Katie and I have now been out of our house and on the road for over six months. We have stayed in 45 locations and travelled almost 6000 miles in order to reach our current location: Cascabel, AZ. One of the techniques that has been useful in large projects in the past is to do a periodic retrospective to see how things are going and measure whether we are meeting our goals or if the goals have changed.
Back in June, I wrote about our trip and tried to state the goals that we had in pursuing it. Those goals can be summarized as:
- Break out of the insular world that we had build up around ourselves.
- Learn how to live smaller, utilizing fewer resources on a day-to-day basis.
- Be in closer contact with nature without having to get in the car to go find it.
- Find land to bond with and have a closer relationship to.
- Seek out wildlife as well as those living in communion with it.
- Learn more about conservation and sustainability.
- Have a better sense of the lay of the land, at least west of the continental divide.
Our strategies for meeting these goals were:
- Purchase a small truck with decent fuel efficiency and pull a small travel trailer.
- Set a gasoline budget that was equivalent to the average yearly usage we had in our Honda Civic over the last three years.
- Reduce long-distance round-trip jaunts out and back (hub and spoke) to various places by staying where we want to be.
- Look for communities that value land as much as for what it is, as for what it can provide.
- Employ a solar system that would allow us to stay places for an extended time where I could work even though it did not have electrical power.
- Go where we are led.
The first step in a retrospective is to list what has gone well. So much has gone well that I’m sure I will miss a lot, but here is a shot:
- After six months, Katie and I still love our little travel trailer. (And each other...) It has become our home and we enjoy returning to it each day. We have learned a lot about what makes a small space livable and how to maintain the systems it has. It is not a permanent solution, but it has been a great experience so far.
- The truck, in general, has worked out well. It pulls our trailer well and we both feel comfortable driving.
- Living in such a small space also helps get us outside more, allowing us to be more aware of all that is around us.
- Working on the road has gone quite well for me. I can usually get AT&T or Verizon to connect. In our current situation we have WiFi, but no cell coverage. There have been a few cases where it just made sense to take vacation time due to lack of connectivity. Working in the trailer or in the shade of the trailer has gone well. Sometimes I have had to use the truck for privacy during a call or to find cell coverage.
- We have found so many new places that we knew little to nothing about and have a much broader perspective on what the West has to provide as well as the issues it needs to deal with.
- We have met all kinds of folk from locals to snowbirds. We have come across many different perspectives: many that we share and definitely a few that we don’t.
- The solar systems I've employed have worked out well. In general, we have had no problem keeping our batteries charged. Well, at least since we left the west side of the Cascades in October. The panels can be a bit cumbersome at times and we will often choose to plug in when it is available.
- Water usage, outside of drinking and cooking water, seems to be greatly reduced. Bathing is sometimes reduced to sponge baths and we have significantly reduced water used in washing dishes. The five-gallon grey-water tank we try to empty once a day is rarely full and gives us a good idea of what we are using. It's harder to tell when our location has flush toilets and showers, but we are much more aware of how much we use.
- Propane usage seems to be OK. We were definitely using more when we had freezing nights in order to keep our water tank from freezing, but right now we mainly use it for cooking, heating water, and refrigeration (when not plugged in). A five-gallon tank generally lasts us about four weeks.
- Traveling slowly has created a feeling of an interconnected whole, rather than just a bunch of destinations.
- This type of joint adventure has given us both the opportunity to explore how we fit in the world and what our future may look like.
The next step is to list things that haven't gone so well:
- Gasoline usage is definitely one area we have not met our goal. In order to even come close to keeping within our budget we would have needed to have planned an efficient route between Seattle and Cascabel. Allowing ourselves to be blown by the wind and only having a general idea of how we were going to get here was great, but made this goal impossible. Somehow, it always seems we have a headwind and travel uphill every moving day.
- We have a large screen tent that I planned to use as an office. It has been really nice occasionally, but more often than not it didn't work out. It was too large for most of the places we have stayed. I couldn't even find a good place to use it at the ranch we are currently staying at. My dream of a standing desk in the shade really hasn’t worked out.
- The size and complexity of my kayak has made it less useful than I'd hoped. Katie has gotten a lot out of her little kayak, but mine tends to stay on the rack more often than not. As an aside plus, though, the kayak rack has been awesome. Thanks Ela!
- Our trailer doesn't have a toilet and we still haven't come up with a system that we are comfortable with, so we have limited the places we stay to campgrounds / residences with toilet access. We have not been able to take advantage of boondocking opportunities. Katie does like the fact that she hasn't had to clean a bathroom for six months.
- Our current configuration for the back of the truck allows too much dust and some rodent activity. Since we use it for storing a lot of our stuff, we need to rethink it a bit. The cover is great, but the bottom and sides could use some thought.
- I had hoped that this trip would help move my photography into a new phase by being where we want to be. While I’m still getting out and taking pictures, the way we have travelled around hasn’t fit my style very well. Staying in 45 different locations means that I don't get much time to get a feel for where we are, something I need to take the kind of pictures I'm drawn to. The trip has added some breadth to my photography, but not much depth.
Finally, what steps can be taken to improve what hasn't gone so well:
- Reducing our gasoline usage will always be a work in progress. To keep close to our budget, we would basically have to head directly back to Seattle when we leave Cascabel. This goes against many of our other goals, so it isn't really an option unless other things changed. We will continue to try to increase our fuel efficiency by being OK going slow, trying to travel on less windy days (unless it is a tailwind), and try to avoid roads that are particularly inefficient. For example, "auto tour" roads at wildlife refuges are very inefficient in a vehicle like ours, even mostly unloaded. Cibola NWR was one of the worst for some reason. I've got a suggestion for them: solar charged golf carts.
- There probably isn't much to do about the screen tent for now, other than donate it to someone. Ultimately, the smaller, yet more expensive, version would be worth trying.
- There is also a smaller version of my kayak that may be worth investigating. If things continue, I may look into that or just store my current one and forego having one.
- We had hoped to do some more investigation of composting toilet options while here in Cascabel. One of the part-time residents has done a lot of research into the subject, but we missed them by a month and they are now in the middle of the Pacific Ocean for the year. Again, this looks like something we will want to address in the future.
- We have extended our stay in Cascabel, and reconfiguring the back of the truck to reduce dust and rodent access seems like a worthwhile project. Some of our ideas would make Red Green proud.
- Our extended stay in Cascabel will also help me continue to learn more about this place and will hopefully lead to some more in-depth picture taking. I’ve already taken some nice shots for the next highlights album.
Well, that wraps up the retrospective. Overall, this trip has been a great success so far. As expected, not everything worked out the way I had imagined, but so much has come out of it that the areas that I called out that need improvement will only make things that much better. I am pleased with the level of preparation that we put into the trip before we left; it has made the transition into living this way quite smooth.
Reminder for the times:
There is no them, only us.
What I do to you, I do to myself.
What you do to me, you do to yourself.
There are no winners and losers.
We either all win or we all lose.