The Long Road
I sometimes think that the size of our happiness is inversely proportional to the size of our house.— Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts
I started this blog as a sort of diary of my adventures with my husband, Chris, our one year old son, and our dog, Devon.
In about June of 2019 our lease on our rental house was approaching expiry and so we had to make a decision whether to renew or go somewhere else. We HATE moving and are NOT good at it. We also didn’t really know where we wanted to go. Though we had a baby, I wasn’t ready to settle down in one place yet and still craved adventure. It’s hard to adventure, however, when you exist on one income, you barely cover rent and bills every month, and you have a baby and a dog. It was hard for us even to visit my family in England and Canada, or even his family in Tennessee. The perpetual need for childcare, dog sitting, and money made it a bloody nightmare every time we wanted to even take a weekend away. Not to mention the need to cover bills while we were away which, on one income derived from self employment meant that any time away always left us frantically scraping for weeks afterwards just to get by.
In November of 2018 we had bought a 1969 slide-in truck bed camper. This started as a search for a camper shell to transport the dogs and the baby stuff to make visits to Tennessee possible in one vehicle. Anyone with a new baby knows that you can’t go anywhere for a weekend without packing your entire house.
The camper was very basic with one light, 3 power sockets, a small bed and dinette (which turned into a second bed), and a 5 gallon water jug which could be placed over a sink which drained outside the camper in place of running water. It was very dated so Chris, a carpenter by trade, worked tirelessly for 2 days and nights to replace rotten wood, paint, and put new floor in. I recovered the original mustard yellow and brown dinette cushions and together we breathed new life into that camper. We took it to Tennessee and stayed in it for a few nights. It was so much fun and we really loved the whole experience. The two of us, a baby, and a dog (Chris’ dog stayed in the house with Chris’ parents’ dogs, my dog is socially retarded so stayed with us) crammed into that thing and loved every minute. We decided then that something bigger would be more practical so we sold it for more than double what we had put into it.
Then we got Miss Daisy. She was a 1968 Frolic 16ft pull-behind camper with bad leaks and a horrible hot-pink paint job inside and out. Chris gutted it, repainted the outside with my choice of white and soft yellow, and I recovered the cushions. We sold it, still gutted, for a good profit and bought our current camper just 8 weeks before our lease was up.
We decided in June, before we sold Miss Daisy, that we were not satisfied with our current life. Chris was working long hours to make rent which meant I was stuck at home with the baby on my own a LOT and it was taking its toll on us. We realized that we were working so hard to afford a life that we didn’t actually even like. We hated the city, we hated that house, and we hated not spending time together. So I did a little research and pitched the idea to him that we live in a camper full time. It just made sense to me – we could travel and bring our home with us. No more having to worry about what to do with the dog, or how we would deal with a baby who refuses to sleep in a bedroom with which he is unfamiliar.
Chris looked at me like I was crazy the first time I brought it up. But I told him that there was this “campground host” program where we could live for free in state parks (of which there are several within the area in which Chris works) so long as I volunteered at the park. In this way, Chris wouldn’t have to work all the time to fork out for rent and we would be able to be back out in the country where we belonged. We could actually enjoy weekends together and be able to afford to spend a little money here and there to do fun things as a family. He considered it and said “ok, if that’s what you want (yes, I have a wonderful husband who often responds to my wild ideas in that manner).
I spent every waking moment looking for a camper. I watched facebook marketplace for months to see what kind of used campers were out there and what price they were going for. I researched floor plans and style to get a good idea of what would work for us and what was a definite no-go. Finally I found a 30ft 2006 Jayco Jayflight 29BHS at an absolute steal of $6,000 and it was immaculate. It has a master bedroom at the front, a full kitchen with fridge/freezer, oven and stove, microwave, and a little Belfast style double sink. The couch slides out when parked to give an extra 18-24 inches or so of floor space in the living area, and the couch and dinette both fold down to make 2 extra double beds. The best part was that it had bunks at the back with the bottom bunk being a double. I planned to convert the bottom bunk into Junior’s own little bedroom and take the mattress off the top bunk so that we could put plastic totes up there for storage. It also has a full bathroom with a perfect little tub for bathing the kid.
So we JUMPED on it as quickly as we could, with a little (actually a lot) of help from my family and a close friend. That weekend we brought our new home back to our rental house and parked it in the driveway. We were smiling ear to ear that night and spent about an hour just sitting in the camper and looking around talking about all the things we could do in it.
The following weeks were spent selling all our furniture and much of our stuff, organizing a storage unit for what we wanted to keep but couldn’t take on the camper, and, of course, finding our first hosting placement. Finding a placement proved a little more difficult than anticipated and I spent a lot of time calling various parks and playing phone tag with others. Eventually, with just a couple weeks to go before our lease was up, we found a placement from October 31 – December 31 at Vogel state park near Blairsville, GA. It actually worked out perfectly because it allowed us to spend a few weeks in the camper just as paying guests at state parks while we got used to living in it and got Junior and Devon both adjusted to all the new sights, noises, and routines of a living in a camper.
Finally, on September 24th, a day later than originally planned, we set off from our old rental at around 8pm and headed for Tugaloo state park for our first 2 week stay in our new little home on wheels. The weeks of frantically packing, selling and organizing had become more chaotic until the last few days was filled with constant packing and moving, and very little sleep. It was EXTREMELY stressful and I had more than a few dread-filled sleepless nights of thinking “I don’t think we’re gonna make it”. Thankfully we ended up with another day at the house to finish getting our stuff out and into storage or the camper, and get the house cleaned up. When it was finally time to pull out and hit the road it was past the baby’s bedtime so he was devoid of all patience which made working out the last few technical hiccups with the trailer hitch all the more stressful as he wailed at us from the back seat of the truck.
We arrived at the campground, in typical Rachael-fashion, at 9:45pm – just 15 minutes before they closed the gate for the night and locked us out. We backed the camper into our campsite in the dark which was, surprisingly, not disastrous. The very second that we put the camper in park it was like all the stress had completely melted away and I was overcome with relief and sheer joy. The sense of accomplishment was overwhelming and we were grinning like children on Christmas morning all night. Then was the fun part (for me). We set the camper, lowered the jacks, plugged in the power, turned some lights on, put the slide out, hooked up the water, got beds set up, moved stuff in – all with excited chatter and frequent hugs and “we did it!” Junior had gone from screaming bloody murder to running back and forth in the camper, squealing and giggling with delight at his new home as he chased Devon around. We couldn’t help but laugh too, and the four of us jumped and rolled around laughing for a while as we basked in the moment.
Much to our delight and EXTREME surprise, when we finally put Junior down in his new bed for the first time – the kid who hates disruption to his routine and will not sleep anywhere but his bedroom – with ease and he went straight to sleep and slept through the night until around 8am. We went to sleep with smiles on our faces and warmth in our hearts that night. We deserved that moment. We worked our butts off for it. We stressed and worried and researched and planned and sacrificed our way to that moment. It was a long and brutal road to the campsite but the view of our future that night as we sat exhausted in our chairs by the empty fire ring was gloriously bright, full of hope, and tasted so much sweeter than I had even dared to imagine.