Buckle up, folks. I’ve been awfully busy having some crazy adventures lately that I’ve had no time to sit down in front of a computer to do much of anything, which I’ve actually found quite liberating. But it’s been a long two blog-post-less weeks and I have a lot to talk about. For the first time ever on this blog, it’s nothing but good stuff this time.

So. I really didn’t give the Southwest much thought when I booked the tour. The cities are spread out too far, we’re going to put too many miles on the van, etc. I was mostly indifferent about going west of Texas, to tell you the truth. But I’ve never been more happy to be wrong about somewhere. I’ve never been to the desert before, and it is unbelievably beautiful out here. It’s been many years since I’ve seen mountains with any regularity, and here they’re framed by these vast open plains and dusty fields and red cliffs and the biggest, bluest sky.

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The Beast on the edge of Palo Duro Canyon.

We had a blast in Amarillo before we got out here, too. Our High Plains Public Radio interview went phenomenally (it’s available here on SoundCloud if you’d like to listen) and has sparked an interest in doing a lot more of those going forward – radio is fun. At shows we have to say things to entertain the crowd, but in a good interview you can talk about what matters in your songs and the highs and lows of the trip and put some substance into things.

Post-interview, at the insistence of the host of the show, we went out to Palo Duro Canyon State Park – the second biggest canyon in the country. This place literally took our breath away. Neither Greg or myself had ever seen anything like it. And like most things out here, you absolutely can’t capture its depth and massive size in a photo taken on a cell phone. Palo Duro has over 250 miles of canyons, and we drove the van right down into them and hiked around for a bit. Our first real foray into the outdoors since the start of the tour. I can’t tell you how much I loved it. We rounded off our stay in Amarillo with a Tuesday night pizza-parlor show of all original tunes; a rarity for us and truthfully a bit tough to do, as we don’t really have that many originals as a duo just yet.

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The Beast at Elephant Butte State Park in New Mexico. The water’s a whole lot bluer in person.

After Amarillo we headed into New Mexico. We spent a beautiful couple days in some campgrounds out in the absolute middle of the desert. New Mexico is very yellow-y in the more remote areas, and the two campgrounds we stayed at both had these giant blue lakes right in the middle of the desert. I wish pictures could capture the amazing view we had as well as the human eye does. It was unbelievably beautiful. We had this frustration with the mountains as well; they just don’t photograph as well as you want them to. Looking at them from the highway, they consume the horizon and rise out of the ground like these unmistakable geological giants. In photos, they look like black smudges against the tawny ground. You really have to come out here to get a sense of the beauty of this place.

Between our two campground stays we spent quite a bit of time in Albuquerque. We got a better taste of this city than we do most. The first night I treated us to some authentic New Mexican cuisine (its pretty darn similar to Mexican food, with slight variations in the ingredients and a focus particularly on red & green sauces). I got tamales – one of my favorite meals – and they were so good and came in such a huge portion I had leftovers to eat for three days. If you find yourself in New Mexico, go to Sadie’s – and put the honey on the sopapillas, it’s amazing.

The second day we did some more hiking into the Petroglyph National Monument. This is a site where hundreds of rock drawings done by original settlers of the land have been preserved. A pretty cool way to kill an afternoon – looking back into history that far really makes you think and appreciate a place just a little more. And it was kind of fun to spot the petroglyphs as we walked along the path – I’m sure we missed more than we saw, there’s supposedly hundreds.

The third day we went into Old Town Albuquerque. We very rarely venture into cities anymore, but with nothing else to do and lots of van-accessible parking lots, we decided to brave it. Very worth it in my opinion, it’s a very neat part of the city with a lot of incredible food and really interesting shops with stuff you can’t find anywhere else in the country. We had a blast just walking around and window shopping. We ended the day with Baja-fusion cuisine and margarita. Mine was prickly pear flavored and it was damn good (a bit like a strawberry-watermelon flavor hybrid).

We were supposed to have two shows in New Mexico, but sadly one of the venues had a huge fire days before our scheduled show. So we got to kick off April with our only show in the state in Santa Fe, and on Easter, too. It was a pretty typical bar gig for us with a surprisingly solid crowd despite the holiday. We picked up some pretty cool art for the van from an artist we met at that gig, which is currently hanging over our bench seat. Overall a very solid night for us.

On our way out of New Mexico I recall telling Greg that this might be the coolest scenery we’d be seeing on this tour.

And then we drove into Arizona.

This is when I noticed that the problem with the New Mexico mountains is that they just weren’t big enough.

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Taken on our sunset drive into Tuscon.

Everything New Mexico has, Arizona seems to have times ten. The mountains are easily double the size and photograph a whole lot better, the sunsets were out of this world, even the cacti were bigger. (Those iconic saguaro cacti you’ve seen on all the postcards? The big ones are like fifty feet tall and weigh thousands of pounds. Apparently they fall and crush cars sometimes).

Our entire time in Southern Arizona was spent in Phoenix with some musician friends of ours who also live out of an RV! Savannah and Drew were incredible hosts for our few days in the city. Each of us had a show over the three days we were in town, and it was awesome to be able to go to their shows and have them at ours as well. On top of the fantastic music, they gave us a great taste of the local food (I literally cannot stop thinking about the carne asada burrito I had last week) and an amazing trip out into the Arizona wilderness. Friday morning we headed out into Tonto National Forest for some backwoods boondocking.

Before we went out to our camping spot, our hosts took us to the Lower Salt River for some hiking. Not only were the views spectacular and some of the best I’ve personally ever seen on a hike, we were also lucky enough to encounter an entire herd of wild horses hanging out at the lake. They ran straight into the water from the shore maybe twenty feet from us after we ended our hike. Apparently Savannah and Drew have been trying to come across some wild horses for years – I can’t tell you how privileged Greg and I felt to see them on our first trip.

Our campsite was out in BLM land, which is entirely public and  basically free for anyone to use. We had the Four Peaks mountain range directly in view of the campsite. To say it was pretty incredible would be an understatement. We had a really great evening of more delicious food, wine, and great company under some incredible stars. And to be able to talk about the struggles of van life with another musician couple was incredibly liberating and enjoyable – turns out most of the issues we tend to encounter are pretty typical among people who travel like us! Savannah and Drew – if you guys read this, thanks again for an absolutely awesome couple of days!

Our gig in Phoenix was our last night in town. I was worried about this one as we were billed with a singer songwriter from the UK and we were playing a coffeehouse on a Saturday night. Incredibly, the other artist actually had heaps of family in the area and the room was packed. The gig was unique in that they don’t allow any amplification equipment- it’s a bit like singing songs around a very intently listening campfire. It was a bit unnerving not to have microphones, but I think once we settled into our groove we had a great night.

We basically ran out of Phoenix on Sunday morning to do a podcast before our show in Flagstaff. Colton of Proud to Present Podcast may have hosted the most enjoyable interview Greg and I have ever done. Not only was it short and lighthearted, but he and his lovely wife actually made us breakfast after we got done with our interview. I continue to be shocked at the hospitality and genuinely good people that we continue to encounter out in the world. (When the podcast is live I’ll link it here for those of you who would like to listen).

We drove out of Southern Arizona early that morning headed for Flagstaff. To our utter surprise, not too far outside of Phoenix the desert scenery rapidly begins to change into a massive forest. Flagstaff is apparently on a mountain, and by the time you reach the top of it you would swear you left Arizona hours ago. It looks exactly as I have imagined Colorado would, with these towering pine trees and much cooler temperatures and mountain air. The speed with which the entire environment changes between those towns just two and a a half hours apart is pretty crazy.

All that being said, Flagstaff was awesome and we had an incredible gig there. We played at Flagstaff Brewing Company (right on Route 66!) early on Sunday to a great crowd. Honestly it was one of my favorite tour dates yet and I absolutely plan to play there again on our next time through.

The next day we drove out of Flagstaff. I again remember thinking “Okay, surely that’s it. We’ve seen the coolest scenery we’re going to see and it cannot possibly get any cooler.”

And then we went to the Grand Canyon.

Let me preface this by saying I feel that I’ve seen quite a bit in my 23 measly years. I’ve seen both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. I’ve been in the Redwood forests, I’ve seen the Gulf of Mexico, I’ve swam in the waters of the Bahamas and I’ve climbed the Eiffel Tower. And I’ve seen quite a bit of the US now thanks to this tour, and I feel like I’m starting to get a tentative grasp on all the wonderful things this country has to offer.

That being said, without a doubt, the Grand Canyon is the most spectacular thing I have ever seen.

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Don’t even look at this picture. It looks ten thousand times better than this. Just start planning your trip. Do it.

It honestly doesn’t look completely real, even when you’re standing on the edge of it. If there was anything photographs truly could not do justice to, this is that one thing. It’s so incredibly massive that you have to get in your car and drive miles just to get a slightly different view. It’s truly indescribable. Palo Duro, as the second largest canyon, doesn’t even come remotely close to this. Everyone in the world should come see this place just once, it would be a shame to die without doing so.

Greg and I decided to take it one step further than most people do and actually hike down inside the canyon. We chose the Bright Angel trail as we didn’t have more than a few hours to spend hiking, with our goal being the mile and a half rest house, the first and supposedly easiest to reach. The hike down was quite honestly no problem; when gravity is doing half the work for you, nothing is too terribly difficult. The hike back out was incredibly challenging for people who are in only passable physical shape like we are. But we did get to eat lunch over 5700 feet below the canyon rim, which is something not a lot of people can say they’ve ever done. Next time we come back though, we’re going all the way to the bottom (on mules).

Neither of us really wanted to leave the Grand Canyon this morning – we did steal a couple last looks on our way out. Since then, we’ve made the drive up to Grand Junction Colorado, and while it doesn’t quite compare, the scenery out here has been nothing to balk at either. The towering red rocks of both Northern Arizona and Utah combined with the sprawling expanded of wide open space is truly awe inspiring.

Let it be known that now, I do think the coolest scenery of the trip is actually behind us. (Colorado, you are welcome to prove me wrong if you like.)

As usual I’m sure I’ve missed some details I would have liked to have included. But I don’t think it matters too much, because I know without a doubt we’ll be back in this part of the country many, many more times.

We’re just over two months away from heading back to Buffalo. Not that it won’t be nice to be home for a bit, but… I wish this tour was a year long and half of it was being spent in the Southwest. Next time around, maybe it will be.

My legs are sore from hiking. We’re almost out of drinking water (again). Half of our belongings are covered in a thin layer of red dust. Gas is over $3 a gallon out here. But now I couldn’t imagine living any other way, or what took me so long to get out here in the first place.

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It’s good to be alive.

Every day I tell myself I’ll update more frequently so that I don’t miss any details, because there’s a lot of small things I can’t fit into these posts without making things too long-winded. For example, we’ve just started cooking eggs in the microwave on the regular, and I can’t believe we haven’t been doing that since day one; egg sandwiches are the big three: cheap, easy, and delicious. We’ve also been going to the gym pretty frequently and I loathe it – I don’t get any of the endorphins you’re supposed to get after working out, but Greg loves it. I haven’t driven the van since Florida, and Greg’s gotten really good at backing up without needing me to get out and guide him. We haven’t had any issues with the water system or with bugs in a couple weeks, which has been a huge relief. And a million other little things that I’ve already forgotten. Anyways, here’s this weeks’ highlight reel.

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The French Quarter.

Happy to report that our time in New Orleans was an absolute blast and the exact kind of break from all the chaos of the van that I needed. It was undoubtedly the most fun I’ve ever had just visiting a city with no real plan in mind. There’s so much to do literally every waking second of the day, between the non-stop parades and street performers and restaurants and shops; even just people watching on Bourbon Street proved to be highly entertaining.

Those of you that know me well know that good food is something I am always seeking out everywhere I go, and I’m always up to try something new and different. New Orleans was an absolute gold mine of amazing food. A brief review:

  • Beignets. Ugh, I want to eat these for breakfast every day. These are basically French doughnuts, topped with powdered sugar and usually served with a latte. I loved these so much I specifically planned for us to eat them twice. I should have planned for a minimum of like, five times.
  • Gumbo. We had some gumbo in Florida that was good, but the gumbo we had in the French Quarter was good.
  • Jambalaya. Greg really liked this one. Basically a spicy rice with seafood and sausage. The spice in the food down there is like 95% of the reason that it’s good. You could make this stuff at home, but I’m certain that without knowing the exact blend of spices they used it’d be almost impossible to duplicate it well.
  • Absinthe. A bit out of left field here, but there was an absinthe bar on Bourbon Street. Ever the adventurer dragging Greg begrudgingly to things he’d rather safely avoid, I insisted we try some. The absinthe we had was neon green and tasted very strongly of black licorice. I did not care for it at all, nor did any hallucinations occur, which was probably for the best.
  • Crawfish. We spent one day in the van just hanging out at the RV park and got some food delivered to us. I unabashedly ordered an entire crawfish boil for myself. After a quick Google search on how to properly eat them (and heeding the advice of one of our Uber drivers who told us that you have to “suck the juices out the heads”), I ate like two pounds of crawfish sitting in bed watching TV. Once you get the peeling method down, in my opinion it’s even easier than getting the meat out of crab legs. Again, very spicy and flavorful.
  • Po Boys. Some of you may remember that one of our first good meals of the trip consisted of po boys from a seafood place in Savannah. The po boys in New Orleans were (take a guess) much spicier than the first ones we had, which in my opinion was an improvement. (Have you gathered yet that I like spicy food?) We had these twice as well, once after our night out on Bourbon Street and again as our last meal in the city. I’ve developed a taste for fried oysters and andouille sausage that I will be chasing for years to come – I’ve had variations of some of these foods before, but they sure don’t make ’em up north like they do in NOLA.

So far, this was my favorite stop of the tour. And this will be far from the last time I write about New Orleans, I’m sure of it. We didn’t have the time (or mobility, the streets down there were absolutely not made for anything bigger than an SUV, let alone The Beast) to do and see everything I wanted to. In reality we barely scratched the surface. I’m already looking forward to our return, whenever that may be. Photo dump incoming:

 

Oh yeah, and the show we had in New Orleans went fine. We (perhaps stupidly) booked a show in a cafe the Monday after a holiday weekend, so unsurprisingly the turnout was quite small. But we met a handful of very cool musicians who we shared the bill with that night, all who were also on tour from far away places (Wynne C Blue from Seattle & David Rosales from Huntington Beach, to be precise). We don’t have the opportunity to see much live music with the way we travel, so it’s always fun to get to hear some new original music from like-minded folk.

We repaired the solar charge controller and muffler Tuesday morning before leaving New Orleans. The new solar charge controller is working perfectly, much to our relief. The muffler tape we bought was not as successful and had completely come undone within two days of driving (We’ve since repaired it again and things are holding much better this time around). The series of misfortunes that befell us prior to these repairs seem to have finally come to an end, knock on wood.

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In-N-Out!

Our next stop was Dallas. This was one of our longest drives since the initial trip down to Savannah – a little under 8 hours in total. We did it in two days to break things up without any major incident. This second half of the tour has a lot more long drives in it compared to the first half, and the full days of driving do take a bit of getting used to when you haven’t done them for a while. The nicest thing about this is the rapid change of scenery. We went from the Gulf Coast to central Texas in a matter of hours, a stark difference from our six weeks in Florida. I was also very excited to find that one of my favorite fast-food chains, In-N-Out Burger, has locations in Dallas. I got to introduce Greg to the glory of my favorite brand of cheap and delicious burgers this past week. Is there someone I can call to get them to open these nationwide? Yet another thing I will miss when we return to the east cost.

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On the poster above ours: The Milk Carton Kids, Maren Morris, Drake Bell (lol)… We’re in good company!

