And just like that, we’re done

As we packed up and drove out of New Orleans, it really started to hit us that our trip was coming to an end. This amazing adventure, this once in a lifetime journey would be wrapping up in a few days. The feeling was bittersweet, but honestly pretty heavy on the sweet. We’d had an amazing time in Louisana but I was starting to feel like an old phone, taking a lot longer to recharge and draining a lot faster.

We spent a night in Natchez, Mississippi where we had a drink at the Under the Hill Saloon, a bar Mark Twain used to frequent in his riverboat days. The bartender, who looked straight out of Duck Dynasty, kept telling us jokes you’d expect from a bartender that looks straight out of Duck Dynasty. We walked the town a bit but it had just dropped twenty degrees and the cold kept us from staying out too long.

The next day we headed back to Memphis. Beale Street, which had been packed with tourists and revelers back in August, was now spookily deserted. The police cars blocking both ends were more likely to respond to hypothermia-related emergencies than bar brawls. We ate wings at a little bar at the end of Beale and then found some live music at Jerry the King Lawler’s bar. As we walked in, we were greeted with an impressive amount of old wrestling paraphernalia, including the king’s championship belt and some familiar looking action figures. We passed a couple of hours listening to covers and watching old wrestling matches on the TVs behind the bar.

Erik and Slinky on Beale Street
Chillin’ and freezin’ on Beale

The next morning we went to the Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel. We’ve seen quite a few museums on this trip. It quickly became apparent that we had saved one of the best and emotionally taxing for last. The museum tells the story of the civil rights struggle in vivid detail. We had earmarked three hours to tour it but could have spent twice that long without seeing everything. Toward the end of the tour, we rounded a corner and found ourselves looking into the hotel room where Martin Luther King spent his final morning before being shot on the balcony outside. They have left the room as it was that morning. It drove home the harsh reality of the event itself and really personalized it for me. In addition to being a civil rights icon and one of the great true leaders in my country’s history, he was also a guy drinking coffee and making plans for the day he’d never experience. We drove away glad for the experience but very drained and a little sad.

The Civil Rights Museum at the Loraine Hotel
The Civil Rights Museum at the Loraine Hotel

Our final stop was St. Louis, Missouri where my good friend and old college roommate Jonathan lives with his wife Leah and daughter Isabella. It was evening by the time we arrived so after quickly catching up, we hopped into their car and drove to the Shafly taproom. It was great to catch up on old times and hear how more recent times have treated them. Jonathan and I have quite a few friends in common, some of whom we’ve seen on the trip so I got to report on what everybody was up to. It was a nice change to be the one with the current intel on people. After dinner, we returned to their place where we caught up some more over sips from his remarkable whiskey collection until bedtime. We’d been wanting to stay in the van one last time and St. Louis was our chance. Climbing into the bed, I really did find myself a little sad that it would be our last sleep in the ‘Roo. It was cold, just like the start of our west coast loop, but we had improved our winter sleeping situation with a pair of hot water bottles. Between those, the whiskey, and Slinky heat, I fell asleep contented with where I was and happy that the trip would wrap up the next day.


I’m writing this from the airplane that is taking us back to Melbourne, where Slinky and I will start the next adventure, the one we take on as a newly married couple. Our time in Indy was equal parts chaotic and lovely. We stayed with our good friends Kent and Theresa. They have been incredibly generous hosts and I can’t even express how nice it’s been to spend that much time with them. I wrapped up one work project and started another. We had a wedding celebration at the Duckpin bowling alley and a small wedding ceremony with family in Santa Barbara.

Erik and Slinky in wedding attire outside of the Santa Barbara courthouse
The big day

Somehow, amidst all of the chaos and revelry, we managed to sell the van. It’s new owner, Zach, plays rugby regionally and had been looking for a van to convert when he came across ours on Craigslist. While we were sad to see it go, we were glad that it will stay on the road and will continue to be part of somebody’s adventures.

I don’t really think the trip being over has completely sunk in yet. I’m not sure what it sinking in looks like. I do know that for the past six months, our ‘normal’ became completely different than any normal we had known. We got pretty good at being on the road and learned a lot about balancing work with fun. We learned a lot about each other. We figured out when we can push it and when we need to give ourselves and each other a break. We learned how to make space in cramped quarters. I think a lot of those skills are going to come in handy in post-van life, though hopefully not as often. I also think we are going to appreciate the creature comforts of modern living a lot more going forward.

The one thing I feel above all else is lucky. So many stars aligned to make this trip happen. We’re both lucky to have jobs we can do from anywhere with an internet connection. We’re lucky that a twenty-year-old van was up for the trip. I’m lucky to have fallen in love with somebody who embraces this kind of adventure and who is resourceful and patient enough to make it happen. Finally, I feel incredibly lucky to know so many wonderful people spread throughout the country. It was amazing to see people I haven’t seen for a long time, to meet their partners and their children and to have them meet Slinky. It was so good to have the chance to make new memories with old friends. We don’t get too many chances to do that in life and it’s not lost on me how incredible this opportunity has been.

Sarah in front of a big postcard with a kangaroo that says "Having a wonderful time"
Sometimes Qantas bumps you and gives you money so you stay in LA for an extra day and go to Disneyland and ride It’s a Small World

We’ll be settling in and nesting for a bit in Melbourne. We are looking forward to sleeping in a stationary bed and keeping our food in a refrigerator. I’m not sure I can put into words the impact this trip has had on us but I do know I’ll never see another van or RV go by without wondering what kind of adventure they are on, wondering whether they feel as lucky as we do and, as has been one of our main topics of conversation for the past six months, wondering if they can stand up in that thing.

The night NOLA swept us away

By the time we arrived in New Orleans we were once again suffering from travel fatigue.

Although we planned the last few months of travel better by staying in places longer, moving on weekends and generally going at a slower pace, van life was still taking its toll. We were excited to be arriving in NOLA, but our hearts ached to be back in Indianapolis and stationary for a few weeks and, beyond that, to be back in Australia in a home without wheels.

We did get out to sample the infamous Hurricane (well, Erik did… I accompanied him by drinking a mint julep)

Thus, our first two days in New Orleans were the antithesis of most people’s NOLA experience. They were spent largely in our Garden District Airbnb with short jaunts out to soak up the French Quarter and eat some beignets and other Cajun specialities. By the time Saturday night rolled around, we figured we should get out and see some live music, even if we planned to have dinner and an early night back in the comfort of our apartment afterwards.

So, we ordered an Uber to take us down to the infamous Spotted Cat jazz club. Our driver was young, friendly and a little nervous – an obvious Uber newbie.  As we wound through the streets it gradually became apparent he was lost, continually blaming it on his GPS (which he was holding in his lap and looking at more than the road). After our fifth u-turn, it occurred to us that we actually might be in an elaborate plot in which we would ultimately meet our untimely end. I surreptitiously got out my phone to check where we were and that we were actually heading in the right direction. Having confirmed that we were, I was then able to assist the now sweating driver get us to our location.

By the time we finally arrived, the Spotted Cat was between bands so we decided to wander up and down the street. We came to a night art market so did some shopping whilst chatting with local artisans about their unusual pieces. On the way out, I saw two poets at typewriters writing on demand for people. I almost mentioned to Erik we should get one done, but quickly brushed the idea aside.

On our return to the Spotted Cat, an eight-piece band was playing and the place was packed. We ordered a drink and listened for a little while, but quickly became overwhelmed by the multitude of tourists trying to take snaps of the perfect jazz experience so decided to check out some of the district’s less well-known clubs.

On exiting the Spotted Cat we heard the sounds of a brass band playing the way only brass bands in New Orleans play, so followed our ears. We were led to a street corner where about 20 people were playing various instruments to hundreds of revellers (many of whom had little-flashing lights attached to their eyebrows and eyelashes). They had blocked the entire flow of traffic but nobody seemed to mind – the cars all wound down their windows to catch a free show as they moved at a snail’s pace through the crowd. We watched for a little while, swaying to the music whilst enjoying cocktails purchased from a little hole-in-the-wall.

As we walked back past the poets, Erik turned to me and said ‘we really should get a poem done’. Our poet, Brandon, quizzed us about what we wanted a poem about, who we were and what we were doing in the Marigny on a Saturday night. We left him to ponder over his typewriter, promising to return and collect our poem in 20 minutes.

We continued to wander. As we did, an incredibly cute dog approached us. Having just spent a week in Austin with our dog-crazed friend, Dani, we were well trained to stop and say hello. His owner asked if we wanted to see him do a trick. Of course we did! We watched the clever boy bark at however many fingers his owner held up, as we clapped and cheered them on.

As we crossed the road to explore a little further, we heard the subtle sounds of a fiddle band coming from what looked like a closed shop. As we approached, we realised the six of them had crammed on the shop’s step to play. As we watched, captivated, more people crowded around. We bought a CD from them and pulled ourselves away – we had a poem to pick up after all.

Frenchman Street Band
Fiddling! As the night wore on, our photos became blurrier…

Brandon had just finished writing it up, and we asked him to read it for us. It might have been the sazeracs, but we were pretty chuffed. You can judge for yourself.

Brandon Steppen Poem
Our trip and future, in poem form

It was now 9.30 and we were no longer interested in carrying through our plans for an early night and dinner at our apartment, but we needed to eat. Wanting to simultaneously continue our musical exploration of New Orleans, we wandered into a funk jam club that offered tacos. It was the perfect combination and gave us the sustenance to drop in and see several more of Frenchman streets musical offerings.

Our musical needs satisfied, we decided to wander back towards the French Quarter. We stopped in at another art market, before heading over to Bourbon street to absorb the craziness that is a Saturday night in NOLA. Erik was also keen to watch the end of the Ohio State football game, so we found a bar that was televising the game. The woman on the door offered to find us a seat before leading us past all the TVs to their bandroom where she squeezed us in the front row to watch a phenomenal jazz band. Erik missed the end of the OSU game, but neither us were disappointed in the result.

We stumbled home in the wee hours of the morning. New Orleans now had us in its grip and so – despite a lack of sleep and weary heads – we allowed ourselves to be carried away on the same tide of music, great food, cocktails and dynamic personalities the following night.

Van life for sale!

SOLD: converted van ready for van life!

Van at Yellowstone, Wyoming
At Yellowstone, Wyoming in September

It comes fully kitted out with everything you need for life on the road. Yep, you could leave tomorrow!

We have been travelling around the US in a converted 1997 Ford Econoline E150 for the last six months. Our travels have come to an end and we are returning home to Australia and sadly need to sell our home on wheels before we leave.

We converted the van in May 2017, removing all the back seats and building in a double bed with plenty of storage underneath, a desk/shelf unit, an electric cooler and even a hidden safe which will fit two 15-inch Macbook pros and two iPads simultaneously. We also added a leisure battery and an inverter which we have used to charge laptops, iPads and run the cooler.

