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  • Gregory Zeigler

Livin' in Aluminum*

By Gregory Zeigler

The boundary of Munds Mountain Wilderness Area is literally a five minute walk from Sedona, Arizona.

I'm thinking about memoir this morning. As many of you know, my first book was a travel memoir, Travels with Max: In Search of Steinbeck's America Fifty Years Later. In Max I retraced John Steinbeck's route from Travels with Charley. I was living in a 16' Airstream Bambi trailer named Winnie for my mother, Winifred. That trip, 11,000 miles over nine weeks, was the adventure of a lifetime.

Memoir is on my mind for two reasons. The Teton County Library system has recently asked me to teach a memoir writing class this winter/spring. And Dimmie and I just returned home yesterday after six months living mostly in our Airstream trailer (The Winnie IV—during a dozen years of Airstreaming we have gone from the Bambi to a 19', then a 23' and last March were fortunate to find just what we wanted in a 25' Airstream trailer.)

A dry camp in the Winnie IV (no water, power or sewer) with a view of the Tetons near Driggs, Idaho.

Now, I know what you are thinking, Airstream equals "glamping" or glamorous camping. And that is pretty much true when you rent a totally outfitted stationary Airstream trailer for the night, which meets all of your needs for luxury.

But it is hardly the case when living together in such a small space, less than two hundred square feet, for such an extended period of time. There is great intimacy and little privacy in a trailer. There can be no secrets. And living in a trailer forces one to conserve. Especially when dry camping. There are lessons for the planet to be learned from trailering. Trailer living makes you aware of every drop of water in and every drop of waste out. Without solar two days is your maximum stay. With solar, two weeks is possible if you conserve water.

Near the end of October, during the last long stay of our odyssey, Dimmie and I reviewed what we had dealt with in our six months of Airstreaming: cold, snow (and towing the trailer over snow), hard rain, intense heat, hail (the Airstream owners' idea of horror as golfballs plunk off the aluminum), hordes of bugs—both biting and merely irritating, dust, and wind. Lots of wind.

Headstone of the Germaine family, Dimmie's ancestors, in the Indian Cemetery on Madeline Island.

We had a leak in the bathroom roof, a bent arm on our awning that had to be replaced for $900.00, a red running light on top of the trailer hanging by one wire that we ultimately put back together with velcro, a weird wiring situation that kept blowing breakers when we were plugged into shore power, and an AC that was not very good at dropping the outside temp, inside, by more than 10 degrees. Not much fun in 90-plus degree heat.

So why do this, you might ask? Because we love it. We love to travel, that is the foundation of this lunacy. And we visited so many spectacular wild places. But the really crazy part is we love a challenge. And believe me, living for six months in such a small space is challenging. Especially if your collective goal is to remain married.

A ruin near Bluff, Utah.

During our six months on the road, we traveled with the Winnie IV as far north as Yellowstone and as far south as the Mexican border in Yuma, Arizona. That included stays in Driggs, Idaho; Dubois, Wyoming; Boulder, Colorado; Helper, Utah; Bluff, Utah; Sedona, Arizona; and finally Borrego Springs, CA (via Yuma) where we stored the Winnie IV for the winter.

We also left the "mothership" for a month in August and drove Dimmie's car to Maine for a sailing adventure on a 150 year-old schooner, and time on an island off the coast. We then spent a very special week in Athens, NY with our grandson, Theo.

A deckhand "cowgirls" on the swaying mast gathering in the sail on the Stephen Taber, built in 1871 and based in Rockland, Maine.

On the way home to Wyoming we boated on the Mississippi with friends, and then took a ferry to Madeline Island in Lake Superior and found the headstone of Dimmie's ancestors, Mary and Louis Germaine in the Indian Cemetery. Mary was Ojibway.

We enjoyed three museums on the return: The Madeline Island Museum, The Rock and Roll Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Cody Museum in Cody, Wyoming.

In Sedona at Rancho Sedona RV Park (where our adventure was winding down) situated right on Oak Creek and minutes away from shops, restaurants and spectacular hiking in wilderness areas, we befriended a young woman. On the morning of our departure, Maddison left a note on our car windshield. One line was most memorable, "Look at you two, living your best life, cruising around this beautiful country with your life partner."

Were we relieved when we drove up the driveway toward our four bedroom house after six months living in the trailer? Oddly no. Dimmie said, "I'm kinda sad it's coming to an end." And added, using a bit of hyperbole, "now I might go days without bumping into you."

A sign on an artist's studio updates history in Helper, Utah. Helper was once a rough and tumble mining and railroad town, it is now a more sedate destination for tourism and the arts.

*The title of a song written by Antsy McClain and performed by Antsy and the Trailer Park Troubadours.

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