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

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States we’ve been to on this tour.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Koreshan State Park in FL. Beautiful place.

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

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

What was your favorite city?

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

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

What was your favorite gig?

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

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

What was the most surprising thing you saw or did?

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

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

What was the scariest moment?

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

Greg: See above.

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

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

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

Did anything go wrong that seems funny now?

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

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

What was the best moment of the entire trip?

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

Greg: Ditto.

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

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

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

Favorite part of van life:

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

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

Least favorite part of van life:

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

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

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

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

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

What was your favorite meal?

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

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

What was the strangest thing you ate?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~

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

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

Thanks for reading, and see you soon.

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Next van??

I can almost count the days left on this tour on my fingers. I certainly can count the number of shows – there’s only four remaining. Much like in January when it felt like we’d never actually get in the van and drive away, heading home feels like an equally foreign concept now. And I’m feeling a lot of feelings about the whole thing. But first, let’s recap the conclusion of Texas, our return to Arkansas and our spur of the moment Memphis visit.

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View of Dirty Sixth Street from a rooftop bar patio.

Austin is a very cool city. An incredibly different feel than much of the rest of Texas, and probably the youngest average age of any city we’ve been to so far. Sixth street is the main drag downtown for nightlife, and it feels a lot like Nashville with a dash of New Orleans grunge. (All the famous bar streets in this country look incredibly similar, for what it’s worth.) We spent four nights in an RV park right downtown and got a pretty good taste of what the city has to offer.

First of all, Terry Black’s Barbecue. Hoooooooooly cow, you guys. We’ve had lots of great food on this tour but I feel the need to call this place out by name. Those of you that know me well know that I am not the worlds biggest carnivore – by no means a vegetarian, but if I have the choice between ribs or a pasta dinner, I’ll usually choose the latter. But at Greg’s insistence we stopped for barbecue our first night in Austin, and we so happened to be just down the street from this place. I had a brisket sandwich and it was unquestionably the best barbecue I have ever had in my entire life. And also maybe the best peach cobbler too. If you ever go to Austin, eat at this place. You can thank me later.

We spent a couple nights hanging around downtown, once on purpose and once on accident – there’s a few drink deals on 6th that make it pretty tough to leave without tossing back a few. I had hoped (and somewhat expected) to see some amazing music in all of the bars, but while there weren’t any bad players, it was overall nothing too spectacular. Maybe we’ll try and book one of those venues next time – I think we’d do pretty well there.

img_3343We had two gigs in Austin. One was pretty close to the aforementioned main strip – The Driskill Hotel is apparently a bit of an Austin staple and was gracious enough to book us on a Thursday night. Aside from the struggle of parking and maneuvering the van downtown, it was a really great gig. Beautiful venue with a massive built in crowd, an incredibly accommodating booker at the bar and a more than reasonable payout. A+ show, we’ll be returning next time we pass through without a doubt. The second gig was at a coffeehouse towards the north side of the city, far from the business of downtown. A much more low key and less lucrative gig for sure – next time we’ll be booking downtown exclusively if I can help it.

Our last day in Austin we finally got to break in the drone! Ziker Park was just around the corner from the RV park we stayed at, so after checkout on Sunday we stopped over for a couple hours to test it out. In between rain showers I was able to get some incredible shots – that thing is fun to fly and takes awesome pictures for being so small. I so wish I had this thing when we were in the Southwest. While we did get some good shots on our phones, next tour the video quality is gonna shoot up by like 250%. Here’s a couple sample pictures we snagged:

Post-Austin things slowed down again for a bit. Between there and San Antonio, combined with our lack of gigs for the first week and a half of May, we had overshot our budget a bit and needed to lay low until payday. So we spent a couple nights at a few free campgrounds between Austin and Fort Worth. I got some Florida flashbacks after just one day – we made the mistake of parking under a tree and ran our totally full batteries down to almost nothing overnight. So we spent a couple days driving around in rural Texas looking for free, sunny places to camp, and managed to find a couple on the Brazos river. Not the worst way to kill time for a few days. We also caved and bought a fan. It wasn’t less than 90 degrees for a single day that we were in Texas. I’m fairly convinced that the back of the van would hit, if not surpass, 120 degrees – no windows makes it damn near impossible for the air to circulate, even with our overhead vent fan on. Some things have literally melted off the walls in here. So we bought a tiny air circulator fan and it has actually made a world of difference – I can actually sleep past 8am now without being woken up by the heat.

