Tag Archives: DIY

The Incredible Weight of Simplicity


“Wow, 190 day trip.  How would you even pack for that?”  a first question of a coworker upon reunion.

Well that really brings together old and new thoughts, pre and post trip musing.  In the planning stage was the same question.  Now, I look around my home and life and wonder what all this crap is.  I wonder why I have all this stuff and how I can make sense of it, or ever get it organized.

Packing, we knew we’d be facing four seasons.  We knew the sports we’d ply.  Lists sprouted: Skis, boots, poles, long undies-tops and bottoms, coat, shell, ski pants, helmet, goggles, glove and mittens.  Hand warmers for Jane, so many accessories- but all easily listed and known.  Then the bikes with their shorter list, kayak with only paddles and life vests.  Hiking, the simplest, added only hiking boots and a day pack.   All easily splayed out in the house or garage, but a bit harder to condense and fit into a tramper and 4Runner.  The obvious and self explained necessities!

Next came clothing.  We heard the wise words of a traveling PT friend.  Bring less, he said.  “I’ve been to China for two weeks with no more than a small knapsack carry-on”.  Wise indeed, but it may have been months before we really “got” it.

Rebuilding the Tramper gave me time to ponder and plan.  Each drawer, shelf and cabinet was to have a purpose.  Some I left as in 1957.  Others had to be removed and revised.

The kitchen, including ALL pots, pans and tools

The kitchen, including ALL pots, pans and tools

The toilet room became a shower and storage for soap and shampoo, the grey water tank, our little commode, laundry detergent and sport wipes.  The table had drawers for 4 forks, spoons,  and 2 knives (one butter, one sharp).  Another drawer, the requisite “junk drawer”, post-its, pens, pencils, a sharpie and small details.

Two drawers, nicely added by a previous owner, (date unknown...1950's 60's?)

Two drawers, nicely added by a previous owner, (date unknown…1950’s 60’s?)

I had built a deep cabinet next to the fridge with 4 shelves above the right wheel well.  The bottom was purpose built to hold two boot-bag knapsacks.  Each of our indulgent boot packs “always” houses those big, heavy ski boots, a helmet, gloves/mittens, neck warmer, sunblock and just a few small accessories.  System organization.  My favorite!  And it works at home, as one can keep the categorized toys or tools of one need in one place, “always” knowing just where to look.

This puzzle piece was 17″ high though.  The boot bags ate a big chunk of space, but their weight nests right over the trailer axle.  Above was divided into 2 shelves each 2 for Hers, 2 shelves for His.  On two were baskets to hold ALL of each of our “normal” clothing.  Into the house they went and piles of underwear, T-shirts, long sleeve shirts, short and long pants were tossed.  Not long before they were overflowing, you can imagine!   Out came a few things.  Then more discussion.

In talk with our selves and travel consultant, John, the PT we knew less was going to be plenty.  Only we could decide how much less.  Clean socks and underwear a necessity, how often would we do laundry?  Having the small shower stall and hot/cold running water was a luxury we knew afforded hand washing as needed.  We settled for about 5 pairs of socks and undies each, washing them nearly every day.  Twas fun to note humidity’s effect on drying.  The dank week of Hurricane Sandy in Rosendale threatened us with that “sour” laundry smell.  The arid deserts and Western mountains dried things overnight or faster and the air we breathed was softened by the humidity.

Of course the mesh laundry bags that piled with bigger loads and heavier clothes were relieved mostly in campgrounds, occasionally in towns at laundromats.  So there we were, with the fewest clothes we thought we could make it with.  Several waves of subtraction left us each with one basket to live from.  And live we did!  An astute observer might notice the small selection in our pictures.  (They always wore the same few clothes)  We didn’t mind a bit.  Prompted me to get rid of and donate quite a pile on return home.  Jane has “halved” her closet compared to before the Voyage!


(I’ll try to get some more pics of our total clothing basket)

WOW, Now what?

First I’d like to thank anyone who checked in, commented or just plain enjoyed any part of our adventure via this blog.  We never considered having a big audience or following, only wanting to chronicle a little and maybe make a vicarious thrill available for family and friends.  Next thing we knew, we realized we had to keep up.  Writing regularly was the only way to avoid that overwhelming list of “things we should do”.  It grew to be a true joy and an integral part of the Voyage!

Second, I invite pretty much any of you to borrow the Tramper for your own trip.  REALLY!  Through some nice, mutual agreement (not necessarily financial), I would love to see someone else’s dreams facilitated.  A new pair of tires, a battery, or maybe some cool as yet unknown accessory could comprise a rental arrangement.  Additional requirements would include a discussion of the “value” or replacement cost and the suggestion of insuring the camper.  One final requirement would be a display of commitment or intent.  “You” would have to demonstrate a beginner’s understanding of towing safety, RV boon docking, propane safety, and a willingness to learn about the Tramper in particular.

Its simple really, remember I knew nothing about any of this before locating the derelict camper in Delaware.   The details of this learning adventure would likely include a nearby camping trip where I could explain things briefly and hand over the reigns.  Out of this, I would get a return investment of vicarious thrills  and a few weeks or months with “no Tramper in my yard”.  Driveway access to my workshop is narrowed by the sleeping beauty.

barely room to walk through

barely room to walk through

I also want to begin talk of my internal voyage.  We didn’t run away from a bad life to do this trip.  To the contrary, we loved our home, family, jobs, friends and the routine of daily life.  I LOVE TO WORK.  We left to celebrate all that we love and can still do.  We took the chance of “all that could go wrong”, Murphy’s law be damned, and did it.  Now we return safely and are faced with our life.  The rest of our life.  Life after the Trampervoyage; whatever that is to become.

Honestly it feels at once overwhelming and underwhelming.  During the journey we floated high in conversations.  There we were, living the dream.  People congratulated us.  People seemed to envy us at times.  Most encouraged and cheered us on.  The accomplishment was in the moment and in “where to tomorrow?”  Now, we have returned and there is no tangible evidence.  No physical accomplishment.   Maybe THAT is what drives me to make and fix so many things.  In creating tangible projects, I create my own little trophy.  I create my report card.  After all, wasn’t school sometimes more rewarding than work?  You got grades!  Someone told you how you were doing!

Today I broke away from Jane to do something separate.  We have had the incredible blessing of being together for nearly every task and joy for 190 days, 24 hours per day.  We were rarely apart.  Doubtful many couples could say that at any point in their marriage.  We’ve continued that at home, working on unpacking, cleanup and other home tasks.  But today Jane went to see her sister; I went to see the elephants!

In March of every year, Baltimore hosts the circus.  Hopefully each of you has some fond memory of the youthful attraction enshrining the circus.  Maybe you ran away and joined?  (If so, tell us some of your stories)  Anyway, one of the more colorful local traditions includes an Elephant Parade.  Tenders march the big beautiful beasts through the city streets, up from the arena to the Lexington Market for a big lunch buffet.  Then after a desert of watermelons, they parade back down to their cages, I presume, to await their other performances.

You can agree with the spectacle or argue the treatment of zoo and performance animals everywhere, but I thought it was WONDERFUL.  Without these few “suffering” performing animals, most of humanity knows nothing of their immensity.  Most of us could not fathom the emotional eyes of an elephant, nor the grandeur of the whole animal kingdom if it weren’t for our contact, albeit limited through showcases of zoos, circuses, and aquariums.  The size, shimmering fur, smells and splashes of them all would all be reduced to photographs or TV shows someone else framed for us.  I saw intimate views of a fox family on public TV last night, yet my memory of the litter berthed under my mom’s porch was more vivid.  Those kits nipped and yipped playfully and beautifully, nursing until they were weaned before we “encouraged” them to move out of that urban den.

What then, does any of this have to do with the Voyage of the Tramper?  A full circle is a difficult journey.  Its hard to come back.  I have found myself looking at all that makes up a person.  I find myself lacking the same “value” I had as a productive, functioning and working member of society.  I felt as though I had retired.  I read a version of “retired” in Steinbeck’s East of Eden that I will avoid as I can with all my heart.  Retired meant surrendered.  Retired meant finished with all productive contribution.  Samuel moved to the city in retirement, and eased uselessly to his death.  He invited it.  He accepted it.  And he chose to cease contributing.

The happiest “retirees” I know now are volunteers.  Giving some of themselves to causes they value.  My sister, retired at one time, wrote the word “something” on her calendar a few days each week.  When called upon by the limitless needs of one charity or another, she could honestly say: “Sorry, I’ve got something that day”.  In this she protected bits of her time as needed.  Hospitals, The Aquarium, Red Cross, soup kitchens, and more, there are any number of fulfilling ways to “retire” and be fulfilled by those around us.  On our Voyage we met hosts at campgrounds and made breakfasts sandwiches with a local North Carolina church.

I have selfishly preserved a few extra weeks to work on our house and home before returning to work.  I had the luxury of free time.  Time sometimes takes on different dimensions.  Everyone I know who is retired says they don’t know how they got things done while they worked full-time.  Perspective changes.

When I have two hours available and two hours of “work to get done”, it gets done.  When I have a week stretched out ahead, pressure is off, things can be delayed.  Procrastination is a vine.  Working raises the stakes.  Work schedules create the skill of prioritization.  Working is vital.  I think working is a part of vitality.  Being productive raises self-worth.  Even exercise at a gym is a form of productivity.  Even playful exercise is rewarding and productive; improving health, re-creating us, building muscle all the while.

I found walking, then running along to keep up with the elephants invigorating.  It reminded me of my love of our city.  We have been in the cocoon of our Voyage for 6 months.  We truly felt disconnected from 2012-13.  In rural and wild places, this was only natural.  But the majority of our journey carried us also through rural, agrarian places.  Through what felt like a different time.  We often felt like we were living “in the fifties” right along with that old Tramper.  Cities became shocking.  The resort at Beaver Creek, overwhelming.  A modern pace of life distasteful.

Being home too has been bewildering.  70 square feet of living space and just one basket of clothes each has us in a simple mindset.  We see now we have “so many things” in our home.  I’m longing for the simplicity.  Too many clothes, too many dishes, pots and pans.  I am, today, adapting better.  I was part of the crowd who wanted to see the elephants.  I saw the elephants themselves, line up, gladly clasping tails in trunk and parade back to the arena.  In this too, I jump back into life, a life I love!



I had forgotten that it was going to be crowded, that it would be hard to get a good view

I had forgotten that it was going to be crowded, that it would be hard to get a good view

I had forgotten too, that I AM PART OF THAT CROWD

I had forgotten too, that I AM PART OF THAT CROWD

...and what a privilege, to be part of the crowd!
…and what a privilege, to be part of the crowd!

The BIG Buffet

Clearly the eye of a veteran


Ladies and Gentlemen, children of all ages...

Ladies and Gentlemen, children of all ages…

the elephants begin to leave and I realize that I CAN KEEP UP WITH THEM

the elephants begin to leave and I realize that I CAN KEEP UP WITH THEM

lets stay together

lets stay together


I Think they were Glad to be out in the sun! (I know I was)

I Think they were Glad to be out in the sun! (I know I was)

"hold hands when you cross the street"

“hold hands when you cross the street”


Everyone, step-in-line

Lets go get ready for the show

Lets go get ready for the show

Photo of the Week #2



Seen on a gray day at an auto salvage & steel scrap yard on the Navajo Nation Reservation in northeast Arizona.

Very eye-catching. These metal workers are artists and comedians! May they ever be thus…

– Jane & David



A a perpetual student of science I find myself wondering about a fairly standard “human” thing to do.  We measure everything. Sure this is critical for science, engineering, medicine, architecture and a host of other endeavors.  But should we do it every day to Every Thing!?  Should we measure the things we do for fun?

Inches, stones, millimeters, pounds, grams, Miles, seconds, bushels, pecks, hours, degrees, angstroms, dollars, increments galore!


imagesI am not wearing a watch for this trip.  Somehow I wake up every day.  The sun seems to bring me around most often, but even foiled windows at a bright parking lot don’t keep me sleeping.  We’ve found when we leave campsites in relaxed fashion after a good breakfast and cleanup, it is almost invariably 10:00 AM by the clock in Marfa.  We are noticing the sun more, tracking the distance and time we can safely hike or pedal before sunset by “feel”.  Only for the longest or most arduous treks like into a canyon do we note the take off and midway times/points for safety.


We have a nifty borrowed device from John, a hiking GPS that can track, then display every step or ride we take, then plot it out on a topographical map.  Even play the trip back in fast motion, three minute time-lapse to show the “track”, the speeds, and the elevation profile.  It would probably even show little detours for drinks, snacks or sneeky bathroom breaks.  Then we can compare maximum speeds, means, and every detail for recreation or relocating a place.  We have used it for a few hikes and a few rides. Another friend Richard, showed us his “smart phone” app that would do the same for every training ride.  You can include a heart rate monitor and track every calorie burned.  We could track and measure every inch, every experience of this whole trip.


We don’t want to.  I am beginning to feel one of the forces that drags people down is measurement applied in unnecessary ways.  I don’t measure music, art, love or any of the natural joys.  I don’t measure a sunrise or sunset.  I don’t measure the compression felt in a ski run, or the sweeping glee of twisting on a trail.  I don’t measure my cat, nor my meals or squeals.

As a machinist I measured the thickness, diameter, length etc of parts in thousandths of an inch.  For function, parts need to fit together and be interchangeable.   A human hair is ~.003″, or about three thousandths, paper is also about that same thickness.  In the right positions we can easily feel this thickness, one page of a book slipped back can easily be felt by your fingertips.  A hair in the wrong place, like your eye, seems like a log.  But it is just these innate measurement capacities that eliminate the need for a tool to measure every thing.

We have a general idea how far we have driven at the end of a day.  Should traveling less make us feel it was not a good travel day.  Mountain biking is notoriously slow compared to road biking.  We typically spend over two hours to ride ten woods miles, including breaks and pictures.  Just because I could ride 30 miles on the road in the same time, is it wasted time?  Certainly not.  In fact, now that we are alternating hikes and rides so gloriously frequently, I want measure less and less.

See if there are areas where measurement lessens your joy and throw the bum out.  We’ve even had numerous events where trying to “get a picture or capture the moment” detracts from the actual moment.



Day 40, 10/24/2012 The kindness of strangers

Knowing me means you also know I don’t sit still well.  Rain isn’t the reason I am not doing much of anything right now.  I’ve been waiting for a return call with an estimate for repairing the head gasket etc on the 4Runner.  In the pre-dawn hours I rambled online through the SST (special shop tools) I would need, thought about what I could rent or borrow and pretty much avowed I wanted to take the motor apart right here in camp.  After investigating a few options within camp and awaiting “one more phone call”,  I humbled myself to ask a favor from a neighbor camper (Jason, the only other camper right now as all the “climbers” have gone home).  I needed a ride 2 miles to get my propane bottle filled.  I would not be balancing the big white “30lb” bottle on my bike, nor carrying it walking.

Jason readily gave me a ride up Rte 32 to get a propane refill while his own water heated for a before work shower.  Even Jack at the stove store was ready and started to to call around and suggest a good mechanic for us.  Then Jane and I decided to ride our bikes a bit.  Jack made us aware that a rail-trail was being developed and it started right here in Rosendale.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARails-to-Trails is one of my few regular charities.  Rail-trails represent a nice, semi-paved entry into green places that most people would never see.  Jane and I are not most people.  We like to “mountain bike”, so narrow, rooty or rocky trails are our favorite.  Railtrails can be boring, but of course without a car we had to go somewhere.

After our brief hour or so, the trail proved young and unbuffed, yet still a nice old rail trail.  We stopped at a local bike shop and asked about Single-track trails.  Warnings were heard that rifle season starts Sunday and pretty much all trails require a drive to get to.  I tend to talk a lot and explained our dilemma.  A customer overheard and began to offer suggestions.  He knew everyone around here. Although a world traveller, he had over sixty years of history here and friends in every direction.

His bike fixed, he offered to call or take us to some of his connections.  Unused to accepting help, I mostly stood agape.  My delayed replies seemed to include, uh, uh if you want or think you should. By adventures end, he drove us “just up the road” in three or more directions. It may have been a half hour of driving before we all introduced ourselves to each other.  Byron is a most gracious man, he even expressed his own cautions and misgivings referenced to the last time he did a traveller a favor (an RV sat in  his garage for a year).   We visited Rick, a longtime friend (he skied everywhere with him, shared the coldest day of his life at 26 below zero).  Rick is a master craftsman, detailing a 1932 hot rod with a flathead waiting on the floor in his shop.  The frame project looked near completion, as Byron joked about the 2 years its been “sitting there”.  Rick and his son, a world-class snowboarder and “crazy kayaker” who goes over falls are sort of hobbyist mechanics.  They work on just enough jobs to satisfy quality and bills I guess.  Byron says Rick just works til he gets mad, then goes out of the shop for a while. Anyone who has actually worked on a car would see the humor and sanity in that strategy.

Some two-minute jobs become hellish 2 hour perseverance tests: My pre-trip replacement of  the rusted-stuck, flimsy little fuel filter, tucked under the frame and cross member would be a prime example.  I couldn’t use a torch or grinder as the sparks would have enjoyed the dripping gasoline more than I could stand, wrenches were crushing it as I tried to protect the in and out-going fuel lines.  Even a hacksaw wouldn’t fit.  I kept pecking away using a broken hacksaw blade clamped into vise-grips and eventually: The mechanic had his way.  I cut through the hexagon, nut-shaped portion several times til it succumbed and unscrewed like it was supposed to.  I did have to crawl out and stretch, breathe, and breathe again, but didn’t leave the garage on that one.

Rick said he couldn’t even start on my car for about two weeks.  We’re not in a hurry, but we can’t be in port without a car for that long.

Next, we drove to Byron’s own home where he offers to let me use one of his sheds.  I’m afraid 15 miles from the camper without air tools, a torch, or my own home’s resources and contacts could be frustrating.  Who next?  He suggested a few options and Chilcott’s.  Chilcott’s has several mechanics, the shop is meticulous and Byron has known Alex Chilcott since they were kids.  He calls and talks to Alec, then thrusts the phone to me.  “How do you know the head gasket is blown?, did someone tell you?”  I give the story and symptoms…he nods by phone, agreeing and says they could do it.  “Don’t think it’ll be done in 2 days though”…because the heads have to go to a machine shop, it could take a week.

While dropping off the truck I meet Mike.  He almost tries to talk me out of “putting that much money” into the car.  I know everything is uncertain, but my research has unveiled many of these V6 Toyotas burn through their gasket, then go on to live a productive life.  Besides, the brakes, shocks, rear bearings, muffler and more are new.  I put 50 hours into preventative jobs in the three weeks before we left town.  Used cars are complex electro-mechanical devices.  Roulette is an unforgiving game and my best intuition, call-outs to Lynn in Cumberland, and other research says:  Fix what you’ve got, keep the known variables.

What a remarkable day.  We started without knowing what we’d do “all day” and were chauffeured through steps of help we barely even asked for.  People are Great.

OOPS, almost forgot.  Upon being dropped off in our driveway, our camper neighbor, Jason, invited us over for Brats on the grill.  We brought pasta salad and potatoes for a great picnic-table fireside feast.  The rainy day has turned to just cloudy and held off long enough to relax, eat and hear about non-destructive testing, dye-penetrant and a short contract in NY City.  People are Great.

P.S. This morning the professional warning call came from Chilcott’s, this was to be an expensive repair.  I was prepared for that and offered my sweeping, parts-cleaning services or anything to defray the cost…we’ll see if they have any reception.  I told them they could ADD to the bill if they didn’t like my work!

– David

Our new friend Byron was really incredible. He gave us hours of his time, even showed us his lovely home that he had built himself many years ago. David’s so right – people are great and we are lucky to have found another one here in Rosendale, NY!

It’s easy to forget the natural goodness of people when someone in their car cuts you off or when reading the horrors on the front page of the newspaper. (I date myself – I meant the newspaper online of course!) Reality shows thrive on  showing the nasty side of the human race. But, everywhere we go, we seem to find the kindness of strangers…

– Jane

Here are some photos of our railtrail ride today:

(These and all the photos on our blog can be clicked and made larger)

The day was wet and dreary and no one else was around, which added to the spookiness of this abandoned cement kiln from the 1880's.

The day was wet and dreary and no one else was around, which added to the spookiness of this abandoned cement kiln from the 1880’s.









A giant conveyor went deep into the quarry to bring up lime from the earthThe conveyor ended somewhere in the bottomless quarry, now filled with dark water

A giant conveyor went deep into the quarry to bring up lime from the earth





I imagine folks, now long gone, working at this site in the 19th century

I imagine folks, now long gone, working at this site in the 19th century



The conveyor ended somewhere in the bottomless quarry, now filled with dark water

The conveyor ended somewhere in the bottomless quarry, now filled with dark water