is a 25-foot (150 square foot) travel trailer.

1- Flexibility

The first thing I took away from the experience was how to let go. We all have expectations, and many of us like to plan every little thing out for ourselves. This doesn’t quite work when you’re driving across the country with a one-year-old. Plans are good, but they have to be flexible. Maybe your scheduled destination has a flash flood warning. Where can you take a detour? For us, this meant we got to see Guadalupe National Park, right along the U.S.-Mexico border and the least-visited National Park. It was beautiful and eye opening to drive along the Rio Grande, and we were grateful to get the chance to experience the park. We would never have gotten that experience if the weather in Austin had cooperated with our plans.

As John Steinbeck wrote in Travels with Charley, "We do not take a trip; a trip takes us... In this a journey is like a marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you can control it." Once we let go of "sticking to the plan," our enjoyment of our trip increased exponentially.

2 - Mindfulness. What do you really need? When you have just one drawer for your clothes, one cabinet for your baby’s clothes and a small cabinet for toiletries, you think differently about what are really necessities and what’s nice to have. You realize you can subsist on very little, and you don’t need much living space when the world is your backyard.

The other side of being more mindful of what we bring into our lives is noticing what feelings we are allowing control over our psyche.  There are infinite things to do in a new place, but you can't "do all of the things." Be happy living in the moment: getting to that new place (with a one year old, no less) is an achievement in and of itself. Appreciate where you are and how far you've come to get there.  

3 - Resourcefulness.  Don't have a funnel to refill your water tank? Dig through your supplies. You may have what you need after all (in our case, a knife, an empty water bottle and some duct tape). You can’t carry every little thing you might need, so we found clever ways to use what we had. Get outside your comfort zone -- way outside-- and you learn to see the world differently, making you more adept at solving problems.

4 - How to dig deep. I would be lying through my teeth if I didn't say the trip was, at times, challenging. You have the same two people to interact with for months and cabin fever can set in. You might get lost. You might get hungry with no food for miles. It might pour for days in the middle of a National Park in Utah, confining you to the tin can. In times like these you have to look inside of yourself, pull yourself up by your bootstraps and make the best of your situation.

Traveling brought me peace and acceptance. I got to know myself on a whole new level; I learned to love my strengths and obsess a little bit less about my weaknesses. I learned to conserve resources, to do more with less, and appreciate the journey.

Back in CA: A look at the route

Greetings! It's been quite a while since our last update. There's so much we haven't been able to write. So where are we now? Well, unfortunately, the huge fires in the Pacific Northwest in the late summer sent us home a bit early, so we made our way back from Utah to SoCal. We are taking a bit of a break now having finished our initial roadtrip/journey and are back in California.

A lot of you have asked us which route we took and where we went on our journey. Here is a map tracing the basic route, followed by a (mostly complete) list of the places we visited.

 We drove quite a bit more than 7450 miles but this is basically the route we took.

We drove quite a bit more than 7450 miles but this is basically the route we took.

Our stops:

Santa Barbara, CA

Ojai, CA

Needles / Colorado River, CA

Grand Canyon Natl Park, AZ

Sedona, AZ

Gila National Forest, NM

White Sands National Monument, NM

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM

Marfa, TX

Big Bend National Park, TX

Del Rio, TX

Austin, TX

New Orleans, LA

Sarasota, FL

Savannah, GA

Asheville, NC

Blue Ridge Parkway

Stone Mountain State Park, VA

Amish country, PA

Robert Treman State Park - Ithaca, NY

St Catherines, ON Canada

Jackson, MI

Starved Rock State Park, IL

Iowa State Fair, Des Moines, IA

York, NE

Denver, CO

Boulder, CO

Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

Dinosaur National Monument, CO

Salt Lake City, UT

Bryce Canyon National Park, UT

Zion National Park, UT

Los Angeles. CA

Santa Barbara, CA

Flashback: From Beer City to the Blue Ridge

A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness... all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find...that we do not take a trip: a trip takes us. Tour masters, schedules, reservations, brass-bound and inevitable, dash themselves to wreckage on the personality of the trip. Only when this is recognized can the blown-in-the-grass bum relax and go along with it. Only then do the frustrations fall away.
— John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley, 1962.

Acting on a tip from a pair of coffee shop owners on Tybee Island, we diverted our route and headed to Asheville, North Carolina. A huge departure from our previously imagined trek up the eastern seaboard, Savannah left us craving nature and cooler weather. But we hit a snag: it was a weekend. In a beautiful area in close proximity to a city. Campgrounds were booked solid. Walk-in spots had people waiting. So, we opted for an RV park. The place we unhitched was most definitely the most beautiful RV park we've come across. In the evenings at sunset, the whole (small) park congregated to watch the sunset over the Blue Ridge Mountains, evening beverages in-hand.

 Campfire lodgings near asheville, nc

Campfire lodgings near asheville, nc

The next morning, we woke up ready to get beer into our bellies. We cooked a breakfast at camp, and slowly made our way into town for lunch at the White Duck Taco Shop where we channeled our SF line-waiting skills and ate crazy tacos like Korean Beef Bulgogi, Duck Mole and Jerk Chicken.

 Many good vibes to be had in Asheville.

Many good vibes to be had in Asheville.