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Holy Fajitas. Much love to Joe T Garcias.

Friday we had our last Texas gig of the tour in Fort Worth. Upon rolling into town I immediately wished we’d had more money and more time to spend there; it looks like such a neat place. We played in the Stockyards, which is a section of town that is more or less a modern recreation of the Wild West, complete with longhorn cattle and staged shootouts and people in full cowboy attire. We treated ourselves to one more meal of good Mexican food at Joe T. Garcia’s (also highly recommended – they only serve two dishes but they do a near perfect job at making them) and wandered around for a bit at our leisure until the gig.

This particular gig was perhaps the most strangely executed gig of the tour. We showed up hours early as nobody had told us when we were going on – we were supposed to open for some up and coming country singer. Well, the headliner that evening changed at least once between when the show was booked and the day of, and when time came to sound check, nobody but us was around. No headliner ever showed. The bar scrambled and called in a local to fill in – and he showed up without a band. Since he didn’t want to play solo for three hours, we ended up splitting the night. We played the first two hours and he played the second, and Greg and I walked out with a free meal and significantly more money than we had expected to make that evening. Unorthodox? You betcha. But financially it worked out better for us, which is always a win in my book. (Also, we met the nicest old Australian men at this bar after the show. We bonded over the unexpected hospitality we’ve received from Texans across the board and Niagara Falls. They may have been my favorite new people I’ve encountered so far on this tour and I wanted to hang out with them all night. Australia is now on the bucket list.)

Yesterday we finally left Texas (not before stopping for In-N-Out Burger one last time. I’ve gotten Greg hooked, and I can’t say I’m happy to leave the land of consistent, cheap, and delicious burgers). We drove back through Arkansas and stayed outside Little Rock last night, at yet another truck stop that we had already visited once.

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Graceland, in all its glory.

Today, entirely on a whim, we decided to go into Memphis for a few hours. I knew we’d be passing through on our way to Tupelo but I hadn’t planned to stop, until Greg decided he wanted to see Graceland while we had the chance. So this afternoon we took a tour of Elvis’ mansion and surrounding grounds. And despite accidentally dumping the contents of our fridge to the ground on our way out and leaving our roof vent open while it thunderstormed and soaked our carpet

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Any Marc Cohn fans?

(whoops), we had a great time. While massively overcrowded for my taste, it was pretty cool to see such an iconic place. Everything inside is original and has been preserved incredibly well for its age. Apparently, Elvis bought Graceland for $100k when he was 22 in 1957 – that’s almost a million bucks in today’s money. As a musician living out of a van at 24, I can’t say that doesn’t make me both a little jealous and a little awestruck. How crazy it must have been to be so wildly famous and successful so young.

We of course had to get some Memphis-style barbecue before we left town. While Terry Blacks still has my vote for best barbecue ever, I did have an excellent pulled pork sandwich followed by excellent peanut butter pie. Food wise, this tour has essentially spoiled us. There’s almost no situation where I won’t shell out the cash for a really good meal, and I’ve done my best to make sure all of our food excursions on this tour have been the best available when I do have the funds to splurge. But we’ve had so much good food in such a short span that I think I’ll be unable to top a lot of these meals for a long, long time. I still think about my New Orleans crawfish boil and beignets and jambalaya, about the po boys from Savannah, the grouper in Florida, and all the Mexican and New Mexican food from the Southwest and Texas. I already wish there was anything even remotely close to any of these things in the Northeast. (And I’m all ears if you have suggestions, but be warned: we’re critical as all hell after the places we’ve been!)

If you guessed we’re at another truck stop tonight, you guessed correctly. Tomorrow we’re headed to a nearby state park to charge up the batteries overnight (it’s been overcast, so our solar panels can’t do the work we need them to lately) and then we’ll head to Tupelo for the fourth to last show of the tour. After that, it’s a two day haul all the way back to the Fort Myers area for two more shows before we start the trek home.

And that’s it! I can’t tell you how much it feels like we only just started. Of course January feels like forever ago, but in another sense these past few months have absolutely flown by. And while I am of course looking forward to seeing family and friends at home, another part of me definitely wishes it wasn’t ending and is already counting the days to the mid-July date we’ve set for the start of the second tour. We’re booking in October as we speak, and we’ve got no plans to stop anytime soon. This “Proof of Concept Tour”, as I have come to call it, has shown me that all the things I had hoped were possible, are possible. We can book shows in pretty much any city we like, we can make money doing it, and with a little effort we can stay in the black so long as we keep living out of the van, which we’ve both grown to be incredibly fond of. We’re set up to do this for a long, long time. Maybe we won’t ever be Elvis-level successful, but at the end of the day I don’t give a damn about owning a mansion or horses or planes or any of that superficial nonsense. I just want to keep playing music and keep seeing more of this beautiful country for as long as I can. If I can continue to afford to fix the van when we break down, to buy us a good meal when we’re sick of bologna sandwiches, and to buy the gas to get us to the places we’ve yet to go, I’m already a lot closer to my own idea of success than I ever thought I’d be.

The next time you’ll hear from me, it’ll probably be the last time before we’re home. I’m hoping to do a recap of all the highs and lows of this crazy adventure and maybe tell some previously untold stories to round things off, so expect the longest blog-novel to date and a lot of reflecting and rambling and the like. Wish us well on this home stretch, and we’ll see you Buffalonians sooner than later!

 

Hello again, dear reader. Once again I have failed in writing a new post within a reasonable amount of time since writing the last one. Settle in for another novella in the comfort of your climate controlled environment, as I slowly roast in this 90 degree Texas spring weather.

When I last left you, we were just outside of Wichita, KS. A very weird observation about Wichita – it looks a LOT like Buffalo, if Buffalo were a landlocked city in the Midwest. Lots of highways and streets with the same names, lots of large, dated industrial structures on the outside of town. The venue we played that evening, though, was nothing like anywhere I’ve ever played in the country. Kirby’s Beer Store is one single dimly lit and poster-covered room, about the size of a large living room at best. A quarter of it is a stage, and a quarter of it is a bar – there is not much room to do anything in there aside from sit still and watch music. That said, we had an awesome time at this little dive. With maybe two dozen people in attendance over the course of the night, the place looked packed, the sound system was great, and we met some of the nicest and most interesting people we’ve met so far (including one man who loves Buffalo more than any person I’ve ever met in my entire life. A man who loves the Bills and the Pegulas and smashing folding tables at football games, and who has also only ever been to Buffalo one time. Meeting this person is the closest I have ever felt to being a real life celebrity…. and quite ironically it had nothing at all to do with music.)

The four day stretch of shows continued in a place called Pittsburg, KS the following  night. A neat bar in a tiny little town in the southeastern part of the state with really great in-built sound, which is always a treat. We had a bit of a slow night but those who did stay and listen made for a great audience. Our final leg of the four shows ended in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Fun fact about Fayetteville – it is bumpin‘. At the risk of sounding ignorant, previously when I thought of Arkansas, I thought of farms and small towns and old guys in overalls and not much else. Fayetteville is the literal opposite of all of those things. It’s a busy college town with a great main strip downtown and what appears to be a hugely active nightlife scene. We played at a bar right in the middle of all of this, and despite the horrendous parking situation (street parking the van is one of my least favorite activities), we played to a very busy bar for the entire night. Not a bad way to round off a tiring stretch of shows.

