Tennessee: Beautiful, Cold, and Dangerous.

Caught the end of some fall foliage on our drive to Tennessee.

I was hoping for 100% smooth sailing once we got out of Ohio, but is that ever the case in any situation? I was definitely right in saying that things would improve overall, but there’s been a couple bumps in the road heading south. That being said, we are out of October and things are finally feeling like they should again.

We arrived in Tennessee on November 4th, immediately following our last show in Ohio that was the night before. We were so excited to finally be heading south, into better weather, uncharted territory, and more shows. And then we proceeded to almost die nearly immediately.

Branch was still there the next day! Big SOB.

I want to say I’m being over dramatic, but it actually was kind of a close call. We parked at what was actually the same truck stop we stayed at on our very first night on the road, a Flying J just south of Knoxville. After some hemming and hawing, we decided to back into a parking space on the edge of the lot, under one of a half dozen trees around the perimeter. It started storming pretty heavily later in the evening, but we didn’t think much of it until an incredibly loud scraping sound woke us out of a dead sleep at 4:30am. The tree we had parked under had split in the high winds, and about a third of it came down practically on top the van. The bulk of the branch (which was like 6″ in diameter) missed the rear of the van – right where we were sleeping, mind you – by maybe a foot or two. It scraped up the back side pretty good, ripped off a tiny accent light and crushed our receptacle for a TV antenna, but miraculously, that was all the damage there was. Which amounts to pretty much nothing. (Greg pointed out to me later that if we had pulled straight into the spot rather than backing in, it very definitely would have shattered our windshield, which is a scary thought too.)

Literal Blue Plates all over the wall at the Blue Plate Special.

And of course these things never happen on days where you have lots of free time. After a tree almost comes through your ceiling, sleep becomes more or less impossible, so we got Denny’s and got the day started as soon as we found the damage to be minimal. We played Knoxville’s famous Blue Plate Special radio show that afternoon at 12, but load in was at 10:30am so we were downtown pretty early. That show was a lot of fun – we’ve never played to a live audience when simultaneously being broadcast on the radio before. We had a show downtown that night as well. It also was an absolute blast, but it went from 10pm-1am. In the hours between the first show and the second I had a bunch of work to do, so I ended up being awake for about 22 hours straight that day. Exhausted is most definitely an understatement as to how I felt when I finally got to lay down.

That was undoubtedly the most eventful day we’ve had recently, if not ever. But things have certainly been more chaotic, if nothing else, since we (finally) got out of Ohio.

First and foremost, the one big negative that we can’t get rid of – the weather continues to get worse, and I’m so fed up with it. I did my best to plan a fall/winter tour that would keep us from freezing our asses off and so far I have not succeeded. It’s been down in the 20s at night multiple times in the past two weeks. You can see your breath in the van most mornings when we wake up. Because of all the rain we’ve been running our big, loud old generator to keep the heater on. All around, it sucks. The cold snap is supposed to let up this weekend and put us back in 50 and 60 degrees (today is the first day of sun we’ve had in over a week, but it’s still freezing). So, fingers crossed for some better weather, and soon.

The gigs have been great, though. That’s one thing that continues to go really well no matter what happens with everything else. We had three gigs in Tennessee and they all went wonderfully, even better than planned and with good pay to boot. And that’s been a welcome reprieve from the drudgery that was most of October and all the other things, big and small, that often make what we do a challenge. The music was always supposed to be paramount, and I’m so grateful that it’s the one thing that comes to us with relative ease.

Concert pictures never come out right on a phone camera, but there’s Dawes.

And since we’re working and moving again, that means we get to make time for some fun in between all of the events of the day-to-day grind. A couple days before our gig in Chattanooga, Greg surprised me with a (very) early Christmas present! He got us tickets to see Dawes, a band that I’m very fond of, right in downtown Chattanooga, and right after our gig to boot. So we played a very easy brunch gig (a first for us) and then had an afternoon to hang out in a pretty cool city. We got some incredible burgers for dinner, found a bar with ping pong tables and played a few games over a few beers, and then enjoyed a really great concert from an awesome band.

Playing a guitar worth $20k at Gruhn’s. I took this picture and then immediately left the room because it made me too nervous.

That’s something I don’t talk about too much on here, the effect that living in a van has on a relationship and how it changes a lot of traditional expectations. It’s almost impossible to surprise your significant other with a physical present for any holiday, for example. And that’s just one little thing. Imagine, for a moment, your favorite person in the world. Now imagine that you spend every single day entirely with them. 24 hours a day. You eat every meal together, you go to the gym together, you grocery shop and drive around and get gas and camp and do laundry together. Also, you work together. You are literally never not with this person. It’s pretty easy to see how things could go south quickly if you’re not exactly the right kind of people for this lifestyle. So, it’s unbelievable to me that after nearly eleven months straight, neither Greg nor myself are sick of hanging out with each other yet. I think that it speaks volumes about our relationship and compatibility that we can live this way, with the same goals in mind while making the same sacrifices. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve just sat and considered how incredibly lucky I have been to have found a person who so willingly wanted to pursue this absolutely crazy idea with me, and that not only did we succeed at it together, I’d dare to say that we’re thriving. We fight like any other couple, don’t get me wrong, but not any more than what you’d probably consider normal. He’s truly my partner in everything we do and it’s hard to imagine it being any other way ever again. I think there’s some rule in the Book of Relationships that says if you find someone who you can live comfortably in a vehicle with for a year, you should probably keep ’em.

Cold and miserable in Music City.

Anyways, enough sappy stuff. We did get to Nashville! We went back and forth for a bit on whether or not it was worth it to go, but in the end decided that it was. First, we took Greg’s guitar, which he bought in Nashville a couple years ago, back to the shop he got it from for an adjustment (the action was a bit high for his liking). We then got some authentic Nashville hot fried chicken. This was probably the only food this entire year that we tried that I didn’t love. Greg really wanted to try a particular restaurant, and though I’m not much of a meat-eater to begin with I promised we could try it out. I handle spicy food pretty well, but I don’t like anything too crazy. I still like to taste the food, you know? And to add to that, a couple times in New Orleans we were warned about something being “really spicy”, and I had no issue with it. But this chicken (we ordered the medium) was at the absolute top of the amount of heat I can handle in any food. It was edible, but just barely and only when I covered it in blue cheese. Should have gotten the mild. But Greg really enjoyed it! He ate my leftovers and everything.

We walked around on Broadway for about fifteen minutes, and only after stopping into a fancy hat shop where I got Greg an early Christmas present as well. But since it was about 30 degrees out and drizzling, we killed the rest of the afternoon with a couple beers indoors. Then we did get to meet up with our vanlife buddies Savannah and Drew! It’s always fun bonding over dinner and drinks with another couple who are living a life that’s nearly identical to ours. I can talk all day about the weird idiosyncrasies of living in a van, but like in many things, there’s a lot that you just cant “get” until you’ve done it yourself.

The other exciting news this week is that our schedule for the first half of 2019 is almost finished. We’ve taken our schedule from this year and put it on some steroids. We’re doing Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, and much of Arizona all before April. And then we’re heading to northern California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah, and Colorado before we start making our way back home (with a very exciting stop planned for Hawaii as well to visit my sister). That’s thousands of more miles than we did this year in the same amount of time. But I’m so excited I can’t even stand it, I can’t wait to get out to the west coast! It’s been a long time since I’ve been to California, and I hear the pacific northwest is pretty cool.

We’re sitting in traffic in Virgina right now, 20 miles outside Roanoke. We’re headed to the gym (an aside – since we’ve taken up the gym more seriously I’m down 5 pounds and Greg is down 10, and it is awesome). Tomorrow we’re playing in Staunton, and then we’re making a beeline for North Carolina where the weather surely cannot be colder than it is up here.

So, things are certainly looking up since we got into November. We’ve got Thanksgiving planned out and just five more weeks of shows until we head home (our last gig is 12/22 in North Carolina, and our first gig home is 12/23.. we gotta move.) Here’s to good gigs, better weather, and a seamless end to our very first full year of van living!



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