There were so many breweries to choose from in Asheville that it was like Disneyland for a beer-lover. Thanks to our wonderful friends and camp neighbors, we managed to hone it down to a few choice places. Wicked Weed remains a favorite for both of us -- the beer was good, but the experience was like none other. Guys are cleaning the tanks and working the brewery just feet from where you sit on the patio, drinking your Summer Shandy. The sounds, the sights, the smells... all of it builds to create a great beer experience.

In the end, we were sad to leave Asheville, but we were off to camp deeper in the mountains, opting for the obvious and scenic route on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

 Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway to camp

Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway to camp

We drove slowly up the Blue Ridge Parkway, stopping to explore small towns that piqued our interest along the way. My favorite of these stops was where we stopped for brunch: Knife and Fork in Spruce Pine, North Carolina. My dish had "chicken of the woods" mushrooms that -- for real-- tasted like I was eating bites of chicken. My mind was blown. The food was all locally sourced, the trout freshly caught nearby. It was a Sunday, and the rest of the town was sleepy, every last store was closed.

After lunch, we shoved on and stopped in Avery County (because, obviously) at a winery for some live music. A disappointing stop, we were eager to get to our campsite at Stone Mountain State Park so that we could cook on the campfire and get some rest so that we could hit the trail early in the morning. 

 Hiking in the blue ridge mountains. Stone Mountain STate Park, NC. Pictured: 

Hiking in the blue ridge mountains. Stone Mountain STate Park, NC. Pictured: 

We packed in a lunch and sat in the middle of nature, right near a waterfall. We pointed out crazy centipedes, frogs and chipmunks to A as we hiked along. Once we passed the huge "waterslide," no one else was on the trail. It was glorious.

The thing about planning a journey of this magnitude is that it is, by its essence, unplannable. Steinbeck so beautifully wrote about this in his 1962 memoir, Travels with Charley. The diversion to Asheville was beautiful, and fed our souls in ways we needed most. But it means now that our whole itinerary, as it was, is scrambled. We're now planning as we go; in our letting go we've found the most fun, the most reward, and the most rest. 

So far the 'Flashback' series is working out ok -- it's taking the pressure and stress out of getting posts up ASAP, but I'm still trying to find a balance between ruminating on a place we've just been and actually having enough detail to keep the posts interesting. Let me know what you think in the comments!

Flashback: Savannah edition

We spent a few weeks in Florida resting and catching up with family, and A spent most of her time in the pool (adding a new favorite word to her rapidly growing vocabulary). Betina needed some cleaning and maintenance work, which we were able to get done thanks to my Pops! We also decided to tint her windows to both reduce the heat inside the trailer and to give us some privacy without sacrificing her simplistic style on the inside. Definitely wish we did that sooner.

Savannah has to be one of my favorite places in the country. Optimal size for walking around, friendly people, great food, a close-by beach, beautiful (and varied) architecture (and famous for beautiful iron work).. I could ramble on.  Savannah is Georgia's oldest city, beautifully draped in Spanish moss, cloaked in ghost stories. 

We stayed about 20 minutes outside of Savannah at a farm, opting to do the RV park thing for the sake of having electric hookups, and thus have a/c. And it was a good decision, because it all swampy, southern hot on us. A loved the pool there, too, liked visiting the horses and chasing after all of the cats.

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As we were walking around one day, we stumbled on a place with an Airstream logo, aptly named Treylor Park. A sign from the universe that we must go in and have a drink!  If you find yourself in Savannah, and you are remotely thirsty or hungry, check this place out. Great drinks, great food, friendly people, and a gaggle of Airstream decor (including a mini-but-functional Airstream beer cooler). 

We often use A's naptime to do a bit of a driving tour of the city. This time, we drove to Bonaventure Cemetery to check it out. Bonaventure Cemetery is pretty famous as the setting of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Another fact, particularly or all you Californians: John Muir began his Thousand Mile Walk to Florida in 1867 and spent six nights sleeping upon graves in Bonaventure cemetery. It was the cheapest and safest accommodation he could find while he awaited a money from home. He wrote a whole chapter on it, called "Camping in the Tombs." No thanks.

 Creepy but beautiful. 

Creepy but beautiful. 

With the weather forecast to cross the 90-degree mar on our last day, we opted for a beach day and packed up the car to make the short drive to Tybee Island (after a little Hilton Head/ Tybee debate, Tybee won). Tybee was a great choice: A freaked over the beach, we could barely pull her away, and we indulged ourselves in a tourist-trap-but-still-delicious amount of Crab at the Crab Shack. All of Tybee probably told us about how Adam Sandler and David Spade were hanging out there the day before. Guess we were a day late!

We crammed a lot into a short amount of time in Savannah, but we were feeling the road calling us... particularly the North, which promised cooler times and actual enjoyment of the outdoors. 

 Meeting the Atlantic Ocean for the first time

Meeting the Atlantic Ocean for the first time

Chasing waterfalls: Self-discovery through travel

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Sean and I were sitting around the campfire on one of our first nights in Ithaca, NY and we found ourselves talking about our trip, our changing perspectives, and where we might go next (hint: we have no idea!)

