The Things They Carried….

Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge – Nevada

I know.  Sooner or later, it was bound to happen.  At some point, I was destined to use a book title for a blog post.  I just can’t help myself – I’m a librarian.  It won’t be the last time, I’m sure! 🙂

I recently had some friends ask me for suggestions for an RV packing list.  They are picking up their new pre-owned Airstream in May and getting ready to do some long-term traveling.  I had been starting to think about a blog post on the things we carry and well, one thing led to another…. thanks for the inspiration to get moving on this post, Beth Ann!

Iron work in the refuge was unique and exceptionally well-done!!

The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien, is a mainstay in many high school history/literature classes these days.  The book chronicles the life of a fictional platoon during the Vietnam War.  It is a collection of interrelated short stories and one is titled The Things They Carried.  In this narrative, the author shares the items that soldiers carry with them – from the ordinary to the sentimental to the deadly.  And not just the physical items they carry, but the mental baggage they bring is also divulged.

When I was trying to come up with an appropriate title for a blog about what types of belongings we chose to bring along on our journey, I was just plain stuck on this book title.  It was the first thing that came to mind.  So, while a war memoir and an RV travel adventure are completely ludicrous comparisons – the title was utterly relevant to my post and in some ways, I liked the random simplicity of just listing the *things we carried* – similar to the style O’Brien exhibits in his short story.   What do I need to bring?  What do I bring that just gives me comfort?  What did we bring that we just have not used, and what did we pick up along the way?  Here goes….

(PS – the photos in this blog are from our trip late last summer to visit Jim’s brother, Paul, in Pahrump, NV.  We toured the Ash Meadows Wildlife Refuge with him, and drove through Death Valley on our way back to June Lake, CA.  Just so you won’t be too bored with the narrative!)

One of the many turquoise-colored springs teaming with the endangered pupfish species – Amargosa and Warm Springs Pupfish

Our Initial Item List Randomly Provided Here

So, what did we carry initially?  First of all, we carried items that we considered to be the necessities. And took responsibility for these items based on our prearranged division of labor.

Among the provisions I was responsible for assembling (the day-to-day, indoor stuff) are pots and pans, mixing bowls, salad spinner, a good set of kitchen knives, plates and utensils, cutting boards, single-serve thermos mugs, coffee maker, food, bedding, clothing – mostly warm weather but some cold weather, shoes – hiking and the everyday variety, towels – both kitchen and bath, matches, all essential toiletries and cleaning supplies, essential paper products, utility items such as flashlights, LED portable lights, duck tape, office supplies such as stamps, pens, notepads, scotch tape, extra batteries, paper clips, and screen cleaners.

I measured each and every cabinet and storage space and took pictures of each with my cellphone.  I purchased and put into place a collection of organizers and storage containers that house all of the above items.  It was, at times, like fitting together puzzle pieces!

Jim was responsible for the organization of all the tools that we might need along the way – the essential tools.  He packed automotive mechanics tools such as a suitcase set of sockets and ratchets, tire pressure air gauges, some large tools for tire work and removing wheels, different sized hammers from medium to 5 lb, a tool tray with channel locks, vice grips, large and small adjustable wrenches, several screw drivers, 3-in-1 oil, liquid wrench, electrical tape, masking tape, gorilla tape, a roll of shop towels, wire cutters, gloves (disposable and work), soft wire, and clamps.  He has a 2 drawer, 20” by 9” deep tool box with electrical connectors, crimpers, cutters, more drives and an Allen wrench set.

What we carried was often determined by function.

We devoted space for storing Airstream repair and maintenance necessities: Dicor self-leveling sealant and caulking gun, parbond, exterior wax and cleaner with bucket/microfiber cleaning cloths and sponges, various Pex plumbing supplies, a shovel, and leveling boards or devices.

We carried the miscellaneous essential stuff for the Airstream like sewer hoses and attachments, water hoses – both fresh water and other, water filters, surge protector, water pressure gauge, extra electrical cords and adapters, and keep all the above stacked in the truck in various heavy duty Rubbermaid containers.   The key is to identify tools used regularly and make them easily accessible.  Jim organizes the outside paraphernalia in the truck and outside Airstream compartments.  I am in charge of the indoor storage.

We carried items to aid in navigation and documentation of our journey.  I maintain the laptop, and cellphones and all the myriad of cords and chargers that go along with the electronics.


The things we carried were also chosen due to our hobbies, crafts and interests.

Along with the necessities, we brought a number of items that speak to our passions and hobbies that we hoped to enjoy along the way.  I believe I have the bulk of this type of stuff!  I include a number of items on this list:  two cameras and assorted accessories (in the end I could not part with my old Canon), my ukulele, drawing pencils and sketch pads, a short stack of recipe books, hiking poles, day hiking packs, portable grill and two bikes.

For me, I was sure I would have time to spend going through some old, old photo albums – digitizing and weeding out the photographs.  I brought a Rubbermaid container full of these albums.  Has not happened! But, I just might get them out on a rainy day….

Jim brought a few carpentry tools (and a tool for sharpening chisels, etc.) thinking that he might pick up work where these might come in handy.  While this work could always materialize, so far these have remained unused.

We use our traditional Airstream chairs for outside seating and have not as yet found a reason to purchase anything else to replace these.

In the end, we opted not to bring a canoe.  This is an item we will probably pick up at some point.  We also did not bring camping gear like tent, and backpacking equipment.  Again, maybe this will be an addition.  It would be nice to have the option to go back country at times.

Near Zabriskie Point in Death Valley

Additions Along the Way

We knew that once we were on the road we would discover things that would be useful, necessary or just plain nice to have.  We made a conscious decision not to start the trip with every possible item we might need or want.  We wanted experience to dictate some of our needs and desires.

What we picked up along the way:  a small aluminum outside table, 4 x 6 indoor/outdoor rug for the ground in front of the trailer, a 12-ton jack (for changing tires and using to pack wheel bearings), a small electric heater to supplement our heat pump when connected to power, a generator,  a 12-volt powered air compressor, a 12V to 110 power inverter to charge up my electronics and, the big one, a Renogy 200W Solar Kit (bought and installed by us).


Final Thoughts

As we have moved into the second half of our first year on the road, it has been a roller-coaster adventure.  Yes, the physical things we carry are ever shifting and will continue to alter as time goes on.  We are always talking about better ways to organize, what we should discard, and what else would be useful – always aware of our limited space.

The emotional and mental baggage we carry shifts just as much as the physical – if not more.  There are days when I love the adventure we are on, and there are days when I have complete meltdowns and wonder what in the world I have done!  I feel optimism, enthusiasm, contentment, confidence, happiness and a certain treasured calm much of the time.

And yet, there are days when the feelings of uncertainty, doubtfulness, frustration, and anxiety creep in and I feel overwhelmed.  On days like this, I take a hike and almost always discover something new that suddenly makes it all okay.  And, I am thankful for a husband who has supported this journey, and always tells me it will be okay no matter what happens.

Is this lifestyle sustainable?  The debate on that continues.  I am learning a great deal about myself and my priorities in life from a completely different perspective.  I believe that I can speak for Jim as well in that regard.  He has stretched and flexed and extended his comfort zone, as I have.

Every day is at once refreshing and scary.  But, what is life without risk and the reward that comes with that 🙂


4 Comments on “The Things They Carried….

  1. Real. Beautiful. Well said. Loved hearing the more personal part of the journey. Regardless of your future path, you will have a trove of experiences to treasure which will enrich you forever. Best to you both. Happy Trails! B.A.


    • Thanks for the feedback! It’s often hard for me to be really candid with my inner feelings and musings. But, I think its part of the journey and that’s what I’m trying to document here. Peace to you and enjoy your weekend!!


  2. Courageous statements and wonderful remarks on the hidden power within hiking! I’m so glad that you have each other on this amazing journey. Hope you continue to enjoy some of the hidden gems this country has to offer. I am still in awe of your journey and this blog that you have shared! Miss you!


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