2018 is drawing to a close. As we’ve been prepping for the long drive home that starts in earnest this evening, I’ve spent the last few days re-reading this blog and putting together the above map of every road we’ve driven. Together these things do a pretty good job at chronicling what has been the most unbelievable year of my life so far. But in revisiting all the things that I’ve written about, I’ve been reminded just how many amazing moments I’ve left out of this blog as well. So, along with the summation that this post is going to be, I’d like to include some stories I never did justice to. (I’ll forewarn you – there’s four stories and they’re very long.)

~

It’s just past noon on a Tuesday, and we’re standing in a conference room. Or at least, that’s what it feels like; this particular local radio station is pretty bare-bones. I put my guitar back in its case and make idle chatter with Greg about the interview we’d just signed off from. It went well. The host closes out the show, turning things over to the afternoon voice of this local NPR affiliate, and joins us in the adjacent room as I’m slugging the lukewarm remains of my morning coffee. “So, what are your plans before your show tonight? There isn’t a lot to do in Amarillo,” she laughs. I tell her that we’re always looking for something different to do, and her eyes suddenly light up. “Have you ever been to Palo Duro Canyon?” We of course shake our heads. Neither of us had ever been to western Texas before, and we’d only arrived in town just three hours prior. “You have to go. If you only do one thing today, make it that.” Greg and I exchange a look. It’s mid-March, and the weather is abysmal. It’s probably in the low 40’s outside, heavily overcast and raining lightly. We need to be at our gig tonight by 6pm. But it’s only noon, and state parks are a notoriously affordable way to kill an afternoon. “We’ll have to check it out,” I say as we head for the door. 

An hour later we’re south of the city, cruising down an extremely foggy single-lane highway. So far we’ve seen little more than sprawling acres of farmland. All around us the ground is flat and as yellow as I’ve ever seen it, starkly contrasted against a dismal, dark grey sky. I think to myself that we might be throwing away a half a tank of gas on this. But we solider on into the mist. 

Out of nowhere the ground starts to turn red. Dark green shrubs begin to dot the yellow prairie that is rapidly disappearing. I turn to my right and look out the passenger side window, and in a break in the fog I see a massive gouge in the earth. It’s probably fifty feet deep and three times as wide. “Look at that!” I’m practically yelling. In all our travels so far I had never seen anything like it. I grab my phone and snap a dozen pictures, only to find that it looks like nothing more than dark smudges on my phone screen. How is that even possible? I’m suddenly upset that I won’t be able to share what this place is really like with anyone else, but the thought is fleeting as more and more canyons start to become visible.

The highway dwindles until we arrive at the park gate, and the electric excitement in the van is palpable. The landscape around us has changed so drastically in the last five minutes that it almost seems impossible for it to get better. We follow the road – now little more than a dirt path – into the park, around a few corners and down a few small hills, and abruptly the real canyons come into view. 

Even in the heavy fog, it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen. The canyons stretch as far as you can see in every direction. We’re standing on the rim, hundreds of feet above the rivers that run through it. It’s brilliant shades of red and orange carved in bizarre patterns and formations, and there’s something new to marvel at every time you move your eyes. I’ve never seen something so majestic and breathtaking and it leaves me at a loss for words. 

We park the van on the edge of the rim and get dressed for the weather – a long sleeve shirt, sweatshirt, winter jacket, scarf, boots, and a beanie for myself to stave off the cold the best I can. And then we pile out of the van and even closer to the rim’s edge to get a better view. I find I could have stood out there in a t-shirt, the view is so incredible that I couldn’t have cared less about the weather. We both took countless photos, knowing full well that there was hardly a point in doing so. I hold the details in my mind more clearly than any picture we took ever captured. 

But I do look back on those pictures because we included ourselves in so many of them. We take a lot of photos; a fact that should surprise no one. More often than not they’re of places and things, and not of us. But on this day, each of us took dozens of pictures of the other, and the amount of happiness I can see in us there surpasses nearly any other place we’ve been before or since. This was the very first place that gave us the sense of adventure and discovery that we’ve chased doggedly ever since. It came so unexpectedly and caught us so off guard that it felt surreal that we had ended up there at all. And it showed us, particularly me, that not only is it okay to embrace the unpredictable, but there are things that you might never see and places you will never go if you always stick to the plan. I’ve carried that sentiment with me since that afternoon. 

We spent the next four hours exploring the canyons, hiking in and around little trails that cut through the rocks at the bottom. In my naivete, as we were leaving I thought this might be one of the coolest things we’d see this year. I thought that maybe this place was just an amazingly well kept secret. Surely I wouldn’t be more impressed by the red rocks of Colorado, the martian landscapes of Utah, and the Arizona desert and mountains. Surely the Grand Canyon must look a lot like this; after all, Palo Duro is the second largest canyon system in the country. 

I was wrong about all of that, and I’d be wrong a hundred more times if it means I get to return to those places. But I will always think of Palo Duro fondly, because I remember it as the place that started my love affair with the American Southwest. 

~

It’s a Saturday afternoon, and I’m laying on my back in the middle of a parking lot. The metal guts of the van protrude out at odd angles just inches above my face. I sigh deeply, wondering to myself if airborne rust particles are toxic to breathe in, and in the same moment realizing they can’t possibly be good for you. Pushing this from my mind, I call out to Greg who’s standing next to the van in front of a pile of tools and assorted materials that are far from ideal for the job at hand. “Okay, hand me the first one.” Greg reaches under the van and hands me a roll of muffler tape – the kind that has to be soaked in water before use, so naturally it’s dripping a watery orange substance everywhere. But this is now the second time I’ve done this job, and this tape looks a lot less dried out than the stuff we bought in New Orleans that failed on us in less than two weeks. I look to our poor muffler, practically completely unwound again. It strongly resembles an empty can of soup that’s been torn down one side, a flimsy ragged edge hanging far too close to the ground for comfort. 

I take this slimy tape in a gloved hand and start wrapping it around the largest part of the torn metal flap. It pulls things back into something that resembles a muffler-shaped-object, if you can ignore the gaping, rusty hole in the bottom that no amount of tape was going to fix. But this is not a beauty pageant. I’ve got all my hair tucked into a beanie to keep it off the ground, sunglasses on to keep any rogue shards of metal out of my eyes, and orange muffler tape juice running down my arms and encroaching on my rolled up sleeves. It doesn’t need to be pretty, it just has to work. 

I get the first roll in place, secured with a second roll of slightly more normal tape to keep it from moving until we can turn the van on. The slimy orange stuff is heat activated, so I’m working as quickly as I can so we can get things permanently bonded as soon as possible. My arms are tired from holding them straight up for minutes on end. This parking lot isn’t exactly clean, and I’m in my good sweatshirt. But Greg hands me the second roll of tape, and I do the best I cant to strategically position it around the muffler so that it won’t give out on us a second time. I struggle with it for a few minutes, but eventually I decide it’s good enough. I climb out from under the van, desperately trying to keep my hands from touching anything. I’m sure to any passerby that in that moment I looked crazy, or homeless, or both, especially since I was half grinning at the absurdity of what we were doing. 

Not three hours earlier I had just purchased my new Gibson. I did this repair in the parking lot of the Guitar Center where I bought it while waiting for the technician to add a strap button to it before hitting the road again. Three hours ago I was chatting with a salesman about how much fun it is being on the road, and how well the tour is going, in a completely normal outfit while buying a very expensive guitar. I’m not sure anyone who saw me in that moment would have recognized me climbing out from under the van; certainly I didn’t look like the same person in any conceivable way. But that’s the reality that we live in now. One minute you’re on top of the world, and the next you’re literally laying on the ground in a parking lot. 

~

It’s well after midnight in Wichita, Kansas in late April, and we’ve just finished our set. We’re in the the quintessential music dive bar, with posters and stickers covering black walls and a hearty old soul behind the bar offering us cans of PBR. It’s always PBR. 

We had a good night, unexpectedly. Wichita is a college town, and we don’t fare as well with the under 30 crowd as I’d like. But the people that come to Kirby’s are people that want to see and support live music, and I’m not sure there’s a more exciting trait to discover at a new venue. So often we’re relegated to a corner of the bar to play cover song after cover song that a stage alone, small as it may be, is a refreshing sight. Along with the usual handful of CDs, we sold three shirts right then – at the time the most we’d ever sold in a single evening. We were second of three on a Thursday night bill, so a rare opportunity to stay and catch our breath before heading off to wherever we could find to park for the night had presented itself. So we each take another free PBR and return to the merch table. We aren’t starved for a social life, but we take every chance we get to find and talk to good people. On the road, any connections you make with locals are so often fleeting and temporary, so we try and make them count. 

The questions come in the order they always do. Where are you from? What are you doing here? How long have you been touring? What was your van before it was an RV, an ambulance or an armored car? Who books your shows? What’s your favorite song to play? Are you a couple? Where are you playing tomorrow night?

