Caravan Stories: Katie & Trudy

Photo Jul 25, 9 42 07 AM.jpg

"Live a quiet life, and work with your hands." For Katie Lindgren, a thirty-two year old middle school teacher, these are the words she lives by as she wraps up a ten month renovation on her 1989 Airstream Excella, which she's lovingly named "Trudy". 

Katie's Airstream journey began during a season of hardship. After an eight year marriage, Katie went through a terrible divorce, losing nearly everything she'd ever worked for. She walked away with just her clothing, the money in her savings account, and her sweet pup Otis. Katie recalls feeling like a failure in those moments, yet strangely free for the first time in a decade.

Unsure of her next steps, Katie contemplated using her savings for a tiny house. She had been squirreling away a portion of her paychecks for years, building a nest egg for herself and her ex-husband, and after many long discussions with her dad, Katie came to the conclusion that a house just wasn't quite the right answer, and that's when her Airstream dream was born. She came home one day and asked her dad if he'd help her build out an old Airstream, and he simply smiled and said, "Now that's an idea I can get behind!" One week later, and Katie brought her Airstream home, parked it next to the garden, and began working that very day. 

It's plain to see that this project is far more than just an Airstream project: for Katie, these past ten months working in her Airstream home has been a way to heal. When speaking with us about the work, Katie shared about her divorce and the depression that followed. At first, the Airstream was Katie's refuge. She would retreat into the work in solitude, not wishing to subject her friends and family to the pain she was going through. Yet over time, her friends began to come around and check in on her. Some folks would stay and spend the day helping her build, some simply brought her food and beer and move on. 

Over time, Katie began to recognize the need for people in her life and is seeking balance in the work and having a social life. She loves how much the Airstream renovation has brought her family closer. Her mom has excitedly helped Katie decorate and shop for things she needs in her new home, and her brothers visit and bring their tools to pitch in. Katie speaks lovingly about her dad's help with Trudy, joking that she can do things better than any man, with the exception of her father. Katie is proud that she's learned so much on her own, and credits her dad for teaching her not just how to do certain tasks, but more importantly, to be an independent and capable woman, stepping back and allowing her to do the work herself. 

Trudy is a partial gut restoration, purchased from a man who lived in the trailer for ten years prior. Katie reminisced a bit with us, sharing that the trailer was in pretty decent shape, with new axles, brakes and working electrical, but a tank leak had damaged the subfloor, and the walls were sticky and stinky. Katie chose to do a partial gut, replacing the subfloor and the insulation underneath, and simply patching and painting the existing interior skins. By reusing the kitchen cabinetry, and choosing a partial renovation, she was able to save a bit of money. Over the summer, Katie used her time off from teaching well, spending every single waking hour on her renovation. So far, Katie has invested about $14,000 in her tiny home, saying that she's over her initial budget of $10,000, but that number was based on having not done this type of work previously. Many of Katie's resources come from Instagram, along with websites specializing in vintage camper parts. She, like so many of us, love that this community is overwhelmingly full of positivity, kindness, and folks who share helpful tips and tricks. 

When deciding on her interior elements, Katie wanted her new home to be happy, positive, and welcoming. She proudly tells us that it's very feminine - because Trudy is her home and she gets to decorate it how she wants! She painted the walls and cabinetry white to give the small space an airy and open feel, and added splashes of vibrant color in coral, orange, mint green, and cobalt blue. By repurposing cedar fencing planks, she built warm, rustic walls for her cozy bedroom. Katie's love for gardening and flowers is evident throughout the space, many of her friends and family have given Katie gifts for her new home, knowing she had nothing left and was starting anew. She marvels at how these random gifts all fit together so perfectly, and how most everything she's been given is covered in flowers. 

Currently, Katie is nearing the end of her renovation. She has just a few big tasks left, including the shower and some repairs and polish on her belly pan. Smaller items, such as wallpapering, trim, facing around the fridge, and decorating, are on her to-do list. As of now, Katie has running water and is moving into Trudy full-time this week. She's been sleeping in Trudy up until now, but living part-time in her folks' home next door during the bulk of the renovation. Katie plans to be stationary through the end of the school year, but has plans to hitch up and travel around this summer. She hopes to kayak in North Carolina, go climbing out west, and see the Grand Canyon and the Sequoia National Forest. She also wants to stop in Colorado to see friends and then round out the trip by spending time with family, especially her grandmother, in Missouri. 

Katie is looking forward to the simplicity life with Trudy will bring. She has found herself scaling down and living as a minimalist, realizing that she spent too many years spending money on fleeting things. She's found that she lives in the moment more and is putting emphasis on experiences rather than expenses - putting her extra money toward traveling, savings, and the people in her life. She believes this way of life is going to make her feel free. 

Katie's life is truly reflective of the words she lives by. She spends her days teaching eighth grade students, coaching softball and the majorette team, and returning to her little Airstream home in the evening. Turning on her patio lights, Katie grabs a beer to sit outside with Otis and reflect on her day, sometimes strumming on her ukulele, sometimes she is simply still. She retreats to cook in her little kitchen, and then rounds out the evening working a bit on the Airstream before retiring to her warm, cozy bedroom. She loves when it rains, and she's looking forward to the spring, when she can polish Trudy and work in the garden. 

It's amazing what a project like this can do, and the healing it can bring into our lives. Katie's story is incredibly touching and inspiring, and for me, struck home. Divorce can really shake up a person's life in so many ways, but hope and renewal are possible. Beauty can come from brokenness, and sometimes losing everything allows us to gain so much more than we could have ever thought possible. For Katie, working on her Airstream home has given her confidence she didn't know she had, and a sense of accomplishment she needed. She realizes that even though she walked away from everything she'd once worked for, by starting over and through the process of building her new home, she's gained more than she ever could have imagined. What a beautiful thing. We're so happy for you and your new life, Katie! 

Caravan Stories: A Wisconsin Airstream

Evan and Gabby Schwanke, along with their two children, Anna and Sawyer, reside in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where about ninety percent of their family activities are out-of-doors. Avid campers and road trippers, the couple had always tossed around the idea of an Airstream or a Scamp, but hadn’t found anything in their budget. After a trip to Lake Michigan, the family stumbled across a farmhouse with nearly a dozen Airstreams in the yard...and after a couple months, were headed back to buy one for themselves, driving home with their first-ever Airstream, a 1969 Airstream Safari (23’).

Like all of us first-time Airstream renovators, the Schwanke family hoped to add new curtains, fresh paint, and then head off into the sunset, but by the next morning, they began to gut the Airstream. For the next fourteen months, the couple plugged away at a complete renovation, biding time through the long and harsh northern winter, for when the cold came, they’d been repairing and coating the frame with rust protectant. When spring arrived, the renovation picked up major steam. Evan and Gabby devoted nearly every weekend and even some weeknights to Airstream work. Outside of hiring a professional to have a new torsion axle installed, the pair did the rest of the work themselves, turning to the Instagram community for advice and encouragement when needed, thankful for so many sharing knowledge selflessly and wishing them nothing but success.

The Schwanke family did a full (shell-on) gut renovation. On that first morning after bringing their Airstream home, they noted the subfloor wasn’t in great shape, and that started it all. They replaced everything outside of the frame, shell, and interior skins. Their renovations cost around $7500, and they paid the same amount for the Airstream itself. They didn’t have a budget going into the renovation, noting that they were "optimistic rookies" when they purchased the Safari. Over the course of their fourteen-month renovation, the pair put every penny and whatever else they could spare into the Airstream renovation, and had many nights of Ramen noodle dinners to live out their passion. They were renovating the Safari with a strong, clear vision: to make memories with their family. 

Evan and Gabby’s passion is evident. When speaking about advice they’d give to others, they cautioned that in preparing to take on a project like theirs, you’ve got to be prepared for it to fully consume you.

“I do not recall a day where my wife and I were not discussing or planning for the Airstream. We probably even started talking to one another in Airstream jargon by the end of it. You honestly base your entire life around when you can accomplish the work, what the weather is going to be like, what supplies to order, is our budget on track, et cetera. The drive to complete the Airstream was so intense! We could have spaced it out longer and had more of a social life, but we enjoyed the work and the accomplishments. We wanted to complete our caravan and start making those memories in it,” says Evan.

Together, the pair did a beautiful job. As current weekend warriors, they aimed for a clean space that would allow their expanded family to camp comfortably. They put emphasis on usability for their interior, and through a cool, neutral color palette, achieved their goal of a simple, clean farmhouse look. The pair utilized reclaimed wood, installed a white porcelain sink, and crafted hardy, modern concrete overlay counters themselves. The aged oak gray flooring casts a quiet, calm hush over the space. The family calls this their ‘cabin on wheels’, a perfect description of the peaceful interior, which lends itself to focusing on self-reflection, family, and the natural surroundings on their weekend adventures.

To motivate themselves during the renovation, the Schwanke family booked a campsite at Fort Wilderness in Disney World eight months prior to completion. Their mission from that point on was to finish their Airstream before their reservation and take a 2500-mile road trip to celebrate their accomplishment. When they felt a lack of motivation, or wanted to give up, they would look forward to their family trip together and it would get them back on track.

Evan and Gabby are proud to note that their children Anna (7) and Sawyer (3), were just as involved in the project and love to draw the Airstream into their sketches and tell friends all about it. While the couple says they don’t think they’ll ever be one-hundred percent complete (like any renovation project, right?), the family is so proud to have finished their Airstream dream. 

Their first trip arrived, and the family took their newly-finished Airstream Safari from Wisconsin to Florida. They were a little nervous, but mostly they were just so excited and proud to see the past year and two months of hard work, sacrifice, and vision come to life.

“The best thing about the trip was having that Airstream with us. We felt so proud of our little home...each night we would get to climb into it and it was our space, exactly how we wanted it. We had an amazing time and couldn’t have been happier. We are now dreaming of all the new places we can’t wait to explore.”

Thank you so much, Schwanke Family! Can’t wait to see what the spring and warmer weather brings for you four.

For more of Evan, Gabby, Anna, and Sawyer's

Airstream adventures:

Caravan Stories: Buffalo Argosy

From left to right: Sunny at the doorway of her travelin’ home, working on the peel + stick tile in the kitchen, the Argosy before, Cole napping in the Argosy, and Evan Walker, carpenter extraordinaire, who helped bring Sunny’s vision to life.

I am so overjoyed to start our Caravan Stories series with the ever-strong and sure Sunny Cooper and her beautiful journey. I've been fascinated with Sunny from afar for quite some time now and have felt a certain kinship with her and her path in life. Perhaps at first it was single motherhood, something I myself have seen and experienced the hardships of, and then it was utter admiration for everything she was embarking on. Her strength and determination is unmatched, and her way of looking at life and how she writes about it are beyond inspiring. 

Theres's such depth and breadth to the way she lives her life, and it translates so well to the page and through her imagery. Her journey to a nomadic life took time, and this is evident in how she has built and created her home. I appreciated that she waited to share the transformation until the end, it was as if she was keeping every bit of her space sacred and wholly theirs, which is something I can relate to - there are parts of our renovation I've held close to my heart and wait to share until it's time. Seeing Sunny and her beautiful son, Cole, and new puppy Pax appear in my social media feed is always a favorite moment of any day, and I'm always left ready to tackle more, but most importantly, to be more. Her wisdom and honesty transcends the rest of the hum on social media, the trends and the undercurrent of passive competition, a gentle and beautiful reminder that these Airstream dreams, dreams of travel and an intentional life, have started in very heavy and poignant places, transformed by a moment of clarity and light - this is it - a stumbling into something that changes us irrevocably and beautifully. 

Sunny's intention and patience is written all over the interior of her Airstream Argosy. Each item, each chosen textile, each finish, from the copper hood to the ticking stripe, to the prayer bag by the door, is storied and carefully chosen and brought into the sacred space that is her and Cole's home. Initially, I planned to write a full story from Sunny's responses, but felt her words were too ideal, too wonderfully her to not share in their entirety, as she wrote them. Her heart, story, and sage advice are worth reading through to the end, squeezing every last drop of beauty and inspiration from, and the photographs of her home and life achingly lovely. 

What did you renovate?  

I purchased a vintage 1976 Airstream Argosy sight unseen, apart from three photos on Craigslist. I knew exactly what I was after, and Argosies were hard to come by, so I nabbed it when I found it. Argosy trailers were made by Airstream starting in 1971 and were discontinued in the late 70s, so she definitely came with a serious Kotter vibe, which I was eager to update. I chose the Argosy model for its iconic Airstream make, its twin bed layout, and 26-foot length. An elderly couple owned her before I did, and she quickly passed through a buyer’s hands whose wife quickly eschewed the “bread loaf” look of the Argosy, but I absolutely love it. Argosies are often called the “Painted Airstream.” I call ours the Buffalo Argosy because my life-and-work motto is to follow our buffalo; but the spirit of the Argosy is definitely equine. Our painted pony came to us rough-around-the-edges but solid-boned and ready to run. 

Why did you choose to renovate your caravan? Tell us about your dreams, goals, reasons.

The idea never began with an Airstream, it actually started with the Aurora Borealis. I was sitting on my sofa during a late night writing binge and neck deep in what the Spanish poet Saint John of the Cross calls a “dark night of the soul” when I stumbled across a photo of glowing tipis beneath the Northern Lights. My son was sleeping beside me and something about that photo struck me to the core. Someday, I knew I wanted to be in a place like that with my son, pointing to the life humming right outside our door. I had traveled places throughout the world as a single woman, but a lot of life had happened between my big visions and sitting on that sofa. The metaphor of those glowing tipis soon translated into the idea of nomadic life with my son, though I didn’t know yet what shape it would take for me or how I would get us there. It was a slow-growing dream, but it surfaced in the idea that I would buy a vintage Airstream and prepare it for full-time traveling.

That meant I needed to answer a lot of questions, especially as a single mother. Could I care for and educate my son, provide a sense of home and stability, pursue my career, put bread on our table, and do the heavy lifting of this lifestyle on my own? Bit by bit, I began testing and answering those questions and found yes after yes. And still do. I consistently find myself in layers upon layers of Ah-ha moments. Every now and then, “What the hell am I doing?” slips past my lips; but overall, I’ve found all the best ideas for intentional living cooperate exceedingly and even bloom with a full-time caravan lifestyle. Since I was looking at vintage, I knew whatever I bought would need some degree of renovation, no matter how great of a condition it was in, due to its age. Beyond that, I had green goals and sustainability plans, which would definitely require thoughtful renovation. For example, the shag-carpeted bathroom with its black tank and flushing toilet would be entirely gutted and replaced with a compost toilet, fresh wood floors, and an energy-saving tankless hot water heater.

When did you start your caravan renovation project?

It really started at the 10-year mark because those glowing tipis not only mark the date the project birthed itself in my mind but it started the process of self-education: Where to start? What do we need? What to buy? How to work? How to budget? Who to work with? But between the time I actually purchased the Argosy in October 2015 and began renovation, I had it towed to Oklahoma and I had to pack up all our things in California and move back to Oklahoma to do it. I started the renovation early in 2016.  My son and I took a few naps in the Argosy before renovation ever started because it was both exciting and exhausting to face what was ahead. 

From left to right: the simple, warm and welcoming kitchen in Buffalo Argosy, view from the kitchen to the bedroom, the blue linen to meet Cole’s request for the ocean’s influence, Cole and new puppy Pax, a boy, his dog, and an Airstream.

How long did you think your renovation would take when you started planning?

When I had the Argosy towed to Oklahoma, I was extremely ambitious. I wanted to slap a coat of paint on everything and take off. *Cue a Jonsi soundtrack* When I decided to renovate, I was still ambitious. I wanted it done in three months or less. Obviously, life informed me otherwise because I ended up in the hospital for an emergency surgery and my current contractors weren’t doing the job right. So our Jonsi soundtrack shifted from “Go Do” into “We Bought a Zoo.” For awhile, I felt like my buffalo had turned into a zoo, but as with all things worth waiting for, things have a way of serendipitously working out.

 How long did/has it taken (so far)? 

So, the three-month idea didn’t work out because I had to work through a lot of wrinkles with resources, contractors, unexpected delays, and my budget. It was a full year’s work for me – half paved with gopher holes and half full of progress. Everything eventually synchronized when I approached my renovation with the practice of mutual aid and when I found the right builder to partner with me on this project. From start to finish, that collaboration and effort took about four months.

Did you hire out for any of the process? Why did you choose to do this?

I hired out on nearly all of my renovation. I wanted skillful hands to attend to my renovation. My eco goals for a self-contained home needed a certain savviness and creativity. It was important to get the right people or person. I had fallen in love with Airstreams while living in California; I saw renovations and travelers everywhere. But in Oklahoma, the RV world isn’t rich with resources for modern travelers or renovators. My Dad was endearing in the way he puttered around the Argosy, caulking and cleaning her up, talking about pipes and grease with me. He was my right-hand man while I was tow car hunting and finding a great hitch – those are separate stories in and of themselves. But for the renovation, I needed a serious contractor who would get my eco-vision and work with my timeline and budget. And that guy turned out to be Evan Walker.

Funny thing, Evan used to be the treehouse-building kid right down the street from my parent’s house and now he was building eco-houses in Belize. We sat down at the Argosy table and talked extensively about the project and connected over buffalo stories, and I knew he was my guy. It’s important to find someone who shares a spark over your project, and I was extremely blessed to have found such an instinctively good builder and eco-conscious advocate in him.

What stage of the process are you in?

I’m in the second stage of three. Because I’m committed to a debt-free lifestyle, I needed to pay cash for each project, so I planned the renovation out in three doable phases. The first phase was sketching out the space, gutting nearly all of it, rebuilding, painting, and adding eco-updates such as the Nature’s Head compost toilet, LED light replacements, and a solar generator and solar panel. The second phase is where I am now. The Argosy is fully lodgeable and I’ve taken it on a couple of test runs on the road. In the process, I found a few things in need of fixing, such as replacing the manual jack with an electric jack and switching out the cabinet-door magnets to ones strong enough to hold the doors in place without requiring a Hulk arm to open them. All quick fixes, thanks to Evan. The third phase is adding a wood stove, renovating the dining area, and finally polishing up the exterior. My sister and I practiced a little mutual aid as well, and we swapped some services so that she could paint blackbirds and buffalo on the Argosy for me till I get it polished up somewhere down the road. For now, I’m appreciating its rough edges. It feels akin to the journey we’ve taken so far with this pony. The outside is a little banged up but it’s tough and well-loved.    

From left to right: the custom built copper hood, already gathering a fine patina. Oklahoma rose rocks rest in a wooden bowl and a sweet carved buffalo Sunny picked up in Palo Duro, the ticking stripe and warm furries warm the dining space, sweetgrass braids lie in a woven basket, a buckskin prayer bag hangs by the threshold, a view from the kitchen’s window, and more beautiful kitchen details.

If you’re finished, how long did your entire renovation project take? Any future projects that you’re holding off on? Why?

The long story is that it took ten years to dream it. The short story is that once I bought it and began renovation on it, it took a year. Once I found a partner in Evan, it took about four months. We communicated back and forth, I dropped by for visits and updates, and I just kept working to pay off the project, bit by bit. My big goal is to be entirely self-sufficient, but for now, I’ve left in options so that I have time to see how we are really using energy and our space. For example, I have three sources of energy: Solar, electric, and propane. After we’ve done some traveling, I’ll reassess how we are using our energy and I’ll add in a dreamy wood burning stove, which means I’m also going to reassess remodeling our dining space around it. 

What is/will be the overall look, aesthetic, and style of your interior? Why are you drawn to this? 

When I thought about our space, I wanted a sense of place like Georgia O’Keefe, and a sense of warmth like old cabins, but I also wanted that traveler feeling my son and I both love of walking into a fresh, clean hotel room. For me, the look is minimal with a bit of patina and lots of invitation for light. The patina came when I had Evan make a custom copper range over my stove. It is already taking on a beautiful burnish. Other patina includes nods to our family history from Cherokee to French. The red ochre and wheat fields of Oklahoma found its way into my vintage rugs from a market in Tahlequah. Striped ticking on the dining cushions was a nod to my French ancestry. 

Our love for the West showed up in my son’s request for blue – reminiscent of the Pacific Ocean and that particular gradient of desert sky that we love in California. I really weighed the pros and cons of an all white interior but decided in favor of it so that it would invite the light in and utilize designs that kept the eye moving to give us a sense of more space, such as the use of stripes. I only purchased pieces that were meaningful, whether it was eco-conscious textiles, art, or acquired pieces from our travels. 

I’ve left a lot of canvas for that to happen, but certain pieces came to me right away: An old copper kettle, a soft buckskin prayer bag, and an amazing window art installation by Karina Puente. She and I are another example of practicing mutual aid. I met her through AROHO, a wonderful organization championing women’s literature and art. In exchange for a writing project, she created this amazing piece for me that incorporated Cherokee symbols and migratory creatures that were meaningful to us, including our own profiles.    

What purpose will your caravan serve? Stationary home? Weekend travel? Full-time travel?

We are going to be full-time. The digital age has afforded me the freedom for writing, consulting, and schooling while traveling. I don’t take that lightly; I have something my parents and grandparents didn’t have. I can still remember my dad renting a satellite phone so that we could take a family vacation together. My work studio, my son’s studies, and our household living will all happen full-time in this space or wherever we roam. The plan is to travel full-time for two years and then decide where to go from there. 

From left to right: golden light in the Buffalo Argosy and meticulous attention to detail, simple bathroom with Nature’s Head composting toilet, slatted detail in the curved shower, blackbirds soaring across the curved ceiling, wool Pendleton blankets to keep the mother and son warm.

What was your budget for your project? Have you stayed on budget or did you/have you gone over?

I bought the Argosy for $6,500 on Craigslist, and that is a negotiated price. Even though I hopped on it right away, I still asked a ton of questions about the prospect before making the purchase. I had a knowledgeable friend weigh in on it for me, as well. Well-prepared questions helped me negotiate on the price, as well as be fully informed of what I was purchasing. I planned on spending an additional $3,000 on it for renovations, but I spent twice that. So, the entire Argosy plus renovations to this point cost me approximately $12,500.

Time and again, I’ve found much comparison between what I know to be true in publishing projects and what is true in renovation projects: It’s important to go into a project knowing the difference between a dream budget and a shoestring budget, and that you are really going to land somewhere in the middle once you gain an informed budget. All in all, I got a great deal on a tiny home we love, and I’ve earned a few stripes in the process.      

Did you do a gut renovation, or were you able to start on building right away? What were your reasons?

Once the Argosy was in my hands, everything but the outer walls in the bathroom came out, and everywhere else, everything but the walls and the floors came out. From there, the rebuilding began. For me, it was simply a matter of assessing what was necessary and what wasn’t. 

How much time did/do you spend on the renovation (per week)?                

I’ve talked this over with Evan before, and I know between the both of us it took time every weekend and hours after-work. It is rather remarkable to me that the Argosy was gutted and completed to this stage within four months under those circumstances.

Do you find that renovating affects your personal life? Social activities, family, marriage, sleep, stress levels? How do you manage your renovation schedule around real life?

Admittedly, I’m a self-professed hermit and, while I enjoy people and frequently take my son out for adventures, I’m usually the one hanging out in the corner of the library. So I never really felt my personal life was affected as much as I knew that my son’s would be. I made a ceremony of looking for our caravan with my son. His friends in school had big houses and yards, and while we were used to living in smaller, and often uncommon spaces, I was still asking him to downsize to something the size of a bedroom. As a mom, it was important that I involved him in the process from the very beginning and that it was a positive experience for him. We’d cuddle up on Sunday afternoons scouring through Craigslist and Airstream forums together, and that went a long way towards our team attitude during the renovation and planning for full-time travel. 

As with anything I’m sure, the challenge to doing this also held the beauty of it. The challenge was that I was asking my son to trust me, and the beauty of it was that he completely did. The challenge was that I was the sole decision-maker, and the beauty was that the decisions were mine to make. My son’s wishes for the Argosy were so simple and few, that I was able to easily work them in or compromise where needed. I can imagine how two sets of expectations can compound astronomically. Once Evan came on board, he had informed ideas for me to consider and again, I found myself comparing this project to publishing projects. There’s a time to push for deadlines and scour over tiny details, and there is a time to relax and trust that it is all working out the way it’s meant to. 

From left to right: painted buffalo adorning the rear of the Argosy by Sunny’s sister, Summer Saad, dappled light on the striped rug, current reads on the shelf, rear window art installation by Karina Puente, moody view out the panoramic windows in the Argosy.

Are there any resources out there you’ve found and have been inspired by or learned from that you found extremely valuable and want to share with the community?

Instagram is the most helpful resource I have found when it comes to Airstream renovation, and the caravan community in general. It was through Instagram that I found my most inspiring Airstream renovators, including Birch & Pine/The Modern Caravan: I learned generously from following your journey. Several times, I pointed Evan towards Instagram photos and notes during the renovation project to help clarify ideas. 

I found it very valuable to have some travel experience under my belt, and then to have tucked some travel and camping experience into my son’s pocket before we moved full-time in the Argosy. In the process of camping and traveling as often as we could, I connected with campers from around the world from mountain backpackers to tent campers to car campers, which is a community I’ve found to be very parallel in knowledge and generosity to the Airstream community. My best friend, Michelle, is a camper extraordinaire who works at REI and she took us on overnight backpacking trips, weekend trips, and overall exposed me to that trademark zeal and brawn that I’ve found in most California adventurers. I picked up useful information along the way from this community, such as smart ways of planning out my camping spots and checking in with local rangers. REI offers some great outdoor classes. I’d love to see the Airstream community come up with hands-on experiences like that. 

I was also manifestly inspired by Stephanie Smith and Jay Babcock. I came across an article on their experimental homestead and farms in the Mojave, and I knew I wanted to connect with Stephanie. She is a Harvard-trained architectural designer doing brilliant, green things in Joshua Tree. We’ve visited over eco-choices for the Airstream and tiny homes in general. She is the one who inspired me to approach my renovation by practicing mutual aid wherever possible. I’ve still got a lunch scheduled with her once I make it back up to J-Tree, just so I can pick her brain. Her cabins are available on Airbnb. Book a stay at one of them to try out living with solar-powered energy or a compost toilet.

If you’re already finished, how does it feel to complete such a difficult, time-consuming project?

When I envisioned buying my Airstream, I imagined a very marked day of departure whilst I drove off into the sunset on our new adventure. It didn’t pan out that way; it was more of a slow unfolding of petals – sometimes damned thorns –from one transition into the other. Life often has other plans for us, and because I had learned to be flexible in the process, it served me well as I found myself taking one step forward and two steps back for awhile, rather than sprinting out the door.  But I did have a moment. It came for me in a quiet, wet morning in the Buffalo Argosy. While bundled under Pendleton blankets, I listened the rain to the pattering on our roof and my son cuddling with his puppy, talking about all the places she was going to go with us. And I remembered the Argosy was never the end goal, it was always the conduit, a container. It shelters us, supports us, and moves us toward our horizons. That is a powerful feeling for a mother. More than once, I’ve whispered thank you

If you haven’t yet finished, what are you looking forward to most when you do complete your project? How do you think you’ll feel?

I’ll be feeling the cherry on top when that wood stove goes in. If I’m going to be self-contained, it just makes sense to go all the way with the concept. And nothing beats the smell of sweetgrass tossed on top of freshly chopped wood.    

What's your living situation or what will it be when you complete your project? Are you stationary? Mobile? A bit of both?

After the winter passes, we’ll be moving onward. This painted pony will be taking us to California and eventually toward those Northern Lights. 

What is life like, today, in your caravan? 

At the moment, we’re in the throes of winter and puppy land. Much like the Argosy, our Aussie pup requires a certain pace for us right now. We love our slow mornings with Pax, books, and hot tea. When we have a fire ring available, I cook breakfast bacon and eggs in my Lodge skillet outside over a fire because nothing tastes better than campfire bacon. In the Argosy, we wake up with the sun and go to sleep to each other’s conversations. The light shifts like water across our blue linens when we wake up and splays shapes from our Migration curtain on our walls in the evening. Reading, praying, and talking together in the mornings before we dive into laptop work or studies or go do life sets our entire day on a more peaceful trajectory, like taking a snapshot.

In every way, the fact that it is just the two of us has always given us a strong bond, and the Argosy slowly became a third character in our family. Now that Pax is here, we are experiencing a new character in our story, and it is fun to see how she fits into our lives and how we are teaching her to fit in ours. It’s not perfection, but thank God for wood floors during potty training and for an ever-changing backyard. And of course, our privacy is next to none, but the bathroom has a pocket door and we have privacy when we need it. And for now, that’s enough.

Argosy living just demands a mindful habit of paying better attention to each other, as well as to our home and to wherever we are. We pick up after everything we do right away, and that means Cole’s Lego goes right back into the bin whence it came. The dining table is the hub of our workaday and while we’ve padded it about with sheepskins and pillows, the front door is right beside the table making the world outside a natural extension of our space.

When I’m working away on my laptop and Cole is doing his studies across from me and the tea kettle is whistling, it feels like every other home we’ve ever been in with one big exception. A house has a way of insulating you. It tells you to get comfortable, stay put. Our Argosy offers us the constant invitation to pay attention, to migrate, to see new horizons.  

Sunny, Cole, and Pax, we can't thank you enough to be the folks to start off this series. Your words and your lives are such beautiful reminders and examples to live with truthful intention, to surround ourselves with beauty and purpose, and that our actions are the only honest reflection of our words. That with patience, an earnest heart, and hard work, dreams can be realized so beautifully. 

For more of Sunny's story: