I can’t believe it’s been nearly 5 months since I left Oakland. And while I know there haven’t been a lot of posts in that time, I promise there has been a whole lot of living. I’ve survived living in a tiny house on wheels, visited many new places within a smallish geographical location, dealt with sickness, sadness, and homesickness, made new friends, fell in love with a city, fell in love with someone, had adventures and misadventures, and learned so much about myself in the process. I know I have a lot of stories to write, but the one I find myself writing now is what is happening at this moment.

Tomorrow, the Chinook and I are heading back to the Bay Area. If you read my guest post as part of Torre DeRoche’s Love and Travel Week on Almost Fearless, then you know I’m really missing loved ones.  So you can imagine that after all of this time, I’m so excited I don’t know how I’ll make it the 11+ hour drive without jumping out of my seat. But at the same time…

I’m scared

You see, the timing of this trip isn’t random.  On Tuesday, if everything goes well, and I want it to go well, a couple with a newborn baby will be handed the keys to the first house I ever co-owned. The house that I sank countless hours of sweat and love into (while documenting it all), made first-house memories in, and that I left thinking Francisco would be able to keep. Sure, I left our house willingly in January, but it’s so much harder to imagine neither of us being there anymore. And on Friday, I’ll sign what’s left to sign, and it will become the property of strangers on Tuesday.

I’m also saying another farewell to Francisco, and I don’t know when I’ll see him again. With the house being sold, he has decided to leave the Bay Area and travel as well. Unlike in so many instances where there’s an amicable split, we won’t be in the same town to get coffee every now and then or have one of us be in a static spot the other can visit. As much as I know our split was the right decision for both of us, and we’ve both moved on, ten years is still a really long time with someone, and I’ll miss him. In many ways I already do. In this time since I left, we’ve been in contact via email nearly every day, communicating about the house with our broker, and with that process coming to an end, I know that will too.

And then there’s my stuff. If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you know that when I moved out, I left a lot of things behind, and then I further downsized before taking off in June. What is left, are either sentimental things I don’t want to part with, or things I didn’t have the emotional strength to deal with then. But now I think it’s time.

There are my rings- my 1920’s diamond engagement ring- the most beautiful ring I’ve ever seen, the vintage ring box Francisco bought for it, and my 1920’s wedding band that are occupying space in a safe deposit box. It’s time to let them go to someone else now, and yet as certain as I am of that, I can’t imagine making it so.

And then there is my wedding dress. The one my former sister-in-law, a famous fashion designer, made especially for me. The one I flew to Buenos Aires alone to have made while I stayed with my in-laws and studied Spanish in the month leading up to our wedding. I can’t imagine ever wearing it again, so why keep it? And yet, I don’t know how I’ll hand it over to anyone.

I’m also clearing out my storage locker and loading the Chinook with the rest of what I own and bringing it back to Portland, where I can scan my photos, further downsize, process, and heal.

So, as excited and happy as I am to see those I love and miss so much, I’m just as scared to make this trip. It’s so strange to think that what I’m afraid to see for the first time in 5 months- Francisco, my house, and my things- I’m even more afraid to never see again. All I can do is muster all my emotional courage and take off with the intention of handling everything in the kindest, most genuine, honest way I know how, and to enjoy every minute with my friends. And who knows, maybe I’m stronger than I think.

“My friend Anjel says she wants to paint your Chinook! You’d like her, she rides a Ducati to work and when she unzips her riding suit she’ll have a dress on underneath!” This from my close pal Camille, who I’d just picked up from her apprenticeship at Olive-Route. Camille went on to explain that while I’d been on the phone waiting for her, Anjel had come out to take a look. She thought it would be a cool project to work on, as she’d just taken an auto-body class.

I couldn’t believe my luck. Sure, it was love at first sight when I saw the Chinook, but partly because I could see passed the 1976 veneer to what could be- a much hotter little earlier-vintage-styled number. And in spite of the fact that I have painted the interior and exterior of my house, have ripped up carpets, sanded and installed floors, installed a toilet and sink, made furniture, roto-tilled soil, smashed and removed concrete- you name it, with my own hands- I did not have the bandwidth to take on a first-time do-it-yourself project alone with all that I had to do to get ready for my road trip. At best I was hoping to do it along the way or get a sponsor to do it.

But I didn’t have to, and the Chinook would be better for it! After a few email exchanges and meeting in person, it was clear that Camille was right, that I had the perfect partner in crime- someone who shared my love of rat rods, and had the skills to transform the Chinook. And the cool surprise? Anjel and her husband Connal write a travel blog! They’ve had some pretty fantastic adventures like traveling the world for over a year, clocking many of those miles on their motorcycles. Checkout their site 35 Summers to learn what they’ve done and about the foundation they’re starting- it’s amazing.

And what became of the Chinook is pretty darn amazing too!

Here are some photos of the process:

Anjel and I suited up and ready to go (photo by Connal Hughes)-

Anjel using an eraser to get rid of the trim line-

Sanding, and removing the raised Chinook logo (photo by Connal Hughes)-

A little Nevr-Dull on the hubcaps makes ‘em shine-

A wire brush drill bit removes sharp peeling chrome-

Anjel carefully taping off lines for the stripes-

Starting to paint the grates-

I stuck to the prep and rims and let Anjel handle the expert stuff. Doing the primer-

Finally- Paint! My goal? Make it match my lips ;)

Um, yeah, I may have slept in this strange creature that night-

Ready for some before and after magic??

Cheers! That’s victory wine in there…we should have worn dresses!

Amazing right? I’m so grateful to Anjel for volunteering her time and skills, to Connal for helping so much behind the scenes, and to Via and Chris for lending us their driveway…for days…and for meeting new friends to share traveling adventures with. Thanks to them, I can take my road trip in style. And to think, it only took a couple hundred bucks, some sweat and a few days…and Anjel’s mad skills. What do you think? Like it? Ready to hire Anjel to pimp your ride? To tackle your own DIY project? Now just wait til I get my hands on the interior… ;)


I’d heard it was a possibility but I didn’t think it would really happen. I watched the final game of the Stanley Cup Playoffs surrounded by formerly online, now real-life fellow travel blogger friends at the Railway Club in Vancouver, the first stop on my North American road trip. A smaller group of us, Jeannie, Dylan, Mark and I left before the game ended to get a bite to eat at one of Jeannie’s (a local) favorite places. I remember asking as we veered toward what appeared a quieter part of town if we were going away from where the action was likely to be. I wanted to be in the midst of it, naively thinking it would resemble the street party I’d experienced when I first landed in Vancouver after game 6. Of course the outcome then had been different, but at most I thought the vibe would be a bit more somber.

We finished a great dinner, walked back into the quiet street, and in what seemed like one turn of a corner everything changed. Black smoke in the sky led to smashed windows, two overturned cars, riot police, an anxious yet curious crowd, fire engines, tear gas, and relatively controlled (at that time) chaos.

I wasn’t scared. Blame it on the fact that I lived in Los Angeles during the riots, that until last Wednesday I spent much of the last decade living in Oakland during riots, and more recently in a neighborhood where I heard gun fire from my house occasionally…too occasionally. Or maybe it’s the fact that I’m a filmmaker- it felt surreal, like I was watching a film.  Even as the first wave of tear gas caught in my throat and felt like someone took sandpaper to it, I just looked on with intense curiosity. I’m sure it would have been different had we been there just a few moments earlier.

My fellow travel blogging friends and I were in various states of concern and determination to get home. Jeannie and I learned that buses and cabs were no longer running, hitched a ride across the Burrard Bridge to the Chinook which was safely parked in the Kitsilano neighborhood, and I drove her home without a problem.

Every place has incidents. And my love for places- especially my beloved Oakland, where there are frequent incidents- has made me less likely to judge a place by them. I think about my perception of Vancouver before the riot started- how incredibly beautiful it is, its focus on local products and environmentally sound practices, its friendly people, how even the bus drivers are exceedingly nice- serving as ambassadors to their city. And I think about all of the times I’ve told someone I live in Oakland and had to defend my choice to live there by explaining how amazing a place it truly is in spite of the problems caused by a handful of residents.

Waking up the next day to find that a massive volunteer group had cleaned up the city and left messages of remorse over the rioting, including leaving notes of appreciation for their local police department on a police car, only confirmed my opinion of Vancouver- that it’s a fantastic place best seen through a prism like that, rather than judged by a riot.