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DeGray State Park

After that, we had 10 days off. I didn’t plan for this on purpose, but honestly it wasn’t an unwelcome circumstance after the previous busy couple of weeks. So we kept things pretty low-key for essentially the whole week and a half. On the second of May I found us a state park to crash in for a few nights, and honestly it was one of the nicest we’ve stayed in so far. (Way nicer than any park in Florida!) DeGray State Park, for the curious. This place had a golf course and a disc golf course, horse stables, hiking trails, a marina in a huge lake, a restaurant, AND a hotel, among other things. It was gorgeous, and extremely affordable for all the amenities included. It rained for the majority of our time there which was a bit disappointing, but having some time off just hanging out in a beautiful place like that was rejuvenating in itself. We did take an afternoon to film a cover video of a song we’ve been digging on lately (and you can watch it here if you’d like to see it).

After a couple enjoyable days of a whole lot of nothing, we headed back towards Texas. En route to our next gig, we had our first stop at a place we’ve already been. Shreveport, Louisiana is in a location that happens to be a few hours from a lot of big cities. We stopped at a truck stop just to the west of the city on our way into Dallas, and again last week on our way down towards Conroe, TX. Despite the fact that we’ve stayed at dozens of truck stops, most of them tend to be memorable for one reason or another, and I remembered exactly what this one looked like as I was punching the address into my phone’s GPS – it’s the one with the real big parking lot where we ate burgers at Denny’s for dinner. It was actually kind of nice. We deal with unknown variables every single day since we’re always in brand new places, and this small little detail took the uncertainty out of things for the afternoon and evening.

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New shelves! It ain’t much to look at, but I can’t even begin to describe how nice it is to have some floor space back.

Last Wednesday, we made some more upgrades to the interior of the van. Previously we had been struggling a bit with storage. Underneath our table and at the foot of our bed all our previously open space was absolutely overflowing with stuff. All things that we need to be accessible, but it was making our table seat almost unusable and making other things completely accessible near the bed. The original plan was to install a shelf mounted to the wall directly next to our cabinet. It took us quite some time to settle on this course of action (it was very weird that being angry about the placement of a shelf in a van while we’re sitting in a parking lot of some random gas station a thousand miles from home did not feel abnormal to me in the slightest). But we were thwarted none too soon by the previous owners, who I was sure had run out of surprises to throw at us. Between the metal exterior and wood paneling interior, our walls are almost entirely filled of… Styrofoam. Great for insulation, terrible for mounting things (like shelves) to in any capacity.  The only wood we could have used was placed specifically behind things like the cabinet and the TV. So, our original plan was out of the question. We went with a less-stylish but much more economical solution – wire shelving. It takes the svelte look of the van’s interior down a few points, but the extra space it gave us was well worth the sacrifice.

From there, we worked our way down to Conroe one truck stop at a time for a few days. We arrived in town the morning of the show, and mid-afternoon we were informed of a lineup change. Our gig was supposed to be a “song swap” with a local singer-songwriter, but a family emergency rendered him unable to make the gig. So we were on our own and now had the entire night to fill ourselves. Usually last minute changes mean a gig is not going to go well, but we had a pretty solid night all things considered – a decent crowd, a bunch of merch sold and tips given, and a bunch of free beers and dinner for us both.

I turned 24 just after that gig, on a Texas highway just outside of Houston. The first birthday I’ve ever spent away from home. It even sounds ridiculous to me to say that 24 feels old, but to be fair it’s the oldest I’ve ever been. I’ve always tended to measure the passing of time between my own birthdays rather than at New Year’s.  It was very gratifying to spend that late night drive looking back over the past year and everything that’s happened; it’s honestly an overwhelming amount of change. I no longer feel like I’m hurdling towards some predetermined destiny that I didn’t have much say in. I worked so incredibly hard to get myself to the point where I could be so lucky as to celebrate a birthday in the middle of the adventure of a lifetime. It’s impossible to talk too much about this without sounding cheesy or over-dramatic, but I really do feel like I have a greater appreciation for everything in my life now than I ever have before. This country is so big, but the world is small, and life is far too short to spend it unhappy. Here’s to 24, and  to hoping I can close out my first quarter-century on its highest note.

For all of the above reasons, I really didn’t care too much about doing anything crazy for my actual birthday. But we did happen to be lucky enough to be en route to a city I very much enjoy – San Antonio. We drove into town that morning to an RV park I reserved a few minutes from downtown so we could Uber into the city for a few days.

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This thing can be controlled through hand gestures! The robot rebellion is surely coming… but until then I should be able to get some pretty sweet pictures.

Before we get into that, I want to briefly talk about my sole birthday present. With Greg’s relatively stringent budget (set and grudgingly enforced by yours truly), physical presents aren’t much of an option (though he did buy dinner & paid for the RV park, which was no less wonderful and very much appreciated ♥). And at my age I don’t have much expectation of gifts from anyone. But my wonderful parents shipped me a present all the way to Texas. They were kind enough to both make me a particular dessert I am extremely fond of, and buy me something so outlandish that I would never have purchased myself… I am now the proud owner of a drone. If you thought we had some cool pictures before, hang on. Once I figure out how to fly the thing (not nearly as easy as it looks), we’re gonna have some next level photography and videography going on.

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In near triple digit weather, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Back to San Antonio. I really do like this city. The river walk downtown is such a fun way to kill an afternoon and evening. Last time I was there I was only 20, so this time around I made it my primary objective to have a few margaritas with my unbeatable, delicious, real-deal Mexican food. We also spent time at the Alamo and in Market Square – all a bit touristy, but as far as tourist activities go this place has some of the best ones for a major city, in my opinion. We did not anticipate the weather, though – it has not been below 90 degrees since we left Conroe. You literally can’t be inside the van from 1-5pm if the A/C isn’t on – it does not cool off in here easily or quickly.

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“You may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas.” – Davy Crockett

We had two gigs in San Antonio as well. The first one was the day after my birthday at a bar/restaurant called Sanchos. Early gig for us (3-5pm), but a really cool venue and great crowd. We got food afterwards – Greg had street tacos and I had a torta, and it was the best food I’ve had in weeks, no joke, and very possibly the best Mexican food I’ve ever had. Last night we played at a pizza place called Fralo’s on the outskirts of the city. Really nice outdoor patio with a great little stage, and a very respectable dinner crowd for a Monday night.

Post-gig last night, we had our very first major problem. So far, we’ve had brake issues, water pump issues, roof issues, fridge issues, and muffler issues to name a few. All of these things have either been non-essential or planned for carefully. Yesterday we stopped for gas less than fifteen minutes after we left our gig. Shut the van off, filled the tank, and jumped right back in, all in less than five minutes. Turn the key, and the van suddenly sputters, then goes silent. Unbelievably, our battery is dead and the Beast is hobbled. We’re now stranded at this random gas station at 9:30pm in a strange town. For the first couple of hours we consulted the Master (my dad), ran a couple diagnostic tests, and tried jumping the van off of our house batteries (which has worked several times previously) to no success. After coming to the conclusion that further assessment of the problem was going to call for disassembling things under the hood, and with the clock rapidly approaching midnight, I broke down and we called AAA. I think everyone has heard the trope that it usually takes a technician hours to arrive, so I prepared to be stuck at this gas station well into the night. Not today, said the AAA gods as they smiled upon us! This coverall-clad angel showed up within a half an hour of my original phone call for help, tested the battery, told us that it was completely dead, swapped it for a new one in 15 minutes, and the van fired right up immediately after. Hallelujah. I’m not 100% sure that there isn’t something in the van mechanics that killed the battery in the first place, but for now things are running perfectly again, and I’m hoping we can get home to a familiar mechanic before any other issues arise. All in all, as far as a crisis could go, we really couldn’t have asked for a better timed or more easily resolved one.

And that brings us to today! Today was a boring day by most anyone’s standards, – we did laundry, we took the van to a self-serve car wash to scrape off some of the ever-accumulating layer of dead bugs, and we spent the entire rest of the day in a Starbucks so I could get work done and stay out of the heat. Not every day is chaos, craziness, or adventure, which is undoubtedly a good thing or I would be exhausted.

We’re a few short weeks away from heading home, with just seven gigs remaining on this first tour. These past few months have absolutely flown by. We’re heading into Austin tomorrow, one more city neither of us have ever been and both of us have always wanted to go to – so there’s still a few cool things left for us to do before we start making the trek back east.

