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Coast to Coast

We left our home in San Mateo, CA at 4:36 PM on Saturday, June 24. We traveled 3,333 miles across the United States and arrived in Baltimore on Friday, June 30 at 1:50 PM. 

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Day 1: San Mateo, CA > Tahoe City, CA (224 miles)
Day 2: Tahoe City > Stansbury Island on the Great Salt Lake (586 miles)
Day 3: Stansbury Island > Gothenburg, NE (744 miles)
Day 4: Gothenburg, NE > Lenox, IA > Olathe, KS > Kansas City, MO (514 miles)
Day 5: Kansas City, MO > Nashville, TN (568 miles)
Day 6: Nashville, TN > Asheville, NC > Oak Ridge, NC (480 miles)
Day 7: Oak Ridge, NC > Baltimore, MD (217 miles)

We did not take the most direct route, going out of our way several hundred miles to visit friends and family in Iowa, Kansas City, and North Carolina. When you’re going that many miles, a few more miles is no big deal, especially when it means seeing loved ones. There were also several short detours to find a swimming hole or park for us all to get a little exercise.

There were many meaningful goodbyes as we made our way east. It’s exciting knowing so many people are watching what we’re doing, cheering for us, and helping us make this dream happen. It has been a shit-ton of work, a lot of planning, a fair amount of money, and even a little stressful.

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The boys I have taken care of for nearly seven years gave me a four-leaf clover that they found in their backyard and had laminated to be the size of a credit card. It lives in my phone case, and I like to believe it brought good luck as we traveled across the country. Another friend’s boys gave us a compass, with 5-YO Emmett explaining, “It’s so you don’t get lost when you’re in Europe.” (Thatcher was far more interested in inspecting Greg’s carpentry.) We are sure to find our way with these talismans guiding us!

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We were disappointed to have to make the mad dash across the United States. We were working hard to meet a deadline for getting our van on the freighter in Baltimore. U.S. Customs requires that the vehicle be at the port five working days before the ship leaves. This worked MUCH to our disadvantage. The ship date is July 8, but because of the July 4 holiday and the weekend, that meant we had to have it there by 2 PM on Friday June 30. This really put us in a lot of pinches (and now has us in a lot of hurry-up-and-wait).

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Oh Darling, Let’s Be Adventurers!

May 27, 2017 Fear, Freewheeling, Fun 1 Comment

We are nothing if not adventurous, Greg and I. Booze and snacks aside, I’d say that adventure is somewhat of a defining quality in our relationship. From running and kayaking (and faulty spray tans!) on our first date, to SCUBA diving the day before our wedding in Belize, to our triathlon escapades, to pretty much every trip in the van. Who am I kidding? Relaxing in our backyard hot tub turns into an adventure around here.

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10 years of adventure: 2003 – 2013

It’s something I really like about us. Greg has brought out the adventure in me, and I like myself more because of it. It requires one to have the “I’m up for anything” mentality, which is sometimes hard to come by. Finding happiness in being up for anything requires that you not let yourself attach too much expectation to the outcome. I think that’s where people get hung up.

Remember how fun this was? Me either.

Remember how fun this was? Me either.

I was feeling stale with things at the end of 2015. Everything seemed to be the same-old without any big prospects on the horizon. Don’t get me wrong; I wasn’t looking to sign up for another Ironman or have kids or anything crazy like that. I was considering volunteer opportunities. I was considering learning a foreign language. I was considering looking for a new job.

I mentioned my feelings to Greg and he confessed to feeling the same way. I shared my ideas and he introduced another: taking a year off to travel. I paused and spent about 23 seconds to consider all of the possibilities before yelling, “AREYOUFUCKINGKIDDINGME?!?!? YESSSSSS!”

And then I remembered who I was dealing with. So I reined it in, like, “I mean, that would be fun. If you think so. I’d be game. I don’t know. I mean…”
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His first idea was to buy a boat and sail the Mediterranean, but we quickly abandoned that plan and opted for traveling around Europe in a new, custom-built (by him) campervan. He said it was something he’d been giving some thought to for a while. He was about to celebrate a milestone birthday and it might be a fun way to shake things up.  It would take a lot of work, a lot of planning, but could really be fun. I think I cried happy tears, then I started making lists.