We of course have a canned answer for every one of these by now. I alone have answered each one a hundred times, often two or three times a night. But every night has a different flavor, and tonight it’s Buffalo pride. There’s a Bills fan here talking our ear off about Buffalo being the best city of all time. He’s never lived there, he says, but the “Bills Mafia” is so cool and the people he’s met from there are so awesome. He can’t wait to visit again. He takes a picture with us to post on his Wichita Bills Fans Facebook page. I’m weirdly put out by all of this, wondering if this guy was even here for our set.

We make our way back inside to catch the third performer. It’s a guy with an acoustic guitar and he’s playing Neil Young. “It’s better to burn out than to fade away,” he sings to the still-crowded room. And how true that feels right now. I think of the Buffalo fan outside and wonder where he got all those ideas. For a minute I want to tell him that’s he wrong, but the truth is that he isn’t. Buffalo, for all its worth, shaped me into the person and musician I’ve grown into. And it certainly is the right place for a lot of people. But I had already started to fade away before we left, fading into the cycle of a bitter weekend warrior with all of this desire and nothing to do but drink it away. Buffalo watered and fed me, showed me the ropes, and then told me to get the hell out the minute I was starting to stand steady on my feet. And now, over a thousand miles away, it feels like the best gift I could ever have been given. There’s a bar full of people in a city I’ve never been to before who came to see us play and want to see us play again, entirely because of what I was able to build for us from the ground up. I’m not sure things would have ended up this way if I had been living somewhere else. It’s hard not to be thankful now, when I can look back on everything instead of just blindly wading into an uncharted future. 

The night is winding down and our grizzled bartender signals last call. I grab one of our stickers from the merch table and plaster it on the front door alongside hundreds of others. I know this won’t be the last time we’re here, but it feels good to add our name to the roster of people who have played this locally-famous little hole in the wall.  We shake hands with our temporary friends and they promise to look us up online. We truly wish each other well though we all know we’ll likely never meet again. Then we haul all our gear from the bar to the back of the van and climb in. There’s a truck stop half an hour away from here. I chart the course and we hit the road again, forever tired but a long, long ways from burning out. 

~

It’s mid-afternoon in the Rocky Mountains. The road before us is hardly deserving of the title, looking like a rough-hewn gravel pathway more suitable for four-wheelers or wild horses than something of our maneuverability. The suspension creaks and rattles with each pothole and dirt mound. I grit my teeth and hope no lasting damage is being done; without cell phone service, the town we passed a half an hour ago might as well be a world away.

“Is that a bald eagle?” I find myself suddenly exclaiming. “Oh my God, there’s two!” They appeared as if from nowhere to soar lazily between the snow capped peaks and valleys surrounding us, only to disappear as quickly into the dense forest. We watch them go with rapt attention; it wasn’t too unlike seeing a mythical creature.

We shouldn’t have been so surprised, really. Finding ourselves in the most remote place either of us had ever been should have been reason enough to expect all of these things. But at just four months into this lifestyle, how could we be prepared for much of anything? Every day has dealt us a different set of circumstances, and we’re just trying to field as many pitches as we can. Was it really just a week ago that we left the dry heat and urban sprawl of Phoenix? I’d never felt further from the desert than I did in this moment, absent-mindedly worrying we’d encounter some significant overnight snowfall despite feeling we were well into spring. No way to check the weather, though.

Another rusty pickup truck flies by us on the left, passing us at easily double our own speed. The fact that anyone could choose to live permanently in a place like this baffles me more than I’d like to admit. We’ve easily passed a dozen farms, some that were definitely stately vacation cabins and others with long-term residents seeming to be scraping to get by. I’m excited to be here now, but the isolation makes me a little nervous. I couldn’t do this place long-term. I then realize that forgot to tell my parents we’d be unreachable. I hope they don’t try to call.

“It’s on the right in two more miles,” I tell Greg, raising my voice to be heard over the road noise. We’re cruising at an easy 20mph, so it takes far longer than it should have to arrive. Finally, we pull into something that resembles a campground. It’s a free “recreation area”. There’s a few picnic tables and fire rings, and an outhouse that’s still locked for the season. The Welcome Sign tells us not to shoot off fireworks and to pack out all garbage. There isn’t another person or vehicle in sight.

I step out to stretch my legs, quietly rejoicing that the van appears to still be in working order. The distinct sound of rushing water is suddenly audible to my right. A few steps into the brush reveals the bright blue waters of a mountain river running strong not ten yards from our parking spot. The barely-legible sign indicates that it’s the Colorado River. The very same creator of the Grand Canyon was here, in front of us. A private viewing of a natural legend. The waters are so crystal clear that if it was warmer, I would have undoubtedly jumped in.

I follow the river to my right, scrambling over loose gravel and down a shallow embankment. Greg’s footsteps are behind me. We don’t have to go far to find a better viewing of the water. The river curves around a corner, deepening under the small bridge carrying the single road back to civilization. The banks are lined with dense weeds and plants I can’t identify, and it’s so early in the season that not a single tree has gotten it’s leaves yet. You could call it bleak, but I found it surprisingly beautiful. This place must be amazing in the summertime, I muse. Suddenly a dark shape materializes downstream. “What is that?” I say in Greg’s general direction, with a vague notion that he probably has as much a clue as I do. A moment passes, and the dark shape morphs into three, and a small, brown, wet head pokes out of the water. “Otters!”

As if on cue, one of the river otters climbs up onto a bare patch in the river bank. We watch them in awe for the better part of a half hour, swimming and chirping around the river. To credit the place as magical seems cheesy, but in the moment no other words were really doing it justice. It reads like a scene from an overly romanticized novel, but instead it’s unfolding in front of my eyes. It isn’t the first time that I’ve felt this way about a place and I know it won’t be the last, but it hits me like a ton of bricks every time. 

As the sun starts to dip behind the mountains we slowly retreat to the van. A whistle sounds, and the isolation is abruptly interrupted with the sounds of a rusty freight train that is cutting across the river bank opposite us. I watch it pass from the driver’s seat. What an odd place for train tracks, I think. I wonder where they’re going. I wonder why. 

“What do you want for dinner?” I hear Greg ask from somewhere behind me. But I don’t care about that right now. I try to immortalize this moment. How the sky looks, the pattern of the smudges on the windshield, the rumble of the train wheels, the whispering of the wind through the towering pine trees outside. I try to recall the nearly unbelievable sequence of events that have lead me here. I can feel that this is a place I’ll want to remember. I know I might never find my way back to this particular spot. I stop and just breathe in as much of it in as I possibly can. 

Then I climb into the back of the van to have dinner, and the scene ends. The part of me that drinks in these moments water from a desert spring goes back to sleep, waiting endlessly for the next place that leaves me nothing but happy to be alive. 

~

It’s a lot, right? I only regret I couldn’t have captured every single day like that. For each of those stories there’s two dozen more just like it. I hope you enjoyed reading them, but honestly I wrote those mostly for myself. I already find that certain events and places look fainter in my mind than I’d like, and I want to hold on to as much of this year as I possibly can.

I can’t believe the year is ending. I can’t believe we’ve gone over 20,000 miles. I can’t believe we made it this far. The good days outweighed the bad in droves, but there were more than a few times where I thought we wouldn’t make it. But not only did we make it, we don’t have any plans to stop for at least another two solid years, very possibly longer. If you had told me this a year ago I probably would have passed out from the massive weight you would have just lifted off me.

But truthfully I think I’m an entirely different person now. I think back to what I was doing a year ago at Christmas and the weeks leading up to our departure, and it seems like every opinion that I used to hold has changed in some way. I don’t think it’s outwardly obvious, especially to anyone who doesn’t know me well, but there isn’t a thing in this world that I don’t see a little differently than I did just twelve short months ago.

I could write an entire novel on the things I’ve learned. But I think the biggest lesson for me has been the finite nature of everything in this life. Greg and I spend such a short time in each place that we travel to that we often feel the need to really make every moment count. When you wake up each morning feeling like you need to make the most of it, your perspective on the world changes like crazy. And it bleeds into every aspect of life. Everything comes to an end. It’s so important to me now to spend my time and energy on the things and people that are truly important to me, and to let everything else go.

I don’t know what the future holds for us past next June. But I do know we have at least that long. This year has been incredible, but as selfish as it may sound I truly hope the best days are yet to come. Though I still have a hard time believing things could get better than this.

So many people ask me what my favorite place we’ve been is. And while we’ve been to some amazing cities and places, my favorite part of all of this is the in-between. Of course when I think back on this year, I think of all the amazing places, shows, natural wonders and incredible people that we’ve visited and met. But what might surprise you (and surprised me a bit too) is that I think my favorite thing might actually be the driving.

On the best drives, we’re heading somewhere completely new. Greg is driving with his window down. I’m in the passenger seat and there’s Jason Isbell or Brandi Carlile on the radio. The van is cruising down a brand new highway, and we have no idea what we’re going to find when we get over the top of this hill. And that’s always the best part – we’re forever looking for the next adventure together.