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Ending this post on some RV humor – I think everyone who lives like we do has felt like this once or twice. 😉

Anyone that knows me knows exactly how I feel about cold weather. I absolutely cannot stand it. Anything below 50 usually calls for a heavy jacket and boots. The expected weather across the country had a very large impact on our tour route. Not only does cold weather make me want to sleep in and waste the day doing a whole lot of nothing, but in the van we have to be conscious of pipes freezing as we don’t have the battery power to run a heater 24/7. I was so sure that after we left Arizona that we’d be in the clear and we wouldn’t have more than a handful of chilly days. And I was absolutely positive that we wouldn’t be dealing with snow in any capacity. Sadly, I was mistaken. We’ve not only had temperatures in the 20’s most nights for the last week, we’ve seen and driven in far too much snow for my liking. Note to self: next tour, we don’t cross the Rockies until May.

I last left you as we arrived in Grand Junction, CO. For the unaware, Grand Junction is on the far western side of the state and is home to some of the most impressive red rock formations I’ve ever seen. We’ll get to those in a second.

On one of our typical grocery shopping Walmart runs here, we mistakenly (on purpose) wandered down the RV supplies aisle. We had been talking about doing some redecorating inside the van for some time, and suddenly inspired by all the things we didn’t need but definitely wanted, decided that today would be the day to do it. We bought: new seat covers for the front seats, tiny lights to run around the edge of the ceiling in the back of the van, an extra canvas storage unit to serve as a catch all for junk that always sits on our table, new fabric to replace the makeshift curtains over the back windows, and (at a different store) a fancy tapestry to replace our boring beige curtains. We spent the evening at yet another truck stop, as we do quite often at this point – Greg hung up the new lights and I sewed blackout canvas onto some black fabric to make new curtains for the back windows. All said and done, it looks a whole lot homier in here. It looks a bit less like a hotel room and a bit more like somewhere that we actually live.

Between all the interior decorating, we had another quick little in-studio interview at KAFM Community Radio. We’re getting better at answering the typical questions like actual professional musicians in my opinion. I used to dread interviews entirely, but now we have so much great stuff to talk about that I’ve started looking forward to them.

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Feelin’ about two inches tall right here.

The next morning we headed for higher elevations by way of the Colorado National Monument. Grand Junction is surrounded almost entirely by giant geological formations: a huge mesa to the north, the Colorado National Monument the South and West, and the Rocky Mountains to the East. I was determined to get a little more hiking in before we put the red rocks behind us completely, so we booked a campsite up at the Monument for the night before our Grand Junction gig. Both the drive up and the views from our campsite and short hike were pretty unbelievable (not quite Grand Canyon unbelievable, but still absolutely stunning). You can see the entirety of the city –

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Mountain Man Greg.

we could actually see the truck stop we had stayed at the night before from up there, about 11 miles away. The way that time and the elements have carved these rocks into these bizarre and impressive shapes is really quite the sight to behold. We were also lucky enough to see a herd of bighorn sheep ambling through the brush hundreds of feet below us on the hike. I’d like to go back in a warmer season though, as it was high 40’s at best while we were up there, not at all helped by the crazy high elevation.

The next day – Saturday – we went back into town to prep for our gig that night. We played Cruisers, a cool little sports bar attached to a hotel in downtown Grand Junction. Though it did take us a while to turn the crowd onto the music, once we had them dancing we had a great night. The sound guy actually told us ours was the first show where he had ever seen anyone asked to do an encore. All in all both a very fun and financially lucrative gig for us – our highest payout to date on the tour.

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Not as pretty as the BLM land in Phoenix, but just off to the right is the Colorado River, which you could watch from the front seats.

We had planned to spend one more night after the gig in Grand Junction and then drive to the Denver area, but at the last minute I found a free campground about halfway that would allow us to break up the drive a little bit. So Sunday afternoon we started the drive into the Rocky Mountains, a drive I had been slightly concerned about, seeing as the van is over 20 years old and still makes unpredictable sounds which have not yet been correctly diagnosed. But truth be told, the drive was pretty easy for the most part. The first half of the Rockies are largely made up of the red rock we’ve been so accustomed to seeing everywhere, with a touch more familiarity than some of the otherworldly shapes and structures we saw in Arizona and Utah. They’re covered in pine trees and capped with snow, slightly reminiscent of forests back in Western New York.

Our campsite that night was about 20 miles off the main road, and three miles off the back road too; we had a long, slow drive down a lengthy dirt path to get there. Completely worth it, though; we saw two bald eagles on the drive up, and watched a handful of river otters swimming just off the banks Colorado River before dinner, which we were camped just a few feet from. Definitely in my top five campgrounds to date. We also managed to successfully co-write a song that evening. Greg and I have very distinct and opposing writing styles, and it’s been a bit of a road block for us as songwriters lately. But with nothing else to do, some beer to drink, and no cell phone service, we were able to actually complete a song as a unit, which was actually a pretty big accomplishment for us. Maybe we will have another album out in the next decade, lol.

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Taken during our brief stop in Vail.

The next day was when we drove through the “postcard” side of the Rockies. Honestly, that drive was up there among one of my favorites as well from a scenery perspective. The descent down the mountain is certainly a bit scary, but we really didn’t have too hard a time with it either. I know it sounds ridiculous to say “the mountains are big”, but that’s just the truth. They’re huge and steep and beautiful. We made a pit stop in Vail, and there was snow on the ground for the first time since we left home. At over 10,000 feet up, though, it’s hardly surprising. (This is not the weather I was referencing earlier, either – that’s later).

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The view of the mountains was the only redeeming quality of this campground.

We made it down the eastern side of the mountains that afternoon, and arrived at the state park where we’d be spending nearly all of our remaining time in Colorado. I won’t publicly put this place on blast here, but it was definitely one of my least favorite places we’ve stayed to date, maybe only beaten by the gross RV “resort” we stayed at in Homestead, FL. It was over $30 a night to stay at this place (this is expensive for a state run RV park and the use of basically a glorified parking space), the water in our site ran brown for the first five minutes we tried to use it, there was one single shower building in the whole park a ten minute walk from our campsite, and the showers cost 25 cents a minute to use. On top of that, the park charges park use fees on top of camping fees so it cost about $30 more than expected on arrival, and the park is literally a stone’s throw from a major highway. The worst. But there’s not a lot of options for free overnight parking in Eastern Colorado as far as I could find, so we were stuck there until the following Friday.

Greg’s parents came to visit for the week while we were in this part of Colorado. As always it’s great to see familiar faces from home after being on the road for so long. Definitely not the right place to vacation to get away from the Buffalo weather – I think we had one nice day of weather where it wasn’t snowing, raining, or below 50 degrees. But we did get a chance to do some stuff that Greg and I don’t usually do, and in good company. We went into downtown Boulder, downtown Denver, and toured the famous Red Rocks amphitheater while they were in town. We also had some amazing food – the area seems to be a bit of a melting pot, so we had everything from poke to barbecue. I think the Vietnamese food was my favorite – the steamy buns from Zoe Ma Ma’s were especially delicious. Thanks again Nancy & Ray, hope you guys enjoyed your trip!

We also had two gigs during this time. The first was in Boulder at The Laughing Goat, a pretty cool coffeehouse. Greg had a few friends in the area come out, and with his family there as well we actually had a decent crowd, a rarity for a coffeehouse show. If for nothing but my own future reference: the sound system and the monitor mix at that venue was impeccable, and I’d like to play there again just to get some more insight into their setup.

Our next gig was in Jamestown, CO – population 300. This tiny little town is way up in the mountains, and the Jamestown Mercantile is the only bar or restaurant in town. The drive up to the gig was, in my opinion, scarier than the drive down the Rockies, mostly because of the weather. The rain turned to snow about halfway up, and as we parked the snowflakes falling were the biggest I’ve ever seen – the diameter of golf balls, no exaggeration. The gig in itself was a lot of fun – the staff were SO friendly and organized, which is a rare treat in this line of work. We made more money than I expected and they sent us on our way with all sorts of food, another great perk.