For me, this trip has been more than just discovery. It's started to bring me some peace (amongst the chaos) and healing. Sean and I talk about what we might want to do next, how to change things that were broken when were living in SF. That conversation always comes down to this thing about "passion" and doing what you love.

Like I hinted at before, I'm not totally behind this "find your passion" movement. Growing up, I wasn't the kid getting the award for the highest grade in the class. I got great grades, but I was never REALLY good at one thing. At the risk of sounding like an egomaniac, I was a "jill" of all trades, but a master of none. I remember telling my mom that I wished I could just be really good at one thing, like science, and that way I would know what I should do for the rest of my life. 

What I've learned when I spend all of this time thinking about myself, who I am,  what experiences I value, and where I want to go... is that I like a lot of things. And then, sitting around that campfire, getting impassioned by conversation, red wine and my s'mores sugar high, I started to tell Sean about my 10th grade AP American History teacher.

I loved this guy. Besides the fact that he tolerated my occasional mid-class pass out as I adjusted to some anxiety medication, the guy was damn interesting. Growing up, I had two buckets of teachers -- the ones I felt sorry for, and the ones I found magnetic. Smokin' Bob was one of the magnetic ones (on my short list with Ms. W in the 4th grade, Mrs. K in 9th & 12th, among others). You'd have a conversation with him and he'd bust out with "Back when I lived on a monastery..." or "When I worked for NASA...". I remember thinking: that's it. That's what I want.: a life built from rich stories. 

Somewhere along the way, though, I was fed (and gobbled up) a storyline about a "career path" and creating a "five year plan," and like a sheep, kept my head down and followed the herd. I forgot about those random things I love doing-- they got buried under deadlines, emails, "Big Meetings" and performance reviews. 

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Maybe Bob wasn't GREAT at one thing. But because he was good at a variety of things, he got to do a lot of really cool stuff. Here is where I have found something I have been looking for: acceptance. I'm judgmental, and my own worst critic. For years, I wanted to write. But I didn't do it. Was I lazy? That's what I told myself. But laziness was an excuse. I was AFRAID. I was afraid I would write something, put it out there, and people would laugh at me and think I was stupid, petty, or self-centered. So we go on this trip, I start this blog, and something funny happens: People encourage me. They send me notes of support. 

Even at a tech company with great corporate culture, it is still just that: a corporate culture. Despite your free food and video games, people still need to think and act in such a way that they fit neatly into tiny boxes. Step outside the box, and you're going to have a much harder time feeling (or in some cases, being) successful. I may not get the chance to work for NASA, but living in 150 square feet of tin gets me kinda close. And guess what? I am actually feeling GREAT about that.

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A flashback to NOLA

Thanks for sticking with me after that last post! I'm happy to say I've gotten a bit of inspiration back... the fresh Ithaca air and nature have helped relight my soul fire a bit. So let's go back in time a few weeks, cool? New Orleans was absolutely fantastic; I love me a good walking city. The architecture, the food, the people, the music: it was all a glorious experience. I found myself thinking that this is a city I would love to live in, if I could ever figure out what to do for a living there.

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We tried to do a walking tour but A was having a cranky toddler moment, so we did a bit of our own siteseeing. We walked into the St. Louis Cathedral and were immediately awestruck by its size and beauty. We ducked into a small cafe and slow-rolled our order so that A could nap in the stroller in some A/C. We did many of the basic touristy NoLA things, like grab iced coffee and beignets at Cafe Du Monde, got drinks to go, checked out the French Market, and ate all of the oysters and cajun/creole food we could shove into our stomachs. Then we just strolled. When we couldn't take anymore of the heat, we hopped into the car to check out some more neighborhoods.

What struck me as we were driving around was the thought of having to evacuate an entire city this size. It is incredible how much rebuilding the city still needs after Hurricane Katrina. During a nap, we drove into the Ninth Ward and were shocked by how many houses were relegated to vacant lots. I can remember reading opinion pieces a few years ago on why we shouldn't rebuild New Orleans. But after seeing the city, I can't even get my brain around the idea. Yes, it's below sea level but it is one of the most vibrant, cultural centers in our country. 

The only thing that wasn't so great... the heat. It was close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit on the days we were walking around the city. A didn't love it, to say the least. Next time, we will wait until the fall or winter. After our time in New Orleans, we felt inspired and pushed it all the way to South Florida (crazy, would not recommend). The next day, I had a 103 degree fever. Sometimes our bodies tell us when we've done too much, and this was definitely one of those times. But we will be back, and next time make sure to spend more time listening to music, enjoying food, strolling through the parks. It was a little tough to get really deep in this city with a toddler, so maybe we'd also bring along a babysitter (hi, Mom!). 

Richness, authenticity, resilience and passion -- lessons we all can learn from New Orleans, and things I took with me as we left.

     

 

 

'Living in the Moment' and coming off a blogging hiatus.

Living in the moment is not as easy as it seems. There is a constant push from outside, and from inside ourselves, to plan the "next" thing. We plan our next destination, the one after that, and the one after that. Soon, we are stuck in a conversation about "when we get back" or "after the trip" and can lose our purpose. 

Sean is much better at this than I am. My brain keeps moving when we stop for the night. 