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The van…

The van is a 1997 Ford Econoline 150 Club Wagon with a 4.6 Liter V8 engine. It runs great. We had the brakes and tires replaced and a new alternator, second/leisure battery and inverter (to charge our devices and run the electric cooler) installed prior to starting the trip.

The odometer stopped working in October near Seattle with 178,783 miles on it (all other gauges still working properly). We estimate it has about 185,000 miles on it based on the fuel usage that we tracked. There are a few minor things that we lived with but could be fixed: loose ground in the stereo can cause it to go silent sometimes, the power locks work most of the time but sometimes you need to use the key,  and the check engine light is on but does not affect performance (we’ve had it checked).

The kit…

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  • Built in bed with 8-inch thick Zinus memory foam mattress
  • 6 Sterilite storage containers & 8 wire storage trays which all slide under the bed (which we used to store our clothes, food, kitchen utensils, camp and sports gear)
  • Eight additional grey storage tubs that fit in the desk/ shelf unit
  • Built-in electric cooler
  • A built-in, hidden safe
  • Trailer hitch and towing package
  • Camp Chef camp stove
  • 2 x folding chairs
  • Aluminum Roll-Up Table 
  • Eumax 10×10 Pop up shelter
  • Christmas lights for pop up shelter and 4 x hanging lights (we used 2 in the pop-up the pop up shelter and 2 in the van)
  • 2 x USB fans to cool you at night
  • First Aid Kit 
  • HP printer
  • Bath towels, sheets, a winter comfoter, a summer comforter and dish towels
  • Various hardware, camping and car accessories

Kitchen Utensils include:

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  • Ceramic Calphalon Frypan with lid
  • Ceramic Calphalon Saucepan with lid
  • Dishwashing container & collapsible drain board
  • French Press Coffee Plunger
  • Kettle
  • 13 Piece Mixing Bowl Set
  • Vegetable Cooker for Grill
  • 4 x bowls
  • 4 x dinner plates
  • 4 x side plates
  • 2 x large serving bowls
  • Coleman 4 person cutlery set
  • 1 large and 2 small kitchen knives
  • Silicone mixing spoon
  • Silicone flipper
  • Silicone whisk
  • Tongs
  • 4 x cutting mats
  • 4 plastic cups
  • Silicone trivet & two silicone over mitts
  • Collapsible 5-gallon water container

Everything was purchased new in May 2017 and in good used condition.

Van at Mt Pisgah
Staying on the Blue Ridge Parkway, NC in August

How much is van life?

The van has been sold. 

Getting lost in Austin

Our first stop in Austin wasn’t quite in Austin. It was actually in Driftwood, Texas where the Salt Lick Barbecue has been serving up giant portions of smoked meats for the past 50 years.

In fact, to commemorate their 50th anniversary, they commissioned a giant Texas shaped woodcut piece from local artist and friend of the Eagleroo crew, Brian Phillips. So we ate a bunch of meat and marvelled at the piece for a bit before driving that last 30 minutes into Austin proper, where the next week would afford us a lot of good times with a lot of good friends.

Meat being grilled at Salt Lick barbecue
Smoky meaty goodness at Salt Lick

The first friend we got to see was Dani, who had flown all the way from Melbourne (via Hawaii and Oregon) to spend the week in Austin with us. Slinky picked her up from the airport while I finished up some work at the local library. After work, I walked to the grocery store where they were supposedly shopping for our Thanksgiving feast. Following the trail of giggling noises, I found them ogling at the assortment of snack foods available in this country. I think Slinky has been a little let down that I haven’t always shared in her glee at the various strange foods on display as we’ve wound our way through the aisles of unfamiliar grocery stores. It was nice for her to have a fellow Aussie to commiserate with. For me, it was just nice to see my good friend after too many months. I did my best to steer them toward the checkout where the cashier seemed to have his day brightened by the duo. We took our bounty back to our AirBnB, checked in, and spent the evening catching up and sharing stories of the road.

The next day was the first Thanksgiving spent in the U.S. for two-thirds of our party. We spent the morning cooking and taking turns exploring our little corner of Austin on foot to work up an appetite. Our spread included both Turkey and Tofurky (Dani doesn’t eat meat), bourbon yams, mashed potatoes, gravy, and other beige and beige-adjacent delicacies. It was delicious and I felt very grateful indeed to spend the day with loved ones and a full belly.

Dani and Slinky with our Thanksgiving feast

Friday morning, Dani and Slinky drove the ‘roo to nearby San Antonio to stroll along the Riverwalk and tour the Alamo. I prepped them for the latter by showing them the relevant clip from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. Hopefully, when the time came they pronounced “Adobe” correctly and did not inquire about the basement. In the evening, Dani and I went to the Paramount Theater to see Hayes Carll. We were blown away by his show and by the openers, Shelby Lynn and Alison Moorer, who even threw in a Nick Cave cover. The night seemed like the perfect Austin experience: great music in a beautiful historic venue. Feeling inspired we decided to make sure to play an open mic together while we were in the same city. Dani and I play together in The Cornersmiths back in Australia and I’d really been missing playing with her.

The next day, accompanied by my friend, and unofficial Austin ambassador, Natalie, we went to the Continental Club to watch Redd Volkaert perform. This has been a tradition whenever I find myself in Austin and I couldn’t wait to share it with Dani and Slinky. The band themselves would be impressive enough, but when the floor fills with two-step dancers twirling, shuffling and dipping like they were born to do it, it’s just amazing to watch. I tend to hang at the back and try to take it all in. Dani and Slinky, on the other hand, came to play. Within a few songs, Dani was chatting up a local and finding out who could show her the steps. Then she was out on the floor twirling, shuffling and dipping like she’d been doing it her whole life. And then Slinky was out there and I started to realize I might be the only person in the place that didn’t know how to two-step. Before we knew it, the band had been at it for two and a half hours. We would have gladly stuck around longer but we had a firepit to get to. On the way out, Slinky and Dani went to talk to Redd, who was on a well-earned break, and learned that he plays a big country music festival in Tamworth, Australia every year. I guess we’ll have to check it out when we’re back.

