Long before Rocinante, our little red trailer, there was the dream of going on sabbatical – taking a few months and our little dog on the open road, cooking by campfire, sleeping under the stars, and waking up in our national parks from Utah to California to Washington to Montana. The route was one thing, but how about the ride?
In the early days of planning, Colin and I considered various models. We slept
in the back of the pickup. Fun, but not for three months. Then we rented a teardrop trailer. It was easy to haul, had a comfortable bed and a fun, convenient outdoor food prep area. Best of all, it was cute as a button and the epitome of hipster mod travel. We loved it, and knew right away that we were on the right track. But the biggest issue was that the inside was 100% bed, no floor room at all. We tried to imagine spending three months where every indoor moment would be on the bed. Amusing though that may sound, the reality of it would be
less so; we couldn’t even stand up to put on our pants. And where to put our stuff? We needed to hold three months’ worth of clothing for a spectrum of weather conditions, not just a few items for a camping weekend. The teardrop was close, but not quite right. We’d have to keep looking.
My folks were excited for our adventure; Dad, ever the researcher on our behalf, found out about an upcoming RV show in nearby Colorado Springs where we could shop for options. My friend Staci, who was also looking for a little camper, and I went to check it out.
We arrived early morning and took some time to tour the 400 square foot fifth-wheeler giants with two fridges, two televisions, a kitchen island, porch, built-in toy hauler for motorbike, ATV, etc., roll-out dining rooms, multiple queen size beds, and washing machine hookups. They were bigger than our condo! We passed a 1960’s canned ham, cute but pricey and maintenance-heavy, and still a bit too big. We stepped into an A-frame pop-up that reminded us of a portable Swiss chalet, still too much assembly at campsite arrival.
We explored the Cricket, a marvel of engineering that looked as though it were a camper-tent combination designed by Dalhi himself for the America’s Cup.
And then we saw it, the Sunray 109 – a tiny perfect treasure amongst the grey and tan behemoths. It was love at first site, albeit a conditional love. Staci and I spent the next two hours fluctuating between highlighting its many design delights and imagining the things we’d change: the Sunray 109 was a perfect size with a simple design, and had plenty of storage, good insulation, a well-appointed galley kitchen, adjustable bed size, a good-sized water tank, a door tall enough to enter with ease. We raked it over the coals for the places it missed the mark. My friend noted, not just once, that “Clearly a dude designed this.” It lacked for some of the tiny touches that might be thought of by, for example, Martha Stuart with an engineering degree. Never mind, those could be fixed – and we knew we’d found our trailer.
The company selling it was Trailer World, and we got to know them well over the next few months as we inquired about custom shelves, custom colors, custom fabrics, extra lighting, kitchen alterations, adding hot water options, different flooring, solar panels, window shade options, and moving major components like the window (“We want to see the sky, not the back of the truck. Can we move it up?”).
Despite the expansive global title, Trailer World is in fact a lovely local family-run operation on Colfax Avenue, just a mile from our condo. This sweet family rolled with it all, and at the next RV convention we even had a chance to meet Merl, the main man for the Amish-built Sunray trailers, which were built in Indiana.
He listened to the reasoning behind some of our customizations ideas, and threw in a few more suggestions of his own. (In fact, by the following year, some of our custom features even made it into the standard design you’d buy today.) We loved the personal scale of the companies, loved that we had met the people who would make our trailers a reality.
In early spring our trailers arrived – ours in red, Staci’s in silver, two perfect gems.
I spent the next few weeks in a flurry of internal decorating and practical planning, leaving no square inch unconsidered as I prepared the little red trailer to be our single-room home on the road. I bought and returned items at a rate of knots. I compared practical-but-design-worthy storage bins at Target and Container store, towels and sheets at Bed Bath & Beyond and Pottery Barn, upholstery materials at Denver Fabrics, and poured over camper necessities on Amazon. On several nights we slept in the camper in the garage to assess the thickness of the duvet and the comfort of the memory foam mattress topper. I thought about how to stock the cupboards and the fridge to see how food would fit. We experimented with where we’d keep the dog bed and the laundry, and thought about gas cooker storage and dog food storage and bike storage and tool storage and first aid kit storage. I hashed over my early decision to prioritize an entire shelf for books, settled on moving forward with it, and picked the books – then we took two weeks to deliberate over the choices so we could cut the selection by half to fit the designated shelf. No detail of the needs of daily life was left unpondered, no aspect of Colin’s patience untested. I could only hope that sweating the many details would be worth it in the long run.
It was. Now, tucked up at night with a book lit by warm light, making a home-cooked meal in the galley kitchen under the stars, or popping inside midday to find the sun streaming in across cheery orange duvet and playful pillows, the little red trailer is as welcoming, cozy, and convenient a little space as we could hope to have, providing a sense of consistency and homeyness after the travel and exploration of each wonderous day.
My advice would be to go small and go simple. Design a house that fits you 340 days of the year, and plan to improvise the remaining 25 days. I’ve found this is the case with heating, cooking, showering, hanging out, living… it works perfectly and is a dream come true about 90 percent of the time; the remaining 10 percent I am inconvenienced and humbled, just like most of the earth’s inhabitants.
– Dee Williams, tiny-house dweller and author of The Big Tiny