I thought about it, but I’m not going to stop writing here. I’ll be back in 2019. Thanks for following along with us for all this time. Here’s to hoping this is just the end of the beginning.

img_2129
We’ve come so far from the day we left, but God willing, we have a million more miles to go.

 

These past few weeks have certainly made up for all of the sitting around we did in October. I’m not sure there was a single dull moment in all of November, which I can hardly believe is already over. We’re just days away from concluding our first year on the road, but we’ve still got lots going on in the meantime!

I have to bring up the weather again because it has become the bane of my existence. I planned every stop on the tour pretty carefully, with the general climate predictions having a great deal of bearing on the places we planned to go. I expected it to be chilly in Tennessee and Virginia in November, of course. What I did NOT expect was to be facing temperatures in the low teens in North Carolina this time of year. It was sixteen degrees one night. Our fresh water pipes froze and I hardly slept then – we don’t have the battery capacity to run a big enough heater overnight, and I’m paranoid that if we leave the generator on while we sleep the exhaust will malfunction and we’ll die. So it’s been brutally cold most every night. South Carolina has been marginally warmer – we get highs in the mid-50’s, but nights dip down into the 30’s and 20’s often. Though it did snow while we were in the smoky mountains, it wasn’t much more than a dusting, and I unquestionably prefer this weather to a typical Buffalo early winter. But it’s far too close for comfort! In a van with sub-par insulation, this can still be far from tolerable. I’ve found that the weather has a tendency to permeate into a lot of other aspects of life and I’ll never make the mistake of being that far north at this time of year again. I, for one, hate getting up in the morning or doing much of anything when you can see your breath as soon as you stick your head out from under the covers.

Aside from all of that, the Carolina’s have been an adventure and then some; a little too much at times but mostly in the positive direction. We kicked things off down here with our very own “vansgiving”! We found a nice little KOA to camp out at for a few nights and made our very best attempt at recreating a real Thanksgiving dinner in our smallest-of-all-time kitchen. But I really feel like we pulled it off! Everything we made was the fastest, simplest version of the dish, but it came together in a way that made it feel like we were celebrating the holiday the way I was used to. We ended up with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, cranberry sauce, dinner rolls, and an apple pie for dessert (and wine!). Now don’t get me wrong, it was weird not being home for the holiday and seeing family like I always have done for my entire life prior to this year. But I absolutely loved doing Thanksgiving exactly how we wanted to. There was no discussion of whose family we’d spend “Actual Thanksgiving” with and whose we’d see on a different night, no running around, no schedule to follow. Just us, in our little house on wheels, making as much food as we could handle whenever we felt like it. 10/10 holiday celebration, very much looking forward to doing that again next year.

Our string of Carolina shows started the day after Thanksgiving, and it’s kept us busier than we’ve been in quite a while. There’s nothing more welcome than a little bit of chaos after weeks of endless boredom as far as I’m concerned. Tonight will be our 7th show in two weeks, which is how I’d like our schedule to look year-round if I had my way (and it IS starting to look that way on the west coast – just wait til you see our schedule next spring). Of the 6 shows we’ve played so far, each one has been extraordinarily different from the last, but not a single one of them has been disappointing in the slightest. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve played great shows all over the country. But after this string of shows I’m left wondering why we spent any amount of our time in the Midwest and the Northeast… at our first show in North Carolina we made almost triple what we expected to make, and while that may have been our most financially lucrative show of the second half of 2018, every show following it has had a major redeeming quality in one way or another. We’re still here and I can’t wait to come back.

There’s something else to be said for the people of the south as well. Again, don’t think I’m knocking any other regions of this country when I say this, because we have met incredible people everywhere we’ve been time and time again. But from Chattanooga to Charleston, we’ve continually encountered some of the most attentive audiences, the most generous tippers, and the most genuine conversationalists. They pay us better here, they feed us better here, and they listen better here. We routinely have in depth discussions about our travels and adventures with strangers we meet after shows, not fueled by excessive alcohol consumption but because people are interested in our story. The old adage about southern hospitality is not exaggerated in the slightest. Living on the road can be a grind, especially on days when it feels like nobody in the bar is listening after you drove three hundred miles to get there. I don’t think I’ve ever once felt that way in the South. It’s really something special.

But unfortunately, as life often goes, when one things is going swimmingly, something less enjoyable is waiting to strike. We had our second real breakdown a week and a half ago just outside of Charlotte. This one was quite a bit scarier than our first problem when our battery died back in San Antonio. We were gearing up to leave a truck stop one afternoon, and when Greg turned the van on it didn’t appear to be charging our house batteries. Right away this raised some red flags, but I brushed them off as something that probably wasn’t immediately critical. We hit the road anyways and about five minutes after getting on the interstate, our radio shut off. Weird. I figured we had some kind of electrical issue, but we’ve had several of those in the past with a few non-critical ones left unresolved, so I was concerned but not too worried. I started Googling the symptoms, and that’s when things started to hit the fan. Our cigarette lighter outlet delivering power, which meant we had no speedometer. Our windshield wipers starting moving at a quarter of their normal speed. Random lights start illuminating on the dashboard. And then the engine started to sound funny. Keep in mind we’re doing 65 on the highway and all of this is happening within the span of a couple minutes. As this is going on, I come across an article about alternator failure, and it reads like someone is sitting in the van with us as they wrote the article; it’s textbook. And at the end of the article it describes how with no power left in your battery, your fuel injection system will cease to operate and the vehicle will die while you’re driving. This is where I start to panic. I tell Greg to take the next exit and do whatever he can to keep from coming to a full stop, as I wasn’t sure we’d have the battery power to get moving again. The auto gods had a moment of mercy and allowed us to essentially coast into a shopping plaza. We shut the van off and attempted to turn it back on with absolutely zero success – our alternator was clearly toast.

The the next 24 hours were much less frightening. We called Triple A first for battery service, just to make sure it was, in fact, our alternator causing the problem and hoping to avoid paying for the towing of an 8,000 pound van. Once the kindly technician was able to confirm that for us, he then sold us a new battery and installed it. He assured us that a fully charged battery would take us the five miles we needed to go, to the only mechanic open on the following morning, which was a Sunday – a Firestone. Fortunately it did, and we spent our first night ever sleeping in a mechanic’s parking lot (it was in a really nice part of High Point, NC – so it  was actually a very quiet and peaceful place to park, which would have been awesome had I not been stressed out up to my eyeballs). I was also worried about leaving the van in the hands of a “chain” mechanic, but we were lucky enough to meet some supremely qualified guys working at this particular location. We were back on the road before noon – the whole thing lasted less than a full day. No gigs were missed or even remotely effected, which is a miracle in itself (a day later we were way up in the Smokies west of Asheville – a breakdown out there could have been a three day ordeal). But we drive a vehicle that was built in 1995, we drive it every day, and we put a lot of miles on this thing (we’re well over 60k miles now). Only two serious issues in twelve entire months of this still feels like a winning ratio to me.

But that brings us to my other (and often sole) source of stress – money. I don’t like to talk financials too much, because at the end of the day we’re making plenty of money to be comfortable in this lifestyle. But the long and short of it is that because of my digital marketing background I’ve been able to find more remote work, and Greg has not been so lucky. So I pay for 95% of the things that we do or need or want, and Greg pays for his student loans and saves what’s left over, and as a trade off handles things like driving, making dinner, and calling people because I hate talking on the phone. That’s been the status quo since about day one, and Greg and I are both comfortable with that arrangement because it makes the most sense. That is, until I picked up this new job. Part of the plan was to be able to visit places and enjoy being able to experience things while we did this, and when I have to be on the computer for four hours every day, it really cuts into that in a bad way. Four hours might not sound like a lot, but between playing gigs, booking shows, going to the gym, working my other part time job, and navigating van life – which often can often require as much work as a job – it doesn’t leave us too much time to do anything else. Plus, the job is very stressful and inflexible, and it can be mentally exhausting. Right now, since we’re heading into the home stretch, I’m just trying to pack away as much cash as I can while I still have the time. But 2019 is looking a whole lot busier than this year, and though I’m not one to freely throw away a chance to make some steady income, I’m seriously thinking about quitting and trying my luck with some less lucrative or reliable options to get my sanity and freedom back. Some day – I can’t say when, or that it’ll be anytime soon, but still – we’ll move out of the van and back into an immovable dwelling. I don’t want to come to the end of this road and find that I wish I had done more or seen more, but instead spent too much time staring at a computer screen when we could’ve gotten by without it.

img_4745
One of our new friends also lives in a vehicle…. his is a bus that is the same year, make, and model that Rosa Parks was arrested in.

