A hard exit and a soft landing

  • The Periwinkle Polka Dot booth(s) at the Tempe Festival of the Arts, with our upcycled clothes for girls and adults.

It’s been a long time since we’ve been on a multi-month trip in The Epic Van, and we were thrilled to envision ourselves meandering the open road on a loop to the East Coast and back. There it was in my calendar, circled in red ink, April 4, departure day.

But we first had to get out of Arizona, and it was proving to be difficult.

Partly because we were having so much fun. Partly because we had so many doctor’s appointments, for me, Tom and Mom, to clear the medical calendar for the foreseeable future. Partly because of the Tempe Festival of the Arts, where my friend Tami and I, sell our upcycled and handmade clothing twice a year, in March and December. Partly because we had some repairs and upgrades planned for The Epic Van. And partly because of a f***ing oven.

First, the fun. My friends Jackie and Meredith and I went to Morocco for a month in January. We ate tagines, rode camels, shopped in the medinas, and came home with memories, rugs, handwoven material and, for Meredith, a plan to make her back yard into a blue oasis, complete with mosaic fountain. It was a fabulous dive into another culture, and I loved the colors, the chaos and the welcoming people.

As soon as I got back I was sewing and knitting like a mad woman to get ready for the festival, March 31-April 2. We had to rent the van, gather the booths, racks, bags, etc., from storage, sort, tag, load and transport everything, set up on the Tempe street, (wo)man the booth for three days, and then do everything in reverse to get things back in the studio and storage area. It’s all hands on deck for several days, with husband Tom and son Nate helping Tami and I get through the weekend.

Between Morocco and the sale, we took The Epic Van in for its annual checkup at Van City in Las Vegas, where we purchased her. This year, she needed some new interior lights installed, the awning checked after it blew over the roof during a wind gust last year, a new macerator for the waste system, a step repaired and the propane generator removed (because we never use it and its just dead weight.) All done in one day (two camping nights). LOVE Van City.

Tom also replaced the black strips that were falling off the steps, re-taped the airfoil on the roof, took her to the Mercedes dealer to FINALLY figure out why the wiper fluid kept leaking out (a broken valve on the headlight washer, who knew?) and got a new key programmed, which took all day and cost $400.

I ordered new window reflectors recommended by our camping pals Jeff and Ann (they know all the cool tools), and ordered a new custom mattress, which required several trips to the factory to get the exact thing we wanted and deliver material we chose for a slipcover. Once again, it all worked out. A not-minor miracle.

Somehow, in the midst of all this, we were able to visit our Idaho pals in Yuma for February’s Howling at the Moon, a senior kegger in the desert. We also rolled across the border to be merry in Mexico and I bought Mexican fabric. We went to Tucson to celebrate belated Festivus with family and friends, squeezed in multiple doctor visits for Tom and I, including a skin cancer surgery on my face, celebrated Mom’s 93rd birthday, visited Jeff and Ann for three nights at McDowell Mountain Regional Park, where they camp host, visited with friends Bonnie and Bob when they came to town, and even went to the Aloha Festival with Tami and a solo trip to the African Village at Tucson’s Gem and Mineral Show to buy African fabrics.

Meanwhile, the Medina girls (as Jackie, Merideth and I were tagged in Morocco) needed to reserve space for our next trip if we wanted to get the significant discount for booking early, so multiple committee meetings were held. Done.

I’m winded just thinking about it all.

And then there was the oven. This ongoing catastrophe started before Thanksgiving, when the oven in my mom’s house went on the fritz, the broiler refusing to turn off. At all. We had to shut off the electricity to the whole house, until we could figure out the right breaker switch. The biggest issue is that the oven is 24 inches wide, a very narrow size no longer made anywhere on the planet it seems. I spent weeks with Lowe’s getting a special order that would “fit,” only to find something akin to an Easy Bake Oven installed when I returned one day from the studio. Above the Barbie-sized appliance was a gaping hole where there should have been more oven. Several weeks more to get a refund, decide that the only resolution was to order a wider oven and rearrange the cabinetry, several weeks more to order something from Home Depot. (This is the deleted-expletives version of events that is internet appropriate. If you want the version I tell my friends, buy me a couple Margaritas and I’ll let loose.)

So, the day after the sale, my studio neighbor, a master carpenter, was at the house redoing the cabinets. It was perfect. I felt hope again.

Mom had a doctor’s appointment to go over all the MRIs, pulmonary assessments, cardiac assessments, neurological assessments and skin assessments from the past year catching up on all the things put aside over the pandemic. All good on her part, and one more item off the to-do list.

I did laundry, threw clothes into stuff bags, and sorted out my knitting projects for the road.

Departure Day arrived. Tom and I were loading clothes, food, drinks, electronics and supplies into the van.

And the electrician was coming to connect the oven, what I guessed was a 30-minute job.

But no. The new oven had four wires, where the original had three, and the wires in the wall were old and brittle (1950s) and needed to be replaced, so the thing I thought would take 30 minutes would require a second helper and another appointment the next day. We scheduled it, left my sister and Nate in charge and left.

As we rolled away, I didn’t have the usual thrill of anticipation. I was exhausted. I just wanted to sleep.

We rolled into the WalMart parking lot in Safford and collapsed.

Another day of driving, through beautiful scenery and we were in Guadalupe Mountains National Park. My mojo began to revive.

And by the time we hit Austin, for a minireunion with Stanford fellow Bob Moser, an editor at Texas Monthly, and one of the Stanford “kids,” Clara, who flew in from Portland, I began to smile.

Over the next three days, we ate barbecue, visited Bob’s very cool offices, watched the bats swirl out from the Congress Bridge at sunset, ate more barbecue, grabbed a copy of our Stanford fellow Bonnie’s new book at the Book People bookstore, went to see the movie Air, which was fantastic, ate ice cream, played miniature golf at the Peter Pan Mini Golf, featured in Friday Night Lights, and talked and talked and talked and talked.

It was just what I needed. And we rolled out of Austin, heading east, revived and happy.


  1. Reply
    Dave April 14, 2023

    I have to lie down, now. So glad you got away, saw Bob and Clara, bought Bonnie’s book and can rest easy knowing your mom has an Easy-Bake Oven. Thanks for the update.

    • Reply
      Judy Nichols April 14, 2023

      I’m horizontal! But we’ve brought our bikes and are sampling rail trails. Thinking of you as my behind winces.

  2. Reply
    Nancy Warfield April 14, 2023

    On the road again! So happy for you. Our van is marooned in the shop with a broken down Alde…may get it back before we
    leave for Amalfi Coast mid May? Happy trails!!

    • Reply
      Judy Nichols April 14, 2023

      Darn. I’ve seen lots of blot posts about Alde glitches. Hope it is fixed soon. But the Amalfi Coast sounds like the perfect place to unwind!

  3. Reply
    Meredith Stewart April 14, 2023

    I have to go to bed after reading your post! Once more, your writing had me right with you on all the ACTIVITIES that were pre departure of the Epic Van. Wow! ALOT! But, if I learned anything in the maze like medinas…You have STAMINA! So happy you are relaxing and having fun. 😎😘Meredith

    • Reply
      Judy Nichols April 14, 2023

      Thanks, Mer! It’s like childbirth, the pain is already fading and all I remember is the beautiful stove!

  4. Reply
    Kirstin April 14, 2023

    So glad you’re on the road again, and posting about it! What an epic list of things – somehow this runs in our Keller blood, I think. Eagerly awaiting more of your writing. Nudge Tom about another “Finances” post!

    • Reply
      Judy Nichols April 14, 2023

      Thanks! I still have PTSD. Tom says he’s resurrecting the long-awaited post written (can’t remember) years ago.

  5. Reply
    Deborah April 14, 2023

    Great people; great photos. ❤️❤️❤️

    • Reply
      Judy Nichols April 14, 2023

      Missed you!

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