Our show in Dallas paired us with more touring musicians, this time a cool folk/bluegrass family band from Arkansas, Route 358. This venue was a little unique in that they’ve hosted a number of seriously successful artists over the years when they were still small. It was encouraging to see our poster alongside their names on the wall. Honestly, it’s nice to know that some of the things we’re doing have worked out well for other people!

Friday in Dallas was a bit of a whirlwind. We started the day with some authentic Texas barbecue, which is something I’ve been looking forward to having again since my first trip to Texas in 2015, and almost satisfied my craving for more beignets and gumbo. Then it was off to Guitar Center to pick up some replacement cables, as we’ve gone through quite a few so far on the tour.

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I’m literally obsessed with this guitar.

Hanging on the wall in the Acoustic Guitar room is the guitar I had been hoping to run into for a long time. I had put off the purchase of a new guitar when Greg bought me a nice Taylor for my birthday last year, but the pickup system has been giving me all kinds of problems, to the point where I’ve playing Greg’s backup guitar for a majority of the tour. At our show the night before I was kind of at my wits end with the Taylor and was thinking about taking it to get repaired, and was dreading doing so to some degree. Instead, in we walk to this random Guitar Center to see a Sunburst Gibson Hummingbird Pro, on sale, just sitting there. I had basically decided I was going to get it as soon as I saw it, before we even got it down off the wall. It plays like an absolute dream, the sound is far superior to anything I own (and most guitars I’ve ever played), and it ain’t half bad to look at, either. I am not one to make snap decisions when it comes to large purchases, but I have zero regrets about this one. Worth every penny.

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From our show at Red Brick Bar on Sunday night.

Post-Dallas we headed north to Norman, Oklahoma, a state neither of us had been to before. Only a 4 hour drive this time, but we still split it up over two days. We spent the entirety of Saturday hanging out at a truck stop learning new songs and messing around with the new toy (and watching the cows across the street – there’s a LOT of cows in Oklahoma). Our show in Norman was on Sunday. We had a smaller crowd, but they were very generous with tips and merch purchases, and the bar owner was incredibly kind and hospitable. He’s one of the rare few that actually wants to do right by the musicians that come through his bar; it’s hard to find people like that most places. Plus I got to play the new guitar, which in itself made it a great time for me. We met some incredibly fun people after the show as well, and had a really nice night of (poorly shot) pool and cheap beers, which is something we don’t get to do very often.

And that brings us to today. We drove into Amarillo, Texas this morning. Northern Texas looks nothing like the central & southern parts of the state – we saw hints of red rocks and the beginnings of canyons along the highways on the drive over. I’m so excited to get back out into some campgrounds and do some hiking in the coming weeks as we head further west; this is a part of the country that I’ve never seen, and I hear it’s beautiful.

We’ve got a radio interview tomorrow morning ahead of our performance at Fire Slice Pizzeria tomorrow night. From there, we’ll leave Texas (for only a month!) and head to New Mexico. Hard to believe it’s almost April – we’re past the halfway point now, and starting to plan for the fall and beyond. And I’m happy to report that there is no end in sight. I really like the idea of being on permanent tour, and all things point to us being headed in that direction.

It’s been a bit of a rough week, guys. The Powers That Be decided that our first two months of this trip went too smoothly and decided to throw a bunch of stuff at us at once. And though it hasn’t been all bad, it has not all been great. Bit of a roller coaster coming at ya.

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Some awesome fan art from a patron at our Tallahassee gig.

Our drive into Tallahassee and the gig that followed went just fine. Ever heard the saying “the further North you go in Florida the further South you get?” It’s very true. We very quickly traded beaches and spring breakers and snow birds for thick southern accents and back country roads. Our Tallahassee gig was pretty low key in a small room with a small crowd, but the beer was good and the people were wonderful; I’d happily return to the Blue Tavern. We didn’t stay there long, though. That night after the gig we decided to drive all the way out to Panama City to the house provided to us for our gig on the 11th.

In hindsight, we probably should have just found a truck stop and driven there the next day. After stopping for a necessary meal and navigating the change to Central Time, we didn’t end up at this place until past two in the morning. The house sits by itself on a gravel road, under a highway overpass, next to a restaurant that was long closed for the day by the time we arrived, and surrounded by woods. Completely desolate and isolated. To say that we were a little creeped out would be a massive understatement. Even though the affectionately/fearfully nicknamed Murder House had three bedrooms, we chose to sleep in the van.

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This hangs over the entrance to the house. Cute by day, not nearly as cute at 2am.

In the light of day things certainly gave off a much less murdery vibe. The house, which is actually called Grace Note, was a great place to crash for a few nights (though we did continue to sleep in the van anyways). A full kitchen stocked with dishes and cookware, a laundry room, and hot running water were all well taken advantage of. The fact alone that the creators of the concert series we played maintain and allow this house to be used for all the travelling musicians that come through is still a bit unbelievable to me; southern hospitality is well and truly alive.

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It’s not a marquis, but it’s a pretty cool sign nonetheless.

Friday we had a gig in Fort Walton, about an hour west of the Murder House. The gig in itself was a great time, one of my favorites simply from a performer’s perspective. Green Door Music Hall had one of the nicest stages and sound systems we’ve been graced with yet. As an added bonus, we had a bit of kinship with the bar owner. He used to travel in a VW Bus around the country himself, and when the bus finally died on him he cut it in half and made it a fixture in the bar (he runs sound from the back half). We didn’t have a huge crowd, but we had a good crowd; friendly people who loved the music and were very much into our original tunes.

The troubles start on Sunday afternoon, but mildly at first. Arriving at our last Florida gig, we find that the top to our tip jar/merch stand is missing. For those who have seen us play live, you’ve undoubtedly seen the little platform I set up in front of us and pile merch and our tip jar on to. I firmly believe that getting those things off the ground and in people’s direct line of sight has done our sales & tip numbers a huge favor. Any cash that comes from this table goes directly to the constantly fluctuating Gas Money Fund, which is why it’s so important. But without the top to our little stand, those items are relegated back to the floor. As an added difficulty, my dad put together the top to that stand by hand; it’s a Chizuk original and entirely homemade. So we can’t just go pick one up at Walmart. My dad, God bless him, is shipping us a new one this week, so we won’t be without for long. End of the world? Not a chance. Frustrating? You betcha.

Moving past that, the Sunday gig went very well. We were preceded by an open mic which brought in a nice crowd, and then played to a room of completely silent listeners. Very rarely are we the sole focus of the entire room in which we’re playing. They even gave us a bit of a standing ovation at the end of our set – that’s a first for us. Performance wise, we closed out Florida on a very high note.

Now things take a bit of a turn. The van has been making an unusual sound – under moderate braking, and only like 20% of the time, there’s a single metallic clunk/knock sound coming from the front passenger side. This has been happening on and off for most of the trip pretty consistently. Since we’re about to driver over 1500 miles in three weeks, I figured this was the time to get that noise checked out before it evolved into something worse – plus Greg, who does most of the driving, said the brakes had been feeling different over the last two days as well.  So Monday morning we take the Beast to the mechanic, assuming a loose caliper or rotor needs to be adjusted and we’d be on our merry way. Not so. Turns out, the brake master cylinder was leaking, to the point where we had almost no brake fluid remaining. We were very close to losing our ability to brake at all, which is a terrifying thought. Not only was this an expensive repair, but parts needed to be ordered and would not arrive until Wednesday. Bad news all around at this point. We had planned on heading for Mississippi on Tuesday, so we make plans to stay at a local Walmart Tuesday night and be ready to do the repair as soon as the parts come in. We get them around 1:30 on Wednesday.

5:30 rolls around on Wednesday and the shop owner – Bubba – gives us the second dose of bad news: the master cylinder that had come in was missing a rubber nipple, causing the brake lines to continue to leak. The soonest a replacement could be shipped was the following morning. So they take us out to the back of the shop where the poor Beast is halfway disassembled, and Bubba laughingly tells us the good news is that we get to spend a night with them. So we plan to actually sleep at the mechanic’s, seeing as we have literally nowhere else to go or no other way to get there. But by the grace of God, one of the other mechanics (several of whom were working late, particularly to help us out) found a replacement part that had a 50% chance of being an adequate replacement. As luck would have it, it did in fact work. They put the van back together and sent us on our way (at a much lower cost than the original estimate, too) assuring us that our brakes were now in perfect shape for whatever lies ahead. Seriously, if you ever find yourself in a broken down truck in the Florida panhandle, the guys at A&D Truck Repairs are some seriously upstanding, down to earth dudes. So, just after sunset we drive out west, with the intention of finally leaving Mississippi with a van that should be ready for some serious mileage.

We were severely disappointed to find that a half an hour into our drive, the noise we had originally been concerned about was in fact not gone. The brake work we got done was definitely necessary, but the original problem was clearly not corrected like we had hoped and assumed it would be. I employ my Google skills to try and figure out what the hell would cause a vehicle to make a sound like that so sporadically and not involve the brakes, and I came up empty. After consulting my mechanically inclined friends back home, we’re keeping a watchful eye on it for now and will be back in the shop the minute it starts to get worse. A slight air of potentially impending doom is palpable in the van each time that irritating metal thunk decides to rear its ugly head.

So we drive our poor van back to Fort Walton, which is en route to Alabama on our way out of Florida. We were hoping to find the top to our tip jar stand, citing that that we could have possibly left it on the stage at Green Door, and also desperately seeking a win after the van’s mechanical situation threw so many curve balls at us. If you guessed that we did not find it, you would be correct. I suspect we left it on the curb or the bumper after load out that night, and at 2am neither of us were awake enough to catch the mishap. So we finally leave Florida and drive out to an Alabama Walmart to spend a single night, happy to be headed for a change of scenery, but not nearly as high spirited as either of us would have hoped.

We wake up Thursday morning, and I notice the wires to our solar charge controller (it takes the power from the solar panels and sends it to the house batteries) are loose. I had reset the panel earlier in the week and apparently not tightened them back down correctly. In trying to reconnect the wires, I managed to establish a bad connection in one of the terminals and nearly set the charge controller on fire. The plastic in the inside melted and burned quite badly. Not the win I was hoping for at this point, either. We had reservations for an RV park the next day, so I wasn’t worried about not having solar power, but now we have to get a new charge controller shipped to us and I have to spend an afternoon reinstalling it, and repairs are far from my favorite way to spend my time.

Thursday morning we drive into Mississippi for our first gig outside of Florida in weeks. A rock chips our windshield on the way, just to spite us. After arriving in Pascagoula we make a couple pit stops, including one at Lowes, where we buy some parts to make a makeshift tip jar stand top for the next couple gigs. It’s made of a plastic storage container lid instead of wood, it doesn’t look even half as nice, and it wobbles all over the place, but it’s a cheap temporary fix and it’s working for now. We take our newfangled contraption to the gig at the Celtic Irish Pub, where we’re playing a Thursday night before a big party weekend. Perhaps a bad call to book a gig around St. Patricks Day at all on my part. Aside from one awesome drunk couple that stayed for nearly our whole show, the bar was basically dead, due completely to the upcoming holiday. I think we would have had a really good night there on a different weekend. But we got paid and sold a little bit of merch, so it wasn’t a total loss in my book. We pack the van up and head for a truck stop in Gulfport for the night, with plans to drive to an RV park in New Orleans in the morning.

The drive to the RV park this morning went smoothly, and I was hoping this would mark the end of Things Falling Apart. But as we went to hook up our electrical line, we discovered that a large piece of our muffler is torn and hanging inches off the ground. We seriously can’t catch a break here. A few piece of muffler tape and an hour climbing around underneath the van should be enough to fix it, but god damn, couldn’t we have spaced these things out a little bit?! I have been stressed up to my eyeballs since Monday and it’s basically driving me crazy. If it’s not one thing, it’s the next. I want to say that at this rate we won’t have anything we haven’t repaired by the time we get home, but I truly hope that does not become the case.

So,  I’m going to conclude this post & week of craziness with a list of all the good things that are happening. Because despite all of these inconvenient, expensive, frustrating situations, there’s still quite a bit of good going on in between them.

  • Overall, the tour is in the green from a financial perspective thus far; we’ve made quite a bit more money than we’ve spent, and that trend looks to continue. We’re sustainable!
  • I started booking shows for the Northeast summer/fall tour and lined up three dates so far. We’re not caught up, but we’re no longer way behind on booking.
  • I have a dozen half-started songs that I’m very excited to work on once I have some down time.
  • I tried cheese grits for the first time and they tasted just like mac and cheese. I loved them profusely and think about them far more often than I should.
  • The roof repair, the water line repair, and the new fridge are all working exactly as they should be. The repairs I do have to make are holding strong!
  • Greg and I can be in each other’s company literally 24/7 and we continue to have a good time 99% of the time (the 1% being when we’re driving and or parking in tight spaces). When something isn’t actively breaking, we’re almost always having fun.
  • I’m in New Orleans for the first time in my life today. I just spent the last twelve hours working for all of my part time jobs, so I have money in my pocket and a wide open schedule. Tomorrow, we’re going into the city, and I’m going to eat a bunch of Cajun food, see a lot of things I’ve only ever seen on television, and drink a large assortment of sugary, boozy tourist drinks on Bourbon Street. We’re gonna have fun. All the work will still be there when I’m done taking a break, and god do I need one.

A few days ago marked the one year anniversary of the day I bought the van! Hard to believe that long has already passed. I so vividly remember the day I sat on my couch in my old apartment watching the eBay auction come to a close and seeing that I had won. A life changing decision made in a matter of seconds, and worth every penny spent.

It’s only been a week and a half since my last post, but so many things have happened that I’m sure I’ll forget to include something.  I believe we last left off en route to Naples. My Aunt Deb has a place in a lovely community down here that she very graciously let us stay at for a couple nights. We had an absolutely wonderful time with her – phenomenal food, beautiful weather, and great company. As much as we do like staying in the van, these little breaks from our daily grind are always very welcome and extremely appreciated. Much love Aunt Deb! (Say hi to Tucker for us!)

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Outside the Olde Fish House Marina. Sadly, we did not see any. 😦

While we were in Naples we had our gig in Matlacha. The Olde Fish House Marina was one of the coolest venues we’ve played yet. The restaurant was right on the water in a really neat area of Florida. We played outside to a restaurant full of people from the minute we started til the end of our set. (And ran into a few more familiar faces – thanks for coming Bobbie & friends!) Things went so well that we were offered another gig while we’re back down in that area in June, and I’m already looking forward to our return appearance.

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A van in its natural habitat.

After Naples we had three nights of state park hopping. This wasn’t intentional, we just couldn’t get more than one night’s reservation at any park on Florida’s western coast – RVing in Florida is a pretty popular activity down here in the winter. The parks in themselves were quite nice, and as always we love the chance to run the air conditioning whenever we have hookups. We did have another run in with ants, sadly. We bought a container for our cereal to keep bugs out since they seem to have a penchant for it. But apparently this container was no match for them, and we found about two dozen ants crawling through our cereal. Not awesome. But thankfully things seemed to have improved since then, knock on wood.

The third battle in the war we’ve waged against the water in the van took place in the middle of this – we found a leak in the roof. Fortunately it was in the overhead storage part of the van where all our belongings have been waterproofed, but it certainly didn’t make it much less frustrating. Fortunately this was an easy win for us – some of the old seam tape on the van’s roof had been pulled up, and all we needed to do was replace it. So Tuesday we went back to Home Depot and bought a replacement roll of roof tape, pulled the failing stuff off the van roof and put the new stuff down. Easy, peasy. And so far, it’s holding beautifully. Water – 0, us – 3. So far we’re winning!

We had a bit of a surprise on the last day of February – we were tagged in a Facebook post by a bar indicating we were the live music for the evening. This was a bar I had emailed way back when during the initial booking process, and they never so much as sent me a single reply. Apparently someone had decided they wanted to book us, but they forgot to let us know. So we adjusted a day’s worth of plans and drove back down to Sarasota after already having driven an hour north to Tampa to play this show. Fortunately the gig was well attended and well paid, so it was worth it despite the scheduling issue. I’ll take a last minute gig scheduled than a last minute cancellation any day!

