Washing off the road dust

So we are sitting in Laredo, TX waiting to cross the border in the morning. We decided to take a couple of days to finally take care of some housekeeping. It seems like a long time since I last wrote but in reality it has been just about a week. We’ve done a lot and covered a lot of ground. We’ve drove along the Gulf Coast, visited New Orleans and spent way more time than we thought we would in Texas. As we’ve been preparing to enter Mexico we have had some time to reflect on our journey across the US and all the places we’ve seen and the people we have met. It’s been an epic journey so far and we are only half way there. The adventure is just beginning.

Getting all clean

 Last weekend we were in New Orleans. We spent the night outside of the city in a state park and headed in the morning. We had found on the internet a parking lot where you could park an RV overnight for $25 as opposed to the French Quarter RV Resort, which wanted $100 a night. While we rave about Google Maps usually, this was an occasion when it failed us. The GPS routed us  through the French Quarter- which was a navigational nightmare in the bus. By the time we had arrived Trevor was feeling pretty done with the city. However, shortly after we parked the folks in the RV parked next to us came over to check out the bus. And then not long after that another couple came over who had rolled up in a 1984 Bluebird Wanderlodge. Soon we were all hanging out, getting know each other, touring everyone’s bus.

1984 Bluebird Wanderlodge

 This Wanderlodge was amazing. It was a motorcoach built on a school bus chassis with all the bells and whistles back in the day. It had details like four telephones on it. Plus, it was a beautiful piece of vintage roadtripping in amazing condition. I wish I had gotten photos of the interior but unfortunately I was not so lucky. I did get a photo of the exterior which was pretty cool too.

We spent a couple of hours just hanging out where we parked and were generally feeling much better about things so we re-evaluated our plan to just spend a few hours in the city and decided to stay the night. So off we headed to explore the French Quarter. The architecture there was stunning and I love the real gas lamps that are everywhere.

French Quarter New Orleans, LA

New Orleans Sampler

 We got a New Orleans sampler for lunch of red beans and rice, gumbo, jambalaya, and something else I can’t remember. But it was all amazing. We bought some art from Jackson Square to hang in the bus. And pretty much just played tourist for the afternoon. Later we went to dinner and ate some more traditional New Orleans food- I got crawfish. We walked back along Bourbon St (at about 7 PM so nothing was really happening) and I finally got the beignets I had been looking for. All and all a great day but I don’t think I would want to spend all too much time there. It is a little too seedy for me to enjoy long term. But the food- to die for.

I finally got my beignets!

 We got up early the next morning and did a big push to get in to Texas. We did what I think is the longest push we have done and made it all the way across Louisiana into Texas almost to Houston that day. We camped that night on a reservation and headed towards Austin the following day.

Everything is bigger in TX

Camping on the Res

 I had reached out via email to some folks in doing Natural Building in Austin and was thrilled with the response I got. The guys Brad and Aaron at Earthbound Builder Collective were kind enough to take some time to arrange for us to check out a build being done by Kendra and John of Clay, Sand, Straw.

The natural building scene in Austin is very different from the other places we have visited. Kendra and John are building a 2,000 sq ft home that at first glance you would never guess was cob. You don’t see any round walls and it doesn’t on any way remind you of a hobbit hole. But the walls are three feet thick and the timbers are all sustainably harvested locally. The results are stunning. While very different than what we will be building it was great to check out some established builders working to normalize natural building here in the states. We enjoyed a great afternoon exploring their build site and getting inspired.

You would never guess it was cob

  

Check out those timbers


Look at the walls and the wood!

  

It has a loft


Load bearing cob walls

  

Beautiful earthen floor


Aaron invited us to dinner at his place and let us park the bus outside for the night. We had a great evening hanging out with his family and chatting with him and Brad about the mission of their company. Their goal is to normalize natural building so that people who finish a natural building apprenticeship can actually get employed as builders when they are through. It’s quite a challenge they’ve taken on but from the little we saw Austin seems the place to do it.

The next day we met up with a girl Dani who happens to be originally from RI that we had met on Ometepe. She works with a touring theatre company and happened to be in Austin at the same time we were. She was renting a Tumbleweed tiny home on wheels so we went by and checked out her space. We had a great afternoon comparing tiny spaces and just catching up.

After a couple of days in one spot we had the urge to get some miles in so we drove to Blanco, TX about half way between Austin and San Antonio. We got some Texas BBQ and explored the tiny historic district before checking in to a state park there for the night. Our bus was quite the attraction there and we had all the retired fulltime RVers popping up with tons of questions. We were even given some Gideon Bibles.

Texas BBQ

  

BBQ is good for you!


Small town Texas

 The next day we did our last big drive in the US through scrub land and oil country on to Laredo. We arrived here Friday knowing we wanted to spend a couple of days relaxing and cleaning before we crossed the border. So here we are.

Enjoying the state park

To remind of New Orleans

 The bus is cleaner and more organized than its been so far. We hung our new art work and took care of all the little details we’ve been meaning to do to make the space work better. Mileages wise we are over the half way mark and we haven’t even crossed a border yet. While I’ve driven across the US before this time we really took the time to see the country we passed through and how diverse it really is. When we left RI we were out running the snow and the cold. Tomorrow it is supposed to be 90 degrees here. We’ve driven through the Appalachians and along the Gulf Coast. Strangers have welcomed us into there homes and shared meals with us. There’s been such wonderful inspiration from all the old and new friends who we’ve met up with along the way. We are truly blessed to be able to take our time on this journey and really appreciate the diversity there is in this beautiful country. Tomorrow we cross the border and we get to continue to see what the rest of the world has to offer. I look forward to the real adventure starting and the new experiences this will bring for us. Next post will be from Mexico.

 

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It’s warm in the South

We arrived in Asheville hoping to spend a few days hanging out, connecting with like minded folk and it didn’t quite turn out that way. Apparently, we are not cool enough to stand out in Asheville. Don’t get me wrong, we enjoyed our time there and definitely would like to go back and visit but it live up to our expectations for what were hoping for on this trip. Before our arrival we had gotten advice on some places to check out for food and beer. Apparently, like Portland Asheville is known for its breweries. When we arrived in the mid-afternoon we thought we would grab some lunch at one of the breweries that was recommended to us. However, parking a bus in a city is as difficult as you would think and we weren’t able to find a good spot. Google however directed us to Wedge Brewery in the River Arts District. It had a huge parking lot for us to park in. It turned out not to have food, just beer. But while we drank our beer we exchanged stories with the bartender about his experience in a veggie oil bus on tour. Somehow, it didn’t come across as excited but more of a been there done that kind of thing.  He did recommended we try 12 Bones for some BBQ in walking distance. And best yet, he told us we could park the bus in their parking lot over night. Later that day we met up Amy and Elliot, a couple who had volunteered with us on Ometepe. They told us that there were many converted school buses in the Asheville area, which explained the kind of blase response we were getting. In the end we decided to head out in the morning and aim for Atlanta.

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Wedge Brewery

We had planned our route along the Appalachian Trail hoping to be take scenic mountain roads. When we were in Virginia Skyline Drive was closed because of weather and we encounter the same thing in North Carolina. The Blue Ridge Parkway was closed due to ice and weather, so we hugged the outskirts of the mountains on our way out instead. Even though it wasn’t the “scenic route” it was certainly pretty scenic. We stopped at the Eastern Continental Divide and crossed into South Carolina on a mountain road.IMG_1694IMG_1701

We stopped in South Carolina to hit a grocery store and pick up some little things in a hardware store. The response we got from the people there was much more what we had been hoping for in Asheville. People wanted to know all about the bus and our journey. We even picked up a new facebook follower from that stop. Our goal had been to try and head all the way to Atlanta that day but we stopped about two hours out at Victoria Bryant State Park, not to far over the Georgia line. We found the peace and quiet of nature refreshing after the stay the night before in the parking lot and decided we’ll aim for state parks, national parks and wooded campsites in the future.

Victoria Bryant State Park

 

Next stop was Atlanta, where we were going to visit our friend Laura, whom we had met in Guatemala about a week after Trevor and I met. Her friends Stuart and Ashely were kind enough to offer to open their home to us so we didn’t have try and navigate the bus in and out of the city. On our way we met a guy driving another skoolie (converted school bus). I took some photos and he took some photos. He, like everyone else, had a bunch of questions about the solar array. It was nice to see someone else driving in their skoolie as well.

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Nowhere Rd, Georgia
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We are not alone!

We got to Ashley and Stuart’s house in the afternoon. We were joined by Laura’s friend Daniel, who we had met when we met Laura. He has recently returned from several years working as a dive instructor on Utila, Honduras. Finding our selves all kindred spirits we stayed up much later than any of us should have but in the end had a wonderful night. The next day Laura took us around Atlanta and to the Decatur International Farmers Market. We returned to spend another night with Ashley and Stuart before we continued on our journey. They have a son, who is two and a half, and he took a liking to Trevor but was never able to remember his name. So he simply called him “the man on the bus.” The warmth and hospitality they showed us was beyond anything we expected and we are beyond pleased to have met such kindhearted people and now call them friends.

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At Ashley & Stuart’s house

Yesterday, it was time to move on. So we got up in the morning and were all set to be on the road by 9:30 am. Unfortunately, the ground where  we had parked the bus was wet and muddy and we couldn’t get enough traction to get up the driveway. Luckily this was a situation where brains rather than brawn was needed to get us out. The bus weighs 25,000 lbs so there was no way Laura, Ashley and I were going to push it out. After only 30 minutes we came up with a solution and were again on our way.

Ashley gave us some great travel advice and our goal for the day was Gulf Shores, AL. As is often the case, we fell a bit short of that goal. We stopped for the night at Magnolia Branch Wildlife Refuge instead. I’m getting better at finding good camp grounds for us to stay in and this was one of the best so far.

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Campsite Magnolia Branch Wildlife Refuge
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Morning Papa Baby Bonding time
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The park

When we woke up this morning it was 54 degrees which was a nice change from the below freezing temperatures we had been dealing with before. Across from our camp site was a small pond, and around the corner a creek. We lingered a bit this morning before we got on the road again. Tonight’s goal is a state park just outside of New Orleans. We figure we’ll get up in the morning and head into the city, get some breakfast and maybe wander a bit. Then the next goal is Texas- which is HUGE and then across our first border.

 

Country Roads

So we discovered this great option on google maps that allows you choose to avoid highways. We’ve been using this along our route and it has been taking us down amazing picturesque country roads. The other advantage is that people are a lot less likely to get frustrated at the slow speed of the bus. I’d say we average about 30 mph so we’re definitely not going anywhere fast. Which is perfectly fine for us. We’ve never been in a hurry, all our timelines were very rough estimates at best. Our big push so far has been to get warmer and it looks like today should be the last really cold day. 

Country Roads in VA
 
We meandered our way out of Virginia and into North Carolina. The plan has always been to spend a few days checking out what North Carolina has to offer. The first place we headed to was Snow Camp. Before we set out I had emailed a bunch of Natural Builders and Natural Building schools to see if we could check out some projects and do some networking. We’re hoping to meet some people who want to come lead a workshop at our place.

 

Cane Creek Campground Snow Camp, NC
 One of the folks I heard back from was Greg at Mud Daubers School of Natural Building. He and his wife Danielle host workshops during the warmer months educating people of how to build with cob, straw bale, wattle and daub, and slip straw. Greg did an apprenticeship out at the Cob Cottage Company, where we visited when we were in Oregon in November. Greg and Danielle were kind enough to give us a tour of their home and their buildings. They were particularly hospitable considering we visited on Valentine’s Day and they had a one month old baby. They are doing great building and it sounds like the workshops they host are a lot of fun. If circumstances were different I’m sure we would have all loved to hang out longer. But new babies are a lot of work and we were trying to push on towards Asheville so after we toured their land and they toured our bus we got back on the road. 

Mud Daubers School Snow Camp, NC
 Our next big stop is Asheville. The plan is to spend a couple of days hanging around there. We want to get some small things for the bus to help make living in the space a little easier. We didn’t quite make it there yesterday but we are on our way now. Also, after today the weather is finally supposed to get warmer so we’d like to be able to get outside without being absolutely freezing!! We know some people in the area we are going to try and connect with. They tell us Asheville is full of good food and good beer so it sounds like our kind of place.

The first week

For almost a week now we have been trying to outrun the weather. We left the night before we had originally planned on leaving in order to get ahead of the snow and since then we have been on the run. Apparently we choose the coldest week of winter to start our travels. Don’t worry- we manage to keep the bus warm and toasty with heaters and plenty of blankets. The cold unfortunately means it’s very difficult to much outdoor sightseeing with Aurora. Our goal right now is to get to someplace warm- so we are trying to aim south. But really, I think it’s cold ever where right now- some Arctic Blast or something.

12710907_1260858407263758_2004024824869948355_oWe are starting to acclimate to bus life. Each day things seem a little more familiar. We made our first cup of coffee on the bus Monday, in the Poconos. There was just enough snow to transform everything to a winter wonderland. Using google maps to navigate, we chose a route that avoids highways.

