The last time I woke up to an alarm clock was January 30th (I don’t expect sympathy). Since then I’ve grown very fond of life sans alarm clock. So at 6:00 am last Monday morning when my iPhone woke me up, I was not pleased. But when Jessie popped up out of bed and began getting ready for day one of our two-week Habitat for Humanity build in Sebring, FL I didn’t have much choice. That’s one of the things about living in 168 sq ft – there just isn’t much sleeping in when your travel companion wants to eat breakfast. We left the 4H campground at 6:45 to make it to the work site by 7:30. We gave ourselves plenty of wiggle room so as to not be the young slackers who can’t make it to the work site on time. The average age of our fellow Habitat RV Care-A-Vanners is probably 65ish. In fact, we are the youngest Care-A-Vanners anyone’s ever seen in these parts. When we rolled up to the work site alongside our fellow Care-A-Vanners (13 of us total), we were greeted by a platoon of college student volunteers from The University of Jamestown (North Dakota) and Syracuse University, a slab foundation and a tractor trailer piled high with prefabricated wall and roof panels. These panels are called Structurally Insulated Panels or SIPS panels. Think of them as a very large, very heavy, potentially dangerous set of Legos. So our task on day one was to assist with the unloading and careful stacking of the SIPS panels.
We made relatively quick work of unloading the truck using a massive forklift and a lot of man/woman/person power. To our surprise we began putting wall panels in place after lunch. The rest of the week was spent placing and securing wall and roof panels using approximately 17 tons of hand driven nails. Let me repeat, hand driven nails. Now I don’t mind driving a nail. In fact, I’ve driven quite a few in my day. But when I need to drive this many nails I use a nail gun. Always. Needless to say I was not in personally-manually-nailing-152,000-nails shape. My hands and forearms are a wreck. I’ve been doing hand exercises and occasional ice baths to stay in the game.
After a week of hard work and great progress the weekend brought much needed rest, laundry, some RV maintenance, and a leisurely bike ride around the town of Sebring.
Week two is nearly complete and we’ve been working hard on getting the roof papered and the interior walls framed. We also welcomed a spirited new group of college students from Washington and Jefferson College near Pittsburg.
If it’s not clear by now, I underestimated this experience. While the days aren’t particularly long days (7ish hours of work) they are hot and I didn’t sit down unless ordered to. Want me to go ride 80ish miles on my bike? No problem. Want me to go run a half-marathon in the morning before brunch? Sure. Want me to roof a house in 90 degree weather and intense sun for two straight days? Well apparently I’m not conditioned for this very well. At least not in March. Needless to say I’ve been both mentally and physically exhausted at the end of each day. After our work is complete, most afternoons we take a chilly dip in the lake at the 4H camp where we are staying, shower, eat an early dinner, pack our lunches for the next day, and are in bed by 10pm. As we near the end of our time in Sebring and working with Habitat a few things stand out. The dedication of the most recently completed home (below). The connections and friendships we’ve made with our fellow RV Care-A-Vanners, how quickly we feel like we are part of a community when we arrive at a new location, and the overwhelming feeling of gratitude I have for my wife, family, and friends (including new ones).
Earlier this week after all of the hard work, the heat, the exhaustion there was a moment of clarity from Jessie as she was washing dishes after dinner (I cooked, that’s the deal). She said “I really like the simplicity of this life”. And with that small statement I think we are starting to truly realize the freedom we’d hoped for with this journey. Sure we want to see new places and meet interesting people and experience new things, but at the core of this expedition is the slow realization that we are more present in each moment of each day than perhaps we’ve been since childhood. We aren’t consumed by the constant planning for the future. We are significantly limited by our “space” (or lack-there-of). We are free from work. And we are able to avoid the mythical unicorn of “multitasking”. We really are just taking things as they come. We wrap up our two week commitment with Habitat tomorrow, enjoy a slow rest/chore day on Saturday, and head south to a Colier-Seminole State Park near Naples for a few days to visit with Jessie’s aunt and uncle on Sunday. We hope/plan to have access to faster internet more frequently and won’t be spending two weeks in any one place very often so you can expect more frequent updates from us moving forward.