The adventure has begun, as you have seen with the new van being built. We’re also riding the documentation roller coaster with having our birth certificates and marriage license apostilled, trying to finagle a long-term visa without a residence/address, getting all of our adventure gear over there (four bikes, four sets of skis, kayaks, necessary clothing/helmets for these sports, etc.), and making sure Miles has the appropriate authorization. We’ve said from the very beginning: If Miles doesn’t go, we don’t go.

And then there’s the adventure of what to do with the house while we’re gone — to rent or to sell? We’ve decided to rent and are working to find renters within our network (rather than the scary Craigslist universe). Things look promising after calling upon my Facebook network for help.

Everything is falling into place, as it tends to do when you research and plan like crazy. After more than a year of scheming, it feels surreal that it’s actually happening. We bought three one-way tickets to Germany today.

Here we go!
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Van 2.0: Framing – Living Space and Garage

April 12, 2017 Freewheeling No Comments

With the basic steps of insulating, paneling, and upholstering the van, Greg got to work framing in the living space and garage. This was a really exciting step because it gave us a true sense of where everything would be and just how much/little room we would have.

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The design of this van is completely different than our last build-out. In the last van, the bed was bunk-style over the cockpit and the entire back of the van was couch/storage/kitchen. Our bikes and skis were hauled on racks on the back of the van.

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We bought a longer rig this time (23 ft. vs. 18 ft.), so we put the bed in the back. As a reference point, Greg designed the base of the bed frame to be the same height as the countertop, which is waist-height for me (I’m 5’7″).

As Greg was researching other vans and designing the configuration, it became clear to him that the most efficient use of space would be to have the kitchen area directly behind the driver’s seat. When he showed me those plans, I pushed back and asked if he could reconfigure everything so that the couch was facing the sliding door behind the passenger seat. When we swivel the front seats around, that little area becomes something of a “living room” and all of those seats become a great view on the world while sitting in the comfort of the van. He is a very nice (and talented!) person and accommodated me, drawing up entirely new plans.

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In the new configuration, the kitchen is in front of the bed and there’s a small space for a custom-built couch right behind the driver’s seat. With those plans in mind, he went to work buying the aluminum framing and wood (1/2″ pine plywood clad with a layer of birch, Home Depot) and got to work.

When you enter the van from the sliding door behind the passenger seat, there is an L-shaped countertop that runs along that wall and the entire foot of the bed.

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Underneath the cooktop+sink, he has plans to install a small panel for electrical switches, storage drawers, the inner workings of the sink, and space for trash/recycling. Underneath the long countertop will be the 40-gallon water tank (with storage above it), the interior heater (powered by propane, housed under the van), and a fair amount of cabling/venting/wiring.

Next to the bed, on the driver’s side, is a “floating closet.” It is a wall-mounted storage unit that will hold our clothes and such. As I look at this space and I look at the closet space I currently have, I realize just how much work I have to do in deciding which ~20 pieces of clothing (and shoes! and toiletries! and whatnot!) I’m taking on this adventure. *gulp*

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Getting all of this framed in was a really good indicator of how things would come together. Satisfied that it would work, Greg picked up where he had left off on the garage.

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A reasonable amount of preliminary work had been done on the garage and once the living space was framed, Greg went back to work building it out.

From the above picture, you can see that he has glued down an industrial carpet and has the bike drawers installed. We saw this feature with a couple of other build-outs and it’s a great way to get the bikes in/out. In the below picture, you can see the how the road bikes fit (near drawer), as well as the wider drawer built for the mountain bikes behind it.

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In addition, he has the wheel wells framed for additional storage of miscellaneous items (snow chains, tools, etc.). You can also see the ski storage he has built along the passenger wall. He’s really done a great job of maximizing all the space and keeping things tidy.

All that said, here’s how the front of the house looked as of November 28, 2016 (3 months after bringing the empty rig home):

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There has been so much work done since these photos were taken. A lot of small, but important, decisions. A lot of “measure twice, cut once” moments. There have been a few in-van drinks to celebrate the interim triumphs. Or maybe that’s just me drinking in the van, supporting the guy who is working tirelessly at it…

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More updates with the cabinets, the windows, the flooring, the countertops, the electrical… so many things! We’re remarkably close to the first “let’s just take her over to the coast for an overnight test run,” which is exciting!

