Better

It was a better day today. I got up and made waffles, pancakes, sausage and eggs this morning. Heather enjoyed a drawn out breakfast with us before she left to go back home. Laure and I got a lot done around the house, Laure a hell of a lot more than I did.

It’s been nice seeing her motivation return since she got her anti-depressants straightened out. She laughs a lot more, she has a bit of a dance in her step when she’s doing things around the house, and sings little phrases to herself while she works. Her sex drive has come back as well. It’s been great seeing her slowly come back to life. She comments on it a lot, how she never wants to go back to feeling that way again, how dark life was for her all those years.

Something occurred to me today. It was a train of thought started rolling by something I saw on “Malcom in the Middle”, of all shows. It’s a fucking great show by the way. We’ve already seen the whole series all the way through, a few years ago, but we’re watching it again because it’s that good. Anyway, Hal (the dad) said something to his kids, during what we can only assume was a cancer scare, since it’s never explained at all in the episode. He said something about how everything was still so new to his kids.

That got me to thinking that I remember that feeling. I remember that that’s exactly what it was like as a child, then as a teenager, then in college and as I was getting out into the world. That’s exactly what it was. I was still discovering the world, still learning so much and experiencing new things. Then, at some point, that stopped, some time in my early twenties. I think my ex-wife had a lot to do with that, because I remember a period after she left me, when I was still grieving our marriage, and trying to make up for lost time, when I traveled quite a bit. I traveled around the western states a bit, then took a trip to Ireland. That feeling was back. Everything I saw was something I hadn’t seen before. I think that’s why I miss traveling so much. It think that’s why I crave road trips every time Laure and I hit the interstate on our way to work in the mornings.

When our tax refunds come in, I have GOT to get to work on the tear drop. Laure and I need to start traveling again, even if it’s just weekend trips. I need to experience new things and new places again. I think that’s what’s been fueling this stagnation I’ve felt for a very long time now.

My dad used to take us on road trips when we were little. He would drive from his house in Wyoming down to Nebraska to pick us up, and the trip back would be part of the experience. We’d camp out, stop and see the sights, eat in little diners, get hot dogs at little road side stands, see those odd tourist attractions that seem kind of silly but are fun just the same. I really miss that. I would really like to take a few weeks to just wander around the country, with no particular destination in mind. Just Laure and I, and of course the dogs, on the road, going wherever caught our attention that morning.

I think that would be wonderful.

A teardrop?

More camping with Mom and Dad, 1977-ish. Camp bathing was much easier at that age.
Camping with Mom and Dad, 1977-ish. Camp bathing was much easier at that age.

I’ve been an avid camper since I was a kid. My family on my dad’s side is quite outdoorsy, and as a result I spent a lot of time tenting and camping in campers when I was little. I discovered backpacking in the sixth grade, during a brief stint in the Boy Scouts, and that stayed with me all through high school and the first few years of college. I did a lot of hiking and backpacking.

My brother and I in Yellowstone park in 1984. I'm the one in the cowboy hat. Don't hold that against me.
My brother and I in Yellowstone park in 1984. I’m the one in the cowboy hat. Don’t hold that against me.

 

 

 

 

 

In my twenties, I backed off to mostly just car camping. Pull up to a camp site, unpack the car/truck, throw up a tent, get a fire going and inside of an hour you’ve got a camp site. During my single years I had a nice little Outback Sport, which was perfect for me, my dog and a mountain bike.

A dog impatiently waits to hit the road on our next adventure in Wyoming.
A dog impatiently waits to hit the road on our next adventure in Wyoming.

When my girlfriend and I got together, she already had two children, and we managed to take that same Outback Sport on a two week trip through Yellowstone park and part of Wyoming, and then back home to Montana. It was cramped. We had to put a big cloth topper on the car, which we dubbed “the hamburger” because it vaguely resembled a giant hamburger sitting up there. My poor dog had just enough space in the back to curl up comfortably, but it was awfully tight for everyone. That trip convinced us both that it was time to join the ranks of middle class Americans everywhere, and buy a minivan. We still own that Dodge Grand Caravan and while it’s had it’s problems, it’s served us pretty well. We’ve taken many road trips, some camping trips, with and without the kids, in that van.

Camping with friends, 2013.
Camping with friends, 2013.

Last Summer however, Laure floated the idea of getting a camper. I’ve been firmly against that my entire life. Maybe when I hit my sixties, but for now, no big, expensive camper for me. Then not long after that, she came across a Youtube video about teardrop campers. Not the full size campers, but the little ones just big enough to sleep in, with a hatch that lifts up on the back to reveal a galley. I thought it was pretty cool but didn’t really consider it an option. The idea stuck in my head though and a few weeks later I watched that Youtube video again.

Camping with our eldest son and his friends in 2014.
Camping with our eldest son and his friends in 2014.

The idea of being able to just back that puppy into a camp site and be set up in ten minutes really appealed to me. Weekend trips to see friends three hours away would be much easier, as well as road trips and vacations. Plus, there is clearly a massive community built around these things, with conventions and get-togethers all over the country every year. That could be a lot of fun too.

I thought about it all day, and then we talked about it as we crawled into bed that night. We sat and watched more videos about them, did some reading on forums and news articles and before we went to sleep, we’d made up our minds that we were going to get a teardrop trailer.

Campground next to the interstate in Idaho, 2013. It rained that night and we woke up to a lake inside the tent. That tent went right back to Bob Ward's.
Campground next to the interstate in Idaho, 2013. It rained that night and we woke up to a lake inside the tent. That tent went right back to Bob Ward’s.

A week or so of research resulted in us settling on a Little Guy, 6×10 Silver Shadow with just about all the options. To get one locally was going to cost about $17,000. That’s about what we paid for our van. About $2500 of that price tag was just shipping, because the local dealer only kept one show model and had none in stock. More googling turned up lots in nearby states. So we decided that the following spring we would secure a loan and I would make a trip to wherever and pick one up. A few hundred dollars in gas, sleeping in the van and eating on the road, I could probably do it in a weekend and save us $2000 or more.

A few months went by with us occasionally talking about it, revising options, thinking of ways that I could build some of those options in on my own, and looking at used models. We figured we could probably get it down to around $12000 if we bought used and made some modifications on our own, in lieu of some of the manufacturer’s options.

Holland Lake, Montana. 2014.
Holland Lake, Montana. 2014.

Fast forward to February, and Laure suggests that maybe I build one instead. I dismissed that idea almost immediately. I’m pretty handy with electronics and I can manage my way around simple wood working and home maintenance, but this would be a big project. I found the idea pretty intimidating. I said I didn’t think I’d be able to do it and at the time, that seemed the end of that idea.

As a tinkerer in electronics and general home hackery, I spend a lot of time on instructables.com. A few weeks ago, I just happened across plans for a teardrop camper. Granted, the particular plans I found were a bit hack-ish, in a bad way, and I doubted the structural stability of the finished product but after reading through it and looking at all the photos, I found myself mentally correcting many of his mistakes and thinking up better ways to accomplish what he was trying to do. I realized that yes, this was indeed something I could tackle. It wouldn’t be easy, but it would be doable even at my level.

Camped on an island on Hungry Horse Reservoir, 2015.
Camped on an island on Hungry Horse Reservoir, 2015.

I did more research, looked over plans and also a few basic how-to guides that went into great detail about materials, do’s and don’ts, and lots of great advice and ideas. I then spent a few days watching Youtube walk-thru videos. Pretty soon, I found myself with a two page parts list and combing over various home improvement and automotive websites, pricing out parts and materials. A few more days went by, I revised my list a few times, rounded up on everything, added about $1500 for x-factor, and came to an estimate of about $6500 to build one on my own.

So that’s the plan now. We’ll take out a personal loan and hopefully I’ll start piecing the thing together in my garage within the next month. I have no idea how long it will take me, just so long as I have it done by August. I intend to document not only the build, but the subsequent trip we’re planning on taking it on this summer.

The view from our campsite on an island on Hungry Horse Reservior. 2014.
The view from our campsite on an island on Hungry Horse Reservior. 2015.

As I said, I don’t think it’ll be easy. It’s by far the biggest project I’ve taken on, but it’s certainly doable.