Thursday, December 31, 2009

Photos of the neighborhood

It was pretty nice outside yesterday—in the 50's. So during my lunch break from work, James, Kevin and I went for a walk around the neighborhood and over to an old cemetery. Here are some pictures I took along the way.

This is why people don't run around the grass barefoot in Texas… ow.

Friday, December 25, 2009

White Christmas

The snow followed us to Texas & we have a white Christmas… well, white for Texas :)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tiny House Design

I also want to just say, much thanks goes out to Michael Janzen of Tiny House Design for giving us some serious "post-support" on this project.

He has been following along with our project, and has been posting regular updates on his site about us. I greatly appreciate his support, even if he doesn't get the site name right. ;) We should probably switch it up, as our current name seems to confuse people... (it's an escape from density... the density being the weight of responsibility created by owning many things.)

Healing, and the Path Ahead

Hey, what's up friends?

I haven't posted much here lately, because I have been utterly stressed from traveling 1800 miles while fighting a nasty head cold. Last night I managed to turn over a leaf or two in the healing process, and I thought it would be only fair that I make my presence known to you internet folk. ;)

I can't help but wonder who reads this thing... if you're out there reading, feel free to comment just to say hi to us... I do wonder who is following along with us on this journey.

I've been sick since the second day of traveling. It is my own fault, granted... for the week or two before we left, I had allowed my diet to deviate severely. I had also stopped exercising almost completely, save for the physical labor involved in moving and arranging things in the house. My immune system was inevitaby suppressed by the time we left. The rest is history.

Now that I am feeling better, I am starting to take a look at the road ahead. We're trying to figure out what our next move is. Kevin's grandparents, Kenneth and Helen, were kind enough to offer to allow us to stay in their back pasture for as long as is needed. For this I am quite grateful. They are very kind people, and have gone out of their way to try to make us feel as welcomed as possible.

However, despite their kindness, I still feel myself drawn towards Austin. I am going to speak with the owner at Covenant Canyon RV Park about our situation, and see whether or not there might be an opportunity for us to do some interior work on the house while staying there. Wherever we do it, we will need a storage area (like a temp. shed or something) to move most of our boxes into until the furniture is done... and we will need the owner of whichever property we end up on to be okay with a little sawing and hammering. (Luckily, the hammering will be inside, and we have good insulation.)

So, there are two distinct branches that need to be fleshed out in order for us to progress reasonably from this point. One is the physical labor of the construction of bookshelves, desks, flip up tables, and more shelves.

The other branch is more administrative... there are several appliances and accessories that I purchased in a rushed state, and I am sorry to say have turned out to be inappropriate for our application. Unfortunately, I have been so caught up in the chaos of making the move (and fighting my illness) that I am not entirely sure anyone is going to give me my money back at this point. However, I still have to try my best, and that is the second branch... calling up various vendors and attempting to return items after their return period has ended. I have an inverter to exchange, a hot water heater to exchange, a monitor arm to return, and a missing refrigerator to confirm that I have not been charged for. Whew.

I have to admit, I have been downright disappointed with all these mishaps, and I will certainly spend more time considering and laying out my plans in the future. We have also learned a valuable lesson on the subject of using LOCAL vendors.

I cannot stress enough that I recommend anyone interested in such a project to use LOCAL vendors for everything that you can, despite the inevitable draw for the uniquity of unusual internet purchases. In the event that any sort of exchange or return is needed, the convenience is critical in the face of all the chaotic aspects of organizing such a project.

In addition, as I said... it is important to really consider your plans thoroughly. Make sure you are buying the right thing. It is really all too disappointing to find out that your 700 dollar purchase is not the right item, two or three months after the purchase. Much less to have this happen over and over again with different utilities and appliances. It's disheartening to say the least. Down right depressing and confidence-smashing, to say a bit more.

Anyway. I hope it is a lesson to those of you out there who might rush such a project. This is a custom job, and there are a lot of quirks that must be considered.

But I digress.

We are moving into our next phase, which will most likely be painting the exterior. This will be paralleled with my attempt to tackle the "mis-purchases" issue.

From there, we start looking into RV parks in the Austin area that will allow us to build some furniture while on their land. Should we fail to make any progress towards this possibility, I will have to ask Kenneth and Helen how they would feel about us staying a bit longer, and possibly using their barn to store some of our stuff while we build furniture inside.

While they have been most gracious in letting us stay here on an unexpected whim, I would not want to impose upon them by asking so much of them. So, we will pursue the possibility of finding an RV park that would be comfortable with such a project first.

This is a wild and new reality for me, and it feels so open-ended. I don't really know how things will turn out, and that is half the fun. I feel so grateful to have a wonderful girlfriend, family, and friends who understand me and support me no matter what I do.

Thank you all for showing me that it is okay to follow my dreams. I will do my best to make something beautiful out of this opportunity, as I am sure Sam will. And I hope that we can share it with all of you through this vehicle.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The journey:

It began Thursday morning, after a day of cold, wet snowfall. The air was warming and the sun shining—an ideal day to begin a long journey across the country. We rose early and began preparing—little things kept popping up, that took some time to resolve. After hooking up the truck to the trailer, we noticed the tongue end of the trailer was higher than the rear end, so we removed the weight distribution gear and adjusted the coupler up a notch, then reattached the weight distribution kit. Unfortunately, now the weight distribution arms weren't popping into the sway control system correctly. We adjusted the length of the sway controls, not really knowing if it was the right thing to do—the instructions said to keep the nuts in the middle, and said nothing about adjusting them after installation—but we did it anyway.

We tested the brakes, they worked! We packed up the kitties into their carrier and around 2:30 in the afternoon we began our trek toward Texas, one slow mile at a time.

I drove first—slowly around corners, breathing away the tension that kept arising in my body. Driving under the first few bridges gave me a twinge of anxiety, but after a while they didn't bother me anymore—well, not until Hartford, CT when we drove under 2 bridges that were marked as 13' 7" tall. I slowed and prayed that we'd safely make it under them—we did. I stayed slow—about 50 MPH—I was learning how to tow, learning how it felt when a semi sped past, how it felt to be pushed down hill by a heavy trailer and how to deal with the sway. It's not easy at first—I'd highly recommend to ANYONE thinking of doing this that you learn how to tow with something smaller and lighter before trying to tow a 13' 4" tall, 10,000 lb trailer.

As it began to get dark, my anxiety increased, and unfortunately so did the wind. We were heading up the mountains in New York and needed to stop for gas. I didn't want to pull off the highway and was hoping for a service area to pull into—there was none. Eventually I pulled off the highway and into a Hess station. I used the ladies room, and noticed in the mirror that I was pale white and had the darkest circles around my eyes. My stomach was in a huge knot and I was shivering to the bone. I got back to the truck and crawled into the passenger seat and shut down. I curled into a ball and shivered. I felt bad about not being able to function anymore, and that James now had to learn how to drive the truck and the trailer at night, up a mountain, in the dark wind. Luckily about 15 minutes down the highway there was a rest stop where we pulled in and parked for the night. We were having doubts about the whole journey, and the little house and considered turning around in the morning and heading back to Massachusetts. We could store the little house for the winter and stay with our parents… but I wanted to try another day before deciding do give up. Things are always difficult in the beginning.

James and Kevin turned on the inverter so we could use the batteries for some light and heat. I sat with my head between my knees covered in a blanket. As I warmed, I ate some bananas and slowly became functional again. The power in our batteries lasted about a half hour while using the heat. With the heat off, we could keep the lights on… It was warm enough to sleep, so we turned off all electricity crawled into bed and slept for the night.

In the morning it was cold. Kevin turned on his generator so we could recharge the batteries, heat the inside and plug in our diesel truck to heat the glow plugs. Outside it was beautiful and bitter, bitter cold. We had stopped on the top of a mountain in New York—Stormville.

The truck did NOT want to start. We had it plugged in for about an hour, and tried over and over again to get it to start. It took us about 2 hours. Once the truck started we were on our way—around 10:30 AM. Heading up and down the mountains of New York and Pennsylvania—I drove again.

We kept slow again—between 40–55 MPH. I was understanding better how to deal with the hills, and the sway caused by the trucks was a lot easier to predict. I was a lot more comfortable driving. In the afternoon, James tried again, and he too felt a lot more confident than the night before. We traveled through Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia. That night we stopped just over the Virginia border. This night was still chilly, but not nearly as chaotic or difficult as the previous night. We started up the generator for heat, rather than relying on the batteries.

Saturday morning we plugged the truck in earlier than on Friday, and it started with much less trouble—it also wasn't nearly as cold outside. James began driving, as he felt more comfortable driving during daylight hours, and I felt alright driving in the dark. I really enjoyed looking out the windows at the passing cows and pastures.

Virginia felt like a very welcoming state—friendly people and nice roads. Driving became second nature and we were on our way. The sun was shining, and warming the cab of the truck. There were no more doubts or thoughts about turning around, and we felt now that we could indeed make it to Texas… eventually.

Saturday night it began to rain lightly—enough for it to be a nuisance, but not enough to affect visibility or the road. Around 8:30 PM we began looking for a rest stop to pull over for the night. We were on Rt. 40 in Tennessee, and it didn't seem like there was anything available. We pulled into a gas station to see if they knew of any truck stops in the area. They said there was one about an hour in the direction we were heading. We kept going, looking for signs for a truck stop when we saw signs for a rest area—similar to what we stopped at the previous 2 nights. We pulled in, calmed ourselves and settled down for the night. We noticed a sign that said there was a 2 hour limit, but upon inspecting the rest area, we figured there was no one there to enforce it. It was raining, we were tired, fog was rolling in and there was NO WAY we were going to continue driving without some sleep. It was rainy and wet, but at least it was warm. Throughout the night I heard rain hitting our metal roof, sometimes there was a lot of it, and I often felt wind move the house. I was thankful we stopped when we did. James was beginning to come down with a cold, so I was glad it wasn't another cold night. We both slept relatively well, and kept warmer than the previous 2 nights.

In the morning the truck started right up, no plugging necessary. We were on the road by 9. There was still some fog and light rain, but nothing like what I heard hitting the roof the night before. As we came out of the mountains (again) the fog lifted and eventually we removed a few layers of clothes—we were leaving winter finally.

We continued our way through Tennessee and Arkansas—into a new time zone, and over the Mississipi, where the roads became less and less maintained, and more and more bumpy, and it seemed like the people we came into contact with were less pleasant. I couldn't wait to get through Arkansas and into Texas, but that would have to wait for another day. Sunday night we settled into a rest stop about 60 miles from the Texas border. The bumps caused one of the stands at the rear of our trailer to fall off. That will need to be replaced.

Monday morning we awoke to a bright sun, shining and warming our little house and truck. I removed another layer of clothes and spent most of the day wearing a long-sleeved T-shirt. It felt nice to be free of the bundles of clothes I'd been wearing the days prior. Today was the day—there were only about 300 miles remaining to our stopping point in Texas. We stopped quickly for gas and a small bite to eat, and enjoyed the sunny, warm day as we drove into town.

We arrived at Kevin's mom's house, where we have been invited to stay for a month or so, but it turns out the main entrance to their pasture is only about 12' tall. It is possible to get into the pasture by driving over Kevin's mom's front lawn, however the ground is soft from recent rain, and we'll wait a few days before driving over it as to not ruin their lawn. Thankfully Kevin's grandparents live less than a mile down the road, and they have space behind their garage for us to park our little house for now.

So, we're through with traveling for now—at least with long distance traveling. We're going to scope out some RV parks and campgrounds in the area to see what we can find for a longer-term stay. For now, I'll enjoy the view and peace of not traveling…

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Brakes and weather…

I brought the truck up to have the steering repaired on Saturday and then my dad helped install the sway control system onto the trailer on Sunday. Those two things alone really help me feel confident in being ready for departure, and that the truck and trailer will both be safe and secure.

On Monday we renewed the registration on the truck. It turns out that a dual rear wheel truck needs to be registered in Massachusetts as a commercial vehicle, and all commercial vehicle registration goes from December to December, so even though we registered the truck in December, it will expire at the end of the month. So, we renewed it for next year too. If you can avoid getting a commercial vehicle, I'd recommend it—everything seems to be 10 times more expensive.

I had to wait until Monday for NAPA to open to return the drag link part that I bought to repair the steering. It turned out to be the wrong part. The right part cost one third the price and was much smaller and easier to fix. Woo!

Today I went to visit my mom, gave her a ride in the truck and when I returned, we packed up the truck, hooked it up to the trailer and tested the brakes. The controller in the truck doesn't seem to stop the trailer, and we're getting an "E1" message on the display. James, Kevin and I are taking a short break before going out to figure out why the brakes are giving us an error message. Looking at the manual for the brakes, "E1" means the trailer isn't connected. We're hoping that unplugging it and replugging it will be the solution. Once this is resolved, we are indeed ready to go—so long as the weather is decent… I've heard we're getting 4-6" of snow tonight/tomorrow. I'd rather wait until the storm passes before heading out than to head out and try to drive through it. Hopefully the storm won't leave us too much of a mess to deal with. Having the truck packed, connected and ready to go, we should be able to just pull out and head on our way.

Can you tell I'm eager to get on the road? Let's all hope for this storm to only be in the minds of the weather people, shall we?

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Truck

We finally have our truck! However, the steering is still loose. When I first test drove it, it was something we were all aware of, and the dealer said that he would have it repaired by the time we picked it up. He did replace the bearings and the ball joints and tie rod ends are nice and tight.

On the ride home last night I felt like a ping pong ball, and was VERY unnerved about the idea of towing like that. When taking turns the steering felt fine—so long as the wheel is being turned in one direction. However when traveling straight the truck pulls to the left, then when I straighten out, it then pulls to the right, and visa versa—thus a ping pong ball. It's totally unsafe, and the steering must be fixed before we head south… So, after fretting last night about needing to replace ball joints and the tie rod ends I called a diesel repair place this morning and brought the truck down to them to have them take a look at the steering problem.

They confirmed that the ball joints and tie rod ends are tight (yay) but the did find that the axle U-joint on the front right tire is rusting some, and should be replaced other wise the steering might jam up. While that isn't the cause of the steering problem, I'm happy they told me that. The steering problem, they believe is being caused by the drag link. When the steering wheel turns from left to right the drag link bounces up and down, which it's not supposed to do. According to what they described, this can cause what the vehicle was doing, so this sounds like the problem.

I called the dealer to tell him their diagnosis, and he said that if we obtain the parts and bring them and the truck up to him, he'll happily install them tomorrow (Saturday). Otherwise, the diesel place will put them in on Monday for us. Sooner is better, so I'm going to take up Henry (the dealer) on his offer. I'm very grateful that he's willing to help us with this.

Today I insure, register and inspect the truck. James and our friend Kevin and I will also be installing some hooks into the walls inside the little house to strap the free floating things down.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


We don't have our truck yet. We found one about 2 weeks ago—a Ford F350, Dually, Diesel 7.3 engine. I've been trying to pick it up since we found it, and I keep being told by the person/dealer? selling it to us that it will be ready "tomorrow"—but each time I call "tomorrow" to check on it, it's not ready for some reason or another. The truck is physically *ready* for us to pick up now—all the work he wanted to do on it has been done, but he doesn't have the title in his hands, so we've been waiting for the title arrive in the mail from the bank. He said he should have it today at 2PM. For some reason, I'm not entirely hopeful that he'll really have it.

It's Thursday. We were hoping to get out of here yesterday, but obviously that did not happen. The owner of the self storage place where we were staying needed us to be out by Wednesday, as some town inspectors had found out that people were living on his commercial property. Because we didn't get our truck in time, I had to ask my dad to help us move the house. Thankfully he was available to do it. We, and a friend of ours and his camper are now parked in the front yard of James' mom's house. I'm so VERY thankful that they agreed to let us stay here for a few days. Otherwise, I'm not sure where we'd be.

Moving yesterday felt rushed. The things inside, weren't secured enough for even the short journey, so some things fell over and there was a mess, but I'm not sure anything broke and it cleaned up pretty easily. I have a better idea now of what needs to be secured for the long journey to Texas… which hopefully begins soon.