So as usual, there have been ups and downs, but things are mostly looking up. The past couple of days, however, have been a particularly bright spot. On Wednesday we played something called the Awendaw Green Barn Jam. This is a weekly outdoor concert series in a suburb north of Charleston. We played with three other ensembles on a very eccentric little piece of property to a pretty large crowd on a 40 degree weekday night, an incredible feat in itself. But this show was an absolute blast. Not only did we get to swap stories with a couple other touring bands (a rarity for us, and something we always look forward to), but every single person working the event, selling food at the event, or playing the event, was an absolute delight to talk to and hang out with. And as an added bonus, they had a spot for us to park and plug in overnight. So for the first time in ages, we got together with a group of great people over

img_4741
Me and my new friend Barney.

a bunch of beers after a gig. We were all strangers not hours before we were all congregating in one person’s living room, talking like we’d been friends for years. It reminded me so much of all the nights we’ve had after really good gigs back home, where good music and good people having a good time was the only thing anyone cared about all night. I can’t tell you how much we needed that reprieve. I could write an entire post on that night alone, about the Jam Ladies and the freezing weather and the cases of PBR and American Opera and the music teacher from Fredonia and the barn cat who almost lit his tail on fire, but alas, I don’t have the time…. maybe another day.

img_4786
Downtown Charleston – I believe they call this part Rainbow Row.

We kept things going the next morning – I wasn’t ready to get back on the computer. Instead, we headed into downtown Charleston to do some exploring. Greg had a hankering for an authentic southern breakfast, so we found a small little cafe in the city and loaded up on biscuits and gravy and other delicious, fatty, tasty breakfast foods. Then we went to the touristy area of downtown and spent a few hours just walking around, which we’ve done in just maybe four or five cities since June, as opposed to easily over a dozen, maybe more, in our first six months on the road. It felt good to be in a new place again, and I got such a good vibe from Charleston. It has all the charm of an old southern city, with the architecture and vibrant colors of New Orleans (it even has its own French Quarter), topped off with a gorgeous coastline. Not sure what else you could ask for in a city to be quite honest. I really wish we’d had more time to spend there this time around. But we only had time for just a few hours as there was work to be done once again. (But here’s a little slideshow of some of the sights:)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Today we’re headed into Myrtle Beach for a show at 9pm. We’re en route to they gym as we speak – I have work open in one tab and this blog open in the other, hopping back and forth between them whenever I have a couple seconds of a break, otherwise there would be no time for updates here until January, maybe. We’ve got five gigs and just over two weeks remaining until we go home for the holidays, so I’ll probably do one more post here after this until 2019.

Thanks as always for reading – I’ll see a lot of you guys real soon!

img_4579
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.

img_4596
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.)

img_4600
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.

img_4617
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.

img_4632
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.

img_4650
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!

 

 

Well, we’re still kicking, and I know that’s worth something. We’re also still way too far north for my liking this time of year, but we’re almost at the end of our Ohio shows and soon we’ll finally get to head for Tennessee. But let’s talk about what’s happening now.

img_4499
Real big stage at Fretboard Brewing. Not visible – the 100+ people behind the cameraman here. This was a fun one.

Let’s start with the one thing that has been going very well –  every show we have played this month has been amazing. We opened for Phoebe Hunt & the Gatherers in Jackson, MI on the 12th, and it was in my top five favorite shows I’ve ever played. Then last week we played a promotional early-afternoon spot in a Cincinnati music store and filmed early-morning video shoot for BalconyTV of Cincinnati the next morning. And then this past week we played a show at a little dive bar downtown, followed by a show at a massive brewery outside the city. All of those shows were exceptional. I would like to do nothing more than to play music five times a week for the rest of my life, and doubly so when we get the kind of response that we’ve been receiving all week from everyone we’ve met. I think we’re really starting to hit our stride at live shows, and that’s a great feeling.

img_4504
One more show photo. Many thanks to Ed Sawicki for the awesome shot – and he’s from Lackawanna, to boot!

But that’s also what’s frustrating. When we do have shows to play, things are better all around. Life is fulfilling and all the other crap that I’ve been wading through just to get to these shows seems 110% worth it. But we’ve had five of these good days in October, and I can’t live forever on that kind of good to not-so-good ratio. I knew this was going to be our slowest month of the year, but it doesn’t make it less difficult to endure.

To elaborate on to this, I’ve found a second part-time job to replace the one I lost. The work isn’t too difficult, but the time commitment is a lot more than I was hoping for – 20 hours a week Monday – Friday, without flexibility. This is twice as many hours as I was working in my other position. So now, I have two part time jobs totaling about 35 hours a week, plus the 5 or so hours a week I spend on booking shows, PLUS all the time we spend at gigs, which is usually 5 hours per show. So on a week with 3 gigs, I have roughly 55 hours of work per week to do, oftentimes more because I’m a perfectionist to the nth degree, and because there’s always some other project for the band or side-hustle that I’m working on. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not a lazy person by nature and I like working hard at what I do. But the problem here is this: I’m now left with almost zero time to learn new covers, or to write songs, or to practice or hone my actual craft in really any way. I already didn’t have a ton of time previously, but now it’s down to essentially nothing. It feels like I’m back in Buffalo, spending all my time on things that feel like dead ends just to get us through the day-to-day. I only get to play music at shows that I’ve already booked, and that’s kind of killing me.

So, I want to take a second to tell you about a project that Greg and I are hoping will help turn this around a bit, and we need your help to make it work.

We’ve started a Patreon page. If you’re not familiar with the website, it’s basically a way for people who make stuff (be it music, art, video games, lectures, etc) to connect with people who really believe in their work and contribute to making more of it.

You can check out our page and some more in-depth info about the project here: www.patreon.com/therightlyso  (And if you’re already one of our first Patrons, thank you!!)

If you read this blog regularly and you enjoy it, I promise you that you’re really going to like what we’re doing on Patreon. I get a lot of comments from people who read this and say that they’re living vicariously through us, which we honestly love hearing – sharing our adventures is one of the best parts of our travels. Our Patreon is going to be like this blog on steroids – we’re going to bring you “with us” as much as possible. Everything from video blogs about life on the road to private, live concerts is going to be happening. We’ve got big ideas, and we’re hoping to share this with every person that’s even a little bit interested.

Now, I want to make one thing VERY clear – this is in no way a fundraiser, a GoFundMe or a KickStarter. There’s no “goal” that we need to hit. Also, despite the contribution being monthly, there is zero expected commitment and you can stop at literally any time, and we won’t mind. We just want people who value our content to be able to get as much of it as they want, and in doing so give us the ability to spend more time making it, and making it better. If If you choose to contribute, you’ll be getting cool stuff right away, no matter what (we’re really kicking things off starting in November). You can join us for literally $1, and I’ll let you in on a secret – we’re probably going to offer a bunch of the higher-tier content to everyone that joins us for the first month or two, so you can sign up for a dollar and sample a little bit of everything and see what you like.

And as an aside, this blog will never not be free and publicly available – and I want to thank you specifically for reading these ramblings of mine at all. I do love being able to share this kind of stuff with people like you guys. But if you find any value in the things that we’ve been creating and sharing with you since we’ve been on the road, we’d really love your support – and I promise we’ll make it worth your while!

img_4442
Big beautiful park right in downtown Cincy – that’s the flea market to the left.

Okay, that’s enough of that (for now). Let’s recap our time in Cincinnati, cause there sure has been a lot of it. We’ve been here for several weeks, which is the longest I think we’ve been in any one city aside from home.

Cincinnati is in a unique spot – if you haven’t driven around the country a bunch, you often don’t think of Kentucky and Ohio as being anywhere near each other. The reality is that they share a border, and Cincinnati is more or less on top of it. So you get a hearty dose of midwest-folk combined with some southern charm. It’s a beautiful city, and I’ve actually really enjoyed our time here, though we’re certainly long overdue to get moving again.

img_4453
Pho! The broth is what really makes a good bowl of pho, and this place had it DOWN. So good.

Our first show in the city (the music store one I mentioned above) was literally right downtown, and we spent the whole afternoon after the gig walking around and taking in as much of the sights as we could. There was a cool little flea market happening right downtown, and we ended up in a place called Findlay Market, which felt a lot like Burlington’s downtown “strip”. I got to introduce Greg to pho, which I’ve been wanting to do for ages, and he’s a big fan! (If you’ve never tried pho, you must. It’s the best soup on the planet. If you’re ever out this way, Pho Lang Thang is the spot).

We didn’t spend a ton of time downtown – it’s still a big city, and getting in and out in the van is always a task of epic proportions. We did, however, make a weird little pit stop at the only supermarket I’ve ever seen that could rival Wegmans. It’s called Jungle Jims, and I’m pretty sure they have every food item known to man. The store is as large as a shopping mall, and I’m not exaggerating. They have full aisles dedicated to countries selling stuff that doesn’t look like it’d be available anywhere else in America. There’s tanks of live fish you can buy to eat. There are singing animatronic characters all over the store. It’s like half supermarket, half carnival. I found bacon flavored soda in one aisle and Buffalo-milk cheese in another. The fact that I’m actually writing about our trip to the grocery store in this blog should tell you how incredibly unusual the whole thing was. If you’re ever passing through this way, it’s quite honestly not the worst way to kill a couple hours.

