Tuesday, February 23, 2016

2/22/16-Feeling Badass

Sometimes FB throws features at us that, for me, can be a nuisance. At first, I thought the “memories” feature was going to be just that – a nuisance – something else to skip over or scroll through. But as it turns out, I have thoroughly enjoyed the trips down memory lane.

For example, I would never have remembered it was 4 years ago I met Glenn in person for the first time. You can follow the link to that blog post (here).

One might ask, “What does that have to do with the dust bowl picture above?”

Good question! It’s all part of celebrating today – an anniversary of meeting Glenn when this dream was an embryo in 2012, and doing the deal today – loving life while vandwelling in 2016.

I left Lake Havasu City, AZ early this morning to head for Texas. While in Texas I will take care of some unfinished business, see family and friends, and (ugh) doctors. Those close to me have been concerned about me making the drive by myself, but deadlines are in play so off I go. In spite of my fears. 

And, while I may be driving alone, I am certainly not making this trip by myself. I continually check in with Colvin, and I send my tribe text messages and location updates daily. The route is well planned out and it is straight highway driving – all plugged in to Siri and she tells me where to turn and how much further I have to go. Very easy breezy....

Except for the winds today.

They were reportedly 20-30mph with gusts up to 40-50mph. It was crazy, and the dust storms were incredible! If you look closely at the picture above you will note that the mountains on the horizon are almost obliterated. As I went through Tucson they had traffic signs saying that visibility was less than a mile. The nice thing about it was that everyone was driving very calmly and slowly. I call it Debra speed. It helped, but it was all white knuckle, two-fisted driving – all day.

In addition to the dust storms, I saw many other crazy things today. A crow (or maybe a raven) flew across the highway only to have the wind slam it back in to the side of an 18-wheeler, right in front of me. Poor thing. It was a very sad thing to see. I also saw a small car get blasted by 5 tumbleweeds. What are the odds? They swerved radically. I was very glad no one was next to them. I was a few car lengths back. Then later, at a gas station, one lady couldn’t get out of her car. She had parked at the end pumps and the wind would not let her open her door. She finally moved to the interior pumps. And a woman walking in to that same store with her young son had to pick him up because he kept getting blown down. Crazy, crazy wind.

So why am I celebrating?

Because I did it!!!! It took everything I had, and every ounce of concentration I could muster, but I drove through the wind and the dust storms and am now parked at a safe, nice rest area for the night. We (the furbabies and I) got here just before dark so I was able to give them a nice walk – even though a gust made poor Bentley stumble. My furbabies are such troopers.

We did it. We got in the van, secured the doors (Thanks again Fred!), and pulled the curtains for complete privacy.

Thank you to everyone that has helped me with the setup of my van!

And if you will allow me to be smug – we are snug as a bug in a rug. From inside the comforts of home, I fed the dogs and cooked myself a nice dinner of hot chicken noodle soup, and began to relax. I was able to do so even though right behind me there are a LOT of 18-wheelers. Right next to me, two of them are running refrigerator units which means my van is rumbling. On the other side of them is the very busy highway which means there is a lot of traffic noise. On the opposite side of the rest area is a very busy railroad. When the trains go by it feels like we are in an earthquake, and the whole time the wind is still howling. The van is literally rocking.

Here’s the deal –

It may be rockin & rollin outside, but inside – life is calm, quiet and peaceful. My dogs are already snoring and I will sleep like royalty tonight. Plus, thanks to Colvin and the last round of modifications, I can get set up – complete with a heater and a stove – in less than 15 minutes. It will take me the same amount of time (or less) to get ready to roll in the morning. That makes everything stress free.

I can do this life because of all the help I've received, and because it allows me to take care of myself – at my pace. I will rest well tonight, take my time in the morning, and tomorrow I will drive at my leisure – stopping when I need to or want to. All the while I am secure in knowing that I am loved, cared for and looked after by many, and am one with all. My heart is full beyond description. I am so grateful to so many for so much.

On top of it all, my home is incredibly beautiful to me. Yep. Life is good. Def feeling badass. I hope you are too. Sweet dreams my wonderful readers!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

2/18/16-Van Interior v4

My last post was a celebration of my 4 months on the road. It has been an awe-mazing adventure with so many surprises. I’ve even been in 5 videos! Well, I suppose more accurately, my van has been in 5 videos. Ha!

I took the pic above after Bob filmed the 5th video. He wanted to showcase the new layout in response to requests posted after he and James built my bed. You can see the video by Enigmatic Nomadics of the bed being built (here). When the video of the van’s interior is published, I’ll share that link as well.

In the meantime, here are pics of my remodeled van – none of which would have happened without Bob and the RTR caravan of wonderful people – many that have become good friends.

I began this journey sleeping on an air mattress on the floor. It was such a pain to break it down each morning and air it back up each night. Plus I had to move everything around – every time, twice a day. I LOVE MY BED!

In the pic above you can see my current Mr. Buddy heater. There is a video (here) where Bob showcases my original heater configuration which was the small Mr. Buddy heater. Bob does a comparison of all the heaters in a wonderful blog post (here). But for me, it turns out I needed more heat than the small one provided so I bought a used heater from Bob, and a new large propane tank. I put it in a milk crate purchased at Home Depot, bought a 2nd crate and turned it upside down over the tank, and then put the heater on top of that. The hose comes out through the crate handle. It all fits perfectly and is very stable. The legs of the heater fit snuggly into the crate openings, and it is a safe height for my dogs.

I owe a huge thank you to Bob for helping me get heat in my van. I naively set out thinking that we would travel with the weather and wouldn’t need heat. He not only helped me figure out 2 different systems, he also came to my rescue when there were hiccups. For example, the first system with the small green bottles kept leaking. We never could figure that one out. Then when I bought a large tank, the first one was defective. Rain or shine, Bob was there for me and helped me figure it all out. I am grateful. It turns out that heat in the winter, even in the desert, is a very good thing. Derrr. I think I gave new meaning to the word newbie.

On the other side of my bed, behind the driver panel, is all my stuff. When Bob originally built my bed, he tried his best to get me to move it all the way to the back, against the rear doors. I didn’t get the concept at the time, only to end up moving it later (thanks to Colvin). This is a wonderful layout!

From left to right:
(1)            toiletries, household supplies, first aid & dog supplies
(2)            clothes & linen
(3)            electronics & pantry
Stored underneath are small propane bottles, water (9 gallons) and shoes.

To the left of my bed, by the side doors, is the kitchen. Bob built the kitchen stand for me a few weeks after they finished the bed. Originally it was between the bed and the rear doors. The only problem (again, my doing) was that to reach the supplies, I had to stand outside to cook. Now I can have early morning coffee and cook, regardless of the weather. Sweet!

The teapot was Dad's. Love!
 Here is a pic from the rear of the van.

Moving the bed to the back also allowed me to store the solar panel at the back. The panel is the black suitcase on the left in the pic. Having it near the door makes solar setup so easy! We were also able to move the AGM battery to the back by the doors, under the bed. Fellow traveler, Lou (thank you!), added cable length to my system and rebuilt the battery clips to strengthen them. It is all working perfectly. Thank you Will for selling the system to me! And the bed was built in a way that allowed for a perfect nook to hold the battery securely. Thank you, Bob! You can see the video of my solar system (here). And (here) is a link to Bob's very informative FAQ blog post on solar.

The silver suitcase on the right is a Coleman aluminum folding table – compliments of Bob and a fellow traveler that no longer wanted it – another blessing. When I have my outside camp set up it sits on a beautiful outdoor mat with hearts and puppy paw designs that was given to me by Bryce (thank you!). The mat is also gray and white so it all looks really cool. I’ll try to get an outdoor pic soon.

Here is a pic of my wonderful home from the front seat.

All of this is v4 and plans are underway for v5. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

2/10/16-Four Month Anniversary

my travels to date
Monday, February 8, was my 4-month anniversary as a full-time vandweller. The time has flown by and yet in many ways it feels like the heart of me has always been here – or at least maybe it has always longed for this lifestyle.

I was one of those kids that watched westerns on TV and wished I had lived back then. Even as an adult, I have loved movies such as “Quigley Down Under”, “Australia” and even “Last of the Mohicans” believing that I could have survived such treacherous times and even delighted in it. The list of books that stir my imagination in the same way is too long to list. Now, here I am living the life of those yesteryear dreams in modern times. Well, at least as close as one can get to historic pioneer days. And I love it.

People ask, “Why do you live in a van?”

I get that the explanation above is not enough for some. So, on this 4-month anniversary, I offer tangible reasons.

It began as a dream in October 2011, when I started my first blog. You can read my account of that serendipitous beginning (here).

On October 2014, I bought Fiona – one of the happiest days of my life. My plan (insert God laughing) was to take the next 10-15 years investing in Fiona and getting her overhauled and remodeled bumper-to-bumper. I would then retire and hit the road as a fulltime vandweller with a decked out 4x4 perfect rig, never to look back.

There is a humorous saying that goes something like this:
The Universe/God is laughing out loud while pointing and says, “Isn’t that cute? She has a plan”.

As we all know, life can sure throw some mighty curve balls.

And then you get to make lemonade.

Or something like that.

Fiona had an electrical fire that rendered me and the dogs virtually homeless. God, as always, sent earth angels (here).

I had moved to Goliad, Texas, and had hoped that the Mayberry lifestyle would keep my brain injury at bay. Scar tissue from an old brain injury was/is building up and I have been diagnosed with Hippocampal Sclerosis (HS). Unfortunately, not long after Fiona had her meltdown, I got to the point where I could no longer work – not even in laid back Goliad. It broke my heart, but once again I was blessed with beautiful people to help me and I moved back to the Austin area for treatment.

My earth angels let me take their bumper pull trailer that I affectionately called Super Spree to Austin, and I was able to still work part-time from home - for awhile.

No longer able to work at all, I went on disability last October. It broke my heart. Letting go of the life I had always known, and the life I was trying to build, and accepting the “what is” was the biggest issue I’ve ever had to process and release.

Prior to going on disability, it had become clear that I could no longer stay in Super Spree. The A/C went out, and while I was able to get that fixed, the maintenance on her still proved to be too much. Getting more and more confused, I even flooded her one day while trying to empty the tanks – and I had note cards that I was following!

After that I tried living with various family and friends, but that didn’t work. My seizures were ramping up. I require LOTS of quiet downtime. So, while I was waiting to find out about disability benefits, I bought a tent and started staying at State Parks. I love nature, but tent camping in TX in August and September is brutal. The trade out was that the seizures immediately slowed down. I am so very grateful for all the love and support shown me during those difficult weeks.

All the while, my case worker was trying to find housing for me. There were lots of options if I was willing to give up my dogs – which I was not. Bentley will be 14 in June and Nonni will be 11 this September. They are my family. Where I go, they go. We put me on the waiting list in 5 different towns and/or counties for subsidized housing – the only hope I had of being able to afford an apartment on disability income. The wait ranges from 7 months to 2 years, depending on location. I was not willing to keep tent camping that long.

So I did what most people thought to be the most improbable, inappropriate, mind-blowing thing possible. On 9/28/15, I bought a van with plans to make it my home. It is a plain ‘ole 2007 E350 Cargo Van – no plumbing or electricity – nothing to flood or burn and she had 157,000 miles logged.

I threw my sleeping bag on the floor, added some plastic tubs and drawers, and off we went.

I should mention that my friend Glenn Morrissette, tosimplify.net, pulled me out of a tailspin depression and meltdown on 9/26. With all the love and support I received from my family and friends, I am embarrassed to admit this, but on that day I had reached a point where I was ready to give up. I was curled up in bed when Glenn called me, and I remember him saying something to the tune of,
“Do you believe in the shit you are always spouting or don’t you? You didn’t come this far to give up. Pull yourself together. Let’s find you a van and then you need to get on the road. You can do this. I’ll call you back in a few hours to check on your progress.”
It might sound harsh but it was exactly the loving ‘nudge’ I needed. After that good chastisement (and I do mean good), Glenn stayed in touch with me throughout the day and helped me find several vans on Craigslist, including the one I purchased. He also hooked me up with Bob Wells, cheaprvliving.com. Am I blessed or what?!?

Drum roll please ...

On October 8, 2015, I left Texas and headed to Flagstaff, AZ, to meet up with Bob. I have been living "the good life" ever since, and it suits me – very well.

I have had a few episodes and seizures while vandwelling, but not near as many as I used to have. Nosebleeds also used to be commonplace. Now they rarely happen. And out here, it doesn’t matter if I can’t think. I just hole up in my van until I am feeling better.

Modern technology allows me mobility. I can’t maneuver routes or remember directions, but I can figure out where I want to go, tell Siri that location, and she tells me how to get there. Along the way, if I get too tired, I just stop and rest. Everything I need, including Nonni and Bentley, is always with me. And for me, the simple and small life of vandwelling works perfectly. I can see my whole world when I wake up. That is comforting – especially on days when I have trouble remembering where I am or what day it is. I am always home.

And I have met so many wonderful people – an added bonus I never expected. While my footprint has diminished to almost nothing, my world has expanded infinitely. All you have to do is read my blog posts to understand that. Life is good and I am grateful, always, no matter what.

2/18/16 Update: Since I mentioned that I have seizures, several people have asked me about my driving. I offer this information for clarity....

HS is also known as Mesial Temporal Sclerosis and can result in several types of seizures. Mine are not epileptic (spread throughout the brain) which are secondary generalized. My seizures are complex partial (focal) seizures that result in memory impairment and time loss. I have symptoms that forewarn me when I might be headed to a seizure. On days that I am symptomatic, I cut back on activities, and I especially do not drive. 

A big thanks to those who have been concerned. HugZ!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

2/4/16-A Tribute to Fred

2015 Kaibab Forest

We lost a good man this past Sunday. I only knew him for a couple of months, and already it feels odd to be on this journey without him.

RIP Fred Heiman

He was valiantly undergoing treatment for his leukemia and was celebrating a good first round with the chemo when an infection bore down and caught us all by surprise. I suppose, in looking for the positive, we can be grateful that it spread and took him quickly. Fred was active right up to going to the hospital on Friday. Not once, through all of this, did he ever complain. That’s our Fred, and a lot of why we loved him - those of us who knew him, got him, and appreciated him. He was one of a kind.

Here is a pic of his two best friends, Colvin and Bryce.

Bryce and Colvin
And here is a pic of Colvin with Fred’s brother, Steve. This was taken at the RV park where Fred was staying in Las Vegas while undergoing treatment. Three years apart, Fred and Steve are a lot alike. It was surreal and wonderful to spend time with him – a new friendship and another gift from Fred.

Steve and Colvin

Some time ago, Fred had traded in his van for the trailer – long-term planning, just in case – even though his cancer had been in remission for quite some time. Always the thinker and planner, even in the end he was prepared.

He loved my dogs, Nonni and Bentley. Every time we visited, Fred put a towel on the welcome mat for Nonni and made sure she was covered with “her special blanket.” He loved all dogs, often greeting them before us humans.

Bentley and Fred

Diva Nonni

Fred also loved dispersed camping (boondocking) and hiking. To showcase some of his favorite outings, I gathered pics from his FB page (here), as well as from his friends James and Kyndal, and Colvin.

Fred loved the Kaibab and Coconino Forests outside Flagstaff, AZ.




And Pahrump, NV.



Fred, Bryce and Barbara

He had a wonderful, odd sense of humor. Colvin came up with the title for Fred, “The Last Abyssinian”. It was perfect – obscure, unique, and original – just like Fred. They broke the mold with Fred. He truly was the last Abyssinian.



I got to know Fred while camping in Quartzsite and Ehrenberg, AZ. We had many meals and enjoyed many campfires together.

My first desert thanksgiving. (You can read that blog post here.)

Future Rubber Tramp Rendezvous Attendees

My first and second desert breakfast scramble. (You can read about the first one here.)

Colvin, Barbara, Fred and Ray

Bryce, Barbara, Fred and Colvin

And you might recall that Fred is the one that fixed the locks on my van. Being a Mensa, he could do things like that without trade training. (You can read about that, along with the 2nd breakfast blog post here.)


He also took the first official pic of me and Colvin as a couple. Thank you, Fred.


We enjoyed Christmas Day.

James, Fred, Dave, Ellen, Bryce, Me, Colvin

James, Bryce, Dave, Fred, Ellen

And New Years Day.

Dave, Colvin, and Fred

Fred was committed to staying in shape and walking. A 5-6 mile death march was nothing for him. And “death march” was another title bestowed on Fred by Colvin – after he realized the man would slow down for no one.

4/2/2015-Fred and Ray Nimblefoot
11/26/2015-Fred and Michael
On my last walk with Fred, he and Bryce left me in the dust – so to speak – only for Fred to check on me by text as soon as he got home. He wanted to make sure that I made it back okay and offered encouragement for the next outing. That was my Fred. Love him!

Fred and Bryce

Colvin and I will never take a walk again without thinking of Fred, but none enjoyed the morning ritual more than Bryce. Steve was kind enough to let Bryce have Fred’s walking stick. Here he is writing “FRED” on it.


There will be no official service – Fred’s preference. So, a few of us got together yesterday and donned Fred’s hat, sunglasses, and walking stick as we said some parting words. I am grateful for the knowledge that no one or nothing ever really goes away – we simply transition.

COLVIN – “I am going to miss our walks, and I agree with you, Fred – Trump is the best. Jajaja.”

BRYCE – “Hey Fred, gonna miss you buddy.”

RAY – “Fred, you said you were going to come back that morning and you did not. I was hoping you were going to help me with my solar. I guess you are close to the source now so you can help us from heaven. Thank you very much Fred. You’ve been a wonderful friend.”

SUANNE – “Only for you Fred.”

DEBRA - “Here’s looking at you kid. We love you, Fred.”

2/18/16 Update - My good friend, Bob, along with James and Kyndal at Enigmatic Nomadics did a feature video on Fred and his van, 9/19/15: