Except the van. If I could feed burgers or enchiladas to the van to keep it from falling apart on me you better believe I would.

As is currently tradition, a lot of things rapidly improved after we left Florida. As much as I do enjoy a balmy 75 and sunny for half the winter, there is a lot more of this country that I’m always anxious to get to. But it’s kind of funny that this has fallen by the wayside a bit even more than it used to. In my own head, I’ve become acclimated to the craziness of the day-to-day, and I often worry that if I start to blog I just won’t have anything new to say. That’s ridiculous of course; there’s always something going on and I just need to look a little bit harder for the brightest moments.

It’s been a month since the last post and March has been an absolute whirlwind. Let’s hit the highlights and the best stories as concisely as we can without being too vague.

New Orleans on Mardi Gras is essentially exactly how you imagine it. The entire French Quarter turns into one giant nightclub, more or less. It’s chaos, and honestly while I had an absolute blast, I don’t think I need to go back again for that particular holiday. New Orleans is a party every night of the year both with and without occasion, and as a person who values a place to sit down while drinking at the bar as opposed to being packed into a dark, neon-lit room like a sardine, I think I’ll return on an off-week. That said, Mardi Gras is an absolute spectacle to behold. There are no less than a dozen parades that run the week leading up to Fat Tuesday, and they are incredibly large productions. They have the best marching bands in the world in these parades, and they are unbelievable. From the elaborate floats (each one with a massively complicated theme that coincides with that given parade’s overall theme of the year) they throw beads to the crowds of onlookers, of course, but they also throw a LOT of other stuff – cups, hats, frisbees, stuffed animals, fidget spinners, hula hoops, bouncy balls, foam swords… the list goes on a lot longer than that. Greg and I collected easily several dozen sets of beads and maybe twenty other assorted knick-knacks in the span of attending just a few parades. Sitting at the bar is fun and all, but have you ever tried to catch a rogue beer koozie that’s flying through the air while balancing your open beer in your other hand? It’s a riot.

One thing that was fairly surprising was the fact that outside the French Quarter, Mardi Gras is a very family-friendly holiday. I saw more families than anything else at the parades that ran Uptown. But it’s fairly easy to imagine why – people are playing music, dancing, and throwing toys for hours (and I do mean hours – the larger parades easily lasted 4-6 hours or more) from on top of these magnificent moving works of art. It’s not too unlike Disneyland. I’m not sure there’s any other celebration like it in the country – there really is something for everyone. That all being said, next time we go back we’ll spend a lot more time on the new-to-us Frenchmen’s Street outside the Quarter – there’s a lot more live music and a LOT less people, which is definitely more up our alley.

Photo dump #1 incoming:

After New Orleans we headed straight for Texas. Instead of heading to Dallas, though, we we re-routed so that we could play all our favorite Texas cities in the span of a couple weeks rather than splitting it up into two visits like we did last year. This year, every gig we played in Texas was a gig we had played the year prior, with the exception of one. The new booking agent at our favorite taco-serving venue had recently ventured into house concerts, so we got to play our second ever house show early this March as well. With no exception, every single show we played in Texas went extremely well. Texas as a whole has really grown on us. It has all the things that we like: good tacos, good barbecue, good weather, good music, good beer, and good venues. As you might expect, often we talk about what we’ll do when we decide to stop touring full time, as well as where we might decide to stay. Alongside the southwest in general, Texas comes up quite a bit, for not only all of the above reasons but also that it would give us a home base right in the middle of the country, where we could run smaller tours to any coast of the country a lot easier than we can currently based so far to the northeast.

Texas highlights include:

  • We returned to Sancho’s, the aforementioned best taco-selling venue. This time I too got the tacos instead of a torta, and let me tell you, the hype Greg has given it for the last year was completely true. Those tacos were amazing. They’re street tacos, so they’re on really small corn tortillas, with both pickled and raw onions, cilantro, lime, a bit of salsa verde, and on ours, carnitas. That’s it. And they were the best damn tacos I ever had. Fortunately we’ve developed a great relationship with their booking agent and I think we’ll be able to indulge in those tacos for many years to come.
  • In-N-Out! Texas is the start of In-N-Out country. At this point, we’ve tried almost every fast food burger chain – Checkers, Five Guys, Whataburger, Hardees, Shake Shack, and all the usual suspects. I am of the firm, unchangeable opinion that In-N-Out makes the best fast food burger in the country. It’s literally always fresh, always exactly as I ordered, always cheap and always delicious. I will concede on the fries – I can take them or leave them (plain, anyways – animal style fries are a beast to be reckoned with). The whole secret menu in general allows you to customize things a little further than what the original menu seems to allow, too. It’s unbeatable. The thing that confounds me the most is people that actually prefer Whataburger to In-N-Out. Whataburger is way more comparable to Wendys or Hardees, in my opinion. That all being said, we went to In-N-Out twice this month and will probably go several more times when we get to California.
  • We also returned to Austin for the second time. Entirely on accident, we ended up booking our sole Austin show smack-dab in the middle of the giant music festival SXSW. This made for a great crowd for our show, but an absolutely miserable driving experience. It took us 45 minutes to find a parking lot to put the Beast in, and we paid a pretty penny for it, too. Then we got to walk a half a mile with all our gear through downtown Austin and giant throngs of hipsters. I love Austin a lot, but again, unless we’re playing the festival I don’t think we’ll be back in town during this particular event.
  • That said, Austin also gave us one of our coolest fan experiences of our careers thus far. A few days before our show our page got a Facebook message from an individual asking about start times and reserved seating. While answering their questions I took a look at their profile, and it belonged to an Australian man who was traveling with his wife on a three-week tour of the US. We got just lucky enough that they stumbled upon our event listing in the local papers and wanted to come see us. Not only did they both show up, but they stayed for the entire show, which is rare in many circumstances but especially so in a place like Austin with so many other things going on that evening. Naturally we decided to say hello after the show was over, and to the surprise of all of us I think, the group of us hit it off so well that we spent the next several hours drinking beers, swapping stories, and wandering around the city. I learned a surprising amount about Australian culture (my favorite new fact: in Australia, it’s not called McDonalds, it’s called Maccas. Try saying that and not instantly feeling Australian). Brenton and Georgie, I truly hope we cross paths again one day! (Australia Tour 2025?)
  • One more note about Austin – Terry Blacks. This is the only barbecue place we’ll ever go from now on in Austin.  We actually inadvertently tried another barbecue place that’s related to Terry Black’s – a place called Black’s Barbecue. Black’s has been in the barbecue business since the 1930’s and is supposed to be one of the best in Texas. Terry Black’s was founded by two members of the original Black’s family; they tried to operate under the Black’s Barbecue name but were actually sued by other family members as supposedly their barbecue recipes and processes were not similar enough to the traditional Black’s way. A little Hatfield-McCoy situation, barbecue style. But in our opinion, Terry Blacks was significantly better in all possible ways. We walked a half hour and waited in line for almost as long to eat there, which is something we almost are never willing to do, and let me tell ya – it was worth every second. Best barbecue I have ever eaten, and quite frankly the best barbecue I may ever eat.
  • During our stay in Dallas, we took a quick trip over to Fort Worth to hit up another favorite Mexican spot of ours – Joe T. Garcias. This place is kind of bizarre by restaurant standards. First, they seat over a thousand people in their outside courtyard. No exaggeration, look it up. Second, they only serve two dishes, fajitas or enchiladas. And third, your food comes out about three minutes after you order it (maybe we got lucky both times, but it’s literally been damn near instant after we ordered. This time, we had a mariachi band sing us a song just after we ordered, and the food arrived before they were even finished). It’s unorthodox but the food is truly phenomenal and it’s a gorgeous restaurant. Both times we’ve eaten there I’ve had enough leftovers for two more meals. Fort Worth itself is a cool town and next year we will definitely look a whole lot harder for a gig there.

Photo Dump #2 incoming:

After Dallas, we went up to Oklahoma to return to Norman for a single show. This coincided with our most recent van repair – brakes. We were getting a telltale squealing from the front drivers side tire that sounded like the brake pad had worn down to its wear indicator. Naturally with the amount of driving we have coming up this was cause for near immediate concern. So we found ourselves at one of the only open mechanics on a Saturday in a small town – a Midas. But the mechanical gods have never truly forsaken us, and we once again got extremely lucky with our choice of mechanic. In a few short hours and just over $150 (the cheapest van repair to date!) we were back on the road, brakes feeling and sounding as good as new.

We have noticed something unusual since we had this repair done – do you remember the mysterious clunking sound that I’ve brought up time and time again that just never seems to have a cause no matter what mechanic we take it to? Since we replaced the brake pads, that sound has stopped completely. This was just under a week ago, so perhaps it’s too soon to make that call, but it would seem to me that the brake pads may have been the culprit all along. Here’s to hoping for another ten thousand miles of silent braking.

The past couple days we were in Amarillo. This is another area we’ve grown extremely fond of. Our gig schedule is a bit tight (and getting tighter) over the next few months, so we didn’t have as much time as we wanted to return to one of our favorite places in the country – Palo Duro Canyon. But we of course dedicated an entire day to it regardless. It was every bit as spectacular as I remember it, if not doubly so since this second time around it was considerably less foggy and rainy. I feel the exact same way about it now as I did when we left the southwest last year – why the hell didn’t we just stay here the entire time? Why do we ever leave? It’s just so unbelievably beautiful and unlike anything we have on the east coast. I never get tired of looking at canyons, mountains, and red rocks. I feel better, I write better songs, we’re more active people – just everything about being out here seems to be better for us. Truly, I cannot believe anyone settles for the southeast without having visited the southwest first. Actually, I’m glad they don’t  – the lack of people in large parts of these areas is something I’d like to remain unchanged.

Photo dump #3 incoming:

We made it to Albuquerque this afternoon, another city we really enjoy. We returned to our favorite New Mexican restaurant – Sadie’s – and ate our fill of enchiladas and sopapillas. Tomorrow I think we’ve decided to do a bit of camping on our last day off in New Mexico. Friday we play a gig and then head straight for Phoenix for another mid-day gig the following afternoon. It’ll be a very busy weekend.

Here’s a few other fun facts that don’t fit into this narrative of locations:

  • Greg has finally picked up a part-time job. It’s very very sporadic work, and he is only allowed to work 3 hours a day when there is work available, but it is FAR better than nothing. I’ve also been given another contract from Appen, so I’m back on the 4 hours per day grind as of a couple weeks ago. It’s soul crushing, but we need the cash coming in to fund this summer’s many projects.
  • I also got Greg on the calorie-counting train. I’ve been logging all of my meals since about October of last year, and because of it I’m down about 15 pounds since then. (Ten to go before I’m finally satisfied). Recently I’ve convinced Greg to do the same, and while it does take the fun out of day to day snacking (thought to be clear I am a firm believer in not denying yourself the things you love, just eating less of them), it’s really been the most effective tool for getting into better shape that I’ve found. He’s lost a lot of weight as well – we both look better than we have in a very long time.
  • We’re moving along on the album, but we still need to write 3-4 more songs before we have a full record. I am terrified that we will not get to that point, but we still have about two months before we need to start really dialing things in. We have about 8 new songs that are slotted to be on it so far, which could potentially be enough, but I think I have a few more good songs in me somewhere that should be included on this.
  • We’ve finalized our van remodel plans to the best of our abilities. The main modifications include raising the bed about a foot, building two new cabinets, and building a second permanent seat for our table. It’s significantly less work than what we had originally planned for, but the more we talked about the time it would take and how busy we’re going to be, it seemed the best course of action was to only do what was really necessary. I’m nervous that this will still be a lot more than we can handle, but only time will tell for that.

We leave the desert and head for central California during the second week of April, which is approaching so fast it’s making my head spin. We are about to be so unbelievably busy that I’m not sure we’ve scheduled in any time to sleep. So forgive me if I fall behind on this again. I never mean to, but with so much going on and feeling like I repeat myself a lot of the time, it always seems to be a lower priority than it should be.