We’ve been camping out at truck stops nearly all month because of the tight budget we’re currently working with. But over the weekend it was rainy and overcast here for several days in a row, and unfortunately we can’t run the new generator in the rain. So I caved, and we found a cheap campground just south of the city. (The place was called Big Bone Lick State Park… Greg found this particularly amusing, but not quite as funny as the fact that it was located in a town called Beaverlick). We arrived to an absolutely packed campground – they were throwing a little Halloween carnival this weekend, and it was kind of nice to feel like we were in a neighborhood that was in the holiday spirit. I worked double-overtime this week to get everything done before the weekend, so I was actually able to enjoy two full days off for the first time in forever. It was awesome, and doubly so since we had full hookups, which makes our van feel more like a real little home than anything.

you_doodle_2018-10-23t02_37_08z
We got a bunch of great photos from our rooftop BalconyTV session, but I think this one’s my favorite. ❤

We still have two more shows in Ohio – one in Eaton, and one more in Cincinnati – later this week in the first few days of November. We’re headed to Knoxville almost immediately after, and we’re hoping to make a short stop in Nashville too sometime next month – not only do we love that city, but our good friends Savannah and Drew are in the studio down there working on Savannah’s new album, and we’re hoping to catch up with them. Until then we’ll be mostly found in one of the dozen Starbucks scattered about the suburbs, working our butts off and biding our time until we can really get moving again.

One last time: www.patreon.com/therightlyso. $1. Check it out. Share it with someone who likes folk music, or RVs, or travelling, or the guy who won that billion dollar lottery a couple days ago. We’d be super grateful. Otherwise, we’ll see you when we’re definitively south of the Mason-Dixon line!

img_2977
Just wanted to put a snippet of one of my favorite memories in Arizona from this past year into this post so it doesn’t seem so bleak.

Sorry for the long absence, dear readers. Our September ended up looking completely different than I had imagined, and left me with little to write about. We came home in a “semi-surprise” for Labor Day, and ended up not leaving Buffalo until the 23rd of September. We took Greg’s old car to the three out-of-town gigs we had booked during this time (and saved a TON on gas as a result). It’s always nice to be home, despite the unexpected length of time we spent there this past month. As far as I know, I visited with most of the regular readers of this blog during that time, so there’s really not too much to say.

We’re back on the road as of two weeks ago. Things…. well, things have been a whole lot less fun lately, to use some PG phrasing. A lot of things that are usually a non-issue have become large, frustrating problems since we left Buffalo. A couple issues stand out as being major culprits in absolutely derailing our usual morale, including some surprising difficulty in re-booking a number of venues in the Southeast that we were banking on this coming winter, and a long, near two-week stretch without any shows in a part of the country with very little to do; even things like rising gas prices and poorly paved roads in the Midwest are causing friction in our day-to-day. But the biggest let down as of late is the fact that I’m now very abruptly down to one part-time job, and in my remaining position I know the company’s end goal is to replace me with a full-time, in-person employee. To say that I’m suddenly panicking about the future is an understatement. (Greg will tell you that I over-stress about these things, and he’s probably right, but the prospect of being down to naught but gig income at this point in our touring career is terrifying to me.)

So I’m scrambling. I don’t mind giving up late-night Denny’s and random souvenir shopping for myself, but the reduction of our income means we have a lot less “fun” in general. Because of the amount of sacrifices we’ve made to live this way (giving up a lot of privacy, no unlimited water and electric, no hot showers, sleeping in parking lots, etc) the recreation and touristy stuff that we do is  SO critical to making this whole thing enjoyable, bearable even. When all you do is bounce from truck stop to truck stop parking lot, and working in coffee shops in between gigs, things feel a little bleak.

I planned for this, I did. I expected rough patches. But to say that I haven’t been feeling more than a little dejected pretty often lately would be a lie.

That said, the thought of doing anything other than this (like moving back to Buffalo or finding an apartment) is quite honestly still extremely unappealing to me even now. At this moment, I don’t think I’ll ever move back to Buffalo on a permanent basis, and I certainly don’t know enough about anywhere else we’ve been to want to live there.

img_4353
The new baby. Ain’t she a looker.

So, we’re toughing it out to the best of our abilities. I’m working twice as much as I was before. I’ve pulled Greg into the booking process for 2019 as much as I can to help keep us on track there. I’ve been applying for any remote part-time work I can find. We’ve sort of thrown ourselves at the gym, too – we’ve been going for at least an hour 3 times a week rather than our usual stroll on the treadmill followed by a mad dash to the showers. We’ve also made some long-awaited upgrades to the van to improve our quality of vanlife now that long stretches at nice campgrounds are currently not in the budget. This has included a propane stove (two burners!), and – wait for it – a second generator. (For the uninitiated, we have a 6500 watt Onan generator that came with the van. It’s MASSIVE, and sounds like an entire fleet of diesel engines when it’s on. As a result, we can’t use it in parking lots or anywhere where people value the ability to hear each other speak.) This new generator is a 1700 watt Craftsman that sits nicely under ratchet straps on our back bumper and purrs like a cat when it’s on, plus it’s almost inaudible if you’re more than 10 feet away from it in a place with ambient sounds. We’re still working out some kinks, but both of these have given me something to work on and direct some of this frustration energy into.

img_4320
Hoping for less of all the former and more of this in the last few months of 2018.

We’re in Indiana now, biding our time until our next gig on the 12th in Michigan. I’m counting the days until we get to actually make some headway in a southern direction, which isn’t until early November. A change of scenery is definitely something that would do me some good. I’m pretty confident that things are going to get better sooner than later. We’re making plans for the entirety of 2019, and there’s a lot I’m looking forward to coming up in the next twelve months. I think we just got too lucky for too long, and the powers that be decided we needed to face a harsher reality for a little while. And that’s alright. It sucks, but it’s alright; we’ll be just fine.

I may have developed a controversial opinion. Of all the places we’ve been this year, I…. am not finding New England to be on the top of the list. Maybe as a person I don’t mind it too much, but as a full-time RVer I’ve had more bones to pick with this area than anywhere else in the country.

I think one of the biggest contributing factors to this is the driving. When we got back to Buffalo in June, I swore up and down that the worst drivers in the nation were in Florida and Georgia. I retract that statement fully. In the aforementioned states, the driving is ignorant and annoying (like drifting across three lanes without signaling, for example). But here, these drivers are malicious. New Englanders drive like they do not have the will to live. We were cut off, pulled out in front of, dangerously passed, honked at and nearly run into more times than I could care to count. Their driving is terrifying and probably took several years off my life based on my stress levels during our time there. In Somerville MA, a car behind us laid on its horn when we decided not to drive head-on into oncoming traffic at a stop sign, then swerved to our left and drove around us straight into traffic itself instead. That was over a week ago and I’m still talking about it because of how crazy it was. It was horrendous and I won’t go within 50 miles of Boston in the van probably ever again.

Also, all the major roads have tolls, and they’re insanely expensive, (compared to NY, anyways) especially for a truck with dual wheels like we have. Sometimes we paid 3 to 4 $3+ tolls in a matter of an hour. I think we paid almost $50 in tolls in total in our week in New England.

Overall, Maine actually was wonderful, but I have a couple bones to pick with Portland before I talk about all the awesome stuff there. Firstly, the amount of homeless people in the city was staggering and super depressing. Secondly, the streets are laid out incredibly poorly and not at all friendly to a 20 foot box truck. Third, the following:

Only three times in the last eight months have I ever wished I still lived in an apartment. Once was the very first time our water system sprung a leak, and I was so new to van life and living on the road that it culminated in a lot of frustration and anger before I could fix the problem. The third time was very recently – our drain in our shower started draining very slowly and water from our sink was backing up into it. I had to disassemble part of our waste water system to clear the clog. I have NEVER been so close to vomiting in disgust. The smell… the grey sludge…. the SMELL…. (for the record, I’ve gotten pretty good at odd jobs in the van, and that was no exception – the drain is working perfectly once again).

But the second time was for reasons entirely different than maintenance. We pulled into a Planet Fitness to shower just outside Portland. The gym itself was fine, but the locker rooms were.. abhorrent. Poorly lit, uncleaned, dingy. The women’s showers had doors that didn’t lock, hadn’t been cleaned in god knows how long, other people’s toiletries still sitting on the shelves. Mold on the walls, swaths of wet hair on the floor. The kind of shower where you don’t feel any cleaner after having been in it. It felt like what I imagine a homeless shelter bathroom must be like. And I had a weirdly illuminating moment: I had a gig later, I needed a shower and this place was my only option right now. For a brief moment I sort of did feel homeless. It wasn’t pleasant, though I am surprised it took so long to feel something that’s technically the truth. It wasn’t nearly earth-shattering enough to change my opinion on how we’ve chosen to live recently, but it did make me a little introspective for a while about the social implications of this lifestyle.

