Mayhem

In August, our truck camper home and everything we own was stolen. It’s taken us 3 months and 8 days, but last night we spent our first night in our own home completely independent, in the middle of nowhere (where we belong) and woke up this morning with no schedule, obligations or places/people to see outside of our own choice. In short, WE ARE BACK!

Here’s what we did:
Lost everything
Drove from Denver to San Jose, CA
Licked our wounds and cried for weeks
Slowly repurchased everything from underwear to forks to tools to pillows and ukuleles Drove to Oregon to look at — and ultimately reject — 2000 Ford F-350 7.3
Much shenanigans with insurance, titles, multi-state DMV trips — and extensive dental work!! Basked in the outpouring of support from so many friends
Flew to Kansas to buy our 2015 Ford F-350 flatbed
Drove to Washington state to buy our Bigfoot 9.4 camper
Built (temporary) cradle for camper to fit truck in WA, then moved to Idaho Deleted air conditioner and wiring
Switched and swapped and installed new FantasticFan(s)
Major changes to and rerouting of plumbing
Modified flatbed, including installing utility boxes
Deleted (and sold for pretty profit!) onboard generator and (most of) its wiring Relocated to San Jose, CA
Added extensive security measures
Stripped, Dicor’d and Eternabonded roof fixtures
Installed roof vent
Removed air vent
Removed extraneous interior doodads
Serviced and/or repaired every major system
Cleaned, serviced and maintained batteries
Replaced all lights with LEDs
Removed all decals, logos, swoops and stickers from camper and truck Stripped and recaulked EVERY seam, an incredibly time consuming endeavor Fixed the damn door
(Professionally) wired for solar, including solar controller, battery monitor, etc New stairs, built shelving and spice rack
Installed solar panels
Installed inverter
Spent a shocking amount of money
Compounded and waxed camper and truck
Removed back seat
… and nearly endless small adjustments.

There are still a few chores and improvements dangling in our future, but we are fully recovered and self supporting and truly Better Faster Stronger than we were before.

This unasked for intermission is officially OVER, and we are now back to our regularly scheduled dirtbag feral existence.

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Walker Lake

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The States

Here’s a list of the states I’ve been in/traveled through, since the very end of July:

Colorado, Massachusetts, New York (upstate), Connecticut, New York (Long Island), New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington DC, then on a train through West Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri (don’t remember this one at all), Kansas, Colorado. heartbreak. Utah, Nevada, California, Nevada.  California, Oregon, California.  Oklahoma! Kansas! Nebraska (fuck you Denver, I won’t go back for awhile), Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, back through Oregon to Idaho, where I am today

It’s been quite the roadtrip.

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Catch up, catch up!

Alrighty so there we were in San Jose, with a truck in Kansas and a camper in Oregon, and now today two weeks later here we in Idaho and that’s all over the place and how did that happen?  These are questions begging for answers, and I’m hopefully tying it all together right here right now (spoiler alert: this doesn’t happen, not in this post).

Let’s fly to Kansas!  I’ve never been to Kansas before* and here’s my takeaway from this, the Sunflower State:  People are wicked friendly.  Like, the friendliest, all of them.  The dealership that has our truck has someone pick us up at the airport (2.5 hours and 1 state away), he’s super nice (if a little Slingbladey), the dealership is nice (and lets us not only test drive the truck by ourselves, but actually let us take it overnight prior to any exchange of money, without seeing so much as our drivers licenses); during the test drive we’re in the other side of a huge, forgotten casino parking lot, both of us crawling around under the truck looking at things and this woman drives like half a mile over hoping she can lend us a hand if we’re having car trouble?  Waitresses are nice, grocery clerks are nice, people walking down the street are nice, Kansas is full of nice nice people.  Everyone is nice, very nice.

After a day and a half, I’m nice-d right the fuck out and we pile into the newly-acquired and quite nice himself Steve and we’re off! after quick change of plans with the sellers — to Washington now to pick up the camper.  We spend our first night in Nebraska, sleeping on the ground next to our new truck, like nervous new owners on puppy’s first night.  Nobody slept much, not even the truck, as we were driven up and out early by the cold.  We’re missing our home, the camper (and its heater).

I had planned on getting caught up with my blogging (and every other digital chore I have, which are plenty) as we drive — yet again — halfway across the country.  Our new truck has its own ideas, though.  This smooth as silk truck is a cab-and-chassis work horse, farm truck, big heavy deal with the 8 springs in the pack wanting a ton or two on it — presently empty, it’s sprung so tight that every bump and every expansion joint on the highway is quite effectively transmitted through both the body of the truck and the bodies of its occupants.  Let us — with absolutely no exaggeration (and even less skill) –sing for you from the highways of Nebraska, America’s heartland:

We were shaken to shit, for 1600 miles.

*except once on a train, at 4 am, asleep and unaware . . .

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. . . (part 2)

You know what we want, now.  In our rebuild.  Something different, yet the same.  Similar, but improved.  Re-create the perfect thing we had going on (and it WAS perfect, immeasurably perfect, it was), just let’s tweak it to the better.  Better, faster, stronger.

There are things we find are deal makers and deal breakers in our search for the Truck — the heart and spirit our home.   Researched, discussed, experienced and just felt, here’s the considerations:

  • of course, the basics (Ford, diesel, 4×4, SRW, etc.) . . .
  • post 2012
  • extra cab  (we considered crew cab, but so long! so much!)
  • low milage
  • white (those fancy colors not well received)
  • reasonably priced
  • (add contemplation of all things flatbed, (after-market probably 7-13k$), now with increased urgency! due to presumed ownership of shortbed camper, do stay tuned)

and we’re sure looking, Craigslist searches and Google Alerts and Carsforsale.com and Wheeler Dealers and more.  The extra cab (extended cab, super cab, cab-of-many-names) turns out to be a damn hard thing to find and unfortunately the lack of it rules out a lot of otherwise worthy vehicles.  We look near, we look far, looking  . . .

Until . . .

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. . . this shows up.  And Tom buys it, over the phone, site unseen because, well, LOOK at the thing! 2015, extra cab, 20,000 miles, decent bonus bumper and oh! that (pricey! pricey!) flatbed? It is freakin’ included!

So here we are, tragedy strikes, everything’s ruined, destroyed and done.  Gone.  Over.  The ultimate blow out.  BUT! We decide we can rebuild it, faster better stronger.  Like the Six Million Dollar Man.  Like Steve Austin.

Like Steve.

So we bought the truck, and we named him Steve.

 

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. . . and again, What we did (part 1).

(okay, now, time’s getting away from me and SO MUCH has happened since my last post.  Watch as we quickly catch up to our heroes, who we presently find chillin out in . . . Idaho??)

We came back from Oregon sure of a few things: Sure we did not buy Red Betty, (suddenly)Sure we weren’t buying a 7.3, Sure we were going to do something new.  We came “home” to our friends in San Jose, we sat around and had something for dinner, we shot the shit, and then, well, I picked up the phone and bought a camper. Site unseen.  Over the phone.

I don’t even talk on the phone.

But we’re sitting there, and some random facebook guy emails me an Oregon(!) Craigslist ad for this:

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kinda mint condition-looking exact replica of our Bigfoot 25C 9.4, except it’s a shortbed.  We don’t want a shortbed, though . . . or DO we?  This question is quickly dealt with, because what we have wanted, even way back when, and we know we want in this rebuild, is a flatbed.  And if we have a flatbed, it doesn’t matter if the camper is a shortbed or a longbed, does it?* And it’s in fantastic condition, does NOT have one of the icky-icky interiors, looks barely used, and is a 2006, just like the lost one! and is the same price we paid 5 years ago, a screamin’ deal.  It looks goooood.

(now, okay, I haven’t quite worked out the psychology behind WE NEED NEW TRUCK coexisting with WE NEED SAME CAMPER, but the desire here is the same for both me and Tom)

Bearing in mind that used Bigfoots (especially of the 9.4 variety) are a very rare breed, and this one looked pristine in the photos and just seemed right, I called the number on the ad and talked — and connected! — with the seller for like an hour and basically we just buy the thing.  In Oregon.

The plan is I’m gonna fly there in a couple of days to check it out.  I arrange the flight, the rental car, all the details . . .

And then, the next day? Tom buys The Truck.  Site unseen.  Over the phone.

In Kansas.

 

*Spoiler Alert: It does matter!

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What we didn’t do.

In the hours and days and weeks following The Big Reveal we spent countless hours talking about what, exactly, we were going to do now.  Having absolutely EVERYTHING taken away from us left us in a unique situation — we, literally, could do just about anything.

And considered everything.

We talked about just camping in our rental car for a month (that didn’t work out).  We talked about taking our few remaining possessions and just . . . getting on a plane.  To . . . Vietnam? Thailand? The South Pacific?  We seriously considered moving to Ecuador (a plan that often rears its spanish-speaking head!), either permanently or just for a few months, to let the proverbial dust settle.  We explored about every avenue open to us.   What we never talked about, or even considered for more than a dismissive second, was stopping our nomadic lifestyle.  We have NO inkling of hanging up our feral shoes.

Though we talked about EVERYTHING, we — quite independently of each other — ultimately decided that we didn’t want ANY of those (admittedly attractive!) plans.  What we both wanted was simply to rebuild our perfect life.  Tom had a great analogy explaining that our situation was like the Titanic:  Everything was perfect! and then it just sank away, and we are left bobbing in the water, clinging to the life preserver that was our few remaining possessions, bobbing around in the cold water, wanting to be solid.  If we were to go to, say, Ecuador, we would STILL be bobbing around in the water, having nothing to return to, no base, no life raft.  All the time we’d be gone, I KNOW I’d always be wondering, in the back of my mind, what we’d return to, how we’d return, IF we’d return.  I decided there’s really no way I could handle that constant, low-level anxiety, for some unknown period of time.  I (and we) wanted more than a life preserver, more than a life raft, even — I wanted to be back on the fucking boat.

About 3-4 weeks after having everything taken from us, we settled on our future path — we’re rebuilding.

Which, of course, opened up a whole new line of questions, some quickly answered and others no so fast.  We realized we wanted pretty much what we had lost: Jeebus knows we loved our Betty and our Bigfoot and we really didn’t see much reason to veer from that ideal.  We ADORED our camper, the fiberglass construction, the size, the floor plan, just everything worked so well for us.  And the truck was a GEM, old for sure (18 years old, to be exact) but  mostly reliable, in great shape both mechanically and esthetically, and only 125,000 miles, barely broken in for the awesome 7.3 diesel engine.  Let’s just do it again!

And so the searches started.  Carsforsale.com, RV trader, Craigslist, Tempest, Wheeler Dealer, everything and everywhere we could think of.  We looked and looked, clarifying that the ONLY Camper that would work for us was a Bigfoot 9.4 2500 hundred series, no variation.  We started considering the possibility of a newer-model truck but were inexorably drawn back to the 7.3 Ford Diesel engine, thus limiting us to 1999-2003 Fords.

Yadda yadda yadda, we only want a vehicle in excellent condition, low milage, extra cab — these things aren’t easy to find, especially in a 18 year old truck!  We did find a thing here, a possibility there, and eventually found ourselves driving to Oregon(!) to take a look at what we’ve come to refer to as Red Betty:

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Even though it was chipped and lifted (two features we do NOT want to have), this was a very solid and clean vehicle, one owner, low, low miles at 57K (exactly what Betty had when we purchased her).  Totally up our alley, mostly exactly what we were looking for, decent price, but . . . we didn’t get it.

Because it was just too much like our old truck.  I know that every time I would’ve gotten into the truck, I’d be reminded of what we had lost.  Everything was exactly the same, and it was too much.  I like the red, but to Tom it just screamed out “NOT BETTY!  NOT YOUR TRUCK!” I just don’t think we could handle it, emotionally.

AND, it’s old.  Betty was in tiptop shape, and it took us about 4-5K a year to keep her that way.  Rubber breaks down and seals go and shit just happens to a 20 year old truck, no matter how good its bones are or how well it is maintained. It just does.

We drove about 800 miles round-trip to buy this truck, and we didn’t. buy. the truck.  Was the trip then a failure?  Absolutely not, because it helped us to crystallize our path moving forward.

That path does NOT include an old truck.

It includes a NEW one!

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What people have done.

In no particular order, here’s just some of the things  people — friends, family, companies and complete strangers — have given to us since our little tragedy.

  • Several sincere and legitimate offers for just about everything
  • A great and free place to live — indefinitely
  • A month of yoga classes
  • Small electronics
  • Airline tickets from San Jose to Kansas
  • Credit card points
  • 10% discount from Apple
  • Specially hand knitted hats
  • A free car — indefinitely
  • 25%+ discount from REI(!)
  • Thousands of dollars through a GoFundMe campaign
  • Heavily discounted bicycle accessories
  • A much-needed upgrade from a subcompact rental car to a full-on minivan
  • Prescription medications
  • Newfound social media popularity lol.
  • Lovely offer of loaner banjo
  • A helpful person at the DMV!
  • Home-cooked  meals and baked goods
  • Crucial assistance in locating elusive replacement camper
  • Discounted hotel room
  • Costco membership
  • Bottle of bourbon
  • Several legit and credible offers of 5-figure loans
  • Gift card to Hooters(!)
  • Two T-shirts
  • SO MUCH supportive empathy and general kindness I can’t even . . .

It’s really quit remarkable, and I will do my best to pay it forward!

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What we did.

So seeing that empty parking spot was definitely one of the worst, most hollow and incredulous moments of my life.  When the realization hit that it was true, and it was gone, feh.  Just gutted.  Oh.  Worst thing that ever happened to me.

What do you do?  What CAN you do?

We were just sick.

I’m going to gloss over this whole period right here, say the whole month of August.  Just know it was dark and we had some horrible, horrible times.  It fucking sucked hard.  I thought almost obsessively then about writing about it, about gettin’ the blog back together, ’cause it was a really visceral, wrenching, black, horrible but ultimately interesting experience to go through and chronicling those first days and weeks would no doubt have been a good record and a healthy mental exercise to boot but holy hell there’s no way I could bear the anguish of writing about it at the time.  I can’t really think about it even yet.

Fuck.

But you know, we kept our shit together right from square one.  Within a couple hours of literally losing everything, we had contacted police, insurance, people who needed to know.  We took care of each other and were safe and snugged down in a nice hotel, planning our next steps, and prioritizing our needs.

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We were around Denver for a few days, limping and sad, not really knowing exactly how to start moving forward.  Our insurance company provided us with a rental car (which Hertz upgraded to a snazzy VAN!, bless them), and we promptly moved on in, like the dirtbags we are . . .

Tom dubbed this our “Home away from Home”(less)

We thought, Let’s hang around Colorado for a while, because they’ll find our truck in the next week or two.  We thought, Let’s just gather some minimal camping things and head out to the woods/mountains/solitude/usual places we hang out.  We thought, Let’s just live in the van for a little while and it’ll be better.

So we headed up to a fine dispersed site we know around Leadville and thought we’d be there (in a van, down by the river, yay!) for a while.  We thought wrong.

We spent one of our worst days there, in poor weather, huddled in and around the van, miserable, wallowing, mourning and crying.  All we could think about was the home we should be in, our lost mobile paradise.

This wasn’t going to work.

So we made the first of a number of very good decisions.  We decided to get the hell OUT of Colorado and get moving.  Some very dear friends had extended an offer to open up their home to us in San Jose, CA and for many, many reasons we chose to accept.  The day after our lousy Leadville camp I wrote them the following, which is a pretty much sums up my then-current state of mind:

Hi guys!

Welp, things are pretty shitty here in ‘Our’land at the moment, but we are beginning to be able to think about recovery. We’ve got a sweet minivan 🚐 for the next few weeks, provided by Hertz — who set us UP! — and paid for by our insurance. We spent yesterday driving around Denver and putting together a nice little camping kit from Walmart and thrift stores for a couple hundred bucks and then got the fuck out of there and are now chillin like the homeless people we are, living in a van up in the mountains around Leadville.

We are gutted, desolate and miserable, but we are also happy, laughing and optimistic about our new future. What shape that future is going to take is really incomprehensible to us at the moment and falls anywhere and everywhere between rebuilding a better vehicular home to loading up backpacks with what few things we have and hitting the international road — we just don’t yet know.  We are 100% continuing with our nomadic existence, though, however that looks.

We can’t yet really plan much beyond the next day or so because everything is raw and fresh and painful and horrible and unknown, but that all gets a little better every day. So we both know nothing at all, but I wanted to let you know that we are thinking of taking you up on your generous lovely wonderful offer and maybe we’ll come and stay with you guys for a while (not too long!) sometime in the next few weeks. Again, we don’t know when or even IF we are going to do that, but I thought I’d let you know that seeking temporary shelter from this fucking storm ☔️ with ((our friends)) has come in highest on our list of short term plans.

So, just so you know, you MAY wake up one morning and find some dirty fucking homeless people on your doorstep.

Nothing much is going to happen with us for at least the next week or two, but we will obviously keep in touch and let you know where our path is leading. It might be to y’all!

I can’t thank you enough for providing the possibility of a place for us to lick our wounds and recover.  It is soothing to know there’s somewhere maybe to go.

[Insert awesome statement of friendship here]

Cheers, Kelly

Thusly, we drove from Leadville to Reno to San Jose, where I now sit on the couch, kinda starting to get over it.

This is a greatly condensed and simplified version of the actual truthy events, but you know.  More to come!

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What I got to keep.

This is it.

This is everything that Tom and I randomly packed with us when we went to the east coast, not knowing it would be all we owned as of August 12:

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So, here’s an inventory of my remaining things, my “starter kit” for the rest of my life, aka The things I got to keep:

Hypalon backpack/luggage bag (far right)
My nice ukulele with gigbag and assorted bits
Hula hoop
iPad, iPhone and 2 ipods, Apple pencil, nice wireless headphones, regular headphones, Petzl light, Surfire light, LED light, LED string lights, vape battery, big charge battery and charge cords for everything
Little leather pouch/purse (my ‘greek’ purse)
Passport
Wallet, credit cards, drivers license, checkbook
Eyeglasses, reading glasses
Wedding rings and diamond earrings
Small amount of pot
Little metal doodad case
Travel pillow
4 magazines, notebook and swag bag
Nylon shopping bag
Clothing: pair of pants, pair of shorts, pair of tights, thermal shirt, sarong, little jacket, a dress, 2 t-shirts and 2 tank tops.  Underwear, bra and socks.  Leather belt, head buff, scarf. Pair of sandals.  Pair of water shoes.
Overnight kit of toothpaste, brush, small amount of rx drugs, razor, face cream, nail clippers, etc.  Hair ties.  Tape measure. Trauma scissors!
My running kit: running shoes, shorts/shirt (and they happen to be the first pair of running shorts and shirt I ever owned, 10+ years!), backpack, Garmin (and charger!), and hat. Bonus!

That’s it.

 

What I didn’t get to keep:

My beautiful custom-made banjo
a t-shirt I’ve had for 30+ years
Valentine’s day cards
Purse
The puffy pants
Electric toothbrush
My truck, my home,

Anything else.

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