This morning my husband came to me and said “let’s go for a ride.” It is a bright, beautiful and clear Sunday morn in the brilliant Bitterroots of Western Montana. Still, in late May, you can see frost on the tender spring grass, a hint of nip in the air, but the sun rising in the cerulean blue sky holds the promise of an earth warming breeze.
As we packed up water, pups, and a few snacks, I was reminded of the days of long ago, when a Sunday wheeled adventure was the norm, not the exception. As a child, it was a family ritual to load the car on Sunday to take our “Sunday Drive.”
In New York, that drive took on different hues, depending on the season. In summer, it meant heading to Jones beach with a blanket, watching the sea and stopping to grab an orange Nehi and a Coney Island. In spring we’d head to Connecticut to visit my grandparents, who ran a cottage motel. In the fall, the Catskills were alive with autumn splendor.
And my favorite ride, in winter months, with ice skates and a broom packed in, was a trip to an iced pond – either nearby, or if we had time and funds for fuel, to Westchester county. My Dad would spend considerable time and energy brooming snow off the frozen surface to make way for a day of skating, followed by an afternoon of hot cocoa at a nearby coffee shop.
When we moved west, to the mile high city, I fondly recall visiting the Rockies for the golden glow of autumn aspens. Or my most cherished place to visit, Tiny Town. Tiny Town is now a park, with train ride and admission charged, having been rebuilt after a disasterous flood destroyed the town in 1969. But back in the 1959 Tiny Town was a hidden place of magic and wonder, a place to spur the imagination of the 6 year old I was back then. A complete pint-sized town created in the foothills just west of Denver, we’d ride through the streets admiring the intricately crafted homes and businesses, and I would imagine what fairies and elves inhabited the buildings.
Once we landed in San Diego, my mother’s favorite Sunday Drive was La Jolla. A new navy wife by then, she would take careful note of the stunning homes, jotting down her ideas, and snapping photos on her Kodak Instamatic for future reference.
When the folks finally settled into the desert of eastern California to forge their forever home, the Sunday Drive became less frequent, with more babies and bills, swim meets and school projects, life and responsibilities taking its place.
Years later, when I moved home to help Mom when she fell ill, she’d look at me on Sundays and say “let’s take a drive.” Into her Buick we’d go, driving the streets of her desert town, looking for new housing developments, “scary” roads, stranges structures, and trying to get lost and found again. A faded memory revived, and looking at the glean in Mom’s eye, a memory that perhaps she missed as much as I did.
As we drive through the ‘Roots this fine Sunday morn, watching the river run, water rushing down sides of mountains and hillsides, feeling the sun on my face, crisp scent of pines and firs, I can’t help but feel that this lock down has taught us something important. It’s not the grand gestures that make life special. It’s the little, inconsequential things that, once you look back on them, you remember how grand they truly are.
So turn off the TV, stop streaming, posting and tweeting, and take a Sunday drive. Be free and make memories. Revive the Sunday Drive.
Montana Living. To Brad it means, finding raw land, building a house with his bare hands, and after a year, moving into the incomplete home while still constructing and finishing it. All the while doing chopping, sawing, digging, dragging, cutting, nailing, hammering, sweating, cussing and yes, there will be blood involved.
My vision was finding the perfect little house that needed a bit of “gingerbreading” but where everything is already in place. A bit of paint, a bit of furniture, and maybe constructing deck in the back and veranda in the front. And drinking coffee at sunrise and red wine at sunset. Done.
Being that our budget is more conducive to Brad’s dream than mine, it came to pass that we might need somewhere to live between the sawing part and the moving in part. So we started the process of “Finding the perfect yet temporary home on wheels.”
First off, just have to say, people on Craig’s List lie. I’m less willing to accept things on face value. Brad gets excited and I have to play the Eeyore role and burst his pretty little bubble.