This segues nicely into something else Greg and I have been talking about (though unrelated to the Portland Planet Fitness, that event did stiffen my resolve to put these plans into action) – summer of 2019 we’re planning on doing a van remodel. Triple the interior storage, add a second vent, fix the roof, redo the water system, totally remodel the shower; the works. The biggest thing for me is creating a usable shower so we don’t have to rely on gym locations or camp showers, along with more storage to get some of our things (like my bag of clothes that is forever having food dropped into it) off the floor. This is still very much in the preliminary stages, but it’s exciting to think about taking or good van interior and making it great for us.

img_3889
Spotted in downtown Portalnd. Felt like a sailor for .02 seconds.

Now ignore all of that for a minute while I tell you all the good stuff about Portland. It’s this tiny ocean side city in a really gorgeous part of the country that appears to be filled with a combination of tourists, hipsters and seriously sea-worn sailors still working the port. It’s interesting. Once again, the food was paramount in our experience. We had these donuts downtown from a place called The Holy Donut, where they use mashed potatoes as their base rather than flour. They are un-freaking-believable. They don’t taste like potatoes, they’re twice as moist as a regular doughnut but they’re not too rich to enjoy it in its entirety. It’s tied for best doughnut of my life with Voodoo Doughnut in Austin.

img_3892
The only part of this awesome meal that I remembered to take a picture of. SO. MUCH. LOBSTAH.

We also, of course, had to splurge on some serious seafood. I picked J’s Oyster Bar for its combination of popularity and dive-bar feel, which is often where our most memorable meals come from. This proved to be true once again – this was a top five meal of my entire life (which is saying something). We started with a half dozen raw oysters, something I haven’t had since I returned from France three years ago and absolutely love. Then, we were introduced to streamer clams. These are not the same as the standard little neck or quahog clams you typically buy at the grocery store. These have thinner, more oblong shells, are brownish in color, and have a very different method of consumption. You take the clam out of the shell, and first pull off the tough skin covering the clam’s siphon. Then you swish it around in a small bowl of water that it was steamed in to get the extra sand out. And only then can you dip in butter and eat it. They’re sweeter and more tender than little necks in my opinion, and I want to eat a thousand of them. Finally I had something I’ve always wanted to try: a lobster roll. It did in fact live up to the hype. 10/10 dinner, would spend another whole paycheck on a meal there again.

We had two shows in Maine, one in Portland and one just to the north in Lewiston. Our Portland show had every possibility of being a rough night (our opening act was a trio of pirate-costumed individuals singing sea shanties, which historically does not vibe with our typical style), but we managed to draw a very respectable crowd and ended up having a great night. The same was true in Lewiston, a slow start turned into a solid evening (plus, they fed and drank us thoroughly and I have mad respect for any venue who does so willingly – thank you Guthrie’s!)

img_3960
This place is called Thunder Hole.

After our gigs, with a few days off we decided to head up to Acadia National Park on the eastern coast of Maine. I had managed to snag us a couple nights at two campgrounds on the park grounds, so we had lots of time to explore what is basically a mountain in the ocean. It’s every bit as beautiful as it sounds, even though every day we were there was foggy or overcast. I’d love to go back in the fall or when it’s brilliantly sunny.

We did a small bit of hiking while we were there – we hiked up Gorham Mountain and the adjoining Cadillac Trail (for those who are familiar with the park, no – we didn’t make it to the top of Cadillac mountain for the sunrise, as RVs aren’t allowed to drive up the hill and I was not prepared to hike up a mountain at 3am for that!). But the hike up Gorham treated us to some stunning views nonetheless. Greg hiked up the mountain with his new camera, and it led to some pretty neat shots:

 

img_3923
Wild Maine Blueberries!

Another fun fact about Acadia – blueberries grow wild in the park, and you’re encouraged to pick and eat them. They’re a lot smaller than store bought blueberries, but incredibly sweet. I personally had a blast finding blueberry bushes on the various trails and chowing down mid-hike.

After Acadia we headed for our gigs in Massachusetts. We did arrive at both our gigs in one piece despite the general driving populations attempt to murder us at every turn. Our gig in Somerville was particularly notable as we played with some really amazing bands that evening (look up Visiting Wine if you’re into the modern pop/folk sound at all). We played in Springfield MA the following night (someone there said to Greg, on finding out we were from Buffalo, “that’s even worse than Springfield!” So apparently, people there haven’t heard that Buffalo is on the rise; also, maybe don’t go to Springfield?) Then we found ourselves looking at almost a week off.

Our absolute favorite thing to do when we have nowhere to be for a few days is to find a cheap campground with electric hookups and just hang out in the van. We’ve really gotten comfortable in this space, but that’s especially true when we don’t have to worry about running out of power. We’ve been running like crazy pretty much all summer, so we found an affordable state park west of Albany to spend just shy of a week at, kicking back and taking a bit of a break.

This break paid off handsomely; in the reprieve from the chaos of constantly moving, I had a chance to work with several months worth of half written lyrics that desperately needed completing. We put together four new songs in two days, and some of it feels like my best work in a long, long time. I’m very excited to start debuting these and gearing up for our sophomore release (also summer 2019 if all goes well).

In the midst of all this, the van has been doing some funky things mechanically. Our engine temperature gauge currently rises quickly to the max soon after starting the engine but always falls back to normal one time every drive, the various rattling and metallic clunking sounds in the front passenger side are acting up in the chillier (sub 70’s) weather, and something just might be up with the back breaks again. With the amount of money I put into this in July, I’m very disappointed to be dealing with all this so soon (if anyone knows a great truck mechanic in Buffalo who wants a project this December, give me a call). I intend to replace the thermostat to hopefully resolve one of these issues, but as someone who’s entire knowledge of cars comes from things I’ve read on the internet, it’s hard to say if that’s actually the problem. Driving has been an awfully stressful activity lately, and I’m hoping we can get things back on track sooner than later. But you know what they say about the devil you know, I suppose.

Yesterday we left the campground to make a necessary pilgrimage as a musician hanging out in this area of New York State. Bethel NY was less than an hour from our hideaway for the past week, and unbeknownst to many this town is home to the site of the Woodstock Music Festival, rather than the town that bears the same name. We spent the better part of the day walking the grounds and checking out the museum – nothing makes you want to be a better musician more than watching movies about some of the greatest of all time performing all in the same space, and knowing it happened where you’re standing.

Today we have a gig in Kingston NY and then another set of days off that are already filling up with plans. We have a handful of NY dates to go in August, and a few more in early September before we start to make our way south. It’s weird to be already running into some familiar places just six weeks since we left Buffalo. But as usual, time will fly and I’ll be writing to you from a state I’ve never been to in no time at all.

img_4020
Bonus shot of the Beast looking cool on a windy mountain road in Acadia.

Hello from Burlington, VT! In the usual fashion, I’m already behind on writing here and so much has happened in less than two weeks. It doesn’t feel like we’re on the road until I look at my calendar and gasp, “I haven’t written a blog post in like ten days!”

Our gig in Binghamton gig went well. It’s not college season yet so it was a little slow, but the venue was super cool and I’d really like to play there in the fall next time we route through that way. Instead of fries, Cyber Cafe West serves chips & Gouda cheese! I wish everywhere served hunks of cheese with their food.

From Binghamton we went to Cape Vincent. For those of you that have been playing along since the VERY beginning (i.e. since the second ever blog post), this is where my dad’s place in the 1000 Islands is located. This is where Greg and I took our first ever trip for a gig in the van, just over a year ago! This year, not only did we book a return gig, but we also scheduled in a long weekend to see some family and hang out on Lake Ontario. Now, last year was the first time since about 2012 that I had been up there at all. When I was younger and full of angst, we used to spend a week or two there every summer. I hated the isolation, the lack of cell service, the intense family bonding, and basically anything else I could ever find to complain about. In the years that have passed, it turns out that I’ve become basically an entirely different person. I LOVE all of those aforementioned things. There’s hot water, electricity, and a free place for us to park. There’s a big-ass (read as: normal sized) fridge and freezer. There’s a coffee machine that makes more than one cup of coffee at a time. There’s a boat. There’s an endless supply of beers to drink and card games to play. It rules. Plus, my mom, dad, and youngest sister all came up to join us.

So, for a few days we took total advantage. We went fishing. We drank beers. We fished some more. We had a fancy steak dinner. We drank more beers. We went knee-boarding and air chairing. (Watch this video if you don’t know what an air chair is, it’s an absolute blast to ride – but we don’t do flips like that guy, sadly). We went to the beach. We played music. We did a bunch of nothing at all, too, and it was awesome. Pictures incoming:

So, tl;dr – we had a blast, and we can’t wait for next year. Oh, and the gig went well too – the people at Snug Harbor are generous tippers and a really fun group of people to perform for.

55494478848__7f2b119a-b308-4c9c-bb9c-c6005a4237e8
View from the back patio at our gig. Holy gorgeous mountains.

Wednesday we took the van to get new front tires (as soon as something gets fixed in the van, it seems something else already needs fixing…) and then a sharp return to reality found us sleeping at a Walmart in Watertown that night. Thursday we worked ourselves back into “tour mode” and headed for Lake Placid for our gig that evening. Lake Placid is cool. It was absolutely mobbed with people while we were there for due to a lacrosse tournament, which I always kind of hate, especially when needing to park the van. But despite all this, you can still really see the beauty of the place and of the Adirondacks. It’s a gorgeous part of New York State that I can’t believe I hadn’t seen yet.

Our gig that evening was a total blast. We played a BBQ place right on the main strip of downtown. Great dinner crowd, great drinks, great food, and a great payout – it’s all you can ask for when you’re playing to tourists! The mountainous roads to get all the way up there are not easy on our gas budget, though.

img_3822
Super cool, official looking stage and backdrop at The Red Square!

Friday was our first day here in Burlington. Unbeknownst to us, there was a major event happening here this weekend as well – the Festival of Fools, where street performers basically take over downtown. And doubly lucky for us, not only did this mean that there were tons of people in town, but our first gig was smack dab in the middle of the action. It was an early show so things didn’t get too crazy, but it was fun, and easy, and refreshing to play on a stage after doing lots of bar-room-corner gigs so far this summer. We rounded off the night with a stop at a Japanese noodle bar for dinner and a stroll through the festival – true to its purpose, we saw some pretty incredible street art that evening.

Saturday was our second gig in town, this time at an eclectic little bar/restaurant. A short set for us at only an hour, and for the first time in like 10 years I had to use a microphone on my guitar as some of the venue’s equipment was broken. I hate doing that, because you basically can’t move on stage and it doesn’t sound great in a performance setting. But we’ve managed to make a handful of fans & friends in Burlington, some of whom came out to see us at this show, so we persevered and had a good time anyways.

img_3838
North Beach – our campground was PACKED with people, and this was why. What a gorgeous beach.

Yesterday, after a couple cloudy days and a lack of driving found us needing to get some juice into our batteries ASAP. It also found us leaking a whole bunch of water in never-before-seen locations from the overhead storage compartment (See? Always another repair to be done…). So, we booked a campground for the night and stopped at Lowes beforehand to patch a small hole in the top of our fresh water holding tank that I thought was the problem. Turns out, the problem is actually the roof tape we put up on the left side – it’s failed somewhere, and we’ve sprung a new leak. Once we get things dried up on the roof that’ll be the next project.

Today was a “get lots of work done because we finally have a day off” day. I’ve caught up on my part-time job work, I’ve rounded out booking for this year, and I’ve started making headway into 2019 booking. Time flies when you have to plan your entire life at least six months in advance.

Tomorrow we start heading for the coast. We have a gig in Portland, ME on Wednesday, another in Lewiston ME on Saturday, and a couple nights booked at Acadia National Park right after. I am incredibly excited to eat lobster, see the ocean, and hopefully do a little hiking, too.

The weather is warm, our fridge is full of good food and the van is running smooth right now – life is good. Now it really feels like we’re back on the road, and I’ll say it again – I love it so much. I don’t know if I’ll go back to regular house living for a long, long time. For every issue we do encounter, there’s ten amazing moments that make it worth it every time. Here’s to smooth roads and sunny skies for the rest of the summer!

img_3817
The Beast looking over the Adirondacks. Ain’t she a looker?

img_3559
I did manage to get some droning in while we were home! This is Lake Erie from 100ft above my parent’s backyard. 

It’s been too long! And damn does it feel good to be writing here again. We’re only just getting the summer/fall tour started so this won’t be too long, but here’s a quick update on how the summer has gone so far.

We were home for just under five weeks. And while it didn’t completely feel like we never left, we did fall back into a lot of our old routines pretty quickly. That said, it was of course nice to see everyone in Buffalo and recharge our batteries a bit.

img_3557.jpg
This made me all warm and fuzzy inside when I first saw it.

We played a total of 15 gigs (I think), and that was honestly a little strange for me. Something that used to be such a big deal, that I took years to cultivate and network to obtain, these gigs at home seemed so very ordinary compared to everything else we did this year. Don’t get me wrong, a big part of me really did enjoy the predictable nature of playing the same places I’ve been frequenting since I was about 18 in the company of longtime friends, fans, and family alike. But in the back of my mind I found my inner voice musing “remember Flagstaff? Remember Austin? Remember Fort Collins?” I was inwardly nervous I might become complacent after coming home and I wouldn’t be as excited to head back out on the road this time. But the point of this entire thing is to play music, and I felt about a hundred times more fulfilled doing that on the road where every single day is truly an adventure. Home is for friends and family and 4am nights at the bar, and good pizza and Louie’s slime dogs and blue cheese (I miss all of these things already). But everywhere else in this country is for the rest of my life, I think.

We did find some time to make some various upgrades while we were home! The van got about $1k worth of work, which was very overdue (and yet, yesterday afternoon we discovered a large piece of the tailpipe had rusted through and very nearly fell off.. the cycle of repairs is unending). Greg got a brand new DSLR camera as an early birthday present and has had a blast learning how to take “real” pictures, and I grabbed some of my fancy audio recording gear from my parent’s place. We’re pretty decked out from a tech perspective these days.

And that brings me to our new video project – The Pit Stop Sessions. We plan to shoot music-centric videos regularly in the places that we’re visiting on this tour. There’s not much structure – we wanted to leave it open ended so that we have creative freedom everywhere we end up, but with all our fancy gear now seems like the right time to get more consistent with some video content. You can check out Episode 1 here!

img_3687
Our vanlife friends Savannah and Drew were one of our visitors in Allegany, feat. double vans!

That was shot in Allegany State Park, which was our first stop out of Buffalo. We did their artist in residence program – they give you a cabin and a stipend for a week, and we do five 1-hour concerts for park visitors. It’s a pretty sweet gig, and a really nice way to ease back into being on the road. Although the lack of cell phone service is not my favorite park feature, we were kept well occupied with visits from both friends and family for the majority of our stay.

And now we’re back at it. We’re playing in Binghamton tomorrow night, we’re currently hooked up at a state park, and I’m plotting our future path months down the road into places I’ve never been.

I am SO happy to be back. Onward!

Forty-something gigs, twenty states, far too many cities to count and well over 10,000 miles. Here we are on day 144, staring down the home stretch of the most eye-opening, important, and quite honestly, life altering journey I’ve ever had the pleasure of taking.

states_map
States we’ve been to on this tour.

Before we get to the highlights reel, I have to recap the last week. It wouldn’t be a true return to Florida if some unsavory events didn’t befall us. (I’m certain I angered the Florida Gods in a past life and they have a vendetta out against me).

img_3467
This is Elvis’ two room childhood home. It cost $8 to go in here and takes 15 seconds to look at.

Our show in Tupelo was great. Really great, engaging crowd for a weekday show. Tupelo is a pretty neat little town too. Fun fact: it’s also home to Elvis’ birthplace. We got to see Graceland and his childhood house in the same week, which was pretty cool. That said… Elvis’ childhood home is not exactly as interesting as his mansion. Any Parks and Rec fans here? You know that episode where they go to the William Henry Harrison Museum and after one or two exhibits everything else is just majorly grasping at straws? That episode may have been based on this place. These people have tried to turn something Elvis-related into a full-fledged attraction as hard as they possibly could. There’s a lot of “walk the trails Elvis may have once walked!” type of stuff. My advice: come take a look at the outside of his childhood home and walk the grounds, it’s free to do that. But don’t pay for stuff here, and don’t plan for a day long excursion.

Up next was the drive back to hell Florida. We almost died twice immediately. Within an hour of crossing over the Florida border on the first of June, while we were attempting to pass a tractor trailer, a large piece of metal fell off of the truck, bounced off the highway, and hit our van about six inches above the windshield. It took one of our small orange work lights with it and left a nasty indent. The van is otherwise unharmed, but had our speed been any different there’s a very good chance that piece of metal could have gone straight into the driver’s seat, and therefore into Greg. And THEN, not an hour later, a truck towing a U-Haul trailer had a hitch failure. The trailer swung wildly across several lanes of traffic, held on only by a safety chain. It missed us by no more than a few feet. I was incredibly relieved to be off the highway that evening.

We played at the Olde Fish House Marina for the second time on this tour last Friday. It was great to be at a familiar location; we knew we’d be paid and fed and have a place to park the van. Taking the uncertainty out of gig days really takes the stress level down a few notches. On top of that, Matlacha is a very cool town and we really like this venue (and their food. They put pineapple and coconut in their coleslaw and it is the best coleslaw I have ever eaten).

We had a few nights to kill at a truck stop before our last Florida state park reservation until 2019. And, in Florida fashion, the only truck stop available to us is the weirdest and creepiest we’ve stayed in on the entire tour. I have seen some bizarre things go down at truck stops. There was an active crime scene at one in Albuquerque that we still slept at without a second thought. This one is worse than that. Between being pretty far removed from the main road, the trucks not being separated from the cars and RVs, a barely lit parking lot with cars that have not been moved in a very long time, and the, uh, caliber of the other people staying here, it’s more than enough to give you the heebie-jeebies. I write to you from this exact truck stop on our last night in Florida, because we never get to leave this state on a high note.

img_1951
Koreshan State Park in FL. Beautiful place.

Monday to this morning, mostly due to the borderline unbearable humidity and our need for AC in order to sleep much at all, we stayed at a really nice state park just south of Fort Myers. Florida certainly has its faults, but they really do have an incredibly beautiful parks system. But mostly it was nice to have a place to run our air conditioner and temporarily forget that 85 degrees in 100% humidity actually feels like 110 degrees. I do not know why everyone does not leave Florida after Memorial Day – I absolutely prefer the Arizona desert heat to this.

Like I mentioned, it’s our last night in Florida. We have two more gigs to go, one tomorrow and one on Saturday. I’m not expecting either of them to be too much to write home about (6/9 edit: our last Florida gig was one of my favorites ever, but that’s for another post now), nor do I expect the insanely long drive back to New York to be remotely interesting either. So instead of waiting until we get home (and inevitably forgetting to do a final post), I’ve compiled a list of questions that some of you might find interesting, so that we can tell some stories about this trip that we otherwise might not have a chance to share. I answered all of these first, and then I had Greg answer the same questions to see how similar or different our answers would end up being. Here are the results!

What was your favorite city?

Jess: I still can’t pick. I loved New Orleans, I loved Albuquerque, I loved Phoenix, I loved San Antonio, I loved Austin. And a bunch of others. This country is amazing.

Greg: “Austin, TX. The food is amazing, a lot of amazing musical history as well. If you’re a musician it’s definitely a town you should visit and spend some time seeing.”

What was your favorite gig?

Jess: The Brewhouse in Lake Park was great because of the amazing crowd. Flagstaff Brewing Co. was great because of the awesome venue and cool town. The Driskill in Austin and Odell Brewing in Fort Collins were probably our biggest crowds. It’s so hard to pick because every gig has upsides and downsides. Overall though, I enjoyed 90% of the gigs we played.

Greg: “It’s hard to choose. It’s probably a toss up between Laughing Goat in Boulder, CO (it was nice to have my parents there and other familiar faces from back home) and probably Brewhouse Gallery (it was a gig that could have gone really wrong, and ended up being a really, really great night instead).”

What was the most surprising thing you saw or did?

Jess: I’m still surprised how much of a good time we had in Albuquerque. We didn’t even have a gig there, we just hung out for three days and had some of the best food, hiking, and exploring days of the tour there.

Greg: “Seeing our friends Dave & C walk in the door at our gig unannounced at the Alley Cat in Carrollton GA was definitely surprising.”

What was the scariest moment?

Jess: It’s quite honestly a toss up between our near death experiences mentioned above coming back to Florida, and when the van wouldn’t turn on outside of San Antonio because of that dead battery. Terrifying stuff.

Greg: See above.

What was the hardest or most frustrating part of the trip?

Jess: Nothing worse than a booking agent changing or cancelling a gig on you last minute. While overall we were incredibly fortunate to have minimal problems on that front, the few times it did happen I wanted to punch something. Also, trying to fix things like the van’s plumbing when I have literally no clue what I’m doing.

Greg: “Not being able to always have air conditioning when it’s almost 100 degrees outside, definitely.”

Did anything go wrong that seems funny now?

Jess: Most of the non-terrifying things that have gone wrong are somewhat funny now. Spending so long at the mechanic’s in northern Florida is an amusing story to tell now that we’re several months removed from the chaos that it was in the moment!

Greg: “We had a certain show where the bar owner decided they wanted to sing along with us from their own wireless microphone from behind the bar while serving drinks. Difficult to deal with in the moment but a fun story to tell now.”

What was the best moment of the entire trip?

Jess: Despite all the amazing shows, new fans, and amazing sights we’ve seen, I’m not sure I’ll ever be more awestruck than I was when I saw the Grand Canyon for the first time.

Greg: Ditto.

What little, ordinary thing did you miss from your usual routine?

Jess: Having good, bright lights to do my makeup in, and the ability to use my hairdryer whenever I wanted. Also, windows in my bedroom.

Greg: “Being able to cook on a stove whenever I want to.”

Favorite part of van life:

Jess: Being able to load all my gear back into my house at the end of the show and then drive away is such a great feeling. Also, being able to leave any place that we don’t like whenever we want.

Greg: “The fact that you can drive literally anywhere you want to, and have your house and everything you need right there with you always.”

Least favorite part of van life:

Jess: If you’d have asked me this six months ago I would have guessed the answer would be “dumping our black water/sewage waste tanks”, but that’s actually not so bad. I miss having unlimited electricity and water, mostly. You really take those things for granted until they become a finite resource.

Greg: “Having to take the van into the shop when something breaks, and therefore having your house and everything you own at the mechanic’s sucks. Also, the fear of worrying about breaking down so far from home and having to figure out what to do next on your own.”

Did you find any sights or activities a bit off the beaten track? Beyond the tourist traps?

Jess: We did a lot of hiking and exploring out west which I loved. Our campsite in the Rocky Mountains where we did some great songwriting is one of my favorite spontaneous, off the beaten path activities we did on this tour.

Greg: “Camping with Savannah and Drew in Tonto National Forest in Arizona was amazing.”

What was your favorite meal?

Jess: Another question I literally cannot answer. I think New Orleans had the most good meals overall, but the barbecue in Austin, the Mexican food in San Antonio, and the seafood and Cuban food in Florida were all phenomenal and possibly better individually. I wish my waistline and wallet allowed me to eat out every day because the food was definitely one of the highlights of this trip for me.

Greg: “Terry Black’s Barbecue in Austin. No contest.”

What was the strangest thing you ate?

Jess: Oh man. In San Antonio I was looking for this particular variety of Mexican candy that I had bought the last time I was in the area. Instead I bought salted & dried spiced plumbs. It was the single worst thing I’ve ever eaten. Why do those even exist??

Greg: “Crawfish, just because I’ve never had them and didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t like them nearly as much as other seafood I’ve had.”

What was the funniest/strangest/most insightful thing a local said?

Jess: A lady in Flagstaff wished us a Happy New Year in early April. That was weird.

Greg: “Carlo in Santa Fe told us the state park we were about to stay in is where the mob dumps dead bodies.”

Where would you revisit? Would you ever move to any of those cities?

Jess: We don’t stay in any place long enough to really get a feel for what it’s like to live there. So, zero plans to settle down anywhere any time soon. That said, I cannot wait to return to the southwest and New Orleans.

Greg: “I would go back to the Grand Canyon, back to New Orleans, to Austin, to Phoenix, to all of Colorado – really, a lot of the places we went, and anywhere that would book us. But we didn’t really spend enough time in any one spot to know if we’d want to move there.”

If you could only re-live five minutes of the trip, which five minutes would it be?

Jess: If I couldn’t even pick a favorite city, you know damn well I can’t pick a single five minute period. Maybe the first few minutes I started playing my new guitar in Dallas. Maybe the few minutes we saw the wild horses in Arizona. Maybe the couple minutes it took to eat beignets and drink lattes at Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans. Maybe just the five minutes after midnight on my birthday where I got to open a new year of my life doing exactly what I want be doing. Any of those would do.

Greg: “This is a tough question. Honestly, I think I’d relive the the night we stayed at the first truck stop in Georgia because of the excitement we had about finally getting out there. Not knowing what to expect out of the next six months and having everything be completely new and different was so exciting, along with that first realization of complete freedom that comes with living on the road.”

~

So there you have it. If you’ve been following us from the beginning, you know how much has gone into making all these things come to a successful conclusion. I’m sad to see things come to an end, I really am. But I am infinitely more glad that I was able to go in the first place, and forever appreciative that not only did we get to complete this journey, it surpassed all of my expectations. I was not gifted the opportunity to make these things happen, nor was it some stroke of prophetic luck. I have worked nearly every day to make my incredibly far-fetched dream into some kind of comfortable reality. And I suspect I’ll spend many more years doing the same. I have learned to live with less than I ever thought possible, and that while thorough planning is an absolutely vital component to success, sometimes the unplanned and spontaneous avenues we find ourselves turning down end up being the most memorable. It’s hard to notice change in yourself measuring day-to-day, but things have been definitively different for me the minute we pulled onto the road in front of my parent’s house nearly six months ago on a snowy January morning. I’m no longer living for a 48 hour break at the end of the work week. I’m not drowning in the idea that my life wasn’t turning out the way I expected. I did something. And I’ve been living a life that I no longer feel the need to run from. I’m sure this comes off as self-indulgent or even over-dramatic, but I can’t begin to tell you how fulfilling it is to walk a personal dream from an unguided wish into a reality that is better than you could have imagined it becoming. It’s pretty intoxicating.

This was the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, and though I don’t want to give luck credit for my hard work, it’s impossible not to look back on each and every day we’ve had and not feel incredibly lucky anyways.

Thanks for reading, and see you soon.

img_1819
Next van??