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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  • 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:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  • 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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.