Delaware River
Delaware River

This way tends to take us through more farm land and forests. It also tends to take more time. Which is fine- we aren’t in a hurry. Though we are pretty much on schedule with what we planned.

Elkton, MD
Elkton, MD

When we left the Poconos we headed to Elkton, MD to visit my friend Thomas, from Phoenix. He is teaching a SOC 100 class at Cecil Community College and had asked us to speak to his class. So Tues and Wed nights we camped out in front of Thomas’ place. We presented to his class while we were there and he a great response from the kids. A number of students stayed after class to for more time for a question and answer session. It was wonderful to inspire those kids to travel and expand their worlds. While we were there we ate some great crab at Woody’s Crab House–  because that’s what you eat in Maryland, crab cakes.

Woody's Crab House
Woody’s Crab House

From Maryland, we continued on to DC. We didn’t want to park the bus in the city so we decided to camp at Greenbelt Park- which is only about 12 miles from the city. We took an Uber (with some complications) from the park to the city to do our sightseeing. The first place we went was Union Station to check the baby car seat.

Union Station
Union Station

From there we walked to the Capitol building but unfortunately there is a massive restoration project going on. The distinctive dome is encased with scaffolding- destroying the iconic view. The turf in the mall is all being replaced as well, so photo opportunities weren’t as plentiful as I had hoped. It was bitterly cold, so we walked only as far as the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and before we went inside.

The Mall
The Mall
T-Rex at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History
T-Rex at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History

This morning we decided since everywhere was cold, we would stop worrying about the weather. We headed towards the Appalachian Trail. It had always been our plan to try and follow the trail south. First, as we drove from Maryland to Virginia, we drove down along the mall and out passed all the memorials we didn’t walk yesterday. Then we got on 50W and drove towards Skyline Drive and Shenedohah National Park. For lunch we stopped at a quaint tavern, The Red Fox Tavern and Inn, that has been operation for four centuries.

Middleburg, VA
Middleburg, VA
Fox Inn and Tavern
Fox Inn and Tavern

After seeing a T-Rex at the Smithsonian yesterday we were really excited about comparing it to the dinosaurs at Dinosaur Land, in White Post, VA. It was disappointing to arrive and find they were closed for the season.

Dinosaur Land
Dinosaur Land

When we tried to enter Skyline Drive we were told it was closed from mile 5 to mile 30 due to ice and snow. Even not on the scenic drive the landscape out here is stunning. Rolling mountains, dusted with snow. We were going to drive on to Laury and get on at the entrance there but by then it was starting to get late and we decided to look for a place to camp and see how we feel tomorrow.

Initially it was my intention to try and blog everyday. But the reality is it just doesn’t seem to happen. I’m working on keeping up through other forms of social media. If you follow me on instagram you can see not only my photos, but my attempts to understand how to use hashtags. In the end we are having a great time. Our country is beautiful and we are enjoying the opportunity to explore it. We are excited for everything between here and home on Ometepe!

 

The journey begins

  

day one /day two route RI to PA
 
 Everything has been done on the bus and all of our stuff packed for about a week now. All that we have been doing is puttering around and waiting to move the last few bins (clothes and toiletries) out to the bus. Our original plan had been to leave Feb 5th but we adjusted it to leave this morning so we could be in Elkton, MD by Wednesday to speak to a Soc 100 class that my friend Thomas is teaching. So, we woke up yesterday with plans to attend a Super Bowl/birthday party for my niece. The weather forecast for today was snow and lots of it. After I saw the forecast I began talking about maybe we should leave earlier rather than risk getting stuck in the snow for several days. 

We had already planned to take the bus over to my brother’s house but as more reports of snow came in we began to discuss either sleeping at his place or just hitting the road. As we heard reports of 5-8 inches or 8-12 inches I think Trevor and I both came to the conclusion if we didn’t want to wind up stuck in RI until Wednesday it made sense to try and get a couple of hours west into CT before the snow came. So before half time we got on the road. It has never been our intent to really do much night driving but we were both afraid of getting snowed in. We drove to outside of Hartford and spent the night. 

We woke up early this morning and hit the road determined to out run the snow. Despite some small mechanical issues, Trevor popped a hose on the turbo and we were only able to go about 15 mph up hill, we still managed to make it to our goal of Milford, PA by mid afternoon. So far we’ve only seen the occasional snow flake so our plan appears to have worked. We’re settled in all snug for the night feeling good about everything so far.