Thursday, December 10, 2015

What to take?

In 1960, John Steinbeck headed out on a lap of the United States to gather (and manufacture) stories for what would become Travels with Charley. In the following excerpt, Steinbeck tells of loading up his camper, which he'd christened Rocinante, after Don Quixote's horse.

Equipping Rocinante was a long and pleasant process. I took far too many things, but I didn’t know what I would find. Tools for emergency, tow lines, a small block and tackle, a trenching tool and crowbar, tools for making and fixing and improvising. Then there were emergency foods. I would be late in the northwest and caught by snow. I prepared for at least a week of emergency. Water was easy; Rocinante carried a thirty-gallon tank. I thought I might do some writing along the way, perhaps essays, surely notes, certainly letters. I took paper, carbon, typewriter, pencils, notebooks, and not only those but dictionaries, a compact encyclopedia, and a dozen other reference books, heavy ones. I suppose our capacity for self-delusion is boundless. I knew very well that I rarely make notes, and if I do I either lose them or can’t read them. I also knew from thirty years of my profession that I cannot write hot on an event. It has to ferment. I must do what a friend calls “mule it over” for a time before it goes down. And in spite of this self-knowledge I equipped Rocinante with enough writing material to take care of ten volumes. Also I laid in a hundred and fifty pounds of those books one hasn’t got around to reading— and of course those are the books one isn’t ever going to get around to reading. Canned goods, shotgun shells, rifle cartridges, tool boxes, and far too many clothes, blankets and pillows, and many too many shoes and boots, padded nylon sub-zero underwear, plastic dishes and cups and a plastic dishpan, a spare tank of bottled gas. The overloaded springs sighed and settled lower and lower. I judge now that I carried about four times too much of everything.
Most fulltime nomads have gone through the same process. And we probably discovered we overestimated what we'd need and occasionally underestimated—or completely forgot—some essentials. But figuring that out is part of this continuing journey.

The interior of Rocinante

Steinbeck went out to rediscover America. We nomads head out with pretty much the same intent, but along the way we often rediscover ourselves as well. I think it's easier to learn who we really are once we're not hidden amongst the stuff we accumulate in conventional living.

So, down the road we go, ready or not. Equipped for it or not. With a Standard Poodle and a hundred and fifty pounds of books, or not.


  1. I've always wondered what his pickup camper was like since reading the book many,many years ago. Thank you very much!


  2. That's much like my setup but with a 1992 GM pickup but much lighter with a netbook for my writings and I have a bed bug named Charley.

  3. A must read along with "Blue Highways" by William Least Heat-Moon. These two are at the top of my six-pack of travel books.