Thanks for reading my ramblings. Send vibes for good weather so we can enjoy what little time we do have in the desert this year!

Long time no see.

Hang on, because this isn’t going to be an overly uplifting reintroduction. We’ve been back on the road for just shy of six weeks and it’s been one thing after another the entire time. It’s quite literally gotten to where I haven’t have time to do anything other than eat, sleep, work, and try and keep the van from falling apart around us. As usual, writing here takes a back seat to everything else that’s going on, and it’s endlessly frustrating that I miss out on recording the idiosyncrasies of each day on the road and have to settle for this massive, sweeping overview instead.

I’m thrilled to be moving again, don’t get me wrong. For every day I spend with my head in my hands because yet another critical piece of our house or life has fallen to pieces, there are twice as many moments where I wonder what took me so long to choose this kind of lifestyle. I think of our old apartment, the thin walls and matted carpet, the neighbors with loud marital problems, the driveway that was never plowed in the winter. I also think of my miserable hour long commute I took five days a week and sitting for hours at a time in a windowless room making money for someone else. I’d never in a million years go back to that. That said, over the last six weeks there have been more downs than ups.

There’s far too much to tell to take this day by day. So in hopes of getting myself back in the habit of writing, I’m gonna give you both the good and the bad in highlight-reel format.

The Bad:

  • The van has had various things break no less than six times since we’ve left: our water pump tubing cracked again, the hole in our roof got worse, (we bailed no less than 2 gallons of water out of our overhead storage one week) our brakes are making a terrible (yet intermittent) noise, some part of our radiator was leaking coolant all over the passenger side floor, and some un-diagnosed electrical problem caused us to need a jump start once every two to three days. I actually think there may be more things that I’m forgetting as well. Of these issues, three of these are temporarily fixed and three of these could become major issues again at any moment.
  • The contract for my second job that I picked up in the fall ended abruptly in early February. Now I’m back down to one part time job. I’m trying not to let this cripple my ability to enjoy things but I spend a very large amount of time worrying whether or not we’re making enough money to continue long-term. Then answer right now is that we are, but barely.
  • I’ve been sick for half the time we’ve been on the road, it seems. I had no voice the entire time I was home in Buffalo, but managed to get it back just before we left. By our third gig I felt a nasty cold coming on which took me out of commission for roughly another week. And in these last two weeks I’ve not only managed to lose my voice almost entirely yet again, but I also somehow managed to pick up a SECOND cold immediately after my voice began to rebound. Today is the first day I haven’t felt under the weather in some regard in a long time.

I know that’s just three things, but these are the big-ticket items that have truly permeated nearly every aspect of every day. There have been dozens of other little things in the day-to-day that become a lot harder to deal with when all of the above things are hanging over your head. For example – we had a very high-paying gig cancel for reasons beyond our control in a very critical spot in the spring. Usually it’s not the end of the world when this happens, but when on that same day the van is actively breaking down, I have a LOT less money coming in and I feel like death warmed over, something little like that makes you want to throw in the towel. Some days, all it took was untimely cold weather to make me give up on the day before it even started.

The Good:

    • The gigs have been great, save for the two or three I have not had a voice for. Overall we’re better paid than our last tour through Florida and Georgia, we’re getting very solid crowd and venue reactions, and our gas-money (soon to be new-album-money) fund has never been fuller thanks to increased tips and merch sales. This has been the one thing that has really kept me going when everything else looks a pitiful shade of grey. This is, after all, supposed to be the entire point of what we’re doing. If the gigs were going poorly I may have turned around before we hit Miami this time.
    • We’ve gotten to spend a good deal of time with friends and family already. We’re much busier this time than we were last year – which is great – but fortunately our schedule did allow for a little down time. Most notably, we spent a few days with some really good friends of ours in St. Petersburg, and nearly an entire week with my parents and sister at my Aunt Deb’s place in Naples. This has been the second thing that has kept me going. I can’t emphasize this enough – when things feel like they’re getting out of control, there is nothing that feels better than having a place to park the van worry-free for a few days while also having access to unlimited shower, a full kitchen, a power hookup, and simultaneously being surrounded by loved ones. It’s the best kind of stress relief. It’s a literal breath of fresh air when things are crumbling. I’d be much more pessimistic about the next four months if we hadn’t had those two breaks when we had them.
    • We’ve gotten to revisit some of our favorite restaurants already, and those of you that know me well know that there is very little that puts me in a better mood faster than a good meal. We returned to the Savannah Seafood Shack (best po boys in America), we got more fritas cubanas in Miami (we ordered 10. That may have been too many but I do not have regrets about this), and we found a great little poke bowl spot in Miami as well (a favorite of mine). We also ate a TON of great food while visiting with everyone, so much so that there are too many places to list here.
    • The weather is good and warm. We’ve seen very little rain lately, and that alone is pretty spirit-lifting after the autumn we had.
    • We’re leaving Florida sometime within the next 24 hours. That’s always something I look forward to.

As you might guess, there’s plenty more that I could list here as well. Smaller things, but good things nonetheless. For example, we finally got to meet the hosts of the Americana Cafe Sundays concerts that we’ve now played twice – this is the gig that comes with a house for us to stay at in Northern Florida, and the house we’re still at as I write this. Maggie and Mike McKinney are two of the kindest, most genuine, most interesting people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. They may be in their seventies, but their energy and compassion for the people of northern Florida and the music they create is inspiring. I genuinely hope to see them again many times in the future. They were a beautiful bright spot in an otherwise dismal week.

I’ve also been struggling a bit lately with feeling obligated to be sharing what we’re doing online. Certainly this goes hand-in-hand with having a rough go of it lately, but I’m not enjoying having to posture myself and our life in a certain way to appease people on the internet who want to feel included. (This doesn’t apply here, for what it’s worth – this is almost completely unedited speech on my part.) We have this Patreon thing still running and we got basically no content out in February, and I have been feeling piles of guilt about it. But I’ve been so sick and there have been so many other things going on that really needed our attention more than anything else, especially more than putting together cover videos for the internet. And so we apologize and promise we’ll do better next month – and we will, because I’m a perfectionist and I don’t like leaving things half finished like this. But that doesn’t stop people from asking what’s going on. But then when you try to explain that you haven’t had the time, they say “But you’re living the dream! What else could you possibly be doing every day?!” And by the tenth word of your next sentence explaining why it isn’t always butterflies and rainbows they’ve already tuned out. People don’t want to hear about how hard this can be. People want us to post nice pictures so they can say “I’m so jealous”, and that’s it. And that’s really been eating at me lately. In all of this chaos and struggle that has been January and February, perhaps the worst part of it all is that it’s extremely isolating. There’s thousands of van-lifers and full time RVers, but how many of them are also musicians? Who don’t have a trust fund or a pension to ride on financially? Who have an old, unpredictable rig that changes its functionality based on the weather? And who just happen to be unlucky this time of year? If these people are out there, I’d love to meet them.

So, there it is. I’m sure to you it might not seem like it’s been as rough of a ride as it has. But it has been much tougher this time around. I think when you take the magic of discovery out of a lot of these places, issues that you previously overlooked become more prominent and harder to handle. Fortunately, after Thursday things look drastically different for the next few months, and I am anxious for the change.

Anyways. Sorry this has been so depressing overall. I mean it when I say I’m happier now than I was before we left, challenges and all. We’re going to New Orleans on Saturday and I am unabashedly thrilled to be celebrating Mardi Gras in one of the coolest cities in America. I hope that much like last year, all of the tough stuff is being thrown at us right away, and that the minute we get out of Florida things are going to get a whole lot better. I am optimistic in every way I can possibly be. But if you have any good vibes to spare, if you wanted to send them our way I would be grateful.

Here’s a big ol’ collection of photos from the high points of the last six weeks. It really hasn’t been all bad, and here’s some proof of that.

Here’s to bluer skies, y’all.

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?