Because, inevitably, RV’s and travel trailers on Craig’s List are pictures like this:
But end up in reality looking like this:
Or the words sound wonderful, pictures pristine, and Brad wants to drive down immediately to take a look. And then you get “the story.” We’ve had “the story” many times on Craig’s List. It is almost identical, whether you are looking for a 5th wheel, a puppy, or a used car. The recent ones went:
“The RV is in a container. It’s ready to drop ship directly to you. Just pay via Amazon pay and I guarantee you’ll be happy. It was my husband’s, who died a year ago and I just can’t look at it.”
Unfortunately, this is just a variation on a theme. It can be a purebred boxer, who was owned by her son, who died in a car accident 3 weeks ago, and all you have to do is pay for the cargo flight for the dogs from Alaska, even though I posted the ad under the Lancaster California Craig’s List site. Or a car that she can’t use because she’s serving in the miliary and is currently overseas serving our country in Afghanistan, and it’s in a container ready to ship directly to you.
Brad gets excited about the listings, because “it looks nice and clean and the price is incredible.” And I always say “write and see who died to make this incredible deal possible.” And I’m always right.
We searched. Going from one Bubba Gump
…Does the slide out work? …Yes …Can we see it work? …Fumbles with the buttons, nothing happens, Fumbles some more …Um, it works, I guarantee it.
To the next
…Why is there a bed in the front yet a dirty mattress and pillow on the floor in the back? And has the stove ever been cleaned? Or the shower? Or the toilet? And I’m sorry, but is that something living in the oven?
…Um, it’s my sons. He’s not real clean. But he’ll include the TV.
Until we finally hit pay dirt with a really nice 33 foot trailer from a really nice young man who got it from his grandparents who were really nice and everyone was really nice. It didn’t smell like 3 month old body odor, everything worked, and they threw in a Keurig. I mean, what’s not to love?
So, we hitched up in Washington, loaded up with a few essentials, tossed the two labs in the back and hit the road. Heading across 3 states. To live in an RV park until the perfect piece of Montana heaven would fall squarely in our laps.
It was 7 p.m. when we finally started on the road – Brad driving the truck and pulling the trailer, me bringing up the rear with our SUV. We were to drive “as long as we can.” For Brad, it meant driving at least 12 hours a day. For me, not so much.
Armed with long range walkie talkies so Brad could communicate every minutiae with me, we set off. As soon as we hit the road, Brad radioed “I just want to get over the pass and then we can stop anywhere.” Being that we both woke up at 4 in the morning, I sucked it up and replied that I’d give it the old college try. But not really feeling it.
After a few hours (and many many hours less than the “just over the pass) I was struggling. It was really dark. And really cold. And my eyes started to do that weird thing that eyes do when they have trouble focusing on simple things – like the car in front of me. The side of the road. The steering wheel. I told Brad I would continue but I was having trouble focusing. He told me that we “only” had another 2 hours, and to roll down the window and put in a CD. I had 3 choices. I picked the loudest, an old Jimmy Buffett best of CD, and sang out loud. Blinked a lot. And talked to myself.
Thirty minutes later we turned off the side of the road. At the top of the pass, not over it, thank you very much. There was a gas station and convenience store in the distance, and I drove there so I could wash up and go to the bathroom. Because, I was belatedly told, the RV was “winterized.” Which meant I couldn’t use anything in the RV except for the bed. I didn’t sign up for that part.
“But – I go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. At least once maybe twice. What am I supposed to do?”
Brad was pretty sure it would be ok if I peed in the toilet. I just couldn’t use the water in the sinks because the RV had antifreeze in the pipes.
Like clockwork, I was up 2 hours after falling asleep and used the toilet. Got back into bed and it felt like my arms had Ben Gay on them. Icy hot. I just KNEW that somehow that antifreeze jumped out the toilet and the fumes wrapped themselves around my forearms.
I shot out of bed and took a bottle of water, VERY COLD water, and rinsed off the entire top part of my body. And went back to bed.
5 a.m. And I had to pee. Bad. The kind of bad where it’s either now, or NOW. And I wasn’t going to pee in Satan’s toilet again.
So I planned it out. I would pee outside. Yep, me. On the side of the trailer in full view of every trucker from here to eternity who stopped in front and back and on either side of us. I could do it.
But how could I accomplish such a feat? Without being discovered? Well, I had a plan. A very good plan. The best plan that had ever been planned.
I slipped a sweatshirt over my nightgown. I pulled off my underwear and slipped into my warm Ugg boots. My plan was to casually sit on the outside RV steps and act like I was gazing at the sunrise. The steps are metal, so I sat on my nightgown in the event that it was so cold I’d freeze my butt permanently to the stairs. At the very, very edge of the steps, gazing and donning my newly discovered Mountain Mamma persona I casually peed.
Proud and satisfied, I climbed back into the trailer. Only to discover that the back of my nightgown was soaked. And my cherished Ugg boots? The ones I bought while visiting my friends Annie and Glenn in Sydney? Authentic Australian made and purchased in Australia and carefully transported from Sydney to Fiji to California to Washington and soon to be worn in Montana? THOSE Ugg boots? Drenched. Soggy. Sodden. Sopping. Danked. Waterlogged. Trashed. Ready for a Valhalla Viking burial.
I was so despondent. My Ugg Boots. I’ve had them for years. And they kept me warm and cozy. I told Brad that I was going to start a Go Fund Me page for new Ugg boots. Thinking he’d have pity on me and try to find replacements, or at least offer words of comfort, he turned to me and said:
“If you’re going to do a Go Fund Me page, do one for something important. Like for a new tractor.”
One minute we are milking goats, collecting eggs, making soap. The next minute we are loading up boxes and storage containers to move to yet another “forever home.”
Everything was running stunningly. Until it wasn’t. To make a long story shorter and less complicated, our investment and retirement that would not quite allow us to live in the lap of luxury, but would at least allow us to shower daily, fell through. Kaput. Splat. A sale that happened, but on paper only. A change of government that suddenly decided Americans were not their friends. But American money was. Good friends. Such good friends that they would not let the said Americans part with their money. They’d keep it safe. For a long time. Like, forever.
Goats and rabbits and chickens all found new homes. Our house found a new owner. And we found ourselves on the road in an RV looking for the next great adventure.
Sounds exciting, yes? A 33 foot trailer, towed to bright new horizons. Count me in! On the road again. The road less taken. Take me home, country roads. Down the yellow brick road. We’re hitting the road, Jack. The long and winding road. Why don’t we do it … ok, maybe not that one.
My husband was optimistic. “It will be fun” he said and we loaded up the essentials to get by for a few weeks – enough until we found something that suited both our fancy, and our wallets. Those essentials also included two rather large Labrador retrievers.
Me, the big guy (6’4″ and all beef) and two large animals. As a friend coined it “that’s a heck of a lot of flesh.” In a space that seemed to get more crowded as the days turned to weeks, turned into a month.
Labs are wonderful dogs. Until you spend a month stepping over them, smelling them, trying to keep them quiet in an RV park that has “quiet hours.”
Tui, our chocolate lab, has issues with potty time. He can’t go if he’s on a leash. Or if you are looking at him. Or if the stars are not aligned. So we have to suss out a place where he can run free, but be contained, and be secluded enough so nobody sees him do his business.
Barley, our yellow lab, has issues with everything else. He barks at whatever sound is “unusual.” He eats anything that’s on the ground. And he has digestive issues that makes the RV smell like bad salami and rotted vegetables.
All in all, life is not a highway, and as it turns out, I have no desire to ride it all night long. I wasn’t born a ramblin’ man. And, shameful as it may seem, I wasn’t even born to be wild.
Officially, we are out of the evergreen state. We thought, for a New York minute, that we’d settle in the central/northeastern part of the state. Towns are too small, land too dry, in no close proximity of anything I was looking for, and I was sure I saw the Alaska Bush People howling on the side of the road.
So east we go, to the Big Sky Country, which has been one of Brad’s dreams for as long as we’ve been married. We’ve got at least 30 possibles from Zillow, about 10 cans of my homemade pasta sauce, 4 old, dusty CDs in case the radio doesn’t work, a bag of salt and vinegar chips and a Keurig in the RV. What possibly could go wrong?