Maybe I won't ever love my job, and maybe that's okay. There is a lot of "do what you love" messaging out there, and it can be difficult to not feel pressure in finding your "passion" or your "true north."  My life can be undoubtedly be filled with rich experiences outside of work, and maybe that's enough, right? Then again, why should I settle for something mediocre (cue: biggest fear)?

What I realized in writing this blog is that it was starting to feel like "work." Somewhere along the line I was getting stressed that I couldn't get a good enough wifi signal to upload my pictures. I didn't have enough time between Avery's bedtime and getting myself to sleep at to both enjoy my surroundings and get my blog done. My last post feel dry and passion-less. So, now I'm going to be a little less formulaic, a little more raw. There will be travel stuff and pictures, but you can find this stuff elsewhere on the internet. 

I once had a mentor tell me that I wasn't "weird enough" for a certain school-slash-career-path. I had another friend tell me that I was too commercially cool. These things sting. Especially because I never thought of myself as particularly... let's call it what it is: basic. Part of this journey is a healing process for me; in some ways I am killing off the stale version of myself I somehow became, and getting back to the person who DGAF about whether you like what I am doing or what you think about it.  Other people's opinions do not define me: I have the power to change them.

People ask us what the hardest part of this trip is, and at first I would have to say it was the heat. But now it's really coming down to making sure we are living our mission. Two people, traveling, trying to take in all of the amazing, interesting things this country has to offer and at the same time trying to juggle a toddler on a schedule. When we fight, it's usually because our communication has broken down. We don't say to each other "doing this is important to me." But really, you can't do all the things. You can't hike every trail, taste every local beer, see every site, or even eat something tasty at every meal. Some days you eat macaroni with peas and butter because you just can't add another challenge to your day, like finding a grocery store when you have no phone service. Or you lock your keys in the car in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina, so instead of checking out the park, you are waiting for a locksmith to slimjim your car door open (true story, by the way). 

And if you haven't yet seen our mini-interview on Life Edited, check it out by clicking here (spoiler alert: The MacMannis family isn't a bunch of 'thinkers').

From Big Bend to Austin

Flexibility has been one of the best parts of our trip. With the bad weather rolling into San Antonio and Austin, we diverted our route a bit to check out Big Bend National Park. The drive alone was beautifully scenic, following the Rio Grande along the border of the U.S. and Mexico. There was no one on the road but us and the border patrol, so we were lucky enough to be able to stop and snap a few pictures along the way. 

Big Bend national park -- looking into mexico

The rio grande

 The full setup

The full setup

Traveling in Texas is funny. When people would ask us where we were headed and we told them we were going to Austin, they would almost universally reply with, "Why would you want to go THERE?" I'm not going to lie to you. Most of what we did in Austin is eat, though I did go to some crazy yoga class and babysit three small kids under the age of 6. We enjoyed catching up with old friends. 

We made our entrance into Austin by way of Fredericksburg, a cute, little German town that boasts tons of wineries. The winos we are, we made a quick stop at Becker Vineyards for a tasting. We stuck with a red wine tasting, and were pleasantly impressed with a few of the wines we sampled.  We snagged a few crates of Fredericksburg peaches at a road-side stand, and made the final push into Austin. 

First up, we checked out the Capitol building. The Capitol in Austin is actually taller than the United States Capitol Building in D.C.  We toured the Senate Chambers, and (nerd alert!) stood where my beloved Wendy Davis made her epic 2013 filibuster against Texas Senate Bill 5. 

 The texas capitol building

The texas capitol building

inside of the dome of the capitol building in austin

Next, we were in need of some groceries and basic items so we made our way to a grocery store that was started in Austin: Whole Foods. Would it be weird/awful if I said my favorite part of Austin was the Whole Foods? Because holy s*** that place is nuts. I could have spent a whole day in there (it's the flagship store). 

The rain started coming down in Austin, so I tucked away my camera and we went to check out South Congress. We had a little while to wait for our table at South Congress Cafe, so we headed into Allen's Boots to check out the racks on racks of leather boots.

Image credit (left to right): Austin.smallplanetguide.com; 365thingsAustin.com; Roadtrippers.com

EATS

Everything we ate in Texas was basically bar-b-que or Mexican food. I'm not complaining, I'm just increasingly surprised by how hard it is to eat or find a vegetable in some parts of the country. And I can sum up every kids menu from Arizona to Florida with five things: Fried chicken tenders, grilled cheese, macaroni and cheese, fried, and fried. Why are we feeding our kids this stuff, America?! Meanwhile, we took A to The Salt Lick and she ate like a tiny grizzly bear. 

 The combo plate at The Salt Lick.

The combo plate at The Salt Lick.

On the way out of town, we stopped for some breakfast migas -- the last exciting thing we would probably eat until New Orleans. One short, sleepover stop and we would be in the Big Easy.

Real talk from the road

We live in an age where we have a non-stop look into other people's lives. It's often easy to forget that what we are looking at-- the posts we are viewing, liking and commenting on-- are highlight reels. 

I was thinking back to when my friends were putting together their high school football highlight films for college recruiting season. Jam packed with their ace moves, these films were all stud and no dud. Quite obviously, you didn't see the times they got hit and didn't get up, times they came limping off the field, or times they just straight-up wiffed. 

Traveling often gets romanticized by those with wanderlust (or maybe it's wanderenvy). In many ways, travel is a constant dance of sacrifice and celebration, of chaos and tranquility, of excitement and disappointment, of adventure and boredom. And ultimately, it's a huge lesson in adaptability. I wanted this blog to not only be a "hey look how awesome I am! I'm traveling!" kind of blog, but also a place where we could share the ups and downs, ins and outs of our journey.

Admittedly, it's hard to share the grittiness. There are no instagram-worthy, like-collecting images. There are no filters that make it easier to view, or to make your hair look better. Some days, it's just a feeling. Other days, the reality doesn't live up to your expectations. It is hard to fight the urge to settle, to get comfortable, to stop pushing.

Self exploration is a complicated thing. What makes you happy -- what WILL make you happy-- is sometimes diametrically opposed to what feels most comfortable or easy. It is almost like these forces are magnetized against each other, pushing and pulling  you in all kinds of different directions.

When you are out there on the road, out of podcasts, without a 4G signal... shit can get real. You miss your friends back home, feel disconnected from their lives. Back in Marfa, I saw this hanging on the wall of a bar, and if I could I would hang it on the wall of our car:

 Have fun. Create value. build relationships.

Have fun. Create value. build relationships.

But this -- all of the highs and lows, bumps and bruises-- build our character. We went on this trip to spend more time together and see the country, yes. But we also are learning about ourselves and who we are as a family unit: what is important to us, what's maybe not so important. 

The journey is the lesson, and each destination is the reward. 

Highly anticipated: Marfa, TX

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I should start by saying that I am hugely behind on posting about our trip, so this post comes a few weeks late. But hey, better late than never! I'm still trying to get into a toddler/travel/blog/chill flow. I'll go ahead and admit now that this post is mostly picture-heavy, so good news for you skimmers out there. Our next stop out of New Mexico was a small town in Texas, called Marfa. Marfa was founded as a waterstop in the 1880s. In 1971, Donald Judd moved to Marfa and the place became a haven for artists looking to escape the city.  Both No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood were filmed in Marfa. So some of the scenes in town may look strikingly familiar. 

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Marfa is chock full of art galleries. The most unfortunate part of spontaneity, though, is poor planning. Due to our poor planning, we found that a lot of the galleries and restaurants in Marfa were closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. We checked out a few local shops and walked around town, though, seeing some of Marfa's transformation into artist's oasis in the desert. 

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Food

 The Get Go organic market

The Get Go organic market

One of the most delicious meals we had in Marfa was at Marfa burrito, where our breakfast was wrapped in a homemade flour tortilla. Deliciousness that made us nostalgic for the burritos of San Francisco.  Like any good hipster community, Marfa has a small but impressive food truck scene complete with irreverent a-holes pedaling BBQ tacos out of an Airstream. The Get Go was a great organic market where we snagged some groceries to cook up dinner back at the Tumble In.

 The burritos at Marfa Burrito were homemade deliciousness. 

The burritos at Marfa Burrito were homemade deliciousness. 

 The Boys 2 Men taco truck serves up Broket tacos, free beer and a lot of attitude.

The Boys 2 Men taco truck serves up Broket tacos, free beer and a lot of attitude.

From custom, handmade boots (with an 8 month waiting list!) at Cobra Rock to fresh, handmade soaps at Marfa Brand soap, Marfa is a small town with a budding artisan community. At the very least, it was cool to see how a small Texas town can evolve into something entirely different.

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 Pueblo meets hipster revival on the streets of marfa, tx.

Pueblo meets hipster revival on the streets of marfa, tx.

We spent most of the day wandering around town, checking out El Cosmico and a few shops and galleries after getting a very delicious cup of coffee at Do Your Thing. 

 some trinkets in The gift shop at El Cosmico

some trinkets in The gift shop at El Cosmico

 The storm passes and reveals a colorful West Texas sunset

The storm passes and reveals a colorful West Texas sunset

Balmorhea Springs is about a 45-minute drive from Marfa, perfect on a sleepy Monday when many of the galleries are closed. It's a man-made spring, filled with fish and turtles, and the perfect way to cool off in the Texas heat. Due to an unexpected visit from Tropical Storm Bill, we hit the road ahead of schedule -- spontaneously adding Big Bend National Park to our itinerary. The drive alone was well worth it. More on that next time.

 image credit to sean on this one.

image credit to sean on this one.

Not new, and not Mexico

Here goes my second attempt at writing this post, after draft #1 was wiped out by poor internet and poor saving skills on part. 

After we headed out of Gila National Forest (still kicking myself for not taking a picture of that sky... it was "Dark Sky Country"!), we found the best green chile cheeseburger ever at the Buckhorn Tavern in San Antonio, NM. The owner beat Bobby Flay in a burger cook-off on the TV show, Throwdown with Bobby Flay.  And damn, that might have been the tastiest burger either of us have ever had.

Bellies full, we shoved on. Only to stop an hour later when we rolled through the small town of Carrizozo, needing to wake ourselves up a bit. We found Roy's Ice Cream Parlour, an old-timey, soda fountain type place, and were beguiled with stories about the haunting building (it used to be a drug store and hospital). Following Sean's ice cream pit stop, we were back in the car and on our way to a Tularosa Winery to try some New Mexico wine (because at least we could say we've tried it!). 

