The Airstream Life

Trip Start Jun 25, 2006
Trip End Nov 01, 2006

Loading Map
Map your own trip!
Map Options
Show trip route
Hide lines

Flag of United States  , Montana
Tuesday, August 1, 2006

We have been on the road now for six weeks and have traveled almost 5,000 miles. It is time to share about our life in the Airstream. Most of you will remember that only two years ago we owned a 3,000 s.f. house in Washington, D.C. with a total of 4 bedrooms and 4 baths. We currently do not own a home, but we do have two storage units filled with stuff, and we travel in a 23-foot long trailer. I knew things had changed when Marshall went to the restroom in a restaurant and came out marveling about its spaciousness.

The trailer usually does not feel too claustrophobic, and it is probably the land equivalent of taking a boat down the intercoastal waterway. We have perfected a silent minuet where one person moves back while the other passes by. If I want to read on the couch, Marshall will turn on the overhead spotlight and read on the bed. If one really wants privacy (using the term loosely), we can shut the bedroom curtain to create a reading room while the other person can watch tv using headphones. When we are camped for three days we set up a separate screen tent assembly to serve as our living room.

We have a full-fledged media center, including a 28-inch Sony flat screen TV connected to a satellite dish and regular antenna. I can usually get everything to work as long as we are not parked under an overhang of trees. It is not unusual to arrive at a new site, get set up and turn on HBO for an evening movie. We also have a full stereo system and all of my jazz cd's which we can hear in surround-sound stereo. It is pretty cool.

The trailer has a comfortable, tight feel about it. It feels like a Hampton Inn room on wheels. The stove works off propane; the refrigerator works off electricity or can switch to propane. We carry two tanks of propane on the trailer, but have only refilled one tank for a total cost of $15. Last night we had homemade Tuscan sausages from the Missoula farmer's market and polenta with spinach and arugula salad. The night before we had fresh tomatoes, mozzarella and basil, fresh corn on the cob, and local lamb on the grill. Once a week or so we go out to dinner, but we eat better at home.

We can take a shower and use the bathroom in the trailer, but we tend to use them as backup for the campground facilities. We have become connoisseurs of campsite showers, bathrooms and outhouses (we prefer the new biological ones). We can live off-the-grid without moving for about four days by conserving water, judicious use of the black and gray tanks, and firing up the generator to restore the battery (many sites have restrictions on generators). If we take indoor showers it fills the gray tank too fast, so we try to use the outdoor shower or the campsite shower.

When it is time to lock up and move along we are like a Jiffy Lube commercial, as each goes into motion. Marshall uses the bungy cords to strap everything down and we cover the bikes with heavy blankets and load then inside. Outside we have mastered the art of hitching the truck to the trailer, cranking up the post and feet, and connecting the level and anti-sway bars. We travel about 200 miles per day at the most, depending on the road we are traveling. We usually have no idea of which campsite we will chose at the end of the day, but go through the various books to narrow it down. The decision usually involves tradeoffs: internet wi-fi access and laundry facilities usually mean a commercial campsite ($25-30); most state parks have water and electric, but then we need to do the dump station routine ($15-20). The forest service sites have the barest of amenities, sometimes nothing at all ($10-15).

A number of times we have stopped for one night and it turns into three nights instead. We just run out of steam or need to do laundry or just aren't ready to drive again yet. When that happens we unhitch the truck and do area sight-seeing during the next day. If we are in a town we go shopping, usually for very minor purchases just to get our fix and go to a good restaurant. When we were in Jackson, Wyoming, Marshall walked around the Albertson's grocery store for an hour just to hang out. We have been pretty diligent about getting some serious exercise every two or three days with either a longish hike or a two-hour bike ride and we have played local golf courses a few times.

We are still pretty amazed about how easy it is just to pack up and head to the next destination. We have learned the upside of the homogenization of American stores-we can find our way around a Walmart (don't get stuck in the self-service checkout line!) and we sometimes crave a Borders or Barnes and Noble. Never did a Big Box store look so good. Finding access to the internet is a continual challenge. We usually end up in the public library (along with other RVers), which are all set up these days with wi-fi. It is surprising how many local citizens use the library these days for access to the internet, which says something about the digital divide.

We do all of our banking online, including payment of bills and credit cards. We have narrowed most of our mail to just a few items a month. Some of it is sent to the home base in Arkansas, but we also signed up for a mail forwarding service called Escapees, based in Texas. We just call and tell them where the next packet should go, either a friend's home or even to a General Delivery at the upcoming post office. It works great. We have met a number of other people who live in their rigs year-round, who are also members of Escapees. It is quite a culture of people out there just living from point to point. Many of them take jobs as hosts of the campsites for the summer or paying jobs with the KOA campgrounds. Please shoot me if this happens to us!

The most important ingredient in traveling in such a small space is to have a compatible companion, and of course Marshall is the best. She is relentlessly nice and mercilessly cheerful, even in the mornings during out "quiet time" over French-press coffee. She is wearing me down, and I look forward to getting back to my old curmudgeonly self. Our plan is to stay on the road through October, and then we have no plans at all.

So that's the rookie RVers report. If you have any questions, just send them along.

Travel Notes:

--We went from Livingston north to Great Falls and Fort Benton, Montana. The original goal was to do the canoe trip along the Missouri River section known as Missouri Breaks, where there are surreal limestone cliffs along the edges for several miles. We did this canoe trip about 10 years ago, and I wanted to try again mainly for photos. However, we hit the area when it was 100 degrees and it would have taken a four day commitment, so we opted instead for a local outfitter who drove us onto his private land for a photo session.

--This is Lewis and Clark country, as they traveled in this area in both directions. It was exactly 200 years ago that they traveled east on the homebound journey. Fort Benton was the last stop that a boat could travel upriver, and it became quite the trading post and hell town. Today it is a bunch of rundown buildings and two great museums and a replica of the trading fort. The museum has the original Smithsonian buffalo, whose image was on the nickel. Shep the Dog was famous for hanging around the railroad tracks for years waiting for his master, who never returned, so they have a monument for him, too.

--Lewis and Clark traveled west past the Fort Benton area to Great Falls, Montana (35 miles away), where they found 5 huge cascading waterfalls over 19 miles. It took a month to portage all of their canoes. Thinking they had clear sailing on the way to the Columbia River, they continued on the water and bumped into the Bitteroot Mountains. Oh, crap! They knew it was now going to be a two-year trip. Highly recommended book: Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose. We should get a commission, as we have recommended this many times.

--This is also the Nez Perce Indian area, where the Army hunted the tribe (which orginally helped Lewis and Clark) and forced them back onto a reservation. More details later.

--A few hours southwest put us in Missoula, a college town. We had dinner with a friend from the DC days and his wife. Arnie is now head of the Montana World Trade Commission and lives about 30 miles south of Missoula, so we got a grand tour. Excellent dinner.

--Farther west about 200 miles through the Lola Pass. Beautiful country, but the timber trucks on my butt would not let me enjoy it. We are now in Lewiston, Id, crossing the border tomorrow into Washington and heading for the Olympic National Park and Whidbey Island to visit my sister. After a total of 10 days or so we will head down to Oregon to set up until after Labor Day.

--The big issue right now is the threat of forest fires. More than 8000 acres have burned near the Glacier Park east entrance. Kiln-fired lumber has a moisture content of 8%; the timber around here is at 12%. The drought is so bad that farmers in North Dakota are going out of business.

Whew! Next report: Olympic National Park.
Slideshow Report as Spam
  • Your comment has been posted. Click here or reload this page to see it below.

  • Please enter a comment.
  • Please provide your name.
  • Please avoid using symbols in your name.
  • This name is a bit long. Please shorten it, or avoid special characters.
  • Please enter your email address to receive notification
  • Please enter a valid email address

Use this image in your site

Copy and paste this html: