Travel #8: Mental Voyages at Home (late spring 2011)


An Unexpected Theme Emerges: My Mind

Being nearly full-time travelers, even being at home is often an adventure. Our late spring ‘home-stay’ between our SW RV trip and heading off to Europe for 3 months was an interval dominated by flip-flops and reversals.

Flipping the Calendar

Enjoying the warmer moments of our first June at home since 2000.

The first, most obvious flip-flop was with our annual calendar. For 10 years the rhythm had been 9-10+ months overseas and 2-3 months at home in the States.  Unexpectedly, 2011 was a ‘flip year’ in which our routine would be reversed. We’d stay in the EU for just less than the 90 day visa limit and probably spend the remaining 9 months of the year in the US. The new pattern seemed likely to predominate for a number of years to come.

Auto-Less to a Monster Truck

Living without a car while at home these last 10 years has been wildly inefficient, costing us 10-20 hours per week in wasted time.  And being carless has totally eliminated impulsive trips to the store or beach--every outing and every little purchase is planned days or weeks in advance. Being overseas 9 months of the year made owning and mostly storing a vehicle impractical. We vowed that if a time came when we were spending more than 3 months at home in a year, we’d treat ourselves to a car.

And so with the calendar ‘flip’ that occurred for us in 2011, the time had come to flip-flop back to owning bigger wheels again because we anticipated a revised travel cycle with 9 months of the year being spent in the US.  We had always envisioned that when our reversal from carless to being auto owners occurred that we’d be buying some cute little hybrid number. Boy, were we ever wrong--our next vehicle is going to be a truck, a 1 ton truck big enough to carry a camper, which we will buy in the fall.

It was a mind-shattering turn of events to switch from visualizing myself behind the wheel of a fuel-efficient small car to a truck so big that I can’t even see over the sides into the bed. Thank goodness we were able to trim our needs back from duallies and a diesel to a single rear wheels and a gas engine. But the necessary extended cab and long bed will still relegate it to being more of a beltway vehicle than a townie car.  We’ll probably still use the bikes and the public transit for much of our local commuting for the economy of it and for our fitness but at least we’ll have options again.

“Where Am I?”

Alternating between living at home a few months of the year and overseas the balance of the year has accustomed us to living in dual realities. Only in the middle of the summer when we’ve been in Europe 4 months and will be there more than 4 more months, are our minds solidly anchored in Europe. For most of the year, we are living on one continent while our minds are wrapping up from or ramping up for life on the other shore. But 2011 was different: this year we were juggling 3 realities.

Anticipating life in a truck camper added a third reality to visualize and plan. An endless stream of decisions and trade-offs had to be considered, beginning with making all the specification decisions for the truck and the camper in June so we could hit the ground running when we returned in the fall. Then there were the smaller considerations, like buying a few seasonal accessories in the spring before we left for Europe because the outdoor store inventories would be anticipating ski season when we returned in September. Lists were made, items set aside, and new problems to solve were generated.

Hiking with friends while at home was new this year.

Of course, sandwiched in the middle of making the lists for both the June and September preparations for life in a camper, was planning and preparing for 3 months in Europe. It’s a well worn path for us, but replacement items had to be purchased, reservations for our arrival and part of our time in the Dolomites had to be made in advance, and Bill’s computer/electronics chore list was as long as ever.

And I had vowed last fall that we must use our extra time at home in 2011 to get our apartment organized--that other, recurring reality. Of course, that vow was made before the camper was on the calendar, but I was stuck on the vision of a more efficient and peaceful existence when at home.

So I added to our current chaos in hopes of reducing future chaos with the purchase of two 4’ x 6’ Costco wire racks to make our storage bins more accessible. Being able to open a box or bin without first extracting it from the bottom of a 6’ stack was pivotable in being able to unpack and cull more household goods stowed away 10 years ago. Though it popped our stress level up at the time, the project rapidly paid the anticipated dividends by allowing us to find items needed for all 3 realities.

The mental gymnastics of flipping between the 3 lifestyle realities of home/Europe/camper found us both frequently backpedaling: “Oops, that’s not going on this trip but the next trip.” Nobody wanted to find those snowshoes destined for the camper in the bottom of the duffel bag going to Europe.

From Cherished to Flotsam

“Confrontations with Stuff” is always one of our dramas when at home and 2011 was the year that my culling moved beyond dealing with the little stuff, like the rotting elastic in athletic wear and too many dining table place mats, to tackling my memorabilia boxes.  High school yearbooks became the symbol of that convoluted journey for me.

As children we were taught to cherish those high school yearbooks like so many other things.  We were taught to save and cherish without being given permission to put an expiration date on things. Napkins with our names printed on them from our wedding 30+ years ago, yearbooks, grade school report cards....where do you draw the line on what you save? At least we didn’t still have the piece of wedding cake we were supposed to cherish.

After all of those years of dragging my high school yearbooks around the country it seemed odd to radically flip-flop and walk them to the dumpster one day. But I’d finally accepted that they were the story of other people’s experience in high school, not mine, and it was time to let them go. Now, about my father’s university yearbook....


Frailty to Strength

I surprised myself one day by reframing my 94 year old mother’s life as she was becoming increasingly frail and dependent.  As there was less and less of her to connect with, a contemporary sculpture celebrating Rosie the Riveter, the WWII icon of women supporting the war effort, shifted my attention to her past power. 

Thinking of Mom & her fellow “Rosie the Riveters.”

For decades I’d held Rosie the Riveter and my mother’s work in a WWII torpedo factory in Puget Sound, Washington as separate. While studying the statue honoring the women at the Vancouver shipyards during the war, I finally realized that my mother was one of the hundreds of thousands of women working in munitions manufacturing plants that were being honored by that icon. It brought tears to my eyes, both of pride in my mother for being so bold and of sadness in not fully honoring her boldness in that way before.

The even more tangible experience of finding my mother’s diploma marking her graduation from the University of Oregon in 1939 resonated with the image of her as a Rosie-the-Riveter woman. I was startled by how much these two 20-something life experiences of my mother must have influenced who I am today.  I always described my mother as a closet feminist (and was grateful for that progressiveness) but ironically when she was at her weakest, I deeply experienced how her strength and early experiences had fundamentally shaped me. This shift was a welcome and very uplifting flip-flop at a wearing time in our lives that we were sharing.

Too Soon-Too Late

Reassembling our late dog’s photos into a more proper album found me revamping my thinking about her death. I had been the one who said “I can’t take it any more” and selected a date to put her down. She had terminal bladder cancer and I had max’ed out on watching her suffer. But when we took her out for her last walk, the little darling perked up and looked downright joyous. I felt like a schmuck then and for too many years afterwards. But this time when I carefully looked at the chronology of her aging and suffering while I rebuilt her photo album, I instead decided that for her, she had probably lived years too long, not the days or weeks too few, that I’d burdened myself with.

This flip-flop around my assessments of her history reminded me of an expression: “One either dies too early or dies too late.” With our 15 year old dog Nikki, she probably died too late to have had the best overall life experience but had she died years earlier, we would have had absolutely no comprehension of that reality. Only by her death being too late could we even begin to imagine what might have been best for her.

“Nice Muscles, Dude”

At last, I got on board with resistance training this spring. I’ve known for years (OK, decades) that I should be rounding out my wellness regime with weight lifting, which is an especially prudent activity for those of us cultivating gray hair. But I balked at going to a gym and having our own equipment didn’t fit with our traveling lifestyle. Stumbling upon an infomercial for the P90X DVD program that a friend had previously mentioned did the trick for me.

The P90X workout routine was varied in its activities and challenged my coordination and endurance as well as my strength, which made it easy for me to become an enthusiastic fan. Respectful of women and of differing abilities, its presenter had me flip-flopping from being repelled by the gym-rat world to be amused when he spoke weight lifter-speak with comments like “Nice muscles, Dude.”

Shifting Nutritional Priorities

Our personal dietary guidelines that are typically in a slow but constant state of flux have been flopping around like spawning salmon this last year. Potatoes had been off of our standard diet for years because of their relatively high glycemic index, or tendency to spike blood sugar. But last fall’s push to increase our potassium intake had us flipping Idaho bakers back on to the regular menu as a cheap, easy, and satisfying fix to our potassium shortfall while we had use of a kitchen. We poured on the olive oil (instead of butter) to use the trick of blunting the blood sugar rise with digestion-slowing fat and settled-in to enjoy the previously banished comfort food.

A recent series of disturbing studies in older women implicated the much touted calcium supplements as contributing significantly to the risk of fatal cardiac events. Suddenly my cheap and easy source of calcium was out and I was scrambling to pump calcium into our diet without being able to drink milk. The need for more dietary calcium and a boost in bone-supporting Vitamin K had us adding a pound of turnip or mustard greens to our dinner table each night while at home. (Being overseas will take that option away.) And the studies on the evils of fructose separated from its naturally accompanying fiber had us ditching OJ in favor of eating oranges. People keep reminding us that change is good, but we could use a break from all of these reversals.

“Sure buddy....sure you sit on that.”

“To ‘Bent’ or Not To ‘Bent’ ”

Bill’s ongoing challenges in being sustainably comfortable on a bike saddle had him repeatedly flip-flopping between switching to a recumbent or pressing on with an upright bike. 

Though there are many positive attributes to a recumbent, not switching to one was the appealingly simple option at a time of too many costly changes in our lives. Finally the solution was found: installing an already very weird saddle backwards on his bike and the daily ingestion an herbal mix. After years of pedaling out of the saddle, wiggling, and searching for a solution, he is finally smiling on his bike. (Oops, but while in Europe in August the saddle snapped off its supports!)

Settling for Crumbs

There was nothing like being in the bright, dry weather of the US SW this early spring while 12” of rain fell at home in 6 weeks to help me understand that in yet another way I’d been programmed to “settle for crumbs.” 

For years Bill has been making noises about moving away, about getting away from the cold, the rain, the perpetually gray skies.  I brushed off his protests, echoing the stoicism of my upbringing. I was taught that somehow it was a good thing to tough-out 9+ months of depressing weather every year. As proud native Oregonians we learned to cheer if we were so lucky as to have a pretty day at the coast after a string of disappointingly cold, gray visits or if we had a camping trip that wasn’t a bust because of the weather. It was character building, it was our heritage...I can’t quite remember what was so noble about frequently being rained-out when we went skiing or hiking, but I remember that it was proper to accept it as the way it should be.

I did the final flip-flop from being reconciled to frequent wash-outs to believing I’d been duped into settling for crumbs when we and our friends steeped in cabin-fever from an especially long, cold winter tried to enjoy the out-of-doors in late May. Heavy snows and persistent cold weather that prevented the timely snow melt played havoc with our hiking plans despite an optimistic forecast.

Flood stage on the Columbia River: our favorite bike path became a boat launch.

Unexpectedly deep snow below the 3,000’ level put the kibosh on the planned hike and closed many of the area’s favorite venues into June. Heavy rains had mountain streams overflowing their banks and made normally tame stream crossings for trails at lower elevations impassable. Even the Columbia River at Vancouver was above flood stage, forcing riders like us off of the submerged scenic multi-use path and out into the traffic. “I got it, I got it” I found myself saying. “Why celebrate the occasional good day in the Pacific NW (a few crumbs) when during an earlier interval in the SW we had 57 bright, exciting-to-be-alive days out of 60?”


2011 unexpectedly became a major transition year for us, including switching this webpage to Apple hardware and software from a Windows-based system. And many secondary changes were set in motion by the fundamental change in our traveling rhythm from being overseas cyclotourists to becoming motor-driven US travelers. I’m grateful for  the insights and reflection that this transition period has triggered but I am now hoping for some lighthearted fun in the Alps while all of this ricocheting on multiple planes continues to be integrated while in the background instead of being a full-color drama on center stage. So, next time you hear from us, we’ll be talking about collecting our bikes in Vienna and heading to the Italian Dolomites in search of just that fun.