 Alamogorgo, NM

Alamogorgo, NM

White Sands National Monument

The next day we were up bright and early to head to White Sands before it got too hot. White Sands spans 275 square miles, and is the largest gypsum dune in the world. 

The vastness of white sands national monument

We unsuccessfully tried sledding in the dunes on borrowed sled, but we did see a white lizard. The unusually harsh environmental conditions present at White Sands National Monument have not prevented numerous animal species from adapting, surviving, even thriving there.

 Other planetary 

Other planetary 

Fun fact: Only the top few inches of the gypsum dunes are made of loose sand. Rainwater falling on the dunes dissolves some of the gypsum and cements the sand grains together, creating a crude form of plaster of Paris. This makes the white sand dunes easy to walk on.

 A couldn't get enough of the cool, white sand on a hot day

A couldn't get enough of the cool, white sand on a hot day

Mesilla, NM

About 40 minutes from White Sands and shortly outside of Las Cruces, one of New Mexico's largest cities, is a small town called Mesilla. Two battles were fought at or in the town of Mesilla during the Civil War and it served as the capital of the Confederate Territory of Arizona (at one time Mesilla also held Billy the Kid in prison.) Today, it's a small pueblo-style town with small shops selling mostly Native American and southwestern wares. We picked up a really great Zapotec rug for Betina (the Zapotecs are considered master weavers, only behind the Navajo in the quality of their weavings). 

After spending one more night in Alamogordo, we hit the road early in the morning to make get to Carlsbad in time to check out the National Park. Just 15 minutes outside of the desert, Lincoln National Forest is sprawling with trees and greenery. We stopped along the side of the road to capture just a few pictures on our way out of New Mexico.

 15 minutes outside of alamogordo, and the scenery and weather gets vastly different

15 minutes outside of alamogordo, and the scenery and weather gets vastly different

 

Carlsbad Caverns

This trip has been totally lighting up my inner eight year old, and this next stop was unbelievable. Carlsbad Caverns National Park sits in the Guadalupe Mountains in southwest New Mexico. Carlsbad Caverns includes a large cave chamber, the Big Room, where we spent our afternoon hiking around with A. The chamber is the fifth largest in North America at 4,000 feet long and 625 feet wide (255 feet high at its highest point).  I could write a whole post on how amazing caves like this form, or I could just send you to this Wikipedia post instead. 

Our afternoon trip to the Caverns helped us miss a severe thunderstorm rolling through South Western New Mexico. We ended our evening with some pre-birthday festivities for Sean, and got BBQ delivered to our campsite (luxury!). 

I'll leave you with more Cavern pics, because caves are cool! Next stop: Marfa, Texas!


The tasks of departure

 Smallest gas station ever in the middle of gila national forest.

Smallest gas station ever in the middle of gila national forest.

While it is pretty awesome to be able to roll up to a spot, unhitch and camp, getting out of a campsite is no small feat (especially with a toddler). Having a checklist helps us make sure we don't miss any loose ends, and helps us get on the road safely. Here is our checklist so far:

- Prep meals, snacks, bottles for the car ride  

- Get A outside to run around for as long as possible

- Take out trash

- Clean all dishes

- Empty tanks (find a dump station or empty if we are hooked up) 

- Refill fresh water (this helps us in a jam; if we have water we can essentially stop and camp at anytime, which is helpful if the weather gets rough)  & unhook if we are hooked up

- Pick up around the trailer and stow any loose items  

- Shut and latch all doors, windows and vents, turn off a/c

- Remove wheel chocks & levelers

- Turn off propane tanks

- Test lights and breaks, check tire pressure  

- Check weather along our route, set weather alerts

What's on your checklist to get out the doors?

Turning a driving day into a day of exploring

Can I just toot my own horn here? Because today I feel all like "WIN WIN WIN!" We hit the road at 8:35am, just as the rain was starting to come in. After enjoying our drive to Sedona on 180, we decided to opt again for the scenic (and truck-free) route. Just look at this amazing send-off:

 Us-180 does it again. 

Us-180 does it again. 

We've regressed back into two naps with A, but she fell asleep in the car around 9 and woke up just a few minutes before we hit our first stop: Meteor Crater. 

 Behold: Meteor crater

Behold: Meteor crater

Fun fact: I'm a space nut. And a rock nut. So this spot really had me firing on all cylinders, and also had me thinking we were probably going to be disappointed and/or ripped off. And it was a little of an "all of the above" situation. It was cool. But it was definitely a rip off. If we didn't have a small toddler who needed to run around like an insane person, there's little chance stopping here would have made sense. 

Parts of our drive have been so remote that we rarely see another car drive by. Other parts take us through towns along Route 66, and they are magically weird. Like this place -- the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona-- fantastically staged with vintage cars in front of the cement (!) teepees (by the way: there is a big difference between wigwams and teepees, so I'm not sure how this actually makes any sense). 

Our next stop was Petrified Forest National Park. We had a lot of deliberation on whether or not we would stop here because so many websites and reviews say the park is boring, no petrified wood left, etc etc. I'm glad we took those with a grain of salt. The Petrified Wood is super cool and the park is beautiful.

The petrified wood in the park was created when the trees fell, and flooded streams washed them into adjacent flood plains. A mix of silt, mud and volcanic ash from distant volcanoes buried the logs. The sediment cut off oxygen and slowed the logs decay. Then silica-laden groundwater seeped through the logs, replacing the original wood tissues with silica and petrifying the logs. Crazy, eh?  The logs have an awesome amount of color and variation. 

 I mean check out the colors! 

I mean check out the colors! 

 The beautiful Petrified forest  national park. 

The beautiful Petrified forest  national park. 

A fell right back into a second nap to make the rest of our drive a breeze. We've hit state #3! And... we are in the middle of nowhere New Mexico, so I'm going to go back to drinking my sparkling wine out of this camping mug. The sky here is unbelievable. I'm totally kicking myself for not getting out of bed to grab the camera, but take my word for it when I say I have never seen that many stars in the sky in my life. They call this part of New Mexico "dark sky country" and it really is something to behold. It's like you are cloaked in a sparkly nighttime blanket and the stars are all around you. 

{Side note: we are living in a low speed internet hell, which anyone who knows me will tell you is maybe my #1 driver to drink. So, I'm a little late on the posting due to lack of upload speed. Am I speaking Greek?. Follow me on Instagram for updates (@RubberRoadAbode). You know you can't wait to see what we are up to next!}

 

Sedona, AZ

The drive into sedona from US-180. 

 Seriously.

Seriously.

Sedona is maybe one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, right down to the drive into town. I want to post all of our pictures to prove it. You just feel totally surrounded -- engulfed-- in the beauty there. We really lucked out with the weather: the day we landed it was about 90 degrees and sunny, but day 2 was overcast and 79 degrees, which made it perfect for hiking with baby A (and on day 3, as we were leaving, it started raining). Yes, we cheated and hit an RV park. We've had some struggles with our setup, so until we do a few upgrades on Betina, we might not be able to boondock as much as we were originally hoping. C'est la vie! 

Making moves: Hiking, Vortexes, Off-roading...

On a recommendation from Sean's parents who frequent Sedona, we hit the Oak Creek West Fork trailhead in Coconino (best word ever) National Forest. This was one of the single best hikes I have ever been on. As Sean put it, "There are like a hundred creek crossings." A loved being in her pack, and the busy trail meant a lot of people stopped to say hi to her (which, of course, she loved). 

In addition to being an incredibly beautiful place, Sedona has long been a spiritual power center and full of "vortexes" of spiritual energy. A vortex is a place, usually on or near an interesting rock formation, where people have reported feeling inspired by a beneficial source of energy. 

We could tell we missed a pretty spectacular sunset the night before, what with baby bedtime and all, so we set out in hopes of a great second show. (Just up the road from where we were parked was one of the Sedona vortex sites.) It ended up being too overcast for a vivid sunset, but Sean did get to test the limits of the Touraeg on an insane off-roading adventure up Schnebly road. I can see my father shaking his head now.

We would not be deterred.

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 the views were totally worth it.

the views were totally worth it.

Less Adventurous Trinket Browsing

Thanks to the internet, I found a wacky place called Silver Son West. It is the kind of shop where I could just imagine my mom and I walking around for hours (while my Dad checks out the first room and decides he's better off at the bar across the street). On vacation, you might buy little things to remember your trip. But when you are on a long-term sabbatical in a tiny, 200 square foot Airstream called Betina, you have no room for any more stuff. Browsing this place was super fun - they had some weird stuff and cool views. I have no idea how they make any money at this place. They are sitting on A TON of inventory. 

Food

Call me a dirty hippie, but I was STOKED to find both a Natural Grocers and a Whole Foods. Natural Grocers had a great selection of organic produce and the special milk we get for A. We did hit Whole Foods for our packed lunch for our hike and regretted it as soon as I hit the cash register (Whole Paycheck, amirite?). Our last "big town" for a while, we decided to go out to eat. Plus, window shopping always makes me hungry. A is on restaurant probation as she sloppily slams into toddlerhood headfirst (not a pleasant dining companion). Enter: Hideaway House. Gorgeous views, good food and the most lovely staff I have ever encountered in a restaurant. We were there on the early side, and the staff had A entertained the whole time. It was fabulous.

 The view from our outside table at hideaway house

The view from our outside table at hideaway house

I really did have to peel myself away from Sedona to get on the road. But we have a great drive day planned with a few stops to explore along the way!

 

 

Moving slow and breaking things

 Drive day #2 -- Needles, CA to Grand canyon, az. somehow this took us 6 hours... 

Drive day #2 -- Needles, CA to Grand canyon, az. somehow this took us 6 hours... 

We'd said we wanted to be on the road by 9am to get the heck of out the Mojave, but I nagged Sean about stopping to get gas before getting on the road. As we pulled into a parking lot and over a speed bump, we heard a huge crash and looked out of the mirror to see that our dear old awning had broken off and was laying on the side of the driveway. Turns out that the wind storm the day before had probably been the final nail in Betina's awning's coffin. 

Luckily, a couple of guys sitting in their gym saw the whole thing happen and sprang into action. They broke out a ladder and we were able to get the awning arms removed, tether the awning flap and get back on the road after only 30 minutes. I am so thankful we were not on the highway when that happened! (Big ups to Al at Tri-State Athletic Club for being our savior! Thanks, Al!)

After the awning incident, we took our time getting to the Grand Canyon, and we didn't have a plan or reservation once we got there. Since it was a weekend, the park campsites were full but we had done our research and knew that Ten-X Campground in Kaibab National Forest was just three minutes outside of the front gate to the park (and less than half the price!). The campground at Ten-X was wooded and beautiful. Sean & A saw a family of elk roaming through the grounds while I was cooking dinner. 

The Grand Canyon did not disappoint. We totally lucked out with great weather - warm but not crazy hot. We hiked around the rim with A in the morning, and then drove to some scenic viewpoints while she napped in the afternoon. When she's older, we definitely want to take her down into the canyon, but this time we just weren't prepared enough (especially having to adjust to taking the trailer off the grid). 

 The Grand Canyon.    

The Grand Canyon. 

 

 Trying to capture the magnitude of this thing is just impossible.

Trying to capture the magnitude of this thing is just impossible.

Our first boondocking experience with Betina was good, not great. Our fridge is having a few issues running off of propane, so we ended up having to throw out a bunch of our food (grr!). Even with the generator, we ran out of battery a few times. Mostly because we didn't want to be those a-holes running a generator at the campsite. Our fresh water got low, and combined with the dead battery that meant we couldn't really use the water in the trailer (the pump needs some electricity to push the water into the pipes from the tanks). So, we packed our sink full of dirty dishes and shoved off, deciding at the last minute to head to Sedona and hook up at an RV park. 

In the theme of slowing down, we took a scenic route to Flagstaff and Sedona from Grand Canyon, and wow was it one of the most beautiful drives I have ever experienced! One of the things we've learned so far on this trip is that even a "short drive" can end up taking us quite awhile.  So.. we've decided to stay a little longer in Sedona to explore. More on that soon!

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A is doing great on the trip. So far she is loving being outside more, and has really been a champ in the car (we have been careful to time our trips around naps). 

The first flight out

Yep, we've definitely left the cool comfort of Ojai, bidding adieu to easily accessible organic food, delicious coffee and other familiarities.

 Our spot behind the ojai rancho inn. 

Our spot behind the ojai rancho inn. 

Yesterday we towed Betina the longest distance to date, as we left Ojai and drove 6 hours (at 55-60 mph) to Needles, CA. The drive to Needles was beautiful, passing purple mountains and getting to see the sun set on the Mojave Desert. 

 A beautiful scene on highway 40

A beautiful scene on highway 40

 Our view from the backseat as we get closer to arizona

Our view from the backseat as we get closer to arizona

Needles sits on the western bank of the Colorado River in the Mojave Desert. Mohave County(yes it's spelled differently) straddles the California-Arizona-Nevada border. Needles was a major stop on Route 66 from the 1920s to 1960s, though today there isn't too much going on in town. 

This is our first RV park, and one of only a few RV parks we will stay at on our trip (we're aiming to spend most of our time in state parks and on BLM land). After rolling in a bit later than planned, we were greeted by two very nice park residents who showed us how to get everything hooked up (and politely pointed out things we would need to buy). It has been unbelievably hot, so our trailer air conditioner is hard at work. We are the only Airstream in the park, which means we get a few visitors who knock on our door and ask to check it out.

The Needles weather station is frequently reported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as the site of the highest daily temperature recorded in the U.S. during the desert summers. Needles occasionally sets national or world daily temperature records (often clocking in at 120 degrees Fahrenheit). Totally explains why the RV park residents were happily telling us it was "only going to be 97 degrees" for the next few days. We're also getting 18 mph winds with gusts of 27 mph, which causing our (rolled up) awning to lift up a few inches and slam back against the trailer. A is wiley and hating the heat (probably because I'm cooping her up inside). 

Dad and babe let mom sleep in this morning, going for a father-daughter breakfast at the Wagon Wheel where they met a traveling family that helps set up Renaissance festivals across the country. For lunch, we followed a string of glowing Yelp reviews to perhaps the most strange and uncomfortable dining experience I've ever had. I'll leave it at that.

Drive day one was a decent success. NEEDLES to say, we are ready for our next stop (see what I did there? Humor!)! Where should we go next?

Betina: You've come a long way, baby

When we first got Betina, she was sure looking her age. That said, she was in pretty great shape for being over 40 years old (aside from a slight issue with part of her frame). 

On the exterior, we ripped off the blue stripe, replaced the old air conditioner and gave her a slick new polish. 

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On the inside, we ripped her guts out. If only that "wood" were real, maybe we would have left it in place. But overall we had to make the layout work for our family. In the original trailer, the bathroom was at the back (why?!) with a nice huge window right in the middle. The bed was on the side and folded out from a couch (you can kind of see this on the left in the picture below). We wanted to have two distinct areas for hanging out/ eating/ loving and for sleep.

 Top image credit: Thomas Townsend, Townsend Travel Trailers. Bottom image credit Christian Adam. 

Top image credit: Thomas Townsend, Townsend Travel Trailers. Bottom image credit Christian Adam. 

I've got some more pictures and a video tour to come! Be sure to follow us @rubberroadabode on Instagram to see what we're up to (and for some more trailer porn, as we call it).