I am able to manufacture a pretty photo and churn out some accompanying words that might give the impression that everything on the road...is easy, romantic, and beautiful. When we decided to travel, we knew that we wanted to share the story in a way that inspired others to find and follow their dreams, so taking those lovely images and writing those words and posting them to social media in a curated, artistic display makes sense to us. We assume that others enjoy it, as our Instagram following (our main social media outlet) went from 0-5,000+ in less than a year (this isn't a brag, just a fact and one that we noted). We care about the community that we're developing on Instagram, and we find that the engagement is very real, honest, and exactly what we were hoping to find. The lack of friendship and community within our old city was devastating for both of us, and so when real relationships began emerging from the connections we were making on Instagram, we knew we were doing something right - and let's be honest, everyone wants to see pretty photos.
The issue with the curated gallery of images, however, is a lack of realization that what we did and are doing - is difficult. Like with any dream, you have to work hard and sacrifice a lot to make it happen. The year and a half of preparation, research, work, and sacrifice that led us to actually getting on the road - was one of the hardest stretches of time in my nearly thirty years...and I've gone through depression, death, divorce, custody battles, job loss, poverty, a major car accident, and single parenthood.
So on a particularly long stretch of road, I broached the idea of writing a semi-regular blog post about the harsher realities of road life to Ellen. She enthusiastically agreed, and I threw out the idea over on our Airstream account (which we've gotten some shit for, what's with everyone having an opinion about everything these days - so we have two Instagram accounts...we ARE two people, after all, with a lot of topic to cover). Everyone that commented seemed to think that having a road life realities post was a great idea - so here it is. It's sadly not all magical...because sometimes the windows are down, Willie is on the stereo, the desert wind is blowing our hair...and then our daughter announces she has to poo. Or throws a fit. Or the dog is whining. Or some semi blazes past and nearly blows us off the road. Or the damn GPS is talking over Willie.
We were driving down the road through some road construction, somewhere in Ohio, barely on the road, and I looked in the mirror back at the Airstream...and the door-within-a-door was flopping around, wide open. We couldn't pull over, all the exits were blocked off...and just a mere eight or nine inches from the edge of the Airstream was a nice tall concrete divider. One small bump in the road could send that door forward - smacking against the divider and flying off. We held our breath for over ten miles of narrow divider on either side of us, and then up and over a massive section of road to another freeway before finally, finally able to pull off the road and find a spot to fix it. We used zip ties (naturally). It worked.
Sometimes you don't know where you're going to sleep at night, until a sweet gay girl at Yellowstone takes pity on you and finds you a campsite anyway, despite everyone else telling you there isn't a single spot, it's July 4th weekend, and making you continue to go to the back of the (extremely long) line of people waiting to get a campsite, even though you got there early and before the rest of them. Or you pull into your very first Harvest Hosts location and are immediately uncomfortable with the male owner giving your tits the full-on stare, while making very awkward small talk trying to look away unsuccessfully when you catch him...and you try to ignore your gut, right? Because this is Harvest Hosts...everyone recommends this program, and I mean, we hadn't heard anything negative.
We tried to keep our evening normal, setting up camp and wandering around the vineyards, taking photos and talking, and we cooked dinner and ate it under the trees, all the while knowing that this man is sitting in his side lawn, staring at the Airstream and us...for hours. His wife is nowhere to be seen, her car is long gone, and the lights aren't on in their house. We tried singing and playing guitar, and we couldn't settle...finally we went inside the Airstream and confessed our discomfort, our guts were both telling us that something was off. We are generally polar opposites - Ellen is trusting and believes in the greater good, and I've had enough terrifying experiences in my life that I don't trust anyone. So when she's uncomfortable, when she's saying...perhaps we should sleep with the lights on...I know it's time to get our asses out of there. Late at night with nowhere else to go or not. So quietly, as if we were going to bed, we closed the windows and prepped the Airstream enough to drive without breaking things on the bumpy dirt road...and with one of us holding the dog, one of us holding our kiddo...we hurried in the dark to the car, packed them in, and drove away. He looked up from his spot in the chair, still staring at us. He didn't raise a hand, or stand, just stared.
Perhaps he was normal...but was it worth finding out? As two women traveling with a young child, absolutely not. If we're asking if we should sleep with the lights on - we are wondering what he's gonna do when the lights are off and he thinks we're asleep. So we drove to a well-lit gas station, and were relieved when we saw a sheriff...we asked where the safest Walmart was, got directions, and headed there to get some real sleep. Walmart or no, we slept pretty great there, feeling safe and relieved that we made the right call.
We learned some things that night:
Trust our guts. Trust each other. Communicate immediately...don't wait until dark to get the hell out of there. Don't give two shits if the host or campground guests think it's odd you're leaving.
We've been hot and sweaty and went without showers for eight days (which was kind of fun, but we got stinky and my feet and legs were a bit black). We nearly ran out of gas a few times, we've had potty accidents, the cat streaked out of the Airstream one night in Yellowstone, in the pitch black night, and we were yelling in the quiet campground, past quiet hours...Where are my shoes...where's the fucking flashlight?! It was just right here! We found him about a hundred yards away, hiding under a bush. He could have been bear food. Easy.
We flipped the hitch back and forth a few times, then went and bought a new one. Stopped in 95-degree weather to get our sway control on. Stopped in 104-degree weather to fix our door-within-a-door again, this time the aluminum strips that held the slide latches into place ripped. A few hours in suffocating heat, hungry, needing water...in full sun, cutting thicker strips of aluminum, riveting, drilling.
This could all be easily seen as complaining, and likely some people will read it as that. I find that when I share honestly, people assume I'm being negative, complaining, or being ungrateful. Let me clear the air - sharing truth is being human. Why do we only want to see the perfect, curated moments of people's lives? I mean, sure, I enjoy a curated grid of square images just as much as the next person - in fact, I've talked before about how it's vital to our brand, which gets me work as a freelance photographer and helps provide for our family, and tells our story in order to inspire. It serves a lot of purpose. But here, on the blog, or over @birchandpineairstream, you might find some nuggets of transparency. It's not all pretty, it's not all perfect. We're traveling with a child. We work hard. Tearing down and setting up house every day, filling and dumping tanks, constant cleaning, it's hard work. We hear a lot that we're on a permanent vacation...but it's work, guys. Living on the road in a vintage Airstream sounds like romantic perfection, but before buying into the trend, know that it means being uncomfortable. Working hard. Fixing things in parking lots where everyone walking by stares at you while your shorts are falling down your ass because you're sweating so hard. Things will go wrong. You'll sleep at Walmart. You'll feel unsafe. Cooking and doing dishes isn't as convenient. You may not eat organically because you're so damn hungry that stopping at Arby's is your only option or you're gonna pass the fuck out. And your kid just might hear you curse (we had to start letting that one go and just inform her she's not allowed to speak that way until she's older).
We've been officially living in the Airstream for thirty-eight days, punctuated by time at friends' homes and three weeks in our Canada cottage, and truly, officially, on the road for two and a half weeks. The majority of these things happened within two weeks. So while we're dancing on mountaintops, taking breathtaking, vigorous hikes, relaxing in hammocks while mountain breezes blow, singing and playing guitar, working on Adelaide's junior ranger stuff, living, loving, visiting friends and making new ones...real road life is happening too. It's beautiful daily moments punctuated by stress, work, and you know...all the things we deal with as human beings.