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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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.

Cob Cottage Tour

So we are behind on our blog here but we have had lot’s going on. We went out to Oregon for the Thanksgiving holiday to visit Trevor’s family so for a few weeks we had a break from the bus conversion. We’ve been back for a week now and everything is in full swing again. While we were in Oregon we took the opportunity to take a road trip out towards the coast and visit the Cob Cottage Company, some of the leaders in the cob revival movement.

The visit was inspirational and we left even more excited to get on the road back home and start building again. Linda Smiley and Ianto Evens wrote The Hand Sculpted House, the book that has been our bible while planning and building. We got the opportunity to meet them and see how they structure their space. We went with our camera prepared to take tons of photos. Unfortunately it was pouring down rain and we didn’t get all the photos we wanted. One thing we did really love was their use of cob walls to create little nooks and crannies around their property. Trevor and I have long talked about using paths and walkways to create individual private gardens and areas to make our property feel larger. It was was awesome to see such a spectacular example of it.

I think Trevor and I were both impressed with how warm and cozy the cottages were despite the dreary weather. While they use rocket stoves to heat the buildings most weren’t burning during our tour.  We also had the opportunity to discuss different methods of natural flooring, a project we hope to be working on soon after our return to Nica. While we weren’t able to get many photos outside, we did take some of interiors and other finishing techniques. I encourage you to check out their website for more photos of the project.

All and all, the visit was a real pilgrimage for us and I’m really glad we made time during our visit to Oregon to go there. We hope to visit with other natural builders and schools along our trip to Nica so if any has any recommendations on where we should go let us know!

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Bale cob building in progress
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Bale cob building different angel
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Natural flooring
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Woodworking detail
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fresco work
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Roofing detail
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Built in storage
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Bathroom mosaic
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Sculpted detail
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Toilet
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Sculpted cob
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Sitting room- Laughing House