Airstream’n ~ Epic Fail? ~ Getting Perspective

This was a difficult post to write, after working countless hours for weeks and months – we had approached our deadline. This was a rock solid deadline and was unchangeable. The best way to describe what we were going through is to go back to the beginning.

In April 2016, we bought a vintage 1978 Sovereign 31′ Airstream Trailer. We bought it with the intention of fixing it up, rehabbing and modernizing it essentially. We liquidated some investments to pay for this venture and we tried to be realistic about what we could get done within our limited time frame.

WARNING: THIS IS THE LONGEST POST I WILL PROBABLY EVER WRITE, SO MUCH TO GET THROUGH

GRAB A TALL DRINK

Reasonable Expectations

Since Nick is in the Army, work is a priority and he occasionally travels for days, weeks, months, years at a time. We fortunately knew that he would be home for this time frame with a few short trips throughout so we were safe to begin this massive project. He had done months of research before we really decided to go through with this so we understood what we were up against.

Being completely honest with ourselves, we knew it would be tight and we were sure that we couldn’t finish it completely but planned to make it functional and safe for our family to travel cross-country from WA to NC. The goal was simple, purchase, gut out the bad, repair the shell and remaining guts, install the new replacements and go – we could always polish off the finishing touches once we settled back into NC…

Unforeseen + Unexpected Events

Nick came home from a 2 week trip to South Korea and we bought our Airstream within the week. You can see more about our purchase in our initial post, Airstream’n ~ Hunting Down A Good Deal

He finally got to get in and begin demolishing the trash items (rotten walls and cabinets) then gut out and sell or trash what we wouldn’t reuse. All of this went over pretty well and then it happened…

Murphy’s Law

We did expect for some issues to come up but the sheer number, intensity, cost of all our issues was definitely not what we have in mind or could have foreseen. We will post many of the things that came up so that you can learn from our mistakes and hopefully prevent them from happening to you.

You can follow our Airstream’n Series to see more detailed posts on these events.

Waiting Game

We checked out the entire trailer and expected to replace some major, costly parts but human error on our part and the companies we did business with happened and that would frequently add lots of waiting time to fix mistakes. Many times we were shipped the wrong part, only to have to wait for a replacement to come in.

In some cases, we had to have parts custom made for our Airstream and that takes time. Other times, we had to wait on a local hire to do work like welding, glass repair, etc.. Other times, we had to wait on the weather. When we needed to fix windows, we couldn’t remove them due to the rain. The rain was making things leak and you cannot waterproof the shell of the Airstream until the windows are done. We also couldn’t do the vents/fans until the rain stopped and had to wait for the welding, belly skin, holding tanks, LP lines, etc, etc….

Weather can be a huge obstacle, we always wished we had a pole barn that we could have had this parked in to work on it in a protected environment and would recommend it to anyone looking to do an Airstream Renovation. We even tried to back it into our garage, unfortunately we were about 2ft short on clearance so that was a no go.

In almost every case, we couldn’t move forward on the work until the things we were waiting on came in and could be installed or repaired. And when you are waiting on something for 2 weeks and cannot move forward on a project like this – it presents a major threat to finishing by your deadline!

 The Affect & The Effect

This stop + wait happened frequently enough that we became extremely stressed out and mentally exhausted as we had already gone too far to go back and had far too much cash tied up in this.

We worked twice and hard and twice as long to try to make up the difference but by that point we were working all day from dawn to far past dusk (like midnight-2AM) every single day for months when Nick wasn’t working and everywhere in between. We were also selling our house, preparing to move and all that goes along with the process for a PCS, raising two small kids, running 3 online businesses, and this blog (and his). It’s exhausting just thinking about it all at once.

This was a lot to handle and I’m not sure, even now, how in hell we managed to get through it all. I do know that we sacrificed a lot of important things that we normally never would. Primarily, we sacrificed spending time with our kids – knowing now that our son has Dilated Cardiomyopathy and has all along, we never ever would have sacrificed our precious time with the kids. We also sacrificed our time with family, friends, and with one another.

Lastly, we had one important trip to make that come hell or high water, we were not missing. Nick’s sister was getting married in the last week of July, in southern CA and we were planning on taking the Airstream down from WA and leaving for our move to NC after the wedding. This was a major weight on our shoulders because it was the big culminating event that our deadline was up against. We were so happy and excited to be there with our family and this stressful, costly undertaking became a dark cloud hovering over us constantly.

We kept telling each other and ourselves that we were doing this now so that we could spend more time together on the future: camping trips we’ve been dreaming of, road trips (like our move to NC), and possibly living in the Airstream for 6-12 months to fix our financial mistakes and rebuild our savings.

Lesson Learned

Of course it is crucial to plan for the future but in doing this with the Airstream, we forgot to live in the moment and remember that life is a gift and you, me, or they may not be there tomorrow. So I guess my point is, plan for the future but live for today – remember not to take on massive projects that interfere with that mantra and spread it out over a much longer period of time. Rushed jobs suck anyway.

The Turning Point

The final week came, the week when we needed to get out of our recently sold house, when we needed to be on the road in 5-7 days to southern California – then on to NC, and the time when the Airstream had to be ready to take us there. Well the problem was, we were killing ourselves trying to get it done. We had our best friends there helping us constantly, Nick would be working at a pace like I’ve never seen (and he is already a super motivated guy and a soldier). I was honestly worried that he might have a heart attack or completely lose his mind. We were very far behind yet pushing through the pain and the exhaustion and it seemed to be coming together.

The Final Straw

We had made amazing progress, the guts were all fixed and there was A LOT to fix, the paint was done (I can’t even begin to explain the amount of paint and prep work that had to be done – see other posts please). In the last 5 days we had left, we thought we just might be able to accomplish what we had set out to do (minus a few important things but it would still be functional – not pretty).

Then things started to slow down, we were getting stuck on tasks that shouldn’t take as long as they did; we were getting sloppy and having to redo things. We accidentally broke the shell of the shower wall and it was pretty much irreparable. The paint had turned out to be runny and drip everywhere because it was not mixed properly in the air compressor sprayer can – resulting in me having to sand the entire cabin and repaint it. Many things went wrong and we were struggling but determined stubborn.

One night, 4 days before we were scheduled to hit the road, we all sat out in the driveway and ate some pizza while on a break. The four of us adults and our combined 4 kiddos, realizing that we were leaving soon and would be missing them so much, we all started reminiscing and joking. There came a point when our friend kind of brought up an idea he had been stewing on for a while and had been waiting for a good time and way to bring it up. We’d all seen Nick getting worn down and exhausted but extremely focused and frustrated…

He gently told us that we needed to listen to him and remember our goals. He said that we needed to be realistic (in the most considerate way possible) to take a breath and really think about our options. We were exhausted and there was no way we would finish in time and it was not worth killing ourselves over. That we were starting to massively cut corners and that’s not who we are or how we do things. That we would be undoing so much of our work if we cut those corners now instead of waiting and doing the work the right way. It was OK to put things on pause and that we weren’t failures – we could finish it later when we got moved into our new place and could go at a better pace and do things the right way.

I can say with unashamed honesty that I have never seen my husband look defeated until this moment. I literally saw him swallow frustration, anger, rage, humiliation, and being broken all in a blink of an eye. That was hard because that is not how I see him and to see all of that in his eyes and his demeanor was beyond shitty.

When you literally give something your all for months, overcome massive obstacles, sacrifice so much, and are in the final stretch only to be brought down just before the finish line – something inside you breaks. Our friends saw something happening in us that we didn’t see and I am grateful for that. The good thing about human nature is that even when you fall or hit rock bottom is that if you have the right mindset, you get back up, dust off, and change course and try again.

At first, we took the truth hard and felt horrible but after sleeping that off and waking up to a new day, with a new plan, it got a lot easier to see the light. We started to finish up the projects we decided could be done quickly and leave the others, loading up the trailer with all our stuff that we had saved to bring in the Airstream.

The Hits Keep Coming…

In the last 2 days, the kids and I woke up sick – and I mean the kind of sick that makes you delirious from fever. First my son, then my daughter – temp of 103+ vomiting and misery. I was sick, which took out a pretty major part of the workforce. Nick kept working through it but was also caring for all of us laid out in the living room on an futon (because the movers had taken everything the week before).  Luckily, our best friends on the planet were there, helping us empty out the house, pack our trailer, and clean up the huge mess that was our garage/workshop. God gave us a huge gift in having them as friends – they are the best.

Then on the last day, Nick was sick – he was laid out with us. By laid-out I mean he would not stop pushing though even though he had a high fever and it came to a point when he was walking out of the house while trying to convince our friends he was fine and literally collapsed to the floor – out cold! Our friends got him up off the floor and back to bed with us. They kept packing up for us while we tried to sleep it off. Nick and I woke up to them getting us all in their car and truck and driving us to their house where we were going to stay for the next two days until we left. Luckily we got better really fast.

Staying with them also gave us a chance to hang out and say proper goodbyes as we are all pretty tight-knit – our kids are too; leaving them was really difficult. We’ve been friends since 2007 and in the Army it isn’t easy to keep a friendship going that close for so long, they’re really family.

And Coming

We were unpacking and repacking the trailer so that we could get around, evenly distribute weight, sleep in it if needed (because there are some long stretches in Montana, North Dakota, and Middle America where there is not a place to stay and we only need to sleep and go).

Then we discovered that someone had deliberately let the air out of our Airstream tires – that was messed up. But OK, just another thing that needed to be fixed before we left.

Then we had to replace the rotors and brakes on our F150 because they really needed it and we were about to drive over 4,000 miles so we wanted to be safe. So it was only supposed to take a few hours and we would hit the road… Or so we thought. Enter the featured photo for this post – while attempting to fix the truck, Nick was hammering something back into place and the hammer broke in two. Not the handle, no we are talking the steel hammer head! Just split in two pieces! This we all had never seen happen before so I took it as a sign – for some reason, we were not meant to leave now, in the truck, at this time.

I always try to read the signs in our lives and I realize now that I was ignoring them for months before this point. When everything starts to go wrong and you start asking God “Why?” you begin to think about what could be the cause, the purpose and what solutions might be a better idea. Thinking, okay the Airstream rehab was officially on hold and we we’d at least be able to just pack it up as is, and take it along. But when the tires, brakes, lug-nuts, and a hammer all fail you within a 24 hour span, you start to see things in a different light.

I believe that if we had continued to be stubborn and continue on that path, then we may have taken a path not meant for us by God. But we smartened up, followed the signs and let God show us our path. Good thing too as we had no idea how much our lives would change in the following months.

Now I can’t take all the credit for our next step, my best friend had been telling me for a few days to just leave the Airstream with them and buy plane tickets to fly down for the wedding and come back for the Airstream but I resisted as it would change our plans and tighten our timeline to get to NC – I’m stubborn, he’s stubborn, we’re all stubborn.

So, following the hammer incident, we shopped for plane tickets for us to go to CA for the wedding and a rental car to get us up to Big Bear and back to the airport. We purchased the tickets, reserved the rental Jeep and within minutes this massive weight lifted off our shoulders and we started smiling and more importantly, breathing again.

 

Don’t Give Up, Give In

Finally we saw the light and everything became easier for us. The trip to CA was a breeze, incredibly relaxing, a beautiful wedding between two amazing people we love, and a happy and fun family trip. It was exactly what we needed with our new perspective. When we got back to WA we were much more relaxed and able to just be with our friends and say goodbye, for now.

We left the next morning, no more obstacles – pretty smooth sailing. Our trip went by super fast as we were able to drive as late as we wanted, pull over in a safe area – park and sleep. Then we discovered something truly amazing… truck stop showers, ha! Never before did I consider or know of these magnificent offerings. It sounds a bit weird when describing them to let’s say… my mom (who seemed horrified) but they are clean, nicer than lots of hotel bathrooms, and cheap. A real game-changer on the road when your trailer bathroom is not usable and you really can’t stand to waste money on a hotel just to get a shower – we already had a safe comfy bed and the stars.

We got to take the Airstream everywhere we visited, it was a breeze to tow – thanks to the sway bars and electric jack we purchased. Through mountains in WA, Idaho, and Montana. Through Mount Rushmore, the plains, and cities. We stopped in at a fun place I never heard of but Nick knew of called Wall Drug, rode a Jackalope… sort of.

Then through Kentucky and Tennessee, including a stop at The Buffalo Trace Distillery – where they let us park the Airstream super easily and close to the shop. That was an awesome experience – I found it on Yelp while trying to find something to do and was ecstatic to learn that this place makes Nick favorite bourbon. I decided to surprise him by telling him to stop off and make a few turns, the look on his face was so good to see when he realized where we were – I can’t even… He said I earned major wife points that day, love that. We highly recommend stopping there if you are a bourbon drinker or are interested in historical distilleries. Had a nice little tasting upstairs, kids has root beer, shopped and stocked up on Nick’s all time favorite bourbon.

You can spot our Airstream peaking out in the corner, always tried to include it at our best stops

We got back on the road again and headed for a few more planned stops before arriving in Fayetteville, NC. It all felt so easy and not at all stressful after we gave in to what was best for us, followed God’s signs, and relaxed. Probably our best trip ever. Nick’s dad came down from MI to visit us for a few weeks before Thanksgiving to help us out with the Airstream. They got a lot done in the 2 weeks he was here – A LOT.

He is like the smartest person I’ve ever known and just happens to have his expertise in electrical engineering as well as being a lifelong lover and fixer upper of an awesome sailboat. Sailboats have a lot in common with Airstream trailers (RV’s in general) and he has a lot of experience in that field as well so he was able to offer a lot more help than anything I could do in there for Nick. Nick is a perfectionist too, so this helped and hurt us – I’m sure this thing is wired and set up better than the factory makes them new – I’m also sure it took him twice as long to do everything because he’s stubborn like that.

Airstream'n
Family Helping Out on Visit

It was great to see them able to work on this together as his dad was instrumental in a lot of our work in WA but he could not be there to help and he was so wanting to be there for us when we were struggling the most. It was worth the wait though because we have changed for the better and are handling the entire project in a healthier and more productive way. Time is your friend in this type of endeavor. Even better news is that he is coming down again in January and April so I expect they will knock a ton of stuff out during his visit! Always glad to have help, his ability to come stay for extended visits has been a blessing – especially since our son’s devastating diagnosis of DCM this fall.

Epic Fail? Not Exactly… More Like Epic Change Of Perspective

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