For more timely updates, feel free to follow me on Instagram.

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Van 2.0: Insulation, Paneling, Upholstery

February 20, 2017 Freewheeling 2 Comments

First things first. When you start with an empty shell, the obvious first step is to insulate and soundproof it. After driving 2000 miles in an empty shell, the importance of this step cannot be understated.

Greg started off by lining all the walls and inner “pockets” with 3M insulation. He left spots for where there would be windows. He’ll fill that insulation around the windows when they go in.

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Greg then measured all of the grooves in the floor and went to work cutting 3/16″ plywood that would be polyurethaned and then glued into the grooves. This process was tedious, to say the least. He’d cut them and I’d go to work putting the polyurethane on while he moved on to other tasks.

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Once the basics were done, he started building panels for the walls and ceiling. Of note, if you’re starting from scratch: when he ordered the van with no windows, he expected it to have walls/paneling. He was unpleasantly surprised to find it as bare bones (down to the metal) as it was.

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This is not an OSHA-approved workspace

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This was also tedious, cutting each panel to size and cutting around all of the little nuances, then putting two coats of polyurethane on each.

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Once it was confirmed the panels were cut appropriately and ready to go, he started upholstering them. For the ceiling, we went with a pewter/gray tweed that is a good match to the upholstery that’s in the cab of the van, and a tonal black/gray tweed for the walls.

Between the two of us, we didn’t get pictures of the actual upholstering process because it’s pretty boring. He cut the fabric, leaving a couple of inches around the outside of the wood panels, then used a 3M spray adhesive to attach it. He folded the ends over and made cuts as necessary to create a finished look. Pretty basic stuff. He used 3/4″ self-drilling screws to attach them to the walls and ceiling (black screws for the walls, silver for the ceiling).

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Beginning with the end in mind — and because it would help while working at night — he also got the ceiling panels wired up with LED lighting.

The last picture shows us getting a bit ahead of the story because it shows the framing of some important components. That’s where we’ll pick up the build-out.

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The Best $12 I’ve Ever Spent

January 24, 2017 Family, Fear, Freewheeling No Comments

Dad and I rolled out of Kansas City at 2 PM on Tuesday, September 6. I had mapped out our route, but we had no set plan for the trip. By that, I mean that I didn’t have an idea of how far I wanted to make it on any given day. “As far as possible” is the closest thing I can give you as an answer to that question.

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I needed him to drive the first leg for a couple of reasons:

  1. I was really scared of driving this behemoth.
  2. I needed to go through all my emails with the salesperson at the dealership to figure out how this van could have possibly been ordered without cruise control. In taking possession of the vehicle, the first question I asked when I sat in the driver’s seat was, “Where’s the cruise control?” When I told Greg the bad news, he texted back to say he was “distraught.” Ugh.

Dad drove through the first tank of gas, which was 217 miles. In that amount of time, we realized that it was too noisy to turn on the radio or listen to an audiobook or podcast. It was basically too loud to hold a conversation at all. I was stressed, so was he. Not the super-number-one-good times we had hoped for. On top of all of this, my dad is 72 years old and had a nasty summer cold. Yay.

We stopped at a Casey’s General Store in Kingman, KS to fill the tank and get some much-needed provisions: a styrofoam cooler, ice, Mike’s Hard Lemonade, and Budweiser. The outside temperature was over 100*F coming across the west-facing Kansas plains and the wind was blowing like crazy. Keep in mind, we’re in a black metal box with no insulation or soundproofing.

I took over the wheel and got us to Texhoma, another 230 miles, which involved a late night thunderstorm and crazy cross-winds. It was not an easy drive, to say the least. But I am goal-oriented to a fault, and it felt good to check the boxes crossing from Iowa (my parents’ house) to Missouri (dealership) to Kansas (lunch with aunt and uncle) to Oklahoma (60 miles across the panhandle) to the Texas border in one day. We stayed at a very clean and comfortable hotel and got a good night’s rest to continue on our journey.

