We got out to the Airstream around 8:30 on Friday night. It was a calm, cool spring evening. I checked systems and water lines to make sure all was well. It was. Danine brought in all of our stuff for our last night in Shackleton: sleeping bags, pillows, sugar popcorn, drinks, movie, tea for the morning, and one of our regular games from the trip (Arc of the Covenant, a Carcassonne spin-off with game balance). We turned on lights, opened windows and we were home.

It was a pleasant night, quiet and dark. The kind of night you might encounter in Fort Stevens State Park in Oregon this time of year. We watched Madagascar 2 and were glad for cheerful, animated mayhem. It was funny, with great voice talents. At bedtime, Danine got a little too choked up to read Elise a story, so I happily did. Elise, despite feeling sad, went to sleep quickly. Danine and I stayed up to split a beer and play the game at the dinette.

Going to sleep in the trailer is a cozy feeling, but I still tossed and turned, remembering the many good times we spent in our little aluminum home. In fact, if you’ll forgive the self-pity for a moment, I felt like someone punched me in the gut most of the day. I didn’t expect it to be that hard. After all, we have friends with real struggles and I’m broken up about successfully selling a luxury item! But there are a lot of memories and nostalgia tied up in Shackleton.

It was easy to get up Saturday morning because it has always been easy to get in the Airstream. I started organizing some things for the new owner and was about to go out and put air in the tires when Danine said, “He’s here!”

Sure enough, the Transport Guy had arrived — and 30 minutes early no less. The new owner is in Austin, TX. He hired a company to deliver the trailer to him. We spent the next half hour gathering our things, checking things over, and filling the tires. I explained the Hensley hitch to Transport Guy. He backed up his diesel powered, dual-rear-wheel (dually: pronounced “DEW-lee”) Chevy pickup, but was at the wrong angle. I tried to line him up right, but realized that’s Danine’s job! She came over and directed him perfectly in about 15 seconds. I greased the hitch and told him to do it about every 500 miles or so. He didn’t seem convinced of the necessity, but said he would. However, he also doesn’t really need the weight bars, which help distribute the tongue weight of the trailer to both the rear and front wheels. Our truck is small (relatively) and it matters. His is huge (absolutely) and it really doesn’t even notice the trailer behind it.

We took a couple last pictures by our good friend Shackleton, unchocked the wheel and watched. The trailer bounced gently over the lawn and onto the road, dutifully following a different truck for the first time in a long time. We had lumps in our throats, but kept it together. As it disappeared around a bend in the road, Elise came over and gave me a hug. Danine too.

Thankfully, our friends John and Kelley were there with their kids. Shackleton’s been parked next to their house all this time. We chatted as we packed up and promised to come visit them without the ulterior motive of checking on the trailer. They were, as ever, very gracious.

Our next stop was breakfast at Cracker Barrel. Why? Well, it was the first place we stopped (for dinner) on the trip. That time we were in New Jersey — where else you gonna stop in Jersey? Sbarro? As we ate delicious piles of glucose (for Elise) and saturated fats (for me and Danine), Danine said, “You know, it didn’t look like Shackleton,” as Transport Guy towed him away, “because it wasn’t our truck.” She also said it seemed kind of undignified to be towed away by a dually. I agreed. To us, they seem overkill for towing an Airstream (though some folks would use nothing less).

Our last stop was the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center in Shenandoah NP. It’s in Front Royal, VA, at the north end of the park. Danine and I hadn’t been back since we hiked to it through snow and the wreckage of an ice storm on Valentine’s Day in 1998. Saturday, by contrast, was beautiful. At the entrance, I gave the ranger our annual parks pass. It expires next month, one year since I last renewed it at Crater Lake! Skyline Drive was a slow parade of cars. Bicyclists and motorcyclists were swarming like termites.

We stood on the hill outside the visitor center and took in the view of the Shenandoah Valley, green and softened by a light haze. Inside we wandered through the exhibits and the gift shop. Danine stamped our well-worn National Parks Passport. I felt a strong sense of ownership: like these places belong to us. They do of course, taxationally. But this was a sense of familiar ownership. It was nice.

We both agreed that we did all right. The whole selling-the-trailer thing, I mean. It was right, since we weren’t going to be able to use it much and we know we aren’t going to be able to do this again while Elise is in school. That thought brought peace. We were so lucky to have taken the trip. I think of it often. Now I’ll think of it as we plant our garden, fix up the house, and walk to school or the pool. We have a more stationary life and we’ll enjoy its benefits. Of course the idea that we will own another Airstream and travel again is a comfort too. And a certainty.


Shackleton has sold.

Tomorrow evening (Friday), Bobby, Elise and I will drive out to the trailer for one last sleepover. We’ll pull out the couch, have a movie night with popcorn and sleep one last time in our beds. The transport company is coming at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday morning to tow Shackleton to his new home in Austin, TX.

As my dad said tonight, “Selling the trailer really puts the final nail in the coffin of the trip, doesn’t it?” He meant it in a supportive way (if it’s possible to use the word “coffin” while being supportive) because my dad knows how hard it will be for me to say goodbye. I am guilty of anthropomorphism — giving inanimate objects human attributes — and I hate change. The thought of not having Shackleton anymore makes my heart ache and my throat tighten.

Elise has inherited some of these characteristics and I worry that Saturday morning will be very hard for her. It’s important, though, that we head out there one last time and say goodbye. So send us your happiest thoughts Saturday morning — we’ll need them!

Not our new home, but completed inside it. Valentine’s Day was LEGO Day at our house and we completed the 5,922-piece Taj Mahal, a gift from my masochistic brother, in just under 10 hours.

We have come to the grim discovery that stationary life is infinitely busier than moving your home from place to place every few days. Here, the house doesn’t move but you are constantly coming in and out of it, rarely stopping in long enough to drink a cup of tea. On the road, the house is always changing locations but you have hours and hours to do, in the house, whatever you please.

We closed on our new home Monday, January 12 and with lots of help from family and friends, we started sleeping here that Friday. Bobby and I hadn’t realized how cold it’s been for Elise these past few months sleeping on a blow-up bed at my parents’, until we had to sleep on one here for a few days. Sleeping at floor level is cold! I was never so happy to see my actual bed.

Our first weekend in the house, we painted the two bedrooms. Ours is Behr’s Asparagus and Elise chose a Disney pink of some kind that Bobby enhanced with flowers, grass and clouds. There are many other projects in the works, including painting the random bright orange bricks in the kitchen and about 10 years of yard work. We love our new home, though, and have no regrets buying it. Except, maybe, that it doesn’t move.

Elise has re-entered “regular” life with alacrity. We ended up moving in next to one of her classmates and there is another girl on the other side of us who is ten, so there is no shortage of friends to play with. She is in Brownies and is playing basketball for the first time. Bobby wanted her to play a team sport and she loves it. Girl Scout cookie sales are under way and since I volunteered to be Cookie Mom this year, we are participating in cookie booths. We spent two hours outside today in the 35 degree weather, cheerfully asking people to turn over their recession-weakened dollars in exchange for some flour, sugar and milk. Most surprisingly, it was done cheerfully and we did well.

Elise with two buds at Girl Scout Day at a George Mason University Women’s Basketball game.

Elise, heading downcourt, before the game starts.

Elise entered the “big kid” realm earlier this month by getting braces on her top front teeth. She’s a little kid with a little mouth and her pediatric orthodontist is hoping to make some more room. The first two days were definitely tough, with lots of soreness involved, but she seems to be doing fine now.

Bobby re-entered “regular” life on December 1 when he started his new job at ManTech International as a technical writer. He would still prefer the life of a real estate appraiser, or better yet, still be on the road, but he (we) is (are) grateful he has a job in this tough climate. He got back together recently with some friends from his St. Mark’s days and performed in an improv troupe for a cabaret night at a local church. Very funny. My Old Man laugh (ask Conor and Taylor, our nephew and niece about it) was out in full force that night.

Work for me has finally gotten under control and I am enjoying working for the church. I think the next thing for me is to figure out how to get some exercise. I’ve discovered that sitting at a desk all day does very little for your cardiovascular system or your muscle tone. Something to work on.

All in all we are doing very well. It’s hard to not be on the road. I have pictures from the trip on my computer at work and sometimes I will see a picture that will take me back to that time and place and I remember who I was then and what I was feeling. And I sigh. But we are blessed to be back with family, old friends and new. And who knows what might be waiting around the next bend in the road?

We’ve been back for three and a half months. We naively figured we’d be working and settled in a home after about two months. We were off by a couple, as it turns out. I just accepted a technical writing job for a defense contractor, starting Dec. 1. In this economic climate, I’m feeling pretty lucky to have landed a good job. Sadly, defense contracting is rather recession-proof. I was ready for the gub-mint to reinstate the CCC so I could join up. We saw countless WPA projects on the trip and most were superb structures in state and national parks.

We also just ratified a contract on a house. Whew! We’ll be moving in just before Christmas. It’s a funky little contemporary split-level built in the 50’s. Three bed, three bath on .38 acres. We are a five-minute walk from Danine’s folks (our current residence) and the creek/park. We are a ten-minute walk to school and the pool. We haven’t been settled in a house in a long while, but we’re looking forward to it.

I still look at the date and try to remember — or check the blog to see — what we were doing this time last year. We did just take a trip, by the way. We went down to Dallas for Max’s Bar Mitzvah. He is Danine’s cousin Laura’s youngest. We had a fun few days with them in early December a year ago. This trip was fun too: big parties, a mildly disorienting (to me) Sabbath service, and some catching up with family we don’t see often enough.

Now I have to go Google “How to work full time” because I kind of forget.

Elise, Third Grader

Here we are, back where we started. Many folks have asked us, “Didn’t you find any places during your year that you would love to live?” The implication, of course, is, “Why did you move back to DC, for the love of Mike!” We found lots of places we enjoyed: Southwest Harbor, ME (not in winter), Charleston, SC (not in hurricane season), San Antonio, TX (not in summer), Tucson, AZ (same), San Diego, CA (as expensive as DC more or less, plus fires, cataclysms), Portland, OR (little too not sunny), Ashland, OR (not a lotta jobs), Estes Park, CO (tourist destination more than town). We liked all of these places for many different reasons, but we learned that the Washington area — despite its terrible traffic and high cost of living — has many things going for it: the four seasons (not the hotel), three hours to the beach, two hours to the mountains, the Smithsonian (among numerous other cultural landmarks), good schools, lots of jobs (I only need one of them though), and most importantly family and friends.

Elise started school on Tuesday, so the rhythms of suburban life have begun. We have a contract on a house that is walking distance to Elise’s school and Danine’s parents. It’s a five-minute drive to church and the grocery store, ten minutes to everything else you can think of. I like routine and I’m looking forward to settling into one. Our trip will act as a filter for life here, encouraging us to slow down and live relatively simply. We’re still trying to sell the Airstream, but I can picture us owning another some day. That’s about it for now.

Blogging a bit about our transition back into the “real” world seemed like a good idea — maybe not so much for you, the reader, but for us, the transitioneers. We’ve been home for three weeks now. Boy. What an adjustment. I did some temporary appraising work for my old firm, but now I have to start looking for an actual job. Appraising is a bit slow right now to go it alone full-time. I’m hoping to do appraisals for a couple of clients and go back to an IT job with a salary and an office and a commute and spreadsheets and memos and maybe even PowerPoint. I’ve been talking with a friend about his company, which seems to respect family and doesn’t have the culture pervading many tech firms. That is, it doesn’t equate long hours with productivity, but may actually (could it be?) equate actual results with productivity. That’d be keen.

We are also looking for a house, although, admittedly, that’s hard to do when you don’t have any income. We are working hard to stay in Falls Church and within the boundaries of Beech Tree Elementary. The house we sold practically backed up to the school and Danine went there when she was a kid. We went to the welcome picnic and met the principal (we’re impressed). Elise is gearing up for school — literally: the amount of gear required has greatly increased since I was in third grade. The supply list specifically indicates that students may not have wheeled packs. This implies that such packs may be necessary due to the mass of learning accoutrements the students will be lugging. Don’t worry, though, I believe that students may attend free pilates classes to build up the necessary core body strength to handle the load without permanent injury or hampered growth.

The trailer is still for sale. We moved it out to Stephens City, VA (near Winchester) to the home of our friends John and Kelley. They have a lovely home on three acres with an apple orchard across the street and mountains in the distance. I got to drive the Airstream between trees and through the front yard to its parking spot beside the house. We’ll miss it, but at least the trailer has a really great view.

All of these things keep us busy, but not the hiking, exploring, learning kind of busy we have gotten used to. It has been good reconnecting with our community of friends and family since we’ve been back. We even took a vacation already! To the beach with Danine’s family. It was pleasant, as always. I think we are both looking forward to going over the blog and living vicariously through our past selves. We want to convert it into some albums for us and, heck, maybe distill some of it into an article.

After 11 months, over 27,000 miles, more than $7,000 in gas, $300 in quarters for laundry, and 35-odd National Park sites (and junior ranger badges) we are at rest in Falls Church, Virginia once again. We lingered an hour and a half past check-out at Big Meadows on Wednesday, but we finally had to leave. Gosh, we sure saw a lotta stuff this year.

Naturally, people want to know what we liked the best, or the least. We can give answers for that, but I really enjoyed the whole thing as a Whole Thing. It was a journey, come what may. I’d love to do it again and make changes based on what I now know, but I don’t regret any of it. We are incredibly lucky to have even left on this year about, had safe travels for so long, and returned home welcomed and supported by our friends and families near and far.

Having spent a few days back in the asphalt jungle of Washington, we are surprised at how little has changed and how it seems as if we haven’t been gone long at all. Already the trip is moving out of the present moment and into memory. That’s kind of a shame.

We are planning our working lives again, registering Elise for school, and looking at houses to buy. Just one, actually — and it’ll have to be cheap since we’ve got less money and mortgages are harder to get now. These transitional times can be tricky, but we have managed them before and aren’t too worried.

One thing I’ve found since being back: I am reluctant to take up the stressed out, impatient, impersonal approach to life that is prevalent in the Washington area. Here, if you aren’t doing something you are wasting time. Look busy! Maximize efficiency! Leverage synergies (or something)! Frankly, I’ll just be here in the right lane, taking my time. I prefer it. The trick is to consciously oppose these attitudes, to say hello to the grumps anyway and let them cut in line instead of arguing about it. I feel that if I return to the typical behaviors in this area, I’ll have wasted some of the valuable experience I gained on this trip.

We didn’t receive any big revelations, nor did we undergo any stunning transformations. I know that we have changed, the three of us, in our relationships with each other and with the world around us. I believe the changes are complex, but overall good. I’m glad for what we’ve seen, for the context it provides for our lives, for perspective.

Elise with cousins Katie and Grace

Our peregrinations have brought us to this final spot in Shenandoah National Park. The weather has been rather mild for July, not too humid and not too hot. Only one significant storm blew through on Saturday evening, but it didn’t inconvenience us thanks to the wise and multitudinous preparations of Danine’s sister Lyn. She has taken the Scouts camping enough to learn how to prepare for every eventuality.

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Conor and Taylor

Since we arrived, we have had a number of gatherings. On Saturday night Danine’s brother Colin and sister Lyn along with their families joined my parents and us for cooking out and catching up. On Sunday afternoon we set up in the picnic area and many friends and more family came. It was a welcome back party and everyone welcomed us joyfully and warmly. Many who came had followed the blog all year and some we hadn’t seen in a long, long time. Thank you, loyal fans.

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Honestly, our time here has brought on all sorts of conflicted feelings. We are good with settling down and reintegrating with the work-a-day masses. The hard part is remembering, say, our glorious progression from the Grand Canyon to Moab or our quiet days from Elk Prairie campground in the redwoods up to the Olympic peninsula. I think it’s the transition we are dreading — not job worries or house worries so much as the great big mental gear shift that has to take place. It hasn’t always been easy being a tiny, three-person community, but it’s what we are used to right now and it’ll be strange to wake up and go in three different directions each day.


Meanwhile, everyone has been — and surely will continue to be — incredibly supportive and we’ve had a great time here at Big Meadows. We walked a little of the Appalachian Trail on Monday with Danine’s parents and Elise’s cousins Katie and Grace. I’d begun to feel resentful of the many people who told us on Sunday and Monday that they had seen bears on the way into the park. We spent eleven months going to places where bears live and saw only two. Then, on Monday evening, a gentleman walked over to our campsite and pointed to the nearby wooded hillside. There, we watched for about ten minutes a small mother bear and her two tiny cubs foraging for insects. All three wandered among the rocks and lifted or knocked over the smaller stones looking for good things to eat. It was marvelous.


Later Monday evening we went on a ranger guided walk through the meadow. We munched on the wild blueberries growing in it as we walked. Throughout the meadow deer were grazing. Scores of deer. Scores! We watched a fawn about 70 yards away run and leap in circles for the sheer fun of it. Each evening next to our campsite a ten-point buck walks and munches grass. White-tail deer are much handsomer than mule dear. I’d forgotten.


The sleeping weather has been great: cool, not humid. However, even the low humidity is still way too high compared to the West. It wouldn’t hurt the park to install some blimp-sized air handlers and dry this place out a bit. Another upside: few mosquitos. Another downside: gnats, gnats, gnats with a capital gee. These gnats are not disturbed by air currents and will even form a cloud directly in front of a blowing fan (to mock us).

Tuesday morning we went to a ranger talk on birds of prey. Ranger Georgette even brought out two Real Live Birds. Both were owls. The first was a charming Barred Owl. Did you know owls have ears that are asymmetrical — one side is higher than the other? This helps them triangulate the noises made by poor, hapless mice and such. In fact, if you put an owl in a completely light-free room and release a mouse, a healthy owl will find it one hundred percent of the time. That’s ninety-nine point nine percent more often than me. The second owl was a screech owl, which is about the size of a thick paperback book. They don’t screech. Go figure. Did you know that if we had eyes similar in proportion to our bodies as owls do, we’d have softballs sticking out of our heads?


In the humid, langorous afternoon we roused ourselves to go on two hikes. The first was up Bearfence Mountain which requires a rocky scramble to a 360-degree view. Next we joined up with our friends Tom and MJ, along with their son Joe, to hike down to Dark Hollow Falls. The falls were lovely and the water was cool — just ask Elise. She fell in.

MJ and Tom with Danine, Joe with Elise

Tuesday night will be our last campfire of the trip. Tomorrow we drive to Falls Church and begin a new phase of life. I’m sure we’ll be fine, but there’ll be a little bit of sadness as we leave behind this incredible year about.
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I’ll write another entry once we are back, so don’t worry.


Our plan was to go tubing on the New River. (Here’s a secret: it isn’t new at all.) Then we woke up. Tubing — that is, sitting or lying in an inflatable tub whilst floating along on the gentle current of the river — just seemed like too much work today. Instead we went into Blacksburg.

Elise had a speaking engagement anyway. Kristie’s son Patrick wanted her to come in and talk to his preschool class. We went with her, but were not needed. She answered questions such as, “Do you have a fire extinguisher?” and traced our route on a big map.

Afterwards we headed back to Kristie and Al’s for a home-cooked lunch. Al biked home and joined us. One of the highlights of living and working in Blacksburg is biking to work and many other places. We spent the afternoon hanging out with Kristie. We went to the YMCA thrift store because they have used books. I bought a hardback copy of Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose for two bucks. Elise got an original (1954) copy of a Trixie Belden mystery…for ten bucks! Apparently they are doing a brisk business on Ebay and, thus, even the thrift store is raising its prices.

You may recall, or not, that during the early months of our trip I read a lot of disaster narratives. I’ve read some other things in between, but I’m back to tragedies. I found a cheap hardback copy of Moby-Dick last month (I don’t remember where). A few weeks ago Elise wanted to read it. She read the first page and I read the rest of the first chapter to her. She liked it okay, but didn’t want to hear more on account of the strange, strange language. I, on the other hand, got hooked. I’m lovin’ it. Don’t ask me why, but it’s a great adventure story and a fascinating character study of the monomaniacal Ahab. I’m on page 230 or so and Moby-Dick has been talked about but not seen yet. In fact, no actual whale hunting has taken place. Of course, I know how it ends.

We plan to end our travels more peacefully. Whatever our faults (they are legion), we are not monomaniacs. So we got that going for us. Which is nice. Tomorrow we drive to Shenandoah National Park. We are going to take the scenic route, the Blue Ridge Parkway and then Skyline Drive.

I just used mapquest to look at directions from Falls Church to Big Meadows in Shenandoah. It looks like it’s going to take about 2 hours to get to us on Sunday if you are coming from the Falls Church area. I had mistakenly put in the blog that it would take an hour and a half. If this distance is too long for you, please don’t make yourselves crazy trying to get to us. Four hours is a lot of driving for one day.

Make no mistake — we would love to see you Sunday, but not at the expense of unhappy kids or tired parents. If you can’t make it, we will see you when we get back. Count on it!