S4:E10 – Down the Road

What are we doing? We weren’t really sure either, so today, we are going to make a list; a very long list of all possible options. And then we figure out what we’re actually going to do for the next six to nine to twelve months. Don’t worry, I promise the list is not going to be boring. There are jokes.

For photos from this episode: visit our blog, Driving Inertia

This episode was written, recorded, and edited by Lisa McNamara and Paul Olson. It was produced by Lisa McNamara.

Theme music by Michael Kobrin from Pixabay


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(music starts)

This is Road Tripping in America, a podcast about life on the road. I’m Lisa and I’m Paul.

We’re exploring the US in a pickup truck with a camper – we named our setup The Bobs. We’re in search of off-the-beaten-path adventures and new experiences. Join us as we share our stories from the road.

Today, what are we doing? We weren’t really sure either, so today, we are going to make a list; a very long list of all possible options. And then we figure out what we’re actually going to do for the next six to nine to twelve months. Don’t worry, I promise the list is not going to be boring. There are jokes.

This is series four, episode ten: Down the Road

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It was late afternoon, Wednesday, August 31st. After trying and failing to buy and/or rent multiple houses in Montrose, we realized we needed to broaden our search. Montrose was not making us feel very good about it. Maybe it was trying to give us a sign.

Earlier that day, we had submitted an application for an apartment rental for a place we had seen the day before, in another nearby town. Because we have no income, the apartment people were going to need a few days to check all of our sources – they wanted credit history, past landlord contact info, past boss contact info, bank statements, contact info for people who had been in our house recently, even. We begrudgingly wrote all this valuable info down on the pieces of paper they wanted us to physically write it on, handed them, physical pieces of paper!, to a surly person, and went away to wait for small town apartment rental processes to do their work. I just didn’t feel completely confident that it WAS going to work.

So there we were, on a dry and hot late August day, sitting in the Bobs in a sun-baked campground near some fun mountain biking trails north of Fruita, CO, thinking about our options.

L: So what does the temperature say in here? What is it now?

P: 99.

L: Alright, we’re down to 99! Two degrees down.

P: Dropping fast!

L: It’s too hot to turn off the refrigerator, so that’s why the refrigerator sound is going to be in here.

I spend what feels like half my life thinking of options, backup plans, running through all possible scenarios for whatever situation I happen to be in. It’s what made me such a good project manager. It’s an exhausting kind of person to be though.

While we waited to find out if we’d be approved for the current apartment rental, to deal with the uncertainty, I needed to make a list. Lists always make me feel better. And because things feel less intimidating when they are named, the list needed to have a name.

P: Alright. The list.

L: The list, yeah.

P: What are we calling the list?

L: I think it’s the list of every possible option…for life.

P: It’s like choose your own adventure. The list…well, so, it’s a list of change. List of change?

L: It’s a menu. It’s a menu thing.

P: Ala carte.

L: Yeah. A change option menu. Well, maybe we should talk about why we want to change?

P: I think we both realized that not having a spot to retreat to – it wears you down. And we got worn down last winter and we know we’re going to get worn down here soon. Because we’re wearing down. And so, we’re trying to figure out, can we get that home base, can we get some sort of rejuvenation cycle built in, because we also know that if we stop for a little while in Flagstaff like we did – those spots are tough to find.

L: Well, and they’re expensive too. So if we do an Airbnb or a VRBO for a week to a month…

P: It’s like a thousand to three thousand dollars.

L: And we can’t keep necessarily just stringing together a chain of those. And I also don’t think we really want to.

P: Right. Well, what’s tough too is like, even though there’s so much flexibility, that flexibility adds a lot of cost to it. So if you want a week here, a week there, a week somewhere else, that’s a thousand dollars, a thousand dollars, a thousand dollars. If you had a house, you could stay at it as long as you want – the cost is sunk, and you can utilize it. So, yes, so that was our initial plan. Option number one. Buy a house. And so we rushed across the country, back to Colorado, to try to buy a house. And, we could have bought a house.

L: Yeah – we could have!

P: We were in the process of buying a house. But the house had a lot of asbestos and a lot of projects and a foundation problem and…every other problem. Like it didn’t have – we thought it had some strengths, and then whenever you looked into the strengths, you found more problems. So – it was the wrong house.