We spent the majority of the last week in the Tampa area. Greg’s mom came down to see a couple of our shows and get out of the Buffalo weather herself. For the first time the van’s stealthiness became a big asset to us – we registered it as the second car for her hotel room and were able to park and sleep in the hotel parking lot for the duration of her reservation. I had been worried about finding parking for us there, so it was a huge weight off my shoulders. We got to enjoy yet another few days in the company of familiar faces from home!

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Shot of us at The Bunker in Ybor City FL.

The Tampa area gigs were great. We played sort of a music showcase at the Red Light Cafe in Ybor City on March first, and I had the best cup of coffee I’ve had on the trip so far. Plus, we got a taste of the local scene as there were a handful of other artists on the bill with us. March second we played at Barley Mow Brewing Company and were literally surrounded by people from Buffalo. We had two entire tables full of people from Western New York who either live in the area or were on vacation and came out to see us. I didn’t think we’d have much of a draw anywhere on this tour, but at least this time I was very mistaken!

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Clearwater, FL. We spent a lot of time here and it was gorgeous – one of my favorite areas of Florida.

We also stopped out to see a friend of ours – Keith Shuskie – who’s from Buffalo as well and is about to be moving to Florida. He let us sit in for a couple songs at his Friday & Saturday gigs & let us park the van at his place Saturday night. That was our first night in a long while where we didn’t have to worry about driving while hanging out at a bar, and it was SO nice to sit down and have a few drinks with some friends without worrying about having to move our house around later in the evening. I’m seriously thinking that next winter we’ll do a month in this area of Florida before we head way out west like the current plan is, because a lot of people really seemed to enjoy our stuff and Keith has all the hookups for some awesome gigs down here. Plus, you really can’t beat Florida in February. As much as I can’t wait to get to a different state next week, the Florida weather is really hard to beat and I will miss it.

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Hart Springs.

Monday we left Tampa and drove north about two and a half hours, to a county park rather than a state park for a change. We’re at Hart Springs which, as the name suggests, is home to a large collection of freshwater springs. The first few days here I had a lot of work to do, so we mostly just hung out in the van, but today we did get a chance to get out and see things. The water was a beautiful blue/green and crystal clear – you could see every single rock, plant and fish.  If it had been warmer (it’s only in the high 60’s up here) I would have gone swimming.

Tomorrow we leave the park and head for Tallahassee. One of our next gigs has a vacation house available for performers to stay in while they’re in town, so we’ll be in Panama City for the last few days of our Florida stretch of the tour. Then we’re headed to Mississippi for a gig, and then we’ll be in New Orleans for St. Patrick’s Day, which I am definitely looking forward to.

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Bonus: someone needs to buy me and Greg each one of these shirts. Or I might just get it tattooed on me.

I’m sure I’ve glossed over some details I wish I had included, but this past week and a half has been pretty crazy. We’ve had something to do every single day, and even when it’s something simple like going out for dinner or playing a short show, when you add all the components of constantly travelling on top of that schedules fill up pretty quickly. We haven’t really had a lot of down time, but honestly I think that’s a good thing. I’d much rather be busy running around in a city I’ve never been to before than sitting in the van at a truck stop doing nothing. Though it is only going to get busier from here – in two weeks time, we’ll be in northern Texas, and in four weeks we’ll be in New Mexico. This upcoming stretch of the tour is unquestionably the most driving intensive and the most hectic. But I’m glad I structured this trip the way I did. This long stretch in Florida has well prepared us to handle the day-to-day of van life, and allowed us to get familiar with things like how long our water tank will last us for and how often we need to charge the van batteries. With that mostly out of the way, the next three months should be a whole lot more exciting. Onward!

Backyard views.

Our fridge died. And I’m pretty sure we killed it. Turns out we aren’t able to boondock without hookups for quite as long as we originally hoped. Let me elaborate on how we arrived at this point:

Two days before we’re planning on leaving the free campground, an alarm on the inverter begins to sound. Our house battery systems were indicating that we were running low on power, and the inverter alarm was telling us we were reaching a point where it would no longer deliver power to our appliances. Meaning: if we run out of power juice, our fridge won’t run and all our food will spoil. No bueno. So on Valentine’s Day we planned a totally unnecessary long drive back to the coast for coffee and dinner to charge the batteries a bit (we did enjoy round two of sushi for dinner). Sadly we were only able to buy a few extra hours, as I was woken up around 3am by the inverter alarm again. God bless the sun rise – once the solar panels started charging the batteries the inverter kicked back on and crisis was averted for another day, but not for as long as I would have liked.

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View from Greg’s Aunt Amy & Uncle David’s condo. Literally unrealistically beautiful, this picture does it no justice.

Thursday we drove down to Fort Lauderdale to meet up with some of Greg’s family. They were incredibly hospitable, and despite the fact that they all live in condos, they were able to find a willing family friend with an empty driveway to host us for the couple of nights we’d be in town. (Shout out to Greg’s Uncle David, Uncle Matt, & Andrew for being so wonderful). Unfortunately it was while we were here that our fridge kicked the bucket, first by making a weird knocking noise on Friday morning and then by simply refusing to turn back on. I have a strong suspicion that running it on limited, insufficient power contributed to it’s death (the inverter alarm had continued to sound nightly but was usually temporarily staved off with a reset of all the equipment), but we may never truly know the cause; it was an old fridge after all. Its untimely demise turned what was supposed to be a literal day at the beach into a stress-filled day of mini-fridge diagnostics and eventually replacement shopping. (Side note: to the people who built a Home Depot basically inside of the world’s smallest parking garage, I hate you). We did find a shiny new replacement though. It’s black, it matches our other appliances, and though it is a little small for the existing fridge compartment it has more storage space inside and is a little more energy efficient. So, not a total loss.

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The new fridge! So fancy

After the fridge fiasco I decided we couldn’t wait until the next state park reservation to charge up the batteries. We were looking at five more nights of boondocking, and I didn’t want to risk killing our new fridge too. So I booked us an (expensive) last minute reservation at a RV “resort” in Homestead, just south of Miami. This place cost nearly three times as much as most of the state parks we have frequented, and it SUCKED. The campers were packed in like sardines, the bathrooms looked like they hadn’t been cleaned in weeks, our parking space was weirdly angled and the hookups were placed strangely and far apart, and the entire staff took an hour lunch just minutes before we arrived, so we had to sit around in the South Florida heat waiting for them to show back up. For the price I paid, I expected something a little closer to luxury. The only upside is that we did get a full charge on the batteries before we headed for our next destination.

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Just after our last gig in Miami. So happy to have an actual parking lot nearby!

The gigs we played in Miami were…. eclectic, to put it concisely. We played a cafe/bar/clothing store in an outdoor mall, a secret hipster venue in a remodeled warehouse, and a wine & jazz bar in the heart of downtown (about a dozen cop cars and the fire department showed up to this one to deal with a still unknown issue, that was fun). The general reaction was that people surprisingly enjoyed our stuff and that they “really don’t have much music like this down here.” From what I can tell, Miami has a music scene for EDM, jazz, and Latin music and not a lot else. For a lot of people I think our sound was refreshingly different rather than out of place. Definitely the most unique city we’ve played so far. An added bonus was that the driving and parking was slightly frustrating at times, but not the actual hellscape I expected it to be.

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This is where we went for fritas. Go here, it’s awesome.

The highlight of Miami? Fritas cubanas. Cuban food is something I had never tried, and Miami definitely seemed like the place to do it. Fritas are chorizo/beef hamburgers in a red sauce/marinade topped with onions shoestring potatoes (and also cheese on the variety we ordered). I cannot express to you how delicious these things were. Go to Miami just to get one of them (or five). Fun fact: there is a Little Havana downtown and that is where we accidentally ended up for this meal, so I’m pretty sure we got the most authentic version possible.

