For months leading up to our day of departure, March 4th 2013, I assumed I’d be full of energy, bouncing off the walls like I typically did as a child, the night before Christmas. I figured I’d climb into the driver’s seat and set off down the road with “Born to be wild” ringing in my ears, not stopping until we reached our first destination, Ft Wayne, a piddly 161 miles away. I had spent half my college years driving back and forth from Iowa to Buffalo, a trip of 800 miles. This should be easy.
But no. Barely two hours into our epic odyssey, I pulled over to a rest station just over the state line that separated Indiana from Michigan. Chris rearranged our piles of boxes and bags for me, and we took a nap in the middle of a freezing March day. Our 3 year old Border Collie, Shalosh, slept warily on the floor. It was a strange moment for everyone.
Technically, I’d been getting ready for this road trip my whole life, but preparations didn’t really begin in earnest until July of 2012. I had just returned from my Birthright trip to Israel, disillusioned and twitchy from sleep deprivation. I was starting my first ever “big girl” job at the Delonis Center, a 4 story homeless shelter in Ann Arbor, at the same time that Chris was getting back into meat cutting at Sams Club. Faced with the possibility of a career, steady pay, and maybe even health insurance, I took my chance on a project I’d been dreaming of for years. I bought an 8 cylinder used Silverado and handed a check for $4,000 to a bartender named Tim, to build my tiny house.
When Tim got started building what I would eventually name the Wagon House, I had no idea what I would do with it. Chris and I had talked in circles for two years about what we envisioned for our futures. I wanted to travel with renaissance festivals, traveling from state to state in 8 week chunks, selling jewelry and maintaining no permanent address. Chris wanted a steady job and a house of our own, somewhere that he could set up the enormous stereo system he’d cobbled together out of old components from my deceased father’s storage unit. There was little compromise between these two positions. I know I held out hope that eventually Chris would change his mind about all that boring stability stuff.
Every week or two, on a day off from the shelter, I would drive over to Tim’s build site, the back yard of a mutual friend, Victor. I saw the Wagon House come together, a few boards and nails at a time. It was a simple frame in July. By September there were windows and insulation. When Tim put the door on in December, he proudly demonstrated how cozy and warm the little structure was, even without any kind of heating system. In February, lacking the proper camper mounts to install the Wagon House into the bed of the truck, Tim devised a scheme involving a car jack and several lengths of PVC pipe cut to the width of the truck bed. It took 4 men a lot of careful wiggling to get the camper up on the pipes and roll the whole structure into the bed of the truck, while I stood off to the side, taking pictures and praying frantically that 3 and a half years of dreaming wouldn’t splinter apart at my feet. Four c-clamps later, I was posting pictures to facebook, proclaiming “I am a four time college drop out and now I am a HOMEOWNER!” I wore the key to the Wagon House door around my neck every day until we were ready to roll out.
Chris had quit Sams Club just after Thanksgiving and I was winding down my responsibilities at the shelter. My manager agreed to let me throw a going away-launch party in the cafeteria during my last week, which was well attended by shelter staff and residents, friends and family. The best surprise I got was my best friend Ron driving in from Buffalo to give me and Chris a cook book, which, looking back on it, I’m not sure how we ever managed before we got that cook book. Chris and I had driven the Wagon House up to the shelter and a few brave residents faced the chilly night to get a peek at my new home. We didn’t have a futon mattress inside yet, or any belongings, so it looked more spacious than it really was. The scents of pine and cedar were still strong.
After my last day at the shelter, Chris and I spent 3 last frantic days emptying the apartment I’d had for two years. The act of packing items seemed to make other items multiply. I took frequent breaks to run down to the Sunoco and bring back more Mountain Dew for Chris and Frappacinos for me – we were both temporarily abandoning our caffeine free ways. At long last, the apartment was empty. I handed over the keys to a friend of the landlord, and we headed north to my mother’s house to spend our final days before the official start of the road trip.
Something was wrong. I was too sick to be excited. I had boldly stated over and over that Chris and I would sleep in the Wagon House, out in the drive way, plugged into my mother’s garage and kept warm by our electric blanket, but neither Chris nor my mother would hear of it. I spent two nights swaddled in fluffy blankets and firm pillows, in the same bedroom I’d spent my teen years in. My mother tried to take us out to dinner, but I left after one bite of eggplant Parmesan, afraid I was going to throw up. On Launch Day, she made us a delicious breakfast of sausage, fruit, and scrambled eggs with feta, but I couldn’t keep it down. I expected I’d be a little nervous but I felt betrayed by my stupid, fragile body. “You’re making me look bad! Everyone’s going to think I’m too scared to go through with the trip!” I screamed at myself, inside my head.
But sick or not, we were leaving. Shalosh had learned how to leap up into the backseat, and one of my Christmas gifts to myself was a clip-on barrier to prevent her from trying to climb into my lap while I was driving. My mother came outside to fortify me with last minute hugs. Chris helped flag me out of the driveway, and onto the street. One, two, three, four turns, down Main Street, left on Grand River, and onto 1-96 west bound. We stopped for a nap in Indiana, but we made it to Ft Wayne by the end of the day. We were officially on the road.
That first night, we were staying with my cousin Andy and his wife Michelle, in their cozy ranch house filled with 4 cats and the world’s best trained Golden Retreiver, Gimli. Gimli and Shalosh had met at previous family functions, and made short work of chasing each other around the house and wearing each other down. Meanwhile, Andy ordered take out from a steak joint as Chris and I sat, somewhat shocked, at the reality of what we were doing.
We hadn’t even left our own time zone yet, but we were experiencing a sort of … road-trip-lag. There would be more moments like that one, moments where we sat back and looked around and said “We’re really doing this. This is really happening.” But sitting there at Andy and Michelle’s house in Indiana was one of the first, and still one of the most powerful. We were a couple hundred miles away from our old familiar two bedroom apartment. Neither were we staying at my mother’s house, a house that had and would again serve as a crash-land pad in dire circumstances.
From the blog, “And now, it’s now. It’s here. I drove 200 miles today, but I may as well have flown to the moon. I felt like Jack Sparrow at the wheel of the Black Pearl. “Wherever we want to go, we go. That’s what a ship is, you know. It’s not just a keel and a hull and sails; that’s what a ship needs. Not what a ship is. What the Black Pearl really is, is freedom,” he said. And it’s true, although my ship is steel and rubber instead of canvas.
We’re taking our time getting to San Francisco. It is still winter here in the Mid-west, after all. But we’re on our way.”
With dinner ingested, a somewhat awestruck post added to the blog, and the dogs passed out on the floor, the four humans made ready for sleep as well. Andy had helped us plug our camper into his garage so we could have electricity to warm our blanket and Shalosh’s deluxe bed. Chris had taken the initiative to pre-heat the blanket at its highest setting an hour before we crawled inside. We tucked down underneath our layers of wool and fleece, and fell asleep almost immediately. I remember wanting to stay awake, to appreciate the enormity of what we had already accomplished, but I was too exhausted.
During the night, I woke up, over heated, and turned the blanket down from 10 to 5. Despite the frost forming on the windows, between the insulation in the walls, the electric appliances, and our own body heat, we were quite comfortable.
Andy and Michelle were long gone by the time we woke up. They left the house open for us, asking us only to lock up behind ourselves when we left. Chris rummaged through our leftovers and packed our cooler while we looked for a suitable breakfast. It was at this juncture that I experienced a bit of trouble that has stayed with me to this day. Chris had hard boiled a dozen eggs for sharing between the three of us. I ate one and promptly threw it up onto the carpet, hunched over on all fours like a cat trying to dislodge a hairball. It seemed my nauseousness at my mother’s egg-laden breakfast the previous morning was trying to tell me something. Feeling ashamed, I cleaned up my mess and made do with a granola bar.
Chris re-arranged the interior of the Wagon House and the cab of the truck, as he would another hundred times over the course of the trip, and we set off for our second destination – Big Rock, Illinois, where Chris’s father lived, with extended family nearby.
Fort Wayne to Big Rock was just over 200 miles, an easy four hour trip in any number of smaller cars I’d owned over the years. But the Wagon House was a lumbering beast. She was made for stability and comfort, not speed. Besides that, the winds across the treeless plains of Indiana and Illinois swept snow across the road and made for low visibility. We drove with exceeding caution, and just in time. A huge snow storm locked us into Big Rock for an extra day.
Time spent with Chris’s family in Illinois usually follows a simple pattern. Seasonal outdoor activities, hearty home cooked meals and late nights spent in the club house drinking and telling stories. Shalosh got to romp through the snow and come back to the wood stove in the club house looking like an abominable snow-dog, and at Chris’s dad’s insistence, we slept in the spare room in the main house. I wasn’t complaining. Between my mysterious egg-induced sickness and the blistering cold outside, I was glad for the option.
The next stop was Iowa, where we spent one night each at two different friends’ apartments. There was no place to plug in the camper, so once again we slept inside. We were slowly making our way towards San Francisco, and Iowa was the last place we knew anyone before we got to New Mexico, where Chris’s best friend was stationed at Clovis. It was also my last chance to try to earn a little extra money for our road trip, by returning to a strip club I had worked at 5 years before.
I got a ride with my friend Rocky. She and I had met 5 years before. I was stripping my way through college and she brought a friend to my club for his 21st birthday. I’m not sure how I ended up at Perkins with her and her group of friends that night, but ever since we had been good friends. Rocky and I ended up working at a different club later, me still on stage, and her behind a cash register at the door. We had even been roommates, and later I adopted two of her cats when she had to move unexpectedly.
Rocky brought me back to Woody’s by the airport and I clutched my bag of gear nervously. What was I doing? I hadn’t been here in 5 years. Would they even remember me? What if someone found out what I was doing? Would I ruin the warm and fuzzy pie project by getting naked for money? But I squared my shoulders and walked through the door.
Justin, the manager, was sitting against the wall in an empty, mid-shift slump. He turned towards me and Rocky and leaped out of his seat.
“Quinn! What are you doing here?” He even remembered my old stage name. I hadn’t heard that name in a while.
“Hey Justin, I’m just passing through town and I was wondering if I could work for a couple nights.” I replied.
“Of course you can, anytime! Welcome back!” He was all smiles. I was shocked he remembered me so fondly. So Rocky left me behind and I got ready for night shift. I had a little trouble on the rotating pole but I did well. I was kept in a constant state of surprise throughout the night as old coworkers came up to me and hugged me and told me stories about the old days I had completely forgotten about.
Over the course of two nights, I made a couple hundred dollars. Not a lot, but enough for a tank or two of gas. It would certainly help. When we left Iowa, I felt confident I’d be able to get work at other clubs along the way and keep us afloat. But that would come later. Our first concern was the 1,000 mile trip from Cedar Rapids Iowa to Clovis New Mexico. The map said it was a 16 hour drive. At our cautious pace, it ended up being 28.
At this point in the trip, we had our blog, our facebook, and our twitter accounts. I updated the blog with our laptop when we were stopped at a house overnight, and I kept facebook and twitter up to date from my phone. I had hoped that offers of overnight lodging would be pouring in by this point, but it was too early. No one knew who were were yet, and we didn’t know about camping at Walmart parking lots. So we kept driving. Once again, we were drinking caffeine. We would stop every 150 miles to take Shalosh for a bathroom trip, for Chris to smoke a cigarette, and to get more drinks. We made it through Missouri together, but by the middle of Oklahoma we were taking turns sleeping in the passenger seat while the other drove. Across the top hat of Texas, I gripped the steering wheel, my stomach clenching and my eyes twitching. If there was natural beauty just outside my window, I didn’t notice. I just wanted to be done driving.
Finally we made it to Clovis. We had been on the road for just over one full day but it felt like a week had passed. Our faces were lined and saggy. We were dehydrated and exhausted and smelly. Chris’s best friend Todd welcomed us into his off base housing and let us recooperate. All I could think about was showering, but I lacked the strength to get off the couch. A shower would have to wait until after I took a nap.
On the blog, I maintained a chipper demeanor. “Currently we are in the abode of one of Chris’s best friends, along with his room mates/co workers. Shalosh is happily romping with 2 Bassett hounds and a little German shepherd puppy. Having left Iowa wearing my 2 layer parka, I was thrilled to put on my sandals when I got here!
I can hardly believe that today is Monday, and that we have been on the road for one week and one day now. Everywhere we go, we take our 55 mph, 4 wheel drive house on wheels. We still have 2 more stops to see family before we get to San Francisco and the real work of our journey begins, but already I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment and pride. From a dream to a secret hope to a 1000 pound miracle sitting in the bed of my truck, every time I look in the rear view mirror and see that wood siding, I beam with satisfaction.”
Clovis was a pleasant stop, and after our marathon drive, we felt triumphant, but in reality we were only half way to our first destination, San Francisco. In between lay stops in either Tuscon or Phoenix, and Sacramento. Once again I updated the blog, hoping for offers of friendly driveways. Once again, we got zip.
Chris had been talking about calling his grandfather in Tuscon for over a year, and now, a few hundred miles away, he finally made contact. No dice. Granddad had a standing volunteer obligation at a hospital, and wasn’t about to change plans for his grandson he hadn’t seen in a decade and his girlfriend of nearly two years who were driving across the United States for a once in a lifetime trip. Ahem. I might have editorialized a bit.
So, with no landing pad in Tucson, we made for Phoenix. 637 miles later, we still had no idea where we were going to stay. Exhausted and strung out on caffeine yet again, neither Chris nor I were full of good ideas or good cheer. I suddenly recalled a blog I had been reading in 2012, about a couple walking across the US with their service dogs. They often stopped at the local police station and asked where they could camp without causing trouble. So we headed to a police station.
There was no one home, so we called the local non emergency line. There, a confused overnight desk clerk suggested we try Wal-mart. “Lots of folks camp there over night,” we were told. It was the best lead we had. It was well past 2 am when we pulled in and Chris began rearranging the contents of our rolling home.
In the morning, I trekked over to the Dunkin Donuts across the parking lot and used their wifi to do something I had been hoping to avoid since we left Michigan – I made a reddit account and posted in the Phoenix subreddit, looking for a place to stay. I had been a long time redditor before we left Michigan, but I was skeptical of using the site to find shelter. I was afraid we’d be mocked or have our project attacked, but I had no better ideas.
Within a few minutes of making a post with a link to our blog, offers came flooding in. My skepticism was quieted, for now, as we made ready to head over to a potential host’s house.
A couple showers and snacks later, we were settling nicely into Phoenix. I sent off an email to a popular minimalism blogger I’d been following for a couple of years, Joshua Becker. He was intrigued by our project and agreed to meet us in a nearby park. I laughed when we sent an email, asking if a certain location was too far out of our way. For the next six months, the phrase was banned from our vocabulary. There was simply no such thing.
Mr. Becker was charming to meet in person, and Shalosh ran right up to hug him as soon as he arrived. We talked about the journey we had taken before even beginning the road trip, the year we had spent cleaning out my deceased father’s 25 x 10 foot storage unit, and purging our own closets. We shook hands and left the park ready to give the other a friendly promotion on our own pages. I was grateful for the attention from someone I still consider a wise mentor.
We weren’t out of the woods yet, however. Another new redditor friend from Phoenix gave me a ride to a row of bars on the south side of town, where I announced my intention to make balloon animals and scrounge for tips. But really, I was heading further down the road, on foot, to try my luck at a couple of strip clubs.
It was a long, scary, dark walk down a hot and gritty unfamiliar road. I was wearing what I hoped passed for a cute summer-y outfit, a black tank top and a knee length athletic skirt. I hadn’t packed much, but I knew I couldn’t show up to a club wearing pajama pants and a hoodie and hope to get hired, sight unseen. The first club told me flat-out no, they required all their dancers to get a license from the city. So I kept hiking, onto the second club, where I was ushered inside their neon, air conditioned palace. I kept my eyes wide open and tried to look extremely enthusiastic, instead of extremely hungry and scared. But the manager told me no, I was too chubby. I was back outside, trying to sniff back tears. I had counted on making enough money, not just for a tank of gas, but for a cab ride back to the host house. Instead, I was calling Chris, asking if he felt confident enough to pilot the Wagon House solo and come pick me up.
Like the knight in shining armor he had demonstrated himself to be time and time again, Chris rescued me. We returned to the host house and I crawled into bed, miserable. We weren’t getting donations, and I couldn’t get into a club. I had no idea how we were going to make it to San Francisco.
The next morning, however, we got back in the saddle and kept heading west. 755 miles to Sacramento and Chris’s mother.
Near the border of Arizona, we stopped for gas with the last of our money. The little town was filled with RV parks, some bearing Canadian flags. It seemed we had stumbled across a retirement vacation compound. At the gas station, while 60 year old bald men crossed their arms and glared at us, a scruffy, wirey dude of indeterminable age with a cast on one arm and a dog on a rope ambled up to meet us. He was impressed with our rig, so we chatted a bit and gave him a sticker. As we pulled out of the gas station, I thought “If only we could meet somebody like that every time we stopped.”
I remember at the border between Arizona and California, I saw something I’d only seen at the border of Michigan and Canada before – a customs booth. The state of California was very serious about controlling the movement of crops, and keeping invasive pests out. Satisfied that we weren’t bringing in any threatening new species, the customs agent let us though. It was Chris’s first time ever in California.
On we drove, through fields filled with windmills. The landscape changed from dusty yellow to lush green. As the tank dipped lower and lower, we looked for a place to stop. I had my eye on Bakersfield. It sounded friendly. Once there, we went to the first place I could think of with reliable internet access – Denny’s. I explained our situation to the waitress, and she gave me a booth in the back without asking me to buy anything. It was a kind gesture that would be repeated at Dennys’ across the US many times.
I posted our story in the Bakersfield subreddit and waited. Soon we had another offer. A new house full of new people, ready and willing to trust us. Memories are hazy – I recall there was a little chihuahua at that house who seemed to think Shalosh was the epitome of canine beauty. There were also snails on the porch the size of lemons. In the morning, one of our hosts took us out to breakfast at a sweet little diner.
We weren’t leaving Bakersfield yet. Discouraged with my attempts at stripping, I busted out my backup idea – face painting. We stationed ourselves at a park with a playground and set up a sign “FREE FACE PAINTING – TIPS APPRECIATED!” A mother and grandmother brought their little girl up to me and I festooned her face with butterflies in exchange for $20. It was good enough to get on the road again.
It was 277 miles from Bakersfield to Sacramento. Every 30 or 40 miles, we pulled over to another gas station to put out the face painting sign. At one stop, two vans full of college students lined up for lightning bolts and “war paint” while their professor refueled the fleet. They were on their way to, or from, a field trip with their department. At another stop, we cashed in all the change we’d been saving since Michigan – about $15. At the next stop, we simply over-drew my debit card and prayed for our luck to change.
All along the way, I updated twitter and facebook. Surely, someone will notice. Someone will want to help us. Someone will retweet us and Ellen will notice and NPR will interview me and then everything will be ok. We attracted a few new fans at a time, but there were no miracles.
At last, we made it to Sacramento. Not only were we there to see Chris’s mom for the first time since she and her long time boyfriend Dave had moved, we were also there to deliver a set of outdoor chairs she had been forced by space limitations to leave behind in Michigan. Every time Chris had to rearrange the truck, he cursed those chairs. Finally we were free of them.
Chris’s mother put us up for a couple nights at our first KOA campground. I had never been to one before. I thought they were tacky. If you were going to camp, I reasoned, camp for real! Bring a tent, boil water, look at the stars. But after a week of sleeping in random Walmart parking lots and in front of peoples’ houses with no electricity, the KOA suddenly seemed much more appealing.
Fortified by a couple of days of good meals and a cash donation, we were much more ready for the drive to San Francisco. We were under 90 miles away, and even better, we knew where we were going! The dog blog people, John and Kait, had set us up with two of their friends who lived close to the famous Haight-Ashbury district and Golden Gate park.
The climb up the famously steep hills of San Francisco made Chris nervous, but by that point I was running on pure optimism. San Francisco was like my Emerald City. It was where dreams could come true. It was a place where legends were born and where the legendary had frolicked. Nothing could go wrong in San Francisco.
We arrived to our host house. We had traveled over 3,100 miles. It had taken us two weeks of almost daily driving. Along the way, we had already figured out our CD player didn’t work and we didn’t have air conditioning. But when we parked in front of new hosts’ apartment, and I could look down on the roof of the Wagon House from the roof of their building, all our troubles vanished. Soon, we would put on our first pie event of our national tour, and the adventure would truly begin.
In order to put on the pie event, we needed pie supplies. At this point in our odyssey, we were still relying on store bought pie crust, which we would fill with our own blend of apples and seasonings and top with oatmeal. We had never gone grocery shopping in California before. If I had any illusions about picking fresh fruit from a tree while blue birds serenaded me, I quickly abandoned them.
Our local hosts took us to a small shop a few blocks away, where we purchased organic pre-made pie crusts in recyclable aluminum shells, and 30 pounds of apples. One day later, we hiked down to the mouth of the sprawling Golden Gate Park and set up our table. I had spent the morning posting event details on the blog, on facebook, on twitter, and on reddit. Surely the crowds would arrive soon.
No crowds. We served up the pies one slice at a time to the residents of the park, mostly older men eking out a solitary existence and packs of kids in their late teens accompanied by their dogs. We were asked if the pies were vegan (no) or if they had weed in them (very no). It was a soggy, chilly, disappointing event.
Of course, I couldn’t say that out loud. When I posted our report on the blog, I would not let my enthusiasm waver even for a moment. If I was anything less than 100% cheerful and excited, I would open myself up to all the criticisms I had heard from family and co workers and friends at the shelter before we left.
We were still left with the problem of feeding ourselves. I had counted on getting donations, or even better, having some rich person be so impressed with our mission that they offered to take us out to dinner. No dice. Instead, we went back to the little organic co-op where we’d purchased our apples the day before. We had to ask where they kept the meats. The clerk at the front simply pointed down a dimly-lit hallway, which we later nicknamed the Walk of Shame.
There, down the hallway, we found a tiny room with a few sliding-door coolers, containing their meager meat selection. Chris went right for our staple from back home, a single raw chicken, which he could squeeze at least 3 meals out of. It was $47.
He called me over to double check the price tag and reassure him that his eyes weren’t blurry. No, it really was a $47 raw chicken. It was a $47 raw organic, free range, tucked in at night by fairies using a blanket that had been handwoven from dandelion fluff, serenaded by four part harmonies sung by virgins, chicken.
It was a god damn $47 chicken. We left. Our hosts directed us to another store a few blocks away, where we had the enormous privilege to buy a pound of ground turkey for $6. Chris made some kind of pesto with it, I don’t really remember. We were horribly scarred by the experience. “Let’s never live in California,” I muttered that night at the ceiling of the Wagon House. Chris agreed.
Two days later, we were leaving San Francisco to visit Tumbleweed HQ in nearby Sonoma. The staff at Tumbleweed had noticed us on reddit, and invited us to spend a day with them. I was shocked to learn that many of the people working for the tiny house company lived together, somewhat communally, in a regular sized house. We were fed, photographed, and sheltered for the night. After dinner, we played a few rounds of Cards Against Humanity with some of the residents while our laundry ran through their washer and dryer, and ate homemade strawberry ice cream.
(Side note: A lesson I learned from traveling around the country for 6 months – if you have an opportunity to do laundry without having to pay for it, take it!)
Our next pie event was scheduled for Portland, Oregon, uncharted territory to both me and Chris. Our Portland hosts had read about us on the Tumbleweed facebook page, and had offered the use of their apartment for 3 days. We would park on the street, with no electricity, but the weather was mild and we weren’t too worried about freezing over night. What did worry us was how we were going to get from Sonoma to Portland – a drive of around 650 miles, with a side trip to Eureka to visit Chris’s friend Todd who himself was visiting an air force friend with family in Eureka.
I remember little details but I can’t remember what order they happened in. I know somewhere between Sonoma and Portland, we found 4 gutter punks and their animal companions sitting on the side of the road by an old tour bus, painted up in psychedelic glory. We pulled over, wondering where they were from or where they were going. Turns out, it wasn’t their bus! But they were trying to get further north, the direction we were going. We loaded 3 of the kids in the Wagon House and put one in the cab of the truck with us, to navigate. I don’t think we went very far, but they seemed glad to be spared some of the walk.
In Eureka, Todd bought us another tank of gas, which helped enormously. But we weren’t going to make it all the way to Portland. Once we crossed into Oregon, I tried a new tactic – asking for help at churches. In the space of about 20 miles, we pulled over in 3 different church parking lots. I approached secretaries and ministers with my hands open at my sides.
“Hi, I’m Sarah, and my boyfriend and I are traveling around the country, giving people free pie and spreading kindness. We were wondering if we could sleep in your parking lot in our camper tonight?”
Or, “We’re wondering if there’s any work we could do for you to earn a few dollars for our gas tank.”
No one wanted us sleeping on their property, but occasionally someone would give us $5, maybe in hopes that we would just leave. It worked just often enough that we kept trying.
We made it as far as Salem, Oregon before the tank was empty. We slept over night at a Walmart parking lot. I was fuming mad – a TV reporter from Portland had found us on reddit and wanted to interview us, but we were going to miss our chance. I consoled myself, hoping that the TV cameras would come around again in some other city.
Upon waking in Salem, we went door to door at the nearby churches to get back on the road. By the time we got to Portland, not only were were out of money for gas, we also didn’t have any money for pie supplies. I tried not to let it worry me. Surely our hosts would help us?
But our hosts were little better off than we were. A young family living on a single part time income, they were already living on the edge. Crystal, the woman who had first contacted us after seeing our story on Tumbleweed, was able to buy 3 boxes of pre-made pie crust, but that was it. So Chris and I set out on foot to ask for apples at every area grocery store. We got turned down by all of them, but on the way back to the host apartment, we found a little farm stand. We told the clerk our story, and she allowed us to take a huge box filled with cosmetically irregular apples. We were back in business, so to speak.
The next problem – how were we going to get our pies from the northern side of Portland to Pioneer Square? Our hosts didn’t have a car, and the Wagon House was running on fumes. Besides that, where would we park it? Ever optimistic and intrepid, Crystal ended up driving us in the Wagon House to the event, then she drove it alone back over the bridge where parking was free, and came to pick us up when the event was over. We had received a $20 donation, which went directly into the gas tank. The Pioneer Square event had been, by a wide margin, more successful than the Golden Gate event.
The other problem with Portland had been the timing. Spring had just sprung, and every plant and animal was kicking allergens into the air. Chris’s face was red and his eyes and nose were runny for 3 days. Add into that the all vegan diet our hosts adhered to, and Chris was in pretty sorry shape by the time we left for Seattle. I still feel bad for not noticing how much the pollens and fur particles affected him. I was laser focused on pie, but by the end of the road trip, I would learn not to ignore our bodies.
Our next stop was Seattle, another unknown destination. This time, I had lined up our host through an extremely unlikely source – Pinterest. I had joined the virtual scrapbooking site in the summer of 2012, and I had made a few friends based on making fun of gender reveal party invitations. Maren and I shared the same sense of humor, and she was intrigued by my pie project. When I made a board to plan out some of the details, she invited me to stay with her in Seattle. We had never spoken on the phone, or even found each other on facebook. I didn’t even know what she looked like – her Pinterest icon was some sort of flower. But I trusted. We were going to Seattle.
On the day we arrived, I finally called Maren. She told me that there had been a death in the family, and she had flown back to Arizona with her children and her sister, but her husband was at home, ready to greet us. I knew even less about CJ than I knew about Maren. She had alluded to his past as a punk rocker in a few comments, which was good enough for me, but I was suddenly shy about walking into a house with a complete stranger.
Once the address was plugged into Chris’s phone, we navigated the rest of the way to their driveway. It was a modern dream house on the side of a cliff, overlooking a rain forest. CJ welcomed us with open arms and immediately began feeding us. After days spent with vegans and in parking lots eating cold instant mashed potatoes, we were in heaven. We plugged in the house. We took showers. We did laundry. We laid on the carpeted floor and basked in the sheer luxury of it all. More than once, while taking a shower in the huge glass and tile bathroom, I thought about asking CJ and Maren if we would just be their servants, and abandon the whole project right then and there.
Every day, CJ went to work and left us to have the house to ourselves. And every day, he returned with new gifts for us. He bought all the apples we needed, then he bought us a 50 pound sack of flour. Once, he caught us adoring baking equipment we couldn’t afford on my lap top, and the next day, an Amazon box arrived with a brand new apple peeler-slicer-corer for us (we nick named it The Mangler). He introduced us to his friends, and we spent a night eating gluten free pizza and playing Cards Against Humanity. It was almost reluctantly that Chris and I rolled up our sleeves to make the six pies for the Seattle event, and CJ was with us every step of the way. He drove us to the event. He took pictures for us. And afterwards, he bought us our first celebratory meal, at Red Robin – at that point, the only burger chain that offers a gluten free bun to spare Chris weeks of discomfort.
Finally, Maren and her sister and the kids came home, and I got to meet my long distance Pinterest buddy. Maren and her sister had crocheted us warm hats for our trek into the icy center of the US. I got to hear first hand Maren’s amazing story of leaving behind a stifling religion, finding love with CJ, and traveling the world. They were only a few years older than us, but CJ and Maren were the adult role models I had always wanted. They were kind, and smart, and sarcastic, and warm, all at once. I never wanted to leave.
But we had 17 more planned pie events, and the next one was in Spokane. Before we left, CJ and Maren loaded us down with gift cards and snacks, including a gift Chris still talks about to this day – two 3 pound summer sausages from Costco. Chris reacts to preserved meat products the way some people react to espresso, with renewed energy and a bright -eyed expression. This was a treasured gift, even though Chris powered through it within a week’s time.
One last stop was calling our name on the west coast. Another Pinterest friend, Alisa, lived in Bellingham with her husband and pack of children. I reasoned we were already so close, and who knew when we would ever get to the west coast again? So we made the drive, and in spite of being kicked out of Alisa’s parking lot because our 40 pound Border Collie was over their size limit, we had a very nice time. Alisa showed us some beautiful local parks. Chris saw a giant otter. And I got to watch her pack of semi-feral children explore an aquarium. I apologized to Alisa when I caught myself addressing her children in the same tone I used for Shalosh. But she said she took it as a compliment, and her favorite comparison her children had drawn was that of the three little bear brothers from the Disney movie, Brave.
We had only put on three pie events, but so much had already happened. We were a world away from our old lives, of watching movies on the itchy couch that came with the old apartment and stressing out over visits to my mother. Oddly, I had more free time on the road than I’d had at home, so I started reading more. In looking for other blogs and activists like us, I found people talking about issues I had never considered.
I had always been a luke-warm feminist at best; I was all for voting and owning my own home, but I felt like a lot of women were just looking for things to be mad about. Would it kill you to make the poor slob a sandwich once in a while? I thought. But my views were shifting. I suddenly realized street harassment was actually a wide spread phenomenon and not just something I alone was exposed to, as I observed people in different cities while we handed out pie. And I had already witnessed police harassment, as a cop in San Francisco shoved around a young black man, meanwhile Chris and I were sitting across the street, distributing unregulated pie.
Maren and Alisa were both feminists, and they weren’t anything like the broad shoulder pads, scowling, man-hating caricature I had grown up with. In fact, they were both happy, loving and beloved by their families. It was something to think about, at least.
But there was little time for thinking while driving. Balancing a truck bed filled with all my hopes and dreams, not to mention a 1,000 pound custom tiny house, took a lot of concentration. We made our way south from Bellingham, and for the first time in a month, started driving east.
(Reminder: I am accepting tips for my writing, rather than wait to publish and sell books. paypal.me/smkovac, and write “book” or “stories” in the memo. Thank you.)