For a beautifully written local’s perspective on the riot, please read Jeannie’s post here. Have you witnessed something like this while traveling? At home? How did it shape your opinion of the place?

Image used under Creative Commons: Red pin on a US map by alegri

In just a few hours part one of my big adventure finally begins! It’s hard to believe that it was already four months ago that I went on a much shorter adventure to buy the tiny RV that will now take me on a much bigger journey. So much has happened in that time- I feel like I’ve been living in 5th gear and often joke to friends that while I have no problem with that personally, I wish it would at least slow down enough for me to write about it more often. The last few weeks have been especially packed, with tying up loose ends in all areas of my life and down-sizing my belongings to next to nothing.

So what is this big adventure I have planned (well, sort of) and am rushing toward? I’m going on a solo, everyone-I-know tour of the U.S. and Canada in the Chinook for the next six months.

I’m starting with the TBEX (Travel Blog Exchange) Conference in Vancouver this weekend (June 10-12, which explains the rush!) And then I’m following the sun- yet another reason for leaving sooner than later- to see loved ones. I’ve had a huge year with lots of changes, and seeing loved ones I haven’t seen in quite a while and enjoying some sunshine before taking off for my round the world trip in 2012 sounds perfect.

My tentative plan is to do a clock-wise loop of the U.S., dipping into parts of Canada for TBEX and to visit family, and ending up in Arizona in December to spend the holidays with my Mom, Brother, and his/our family. I’ve got 22 places and 26 weeks.

Even through the exhaustion I’m excited. There is so much about this trip that’s new for me. I grew up in New England and have lived my whole adult life in California aside from a year and a half in New York, but I haven’t seen most of what’s in between. The longest solo trip I’ve been on was to Paris for 9 days when I was twenty-six. The longest road trip I’ve taken was a few days with a band in a veggie-oil fueled RV from Oakland to SXSW (Austin).

I’m not ready, but I’m ready.

I haven’t done the research I normally would have, which generally isn’t much, but still, there are things I’ve surely forgotten that I’ll need, and there are plenty of things I know I wanted to do, but didn’t get to. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. I’ll figure it out as I go and that will just become part of the excitement. What I’ve learned from traveling as much as I have so far is that I only ever think I have things sorted anyway, and some of the most fun adventures happen when I let life inform my plans. So for this one, I’m going to relax, be whimsical, follow my instincts and let the adventure unfold.

Got favorite places you think I should see? A particular route you’ve taken and loved? Going to TBEX? Let’s hear it! :)

In the wake of my separation, I temporarily began spare-bedroom hopping and relying on friends, public transportation or my own two feet to get where I wanted to go. And while incredibly grateful for it all, I craved the ability to have my new independence reflected in all parts of my life without having to commit to more permanence than I was interested in. I wanted a little space of my own and I wanted a way to get around to be free and see loved ones.  And then one day I had a crazy thought. It came in an instant, and felt like it took over my whole face. You know that part in the Grinch that stole Christmas when the Grinch gets the “wonderful awful idea” to pose as Santa Claus and steal Christmas from Whoville? That one right there < ? Well, kind of like that…except that this green gal uses her ideas for good rather than evil ;)

The seed for this idea was planted long ago, when I was an actress in Hollywood. I worked with a cute young guy on many sets, he became a friend, and I was fascinated with him. He had the simplest life. He lived in his car- a station wagon of some sort- with just a cooler on the floor at the passenger seat and a bar between the front and back seats to hang his clothes.  He worked, like many of us did, on different sets every day, and between the craft service table, free meals, and long hours, he didn’t have to worry about buying food or even having a place to hang out. And with a gym membership to shower and stay healthy, he was pretty well set up.  It was the freedom- the unencumbered nature of his lifestyle- and the adventure of it that appealed to me.

Over the years I’ve thought of him and wondered how long he ended up doing that. I’ve often mentioned to friends in those “would you ever?” conversations how while I wouldn’t want to have to live in a car, I think I’d want to, to see what it was like. As I got older, fewer and fewer friends would agree and more and more would say I was crazy.

I’ve also become a much more environmentally aware person in the last decade, and began following the tiny house movement and minimalist and green lifestyle proponents. I started reading Natural Home Magazine, and oodles of books and websites, eating up info and using what I’d learned to renovate our fixer-upper house and try to create a smaller footprint.

So it was, fresh off a split from a ten year marriage, of giving up a house and most of my possessions with a plan to give up more when the dust settled, when I was craving all that I’ve mentioned here, that this crazy thought would nearly topple me with excitement…my eureka! moment.

I want to live in a vehicle. Not just travel in a vehicle, but live in a vehicle. A space in which I can live, work and travel with all, or at least most, of what I own. I told my friend Leslie, who studies sustainable systems my plan. She loved it. “But it can’t be some big, ugly old, gas-guzzling thing that makes me feel like divorce is leaving me destitute!” I said. Or absolutely kills my budget for that matter. She cracked up, knowing that I am debt-free (aside from the house we’re likely selling that Francisco currently pays for) and have good savings. “It has to be CUTE and GREEN!” I went on. At some point, with a slip of a tongue (Leslie’s) cute and green became CREEN, and with that portmanteau as my umbrella criteria I began the hunt that led me here

Where we gleefully agreed that this 1976 Toyota Chinook was most definitely creen. How?

SHE PUTS THE GREEN IN CREEN:

She’s Used (but not used up!)- buying a vehicle produced 35 years ago means the large carbon debt to manufacture it has long since been paid. And speaking of debt, the real kicker is that I own my car (house!) outright, and it cost less than my MacBook Pro. Yes, really!

Her Emissions are Low- she passed California’s strict smog test with flying colors.

She’s Fuel Efficient- the Toyota Chinook is one of the tiniest RVs ever made, with a 4-cylinder engine that according to vintage ads got a whopping 29 miles per gallon, and still gets around 25. That’s fantastic for an RV, and rivals that of many new economy cars. Of course buying a used diesel RV and doing a veggie-oil conversion would be greener, but that was way too cost-prohibitive for me at this time.  But I really, really want to do that in the future!

Her Condition is Good- the interior living space, the coach, is in remarkably good shape for it’s age, so I’m able to lightly modify and not tear out and redo. That keeps material out of the landfill and means I have to purchase fewer replacement supplies.

She’s Off the Grid- she’s what is referred to in the RV world as “self-contained,” meaning that she doesn’t need to be plugged into a campsite’s utilities to be functional for living. She’s an independent lady. ;) She has a functional 2 burner stove, a small refrigerator and a heater that all run off a clean-burning efficient propane tank, a sink with potable water storage, a camping toilet, and an extra deep-cycle battery that powers the coach electricity and recharges while driving.

She’s Tiny- the coach is less than 50 square feet- smaller than the average bathroom in the U.S.- which means I’m forced to have less stuff and consume less energy.

SHE PUTS THE CUTE IN CREEN:

This, of course, is totally subjective, but think she’s really cute and I have a low-waste, eco-friendly vintage decorating plan that will make her even cuter.

OTHER THINGS I CONSIDERED:

Safety- buying this RV, where I can jump from my bed to the driver’s seat without going outside, rather than a truck hauling a vintage trailer (which I adore!) felt like the safer option for this solo gal and my intended use.

Ease of Driving- as I said, she’s tiny, is an automatic, only 16 feet bumper to bumper, and small and narrow enough to easily fit in a compact parking space or single car garage.

Stealth- being so small and looking similar to a truck with a cab makes her less conspicuous than a big RV or truck & trailer, and will hopefully enable me to park and sleep (dry camp) wherever I want and blend in.

So now that the Chinook and I have found each other, in the next couple of months I’ll be getting her ready to be my new home. We’ll then take off on a big adventure through the U.S. and parts of Canada until my free flight benefits start in 2012. Stay tuned for more details about the eco-renovation, how I’m prepared (or not) to live in 50 square feet, what environmentally-minded antics I’ll be getting us into on the road, and where we’ll, and then I’ll, be going in the next couple of years. :)

1. Eu·re·ka A city of northwest California on Humboldt Bay, an arm of the Pacific Ocean. Lumbering, fishing, and tourism are important to its economy. Population: 25,400.

2. eu·re·ka interj. Used to express triumph upon finding or discovering something.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.

I took a little break. Okay, maybe in the blogosphere it was a big break, but I really needed it. I’ve taken a little time to take care of myself post-breakup by going to Arizona to meet my brand new niece and spend time with my family, by spending time with close friends and spare-bedroom hopping, and by working with Francisco to amicably handle our divorce and maintain our friendship.

I also started to think about what I want my life to be like.  If you read my last post, you may recall that the silver lining part of me has been thinking, “You can redesign your life radically and you have the courage to do it- the sky’s the limit!” But what to do out of all the possibilities? So I started thinking about the things I’d always wanted to do. And then I decided I wanted to buy a little house on wheels.  And then I scoured the RV and car/truck listings on nearly every U.S. city on Craigslist. I did Google and Ebay searches to do research and catch anything I might have missed. I Google image searched relentlessly so I could see what the options looked like. And then I actually found what looked like the perfect fit…in Eureka!

Tuesday night Leslie offered to have she and Dean make the 5-hour road trip up to Eureka and by Wednesday morning our whirlwind adventure began. Shortly after we got on the road, we saw an awesome rainbow, my second in a month, when I can’t remember the last time I saw one before that. Making our way up the 101 Freeway, we saw sweet little towns, too many signs for a place called Confusion Hill, endured a littering accident coincidentally in front of a litter fine sign just after an anti-littering rant- oops for me!- and saw trees growing out of classic cars.

We drove through it all- sun, rain, sleet, hail, and the hugest snowflakes I’ve seen since I left New England.  The weather cycled through these so quickly that rather than becoming white-knuckled, we rolled through it all in awe.  Dean was fantastic- a happy little adventurer who never once complained about the long drive.

By the time we arrived to Eureka, the hail was so strong it was bouncing off the tiny motorhome. I confess that it was love at first sight, but I did my best to treat it like the business transaction it was.  The great thing about vehicle shopping in hail and rain? You’ll know if it leaks! Fortunately, this awesome little 1976 Toyota Chinook did not. After riding along with Nathan, the seller, we made the switch for me to test drive and the rain let up, and there was another rainbow! Driving it sealed the deal, so I offered $300 under his asking price and he took it.

The plan had been to check into a well-rated hotel that had a pool for Dean and spend the afternoon checking out the area- possibly Humboldt Bay, Redwood National Forest, etc., and swim at night. But we got in later than we’d hoped, things took more time than expected, and the weather wasn’t conducive to our plans. And when we got to the hotel, we discovered the pool was outside- um, no thanks.  I would never have imagined that a Super 8 would save the day, but it did, with an indoor heated pool, Jacuzzi, sauna, continental breakfast, wifi, and a clean, decent room with two queen beds for $69 (and no, they didn’t pay me to say that). Our plan B involved getting a bite at a restaurant close by, getting back to the hotel to use the amenities, sleeping like babies, and bumping the site-seeing to the morning.  And then Leslie noticed the broken tailpipe hovering just above the ground.

Thursday morning I took care of getting insured to drive back while Leslie & Dean swam. We made a quick trip to the DMV, got $100 back from Nathan, and then on to Leon’s Car Care Center to replace the tail pipe. We got a bite to eat and took Dean bowling while Leon’s worked on the truck.  I wouldn’t have guessed that the only tour I’d get in Eureka would be of the underside of a Chinook, but it was fantastic. I got the tailpipe replaced and a clean overall bill of health for the truck with the mechanic pointing out everything good going for it- including that “It’s a Toyota, and it’s cute.” Did I mention how incredibly nice everyone in Eureka was?

With a thumbs up from the mechanics, and a need to get home so I could house-sit, we caravanned back to the Bay Area, and my new home did just fine on its 5 (okay maybe 6) hour audition…with the exception of being a bit of a Grandma on the steep mountain hills.

I wish I could say I felt like I’d actually been to Eureka, but I really can’t.  In the 24 hours we were there we saw a bank, a gas station, a motel, two restaurants, the DMV, an auto repair shop, and a bowling alley. But it gave us a nice little window onto the place, and the home that will take me on my next big adventure…which may actually include a real trip to Eureka. :)

How about you? Been on a whirlwind trip lately? Been to Eureka? Ever lived in a house on wheels? Tell me about it!

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