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We were up early the next morning for more of the same. There was a strong cross-wind, but we got lucky that it was an overcast day. I drove 12+ hours that day — 865 miles without cruise control — taking us from the Texas/Oklahoma border to Boulder City, Nevada.

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We were, of course, on Route 66. We knew we needed gas at some point, and there were hundreds of billboards littering the highway advertising their wares (as well as fuel, though prices were not always given). The highlight of that stretch was pulling into the Flying C Ranch, only to find that the gas was at $0.56/gallon higher than it was elsewhere along the route. Blasphemy! We saw that and I hit the gas on our way out of there, unintentionally spraying other weary travelers with the muddy water from a puddle. I legitimately felt/feel bad, but that gave us a much-needed laugh!

We stopped down the road at Clines Corners (where we probably paid just as much for gas). We also secured some M&Ms and a Mexican blanket that served as a barrier between the cockpit and the black hole that was the rest of the van. It helped the situation so much. We honestly couldn’t believe how much “soundproofing” this very primitive solution provided. That’s the best $12 I’ve ever spent. I’m sad I did not get a picture. We probably looked like fugitives driving down the highway in a windowless van and a Mexican blanket behind the cockpit!

Handy little compartment for my M&Ms.

Handy little compartment for my M&Ms.

Dad splurged for rooms at a historic hotel in downtown Boulder City, Nevada that night. We were hoping to meet up with Greg’s uncle and aunt, but they were otherwise detained. I made some wrong turns on my run the next morning that sent me farther than I wanted to go, and that set us behind on our plans to meet up with Dad’s 92-year-old sister in Las Vegas. Visiting with Maureen and her family was the most important stop on our trip. While we got there late, we had a very nice visit; it will possibly/probably be the last time we see her. What a blessing!

I’m going to add this tidbit here, mostly so that I remember it: We were sitting at an outside cafe in Boulder City, having a nice dinner and enjoying the fresh air. Dad made a point of stopping me in conversation to tell me he was proud of me. That he never once felt scared with me behind the wheel, and that I must have felt scared when he was driving (which was true, making me even more scared to drive). That it’s a tough rig to drive in these conditions and that I was doing a good job. I may be 42 years old, but sincere praise from my dad still goes a long way.

From there, it was more of the same for the next 600 miles. Me driving, Dad looking happily out the window and remarking as he saw fit:

“Why is that fence there?”
“Who put that highway there?”
“Why are there so many trains going this way?”

“That mother fucker doesn’t know what he’s doing. Get around him, and quick.”

So what I’m trying to say is: I own the highway. I am at one with the truckers. But only because of my dad. In all honesty, this was the best thing that could have happened. As not-fun as it was for either of us, I got really comfortable driving a really uncomfortable and out-of-my-comfort-zone vehicle. If Greg had taken possession of the van and driven it home (even if I was with him), I would not have driven it because I would have been too afraid. I needed to do this.

My dad’s words: “I’m never going to drive this vehicle again. You need to learn to do this.” He was right, of course, as dads are. He taught me, and he did it in a way that didn’t make me feel stupid or inferior or that I should somehow know how to do this already, having never done it before. He taught me to use the mirrors for maneuvering on the highway, to park in less-than-ideal situations, to park the rig in my own very tight driveway!

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Vans aplenty!

Greg wasted no time getting to work. Dad and I rolled in on a Thursday evening and Greg got to work the next day. We’ve documented the process, which I’ll share here, of course. This is where the real fun begins!

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Van 2.0

January 9, 2017 Family, Freewheeling No Comments

If you read my Welcome, 2017 post and/or if you follow me on Instagram, you know that we bought a new van in September. Well, we bought it in April, but we had to wait for it to be built.

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Brand new 2017 Ford Transit! (The color is called “magnetic.” We get asked all the time.) And as you can see below, we opted for no interior options. Well, that’s not exactly true. One of the amenities that we did opt for was cruise control, and our sales guy missed that on the last iteration of back-and-forth. Not cool. We got an aftermarket kit that Greg has installed, but that was no help for me driving 2000 miles across the desert…

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My parents and I picked it up outside of Kansas City, fresh off the assembly line, and my dad and I drove it back to California so Greg could get to work building it out. The odometer had 11 miles on it when we hit the road. Don’t worry, there are stories.

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Right off the bat, I’m sure you have a million questions and I’m going to answer them in a very comprehensive post. I can’t really talk about the whats and whys of everything right now. I promise, I will fill you in when the time is right. Sorry for being so cryptic, but I’m honoring Greg’s requests on this.

Anyway, NEW VAN!

I have a ton of pictures and descriptions of the build-out. Greg designed it (allowing me a lot of input on my preferences) and is doing a crazy-good job of making it come to life. Every day, he comes home from “real” work and changes his clothes to go work out in the garage and van for the rest of the evening. He had a holiday break from December 23 through January 2 and the amount of work that he got done in those 10 days is amazing.

I can’t wait to show you the progress!

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MDW Cycling Adventure

More adventures awaited us on Sunday. Greg had been poring over maps for a few days to find a good bike ride for us. We know the Vineman race routes well, but wanted something that headed out to the coast. Greg showed me the options, me being very clear about saying I wasn’t up for a long ride — 25 miles was my goal for the day. He estimated a route for me that we could do together until I peeled off to head home and he continued on for a longer ride. Let’s go!

The first nine miles were great. Rolling hills along the river and into the town of Cazadero. At mile 9.5, the road went up and continued going up with only slight reprieve for another nine miles. I have not been training on hills and this definitely felt like work. Also, I had a lot of time to think while I was climbing. Not all of the thoughts were good ones, GREG. Among them was the thought that there was no way this was going to be a 25-mile ride. I knew where I was on the map and there was no way this was going to work out. I was right.

It turned out to be a 37-mile ride with 3,151 feet of elevation gain. Yeah, not exactly the ride I signed up for. But the scenery was beautiful!

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During a photo op outside of Jenner, I let Greg know what I thought about his route planning skills. Ha!

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It’s always an adventure when Greg is doing the planning!

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MDW Kayaking Adventure

We headed north over the Golden Gate Bridge for the holiday weekend; Greg took Friday off, so we got a head start. Heading to the Russian River was my idea. I was chasing the sun and 80*F temps, along with water that is very swimmable this early in the season. Thankfully the forecast was accurate!

We stopped at the Fishetarian in Bodega Bay for a lunch of fish tacos and beer.  It was chilly on the coast, so we quickly made our way inland to Monte Rio. It’s a little sleepier than Guerneville and there is a shady parking spot adjacent to the dog beach. Perfect! Miles swam around with his ball during cocktail hour while we contemplated how to spend the next 3 days.

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The real adventures began on Saturday. Greg and I went for our respective long runs (7.5 miles for me, 10 for him) and then we started scheming the best way to kayak the river. For all of Greg’s planning efforts, things could not have gone worse.

We drove 3 miles out to Duncans Mills to drop a bike there. That’s where we’d take the boat out of the water. I volunteered to ride my bike back to collect the van, which we would be leaving 7 miles upriver in Guerneville. At Johnson’s Beach, we loaded the boat with our phones, my cycling shoes, booze, and snacks and set off down the river.

The three of us (me, Greg, Miles) were in the inflatable kayak, which made it very difficult to steer. Greg also forgot one of the seats, so he was leaning against a lifejacket in the back. These two things alone made for a long trip. What literally made the trip long is that the current in the Russian River is about as strong as that on a lake (read: almost imperceptible). So instead of just floating happily with the current, we were actually having to do a lot of paddling. I’d happily paddle, but Greg was having to work so much harder to steer the boat when I paddled that it was better for me not to (other than when we were paddling into a strong headwind, which was often). We thought we’d be able to average 3 mph or so down the river, but we were only averaging 1.5 mph. A booze cruise that should have taken no more than a couple of hours took over four and ended up being a lot of work.

On the upside, Miles had fun! We would throw his ball and he’d dive off the kayak to fetch it, then swim alongside the boat until he could walk on an island to rest for a minute. We got good at lifting him into the boat using the handle on his Ruffwear harness. He’s such a good adventure dog!

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We were thinking we’d be able to pull off onto islands to stretch our legs and hang out, but we were running out of time. We didn’t get started until 2 PM and we had a small issue at the end of the line. This is where Greg’s planning skills really fell apart. You know, details like where we’d be able to pull the boat out of the water in Duncans Mills. He thought he saw a place on the map. He assumed there would be a trail. He guessed no one would be around to see us hauling a kayak and gear out of the water into town.

Well, there were people at the place he thought he saw and they said it was a private beach (maybe). The other place he had in mind was farther away than he thought it was. The one place he did find wasn’t really a trail at all, which would mean we’d need to bushwhack our way up the hill and into town. I was OVER IT by this point (as we all were), but there was no choice but to go with this plan.

It was treacherous and awful. I was wearing a bikini and flip flops, having taken my river shoes out of the van during ski season and not remembering to put them back. There was poison oak and thistles everywhere. At one point, I made Greg stop so I could take a picture to document the desperate situation. Of course, once we got the boat into town, I had to get on my bike and ride 7 miles back to Guerneville. FML.

The sun was behind the mountains by the time I got back to Duncans Mills at 7 PM, and the breeze blowing off the ocean was cold. Greg and Miles were wet and freezing by the time I rescued them, and Greg still had to break down the kayak. We slept well that night and woke up sore.

Three days post-adventure, spots of poison oak rash started showing up on my legs and torso. And my face. My chin and lips are covered in oozing sores. I got a steroid shot this morning and am on my way to the pharmacy for cream now. What a delightful souvenir from our trip!

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Photo Faves

This photo is old, but it’s one of my favorites that I didn’t share here:

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Greg and I took a road trip the week after Christmas 2014 and woke up on New Year’s Day in the middle of nowhere. Honestly, I can’t tell you the nearest town. We were in central California, somewhere between Highway 101 and I-5, as if that is any help at all… We eventually made our way to Ojai that afternoon (and it didn’t take all that long), but I have no idea where we were.

I had just finished my first run of the year and came upon the van to find Greg standing on top of it with his binoculars. I loved that it was the first day of the new year and it seemed as though he was looking back at 2014 from up there. I don’t often run with my phone, but I was really glad I had it with me that time.

I’ll try to post more photos that I find in my camera roll that I haven’t shared here; it’s kind of fun to look back on our adventures that way.

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Freewheeling: Kitchen Updates

August 17, 2013 Freewheeling 2 Comments

Right after we got back from Ironman Canada, Greg went to work redoing the kitchen. We found out very quickly that the setup was not very efficient and were able to identify ways to improve it.

As a reminder, here is what it looked like:

The stove/sink unit is on the right side, adjacent to the couch. The refrigerator is underneath the wooden countertop, on a slide-out mechanism that locked into place. It had to be rolled all the way out to be able to open the fridge. We found that wasn’t very convenient (especially when I wanted to fix a snack as we were driving down the road).

On top of the setup not being very user-friendly, it didn’t look very good. Here is the updated kitchen:

The new kitchen is so much better! The countertops and black paneling really make it look clean and “finished.” Plus, those countertops make it much easier for clean-up. All of our cooking supplies live in the storage drawer, making it easier for us to find things and keep everything organized.

The one down-side to the fridge top being part of the counter is that we have to move things off of that space when we want to open the fridge. I learned that the hard way a few times and have gotten much better about taking everything I’ll need out of the fridge before I start prepping.

Greg thinks of a lot of small details, and the LED lighting on the underside of the overhead shelves is really handy. He has the lights running from a switch on the electrical panel (just to the right of the water tank fill hole), making it really easy to access them. They make it nice for changing at night without blinding everyone with the harsh side-mounted light.

You may have also noticed that he made the low-profile shelves beneath the overhead shelves into drawers. I wasn’t sure I’d like this “upgrade” because I am not quite able to see into the drawers without standing on my tip-toes, but it does make it nice that everything looks tidy and nothing falls off of these shelves anymore.

This kitchen has served us well and Greg doesn’t have plans to make any changes to it. Two upgrades that he’s researching now are adding hot water to the sink and adding a shower option (with the spigot on the outside of the van).

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