L: Right, so, like we talked about, we don’t want to buy a house at ANY cost. It’s not: house at any cost. It still has to be the right house and the right decision. So yeah. So Paul’s writing down on our ‘menu of every possible option’ – number one was buying a house in Colorado.

P: And maybe I should just cross that out!

L: Well, no! I mean…

P: Alright, well, so buy a house in Colorado. We tried to do it. We’re still going to try to do it. We definitely want to be in Colorado. We’ve thought about that. There’s no better place yet for us.

L: And the other things that we were talking about for our other priorities for getting a home base was not just resting between trips and recharging between trips and having a place to work, but also just registering to vote. Getting that ready and done and having an address. And so the VRBO or Airbnb thing just doesn’t help that. And so that’s – I think that’s another reason to not even write that down.

P: Right. There’s also the community aspect – we thought we could start to build that. Because we’d like to do that, we miss that, we don’t have that in this area. We have it in other areas, and, unfortunately either those other areas are too tough to live in or not the right fit.

L: Too cold.

P: Shout out to La Crosse!

L: Yeah, so buying a house in Colorado is still sort of plan A/number one, but we just have to wait for the right priced house. So that makes us go into option number two. Option number two is we could just suck it up and do nothing and just deal with – just know that we’re going to be feeling a little burnt out and just deal with it. Go to Arizona. Not travel so frequently. Kind of stay put in longer term places for the winter. And California.

P: Mmhmm.

L: So I just think – we’ve done that before. Ten years ago. Yeah. I don’t know. It doesn’t excite me.

P: It’s less exciting. Yeah, so then three is like, do this but somewhere else. So travel abroad somehow, right. We like Mexico, we have friends in Panama we want to visit.

L: Still!

P: Still, right. There’s other places we could go that are reasonably priced, but then you have to figure out what to do with the truck and…ugh.

L: And travel for the holidays, like how do we get back to see family for the holidays, how do those multiple trips work. That would be something that, maybe we’d not even start until January, and then what do you do until January? And then, we looked into truck storage and uh, that’s really expensive.

P: For indoor storage.

L: Indoor – I mean, we’d want to do indoor because if you get it in Denver, it’s like, definitely going to hail on it. So it is an investment, right, but still, $300/month is not a joke. It’s serious.

P: Yeah, and the extreme version of that would be sell truck, which we don’t really want to do.

L: Uh-uh.

P: That’s not really on the table.

L: No. No. Because we’d still only do that for however long we could on the visas, right? So, six months or three months in Europe.

P: Well they stack up, so you could do however long. But I think that what we’re learning is that, infinite travel is tough. And maybe there’s a pace that we can find, but it still is appealing to have catch your breath sessions and your own community and all that stuff. Yeah alright, so number four.

L: Number four is rent a place, and rent a place for short – a short term rental.

P: In Colorado.

L: Like six to nine months. And the idea of that is, it’s enough time to get through the winter, maybe for the housing market to chill out a little bit, so we can find a more affordable place that isn’t SO much of a shithole. You know, just partially shithole is fine!

P: Or, get a shithole and work on it.

L: Or that. And also, look at opportunities to maybe do some contract work and make a little bit of money in the meantime.

P: Shout out to old bosses! (laughs) Alright, so we got four options…buy a house, do nothing…

L: Well, option five was to do a longer term lease. I don’t even know if that matters. But if we rent six to nine months and we don’t find anything to buy and we want to keep going, then we might want to look at a longer term lease.

P: Which we don’t – I don’t think that’s super appealing. Like it could – if we find some good contract work and want to keep going, there’s no reason not to do that. But it’s not choice number one.

L: I feel like we had more options than just five.

P: Well…do nothing…

L: Oh, I got it – there were more. Six was just buy land. And that was either: buy the cheapest land we could possibly find in western Colorado, or buy the cheapest land we can find in a place we might want to live. So that would establish an address which…

P: Allows us to vote.

L: But also, gives us a place to even do something like put a shipping container, so that we could have somewhere to store the truck if we were to go internationally. And store our stuff, and save that cost. I feel like that’s still pretty appealing to me, but finding OK land is always a challenge.

P: Yeah. It’s easy to find a place that’s cheap that you’ll never go to. I think it’s hard to find a place that’s cheap and relatively desirable. I did see – outside Palisade there’s like a thousand acres for like thirty million or something. So…just gotta scratch together a couple more bucks!

