West Ginny

1011319_4745883535406_1532815183_n[1] I made it to the mountains of West Virginia mid afternoon. There were short bursts of light rain that gave way to warm rays of sunlight which made the lush green hills surrounding me more vibrant. Though the scenery was strikingly beautiful, I have never driven on a road quite like this one. The highway felt like it was touching the sky and it was long and winding. Before every turn, it was hard to predict if I would be going on a steep incline or steep decline. I managed to keep my fear in check. Glancing at the fine mist rising over the hills reminded me to relax and focus. 1010019_4746722476379_1707135852_n[1] 8661_4745881695360_367800864_n[1] . 1016040_4746726076469_1623456976_n[1] After a few hours of driving, the hills finally gave way to a small town. I parked Eunice and took a look around. There were several mom & pop stores on the main road, modest homes scattered in the hills, off in the distance and a train going through the center of it all… slowly carrying heaps of coal! I stopped to look at at the endless piles of black rocks.  That’s the stuff that has built our country. It’s something I don’t get to see everyday. 1006255_4746733596657_730470140_n[1] I saw a billboard miles back advertising a Shoney’s Restaurant. I’ve always been curious about that chain so I decided to have an early dinner there. It was located by the tracks like everything else. Maybe, I’ll bump into an interesting coal miner to talk to. I walked into Shoneys and was promptly seated. Like many places I’ve been to before, it was a homogeneous crowd. The people were blue-collar and “down home”, what you would expect from a coal mining town. Even though I stuck out, I didn’t feel any eyes on me beyond a passing glance. The people seemed to be just minding their own business and enjoying their meals with friends and loved ones. My waitress quickly came to the table to take my order. I opted for the buffet and got right back up again. When I got to the buffet to fill up a plate, I was pleased with the country-styled selections offered. It was similar to Home Town Buffet, so, I was happy!

As I was piling up with fried chicken and mashed potatoes, one of the young, aproned attendants came out from the kitchen to replace a few entrees that were running low. He was slender, attractive, and mildly effeminate in his bearing. He looked at me with a warm smile and I politely reciprocated before looking at other savory dishes to cover my plate. I saw out of the corner of my eye that he was still looking at me. “How often do you retwist your dreadlocks?” he asked. Puzzled, I stopped what I was doing to take a good look at him. “Once a month” I replied. “They look really pretty!” By this time, he was wiping down the counters. I asked him how did he know about my kind of hair. “I know about dreadlocks, braids, relaxers… I go to cosmetology school when I’m not here.” he said with a hint of pride in his voice. I was impressed… I told him how awesome it was that I came to the middle of West Virginia and bumped into a random white guy who has an interest in black hair care. I could only assume that he will not be staying in this town forever.

After my meal, I hopped back in Eunice and drove to the other side of the state to reach my destination, Point Pleasant… home of the legendary Mothman. It was late in the evening when I got there. Tired from a full day of driving, I checked my navigation system and opted to set up camp in Gallipolis, Ohio, right on the other side of the Ohio river, where they had a Walmart.

When I woke up the next morning, I took out my phone and searched for gyms with a shower that I could grift. There was not a one! I couldn’t say that I was surprised, because though Gallipolis and Point Pleasant were both nice and quaint, they were out of many things that other places have spoiled me with, like free hygiene. I started to search for creative alternatives and found that there was a community pool with showers that would only cost me five dollars for a daily pass.

When I got there, I found that the showers had no stalls or dividers, just clusters of plain, energy efficient shower heads like my old middle school locker room. There was a campground with showers, but the manager wasn’t home, only her killer Chihuahua who growled and followed me around the grounds. Three strikes! I didn’t think I would have to go back to taking sponge baths in my van again, but it would have to do. My only consolation was taking perverse humor in being a naked lady on Main Street in the middle of the day… and nobody knew!

Spot the naked lady!

Spot the naked lady!

After grooming, I decided to step out and check out the little shops of Point Pleasant. Main Street had an all-American look and feel, like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting. It was lined with prewar brick buildings that housed antique shops and discount boutique stores with walk up apartments on the top floor. I even saw an American flag or two hung outside… and it wasn’t even July! Then I came upon my main attraction, the Mothman Museum. 1003996_4755260049813_1841364084_n[1]   480910_4755263409897_1960542977_n[1] 944179_4755531856608_1531632162_n[1] 1010695_4755533416647_807112829_n[1] The Mothman, by local accounts, is a creepy, supernatural creature with a tall, menacing moth-like body and large, glowing red eyes who haunts the area from time to time. People have seen him flying and making high pitched screeches, striking terror in those he chooses to encounter. The Mothman has been linked to several bizarre happenings; most notably, the Silver Bridge collapse in 1967 where 46 people lost their lives. I first learned of the Mothman upon the release of The Mothman Prophecies film in 2002, starring Richard Gere and Laura Linney. Of course, as with any Hollywood movie based on true events, there was a flood of articles, cable shows, and entertainment news segments saturating the media to pique people’s interest in the film and the folklore. Mission accomplished.

When I went into the museum, I was pleasantly surprised that it was like walking into a cool, hole-in-the-wall memorabilia store on Newbury Street in Boston. The atmosphere was quirky, fun and casual just like the patrons who took time from their travels to make the visit. The museum didn’t take itself too seriously and there was a statue of the Mothman hanging overhead to greet all who entered.

All around, there were countless of eerie artifacts, drawings, newspaper clippings, and even props and costumes from the movie. In the back, there was a dark room where you could sit down and watch an hour-long documentary about the Mothman that played on a continuous loop. And of course, tee-shirts were available to buy as a souvenir. By the front counter, there were two maps displayed that encouraged patrons to pincushion where they traveled from… I was amused to see that people people had come from ALL OVER the world! Weird stories reach far. 942349_4755272170116_624564377_n[1] 1016181_4755275490199_657750767_n[1] 1013728_4755299890809_819151960_n[1] 942341_4755278930285_823713071_n[1] 1017388_4755291290594_1925425861_n[1]

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Film costumes and props

Backroom documentary screenings

Backroom documentary screenings

Questions will always linger about who or what the Mothman is. There are several paranormal theories. Could he be an extraterrestrial, a ghost, a demon, or something that simply materialized because enough people started believing in him? Does it matter? Since there’s a sizable body count attributed to this entity, I say it’s best to leave it behind as a mystery and simply pray for God’s protection from things such as this!

I spent the next few days darting back and forth between Point Pleasant and Gallipollis. Apart from hanging out at McDonalds to people watch and go online, there really wasn’t that much to do. My only source of excitement was the uneasy feeling I’d get from driving over the Ohio River bridge and then making it safely to the other side. For the first time in my travels, I started to feel restless and bored and decided it was time to quickly move on. It was a bright Sunday afternoon and I figured a dash to the nearest city was what I needed. I couldn’t get on the highway to Dayton fast enough! My impulse was to floor the gas pedal, but I stuck to my rule of never going over 55-65 mph with Eunice. And it was a good thing, too.

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Over the Ohio

  Five minutes into my drive, I smelled a very foul odor in the air and wondered if there was a sewage treatment plant nearby. Seconds later, I heard a loud POP and my van suddenly dropped and tilted to one side. My tire blew out. I was able to maintain control and quickly pulled over to the emergency lane. I got out and took a look around my camper. My left, rear tire was half way stripped and the flapping rubber violently cracked my sewer valve and hit the sewer cap clean off. Not that you could call it clean. The sewer I had smelled was my own… and it trailed all down the highway!

I couldn’t believe my luck. It was like something in this town was keeping me from leaving. Of all the tires to blow out, it had to be that one! Of all the times during my travels that this could have happened, it had to be now! Seriously?!

Sidenote: I learned from experts that tires can blow out at any time even ones that are in good condition!  I had mine inspected before hitting the road and it still happened to me.  Never speed with your camper van or RV because it’s heavy and you need to be able to keep control if something unpredictable happens.  Never risk an accident.  For the other person involved, it will be just his car that’s out of commission; for you, it will be your home!  Be safe fellow gypsies!

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LIFTOFF!

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Eunice in Astoria

I’m happy to announce that I’ve gone full nomad and now on the road!  It’s been a month since I’ve been laid off and a month can speed by fast, especially when your life is about to change.   A month is the amount of time I gave myself to tie up loose ends and grab ample amounts of quality time with Beau before heading off.  The date of my cousin’s wedding (that I recently attended) was set a month after I got pink slipped, so I planned to leave shortly after then.  Yesterday, I left Connecticut and a filmmaker friend of mine had me as a guest on his popular podcast, New York Cine in Astoria to discuss films, my gypsy lifestyle, and plug my blog.  What better way to leave the Northeast with a bang than right after a joyous celebration and a broadcast of my launch?

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Latest New York Cine Podcast wrapped up!

I had much to do, most of which entailed just figuring things out like receiving my mail and packages while on the road.  I have a P.O. Box with street addressing, but their mail forwarding service is too pricey for my budget.  I get mostly junk mail anyway, but gave my key to Beau in case anything important arrives.  With the exception of my Utah Concealed Firearm Permit coming through, I expect nothing more and will let my box expire when the term is up in a few months.   I’ll officially change my address when I finally get to Texas at the end of the summer.

For ordering goods off the Internet, I’ll simply have packages sent to the Post Office in the town I’m in and pick it up there.  This is referred to as General Delivery.  To have mail and packages held for you, have your sender write, “General Delivery” under your name.  For Internet orders, I’d use the address line on the order form.   Write the town, state, and full zip code and be sure to include the extension.  The Post Office will hold your mail for 30 days.  Finding out this piece of information will save me a lot of money and time since I was seriously considering using one of the many mail forwarding and pick-up services catering to RVers and travelers.

Since I’ll likely be in areas that are not populated with parked cars on the street, stealth camping overnight on a curb could attract the wrong type of attention.  Rest stops are out of the question because they’re spooky to me.  With a little research, I’ve found that gas stop facilities, which cater mainly to truck drivers (Travel Centers of America, Petro, and Pilot), are an excellent alterative to boondocking.  They are RV friendly, offering free overnight parking, nice pay showers (around $12), sewer tank dump stations, convenience shops and really good restaurants… some are buffet!  It’s great to know that these beacons are everywhere, in just about every state and situated right off the highway.

Another quick option (especially if you’re starting to get dangerously tired on the road) is to park at a hotel or inn, preferably with a lot of cars so you can to blend in.  It would be a good idea to find a spot out of view from the check-in desk.  Most seeing your van or small RV will assume you are renting a room.  I picked up this tip from a video and did this successfully just last night!  For those who prefer peaceful solitude and aren’t fearful of being deep in the woods and surrounded by nature in pitch darkness (like Beau), there are government-owned parks throughout the country where people may camp for free.  Don’t expect any of the conveniences of paid camps like water or electric hookups.  However, that can be part of the fun!  And let’s not forget the retail boondocking staples: Walmart, Sam’s Club, and Cabelas!

A word about finding water without staying at paid campgrounds, I’ve read on a forum somewhere that you can fill up your tank at most gas stations if you simply ask nicely… and tell them that you only need a few gallons.   We’ll see how this works for me.

Fast food, take-out, and dining on the road quickly adds up financially and on the scale.   Since I’m unemployed and many pounds overweight, this needs to be a concern of mine.   Most days, I’ll be drinking my Walker Diet low-carb powdered shakes for breakfast and lunch.  It tastes good, has a thick consistency, and mixes with water, so I don’t need to worry about refrigerating milk.   A can of it will last me a week and it’s pretty affordable at less than two dollars a serving.  For dinner, the simplest option is to go with canned food and veggies.   I’ll try my best to eat out no more than twice a week.  Good food is a weakness of mine.

With the burden of figuring out the logistics of long-term road travel out of the way, I was able to focus my attention on other things. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was forgetting something.  I quickly realized that this feeling was due to not packing belongings, something one usually does when picking up and leaving behind everything they know.  I had to wrap my head around the fact that I was leaving and not coming back.   I drove through the center of my town and thought to myself,  “I may never see this place again… and if I do, it may look totally different than what I see now before me.”

I queued up lunch and coffee dates with a hand full of friends who mattered to me, in one way or another.   It occurred to me, that if I were to ever see them again, they too would be different than how I remember them now.  Fortunately, the goodbyes at the end of lunch and coffee were not as solemn as I feared… with people connected on Facebook, to each other, they no longer have to be.

In contrast, parting with Beau, though temporary, was not as easy.   We spent nearly everyday together since we met and now, we will not.  The morning of my journey, he cooked me a simple and delicious breakfast and cut me a fresh, fragrant bouquet of roses from his garden to carry with me.  Beau had also given me a mint amethyst pendant… it’s beautiful! Before I hopped into the driver’s seat of my van, we must’ve kissed, hugged and said goodbye at least five times… painfully lingering.  The final time we embraced, we prayed for God to watch over us and to keep the other safe while we are apart.  There was a heavy lump in my throat and one coming up again as I write this.   As I drove down the interstate, I realized that Beau (the strong silent type) was the only man whose eyes teared up over parting with me.

We managed to get some good quality time together and worked out a plan (and alternatives for that plan) for when we reunite in Texas at the end of the summer.  He has a few projects and obligations to square away in preparation for his move.  The up side is that since there is much for both of us to do, three months will, hopefully, go by fast.

Beau FishingBeau fishing

So what’s on the itinerary?  I’d been asked that a lot and the answer is that I really don’t have one.  However, I have a short list of places I’d definitely like to visit.  I’ll simply roam about in between those places of interest… after all, that’s what gypsies do.

It is somewhat surreal that I’m writing this entry from Pennsylvania.  It’s been roughly a year ago since I decided to pursue the nomadic lifestyle and it’s now a reality!  Because of you, my readers (who have kept me focused), a lot of grit, and a touch of luck… I’m HERE!  Houston, we have liftoff!

LET’S CELEBRATE!!!  

Side Note:  I had a blast being a guest on New York Cine Podcast, co-hosted by underground filmmaker, Thomas Edward Seymour.   Have a listen and let me know what you think and be sure to subscribe, especially if you love film… even bad ones!

Gimme Shelter

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Old school, one story motor lodge (Bates Style)!

As most of you already know, Nemo, the great blizzard of 2013 has fallen upon us in the Northeast.  Though I had a full tank of propane, gas, and a cupboard of canned goods, I dared not brave the weather with Eunice alone.  God forbid I get trapped inside my rig with the snow so high that it blocks up my exhaust systems, leaving me to choose between suffocating or freezing to death.  How’s about choosing between watching cable T.V. in my bathrobe or downloading shows with free wifi instead?

I went to seek out “traditional shelter” by booking a room at an inn for the weekend.  I stayed at Americas Best Value Inn in Manchester.  I found them through Hotels.com after searching for some place good, clean, cheap, and comfortable… and that they were!  A big added bonus was that the building was situated on top of a high hill, so the snow did not reach as high as the lower, surrounding areas.  It was also super close to the highway and a supermarket, which managed to be opened the day after by putting up employees in the inn next to mine.

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Eunice in the beginning of the blizzard

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Eunice afterwards

Picture 6Snow to the left of me

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Snow to the right

555862_4105890135971_1988121937_nCozy accommodations

Staying at an inn was a fun little break in my routine.  I had my own shower, a plush bed, and more personal space than I knew what to do with.  I almost forgot how time consuming mindlessly flipping through channels could be.  By the second night, I was ready to go… cabin fever was already starting to creep down the back of my collar.  Fortunately, the inn keepers had their plow and maintenance guys on the ready and I was able to leave when I needed to.  There are many in my region who are still stuck in their homes or workplaces as I write this… I feel really lucky.  The main roads in my area are still pretty rough, but drivable and most businesses are closed. Thankfully, not my Dunkin’ Donuts!

Side note: I’ve been getting a few posts on Facebook and on here suggesting that I should move me and my rig to a place with a warmer a climate… Trust, I’m workin’ on it!

Good Groomin’

surprised-woman

I’m a woman living a camper van without running water in the dead of winter.  How do I do it and still be fresh and well groomed for a 9 to 5 job?  It’s time to talk logistics.  I’m not only going to talk about grooming, but also matters of functional sanitation and the like.  So if your sensibilities are especially delicate, I suggest you refrain from reading the rest of this post and patiently await the next one.  Otherwise, brace yourself for a little TMI.

My RV is fully winterized, meaning that all the tanks and lines have been drained and replaced with antifreeze.  This protects pipes and tanks against freezing which would result in expensive damages to my system and ruin my Spring.  After an RV is winterized, it is usually at this point that owners put their RV into storage or park it in their yard until the weather gets warm.  Not me!

Since I do not have the luxury and convenience of indoor plumbing, I have quickly found ways to get around it.  For showers, I go to the gym six days a week.   I make the most of my time there by going extra early to exercise for 30 minutes to an hour.  After my shower, I bake myself in the sauna to clear my head for 10 – 15 minutes and usually pray at least one Hail Mary and Our Father for the last five.  It keeps me grounded for the day.  Then I head back into the shower for a one-minute Arctic blast to cool down my system.  I get dressed and head off to work, right around the corner.

I must say that in choosing this lifestyle, you can’t be germaphobic or unwilling to shed some germaphobic tendencies that you may harbor.  With the exception of the occasional visit to friends and family, all of the toilets, sinks and showers I have used have been public.  This is not to say that I have absolutely no fear of germs and pathogens.  I do. I just take simple steps to avoid excessive contact with either of them.  Outside of work and the gym, I only go to public restrooms that are clean and well maintained.  A double layer of toilet paper line the seats and a few squares in the bowl to avoid splash backs… My apologies to tree lovers!  I always wash my hands afterwards and never grip any handles or doorknobs without paper.

At the gym, I bring along a strong water-bleach solution in a spray bottle to sanitize my usual shower stall, towel hangers, and sauna bench before I go upstairs to work out.   Most of the bad germies are dead by the time I return to lather up.   The idea came to me when I couldn’t find flip-flops in stores during the cold season to use in the showers.  I’m much happier with using bleach spray instead.  So far, no athlete’s foot… Win!

Late at night when most places are closed, I do not venture outside my camper to find a public restroom.  It’s not safe and it’s super inconvenient, especially if I’m already in my pajamas.  That’s why I have instituted third world techniques to get my business done.  In my sink, is a gallon jug of spring water for drinking and oral hygiene and a container of antibacterial hand wipes.  Hidden under my sink are two 64oz plastic containers from the local dollar store that act as substitute “liquid waste” tanks for my rig.   That’s right… pee jugs.  This is something that men have been using in cars since the creation of plastic bottles.

Since I am female and not male, putting my little tanks to use in the same manner as a man would pose a challenge.   I first tried using a Go Girl, an apparatus that would allow for a woman to go like a man, but I couldn’t bring myself to stand and go.  It just felt so unnatural… I may be a little rough around the edges, but I’m still a woman, damn it!  Also, I feared to have urine roll down my legs and unto my stain free carpet.

A solution was found to my problem.  I went out to a medical supply store and bought a pink fracture bed pan.  When nature calls (numero uno), I place it on the floor in a medium sized, rectangular plastic wash basin and then crouch over it like a cat in a litter box.  When I am done, used toilet paper gets tossed in the garbage and the contents of the bed pan get carefully poured into one of the holding containers.  This is done over the washbasin to avoid any spills on the carpet.  The bedpan is sprayed down with white vinegar solution, wiped dry and stored away.  I clean my hands with sanitary wipes and continue on with my evening.  I empty the containers as needed (usually every 5 days) at the dump station or a secluded bush under the cloak of night.  I like to replace the containers with new ones at least once a month.

For bathroom emergencies (the dreaded numero duet), I just go ahead and use my toilet… GASP!  I make sure that afterwards, I flush everything down with a good amount of antifreeze, which I have handy to prevent the waste from freezing.  I picked up this very helpful tip from JC at Longview the day I had my rig winterized.  I only had to resort to this twice, coincidently around my indulgences the week of Thanksgiving.

That time of the month isn’t as difficult to handle as I thought it would be.   The chance for messy mistakes can be high if I’m not on top of things during my heavy days.  Since I love the aqua velour upholstery throughout my camper, ruining it would be unacceptable! I usually like to use a super plus tampon in tandem with a pad, but I’ve been using a Diva Cup instead since moving into my van.  I find that using one really simplifies things and is way more economical.  It holds more liquid for longer periods of time and therefore, less bathroom changes are needed during the day and night.   The downside is that they can take getting used to in the beginning, but by the next cycle, you’ll find them easier to use.  There is also a chance of leakage if you don’t insert them properly or leave them in for too long.  It’s always a good idea to wear a pad as a back up when your flow is heavy.  I also like to place a towel under me when I go to sleep.

Keeping my beauty routine was easy.  I kept my hair’s natural, African texture and had it dreadlocked in a feminine style.  Though I choose to go to the salon once a month, it’s a simple style that I could maintain myself when I finally go on the road.  I find this style more favorable than when I had my hair chemically straightened years ago.  Simple is always best.  Woe to the black gypsy with high-maintenance hair who finds herself without a qualified salon in the remote corners of South Dakota!

My skincare is low-maintenance, as well.  I like to shower with Suave shampoo because it’s chemically identical to body wash, only cheaper!  I tone my skin with witch hazel and moisturize with facial lotion by Lacura, a low cost, high quality skincare line that can be found at any Aldi’s grocery store.  I then lotion my body from the neck down using a somewhat pricey body cream, CeraVe… my one “splurge”.   I mix in as much liquid MSM in the jar as I can get away with to keep my skin tight during weight loss.

skin

Day & night Cream and a water optional cleanser

Hands

I usually don’t wear a lot of make-up.  I’ll fill in my eyebrows, line my eyelids and apply some mascara.  I dust my cheeks with blush in a natural hue and put on some lipstick… usually coral pink.  Yes, pink can really look beautiful on women of darker shades, especially mocha ones!   I find that it gives me a youthful glow, so I stick with it.  At night, I use eye make-up remover for my mascara and Walgreens make-up remover wipes for the rest of my face.  I’ll follow up with cleansing using Walmart’s version of Cetphil Gentle Skin Cleanser, tissue it all off, tone with witch hazel and moisturize with Lacura night cream.  The routine is easy and effective, no running water needed!

Side note:  Going to the gym regularly is an unexpected benefit of my new lifestyle.  I’ve never consistently gone to the gym for this length of time before.  I do so because I have to and I am glad for it!  I have so much energy at work and my body is much stronger and supple.  I’d like to add that anyone living in a camper would have a lot to gain from working out.  At least twice a day, I have to stretch my whole body over into the cockpit to pick up my 25 pound gym bag on the passenger side floor and it feels easy to do so.  I’m 40 pounds overweight and there was a time picking up a bag in this manner would feel like a strain.  Since I rarely enter and exit my home via the side door, I constantly have to jump back and forth over my storage box between the seats, which separate the cockpit from the house part of the van.  I always have to keep good balance while hopping in and out of my vehicle, which is somewhat high off the ground.  It is important to be able to easily navigate in and around my rig.  I also have changed my eating habits by eating low-carb.  Though I’ve cheated several times, I still feel great.  Simplified life realization: Our health is our wealth!