I was terrified to drive back down the mountain in the dark and in the snow in our eight thousand pound vehicle, but it let up just enough for Greg to talk me into leaving rather than staying at the bar. The drive down the mountain itself wasn’t too terrible, but it snowed nearly the entire hour and a half drive to our next destination – Cheyenne, Wyoming. Driving the van in the snow is something I like for us to avoid at all costs, as all it’d take is one patch of black ice to send us careening into the guardrail, so I was none too pleased that we were seeing this much snow past mid-April. We spent that night and the entirety of the next day huddled in the van trying to beat the cold. It was freezing and we were both pretty exhausted.

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Howdy, partner.

The weather improved on Monday, so we decided on another spur of the moment adventure. There was a bison farm just five miles from the truck stop we had parked at. Not only did they have a crazy assortment of animals living at the farm, they also offered horseback rides. I rode horses for a few years as a kid and had always enjoyed it, but Greg had never so much as sat on a horse before. So, off we went. The Terry Bison Ranch was in fact, a very fun way to kill an afternoon. We rode horses over the Wyoming/Colorado state line – the ranch is 1/3rd in Wyoming, 2/3rds in Colorado – and were lucky enough to see a handful of prairie dogs and a herd of antelope out on the plain. My horse, Mirage, was a slow, old man who didn’t really feel like keeping up with everyone, but Greg’s horse Sammy seemed to give him a pretty enjoyable ride. We had fun, and Greg is now a self-proclaimed cowboy.

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Not very shy, either. Look at the tongue!!

After that we took a train ride to tour the rest of the farm, where they house camels, ostriches, alpacas, llamas, turkeys, and of course, bison. And we actually got to hand-feed the buffalo. Those are some pretty damn big animals, let me tell ya. They have these crazy tongues that are rough like a cat’s and easily nine inches long and would wrap around the food we were giving them. That’s something I’ll probably never forget, it was such an unusual and memorable experience.

And then after that, we got dinner. Since the farm raises bison for human consumption…we had bison burgers. Ah, the circle of life. And you know what? They were delicious.

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Wednesday we left Wyoming for our final Colorado gig in Fort Collins. Prior to the gig, I had found a burrito place that serves travelling bands and musicians for free – Illegal Pete’s. They gave Greg and I both a free meal, and it was absolutely delicious. Hard to complain about any free food, really, but I preferred it to Chipotle, which is our usual burrito joint of choice. If any of you go to Colorado, patronize this restaurant – it’s rare to see anyone supporting the arts so directly and freely these days.

We played Odell Brewing Company immediately after we ate, and let me just say that I have never booked a gig at a brewery that wasn’t both well run by the staff and well attended by a good crowd. The stage was huge, the weather was good, the patio was beautiful, there were like 20 dogs there at any given time, and the beer was delicious, too. We played a quick 2 hour show to a receptive crowd, grabbed some fancy corn dogs from the venue’s food truck du jour for the road, and started one of the longest drives of the tour.

Our gig tonight is in Witchita, KS, which is about 8 hours from Fort Collins. We made it about halfway last night, and now we’re down to about an hour to go. Kansas is not quite as flat as I expected – it looks a bit like Ohio or Pennsylvania, with maybe a few less trees. Tonight’s gig is two of four in a row – we’ve got another three hour drive to Pittsburg, KS tomorrow, and another few hours to Fayetteville, Arkansas on Saturday. Then we’ve got a break for over a week before we head back into Texas, where we close in on the one-month-left-mark.

The van just hit 46,000 miles today. We’ve put nine thousand miles on it this trip so far, and we still have quite a ways to drive. I’m currently of the opinion that while I’d build a number of things differently if I started from scratch (and I just might do that some day), I’m gonna run this one absolutely into the ground first. It’s become too much of a home to me for me to ever sell it to someone else. We’ve got our summer and early fall dates almost completely booked, and I’ll be working on September through December real soon.  If I’ve said it once on this blog, I’ve said it a thousand times – I’m a million times happier doing this than I have been doing anything else, all things good and bad considered. There is no end in sight, and for once in my life that’s a good thing.

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!