The Ultimate Road Trip: THE SILVER SNAIL : A solo woman's full-time RV adventure
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About

Be like the bird
who, pausing in her flight
awhile on boughs too slight,
feels them give way
beneath her and sings,
knowing that she hath wings.
– Victor Hugo
Me: Sharon PieniakSHARON
I grew up in Cleveland, studied graphic design at Boston University, and ended up in Portland, Maine. I am not on vacation. I am location-independent, which means my work can travel with me - I am maintaining the same professional life I had when I was stationary in Portland, Maine. Working independently as a graphic designer since 1999, I wanted to carve more opportunities for travel and photography into my life , so in September 2007 I decided to take my life on the road to see some of the places I always wanted to visit and invite more of the world in. My work had frequently come with me on vacations, so I knew it was portable. The question was how long I (and my animal pals) would enjoy the small-ish living quarters and the regular unfamiliar. So I considered The First Trip an experimental immersion course in the modern nomadic lifestyle with the intention of returning back to Maine to see it with new eyes. It was exciting and challenging, fun and heart-breaking... and the wanderlust was unshakable.

After hibernating for the winter, I am back on the road with a slightly different attitude for The Latest Trip. I'm familiar with the ropes now and don't have an agenda or must-see list and I do not necessarily feel a need to return to Maine. The Latest Trip, which started on June 1, 2010, is completely open-ended and a little more casual in approach. It's a lifestyle now.

 

Harley the DogHARLEY
Young Harley is a relatively new addition to the family. I picked him up in Cleveland, Ohio in August, 2009, four months after my pal Riley died in Eugene. Having Riley as a sidekick for 12 years taught me to enjoy life more and showed me that life is just better with a good dog. Now young Harley is continuing Riley's legacy and creating his own with bounce and verve...and I cannot believe how lucky I am to have found another most-awesome dog. He is half golden-lab, half husky and when we met, he was a year and a half old and already well-acquainted with living with cats. He is the most goofy and exuberant 70-pound dog you will ever meet. A super-soft snuggle-bunny to those who love him, he is still awkwardly learning about the world-at-large and loves more than anything to run and chase other living things. Except birds. He's figured the flying thing out and knows it ain't worth it. He's young and reckless and traveling with him is a much different thing than traveling with an older dog who has settled into a calm existence. He's a very quick learner and while the squirrel-chasing might take some time to control, he digs this traveling deal and is all eyes, ears, and nose to the world. His favorite spot in the trailer is on the bed with the panoramic windows where he can obsess about all the squirrels, dogs, bunnies and questionable strangers to determine which are bark-and-growl-worthy, which are ricochet-off-the-wall-let-me-out-to-play worthy, and which are just fun to look at. Good boy, Harley.

 

 

Peyote the CatRemembering PEYOTE
Peyote grew up with me. I got her when I was in college, so she was my little shadow for half of my life. She liked to remind me it was time to get up and watch the birds by pawing at the blinds at the crack of dawn. Not my favorite thing. She became very skilled at opening the bathroom door to go to her bathroom, and at maneuvering acrobatically around the interior of the trailer. Whenever I poured myself a glass of fresh cold water, she immediately had to get her face in it and if she couldn't reach the water, she'd quickly get her paw in it to knock it over. In her twilight years, I got her a heated bed which was next to the window where I could watch her sleeping 99% of the day. She was a little cat, as far as cats go, but she was like a steamroller when she needed or wanted something. Occassionally she insisted on lounging outside and I put a harness on her so she didn't get lost. Her hearing was not so good anymore. She loved eating grass and lazily taking in a new landscape. When we drove, she preferred to spend most of her time on my lap. I preferred that too, because she would meow her head off when we first started moving if she wasn't where I could reach to pet her. After a few minutes, she always settled down and did a fair amount of moving around in the truck, often walking all over the dog to get to where she needed to be. Peyote was a quiet, gentle soul who usually managed to find her way onto my lap, whether I was driving, reading, or watching tv. I miss her dearly, my beautiful black girl.

 

 

Riley the DogRemembering RILEY
Riley was my first dog. He set the bar for awesome dogs. Always smiley and ready to share the joy, he loved to carry his own leash around camp, say hi to neighbors and never failed to find our home, even though the neighborhood changed frequently. He was my constant fun companion for hiking new trails, walking around new cities, eating lunch at outdoor cafes, or hunting for photo opps. As one person said to me, upon seeing us on a trail: "A dog and a camera...what else do you need?" Yeah - exactly my sentiments.

Riley came to live with me when he was 10 weeks old and he was about 10 years old when we left Maine. We had both settled into a solid trust and understanding of the other's behaviors and communication style. I knew I could trust him to stay near me so he was often off-leash. Whenever I'd look at him or talk to him, he'd always smile back at me. He was gentle, patient and easy-going, but if he saw a body of water, there was no way I could keep him away from it. He was a strong swimmer, talented snorkeler and expert ball-catcher. I often thought the ball and his mouth were magnetized - he never missed a toss. Sometimes he would go into a zen-swim at the beach, or along a breakwall and he'd forget I was even there, just completely engrossed in the meditative act of swimming.

With all his 90 pounds, he did take up a bit of room in the trailer, but he got used to my careful steps around him. In the car, he INSISTED on resting his head in my lap, and it could be difficult to peel him off. He loved to laze around outside, but if I was inside working, he'd rather come in. After all, that's where his most favorite thing was - his BED! That was my pal Riley. A wonderful, beautiful soul and loyal best friend. I miss him everyday, and he will always live in my heart.

 

The RigTHE RIG
We live in a 2012 20-foot Airstream Flying Cloud. On The First Trip, I towed a 2007 version with a 2002 Toyota 4Runner and it was maxed out at its towing capacity (5000 lbs.). Even with the Equalizer hitch, I knew this was not the best-case scenario, and so avoided mountains and any steep grades. There were a couple of times when avoidance wasn't possible though, and I wondered if my little 4Runner would make it. It did and it did just fine, but I wanted to feel like I could go anywhere and feel safe doing it, so for The Latest Trip, I upgraded to a Nissan Titan King Cab 4x4 with a towing capacity of 7400 lbs. It also has a bench seat so that Harley can be more comfortable in the front seat when we drive. That's my favorite part - the bench seat. That, and the fact that it feels like it's going to take flight when I accelerate. And the tow mirrors! Real tow mirrors are stupendously wonderful things.

With an extra-tall cap on the bed of the truck, I've created a luxurious extra living area when I'm away from the trailer. This added "room" is lined with a BedRug and the original Airstream mattress. It is a really awesome place to hang out, watch the sunset, sleep and even work when the truck is parked someplace beautiful.

The cap has a Thule rack on top which holds a cargo box. Known as The Attic, it stores things that I don't use everyday - like scuba gear and trailer-washing stuff.

Another addition to the Silver Snail's living quarters is a screen room. Zip-Dee makes a custom screen room that attaches to its awnings, but it's expensive, difficult to setup/ take down, and will get destroyed in breezy conditions. So instead, I spent $100 on a 10'x10' standalone screen room with detachable walls, which is a great way to be outside, not get munched on by mosquitos and no-see-ums, and also have some extra floor space to stretch out. UPDATE: After giving the standalone screen room a try, I got rid of it. You still need to worry about it in strong winds, and it's a pain in the neck to put up and take down by myself. So I am still in search of the perfect screen room solution.

For more info on the trailer specs, see Trailer Specs.

Here's an early photo (flattened 360-degree pano) of the interior of the trailer, with Riley:

 

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The Silver Snail
All images and words © Sharon Pieniak
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