“Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have—and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up.”
James Belasco and Ralph Stayer, Flight of the Buffalo (1994)
It’s hard to believe that it’s already October and it’s been two whole months since I brought home my Airstream. Last week I hit a milestone: 30 days of continuous living in my little Bambi.
When I came up with this crazy plan to sell my condo, put everything I own into storage, and live in an Airstream temporarily while trying to buy land and build my own home, I had a lot of sleepless nights with a lot of questions running through my head.
Would I be able to tow a 19′ Airstream all by myself? Could I realistically live in this thing for a while? Would I go crazy in a tiny space? As a solo women, would I feel safe? Would I be isolated and lonely? Could I still work a productive 9-5 tech job? Would I find places to stay?
I guess as a woman who does a lot of things solo—hiking, backpacking, road trips—most people see me as a fearless, confident person. Sure, I don’t let the fact that I’m solo stand in the way of experiencing life. It certainly doesn’t mean I don’t feel fear and apprehension though. In fact, this recent decision to give up everything to buy some land and build a home has probably filled me with more fear than any other decision I’ve made in my life.
At almost 45 years old I no longer have my entire life ahead of me to correct a financial disaster. As a single woman, I’m completely reliant on myself. There’s no one else to bail me out or help me solve problems.
It’s all me.
And in a way, it’s why this experience has been amazingly empowering.
I knew deep in my mind it would somehow suit me. What I didn’t expect was how much I had overestimated the value of my “traditional” life and how much I had underestimated the freedom I’d gain by giving it all up. I feel more happy and free than I have in a long time.
Adapting to new challenges.
I recently wrote a blog post about my ZAMP solar panels and how the first two weeks of my Airstream living was going perfectly. And it was! Then I was thrown a curveball: wildfire smoke and some of the most hazardous air quality Washington State has experienced.
If the smoke lasted more than a few days, my solar panels would be useless and I’d be without power. Without power is bad when you work a 9-5 tech job. And without shore power, I really had no way to seal myself up and run ventilation to escape the smoke. I suddenly had my first big challenge to RV living.
Do I buy a generator? I truly absolutely hate generators. Or do I make a plan B?
Ok, I admit that despite my hatred of generators, I did consider buying one. The biggest problem? I really didn’t have the room to cart one more thing around in my truck until I was settled on my own land. I made a Plan B.
Pearrygin Lake State Park in Winthrop is a popular RV destination in the summer but especially during this year of Covid, getting a reservation is tough. In the wake of wildfire smoke though, many cancelled their reservations, which I seized as an opportunity. I booked an open spot to hook up to full power, run my air conditioner and ventilation, and get out of the smoke.
I had hoped to continue boondocking on solar power in my Bambi for a few more weeks. I moved to Pearrygin quite reluctantly after two weeks of boondocking heaven. I wasn’t eager to suddenly have a ton of unknown new neighbors and full hookups felt like giving up on a fun challenge.
It turned out to be a wise decision as the smoke lasted several more days than initially forecast. It was also remarkably rewarding in a lot of ways I never expected. Let’s just say the universe often knows what you need better than you. And sometimes finds a way to deliver.
Finding a new community.
I still remember the day I pulled into Pearrygin. I had no idea what I was doing. When I checked in I told the park official sheepishly: “Uhh, I’m pretty new at this RV thing and I’ve never been on full hookups before.” For some reason I was mortified I’d somehow plug my 30 amp Airstream into the wrong power outlet and fry it.
The park official told me the campground hosts were very friendly and would show me the way if I needed help. Of course asking for help is my weakness. I pulled into my spot, leveled it out, and managed to hook up. Turns out you can really only plug a 30amp plug into a 30amp outlet, so that fear was conquered.
As I was triple checking my connections, the owners of another Airstream nearby waved and came over to ask about my little Bambi. They owned a beautifully restored vintage Airstream and the woman was very excited to find out I was towing solo. She asked me lots of questions and I finally admitted that I had no idea what the heck I was doing.
She told me “well, when my husband goes, you’ve given me the inspiration to downsize and get my own rig!”
His response: “don’t go killing me in my sleep now dear!”
We all had a good laugh and swapped stories about how we found and bought our rigs. It was kind of fun, having a bit of social time with friendly strangers.
Heavy smoke kept me mostly Airstream-bound for a few days, so I spent my time after work making my little home feel more like home. I bought a new plant at the local store, got some nice blankets and broke in my TV. I even got good enough reception to watch a Seahawks game! Every time I came and went, neighbors would wave and I’d wave back.
When the air cleared out a bit to finally get outside and stretch, my little Bambi seemed to turn a lot of heads. Everyone was eager to ask about it or dropped by to say “you’re the solo gal!” As a person who tends to keep to myself, the attention I was getting not only with my Bambi but also as a solo woman seemed a little… foreign.
At the same time, all the socializing was pretty refreshing! Between Covid, moving, and lots of change, it’s been a particularly isolating year to be a single. I generally thrive pretty well solo but I found myself drawn to taking my work outside when I could, waving to neighbors, chatting with new folks, and exchanging conversation. It felt like I had a strange little family of sorts and it was pretty darn great.
During the 10 days I was at the State Park I moved to three different sites and got a lot of practice hitching, unhitching, and setting up. During one move, I had some trouble hitching up. Every time I was lined up perfectly I’d put my truck in park and it would roll out of position *just* that much. After what felt like 20 tries my frustration was rapidly growing. I sat down, took a deep breath, and just then a gentleman in the spot over from me yelled out “do you need a hand?”
“No!” I yelled. “I’m fine, thanks.”
He nodded. Then told me anyway, “if your truck is rolling, put it in neutral and use your parking brake. Let me know if you need a hand.”
All be damned, why didn’t I think of that? Sure enough it did the trick and I might have jumped for joy a bit.
“Thanks!” I yelled to my neighbor.
He nodded and waved back, telling me to ask if I needed anything.
I admit that I was at first a little nervous to be known as the “solo gal”. In the end, I felt like a lot of my neighbors were looking out for me and it was pretty nice. I gained a lot of confidence, learned some new skills, and met some awesome fellow RVers and Airstream owners. I also learned that sometimes I need to do what I find the most uncomfortable: ask for help.
When it came time to hitch up and leave, I felt an emotion I wasn’t expecting.
I was really sad to leave!
Even in a tiny 19′ Airstream, being on full utilities with all the hot showers, microwave Mac ‘n Cheese, and fresh water I wanted felt like luxury. I admit, it was pretty darn nice. The biggest luxury I was leaving behind though? Community.
From high to low.
After Pearrygin I went back to my Mazama boondocking spot in cleaner air, but this time I chose a shadier spot by the river. It was a beautiful campsite but unfortunately the worst choice I could have made. That weekend the Valley got its first dose of fall weather. As I know from living in Mazama many years before, the weather at that end of the Valley is more fickle. Instead of warm sunshine I had four days of cold, rainy weather made even chillier by my proximity to the river. Overnight temps dipped into the 20s.
The shaded spot coupled with horrible weather gave my ZAMP panels their first big challenge. Somehow, they still generated 10 amp hours per day, which was quite a bit more than I expected. It was nowhere near the 40+ amp hours I was getting just weeks ago and certainly was not enough to thrive or keep my batteries well charged. I used power sparingly, mostly to run the furnace occasionally to keep from freezing.
I admit it was a wee taste of what winter in my Bambi might be like. Whew does an RV floor get mighty cold in 25° temps without a skirt! I also found out how much power a furnace still takes even though it’s propane. At least I won’t be crazy enough to boondock in the winter! I’ll be on full hookups, so hopefully we’ll survive just fine.
After four cold, damp days in Mazama I moved back up valley to Pearrygin again for another short stay. This time, I was excited to be there. The first day I met some new neighbors in a beautiful old Airstream Argosy. Every evening we sat outside and had a socially distanced happy hour, swapping stories. Then some new neighbors came in with a cattle dog! It was fun chatting and getting to know everyone.
Simple living is truly empowering.
So far thanks to friends and some of our great State Parks, I’ve had no shortage of places to stay. I’ve been shuffling around every week or so and in fact, right now as I write this I’m parked at a friend’s property for the week to help with—you guessed it—more flooring!
I guess if my tech job ever goes belly up I have a new career in the flooring installation business.
So far what I love most about Airstream living is the simplicity. I have exactly what I need and nothing more. There’s something immensely freeing and refreshing about that. I can take my home wherever I choose and I have a new backyard all the time. I feel like I’ve also been surrounded by some great community, which has made it anything but isolating and lonely.
I’ve slowly gotten everything I need put away in it’s perfect place. I’ve developed new routines for starting and ending my day. I’m using less power, reading more, and going to bed earlier to wake with the sun.