L: Let’s call that broker.

P: Buy land – that was like, one of our early, like, crazy plans.

L: Yeah, because you can get a piece of land outside Alamosa for $5,000.

P: Basically, yeah.

L: Which is kind of like…what’s a banana cost these days, you know? Just buy the land, be done with it.

P: Yeah. And then you’re a legal resident of that property even though there’s no house on it. And everything gets a little bit easier.

L: So that could still be an option. It solves a lot of problems and it’s relatively cheap and easy.

P: We did drive past a lot in Grand Junction, that was basically the size of a slice of pizza.

L: And the shape! Mmm…I want pizza…

P: Yeah. And uh…it was total garbage.

L: Well, it’s the cheapest lot in town. And there’s a reason for that.

P: Yep. It sucks. What’s a little tough about all these options is that, like, we have seen better options than we have today pass by that we did not act on. Because we didn’t think we needed to act.

L: Like what?

P: Like that piece of land in Cortez that was dirt cheap and touching the Phil’s World trails?

L: Yeah but it was also mostly a wash and it didn’t have any hope of ever having water. I mean, that would have been insane. You can’t think like that. Because there’s a ton of stuff we didn’t do, and you can’t ever change it.

P: Yeah, I know, but somehow that’s still there. Number seven.

L: Was there anything else?

P: The old RV people plan.

L: Oh yeah.

P: So we could get like, a real RV, like a tow-behind RV that would have real space, like a bedroom and a bathroom, and like, more than two burners, and like a sink. And we could become RV park people.

L: That would give more comfort. That would give the ability to possibly work from the camper.

P: You could probably establish residency, somehow?

L: Ummmm…well that was another idea I had – this would be number eight, which would be establish residency in a different state and give up Colorado, but I really don’t want to do that. So. You know. Go all in on the South Dakota residency. At least then, that part would be solved. But then we’d have to change our driver’s license and our car registration and…ugh…I don’t really want to do that.

P: Yeah. That feels a little daunting.

L: Plus, I just like Colorado. I want to be a Colorado resident.

P: I know, we want a house here. It’s gonna be like, to change and change back will be kind of a pain.

L: Right. We’re just thinking of allll our menu of options. But the RV people one, number seven, is like, I mean, we almost would have to get some sort of job to be able to get a better RV. Because you’re spending a lot more money on that, you’re spending more money on gas, and you’re spending more money on the campground.

P: Yeah. We could become hosts?

L: Oh no. I don’t want to do that.

P: Clean some toilets?

L: Nooo way.

P: That’s not appealing.

L: Not when you see the disasters that happen in these toilets.

P: Yeah. Some of these things line up together though, right. Because you could be an RV person with a piece of land.

L: Oh, that’s a good point.

P: Some of the houses are basically RVs, so…

L: A lot of the houses are worse than RVs, that we’ve been looking at. RVs are like, luxury.

P: Yeah, like an RV, you can at least hook a truck up to it and take it to the dumpster. Like some of these houses are like…

L: In the trash!!

P:…biohazards that should be long in the trash!

L: That’s a good point though with the land one. Because we did talk about that one time, not only just getting the shipping container but also getting an RV that we could then leave there. Obviously this wouldn’t fly in most cities. It would have to be a rural piece of land.

P: Unzoned or whatever. And that’s just not that appealing.

L: Nooo.

P: If there was a high rise building with modest sized apartments and gigantic sized garages, we’d be in total business.

L: In Colorado.

P: In Colorado.

L: Yeah, that doesn’t exist, though.

P: Maybe we should become land developers! Number nine!

L: I think we’d need a little more capital than anybody’s willing to give us.

P: We’ll get those sweet Deutsche Bank loans!

L: Oh my god…

P: Yeah. Because one of the problems we’re having is that none of the houses are quite fitting our needs. What else do we have for options?

L: I don’t think we have any other options.

P: The battery’s hot. That’s what that sound is.

L: Oh shoot, we should vent that.

P: Alright, are we done?

L: I guess.

P: Are we going to get to a resolution?

L: No! I mean, maybe another day. Do you feel like you’re any closer?

P: Well, I mean, if – we applied for a place to rent. And if that works out, we’re doing option four.

L: Short term rental.

P: And we’re like, nine months away from having to make another decision. Which is very appealing.

L: It is very appealing.

P: Kick the can down the road.

L: But for me right now, while we’re waiting on approval, we might wait up to a week, and it’s not guaranteed, it helps me to think about these other options.

P: It’s so frustrating.

L: But this is helpful to me, because I just like to think about – I like to see it all out on my menu. And it helps…it helps. I think. Me.

Phew. Let’s quickly go over those options again, in case you lost any threads during our rambling.

Option one was to buy a house in Colorado. Yep, we’ve talked about that one a lot. No one’s forgetting that one.

Option two was – do nothing. Keep traveling like we’ve been traveling, deal with the inevitable burnout by moving slower and going warmer and being aware that it’s coming.

Three was travel abroad for as long as possible on visas.

Four – short term rental – six to nine months in one place.

Five – long term rental. Short term rentals are often a bit more expensive for the convenience. If we think we’re going to stay somewhere for a year, we might be better off considering a typical, year-long lease.

Option six was to buy land – either the cheapest land we could find that we wouldn’t necessarily keep long term or the cheapest land in a place where we’d want to build long term.

Seven was be quote unquote old RV people – kind of like number two but with buying a fancier RV.

And option eight was to give up on Colorado and establish residency in a more vagabond-friendly state like South Dakota or Wyoming. Which we really don’t want to do.

Then we started rambling about possible combinations of different options. And that was it.

L: Alright! So, to be continued when there is a resolution.

P: Sounds good.

L: If…and when…

A couple days later, at the end of the week before the labor day holiday weekend, we were camping up on Grand Mesa, east of Grand Junction. We had camped there at the start of our trip, in July 2021, and I was excited to be back. The wildflowers we had seen that year were gone this late in the season, but the views over the Grand Valley were still going strong. Thursday night’s sunset was beautiful, the city lights were once again stars sprinkled on the ground far below, and the temperatures were much better for sleeping than they had been on the hot valley floor.

I wanted to stay at our little spot on the edge of the mesa for a couple days, but the wind was strong that night and Paul won the argument for trying to find a new site the next day, Friday. Wind becomes such a tough opponent when you’re living on the road. Even at non-camper-destructive levels, the camper shakes and things creaks and it makes sleeping difficult. The edge of the mesa is gorgeous, but it’s windy. So we went off in search of another spot to camp. It just needed to have cell service so we could find out right away if we were approved for the apartment. We didn’t want the apartment people moving on to the next theoretical name on their theoretical list while we sat out in the woods, unable to respond.

Driving inland from the edge of the Mesa, we quickly dropped out of cell service. We had some of that ‘I told you so’ back and forth. We were feeling pretty low. Then, Paul got a ping on his phone. A blip of service had delivered a transcribed voice message telling us that we were approved for the apartment. But the blip of service wasn’t strong enough and the message disappeared as quickly as Paul had seen it. Was it real? We needed to drive another 20 minutes down the gravel road back to the main road before we got a strong enough signal to confirm – it was real. Just like that, we had an apartment.

We thought we’d have to wait until Tuesday after the holiday to move in, but they ended up being able to get us the lease and keys on Friday. So instead of spending the long labor day weekend camping around Gunnison, we moved the contents of the Bobs into an apartment, bought an inflatable air mattress, and sat indoors, camped indoors really, shell-shocked almost, not quite believing it was real.

We have a home base for the next nine months. In a cute little town that we’ve always liked but didn’t think was ever in the cards for us. We just lucked into one of the few rentals in town. Apartment living is a big adjustment, but it’s short term. Right?

After our last episode, our friend Mary commented that our travels were both exhilarating and slightly exhausting to hear about. That really resonated with me – it’s the perfect quick summary of the past fifteen months of our existence. Long term road life is both exhilarating and exhausting, sometimes more than slightly.

It’s exhilarating to sleep alongside the Gunnison River, to smell the sweet and savory cinnamon smell of cottonwood trees, to hear the wind lightly tousling their leaves, to hear the water rushing over small rapids, and to not even care that I’m awake in the middle of the night, as usual, because it’s so great to feel that cool, sweet breeze through the windows. It’s exhilarating to see amazing stars every night. To know that I usually just have to wait a few minutes to be rewarded with a shooting star sighting. To be able to bike and hike the trails on less busy days. To have free time to do what I want and chase my crazy ideas, because I’d rather try something and have it not work out than never have tried it.

But it’s exhausting too, and we know it’s time for a change when the exhausting parts begin to outweigh the exhilarating parts. When I want to record a podcast episode but the wind or our campsite neighbors have other ideas and instead I just sit around, bored, feeling like I’m just wasting my time. When I want to sleep at night, but creatures and weather have other ideas. When I just want to use the bathroom, but a black widow spider, the first live one I’ve ever seen in real life, has also decided that it wants to use the bathroom, and it was there first, so I pee in a ditch.

So many times over the past fifteen months, we’ve had to plan, replan, and replan again. Rain for days, covid and covid exposures, cold, snow, fire, smoke – all have forced us to re-route, cancel plans, plan again. We’re flexible, we’re adaptable, but by now, we’re also tired. So tired of planning and replanning and replanning. So tired of trying to find an activity to fill a few hours if we’re early to visit someone, or we’re rained out of a bike ride, or a campground is booked, or a dispersed camping area feels sketchy.

We’re still excited about the big adventures. But the in-between times have always been tough, and now they’re starting to drag down the fun times. When we start to blow by things just because we’re tired, then it’s time for a change. It’s time to pause.

Paul has something he calls the two week vacation theory. You can deal with almost anything bad happening on a two week (or shorter) vacation, because at the end of it, you’re going home to your warm bed and your sink and your toilet. But we’re stacking an endless string of two week vacations end to end, and there has been no real recovery time.

And, as Paul also said the other day, we have a lot of adventure to process! We’ve done so much over the past fifteen months that it’s hard to even remember what we’ve done.

Full time travel is really tough. This time around, we traveled long enough to realize that we don’t want to travel full time! We still want to travel, but we want the best of both worlds, of course. A home base cheap enough to still be able to travel internationally for weeks or months at a time. A home base close enough to lots of outdoor activities to fill weekends and weekdays or even weeks or months-long expeditions. We’re not going to stop incorporating travel into our lives. We’re just seeking a better balance.

So, lucky us. The apartment rental, option four, worked out and we have a chance to pause for a few months. A few days ago, we finally rented a moving truck and drove over to Fort Collins to get most of our stuff from our storage unit.

One of our favorite roadlifers, Chris from Venture 4WD, calls his storage unit “a museum for a past life.” He’s been living on the road for years and you should definitely check out his YouTube channel. His videos are one of the highlights of our weeks. But unlike Chris, I have never felt like the stuff in my storage unit was part of a past life. Maybe I would get there, eventually. For me, that stuff feels like loose ends that need to be tied up, that paying to keep things I never use in a storage closet is a problem that needs to be solved rather than a museum to visit and enjoy.

I mean, I got actual goosebumps when Paul unpacked the butter dish. I legit cheered when we found that we had in fact kept the toaster and I could make toast with butter right away. I remembered how much I absolutely freaking love my mattress. We both remembered how much we love our couch, so much so that we spent a good chunk of time talking about how much we love it. These are things, just things.

Are they equivalent to the sights and scents and sounds of a perfect night along the Gunnison River? Not a chance. But they’re a respite in a different kind of way.

We’re still only in a short term rental in the grand scheme of things and so, soon, something will need to change again. We’ll need to keep moving, to find a permanent place, to claim our little slice of this region, while the Colorado river is still running, while we can pretend we’re living in a paradise that will never end.

I named series four of the podcast Back West. And now here we are, we’re finally, and fully, Back West.

So we’re going to take a pause on the podcast to work on other things for a bit. I have a lot of footage of mountain bike rides that I want to edit and post on YouTube. Unless I decide it’s horrible and delete it all. It could go either way. There are more words to be written, baked dishes to be baked in our own oven, some new crazy ideas I want to work on, a new community to be established and supported in the small ways that I can help.

We’ve really enjoyed creating this podcast and sharing our travels with you and we still have a ton more to say. But this is the end of series four.

It’s been great to have you all join us over the past fifteen months. I know there are so many options for things to listen to, or watch, or read, and so little time, and I so appreciate that you all decided to spend some time with us every few weeks. We’ve enjoyed hearing from you all along the way too.

Thanks to everyone who has encouraged us. And a special shout out to Jeremy and Traci – congrats on your recent wedding! We hope your honeymoon trip was an amazing adventure.

Thanks for listening! This isn’t goodbye – it’s see you down the road.

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