Two-steppin’ and guitar-shreddin’

That night my friends Cynthia and Brian (who made the piece at Salt Lick) hosted us for a firepit session in their backyard. They have one of my favorite backyards. It’s situated between the house and Brian’s converted shipping container studio and every piece of furniture is colorful and vibrant. It doesn’t hurt matters that there are two awesome German Shepherds to hang out with. Our hosts spun a classic country playlist and kept us in beer, pizza, and stories all night. It had been a while since we’d sat around a firepit that wasn’t desperately needed for warmth. We tried to convince them that they need to come to Melbourne so we can repay their hospitality sometime. I hope it worked.

Cynthia, Slinky and Brian at the Firepit
Slinky firepit freakin’

On Sunday, we all wondered into Austin to check out the town a bit more. We wound up at Hope Gallery, a constantly changing outdoor street art gallery. It was a beautiful day in Austin and it was good to be out and about. That night, another friend, Jesse, came over to the house armed with a 1930’s National guitar, a banjo, a cigar box tenor guitar, and an encyclopedic knowledge of music. All of these got a workout. Every time I play guitar with Jessie I wind up learning something that opens up a world of possibilities. He and Dani got along famously and really clicked playing Summertime and Dream a Little Dream together. We stayed up late and throwing songs around. I didn’t want that night to end.

Dani, Jesse and Erik playing music

On Monday, we found our open mic of choice at the Speakeasy. We were pleased to find out that the venue actually occupies a rooftop, which offered a bit more breeze than necessary but made us feel just a little more Beatle-like. You never know what you’re going to get with an open mic night. Thankfully this one really turned out to be really fun. There was an eclectic mix of styles, including soul, singer-songwriter, hip-hop, spoken word, experimental synth weirdness, a little bit of everything. We played 3 Cornersmiths songs that we know fairly well but hadn’t played together in front of people in a long time. We seemed to remember what we were doing pretty quickly and the audience was really supportive and into it. By the end of the night, we had made some new friends, heard some good tunes, and broken the fast of playing live.

Erik and Dani playing music
Gigging between two ferns

We spent our final night in the capital of Texas eating pizza with our friends Natalie, Paul and Brian at Homeslice. They were doing a charity promotion with another local pizzeria that does Detroit-style deep dish pizza. Even after eating it, I’m not sure what the difference between it and Chicago-style deep dish is but I do know they are both delicious. The promotion must have been a success because there was a two-hour wait for a table. Thankfully we snagged a good waiting spot at the outside bar and the time flew by. After spending so much time with just the two of us, it was really nice to be among new and old friends shooting the breeze and sipping drinks. It was tough to say goodbye to everybody at the end of the night.

The next morning before leaving town, we had breakfast with Dani, who would embark on the marathon flight back to Melbourne later that evening. We roped her into an activity we have been doing since the beginning of the trip: capturing 4 or 5 bullet points in our big trip book about what happened each day. It’s really helpful when we go back to write these blog posts (sometimes it’s been a little while) but it’s also proven to be a good way to avoid constantly focusing on what’s next. We try to do it every couple of days but more often than not, wind up trying to recount the events of a week at a time. It’s actually harder than it sounds but having a third memory there helped. And it was a week I definitely didn’t mind strolling through the memories of one more time.


Hanging out in the High Desert Part 2: Utah & New Mexico

From the Grand Canyon, we drove just across the border to Utah’s Monument Valley.

Us in Monument Valley
Monument Valley!

We paid our $20 to drive around the loop through the giant red rock structures, eyeing the sign about the roads being unpaved so no RVs were allowed. We assumed this was to preserve the roads, but as we started driving around the loop, we quickly realised there was no way an RV, the roo, or indeed any car that wasn’t gifted with four-wheel drive could make it unscathed around the valley. Feeling a little sad, we turned the van around and bumped our way back across the many potholes to view the valley from the visitors’ centre before driving on to Moab.

The Roo in Monument Valley
The road looks deceptively flat in this photo, but that pretty red track is riddled with potholes

Stop 3 – Arches

As we pulled into Moab, it dawned on us that Arches may be our last stay in the van, so we felt a little sentimental as we set up our camp for the first time.

Our first day dawned bright, sunny but cold. We had a bit of work to do, so holed up in their rather wonderful library for a little while. We ended the day with a beautiful run along the Colorado River, marvelling at the fact that only two days prior we had been 5000 feet above it at the Grand Canyon.

Colorado River, Moab
Getting up close and personal with the Colorado

Expecting that the stunning weather would last (we were in the high desert, after all) we were rather surprised when we woke to an overcast day with high winds. As I sat working from the passenger seat and Erik sat huddled on the floor in the back to shelter from the sand and grit flying horizontally across our campsite, it dawned on us that our last van stay wasn’t quite what we had intended. After reviewing the weather forecast which showed the high winds increasing over the next 24 hours and adding in thunderstorms to boot, we began to reassess our options. Fortunately, for only $20 a night more than our humble campsite, we could upgrade to a humble ‘premium’ cabin which would shelter us from the impending gloom and also mean we could pack up a dry shelter rather than a damp one (one of the ongoing goals of this trip). We were sold.

Erik in the high winds
Careful, Erik! This was the start of the narrow ledge where our hike came to a premature end.

The move to our cabin complete, we spent the next day and a half experiencing Arches National Park. Due to some geological rock layering that I never quite grasped, Arches has 2000 plus natural rock arches (see what they did with the name?). We rambled, drove and hiked amongst them, until, on hiking across a narrow ledge which plummeted down into canyons either side, we were brought to our knees by the high winds and decided to call it – and our time in Arches – a day.

Stop 4 – Santa Fe

From Moab, we had a quick two-night stopover in Santa Fe to wrap up our high desert time.

Santa FeSanta Fe

We loved Santa Fe and spent our time eating New Mexican food, drinking margaritas, shopping for cowboy snap shirts and ambling around the beautiful adobe buildings. I better-acquainted myself with Georgia O’Keffee and Erik even played in a poker tournament. It was also truly one of the friendliest places we’ve been to on the trip.

Erik in his snap-shirt element at Kowboyz
Cowboy Hat
Entertaining myself whilst Erik tried on shirts

Curiously, it was also the highest point we ever got to on this trip at a whopping 8000 feet, so it seemed appropriate that we were not only physically heading downhill at the point but also starting to take the Roo into the final weeks of her journey.






Hanging out in the High Desert Part 1: Arizona

I had never heard of the high desert prior to visiting Bend earlier this year. It’s essentially up in the mountains – usually on a plateau –  with low rainfall resulting in desert type vegetation. We spent three weeks traversing this arid landscape in the south-west of the states, marvelling at its sheer size and all-encompassing redness.

Stop 1 – Flagstaff

As we started our high desert stint after a week off work, we knew we’d need to schedule some heads-down-bums-up work time. With this in mind, we booked into an Airbnb in Flagstaff, Arizona for the first week.

We try to stay in Airbnb accommodation when we’re in cities (which are generally not conducive to van life) or when we need a break from, well, living in a van. Given our limited budget for AirBnBs, it can be a juggle to get the space we need to work with the amenities that make us feel our time is better spent in an Airbnb over the Eagleroo. Our Airbnb of choice in Flagstaff was a room with a private bath and a little adjoining work area in a mansion of twelve Airbnb rooms, all sharing two kitchens and several living areas. We arrived on a Sunday night to the darkened mansion, let ourselves in, found our room and checked out the beautifully appointed common areas. It was very quiet, and as the evening wore on it suddenly dawned on us – was it possible we were alone? In a mansion? Yep, nobody else stayed there that first night or any of the six following nights.

Thus, our week in Flagstaff flew by as we worked, watched Netflix, played on the mansion’s resident Steinway (yes – Erik even convinced me to jam with him on a piano!), and generally pretended like we were living in a mansion in Flagstaff. We were so absorbed in our game of pretending to be normal people we didn’t take any photos of our temporary home, but you can check out the listing here.

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We did have one side outing to Sedona, a hippie town with incredible red-rock buttes and steep canyons. It is a new age town, with many believing that the area holds powerful energy vortexes that can encourage a high level of spiritual transformation. We went on a Saturday when it was full of tourists, so the only thing that reached a higher level within us was our stress levels, which prepared us for…

Stop 2 – The Grand Canyon

One of the incredible things about this trip is the friendships we’ve made across the way. Erik had only met Mitch and Dylan twice prior to this year, both times to complete some crazy 50-mile relay run through the woods with a group of friends. Despite this, they welcomed us into their home and showed us some damn fine New Hampshire hospitality earlier in our trip. We had such a great time with them, we decided to move our Grand Canyon dates so we could meet up with them the night before they started a seven-day hike into the Canyon.

There is not much to say about the Canyon itself except as one of my printers back in Australia put it when I spoke to him whilst there, you Americans got the name wrong… it should be the ‘fucking Grand Canyon’.  It is spectacular for its sheer enormity. So much so that your eyes seem to be playing tricks on you and you don’t trust your own depth perception.

Grand Canyon
Us and a big ol hole

We arrived at the Canyon the night before Mitch and Dylan, giving us a chance to do a three-hour hike over the rim so at least we wouldn’t feel too ashamed of our adventure-less-ness.

Given we were staying two nights at the Canyon, we also had the rare opportunity to watch the sunrise and sunset on the same day from the same spot.

We had orchestrated a neighbouring campsite with Mitch and Dylan, so all this beauty and activeness could be celebrated with campfire tacos, beer, guitar playing, bourbon and tequila whilst we listened enviously to their plans for the next seven days they would spend in the Canyon itself.

Mitch, Dylan, Sarah & Erik
These guys!

We had such a fantastic time we even planned to meet up again in New Zealand for the Queenstown Marathon in 2018. The next morning we were sad to see them go, but – feeling a little worse for wear post beer-bourbon-tequila – I don’t think either of us was jealous that they were the ones hiking 7 miles that day.

Besides, we had more desert to see.

Going for the Golden State

California was sort of a tale of two weeks.

The first week was spent at  Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Our campsite was right in the middle of the Avenue of the Giants—a collection of some of the largest and most impressive redwoods in the world. They dominate everything about the landscape, including the light and temperature on the ground below. It being late in the season and a bit chillier than most Californians like their camping weather, we were lucky enough to have a beautiful campsite with not too many neighbors around us. Equally exciting was the decent cellular coverage, meaning we could get up and work right from the campsite. We’ve come to see that as a bit of a luxury. Aside from a couple of trips into town to experience the great indoors and charge our laptops, our week amongst the redwoods was spent soaking up the magnificent trees and trying to get enough work done to take the next week off.

Slinky posing by a fallen redwood
I told her not to lean on that tree

Early on in the planning, we realized that driving down the coast of California was one of the big draws of the road trip and that to do it well we couldn’t try to juggle work with it. So we’d made arrangements to be on vacation that week and, with the exception of a few last minute requests, we were. It was a really nice break.

We started off working our way down the coast to Mendocino where we found an “ocean view” hotel room at reasonable rates. We didn’t get the best views of the ocean because it was still foggy but we had a nice time rubbing elbows with the locals at a packed Irish bar with corned beef and hospitality to spare.

Thick fog over Mendocino CA
Menda . . . see? . . . no

Our hotel luck ran out in Santa Cruz, where we experienced the dinginess and potential parking lot stabiness that is at times commensurate with our budget. The bit of the town we saw seemed nice though. We had dinner at a place called Pour, which featured an entire wall of beer taps that you activate with a wristband and select whether you want a taste, a half, or a full beer. We found the experience so much better than squinting at the tap handles while an impatient bartender stares at you. And what a great way to sample a bunch of local brews without expressing your love for or starting fights with total strangers.

Slinky eyeing the beer taps at Pour
Decisions decisions . . .

From Santa Cruz, we made the quick drive to Monterey. They’ve got seals and Steinbeck, so I was happy. We stayed two nights there, allowing us to catch our breath a bit and to see Pebble Beach. It’s a fine looking golf course but we opted not to fork over the $500 greens fees. Instead, we headed back to Cannery Row where we felt like our current lifestyle was more in line with the local history. Monterey also afforded us our first glimpses of that elusive sun, which would shine on us for most of the next day’s drive through Big Sur and down to Santa Barbara.

Steinbeck statue in Monterey
Steinbeck and the boys giving birds a place to land

We had business to attend to in Santa Barbara. We are getting married there in a couple of months so we were eager to see the venue and get our marriage license. Luckily, both of those things could happen at the Santa Barbara Courthouse. Slinky found the venue before we even started this trip. We wanted a place where her family could easily get to from L.A., the main destination for flights from Australia. When she found the Mural Room in the courthouse we knew we had found our spot. Finally getting to see it in person reinforced that decision. Adding to the good feelings, getting our marriage licence was actually one of the nicest experiences I could imagine having at a government office. The woman who guided us through the process was married to an Australian and seemed genuinely happy to be helping me join the club. We raised our right hands and swore a statement that we weren’t currently married to anybody else, after which she explained that we were not yet married, just licensed to be. This question must come up a lot because they also had it as the first item in the FAQ list she handed us.

Erik and Slinky in the Mural room at Santa Barbara courthouse
Prenuptial selfie (I’ll wear a nicer t-shirt on the day)

Unmarried but sworn in, we decided to spend the rest of our time in Santa Barbara eating good food and drinking good wine as, you know, research. After all, our families will be here with us next time and we have to be able to show them around. Between meals, we toured the Mission, guided by a docent that told rambling stories and sometimes forgot what he was talking about halfway through them. I could definitely relate to him. He also had the habit of prefacing jokes by saying things like, “now I’m going to use humor here,” which should have ruined the joke more often than it did.

From Santa Barbara, we headed south to catch up with my friends Joe and Marcia in Glendora. Getting there meant trading in the beauty of the now visible California coastline for the glacial progress of L.A. freeways. Before pointing the Roo inland, we took a stroll down Santa Monica Pier, where we saw the sign marking the end of Route 66. While our trip has not followed much of the famous route, we had seen the other end of it when we were in Chicago. Seeing this sign put into perspective just how long it’s been since we started this journey. I couldn’t help feeling really lucky that we’ve had the chance to take this amazing trip. Then I got annoyed at how many people were on the pier and the ridiculous volumes that the buskers were overdriving their amps to.

Slinky at the Route 66 end of trail sign
Sorry folks, that’s all the kicks you get

A few hours later we were through the L.A. traffic and enjoying dinner with Joe and Marcia. It’s been five years since I worked with Joe. While we’ve kept in touch, it’s been a long time since we occupied the same space. I was really glad we got to. After dinner we had a drink back at their place and compared travel, work and how did you two meet stories. It was a lovely evening.

Good times with good friends

The next morning we were off again, this time to Temecula. It was our last stop in California and our final day of vacation. I was glad to spend it with my friends Carrie and Brian who live there. I was eager for Carrie and Sarah to meet because, in many ways, Carrie is responsible for Sarah and I meeting. It was Carrie who approached me about the job that took me to Australia in the first place. Besides, I had a feeling they’d hit it off. They did. We had lunch at a local winery overlooking the peaceful hills outside of Temecula and then headed back to their place to hang out. We gave them a little tour of the van. It was fun to show off our setup and it gave me another little flash that we’ve been doing this for a while and that we’ve actually developed some skill for living on the road and organizing our lives into a small mobile space.

That night Brian made us delicious Thai lettuce wraps and Carrie (ever the bad influence) convinced us to try these jellybeans where each color is either something nice like strawberry banana or something disgusting like rotten fish. Slinky downed like five good ones in a row. I had one. It was a disturbingly realistic vomit flavor. I have now retired from that game with a 0-1 record.

As we pulled out of Temecula and pointed the Roo toward Arizona, I took the opportunity to do one last time what I’d done on a near daily basis for the past two weeks. I put on the theme song from the O.C. and we belted along, “California, California, here we come!” And there we went.