While in Miami we were lucky enough to find a casino just outside the city that offers free overnight RV parking, so that’s where we spent the majority of our downtime. Our last night there we went inside to take advantage of the reasonably priced buffet and the free $30 in gameplay credit that the casino offers new patrons. Surprisingly we both came out with some actual cash – I walked out with about $20 and Greg made out with almost $40. We basically got paid to stay at this place! And it was great having a place to stay outside the city that was well lit and secure.

Back on the negative for a second – we need to talk about the bugs again. There are SO MANY. And we can’t seem to get rid of them entirely. The ants went away for a time, but the spiders came back in full force. And if that wasn’t bad enough, we also had a spider egg sac hatch on the passenger side of the cab two days ago. We’ve killed like a hundred baby spiders, and the ants made a reappearance the same day in an old cereal box waiting to be thrown out. Why did nobody tell me that bugs were such a huge part of RVing?? It’s been annoying at best and painful at worst – I’m always covered in mosquito bites from these little flying pieces of garbage that seem to always get inside the van at night. I have been thoroughly enjoying the Florida weather but if cooler temps means the bugs will dissipate, I’m happy to head for it.

We rounded the tip of the Florida peninsula yesterday and drove through the Everglades, which was a gorgeous drive – we’re currently at a state park just south of Naples on Florida’s west coast. It’s been nice to have a couple days off after playing three nights in a row. We’re here until 1pm, and then we’re heading into Naples to see some of my family, which I’m looking forward to!

Overall, things are still going well despite the occasional day-to-day issues that arise. The bugs and the highways and the battery challenges are all part of the adventure I suppose. And whenever it isn’t stressful it is a whole lot of fun. It is hard to believe we’re still in Florida, and will be for another two and a half weeks. Long way to go still!

Hello from just west of Lake Okeechobee! We’ve got a few days off before our next three gigs, so we found a free campground out in the middle of nowhere for a couple nights of boondocking. I’m writing this from beneath a gorgeous, starry southern Florida night sky.

First and foremost, remember how I mentioned that we had an unusually large number of spiders in the van? Well, that hasn’t changed, but we did pick up a new breed of unwanted hitchhikers… we have a TON of ants living in the van. The good news is that they seem to have a hard time getting inside the living space, but the bad news is that there seems to be at least a hundred in the frame, if not more. How we managed to pick up so many practically overnight, I’m really not sure. We have ant traps out and it seems to be helping, but now we get to kill ants and spiders every single day. A luxurious lifestyle indeed.

Last week Wednesday we stayed at yet another Florida State Park, this one just north of Jupiter FL. It was only overnight, but the electrical hookups gave us access to one very important feature and the holy grail in hot, humid weather: our beloved AC unit. The warmth has been nice, but without any windows to crack in the back of the van, our little roof vent has a hard time circulating air back there. At midday in 80 degree weather with the sun beating down directly on the van, it gets HOT in here. Needless to say, having the air conditioner running even just for the one day was a very welcome reprieve. We also refilled the water tank, and (knock on wood) it looks like everything is currently holding! No visible leaks, no pooling of water in the storage space. I’m sure the war isn’t over, but I do believe we’ve won this battle.

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Our gig on Saturday was half art gallery, half bar. All three were great, but this was my favorite of the week.

Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday we had three gigs on the Treasure Coast – this is part of the Florida coastline south of Orlando and north of Fort Lauderdale. I’m happy to report that we still haven’t had any bad gigs! I feel like I’ve done a really great job at booking us at venues that are a good fit for our type of music overall. We had great nights at all three venues this week. Notes Music Room in Stuart gave us a small crowd with a lot of character, the Brewhouse Gallery in Lake Park gave us the most attentive and engaged audience of the tour to date, and Square Grouper in Jupiter gave us a gorgeous stage in a beautiful bar with very generous patrons. We made a whole bunch of new fans, we sold lots of merch, and overall we really enjoyed ourselves as musicians over this past weekend.

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Some gorgeous waterside houses in Stuart. In this area, everyone owns a yacht.

As travelers? Hang on folks, we’re about to do a 180. Allow me recommend that you do not attempt to come to this part of the state in an RV unless you have confirmed campground reservations every single night. In my last post I mentioned that we’ve always been able to find places to park without too much difficulty. In this part of Florida, because of the amount of the RV tourism here and the money to be made from it, there are very few places to park for free. I would have loved to have gotten us a campground reservation for the weekend, but those are entirely booked up by snowbirds months in advance – we’ve been lucky to get the occasional night or two at the campgrounds we have spent time at as is. So, we found ourselves at one singular Flying J truck stop for four nights in a row, and between a half hour to an hour away from each of our three gigs. Not ideal, but manageable for the most part.

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Someone in Fort Pierce owns the souped-up version of our van. The windows would have been a nice feature in this weather!

Now allow me to share my beef about the Florida Turnpike with you. We found a service plaza that was substantially closer to two of our gigs this weekend on the Turnpike. In Orlando, we stayed overnight at a nearly identical one on the same Turnpike without issue, so I (foolishly) assumed this would be better than making the long yet predictable drive back to the Flying J on Saturday night. So we left our gig in Lake Park and headed for this service plaza. When we get to the entrance for the Turnpike, it says “Sun Pass Only”. Sun Pass is basically the Florida equivalent of EZ Pass, which is all well and good. But unbeknownst to us, in Florida some of these tolls won’t take your regular American currency. If you don’t have one of these Sun Pass things, you literally cannot get on the highway. We had to criss-cross back and forth over this road until we found an entrance that did allow non-Sun Pass holders to enter. Then, twenty minutes later, we arrive at the service plaza to find large “No Overnight Parking” signs plastered all around the parking lot. So much for consistency. Now it’s approaching 1am and we get to drive back down the Turnpike towards the Flying J, looking for an exit that allows us to get off and surprise, there are certain exits that you can’t use without a Sun Pass either. We did finally find one, and ended up at the Flying J around 2:30 in the morning.

Moral of the story? Come to the Treasure Coast and see all the pretty beaches and beautiful nature, but definitely get a Sun Pass if you’re vacationing here. That amount of stress was approaching Macon-gas-station-incident levels.

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“The only time you should ever look back is to see how far you’ve come.” – Unknown

We’re here at the Dupuis Management Land campground until Thursday. There’s no hookups here, so we’re running solely on battery power and whatever water is left in the tank. We made dinner with propane (boiled spaghetti on the camping grill), and there are no electric lights, so dinner was cooked entirely by flashlight. But for a free campground, it’s not a bad spot. The land is beautiful, there are hot showers in the bath house, and there’s no light pollution from any of the nearby cities – I haven’t seen the stars so clearly in a very long time. Not a bad place to spend our one-month anniversary of being on the road! Valentines Day marks a complete month, and I truly cannot believe it has already been that long. It feels like it’s been a couple long weeks at most. The good news is that I think we’re both really enjoying all of this. So much so that we’ve already started planning the next tour after our month-long break back in Buffalo in June & July. I think we might do this for quite a long time if things keep going the way they have been. And truthfully, I would much rather be fighting our water system and municipal parking laws than I would ever want to wake up in my old apartment and go back to working nine to five. I don’t believe that we’re “supposed” to be doing anything particular with our lives, nor do I believe in destiny, but I do know that I’m happier than I’ve been in a long time now. Here’s to a great first month and to many, many more.

I wanna start this post off with some things that I’ve continually noticed but don’t really fit in with the narrative of the day-to-day story. Just to give you a little more insight into some of the little things that go on.

  • SPIDERS. Why the hell are there so many spiders inside my constantly moving vehicle?? As soon as we got into warmer weather, we have found spiders inside every single day. I usually find them as they run across my hands and arms when I’m laying in bed (and then I usually panic-fling them in Greg’s general direction). I don’t usually mind spiders too much and prefer to let them live, but in a space this size I can’t afford to be kind, lest they end up in my food or clothes or something.
  • Our schedule is that of your average retiree, aside from the getting up at the crack of dawn thing. We’ll go to the grocery store at 2pm on a weekday, we’ll drive to the park for lunch, and after some long days we go to bed extremely early (Greg has been napping next to me since about 8:30 this evening). It makes sense, though, if you look at the average age of an RV owner. My guess, based on what I’ve seen in the parks & campgrounds, is that it’s around 70. In almost every RV friendly place we’ve gone, Greg and I have been the youngest people by about 25-30 years minimum. Most of the time it’s just amusing that this is the case, but some afternoons when we’re driving through grocery store parking lots I do occasionally fear for my life – old people drive their cars poorly wherever you go.
  • Greg and I are pretty well settled into the roles of driver and co-pilot, respectively. We’ve tried it the other way a few times, and though I don’t mind driving the van, driving in new cities and through tight streets stresses me out. And Greg gets very frustrated with the GPS when we miss a turn or need to take an alternate route. Combine both of those things and driving becomes a very tense activity. I’m really good at navigating and Greg has gotten great at driving the van everywhere, so that’s what we’re sticking to for the time being.
  • My biggest concern before leaving Buffalo was that we were going to have a hard time finding places to park and sleep. On the whole, it hasn’t been nearly as difficult as I thought. We’ve had a few days where it’s been challenging, but we’ve never been without a place to stay at the end of the night. Between truck stops, Walmarts, RV parks, campgrounds, and a number of other places we have yet to try, there’s a plethora of places to sleep wherever we have needed them. This literally would not have been possible without the AllStays camping app – every RV/van traveler should  absolutely own that thing.
  • I sleep better in the van than I ever did in my old apartment.

Back to the happenings. Prior to the gig on Saturday, we discovered a large puddle under the van where there should not be one. Turns out that the leak by the water pump that I thought I had fixed was in fact, not fixed. After about an hour of swearing and climbing into our overhead storage (I am covered in bruises from this – it’s very small up there) and calling my dad asking for potential solutions, we diagnosed the real problem. The tygon tubing that was attached to the pump was worn out and cracked, and the only way to fix the leak was to cut that piece off. We sadly had to drain the fresh water tank to do this, but I do think we actually fixed the problem this time. We won’t fill the tank back up until the next campground, so once again only time will tell if we’ve resolved the issue for good.

Our gig on Saturday night was a lot of fun with another really great crowd. The bar, Little Fish Huge Pond in Sanford FL, was a super eclectic space with couches and crazy artwork and all kinds of knick-knacks and the like all over the tables, bar, and walls. The owner Mo was the human reflection of the bar – quirky, fun, loud, and unapologetic. She was also perhaps the most hospitable person I’ve ever met. Not only did she offer to make us food (they don’t even serve food regularly) and give us free beer all night, but she helped us prep the stage, she talked us up to every person that walked in the bar, and she even got up on the mic towards the end of our set and told the whole room to come buy our stuff, tip us, and support us, in a very dramatic fashion. So far she’s been the most memorable person I’ve met. Plus, we got to sleep in their parking lot overnight. Of five gigs, not a single one has been disappointing. Here’s to hoping that trend continues.

We woke up on Sunday with zero plans, only knowing we wanted to get the hell out of Sanford – we had a hell of a time navigating  through that town, the streets are very small and close together and not made for anything larger than an SUV. We ended up in a park north of Orlando for the afternoon. This is only notable because we had a weird experience with the MOST aggressive squirrels I’ve ever seen when we tried to get lunch there. They had zero fear of people and an intense desire to steal chips from me and Greg. Honestly, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a tiny bit afraid of them, especially when I attempted to scare them off and they would just come closer… I legitimately thought one was going to run up my leg to steal my food. We ate our lunch in the van.

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The picture doesn’t do it  justice, but this was our room at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort.

We had been tossing around the idea of going to either Disney World or Universal Studios on our downtime in Orlando since before we left Buffalo. After lunch I was looking at ticket prices for everything online and trying to determine the best way to do a single day at one of these places. We settled on Universal because it’s smaller and I had never been. Greg and I no longer do amusement parks without Fast Passes (we spoiled ourselves at Cedar Point once and now we can’t go back to waiting in line), so I was looking for a ticket package for one day that included those, when I came across one that came with a hotel room. For roughly an extra hundred bucks, we’d get a night in a resort hotel, be able to take a long, hot shower, be able to park the van securely, have somewhere to watch the Super Bowl, AND free Fast Passes for both of us. I hadn’t planned on staying in a hotel unless the situation was dire, but that seemed well worth the extra cash, plus I was totally down for taking it easy after all the stress of our messed up water system. We went from budget travel mode to vacation mode REAL quick.

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As a kid I was VERY into Harry Potter, and let me tell you, Universal absolutely nailed it with their Hogwarts & Diagon Alley themed stuff. Not pictured: the ButterBeer I drank & thoroughly enjoyed.

The hotel we stayed at was the fanciest hotel I’ve literally ever set foot in, and the shower in our room was nicer than the one in my old apartment back home. I splurged on a fancy sushi dinner for us both in one of the many hotel restaurants, and then we were up and out the door at 7:30am the next morning to head to the park and get the most out of our single day there. Universal is a really cool place – very different from Disney, but an absolutely great time. The special effects and 4-D rides there are some of the coolest I’ve ever seen. In ten hours in both parks there, we were able to get on every major ride (because of the fast passes!) and see everything we wanted to see. We both really enjoyed it, and I know I’d be more than happy to go back again.

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One of my all time favorite movies.

Just 24 hours in vacation mode can really make it tough to get back into budget/truck-stop-sleeping frame of mind. I won’t lie though, I prefer waking up in the familiarity of the van to a foreign hotel room immensely. We left a truck stop in Orlando this morning and headed out to the coast towards Stuart FL, where our next gig is on Thursday. And we finally made it to the beach today,  which is something I’ve been looking forward to about this stretch of the trip – for the next two weeks, all our gigs are minutes from the coastline. The ocean is one of my favorite things, and though we only hung out by the water for an hour or so, it was by far the highlight of my day. Before we leave Florida we’re doing at least a full day at the beach – we won’t be anywhere near the ocean after early March, and I want to get my fill.

Coming up this weekend is our first stretch of three gigs in a row, and our last set of shows before we have to start making our way to Miami, which I am genuinely worried about from a driving perspective. But the weather is perfect (roughly 80 and sunny every day), the van is running great, and we’re only really just getting started.

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Sunset at Vero Beach this evening.

It’s about 60 degrees right now outside, and I caught myself earlier this evening saying I was cold. How quickly I have apparently forgotten the negative windchill we left just three short weeks ago. Tonight we’re parked at a truck stop in Orlando after finishing gig number four. We’ve had a pretty crazy week! Allow me to fill you in.

When we last left off, Greg and I were heading into Carrollton for the day prior to our gig at the Alley Cat. First thing first – we wanted to develop a more permanent solution to the leak in the toilet. An underrated plus to van living: when something breaks in your house, you can drive your house to the hardware store to fix it. So we went to Home Depot to put a cap on the broken part of the water line. Unfortunately we did manage to turn what should have been a three minute job into a half hour nightmare of water shooting into our kitchen cabinet by buying the wrong part (twice). Since then, however, the ground level of the van has been bone dry….. we’ll talk about the remainder of the van in a minute.

The Alley Cat was a very eclectic & cool space. My favorite gig of the tour thus far, truth be told. The bar owner has family in the WNY area, unbelievably, and they had great food and fed us plenty of beers throughout the evening. By all accounts a very hospitable venue. Two other notable things about this place – it had a cigarette vending machine where any pack cost just $7, and after 10pm you can smoke inside the bar. It was like we had stepped back into 1975 or something. It was hot and smoky (and just slightly difficult to breathe, but we must suffer for our art, or something…), but we had a great crowd who was extremely into our music.

The cherry on top of an already awesome gig? Not more than a few minutes into our first set do we lay eyes upon some unexpectedly familiar faces. Our very good friends Dave & C drove all the way down from Buffalo to come see us. We had ZERO idea that they were coming, and though it was probably the most surprised I have ever been, it was truly wonderful to have them at the gig. They’ve been incredible supporters of Greg and I over the years in all of our many projects and we’re so lucky to have people like them in our lives. Much love to you both!

So, the gig goes great, we pack up and head for Florida in the morning. Thrilled to be leaving the dry northern Georgia air and still chilly temperatures, we plan to head as far south as we can. I find us a truck stop outside of Orlando in a town called Ocala, a place I’d never heard of but just happened to be conveniently on the way to our next gig. After we parked, Greg mentioned we were in Ocala on Facebook, and moments later gets a phone call from MORE very dear friends of ours. Sandy & Barney (owners of one of our favorite bars at home, Hat Trix) happen to be in the very same town visiting family. We got to meet up with them on Monday both for lunch and for drinks that evening. They too are wonderful people that have done so much for Greg and I over the years. It was really, really great be able to see so many good friends so far from home – we’re pretty lucky.

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Our little home in the trees for a few days.

Post-Ocala we went to campground number two. Lake Griffin State Park is in Fruitland Park FL, about an hour away from our Orlando gig this evening. This one also had RV hookups, so we got to spend a few days hanging out in a Florida forest with all the comforts of home. Our campsite was nicely tucked away in some palm trees with a picnic table, fire pit & patio – my favorite parking spot yet. I was able to get some work done for my many part-time jobs, Greg made us eggs for breakfast every morning, and we did a little bit of hiking & exploring as well. Though their hiking trails were not very well kept up (the majority of them were underwater and supplemented with balance-beam-like two by fours to gingerly walk across) and the mosquito population was enormous, I really enjoyed this little park. Plus, we got to see the second largest live oak in Florida. Five hundred year old trees covered in Spanish moss are much cooler than staring at semi trucks in parking lots.

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If you couldn’t guess, this is that giant tree I was telling you about. If you squint, you can see me.
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This is what the inside of the van looks like currently. For all its faults, it is a cozy little space that I’ve grown quite fond of.

The dreaded water returns to us this morning as we’re preparing to head for downtown Orlando. I had noticed some water pooling under our water pump in our overhead storage compartment, and had come to the conclusion that a fitting not tightened all the way down was the cause. I decided to take everything else out of the storage space so I had some extra room to work, and to my horror discovered that there was quite a bit of standing water on the entire left side of the compartment. One of our boxes of CDs was terrifyingly wet – these boxes are straight up cardboard and have zero resistance to water. Fortunately none of the CDs themselves were damaged, and we replaced the ruined box with plastic storage containers this afternoon, but we were much too close to destroyed merchandise for my comfort. The fitting I thought to be the problem has been fixed, but with the amount of water that was sitting there I worry that there may be another cause, especially since we’ve seen some water leaking from the over-cab storage outside the van as well. The good news is that nothing in the storage compartment can be damaged by the water anymore, the bad news is that we may not be out of the woods just yet. Van water system repairs to be continued.

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Pretty nice view of both Lake Eola & Downtown Orlando.

After the latest water fiasco, we drove into Orlando and spent the afternoon at Lake Eola Park prior to the gig. It was our first time street-parking the van, and I felt a bit like a parent leaving their kid alone for the first time. I couldn’t stop myself from turning back to look every few minutes to make sure it was still there. Beautiful park though, a huge lake right in the middle of the city with a nice walking path around it and a TON of swans and weird ducks and other assorted waterfowl. And with $2.50 Bud Lights at the lakeside bar, it wasn’t a bad way to kill a few hours.

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Greg’s fancy vegan dinner.

The gig this evening was at Dandelion Communitea Cafe. Unbeknownst to me until right before the gig, they serve an entirely vegan menu. With a free meal as part of our allotted pay, I was a bit skeptical about meat and cheese substitutes. Well, joke’s on me because that stuff was SO delicious. I had a kimchi melt with some cashew-meat substitute, Greg had some sort of Buffalo-chicken-flavored wrap, and we split some vegan nachos, and it was all excellent. I had never even had kimchi before and now I think I’ve added it to my list of favorite foods. Also, I might have actually preferred the cashew-meat substitute to actual meat…. I’m not sure I could ever go vegan entirely, but I’ll definitely be looking for more of that in the future. The gig itself went pretty well. We had a steady crowd and walked away with a bigger payout than we expected. It was a pretty typical mellow coffee shop style gig, but I have no problems with that. It was easy and predictable and low-key, which is never a bad thing.

Tomorrow we head an hour north to Sanford for our next gig, which is back in a bar setting and should be a good time. We may spend another day or two in this area, and then from there we’ll head to the “Treasure Coast”, which is on the Eastern coast of the state between Orlando & Fort Lauderdale. Here’s to hoping we get to spend some time at the beach when we get down that way – it’s been too long since I’ve seen the ocean.

Coming to ya from Tallapoosa, Georgia this afternoon. We made it over a week on the road without dying or killing each other, so I’d say that so far, things have been a massive success.

We spent the night before our gig in Athens in a Walmart parking lot for the first time. For those of you unaware, many Walmarts across the country are “RV friendly” and allow overnight parking for travelers such as ourselves. But somehow, we managed to pick the Walmart parking lot that the people of Athens like to pre-game in on Saturday nights. There was loud music and so much yelling for far longer than I either expected or hoped for in the parking lot of what is basically a grocery store. Not my best night’s sleep so far. Currently, I much prefer overnight parking at truck stops, but until we try Walmart another few times, the jury’s still out.

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This beer was called “Panama Krunkles”.

Our gig on Sunday went great. Terrapin Beer Co. is a very cool spot in Athens with some very cool people working there. I have never enjoyed an IPA as much as the one I was drinking that afternoon (they graciously sent us home with some growlers, so we got to have seconds last night as well. Bar owners of Buffalo, get some of this in your taps!) It wasn’t packed, but there was a decent crowd and we did get to play outside in 70+ degree weather. And that’s all I really want out of life anyways – to play music, drink beer, be warm, and get paid. An excellent afternoon all around.

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Hanging out at the RV park.

We drove to a truck stop just north of Carrollton, the site of our next gig, after our Sunday performance. Then came the hard part – what the hell do we do with ourselves all week until our next gig? That question actually stumped us for a few hours Monday morning. We’re on a tight budget, the weather is still chilly, and we don’t want to go too far from the apparently non-eventful Carrollton before our show. The search to fulfill these terms lead us to Big Oak RV Park. We’ve been able to charge our batteries back to full, flush the anti-freeze out of our plumbing, make some real food, and get some work done, and the overall cost for 4 nights here is cheaper than one night at a decent hotel. Plus, our neighbors made a point of telling (or warning? Possibly threatening?) us that they’re all armed, so we feel so, SO safe… I think. I jest, they’re actually very nice people. And it’s not a bad spot to hang out until we make a beeline for Florida on the 28th. Plus, it’s nice to have unlimited electricity & water again – I never realized how much I took both those things for granted.

Having water in the van has been an adventure in itself. For all the things we tried and tested before we left, the plumbing is unquestionably what we spent the least amount of time on. We got to dump our blank tank for the first time (this is where all our “used” water drains into) and it was…. gross. And then we developed a giant puddle of water in the middle of our living room carpet that seems to have come from a previously undiscovered leak in the toilet, only truly visible when connected to a water hookup. We’ve temporarily fixed it for the time being, but it was far from my favorite project thus far – I spent most of Wednesday with my arms elbow deep in toilet water. As expected, there is still plenty to learn about the construction of our living space. I want to tentatively predict that after a month of this, most of these “new” surprises should have come to fruition, and we’ll have a stronger handle on everything.

Today’s our last full day at the RV park. Tomorrow we plan to head into Carrollton for the day to scope the place out a bit before our gig on the 27th. Two more days and then we’ll be Florida-bound!

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The entrance to Terrapin Beer Co.
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Walking back to the RV park from the gas station to pick up some water – western Georgia is pretty.