These days, when anyone asks me for my address, I balk a little. “Nowhere” isn’t exactly right, but most people aren’t ready for the whole story: For the last few months, home is wherever we’ve parked our 36-foot trailer. At the moment, the camper (along with my husband, two boxers and one Welsh corgi) is sitting under an apple tree in a pretty village in coastal Maine. I can smell the ocean through the screen door, and hear the seagulls.
We like being nomads. (A friend keeps insisting I use that word, rather than hobos. Or vagrants.) We’re calling it an empty-nest adventure, and it’s okay if you think we’re nuts. Many of our friends and family do. But I’m a big believer in timing, and in this case, ijust seemed like the stars aligned. The kids—between us, we have five, between 19 and 24--are all busy with their own lives. Sure, they need our money and moral support and dental insurance. But that three-bedroom, two-bath house near excellent schools? We’d outgrown it, and the real estate market was finally moving.
At the same time, Dennis, at 44, was retiring from a 21-year career in the Army and itching to make his dream job – becoming a hunting guide -- a reality. As a freelancer who spent the last decade writing articles in school parking lots during lacrosse games, I knew my career was mobile.
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So why not sell the house and run away. What better time, we figured, to travel where we want, stay as long as we want, until we get a sense of where we belong. At some point, it will become clearer to Dennis which part of the country has the best employment options. But our quest is bigger, too. Maybe we will roll into some unknown town and feel, “This is it. This is home.”
Finding Mr. Right, the Trailer
Camper-shopping freaked us both out, from the $500,000 brand new motorhomes to the $1,000 used tow-behind trailers we saw parked by the side of the road. The new ones seemed laughably overdone: A fireplace? Central vac? Three TVs? The used ones smelled like other peoples’ dogs. New or old, they all seemed flimsy.
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We plunked down $15,500 for a 10-year-old Carriage Cameo, from a lovely older couple with a very clean dog. The sweet price lowered the ante. If our little experiment turns out to be a big mistake, it’s no more expensive than if we had bad luck with a used Honda Accord.
With our house under contract, we pared down. I’m as big a fan of the simplify movement as the next person, but shedding a house of 11 years, and all its contents, is harder than it sounds. The first part was easy: We went through the house, and identified everything we loved, from furniture to paperweights to a stuffed deer head, which will be in our next house whenever and wherever that turns out to be.
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Our “Love It” storage pile was shocking small, taking up a corner of the basement, which left us with nine rooms of—you should pardon the expression—crap. Some of it was good crap, mind you, but if it didn’t make the “Love it” list, why let it weigh us down? Some we sold on Craig’s List, or gave away to neighbors and friends. A lot went to Goodwill. And while I thought mountains of it would go to the kids, turns out they want to pick out their own crap, so there were many trips to the dump. Officially houseless, we set sail, towing our massive Land Yacht into the geographical abyss.
In the first three months, we’ve logged nearly 6,000 miles, driving west to Montana (where Dennis spent a month at a school for hunting guides), down through Idaho, Utah, and Colorado, before meandering across the Midwest, back to New England. Along the way, he’s been dropping off resumes and meeting with potential employers, and I’ve been writing and reporting just as I always have, albeit with an ever-changing view.
There have been mishaps. (What are the odds that the one time I screwed up connecting the trailer brakes would be the day we were descending from Breckenridge, Colorado, elevation 12,000 feet?) And there are adjustments: Like all trailers, ours is rickety,15,000 pounds resting on a few flimsy legs. When a dog scratches in the bedroom, I feel the vibration sitting in the living room recliner. Cable is extremely variable, so we’ve missed important Red Sox moments. Shopping is confusing. When you live this small, every purchase demands a justification. Do we need it? Where will we put it? How much does it weigh?
And it’s small. When the three pop-outs, we have something like 500 square feet to live in. While the kitchen is better laid out than the one we just sold, it requires a certain amount of dosey-doing with one another while cooking.
Then there are the facilities (I know you were wondering.) The bathroom sink is in the bedroom, as is a shower that works splendidly, with plenty of hot water and pressure. And a room with a toilet. I call it the bathroom, but it is much smaller than either closet. If the holding tank isn’t emptied often, it smells. But so far, the only true lament I’ve got is that there is no bathtub.
Home on the Range
So far, we like being nomads. We’ve seen countryside so unexpected that it absolutely silenced us -- Utah’s incredible Canyonlands, the breathtaking Selway Wilderness in Idaho, or the wildflower-covered Grand Mesa in Colorado. Traveling like this gives us glimpses into quieter places, too. We’ve loved eating pizza while the dogs splash in the Mississippi, finding the best turtle sundae ever in Crawfordsville, Indiana, or biking along the Cape Cod Canal.
I keep waiting to see if I get homesick, and I do have pangs at odd moments—hydrangea bushes make me miss my flowers. And on rainy days, when the smell of three wet dogs is inescapable and the carpet looks extra dingy, I furtively check out real-estate websites, inevitably fixating on houses more or less like the one we just sold.
But oddly, the camper feels like home. It’s like a fort for grownups -- cozy, especially when it’s breezy, and rain sounds magical on the roof. For someone who grew up immersed in Laura Ingalls Wilder books, it’s a pioneer thrill. When we are on the move, I pack our lunches in the morning then hop up into the truck, dogs in the backseat, husband at the helm, and start the day’s adventure. I work on the road, and we sing Willie Nelson songs whenever we feel like it.
I see this as a second chance. For most of my adult life, being branded as “all over the place” was an insult. It means you lack direction and focus. But in this case, it’s exactly what we want. For my husband’s reinvention project, being professionally and geographically all over the place is essential.
It’s been sweet to start a brand-new, all-about-us chapter in our marriage, which has had more than its share of rough spots. In many ways, I haven’t felt free to consider so many possibilities since I was in my early 20s when I found freedom more terrifying than exciting.
So, we’ve turned a page. The goal is to live like this for at least a year—maybe two—before we settle down. After autumn in Maine, we’re thinking we’ll spend a few months exploring Texas. Then maybe New Mexico, Southern Utah, and back to Colorado, which had such appeal for us both. Or we may end up back in Maine, shoving our stuff back into another three-bedroom, two-bath house.
But right now, being all over the place is the whole point. We are trying on geographical possibilities like two kids playing dress-up. I’m sure that soon, where we end up will seem terribly important. But for now, I’m too busy letting the Huck Finn who lives inside me (and apparently my husband, too) get in the driver’s seat. Pardon us, while we light out for the territory.