Carving our own Oregon Trail

Oregon was a place I was excited to visit not only because of its raw beauty but also to experience America’s liberal, hipster, heart.

This is the place where (in the major centres, at least… pretty sure its guns and trucks all the way in the rural areas) cold brew coffee, dogs in handmade leather berets and food trucks reign supreme. We had planned a one night stop over in Portland to soak up the uber-hipster-ness before moving on to spend the rest of our week in Bend – Portland’s smaller, more laid-back and mountainous cousin – but then, well, Paul Kelly happened.

Paul Kelly is an Australian musician who has been everpresent throughout our relationship and one whom we both love. So, when we saw he was playing in Portland two days after we were passing through, we rerouted our trip to allow us to experience this Australian music legend at the Doug Fir Lounge, purportedly one of the best small music venues in the US.

Some context for the Australian audience: Paul Kelly is virtually unknown in the states. When Erik (the fountain of all musical knowledge) first came to Australia he didn’t know who Paul Kelly was. With this as our baseline, we knew we were pretty much guaranteed to see Kelly play to a smaller crowd than we’d ever witness him play to in Australia. Oh, and all for the princely sum of $15 each. Because that’s how they roll in the states.

Some context for our American audience: Paul Kelly is to Australia what Bruce Springsteen is to the US. If you want to see him play in Australia, he is selling out venues which hold around 12,000 for around $99 a ticket next month. No joke. Because PK is the shiz… oh, and because liking music in Australia is akin to having a house mortgage (and let’s not start on that).

Paul Kelly, Portland
Paul Kelly in Portland

And it was phenomenal. He played for two hours to about 150 people (I don’t think I’ve been in such close proximity to so many Australians since I disembarked my last Qantas flight in LAX). It was heartwarming to hear so many people singing along to songs about our hometown 13,000km away.

A few days in Portland also allowed us to get our hipster ON. We drank good coffee, spent hours pouring through the never-ending selection at Powell’s City of Books (it really is a city… or in the very least, a complete city block) ate exceedingly well, and stayed in a hippie Airbnb commune.  Our only let downs were the miserable weather (which is apparently true to Portland style) and the night we walked 40 minutes to one of Portland’s many food truck parks only to find ‘open’ on a Monday meant 15 closed trucks and one which was closing down.

Having our Portlandia fill, we drove through the Willamette Valley and the beautiful (albeit frozen) Willamette National Park to Bend. Set in the high desert, Bend is far drier than Portland, so we rolled in on a mild autumnal day and set up our camp as the sun sparkled on the river in the ever-so-pretty Tumelo State Park.

Willamette National Park
The part of our Oregon Trail that led to Bend.

It is hard to verbalise what we liked so much about Bend, but it is one of the handful of places we have visited on this trip that we put in the ‘yep, we could live here’ basket (for those tracking at home – or potentially planning future holidays to visit us – NYC, Asheville, Charleston, and Seattle have made the cut). It just felt like we could spend alot of time there.

Tumelo State Park, Bend
Tumelo State Park, how I loved thee!

Our time in Bend was not only to see this delightful part of the country, but also to catch up with Erik’s friends, Conan and Amy. These guys were the ultimate hosts (not to mention a blast to hang out with) spending all three nights we were there with us, and even inviting us to share in their son Tegan’s eleventh birthday party. And with an eleven-year-olds birthday we even got to learn about the Walking Dead comic books, to boot.

We were sad to leave Oregon, and Bend in particular, but the mighty Redwoods of California were beckoning the ‘roo onwards. There is no doubt we’ll be back, and hopefully for much longer than 5 days, next time.

Sometimes you just have a perfect day

Our 24 hours in Port Townsend felt a little like that.

We had a rocky start, arriving to find the historic campground booked out and every hotel room in the town full of happy travelers that were not us. Our only in-town option was the County Fairground, which kind of felt like we might get murdered in our sleep. Stressed, cold, and tired, we looked at options C-E (the fairground being option F). Option C was Oak Bay Campground, a county-operated park 20 minutes from town.  It ended up being heaven on earth and was only at about 15% of its capacity. It was possibly the most beautiful campsite we have stayed at so far: our site was at the very edge of Oak Bay in Puget Sound and was surrounded by trees, providing us with a fairly private little enclave for the grand price of $25 for the night.

Oak Bay Campground
Our own little piece of paradise

The accommodation box ticked, we Yelped nearby dining options. We found a delightful local restaurant, Scampi & Halibut Seafood Grill, where we had a few drinks and stuffed ourselves to the gills with delicious fresh seafood. Happy, warm and full, we climbed in the back of the ‘roo later that night and fell asleep listening to the waves lapping the edge of the bay.

We woke up to the sun rising over Puget Sound and drank our coffee whilst marveling at our little corner of the universe and musing that we would spend a week in that exact spot if we could.

From there, we went into Port Townsend. Months earlier, we had booked to make our wedding bands under the guidance of boutique jeweler Stephanie at With These Rings. We knew from the outset that making each other’s rings was the right option for us, but we didn’t expect it to be such a rewarding experience, or to be so thrilled with the outcome. We left feeling happy, in love and rather accomplished at having just smithed wedding bands out of raw gold.

Stephanie gave us a hot tip to stop off at the Finnriver Cidery on our way out of town. Not quite ready to leave the Olympic Peninsula, we decided to stop in. The place was vibing with happy locals sitting in the sun, drinking cider, munching pizza and listening to a live bluegrass band. We managed to get a free cider tasting board with a token Stephanie had given us (combined with some sweet talking in an Australian accent), ate a remarkably good kale pizza that had been cooked in an old buoy (side note: Americans pronounce this ‘boo-ee’, Australians pronounce this ‘boy’), and I even had my first taste of apple cider donuts.

Finnriver cidery
Pizza cooked in a boo-ee or a boy, depending on where you’re from…
Finnriver Cidery
Anytime is cider time!

As we pulled out of Port Townsend and drove along the beautiful Washington coastline it occurred to me I may have just had one of the best days of my life.

Getting our tourist on in Seattle

The first time I remember hearing of Seattle was on the Brady Bunch.

Alice was sneaking off and pretending to go visit a relative in Seattle. The city was just a device so one of the kids could misunderstand and think that Alice was going to see somebody named Attle. She was actually feeling unappreciated for all that she did and needed a little space. But that’s really none of my business.

Coming off of our week in Yellowstone via one night stays in Bozeman and Spokane, Seattle felt very big and densely populated. Slinky had secured us a great little budget hotel with a kitchenette that allowed us to cook for ourselves—a boon to both budget and health.  Our room even offered views of the Space Needle, which was only a ten-minute walk through the Seattle Center.

The space needle as seen from outside of our hotel
Not a bad view

The weather was meant to be nice for the first half of the week before turning to the drizzle that pretty much defines the town. So, we decided to take the obligatory ride up to the top of the Space Needle on our first full day in town. While buying tickets, we saw a sign for a city pass that would allow us access to five different sites over the course of the week. Since we were interested in a couple of the other attractions, we opted for the pass and were issued with little booklets containing tickets to each attraction. Up we went to the observation platform where we could view the city we’d spend the next week exploring. By the end of it, we actually used up every ticket in the book.

Between working in the mornings and turning into full-on tourists in the afternoons, our days stayed pretty jammed. Also moving into Pacific Time while working for a client in the UK caused some hellishly early meetings for me. On the upside, Slinky found herself in much better alignment with her clients in Australia. The shift allowed a nice little window between noon and four to go out and soak up Seattle.

Seattle skyline from the tour boat
Seattle by sea, at’ll do

Our trusty tickets took us on an hour-long harbour tour of the Emerald City, during which we learned about the Edgewater hotel, which juts out over the water and where fans, undaunted by security, had swum to the hotel when they found out the Beatles were staying there. We also learned that the Seattle Aquarium (for which our booklet held tickets) had both sea otters and river otters so we made a mad dash there to see them along with sea lions and a couple of giant octopuses. Among the first things we encountered in the museum were tanks where we were invited to touch the invertebrates and feel there little invertebrate reactions. Hopefully, we weren’t just one more chapter in their nightmare existence of lacking bones and constantly being poked by people.

We used another afternoon window to visit Chihuly’s Garden and Glass exhibit. Dale Chihuly is a glass blowing artist resident to Seattle who creates these giant and magnificent works containing hundreds, if not thousands, of glass blown shapes. The light and color in the place were amazing, but truly remarkable is the sheer scale of everything he did.

Installation of colorful blown glass by Chihuly
A cartoon world made of glass

We also toured around Pike Place Market a bit, where Slinky got to see the famous fish throwing. During our wander of the market, we gave thought to visit the original Starbucks but deemed the line a little too long. Slinky had been threatening to try her first ever pumpkin spiced latte at the original location but it wasn’t happening that afternoon.

We saved my favorite ticket in the city passbook for our last full day in the Emerald  City. The Museum of Popular Culture, or MoPOP, was formerly the Experience Music Project (actually MoPOP is the museum’s fifth name since it opened in 2000). What they lack in moniker-decisiveness, the make up for in, well, everything else. In addition to the regular exhibits of legendary guitars and fun interactive displays, the museum hosted exhibits on Jim Henson, Horror Movies, Fantasy, Sci-fi, and Star Trek. Highlights for me include Woodie Guthrie’s guitar, in which he scratched “this machine kills fascists,” a booth in the Henson exhibit where you get to make your own muppet character and the bridge from the starship enterprise.

Slinky jumping across a Super Mario Bros background
Go, Mario!

But my absolute favorite part of the museum is the sound lab where banks of instruments are hooked up to consoles that give you mini-lessons and allow you to jam with strangers. They’re even organized into these little-windowed cubicles so you don’t realize you’re going to jam with a stranger until you are in place holding the instrument. I saw so many brief flashes of horror followed by smiles of pure joy in the fifteen minutes we spent in the room. And Slinky learned Louie Louie on guitar.

The museum closed at 5:00 pm and they were serious about that deadline so we sort of sprinted through a few exhibits that we would have liked to have spent more time in. I could spend a couple of hours in their gift shop alone. We capped our week off with wood-fired pizza at the Masonry and a nightcap at Tin Lizzy, a prohibition themed bar where I accidentally left without my credit card. Thankfully the same venue hosted breakfast for our hotel so I got it back nearly as quickly as I realized it was gone. Hopefully, those 10 nervous minutes will help me remember to take the thing with me next time.

Before we left town on Saturday, we decided to take one last stroll down to Pike Place Market so Slinky could get that Pumpkin Spice Latte from the original Starbucks. The weekend line we encountered made the weekday line seem almost reasonable. I mean it wasn’t anywhere near reasonable given there are 15 Starbucks within a quarter-mile radius of the place. Which is why, 90 seconds after glimpsing the line, Slinky was experiencing her first pumpkin spice latte from the not-quite-first Starbucks. Based on her reaction, I don’t guess the pumpkin spice craze is going to catch on Down Under.