Gee It’s Good To Be Back Home Again…

April 20, 2016

I guess you live in the right place if you’re glad to be back home after traveling.

The last few weeks that I was in Florida, I was starting to get very antsy. It hadn’t gotten terribly hot yet, but I knew it was coming. The weather back in Maine was looking better – it was in the 50’s at least. And I realized that once I returned, there would be a lot of work to do unloading the van and the trailer, plus cleaning them out, rearranging my acoustic foam in the studio (which has needed it all along), reassembling my studio inside, and stocking up on provisions in the house. When I’m living in the van, the kitchen and fridge are so small that I keep meals very simple. I ate more toasted bagels in the past 2 months than I’ve had in the past 2 years. And more sandwiches.

I was supposed to leave Monday (a few days ago), but the forecast for Friday and Saturday was for rain. The thought of hanging around inside the van for 2 days didn’t appeal to me one bit. Plus, I prefer to travel on non-work days.

On Thursday, I packed up my rug and other outside stuff, and cranked the awning back into its holder. I knew those things wouldn’t do well being┬ápacked up wet. I had dinner with a yoga friend on Thursday night and then first thing Friday morning I headed out.

Now it might not seem like there’s much to do to leave after 2 months, but there is. The list isn’t long, but it’s not terribly fun. The worst part is the sewer hose. For some reason, my hose doesn’t quite fit back into its holder. It’s just about 1/16 inch off. There’s a metal bracket that folds over the small hose fitting and the cover and then you just screw the cap onto the fitting. Except that I have to force the metal bracket into position, which takes a bit of time and muscle. Then, after that is finally done, the cap (for some odd reason) doesn’t really want to screw on tightly. Just when I think it’s on there well, it pops off. Very frustrating, to say the least.

Then, I disconnect the fresh water hose and try to fill my water tank (there are separate places to connect the hose depending on if you’re using “city” water or water from your on-board tank). Well, as I was filling the tank, I could hear water gushing out below the van. I know there’s a valve for that, but it didn’t seem to work. Oh well. I had a large (2 gallons or more) jug filled with fresh, purified water (the water in Florida is not good).

Then I had to disconnect the internet modem (always a sad moment for me), disconnect the electric, close all windows and vents, and secure everything inside.

The night before, a friend had helped me hook the trailer up to the van, but this entailed driving the van in front of the trailer (I had had to move to another site halfway through my stay, and this time the trailer went directly in front of the van), hooking it up, backing in sufficiently so I wasn’t in the road, and then hooking my electric, modem, and water hose back up. I didn’t bother with the sewer hose (and now you know why). In the morning all I had to do was unhook the electric, modem, and water hose and drive away. Whew!

I drove for 8 hours, but had to stop several times, so I was on the road from 7:30am until about 7pm. A client emailed an urgent request for a voice prompt, and since I’m on retainer with this client, and the rate is pretty darn good, I don’t mind jumping through hoops for them. So, I got off the highway, set up for recording, recorded what I needed to, and then….had to find internet.

Apparently Comcast has hot spots all over the place (although it appears that some of them are in private homes or businesses, so that was a little odd….). Unfortunately, I couldn’t find one that worked. I stopped at one of these businesses because they sell propane and I needed some for the van. But the guys who could do that were both out of the office at the moment. I asked if I could use their wifi, and they said yes. It took less than a minute to upload everything. After that, I looked for an app that identifies hotspots, but I didn’t have much luck with either of the apps I installed. A friend then told me that Home Depot, McDonald’s, Lowe’s, and bunches of other places all have free wifi.

Then I decided to stop at Camping World and get propane. The guy at the propane tank seemed confused by something, and after consulting several colleagues told me that there was something wrong with my tank (perhaps a broken seal) and that it might need to be replaced. But the service guys had already gone home. Oh well, I didn’t really need propane to get home. I’ll just have to go to my local RV center at some point and have that looked into.

In the late afternoon/early evening, I was getting really tired, but the two rest areas I saw in North Carolina didn’t allow overnight parking (WTF?). I figured there would be a visitor center when I entered Virginia, and there was! But it was closed (WTF?). A short while later was my turnoff (I was going to head home through the Delmarva peninsula for a change) and I noticed a Cracker Barrel sign. They allow RVs to park in their lot overnight. Aaaahhhhh. I crashed out early.

In the morning I looked online for another breakfast place (Cracker Barrel isn’t my favorite), but there weren’t any close by, so I went in and ate. Then I drove 4 hours to Assateague National Seashore on the Eastern Shore in Maryland. It was cold and windy, but I biked around for about 3 hours before heading to a private campground just a few miles away. It was a very nice campground, with a great cafe serving breakfast and lunch and dinner foods (I got a burger and fries and they were quite good), a tiki bar on the water, a pool, and all kinds of amenities. It looked like a fantastic place for kids.

I had some work to do and my site was in a quiet area, so I set everything up to record. And guess what? It turned out that the campground was next to a small airport! Not quite as busy as the Florida airport I lived near, but the planes were fairly constant. Fortunately, I was able to get all my work done.

I was torn between staying and exploring that area, or just hitting the road. Driving on a Sunday meant less traffic (theoretically, at least) and I would be home on Monday at the latest. It would take me a few hours to set up the studio in my house, so I’d be ready to work late morning on Monday, at the latest. My iPad told me that it was 8 hours to home.

I left around 8 and got home around 6pm. The traffic wasn’t too bad, except near NYC where there was an accident and traffic got all messed up as they were clearing the scene. I hadn’t really planned on going all the way home, but decided that I could always pull off and sleep for a while before continuing on.But I felt okay, and so pressed on.

Once home, I brought in the cats and their accoutrements, the fridge food, and everything I would need for the evening. I knew the next day would be busy. And it was. It’s an amazing amount of work to empty vehicles that look as though they don’t hold a heck of a lot.

But now it’s Wednesday, and I’m all settled in. Laundry is done. Food is bought. Soup and a casserole have been prepared and put up in the freezer and fridge, and all the sticks in the yard have been picked up in anticipation of the first mowing.

Will I do it again next year? I’m not sure. It’s a little early to say. It’s a tremendous amount of work to get ready to leave, to drive down there, to get everything set up to work, to work next to an airport, to pack everything back up, and then drive home again. But I REALLY hate March and most of April in Maine. One thing’s for sure – when I get back, I fall completely head over heels in love with my home studio. Compared with the mobile studio, it’s spacious, super quiet, and a joy to work in.

If I do go back, I’m thinking of getting some duplicate equipment to make the transition from home studio to trailer studio easier. I already have some duplicates, but I’d still need another shock mount for my mic, another audio interface, and another preamp. I figure about $1000. Not an insignificant sum, but if I decide I want to travel around the northeast, the duplicate studio would make it a lot easier to do so.

Next up – PHOTOS!




Then and Now

April 2, 2016

So, I said I’d discuss the differences between traveling in 2011 and 2016. I’ll also talk about the differences between that rig and this one.

Back in 2011, mobile broadband was in its infancy. There are more choices now, although I can’t really tell you what those all are. I still have my original Mifi device (through ATT), but I find it rather archaic that you have to pay a “reactivation” charge on top of a monthly fee. Plus, you’re paying for data used, which can get quite pricey when you’re uploading audio files by day and watching a few videos at night (last year it cost me $200 for one month of service!). I would gladly pay $100 a month for good fast mobile broadband with no limits on data usage. Of course, I only travel for a few months a year. I’ve heard that you can tether with your Sprint-enabled phone, but I’m loathe to give up my T Mobile service, since it works in about 200 countries worldwide with no extra data charges (you will be on a slower network, however) and only 20 cents a minute for phone calls. That’s pretty terrific when I’m on vacation in Canada or Europe.

Five years ago, I had my desktop bungee corded to the corner of my back bedroom-turned-office space. If I didn’t have broadband somewhere, I would have to fire up my laptop, transfer files, and then find a place with free Wifi to upload everything. A bit of a pain.

Now, I have a super light and small laptop that can handle everything I ask it to (although I have to use a USB hub, since the laptop only has 2 USB ports and I have about 6 peripherals, including my wireless mouse/keyboard, audio interface, printer, and a few other things). I can unplug the laptop, grab the wireless mouse/keyboard, and USB for those and bring them into the van if I want to work there for a while, or bring them into a coffee shop or other place to use the wifi (which has not happened to date, by the way, except here at the park office).

I bought my iPad shortly before I left in 2011. It was incredibly valuable. I could determine the route I wanted to take to my next destination, divide it into segments, and find campgrounds, gas stations, and stores. In Austin, I used it to see a bird’s eye view of the Whole Foods Store there to determine if the parking lot could accommodate my rig (it couldn’t, but the adjacent lot could). I’d love to get an iPad Mini, but I just can’t justify that (I’m a thrifty New Englander) since I still have my iPad2 and a Samsung Galaxy 4.

And, there are an astounding number of apps today. Info about free camping sites, cell phone coverage in different areas, and probably dozens of others that I don’t know about. There are Facebook groups for traveling women, traveling singles, etc (I have to admit that I really don’t look at these. I actually don’t really use Facebook much at all. I don’t know why that is. I’ve tried being more active there, but I end up just reading a few posts and then doing something offline that interests me more.)

That Rig and This One

So, the original Voxmobile was 27 feet and built in 1993. It didn’t have many miles on it when I bought it (under 30,000, I believe), but it had been in the Southwest for years, and the relentless sun (which is completely overrated, by the way) takes a toll.

It was convenient having the booth in the back bedroom and quite luxurious having a dinette table. I wasn’t crazy about having to climb a ladder to get into bed (actually, climbing the ladder up wasn’t bad – I really didn’t like having to climb down in the middle of the night for you-know-what…). The fridge was small, but big enough for my needs. I didn’t have a car, but brought along my 3 bicycles.

Son of Voxmobile is a camper van, about 20 feet long. Intrepid The Mobile Studio (as you know) is in a cargo trailer that I tow. The van is small (cramped, actually) but kinda cool because it reminds me of being a kid and young adult and “roughing it”. I went cross country in my first van when I was 20. It was just a van. No galley, no toilet – just a primitive bed with storage underneath. When I was 32, I went cross country on my bicycle. I was with a group and we camped on school grounds. I ate most of my meals either sitting on the ground or a park bench or at a picnic table. So by comparison, this is much cushier. But still, very small. And it’s absolutely critical to change the cat litter frequently. (I keep the litter box on the floor underneath the steering wheel.It’s a little close to my tiny little table, but it’s the only choice I have.)

Despite the fact that it’s so small, I like all the choices this rig affords me. If I wanted/needed to, I could disconnect the van (electric/water/sewer) and drive somewhere (after putting everything away and securing stuff inside). I can park in most parking spaces. AND, here in my little park in St. Augustine, my friend and neighbor has a hitch on his minivan, so if I really needed to get a lot of work done and there was too much noise, I could borrow his minivan (which smells like wet dog and old bait) and tow the studio to a quieter place. With the solar panels on the roof, I don’t have to worry about having power (yes!!).

Another fun option is if I want to travel around a bit in the summer. I wouldn’t have to take “official” time off. I’m thinking of getting a new car this year, and if I do, I’ll make sure it has a hitch and the towing capacity to handle the trailer. I’m a cyclist, and it would be fun to go somewhere for a while to explore and still be able to work. It’s a bit of work to dismantle the home studio and set everything up in the trailer, but I think with a few extra pieces of equipment and some practice sessions, I could probably get it down to a science.

Other Options

I walk around the park here a lot. Always have. So I see all kinds of rigs. The other day I saw a jeep with a platform on top with a tent!

Anyway, there are 5th wheels, which are pulled by (usually) pickup trucks. This wouldn’t work because I need to tow the trailer. Class C rigs are the ones you drive with sleeping quarters over the driver’s and passenger’s seats. Class B rigs are on a bus chassis and are usually bigger. Motor coaches are gigantic. The bigger rigs don’t interest me at all. I’m much more fascinated by the smaller units. It feels more like an adventure.

There’s also something called a Toy Hauler. This is a rig the ones I’ve seen have been 5th wheels) that has a section in the back for a motorcycle or ATV. The back of it opens up like a ramp, although you can probably get a barn door instead. There’s a door inside that leads to the main cabin. There aren’t that many of this kind (that I know of), so I don’t think there are a ton of options with that type. But it would be cool to have a studio in the back of one of these.

Plus, there’s the pickup truck with the camper on top. I love those! Again, it would be rather cramped, but you can still tow the trailer, plus you’ve got the pickup truck to drive around if you leave the camper part at a park.

So, there you have it. Then and now. That rig and this one. Sorry there aren’t any photos. I should take photos of the inside of the trailer, but it’s a mess and it’s raining today….

I leave here in 2 1/2 weeks. I’m just about ready to get back to Maine. Sometimes it’s so hot and humid here that it’s unbearable. And it’s only April 2nd! But I can always leave early.

I love having options.