Notes, for what they're worth. These notes were made "on the fly," therefore some of the mileage and nights-out comments do not represent totals.
Is the Casita
a "sustainable life-style"? (Sustainability is a big topic these days in American agriculture.) No question about it- for one person at least. For two it would be, in my opinion, a completely different story and would be highly dependent on the individuals involved. Personally, I doubt that two would work very well on the kind of extended working trips I have been making. (The first trip was 12 nights; the second, 21 nights; and the third, on which I write these notes, is scheduled for about 60 nights. I left Pennsylvania on 19 May and plan to return on or slightly before 17 July.)
is a Spirit Deluxe, and, since I am traveling without a dog on this trip, I have become very comfortable with leaving the rear dinette set up as a table/desk and the side dinette left down as a bed. I am 5' 10" and like to sleep with two pillows and this bunk gives me enough room, but not with much to spare in the foot-room department. It's a narrow bed, about the width of an Army cot, but I have gotten used to it. Some folks complain about the hardness of the Casita beds, but, preferring a firm mattress, I have found them to be very comfortable and haven't had a bad night's sleep yet. (So far I have spent 55 nights in "Otra" since I picked her up in Rice in December, 2002. NOTE: After getting home from this trip, the total nights had risen to 93.)
I'm carrying a 9" TV/VCR that I have found useful. Reception can be surprisingly good and in some locations I can pick up eight or nine channels with near-cable quality. In other location, such as South Dakota where I write these notes, there is no reception whatsoever. For these locations a video or two can be very soothing, although I am by no means wed to the tube and usually prefer silence, or, sometimes, a CD on the stereo which I stow in the center rear overhead cabinet.
It took me a while, but I finally got the hang of getting a really good shower in the tiny bathroom. A full shower with hair washing uses a minimum of four gallons of water. This is a "navy shower," however. The procedure is simple. Sit down and wash hair. Stand up and lather self. Scrub. Turn on shower and rinse off. The shower isn't running during the whole process, of course. I suppose I could do with even less water, but a four-gallon shower gives me a clean, fresh feeling and I don't feel at all that I have skimped on either water or cleanliness.
I do not drink or cook with water from the tank, preferring to rely on bottled water or water drawn into bottles from a known source. Normally when traveling I carry no more than a gallon and a half of drinking water, plus the canned beverages in the fridge
. In the southwest I usually carry a little more. When I travel with my dog, who as I said isn't along on this trip, I am not comfortable with less than three gallons of fresh drinking water aboard. I try not to roll with more than a couple of gallons in the on-board tank. At destinations where a water connection isn't available, I have found it relatively easy to replenish the tank adequately using buckets. I carry two 3-gallon plastic pails and have made a special funnel arrangement to facilitate transfer to the tank.
The longest I have gone so far without dumping the black tank has been nine days. If necessary I think I could go for three weeks, but haven't had to prove that out yet. (South Dakota, bless 'em, has RV dump stations at their rest stops!) The toilet/shower is a mighty convenience and I wouldn't even consider a trailer without one in the future.
Problems so far? A few. Driving in Iowa against incredible headwinds, I found the Fantastic fan roof vent hatch crawling open under the wind suction. This happened twice and each time I was fortunate to catch it before the wind ripped it right off. I learned that the screw crank needs to be very tight, right down against its stop, in order to prevent "hatch crawl" when traveling in such high winds. I broke the right front running light
, evidently on a gravel road in Illinois, and then the left one in South Dakota. The awning
also seems to experience some crawl when traveling and needs to be cranked tightly shut from time to time. I learned that when parking in a barn it is best to try to position the Casita where it is not directly under a bird's nest or a roosting rafter.
Design issues so far. The opening portion of the starboard rear window is just beyond the area covered by the awning
and isn't available for ventilation in a hard rain from that direction. Some of the mitred corners on interior metal trim are sloppily finished and are dangerously sharp. The adjustable latch-stop on the bathroom door is mounted in a flimsy fashion. The adjusting screw is easily stripped. I epoxied mine in the correct position, replaced the screws, and it is, so far, perfect for a gentle, secure closure. The aft overhead light
in the side dinette/bunk area is a bit too far forward for my taste. For nighttime reading in the bunk, it would be better if it were set another six inches closer to the bulkhead so the light
isn't in your eyes when trying to read. My awning
housing sticks a bit at the rear and has to be jogged every time when unfurling it.
But the pluses far outweigh these few minor gripes so far. The large fridge/freezer is a joy to have, although my freezer seems to be frosting up more than I would like. The bathroom is also very pleasant to have, as I have already mentioned. The hot water heater does an excellent job. The nine interior cabin lights
provide for an amazing variety of lighting
situations. Interior storage is more than adequate for one person and my storage system has become very efficient and easily deciphered. The closet has more than enough room for clothes for an outing of indefinite length. The galley, though small, is efficient and pleasant. The rear dinette table makes a sturdy and roomy work desk. Having ten AC outlets inside is a great convenience for charging camera and computer batteries. When at a location, I keep my laptop on all the time and am usually charging up one or two sets of camera batteries as well. At no time have I felt outlet-deprived. I have yet to use the air conditioner, so can't comment at this time. (But south Texas is coming up in a couple of weeks!) [see later note on this topic] I have used the heat strip enough to know that it is sufficiently efficient to keep the trailer comfortable when the temp dips down into the low forties and maybe even a little colder than that. Even though I have a furnace
, I have so far found that the little cube heater I carry does a fine job under most circumstances. The furnace
has seen very little use, and none at all on this trip, but I do not regret having it.
On the road. Otra pulls beautifully. I probably don't need the anti-sway bar, but I use it anyway. I like the dead-straight stability it helps to provide, even though I know that most of that stability is a function of the trailer's basic design. In 40-MPH headwinds, even in interstate cattle-chutes, the Casita is steady when being passed by semis. Of course, a heavy, long-wheel-base truck helps, but I do think that most of that steadiness is built in to the Casita design and its aerodynamics. She also takes bumps, dips, and uneven roads in her stride.
17 June '03, on a ranch in Yuma County, CO. The other night I got back to Otra after a long day of riding around with the rancher visiting the water tanks, checking stock, meeting with the county commissioners in Wray, visiting the world's largest feedlot (an awful place!), and ending up with a fine Mexican meal in the town of Yuma. When I finally got back to my little Casita, parked in the shade with her Fantastic fan purring away, I felt a powerful physical and emotional sense of being "home." I have always appreciated her, but last night (my 29th on this trip, and my 63rd since I picked her up in Rice) I felt by far the strongest affection for her yet. I made myself a drink, sat down at my "desk," flipped open the laptop (always on when I have a hookup), and started to download the day's digital image take. I was at home, and very comfortable with that idea.
I haven't had the awning out since Indiana, as the risk of high wind has been too great. But this morning it is calm and the sun is very hot, so I cranked her out for a little shade in addition to my gnarled old tree on the west side. I plan to keep a close eye on the wind, and if I leave the ranch I will furl it. The shade is just so welcome here.
How am I faring, being on the road alone for such a long time? I miss my wife, the dogs, the home compound, very much. But I feel I am doing important work and the results keep me buoyed and anxious for the next stop, the next interviews, the next pictures. And the intervening landscapes are always instructive and often spectacularly beautiful. But of course I was once told by an acquaintance that, if I thought the desert Southwest was beautiful, I was crazy as a bedbug. I just let him rave. Or maybe he was right!
Otra has been a sustaining force where this trip is concerned. Comfortable and snug no matter what the weather, she has unfailingly provided me with a place to work, cook, sleep, and stay clean and presentable wherever I am. Several of my hosts have tried to insist that I stay in their guestroom, and I have had to point out that Otra has everything I need and, their generous hospitality notwithstanding, I would really prefer to stay in her. Then I offer them a tour of my "little boat" and they see that it is indeed as I said. There seems to be a perception that living in a trailer, especially one as small as Otra, is some kind of ordeal. This misconception more or less fades away once they have seen how she is fitted out and how genuinely comfortable she is.
So far, 29 days out, I have yet to pay a penny for my overnights. But I plan to take a day off here and there and will try to take advantage of some of the camping opportunities that I encounter.
Food hasn't been a problem. When I made my arrangements with my farm and ranch contacts I made it clear that they were not responsible for feeding me, but they haven't been particularly good listeners. Take it from me, American hospitality takes a second to none other!
Later, written on the 56th day, 13 July, in Cottontown, TN. I'm on my last farm and tomorrow morning I turn Otra toward Penn's Woods and the final two-days on the road. Tomorrow night, in Columbus, OH, should be my last night in Otra for this trip.
Since my last notes I have used the air conditioner quite a bit. It is efficient and comfortable, but there have been days in Colorado, New Mexico and Texas, as well as here in Tennessee, when it worked hard to keep me cool. Not having one is not an option for me, although I will say that the Fantastic vent fan does yeoman service in all sorts of conditions short of the need for a full fledged A/C. It, too, I consider a necessity.
Tonight will be my 90th night in Otra since I picked her up in Rice on 11 December 2002. That's three months living in the trailer out of the seven I have owned her. I will be glad to get home Tuesday night, but it isn't because I am tired of living in Otra or because she has failed me in any way. She hasn't. The question about "sustainable lifestyle" has been answered to my satisfaction.
The other concern I had at the beginning of this trip, and indeed about buying Otra in the first place, was about her suitability as a working headquarters for the kind of work I do. In this I think she has done very well. I have plenty of storage for my equipment; there is adequate interior room and a comfortable layout for work space; electrical
outlets have been more than sufficient for my needs, and her living quarters and facilities have kept me comfortable and as rested as I could be under the circumstances of the trip.
In the 57 nights that it looks like I will have spent in Otra on this single trip, I have stayed in pay-to-camp areas only four nights (one National Forest in CO for two nights, one state park in NM, and one private campground in AR)for a total cost of $38.65. (That works out to $.66 a night over the entire 58 night trip.) Not once have I had to pay for dumping my holding tanks. I have used free state or local facilities in SD, NE, CO, and NM. Flying J's have provided most of the other dump facilities I have used. (When I leave here after a week, there is a Flying J just 10 or so miles up the road!) The only states I passed through that provide free dumps in interstate rest areas have been SD (every rest area on I-90 has one!) and CO (a few have them and the ones that do, do not seem to be marked). New Mexico has a free dump station at the very hospitable information center in Chama, but it was the only such one I found in that state. The only dumping problem I found with the trailer itself was the very slow drain rate of the gray tank. This is a great nuisance at dumps where folks are waiting behind you for their turn. (BTW, that Flying J "just up the road" in Franklin, KY had the worst dump set-up I have ever seen. First, there was a high curb rail, about 10", that really magnified the difficulties the low dump position on the Casita creates. Then, once over the curb, the drain standpipe itself was a good 14" high. I finally gave up and waited for the next FJ, which was fine.)
Probably because I was staying on private farms and ranches for the most part, I didn't get a lot of inquiries or curiousity-seekers about Otra. A Mexican farm worker did ask me if he would be able to get one like her for about $2000. I don't think he believed me when I told him what the going rate was.
She got awfully dirty on some of the back roads I traveled, but I found that a good rain cleaned her up admirably after the polymer treatment I had given her before setting out. I'll probably need to repeat that after I get back. The biggest problem inside was tracking stuff in. I started out with a small whisk broom and dustpan combination, but bought a full size broom to sweep her out without having to get on my hands and knees. I have the lino option and found that carefully rolling up my area rugs and carrying them outside allowed me to shake them out (standing upwind!) and return them to a swept out Otra all clean and tidy. It was relatively easy to keep her clean inside, except when it rained. In Texas she was sitting partially in a mud hole and it was a real juggling and dance-step act when going in and out to keep the world's most tenacious mud from finding its way inside. Unfortunately for me, there were several intense early morning rains in Texas, to the great delight of my farmer host who enjoyed telling me how much each rain meant to him in thousands of dollars. I did not complain.
I like the awning and like to have it out whenever possible. When there is a threat of wind, I furl it up and put it away. I'm a little amused by the caution on the awning that says it is not for anything but "sheltering you from the sun." I suppose that's a CYA ploy on the part of the manufacturer. If I had thought that a $585 awning could not be used, at least sometime, to keep rain off your gear, I wonder if I would have bought it. But I have gotten very careful about not exposing it to potentially damaging winds. Fortunately, it's very easy and quick to put up and take down. It is a very well thought out system and I like having it.
I had wanted to stop at Rice to pick up a couple of spare parts, get some questions answered, and talk to them about some of my design findings. When I got there, on 7 July, the place was locked up tight! Then something began to stir in the back of my brain about a vacation sometime around the July 4th holiday. At the WalMart in Ennis I called their number. The answering machine was set so low that you could tell there was a voice there, but couldn't hear what the voice was saying. I had hoped there would be some explanation of their closing, as I would have stayed at Bardwell overnight if the message had said they were re-opening on the 8th. As best I could tell, it was their standard after hours message, with no mention of the closing or when they would re-open. My fault, I know, for not checking dates more closely, but I took the message machine business as just one more piece of evidence that Casita isn't the least bit hungry.
This trip clocked in at 6031.7 miles, and lasted from 19 May to 15 July. We went through OH, IN, IL, IA, SD, NE, CO, NM, TX, AR, TN, KY, OH, WV. Her next outing will be in late August and we'll probably be on that one 'til well into October.
As other items and learnings from my trip come to mind I will post about them here if there seems to be any interest in this sort of thing.